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"Just a minute, I'm back in the office. Who's that?"
"Agent Shawn Roberts. I'm supposed to start working here tomorrow... I think. Am I in the right place?"
"Yeah. Sorry about the confusion. I have a sign requisitioned, but they keep messing it up. 'Right for the FBI office and left for the bait shop', how hard is that to understand?" Conrad asked as he finally walked into the room.
Agent Roberts stared uncertainly, obviously not knowing how to respond.
"My name is Conrad Fastbeck and I'm the director and... at least until tomorrow, the only employee of the Waxell FBI field office." Agent Fastbeck said as he offered his hand.
"But this office has jurisdiction of nearly a third of Kentucky and a quarter of Tennessee." Agent Roberts said disbelievingly.
"It's mostly just uninhabited land, really. If you look at the way the boundaries are drawn, we don't actually have any cities within our jurisdiction." Agent Fastbeck said as he withdrew his hand.
"I did notice that the zone map looked a little... abstract." Agent Roberts cautiously admitted.
"Yeah. Between the mountain terrain and avoiding heavily populated areas, we ended up with a district that looks like a dog's hind leg."
"Now that you mention it, I suppose that it does." Agent Roberts said with surprise.
"Have you found a place to stay yet?" Agent Fastbeck asked as he motioned for Agent Roberts to take a seat across the desk from him.
"No sir. I just arrived in town a few minutes ago and came directly here." Agent Roberts said anxiously.
"Please call me Conrad." Agent Fastbeck said as he took a seat behind the desk, then continued, "I can ask around and see if anyone knows of a place for rent. I can't think of any right off the top of my head."
"I'd appreciate that." Agent Roberts said quietly.
"If you just got into town, then you haven't eaten yet, have you?"
"No. I came directly here... at least, I did as soon as I realized that the bait shop and the FBI office shared the same front door."
"Come on, I'll treat you to lunch at the luxurious Waxell Diner." Conrad said with a teasing grin as he stood.
"You really don't have to. I just stopped in to see if there's anything that I need to know before I start work tomorrow."
"I haven't had lunch either. We can talk some business while we're eating." Conrad said as he led the way to the door.
* * * * *
When Agent Roberts reached the door, he was surprised to see that Agent Fastbeck had turned and gone down the hall to the bait shop.
"Hyatt, I'm going to lunch. I'll be over at the Waxell Diner if anyone needs me."
Agent Roberts could hear someone responding, but couldn't make out what was being said.
"Thanks. Would you like for me to bring you anything back?"
"Yeah. I'll do that." Agent Fastbeck said before turning around and walking toward the entry door.
Agent Roberts followed along uncertainly.
* * * * *
When they stepped outside, Agent Roberts was surprised when Agent Fastbeck started walking down the sidewalk.
He didn't want to say anything to upset his new boss, but after a certain point he felt that he had to ask, "Why do you park so far away?"
"Actually, my car's parked behind the office. But the Waxell Diner's only two blocks down." Agent Fastbeck said simply.
Agent Roberts was unfamiliar with 'walking' as a mode of transportation and wasn't quite sure what the etiquette was in such a situation, so he took the opportunity to survey his surroundings.
The town was clean. There wasn't any litter or graffiti visible on the main street. There were a few people out and about, doing their daily business, and at one point a car drove by.
"It's so quiet here." Agent Roberts finally said.
"Yeah. It takes a little getting used to, especially at night." Conrad agreed, then motioned across the street, toward the Waxell Diner.
Agent Roberts was surprised when Conrad suddenly changed course and stepped into the street.
He quickly looked up and down the road and found that there was no traffic coming from either direction as far as the eye could see.
Agent Roberts hurried to catch up to Agent Fastbeck.
* * * * *
When they walked into the Waxell Diner, it took a moment for Agent Roberts' eyes to adjust to the much dimmer light inside.
He looked around the place and approved of what he saw.
Back in DC, he had often enjoyed visiting a particular fifties themed restaurant.
His comfort was short lived however as he noticed that he and Agent Fastbeck appeared to be the only people in the place.
"Arn? Harry? Is anyone here?" Conrad called into the kitchen.
"Agent Fastbeck? Is that you?" A man's voice called in return.
"Yeah. There's two of us here for lunch. I'm going to grab us a couple cokes. Is that alright?"
"Go ahead and help yourself. Harry'll be out just as soon as we can get this stove moved back into place."
"We'll be fine for a while. Take your time." Conrad called, then stepped behind the counter and took two bottles of coke from the cooler chest.
After popping the tops off of them, he motioned for Agent Roberts to walk with him to a booth at the back of the dining room.
Agent Roberts followed along as he began to realize that the fifties 'theme' might not actually be a theme at all.
"As you might have guessed from the hustle and bustle around here so far, the job isn't very exciting. I'd say that most of the time when I get called out, it's for something that doesn't have anything to do with the bureau at all. The locals just see the 'F' in FBI and automatically call me when it's anything more severe than a car accident."
"What about trafficking and more serious crimes like that?"
"Good question. I'll let you know when we have some." Conrad said with a grin, then added, "Unless you count the 'X-Files' cases, there really isn't much going on that has anything to do with us."
"'X-Files'?" Agent Roberts asked cautiously and looked distinctly uncomfortable.
"Yeah. You'd think that a place like this with virtually no drug problem would have fewer reports of unexplained phenomena, but it turns out that we get more than our fair share of alien abductions and the like."
"Nope." Conrad said simply, then continued, "The thing is, as bizarre as some of the reports are, I'm determined that our office will investigate each incident as thoroughly and methodically as though it were a credible threat against the president himself."
"But isn't it a waste of time and resources to investigate outrageous claims like that?"
"No. I really don't think it is. These are the people who pay our salaries. We're here to investigate and provide answers for them. They trust in our training and skills to find them the answers that they can't find for themselves."
"Do you know what you want, Agent Fastbeck?" The waiter asked as he hurried up to the table.
"Harry, this is Agent Roberts. He's going to start working with me tomorrow."
"It's nice to meet you Agent Roberts. I'm Harry and I'll be your waiter. Would you like to look at a menu?" Harry asked quickly.
"Yes. Please." Agent Roberts cautiously responded.
"Okay. I didn't bring any with me. I'll be right back." Harry chirped cheerfully before dashing away.
"Is he for real?" Agent Roberts asked slowly.
"Oh yeah. It would never even occur to Harry to be anything less than completely genuine."
"Freaky." Agent Roberts said under his breath as he looked around the empty diner again.
Agent Fastbeck smiled wistfully at his wonder, remembering how not too long ago he had been in a similar state.
"Here you go." Harry said as he placed menus on the table, then quickly added, "Dad told me to tell you that he's going to be making some homemade ice cream today. It probably won't be ready before you're done with your meal, but if you want to stop by later for pie and ice cream, everything will be fresh."
"Apple pie?" Agent Fastbeck asked with a smile.
"No. Rhubarb, but... give me a second."
Before Conrad could stop him, Harry hurried away.
"Did you save these people's lives or something? Is that why they're so desperate to please you?" Agent Roberts asked disbelievingly.
"No. They're just really decent friendly people. I understand that after the big city it can be a little disorienting. I had no faith left in humanity when I arrived here. But if you decide to let your guard down with them, you won't be disappointed."
"So you understand where I'm coming from when I say that I'm getting a strong 'fifties' vibe from this place. Right?" Agent Roberts asked cautiously.
"Yes. Of course."
"If you recall, people of my 'skin tone' weren't treated very well back in the 'good old days'." Agent Roberts said slowly.
"If I recall? Just how old do you think I am?" Agent Fastbeck asked with a laugh.
"You know what I mean. Do you think that any of these 'decent' 'friendly' people are going to have a problem with a black FBI agent living in their lily white community?"
"Dad says that if you'll agree to come back, he'll make an apple pie too." Harry said as he hurried back to the table.
"Thank him for me." Agent Fastbeck said with a smile, then thought to add, "As long as I don't get called out on a job, I'll be here."
"I'll tell him." Harry said happily, then asked, "Are you ready to order yet?"
"Yes. I'll have a cheeseburger and fries." Conrad said simply.
"What would you recommend?" Agent Roberts asked as he looked at the menu.
"The roast beef's really good today. If you're really hungry, a roast beef sandwich with some of Dad's beef barley soup would probably fill you right up." Harry said earnestly.
Agent Roberts looked to Conrad for guidance.
"That actually sounds better than a hamburger to me. I'll have the soup and a sandwich." Conrad said decisively.
"Make that two." Agent Roberts immediately added as he closed his menu.
"I'll have that for you in a few minutes. Would you like more cokes to go with your meals?"
Agent Fastbeck looked at their nearly empty bottles, then said, "Yes. That sounds like a good idea. Thanks Harry."
Agent Roberts nodded his agreement.
Harry hurried away as both men watched.
"So, do you think there'll be a problem with me being here?" Agent Roberts persisted.
"I don't know." Agent Fastbeck said honestly, then explained, "Since I've been here I haven't heard of a single report of any racially motivated incidents. I can't say for sure that there aren't any, but if there are, they're really good at keeping quiet about it."
"I don't know what it is, but there's something creepy about this place. It's just too quiet." Agent Roberts said anxiously.
Agent Fastbeck looked across the empty restaurant and through the large windows, out to the empty street.
After a long silent moment, Agent Fastbeck looked back to his companion and quietly said, "It's become my home."
"Are you trying to freak me out?"
Conrad smiled, then said, "I'm just saying that as creepy and backward as this place is, it kind of grows on you. The longer you stay here, the harder it is to ever want to leave."
Agent Roberts looked at Conrad appraisingly for a long moment, then seriously asked, "I need for you to be honest with me about something. The job, is it just marking time and drawing a paycheck or do you feel like you actually provide a service of some kind?"
"That's hard to say. It's kind of subjective." Conrad said simply, then explained, "But I guess the way I see it is that not only do I get to help people when they need my help the most, but when I participate in a significant event in their lives, I almost become part of their family, helping them to get through their problems by going through it with them."
"So every time you go out on a job, you adopt more of a family?" Agent Roberts asked cautiously.
"Yeah. In a way, that's what this community is, one large family. If you stay, it will consume you. I guess that you'll have to decide for yourself if that's a bad thing or not."
"It sounds like you've already made that decision."
"I have. But that's the right choice for me. Another choice may be right for you. If you decide that you're not going to be able to make it here, let me know as soon as possible. I'll get you transferred out as quickly as I can."
"You talk about this place almost like it's a trap or something." Agent Roberts said cautiously.
"Maybe it is, for some. For others it's a haven. I guess it all depends on how you look at it."
* * * * *
"Here's your food." Harry said as he approached the table.
Conrad picked up the menus and cleared a place for Harry to place their meals.
"That smells WONDERFUL!" Agent Roberts said as the food was set before him.
"I told you it was a good batch." Harry said proudly as he placed their drinks.
"Always listen to Harry. He knows what he's talking about." Conrad said with an appreciative smile.
"Can I get you anything else, Agent Roberts?" Harry asked timidly, blushing at Conrad's praise.
Agent Roberts had to finish chewing his bite of food before he answered, "You can call me Shawn. After suggesting something this incredible, you've earned the right."
"Thank you, but I couldn't. You're a 'Federal' agent. It's important to me to show you the proper respect."
Agent Roberts' eyes went wide at Harry's earnest declaration.
"Thanks Harry. Even though you've never put it into words for me before, I think I always understood how you felt." Conrad said sincerely.
"Let me know if either of you need anything at all. I'll be in the kitchen helping Dad." Harry said As he turned to leave.
"Harry. Wait! Agent Roberts is going to need a place to stay. Do you know of any rental properties in the area that are vacant?"
"The only one I know of is the old Granby place. As long as you're not planning on raising pigs, that might be good for you."
"What's wrong with raising pigs?"
"According to the neighbors, they're too noisy and they smell really bad."
"I don't plan on raising anything, so it shouldn't be a problem."
"I'll ask Dad if he knows of any other places." Harry promised, then continued, "I've got to get back to the kitchen. He needs my help with the cleaning."
"We'll yell if we need anything else." Conrad said with a smile.
Harry returned the smile, then dashed away.
After a moment, Agent Roberts finally asked, "Seriously. What planet have we landed on?"
"I know." Conrad chuckled, then said, "And it's not just Harry. Pretty much the whole community is like that."
Conrad nodded his agreement, then started eating his lunch.
* * * * *
After a few quiet minutes of eating, Agent Roberts cautiously asked, "What did they tell you about why they assigned me here?"
"Nothing. Not a word." Conrad said simply, then added, "What's more, I didn't request additional personnel. When I received notice that you were being transferred in, I was surprised, to say the least."
"My last assignment was... I suppose you'd call it an X-File. Even though there was nothing in my report that was the least bit sensitive, it was still classified."
"And you think that had something to do with you being posted here?"
"I submitted my report last week. It was immediately classified and I received notice of my reassignment two days later."
"So, do you see your posting here as being some form of punishment?"
"I don't know yet. It's possible that they put me here so that you could straighten me out about... nonstandard cases. Or maybe they just want to throw all the crazies in the same corner where they can be ignored."
"It could be both."
"Doesn't it bother you that our superiors might look at you as a crackpot?"
"It might have when I first arrived. But now I see myself as performing an important service to the community."
"Forgive me for asking, but I need to know... do you believe in aliens and other unexplained phenomena?"
"I believe in what I'm able to quantify and verify to a reasonable degree. So far I haven't investigated anything that causes me to believe that aliens exist, but that doesn't mean that I'm going to disregard testimony or evidence from those who do."
"I guess that I can get onboard with that approach."
"Does that mean that you're planning on staying?"
"I'll stay long enough to find out what's really going on. I can't promise anything beyond that."
"That will work for now, but I have a feeling that at some point you're going to have to fully commit one way or the other."
"What do you see as my choices?"
"At this point I would guess that it might come down to your career or the truth."
"Did you have to face that choice?"
"My choices were a little different."
Agent Roberts nodded slightly, but didn't feel that it would be appropriate to inquire further.
* * * * *
"If you're finished, we should be going." Agent Fastbeck said as he dropped a few dollars on the table.
"Thank you for buying me lunch, but I need to get to work finding a place to stay tonight. I didn't notice a motel on the way into town, do you know where one is?"
"Mrs. Shumlin's boarding house is the closest thing we have to a motel here, but let's talk to Arn and see if he knows of any places available for rent." Agent Fastbeck said as he led the way to the cash register.
"You really don't have to go to all this trouble. I'm sure that I'll be able to find something on my own."
"It's no trouble, and besides, I have a better idea of who to talk to to find you a place and most people around here know who I am."
"I can't argue with that."
"Arn? Have you got a minute?" Agent Fastbeck called into the kitchen.
A moment later a middle-aged man with a delighted smile hurried out of the kitchen, drying his hands on a dishtowel.
"Agent Fastbeck! It's wonderful to see you again. I was just working on your pie crust. I have a feeling that this is going to be a good one."
"They're all good. Your pies are the best." Agent Fastbeck said with a smile, then continued, "Arn, I'd like to introduce Agent Roberts. He's going to be working with me, starting tomorrow."
"It's a pleasure to meet you, Agent Roberts. Welcome to Waxell." Arn said as he offered his hand to shake.
Agent Roberts looked warily at the offered hand for a moment before cautiously accepting it and giving Arn a firm handshake.
Agent Fastbeck detected a slight amount of relief seep into Agent Roberts' expression.
"We were hoping that you might know of a decent place for rent." Agent Fastbeck interjected.
"There's the old Granby place, of course, but you said 'decent'. From what I've heard, the Granby kids have really let that place go."
"Can you think of anyplace else?" Agent Fastbeck asked hopefully.
"Gil Spencer has that mother-in-law cottage that he's not using. With Lorna off to college, Gil could probably use the extra money coming in." Arn said thoughtfully.
"That might be worth checking out. The Spencer place isn't too far from town." Agent Fastbeck said with a slow nod.
"The only other place I can think of at the moment is the Tennyson place. Warren'd probably let you stay there for free if you'd agree to take care of it for him."
"Why would he do that?" Agent Roberts cautiously asked.
"He refuses to ever set foot on the property again. He claims that it's haunted."
"Um. No." Agent Roberts said firmly.
"You might want to consider it, Roberts. I mean, free rent. You just don't find a deal like that every day."
"A couple weeks ago I might have thought about it. I might have even enjoyed the challenge of investigating it. But after what I've just been through... no. When I get home from work, all I want is a nice simple life."
"If that's what you're after, you're looking in the right place." Agent Fastbeck assured him, then thought to ask, "Do you want to go and ask about the cottage at the Spencer place?"
"Before I say 'yes', what is a mother-in-law cottage?"
"It's a building that's on the property, but far enough away from the main house so that it affords privacy to both the occupant and the property owner."
"I wouldn't mind looking at it." Agent Roberts said cautiously, half sure that he was making a mistake.
"I'll call Nancy and let her know that you'll be stopping by."
"Thanks, Arn. Could you fix me a Sanka to go? Then I'll be ready to pay out."
"Is that Sanka for Hyatt?"
"Yeah. That's how I pay him back for watching the office for me while I'm out."
"I'll throw in a couple extra creamers, then."
* * * * *
After paying the bill and collecting the Sanka, Agents Fastbeck and Roberts walked back to the office.
Agent Roberts stood aside while Agent Fastbeck delivered the Sanka and made small talk for a few minutes.
As he was waiting, Agent Roberts took out his phone to check his messages.
"Are you ready to go?"
"I'm not getting a signal." Agent Roberts said as he held his phone up and out from him while he moved around the hallway.
Agent Fastbeck tried to restrain a smile as he watched the bizarre choreography Agent Roberts went through to try and 'summon' a signal.
"There's no cell service here." Agent Fastbeck finally explained.
"There's no cell phone service provider in this area. There's no signal to 'get'." Conrad said more slowly.
"Is that even possible?" Agent Roberts asked as he stared at his phone.
"When you report for duty in the morning, I'll work on requisitioning you a sat phone." Agent Fastbeck promised, then continued, "But for right now, we need to be on the way to the Spencer place. We wouldn't want to keep Nancy waiting."
"There's no cell service at all?" Agent Roberts asked disbelievingly as he continued to stare at the phone in his hand.
"No. My sat phone is the only mobile phone that I'm aware of in the entire Waxell area."
* * * * *
"Do you want to go with me or drive your own car and follow along?" Agent Fastbeck asked as he stopped on the sidewalk.
"How likely do you think it is that I'll choose to stay in the mother-in-law house?"
"Knowing what little I do of the Spencers, it's probably nice... quaint even. But I can't predict how you'll react to it. If you don't like it for some reason, we can always swing north and check out the Granby place.
"I think it'll have to be pretty bad for me to choose the pig farm."
"Is this yours?" Agent Fastbeck asked as he indicated the Camry with Maryland plates parked in front of the office.
"I'll drive around and you can follow me."
Before Agent Roberts could respond, Agent Fastbeck walked briskly around the side of the bait shop/FBI office, to the back.
Shawn got into his car and looked at his phone again, feeling bewildered at the sense of 'disconnection' from the rest of the world.
A car pulling to a stop near him snapped him out of his thoughts and he started his engine.
* * * * *
The drive to the Spencer place was... delightful. In fact, it was almost Disneyesque. The scenery was beautiful. There was not one thing to distract from that beauty. It was almost too perfect. In his experience, nothing so beautiful turned out to be real.
When they finally came to a stop in a long driveway, Agent Fastbeck motioned for Agent Roberts to follow him.
Reluctantly, feeling more than a little creeped out by the unrealistic fantasy scenery, Agent Roberts finally followed.
As they approached the front door, it opened and a modestly attractive and unrealistically happy woman appeared. In that first moment, all that Agent Roberts could think was that this woman must have gone to the same training academy as Donna Reed and June Cleaver.
"Agent Fastbeck! Arn told me that you'd be stopping by. This must be the new agent who's going to be working with you." She said with such delight and cheer that Agent Roberts was certain that her meds needed to be drastically adjusted.
"Nancy Spencer, may I introduce Agent Shawn Roberts, he'll be starting with me tomorrow." Agent Fastbeck said formally.
"It's so nice to meet you Agent Roberts. I'm sure that you're going to be a great help to Agent Fastbeck." Nancy said warmly, then quickly asked, "Can I get you anything? I have some homemade cookies, or some peach tea if you're thirsty."
"Thank you, no. We've just come from the Waxell Diner. We couldn't possibly eat another bite." Agent Fastbeck said with a tender smile at her.
"Well then, I know you didn't come all this way to chat with me, so why don't I take you out to the cottage and you can see what you think of it?"
Before either could respond, Nancy hurried back into the house.
"She seems..." Shawn began to say, but was stopped when Nancy dashed back out with a set of keys in her hand.
"I haven't been out there in a week or two, but Gil's been going out a couple times a week to see that the place is alright." Nancy said as she walked past them and started leading the way away from the house.
"How long has it been since anyone lived there?" Agent Fastbeck asked curiously.
"Well, Lorna stayed out there for a few weeks, but didn't like the sense of isolation, so she moved back into the house with us until she left for college. Before that, the last person to stay in the house was my mother. When she was about... ninety-six, I think, she took a fall and we moved her into the house with us where we could keep an eye on her."
"How long ago was that?" Agent Fastbeck asked curiously.
"It's been a few years, but I can't quite recall. If it's important, we can stop in and ask mother when we get back to the house."
"No. It's not important. I was just curious." Agent Fastbeck assured her.
Agent Roberts was only half listening to the conversation as he realized that where they were walking couldn't even be counted as a 'path'. He had eerie flashbacks to a particular city park as he made very sure to stay close to Agent Fastbeck and Mrs. Spencer.
"You should know that if there's a heavy rain, that the driveway will flood. It's never been a problem, but if you leave your car at the bottom of the drive, it could be damaged." Nancy warned.
"I'll keep that in mind." Shawn muttered uneasily as they walked deeper into the woods.
"So even though this house is on the same property, it's completely isolated from your house in every way, is that right?" Agent Fastbeck asked cautiously.
"We share a mailing address, but I suppose that if you asked Ethyl, she'd come up with something unique for you. But as far as utilities and the like, everything's been kept separate all along."
"Ethyl's the town's mail carrier... and postmaster... and I think she's in charge of the phone system in town, too." Agent Fastbeck said thoughtfully.
"Ever since they took down the switchboard, she hasn't had as much to do, so when Pete Slattery finally retired from the post office, she took over for him." Nancy explained.
"You'll get to meet her when she drops off our mail at the office. You can talk to her about getting your own address then."
"If I decide to take the place." Agent Roberts interjected.
"I forgot to mention, the cottage is furnished. We've never had a reason to empty it out. Is that going to be a problem for you?" Nancy suddenly asked.
"No. I only have my suitcase and a few other things in my car." Shawn immediately answered.
"Then it sounds like a perfect situation for you. If you like the place, you could move in tonight." Nancy said cheerfully.
"How much farther is it?" Agent Roberts asked cautiously.
"Just around this bend and over a rise." Nancy said simply.
"Are there any wild animals that live in these woods that I should know about?" Agent Roberts asked as he looked around.
"Every now and then you'll hear something moving through the woods or baying at the moon in the distance, but as far as I recall, no one's had any problem with wild animals in the past thirty years or so. Left to themselves, the wildlife seem to keep their numbers in check." Nancy said pleasantly, then quickly added, "There it is!"
To Be Continued...
It's nice to see more of Agent Roberts. I hope he doesn't find himself too lonely so far away from everyone else. I am guessing it will be pretty peaceful. At least we can hope so, anyway.
Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher