Jeff Baxter tightened the purple tie on his gray New York State Trooper uniform and checked his appearance in the master bedroom mirror. Jeff’s wife of seven years, Heather, emerged from the hallway and wrapped her arms behind him.
“You don’t have to do this Jeff, everyone will understand.” Her sweet voice was not much louder than a whisper. Jeff cleared his throat and gave her a peck on the cheek.
“I know honey, but I want to. It’s important. I’ll tell you all about it when I get home tonight.”
Jeff’s afternoon schedule wasn’t routine, and it still felt incomplete to get in the car and not have his partner, Willie Coleman, with him. It had been thirteen months since the two came upon a meth lab in the hills of Schuyler County. Their discovery came as much as a surprise to them as it did the owner of the lab, Keith Ketchum.
With back up on the way a pursuit took them through the woods, territory Keith knew well. The gunshots sounded like cannons because the troopers were so close. Keith hit his mark dead on. Willie instantly died from the head wound. Keith was eventually captured, the event plastered throughout the media for two solid weeks.
Through the months Jeff exhausted himself to keep Willie’s memory alive. Willie’s widow, Tanya, worked at a bank and the bank set up a scholarship in Willie’s name. Willie’s entire six foot frame had been full of love for Jesus and people in hopeless situations. Tanya wanted the money to go towards a yearly scholarship to help children in adverse situations purchase school supplies.
She asked Jeff to work on the scholarship committee. There were so many heartbreaking entries Jeff wondered how they could pick just one. When they saw Penny’s application, he handed it to Tanya. She lowered her head and stifled a sob. No words were needed. Jeff would personally escort the winner to the store. Jeff knew this event was something Willie would want. The more Jeff prayed, he realized this shopping venture was something Jesus wanted.
Jeff knew Penny’s address from previous work on Sugar Hill, an economically oppressed area of rural Schuyler County. Keg parties, domestic violence calls, and drug activity kept that area on their radar.
Jeff pulled into the stone driveway with a pair of mutt dogs at the car’s side. The trailer was from the 1970’s and looked like it’d been that long since it was maintained. A tattered white curtain opened quickly and shut just as fast. Tires and wind chimes filled the awning area by the front door steps. Jeff put his hat on and made long strides to the front step. The door swung wide open.
“Trooper Jeff? Mom wants to talk to you before we go.” Jeff knelt down, tipping his hat to the seven year old with a mass of freckles and long red hair.
“That’s me. Are you ready to do some shopping? I’ve a date with a pretty girl with freckles named Penny and we have school supplies to buy.” Penny gave a wide grin, revealing the loss of two front teeth. She held out her hand and escorted Jeff to the living room. A woman most likely in her thirties but so overcome by life she looked ten years older was changing a toddler’s diapers.
“I don’t get why you’re doin’ what you’re doin’, but thank you. Penny’s a good girl. She’s my angel. I believe she can break out of the life she inherited.” The woman couldn’t look him in the eye.
Jeff and Penny said their goodbyes and drove to the nearest Wal-Mart in Watkins Glen, across from Seneca Lake and Clute Park. Penny asked if they could get Burger King and eat by the lake when done. Jeff couldn’t deny the innocent, curious girl.
Three hours later Jeff and Penny came in the trailer with three bags full of pencils, crayons, markers, paper, erasers, folders, a lunch box and a pink Madagascar backpack. She was full from chicken and fries. Penny ran into her mom’s open arms. Her mom was openly weeping. Jeff felt his tears too.
“Your kindness is a miracle Trooper Baxter. I’m so sorry for...” Jeff put his hat back on and pulled a Bible out of his own shopping bag, handing it to Penny’s mom.
“Mrs. Ketchum, it’s what Willie and Jesus wanted me to do, and I’m so glad I did.”
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