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From the border it was about another hour or so drive to the gates of Valle Del Lagarto. I held it together remarkable well under the circumstances. I could tell Talon was tense because he’s grown quiet and his fists were clenched. He had even fewer good memories of this town then I did. I slipped my hand into his, but didn’t say anything. I didn’t need to draw any attention to his emotional state because I knew he didn’t want to talk about it with me or anyone else in that van. He squeezed my hand back.
We were met at the gate by an armed escort that included about ten law enforcement officers, the mayor, my uncle, and few lawyers my uncle had procured for us. The van was mostly quiet as we pulled up, but Mark commented “Anyone else get the feeling we might have just made the biggest mistakes of our lives?” And Ben said “I guess I’ll be seeing ya’ll in ten to twenty, better make that thirty in my case cause there no chance I’m getting out early for good behavior.” Malachi made a comment about Ben being someone’s girlfriend in prison before Gideon told them all to be quiet. Talon hadn’t spoken up during their banter, but held my hand tightly and watched the mob that was approaching our vehicle as we parked just outside the gates.
We got out single file, and followed all instructions, which included everyone in our company to hold our hands out in front of us. No one was really happy about this and there were a few curses that rang out, Ander was very vocal about it.
The chief of police identified himself as Chief Neumann and assured us it was all standard protocol and no one was under arrest. He was a man in his late forties, in amazing physical shape, and not bad on the eyes either. His trimmed dark hair was peppered with gray mostly around his temples, he was clean shaven allowing the definition of his jawline to be seen, and his eyes were bright blue. I would’ve followed any command that man gave me, even if he wasn’t armed.
Next came the search of our vehicles and the pat downs of our persons. Claire and I got female officers for the job, while smart ass Ben made a comment about liking it rough and Mal called him an idiot. So far our first impression to the folks of Valle Del Lagarto wasn’t going so professionally. Talon was silent through this whole process, while most of the others answered the questions their assigned officers asked, if we had anything on us. The officer frisking Talon was an averaged sized guy, buzzed haircut, late thirties, but with very little neck, and possibly a chip on his shoulder. Because when Talon didn’t answer him immediately, he got a bit rougher than necessary and pressed Talon up against the van harder.
“I’m not in the mood for games here, young man. Answer the question. Do you have anything in your pockets, that could be used as a weapon or stick me?”
I made a move towards them, but Claire grabbed my arm to stop me. My uncle approached and handled the situation first. Luckily for the officer.
“Hey, Wiest lighten up on my nephew. This is pretty traumatic experience for them being back here. Their last visit didn’t go so well,” said my uncle.
“Just doing my job here, Merrin.”
Talon turned as much as he was able in the officer’s hold to be able to face him. “No sir. I’m not carrying anything but a hell of a lot of anger and resentment towards this place.”
“Talon,” said Gideon sharply.
“And shit just got even more real,” said Ben.
My search was over so the officer let me go to my uncle and I gave him a hug. My move was also to place myself in closer proximity to the officer and my husband while he finished searching him. As soon as he was released I went to Talon and placed my arm around his back and pulled him close.
“I’m fine,” he said.
After we were deemed weaponless, the Mayor approached us and identified himself. He was newly elected. The last Mayor had quickly resigned just after Atticus’ fled, and although nothing was ever concretely pinned on him, suspicion ran rampant that he was on Atticus’s payroll. He’d left town soon afterwards. This mayor was a man in his mid- fifties, a bit overweight, balding, with a beard and mustache but looking very approachable like the grandfather at the block party that gave all the kids popsicles.
“I’m Mayor Cranston. I just want to welcome each and every one of you to our beautiful city of Valle Del Lagarto.”
He shook all our hands in turn and we introduced ourselves. When he got to me he looked at me regretfully. “I’m so sorry Miss Shayle that your last homecoming was so unpleasant. I hope you find things much more pleasant this time around, and I’ll personally see to it this time you’ll be able to explore your roots properly by a private tour I’ve arranged for you and your family to see the sights of our beautiful city.”
“It’s Mrs. Theron now, but thank you. I would like that very much.”
Besides me Talon wasn’t so enthusiastic, but at least he shook the mayor’s hand and said it was nice to meet him. Afterwards we were introduced to our trio of lawyers and instructed we were going to head back to the police station for our interviews. Even though we’d come in through the smaller gate, by this time a crowd was beginning to form and watch. The gate had been closed and all the police presence had alert some of the citizen of Valle Del Lagarto that something was going down. Cell phones and whispers were running rampant through the crowd.
They let us ride in our own vehicles, but there was no mistaken this was optional by the police escort we got through town. My uncle had gotten into our van and sat beside Talon and I to reassure things will be okay. I watched the somewhat familiar sites of Valle Del Lagarto pass by, as we stuck to the side roads that didn’t take us through the heart of town. But this was a route I knew from the times Atticus and Garren took me to Diablo Street. The streets were made of white stone and most of the houses were tract houses made from different colors of stucco.