Thomas David Rosenberg rode up the driveway going to the Hendricks's farm early in September. He swung his leg across the Harley Davidson with ease and propped it against the red maple tree in the front yard. He straightened the backpack he wore; made sure his radio was still clipped to his belt then removed the earphones from his ears before knocking lightly on the door of the century old brick house.
"I heard in town you might need some help," Thomas said to the elderly gentleman who opened the door. "I sure need the job, sir if you're planning on hiring someone."
"I've got a fair size herd of cattle and horses to be fed," Mr. Hendricks said. "Do you know anything about mowing and baling hay, young man?
"I may look too young for the job, sir, but I can manage to cut and bale the hay by myself," Thomas said. "I love being around animals and I'm sure I wouldn't have any problems feeding your cattle and horses."
"What do you think, Flora Jean? Mr. Hendricks asks the middle-aged lady standing behind him.
"I don't know," Flora Jean answered a bit uneasy. "I just work here; you should hire whoever you want to."
"Now, Flora Jean," Mr. Hendricks said. "You know I always ask your opinion in matters such as this. He does seem like a nice clean cut young man. I think we should give him a chance to prove he can do the work."
"I'll show him to the bunkhouse," Flora Jean said. "I'll need to put fresh linens on the bed."
"Well, thank you, Ma'am," Thomas said smiling. "I can see right now I'm going to like working here."
Thomas spent the entire day feeding the cattle, cleaning stalls, washing water troughs and feed buckets. He went to the house two hours before quitting time, but put down he had worked the full eight hours.
"Mr. Hendricks," Flora Jean said, coming into the kitchen. "Thomas only halfway cleaned the stalls and he lied about putting in eight hours. He worked six hours exactly."
"I'm sure he will do better cleaning the stalls once he gets the hang of it," Mr. Hendricks said. "You're probably mistaken about his time. He's such a nice young man, I'm sure he would never try to cheat me on his wages."
Thomas was on the job the next morning at sunrise; although he wrote down he went to work around five in the morning. He swung the sickle at the overgrowth of honeysuckle vines while he watched intensely for the mail carrier's jeep to go by. The mail carrier passed his mailbox without stopping. Thomas leaped on his bike and raced down the driveway. He pulled several large puffy white envelopes from his jacket pocket and stuffed them into the old rust covered mailbox.
An hour later Thomas practically ran down the driveway. He removed several flat envelopes from the mailbox then walked briskly toward the bunkhouse. He hid the envelopes in the freezer compartment of the refrigerator before going to the barn. He pretended to be busy washing water troughs the remainder of the day.
"It sure is hot outside today," Thomas said to Mr. Hendricks when he jotted down his time. "I don't mind though, hard work never hurt anyone."
"Isn't he the best farmhand we've had in a long time, Flora Jean? Mr. Hendricks said closing the door.
"If you ask me, he's putting on airs," Flora Jean said. "He lied about his time again. He put down he worked fifteen hours when he actually worked ten."
"You're suspicions of everyone, Flora Jean," Mr. Hendricks said. "You may as well stop complaining, because I'm not going to fire Thomas."
"What could he be up to? Flora Jean asks Mr. Hendricks as she peeped around the curtain late that night. "He always wears that backpack, carries his radio on his belt, he never takes those earphones out of his ears and he goes to the mailbox at all hours."
"I'm not getting rid of Thomas," Mr. Hendricks snapped. "If you have problems with that, Flora Jean, then you can pack up and leave. As you know someone has been stealing my horses and Thomas has been keeping an eye out to catch the lowlife horse thieves.
"Yes, sir," Flora Jean muttered. "You know I don't have anywhere else I can go and I really need this job."
Halloween night, Flora Jean peeped around the curtains watching for Thomas to come by. He sped by the window on his bike. He was stuffing large fat envelopes into the mailbox when three policemen grabbed him, threw him on the ground and handcuffed him.
"What's all that commotion about, Flora Jean? Mr. Hendricks asked coming into the room.
"Look for yourself," Flora Jean said smugly. "The police are getting ready to take away the apple of your eye."
"Officer," Mr. Hendricks yelled rushing out the door. "You have no right coming on my property and manhandling my help."
"Your help is a horse rustler sir," the tall officer answered. "He escaped from the county jail a year ago and we've been looking for him every since. That backpack he carries contains a cellular phone. The radio is rigged up for him to talk and the earphones are his listening devise. That's the way he's been setting up his stealing horses deals. He would manage to steal the horse's papers while in your house and leave them in the mailbox for his cohorts to pick up. Then his old buddies would come by and steal the horses late at night. They left money in his mailbox for him stealing the horse's papers. We got a tip he was at your farm from an anonymous caller. Now, if you'll excuse us, sir, we're taking your farmhand in."
I would have never thought Thomas was the one involved in stealing the horses, Mr. Hendricks said. He seemed to be such a nice young man.
"I must say I did tell you so," Flora Jean gloated. "The only thing that disturbs me is you thinking he was Mister perfect. By the way, I've kept track of all the time Thomas lied about and it comes to exactly forty-eight hours. And now not only did he lie about his time. We find out he's a horse thief.
"That's not all he's cheated me out of," Mr. Hendricks said. "I loaned him fifteen hundred dollars this morning to buy an old car."
"Oh, my goodness," Flora Jean said, trying not to laugh. "I hope you've learned from this experience and know now not everyone is always what they appear to be."
Copyright © 1994 Jo Ann Lovelace. All Rights Reserved.