Chief Anderson and Pete tossed aside another splintered section of roof to clear the steps leading into yet another cellar. The sound of an engine's deep rumbling drew their attention to the street.
“Wonder who that is?” Pete asked as a late model Buick bounced over a mattress then rolled to a stop.
“Probably looking for family,” Anderson said as he returned to his task.
“Want me to…”
“No. Can't hide the truth from ’em. Let them see for themselves. If they have questions, they can come ask.”
Pete watched the car for a few minutes more but when the driver and passenger remained seated, he turned back to the pile of rubble still needing to be cleared.
Sonny sat behind the steering wheel staring out the window at the devastation surrounding him. He wasn't new to the Midwest and had been on the fringes of more than a few tornados but this was different. The storm's fury had been directed at this neighborhood and being so close to the aftermath was a sobering experience.
“Damn,” Sonny said.
“Not a whole lot left,” his companion added while looking out the side window. “Sure this is worth our time.”
“Won't know until we get out and check,” Sonny answered. He reached for the door handle, wrapping his fingers around the metal and slowly twisting it. When the latch released freeing the door, he pushed it open and stepped out.
“Think they'll stop us?” Clyde Norman asked as he walked around the front of the Buick to join Sonny. His suit was disheveled and he wiped his beefy hands down the cheap fabric trying to smooth out some of the winkles.
“Looks like they have enough problems without adding us to their list,” Sonny said. Looking around, he saw that the men of the search parties didn't appear too interested in them so he turned away from the car and cautiously picked his way across the debris littered street.
“How do you know which house was his?”
“You think this is the first time Rocks has sent me out here to check on him?”
Clyde kicked a broken chair out of his way. “Probably not,” he muttered.
Sonny stopped in front of a piece of plywood propped up against the front porch. The number one had been painted on the board and circled, sticky red paint sparkling as the sun shone through a break in the grey clouds.
“What's that mean?” Clyde asked.
Scratching his cheek, Sonny glanced down to the opposite end of the street where several men could be seen moving about the debris. “Might save some time by asking,” he said before walking back to the sidewalk. Clyde shrugged and followed without comment.
Breathing hard, Chief Anderson was standing at the top of the cellar steps when Sonny walked up. He readjusted the weight in his arms before stepping back to allow Pete time to complete his climb up the steps with his end of their heavy burden. Once both men were back on level ground, they carried the body to the front yard and gently placed it on the ground. “Grab that curtain,” Anderson instructed Sonny who, after a moment's hesitation, snatched up the piece of cloth clinging to the side of a smashed window frame. The cloth was stretched over the body and weighted down with pieces of debris.
“I don't envy your job,” Sonny commented when Anderson stood up.
As the chief pulled a sweat stained handkerchief from his back pocket and wiped his brow, he eyed the pair of strangers. Neither appeared ready to volunteer to help him in his grisly work. “You have business here?”
Sonny watched as Pete picked up a can of paint salvaged from one of the houses and painted a 1 and X on the bottom of a shattered drawer, all that remained of the dresser that it once belonged to. When he finished, Pete propped the drawer up against the porch.
Sonny tilted his chin in Pete's direction. “Wondering what the numbers are for.”
“You reporters?” Anderson asked, rubbing his sore back.
“Just answer the question,” Clyde blurted out.
“No. We're not reporters,” Sonny answered while glaring at Clyde who took a step back. “We're looking for a friend. Lived down there,” he said pointing back down the street. “We saw the number on the front of the house. Wondered what it meant.”
“What was it?”
“A one. But it was circled.”
“House where we found the girl,” Pete said. “Only survivor we found, so far.”
“The kid's alive?”
Anderson nodded. “Sent her to the hospital in Kalona.”
“Damn, we just came from there,” Clyde grumbled.
“Go wait at the car,” Sonny ordered. “Sorry, his manners aren't too good,” he apologized once Clyde had walked away.
Anderson shrugged then said, “He's your problem. You have any more questions? We need to get back to work.”
“Was something wrong with her? You said you sent to the hospital.”
“Had a piece of wood stuck through her ankle; otherwise, seemed in good shape.”
“She was pretty shook up,” Pete inserted. “Kept asking for her mother. She'll probably be real glad to see family.”
“Guess we better head back to Kalona then. My friend has a store there, he'll be real glad to hear she's all right. I thank you.” He nodded to the two men then turned and walked back to the Buick.
“Nice fellow,” Pete said when Sonny slammed the car's door shut. “Can't say the same for the other one, though.”
“Hmm,” Anderson muttered noncommittally as he watched the Chrysler drive away.
“Funny that he never asked about his friend's wife.”
“Maybe she's in Kalona, too.”
“Doubt they'd leave the girl alone?”
“Maybe she wasn't.”
“He didn't ask about anyone else.”
“No, I guess he didn't. What are you thinking?”
Anderson stuffed his handkerchief back into his pocket. “I'm thinking we better get some help, and soon, if we're going to get the rest of these houses checked out before dark.”
“I hear sirens,” Pete said shifting to look to the west. “That's probably the boys from Kalona.”
Anderson tapped Pete's arm with the back of his hand. “Come on, let's get back to work.”
“You said a young girl?” a harried woman asked from behind a makeshift desk. “We've had so many…”
“She's four. The men that found her said she had a piece of wood through her ankle.”
The woman shuffled through the papers on top of the table.
“Make way!” a voice boomed. “Get these people out of the hallways,” the doctor ordered as he ran after a gurney.
“What was the name?” the woman asked, ignoring the doctor and his orders. She had already been forced to move half a dozen times and there simple was no other place for her to be. The Kalona Hospital was overrun by people desperate for information on missing family members. She was supposed to be providing answers to their questions but it was impossible to keep up with the ever-growing number of victims the hospital's medical staff was treating.
“Sally, why don't you take a break,” an older woman said after sitting in the vacant chair beside Sally. “Go on. Just take a few minutes to get some fresh air. It'll do you good.”
Sally sighed then nodded. “Thanks, Agnes. I won't be long.”
“Now,” Sally looked up at the man standing impatiently on the opposite side of the table. “Name?”
“Man, woman, child?
“I've already told—”
Agnes scanned a page she pulled from a pile of papers. “There's a girl on the third floor about that age. No name for her but…,” her voice died out as the man rushed down the hallway toward the stairs. She turned her attention to the next person in line. “Name?”
Return to the Academy