The McComber Switch
By Karen Singer
Chapter 63 Part 1 of 2 – The Hot Grill
The small executive jet landed at a private airfield shortly after dawn Wednesday morning. Trish and Michelle were there to meet it, along with Jed who had driven them. Not having their own vehicles yet was a bit irksome, but for the most part, the family was helping them all get around just fine. Their own vehicles would be there in another day, along with the rest of their crew.
The jet touched down and Emily got off quickly. There were no hugs between the women. They simply worked together that much. Jed loaded her bags into the back of his truck while Emily took the front seat instead of Trish. They were on their way before the jet had even moved to taxi back to the landing strip for takeoff again.
As he drove away from the little private airfield, Jed tried to size up this new player – another woman. He hadn’t expected the network to send mostly women out to do this story. But he realized that maybe he should have. He figured that maybe this kind of news piece was more of a women’s kind of thing. He didn’t know any men that would really be interested in watching anything like it.
Like the other two women, Jed lumped Emily in the middle age category, only perhaps a little better looking than the two that had arrived before. But he also figured she would have to be better looking to get her face on TV all the time…not that he had ever seen her there before. Even now, after evidently flying half the night, she looked like she was ready for the camera to start filming her.
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Emily had talked fairly extensively with Trish the night before, and she still needed to sit down with her whole team, but that didn’t mean that she wasn’t up to date enough that she couldn’t start asking her questions. “I hear you’ve got our camera guys on cloud nine,” she said to Jed to start the conversation off.
Jed smiled. “Just trying to help them out with whatever they need,” Jed replied. “I hadn’t expected them to have so much experience in the woods,” he added. “It’s turned out to be a pleasure for me as well.”
“I’m glad,” Emily replied.
“One of them even had a suggestion for the family business that none of us ever thought of before,” Jed continued.
“Oh? What’s that?”
“Instead of just doing guided hunts for people with guns, we can do them for people who just want to take pictures of the animals. Maybe we wouldn’t even have to charge as much since none of our animals would be getting killed. It’s something I think we’ll look into. See what my brother’s all think.”
“Do all your brothers act as guides?” Emily asked.
“All of them ma’am,” Jed replied. “Them more than me. My main job is to look after the land and the animals. Make sure none of them are over hunted…or in some cases like with the deer, make sure we’re killing enough.”
“Killing enough? I’d think you’d rather most of them not get killed.”
“Deer are kind of funny creatures,” Jed replied. “Even way out here in the middle of nowhere, if the herds get too big, then some of them starve or get sick. Especially during the winter. Controlling their population keeps them healthy and the hunters much happier. And trust me, we’ve got more than enough deer to go around.”
“I understand that one of our cameramen spent some time filming a heard right in one of your backyards.”
Jed smiled. “Yeah, Bob told me about that. The deer are all over – including in our backyards sometimes. He laughed. “Susan isn’t too happy about it though. It’s nearly impossible to keep them out of her gardens.”
“So you’ve got plenty of deer…and I guess other animals to hunt,” Emily stated, just for the facts.
“Plenty,” Jed replied.
“Have you ever been hunting with Jimmy Joe?” Emily asked next.
“Lots of times,” Jed replied. “My boys though more than me. She was really green when she started, but she’s come a long way. She loves it though. Can’t get enough. I mean, he loves it! Sorry. All this is still pretty new to me and the rest of the family. We’re all trying though.”
“Trish tells me that the women in the family don’t hunt. Why is that?”
Jed looked over at her briefly, wondering where she had heard it. “That’s right, ma’am. It’s kind of a family tradition. The men do all the hunting.”
“Forgive me for saying it,” Emily replied, “but it sounds a bit sexist.”
Jed nodded. “I’m sure it does, but we’ve got a few good reasons for it.”
“Think about it ma’am. We don’t kill anything for fun. None of us. We pretty much eat everything we kill.”
Jed nodded. “We never kill for the fun of it like a lot of the tourists do. The land and the animals here are too precious to us. We have no reason to kill any more than we can eat. No use letting good meat go to waste.”
“But why should that be a reason for the women not to hunt?”
“Because then there’d be twice as many of us out hunting all the time. Killing twice as many animals, most for no reason at all.”
“And you think that not allowing the women to hunt solves that problem?”
He nodded. “It’s worked for generations. There’s another big reason too,” he said, “although you’re probably going to label it sexist as well.”
Jed tried to think how to explain it. “We’re an old backwoods family,” he said. “Yeah, my brother Brian is now a doctor. Clint and Pete are licensed electricians. My two sisters have done rather well for themselves too. One of them is even a teacher. But we all basically come from the same backwoods past. The men in the family have always been the providers, and the women have always taken care of the rest of the family business. And don’t misunderstand me, I know how hard all the women in the family work. Probably as hard as the men. But the point is, we all have our place, and we try to stick to it. It helps all of us know how we fit into the family. And ma’am, family is about the most precious thing in the world to all of us.”
“Even more so than all your land and the animals?”
Jed nodded. “A lot more!”
Emily moved on to her next question. “You said you’ve hunted with Jimmy Joe. How about Jade, when she was still a boy?”
“Not much. Not like I’ve been with Jimmy Joe. Jimmy…I mean the one who’s Jade now, usually went with her father, not me.”
“So why are you hunting more with Jimmy Joe than you did with Jade?”
Again Jed glanced over at her again. “Jimmy didn’t care for hunting much. Jimmy Joe loves it. Can’t get enough. And…she’s getting pretty good now too. Almost as good as my boys.”
“But that doesn’t explain why Jimmy Joe would go hunting with you or your boys when the original Jimmy didn’t.”
Jed smiled. “Jimmy Joe is learning more than just about hunting with me. I take care of the land and the animals. I’m teaching my sons that part of the business too. Ethan is in college right now studying land management so he can start helping me, and I have no doubt that in a few years Justin will be working with me too. Jimmy Joe is already starting to learn the things I’ve already taught my boys. And like I said, she’s come a long way already. I mean he!”
“So you think Jimmy Joe will eventually help you and your boys out with…I guess, tending the land? Taking care of it?”
Jed nodded. “That’s the way it’s looking. As long as she keeps on in the direction she’s going…I mean he’s going, of course.”
“What do you mean by the direction he’s going?”
Jed looked over at her quickly again. Emily noticed the troubled look on his face. “If she still decides she wants to stay a boy,” he replied.
“Because girls in the family can’t hunt,” Emily stated.
Jed nodded. “Something like that.”
“And do you expect Jimmy Joe to change his mind and go back to being a girl?”
Trish in the backseat was holding her breath, waiting for the answer.
“That’s just it,” Jed replied. “We’re all hoping. Wishing for it. The problem is, as much as we all want it to happen, Jimmy Joe is just being plain stubborn about it! She…I mean he now, ain’t budging one little bit!”
“So you think Jimmy Joe is simply that determined to become a boy…or a man?”
Jed nodded. “As much as none of us like it, none of us have any doubt about it at all anymore.”
For a moment there, Emily thought she might have cracked part of the big family secret that Trish had hinted might exist. But as far as she could see, Jed had just blown that theory out of the water.
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Shortly after arriving at Jacob’s house, Emily called her whole team together for a meeting in her bedroom…and closed the door. They all went over everything they had learned so far, as well as everything any of them thought or suspected. Foremost on Emily’s mind though was the suggestions from Doctor Hapkins to check out the friends of the twins in order to learn about them that way.
“Okay,” Emily finally said. “Let’s see if this Doctor Hapkins is right. I still want to tackle the twins alone…and separately first before we go after the friends. When we do, we’re probably going to have to get permission from the parents to do it, but I want to hit each of them – and hit them hard. Today with the twins, I want to go in with both cameras filming – maybe using the excuse we want to get them used to it so they can learn to ignore the cameras in their faces when we interview them later. Most people have a pretty much impossible time with that anyway.”
“But won’t the mother insist on being there?” Michelle asked.
“She can try,” Emily replied. “Well tell her that we don’t want her to be any kind of distraction to the twins. Besides, the family is getting full rights as to what gets broadcast on the air anyway, and we’ll tell them this is only trial video to see if the scene locations will work.”
Michelle shrugged. “Maybe!” she said. “That mother watches her kids like a hawk!”
“We’ve got to try,” Emily replied. “When do they get home from school?”
“Not until later this afternoon,” Trish told her.
“Damn,” Emily muttered. “You said they’re keeping all the kids home from school on Friday. I wonder if we can talk them into keeping them home tomorrow too. It would sure help.”
“We can ask,” Trish replied.
“Look into it,” Emily ordered as she looked at Michelle. “Now, today I hit Jed with a few good questions while we were driving here from the airport. I thought I might have shaken something loose, but it didn’t pan out. Until the twins get home, I want to split up and find every family member we can and grill them hard about just what they each think about the twins swapping places. I already know none of them like it. But let’s see how they each react separately.”
She turned to her two cameramen. “Bob, you stay with me. Ryan, you follow Trish. As of right now, we’re filming everything! As far as the family needs to know though, it’s all just for trial and setup and to get them used to it for later.” She looked around. “Questions?” There were none.
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There weren’t many family members that were home. In fact, the only one turned out to be Rose. The rest were down at the family business office – working. While Emily headed down the hill in Rose’s borrowed car, Trish and Ryan tackled Rose in her own kitchen.
Rose wasn’t delighted to have the big camera stuck right in her face. Not only was it intimidating, it was downright annoying. Especially the big bright light attached to the front of it. But she could easily see Trish’s explanation of having to get used to ignoring it before they did any of the actual videotaping. Rose also wasn’t delighted with any of the questions that Trish was throwing at her.
“Rose,” Trish started. “How do you really feel about Jimmy Joe and Jade switching places with each other?”
Rose looked from her to the camera uncertainly.
“Just ignore the camera,” Trish told her. “That’s why we’re trying to get everyone used to how this works.
“It’s not easy,” Rose replied.
“No, it’s not. Trust me, it takes time. Just look at me when you speak.”
“But he’s got that thing practically right on your shoulder! The light is blinding.”
Trish smiled. “Wait until the lighting and sound people get here. It’s going to get twice as bad.”
“You mean it will be worse?”
“Much!” Trish emphasized, even though the reality of it was that the indirect lighting they would use later would be a lot easier on everyone. “Ready to try it again?”
“I guess,” Rose replied.
Once again Trish asked her question. “Rose, as the mother and grandmother to this entire family, I’m sure you play a big important part in everything.”
“Well, I guess so,” Rose agreed uncertainly.
“Then tell me, how exactly do you feel about Jimmy Joe and Jade switching places with each other?”
“Um…none of us are happy about it,” Rose replied.
“How about you personally?” Trish asked. “Do you think the twins are better off now than before they switched places?”
“Of course not,” Rose told her. “I would absolutely love to see them both back the way they belong.”
“So you feel this switching around was all wrong.”
“Yes, I do,” Rose replied.
Trish thought she might be making headway – before Rose added…
“It’s just that…”
“Well, maybe they’re happier this way than they were.”
Rose nodded. “As much as I hate to say it. Jade especially. But I’ve also seen changes in Jimmy Joe that I never expected as well.”
“What changes are they?”
Rose shrugged. “He’s growing up. Maturing in ways I hadn’t thought about. He’s suddenly gaining a lot of confidence he never had before as a girl…and I thought he had plenty of that before. But now, well, I just see a difference.”
Trish realized she was getting nowhere with her theory of something else going on.
“And how about Jade?” she asked next.
Rose smiled. “Now Jade is a gem. She’s got compassion like even few women have. And we McComber women pride ourselves on trying to be compassionate.”
“So is Jade more compassionate than…Jasmine ever was?”
Rose nodded. “Oh yes! Without a doubt! And I have no doubt at all that she’s happier now than she ever was before too.”
Rose nodded again. “Much! She smiles now…and laughs. Plays with the other kids.” Her voice lowered a little. “She never did that before. She was the most somber and alone child I’ve ever seen.” She sat back and smiled. “How did I do?” she asked hopefully.
“Great!” Trish replied with a muted smile. “Real good.” She hadn’t gotten anything strange out of Rose at all.
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