The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

November 17, 2010

Chapter 12: As the Small Town Turns


CNHI

ATHENS — By Bill Hunt

Guest writer

“We’ve had an APB out for two days, Buck, and the only thing I’ve gotten back is, the police have a rig abandoned in Branson, Missouri with a Bama plate,” the Sheriff explained. “They also have a doll looked like it fell out the cab.”

“A doll, like a Raggedy Ann, maybe?” Buck asked anxiously, eyes opened wide, hoping the sheriff would say ‘yes’.

“Yeah, a Raggedy Ann thing. You recon Roxanne had one of those?” the Sheriff nodded hopefully.

“Absolutely, she did. I’ve seen her with it a thousand times … poor kid, and poor Raquel, but at least we have a trail now. I have to tell Raquel, sheriff.”

*****

“Are you up to it, Raquel? Buck asked, and squeezed her hand. He eyes held fast to the white blanket wrapped around this fragile young woman — as fragile as his buddy, Bobby Tom. He looked into Raquel’s teary eyes.

“I have no choice, Buck. I’ve gotta get my daughter, and Daddy’ll let me have the money to go to Branson … but Buck,” she said, hesitatingly, and choosing her words carefully, her voice trailing off to barely a whisper. “Would you take me there, please?”

“You know I want to,” Buck whispered back, and then pulled her to him, wrapping his strong arms around the trembling young woman. “But the sheriff has asked me to ride along with him. He knows I flew Blackhawks in Iraq and he wants me to pilot the copter.”

“Don’t cry, Raquel, we’re going to have Roxy back in your arms in no time.”

Her tears turned into sobs as Buck brushed back her hair, then he kissed the tears away.

*****

“I wanna go home to Mommy,” Roxy said, as Rock raised her to the stool in an off-stage wing of the Star Dust Theatre.

“Well, your daddy’s gonna sing in just a minute, and you can watch from right here, Honey,” Rock said to his young daughter, while running his fingers through her freshly cut hair.

The announcer’s voice, raspy and loud, drowned out the music for a second: “And, ladies and gentlemen,” he called out, “we have our next ‘Elvis’ tonight, ready to explode –– Alabama’s own Rock Roddenheimer, singing Heartbreak Hotel, and here he is!”

The MC’s voice rose to a higher pitch, and held for a second. Applause erupted and the music got louder as Rock ran onto the stage. The applause died, and then Rock pointed squarely to the orchestra in the pit. He snapped his fingers to the rhythm, his voice strong as the words shot out:

“Well, since my baby left me,

I found a new place to dwell …”

Applause exploded again and Rock smiled, threw back his head and balanced on his toes:

“It’s down at the end of lonely street …”

Applause and whistles drowned out the orchestra and for a second Rock seemed startled by the enthusiasm of the crowd:

“At Heartbreak Hotel …”

The spotlights overhead were blinding, red ones, blue ones, some flashing, making Rock’s shiny white suit glow iridescent as his heart pounded. Squinting in the brightness, he saw the audience come to their feet, clapping and whistling, and through the corner of his eye he caught Roxy, in her faded, threadbare overalls, dancing girlishly toward him. Swinging to the rhythm of the blaring music, she mimicked every move her daddy made, mouthing his words as she danced to the rhythm of Heartbreak Hotel.

The Star Dust rocked, and Rock Roddenheimer rejoiced and sang on, assured that with his little girl beside him, his “act” was given a brand new start.

But sirens wailed a block away.