The baby wipes were no match for Betsy's prodigious output. They ran
out long before the seat was clean enough for occupancy.
"When they hear you're pregnant for the fourth time," said Step, "I think
Johnson & Johnson's stock will go up ten points."
"There's more wipes in the big grey bag in the back," said DeAnne.
"Make sure you buy the stock before you announce it."
Step walked around to the back of what the Renault people called a
"deluxe wagon," unlocked the swing-up door, and swung it up. Even with the
bag zipped open he couldn't find the baby wipes. "Hey, Fish Lady, where'd you
pack the wipes?"
"In the bag somewhere, probably deep," she called. "While you're in
there, I need a Huggie for Betsy. She's wet and as long as I've got her
undressed I might as well do the whole job."
He gave the diaper to Stevie to pass forward, and then finally found the
baby wipes. He was just stepping back so he could close the wagon when he
realized that there was somebody standing behind and to the left of him. A
man, with big boots. A cop. Somehow a patrol car had managed to pull up
behind them and Step hadn't heard it, hadn't even noticed it was there.
"What's the trouble here?" asked the patrolman.
"My two-year-old threw up all over the back seat," said Step.
"You know the shoulder of the freeway is only to be used for
emergencies," said the cop.
For a moment it didn't register on Step what the cop's remark implied.
"You mean that you don't think that a child throwing up in the back seat is an
The patrolman fixed him with a steady gaze for a moment. Step knew
the look. It meant, Ain't you cute, and he had seen it often back when he used
to get speeding tickets before his license was suspended back in '74 and
DeAnne had to drive them everywhere. Step knew that he shouldn't say
anything, because no matter what he said to policemen, it always made things
DeAnne came to his rescue. She came around the car carrying Betsy's
soaked and stinking clothes. "Officer, I think if you had these in your car for
about thirty seconds you'd pull off the road, too."
The cop looked at her, surprised, and then grinned. "Ma'am, I guess you
got a point. Just hurry it up. It's not safe to be stopped here. People come
down this road too fast sometimes, and they take this curve wide."
"Thanks for your concern, Officer," said Step.
The patrolman narrowed his eyes. "Just doing my job," he said, rather
nastily, and walked back to his car.
Step turned to DeAnne. "What did I say?"
"Get me a Ziploc bag out of there, please," she said. "If I have to smell
these any longer I'm going to faint."
He handed her the plastic bag and she stuffed the messy clothes into it.
"All I said to him was `Thanks for your concern,' and he acted like I told him
his mother had never been married."
She leaned close to him and said softly, affectionately, "Step, when you
say `Thank you for your concern' it always sounds like you're just accidently
leaving off the word butthead."
"I wasn't being sarcastic," said Step. "Everybody always thinks I'm being
sarcastic when I'm not."
"I wouldn't know," said DeAnne. "I've never been there when you weren't
"You think you know too much, Fish Lady."
"You don't know anywhere near enough, Junk Man."
He kissed her. "Give me a minute and I'll be ready to put our Betsy
Wetsy doll back in her place."
He heard her muttering as she went back to her door: "Her name is
Elizabeth." He grinned.
Step got back to wiping down Betsy's seat.
"I didn't even hear that cop come up," said Stevie.
"Cop?" asked Robbie.
"Go back to sleep, Road Bug," said Step.
"Did we get a ticket, Daddy?" asked Robbie.
"He just wanted to make sure we were all right," said Step.
"He wanted us to move our butts out of here," said Stevie.
"Step!" said DeAnne.
"It was Stevie who said it, not me," said Step.
"He wouldn't talk that way if he didn't learn it from you," said DeAnne.
"Is he still there?" asked Step.
Stevie half-stood in order to see over the junk on the back deck. "Yep,"
"I didn't hear him either," said Step. "I just turned around and there he
"What if it wasn't a cop and you just turned around and it was a bad
guy?" asked Stevie.
"He gets his morbid imagination from you," said DeAnne.
"Nobody would do anything to us out on the open highway like this
where anybody passing by could see."
"It's dark," said Stevie. "People drive by so fast."
"Well, nothing happened," said DeAnne, rather testily. "I don't like
talking about things like that."
"If it was a bad guy Daddy would've popped him one in the nose!" said
"Yeah, right," said Step.
"Daddy wouldn't let anything bad happen," said Robbie.
"That's right," said DeAnne. "Neither would Mommy."
"The seat's clean," said Step. "And the belt's as clean as it's going to get
in this lifetime."
"I'll bring her around."
"Climb over!" cried Betsy merrily, and before DeAnne could grab her, she
had clambered through the gap between the bucket seats. She buckled her
own seat belt, looked up at Step, and grinned.
"Well done, my little Wetsy doll." He leaned in and kissed her forehead,
then closed the door and got back in to the driver's seat. The cop was still
behind them, which made him paranoid about making sure he didn't do
anything wrong. He signaled. He drove just under the speed limit. The last
thing they needed was a court date in some out-of-the-way Kentucky town.
"How much farther to Frankfort?" asked DeAnne.
"Maybe half an hour, probably less," said Step.
"Oh, I must have slept a long way."
"An hour maybe."
"You're such a hero to drive the whole way," she said.
"Give me a medal later," he said.
He turned the stereo back up a little. Everybody might have been asleep
again, it was so quiet in the car. Then Stevie spoke up.
"Daddy, if it was a bad guy, would you pop him one?"
What was he supposed to say, Yessiree, my boy, I'd pop him so hard he'd
be wearing his nose on the back of his head for the rest of his life? Was that
what was needed, to make Stevie feel safe? To make him proud of his father?
Or should he tell the truth--that he had never hit anyone in anger in his life,
that he had never hit a living soul with a doubled-up fist.
No, my son, my approach to fighting has always been to make a joke and
walk away, and if they wouldn't let me go, then I ran like hell.
"It depends," said Step.
"On whether I thought that popping him would make things better or
"I mean, if he's a foot taller than me and weighs three hundred pounds
and has a tire iron, I think popping him wouldn't be a good idea. I think in a
case like that I'd be inclined to offer him my wallet so he'd go away."
"But what if he wanted to murder us all?"
DeAnne spoke up without turning her head out of her pillow. "Then your
father would kill him, and if he didn't, I would," she said mildly.
"What if he killed both of you first?" asked Stevie. "And then came and
wanted to kill Robbie and Betsy?"
"Stevie," said DeAnne, "Heavenly Father won't let anything like that
happen to you."
That was more than Step could stand. "God doesn't work that way," he
said. "He doesn't stop evil people from committing their crimes."
"He's asking us if he's safe," said DeAnne.
"Yes, Stevie, you're safe, as safe as anybody ever is who's alive in this
world. But you were asking about what if somebody really terrible wanted to
do something vicious to our whole family, and the truth is that if somebody is
truly, deeply evil, then sometimes good people can't stop him until he's done a
lot of bad things. That's just the way it happens sometimes."
"Okay," said Stevie. "But God would get him for it, right?"
"In the long run, yes," said Step. "And I'll tell you this--the only way
anybody will ever get to you or the other kids or to your mother, for that
matter, is if I'm already dead. I promise you that."
"Okay," said Stevie.
"There aren't that many really evil people in the world," said Step. "I
don't think you need to worry about this."
"Okay," said Stevie.
"I mean, why did you ask about this stuff?"
"He had a gun."
"Of course he had a gun, dear," said DeAnne. "He's a policeman. He has
a gun so he can protect people like us from those bad people."
"I wish we could always have a policeman with us," said Stevie.
"Yeah, that'd be nice, wouldn't it?" said Step. Right, nice like a
hemorrhoid. I'd have to drive fifty-five all the time.
Stevie had apparently exhausted his questions.
A few moments later, Step felt DeAnne's hand on his thigh, patting him.
He glanced over at her. "Sorry," he whispered. "I didn't mean to contradict
"You were right," she said softly.
He smiled at her and held her hand for a moment, until he needed both
hands on the wheel for a turn.
Still, all the rest of the way into Frankfort he couldn't get Stevie's
questions out of his mind. Nor could he forget his own answers. He had
stopped DeAnne from teaching Stevie that God would always protect him from
bad people, but then he had gone on and promised that he would give his life
before any harm ever came to the children. But was that true? Did he have
that kind of courage? He thought of parents in concentration camps who
watched their children get killed before their eyes, and yet they could do
nothing. And even if he tried, what good would Step be able to do against
somebody bent on violence? Step had no skill in fighting, and he was pretty
sure it wasn't one of those things that you just know how to do. Any
half-assed hoodlum would make short work of Step, and here he had kids who
were looking to him for protection. I should study karate or something. Kung
fu. Or buy a gun so that when Stevie is fourteen he can find it where it's
hidden and play around with it and end up killing himself or Robbie or some
friend of his or something.
No, thought Step. None of the above. I won't do any of those things,
because I'm a civilized man living in a civilized society, and if the barbarians
ever knock on my door I'll be helpless.
They pulled into Frankfort and there was a Holiday Inn with a vacancy
sign. Step took it as a good omen. Officially he didn't believe in omens. But
what the heck, it made him feel better to take it that way, and so he did.
Copyright © 1992 Orson Scott Card