The twists and turns of history can change in a few seconds. Some people’s lives could have been much different, with just a few minor adjustments. But then again, history must take place for changes to happen. Someone once said history creates new beginnings. Enjoy the final Part of Ma Barker.
JAY SAT AND LISTENED to Joann tell him how she was the infamous Ma Barker. For three hours, he had allowed her to reminisce about her times as the notorious outlaw. Part of him wanted to believe this woman, who was possibly over one-hundred years old. He felt pity for her. She probably just wanted someone to talk to.
Most importantly, she wanted to be unique in some way. And he could not deny her that. So he let her regale him a bit more. She was telling him about when the FBI shot her and her son in the cabin.
“You tell me,” Joann said. “You’re the reporter.” She paused. “What would you do if the federal government was offering you life or death? Fred and I were shot to hell in that little shack. Maybe I’m here telling you my story because someone gave me three options. Either help the federal government.” She held up a finger. “Stay in a prison cell underground for the rest of my life.” She held up two fingers. “I was told that I would live a long time in that cell underground. The government would see to it. My guess was they would keep me alive. Or, I could choose to be hung by the neck until dead.” She held up three fingers. “None of them was appealing. No plea bargains like they have today.”
“So you made a decision that you didn’t want to make but had to,” he said.
“Maybe I helped the federal government until one day I outgrew my usefulness,” she said. “I was so old they forgot about killing me. Instead, they put me on drugs to make me appear senile. Then they locked me away and put me out to pasture with some other old people. Therefore, I’m just an old crazy woman when I tell my story to young people like you. You look into it. Do your work. In the meantime, hold up your end of the bargain. Get me out of this town. Tell me what bus or train I can take to get out of this place. You promised that…”
“Oh, Mrs. Stilts,” two women said. They were in their mid-thirties, wearing blue dresses, standing next to Jay’s seat. “You left the group again.”
“I’m not finished with my apple pie,” Joann said.
“You can bring it with you,” one of the women said. “Your teeth still bothering you? We’ll put it in a box for you to have later. And you made a friend.”
“No,” Joann said. “He’s just some young man that was bothering me.”
“Where are you taking her?” Jay asked.
“Just down the road,” one of the women said. “It’s Shay Town Senior Citizen Home. Are you a relative?”
Jay hesitated. “Yes,” he said. “I spotted her in here. Miss Stilts is on my mother’s side. Can I come to visit sometimes, Miss Stilts? I’ll bring mother too.”
“Yes,” Joann said. “I’d like that. That’s the least you can do. You owe me.”
Jay watched the two women lead Joann Stilts out the door. His head was spinning. There were too many questions to ask at the moment. And too many coincidences to be coincidences. He had some work ahead of him. And by the looks of Joann, or Kate, or Ma Barker, he could not be slow about it. She did not have long on this earth. If that woman was telling the truth, she was a walking piece of history. Albeit she was not a joyful piece of history. But she still was a piece of it.
Present January 2020
Jay looked out the window at the snow. He reached over to the coffee table and picked up a packet. It was thirty-seven years old. He got it from Joann when he visited her two weeks after they met in the restaurant.
Joann gave him that package to do a story on her. It was filled with photos and articles about the Barker-Karpis gang.
He had wanted to do a story on Joann. But he did not want to disrupt history. Nor ruin his reputation. He could not become a laughingstock of the industry. His career would have never recovered.
What had stayed on his mind for thirty-seven years was what happened after his first visit with Joann. They had talked for an hour in that first visit. Jay had considered that maybe Joannn was a savant or some voracious reader who remembered everything. Or she could have been a history educator.
When he was leaving, Joann said she wanted him to come back in two weeks. And he did. But the staff said that she was not there. The staff said Joan had disappeared.
One morning, the staff took most of the residents for a walk. Joann must have simply walked away. No one ever found or heard from her again.
Jay looked at the package like he had hundreds of times. But he could not bear to open it. His thoughts always turned to what if Joann was Ma Barker? What if he had missed out on the biggest story of his life and a piece of history? He would kick himself forever. So he refused to open it. Knowing he missed out would be devastating to him.
He put Joann’s packet back in his drawer under some clothes.
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