The Long Road To Nowhere

Submitted into Contest #98 in response to: Write a story involving a character who cannot return home.... view prompt

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American Contemporary Fiction

The Long Road To Nowhere—George Davis

 The old saying: ‘You can never go home’ is not a cliche. It is the truth. I should know. I was exiled from my hometown by reason of misappropriation. 

  Let me start at the beginning. My name is Damien Barlow. I am…was the town manager of the small rural community of Bickford, Maine, a town thirty miles northwest of its largest city, Portland.

  I was born in Bickford; I went through the school system, graduating a year early at the age of seventeen. I never thought of myself as a great student, but I loved school and excelled in sports in high school, a four-letter man. All the girls were crazy about me, or so my egotistical self assumed. I dated several members of the opposite sex in my four years at Bickford High. I made the Honor Roll all four years. 

  Enough about my prowess. It was while I was in college, I met my wife, Estella Goodwin. She was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. It, for me, was love at first sight. I told my best friend, Harley Larson, I was going to marry that blonde goddess, and I did one year after graduation. 

  At first, we spent all of our time together. I guess it was two years after the wedding, she met another man, left me, and followed him out west, to Oregon, I believe. I was devastated. I experienced nights of sleeplessness. I missed her so much. I thought we were soul mates. 

  For the next two years, I worked as a bookkeeper at the paper mill in Cumberland Falls. The tedium was too much. I needed to have a career where I could come and go as I pleased, maybe own my own business. I applied for a loan with the Small Business Administration and was accepted. I purchased the failing Chevrolet dealership in the Falls. I wish I could say, I made it pay the first year. However, it took three years before I made a dime. I could pay my people and keep the lights on in the business. 

  Wanting to be a success, I joined several organizations: Lions Club, Masons, Elks, and the Rotary Club. I quickly rose to the top in each order. It wasn’t long before I was Bickford’s Man of the Year, with a picture of me standing in front of my dealership. Success was rapid. It wasn't long before I was asked to run for town council. I was elected, and made head selectman. I kept that title for two years before I was asked to run for town manager. I had the qualifications for the job. I was a college graduate with an MBA degree. I knew if I took this position. I would have to spend a lot of time working to improve what the last manager failed to do. 

  I ran the town like a military camp. I was strict but fair. I did have to fire two long-time employees for indolence. The road commissioner, and the assistant town manager, my friend, Billy Horton. I hated to do it. However, those two men hadn’t worked in years; collected salaries, and did not perform their duties. I was told they spent most mornings over at the Net and I, an indoor tennis facility. One Monday morning I drove over on Route 4 to the Net and I. And there on the court was my road commissioner, and my assistant, who, by the way, told me he drove around the town every morning checking on the employees. I fired them both on the spot. 

  Exactly two months the day, the auditors came in to do an audit of the town books. They spent four days in my office while I was forced to plunk down in an old storage room next to Mary Flynn’s office. Mary is the town secretary and my right hand. 

  Tuesday morning, the chief auditor, Randall Knowles called me into my office. “Damien, there is a discrepancy in your books.” Like they are my books. 

  “What’s the problem, Randall?”

  “There is a shortage amounting to over one-hundred-thousand dollars, Damien. Can you account for that loss?”

  “No, I have no idea what happened to it.”

  “I’ll triple check. I’ve gone over that account twice and each time, I get the same answer.” 

  That night I didn’t get much sleep. Where, or should I say, who took that money? Mary and I were the only two that had access to those records, and I know I didn’t take it, and I am sure Mary didn’t either. She has been with the town over twenty-five years. If she’d wanted to steal from the town, she could have done it a long time ago.

  I was shocked to find, Dexter Wyndham, our police chief sitting in my office when I came in Monday morning. “Hello, Damien.” 

  “What’s up, Dexter?” I asked. 

  “I’m sorry, Damien the State auditor has shown me his audit and stated the only one who could be responsible for the loss is you. I need you to come with me. We need to get to the bottom of this.” 

  I sat in Dexter’s office for two hours while he questioned me about the missing money. I told him over and over. I did not take any money from the town. I had a clean record; not even a traffic violation. 

  “Don’t leave town, Damien. We’ll have to talk again.”

  “Where would I go? I have a business to run along with my manager’s duties, Dexter.”

  “Okay, you can go.” I left the police station and drove over to the Wayfarer Diner on Main Street in Bickford. I was greeted by Winnie the waitress and co-owner of the eatery. “Morning, Damien.” “Good morning, Winnie. Coffee and two over medium.”

  “What, no home fries or bacon?”

  “No, I’m not hungry this morning.”

  “What’s the problem, Damien?”

  “I just left Dexter’s office. He thinks I took money from the town treasury. I’m no crook, Winnie. I’ve never taken anything that wasn’t mine.”

  “I believe you, Damien. What makes Dexter think you took the money?”

  “Mary and I are the only two who had access to the town’s records, and everyone knows. Mary could never steal so much as a dime.”

  “Yeah, I know Mary’s been there a long time. Who else could it be, Damien?”

  “I have no idea.”

  I wasn’t going to be railroaded into a confession for something I didn’t do. I’ve got to get out of town, and quick. Everybody assumes I am a crook. I am guilty until proven innocent. The laws have turned upside down over the last eight years.

  Winnie brought me my breakfast. I ate little, too nervous. I can’t get that awful feeling out of my mind. I was guilty.

  Where could I go? I haven’t left the Bickford-Cumberland Falls area in fifteen years, except to drive to Boston once a month to the used car auction.

  The shame was too much for me to handle. The town already found me guilty, and they want blood, mine. 

  Ned Blake, the barber asked me how I could steal from the very town that loved me? The saying in this town is, ‘Ned Blake knows who or what did it before the ink is dry on the pages of the Bickford Gazette.’ 

  My dealership, I heard, was auctioned off and the monies given to the town for repayment of my ‘evil’ deed. 

  You see, it is true. You can never go home. All roads to Bickford are closed to me. My only hope is I may someday find out who took the money, and gain back what respect I had before the embezzlement.

  This week I’m moving to another part of the State. I’ve been here in Colorado for the last two years, living under the name, Milburn Usher. Denver has been home to me all that time. Now, I feel it is time to move. I chose Fort Collins. 

  I still receive the Bickford Gazette in my post office box under my assumed name. This week I read where my secretary, Mary Flynn was arrested for embezzlement. It seems, Mary stole the money over a period of two years. I knew she liked to gamble, and often vacationed in Vegas, but  I thought, like most of the town, Mary was the model of propriety. I wonder, now, if she didn’t steal the money, I was accused of stealing. 

  Keeping up with the local news. I learned Mary was given two to four years for her crime. However, because she was a first-time offender, and her health was on the decline the judge set the prison term at six months and eight months of community service. 

  Could I now go back home? It was doubtless a pipe dream. I shall ever be, in the eyes of the town’s people, the man who stole one-hundred-thousand dollars. They could never bring themselves to see Mary Flynn as anything but a good wife, mother, grandmother, and friend to all.

  I called the only person I trusted in Bickford, Mel Stone. He kept me abreast of the happenings that the Gazette failed to mention. The local newspaper was a politically owned rag run by a left-wing political hack, Jonas Silver. Jonas and I didn’t see eye to eye on any issues. He wanted to make Bickford into a thriving metropolis; put in a casino, and make weed legal in our state. I, on the other hand, wanted, and still want to see our town remain the rural country burg it was meant to be since 1855 when Josiah Bickford founded it.

  “Mel, does Mary’s confession mean I can return home now?”

  “The talk around town is she wouldn’t have stolen the money if it wasn’t for her husband’s death. They are saying she wasn’t in her right mind. She was in deep financial trouble due to her husband’s illness. No, Damien, the town has not forgiven you. They still believe you took that money.” Proving the theory, you can never go home.

June 17, 2021 11:17

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