“Artemis?” The voice said from Artemis’ smartphone speaker.
“Yes,” Artemis said. She sat up on her hotel bed with two pillows stuffed behind her back. “Jerome?”
“Yes,” Jerome said. His voice was hesitant. “Been dealing with your request. Your statement, connection to the father has been greatly helpful, and I think well received by the court.”
“You don’t sound overly confident?” Artemis said. She held the smartphone closer in front of her mouth.
“You’re correct,” Jerome said. He coughed to clear his throat, but Artemis thought he was really simply delaying the inevitable news.
“I’m waiting,” Artemis said. “Laina?”
“Laina, yes,” Jerome said. “I went to visit her, part of my job as your counsel. She’s seems healthy, but she’s not in good spirits. Ah, another problem has emerged.”
“Spit it out,” Artemis said.
“First off, let me handle this,” Jerome said. “But, I learned the family has a connection to this Prophet character, I think they are under his spell, as it were.”
Artemis sprang off the bed. She started to search the room for her clothes, and considered if she’d need her weapons.
“Take me there,” Artemis said. “She needs to see my face, I need to assure her I’ve not abandoned her.”
“I’m not sure,” Jerome said.
“Jerome, that man’s out of his mind,” Artemis said. She paused. “Come pick me up. I’ll tell you something, in confidence, it’ll help you.”
“It might get hairy,” Jerome said.
“I’m a big girl,” Artemis said. “I’ll walk down to your office, I need to get out there.”
“How do people live out here?” Artemis asked.
“Not well,” Jerome said. He drove along a bending two lane road. “The coal jobs are almost gone, they refuse to move away.”
“Why are you here?” Artemis said. She tapped on the car door window with her right hand knuckles. “You’re talented enough to practice in a big city.”
“I guess it was my parents,” Jerome said. He tightly gripped the steering wheel. “They were missionaries, their chapel is not far from where we are headed. I think they instilled in me to focus on faith, family and the truth. I wish I had greedy bone in my body. It would have made paying for kids schooling a lot easier.”
“I understand,” Artemis said. “The mountains are beautiful, in a way, they’re magical.”
“So true,” Jerome said. He pointed out toward a mountain peak. “I used to hike up there, the view is amazing. But then pot came to town, and now, it’s worse. The forest has been infested with these evil characters.”
”How do you know God exists?” Artemis said.
“They write books about that question,” Jerome said. He drove the car farther along the narrow road, he turned left onto a gravel road toward a pie shaped clearing. “I’ve sensed pure evil, it’s a feeling you get, you know?”
“Oh, I know that feeling,” Artemis said.
“From my parents,” Jerome said. “God is revealed when we confront evil, gives us the power to stand up and protect those that cannot protect themselves.”
“How’s that show me God’s in the hood?” Artemis asked. She sniffled. “My allergies are coming back, Spring must be coming early.”
“You answered the question,” Jerome said. “Winter to Spring, from death to renewal, God is revealed each spring because we know a renewal is coming, we trust that with our fancy science, right?”
“You lost me,” Artemis said.
“It’s about trust, accepting the truth,” Jerome said. He stopped the car, and parked it about a quarter mile from a shotgun style house with a tin roof. “My father taught me about death, he told me in the hospital he’s watched a person die. Many times their eyes were open, they were in pain, pumped full of moriphine, at the instant they died, in their eyes they smiled at something they saw. Think about that, what did they see?”
“I appreciate you sharing,” Artemis said. She unclipped her seat belt. She looked out of the windshield toward the home. “Looks like we get to me this prophet.”
Jerome stared forward and grunted.
“It was inevitable,” Jerome said. He opened the car door.
As Artemis and Jerome walked across the gravel, and dirt she was startled by the large man standing near the front door. His face was an exact copy of Dr. Demetrius. But his black hair was slicked back, and he muscled and more athletic than his brother.
“I speak for the family,” he said, as he stood on the porch above the concrete stairs.
“And you would be?” Jerome asked. He kept moving forward, and toward the front screen door.
The large man placed his hand on Jerome’s shoulder.
“I am Prophet Higgs Boson,” he said.
“Take your hand, right now,” Jerome said. “Are you an attorney?”
“I am healer,” Prophet Higgs Boson said.
“Then the answers no,” Jerome said. He flicked Prophet Higgs Boson’s hand away. “I am, and I’m here on behalf of the court, and my client. Go sit on that porch swing, and stay out of my way, or I’ll call someone you don’t want to meet.”
Prophet Higgs Boson stepped back, and he looked down at Artemis.
“Your client?” Prophet Higgs Boson asked. He pointed over at Artemis.
“Yes,” Jerome said. “She does not need to respond to you.”
“Thank you,” Artemis said. She stepped out from behind Jerome. She stood motionless in front of Prophet Higgs Boson. She stared up into his dark eyes.
“Feisty,” Prophet Higgs Boson said.
“Nice ride,” Artemis said. She nudged over toward the black SUV parked nearby. “You?”
“My flock provides for me,” Prophet Higgs Boson said.
“Stay out here,” Jerome said. He knocked on the door, and turned the nob. He peaked inside past the door jam. “Hello, again. Artemis follow me please.”
Jerome and Artemis stood just past the modest homes front door. The ceiling painted smooth was abnormally low, and created a claustrophobic effect. Toward the back of the house appeared to be a kitchen, a potbelly stove was providing heat near the open back door. They had closed the door to prevent Prophet Higgs Boson from entering behind them.
“We’ll still get paid, right?” A scruffy middle-aged man said. He was wearing a rumpled red flannel shirt. “We’re havin’ to feed her.”
“We ain’t made a money,” a skinny woman in a wrinkled dress. “She ain’t our only responsibly.”
Artemis looked over at her. The woman was there, standing on the frayed tan linoleum, but her eyes told a different story. Her green eyes were unfocused, watery. Her once beautiful skin blotched with discolored acne.
“I’ll assure you the state will deposit your check,” Jerome said. He smiled kindly, and he gently leaned his shoulders forward. “Can you bring Laina for us? We just want to say hi, and then we’ll be on our way.”
The man waved for them down a side hallway.
“She don’t come out,” he said. “Help yourself.”
Artemis and Jerome entered a tiny bedroom. A barely covered the single south facing window. The single bed covered with a long forgotten sleeping bag. Artemis spotted Laina stuffed into the corner between the bed and the wall.
“Laina?” Jerome asked. He leaned down. “I brought Artemis.”
Artemis heard Profit Higgs Boson outside talking to someone. He was putting on his best act she thought. She leaned in next to Jerome.
“I wanted you to see my face,” Artemis said. She held her hand forward. “I’ll get you out of here.”
Laina held her legs against her chest. She stared forward.
“They goin’ to kill me,” Laina said, flatly. She stared forward, her gaze certain.
“Not on my watch,” Jerome said. “We’re watching.”
“That woman’s like my dead mother,” Laina said. She sniffled.
“Has any hurt you?” Artemis asked. She pushed forward to draw Laina’s gaze into her eyes. “I’m trying to adopt you, do you understand?”
“I ain’t leavin’ here, am I,” Laina asked.
“Not today,” Jerome said. “I’m working as fast as I can, I’m sorry. Artemis wants to take you in, keep that in mind, it’ll give you some hope.”
“I know that man outside,” Laina said.
“How so?” Jerome asked.
“Give stuff to my momma,” Laina said. “He knows my name.”
Artemis sat back on her legs, she squeezed her hips with her hands. She smiled over at Laina.
“For now,” Artemis said. “Stay low, out of the way, I’ll deal with that mess soon. Understand?”
“Better hurry,” Laina said. “I know he’s taken my friends, they just disappeared, it was him.”
Jerome glanced over at Artemis. He nodded it time for them to leave.
“Don’t you fret little lady,” Jerome said. “We’ll return.”
“Come over here,’ Artemis said. She held her arms open. “Give me hug.”
Jerome got up and turned his back as Laina crawled forward and tightly hugged Artemis.
“I’m always watching,” Artemis said. She whispered. “You’re never alone.”
“I’m scared,” Laina said. She began to whimper.
“I’ve been scared many times,” Artemis said. She held Laina closer. “My mother always told me it was okay to cry, it makes the fear drain out of you. She told me that’s why she always competed without fear, focus on the truth, so focus on the truth, I’m here.”
“My daddy loved you?” Laina asked.
“Yes, I loved him,” Artemis said. And Artemis allowed her brain to unlock her heart. “I love you, I’ll protect you with my life, understand?”
Laina whimpered as she nodded. She wiped her eyes across Artemis’ shoulder.
“Thank you,” Laina said.
Artemis released Laina, she closed her eyes and blew out a constant breath between her lips.
“Just stay down,” Artemis said. She turned toward Jerome and they left the bedroom gently closing the door behind them.
Outside on the porch the Prophet Higgs Boson was explaining the universe to the wiry little man from inside. They acknowledge Jerome and Artemis.
“Jerome, can you do me a favor?” Artemis asked. She touched Jerome’s forearm. “Walk to the car, and don’t look back.”
Jerome’s eyes understood the request. He just kept walking away. Artemis gave him a few seconds and marched over toward Prophet Higgs Boson. Before she reached him she heard Satan’s sarcastic voice within her mind.
“Artemis, he’s funny,” Satan said. “Let him talk.”
Artemis stopped, she then kept moving up onto the porch to face square with Prophet Higgs Boson.
“Do not fear,” Profit Higgs Boson said. He held his muscled arms wide. “I will provide for my lambs, the girl is safe with my flock.”
“I know your brother,” Artemis said. “He’s really into his mushrooms.”
Prophet Higgs Boson scowled at Artemis.
“He’s an arrogant fool,” Prophet Higgs Boson said. He crossed his arms. “He knows nothing, I am beyond him. My ministry will change the world, he is nothing.”
“I was sent here to clean up his mess,” Artemis said.
“Good,” Prophet Higgs Boson said. He reached forward to grip Artemis’ shoulder. “Do good works, join my flock.”
“Not really my thing,” Artemis said.
“You should try our mushrooms,” Prophet Higgs Boson said. He huffed. “My flock harvests them in forest, they are amazing, nothing my brother would understand, you’ll journey with me through the universe.”
“I’ve been told not to eat the mushrooms,” Artemis said.
“I see into the future,” Prophet Higgs Boson said. “I know the mind of God.”
“Look into my eyes,” Artemis said. She held her up at her face. “Look real deep into my eyes.”
Prophet Higgs Boson complied and vacuously looked at Artemis.
“The little girl inside, is mine,” Artemis said. “Do you understand?”
“Perhaps,” Prophet Higgs said.
“I can see into the future as well,” Artemis said. “If she’s touched, abused, if she should slip on a rock and die, guess what the future holds for you?”
“I only follow where God takes me,” Prophet Higgs Boson said, nervously. His gaze left Artemis and he suspiciously stared out toward the forest started and became dense with thicket and tall trees. “She has been delivered for a purpose, it’s God’s plan.”
Artemis shifted to follow his line of sight. There, at the forests edge stood the American Indian spirt warrior. He looked menacing, and he held his once sharp spear as if to launch it.
“You see that Indian?” Artemis said. “The one standing over there, looking at you.”
Prophet Higgs Boson ignored her question.
“I see what Satan reveals to me,” Prophet Higgs Boson said. But he flinched as Artemis heard the warrior scream over at Prophet Higgs Boson, and she saw the warrior try to throw the spear. It hurdled toward them, but harmlessly disappeared.
“I’ll tell you Satan’s plan for you, if she’s harmed,” Artemis said. She pushed in closer to Prophet Higgs Boson. That spirit that just tried to kill you will pale in comparison to me. I now know Satan’s plan for you, it’s clear to me, want to know what it is?”
“I do not fear Satan,” Prophet Higgs Boson said. He chuckled. “Satan is my God!”
“Thank you,” Artemis said.
“For what? You are a strange woman,” Prophet Higgs Boson said. “Women are only useful when obidient.”
“I have identified the mess I need to clean up,” Artemis said. She backed up and started to walk away. “It is now clear in my heart, in my mind.”
Prophet Higgs Boson quickly followed her toward the porch steps. He looked down at Artemis as she walked away.
“Tell me of this mess?” Prophet Higgs Boson asked. “What has my Lord Satan told you?”
“You,” Artemis said. She stared back over her shoulder at him. “You’re the mess I’ve been seeking. Remember my words about the girl, I’ll be back.”
“Artemis,” Satan said. It laughed from beyond the nearby mountains, across the tranquil streams. “So delightfully sinister, and cryptic, you’re learning.”
“Leave me alone,” Artemis said under her breath. She got back inside the car, and stared forward at Prophet Higgs Boson.
“Sorry,” Jerome said.
“Let’s get out of here,” Artemis said. “I need to travel back home, I’ve identified my task.”
“Very well,” Jerome said. “I’ll keep tabs on her.”
“Thank you,” Artemis said. “I’m going to recommend the claim management come from my boss going forward. I’ll encourage him to get up here, he prefers to talk about these matters face to fact.”
“I’ll welcome him,” Jerome said. “I just want to get these matters resolved, let these families heal.”
End. Chapter 28.
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