Part Two

CHAPTER SEVENTY-EIGHT

The tank moved slowly towards the south gate. The troops kept up with the huge vehicle as it moved towards us.

The troops were not carrying their weapons on their shoulders this time.

I decided to try a different approach.

I keyed my mic: “attention tank commander. This is Bennie Barnes.”

I was counting on them having a radio scanner, and being able to hear my transmission.

The tank arrived at the still smoldering Humvee at the south gate, and stopped. I could see figures on top of the tank. I wasn’t sure how many…at least two.

This tank had a machine gun mounted on top of the turret. It had to be operated manually.

I pulled out my thermite.

I keyed the mic again “Bennie Barnes to tank commander.”

“Go ahead Mr. Barnes”

“Call me Bennie. You gotta name?”

“Jay”

“Jay, can we help you with something?”

“Sorry Bennie. You don’t need to know the details of our mission.”

“So I’m guessing that your mission involves killing innocent civilians…women, children, babies.”

“As I said sir, I have my orders.”

“Jay, this group has lived here for seven months without any interference from the military. We have killed traitors, insurgents, escaped convicts, marauders, liars, insurrectionists, thieves, bikers, Texas Militia, white Ts, general thugs and those who would take what does not belong to them. Why does the military all of a sudden take an interest in our group? They weren’t here when we could have used their help, and now you’re here to wipe us out. I don’t get it.”

“We are living in dangerous times, Bennie. Many of the people you have killed were part of our group. We cannot let it continue.”

“You are aware, Jay, that there are two separate factions of the military trying to gain control of the country.”

“I am.”

“So then you are a part of those child killing, women raping, enslavers that called themselves the Texas Militia?”

“That’s your perspective, Bennie.”

“If you cross our barricade, we will take that as an aggressive action towards us, and we will have to defend ourselves and our way of life by whatever means possible.”

“There is no alternative, Bennie.”

The engine in the tank roared and the tank drove into the barricade. First up the Humvee, then across the other barricade.

The troops started crossing the barricade and a few went around. They were met with quick deaths as the booby traps exploded. Those that followed, fell into the deadfalls, unseen by the soldiers in the dark.

The tank reached the fougasse, and Chuck detonated it.

With a thunderous explosion, the fougasse exploded under the rear third of the tank, and it pushed the rear of the tank off the ground. When it crashed down to earth, the ground shook, and the street crumbled under the weight of the huge tank. The explosion ignited all the oil that we had placed there as well. It was a very smoky fire. The engine in the tank died.

The tank troops retreated behind the tank, and out troops flooded the street in front of the tank.

“Hold your fire!” I yelled…no one fired.

I heard yelling from inside, and they tried to start the engine…no luck.

I ran out into the street with my thermite and stuck it to the barrel of the tank. Walter had rigged it with some magnets.

I keyed the mic again “Bennie to Jay. Come in please.”

The tank stopped.

“What is it Bennie?”

“Jay, I’m going to give you and your troops a chance to live. I have sixty guns on your men, plus more surprises if you continue your mission. I just stuck fourteen pounds of thermite on the barrel of your main gun, which is easily ignited by any of our special Molotov cocktails. We’re thinking that much thermite will melt that barrel and turn it into a macaroni noodle. Are you listening?”

“Go ahead”

“In addition, there are at least three Laws rockets and/or RPGs we will use, and I believe one of my men just inserted the end of a roll of barb wire in your right track. The Molotov cocktails are a special concoction made by the same guy who designed the fougasse, which you just ran over. We figgered that forty or so Molotovs burning on your tank will make it really toasty inside.”

“You guys thought of everything, didn’t you?”

“If you exit your vehicle now, and have your men drop their weapons, we will escort you outa here safely, and no more harm will come to you. You have my word.”

A long pause ensued.

“I have several snipers also trained on your group and on that thermite, which will be ignited anyway when the barrage of Molotovs hit.” (This wasn’t really true, as thermite had to be ignited by a magnesium, which had to be ignited by a hot fire like a torch…it was a gamble.)

“I cannot leave this tank here, Bennie.”

“Jay, you can leave the tank, or you will die in it.”

I motioned to Mandy to hit the thermite with her BAR 1918.

She did.

We turned away as the bright glare burned to in excess of five thousand degrees.

It took a minute and I could see the barrel glowing red where the thermite had been.

“Does that assist in your decision making process?”

No answer.

“You’re running outa time, Jay. I give you twenty seconds to disarm your men and exit the tank, or all of you will die right here in less than three minutes.”

Still no answer.

I heard something hit the machine gun on top, then I heard the report of the gun. It was Army’s Solothurn. Several more rounds ensued, and the machine gun was destroyed.

Army then turned his attention to the machine gun on the front of the right side, operated internally. He fired two rounds into that, but really did not much. Still, had to be scary inside knowing that such a powerful gun was aimed at the little slot through which the gunner looked.

Gunfire broke out behind the tank.

I keyed my mic “Hold your fire! Hold your fire!”

I waited and again “still  not too late, Jay. You can still walk out of here.”

“OK! OK!” the top hatch opened up.

“Hold  your fire!” I repeated, and no one fired.

“This is Sargent Teague! You men put down your weapons and ammo now!”

He clamored out with his hands up. He unbuckled his belt and tossed it to the street. The then helped the next guy out, who was injured. My guess was that the fougasse maybe made him bump his head when it thumped back to the street.

Jim pulled up in the other Studa with Army still poised with his Solothurn.

I walked over to the tank, followed by Chuck, Mandy and Carol. Al and AJ appeared from across the street, and others followed.

The other troops all had their hands up, as ours corralled them into a group.

Jay and the tank crew got out and were standing at the side of the tank. The last man had shut it off.

I heard a radio go off behind, and Jim took off in the car. Army hopped off, lugging his huge gun.

“What the hell kinda gun is that?” asked Jay when Army walked up.

“That’s a Swiss Solothurn S18/100” Army answered “it shoots several types of 20mm rounds. I didn’t use the explosive tips tonight, but I had some with…just in case.”

None of the tank crew appeared armed.

“You guys check their troops! Be sure they have dropped their firearms!” I yelled.

“You’re Bennie?” Jay asked me.

“I am” offering nothing more. “Let’s go” and I directed them across the barricade.

“What the hell was that that blew up under our tank?” he asked. “We saw nothing in the street except some cans.”

“That was a fougasse…”I replied “ever hear of that term before?”

“Yeah, but where was it?”

“We drilled a hole in the street and used some oilfield drill collar, very thick pipe as the barrel, with 50 lbs of homemade plastique in the bottom. That was filled with all kinds of ball bearings, washers, nails, concrete, and a custom made  nose cone.”

I heard the Studa pull up “wait!” Jim said, and Jenna got out with a box.

She walked over and gave it to me “food for them” she said with a smile.

I gave the box to Jay “homemade pork tacos. Courtesy of the Quail Run Militia.”

“How do I know they aren’t poisoned?” he asked cautiously.

I reached in blindly and pulled one out, opened it up and took a bite. I shook my head as I chewed “mm mm.” I ate it all record time. “Beats the hell outa MREs. Now you got one less. Satisfied?”

I handed him the box and he crossed the barricade. I followed, as did Army, Al, Mandy, and Chuck.

Chuck had a difficult time crossing with his bad ankle, but made it OK.

“Pass the food to your men, and you can eat on the way” I said coldly.

“Who’s that?” he asked, motioning towards Chuck.

“He’s my son” I answered. “He limps because he, his brother, and two friends all in their mid teens, took on an armed group in the Colorado mountains. They killed twenty two armed men. All boys were injured to varying degrees, and this one took a .45 to the ankle. He’s had several reconstructive surgeries so far. A month or so ago, one of your Texas Militia shot him in the back, when the south gate defenses crumbled. It was a through and through, and still…here he is.”

Jay nodded and paused in thought for a  moment, then added “I heard about those kids that defeated the militia in Colorado” he said quietly…as if pondering his next words.

“Takes after his father. How did he get the surgeries?” Jay queried.

“We have a good arrangement with the Texas Rangers” I answered.

The group headed towards Devlin. There were several more of our troops that accompanied us.

“You’re letting us keep our K-bars” he asked between bites.

“Well, we heard a pack of wild dogs last night, and the north gate killed four of them before the rest ran off to the west.”

That got his full attention.

“We ran into a pack of them right in this very spot a few months ago, and there were four of us. We had two full auto AKs, a BAR 1918, and me with my two .44s and the Mossberg, and we killed the last dog as he lunged at us. They were very fast running at us. At least if you guys run into them on your way back, you can still defend yourselves” I answered. “These are dangerous times.”

“Touche” he said solemnly.

“Just so we’re on the same page” I began “if any of your men attack any of mine in any way, we’ll kill all of you, and burn your bodies where you drop.”

“Understood” he said. “What other surprises do you have tucked away?” he quizzed.

“You don’t need to know the details of our mission” I answered, loving throwing it back in his face.

We walked across the bridge and he asked “we heard someone took out a fully armed gunship a couple nights ago. Was that you guys?”

“Yep” I replied.

We said nothing more.

We continued down Devlin and on to 23rd. When we reached it, I tossed Jay my bottle of water. “Good luck to you Jay. Too bad more of your side don’t have the sense that you have” I waved and turned to leave.

“I was wrong about you, Bennie” he said “hell, THEY are wrong about you. They told us you were the leader of a bunch of bloodthirsty killers that were holed up there, and we were ordered to kill all of you. ”

“Jay” I replied walking away “you’re on the wrong side, pal…the wrong side.”

We walked away, and watched them head south down 23rd until they were out of sight.

We left briskly, keeping our guard up on our flanks.

The walk back was uneventful.

We got back to the south gate and I yelled “who left this tank in my yard?”

Nothing like a good laugh to relieve tension.

I stood and looked at the tank barrel. “Jim, have you any way to mic this barrel and see if it’s really compromised? Sometime in the next day or two?”
Jim came up beside me putting his hand on my shoulder “I was thinking the same thing, my friend…and I’ll take a look at the engine. Hopefully, we can get it going.”

“Not to be presumptuous, but I could sure use a drink” I said, faking a dry cough.

“Your sure as hell deserve it” Army said cheerfully “I”m buyin'”

“I’ll drink to that” I said as we headed back up 17th.

One of the troops said “are we invited?”

Army turned and said “damn right you are!”

“We should invite Walter too” I suggested, as we rounded the corner at L street.

“I’ll see that he knows” Jim said, and split off towards Walter’s.

We walked without speaking for several steps and Chuck said “did I do OK Dad?”

I tried to choke back some tears in answering him, but I failed “you did perfect” I whispered…it was all I could get out. I put my arm around his shoulder as we walked back back towards the kitchen.

Mandy appeared and took Chuck’s hand, while Carol appeared and took my free hand.

CHAPTER SEVENTY-NINE

Army brought out the Maker’s Mark, and most of us indulged. I saw grins and smiles. A few bad jokes, but I got it. Relief. This was a huge thing.

“Well, Bennie” Army started “what’s next?” He took a sip and said “ahh.”

“First thing is to check the tank barrel, but our total intention on using the thermite was to disable it. My guess is that it is useless. Still, it has a working machine gun inside, and probably ammo. There are also the tank shells. I am certain we can find a use for those.”

Walter, who had been silent, piped up “you’re right about the tank barrel…and you’re right about those 120 mm shells. I got ideas for those.”

I nodded and held up my glass “Walter, your explosive genius has saved us more than once. I thank you for what you do.”

The rest raised their glasses as well.

Walter seemed embarrassed and said nothing, but just smiled.

Army pressed “what about after that?”

I was indeed thinking on that very subject “this may not be over for a while, I suspect. They have got to be angry at the loss of their chopper and tank. I gotta think that they may try another assault, but with ground troops.”

“A fully equipped and armed gunship, and an M1A tank lost, they gotta think that they can’t afford to lose any more heavy equipment…plus, they don’t know if the tank is functional. That may be to our advantage.”

Army sipped in silence, but nodded slowly.

Al chimed in “a heavily armed ground assault may be our biggest challenge. We have so much perimeter to cover…” he faded away, and we all knew he was absolutely right.

“Ideas, anyone?” I said “we have only so many people. We have lots of guns…we have to think of a way to narrow their attack patterns…I mean how to keep them from attacking a certain area.”

Carol spoke up, which was unusual for her in the group “then there is the possibility that the military will not bother us any more”…she stopped as everyone was listening to her and she paused realizing that she had their undivided attention.

“I mean, Bennie made it clear to the tank commander that we were self sufficient and had bothered absolutely no one…he even let them go…” she chuckled and added “and fed them too.”

Army said “Carol makes a good point. They have thrown a lot at us and it has cost them dearly. I am always open to the possibility that peace may be ahead, and until all the world is like Bennie, we must keep our swords sharp.”

Army continued “you remember on day 1 Bennie when you asked me about whether or not to remove tires? Well, this is one reason to remove them. We got enough tires to line the east bank of the ditch, and set them on fire in case of an impending attack. Burning tires put out a lot of smelly smoke and are difficult to put out. Besides, we could ask our ATD friends to squeeze the attackers from the west.”

“I like that” I said nodding “how we gonna ignite those tires quickly? Walter? What say you?”

Walter was thinking too “we shouldn’t use gasoline since we have so little of it. If I had some accelerant like lacquer thinner, mineral spirits, denatured alcohol, I could make a series of little Molotovs, but we will need oil…motor oil preferred to keep them burning.”

Army answered “well we got a bunch of cars that we can drain oil out of. Most of them got at least 5 quarts…that should be plenty…the accelerant though will be a problem.”

“There’s always the auto parts store and Lowe’s” I started then held up my hands “I know Jim, I know. We would check with the deputy so see about that…would that be fair?”

He pointed at me and said “barely” with a smile.

“OK” I said “then we have some work to do. We will need some figures on how far apart to place the tires, so we know how many we need. Walter will work on a flammable concoction to use and how to ignite it. First thing in the morning we we start. Agreed?”

Heads nodded and a chorus of ‘OK’ and ‘I’m ready” were abundant.

“Army” I started, looking at him “I suggest that our militia stays armed to the teeth at all times while we’re preparing this. Also, we’ll need to make a trip to our neighbors across and warn them as well.”

“Yep” Army answered “I was working on that too. You and I will go across tomorrow with some troops and speak to R & R and make a plan.”

“OK then, see you guys at breakfast” I said, finishing my drink.

I stood up and rocked a little. “Whoa! too much to drink. We’ll need to take it easy on the drinking until this is over. We all need to be like minute-men.”

A few chuckles and Carol, Chuck, Mandy and I left for home where we all crashed right out.

CHAPTER EIGHTY

The knock on the door came much too early, and it was still dark. “OK, OK!” said “we’re up!” I answered the door and it was Army and Jim with coffee.

“Thought you might appreciate this” Army said as he walked in handing me a cup. I had learned to sleep in my clothes, unless Carol and I had ‘frisky time’.

“Thanks, man” I said as I shut the door.

Carol came out as well, eager for coffee.

We went over the plan, sipping our hot brew and soon got up and headed for the kitchen.

Fresh bread was our treat today, with some eggs and bacon.

The sun was coming up and my radio went off “Deputy coming in.”

“10-4” I replied.

Alan drove up and we discussed our concerns and plan.

“I can’t give you permission to loot” he said. “Have you tried going to your homes and checking the garages for paint supplies? Most people have thinners and lacquers if they have done any painting. I urge you to check that first. I am bound by law to arrest you if I catch you looting.”

“OK then” I said “we’re gonna have to send a delegation around to collect those items. Seems fair enough I guess. We’ll find a way…we always do.”

“That’s the spirit” Alan said.

Others showed up at the kitchen to eat, and Army, Al, Jim and I got into the Ford and drove across to talk to the other gang. Army and Jim in the cab, with Al and I in the bed.

R & R were glad to see us, and we gave them a couple of sandwiches for breakfast.

“Was that you guys that caused that explosion last night?” asked Rodriguez. “Man, the ground shook twice from that one.”

We told them of our encounter with the tank, then of our concern about a ground assault.

“We got some old fireworks” Rodriguez started “some big bottle rockets and some other stuff that we can set off if we notice any troops coming up Centennial.”

I nodded with approval “good idea” I looked at Army “we may need to request those ourselves from our own group. I know I have some.”

We pulled out onto Centennial and Army was going to turn south and I saw something the other way “wait” I said pointing to the north “what’s that?”

We all turned and looked at something in the road almost to Trailblazer.

Without instruction, Army turned north. I heard Al lock and load his AK as we drove towards what looked like a vehicle in the middle of the street.

I got on the radio…maybe we weren’t out of range.

“Eagle 1 to anyone come in”

“Go ahead”

“What’s your twenty?” I asked

“We’re roving. Northwest corner of perimeter”

“Stop and look to the west on Centennial and report. We’re heading towards it now”

“10-4”

Jim had his binoculars out “slower” he said and Army complied.

We were now about 75 yards. It looked like a military Jeep had stalled in the middle of the road.

“Rover to Eagle1”

“Go ahead”

“It looks like a stalled Jeep. There maybe someone at the wheel. One of the tires is flat too”

“10-4 and advise caution”

“yup”

Al had now moved his AK to the top of the cab.

I was next to him with one of the .44s cocked. I decided I did not like this at all.

“Rovers, get all the help you can right now”

I had not finished getting the words out when I heard gunfire from the ditch.

Damn! walked right into it! I was mad “Army Back up and get us the hell outa here!”

Army stopped and hung a U. Al was firing his AK.

I managed a shot but had not target with Army making a U-turn at 25 mph.

What I thought was a two wheeled turn, made it impossible to shoot until Army straightened out heading south again.

I heard more gunfire and bullets hitting the truck. There were many guns ahead.

“Army!” I screamed “go back north! Pedal to the fucking metal” I yelled as loud as I could while Al and I lay flat in the bed.

Army hung another U. This one at a higher speed than the other.

Army barely managed to maintain control after the too fast turn.

He romped it and more gunfire.

I heard an odd sound like a gunshot then realized one of the tires had been shot out.

The truck began to go out of control.

“Hang on!” Army yelled.

The truck hit something fairly solid.

Al and I slid forward and crashed into the back of the cab, but the pickup was still going.

Not as smooth with a flat tire and other obvious damage to the truck, Army managed to limp to Trailblazer and stopped against the far side of the bridge.

Gunfire continued south of us as Al and I climbed out of the back “you OK brother?” I put my hand on his shoulder and looked him in the eye.

He was shaken up, but held up his thumb.

We went around to the passenger side as Army had stopped with the driver side facing the gunfire.

Jim was dead. No question about it as his head was a bloody pulp.

Army limped around the front. He was hit too in his upper left arm.

I pulled my makeshift first aid kit and sat him on the concrete wall on the bridge.

We said nothing as I addressed his wound.

The bullet was still in his arm “you wanna do this now pardner or wait?” I asked pulling out my hemostats.

“Do it” he said unfeeling and uncaring looking at his friend.

I took my whiskey flask and poured some on my hemostats, than passed it to Army. He took a good chug.

Turning his arm for the best sunlight, I was able to see the ass end of the bullet. I dug the hemos in and grabbed the sides of the bullet and pulled it out. I held it up “a .45” I said.

Using an old t-shirt, I bandaged and tied up his arm. I patted his shoulder. “You’re good as I can do. Let’s go get these sombitches!”

I looked at Al “how are you fixed on ammo?”

He held up five fingers “five mags of thirty” he looked at his pistol belt “four mags of eighteen 9mm. You?”

“Both .44s with thirty rounds in my gunbelt. My bandolier of 30-30 has thirty or so rounds. Army?” I looked at him.

“Six thirty round mags for the Ruger” he started I didn’t bring my pistol.

I shook my head “not so good” I said.

“I know” Army said. “Just a trip across. Just a visit. We got caught with out pants down for sure.”

My radio went off “you guys OK?”

Army reached for it, and I stopped him “that’s not one of us.”

Army nodded and took the radio “hell no! We got three guys down, and I can barely walk. The truck is down too. Flat tire with something wrong with the front end. Get us some help when you can.”

“Oh, we’ll get you help all right” the voice said.

“I knew it” Army said. He looked at Al “gimmee your Glock and your mags.”

I was removing my gunbelt “they are both fully loaded” I said as Al handed him the Glock 9mm and supplies “There are thirty rounds besides the twelve. Those are 7 1/2 inch barrels. They are good to a hundred yards. Take your time and make your shots count. Save the  Glock for closer range.”

I double checked the 30-30, and Army handed me the Ruger with his vest with the mags. “These are hot loads. They shoot a little high at long range.”

Al was already waiting, looking over the side of the pickup down Centennial “here they come” he said, shouldering his AK. “Two vehicles coming at us.”

“They think there’s only one guy here” Army said. “Don’t shoot until they get past the Jeep. Use the Ruger. Go for the driver. The loads are hot enough they will go through the windshield.”

I nodded.

“Don’t miss” I told Army.

“I never miss” he answered as he aimed the big .44 magnum.

The big pistol thundered twice, and I arose fired three rounds into the drivers side of the truck on the right.

I dropped and heard Al fire five rounds.

Army continued to fire, and I too arose and fired into each truck randomly.

They could not fire because both drivers were now dead. The truck on the left veered into the ditch and I was sure crashed hard into the bottom.

The other truck was still coming at us but much slower as we continued pelting it with gunfire.

Steam was now coming from the hood. As it came to a stop, I loaded another mag into the Ruger and went out towards the second truck, followed by Al and Army with the Glock.

One head popped up and Army got it from the hip.

Al headed to the second truck and I saw him empty his mag into what ever was left there.

I popped a round here and there into any body that was moving.

I pulled all the guns and ammo I could from the truck and piled them in the road.

“Who’s got a K-bar?” I asked.

Al handed me his.

I went  under the truck and popped a hole into the gas tank. I then got in the truck, drove it to the side of the ditch, and let it drive itself to the bottom against the other truck.

We three stood there until both trucks caught fire, exploded, and engines finally quit.

The Chevy pulled up with AJ driving. He jumped out hugging his dad. Chuck, Mandy, Carol all got out with Marie.

Mandy went to Army and hugged him while she cried about Jim.

Little was said for a few minutes as we all realized the great loss of our friend.

There was not a dry eye.

CHAPTER EIGHTY-ONE

The Studebakers showed up and hauled us all to the infirmary.

Al, Army, and I were brain numb.

Marie said Army’s wound dressing was as good as she had seen and if I needed another job I could assist her. She was trying to  make light of the situation; it didn’t help.

Al was uninjured. Somehow, he managed to close himself off and did what needed to be done. The problem was, he was so far unable to unclose himself off.

As for myself, I could not find enough words to describe the loss I felt over Jim. As it turned out, I had a grazed bullet wound on my head over my left ear. I never even felt it, but it freaked out Chuck and Carol.

People spoke to me, but I did not hear them. Voices were muffled, and I could not make them out.

Marie kept all of us in the infirmary. Very few visitors were allowed in except family.

Jenna took Jim’s death hard too. She wanted bad to talk to the rest of us, but was not allowed to visit.

This increased uneasiness with the patrols and militia as they had no leaders.

The Deputy came in and was allowed in to talk to us.

The group that attacked us was just another independent faction trying to take what was ours.

There were twenty five of them and most of them ended up burned to a crisp at the bottom of the ditch.

What had happened was after the rovers spotted the other militia lying in wait in the ditch, they turned on them and the firefight began. That may have been what saved the rest of us there as the rovers drew enough fire to keep all twenty-five of them firing at the pickup. If we had kept going instead of making the first U, we probably would have been OK as we were almost to the stalled Jeep when the fighting started, and a hundred yards from there was Trailblazer, but we turned around and went through the gauntlet twice.

The Deputy felt that with us driving back and forth, gave our militia enough time to gather and take them them on; otherwise, the bad guys might just have had enough strength to overpower what was left.

Little consolation.

Deputy shook all our hands and said “you guys need to find yourselves again. You are still needed here.”

Marie sat down next to me after he left and put her arms around me “where did you go, Bennie? You have lost your way, and you must find your way home again.” She kissed me on the cheek, and went to check on Army.

I stood up, found my weaponry, and went outside.

People meandered my direction asking how I was doing, how Army and Al were, and I began to come around.

I knew what I needed to do as I headed to the main gate.

The sentries were glad to see me. They greeted me with handshakes and smiles. I talked with them as long as they needed. They seemed less tense when I left.

I wandered to all the gates and was met with the same attitude.

These sentries needed to see their leaders OK: period. I figured that much out and returned to the infirmary where I was met by Jenna.

She ran from the Kitchen towards me. I saw her coming and could hear her sobbing. I dropped my rifle and walked to her with my arms out.

She crashed into me crying. I held her tightly as she cried and cried. I just let her go and cry it out.

A few people gathered as she stopped crying and wiped her tears. I gave her a couple of Kleenex and she asked “what happened?”

She looked directly in my eyes, shifting from eye to eye and from foot to foot, waiting for an answer.

I shook my head “it’s not important” I said quietly wiping her tear. She pushed her face into my hand.

I raised my voice a little “we’re going to have Jim’s funeral this afternoon in a few hours.”

Juan stepped forward “Bennie, they already dug a grave over by….the others” he looked down.

I nodded “OK, good. Those of you who want to pay your respects meet here at the T around 1:00. We’ll still need sentries to return to their posts after the service and we’ll have the burial after.”

Army pushed through the crowd “we will no longer have our gates without sentries. Sorry, but if we start taking shortcuts now, they will come back to  haunt us” he said this with him shaking his finger and no one in particular.

Al was there too, and as many as thirty people came up and wished us well and asked how we were doing.

Jenna stood and held my hand for a long time, and when the crowd dispersed she whispered to me “I feel so alone”.

I put my hand on her cheek and said “Jenna, you were never alone.”

She looked down, nodded, then kissed me on the cheek “thank you Bennie” and she went back to the Kitchen.

Carol showed up out of nowhere, hooking her arm into mine “Bennie, you are the heart and soul of this group” she leaned her head against my shoulder.

“You seen Chuck today?” I asked her.

She nodded “at the south gate with Mandy.”

Al and Army edged closer and Army said “what’s the consensus at the gates?”

“It would probably be a good idea if you went around and made your presence known to them” I said. “When they see their fearless leader again, they will be back on track, and  if you bust than wound open, I’m gonna whump you with a knotted plow line.”

“OK, I think we’re on the same page” Al said, almost smiling. His smile faded though and he asked “where’s Jim’s body?”

“At his house in the garage” Army said “Juan and some guys prepped him”.

“All right” I said “let’s get the Chevy ready, and we’ll put him in the back and have our service here; then we’ll haul him to the gravesite. This way, the sentries can pay their respects without compromising the perimeter.”

Army and Al left towards the main gate, and Carol and I went home. We waved to Chuck and Mandy at the South gate knowing we’d be alone.

We said nothing as we undressed. She did a little striptease on the last two undergarments as she removed them. It was hard passionate sex. We both needed it. When we were done, it was time for the service.

CHAPTER EIGHTY-ONE

Carol and I got dressed and headed to the T where the crowd was waiting.

The Chevy was there and some were talking stories about Jim. Others knew him longer than I.

Fewer and fewer were the stories. Army said nothing so I walked forward, climbed onto the tailgate and sat down with Jim wrapped in a bunch of sheets behind me.

“We all lost one of the good guys today” I started and choked a little as I continued “as I walked up here seeing the Chevy, I found myself looking for Jim.” I patted the truck “because this was his, and he rarely let anyone drive it.”

“It will take all of us a while to not look for him in his usual  spots after today” I went on “standing at his smoker” …

We were interrupted by a horn honking at the main gate.

A group of people clamored around the barricade and headed up the street.

“It’s the across the ditch gang” Juan called out.

Sure enough, led by Mike a few of our neighbors came to pay respects as well.

“You just go on” Mike said “we didn’t want to interrupt.”

I waved and nodded at him.

I smiled “Jim saved my life at least once. He picked me up off the ground by my shirt collar before a sniper would have shot me as I was going to shoot another guy.” I shook my head and smiled.

“I for one, may never get used to his being gone” I said sadly.

There was a little commotion as Mike pushed his way through.

He had a backpack and unloaded it onto the pickup bed. He put out several bottles of Crown Royal with glasses.

“I didn’t know Jim very long” Mike said as he poured glasses and passed them out ” but he was a good hunter and smoked a mean sausage.”

Army told a story of war times when he and Jim were pinned down in Iraq by enemy gunfire after their Humvee ran over a mine.

“After several minutes, do you know what he did? He said “enough of this bullshit” and he stood up and unloaded three magazines at the shooters, took one in the arm, and unloaded the rest until he was out of ammo. He killed them all.”

Army held up his glass “he was the bravest sombitch I ever knew”.

We all took a swig of the Crown Royal. Mike filled and refilled glasses until the two bottles were empty.

It got quiet and I said “OK, then let’s go finish this.”

“Juan” I said “please do the honors.”

Juan drove the truck to our growing cemetery and we followed.

The sentries returned to their posts, and others did not attend the burial.

A few volunteers, myself included, lowered Jim into the ground and covered him.

No one spoke; neither did I.

We stood for a minute looking at the grave. Some built a cross and had carved “Jim-he hurt no one” into it.

As we walked back, I mumbled “I didn’t even know his last name.”

“James Theodore Abernathy” Army said.

We walked back in silence.

I wept silently. Carol hooked her arm in mine.

CHAPTER EIGHTY-TWO

It was still January; winter.

I missed Army and Jim coming by in the mornings, bringing coffee and waking me.

Army took control of the sentries again having them rebuild the deadfalls and booby traps at the South Gate.

He seemed…harsher; more abrupt. He never spoke of Jim’s loss.

We had babies due soon; Ted and Angie, as well as AJ and Rhonda were expecting in less than a month.

The only gardens were done in greenhouses with the help of Mr Fernandez which also helped start seedlings for the spring planting.

We put a new tire on the Ford and limped it back home. No one seemed interested in fixing it.

The front end was damaged after we ran it into the Jeep. We just didn’t have any parts for it and needed another truck to salvage parts, basically.

The group across the ditch expressed interest as they had a similar, but newer pickup. Theirs was running though. Beverly really wasn’t interested in giving it up to them, so we parked it in her driveway, and left it there.

Carol and I seemed to grow closer after Jim’s death. I could not put my finger on why, then I realized that I too, had never spoken out about losing my friend.

I felt like I had been punched in the stomach, and there was a big hole there now. I found myself tearing up easily; more than usual.

Chuck and Mandy were two youngsters in love, but I did not appreciate it.

One chilly afternoon in mid-February, I was digging around in a couple of crates that Al said were mine, and that I had left at his house.

In one of them, I found an unopened bottle of pear brandy; the kind with the pear in the bottle. For a brief moment, my spirits lifted as I realized that my first thought was to open it with Jim.

Enough of this I said to myself. I took the bottle and headed to Army’s.

I found him at home in his garage, reloading some 30-06 rounds.

He grunted a welcome as I came in through the side door.

I sat down on the third stool. Army had three that he, Jim, and I would sit and tell stories and drink bourbon. Jim liked the heavier stool because well, he was a big guy.

I opened the bottle and drank straight from it, then sat it on the workbench next to Army.

“What’s that?” he said almost not looking.

“It’s a tongue loosener” I said, pushing it a little closer to him. “You know what the first thing I thought of when I found this?” I asked him.

“Am I supposed to guess?” he seemed irritated.

“The first thing I thought of was finding you and Jim to share with” I said, taking the bottle and having another swig. I put it back close to him.

I exhaled loudly, indicating the alcohol was strong.

I picked it up, and held it to him “take a swig, my friend”. I choked the last word, and turned away as tears once again filled my eyes.

He pulled the handle to press the bullet into the case “I guess this shit can wait” he said as the pressed the round into a magazine.

He turned to me and took the bottle, and took a long draw. He wiped his lip as he set the bottle down. “Where’d you get this? I thought you raided all your stashes” he said with what I thought was the tiniest of smiles.

I took the bottle and held it up “I did too” and took a drink, then added “Al found it in my stuff” and I sat the bottle down.

Army picked it up and took another long draw. He handed it back to me and said “that’s good stuff. You didn’t invite Al to partake?”

I shook my head “I did but Marie gave him the ‘you better not’ look, but I know he would have liked to.”

Army stood up “let’s go get ’em.” He was feeling the effect, as was I. At least he was  no longer gruff.

He beelined out the side door so fast that I had to rush to catch up with him as headed up the street.

“You remember when we met on that first day?” he asked me.

I nodded and handed him the bottle “like yesterday.”

He took a drink and spotted Al coming out of the infirmary and waved to him “Al! Come here!” He held up the bottle.

Al turned towards us, taking a quick glance over his shoulder with a smile.

Army handed Al the bottle and said “we were just reminiscing about Day 1. Do you remember?”

Al took the bottle and swigged while Army spoke “I never thought we’d make it through this, but your brother” he tapped the side of his head “your brother saved us all.”

He took the bottle back and handed it to me. I obliged by taking a drink and returning it to him and he took another swig, and gave it to Al who also took a long draw.

“I was just an idea man” I said “people like you and Jim and Al and Marie made this place work and come together.”

I stopped and sat down on the curb “I miss Jim. We killed the guys who killed him, and it didn’t make me feel any better.”

Al sat down too and took another drink, passing it to Army.

“I miss him too” Al said quietly. “You know what he always used to say to me?”

Army and I both shook our heads ‘no’.

“He’d say ‘hey Al! Where’s your brother?'”

“I’d just answer ‘he’s somewhere thinkin’ up something for you to do!” He used to get a real kick out of that” Al’s voice faded as did his smile.

Army started “man, I’ll never forget that day at that doctor’s house when you pulled your .44, and Jim ran up behind you and picked you up like a stick puppet” he started laughing and slapped his thigh “you shoulda seen the look on your face Bennie” he held circles with thumb and forefingers over his eyes and said “your eyes were this big” and he really started to laugh then.

Laughter being contagious, caught on to Al and I and we too were soon overcome with hysterical laughter.

My turn “you remember that day when we chased them pigs trying to get them into the pickup? I thought Jim was gonna fall off the fence watching us.”

We three were all laughing so hard now that we attracted the attention of Jenna and Marie who stole up quietly.

Army passed the bottle to Jenna who surprisingly took a swig and passed to Marie who even more of a surprise took a drink as well.

Jenna stood in front of us and said “Jim was a very sweet man. Even for big guy he had a very tender heart” she touched her heart as she began to cry, holding her face in her hands.

Marie spoke up “I’ll never forget the day that you two got drunk on moonshine and were sitting almost on this spot singing songs” she laughed as she finished her sentence.

“I only knew him since this all started” I began “and I feel like there’s a hole in my stomach” I put my arm around Army “and you…you knew him for many years…man you guys were like brothers…I can’t even imagine how you feel…”

Army’s body began to shudder and he buried his head into his up bent knees and cried.

I just kept my hand on his back while he wept.

Tears ran down my face as did the rest of the small crowd that had gathered.

Army went on for several minutes as I looked at the faces of those who gathered around; AJ had come up as did Rhonda, H, Juan, the rest of the Kitchen, the new mom and her twins, Ted and Angie, Chuck and Mandy hand in hand, Mandy was in tears…

Army stopped, and turned his head to face me, still lying on his knees “I never lost a friend like Jim in my life” he sobbed, tears streaming over his nose “what are we gonna do now?”

I straightened up, patted him on the back and stood up. “I’ll tell you what we’re gonna do Army. We’re gonna keep on doing what we’re doing. Jim didn’t die for nothin’. We’re not gonna roll over and give up, nuh uh no fucking way. Jim went the way we should all hope to go; with a gun in our hand and our teeth gritted.”

I held my hand out to Army “all right soldier. We need you. You had your chance to grieve as did we all. We will never forget Jim, and let us remind ourselves the good things he left behind for us… the memories of friendship and comradery.”

A round of applause began.

I still stood facing Army and I pointed at him then me “you and I started this and by God we’re gonna finish it!”

Army gave me a hard hug and yelled “Juan! How’s that South Gate project coming? Chuck? Aren’t you on duty? Where’s my rifle?” He walked away towards his house “I’ll be back and I better see assholes and elbows at that South Gate!”

I looked at Al and said “I think he’ll be all right now.”

Al said “what about you?”

I nodded with a smile, “I needed this…and that wasn’t my brandy, was it?”

Al chuckled and shook his head “no, Marie and cooked that up. You did exactly what we thought you’d do”.

I patted him on the shoulder “damn, I hate being predictable”.

Jenna stood alone as the rest had disbanded by now.

I went to her and pointed after Army “there’s another tender man right there. He could use a friend.

She wiped her tears and gave me a  brief hug and kiss on my cheek “thank you Bennie.”

She turned and went after Army.

Something told me that the South Gate was in no danger of surprise inspection today.

CHAPTER EIGHTY-THREE

After the come to Jesus as it came to be known, the neighborhood’s morale improved greatly.

For myself, I no longer moped about early morning coffee. Instead, I made it a point to get coffee and wake up Army. More than once, I found Jenna with him. Without missing a beat, I gave her my coffee the first time, and after that I brought three.

Army was the same tough guy but he was not embarrassed to show his gentle side with Jenna in public.

Jenna was as happy as I had ever seen her, and I heard that she hummed and sang during her shifts at the kitchen.

The crews worked on the South Gate, repairing the booby traps and deadfalls. Army supervised that, and all sentries spent time working the gate and understanding the strategies set forth by Army.

Marie enlisted the help of a couple of ladies familiar with childbirth when Rhonda came due. This would be Marie and Al’s first grandchild.

Personally, I didn’t think it was a great idea to have Marie involved firsthand, but I did not doubt her knowledge and ability.

Ted and Angie’s baby was very close as well, and there was a pool to see whose would be born first.

My only hope was that both babies would survive and be healthy. I was not disappointed.

A lot of the chores had been delegated to others so I rarely went out to trade for milk or water any more.

George and Gina kept MaryAnne inside mostly, so I rarely saw her either.

As I said, even though the winters here are mild, there are some bad days occasionally. Temperatures at times dipped into the forties and we had our share of rain as well and it was welcomed.

H kept her crew busy working the gardens and preparing the beds as soon as no more freezes were expected.

It seemed my duties declined some and I know not why. I still made my rounds to all the gates and even walked rover patrol a few times a week.

The guys went hunting almost daily, having to go further away now to hunt. The discovered that the really big hogs were not any good to eat so they kept hogs at 250 lbs or less. They still killed the big ones, but left them for the coyotes.

An occasional deer, which was a welcome change.

The vegetable stores were running low and we had to start rationing the veggies.

We discussed it and many were worried about it at one of the breakfast meetings.

Jenna brought it up “George says we only have enough veggies for another month.”

This brought a lot of concern from the crowd. Many were very excited to hear the news, and it escalated quickly.

The Deputy was there and we exchanged glances. I wiped off my mouth, and stood up  holding my hands out for quiet.

Rudy spoke out “the  kitchen say we’re about out of canned vegetables. We thought it would last longer than this.”

“One of the reasons that we are running low is because we only had one growing season last year…remember?”

The crowd quieted and many nodded as well as some ‘oh yeahs’.

“For those of you who are citrus fans, I urge you to go out on the next milk run, or sooner, to pick grapefruit and oranges from the orchards out by Angel’s place. Mix it up some. Instead of a second helping of corn, eat an orange or grapefruit. We’ll get two growing seasons this year, weather permitting, and we’ll have plenty to go round next year.”

I held out my hand shaking my finger at no one in particular “if any of you have any canning jars or supplies squirrelled away, I beg you to donate them to the kitchen so we can use them this season.”

“What about bread?” someone asked “I’ve seen the pantry and there are only a couple of sacks left.”

I sighed “well, that’s the first I heard of it. What say you George? Are you keeping our supply levels a secret?”

George grinned his big grin “no not at all. I spoke to Doc and he was working on a wheat field.”

The crowd came alive “Really? When? Where?”

George continued and stood up and I sat down, very willing to yield the floor “I believe he has a couple of helpers. AJ gave him the red wheat.” He pointed in the general direction of Devlin and Centennial “there in that old field. You guys were talking about it.”

I clapped my hands “bravo Doc!”

George went on “they also planted a bunch of pinto beans.”

I shook my head “where was I?”

“Taking care of the rest” said George and he sat down.

“Problem solved” I said with a smile. I noticed that Gina was not with George and I had a fleeting thought that they intentionally kept MaryAnne from me.

The Deputy got up and I joined him, as did Army.

When we were out of earshot of the breakfast club, Deputy Sharp said “as long as you don’t have any attacks, your group is autonomous. That’s really good. That’s the ultimate goal.”

We reached the gate and we stopped. He had more to say.

He sighed first. “We have gotten some reports of another conflict arising between the two military factions. There is heavy fighting going on up north, and it could very well be the last battle; at least in Texas. Military supplies are low on both sides so this battle will probably deplete both sides. More than likely, the one who has the most bullets left over will win.”

“How does that affect us?” I said, almost feeling naive.

“If the right side wins this war, we won’t have to worry about the military messing with us again. We may have some spillover from the war when those who are defeated head south. With winter coming to and end, some folks may head south for the warmer climate.”

He paused “if the other side wins, it’ll be dog eat dog for the rest of us for as long as anyone maintain their very existence.”

“Keep your powder dry.”  He shook our hands and left.

“Could it be true?” I said, almost mesmerized.

“Like the man said, keep your powder dry and your guard up. I figure I got at least one more battle in me…if need be.” He shouldered his rifle, and we headed back to the kitchen.

CHAPTER EIGHT-FOUR

When we arrived at the kitchen, there was commotion at the infirmary; time for a baby.

Rhonda was in labor.

That took Al and AJ out of sentry loop so I took AJ’s spot at the South Gate with Chuck.

“You’re gonna be a great uncle, Dad” Chuck observed.

“And you’ll have a second cousin” I told him with a smile.

“How long will it take?” he quizzed as Mandy walked up.

“How long will what take?” Mandy asked.

“To have a baby” Chuck pushed.

Mandy looked at me and I replied “could be quick, and it could take hours. Everyone is different. Rhonda has lots of help so she’s getting the best care available.”

The three of us talked a while, mostly about having babies without giving away too much detail, Mandy filled in. Chuck was, after all several years younger than she.

The work on the South Gate had been done and it was finer than before. Army had tightened the corners such that there were trip wires attached at or  near the top of the tire barriers with claymores on the side of the house aimed at the top of the barrier.

If one survived the claymore, then a jump to the ground would give way to a twelve foot pit with sharpened re-bars at the bottom; aiming upward. There was even a second trip and claymore past the deadfalls if one made it past those. This was so the sentries did not have to worry much about being flanked while defending the gate.

A few yards inside the Gate was the abandoned tank.

Jim had said the engine was damaged beyond our ability to repair it. He was the only one that knew anything about it, say for Army and he played dumb. I found out later that he was claustrophobic and didn’t want anything to do with being inside the tank.

I didn’t blame him, being a tad claustrophobic myself.

We left the tank alone and closed up thinking that someday others may come to claim and repair it.

Chuck and Mandy could not resist climbing across it on their way to and from the South Gate.

Kids.

CHAPTER EIGHTY-FOUR

Carol showed up after a few hours, her shift being done.

Even though it didn’t seem to matter, Army kept her away from me as far as her sentry shifts. We didn’t mind and both subscribed to the belief that a couple who spent every living moment together, wouldn’t stay together.

I still had no scheduled shifts as I was usually all over the place as it was.

It was getting dark and the relief shift were meandering in. Since there were few watches, it was next to impossible to keep track of shifts and the time.

Jenna had a sundial at her house, and had brought it to the kitchen yard for all. If one had a shift, one went to the kitchen to check out the time. It worked fairly well.

The sun set and even though shift was up, we hung around and chatted with the relief crew.

The rovers had made their way by several times during our visit to the South Gate. No one ran rover more than a week at a time. The rovers ate more than others, given the very nature of their role.

Such were the days for the next couple of weeks.

The nights were still cool enough to be wary of a sudden end of winter freeze, but H was ready.

Rhonda had her baby; a boy.

Ted and Angie had theirs; a girl. All were well, although Angie was in labor for  several hours; Rhonda seemed to pop hers out easily.

I don’t remember exactly when, but I got a call mid-morning from Chuck at the South Gate.

“South Gate to Eagle 1”

“Go ahead”

“We got company. Soldiers. Looks like the same guy that was in the tank.”

“On my way” and I hit the ground running.

Army overheard the conversation and recruited Carol to aid him with the Studebaker still armed with the Solothurn.

Alert was sent out and sentries crawled from the woodwork and went to their posts.

When I got to the South Gate, sure enough it was Jay from the tank incident.

He was accompanied by about 12-15 soldiers. They were armed, but all arms were shouldered.

As I approached, Jay called out “Bennie! Remember me?”

I got to the barricade and answered “how can I forget? You left a big pile of trash in my driveway” half serious, half joking but a few of soldiers on both sides chuckled.

“That’s what I wanted to talk to you about” he said, almost smiling. Jay was a tall man of slender build. He had a face that looked like it was ready to smile. He seemed all business, yet probably liked to joke. His beard was a few days unshaven. They all carried full packs. I felt that meant they were not commuting back and forth to a base, but were out on a patrol of some type, or maybe something else.

He took a step closer “can we talk…one on one?”

“Sure” I replied and pointed down the street to his right “go that way until you hit Main St, turn left and you will reach the Main Gate. They will let you in…we’ll meet you there.”

He looked around at the South Gate, and I explained “this gate is not meant to be crossed. The flanks are booby-trapped, as you well know and the cars here are welded together.”

“OK” he said with a smile, “see you there.”

I added “I don’t know what’s cooking in the kitchen, but I’m sure they’ll feed you and they always have coffee.”

A cheer went up from the soldiers as they trekked on to the Main Gate.

I got on the radio “Eagle 1 to all. Stand down. RC, meet me at Main Gate. Kitchen make some coffee and looks like a dozen hungry soldiers will need to be fed. out”

The scheduled shift at the South Gate was Chuck and Mandy and another, the rest of us walked to the Main Gate past the kitchen where the ladies were busy. Jenna waved at me as Army walked to keep up.

“What’s the word?” he asked anxiously.

“The word is that the tank commander Jay as asked for a private audience with you and I. May we use your house?”

Without hesitating Army said “what’s mine is yours, Bennie.”

We waited only a few minute as the crew arrived.

The sentries moved the roadblock and I motioned down the street “these men will escort you to the kitchen, Jay will join us here for a conversation.”

People had come outside for curiosity’s sake and the soldiers seemed friendly with greetings to our people.

I introduced Jay to Army “we think alike and he’s in charge of the militia” I explained.

“And what are you in charge of?” Jay asked me as we made our way into Army’s garage.

“Everything else except the kitchen” I laughed.

We sat down at Army’s reloading bench which really got Jay and Army chatting.

“Your loading 130 grain bullets for your AKs?” Jay asked, thoroughly interested in the loads.

“For now” he said “I’ve got some 160s but those are experimental. Maybe for hunting we can use those.”

They got into some technical BS that I could care less about and I let them bond.

They wound down and Jay started “we are here because not to mix words, we have deserted our command.”

He was wringing his hands while telling us this “as you may or may not know, there are two groups fighting for control right now, not too far north of here. There is a huge battle happening, and more than likely, this will be the final one for either side as resources are low. Gasoline, tank parts, ammunition, other vehicles including helicopters, jeeps, humvees, you get the picture.”

I keyed my radio “eagle 1 to infirmary”

after a short wait “go ahead Bennie” it was Marie

“is the satphone still in your possession?”

“yes and it’s charged”

“could you send it with someone down to Army’s asap? Please”

“right away”

Al showed up in less than a minute through the garage side door. It started Jay as Al burst in, given his six foot stature. He handed the phone to me “what’s happening?” he asked.

Army introduced them while I called the Deputy.

“Bennie” he said “what’s the matter?”

“We’ve got a walk-in soldier who claims to be with the non-military faction. We had a run in with them a few weeks ago. They were the ones with the tank.”

“OK, so?”

“I thought it might be good if you too could talk to him and see what  you think.”

“You talk to him, Bennie. Let me know later what you think. I’m…I’m kind of in to something here. Call me later, OK?” and he hung up.

“OK” I said, looks like it’s up to us.”

I did not explain, but let Jay continue.

CHAPTER EIGHTY-FIVE

Jay began “our leader, a guy named Fitch, had a good thing going for a while. He was a full bird colonel in the former regime’s US Army. He was a bit flaky, but convinced a  huge number of people; soldiers, officers to stand with him to start a coup to take over the government.”

Jay shook his head and paused. We waited patiently.

“I’m the first to admit that we did some bad things for Fitch along the lines of following orders, but our eyes began to open when you guys stopped our Texas Militia. They were our strongest ally, and we were certain they would move right in and take over the King Ranch operation. When you guys took them out, we started rethinking our resolve; meaning, these farmers with pitchforks and hoes took down our heavily armed and trained group, how many more groups like that are out there? Because we could not take another hit like that and have our cause survive.”

“Then again, we were ordered to wipe you guys out with the tank. Our advance patrol until never reported back, and that should have been a warning, but Fitch insisted we attack.” He chuckled a little bit.

“You know, he was really mad when you guys took out that chopper and you” he pointed at me “really angered him some more with your ‘running out of bad guys’ banter because you were exactly right.”

“Anyway, after you disabled the tank and let us go, the rest of my men asked me “why are we doing this? This is wrong, and we keep getting our asses kicked. We want out.”

“Fitch still didn’t get it, and he was so mad that he musta had a stroke because he dropped dead. There are a few others clamoring for his position, but my guys wanted nothing to do with it after that so here we are.”

“Each of us brought 1000 rounds of 5.56 ammo, a few MREs, bedrolls, some water, and we’re willing to join and help you and your group to maintain your way of life.”

He unshouldered his rifle, and pistol belt and handed them to me. “My men are surrendering their arms to whoever is watching them of your sentries as we speak.”

I took his stuff and sat it on the floor and sighed. I had not expected this. I looked at Army and he just shrugged.

I stood up, as did Army and Jay, grabbed his stuff and gave it back to him “let’s go to the kitchen.”

Jay smiled “I am a little hungry and I smell coffee.”

The kitchen was bustling with activity. The other soldiers had piled their gear in the kitchen front yard, and were chatting with those of our group who were around. They seemed friendly enough, and even a few laughs here and there.

Jay sat down and was swarmed with kitchen help. They filled his coffee and his plate.

My radio went off “Main Gate to Eagle 1. The Deputy is here. We’re letting him in.”

“10-4”

Alan pulled up slowly to the gathering, and Army and I spoke to him briefly before he joined Jay. We left them alone, and wandered off down the street to Al’s at our old committee meeting table on the patio.

Al and Marie were there when Army and I sat down and told them what of Jay’s conversation.

“Could it really be coming to an end?” Al asked.

I nodded “the fighting part anyway. The struggle will never be over.”

Marie sobbed “so much senseless death for nothing more than power and control.”

“Well, at least you have a dozen extra sentries” I looked at Army. “Any idea how you want to distribute them?”

“I was thinking that we’d let them fill in the sentry posts; you know, rotate through for a couple weeks including the rovers so they’d get a good feel for the territory. Let those who want go hunting too, and show them the gardens. No reason to keep them as soldiers if they wanna work with their hands.”

“New precedents here” I said “take it in stride. Nothing is etched in stone.”

Army nodded “that too.”

And we saw this as the beginning of the end. For the next several months, we had no skirmishes with anyone. The gardens came through nicely. The daily hunts went on successfully, although we had to go further and further out.

Gasoline was very low, and we saw no way to replenish our supply.

The chicken coop now had hundreds of chickens with more on the way.

The across the ditch gang got their gardens going well too and did not require as much help from us.

The Doc was successful in the wheat field and we all got a lesson in separating wheat from chaff the hard way.

We still had flour, but began mixing coarse whole wheat to make it go a little further.

Chuck and Mandy announced they wanted to marry, as did Army and Jenna.

We were sitting around one evening when Army showed up with a couple bottles of bourbon with ice…a real treat.

“I had George stash away a little here and there” he said as he passed out glasses of ice. I did  not hesitate to fill my iced glass with the ambrosia of Kentucky.

I stood up and held my glass “to those of us who fell to bring us this day.”

It Could Happen

It was Saturday on Memorial Day weekend.

Bennie Barnes awoke to the sound of what he thought were several explosions outside and some loud ‘pops’ in the house. The TV sparked a little too, and he heard the floor fan shut down.

As he jumped up he thought dammit, now those damn dogs will keep us awake all night. They kept a fan running for the background noise, as the neighbors behind and to the left had seemingly started a German shepherd farm.

He noticed it was darker than usual, and found his flashlight; a 2 D cell Maglight. He then went into the bathroom and peed, noticing how hard it was to pee in the dark while holding a flashlight. Gotta work on that he thought. He finished his business and peeked out the bathroom window toward the vacant lot immediately behind him. Total darkness.

He also noticed that the nightlight in the bathroom was out as well.

He put on his jeans and a dark t-shirt, also donning his Red Wing steel toed workboots. He put on his belt with his Bowie knife and a Buck pocketknife. All he heard was ticking.

Last night, he had pulled his Hamilton RR watch that belonged to his grandfather. Every now and then he would wind it up and let it run down. He chuckled to himself when he thought of the old Chicago song Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is? He wondered if the time of day would ever be important again. He gave the pocketwatch a couple more winds, and shoved it into his pocket. It was 2:30. It seemed to tick very loudly.

He picked up his Mossberg that was always loaded, and had a butt stock shell holder with 5 more rounds. He shouldered it, and briefly pondered taking his 50 round bandolier along. He decided against that, thinking it was too heavy.

He headed down the hall to the living room.

The air was filled with the smell of burned semi-conductor.

The house was silent as he entered the living room. His flashlight illuminated the smoky air. There were no flames.

He went to the back patio door, removed his oak dowel from the track, unlocked the door and went outside.

The first thing he noticed was the silence. The second thing he noticed was something he hadn’t seen since the last time we went camping; stars. The sky was full of them as far as he could see.

Across the vacant lot directly behind his house past Trailblazer Street, was the middle school. It was totally dark. The stop light at the intersection of M Street and Trailblazer was dark as well.

In the corner of his yard was a transformer that served four homes; it was blackened and still smoldering.

He stopped to think for a minute, then it came to him. We just got hit by an EMP. We may never see power again for years. I have to get over to Al’s. Al was Bennie’s younger brother by 13 months.

I’ll get the girls up later.

He went back to the bedroom where Leah, his wife was snoring softly. He checked his cell phone…dead and very warm.

He put on his Panama Jack hat, because that was all he had. Better than my shiny bald head he thought.

He grabbed his pickup keys in case it started; it didn’t. He locked the front door and headed down the driveway.

 

CHAPTER TWO

He headed down his street, T Street towards M Street. The absence of street lights made it very strange. With the moon almost full and clear skies, it was very bright; even without the street lights. I always took the street lights for granted he thought. He decided he liked the natural light better.

He froze. He thought he saw a shadow move behind a tree. Should he investigate? No. He unshouldered the Mossberg anyway.

He started again towards M street. When he reached M, he turned south (right) towards the school, where he had spent many hours doing laps on the playground track.

As he passed the school on his left, it too was dark. The air was still. The rope on the flagpole was silent. Could this get any creepier?

A dog barked, and he felt a chill go down his back, but the dog was behind a fence he had already passed. Easy big fella. He stopped and took a couple of breaths, then proceeded south along M toward L where his brother lived.

The streets were alphabetical, so he had a few blocks to go. Al lived at the T intersection of L and 17th Street. The back of  his house faced a jogging trail and Centennial Blvd., which ran the entire length of the city from north to south; it ended at Trailblazer.

He passed R, Q, P, O, N, and Martin streets, The neighborhood layout was weird as many of the streets in the hood did not touch M street. They ended in a cul de sac and may or may not continue on the other side of M street.

The trees lined M street and there was a nice canopy cover until he reached N street.

Is that footsteps I hear?

He turned and looked behind him; nothing. He felt his heart pounding. He again took a couple of breaths. He stopped every few seconds to listen. He felt like he was out in the wide open.

His hand were sweaty. He stopped, shouldered his shotgun, and got his shop rag that he always carried, and wiped his hands.

He pressed on and turned right (west) on L street toward Al’s

As I passed the second house on L street, a voice boomed from the darkness “WHO THE HELL ARE YOU?”

I stopped and put up my hands. Looking to my right, I saw a familiar site; a Road King in the garage. I did not see who was yelling at me.

“Is that you Army?” I said calmly.

A slight pause “yeah, I’m Army. Now you gonna tell me who you are so I can put the gun down?”

“Bennie Barnes” I replied “Al’s brother. I met you in the barber shop a couple months ago. We talked about your Road Kings.”

“Oh yeah” he sounded relieved and he appeared from some oleander bushes on the side of his driveway.

He walked towards me, and I towards him and we shook hands.

“What are you doing?” he asked.

“I’m going to Al’s to decide where to live” I answered. “We don’t have a lot of time to make a decision about where to move.”

“I’m with you pal” he said. “How bad do you think this is?” he asked me.

“Probably permanent” I answered, trying to be upbeat.

I turned to go and I said “I’ll talk to you soon. We may be able to help each other out.”

“10-4” he said, and I went up the street to Al’s.

I had hoped Army didn’t notice but I peed in my pants a little when he startled me. Good thing I peed at home. This coulda been really embarrassing.

As I got closer, I saw a light upstairs moving around. Al’s wife Marie, was an RN and was probably thinking she was going to work.

I got to the driveway and gave the Barnes secret call that we had used for generations “Hooty hoot! Hooty hoot!”

Al heard and hooted back, and he was out the door in seconds. We gave each other a big hug and he was surprised to see my carrying the shotgun.

“What’s this?” he asked with real surprise. “Where you been?”

“I was talking to Army” I said “I’m glad he likes you and remembered me.”

“We’re in big trouble” I said factually.

I had been labelled the family nutcase a few years earlier because of my preparations for disasters. Somehow, I knew this day would come.

Marie came out the door and also gave me a hug. She had been crying. “What’s going on Bennie?” she asked.

We heard another sound from the street saying “hooty hoot! hooty hoot!” It was Army.

“C’mon up Army!” I said.

He walked right up and he and Al shook hands. My brother’s hand were huge. He has a genetic defect that prevents him from hearing the bones crush in whosoever’s hand he is shaking. One learns fast to return the grip as it’s one’s only salvation.

“Yeah” Army said “what’s going on?”

“I think we’ve been hit with an EMP” I said, pausing a little to let it sink in. “You probably had your televisions smoke and maybe other electronic devices are burned; anything with semi-conductors in it will probably never work again; cars, motorcycles, cell phones, appliances, etc.”

I continued “We will probably never see the power on again. Running water is a thing of the past. Are you starting to get this? Our life as we know it is over. We now are going to talk of survival as our number one priority.”

“Bennie, do you really think that’s what’s happened?” Army asked.

I told them about the schools and stop lights.

“Has anyone checked the water pressure?” I asked “I didn’t, but I’ll bet if it’s still got some pressure, it won’t last long.”

Marie went inside to check.

“I need to discuss with you about moving in with you” I said to Al. “I think your home is a much more secure location than mine. I propose you let us three move to your home and I’ll bring all my food, water, supplies and guns.”

Marie came back out “there is still pressure.”

Al nodded “of course you can move in here.”

I nodded with approval “OK. I have a water Bob that we can use to fill up in your tub and every container you can get your hands on needs to be filled with water as soon as possible.” I continued “it’s only a 100 gallons but we will need it eventually.”

“Now, we need to move our stuff over. Do you still have that cart you used to haul your dogs around behind your bicycle?” I asked Marie.

She nodded “I’ll go get them” and disappeared into the house.

Army piped up “hell, I’ll do you one better. I have a car that I’ll bet still runs. It’s an old one. C’mon.”

Al went inside and picked up his Kimber .45.

Marie too reappeared with her Walther .380 and the bicycle and little trailer.

She came to me and hugged me tightly and whispered “I am so sorry for the way I treated you…so sorry” and she kissed my cheek. She still had tears in her eyes.

I kissed her forehead “I know you never meant what you said” with a smile.

She got on her bicycle with the little trailer and went ahead. She was still sniffling.

We three headed down toward Army’s and he started “yeah, I gotta ’67 Mustang, stock. It’s nothing fancy but it runs. It’s got a 351 Cleveland and a 4 speed. It’s a work in progress.”

He moved his Road King out of the way muttering “this is a goddam crying shame.”

He got into the Mustang and it started. It was very quiet for a V-8. He rolled it out onto the driveway.

Ah yes. I envisioned a candy apple red Mustang, with a blum blum blum set of headers, Keystone mags, and a four speaker stereo system.

Instead, it was almost silent, with a rusty red color mixed with cheesy camo. Oh well.

Army got out and gestured for me to drive “you guys go on and do what you need to do. I’ll mind things here.”

I shook his hand again “thanks, friend.”

I got in the car as did Al and Marie and I said as we left “if we don’t come back, you can keep the bicycle.”

He flipped me off.

We got to the intersection and I stopped before I turned. I looked at them and said “our lives are going to change forever starting now.”

They said nothing as I drove north back to T street.

CHAPTER THREE

I pulled up in front of my house at the bottom of the driveway. Leah’s Escape and my Ranger were in the driveway. H’s car was in the street in front.

I popped the trunk, and went to the front door, unlocked it, and went inside. No one was up. I went down the hall to the closet pantry and told Al and Marie to start loading up and I would get the girls up.

They started and I went in to wake up Leah.

She awakened drowsily and I realized that she was on Xanex. I coaxed her up and finally said “you need to get up darlin’…now. I’ll go wake up H.”
H was Leah’s daughter’s nickname and I went to her room and got her up as well.

Marie and Al were still lugging boxes and I found the water Bob and gave it to Marie. “Take this and start filling it when you get home. Put in in your tub. The instructions are there.”

Leah and H got up and headed to the restroom first thing, I called to them both “you’ve only got one flush. Make it count.”

When they finished I sat them down and told them what we thought had happened. “Now gather yourselves and help load up the car. We were able to borrow one that runs.”

H started to cry, and Leah seemed confused.

“Listen. Your college is over” I said to H. To Leah I said “no more school teaching for you. The lives you had are over now. Our number one priority now is survival. Put your feeling aside for now, and let’s get to work. OK? I need both of  you. Get your personal stuff; clothes, dental care, bathroom supplies, towels, etc. You can’t take everything. Jeans, coats, sweaters, undies, bring what you can. We don’t have a lot of time.”

They wiped their tears and began scurrying around.

Al came up and said “the car is full.”

“All right” I said “fill up the back seat, and I’ll ride on the hood. Don’t think it’ll hurt the paint any.”

We spent the next two hours loading up and making runs to Al’s with all our stuff. It went well.

Al had a huge extra bedroom that used to be a huge garage. Most of the stuff went in there. We hauled tools, cast iron cookware, portable stoves, hundreds of pounds of charcoal, beer making supplies and ingredients, canned food, flour, sugar, corn meal, cooking oil, coffee, tea, and almost everything imaginable for food storage.

We also took all the gas cans we had and siphoned our tanks until our cans were full. Then we siphoned directly from my pickup to Army’s car, and emptied my tank, giving him an almost full tank.

Gotta remember we still have gas in the other two cars I thought.

I had cut down a mesquite tree a year or so earlier, and we hauled that wood as well.

It was now 5:30 am.

CHAPTER FOUR

“Let’s go unload the mesquite first, then we’ll take the car back to Army and see how he’s going to deal with this situation. We are about out of night cover for today” I added looking behind us to the east.

We passed Army’s slow and stopped. I motioned for him to come over, and he appeared from nowhere. “This is our last load” I said. “We’re gonna drop it off, and we’ll be back. We need to talk about our situations”.

“I’ll be here” he answered, and we drove off.

Al backed the car into the driveway as close to the double gate as we could as Al’s monster full size extended cab Chevy was in the way. Marie had unlocked the gate and it was open. We unloaded the mesquite wood and the rest of the boxes from the car.

“This is it for now” I said to Marie. “We’re gonna take the car back to Army’s and chat with him about what we’re all going to do”. Do you remember a large A Christmas Story popcorn can?” I asked her.

“Yes, I know right where it is, and I’ll bring it to you” and she scurried off. Al looked at me kinda strange when I explained “that has the radios in it. “The metal can should have kept the radios safe from the EMP.”

Marie returned with the can, and we put it in the car. We closed and locked the gate and went back to Army’s. Al pulled in front and backed into the driveway. “Whoa” Army said. “I’ll take it from here”. I got out with my popcorn can, and Army got in and finished backing the car into the garage.

He got out and said “Well, I see you filled up the tank! That wasn’t part of the deal!”

“I would rather you have it than some looter coming in later and stealing it” I said handing him a partial used bottle of fuel stabilizer. I went on. “We’re going to need each other eventually, if you stay here”.

“Where the hell am I going to go? he said. “How far would I get with a tank of gas?”

“You saved us a lot of time this morning by loaning us your car” Al said. “We can never fully repay what you’ve done. With the 5 of us, we’d still be on the second run, and we’d all be pissed off and really tired of walking. Thank you.”

Army nodded.

“So, let’s see what I have here” as I opened my popcorn can.

“Two way radios!” exclaimed Army. “Do they work?”

“I was hoping you could help us out with these” I said, pulling out 4 radios. “I got these at Lowe’s at the checkout counter for about $50 a pair a few months ago. I also have a base station, that supposedly uses the same frequencies” I added.

Army already had his K-bar out opening the packages. He installed the batteries on two units, and Al and I put batteries in the other two and we all flipped them on. The LEDs came on. Army stepped back a few steps, keyed the mike and said “hooty hoot! hooty hoot!” Al and I both heard the call in each of our radios.

“Whose idea for the Faraday cage?” asked Army. Al just gestured towards me. “Yeah, I put all those in that can right after I bought them” I went on. ” I double canned them so they were inside a can inside a can.”

“Good thinking on your part” said Army. He looked at me for a few seconds and said “you and I could be friends” and I smiled. “I suggest you turn off the radios to save battery power” he added.

“I have several solar powered poolside lights that charge AA ni-cads or nickel hydride batteries, which is what these use” I told him. I think there are around 18 of them…the chargers I mean, and I have at least 150 spare batteries besides the ones that are already in the chargers now.”

“I think we’ll keep you” Army said as Al put his arm around my shoulder.

“This is my big brother” Al said half joking, half proud.

“Army, we’ll keep the base station on all the time” I said. “Someone will always be close to base to monitor the other radios. If you ever need something, just call, and we’ll do likewise. I would suggest that we keep chatter to a minimum as the Feds can track these babies.”

“My handle is Eagle1” I said.

“Call me RC” said Army.

Al said “I’ll be Eagle2”.

“The base is just that; Base” I added.

“Ok,” I directed my question to Army. ” How are you set with food and water and a means to cook?”

He replied with “I should be good for quite a while”, obviously hiding something. I have lots of canned goods, beans, wheat, rice, sugar, coffee, salt, spices, a propane stove, a pit in the back with lots of charcoal and firewood.”

“Guns and ammo?” I inquired.

“I’ve got several rifles of various calibers, a couple of 45s, and about 20k rounds of ammo between them all” he answered.

“Are you alone here?” I asked.

He paused a minute and said “my wife is out of town, so I don’t know her situation.”

“How are you with security?” I asked.

“Ok for now, I guess. We’ll have to wait and see what happens.”

“We very likely will be cooking what meat we have today” I said. “You are certainly welcome to join us or partake of whatever you wish.”

“Thanks” he said. “I’ll probably take you up on that.”

“Ok, we’ll be in touch” I said as I offered my hand and Al and I headed up the street.

“By the way, Army” I stopped, turned to him and asked, “how did you know our secret call?”

“I followed you to your brother’s after our first encounter, and heard your exchange when you were standing on the driveway. You had no idea I followed you?”

“None whatsoever” I replied.

“I used to watch Gomer Pyle too” he added, and we all laughed. Al and I turned and went up the street.

It’s a good thing that we can still find humor, in spite of the situation, I thought. A very good thing. What does that mean?

The sun was not visible yet, but dawn had arrived. We could see the sidewalk now easily in the early morning light. We passed the West’s house, and I said to Al “we should probably check on them later. They’re good people and I’d hate to see anything happen to them.”

Al replied, “yeah, lets wait a couple of hours and get something to eat. I think this could be a very long day.”

“Al, did you ever get some extra ammo for your rifles?” I asked him.

As we got to his front door, he turned and said with a smile “Army’s ammo supply does not even come close to mine. AJ (Al junior) left his AR here a few weeks ago with no fewer than 10K rounds for that. I bought 1000 rounds for the 7mm Remington magnum, some 10k rounds for the 45s, 2500 rounds for the 30-30, 1000 rounds of 12 gauge assorted shot; mostly OO and slugs, 10K rounds for the AK, I picked up 5k rounds for the .22 rifle, and I found a couple boxes of 16 gauge OO and slugs, as well as some dove loads. Those 16 gauge OOs are hard to find.”

I replied “I hope we won’t need ’em, but we probably will… eventually.”

Al nodded, and we went inside.

CHAPTER FIVE

I was a little pleasantly surprised what we saw when we entered. The ladies were all scurrying around moving boxes. Marie was directing traffic as to what went where.

I told Al “we need to get something to eat, as the day has just begun. I have some jerky in an ice chest probably that we could start with while we plan for some external security.”

“Whaddayamean, external security?” he asked.

“We need a plan to shore up all the doors, starting with the front two; the main one and the one to the boys’ room. I was thinking it might be a good idea to just close off the south gate entirely; you know, bolt it closed…

Al interrupted me “hold on there brother.”

He then continued with “Bennie, you know there is a huge neighborhood here. We may not have to board up and hunker down like everyone here is the enemy. Many of these people are good folks and our friends. Perhaps we could work on an attitude of a community, rather than us against them.”

I thought for a minute and  said “I’ll go along with that” I answered “for now. I do think that this may be our last holdout though. Having a plan absolutely will not hurt us.”

Al nodded in agreement.

I motioned toward the other bedroom. “Let’s see if we can find that jerky and maybe the stove with some of the stove fuel. Might wanna talk about assigning weapons, or at least leaving some out at our weak points for now” I said as I moseyed through the boxes looking for the ice chests. “Does anyone know where the ice chests went?” I asked generally.

Marie pointed to the boys room and said “most of the stuff you brought will be in there.”

Al and I walked through the kitchen, I glanced at the window noting that we’d have to be aware of another possible entry point there. We walked through the laundry room and into the boyz room and found the ice chests. I dug around in the first and found the container jerky. I pulled it out, handed Al a few sticks, pulled a few for myself, and headed back to the main house where I set the container on the counter. “Breakfast is served” I said. The ladies all stopped what they were doing, and came over and all grabbed some jerky. Good time for some more discussion, I thought.

“Ok, we made it, and we’re all safe and sound” I said, taking a huge bite of jerky. “Al and I are going to scope out the back and see what might need to be done to shore up the back yard and fence.

“We’ll need to find the camp stove and the white gas as well as the lanterns. Also, we need to pool our flashlights, batteries, and any other portable lighting into a central area where all can access them.” Everyone was munching and listening. “When we get to a point where we can take a real break, Al and I are probably going to start the BBQ, and cook our meats.”

I went on “Who knows how the public will react to this? It may take weeks before we see looting and violence. It may only be hours. I want everyone to know one thing:

If we get attacked by bad guys, zombie bikers, Feds, thieves, looters, whomever, I will shoot to kill every sombitch that comes at my family, and I will keep on shooting until either they are dead, or I am dead. I want everyone here to think about that because we’re all going to have to watch each others backs…every minute of every day, instinctively. This will have to be our promise to each other if we want to survive. If any one of us fails to do their job at their post, that puts all of us in jeopardy. I’m sorry to be so grim and factual, but that’s how I see it.”

The room got quiet; even the eating stopped. I went back and brought out bottle of water for everyone. Routine, normal activities, I told myself. Everyone was opening their water and slugging it down. We had worked pretty hard in the last few hours. I took a good long drink myself.

I continued “Al brought up a good point that this is a good neighborhood, and a lot of these people are your friends…meaning that I shouldn’t be so quick to pull out the firearms and talk about shooting people. That point is well taken, and we should still be on our guard as one never knows what another will do, given our seemingly limited options of survival at this point.”

“For right now, I would strongly suggest that someone watch through the LR window at the outside. It’ll probably get boring, and the task can be rotated every hour or so. I need someone to dig up a portable radio that will pick up AM stations to see if there is any news. Whoever is at the window, probably needs to carry the shotgun. Al has one also, so we’re not locked into just the Mossberg.”

“The food in your fridge and freezer will probably stay good for a few days.” I continued. “If you need to get into your fridge, be quick as the cold air is what will keep the food fresh. We are likely to eat like royalty for a couple of days, so as not to let the food to go waste.”

“Also, Marie, do you know if the Wests are home?” I asked.

Marie replied “I think so. They usually let us know when they’re going to be gone”.

“I am sorry Al and Marie. I seem to taken the position of totally being in charge here. This is your home. If you want to invite outsiders in, that is totally up to you. Remember this: Every person besides us that walks in and joins up, is a drain on our food supply. Perhaps outsiders can bring food as well. It really isn’t fair to bring in waifs off the street that have nothing to offer here. I like the Wests as good as anyone, and I don’t have anything against being charitable. As far as I’m concerned, all the food we brought here this morning is ours. I suggest that we include Army as another member of this group, and that he has freedom to go back and forth between his house and ours.”

I finished the last of my water, and looked at Al, “well, shall we scope out the back”?

Al was already done with his water, and he replied “ready when you are!”

We each grabbed a flashlight, and proceeded to the back yard. I checked the Hamilton. It was 6:00am. We headed towards the shed.

“It’s going to get warm inside the house pretty quick” I said. “Do you have screens for the windows and the patio doors?”

“Yeah, except for the upstairs boys room, ’cause it’s hardly ever opened. The rest are good. The patio screen door is in the shed, and it’s intact.” Al walked to the shed, pulled out a keychain, found the correct key, unlocked and opened the shed. The sun was just peeking up from the east and shone directly into the shed.

His shed was so big that 6 of mine would have fit inside easily. His shed was the shape of an old timey barn with a hayloft. He had a custom workbench made of 1/4″ plate steel, with angle-iron legs. He had a large vice bolted to one corner. Under the main bench, he had a mesh wire shelf. The main bench had a 4″ backsplash, also of steel. It had been a while since I had seen it, and it still awed me. It was painted black, and the edges were filed to the metal, so it was like silver trim. Al was the brother who got the eye for detail. Also he had his Harley Road King which took up a lot of the middle of the shed.

He had pegboards with many hand tools on the walls behind the bench.

He pointed to the plywood upward as it was stored on the rafters above. “I don’t think I brought my handsaws” I said “and I have a six foot step ladder that I’m sure we can use as well as a 16 foot extension ladder back at home.” I could count 6 pieces of the 4×8 plywood sheets. “I’d suggest one sheet just for the patio door no one uses”. Why they had two standard sliding patio doors in their den, I could never figure out why. I had forgotten the other sliding door from the living room into the back, that led to the deck.

“Agreed” he said as he pulled a step ladder from back in the corner. He climbed up and we began pulling the plywood down.

“What do you have to anchor this?” I asked. “Did you want to just bolt the whole sheet to the wall over the door, or cut to fit inside the brick?”

“Naw, just bolt it to the brick with the anchors. I got a cordless drill here somewhere.”

“You know, I’ve got probably 20 8ft landscape timbers at home, and some scrap pieces. The more I think about it, the more I believe we’ll need those. It’s too damn bad that we’d have to manually haul them over here. Those things are heavy sombitches. They’d be great for shoring up the outside gates, and maybe some of the outside doors too. Go ahead and measure the size of the door if we just cut and bolted the plywood to the brick around the door” I asked. I’ll check out the front gate.”

I walked over to the front gate thinking. I noticed that Army’s car had a trailer hitch. There is an enclosed trailer at the office, less then a mile away. I’m sure it’s not that heavy for the car. Probably the sooner we do that, the better. Make it the last run to the house.

“I noticed that Army’s Mustang had a trailer hitch on it” I said, thinking out loud.

“I’m listening” said Al.

“Well, there is a trailer at the office…from here it’s just over to J which is two blocks, then to 10th which is two blocks, and the office is across the street from there. I have keys to get inside the office, get the trailer keys and unlock the trailer. It’s an enclosed one as well. We might have to unload a couple of machines and put them back into the warehouse, but it’s the best option we have.”

I continued “as long as we have gasoline, we can haul lots of stuff with that. I think that it will come in very handy.”

“Ok, I’m in” said Al.

I pulled out the radio and called Army “Eagle1 to RC”.

Less than 10 seconds later “Go ahead Eagle1”.

“We request audience with you for discussion, over”

“Request granted. See you in a few”

“On our way, out” I said.

Al went to the back and hollered at the girls that we were going to Al’s and maybe more.

“Do they know how to use the radio?” I asked Al as he rounded the corner.

“They do now” he smiled as we closed the gate. We walked toward the monster truck while checking out the LR window. H was watching diligently. She smiled and waved with the shotgun cradled in her arms. We turned and headed up the street.

We walked by the Wests, and George was standing on his porch. He practically ran out to us. We must have been a sight, carrying our pistols.

He was really glad to see us. I looked past him and I could see Gina, his wife, peering through the storm door at us…she waved when she recognized us.

George had his typical huge smile “I am really glad to see you guys! Do you know what’s going on with the world?” He shook both our hands, and I gave him the rundown on what we thought might have happened.

He nodded, taking it all in without any comment. His smile disappeared slowly.

Gina finally came out, as we moved closer to the house. I guess it looked suspicious with all the firepower standing by the curb. George kind of gave her a quick rundown on what we had said..she was staring at the guns.

I let him finish then said as I turned towards the street. “We are on a mission to take care of some business. We’ll stop by when we finish in about an hour or so. If you want to go to the house, we’ll call Marie and she can expect you. Meanwhile, we have to run” as we headed down the street towards Army’s.

They stood close together as George waved “see you soon!”

Army was standing at the ready when we arrive a few minutes later. The garage door was open and the Harley was again moved out of the way. “What’s the plan? Can I come this time?” he asked.

“We are counting on you going along” I told him. “I felt that we were going to need a bunch of landscape timbers I have at home still. They will be great for shoring up the three gates we have in the back. I have access to a trailer at my office” I pointed in the direction “it’s at the other end of the strip mall from Dick’s BBQ. How does your car handle a trailer? It has a hitch on it”

Army interrupted me “Bennie, this has a 289 v8 that I used to pull a boat with. It’s got air shocks too”.

“How big is the trailer?” Army asked.

“I’m not sure of the dimensions” I answered. “It’s a covered dual axle that’s probably around 9 feet wide including the wheels. It’s barely tall enough for me to stand up in.”

We piled into the Mustang. Army had already close the garage door. He’s very perceptive I thought. We didn’t tell him we were going to ask to borrow the car, yet he was ready with it and willing to go with us.

“OK, here we go!” Army said as he pulled out of the driveway.

“We’re not going to see any vehicles out on the street” I said. If the cops were ready, they may have stashed some computer chips for their vehicles, which would bring them to life again.”

Army pulled up to the 4-way and paused. I stopped talking. We all looked in all directions. He turned right and headed down J street.

I pointed straight down the street “When you get to 10th, I would suggest you just go straight across the street and go behind the building. That’s where the trailer is. I’ll walk around the front to open the doors. The alarm might still be working, so I’ll have to punch in the code.”

When we got to 10th Street, it certainly was dead. There were a couple of cars, but nothing moving.

I saw some people walking across the street several blocks to the north. They waved their arms at us, and looked like they were yelling at us.

Army punched it and we zoomed across the street. He went behind the building, and turned left toward the south end where he saw the trailer. “Stop” I said ” and let me out here. I’ll be out in a couple minutes.”

I got out and walked to the front of the store, dug out my keys, unlocked and went inside. The alarm did not go off. I double checked to see if there was any electronic activity in the panel. That would be my luck to trip a silent alarm, not that anyone will respond to it.

I relocked the front door, and went into the back around the warehouse to the back door. I opened the door, and I went to my desk and got the trailer keys. As I headed out the back door, there was the company’s 6 5 gallon water jugs. I picked up a couple and went to the car. I dropped the keys where the guys were standing by the chain and I said “the padlock is the bigass Master key.

Al asked “are there more jugs?”

“Yes, there are 6 more. Only three have water as the other one has a leak, but we’ll take it too.  We can patch the leak, it’s on the bottom.There is also a water cooler. It won’t work anymore, but we can still use it to drink from.”
Al nodded.

“I wonder” I said as I followed him to the back door “if we’ll need any cash. They have two petty cash drawers here with probably $500. I think I’ll go get that and leave a note for the bosses if they come back that their money is ‘safe’ with me.” Al laughed.

I walked to the admin offices and went to the first dispatcher desk. I opened the upper cabinet, and took the cash box. It had maybe $100 in it, mostly small bills. I went around to the CFO’s desk, opened that upper cabinet and removed the cash box. I then grabbed the keys that hung to open the box. I pulled a sticky note out and jotted “I hope you guys are well. I had an opportunity to get here and get some water bottles. I have the trailer too. The cash might come in handy, better me get it than the ‘bad guys'”.

I left a map to Al’s, then I signed it and left to the warehouse. Al was coming back for the last load of water jugs. “Did you just hide until I came for the last two?” he asked jokingly.

“Well, I was kinda overwhelmed by the massive amount of cash I am carrying” I replied as we walked outside. I closed the back door and went to the Mustang.

Army said “I think we’ll go back the way we came, then straight up M street to your street then left?”

“That’s right” I replied as we pulled up to 10th street. Again, that eerie feeling that this wasn’t right came over me. Still no activity, and Army buzzed quickly across the street.

We got to my house without incident, and began to prep for loading. “What are we haulin’?” Army asked.

“These landscape timbers for starters” I said pointing at the timbers I had around the mailbox. “Did anyone remember to bring a 1/4” socket?

For the next 30 minutes, we disassembled the landscape timbers, confiscated the rebar, and retrieved the rest of the hand tools from my garage.

We had to tie the door shut on the trailer due to the length of the rebar. “It’s not far so this’ll be ok.” I said.

They both nodded in agreement. We were off before the door was closed.

The sun was up now in full view. I was beginning to feel the heat this early in the day. I noticed I was sweating too, thinking I wished I had taken a shower last night.

We turned onto M street and we saw our first contact. A mom and her kid were walking down the sidewalk towards the school, like she does everyday, I thought…but still, this is Saturday.

We drove by them, and she hardly noticed. The little boy pointed at us, but she wasn’t looking at us. We drove on. I checked the Hamilton. It was 6:50. “Guys, this isn’t right. There should be hundreds of people out and around, even without cars, unless they all overslept…but I seriously doubt that.”

Nobody said anything.

“People are scared” I said, breaking the silence “and not everyone is up yet.”

Army turned and went up the street to Al’s. Al and I got out and opened the gate and Army backed the trailer over the curb, across the yard, through the gate into the space between the shed and the north fence. Lea and Marie came out to join us. We introduced around. “Did you see anyone?” Marie asked.

We all looked at each other, and I told her what we saw. “Have you heard anything on the radio?” I asked. It was their turn to look at each other.

Marie answered “We are under martial law. Authorities are saying to stay off the streets and no one is allowed out at night.”

“Well, it’s started” I said “but not from where I thought it would come from.”

“What do you mean”? asked Marie.

“Martial law” I went on “is a way that the powers that be can take your food, guns, and people to put you in a ‘safer place’. They call them ‘shelters’. The Feds do this so they can ‘contain’ the public.” I was looking at blank faces all around except for Army.

Army took over saying “The Feds know that they can more easily keep track of people that are in a ‘shelter’ is the term Bennie used. The real term is called “FEMA detention camp”. Does this remind anyone of anything in the past?”

I knew the answer, but I wanted to see if anyone was getting it.

“Nazi Germany” came a voice from behind us. Just then H came through the patio door with her shotgun saying “two people just went in the side yard.”

Those two people were George and Gina. It was George that answered and he continued “The Feds will use natural disasters to “aid the public” when in reality, they are taking prisoners. Does anyone remember any Katrina horror stories about the refugees at the Superdome?”

We all nodded.

“All righty then” I interjected, changing the subject. “We have a trailer to unload. Marie, would you pick a place for us to put the sleeper sofa we brought?”

“I’ll clear a place now” she said as she went into the house.

H was standing with the Mossberg still. “Are you tired of standing guard honey”? I asked her.

She nodded. I continued “why don’t you put the firearms and ammo back in the LR, and I’ll get someone to relieve you. I have an important project for you” and she scampered off into the house. When she returned, I said “H, since you are a college degreed plant biologist, I am putting you in charge of garden consulting in the neighborhood. Begin looking at our seed stash, and planning the needs for particular plants…sun requirements, water, fertilizing, crop rotation, etc. OK?”

She seemed very excited and nodded. I added “find the box of notepads and start measuring our yard here for a garden. We’ll outline it with the landscape timbers.” She ran off into the house to find the notepads.

George, Army, and Al had already begun to unload the trailer, and I assisted them.

While we were doing so, another crazy idea popped into my head. “Guys” I said. “What would you think about making a run up to Sam’s?”

This got all their attention. “Go on” said Army.

“I was thinking that if they did open, those that got there first, got their choice of supplies.” I went on ” with the trailer, we could really load up. I got the cash box from the office which is $600 cash.”

Army asked, “who would go?”

I answered “probably those with CCL should go, in addition to myself, if’n there be trouble…and there might be. The thing is, if there are feds there, they may try to take the weapons. Regardless, if they are open, we three could go, and load up with bottles and jugs of water, toilet paper, laundry soap, sanitizer, bars of soap, maybe fresh meat, as it won’t last without power, you know, pretty much anything…dry goods, beans rice, etc. Perhaps one of the women should go so as to pick out “female things”…pads, lotions, and such. Whoever goes would probably need an ID…they may take names at the door…who knows how they would do it, but as I said, those that get there first, will get the best opportunity…water would be priority #1, in my opinion. Any comments? It’s just before 7:00 am. Folks without vehicles will be on foot, and limited to how much they can carry. I say, the sooner we check it out, the better. We’ll go in one or two at at time so to guard the car. That way, someone will always be at the car. Expedience will help to as it would seem that more and more people will get this idea to head for the store. I would like to be long gone if the unruly mobs arrive.”

Al said, “well if it’s CCL people then I’d better go tell her” as he walked away.

Al came out with Marie a few minutes later, and Lea was with them. She was carrying the Mossberg, and the bandolier. “Give me your sidearm sir” she said as she held out her hand. “You take the big fella. Sometimes, just seeing a pump shotgun, is just enough of a deterrent all by itself.” I handed her the Beretta. I have her a kiss and a big hug.

“I’ll be back” I said in my best Ahnold imitation.

“Of course, I added if the law is there, then we could send others later as there may not be a need for taking such a drastic defensive position. If that does happen, the driver would always have someone riding shotgun.”

“That goes without saying” Army added, patting his mini-30. He stuck in into the floorboard on the passenger side, barrel downward. Al and Marie climbed in the back behind me (shotgun is shotgun), he with his 1911, and Marie with her .380.

I looked back at them…I must’ve looked a little pale, as they both looked at me, and almost in unison said, “are you okay?”.

I smiled and nodded while turning back to the face the front as Army put the car in gear, and headed out onto the street. I just said, “things could get kinda dicey in the next few minutes” as I pulled the bolt back to be sure there was a round in the chamber; there wasn’t. I cocked it and loaded one up from the buttstock holder. Nine shots total, I told myself.

CHAPTER SIX

We drove straight into the sun towards M street, where we turned left towards Trailblazer. The streets had a little more activity now. There were people milling around in their yards. Some had the hoods of their cars up, trying to fix them. We got many stares as we headed north past them.

We turned right onto Trailblazer, and the entrance to Sam’s was about a block east. We turned in, and headed to the front. There was not a lot of people there, and Army pulled up in the lot across from the front entrance.

There were some people standing outside, and some Sam’s employees at the door. There was an armed guard there as well.

I asked them “are you open?”

She answered “yes, are you a member?”

I flashed my card.

“You can go in sir, it’s cash only, and you’ll be escorted by an employee, but you’ll have to leave your firearms in your vehicle.”

“No problem.” I said. “Am I allowed to bring a helper?”

“Yes, you may bring one person with you” she said.

I went back to the truck, unloaded my firearms, and said “I can bring in one person. Marie? Would you like to accompany me? The rest of you need stuff, might as well cough up the cash right now…it might not be good tomorrow.”

Marie unbuckled her belt, and hopped out. Army threw me a wad of $100s and said “get whatever…just get some beers too.”

Marie and I got in line and waited only about 15 minutes, but it seemed longer. More and more people were coming into the lot. Many of them obviously were not there to buy groceries. A clerk came out and took Marie in as she grabbed a cart. Seconds later, another clerk came out and took me as I too, grabbed a flatbed. The clerk, Mandy, was friendly enough, and I had seen here before so I quizzed her. “Were you just one of the unlucky ones who lives close by?” I asked her.

“Isn’t this crazy?” she said. “How long do you think it will last?” as she looked at me, and waited for an answer while we headed towards the water jug isle.

She was a cute, young Hispanic woman with straight, dark brown hair and glasses.

“I’m sorry, Mandy” I answered. “This problem is not going to be fixed soon. My guess is that this is going to be permanent” as we arrived at the water isle.

“What do we do?” she asked. “How are they going to get food here with no trucks running”? She had a little tremble starting in her voice.

“There might be some trucks here and there that may make it in, but I wouldn’t count on it” I said. “Your working here is going to get very interesting by the end of the day. I would urge you to talk to your boss, and get your pay with food as money probably won’t be any good for too much longer.”

I reached over and grabbed 10 5-gallon jugs of water, some one-gallons jugs, and then 10 cases of bottled water. Mandy acted like she was trying really hard not to say something. I asked her “what’s wrong?” I wandered over two aisles to where the jerky was, and I found Marie there, loading up with Slim-Jims. I too, loaded up a bunch of jerky.

She sniffed a little and asked “where are you going next?”

“One can never have enough beans” I said. I picked up 10 40 lb bags of pintos, and 10 25-lb bags of rice, then 4 50lb bags of flour.

“Where to next?” she asked as she grabbed a stray cart.

“We’ll need sugar, syrup, honey, and beer for the driver.” I looked at her in all seriousness. “He was very explicit” I added.

She smiled.

She said “I live down the street from here, but my parents were out of town. I don’t know what happened to them. The phones are all out, and I can’t reach my brothers and sisters either. I don’t really want to go back over there. The neighbors seemed really strange this morning when I was walking to work.”

“Strange how?” I asked her.

She answered “they were all watching me saying bad things about what was going to happen to me tonight.”

We arrived at the dry goods aisle, and I loaded up 50 lbs of sugar, 4 5 lb jugs of honey, and 2 double jugs of Mrs. B. I found the trash bags, and loaded up several boxes, and a couple thousand-paper plates.

“You’re at $750 now” she said.

“Onward to the beer aisle” I said.

“You can come and stay with us” I told her, knowing that I was always an old softie with women who had hard-luck stories “but we have rules. Everyone works. You might be digging a ditch in the back, you might be cooking, you might be standing guard, and I expect everyone to be able to shoot to kill if necessary. Does that bother you?”

She wasn’t shook up a bit. In fact, she actually seemed ‘tougher’ when she answered “my dad and I used to go shooting at the gun range with his pistols. He said I was a really good shot. We used to go out to the ranch and hunt deer. I shot an 8 point buck last year, and I skinned him too.”

“Ok, you’re in.” I said, “but you’ve gotta come now. We can swing by your house and pick up your guns, some clothes, and maybe some food, but you cannot go back…ever. If that street is as bad as you say, we don’t want to go back there unless we are armed big time.”

“I don’t care” she said. “Count me in, I’ll go with you.” She let out a sigh of relief.

“OK” was all I could say. She would be a good addition to the group given that she can use a variety of weapons, I thought. “I’ll meet you outside.”

I went off to find the beer. I picked 8 cases of Paulaner Hefewizen, and some ice…might as well. I picked up some large packages of steaks and sausages, keeping in pace with that same line of thought.

I found Marie, and we headed to the checkout.  I paid the checker, Mandy informed whoever the boss was that she was leaving because she was scared to stay. He gave her some kind of employee only store coupon on which he wrote a dollar amount of groceries and supplies that she could take when she wanted. We walked out together towards the car with the flatbed. They were loading up Marie’s load into the trailer.

“Who you got there? ” asked Marie.

“This is Mandy” I said. “She used to work here at the store, now she works with us. She’s also a neighbor.”

“Mandy, meet my sister-in-law Marie.”

They exchanged pleasantries.

We were loading up the flatbed into the trailer, and Mandy was eyeing the Mossberg. “Do you know what this is?”

She said “some kind of shotgun. I haven’t shot those much.” She pointed to Army’s Ruger and said ” I Iike your mini 30. I see you have an aftermarket flash suppressor on it. Who did it for you?”

Army was a little taken aback, that this tiny, young woman knew what a Ruger mini 30 was…not to mention about the accessories. “I put the suppressor on myself, little lady. Everyone calls me Army” as he held out his hand to her and they shook hands. He smiled at me. “We’re bound to run out of luck sooner or later” he smiled.

“You’re a gunsmith?” she asked.

“Well” Army replied, “I don’t have a sign up, but I know my way around a gun.”

She looked at the .380. “I read that those Walther .380s jammed a lot.”

“That’s Marie’s gun” I said. “It’s very finicky about ammo, and it needs to have some rounds just shot through it to help loosen it up is what I think.” I handed it to her. “You stand guard with this until we leave” as she took the gun belt. She strapped it on, pulled out the pistol, pulled the slide back a little, dropped the mag, popped it back in…several times and she went over to Army to show him something.

My attention drifted to a group that came up from the rear. About 10 people walking directly towards us. They were about 25 yards away now. I didn’t see any firearms; at least none that were visible. I lowered the Mossberg into the cradle of my arm, faced them and watched. They weren’t even carrying anything like bats or clubs…nothing. They now had Army’s attention too. I looked back at Mandy and said “watch our six.” She grabbed the 1911 also. She seemed at ease holding the big .45.

The gang slowed as they approached. I was standing by the back of the trailer. Army was to my right closer to the car than the trailer. Mandy was at the front of car, looking the other way. The trailer was a pull-down door, and the door doubled as a ramp. One of the guys walked over closer and stopped in front of me. I said “how’re y’all doin’?”

His black t-shirt had a weird picture of a guy’s face, and under the face it read in large letters El Loco. He answered “OK ese, but I’m a little thirsty.”

“You’re not too late” I said. I motioned to the front door. “They said they’ll be open until everything’s gone.”

“We don’t have any money” he said. “So we won’t be able to buy any food.”

I looked right at him and yelled ‘Army!!’

El loco was startled. Army ambled over slowly with his Ruger cradled in his arm. I set the Mossberg inside the trailer, got a gallon of water, and gave it to El Loco. “Here,” I said. “You guys look like you walked a long way.” I was pretty sure I saw baby barf stain on his shoulder. I walked back into the trailer, and got another gallon and some jerky. By then, El Loco and his friends had started to turn away. “Oye” I said. He stopped and turned as I walked down the ramp. I handed him the other gallon and said “para el nino“, I gestured toward his shoulder. I gave him the jerky, and said “para tus amigos.” He actually smiled and said “gracias eh?” I answered “andale” and they all walked away, passing the water around between them.

I walked back to where I was standing, and picked up the Mossberg. Army said “how did you know they weren’t going to be any trouble?”

“I didn’t know for sure” I said.

“What do you mean by that?” asked Army.

I pulled out a cigarette, lit it, and went on.

“You and I don’t want any trouble, and we sure don’t want to cause any trouble, but if trouble comes our way and gets in our face, we’re gonna give it pure hellfire. They just wanted some water. The extra gallon was something they had not intended on getting without trying to take it by force. I threw the jerky in as a gesture of “we’re all on the same side” kinda thing.”

“I’m not sure I understand” Army said.

“If you give a person an even chance, you can avoid violence, more often than not” I replied. “That’s basically all I did. He is a proud man..a father who didn’t want to beg.”

“How did you know he was a father” Army asked again.

“I saw a what looked like a little barf stain on the guys’ shoulder. I’ve got two boys of my own. I had my share of barf on shirts.”

Mandy came up and said, “what was that all about?”

Army said, “this day is far from over, and in less than 20 minutes, we’ve got Annie Oakley,” gesturing at Mandy, “a philosopher, and freakin’ Henry Kissinger right here.”

“Mandy” I said to her. “We’ll be going to your house next.”

Al showed Mandy his 1911 and said “I’ve got this…and this” as he whipped out his Kimber from his CC holster.

“A Kimber!” exclaimed Mandy. “I’ve read some good things about that gun” she said. “Does that one have the tritium sights?”

Al nodded, removed the holster and handed it to her as well. She removed Marie’s Walther and put on the Kimber, which was just a clip on holster.

Army patted his Ruger and his won 1911, and Marie had the .380.

“Mandy tells me that her neighbors were talking shit to her when she left, so we may have some problems there.” I turned to Mandy “do you have a house key?”

She nodded yes.

“Explain how we get to your house” I said “so we’ll get an idea of a plan of sorts. I guess my biggest problem is whether or not your house is on a street where we have to go around a circle.”

“No,” she said. It’s on north 17th between T and R streets.”

“Geez” I said, ” you live right down the street from us. We’re on T street. I’m surprised we didn’t see you this morning while we were moving out.”

“I saw this car this morning on T street” she said. “I hid behind a fence when I saw it coming.”

“That was me” I told her. “I saw your shadow move, but only for an instant. Good thing you’re a ‘good guy’.”

“Ok, then it’s a straight run up, over, and down. We could get trapped if they want to. We’ll have to be quick.” I turned to Mandy “what do you plan on taking?”

She replied “my dad has a pair of what he calls Cobra .45 pistols, a couple rifles; one I’ve never seen he called a BAR. The other is an M1 grand. That’s the rifle I shot the deer with last year. There’s a lot of ammo for them as well. I liked the BAR, but dad said it wasn’t really a gun for hunting. He got it from his grandfather who was in WWI. It’s a full automatic.”

Army and I looked at each other, trying to contain our mutual excitement.

He’s got 3 big cans full of ammo for them. Those are in the room off the garage. The pantry is right behind that and there are a few clothes I need.”

“All righty then” I said. “Who, besides Mandy, will go inside with her to scavenge what may or may not be there, and who will stand guard at the car?” No one answered. “I’ll go with her” I said. We may need an intermediate person to help run stuff to the trailer. Army? Since you got the big gun, would you stand out here and watch over? Al, you get the trailer open and ready for her stuff. Marie, you stay kinda on the porch and we’ll try to relay the stuff. Is that agreeable to all?”

“We might run into some real trouble” said Army.

“Yes, and I think that if we wait, someone else might get that BAR. I’ve never seen one, but I understand that they are quite the formidable weapon, and quite frankly, I’d rather have it in our arsenal then someone else’s” I added. “Also, I should ride in the trailer for the trip back and hold the door closed in case one of them banditos tries anything.”

Army nodded in agreement, closing the trailer.

“Let’s go” I said. “I am really getting hungry.”

Army drove. Mandy took shotgun. I sat behind her, with Marie in the middle and Al behind the driver.

He pulled slowly out onto 10th street and north to T, where we turned left. A couple of blocks further west, we turned left onto M, then right onto T street.

“Which side of the road Mandy?” I asked.

“It has a big basketball goal on the driveway. The house is on the right side, which is the west side of the street. It’s the fourth house after we turn left” she answered.

“Got it” said Army, as we approached the turn. He turned left (the only way to turn), and sure enough, there were several people wandering the street. I saw the basketball goal. Fortunately, there was nothing parked in front of her house. Army pulled up and parked, but left the engine running.

“Let’s go!” as I tapped her head. She opened the door, and I followed. Army got out pulling his Ruger with him. Al and Marie scampered out. Marie headed behind us to the door. Al began unlatching the trailer door.

Mandy unlocked the door, and I went in with her. I left the door open, as it faced east and the sun shone right inside, making it very bright. Marie stood at the door and waited. I went right toward the kitchen, then pantry, then gunroom.

Mandy went the other direction. The gunroom was well organized. It looked like the old man reloaded shells too. I saw a long case under the bench. I pulled it out and took it back to the front. Mandy was already there with a little suitcase. “I packed some things this morning” she said. “What’s the address of where we’ll be? I’ll leave a note for my dad…in case he comes back.”
I gave her Al’s address; she jotted it down, and left.

I went back to the gunroom, and found another small briefcase like container, opened it, and there were two very beautiful 1911 .45s in it. I took it to the front. I went back and found the three ammo cans. What a dreamer I thought as I tried to pick one up like it was a bag of ice or something. I slung the Mossberg over my back and picked up one of the cans and headed to the door. Marie was on her way for another round. “don’t try this” I said as I sat it down. “It’s very heavy.” I went back in and got all the gunpowder that was in cans, boxed it, and took it outside. That’s when I heard a shot outside. I dragged the can and the box of gunpowder with me all the way outside and to the trailer, where I dropped it off.

A group of the banditos had formed by the front of the car, although not at close as they obviously had been. I pulled the Mossberg off my back, and walked towards Army. “Everything ok?” I asked. The group retreated a little more.

Army shrugged and said “I was letting them know where my space began”.

Marie and Mandy both came out with another load of stuff saying “the two cans are left” said Marie.

I asked Mandy as I went to the door again, “did you get any food? Anything?”

She nodded yes, and pointed to a couple  boxes by the door. I gave her the Mossberg, and showed her the safety. I began to pick up both cans since I now had a hand free. Mandy had already gone back to the car, when the banditos started giving her crap.

“Hey missy, we gonna miss you tonight? Why don’t you come by later and we’ll party!” She shot one round into the air. That gun had never been fired, and its kick surprised her. She pumped another round, and advanced toward the crowd; this time with the gun pointing at them. They scattered like the cockroaches they were.

“You bunch of lazy bastards!” she yelled. “None of you sonsofbitches worked a day in your life, and you got the huevos to threaten me?” She fired another round into the air and now there were no more banditos hanging in the street.

Marie gave the all clear, and she closed the door to the house.

From somewhere on the left, someone threw what looked like an empty beer bottle. Mandy, with the most graceful instinctive action, aimed and shot, shattering the bottle all over the now cowering banditos. She pumped another round into the chamber, and hopped on the front of the car while loading a couple rounds into the magazine.

Marie was getting in the back seat, I got into the trailer, and pulled the door shut with a makeshift handle of ski rope anchored to the door with a big screw and washer. Al closed it up, and I heard him get into the passenger side. I just realized that I was unarmed. I found the case with the two .45s and found both of them to be loaded. The car took off, and I, surprised nearly fell into the back door as we drove away. I heard some bottles hit the trailer, and footsteps as well coming up behind. Army got the corner and veered left, which tossed me to the floor. I dropped one of the pistols.

Slowing down for the turn allowed whoever was running behind to catch up. They each jumped on the fenders over the wheel wells. I heard more footsteps behind, then a shot and a bullet crashed through the door. I found the other .45, kicked open the door which knocked one poor bastard to the ground running so close and all, and opened fire on every sombitch that was chasing us, hitting none. When they all backed off, I stuck my head around the outside of the door, and saw a guy standing on the wheel cover only he wasn’t looking at me. He was facing forward. I dared not fire as I might hit someone in the car, but I tapped the trailer with the gun. His face turned white and jumped off into the street.

The guy on the other wheel cover was now on top of the trailer. I pulled my radio out and said “Army, STOP!”

Army did so and that poor slob who was on the roof of the trailer, was now in the street in front of the car, where he was met by Mandy, who had merely walked off the hood when the car stopped. She put the shotgun right to his head, and just stood there. The lone bandito had now peed in his pants. He had his hands over his face saying “please don’t kill me” over and over again. He was looking at me.

“You’d better address the young lady instead of me,” I said. “She’s the one with the gun, and from what I’ve seen, she’s a damn good shot! Wouldn’t you agree Army?”

“Hell yeah,” he answered. “One of the best I’ve seen.”

“Mandy” I said. “Do you and this guy have a history?”

The bandito looked at her with eyes that were full of fear, and his lip was quivering.

“He and two of his friends that were back there, raped me a couple years ago” she said, still pointing the gun at the bandito “They were all wearing masks, but I knew their voices. He is the biggest coward of them all” and she spat on him.

“Hell, Mandy, just shoot ’em in the peepee and we’re outa here!” I said.

She moved the 12 gauge to his crotch, and he really started to cry.

“I’m done here,” she said, and hopped back on the car.

“You had better move your ass out of the way” I told the coward. “The driver can’t back the trailer for shit” I said pointing back towards Army, and I think he’ d rather run over you.”

I wasn’t even finished with my sentence before he jumped up, and he ran off into someone’s yard. The people watching from the windows were clapping. The coward yelled at them “I’ll get you old putas too som…” Mandy shot another round into the air. I wasn’t sure, but I think I saw the coward crap in his pants.

I went to the trailer. It seemed that no one else had dared come close after the barrage of .45 rounds pumped in their direction. I closed the trailer, and went around to the front and sat down with my new hero.

“Forward, ho!” I said with my best Donald Sutherland, and we headed for home.

I thought I heard Army muttering “whaddayamean I can’t back up worth shit?”

CHAPTER SEVEN

We pulled up to Al’s where, it seems, a small crowd had gathered. A familiar face walked up as I got off the car. “Hello Robby” I said, putting out my hand.

“Hello Bennie” said Robby and he reciprocated with his hand. “What are you guys doin’? We heard shots” he added.

We approached the crowd.

“I’ll explain” I said. “May I have your attention people? I have an announcement” as folks pulled closer. Army whistled loudly. Al, Marie, and Mandy were unloading the trailer while I spoke.

“Sam’s is open for those of you with memberships. If you don’t have one, I’m sure that there are people here who will go with you and let you in. Please make arrangements with Army here” I pointed to him and he raised his hand “for transportation and security. They are still taking cash, but there is a very good chance that cash may not be good for much longer. I urge you to consider dumping all your dollars into food.”

I continued “he has volunteered his car to take some people to the store and get supplies. I suggest to you all to pool your money, if necessary, make lists to get what you need…and go as often as we can until they close.”

“How is it that his car is working, and no one else’s is?” asked a voice from the back of the crowd.

“Come forward and be recognized” I said.

He came forward and said “I’m Rudy Rodriguez and I live down south on the first corner.” He put his hand out to me and I shook it “I’m Bennie” I said.

“Rudy and the rest of you” I began “it seems that the country has been hit by what we believe to be an EMP. Without going into all the technical jargon, which I don’t fully understand myself, basically everything with any type of an electronic circuit is gone forever and will no longer work.”

Some people gasped. I continued “the power is out, probably forever. There is no more electricity to cook, turn on lights, pump gasoline, or stay cool. The grocery stores will eventually close; permanently as they cannot be supplied without trucks. Army’s 1967 Mustang does not have any electronic parts in it, and those of you who may have a car manufactured before the late ’70s, may have one that works as well. The banks will probably not reopen as there are no more computers.”

“Water, food, and security are our major concerns at this point, in my opinion.”

“What do you mean?” asked Rudy.

“I mean that there is no running water any more…forever. The electricity that powers the pumps that bring water to our homes, does not exist any longer. The pumps that keep our sewers running are not working any more and soon, the sewers will back up into our homes” I answered. “Soon, I don’t know when, our society as we know it will break down, and we will see victims, like ourselves, roaming the streets for survival, and they will do anything to survive…anything.”

The crowd went quiet, and I continued “and what will be worse, eventually the feds are going to come here disguised as FEMA, supposedly our friends and haul us off to what in reality a portable detention camp for our “safety”. They too will use violence to justify their end. If there are those of you who want to go with the Feds, we certainly won’t stop you.

“Those of you who wish to stay in this community are most welcome, and we will help however we can to keep everyone safe.” I went on, “we can survive if we stick together. There will be no individuals here. If you have neighbors that are friends, see what you can do to work out something mutual for living, cooking, and gardening. We will all have to plant gardens as our current food supply is finite.” I looked around for H. I saw her talking with her new pal, Mandy.

“H and Mandy!” I called to them. They came forward, and H was still carrying her legal pad with gardening info.

“These two young ladies will be taking names of those of you who are interested in going to the store. I urge you to act quickly on this. They will also be taking names and addresses of those of you who are interested in supporting this community. Please list items you may have at your homes so we can get an idea of how the community stands overall. Items like, garden tools, lumber, hand tools, food and water, canning equipment, guns and ammunition, nails, screws,” I held up my radio “if anyone has any of this type of radio, that would really be great. Think survival everyone.”

“If there are people here that need medication to survive, you’ll need to make arrangements with Army, within reason, to refill your meds. As I said, there won’t be any more coming in” I said with a sigh. “I urge all of you to also speak with H about your gardens. She is a plant biologist and will help you set up your gardens. I repeat, I urge you to get with your neighbors and break down your fences to increase the size of your gardens. We have many heirloom seed varieties available. If we get enough people involved, we may be able to for example, grow tomatoes at Robby’s, squash at Sheila’s, pole beans, at Rudy’s…get it?”

“I’ve got an old tractor” said a young man as he walked forward through the crowd, which had increased in size. “I’m Jonas” he said and we shook. “I don’t know much about it, but it’s a Ford. It has an attachment that looks like a giant drill bit, and another like the front of a bulldozer. It does run…I know that much.”

“Outstanding Jonas!” I exclaimed. “You might want to check and see if it’ll start, and what your gasoline situation is. We’ll most definitely be able to use the auger attachment, and the tractor itself might be handy for pushing cars around when we decide to block off the streets.” Jonas beamed, waved, and walked off.

“Block off the streets?” said one lady. “You can’t do that.” She walked up, and said “I’m Rita and live down at the very end of the street south of here.” She offered her hand and I took it “Bennie” I said.

“Rita, just 20 minutes ago, coming back from the store, we were attacked by 15 young men who clearly wanted one thing: the women” I said to her and she stepped back. I pointed to Mandy, that young lady there pretty much held them off….by herself…while the rest of us watched. At the grocery store, we were confronted by 10 young men. That’s why we block off the streets…and we will. If you want to join us up at this end, I urge to you talk to your neighbors. If you have supplies to offer, please do so. I ask everyone again to team up with your friends and neighbors. All of us need all of us. Who’s with us? Please see the young ladies and talk to Army. Please show your ID to the ladies when you sign up so we know you’re from this neighborhood ok? OK then, who’s going to the store next?” I left it with Army. I just got very tired…again.

I was looking for Robby as his brother was a welder, and I knew he lived in the area, as well as Robby’s grown up kids. “Well done Bennie” Robby said as he walked over with his wife Jenna. “You convinced me.”

I answered “I’m really not trying to convince anyone of anything. I just expressed my opinions, and folks agreed with me. I’m glad you’re on board. How’s Stanley doing? I didn’t see him out here.”

Robby looked down, and Jenna said “Stan passed away a couple years ago.”

I put my hand on Robby’s shoulder and said, “I’m really sorry Robby. You know I had a great respect for him”.

He said with a smile, “you know, he always bragged about how good your ginger snaps were, even after you gave Beverly the recipe.”

“I don’t mean to be brusk, but what happened to all his welding equipment?” I asked.

“Oh, Brent (Robby’s son in law) kinda took it over after he passed. Brent has turned out to be a pretty good welder himself” Robby added.

“We’ll probably need his services before too long. We’re going to need to talk about boundaries and setting up the roadblocks” I said. “Perhaps you could help with that given your experience with heavy equipment” I hinted. “Army seems to have a pretty good head about strategies. I know you were in the military as well. We’re kind of counting on those with military experience to work with us civvies to organize and yes, help with the armament part of our defensive strategy.”

“You can count me in. I know Army and he had more years in the service than I, but I will certainly help when I can. Did you know that Stan used to fix up old cars?”

“It seems I remember he had an old Camaro back in the day” I answered. “I heard his boy trashed it up.”

“He did but Stan repaired it, sold it, and then worked on old pickups. He’s got like a 1971 Ford that he fixed up, and I know that it didn’t have any fancy electronic stuff on it. Do you remember the movie Mr. Majestyk with Charles Bronson?” He asked.

I said, “sure do. That pickup, according to Ford, was not modified to do the things they did to it in that movie. We’ll need that truck. Of course you are in charge of it, but we’re soon going to need a neighborhood patrol until we can sentries set up and armed. I was thinking that your street, Q, should be the last one in our community northward. We could push cars into the alley behind your row of home. That was the last area in the subdivision that actually had alleys. Everything north, including mine, does not and our homes back up to the neighbor’s yards.”

“All we have is rednecks behind us” Robby said “and you can use the truck anytime you need. I’ll get you the keys.
“All we have is 12 mean, big, German shepherds” I retorted. “I think it would be reasonable to ask folks to contribute their gasoline to the common good.”

“Brent has a couple of 5 gallon gerry cans, and I have some too” he said.

“Please get them to us” I said.

“Check out your neighbors and see if they’re interested in becoming a part. If not, you may have to move over to Stan’s, and we’ll bring our borders in some…Just a thought. We can’t protect someone out on the rim because they refuse to move, and their neighbors didn’t want to join up. We won’t be able to spare the manpower. Does that make sense?”

“Perfectly” he said. “I’ll check out the Q street, and have the boys, Brent and Darren (Robby’s son) check their own streets.”

“I didn’t see the boys” I said. Where are they?”

“Oh you know how they are…they’re still sleepin'” he added with a smile.

“Ahhh” I said with my own smile “I remember when I was that age…weekends were for sleeping in!” I began to walk away and said “see what you can find out. We’re going to have to plan quickly as when those who would take from us get desperate, this whole are could get ugly very fast.” I waved as I headed back to Al’s.

Robby turned and went north to Q street to begin his door to door. Army had left with a group. It was 11:00 am according to the Hamilton. I sure am hungry I thought. I went around the north side of the house, closed the gates, and went around to the patio where Al and the ladies were sitting. I sat down and fired up a smoke. “Al” I said. “I am powerful hungry. What would you say to you and I double teaming our Webers and cooking a small feast?”

“I am all over that bro'” he said as he got up to check his pit. I removed mine from the side of the shed, and brought it over closer to the patio, where we both started the chimney starters. I went inside, found the ‘special’ ice chest, pulled out a handful of beers, returned to the patio, and passed them around. “What did you want to cook?” Al asked.

I answered “Oh, anything that’s starting to hit fridge temp. I bought some steaks today, and I have some fajitas, a bunch of link sausages, and some boneless chicken breasts…two packs of that I think…plenty to fill our grills, and maybe to share later.” I took a nice slug of beer and said “ahhhh.” Everyone laughed.

“You sound like a commercial” they said.

I just smiled and enjoyed my beer and my smoke. I hope there are many days like this to come…but I didn’t think that would happen.

.

CHAPTER EIGHT

Army returned just in time to get some well deserved bbq fajitas, sausage, and a beer. “Was there anyone else wanting to go to the store today?” I asked him.

“There was no one in front when I got back from dropping off the last groups at their places” he said while chewing on a taco and washing it down with a gulp of cold beer.

“I was thinking” I started “that I know Robby and you are ex-military. I am curious if there others. We need a “militia group” for lack of better word. We have a lot of perimeter to cover at this point, and we may need some real organization, instead of willy-nilly sentries walking around carrying rifles. It might be helpful to find out who else in the group has military background. Also, we should find out what kind of guns and ammo the group has, and if they have a clue how to use them.”

“Yeah” he said taking drink. “I know Robby and quite frankly, we don’t get along that well. He has a little problem, because he left the Army as a private, and I left a Sergeant. He don’t like being outranked by anyone, ‘ceptin his old lady.” He looked at me and said “I understand about “community” and “banding together” and “strength in numbers” and “we can’t do this alone. I get that. Robby may be all smiles and a joke-teller, but if it comes to taking orders, he may not be on board.”

“I’m with you as far as checking out military backgrounds, and even a step further would be to inquire about skills that everyone here in the group has…like cooking, sewing, auto mechanic, electrician, plumber, teacher, construction, gardeners, you get the picture. Plus, I think you were right in starting kind of a census to see what supplies folks had. Perhaps the young ladies could make an official visit to homes in the community, and get that information. Probably be a good idea to have an armed escort…for their own protection…” he paused. “I know, but we gotta protect our own first, and we don’t know most of these people here. The few that I know, I wouldn’t trust with my life.”

“It might be easier to have another meeting and pass out the sheets, and just let them fill them out here” H said. “Plus, I think that the people who show up here, are more genuinely interested in helping” as she pointed to her legal pad. “I’ve got some names, and those people put stuff by their names. You should look at it.”

“I will” I told her. “Please remind me a little later.”

They were still eating, but they were listening and nodding in understanding. “We’re going to need a detailed map of the streets in the neighborhood, and to that we can see who lives where. We’ll need to know what streets lead into the neighborhood so we can push cars for roadblocks…permanent ones.”

I stood up “one more thing” as I stretched. “We’re going to have to literally go door to door, or at least find empty homes and check to see if people are gone, injured, or dead. If the homes are empty, how would you suggest to handle it? Maybe this is a subject we should bring up at the next meeting…Is someone writing this down? Oh, and how to handle dead bodies. I’m sorry, but it’s a subject that we will have to prepare for and deal with.”

I started kind of thinking out loud. “Robby said that his brother had fixed up an old Ford pickup and we were welcome to use it. Perhaps some recon in the ‘hood would be in order before it gets dark. We could drive around tell folks we’re having a meeting…say in a couple of hours. Meanwhile, we could map the area, and begin to get an idea of how to defend ourselves. We could knock out a couple of chores with this; mapping and hitting each house to see who is really here in the ‘hood.”

“Ok then, let’s make a plan to get that truck…who wants to go?” I asked.

Both the girls’ hands shot straight up. “And in what capacity are you volunteering?” I asked them.

“Oh, we want to go door to door in the truck” H said smiling. “And Mandy can guard.”

“That’s fine,” I said. “There will be more than just you and Mandy armed on this trip. “I’ll get over to Robby’s and see about getting the truck, and we’ll start on his street, which is Q. He can help point out people he knows. Plus, his boy lives close by on a side street, so he’ll know more folks. We don’t want to jump out and run up to a strange house with guns and rifles do we?” I looked at everyone. “What would you do if strangers came walking to your door with guns? I can testify from personal experience that they will point guns at you too” I said smiling at Army. “They may shoot first and wonder who you are later.”

Al said “you know, guys, this neighborhood has a lot of people and houses. I recognized people earlier today from the outskirts of the neighborhood…and technically, our home is on the edge, and could be difficult to defend with a full frontal assault. It wouldn’t take much for a heavier than normal vehicle to crash through our back fence.” I thought for a couple of seconds. “Maybe we should take that huge, bigass, honkin’, monster truck of yours, and barricade the back fence! A couple of runs of barbed wire over that fence and the truck might be a good deterrent.

No one spoke. He was right. “We love our home here, but” he looked at Marie, ” we have to consider moving toward the center of the ‘hood with another family, just to be a little safer. Others living on the “outskirts” of the ‘hood will have to consider the same. It’s a large area to cover, and when you guys make your round this afternoon, you’ll see.”

I started in “He’s right and we’ve talked about that earlier. We gotta see what we have before we give up perimeter stands.” I pointed in both directions. “There are many homes up and down the ditch that border the outskirts. It’s a lot to cover. It may be beneficial to just booby trap, or just guerilla the ditch side…make it iffy for anyone to wander close. It might be a good place for sniper training. Could dump a bunch of “Bags-O-Poop” in the ditch to make it undesirable to have any clandestine operations there. Just thinking out loud here.”

” It would really help to have a map.” I headed toward the gate with the Mossberg. Al hollered at me “Hey Bennie! Come here, I’ve got something for you.” He stood up and went inside, and came out holding a holster and gunbelt. He walked over to me and handed it out.

It was a Ruger Super Blackhawk .44 magnum revolver; the gun of my dreams. I pulled it out and it had the 71/2″ barrel. I wasn’t sure, but I think I might have had a tear in my eye.

“I’ve seen you shoot a bull’s eye at 100 yards with that thing” Al was saying “without taking much of an aim. I want you to have it.”

It was obvious that I was in complete surprise. I put the holster on and tied it down. The belt was full of rounds. I pulled the pistol out, cocked the hammer, and spun the cylinder. My brother really knew how to take care of a firearm.

“I’ll just borrow it for a while” I managed to whisper loudly. “Thank you.”

Al went on. “This guy and that gun are like one” he started. “He can put a 1 inch group at 100 yards….all day long…and with that caliber, 6 rounds together is a one-inch group.”

I holstered the gun, and put the stay across it to keep it from falling out. “How many shells do you have?” I asked Al.

His reply was “nearly unlimited. I have about 3000 rounds loaded, I have another 3000 rounds of brass, and I have bullets and primers to fill all of the brass 3 times over.” He added, “And…I have an extra ammo belt that will hold 60 rounds.”

I started singing a song..”Heaven, I’m in heaven…Thanks again, my brutha” and I gave him a hug.

“Ok” I said. Robby said he would gladly let us use the truck. Al, would you get a volunteer to with you to Robby’s and get the truck keys?” Al said “sure”.

Army chimed in “I’ll take you over, then to Stan’s. That’s quite a walk…both ends of the neighborhood.”

They took off in the Mustang.

“Ladies” I spoke to H and Mandy. “Get your stuff together and get ready. I would like you two to be in charge of the door to door Q & A. Remember, be polite. Not everyone will be trusting, and some will be downright rude. You two go together. Wear your sidearms, but don’t carry a rifle. There will be at lest two guys in the pickup with rifles. Carry a radio and leave the mic on so we can hear the conversation. Be open. Tell the truth.” They nodded.

“I don’t have a sidearm” said Mandy.

“Yes you do” I answered back. “You have a matched set of 1911 Colt .45s. I saw holsters in the BAR case as well. Load ’em up and put ’em on. Show H how it works too, OK?”

“I had forgotten the pistols” Mandy said. “I’ll go get the holsters.”

“I’ll go too” said H and they went into the house.

Marie and Lea were still on the patio, cleaning up the BBQ mess. I walked over to Lea and gave her a hug and kiss.

“Bennie” she started “do you really think there will be violence? and killing?”

Marie stopped what she was doing and listened too.

“It’s only a matter of time” I said softly. “Most people were not prepared at all. Most of us go to the store every week and by groceries. Most of us do not store a lot of food because of the ease at which we can replenish our supplies. Now, we all have to live off of what we have, and it won’t last long…not long at all for some people. Some of those people will try to take from others to survive and succeed. Groups will form…strength in numbers, yes? They will roam the streets, hitting houses, stores, parked cars to get food. Everyone has to eat right? They will get food in any way possible…killing if necessary.”

“Many people that live here are/were supported by the Feds with food stamps and the like. They now have no source of buying food. People can turn bad to get/take what they want/need.

They were silent, and I went on. “They will not care about hurting others. They may, in fact, turn into very violent gangs that rape and torture good people, just because they think that no one will stop them. These gangs could get very large and strong. This is one of the things we will have to prepare for.”

“What’s the other?” asked Lea.

“The military” I answered. “Eventually, they will get here, and we will have to prepare for them too. They will be the hardest for us to defeat as they are trained soldiers; we are not. We do have tricks up our sleeves though, that might well be enough to turn them away.”

“Anything else we should worry about?” asked Marie.

“The only other thing that concerns me is the Mexican cartels” I answered. “Who knows? We might get lucky and see the U.S. military meet the Mexican cartels in the streets of McAllen. They would kill each other off…or at least a lot, and hopefully leave.”

“Meanwhile” I went on “we’re going to need some organization here on who does what and when. We’ll need to set up shifts for walking sentry duty on the street and in the back. We’ll need to set up a schedule for eating. Marie?” I looked at her. “I fully expect you to be in total charge of any type of infirmary that may need to be started. A place where you can set up and keep all your first aid…and may be a good idea to have a portable first aid kit, in case you’re needed in the field somewhere.”

“I”ll need help” she said. “There were people in the crowd who had medical experience.”

“Perhaps we could find an abandoned home, and have it there. ” I motioned behind me toward the West’s. “I have not seen any movement there at all. We should check with the West’s on the status of their neighbors, and yours too” I said pointing to the houses on either side.

“I know that Mark is gone” she said. “I’m not sure about the Johnsons. Both cars are there.”

“I know that he’s disabled” I said. You should check on them and let them know what’s going on. Let me know, and I’ll go with you.” I stopped and looked at both of them. “No body from this house goes to another house alone. Everybody who leaves this property, leaves with a minimum of a sidearm…and I don’t mean no .22! Agreed?”

They both nodded.

“Lose your cutesy shoes and sandals. Wear boots if leaving the property” I continued.

“Why no sandals on the street?” asked Lea.

“How fast can you run wearing sandals, with a bad ass dog chasing you? Will you turn and shoot? If you wound him and you fall down, do you think kicking him with a yellow slingback will make him go away?”

The look of horror on their faces was almost comical. “At least wear lace up shoes with socks.” I could tell I was losing this one and bowed out when George and Gina walked up.

“Hi George! We were just talking about you” I said, feeling relieved that they walked up when they did. It also reminded me that no one was watching the front at the moment.

“What do you need?” asked George.

“I was curious about your neighbors…the ones with the boat on the corner. Are they home?” I asked.

They looked at each other, then at us “I don’t know. Why?”

“We need to know if they’re ok, if they’re home. If they’re not home, we were talking about setting up maybe an infirmary of sorts…or maybe a storage where we could store extra items, that we could lock up. Would you check and see what the situation is? Do you know them? Are they hunters? Would they have guns?” I asked again. “Will you go and find out? We’re going to check here with Mark and start confiscating foods. We could certainly have a “food bank” where people who didn’t have food could get some while the gardens get started. Maybe we could get into the abandoned homes and used their food for the bank. Agreed? Maybe you two could organize that. Find out who’s not home, and get inside to start the bank..Maybe we should find out what folks have first…I dunno…what do you think?”

They looked at each other “yeah we could do that.”

“OK then” I said, “see what you can find out. You might want to go behind the crew drawing the map, and find out from the neighbors about the empty ones. They should be back…”

I was cut off as “the crew” pulled up; both vehicles honking their horns. “What is this? Homecoming?” I yelled at them. “George and Gina will hitch up and do some following up.”

“I have another idea” I said to the group in the vehicles. “Perhaps, in the interest of time, we should just tell people that we’re having a meeting here at the big T at 5:00 for all who are interested in joining the group. At that time we’ll ask them to fill out the questionnaires. That shouldn’t take too long, and you can draw the map whilst cruising. More than likely, folks will be out and about just out of curiosity. I’ll start the pits up and they can bring whatever they want to share for this meeting. How does that sound?”

“Ok” they said in unison, and they headed for the pickup.

It looked like a big party I was thinking. “Y’all get home ‘afore dark! Ya hear!” I yelled as they drove off laughing. There’s nothing wrong with a little levity…helps keep us all feeling normal.

I went around back to start the pits again, and started my questionnaire:

names of people in this address ages

address

Is this home a single level or two story?

do you have any food for yourselves?

Do you have any firearms?

If so, list numbers of rifles, pistols, bows and available ammunition.

Has anyone in your home ever been in the military?

Would you be willing to help with walking sentry duty? If so, please report to Army with above information.

What did you do for a living before today?

Do you have any canning equipment or supplies? Jars, lids, pickling salt, pressure canner?

Do you have any special skills or hobbies?

Are you aware of any empty homes in the neighborhood?

If so, what are the addresses? Do you know these people?

Do you have a car that runs?

Would you donate gasoline from your cars that don’t run?

Do you have any gasoline cans?

Do you have a bicycle that is operational?

Do you have garden tools, chainsaws, or cordless power equipment?

Hand tools? hammers, nails, screws, lumber

Do you have a swimming pool?

Would you be willing to have a garden in yours and adjoining yards to aid in our attempt to become self-sufficient?

Is anyone in your home on special medication needed for survival?

Do you have a bbq pit? Charcoal?

Does anyone in your home have any experience in medicine? Nursing, surgery, medic?

Would you be willing to donate your cars that don’t run for roadblocking purposes, if necessary?

Are there rain gutters on your home?

Marie came out and asked about the Volcano stove. “How does that thing work?” she asked.

I replied “we just put like 8 briquettes or some chunks of wood and it’ll cook most anything…” I hesitated then said “Hey, we both have Dutch ovens. Between the two of us, we could crank out several batches of corn bread or biscuits before the meeting this evening. Whadayathink?”

“Outstanding” she said. “You get the fire started and I’ll start prepping the dough.”

Man, I love it when stuff goes right.

I got the Volcano going, and proceeded to light the two Webers. I hollered in at Lea “we’ve got a couple of comals to make some tortillas. We could cook those on the Webers while the fire is getting ready.”

“I’m way ahead of you” Lea said as she came to the door with a bowl of what looked like white bread dough and held it up. She went on “you don’t have to use the Webers. We can stack the Dutch ovens on top of each other, and invert the top lid and it’ll cook the tortillas while the biscuits and corn bread are cooking.” She walked back towards the kitchen.

For the second time today, I was speechless.

CHAPTER NINE

About the time the fires were ready, some people drifted over the the house and knocked. Marie asked them to go around the back. The first couple brought a package of boneless marinated chicken breasts and thighs. They introduced themselves as Ted and Angie. I slapped the chicken on right away, and offered them each a bottle of water which they refused…for now. “We’ll save it for dinner” said Ted.

More people showed up and soon, I had both Webers full of chicken, sausages, burgers, and fajitas with more people coming and bringing food like bread, tortillas, veggies, plates…I mean it was like a freakin’ block party!

I just put stuff on the grill and pulled it off when done. Marie and Lea put all the bread they had made out also, and with the stuff that the neighbors brought, there was plenty.

Conversations were uplifting; people were laughing, telling jokes, smiling, and shaking hands. Al’s yard was packed and people flowed into the street. We put out trash cans, and they were filled quickly with paper plates.

Somebody pinch me!

The map makers had returned and were milling around with the groups. There must have been 75 people showed up. Army came over and had a big fellow with him.

“Bennie” he started “this is my neighbor Jim” he said. I took Jim’s bear paw sized hand and shook it.

“I didn’t see you earlier” I told him.

Jim replied, “no, I just got here. I had to walk from north of Edinburg…about 40 miles.” He was talking in between bites. “North 281 is nothing but scattered cars in the road, on the side, in the ditch.”

“What’re you doin’ out that way?” I asked him.

“I’m in the oilfield business” he said as he looked me right in the eye.

“Jim” I started “I don’t suppose you’d have any 6″ drill pipe at your house.”

He was still looking right at me. “Now why would you need something like that?”

I did not break his gaze. “Army and I were kind of speculating about building…”

“A fougasse?” interrupted Jim.

“Several” I answered.

He finished his taco and stuck out his hand again “I’m your guy.”

I reached over, pulled out a beer, and handed it to him. “Welcome!”

Jim smiled as he opened the beer, and took a huge slug.

Army said “Jim is an avid hunter, and does reloading…he’s got lots of supplies” with emphasis on supplies.

I tightened my grip on Jim’s hand and said “this day just gets better and better.” I smiled. He smiled back.

“I guess we’d better get this party goin’ ” I said hopping up into the monster truck.

“Can I get your attention please!” I called out cupping my hands. I did that a couple of times and the crowd slowly ebbed toward where I was standing, and quieted down. I let the quieter moment sink in for a few seconds.

I called out for Marie who was standing close “Marie!” I screamed.

“I’m right here Bennie” she said softly. I held my hand out to her to help her into the monster truck.

“Marie is going to say a few words of prayer. Take a few moments of silence” I said to the crowd. Most bowed their heads and a few held hands.

“Heavenly Father” she began “we thank thee for the blessings that you have given us” and there was a slight mumble from the crowd. “We have a new path placed before us today, and ask your guidance in showing us the way through this new life we have. We all know that it will be difficult, and we will have many, many obstacles to overcome to be successful. We ask for your help and strength in Jesus’ name, Amen.”

“Amen” the crowd responded and gave a light applause.

“Ladies and gentlemen, my sister-in-law Marie” as I gestured to her, and she waved and hopped down, heading toward Al.

“Ok.” I started in by clapping my hands together “does anyone else want to do this?” I looked around. No one.

“All right then. We have a huge job ahead of us today. We have been sent back in time to like the 1880’s as far as our technology goes. We will no longer have the conveniences that we all love so much. Air conditioning, cell phones, internet, television, just to name a few. We have everything we need to survive…”

A voice from the crowd interrupted “who are you?”

“Oh” I said “I am Bennie Barnes. My brother Al lives here with his wife Marie, whom you’ve already met. I lived over on T street until about 12 hours ago. My wife Lea is around here somewhere…” I looked around, and she was right next to Al, waving. “Ok” and her daughter H is here somewhere with her new friend Mandy, whom most of you have already met.”

The girls waved at the crowd. The crowd laughed.

“Pressing onward, I am glad to see you all in such a good mood this evening in spite of what has happened earlier today. I hope we can continue this type of fellowship, as we are all going to need each other before the worst of this is over.”

The crowd started to mumble.

I held my hands up to quiet them, and they did so. “We can beat this, if we stand together. We have literally pounds of garden seeds, all heirloom…no hybrids. I held up a bag of corn. If all of us start a garden today, we will have fresh produce in 90 days, less with some varieties. H is a plant biologist and will help the gardeners. We have corn, tomatoes, radishes, zucchini, cucumbers, lettuce, cabbage, carrots, bush beans, pole beans, pinto beans, spinach, onions, peppers, many herbs, and we have several varieties of each one.”

I let it sink in for a little.

“We will need every household who is willing to participate, and we really need everyone here folks, to fill out a little questionnaire to get where you live, who lives with you, and other information.”

“What other information?” asked Rudy who was in the front.

“Hello Rudy” I said. “Rudy has asked what kind of information we ask for. I suppose it’s now time to talk about the bad things that will happen.”

Without hesitating, I went on. “Besides feeding ourselves, we have to be concerned about security. There will be people who will want to take our food…by any means necessary. We’ll be asking if your home has firearms, if you know how to use them, and if you are willing to help walk sentry duty from time to time. We have a huge area to defend and more than likely, some will have to move closer to a central location to an empty home, which there are several. We are going to ask that if you know of a vacant home, let us know and we’ll start a food bank over here.” I pointed across the street.

“George and Gina please be recognized” I said looking around. They waved at the crowd. “They will be running the food bank. We will be going into the empty homes, confiscating food items, and putting them into the bank where all will have access.

“What if we don’t want to join your group?” someone asked.

“Folks” I started “I don’t want this job. I moved my family here, and one thing led to another, and now we’re having a neighborhood gathering to plan this. I’d be content to just defend the home here, grown our own garden. I’ve known George and Gina for over 20 years; I’ve known Robby longer than that. We cannot survive alone. Everyone here needs everyone here. Certainly there are dirty jobs to do. We’ll have to block streets to keep out roving stray vehicles out. We’ll have to have sentries walking the perimeter to aid in keeping what we have…what is ours…our families, our homes, our food. Earlier today, this young woman” I pointed at Mandy “took on 15 guys with a 12 gauge by herself, and no one got hurt…well one guy filled his pants…” the crowd chuckled. “My point is there will be bad people coming here to do bad things to us, and take what is ours. These guys today wanted the women. If you don’t want to be in the group, that’s ok. Please don’t come begging for food when we harvest what we all worked to have. Please don’t come banging on my door looking for water because you didn’t think to store any. Please don’t come crying when bad guys bust in your door and do unspeakable things to you or whomever may still be alive in your home.”

“We can do this” I went on. “There’s like 75 people here” I motioned around the crowd. “I am thinking that most if not all of you are concerned about what will happen tomorrow, and the next day, and the next, and next month. This is the first day and we’ve seen nothing yet of what may come…and it won’t be pleasant. I’m not trying to scare you, and I want to say one thing: in my 56 years on this planet I have learned that if we prepare for the worst, we are usually pleasantly surprised.”

I looked around. “We have pretty much everything we need. I spoke to a young man earlier who had a working tractor. We have two vehicles that still run. We have hundreds of gallons gas in our abandoned cars. We lots of ex military people living here. We can use the trashed vehicles to block the streets. From what I have seen so far, there are a lot of guns and a lot of people who know how to shoot well. If you want to join, please see the young ladies over by the front door. We need to get started on the gardens as soon as possible.”

“As I said, I didn’t want this job, and anyone who wants to lead can do so.” I went on. “The sewers will start backing up soon. When that happens, if you haven’t closed your drains, you’re going to get raw sewage into your home that will keep coming in. Pull your traps from under your sinks and stuff rags or something in them to keep them from spilling inside. Remove your toilets and do the same. After, you can bolt your toilet back on and just use plastic bags until you get latrines dug.”

“Latrines?” asked one person.

“Yes, latrines” I answered. “Please don’t wait until you run out of bags to dig yours. The number one reason why people die off in a situation like this is….sanitation, or lack thereof. Keep your hands clean.”

“A couple more things” I said “and then I’m done for tonight. Eventually, two bad things beside the roaming gangs will happen. Number one, the military will try to haul us off to FEMA detention camps, or kill us if we refuse. We won’t let that happen…either. Number two, is the Mexican cartels will eventually get across.”

“How can we beat them?” one person asked.

“Kill more of them than they kill of us” I said without hesitation.

“What about communication” asked another.

“If anyone has” I held up the MUIRs radio “these or the FRS would be very helpful.”

“Would a satphone help?” asked the same guy.

“Sat phone? Shit!” I said out loud. “I’m sorry folks. I just remembered that I have a satphone. I wrapped it with the radios. It’s probably still working.”

Al said “where is it? AJ has a satphone. I need to call him.”

“It’s in the Christmas Story can” I told him and he went directly to find it…so did Marie.

“If you wrapped your satphone in foil inside a metal can, then it may work” I said to the crowd.

“What else” I said. “I’m done for tonight folks…please see the two sharpshooters” I pointed to H and Mandy.

I hopped down and there were Army and Jim. “Prayer?” Army asked.

“Some people need it for comfort” I answered. “Let’s go find Jonas…you know; the guy with the tractor. I think we need to discuss blocking off some streets real soon.”

“Where would you like to start?” asked Army.

“I think L and M would be the most logical at this point. A couple of cars across the street…after we pull the gasoline out. That reminds me. Should we drain oil out as well? Makes a good Molotov mixer. Burns longer…” I started thinking about something else.

“Tell me you guys have thermite” I said.

Army and Jim exchanged guilty glances. “I knew it” I said.

“Hell, we gotta have something” said Army. “You got all the great ideas, and we just watch.”

“I wanna watch too. Like I said, I didn’t want this job.” I told them frankly.

“Like it or not, you’ve got it. The crowd seemed to hang on every word you said” said Jim.

“Jonas” I called out. He wasn’t far. He offered his hand.

“I got the tractor started earlier” he said as we shook. “It seemed to run fine. The tank is about half full, but it smells funny.”

“Hmmm may need some stabilizer or fresh gas. I have both” I told him. “Let me know and I’ll get it to you. Probably better to get fresh gas in, then add some stabilizer. Then run it for a while to get the older gas out of the fuel lines.”

“I’m ready anytime” he said.

“Ok, well I need some gas cans. I can get back over to the house, and drain the other two cars…probably need a couple of 5 gallon cans.”

Army said, “hop in. I’ve got some jerrys at the house. You too Jonas. Come along and stand guard.” He handed Jonas his .45.

Jonas gulped as he took it. “Here’s the safety.” Army continued “it already has one in the chamber. When the safety is off, just pull the trigger. You’ll have 9 shots after the first one. When the last round is gone, the slide will lock back, then you just hit the mag release” he showed him “and pop in another mag” showed how it went in “then press this and the slide will release and load the next round into the chamber. Simple isn’t it?”

“I guess so” Jonas said weakly. We three piled into the Mustang. Jim announced he was going to change clothes while we were gone.

We headed to Army’s to get the jerry cans. We picked them up and went around the corner. During the survey, the girls had those who wanted to donate gasoline to leave their wiper blades up. From what we saw, every car had their blades up. We stopped at a Mercury Marquis, and got the two cans filled. Then, over to Jonas’ where we unloaded them and filled the tank. The Ford took all 10 gallons. Jonas started the engine, and she cranked right up. I added some stabilizer to the tank while it was running. “Let it run for at least 15 minutes” I said. We’ll go get some more gas” as Army and I left. Some folks had actually left gas cans by their garage doors. We took the cans and worked on emptying tanks so we could use the cars as roadblocks. People had also left their car keys in mailboxes so we could get the cars into neutral before we towed them. We left another 20 gallons of gas at Jonas’ that evening.

“We’ll start towing tomorrow” I told Jonas as we drove off. “Come over when you get up and we’ll have breakfast first.”

Jonas waved as we drove off.

It was starting to get dark. Army and I went for a “quick sweep” around the neighborhood. “Hows your gas?” I asked him.

“Looks like we used about an eighth of a tank today” he replied.

“We would be smart to load up on gasoline ASAP” I said. “Including my old part of the ‘hood. That tractor will really drink it, and he’ll need armed escort for the towing, as well as someone to drive the dead vehicles. So, do we flatten the tires? to keep others from pushing them aside?” I quizzed Army.

“That’s a good question” he answered. “Sometimes it’s a good idea, sometimes not. Tires have other uses besides being on a car…set them on fire and they make a great smoker…and they’re hard to put out while burning.”

“Good point” I said as we headed toward the far south side of our ‘annexed area’. “It would be a lot of work to remove tires and wheels without power tools. Still, I hear what you’re saying about the ‘other uses’.”

I saw something move just out of the corner of my eye. “Stop” I said, and I jumped out and looked around. Nothing moving. No sounds.

“What’d you see?” asked Army. “I didn’t see anything.”

“I saw something white moving away from us out of the corner of my eye. I’m sure of it. I looked closer toward the house. It didn’t have a fence, so if someone did run by, they’re long gone.” I got back into the car. “It kind of bothers me because if there was someone, they are headed directly into the center of our ‘hood.”

“This car could use a spotlight” I said. “I don’t suppose you could conjure up one of those out of thin air.”

Army said back “I’ve got one, I just left it at the house. It plugs into the lighter, and it’s rated at a 150,000 candlepower.”

“That’ll be great. I would urge you not to use your car for everyday routine patrols.” I paused. “What do think should be on agenda tomorrow?”

“I think you’re on the right track” he replied. “Let’s get the streets blocked first. That should take a while. We should continue to gather our gasoline before others do so. We should put it somewhere, or maybe better, divvy it up between working vehicles as much as possible.”

“Sounds good to me” I answered.

We drove around the block a couple of times, but we saw nothing else. “Let’s get your car home, and I’ll walk home from there” I said.

Army said, “Yeah, I’ll lock it up, check on Jim, and we’ll be over later.”

We got to his house, and I got out. “I think we may have a couple of cold beers left” I said with a smile.

“I’s kinda hopin’ you would” he smiled back. “I’ll bring some stronger stuff too for us to ‘relax’ with.”

“Man, I have never been more ready” I answered “I’ll see you in a few” and walked up the street towards Al’s. The street was empty. I saw no one, which I thought was strange.

CHAPTER TEN

The moon was out, and it didn’t seem as dark.

When I got to Al’s driveway, seemingly from out of nowhere I was surrounded by semi-circle of white t-shirted young men. It didn’t seem like a friendly visit. I stood on the driveway, and they were about 15 foot away.

One came forward. He had really long stringy hair, and a scruffy beard. He was carrying a rather large and shiny machete. I could only surmise that it was very sharp and he was skilled with its use.

“I’m going to carve you up gringo” he said. He leaned forward a little, and began shifting the machete between his hands.

“Do you know what they call me gringo?” he stepped a little closer. “They call me El Machete.

“Do you know what they call me?” I asked him. “They call me Dirty Bennie” as I reached for the mighty .44, pulled it out of the holster, and cocked the hammer. He stood up straight. I aimed for his heart and shot him. He dropped like a rock to the street. The rest of the group moved back a step.

I holstered the pistol.

Another guy moved through the crowd to the front. It was Mr poopypants.

“Come on guys” he motioned to them. “We can take him out.” He was carrying a baseball bat and swinging it at his side.

“Well I see you changed your pants since the last time I saw you” I said. “Did you have to throw them away?”

He walked through the crowd towards me. When he broke through the crowd, I heard a shot, and the right side of his face came off into the crowd. They were spattered with blood, as he fell to the ground. They backed up several steps away from his body.

“You guys know he deserved this, don’t you?” I said.  “There are still a couple more who assaulted that young lady, and when she figures out who did it, I’m not going to stop her.”

“It wasn’t any of us” one guy said.

I motioned him come forward. “Come on up and talk” I said.

He answered “how do I know she won’t shoot me too?”

I waved up at the window and said “stand down!” I motioned again for the guy to come up.

He came through the crowd and I recognized him as the guy with the El Loco t-shirt. I walked forward and held out my hand. He hesitated then took and shook it.

“You’re on the wrong side, El Loco” I told him, releasing our handshake. “Why are you here?”

“We need food and water” he said a little arrogantly.

I shrugged and held my hands out “and you and Mr Machete thought you would just come and take it from us?” pointing to the two bodies.

“I had nothing to do with that” he said with a sigh “he showed up this afternoon and started giving orders to my friends, and even killed one of them.”

I pulled out the radio…”eagle 1 to base…please bring out a couple jugs of water, and some formula.”

“10-4” Marie answered.

She came right out with that and some leftover bbq.

He took the stuff, and passed to one of his pals. He turned back to us. “I really didn’t want any trouble. That guy” he pointed to the machete came into our neighborhood earlier. He was a cousin to one of the neighbors. When he found out that you people had food and water and guns, he got really mad and talked these guys into coming with him to take what he could from you.”

“What’s your name?” I asked him.

“Guillermo” he answered.

“Guillermo” I started ” I’m Bennie. You guys go on home and talk about something. If we work together here, we can survive…all of us.” I looked around at them. “We have empty homes here. Most of the neighbors here have agreed to plant and maintain vegetable gardens for the survival of all of us. If you want to join, please come back in the morning, and we’ll talk more. Everyone has to work, but you’ll have a roof over your head, and you’ll be fed…babies too.”

I could see that this interested some of them. “If there is any of you who knows about vegetable gardening, then we could use your help.”

One guy raised his hand and said “I worked for Valley Onions for years. I know a lot about onions.”

“Outstanding” I said.

“Any of you who have skills like construction, carpenter, mechanic, electrician, plumbers, nursing…you get the idea. If any of you have been in the military, we can use that too. Like I said, this is about survival. We’re not going to have a feast every night, and we will be out of meat soon. If anyone knows of a ranch where we could maybe hunt, that would be helpful.”

Another guy raised his hand. “My uncle has a ranch about 40 miles from here. He leases the property out for deer hunting. The last time I talked to him last week, he said he had a lot of feral hogs that were chasing the deer out.”

“That’s great!” I said. “It’s always better to have meat. Feral hogs can hit over 500 lbs. That much meat would feed us for several days. We could schedule a trip very soon. We have some people that can really shoot.” I pointed up behind me toward Mandy.

Another guy said “I know how to cook the whole pig underground.”

“There ya go” I said matter-of-factly.

I paused. “You guys enjoy the bbq and talk about it tonight. Come by in the morning and we’ll talk some more if you like. If you need to make a trip to the grocery store, get your cash together and we’ll haul you there to pick up some groceries. I’d do it fast because the store may be the target of thieves any night, and there might not be any food soon over there. Get water, lots of it. Dry goods like beans and rice.”

“Ok” Guillermo said. “What’ll we do with them?” he indicated to the two bodies in the street.

“Well, you guys brought ’em. I think you should haul ’em away. Chunk ’em in the ditch and burn them or at least bury them…I don’t know. We have not discussed what to do with dead bodies yet. The ditch seems logical, but it would stink to high heaven and be a sanitation issue because of all the bugs and stuff they would attract.”

They kinda groaned, but picked up their bloody companions, and headed north towards their ‘hood.

CHAPTER ELEVEN

I watched them go for a minute, then turned around to go around the side of the monster truck into the back. Quite a crowd had gathered, I looked up at the window, and Mandy waved, holding her BAR.

“Wow” Al said. “I thought you were going to shoot all of them…I’m glad you didn’t.”

“Me too” I said as I reached for a smoke, I realized my hands were shaking as I lit it. Someone passed me a cold beer. It never tasted better.

The troublemakers left, and I finished my beer before I realized it. Army showed up with a bottle of Crown, and I took a good hit of that. “Did I miss anything?” he asked, knowing full well  what had happened.

“No, nothing really.” I replied. “Just the beginning of what I have been saying. Thanks to Annie Oakley, I am still standing here” I gestured toward the window, but she had already come down and was standing with the rest of us.

“You showed a lot of restraint by not shooting all of them” Jim said, walking toward us. “Army and I saw it all and we had you covered if any of the rest of them moved your way.”

“You guys saw it all?” I asked.

“You yourself said that given an even chance, a man won’t kill…” Army continued “I’d say that you gave those two every chance, leaving you no choice but to “give ’em hellfire” as you said earlier today, and you did exactly that” he went on patting his Ruger. Others nodded.

Al approached, so excited he could hardly speak “AJ and Rhonda are on their way here! He had another set of chips for his FJ, and now they just passed the Fal checkpoint!”

“That’s awesome!” I exclaimed. “Are they ok?”

“They’re fine” interjected Marie. “They have quite a story to tell.”

“I’ll bet they do” I said. “I guess we’ll just wait up for ’em, just like the old days” I went on with a smirk.

We all kinda sat around on and around the monster truck talking for a while.

“I wonder if we should go out to meet them” I started “we don’t really know what’s been going on north of here.”

Al and Marie looked at each other. “We didn’t want to assume we had that right…to use someone else’s car and gas to meet them” Al said.

Army started in with “we should take the truck. We can haul more people in it, and it’s a six so it won’t use as much gas.”

“How many people do you want to take?” I asked.

Army looked around. “I don’t figure we could hogtie Al and leave him here so he’s gotta go” he said looking at Marie.

“Well you can sure as hell count me in” said Marie.

“I’ll go!” said Mandy shouldering her BAR. “I can help.”

Marie went over and hugged her saying “thank you, thank you.”

“Army, Al, Marie, and Mandy” I started “prolly need one more for the six, I am assuming that Army is driving.”

“Count me in” Jim added, swinging up his AR-15 and shouldering it.

Army nodded, checking his Ruger saying “we should keep an open com link to them for play by play so we can meet them exactly where they are.” He shoved his mag back in and then said “let’s saddle up!”

The rest of the group headed to toward Army’s house where they would get the Mustang, and head to Robby’s to get the pickup.

I hollered after them “you guys riding in the back! This ain’t no merry go round! Y’all hang on..ya hear!” I continued “who’s got the phone?”

Al waved “I do!” and they drove away into the night.

I had wished, as they drove away, that I had made one phone call…to my own boys.

CHAPTER TWELVE

Lea, H, and I cleaned up a little in the back after they left.This is as quiet as I have seen today. I looked at the Hamilton, and it was 10:00. I figured they’d be gone about an hour at most, if they didn’t have any trouble.

“Is there going to be any room for AJ and Rhonda?” I asked Lea.

“Marie has their old room upstairs ready for them” she replied.

I recalled I had not been inside since this morning. “How are the supplies and people room working out?” I continued.

She replied “we got all the supplies stashed away, and there is room for all of us, with room to spare.”

“Guns and ammo?” I quizzed her.

“They are scattered according to who is where doing what” she said kind of matter-of-factually.

“Whoever is manning the upstairs sniper nest is using the Remington 7mm mag on the rear. The front uses the Marlin 30-30. Of course, anyone can use any gun they want, but that’s what we started with. That little Mandy likes her BAR and the M1.”

“That’s a very good thing” I commented “because that little girl is the best shot I ever saw with any type of firearm. She’s like one with the gun. We need to make sure we take care of her.”

“There are slug rounds for the 12 gauge shotguns, and there are some armor piercing rounds also.” I rattled on “Al has a semi-auto 12 gauge but it only holds three rounds.”

“Why would that be any good?” Lea asked.

“Because of the length of the barrel” I answered. “A long barrel shotgun shooting a slug has a lot of punch inside 100 yards. Even the Mossberg at close range is formidable shooting those APR rounds. Those can go into an engine block.”

We sat in silence for several minutes taking in the quiet, dark evening watching the stars.

“Where is the skeeter repellent?” I asked jumping out of the monster truck bed.

She whipped it out like she’d been waiting for me to ask for it, and I put a good dose on.

“H!” I called out. She came out a few seconds later.

“I’ll take a look at that list now” I told her. Please bring one of the lanterns too, honey.”

She accommodated with both items in less than a minute. “Here’s the census, and I also have the garden info you asked for.”

“OK, let’s hear what you have for the gardens” I said eagerly.

“OK, we have 34 homes that agreed to have gardens in our group” she began.

“Most of these people have at least one neighbor who is also participating by agreeing to knock down their adjoining fences. I calculated that with just these gardens, we’ll have over 12000 square feet of gardens to start. Some of the gardens are larger than others, but that would be a really good beginning.”

I looked at Lea, then back at H. “That is outstanding!” I shouted. “Keep track of those who do not participate in the gardening.”

She nodded. “We have two gardens that will be really long ones” she continued “I plan to put corn in those two since corn is air pollinated.”

“Very good idea” I commented. “What else are you suggesting the others grow?”

“One man, Mr. Martinez, asked specifically to grow tomatoes, as he already has a garden with some in it. He has agreed to plant more in the rest of his back yard, as long as he gets to plant any variety.” She stopped and looked at me.

“I don’t have a problem with that” I said. “Perhaps he’ll end up with a new variety with all the different ones he’ll have…it could happen. He may be able to offer suggestions to you and the others since he obviously is a success. And one more thing H, you’re in charge of this consulting…you don’t have to check with me. OK? What else?”

She flipped through her pages, pulled out her map of the neighborhood, and showed me who was planting where. “There will be carrots here, bush beans there, pole beans there, squash there, zucchini there, watermelons there, cantaloupe there, broccoli here, cabbage here, bell peppers there…all colors, and still have lettuce, okra, onions, radishes, peas” she smiled at me knowing my extreme hatred of the little green things, “and more people to talk to tomorrow.”

“Will we get two seasons do you think?” I quizzed her.

“Yes, provided it doesn’t freeze, but we need to start immediately…like tomorrow. Some of these are ready in less than 90 days, some need a little longer. I was planning to stagger some of the veggies so we don’t get swamped with like a ton of carrots, then a ton of cabbage, then tomatoes, you know what I mean?”

“That’s great H! You’ve done better than I expected. We’re having a meeting in the morning. You plan what items need to be planted first, and we’ll get crews to start with the garden preps. How are we on mulch, and fertilizer…stuff like that?”

“A lot of the people have peat moss, soil conditioner, and the like, but we don’t have a lot of anything” she answered.

“I wonder if anyone has a working lawnmower” I started “you know, with a grass catcher, that would help a lot, especially if we started a huge mulch pile. Did you by any chance ask Martinez if he had earthworms? I’ll bet he does.”

“I know how to start a compost pile dad” she said. “I’ll get some plans together and we’ll put it in a couple of front yards and everyone can help themselves when they need it.”

“OK” I said “you don’t need me ’cause you have this under control.” I walked over and gave her a hug.

“When do you think Mandy will be back?” she asked.

I looked at the Hamilton; 11:00. “I would think any minute now,” as I saw headlights turn onto L street, then another set right behind them. “There they are” I said pointing down the street. “Got firearms?” I directed my questions at them, and they disappeared around toward the back. I went to the front of the monster truck with the Mossberg…just in case.

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

It was them all right. They pulled in front of Al’s and AJ pulled into the driveway. He and Rhonda got out, and Marie had hitched a ride with them. We exchange hugs, kisses and smiles. Al came up and gave me the satphone. “Here” he said handing it to me.”I know you have a call to make.”

I nodded, took the phone, and went to around the back, and dialled the boys.

I bought 2 satphones a year or so ago, and sent one to them with 3 extra batteries. We did a test call to see it the numbers worked when they received it, and I told them how to package the phone, and not to ever use it unless there was an major emergency. I had also asked them to leave it on, and I would get a hold of them, no matter what.

It was 10:00 in Colorado. The phone only rang once, and Chuck answered. He was the youngest by 3 years, and was 14 now.

“Hey Dad” he said, and I could tell that there was relief, fear, and anxiety in his voice.

“Hello Mr. Chuck!” I said. “How are you doing?” I asked him.

“I’m good” he answered.

“How’s your brother?” I asked again, almost dreading to know the truth.

“Chris is fine. He got hurt today, but Joanie says he’ll be ok.”

“Oh, you guys are with Joanie?” Joanie was a single mom with two boys about the same age as mine.

“Mom is dead” Chuck said without emotion.

“Oh Chuck, I am so sorry” I told him.

“What happened?”

“A couple of guys came to the door this afternoon dressed like police, and they said they were taking people to shelters. Mom didn’t want to go and they forced their way in. Chris had gone to the back room to get the gun. The first guy started hitting mom in the face, and she was crying. Chris ran up and shot the first guy in the head. The second guy had a big knife and he stabbed mom, then came after Chris with the knife. He cut Chris real bad on the other arm, and Chris shot him too. Mom was bleeding badly, and she died a few minutes later. The two guys were dead.” His voice trailed off.

“Chuck, I’m glad you’re ok. I am sorry about your mom. I know she loved you guys a lot. Let me talk to Chris.”

“Hello?”

“Chris, it’s Dad. How are you doing?” I asked.

“I’m ok” he said.

“That was a very brave thing to you did today to save your brother and yourself. Not many men could have done what you did. Where are you now?” I asked him.

“We’re with Joanie. She came over right after I shot those guys. She fixed my arm, and we left with her.”

“You left with her? She has a car?” I tried not to sound too excited.

“Yes, she has her van.”

I always did have to pry information out of these two guys. “What happened to Rod?” Rod was their mother’s boyfriend.

“Rod left earlier today to find his girls, but I think he was scared and ran away” said Chris.

“Let me talk to Joanie” I said.

“Hello Bennie.”

“Hello Joanie! Thank you for rescuing my children. Did you just happen to have a set of chips for your van?”

“I’ve been a prepper for a lot of things for a long time, Bennie. We’re heading to my cabin in the mountains. Oh, by the way, good thinking about the satphone in the Faraday cage.”

“Again, I thank you Joanie. It sounds like my children are in good hands. Do you have your boys with you?” I asked her.

“Yes, they’re both fine. We have tons of food stored at the cabin, wood stove, a well in the back, lots of firewood, guns, ammo, hunting, chickens, and now two more men to help out.”

“I am relieved that they are with you and that you are so savvy. I had no idea. I’ll be calling say on the first of every month at noon my time to check on the boys and you…ok?”

“That sounds good” she replied.

“I have had the guys to the gun range several time shooting revolvers and semi-autos, but they have not had any rifle practice.”

“That’s ok. They’ll both the proficient marksmen in a couple weeks” she added.

“OK then Joanie. Thank you again. I wish I was more help. Pass the phone back to Chris please. Bye now.”

“I’ll take care of them like they are my own” she said “here’s Chris.”

“Hello” it was Chris.

“Ok, Chris, I truly believe Joanie knows what she is doing. You’re the oldest in the house and the rest of the guys will look to you, so set a good example like you’ve always done. Listen to Joanie, and do exactly what she tells you, and we’ll all probably see each other again some day. I’ll be calling on the first day of every month from now on 11:00 am your time to check on you. OK?”

“OK dad.”
“Let me talk to Chuck now.”

“OK here he is…good bye Dad.”

“Good bye Chris.”

“Hello?”

“OK Chuck. I need you to do everything that Joanie tells you. You guys are on your own, but you should be safe enough from bad guys way up there. Your biggest problem will probably be bears and wolves. She is pretty smart, and she knows what to do, so you listen to her OK?”

“OK Dad.”

“I’ll call on the first of every month at 11:00 your time, so turn on your phone and wait, ok? I’ve got to go now.”

“OK dad. “Dad?”

“Yes Chuck.”

“I love you.”

“I love you too Chuck. Good bye for now.”

“Good bye Dad.”

I shut the phone off, and found I was crying. I turned and everyone was standing listening. Lea, Marie, H rushed over and we had a big hug together.

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

After we got done drying the tears, Army passed around his Crown from which most of us took a slug…or two.

“What’s up for tomorrow boss?” said Army as he took a draw on his jug of Crown while looking at me.

I shook my head saying “I didn’t want this job…” I was interrupted by Jim.

He spoke in an almost stern voice “From what everyone here has told me, and from what I have seen in you, you’re a natural leader.” He walked over with the Crown, passed it to me while I took a drink, and continued “every person here has hope now because of what you have done here today. You have shown me some really good planning, and buddy, you’d be surprised to see how many people get to power, and can hardly wipe their butt without help. Speaking for myself, I’d follow you to hell without question…you are one helluva man.”

“I’ll second that” said Army.

“Ok, but on one condition…” I paused and looked everyone in the eye.

“This is a joint community effort. If you guys have a better idea about anything, I welcome any and all suggestions.”

“Pressing onward. I was thinking that we should maybe start blocking off some of the streets with Jonas’ tractor tomorrow. He is supposed to be here in the morning to start that. Also, those clowns…excuse me, the gentlemen who were here earlier may show up tomorrow as well. I also think we should round up all the cash we can, and go to the store, and get every drop of water and water jug we can afford…as many trips as it takes.”

“I’m all for that except one thing” said Army “those guys that were here tonight will not participate in our group to be a “part” of it. I think they will undermine our group and steal every chance they get…maybe even plan attacks with more outsiders. Just sayin’.”

No one spoke. “I have been thinking that myself, Army. I maybe jumped the gun on that invite. I did tell them we’d only talk, but I hear what you’re saying, and on second thought, am inclined to agree with you. I’ll cross that bridge when that happens. I’m sure I’ll think of something.”

I continued, “as far at the cars blocking the streets, we need ideas concerning which ones to put out, do we flatten tires, do we remove the tires, or leave ’em alone. We’ll need access through at least one street ourselves, right? Be thinking of some alternatives by the morning, and we’ll start then.”

“We’ve all had a long day, and I’m about ready to get some sleep. Does anyone want to pair up and walk some perimeter this evening?”

The crowd was silent. “I will.” We all looked at Mandy whose smile never seemed to cease. “I’m not tired.”

“Ok, I’ll walk perimeter with Mandy for a couple of hours, to get the lay of the land, so to speak. We’ll need fresh batteries in the radios” I told her, and she ran inside to replace them.

“I’ll walk with you also” Jim volunteered.

I looked at AJ and Rhonda. “I’ll have to catch up with you two later. Can you tell me paraphrased what Austin looked like when you left?”

They looked at each other and as if it was rehearsed they said in unison “a burning dome of fire.”

“Wow!” I exclaimed. I didn’t know what else to say.

Mandy returned with the radios, and gave one to Jim and I. “Somebody please keep close to the base” I asked.

“Jim, I think this lady might need a boonie hat, and perhaps some face camo.”

I had hardly finished when Jim whipped out a can of face paint and gave it to her. Before I could speak, Mandy whipped out a boonie hat from her backpack. I was speechless. I must have had my mouth open or something similar and Jim said “we all have our niches, Bennie. Is that all you’re taking?” as he pointed at the Mossberg.

“It’s got slugs in it for now, and of course I’ve got Ol’ Blue” as I patted the .44. “Got lights?” I asked as I pulled out the trusty hybrid flashlight, testing it. I emptied the Mossberg, and loaded the magazine, and keep the chamber empty I debated this action, but felt it was safer with an empty chamber. Besides, scaring the crap out of potential bad buys by racking a round into the chamber of the 12 gauge is a dream I have.

I changed my mind forever, and from that  moment on I kept a round in the chamber.

Mandy was finished putting on paint, and we three headed down the driveway into the dark.

It was midnight.

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

We walked the entire perimeter, as I knew it, several times, and only heard one dog bark. We heard no sounds, other than our footsteps. Jim had us do a couple of practices by scrambling into the nearest bushes, and being absolutely still. Running up to the side of a house, crouching, waiting, listening. I had never thought about being in stealth mode while on patrol. Good point Jim. We walked up and down M street a couple of times, as several of the streets in the ‘hood intersect with M street. We saw no evidence that anyone lived in any of these homes. Even Robby’s house was totally dark. I know he was there.

The area is too big. It’ll take too many people to guard the length of this perimeter effectively. There are too many streets, too many ways to get in. We’re going to have to shrink our perimeter to have and maintain effective security. I’ll bring it up tomorrow.

We stood on M street for a few minutes just kind of looking up and down the street, not saying anything.

“Let’s take a meander down to my house on T street” I said “just to see what’s going on there.”

They nodded, and we headed north up M street on the west side of the street. I walked the sidewalk, Jim in the left lane of the street, and Mandy walking the east side of the street on the school yard walk.

Mandy crossed over before we got to T street, and got behind us as we walked slowly around the corner, heading west toward my house.

I stopped after a few steps when I saw headlights on a driveway very close to where my house was.

“What is it?” Jim asked.

“That car looks like it’s at my neighbor’s” I whispered. “It looks like there is some activity there. Let’s go closer and see what’s going on.” We crossed the street, to be on the same side as my neighbor’s house…and mine too. Mandy disappeared. She’s like a panther on the prowl.

When we got two houses down from my neighbor Fred’s house, we saw what was happening. Those same t-shirted thugs were working him over. The headlights indeed were from Fred’s 1973 Corvette, that had been pushed out of the garage, and now was in the middle of the street, with the lights on. There were three of what looked like that same gang I encountered earlier, beating on Fred with a bat. Fred was still standing, and they weren’t pounding him hard, but they were yelling all kinds of obscenities at him, and saying what they were going to do to his wife.

“I’ll go inside and check on Sandy, Fred’s wife” I told Jim. “My guess is that as soon as you move on these three clowns, Mandy will reappear and they will turn tail and run…don’t let them get away” and we ran across the yard towards them. I went right to the front door, and saw a light heading toward the door from the inside as Fred’s door as opaque glass in it. I heard a shot on the driveway, and the commotion ended. The door opened and the guy was met with the butt of the Mossberg to the center of his face. I heard a woman’s scream.

The man with no face fell to the ground. I walked over him and went towards another light. I walked towards the light hearing more commotion coming from that area. I heard a voice saying something like “we’re going to have a party with you senora, and when I’m done…” He stopped as there was another gunshot outside, and when he turned, he was met with the butt of Mr. Mossberg, in the general vicinity of where I struck the other guy. He too, dropped like a rock to the floor, a machete fell from his hand. His t-shirt read El Loco.

Damn! This guy’s day is going to go downhill.

“Are you OK Sandy?” I asked her as she caught her breath and nodded. I dragged El Loco by the t-shirt down the hallway to the front porch, where his pal was still lying on the floor.

Jim walked up and asked “is everything ok?” he gestured inside. I nodded.

Fred came up holding his head and said, “Bennie, I sure am glad to see you guys” as he walked over the two bodies into the house.

“What’s the story out here?” I asked Jim.

He answered “when these chickenshits saw me, they took off running…right into the path of Annie Oakley. She shot one and the other two came back towards me. They weren’t backing down, so I shot another. The last guy dropped to his knees with his hands up. I didn’t hear any shots from in the house.”

I shook my head and pointed to the butt of Mr. Mossberg. “Mossberg…1001 uses” I said. I put the barrel against El Loco’s head. “Time to get up shitferbrains.” I pushed the barrel a little harder to ‘get his attention’. “Get up, both of you” I said. “We’re going to leave punishment to my neighbor Fred.”

They groaned and shakily stood up holding their respective noses, blood gushing out. “Get the hell off the porch!” I yelled at them. “You’re making a mess!” as I shoved El Loco towards the street. Jim did likewise with the other guy.

Fred and Sandy came out after a few minutes with the machete. “They said they were going to carve us up after they…were done with me…as they put it” Sandy said.

“I didn’t think they would ever stop hitting me with that bat” Fred said. He had a bloody nose, a couple of cuts on his head, and assorted bruises on his face.

“This is the third time in 24 hours that we’ve run into these clowns, Fred. The last encounter cost them two of their pals after they tried to attack us” I told him. “What do you want to do with them? It’s up to you.”

The three remaining guys were now on their knees in the street, hands behind their head.

“What would you suggest?” he asked me.

“Personally, I would just as soon waste ’em” I said. “They have caused nothing but trouble, and if we execute them, perhaps it will send a message to the rest these gangs.”

“What’ll we do with the bodies?” Fred asked.

“We’ll drag their skinny asses to the vacant lot at the east end of the street, waste ’em, and burn ’em” I answered.

“Seems kind of harsh” Sandy said.

I held up the machete and asked them “what do you think they were going to do with this when they were done with you? How’s your nose Fred? How many times did they hit you with the bat? What they have done here is multiple felonies. Agreed?”

“Get ’em up” I gestured and Mandy stuck her rifle barrel at the back of one guy’s head.

“You heard him…GET UP!” she screamed. They complied. “Now pick up your pals” she said. “We’re going to take a walk.”

They carried one, and dragged the last guy down the street about a block away into the vacant lot. Mandy did not hesitate as she executed the three in the back of the head. Jim brought some of Fred’s weedeater gas and set them ablaze. We walked back to Fred’s.

“We’re going to return to base” I told Fred. You’re welcome to drop in tomorrow and look around. I urge you to consider moving into our area. We can set you up in an empty home and will help with starting a garden. We’re talking about making a run to the grocery store in the morning, to get whatever we can that’s left. We have working vehicles with a trailer to make the run. Just come on over sometime after sunup…I’m sure someone will have breakfast going. I’m at the house at the end of L street.”

“How can we ever thank you, Bennie?” asked Fred.

“No thanks are necessary, Fred. I urge you to pack up and move where it’s safe” I told them.

“Ok” Fred said. “We’ll see you tomorrow.”

We pushed the ‘vette against the curb, and said our good-byes.

Our walk back was silent as we passed the burning bodies.

Did we do the right thing? Executing those three guys?

I walked to the side of the street and threw up…several times. No one said anything.

Mandy threw up too.

“No need to give details to anyone” I said to them. I looked at them both. “Is it just me, or did we do right?”

Without hesitation Jim stopped and said “Bennie, if we didn’t put them down, they would be after someone else tomorrow. It seems to me they got a little braver during the day. Who knows what they would have escalated to tomorrow?”

I nodded. I looked at Mandy. “I got no regrets” she said. “The first guy I shot was another one who raped me.”

“OK then” I said. “Speaking for myself, I am need of sleep.”

“I hear that” said Jim. “I’m ready too after my long walk.”

Mandy replied “Bennie, you saved my life today. You took me into your group without knowing me at all. I could have been like El Loco. You were wrong about him, but I think you knew he was trouble, yet you gave him every chance, and I think his end was inevitable. I had no where to go this morning, and you have given me a family and a home…without question. I love you for that. All of you treat me like I’ve always been a part of your family. We did the right thing, Bennie. There is no doubt in my mind, and somehow, I feel comforted that you are bothered by what we just did…you do have a soft spot inside.”

“Aw shucks” I said. “Let’s go home.”

We did.

It was the end of Day 1

.

CHAPTER SIXTEEN

I was awakened by the smell of bacon and eggs. Someone was waving a plate in front of my nose as well as a fresh cup of coffee. I looked up at Al. “C’mon” he said “We have guests outside.”

Lea was still asleep, and I threw on the clothes I had on yesterday. I better get used to this.

Al led me to the patio, dangling the breakfast in front of me. Several folks were enjoying breakfast. “Gimme that” I told Al as I grabbed the coffee. He pointed to a chair, and made me sit. I don’t know what it was, but everything I ate and drank seemed to taste soooo much better. I didn’t even pay attention to who was at the table until I had taken several bites of bacon. One of the guests was a deputy sheriff. I almost choked.

“I apologize, deputy.” I stood up and reached across the table offered my hand.

He hesitated and said “I’m not sure I want to shake your hand….Dirty Bennie” he said with a smile and then we shook.

My look of horror broke into a smile as well and I pointed at him and said “you almost got me on that one.” I took another bite of bacon and coffee. “Forgive me” I said. “We had a long day yesterday. You’re the deputy that lives on Martin right?”

He was drinking some coffee and he looked at me real slow and easy like as he put his coffee down.

“I’m the guy that drives the yellow Ranger every morning through the school zone” I said. “I musta seen you drive that route in the morning 30 times this year.

His face broke into a smile and said, “yeah, I remember you. You always drive the speed limit, and everyone piles up behind you.”

I had a mouthful of food and said “we had some excitement here last night” through my chews. I figured he was investigating the pile of burning bodies.

“That’s kind of why I’m here” he said. “I need to file a report with the county.”

“Is anyone working at the county besides the sheriff department these days?” I asked.

Marie shushed me.

“It’s ok ma’am” he said.

He looked at me “it’s just the sheriff department working these days” he shook his head and took another drink of coffee.

“How can we help you?” I asked him kind of nonchalantly.

He looked surprised. “I heard that about you. No one else would offer to help us out. Everyone is asking us for help, which we have little to give. You already have helped out by ridding us of that vermin you guys took care of last night. Those guys were nothing but troublemakers, and as far as I’m concerned, they got their just deserves…that’s off the record, of course.”

“It goes without saying” I concurred.

“Fred and Sandy, my neighbors, were the victims of what I guess you could call a home invasion last night and we stopped them from being severely injured. They’re supposed to come over this morning to discuss joining our community here, and you and yours are welcome as well since you already are in the ‘hood.”

“I have already spoken with Fred and Sandy” he said. “Their story concurred with Jim and Mandy, so I’m not worried about this being unjustified.”

“Fred and Sandy have already been here?” I said stupefied.

“Yes, it’ nearly noon partner, whatever that’s worth…you had a long day yesterday” the deputy went on. “Yes, I’ll talk to the missus about your community and have her talk to our neighbors. We have some interesting folks over yonder.”

I shook my head in disbelief. “Almost noon? Geez, I have stuff to do today.”

Marie interrupted “Jim, Army, and Jonas have been moving cars all morning. They’ve had lots of help. H and Mandy have been helping organize what they are calling “garden parties”.”
“Garden parties huh” I said smiling to myself thinking of that old song by Ricky Nelson. “I’m glad they’re enjoying the beginning of a new life.”

“Ok deputy, do you have any information for us about the outside world?” I asked.

He sighed, then began with “pretty much the entire country has no power at this point. From what I have heard from my superiors, and that’s not what you will hear on the radio” he pointed out “there are no plans to get the power grids up for a very long time…maybe years. The major cities are being burned to the ground as we speak and consumed with widespread looting, violent crimes, pretty much every bad thing you could imagine. Gangs are growing and will be something we may have to contend with later…count on that.”

“What about FEMA? Are we going to see Feds down here “rescuing” us from ourselves?” I asked sarcastically.

“I have not heard of any plans, as of yet, to have Federal troops come to the Valley. It’s possible they may just let the cartels come over, and take care of the poor slobs who live here…by ‘take care’ I mean wipe us out.”

“Are the bridges up?” I inquired. “I heard from a reliable source that the DHS would blow up the bridges in an extreme emergency.”

“I don’t know who your source is, and I won’t ask” he said “and that’s true…but not all the bridges. McAllen for sure, and I think some of the smaller ones are standing, but well blocked. The McAllen bridge went this morning.”

I breathed a little sigh of relief. “So the cartels will move across Anzalduas and Pharr bridges first. We still have time to prepare.” I finished the sentence kind of drifting off as I was thinking about things other than just guns and ammo.

“What are your long term plans?” asked the deputy.

“My biggest concern right now is drinking water” I answered. “We have a finite supply, with no water source from which to draw. We, at this point, are totally dependent on rain. The ditch water would take a lot of filtering and processing to make it safe, and even then, I don’t know if I would drink it.” Silence.

“I could get a water gathering system with about a 500 gallon tank” said the deputy. “It won’t solve all your problems, but it would certainly increase your supply capacity.”

“That would be great, deputy! Water storage is kind of willy-nilly right now.”

“You guys have done more in 24 hours than most of the population will do in the next several months” he said. “Army came back today with 3 trailers full of 5 gallon jugs…some full, some empty. He said they went to Home Depot and Lowe’s and picked up a bunch there.”

“Dang!” I said. “I missed a lot when I slept in. Where did they get the money? We didn’t have that much.”

Al said, “your friends Fred and Sandy had over $2000 in cash that they insisted we use to stock up on essentials. They were very insistent. We moved them into the West’s neighbors home. They will help with the food pantry. Fred and George used to work together, as you know. Marie was able to talk to the pharmacist at the grocery store, and got a bunch of antibiotics and other things that normally require a prescription.”

“That’s great about the medicine! Yeah, remembered that Fred and George worked together. Did Fred bring any of his MREs? The company that he and George worked for used to make MREs for the military” I said. (MRE is an acronym for Meal Ready to Eat)

Al was smiling, “oh yes. Between the two of them, they have around 50 cases of 24 of MREs.”

“This just gets better and better” I said with a smile. “Deputy, do you carry a satphone?”

“I do. Let’s exchange numbers” he said as we both fumbled with our toys. “I gotta be checking in with HQ in a little bit, and I need to call in from home…that’s where the shortwave is. Why don’t you come along and meet my family?”

“Sure” I said getting up and wiping my hands and mouth. “To whom do I owe thanks for the delicious breakfast?” I asked as I bent over to kiss Marie on the cheek with a smile.

I picked up the .44 and went with the deputy. “How did you find out about us?” I asked him.

“I got a call this morning from HQ about the fire…someone called it in…we don’t know who.”

“Hmmm. That’s interesting. How did they contact your HQ?” I asked him.

“He called in on short wave emergency channel, saying that there were bodies burning, and there were shots fired earlier, but he didn’t see who did the shooting, or where they came from. One of my neighbors told me about the community party you had last night, so I just thought I’d ask some questions. The answers led me right to your house this morning. I was met by Jim…he was a bit cold at first, but we found out that we live almost immediately behind each other. I remember him ’cause he smokes a heckuva beef jerky. ”

I said “maybe we should knock down some fences and give you easier access to this side of the ‘hood.”

“Jim had the same idea. The house next to him is vacant, so he is probably just finishing up taking it down.”

We got to Jim’s neighbor’s place and walked through the gate into the back. He was indeed pulling some posts out. He saw us and said “hello sleepyhead! You gonna help now?” he said jokingly.

“We were headed to his house to meet the fam. Take a break and come” I said.

“Help me with this last post and I will do just that” he said.

We rocked the post back and forth about 50 times, and it finally loosened enough to where we could pull it out.

“Let’s go” said the deputy. “Carla will have something to drink.”

It was a good idea, linking the yards together. We walked right to his rear patio where there was a table chairs, and glasses of what looked like lemonade.

Deputy began “Carla this gentleman is Jim somethingorother, I don’t know his last name” she smiled and offered her hand. Jim took it. They exchanged pleasantries.

“And this is Dirty Bennie” he said, gesturing towards me. I offered my hand, and she said “you’re something of a hero around here, standing up to those guys and leading the patrol to help those folks.” She smiled and we shook hands.

“Carla, I could not have done anything without the confidence in my team, of which Jim was in integral part. We are a team, and that is how we will beat this setback.”

“See?” Jim said…”modest too.” We all laughed.

“Please sit and have a cold drink” she said, offering the chairs.

We sat and took a long draw from the tall, cold drinks, to discover that there was a touch of liquor in it. Deputy and Carla looked at Jim and I as if they expected one of us to say something. I gave in first. “Ok Carla. So you do moonshine too?” They chuckled a little.

“That’s cool because I am a homebrewer myself, and make one helluva wheat beer” I said, taking another long drink.

“No shine here” Carla said. “That would be illegal, and what would the neighbors say? With him being a deputy sheriff and all?”

I started laughing to myself and said “man where have all of you been all my life? I should have gotten out more. We coulda had lots of fun hanging together.”

“I think we still will” said Jim, as he raised his glass for a toast; “to come what may. No matter what, save the shine.” We laughed and toasted.

“Speaking of toasts” I started, I got a really good buzz on that stuff. I’ll gladly finish this glass, and will have to suffer the rest of the day without” I continued finishing the last of the drink and exhaled a very contented sigh. “That’s good stuff” I said. “Thank you very much” I went on as I stood up. “I have things to check on…it was a real pleasure to meet you both today” I said with a smile. “Deputy, did you by any chance get to meet young Mandy?”

“She the kid they call Annie Oakley?” he asked.

“The one and the same.”

“I didn’t meet her, but would like to assess her abilities” he said.

“I watched her shoot a beer bottle thrown at her, in the air, almost without even aiming…as a matter of fact, she didn’t! It was a hipshot and she said she’d never shot a shotgun…much before. She handles that BAR like it’s a toy. I have not seen her miss yet.

“Do you think she could handle a .50 cal?” asked the deputy.

“I could not speak for her, but that might be too much gun for her” I paused a moment “and I would not be surprised if she jumped at the chance” I answered.

“I might be able to provide one for your group” said the deputy. “If what you say is true, then she would probably make an excellent long range sniper, and that may be a huge advantage later on with this thing we’re dealing with. You have what 70-75 people confirmed in this area so far? That’s a lot of people to protect and you people have got your heads in the right place as far as hunkering down, protecting what’s yours, and everyone pitching in to help. I might be able to swing it.”

“You know where to find me” I said sticking out my hand. “I gotta run. You have my number. Let me know if there’s any activity in the Gulf…tropical weather wise.”

“Will do” he said as we shook good bye.

“You guys drop in anytime” I said as we walked back across the yard.

The hurricane season starts June 1. Everyone who lives the Valley knows this, and dreads but at the same time loves hurricanes. This year, I decided that I would really like to see at least one with lots of rain.

Jim and I got to L street and I stopped. “I don’t think I have ever gotten this wasted on one glass of hootch” I told Jim.

“Yep, that was some really strong stuff” he concurred.

We heard running footsteps behind us, and it was Carla. She had a couple of wine looking bottles with clear liquid in them. “You guys take these and enjoy” she said, and I noticed a faint southern accent.

“South Carolina?” I quizzed her.

She looked surprised “why yes, How did you know?”

“I just guessed. I have a good friend from Bufort that lives not far from here.”

“Really? That’s just down the road from where I was raised. What’s his name?”

“His name is Clay Bertolli” I said. “He’s a good friend of my wife, who is a teacher. He’s a teacher too, and a pretty good guy. He brought me some hootch a couple years ago, and this stuff reminds me of it…kind of sneaky strong.”

She laughed as she walked away “I don’t remember that name, but I’d like to meet him someday.”

“Thanks again” we said holding up our bottles like a couple of drunken pirates.

“What are we doing man?” I said to Jim.

Jim’s reply was “that stuff is still coming on. I am going to have to sit down, and put the firearms away.

“Good idea” I retorted. “I think I’ll go sit on the patio and smoke some cigarettes, maybe clean my gun.”

“I’ll join you” he said, and we headed up the street to Al’s. I don’t think we were staggering, but we found out later that we were staggering…and singing. I don’t remember much about the short distance up the street however, I recall laughter, sitting down, and music.

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

Most of my adult life, I have strongly felt that getting work done early in the day, beats the heat, and allows for R&R later. This afternoon, I wasted the entire day unintentionally getting drunk. I was pretty much finished with any worthwhile thinking, planning, or any activities requiring physical exertion. So, Jim and I sat on the patio at home, drinking water, and cleaning our guns, telling jokes, giggling like school boys. Unbelievable. People were out digging up gardens and planting in the heat. George, Gina, Fred, and Sandy set up the food bank, and were going around into empty homes, salvaging what foods were left behind. One garage had a small backhoe, the kind that are rented. The kind that one can dig a latrine with. Perfect. It ran too, much to our surprise. But no, Jim and Bennie just sat on the patio, drunk; wasting the afternoon.

H had left the census and I was looking over it. A couple of things jumped out at me.

“We have a guy here that’s an industrial chemist!” I showed Jim. “Looky” I pointed to his name. “Walter, the chemist” I said.

“Walter, the chemist,” Jim repeated. “Where in hell does an industrial chemist work around here?”

“Dunno” I said. “Maybe across the river, at a Maquiladora.”

“Yeah” he said. “Why would an industrial chemist be of interest to us?”

“Are you kidding me man?” I explained. “Folks like that can make stuff like C4, plastique, and Cemtex.”

“Of course you realize that all those things you just named are pretty much the same” Jim said.

“My point is that this guy can make this stuff with eyes closed; and other stuff like nitroglycerin too!”

“No way” Jim said astonished. “Make nitroglycerin?”

“Sure” I said. “This guy might be able to make all kinds of stuff outa nothing…like Mcgyver. We need to talk to him.”

“How credible do you thing you’d be in your current condition?” Jim asked. “Besides. We’ve got C4.”

I guess my mouth was agape because Jim went on. “Army and I both have our own little stash of C4 with blasting caps, detonators, and timers too. Even some claymores. We have more surprises that’ll be revealed in good time.”

“Wow” I started “I guess I shoulda expected some surprises like that. You two are full of them.”

The afternoon dragged on, and after 3 bottles of water, I felt better making a mental note not to drink something without asking what it is, instead of assuming. Sure did taste good though.

“Maybe you and I should start up the bbq pits for some evening cooking. It’s the least we could do since we wasted the day” I was saying.

“Whaddyamean? Wasted the day? We saved lives last night” Jim answered. “I’m not sayin’ we deserved a day off, but folks here know what we did.”

“I was just sayin’ that we could start cooking for those who put in a hard day. Besides” I continued “I could use a beer.”

I started laughing before I even finished the sentence, and Jim joined in as well. We even laughed harder when I brought out two cold brews. We went to work on starting the fires and found some chicken leg quarters and sausages, and started cooking.

It’s true what they say: a little hair of the dog really works.

Folks looked startled when they came around back and saw our beers, but smiled when they dished up the bbq. We passed out beers too.

Army showed up and did not cease to give Jim and I crap the rest of the night about our misadventures in drinking that day. We fought back by telling him that it was strictly a PR mission, and we wanted to be sure that we kept the deputy happy. Jim even offered anyone some of his shine. There were no takers.

“What’s up for tomorrow, boss?” Army asked, directing his question at me.

“We need some organization for the group militia” I answered. “Got any ideas?”

“Sure do” answered Army.

“Great,” I said. “Do you have any ideas about making a few fougasses? and claymore placement? Maybe some training on how to use these items?”

“I got it all figgered out” he said. “Most of the training will be manning posts. Some of these posts will have armed claymores and fougasses. I spoke to Robby today about getting his son over to Jim’s with his welder, and start on the fougasses tomorrow.”

“Excellent!” I exclaimed. “How did the car placement go?”

“Actually, it went very easy. We had plenty of volunteers from folks who donated their cars. Jonas’s tractor was amazing. We were done by mid afternoon. We sure missed you…”

The crowd chuckled. I shook my head with an embarrassed smile and looked at Jim, who also had a sheepish grin on his face. “It won’t happen again” I told him.

“What’s the status on the gardens?” I asked, not directed at anyone in particular.

H was right there and said “we had more volunteers than garden tools. We got 10 gardens started today, and should be able to get 10 more tomorrow if we have the same amount of help, and finish the rest in a couple more days.”

“Outstanding” I exclaimed. “Do we know who had the backhoe?”

“That house was empty. No one seems to know much about them” answered Frank, one of the neighbors who found the backhoe.

“Does anyone know what this guy was doing with a backhoe?” I inquired further. “I mean, has anyone looked at his yard to see what he was digging up…or burying?”

No one spoke. “Does anyone besides Army and Jim know how to operate that thing?” I asked. “We need to build some latrines, and that is the perfect tool to dig them deep.”

Frank answered “I can drive it, and I’ll look around in his yard tomorrow, and see what he was up to.”

“Ok great” I said. “The deputy was going to see about getting us a 500 gallon storage tank for drinking water” I went on. “Those of you with rain gutters on your homes, let us know and we’ll get you a couple of empty jugs of water.”

I saw a look of horror sweep over the crowd. “We have treatment for the water to make it perfectly safe” I said quickly. “We will not, under any circumstances use water from the ditch for drinking, washing, or cleaning because I don’t think we can treat it enough for it to be safe. Agreed?”

The crowd nodded. “Talk to Fred and George about the jugs, and some filtering material. I have enough bleach to treat about 200000 gallons of water so we’re good in that respect.”

“Is Walter here?” I asked towards the crowd.

“I’m Walter” said a thin, frail looking man as he walked over. We introduced ourselves, and I asked him “I understand you’re a chemist.”

“I am” he said.

“Can you make C4?” I asked further.

“Blindfolded” he answered.

“Nitro?” I asked.

“I can, but there are much safer things to make than that” he replied.

“Are you familiar with any type of demolition?” asked Army.

“As a matter of fact” he started, “I went into the Navy, and was a demolitions expert for a while. I got injured in an explosion…that wasn’t my fault” he added quickly, “and I got an medical discharge. I used to be as big as Jim there” he gestured to the big fella. “I got a severe head injury, and was in a coma for months. I came out and recovered, but my body never did, so I went to school and found out I was good with chemistry…you know the rest.”

This is too good to be true. “Well heck, Walter. What do you need from us to get started on making some type of fougasse, pipe bombs, thermite…you know, field multipliers?” I asked him.

“I think I got enough stuff to get a good start” he said. “I could use an assistant if anyone has any type of lab experience, an extra hand is always good.”

“We’ll put the word out” I said. “Talk with Army about his strategies and plans, and see what you guys can come up with for some extreme perimeter defense…as well as defense against APCs and the like.”

Army walked over and they walked away with Jim and were trading stories about military life.

I walked over to Fred, Sandy, George, and Gina who had kind of cliqued away from the rest.

“Hey guys” I started “how goes the food bank?”

“We went around today” Fred started “into16 homes that were empty, and walked away with literally hundreds and hundreds of pounds of food. We found commercially canned goods, home canned goods with a pressure canner and several cases of canning jars with lids, and extra lids…”

George interrupted as he had a few sheets of paper and continued “all totalled in dry goods we found over 90 pounds of bulk rice, assorted types, white, brown, etc. We got over 150 pounds of dry beans, pintos, kidneys, black-eye peas, lentils, and many more. We found lots of sodas, beer, liquor, water, powdered drink mixes like Kool-aid, Tang, and generic equivalents. Lots of flour, sugar, corn meal, cereal, oatmeal, syrup, honey, peanut butter, spices, leavening ingredients, and more bottled water. We pulled cast iron pots, dutch ovens also…anything that was heavy-duty. We even found a generator. We haven’t tried it, but it didn’t seem damaged. We’re planning to test it tomorrow.”

“And that’s in addition to what we picked yesterday at Sam’s. It would be great to have a little power” I said. “Is there a central location where the gasoline is kept?”

“For now, the gas is kept at Jonas’s, Army’s and here” George said, “but I don’t think we need to have all this gas around the food.”

“That’s true” I said. “You guys were at the empty homes…pick one and store gas cans in a garage. If the generator works, we may have to find a working refrigerator to keep stuff cold and maybe make ice. We still have fridges that haven’t been opened and likely have good food still in them. I would also suggest you put the working fridges in your food bank. Just a thought. What else?”

“We went through all the homes, and found some more firearms. We took them to Army with the ammunition we found” added Fred.

Gina started “we took towels and sheets, medicines, and took them to Marie at the infirmary. We also found soap, shampoos, cleaning supplies, more toilet paper, feminine items, stuff like that. It’s all here. We also found some fertilizer, peat moss, and assorted garden soils. Many of the homes had sheds with lots of gardening supplies; plant food, which we took to a central located empty house where H was making her garden HQ.”

Sandy started “we must have a whole pickup load of canned food. There were beans, corn, carrots, cocoa, soups, Spam and the like, canned tuna and salmon, canned chicken, canned ham, beef jerky, Vienna sausages, more veggies, coffee and tea, stew, chili, Ranch style beans, kidney beans, pintos, green beans, and more than I can remember. We still haven’t finished inventorying everything.”

“We have several can openers” I said. Let me know if you need a couple. How are you doling out the goods?” I asked Gina.

“Pretty much what ever they want, we give to anyone with an valid id for this neighborhood” she answered. “H is supposed to be working on some type of a voucher system for the gardeners, as they work very hard and require more water. We haven’t been refusing anyone food or water.”

“Please keep track of the canner and canning supplies and the home canned goods. I am counting on those to keep us fed after the harvest” I asked them.

“Oh, doncha worry. The canner and jars will stay here” said Gina.

I added “I have several cases of jars at my place too that I’ll gladly contribute. Has any of you ever ran a canner? What type did you pick up?”

Gina said “it’s a water bath canner but one of the other folks here has a pressure canner that she brought over too…it’s a nice one…American Beauty or something like that.”

“All American I think…” I started.

“That’s it!” she said.

“We found one place with some camping equipment; backpacks, tent, campstove and lanterns and some lantern fuel. We found flashlights, batteries, one place had some kind of solar panels in the back yard connected to some type of controller” George was saying.

“That’s great too. We can use those panels to charge batteries, and with their inverter, we can have lights. I have a solar panel array as well with an inverter. It’ll help to keep the radio batteries charged. We may well be wise to pull some batteries out of these cars we parked.” I gestured to the blockade down the street. “We don’t have a lot of inverters, so I guess that whoever has the inverters uses the batteries. Was there anything else of interest in that house?”

“There were several boxes I guess what you’re calling inverters” he said. “They had a lot of funny looking lights too.”

“Probably LEDs” I said “Maybe someone would do well to live there instead of ripping everything out”. Just a suggestion. Remind me tomorrow and I’ll go over with you and look at it. Perhaps if you’ve someone in mind, they might be willing to move in to the hi-tech house.”

George nodded.

“Has anyone heard if there are issues with cooking? Like not enough pits, or stoves? Anything?”

“The charcoal supply might go quickly” said George “if people start to cook a lot.”

“That would go to follow” I added. “Maybe we could get some folks to go around and find some Live Oak trees, and or mesquite trees that we could use for cooking. “Did you find and charcoal at the homes today? What about tools? Hand tools, chainsaws, and the like?”

“Yes, we did, and I forgot about that. We also found some chopped firewood for a couple of fireplaces.” George was saying “I’ll get the truck tomorrow and load the wood up and we’ll scope out some trees to pull some wood from, and perhaps mark them for termination.”

“Let me know if you need any help with the wood and checking the generator…I know a little about small engines” I told him. “You guys have exceeded all my expectations” I told them all. “Great job!”

I left them as they headed towards George’s house. I walked over to Marie. “How’s the infirmary coming?”

She seemed very pleased. “I was able to pick up a lot of antibiotics at the grocery store this morning. I knew the pharmacist from nursing school, and we got a good deal on several types, as well as some other medical supplies we may need. A lot of it he gave to us saying it would just go bad, as the store was going to close soon because most of the food was gone. I bought a lot of OTC meds; aspirin, vitamins, and some feminine things. The guy also gave me a few suture kits, and threw in some scalpels…just in case.”

“Well, it sounds like you’re on top of that situation, Marie.” I smiled at her. “I’m glad you’re here.” I gave her a hug. I will have told her that many times in the days to come.

“I set up a couple of rooms, and one of the homes they were in today had a hospital bed. I have rigged up an exam table too” she went on.

“George found a house today with a solar panel system” I said. “With that, we could bring you some charged batteries, and with some LEDs overhead, you would have some good lighting in your exam room. I’ll look into it and get it set up for you.”

“Thanks Bennie! That would be perfect!” she smiled.

Frank came running up to me, out of breath. “Bennie, you need to see this” he motioned back where he came from. “There was something buried in the yard.”
“What was it?” I asked.

“Call Army” he said. “There’s a big box of guns and ammunition. I don’t know what kind.”

I pulled out the radio. “Eagle 1 to RC”

“Go ahead Eagle1”

“Would you and Jim meet us over at” I paused not knowing where the house was.

Frank said “It’s next door to the house we got the pickup from.”

“RC, it’s next door to Stan’s place.”

“We’re on our way, out.”

“Eagle 1 out.”

Army and Jim were already there, and they were all over the cache of guns.

“AK-47s!” Army was excited. “Full auto! With 30K rounds of ammo! This guy was a gun smuggler. These things are sooooo illegal!”

“How many guns?” I asked.

“Looks like about 10” he said. “These will make a helluva statement if we have banditos trying to attack us.”

“Wow!” I said. “This day just keeps getting better.”

Army had driven the Mustang. He kept the trailer hitched as it seemed we were always unhitching and hitching it. We all pitched in to load up the guns and ammo into the trailer.

“You know” I was thinking out loud “a person who smuggles guns just might have another stash..maybe a false panel in a wall somewhere or in the attic. Frank? will you get some help in the morning and look around for more?”

“Sure thing” he said excitedly. “What do you thing we’ll find?”

“Dunno” I said. “Army, what’s a hot item for smugglers besides automatic weapons?”

He looked at me and thought for a few seconds before he answered. “Grenades and missiles.”

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

While we were loading up the contraband into the trailer, I mentioned about the car batteries needed for solar power storage.

“How many do you need?” Army asked. “We parked a bunch of cars today.”

“I would guess that there’s no sense in leaving them in the cars at all” I said. “I’d be glad to go around and remove them. You’ve got enough work to do with the militia and all.”

“Yeah, I’m going to start on that in the morning” he started. “With these additional guns, we’re in really good shape and I’ve already got a few guys picked out to whom I’ll issue these AKs.”

“How are you guys going to move a roadblock when we need to get out?” I asked him.

“Jonas parked his tractor in the garage across the street from me. Whoever is watching that post knows how to get in, opens it, brings out the tractor, and pushes the cars out of the way.” He stopped and looked at me “the sentry is supposed to radio me, you, or Jim before letting anyone in, and they’re instructed to wait until one or all of us gets to the main gate.” He stopped for a second and then continued “their standing orders are to fire warning shots if anyone attempts to jump the roadblock. If people are unarmed, and try to jump the roadblock, then they are instructed to fire a warning shot. After that, shoot to kill.”

“I’ll go along with that” I said. “How many guards at the main gate?”

“Three that rotate every 4 hours or so” he answered “at that gate. We have other gates that are unmanned, but I have two roving patrols of two that walk perimeter constantly, that rotate out every 4 hours or so…we don’t have clocks so that’s kinda iffy.”

“I think I’ll time the routes the roving patrols take, and figure out four hours worth…however many laps. Then they can tell the others when the shift is over. It’s all I got.”

I nodded.

“I’m going to have another patrol watch the west side from the back yards that face the ditch. That’s our weakest point, in my opinion, and I may increase that to two patrols, having four that walk a predefined route throughout each shift. Each patrol has a radio, so they stay paired. If the one with the radio gets hit, the other is supposed to fire 3 shots into the air, once a minute, until backup arrives. I have Mandy walking roving patrol for now, but I’d like to set up some sniper posts around the ‘hood for her and just let her rove as she pleases and snipe away. You, Jim, and I do not have regular schedules for sentry duty, but are always welcomed to drop in any patrol anytime…you know, bring maybe some water or a sammich or something like that from time to time…you get the idea; to fight boredom. We may be being watched as we speak and there could be someone making plans to attack. We don’t want the sentries bored, or have too much of a routine in the same patrol, walking the same area.”
“I like the idea, as it was one of mine” I told him. “Have you thought about a recon patrol?”

He sighed, looked at me and said “you know Bennie, you and I think a lot alike. Yes, a recon patrol would be a prudent move on our part. Unfortunately, the best person in the whole group for recon is Mandy.”

I nodded in agreement. “She’s like a panther. Right beside you one minute, and gone without as much as a whisper. Stealth mode…”
“Right” Army said. “I’d prefer her in a nest watching long range. Jim mentioned that the deputy would try to get us a .50 cal?”

“That’s what he said” I answered.

“If that came to be” he continued “that little girl would be a force to be reckoned with by anyone getting within a mile of this neighborhood.”

Something clicked in my head. “Perhaps too good…I mean, if she is as good as we know she is, perhaps we should use her talent sparingly, until we really need it.”

I was getting nowhere so I went on. “If we stick her in a nest tomorrow, and she pops bandits attempting to attack us…with a kill rate that would embarrass professional snipers, she would get a reputation, making her a target for everyone else…you know…kill her and then attack us…do you see what I mean?”

“You mean, the bandits will come here to kill her first if we push her to the front line right away? and they would go after her?”

“Yep, something like that” I said.

“Hmm. I see what you’re sayin’. Maybe she is so good that no one can touch her…” he looked at me.

I started “I have no doubt that she can hit whatever she wants with pretty much any weapon from any distance say up to a mile. Sure, this will keep the bad guys a mile away. Eventually, either we/she will kill them all, or they will find a way to kill her. Maybe kidnap someone from here, or maybe a spy of some kind will leak our tactical info…Geez, now I’m really sounding paranoid.”

I paused for a few seconds. “All I’m suggesting is that perhaps we don’t want to have her do just sniping. She could certainly roam with the patrols on a regular schedule, and assign her to a nest when the need arises…I guess that’s what strategy is all about isn’t it?”

We both were silent for a minute. “It’s your call, Army” I said. “I won’t interfere. When does the next watch start?”

“I was about ready to go and walk perimeter myself and take a look-see to find out what other holes we may need to patch up. You’re welcome to come along…I think Jim was going to come as well. Don’t worry about Mandy. I’ll see that we don’t burn her out.”

I nodded and smiled. “I’ll go check in back at the house and let them know that I’ll be out. Recommended weaponry?”

“Whatever you want” he answered. We got 7 people out already; three at the gate, and 2 squads of two walking the streets and the other blocked entrances.”

I nodded and headed back to the house. When I arrived, I talked to Al. “I’m going to walk perimeter for a while tonight…for a couple of hours anyway.”
“I think I’ll go with you to see how the roadblocks were done, and to get the layout of how they mapped the ‘hood.”

“That’s pretty much what I’m doing” I said. “I’m taking the .44 and the Mossberg. I told Army I’d be along directly.”

Al patted his.45 and slung his AK. “Ready when you are.”

I grabbed a bottle of water and stuffed it into my backpack, which also held a bandolier of 50 rounds of assorted 12 gauge rounds; slugs and OO. I had the Mossberg loaded with alternating rounds of OO and slugs; beginning with a slug. We headed to Army’s.

CHAPTER NINETEEN

Army’s house was 3 houses west of M street, where the main gate was. Army and Jim were already in the street when we got there, along with guess who: Mandy with her BAR.

“I see you have all the help you need” I said to Army gesturing to Mandy.

“Yeah” he said. “We’re all safe tonight. I thought we’d walk along M street to the south blockade which is right off of H street. There’s folks over there, but they didn’t seem to want to be in the group. They kinda hemhawed around when they saw us pulling the cars to block off our ‘hood.”

I recognized the sentries, but didn’t know their names. They seemed serious enough. Each had one of the new AKs, and a semi-auto pistol.

We walked around the ‘gate’, which in effect was two cars offset to block the street. They would only have to move one to let someone through. “Do we have any barb wire?” I asked in general.

“Ya mean for pedestrian traffic?” Jim said.

We kept walking south. “Yes. We can keep cars out, but people will be able to walk around…just like we just did.”
“Tomorrow, Frank is going to dig some deadfalls, and we’re gonna put 24″ sharpened 1/2″ rebars in the bottom” said Jim. “We’ll have probably 8-10 of them, thanks to all those rebars you brought from your house. The rest will go at the other roadblocks, and a couple places where we felt the perimeter defense was lacking.”

Suddenly, we heard voices approaching from J street. We split; part of us hit the west side brush, and the rest of us hit the east side.

It’s a good thing I peed before I left. Hiding always makes me wanna pee. Gotta remember that.

The voices belonged to a few folks from the other ‘hood. I had them pegged as harmless, and so did the rest of us. We let them pass before we left our positions. We continued through the 4-way stop, which we had also blocked going west, on down to H street, where we turned left to the next roadblock. There were a few people standing around there checking out the roadblock.

“Who the hell are these people to block off the street?” said one onlooker.

“They got their whole neighborhood blocked in” started another. They stopped talking when we approached.

We weren’t aggressive looking. We shouldered our rifles when we stopped, and offered water to the four of them. They gladly took it.

Army started by saying “we blocked off the street to keep folks that don’t live in this ‘hood out. This is about as far out as we can go to be able to protect everyone inside.”

“We heard shooting last night” said one young man. “We heard there were people killed too.”

“You heard correct. A gang of thugs tried a home invasion a few blocks over and they were stopped. Earlier, a member of the same gang attacked members of our group. They won’t hurt anyone again” Army stopped.

“How many people are in your group?” another guy asked.

It seemed harmless to me but Army replied “that’s classified. You’ll forgive me for not divulging information about our neighborhood.”

“How are you feeding yourselves?” he asked again. “We don’t have very much food here. If you have like 50 people, you gotta be feeding them something. Look at all of you. What is there, 4 of you?”

I looked around. Mandy had disappeared again, because she woulda been the fifth.

“You guys are eating.”

Army said, “yeah we’re eating. Do you think we weren’t prepared? Many of us have been storing food for years, and we were ready for something like this.”

He unshouldered his Ruger, and headed through the roadblock. We followed.

“This roadblock won’t stop us from walking through” said the guy.

Army stopped, turned around, and went right up to the guy and said “we have a curfew at night and armed patrols that walk this area all night and all day. At night, we don’t ask any questions; we just shoot. If you don’t believe me, take a walk down M street tomorrow and walk up to T street intersection so see what happens to people who break our laws” he  pointed towards where the burned bodies were.

Army turned and caught up with us. We heard footsteps and Mandy scampered up behind us, grinning as usual. We continued around the corner to the west to the next roadblock. There was nothing going on there, and we headed north toward HQ.

“At the other end of this street is one of our weak areas” Army said. “Martin street, where the deputy lives, is closed off from our part of the ‘hood. He has to either cut through a yard, or drive to M street and come up L. Q street, where Robby lives is another problem. I have an idea, but we’d have to block off that entire section behind Robby’s house, that would leave their back uncovered; the entire side of the street would be like that…unguarded on the back side. The “bad ‘hood” across the alley from them. We can’t possibly protect that side of the street. Most of those houses are inhabited too. It would be only a matter of time before the other guys figured out they could just climb fences to get into our ‘hood.”

“That would mean Robby and family would have to move” I said. “I’m not gonna tell ’em. Al here, he’s your man. He’s known Robby longer than any of us.” I went on. “Robby is not an unreasonable man. He’s just pussy-whipped.”

The crowd chuckled. “No offence Mandy” I told her.
“None taken” she said with a smirk.

“Robby’s wife is the one with the money in that family” I continued. “It’s Robby’s time to gird up his loins and take control. If he wants to live, then he’ll have to move. It’s too bad ’cause I really liked using his truck.”

“Well, Al. Looks like we’re leaving that to you…just pass the info along.” I looked at the rest of them. “We should inform the others on Q street of this. This is a dilemma, and maybe if those people put their heads together, they can figure something out themselves.”

“I guarantee you, the first thing that will happen is that he’s going to pull that damn pickup” Army said.

“The pickup isn’t his. It’s his brother’s and I think Beverly, his late brother’s wife, is the rightful owner of the truck” I said. “And she lives on our side of the ‘hood” I added.

“I’m not going to worry about the truck” I continued. “They may have to string barb wire across their fences or shore up their gates. Robby is not an idiot, if he can figure out a way, then we’ll all be better off.”

“What makes you say that?” said Army.

“Because he’ll spend his time guarding that row of houses, kids included and he’ll stay out of our hair. I didn’t even see him today…did anyone?”

“Maybe we should wander over and check to see if things are ok” I said, heading in that direction. “I’ll take Al and Mandy. I’ll radio if something’s wrong.”

“Wrong?” Jim said. “Like what?”

“Maybe the bad guys already got ’em” I answered as I headed toward Q street, with Al and Mandy right beside me.

CHAPTER TWENTY

We headed north and passed Jonas’s house. It was 5 blocks to Q street, where the roadblock blocked the north/south, but not Q street. Q street dead-ended at 17th, and went east to M street by the school.

We walked without talking. When we got close to Q, we walked on the east side of 17th. When we got to the corner house on Q and 17th, we hugged the wall and moved through the bushes. Peeking around the corner at Robby’s, I could see nothing out of the ordinary. I look behind, and Mandy was still with us. I crouched down and motioned them to do the same.

“If they have been breached, it’s more than likely from the alley side. I say we go to where we can see into the back, and observe.” Looking at Mandy I said “Are the houses on either side inhabited?”

“I’m pretty sure that the one on the west side is empty” she answered.

Looking at Al I asked him “do you know where Robby’s boy lives?”

Al answered “yeah, it’s like right across the street, and one house from the corner. His boy’s street hits Q from the south. His house is one over from the corner.”

“Al, I want you to walk on the south side of Q to monitor anything that might come out of Robby’s on the front. Mandy and I will go to Robby’s gate, the west neighbor’s if possible, to check out Robby’s back yard for visible damage or carnage. OK?”

They both nodded. Al moved east, and I went across the street to the house west of Robby’s. I got to the gate on the west side of the house. Mandy arrived seconds later. The gate was locked. I pointed to the east. I went first and ended up at Robby’s gate as there was no east gate at his neighbor’s. I reached the gate latch and it opened. Mandy showed up silently. We waited and listened for a minute. I thought I heard soft crying. I whispered to Mandy in her ear “do you hear that?”

She nodded and whispered “someone’s crying on the patio.”

I motioned for us to leave to the street under the big tree. We were met by Al. “Brent’s house is wide open. the garage, front door…wide open.”

I motioned for us to move across the street. I pulled the radio and called Army “Eagle 1 to RC. Emergency at Robby’s…get yourself in Mandymode.”

“10-4” was the response.

Army and Jim came up M street with the three sentries. We met them at the corner and explained the situation. “Is the gate locked?” Army asked me. I shook my head no.

“Ok. The only way in is the gate. It is imperative that we get into the back yard unnoticed.”
I interrupted “I could go around to M street, come up the alley to the back of the fence. I could see over and maybe create a little diversion so you could flank ’em. I didn’t look if there was a gate on the east side of Robby’s.”

“Jim” Army asked, and Jim was gone to check on the other gate.

“Bennie, you go around with Mandy to the alley” Army said.

Jim returned with “the east gate is unlocked but something smells bad over there…like rotting meat.”

“By the time you get there” he directed to me “we’ll be in position. If you can take someone out, do so, if you can’t, take a sky shot and run or hit the dirt. We’ll flank both sides and move from there. Sentries, I want you to blast the front door in, or one of the front windows to gain access through the front.”

“You know what?” I said “we have absolutely no idea what good guys are in there. Robby could have both son and daughter, spouses, sister-in-law, and Jenna.”

“Got a better idea?” Army asked. “That’s all I got.”

“I’ll go around the back and look over or through the fence” I said. “I’ll know what to do after that. If you hear shooting, back to plan A.” I looked at everyone. They all nodded.

I took off down the street, with Mandy close behind. I counted the houses. Fourth one from 17th. We went down the alley. It seemed brighter than the street. We passed the first house slowly…no lights on, no dogs. We passed the second house; again, silence. We got to the third house, and I could smell too, something was dead. Maybe just a possum. Mandy tapped me on the shoulder and wrinkled her nose and waved her hand under her nose. I nodded in agreement. We moved to Robby’s. The back gate was open slightly. We listened. Nothing. I moved to the opened gate. It was open at the wrong angle to see the patio. I stood up slowly to look over the fence…did I say s-l-o-w-l-y? Unbeknownst to me, Mandy got around behind me and opened the gate. She was on the ground. I stopped when my eyes were just above fence level and looked at the patio. Bodies everywhere. I walked around to the gate, and pulled the flashlight. I keyed the mic, “c’mon back RC.” In seconds both gates opened and the yard was filled with rifle wielding soldiers.

“Robby for sure here” I said. “That looks like Brent” there I motioned to another body. I looked around more. Brandi’s husband, but no Brandi, Margret, or Jenna…and no little girl. Brandi had a baby girl while back.

“Here!” said Army. He opened a storage closet off the side of the patio, and there was a little girl in it…very weak, but crying a little.

“Call Marie asap” I said. “There are missing women. These are all the men. I’m going in.” I slid open the patio door, it was unlocked. I went in, followed by Al. I heard what sounded like slapping noised like skin hitting skin. Mandy showed up behind us and was leading the three of us now. I stopped her with my hand on her shoulder, indicating where the bedrooms were. One; I pointed the right past the bottom of the stairs, which led to the loft. Al knew where the other was. I got at the foot of the stairs and started up. Mandy was ready, Al was at the door of the third bedroom.

I got about half way up the stairs and the next one creaked. Mandy opened her door, Al opened his. I ran up the rest of the stairs. I didn’t make it all the way up, because there was someone standing at the top holding a big knife. What’s with all the knives? It was a naked man with an erection. I fired from 4 steps down. The slug hit him right between the top of his thigh, and his left testicle. He screamed, doubled over, and began to fall down the stairs. I pumped and fired a OO round that hit him in the middle of his chest, which was about 4 feet from the end of the barrel. The screaming stopped, and he tumbled past me partway down the stairs. Jenna was screaming, and she was tied to the bed, stripped naked.

I heard Mandy’s BAR fire twice. I heard the AK fire three times.

I put the Mossberg down. “Jenna, it’s Bennie and Al. You’re safe now.”

She stopped screaming, and I pulled out the buck knife. “I’m going to cut you loose OK?”

She nodded and I did so. I walked to the stairs and turned to ask her, “do you need some help getting up?”

She shook her head no. I dragged dickless the rest of the way down the stairs. Mandy came out struggling with the body of a big, naked man.

Al too was successful in killing the third assailant.

I opened the front door and dragged dickless into the yard and out into the street.

By now, there was commotion. Jim, Army and the sentries were inside helping to drag out the bodies. Marie had gotten Army’s car and had just arrived.

“What killed the men?” I asked Army since he had an eye for details.

“Two gunshots to the back of the head…all three of them.”

“Show Marie where the baby is” I pointed to Army. He directed her into the kitchen where the little girl was. She was sitting up now, drinking some water. I think she was about two…maybe a little more. In two minutes, Marie and the baby were best friends. She took the baby out into the front. Someone had shown up with the pickup.

Jenna came downstairs, and met Brandi. They hugged and cried. Margret came out too and joined her mother-in-law and sister-in-law.

The guys loaded the bodies into the pickup.

Marie walked back up to the door with the baby. The other women must have thought the baby had been dead, because yet another chorus of crying began.

“You ladies come with me” Marie said to them. “We have a little hospital around the corner. All of you need something to eat and drink and medical attention. Let’s go.” She headed toward the car with the baby and the other women followed. They all piled into the Mustang, and Marie sped off to the infirmary.

I walked over to the truck with the bodies. “Anybody know these assholes?” I asked, directing my question at no one in particular.

No one spoke.

“Let’s get the IDs, and hold them for the deputy” I added. “We’ll burn these assholes later. Let’s take care of our friends first. Get a hold of Frank and ask him if he’ll dig a grave for these men. We’ll just bury them in the back yard. Is everyone OK with that?”

Everyone nodded. “Wow. Father, son, son-in-law…all dead. Hey, wasn’t there another son? I’m sure there was.”
I went back into the house and started calling for him “Darren, Darren, it’s OK, you can come out now. I checked closets, under the beds, everywhere I could think of. No one else home.

“Maybe he’s at the other house. Isn’t that his brother’s house across the street?” Army asked.

“Yep” I said as I headed over. I heard the backhoe coming down the street.

I walked into the front door at Brent’s calling for Darren. I checked all over, told him who I was. Nothing. I looked into the garage. Welding equipment; ox-acetylene welder, and a nice arc welder. I saw a shadow moving towards me and I ducked.

“Darren, stop. It’s OK. You’re safe now. Your mom, sister, sister-in-law, and niece are fine. Remember me? I’m a friend of your dad’s.”

He put down the board. “My dad and brother are dead aren’t they?” he asked.

“I’m sorry, Darren. Your Dad, your brother, and your brother-in-law were all good and brave men. Let’s go. Marie took all the ladies to the infirmary for medical attention. The rest of us are going to bury the men now. We’ll have a service for them tomorrow. OK?”

We walked across the street to the rest of the guys. The backhoe was operating full speed, and well over halfway done.

“Hey, you found him!” Army exclaimed when he saw us. He shook Darren’s hand and said “How’re you doin’ Darren? Are you injured in any way?”

Darren shook his head and said “I’m not hurt.”

I gave him the rest of my water.

“What happened to the guys that killed my family?” he asked me.

“Those guys won’t ever hurt anyone again” I told him. “We’re going to take them down the street to the ‘burning field’ where we’ll burn them. We’ll probably talk to the deputy tomorrow to file a report.”
“I want to go” he said “to watch them burn.”

“Sure, you can go.” I pulled out the radio. You guys get the truck through the gate yet?” I asked them.

“We’re on our way” they said.

“Stop on Q street” I started “I have another hand for you.”

I pointed down the street to M, and Darren was already on his way.

Frank was getting handy with the backhoe. He finished, and we put the three bodies in and covered them.

Darren came back with the sentries, and we had just finished the grave.

“Are you going to stay at your brother’s tonight?” I asked Darren “or would you like to come home with us?….Know what? You just come on with us. We’ll feed you and find a place for you to sleep. We’ll have a nice breakfast, and then we’ll go say good-bye to your Dad and brother. Let’s go.”

He didn’t fight it. Good. I wouldn’t want him to off himself after all this. He needs to be around some people right now, and not necessarily his mom and sister.

“Go and lock up Brent’s house, and we’ll lock down this one for now.” I walked back to Robby’s house and told Army, “well, I guess that nails the case on how secure this last line of houses is” as I shut the door.

“No shit” he said.

We gathered up everyone who was left, and headed back to HQ. We had some leftover chicken and beans. Darren ate well, and Army brought some Crown which we allowed Darren to partake a couple of shots.

“If Jenna catches you guys giving him liquor, she’s gonna have a conniption fit” said Marie walking up. “She’s on her way.”

“If she needs to be handled, I’ll handle her” I told Marie and took a swig of the smooth Canadian whiskey and passed it. Darren refused any more.

“I don’t see how you guys drink that stuff” he said.

“You’re only 18” I said. “Drinking straight whiskey is an acquired taste, and it don’t get no better than this.”

Al, Jim, Army all nodded to that.

Then Jenna, Margret, and Brandi walked up. Some of the guys got up and offered their chairs. Marie brought out some more. “Marie” I asked her. “Would you help me make some lemonade for these ladies?”

“Sure” she answered and we went inside.

“You’re not going to give them moonshine? after what they’ve been through?” she whispered loudly.

“You damn right I’m giving them moonshine. They’ll thank me for this someday.”

She had already moved to the juicer and I had the sugar and the shine. It didn’t take long before we had 3 nice lemonades.

We brought them outside and handed them to the ladies. “Here ya go” I said. “This will help you feel better.”

They were all thanking and sipping and nodding in approval. “This is so good’ and “I’d love the recipe” they went on.

Jim leaned over to me and said “See…what you started?”

“For medicinal purposes only” I replied.

“So Marie, how’s the little one?” I asked.

Marie answered “oh, she’ll be fine. She was just a little dehydrated. She’s napping now.”

“Aww that’s great” I said. “I’m glad she’s okay.”

“She probably would have died another few hours in that closet if you guys had not come along” Jenna said.

“It wasn’t all guys” I said. “Mandy was with us too.”

“Oh yes, we’ve met Mandy, and she has shared some of her experiences with us and how she dealt with it” said Brandi.

“Mandy? You’ve already met her?” I exclaimed. “Man, I love that girl. She is everywhere, all the time, and she always has a smile on her face. She can move through dry grass like the camel’s footsteps on the sands of the desert. She can move out of and into the light like a ninja. She can pounce like a panther when need be, and she shoots better than any man here. We even have a new term; Mandymode, which means stealth mode, Mandy style.”

Most everyone was chuckling at the metaphors I was making…even the lemonade drinkers. It was working. They had their glasses half way gone and were still slugging it down.

“When can I try some moonshine?” Mandy walked around to get in front and look me in the eye.

“If you want moonshine, then I can’t stop you” I told her. “The deputy’s wife wants to meet you anyway, and she might give you a glass. Just don’t be armed when you do.”

Jenna said “we’re drinking moonshine? You guys gave us moonshine?”

“Yep” I answered. “Ain’t it great? We just put a little” I held my thumb and index finger indicating a little. “Trust me, it will help you sleep.”

“Jim and I got caught by surprise about twelve hours ago, thinking those huge glasses were lemonade. We were staggering when we got home.”

“Don’t forget the singing” said Marie.

“We weren’t singing” I said.

“I can’t sing” said Jim.

“Well, both of you were singing loudly, and very much out of key” said Marie.

Jim and I looked at each other. “We don’t even know any songs” I said.

“I didn’t say you were making much sense, nor did I say you sang well. I merely said you were singing the same song together, and then laughing and laughing. Then you would sit on the sidewalk for a few minutes, help each other up, and sing again. Over and over and over.

“What were we singing? Or do I want to know?” I asked.

“That song from Heehaw” Marie said.

Gloom, despair, and agony on me

Deep dark depression, excessive misery

If it weren’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all

Gloom, despair, and agony on me.

The entire crowd on the patio was breaking apart with laughter. Jim and I had tears in our eyes, just imagining what we looked like staggering down the street, in the middle of the day, knee walking drunk, singing…

End of Day Two

CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE

I actually got up early the following morning. I was always kind of funny that way; whenever there was a dreaded job to be done, my internal alarm clock always got me up early. I started some bacon on the Coleman stove, and had what looked like the last of the eggs ready for scrambling in another pan. I started the Volcano stove to heat the cast iron to make toast as well as start the first pot of coffee.

Funny too, as the food started coming together ready, that folks began to wake up around the house, the deputy showed up, and the Sirens (Jenna, Margret, and Brandi) all trickled in for some breakfast. Darren appeared also, so we began to recap from yesterday, and plan for today.

“Good morning ladies” I said to the Sirens.

Some mumbling that sounded like good morning in return.

“This is Deputy” I stopped “I don’t know your name” I said to the Deputy.

He was taking a drink of coffee and waved me off. “Alan Sharpe” he stood up and offered his hand to the Sirens. They had brought the little one as well, and I noticed Marie had brought her some Cheerios and bag juice.

Deputy directed his conversation to the Sirens as he poured them some coffee. “My very sincerest condolences for what you ladies had to go through yesterday.” He paused and looked at them with a genuine look of concern. They nodded in acknowledgement in a friendly way.

“I would like to talk to you about what happened so I can file a report with the county. The county will investigate the histories of these criminals and get back to me. I just need you to corroborate what I have so far.” He got up and led them inside to the den where there was a little more privacy for their discussion.

Darren was eating some toast, and decided to go in also.

George and Gina showed up with Fred and Sandy. More coffee on the way. I gave up my chair and grabbed my coffee while lighting up a smoke. Army showed up with Jim with some tacos which they placed on the table.

“What’s on the agenda for today, boss?” Army asked me.

“I was planning to have a service for Robby and his family first thing this morning.” I went on “I told George I’d help him load some firewood from various houses and bring it to the food bank for distribution. I also wanted to look at a generator they found, and see if it works. If it does, I’d like to connect a fridge to it and keep what’s left of our cold stuff cold, and maybe make some ice. After that, I was going to look into some solar panels that were at an abandoned home and see if that’s working. If so, I’d like to begin removing some car batteries for charging with the solar panels. I have a set of panels to to set up and begin charging the batteries. I told Marie I would yank a row of the LEDs from the solar panel house and put the in the infirmary exam room with a battery and inverter.”

I paused. “That’s what’s on my plate for now.”

“Sheesh!” Army said. “See you tomorrow.”

The crowd laughed.

“Oh by the way, remind me to talk to Darren about working with Walter the chemist. Darren has some experience working in a lab environment, and Walter indicated he needed an assistant” I said to Army.

“After what happened last night” I started “there were how many of us at Robby’s? Seven at one point? That’s a huge reduction in perimeter defense.”

Army interrupted “I see where this is going and Jim and I were discussing it on the way over. We’ll need more guys to walk patrol…every shift…every day. We’ll need more men.”

“Perhaps just more volunteers” I added.

“We’ll talk later” he said. I got up when the Sirens came out with Darren.

“I thought we’d have a service for the men this morning” I told them.

“We need to tell Beverly” Jenna said.

“Of course” I concurred. “Do you need a ride over to her house?”

Army said “You gals get in the Mustang and we’ll go get Beverly.”

They all headed to the street and got into the Mustang. “We’ll meet you at your house in a few minutes” I said to Jenna.

She nodded and they drove off.

I went inside and announced to the house what was going on. We all headed to Robby’s, and there were several people there when we arrived. I opened the side gate and we all went in to the back yard. The Sirens showed up a few minutes later, and I began.

“We are here today to pay our last respects to three brave men; fathers, husbands, brothers, and sons, all of them. I didn’t know Brent or Roy well, but I knew Robby for over 30 years and he was my friend, and I don’t have very many. May you rest in peace, gentlemen. Your families will be taken care of.”

I stepped back and others stepped up to say their peace. The Sirens were all sobbing, and I may have even shed a tear myself.

The service ended after maybe a half hour or so and we sang “Abide In Me” to close.

I walked over to Marie and said “you need to talk them into moving into our area where it’s safer” I told her.

“That won’t be easy” she replied. “They lived in this house for over 30 years.”

“I know” and I continued, “and the house is full of memories of what happened yesterday. Let’s remove these ladies from those memories…I’ll stay out of it, but we can’t protect them way over here. I leave it to you. I have a full day, and then some. I know it’s hard for you too.” I kissed her on the cheek and went in to give my respects to the Sirens. They all hugged and kissed me and thanked me and Army and Jim and Mandy and they cried the whole time.

“Ladies” I started. “I beg you to consider moving into an empty home closer to us, where we can protect you.” I held each of their hands to show my sincerity while I looked them in the eye. “We are more than willing to help move your stuff out…just let someone know, and we’ll make the arrangements..OK?”

They all stopped crying, and they nodded. I went out and was met by the deputy.

“Can we talk?” he asked.

“Sure” I said. He motioned for Army and Jim to walk along.

“Those guys who did this were from the prison north of Edinburg” he started. “The prison opened their doors and let everyone go. My guess is that most of them will be heading this direction. These guys were murdering thieves…all of them. Two of them were lifers. They probably knew someone in the neighborhood or why would they have made a beeline here?”

“That would make sense to me” I said. “Perhaps they knew Robby’s family or they worked for them at one time. Their business doesn’t require folks with shining records.”

The deputy nodded and motioned for us to walk along with him further from the house. Army told him about the weapons find.

CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO

Army and the deputy had a lot of discussion on the AKs and the deputy seemed to think he didn’t want to know about them, since now we were almost better armed than the sheriff’s department.

“I’ve got something for you as promised” he went on. “Let’s go to my place.”

“Can I come too?” asked Mandy. No one had seen her sidle up beside the group.

“See what I mean?” I said to the deputy. I introduced them.

“Well little lady, I have certainly heard a lot of good things about you” said Alan.

Mandy smiled ear to ear as she shook his hand. We walked out to M street, then over to Martin, and we turned up towards the deputy’s house. “Please, no shine today deputy. Jim and I are still livin’ down yesterday’s drunken trek back to the house.”

The deputy smiled and said “I always thought it was Doom, despair, and agony on me, not gloom.”

“Oh geez” I said rolling my eyes and looking up at nothing. “Will this ever end?”

The rest of the group laughed. “I’d still like to try some” said Mandy.

The deputy said, there’s lemonade for those of you who’d like to try it” as we arrived at the door and entered his home.

Carla was waiting again with drinks on a tray. Jim and I looked at each other. She offered drinks to all. I responded “please make mine with no alcohol this morning.” I emphasized morning.

Carla laughed and said, “I’m really sorry I snuck that in on you. These are alcohol free, but I can add some for those of you who’d like some.”

Mandy raised her hand and I added “please a little for my friend Army here.”

Carla did so and we enjoyed the drinks while the deputy talked. “Did you notice the water tank on the trailer outside?”

“I honestly didn’t because I was thinking about the lemonade” I said.

“Ditto” said Jim, and we all laughed.

“Ok then, that water tank is yours, and the trailer too” said the deputy. It’s capacity is 500 gallons and if you do the math that’s 4000 lbs of water plus a little extra. I was also able to get you a hand pump that mounts on top of it. It also has various sizes of spigots that you install when you’re ready to drain it.”

“I’m sure I speak for all the community when I say ‘thanks'” I said to the deputy. “We’re sure going to need it.” I took a drink.

I was watching Army and Mandy sip their drinks. Army’s was half gone already. He caught me looking and said “what? you guys got sloshed on this?”

“It has a delayed reaction” I said. “Plus, I think that Carla had more in ours” I added looking at her. She shook her head no.

Mandy had a huge grin on her face. Lightweight.

“I’ve got something else for you too” said the deputy. ” A Barrett model 82A1 .50 caliber rifle with a scope and bi pod. I also got 4 magazines and 500 rounds of ammo.”

Army said “I’ve shot those. They are not as accurate as a Robar .50; but then the Robar is bolt action where the 82A1 is semi-auto” as he took another swig.

“Exactly” said the deputy. “You know your way around the big guns it sounds like. I was able to convince my superiors that this gun would help keep a group of 75 or so people alive. I had to convince them that the group was responsible. I did that by turning in my reports on what kind of stuff you had run into the first couple of days into this thing, and how you handled it. I have it in the other room. It comes with a case too. The SWAT guys have shot it at 200 yards and say it will shoot a 2 1/2″ group.”

I didn’t know what to say, as I had no idea on .50 specs, so I kept my mouth shut and sipped my lemonade.

“I’ve shot a few 50 cals myself” said Jim “the Barrett, Robar, Beowulf, and some others. They all have their ups and downs. One would need a nest, but the 82A1 does have a carrying handle on them. I believe they weigh about 29 lbs or so? If you’re carrying ammo and mags, you’ve got a load if you’re moving around a lot….and one shouldn’t have to be moving if one is hitting the target.”

“Good point” I said. “Army and I discussed this yesterday, I believe we left off with me saying that I wasn’t going to interfere.”

“Interfere with what?” asked the deputy.

Army chimed in “Bennie’s worried that if Mandy is as good a shot as we all know she is, she would be our most formidable weapon. In theory and practice, a good sniper can keep the enemy away up to a mile. Why would the enemy mess with a group that had a sniper that could kill up to a mile out? Answer: they won’t mess with that group…or, Bennie’s’ thought was that the bandits would make a point to go after the sniper first, at all costs. With the sniper out of the way, the bandits could get closer for their attack…something like that.”

The deputy looked at me and, after some careful thought, said “the only thing you’ve overlooked in your theory is that by the time the said sniper takes out 100 bandits, they have 100 less…that’s a lot of manpower to lose and they can’t recover that quickly. And we all know you’ve kinda taken her under your wing.”
“Hell” I said “she saved my life twice in three days!” I looked at her, and she had the same grin on her face. “How’s the lemonade, Mandy?” I asked her.

She just moved her eyes towards me and said “delayed reaction, yes.” She had finished her drink, and put her hand over her mouth, and let out a small burp.

“Army how are you feeling?” I asked.

“Ok, now I feel like singing” he replied in all seriousness.

We all had a chuckle over that one.

“Well guys, I’ve got a lot on my plate today, and that doesn’t include going out looking for more guys.”

“What do you mean?” asked the deputy.

“The incident last night pulled 7 or 8 of folks away from key positions around the neighborhood” I answered. “A diversion with that kind of response by us in the future could result in serious compromises in our security. I agreed with Army; we need more men to walk perimeter, and we’ll need to discuss moving our perimeter inward as we cannot protect the border we have now.”

“What do you need to make this happen?” asked the deputy.

Silence. Army spoke up “we’re not done looking at our options yet.”

“Very well then” said the deputy. “You know where to find me.” He got up and went to the other room and returned with a large case, handing it to Jim. “Don’t let this fall into enemy hands he said.”

We all got up, and I helped Mandy up, and I relieved her of her weapon. “Let’s go home” and she just smiled and nodded.

We headed out the back across the yard, through Jim’s yard and out onto L street, where Mandy and I turned towards Al’s house.

“I’ll drop her off, and then I’m going to help George with that generator”I said as I walked beside the slightly staggering Mandy.

“I’ll be up shortly” Jim said. “If that thing works, I have a huge deep freeze with lots of stuff already in it.”
“OK, let me know” I said as we continued towards Al’s. Mandy was a little shaky but didn’t require being helped. We went around the back of the house, and she went inside to the couch and laid down, and I’m sure she was asleep by the time her head touched the pillow.

“Another victim of the shine?” quizzed Marie.

“She’s an adult” I answered. “Probably never been drunk in her life. Then all the ribbing you guys dished out yesterday made her curious. She’ll be fine in a couple of hours. I’m going to George’s” and I headed back out the door and towards the front.

George had the truck and I hopped in and we took off toward Jim’s. We met him coming up the street and he hopped in.

We found several homes that had firewood and it turned out to be more than a pickup load. We offloaded it on George’s driveway, and filled up again.

After that, we went to the house where the generator was.

“Holy crap!” I said. “That’s a 10000 watt generator!”

“So?” said George.

“If this works, we can run probably 3-4 refrigerators and freezers at the same time…and it’s a Generac…one of the best. It is an old one though, which is what we’re looking for these days.”

I pulled the fuel cap off, the gas smelled old. “Bring that gas can we brought” I asked Jim, and he retrieved it and we added the entire can. George and I wheeled the big fella out closer to the driveway, but still in the shade. I popped the carb bowl off to drain out some of the gas until it had the fresher gas coming out. I slid the bowl back on, turned on the choke and pulled the starter. It fired up on the second pull. We let it run for a couple minutes, then shut her down.

“We should change the oil before we put it to work” I suggested. The three of us loaded it into the pickup, and drove it to George’s, and unloaded it in the driveway. “It’ll have to go on the west side of the house between yours and the end one. It shouldn’t get much direct afternoon sun there. We may need some plywood or something to put it on, and maybe rig up an awning of some type if it rains.”
“I’ve got some 30W oil” Jim said as he headed down the street. “I’ll be back.”

He returned with the oil and George had gotten some really nice heavy extension cords. I added the oil, and filled the tank up. “We’re going to need some gasoline here at all times” I said to George. this tank holds 9 gallons, and will probably run 8 hours depending on the load. Let’s go find some fridges!”

George said “there’s one here with food in it.”

“Then run a cord to it” I said. In your searches yesterday, did you find homes with fridges with cold food still in them? If so, now is the time to gather it up and get it here.”

“Jim has a deep freeze full of stuff. Get your fridge hooked up and come on down and help us move his freezer.”

George nodded and went inside. We went to Jim’s. I hadn’t been inside before. The freezer was in his garage. It musta been 8 feet long. “Now that’s a deep freeze” I exclaimed.

Jim pulled out a couple of low boy dollies to load it on, and we waited for George. “I wonder how Army survived the moonshine?” I said getting up to peek over at his house. I walked to the edge of the driveway and looked in his garage. He was asleep on his chair, holding his Ruger.

Make fun of me? HA!

I heard George coming so I went next door and helped them load the freezer onto the dollies. We pushed the unit up the street and into George’s garage. He had a cord waiting, and plugged it in. We heard the generator slow a little and it took on the extra load.

“This is great!” I said. “I think we could easily add one more unit. Hopefully, one that’s close. If you can’t, I have a small deep freeze at home, that we could get…just sayin’. Go to empty homes and pull their fridge stuff. Check with Marie so to fill up your fridge as much as possible. We should maximize our efficiency by keeping these full.”

George headed out with Gina to round up some cold food.

We three just kinda stood there for a while looking at the freezer, and listening to the sound of the generator.

Jim said, “Dinner this evening is on me” and he opened his freezer and removed some large packages of meat. “Still frozen” he said. “T-bones” he said.

I must have been smiling because he smiled without saying a word. “I’ve got some cold homebrew we could have with those my good friend” I told him.

“I was counting on it” he replied and we headed to Al’s.

I added “we still have that brew we got from Sam’s too. It should still be cold.”

“Gifts from Jim” I told Marie as I laid the steaks on the table by the back door. The packages were big enough that they looked like roasts. Mandy was still crashed. I could smell pintos cooking.

“What time?” she asked without realizing it. “Never mind” she said quickly with a smile. “The beans won’t be ready for a few hours yet.”

“It’s not even noon yet, is it?” I said. These will be for dinner. We found a working generator and got a couple of fridges going. If you want something kept cold, we’ll take it to George’s for you.”

She went right to the freezer and opened it. “Everything in here can go” she said digging out a box from the laundry room.

“And it’s past noon” she added.

We filled it and hauled it to George’s where others had brought stuff to keep cold. We stuffed Jim’s freezer to the max and closed it.

“Jim” I said “you know that pretty much the food here in the food bank is for public use…you understand. George makes the rules, but if you want it locked or something, better say so now.”

“I understand” he said. “I won’t say anything, I won’t lock it, and he probably won’t take from it.”

More people were gathering bringing food. A line had formed and I announced “we’re going to be bringing another fridge. Does anyone have a large refrigerator they want to donate to the food bank?” I asked in general. A lot of people murmured at the same time. “Just take a tape measure, and measure length times width times height, and that will give you the capacity of the fridge. The largest one is the one we’ll use, if we don’t need the one across the street. Jim and I are going across the street to check out the fridge…since it is very close, it will be less work obviously to push it across the street, instead of across the neighborhood. It’s been a long day already.”

“What did you do today, Bennie” asked one guy I didn’t know. “Get drunk again?” he laughed.

“Step forward, if you have any balls!” I yelled out.

“What’re you gonna do?” he asked “shoot me?”

“The last person to come through a crowd at me is dead. Shut the hell up or step forward!”

I saw Jim walk up behind the guy and force him through the crowd until he was in front of me.

A couple days without law and order, and I’ve got a reputation of being a killer. This guy was obviously scared.

“What’s your name?” I demanded.

“Not tellin'” he answered. Jim yanked his wallet and threw it to me.

“Hey” he yelled “you can’t do that!”

I held up his id. “You’re in some trouble now, boy. You don’t even live in this area. Someone bring me the census!” I heard scrambling and I think it was H that ran to the house. “Reginald, huh? His id says he’s from that neighborhood behind Lowe’s. You know, the gated subdivision where all the homes have those tile roofs? Where all the rich people live?”

She came back panting…”Thank you” I said to her. “Please go through the list and see if he’s there.”

“I know he’s not on the list. I remembered everyone on it” she said.

“Well, well, well. Trespassing too. Does anyone here vouch for this clown?” I asked the crowd. “Has anyone seen him before the past few minutes?” No one spoke.

“Do you know what they call me?” I asked him.

“No” was all he said.

“This guy is not one of us” I said to the crowd. “He’s a spy sent in from outside to gather information about our group. Is there anyone here who does not see that?”

No one spoke.

He was sobbing now.

“We have learned the hard way, that we cannot trust anyone outside of our group” I went on.

“I’ll tell you what I did today shitferbrains. I shot a man’s dick off while he was raping a woman early this morning. The other two in my squad killed two more men raping women. Then we had funeral service for my friend, his son, and his son-in-law who were executed by the three dead men. My friends left behind 3 widows and a little girl who will not have a father. Then I met with the deputy about what was happening. Then I gathered firewood from some of the homes, and brought it to the food bank. Then we loaded up an old generator, brought it to the food bank, got it running, and now the folks that live and work here can have fresh food. We then connected the fridge at the food bank to the generator. Then we brought a deep freeze from a man’s garage down the street that was full of food. Now, everyone is bringing food to store in the fridge. Then, we found a spy. What have you done?”

His eyes went wide after the part about shooting off a man’s privates.

I let that sink in to everyone. “What shall we do with him? The knowledge he has will be useful for another group to gather information about how we operate here, hence making us more vulnerable to an attack. We cannot let him go…anywhere. Jim, search him.”

He did and the guy didn’t like it one bit. Jim pulled a radio out of his pocket…like ours. “Sure looks like a spy to me,” Jim said holding up the radio.

“Check the frequency it’s set to” I requested.

“It’s set to ours” he said.

“Does anyone here doubt that this person is spying on us?” I asked.

No one spoke.

“The penalty for treason is death” I said.

“You can’t shoot me for this” he said.

“I’ll shoot you because I don’t like your attitude.” I pulled the .44 out, shoved it to his face just above his nose. Then I cocked it. Jim let him go and stepped back. The crowd silently moved back. The guy peed in his pants. He must have been holding it a while, because there was a lot of pee.

“I say we waste ’em. Any objections?” I asked, looking around. Most of the crowd seemed horrified. “Better back away some more. It’s going to be messy.” The crowd complied, yet no one said anything.

I released the hammer, and holstered the .44. “I got a better idea” I said. “Let’s take him for a drive up towards Edinburg, and let him out….after dark.”

One of the patrols walked up “No, he must die. He’ll tell anyone what he knows, and we’ll have everyone out there trying to get to us…anyway they can. I know that and you know that. If we take him up to north of Edinburg, this place will be crawling with felons by tomorrow afternoon. We’ll take care of him.” They each grabbed an arm, and led him away.

I shrugged, looked at Jim and said “I gotta go across the street and see about the solar panels. We could see what kind of fridge they have…if it’s a nice sized one, we could just bring that one over…it could have food in it as well” I said heading across the street and Jim followed.

The fridge in that house was awesome; a stainless steel job, musta been 25 cubic feet…probably energy efficient too. We opened the freezer, and our mouths watered immediately…like a side of beef…steaks, roast, ground beef, several pounds of frozen bacon, chicken and sausage.

“I thought George and Gina had gone through this home?” I said, a little surprised.

“Let’s get some help and move this bitch” I said. It had in ice maker too with ice. “Dig around and see if you find an ice chest, while I recruit some bodies, and I’ll bring the dollies back. We may have to empty the fridge side.”

I looked in the fridge side, and mouth must been open because Jim said, “what did you find now? a freezer full of beer?” He walked over and sure enough, several cases of beer; still cold.

I closed the door, and stood with my back to the fridge. “Of course the right thing to do is to share the beer with the group.”

Jim tossed the ice chest to the floor, and we loaded maybe a case of assorted beers in it, and put most of the ice on top of it.

“How were you planning to smuggle that past the crowd?” he asked.

“Smuggle in plain sight sir. I’ll just haul the whole thing over to the house for the steak dinner. We still won’t say no to anyone will we?” I said. I shoved the ice chest out into the garage where a couple more guys were standing.

“C’mon in” I said motioning them inside. Jim was unloading beers onto the counter. He passed out some Paulaner Hefewizen. No one refused. We all slammed down a beer. Just ‘ahhhhhhhs’ were heard.

“What’s on the other side?” one of the guys asked.

“A side of beef” I said as we lifted the monster fridge onto the dollies.

We pushed it across the street and connected it to the generator. Its tone went down further, but did not indicate that it was going to die. I checked the load limit on the Generac. It was at 75% load.

“That’s probably about it for units on this generator. Any more and we could fry the generator itself.” I paused then continued. “If we could come up with some insulation, we could insulate these, and rotate maybe three more units, once these get cold.”

“Good idea Bennie” said Jim. I’ll see if I can round up some insulation.”

I went back across the street to look at the solar panels. I had forgotten about the beer we left on the counter, so I hauled it back across the street; a case at a time and put it all back into the monster fridge.

I returned to complete my original task to examine this guy’s solar panel charging setup.

He had 6 double panels. They looked very clean. They were connected through some very heavy duty wires to a shed close by. It was padlocked. I keyed the radio. “Eagle 1 to RC.”

A few seconds later, a sleepy voice said “go ahead.”

“D-Did I wake ya?” I unkeyed the mic because I was snickering to myself.

“Oh, you’re a riot” he said. “Patrol one was just here with their prisoner. We’ll lock him up until dark, then he’ll join the others.”

“Works for me. By chance, do you have a pair of bolt cutters?” I asked him.

“Yup. Come and get ’em” he replied. I was already heading down the street. Lots of people were bringing stuff to the bank to put into the fridge. I arrived at Army’s and he had the bolt cutters in hand.

“If you’re breaking and entering, I wanna go to” he said with a smile.

“We only met a few days ago, and you know me so well” I smiled back as we walked back up the street.

“What did you find?” he asked.

“You mean, ‘what did I miss’?” I laughed. “That’s good shit isn’t it?

“I now fully understand why you and Jim were singing drunken songs yesterday, and let’s let it go OK?”

I answered “That might be a problem. Mandy is still passed out and I’m still getting eye darts when I walk by Marie.”

I continued “Army, Jim and I got the generator running. It’s a big one; 10000 watt. We’ve got 3 fridges/freezers on it now at the food bank. We used the fridge that was already there, and we brought Jim’s monster deep freeze up also. We found a fridge across the street; a nice energy efficient one that has a side of beef in it and the fridge side was full of beer. That’s where we’re going to cut the padlock off the shed. The cables from the solar panel go inside there.

“You boys have been busy this afternoon” he said as he entered the house.

“Beer?” I asked.

He looked at me like I lost my mind. “A little hair of the dog, Army?” I asked as I went into the garage and pulled one of those mighty fine wheat beers out and handed it to him.

“Why not?” he said. I pulled another for myself and we drank those heading into the back yard towards the shed.

“Hold this” he said handing me his beer and he chopped the padlock off.

“Looks like you’ve done this before” I told him, handing him his beer.

“Once or twice” he said, then took a long draw from the beer.

I opened the door. It was one of those barn like sheds, and the door swung outward.

The inside of the door was lined with some type of metal siding. The shed faced west, which gave us nice light inside. There were a series of batteries attached to the cables from the panels. There were extra batteries as well. It seemed a nice setup. There was some kind of a regulator between the batteries and the cables I was guessing as the charge light was not on. I guessed the batteries were fully charged.

“Still want those car batteries?” Army asked.

“I’ll let you know” I said slowly. “Look” I pointed to the corner to something that had been carefully wrapped in what looked like foil or reflective material. Army investigated and discovered another generator.

“Damn!” I exclaimed. “If that thing runs, we just might make it through the summer.” I helped him get it to the door. It wasn’t as big as the other one, but it was on pneumatic tires. We wheeled it across the yard and through the house and into the garage. I opened the gas tank. Brand new, never been used.

I looked up at Army and said “a very nice setup of solar charging system…12 deep cycle batteries, a super efficient refrigerator, and a generator wrapped in a Faraday cage. This guy was a full fledged prepper, Army. I’ll bet you my bottle of shine that this guy has prepping supplies all over this house. Freeze dried food, probably firearms and ammunition…this could be a gold mine. I wonder if the solar panels and inverters still work…EMP and all.”

We opened the garage door, and headed across the street to George’s with our surprise. There was quite a crowd trying to stuff the fridges. They all stopped talking when we approached.

“We have good new folks” I said. “We found another generator and can probably run two more refrigerators or deep freezes. Who would like to donate theirs? We’ll need the biggest ones we can get. You all compare, measure your fridges, talk to George and we’ll make arrangements asap to get them here and operational…remember, this is a donation to the bank. No one is turned down here, and all of you know by now that there is no one more fair than George. Jim, do you have any more oil? We probably should see if this runs before we ask these good people to bring their refrigerators.”

“Yep” Jim said. “How much do you need?’

“Hey, you didn’t ask me that last time.” I said while he was heading down the street. I walked over to the gas can stash and filled the tank while we were waiting for Jim. Army was watching me.

“This is a smaller unit” I was telling him. “7500 watt, still no sissy though. I would think we could run two units off this. The gas capacity is lower and it may require refilling twice as much as the big one. The big one will maybe last 8 hours on a full tank. That’s 9 gallons, 3 times a day. 27 gallons of gas per day…everyday. That’s going to drain the tanks around here pretty fast. The other generator only has a 4 gallon tank, and may take as many as 5 refills a day, so an extra twenty for a total of 47 gallons of gas per day to run 5 refrigerators. That’s a lot of gas just to keep…”
“For 75 people” Army interrupted. “It may well be worth the gas usage to keep some folks half-way thinking there are still some comforts.”

“I hear that” I said. “I’d be lying if I told you that I didn’t enjoy fresh meat and eggs.”

Jim came up with the oil, and we installed it, and cranked up the unit. Purred like a kitten as they say.

“Ok, I’m done here except if we need to pull a fridge over.” I said. “Make sure there is gas for the tractor and the vehicles or this is all for naught.”

“Agreed” and they both nodded.

“Our next project is the water tank” I started again. “We are going to be in serious shape here before too long without fresh water. “I’m up for any ideas you might have” I said. “We cannot drill a well, we all know that, and we have no sources for fresh water except the river…” I looked at them and they rolled their eyes and shook their heads. “Exactly” I went on. “It’s a ways away, and we’d have to spend days filtering it at the risk of getting killed just to go get it. Right now, we’re at the mercy of mother nature. I have no idea what our current fresh water supply is, but I do have an idea that might help.”

I could see that this got their attention. “I saw on one of the census sheets that one of the guys out here worked for the city utility department.”

“Go on” said Army.

“You guys familiar with those pipes that go across the ditch between the neighborhoods? I asked. They shook their heads. “When Al and I were young, we used to go to the ditch every Saturday morning with out pellet guns, and shoot stuff. Mostly minnows and tadpoles, and once in a while a carp. The storm sewers from all the streets dump the water from the street gutters into the ditch. That’s where all the water comes from. There are pipes that come across the ditches from one neighborhood to the other. If those pipes are fresh water pipes, we could tap into them and use that water. Also, and I just thought of this, everyone with a water heater can use that water. Most have standard water hose attachments at the bottom to drain them. Yeah, I know, the water can get that buildup of shale in the bottom…I think the water is safe to drink…at least one could wash hands or clothes or bathe with it.”

“So why do you need to talk to the city guy? To make sure that those are fresh water pipes and not sewer pipes?”asked Jim.

“That’s correct” I answered.

“There’s a lot of pools in the neighborhood” Army added.

“From everything I’ve read,” I began “swimming pool water cannot be treated successfully to be drinkable. One can distill pool water, but one cannot live on distilled water. However, we can still filter the pool water, and I’ll volunteer to test it.”

We all thought for a moment. “We should have a plan in place now for water collection, even it’s just rain gutters into a funnel.”

“Yes, but we can’t drink that without treating it” Jim piped in.

“That’s true, and I have at least two ways to treat and/or filter it. Obviously, one would have to coarse filter it, you know, to keep out leaves, and grit from the roof and bugs and such. After that, we can use bleach. I have enough concentrated granular chlorine to treat like 200,000 gallons of water.”

“You ever drank water that was bleached to sanitize it? Army asked.

“No, but I do have like 40 lbs of Tang, Gatorade, and the like to help make it taste better” I replied.

“And the other way?” Jim quizzed.

“I have these ceramic filters that are supposed to filter out 99% of stuff…don’t ask me details, but there are specs with each filter. The filter fits into the bottom of a 5-6 gallon plastic bucket. That bucket fits inside another bucket into which the filtered water runs. There is a spigot at the bottom of the second bucket for retrieval. Each filter, supposedly, can be cleaned up to 100 times. The flow rate is only like 14 gallons a day though…But it removes all those nasty things like giardia, salmonella, cyclospora, pesticides, lead, chlorine, pesticides, herbicides, and dysentery.”

“We could see some rain” Army said. “I’ve noticed in the late afternoons some clouds building from the Gulf.”

“That would be great” I said. “Let’s start a collection detail today. Seems like we told people to let us know about whether or not they had gutters on their homes. I should have H check the census to see about that. I would guess that most homes would have gutters of some type. The big tank would either be at a big house with lots of gutter footage, or a huge funnel to catch water running off of the roof.”

They looked me like I was out my head. “Sorry fellas” I started “That’s all I got. I got no imagination for stuff like that.”

“Good thing too” Army said “I was actually thinking about how to make an 8 ft diameter funnel” he said with a wry smile.

“I’m open to anyone with ideas for the big tank. For now, I’ll just put a 5 gallon jug with a coarse filter over the funnel at home.”

I continued “Before it gets dark, I wanted to remove some LEDs from the hi tech house, and get a battery with an inverter, and put them in the infirmary for Marie’s exam room. Then” I looked at both of them “I’d like to look around the high tech house a little more closely. I’m sure they have a hidden stash..by the way, did you hear from Frank about any more weapons caches?” I asked Army.

“No” he answered. “He’s been busy digging latrines today.”

“We might benefit from a look-see over there ourselves.” I suggested. “For now, I’m going to look into the battery/LED situation and get those done. I kinda promised Marie I’d do that today. I guarantee you that if I gotta go under the knife, I want her to be able to see what she’s doing…as you would too.”

“I guess Jim and I will go the arms dealer’s house and look around some…we can’t do any digging until Frank gets back with the latrine though” said Army.

I headed across the street “when I finish here, I’ll start the fires…see you guys at the bbq.”

I found the inverters at the high tech house. There were actually 3 of them. I didn’t know much about the process, but I did understand that one needed a charged battery connected to an inverter to run a/c appliances, but for LEDs, it seemed that since they were DC that a battery was all that was necessary. Sure enough, the LED array was connected to a battery via a switch by the fireplace. I flicked it, and they lit up brilliantly. I pulled one of the arrays down, and went to the shed and grabbed a charged battery. I reconnected one that was not already in the matrix of batteries that were presently being charge. These deep cycle batteries are really heavy. I headed back through the house, across the street to the infirmary. Marie was there.

“I was hoping you’d remember” she said clearing a space for me. “There’s a ladder in the garage” she pointed in the general direction.

I set the battery down “I’ll be back with the LED array.” I went back across the street and returned with the array. She had brought in the ladder. The ceiling was only 8ft so I climbed up a couple steps and held the array on the ceiling. The wires were hanging down “grab that pair of wire and connect it to the battery” I told her “put the red wire on the plus terminal, and the black on the minus.”

She did so and the array lit up nicely. “I think that’ll be plenty” she said with a big smile.

“Good” I said. I’ll go get some mollies to attach these and a staple gun to run the wire, and some kind of alligator clip or something to connect the battery. I’ll be right back.” I turned and left to the main house, found what I needed, and returned to finish the installation.

“Now, you just connect this here, and” the array came on “we have light. If you feel that you may need more light later, we can easily install another array…and we don’t have to worry about the battery. There are six more across the street at the high tech house in the shed in back. Let someone know if you think the array is getting dim. Whatever you do, do not put the battery on the floor.”

She grinned and said “thanks!” with her dimply smile.

I went back to the high tech house to look around some more. I walked around the downstairs a lot to get the layout, kind of looking for something out of the ordinary. I found it in the gap we left when we pulled the refrigerator. It was innocent looking enough, and one would not have found it had the fridge not been removed. They were very tricky in hiding the door. The fridge had an ice maker, which we had disconnected from the water supply. The connection was to a reverse osmosis unit, which was in cabinet above the fridge cavity. However, there was another ice maker connection at the bottom of the wall. I reached down an grabbed and pulled it. The entire wall came up from the bottom. It had a counter weight of some kind, because once I got it about chest high, it rose by itself to its max height. I still had to duck to go inside. I pulled out the trusty hybrid flashlight.

The right wall was the back of the garage. The room went the entire width of the garage, which was probably 20 feet. I jumped as felt something touch my face. It was a pull string. I yanked on it and a battery powered LED came on overhead. The ceiling was as high as the kitchen. To the left was a series of shelves. The width of the room was probably twelve feet; enough to have six rows of shelves, ten feet long and eight feet high, and each was 2 feet wide. The first shelf was packed with #10 cans of freeze dried food, the second shelf was filled with #10 cans dehydrated food, the third shelf was fulled with what looked like MREs. I continued over. The next shelf was full of cases of water. I counted them; 22 cases of bottled water. I heard a noise, and drew the .44.

“Don’t shoot me!” Jim was holding up his hands in fake fear.

I holstered the gun. “I wasn’t gonna shoot. If you’d a been a bad guy, I’d already be dead. C’mon in and see what I found.”

He laughed and entered “you were right Bennie. These guys were advanced preppers.”

“I haven’t even looked upstairs yet. I’m betting that they have another stash like this up there” I tried to hide my excitement. After all, this was like Christmas morning!

“You need to come and see what Army and I found” he grabbed my shirt and pulled me toward the kitchen. “If you liked finding food and water, you’re gonna love this” and we headed to the smuggler’s house. The pickup was there so I could only imagine whatever it was, it was heavy. We walked into the house, which had a sentry at the front,that’s odd, and through toward the patio. Army was there with a stacks of crates next to him, and he was holding something I had never seen before.

CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE

“Is that a Law’s rocket?” I asked Army.

“It is indeed” he replied. “We have 6 of them.”

“Does anyone know how to use them?” I asked.

“Sure, everyone in military is trained on them. They can be pretty handy against the right target” he said. “Jim and I are both familiar with them.”

“I reckon they will be right handy” I said.

“Behind you are 6 RPGs” He continued. “Those can be handy for lots of things, including APCs, light armor tanks, and helicopters.”

“You have my attention now” I said.

“And behind me you will notice a crate containing hand grenades.”

“This day has certainly gone from bad to very good” I exclaimed. I keyed the mic “Eagle 1 to Eagle 2.”

“Go ahead” said Al.

“Request that you start both pits for bbq this evening.”

“Eagle 2 is way ahead of you.”

“10-4” I said.

I helped load the newly obtained ordinance into the pickup. Army said “we’ll go unload this, you finish checking the inventory at the high tech house, then we’ll catch up with you at home…hope you still have those beers!”

“I do” and turned to head back. It’s odd that I have never seen his arsenal. I’m sure that we’re better off guns and ammo wise than most of us think.

I arrived at the high tech, closed the secret panel, and went upstairs to approximately the same place. Perfectly done…inside the closet. I looked briefly at the closet, but nothing jumped out at me. I slid the clothes over, and examined the walls next to the floor..nothing. I knocked on the walls, and they seemed hollow enough. I walked out of the closet and around to the door. I closed the bedroom door and there was a linen closet behind it. I kinda eyeballed the dimensions and the left edge of the linen closet was about equal to the rear of the closet. I opened the linen closet and at the rear was a clothes hamper; empty of course. I moved the hamper and sure enough, there was a handle painted the same as the wall. I pulled it and the wall came up just like down stairs. I went in and found the pull string and lit up the closet. This one had a window on the west wall; albeit a very small one. I walked to the west wall and found a door in the floor. I opened it, and the hole led to the downstairs secret closet. I hadn’t noticed when I was there, but then I didn’t get to finish counting the booty did I as I was interrupted by Jim. I slid the first door open. There were two AR15s hanging on the wall inside. On the floor were 6 ammo cans. I popped one open. .223 ammo. There was a box of magazines also on another shelf. I didn’t count them but it looked like 20 mags.

I closed that door and opened the next one. Two Glock 9mm pistols and two Glock .45 pistols. There were boxes marked 9mm mags, and .45 mags. There were 8 cans of ammo: 4 of each caliber.

I opened the next door; more ammo cans. I opened one, and it had 4 of the MUIRs radios, wrapped in foil. I opened another, and it had 4 more radios wrapped in foil. The rest of the ammo cans had 9mm and .45 ammo. There were holsters hanging on hooks. The closet reminded me of a gun store.

I opened the next sliding door, and found two sets of night vision goggles, a pair of backpacks that appeared to be packed already, some combat boots, and some loose ammo boxes. I opened the last door, two Kevlar vests, combat helmets, and more ammo boxes. These folks were ready hunker down. They probably went out of town for the holiday weekend, like so many others and got caught away from home.

I shut the closet back up,went downstairs and back home. I smelled charcoal. By the time I got through the crowd, I had a beer passed in my direction. People were talking and laughing. I went over to Al. “Is there enough meat?”

“No problem” he answered. “Marie already had some laid out earlier. There will be plenty…good job finding the extra beer” he said with a smile.

“It’s this damn nose of mine” I said laughing. I went into the house. “Is there anything I can do to help?”

“Yes, you can wake up Mandy” said Marie. “She’s been passed out since you brought her home.” She and the Sirens smiled and looked at her.

“Does anyone here know if she really does sleep?” I asked. “I haven’t ever seen her go to bed.” I went over to where she was sleeping. I sat on the coffee table next to the couch.

“Mandy” I said…”it’s time to get up.” Her eyes fluttered open. “How are you feelin’?” I asked, while I felt her forehead and cheek.

“How long was I out?” she asked sleepily. “I feel OK, I guess.”

“I don’t know, but you had a really good nap” I said. “There’s bbq cooking on the pit.”

“Where’s my gun?” she asked.

“Right behind you” I pointed to her BAR in the corner.

I sat back on the coffee table and whispered to her “Now, are you through being curious about moonshine? Because only those who were at the deputy’s and Marie know that you had some shine this morning.”

“Did I miss anything today?” she asked, sitting up.

“Not really” I said “we got a couple of generators running so we have refrigerators now too for a while. We found some solar panels, and now the infirmary has lighting for exams.”

“Wow that’s cool” she said.

“Just another day on the farm” I said and she smiled. I got up and I noticed that Marie and the Sirens were all watching me as I walked toward the back door. “What?” I said to them.

“Nothing” said Jenna. “We were just saying that you have a gentle way about you. She didn’t acknowledge any of us trying to wake her half an hour ago.”

I didn’t know what to say, and I just nodded and smiled as I exited. Army and Jim showed up, and headed to the pit for some steak. I reached into the ice chest and pulled a pair of beers for them. “I know you two have been thinking about these” I said as I handed them over. They each grabbed one and sat down with a full t-bone. “Al, why don’t you grab a steak, and sit down. I’ll finish up those. It looks like most folks have already gotten some meat. I’ll join you guys when these are done.”

He gladly accepted and sat down with a beer of his own. I glanced inside and Mandy chatting with the Sirens, Lea, and Marie. I put the lid on the pit just to keep the fires put out. George and Gina walked up just as happy as clams. “Great idea with the generators Bennie!” George exclaimed. “There are a lot of happier folks knowing that they can still have fresh meat for a few days more.”

“Yeah, and I’m one of them” I said pulling the lid off the pit and holding up one. “Did you two get something to eat?” I asked them.

“Yes, thanks we’re done. Where were you? You disappeared after you were at the house.”

“Yeah, I went across the street to search for secret compartments” I said almost whispering, which made them put their heads closer. Even softer I said “I found some too” nodding as I pulled away from the obviously secret conference.They were both wide-eyed.

They looked at each other “what did you find?” still being secretive.

I answered “a bunch more food and water hidden a secret compartment where the fridge was.”

“Like how much?” they asked.

I explained about the freeze-dried food and the dehydrated food, along with the bottles of water. I additionally explained that I was interrupted and did not finish inventorying the find.

“Why did you stop?” asked Gina.

“Jim interrupted me because he and Army found something too buried in one of the yards” I answered.

“What did you find?” she asked.

Again, I moved close to them “guns and bullets buried in one of the yards. It was probably a gun smuggler who lived there because all those guns were illegal.”

They were both wide-eyed again. “Do you think we’re safe here?”

“Gina” I started “we live in the safest neighborhood in town.” I nodded after I finished. I pulled the rest of the steaks off, picked one for me, set it on the table, and put the rest of the cooked steaks on another plate and covered them. People were still helping themselves to the beans and corn bread. I got up to grab some of that when I looked in the window and Lea was motioning me to come in. I got my food, and went in and sat at the counter.

“What’s up ladies?” I said while cutting a chunk of steak.

“We just had a chat with Mandy” said Lea. “That girl is wishing you were her dad.” The others nodded.

“She can call me dad if she wants. Any man here would be proud to have her call them dad. And she chose me? Why?” I asked while taking a bite of cornbread.

“She says you have taught her more about men in the past few days than she has learned in her lifetime” said Jenna. “She likes the gentler side of you and the way you treat her as one of us.”

“Ladies” I said wiping my mouth “I can honestly tell you that of all the people in this community, there is no one here that I would rather have watching my back than Mandy. Hands down. End of discussion.”

I felt someone’s arms around my neck. I was startled but realized it was Mandy. She hugged me, and I patted her arm. “You can call me dad if you want.”

“I already do that dad” she said and she turned and left with her BAR.

I continued to eat the steak and beans and cornbread. I commented that the cornbread was a new recipe, stating that I liked it.

“Thank you” said Jenna. “It’s a favorite recipe of mine for many years.”

I took a bite looking at it…”there’s something about it that I can’t quite put my finger on” I said to her.

She smiled and said “I use a around 1/4 c of grated cheddar, and little pepper.”
I took another and said “that’s it. The pepper! Well done Jenna!” I returned to my plate for more beans and steak. She patted me on the shoulder.

“Marie, you did something with the beans too. These are yummy different” I said taking a bite.

“Those are Brandi beans” Marie said.

“Well” I said to the Sirens standing up. I can see that my kitchen talents are no longer needed because of the new talent coming up. I bow to you” I bowed to them. I sidled up to Brandi and said “Ok, I got the bacon, chopped onion, tomato, chili powder, cumin, paprika, but there is something else…I know what it is but I can’t quite”

“It’s oregano” Brandi said. “Mexican oregano. Just a pinch goes a really long way.”

“That’s it Brandi. Great job. Do you ladies like to cook?” I asked the Sirens in general. “What about you Margret? Are a cook too?”

Jenna interrupted “Are you kidding? Margret is better than both of us put together. She was doing a little catering from home…” she stopped for a minute and I continued..

“Catering huh? Well ladies, let me ask you something and you don’t have to answer right now. We are in a position to where the group may need to consider…consider having one meal cooked every day for all who want to participate. The menu would be pretty much up to the chefs, and the chefs would be cooking over open fires for say 60 people. There wouldn’t be a particular time to eat…just ring the bell or something…just a break in the day and folks could come and go as they please until the food ran out daily…leftovers for dinner. As it stands now, each home cooks their own food every day except when we bbq here which has been every night..we don’t have enough charcoal for everyone to cook on a daily basis, and right now, we have lots of meat which I’m sure you could stretch out further than letting everyone take what they want and probably waste some. We’d need a dedicated home for this…probably one you could live in as well. I saw where one of our people is a mason. He could build an oven and a nicer outdoor pit.”

“My house has an old wood stove. It works fine, I just got it for decoration. We could certainly use that” said Jenna.

“Great idea!” I said. “A wood stove would be perfect for ‘the kitchen’. Yeah, ‘the kitchen’ would work directly with the food bank. George and Gina are cooks too. I thought a second. “I like it!” They all giggled.

“Good idea! Would you all consider this? I’m going to talk to the others and see what they think.” I walked out to the patio and I could see that they were already discussing how to cook for 60 people.

Lea followed me out and pulled me over to the side of the patio. “Bennie, do you know that you, in less than 4 minutes, turned that droopy, sad, crying, group of ladies around 180 degrees? They’re in there now talking recipes for the group kitchen. They’re excited, you have given them hope that they’ll be able to contribute to the group, and not be housewives and mothers and victims, but women that work and contribute.” She held her little clenched fist.

“I hear you” I told her. “What I said inside, I meant all of it; including what I said about Mandy. These are not times to fib to people and tell them “everything will be all right” and “don’t worry” and “we’ll be fine” because those are lies. I won’t lie about what’s going on. I won’t lie about what I think could and will eventually happen. I didn’t go inside tonight to talk about recipes or group kitchen or adopting a daughter or cheering up three widows. I went in because you motioned me in. I agreed because I wanted to sit down and eat and all the outside chairs were gone. Those ladies gave me the idea of the kitchen…they did. A lot of my inspiration comes from others.” I gave her a hug. We went back and joined the crowd which was dwindling. I found a chair at the table with my favorite three guys; Al, Army, and Jim.

“Thank ya, Jim” I said. “That was a mighty good steak, mighty good.”

“You and all are welcome, Bennie” he replied. “We’ll have lots more coming up. You don’t have to ask me permission to get from the big freezer. I understand how the thing works. I had just about written off the meat anyway, so just the fact that we can now eat is better for everyone.” He took that last sip of beer.

“So tell us Bennie” Jim went on “what did you find in the high tech house in the secret stashes?”

“Lots of food, water, and guns” I replied. “I didn’t really have enough time to go through it all but I’ll say this for sure: 2 Glock 9mm, 2 Glock .45, 20 mags for said guns, 2 AR15 with 8 cans of ammo and mags, Kevlar, night vision, MUIRs radios” I stopped they all looked at me in disbelief. “No fewer than 22 cases of bottled water, shelves full of dehydrated food, freeze-dried food, MREs, and more. I’ll dig it out tomorrow and turn it over to the food bank. We’ll get the weapons and ammo to…”

Army interrupted “you guys may need to dole out those weapons to others like the new widows and Darren, so you just keep them here.”

I nodded. “How are the patrols doing?”

Army keyed his mic “RC to Patrol 1.”

“Patrol 1, go ahead.”

“20?”

“South gate.”

“10-4, out”.

“The patrols are doing fine, and the guys seem to like it.” Army added. “I am working on another station to watch the south gate.That seems to be a weak area.”

“What are your guys going to do with Reginald?” I asked him.

“After dark, they’re going to take him down to the killing field, execute, and burn him” he answered.

“I’m going to think out loud here, Army.” I started, and he nodded OK. “Our perimeter is too large. It needs to shrink. If it cannot shrink, then we have to beef up our perimeter defenses…with HEDs (hidden explosive devices) of some type but still with regular patrol stops, and perhaps a full time manned post at the south gate. How is Frank coming with the deadfalls?”

“Frank is a pro with that damned backhoe. He finished most of them, even digging for the new stash of weapons we found today. I understand your concern about the gaps in the perimeter. We have Walter working on some homemade claymores, that I think will work better than the originals. When those are done, we should have a much tighter perimeter. I also agree that we need some more bodies to walk patrol. I also want to start a nightly recon patrol, in addition to our roving ones. The recon group is ready, so I’ll probably start that tomorrow night; I’ll be going with them.”

Mandy appeared from nowhere “can I go Army?” she asked.

“Not this time Mandy” he said without any hesitation. “I have no doubt you’d could give lessons on stealth movement. I need to see how the guys do. Please stay here, get some rest tomorrow afternoon, and help your dad tomorrow night. OK?”

“OK” she said with a nod and a smile.

“Sounds good” I said. “I’ll go across the ditch tomorrow with some guards and see if my buddy Clay is still alive. After that, we can discuss more it these others will be worth the risk. Also, while I was thinking, there is a feed and seed store not too much further from the Limey. They would probably have barb wire.”
“How much barb wire do you need?” asked Jim.

“Dunno” I answered. “It seems to me that any little deterrent will keep out little mosquito invaders…you know what I mean? How does barb wire come? Like 1000 ft rolls? We have a lot of fence line facing the ditch…some of those homes are wide open.”
“Have you ever put up barb wire Bennie?” asked Jim. “One doesn’t just grab a roll of wire and roll it out on the ground and staple it up. That stuff will tear up your hands in no time. It will chew up leather gloves, it’s very heavy too. It requires nails to anchor it. One needs some really decent wire cutters also. We have a couple rolls of barb wire. If you can get help to install it, I’ll get it to you.”

“Thanks for the lesson, Jim.” I said. “No, I haven’t ever worked with it myself. We are doing things these days that we don’t normally do, and I am certainly not opposed to learning something new or working my ass off. I am a firm believer in the old saying “an ounce of prevention…” Whatever little things we do now, we won’t have to worry about later if/when the big dogs arrive. Barb wire is a pain to cross for the amateur thief; especially if he crosses it just to jump into a dead fall. Put up signs at the gates: TRESPASSERS WILL BE SHOT…maybe have a burned body at the entrance as well. I don’t know. I just feel that we have too many holes, and outsiders will find these holes, and gather information to be used against us. Hell, even ditches or big holes will keep out some people.”

I drank the backwash from the beer. Army pulled out some Crown. When it was my turn, I poured a little into a glass, and passed it on. I held it up “we had a very long day today.” I sipped and said “when I finish this, I think I’ll take a walk down the ditch pathway. Let the patrols know, so they won’t shoot me please” I said taking another sip, then setting it up on the table.

“I’ll go with you” Mandy said.

“Of course you can” I told her with a smile. “We’re just going to walk south to the cross street and back.”
“What about to the north?” she asked.

“I was hoping to two more volunteers to we wouldn’t to walk all the past here then to the north cross street, and back again” I answered. “On second thought, given the neighborhood to the north, it might be better to just go that way first, with all whose going and not split up. If they see and recognize us, we may not be well received.”

“We’ll be walking past the back of my old house” said Mandy.

“Who’s with me?” I asked.

“You sure are in a hurry to get shot at” Army said.

“Sometimes I feel like Woodrow Coll. I need to make my last round in the ‘hood before I turn in” I said finishing my Crown. “Makes me feel better.”

I stood up and checked the .44. I found the Mossberg, and checked it remembering that the last two shots from here were at Robby’s about 24 hours ago. I plugged in a couple more rounds. The rest of them got up and picked up their rifles, checking mags, checking actions, adjusting hats, etc.

“Let’s go” I said heading across the yard to the back gate, that led to the path next to the ditch. It was paved and had been built for folks walking, jogging, and biking. We got the gate, and headed north. The whole trip probably won’t take 20 minutes. We walked single file; me leading, then Mandy, Al, Army and Jim. I stopped behind every house for a listen for a few seconds. The crew was alert, and nobody ran into anyone else.

I felt a tap on my shoulder. “There’s my house” Mandy whispered. We stopped and looked over…s-l-o-w-l-y. I could see nothing. We pressed on to the cross street to the north, which was Trailblazer. We approached slowly and got low moving towards the street. Nothing. I saw a pair of lights way off to the west, but they turned on what looked like the ‘hood after 29th street. We turned around and went south. All quiet there as well.

We arrived back at Al’s. I was hoping it would be uneventful as this would make folks sleepy. Mandy hadn’t been up but a few hours after her long nap today. I sat in the chair and lit up a smoke. Jim and Army, as expected, said “we’ll head on back and get some sleep” and they went around the front.

“Ok guys, see you tomorrow for coffee” I said after them.

“I’m going in too” said Al.

“Right behind you little brother” I told him as he closed the screen door.

“I’m kind of tired too, even after my long nap” said Mandy heading inside.

“It’s been a very long day for everyone, and I don’t know why” I said while taking another drag. “I’m tired also” and I put my cigarette out and followed her inside. “Good night Mandy” I said.

“Good night dad” she said as she laid down on the couch.

I went back to where Lea was fast asleep; I kissed her good night and soon, I was asleep too.

END OF DAY THREE

CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR

The rest of the night was uneventful. The sun was coming up, and I started the coffee, bacon, eggs and toast. I sure am glad we were able to get those generators working. I poured 3 cups of coffee, and put the rest in the carafe; at which point I started another batch of coffee, and another round of toast. Al came outside with Marie. They both beelined to the coffees I had poured. A few minutes later, Jim and Army showed up. “Weren’t we all just here?” I said jokingly. After a few sips of java, and some toast, bacon and eggs, we were pretty much awake. Mandy woke up and the Sirens showed up as well. I gave up my place, as did the other men so the ladies could sit down.

The deputy showed up, and he visited with the ladies before he excused himself and joined us. “What news from the outside world” I asked him.

He took a sip of coffee and said “there’s a tropical storm in the Gulf heading this way” and he took another sip of coffee.

“Wahoo!” I did my best Home Simpson. “That is great news!” I exclaimed. “Any idea when it might make landfall?” I asked him.

“Four or five days away” he answered. “It’s heading directly across the Yucatan now, and most of the models show it making landfall south of us.”

“Then we got some rain coming for sure” I was giddy as a school boy. “We sure need the water.”

“How did you guys figure to water into the storage tank?” the deputy asked he indicated behind him. I kind of looked past him, and the storage tank was now at the foot of Al’s driveway.

“You didn’t have to bring it over” I told him. “We were going to go pick it up.”

“I figured that” he said. “This is another one I brought this morning. The other one is still at my house.”

“How did you get in?” I asked him.

He looked at Army and Army said “Some things do work like they’re supposed to around here, Bennie. The gate called me and said there was a deputy sheriff asking to come in. I ok’d it.”

I looked back at the deputy.

“Thank you Alan. We will sure use these. We haven’t really worked out a plan to capture the rainwater. I’m sure it will involve gutters from houses using a coarse filter for sand and leaves, then a filter system for the nasties.”

“Hmmm” Alan said. “I’m not an engineer either, so I couldn’t help with that.”

“Any other news?” I asked. “Good or bad?”

He sighed and said “we’ve been getting reports of a growing gang in the south part of town calling themselves the ‘white tees’. They all wear white t-shirts. We have only heard a few reports of violence, but then most folks don’t have any way to communicate with the outside world…especially in that part of town.”

“Got any ideas of numbers?” Army asked.

“Just guessing, but around100” he answered. “Their weapon is strength in numbers.”

“I guess we should start watching for the south part of town on fire?” I asked.

“There’s nothing to stop them at this point” said the deputy.

Army started in “We have a recon scheduled for tonight, just to see how the troops follow mission orders, and work together.”

“I’d like to talk to you about it” the deputy said. He and Army walked off by themselves, out of hearing range for us.

“I was going to make a run across the ditch so see it Clay was still alive” I said to the others. “Anyone want to go? If all is well, we probably won’t be gone long. Hell, I could probably shoot his house from this side of the ditch with my wrist rocket. We walked by it last night.”

All agreed. We rounded up the truck and piled in. The gate was still open, and I passed the guards a couple of bacon and egg tacos as we pulled out. Their grins were enough thanks. We decided to go south to Devlin, the cross street. This gave us a little recon of our immediate surroundings. There were people around, sticking close to their houses. No one came out to talk to us, but they were certainly watching us. We drove slowly through the neighborhood. It didn’t take but a minute to drive through and reach Devlin. We turned right, crossed the ditch, and turned onto Centennial, which was the main street connecting the north part of town to the south. Clay’s back yard was a stone’s throw from Centennial. We drove slowly in the wrong lane to get closer so I could see his back yard. I was unsure, so we pulled down onto the street that dead-ended there, and drove up to Clay’s street. His car was there. We pulled around the circle so as to be facing the right direction. I was riding shotgun, and got out and walked to the door. The Mossberg was slung over my back. As I reached to knock, the door was opened. There stood Clay. “Hey Clay Man” I stuck out my hand. He grabbed my hand and pulled me to him for a hug. He was crying a little. “We’ve come to rescue you” I said. “I’m with Obe Won Kenobee. I’ve got your two droids.”

He laughed and said “what the hell are doing?” What the hell are you doing here?”

“I’m at my brother’s” I paused, and pointed him out at the truck. “Come on and join us. Bring food if you have any dry goods water, bottled water, whatever you have. Changes of clothes if you like. You’re not far away, so we could come back if need be. You have your bike? Bring it. Do you have any firearms? Bring ’em. Writing pads, pencils, note pads, flashlights”

He was scurrying around packing a bag. Every time I mentioned an item, he’d stop and change directions. When I mentioned firearms, he stopped, shook his head quickly, and continued. I watched him pull what looked like a .357 revolver out of a drawer with a box or cartridges. I walked to the kitchen and looked around. I found a gallon of water, and a case of bottled water, which I snapped up and took to the truck.

“Need some help?” asked Jim.

“Sure, I don’t think he’s bringing much, but sometimes an extra pair of eyes can catch stuff that another misses” I said as we walked back to the door.

“Clay this is Jim. He’s one of us.” They shook hands. Clay went back to packing. “Is there any more water?” I pressed him.

“Check the closet by the fridge, and check the fridge. I took the fridge and found some eggs. Jim found another case of water in the closet. There was a little bacon and I snatched that too with some cold bottles of water he had. I looked in the freezer, and there was a bunch of ice trays. “Do you have in ice chest?” I asked Clay.

Jim came back in for the rest of the groceries. Clay pointed towards the garage. I went out and found a nice Igloo 80 qt and brought it in. We filled it with the freezer good, ice, and the rest of the contents of the fridge. I pulled canned goods out of the pantry and cupboards. I found Ziplocs. I looked out the patio door, and found a nice Weber grill and 2 bags of charcoal. I opened up and pulled those through the house with Jim’s help. Clay had his bag packed, and we locked the back. “Bring your bike, bike tools, spare tires and tubes if you have them. He nodded and passed his duffel bag to me, and headed to the garage. We put all the stuff in the back, and Clay came out with his bike, and a box of what looked like tires. I took them and said “Lock up good. Leave a note for your wife in case she shows up.” I went in and drew a map to Al’s house. “Be sure to tell her to ask for me, or they might shoot her if she tries to open the gate.”

I went outside, and he followed soon after he locked the door. He got in front between Al and I. “You guys remember each other don’t you? I said.

“Thanksgiving at the townhouse, several years ago? Sure I remember” said Al. It was awkward position from which to shake hands so they didn’t. Al took off to the cross street, went right past the dead-end marker and up to Centennial.

“Al turn left and lets show him how close we are to his house.” We turned and it was only like 4 blocks away. We stopped and Al honked at the back. Marie came out, and I got out and waved at her, she waved back. “See?” I said. “Pretty close huh?”

Al decided to go all the way north to Trailblazer, cut down to M street, and enter from the north. He always did shit like that. We turned on M street south to L street. We passed the deputy and we stopped.

“Did you find who you were looking for?” Deputy Sharpe asked.

I answered “this is the guy from South Carolina I was telling Carla about. We’ll get together later.”

Clay hollered to the deputy “my wife and kids went to Monterrey a couple weeks ago. Any word from Mexico?”

He pulled out his notebook and jotted something down. “No, we haven’t heard anything from Mexico and that doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing. What’s your last name?”
“Bertolli” Clay answered. “Wife Paula, and kids Eileen and Steve.”

“Well Clay, I’ll pass the word to keep ears open” he waved and drove off. We pulled up to the gate, and it was still open.

“Should we close it now?” asked Eddie.

“Better check with the Cap’n” I said as we drove through, and Jim hopped out as well.

“I’ll check with you guys later” he waved and went over Army’s yard.

Al drove on up the street to his house. “Now we’ve got to do something about this water tank before too long” he said.

“Yep, you know? We ought look around for rain gutters, and just build our own aqueduct like system. It’ll be crude, but we gotta get some water saved up.” I went on. The high tech house has a nice seam that would seem (Ho he ha he ho) to work for a gathering start. Just put up a diverter where come off the roof, and split. One goes into the monster tank..it’d be better if the tank was inside out of the sun…the water will stay clean much longer.”

“I’ll check around with some of the construction folks here. Also, if we could get to my office, we’ve gutter materials there” Al said. (Al was general manager of a local construction company.)

“There’s always Lowe’s too” I added while getting out. Mandy hopped out and I introduced her to Clay. Lea came out as she and Clay were old friends. We were unloading his stuff and Lea asked “where are we going to put him?” she asked giving him a hug. Clay didn’t say anything. I think he was very overwhelmed that we “rescued” him.

“I don’t know” I said. “Maybe temporarily at the high tech house” I pointed across the street. “It’s got some cool stuff in it…Solar panels, batteries, inverters, and LED lighting. Probably more stuff we haven’t discovered yet. There may be more folks moving in anyway.”

“Are you hungry” Lea asked Clay.

“I could really use a cup of coffee” he said, and I remembered he was a coffee addict.

“Well we’ve got lots of coffee drinkers here, and there’s still some from breakfast” said Lea.

George and Gina came out while we were unloading and introduced them to Clay. We passed his food and water to them. They were always glad to have new stuff coming in as most of the food supply decreased; not increased. They hauled it off along with the ice chest.

We went around to the back and Clay had coffee and I had coffee and a smoke. His hands were shaking. “What do you guys have going on over here?” he asked. I’ve heard gunfire, from all direction. I’ve been scared out of my wits.”

Lea explained what had happened pretty much from the beginning. She was a veteran teacher and could really tell a story. While she was talking, I cooked some more toast, and then went across the street to put his stuff into the high tech garage.

While I was out, I went and got George. “I’ve something to show you…both of you c’mon.” They both hesitated and I said “C’mon, this is great news!” I headed to the high tech house. went inside and showed them the secret door and opened it.

“Wow, this is cool” George said. “What’s in there?”

“Go on in and see for yourself” I told them. I followed George, turned on the overhead light, and Gina followed in then.

George whistled holding his hands on his hips. George was least of all people I knew that ever tried to hide his true feelings. He had a huge smile on his face and shook my hand. “Wow Bennie this is going to keep this group going for a long time! Look honey” and Gina worked her way around too and saw the huge supply stash.

“We’ll need help” she said “and we want those shelves too. Those are really heavy duty. What’s back there?” she pointed at the other shelves I hadn’t looked at yet.

“I didn’t have time last night to look at everything” I said. “Count me in when you get your moving plan up” I said as I hauled a case of cans off the first shelf and headed out the door. There were people at the food bank. Fred and Sandy were manning their stations passing out food when I walked up with the case of cans.

“Whatcha got there?” asked Fred.

“Some dehydrated food” I answered. “There’s a lot more of them. We’ll be bringin’ the rest of it as well. There’s quite a bit. Any of you who wants to, all volunteers are welcome.”

“I’ll help, if I can get a can of that” said Frank.

“That’s up to the food bank people” I said heading back across the street. George and Gina had decided to off load the first shelf into the garage. When I returned, the three of us manhandled that thing back to the bank. “Good thing you guys are across the street, or this would be difficult” I said. I heard Gina panting as she struggled with the heavy shelf assembly.

“You guys will have to bring in the next one” she said in between breaths.

“No problem” George and I headed back, and Gina followed to begin stocking the cans on the shelves. Frank helped too, and yes, he was given a can of the food. As anyone walked up could; whether they helped or not. It was the food bank and every person in the ‘hood was fully entitled to get whatever food they needed.

They won’t like the freeze-dried, the dehydrated, or the MREs. Those also require heated water…but better than nothing if one is starving and we’re not there yet.

We got the stuff unloaded and moved in around two hours. The last three shelves contained a wide variety of items including buckets of flour, rice, corn meal, sugar, hard red wheat, powdered eggs, pinto beans, several large packages of toilet paper, paper towels, plastic garbage bags, plastic ziplock bags, powdered milk, a couple big jugs of honey, some molasses, lots of peanut butter, a large assortment of crackers, a wide assortment of spices, some canned meats, lots of over the counter meds like migraine medicine, aspirin, multi-vitamins, vitamin c, antibiotic cremes, band-aids, bandages, feminine needs, bar soap, hand sanitizer, shampoo, water treatment tablets, and more of which they took to the infirmary. Marie was delighted, as were George and Gina for the huge addition to the food supply.

I was delighted too in knowing that upstairs contained a stash of weapons. I had to do something with them.To the house, I guess. We have 5 new people in two days, and we have 6 new weapons. I went to the house for volunteers.

“I need a couple of volunteers to haul some stuff” I said on Al’s patio. Clay jumped up, as did Al. “What are we haulin”? asked Al.

“Some guns and ammo” I answered. “I found them last night.”

Mandy and H walked up “we’ll go whatever it is.”

“Let’s move” and we all headed to the high tech house.

“I suggest we start a chain to avoid going up and down the stairs” I said when we arrived. Jim walked up too and asked if he could help…silly question.

I unloaded the closet, and passed the ammo cans out…those sob’s are heavy. I passed all the guns, rifles, and the rest of the cans until the closet was empty….or was it?

I closed it back up, and we brought the stuff over to Al’s. “What are you going to do with this? he asked.

“We have 4 new people here now, and they will need firearms” I answered. “Clay, you know how to shoot a semi-auto .45?”

“Yes, Bennie I can shoot. My dad was a retired Marine” he answered. “I did bring my .357, but there’s not much ammo.”

“Then you’ll be issued a .45 and an AR15.” I went on. “It would be really nice if Marie could teach the Sirens to shoot. I’d feel better about them being here in this area all day, as it’s kind of weak from a defensive point of view.”

We continued schlepping cans across the street until they were all at the back of the boys’ room. I picked an AR, a box of .223, a Glock 30, a box of .45, and found Clay. “Here ya go.” I said. I went back in for the sling and holster. He was checking the ammo boxes for mags. There were mags already loaded in each of the cans, plus extra unloaded mags. I came back out with another can of each with just ammo. “These are yours too and there’s more right inside the door here.” I pointed to the door. “I think there was a tactical vest to carry your mags.”

He went back in and found one. He then loaded up his vest to his own specs. “Army is in charge of the militia” I told Clay. “He’s pretty smart and he’s turned out to be a friend one can count on. I think they’re going on a recon patrol tonight, so Jim, Al, you and I will be helping the patrols out.”

Jim just shrugged.

“Me too!” said Mandy.

“Ever hear of Annie Oakley?” I asked Clay.

“Of course. ‘Little Sure-shot’ is what they used to call her” Clay answered.

“Mandy is our sharpshooter” I told him.

“I figured she must be someone special hauling that BAR around” he replied. “That’s a helluva gun.”

“I haven’t seen her miss yet.”

Mandy just beamed.

“Army’s orders were for Mandy to help the patrols this evening.” I was looking for the MUIRs radios. “AH!” I exclaimed. “Found ’em.” I gathered them up with some batteries, and went looking for Army.

I found him on the patio, eating some more breakfast. “I got the rest of the radios” I told him. “How many do you need for tonight?”

He sipped his coffee, and motioned me to sit down, and I poured myself a cup as well. Then, I lit up a smoke. “Let me guess. The deputy wants you to do a little side mission for his own recon tonight.”

“You’re very perceptive, Bennie” he said. “That’s exactly what he wanted. I’m not supposed to tell details to anyone. It’s a mission about those white-t guys. They want us to go down 23rd over by the high school, back over by Centennial, and back here. Then, he wants us to use the satphone to give the report.”

“Sounds like payback for the Barrett and the water tanks?” I said.

“No doubt” he concurred.

“Are you okay with it?” I asked.

He paused, then sighed. “I guess so. We could make a daylight run of the route” his eyes brightened some.

“Let me know what you need and I’m there” I said. “What do you need?”

“I’d like to take the pickup” he replied. I’d like to take the full auto weapons. I’d like to take an RPG. I’d like to take several people who can shoot.”

“Like I always tell you” I started, “you’re in charge of the militia. I render my opinion only, and mostly, we’re on the same page.”

“I’d really like to take Mandy and leave you here” he said rather abruptly.

“I don’t have a problem with that” I said right back without hesitation. “She’s an adult. If she wants to go, and you know she does, then let her go. I won’t stop her.”

“She sure is attached to you” he said.

“She’s more attached to that BAR” I said. “She won’t hesitate a bit to go on your mission. Go ahead and ask her.”

“Ask me what?” Mandy said coming around the corner from the front. “You guys were talking about me weren’t you?” she said very inquisitively, yet suspicious.

Army didn’t waste any time for her mind to wander. “I need you to go on a mission today, and this evening. It’ll probably be dangerous.”

“Ok” she said. “What do I need to bring?”

“All the ammo you can carry. How many mags do you have for that weapon?” he asked her.

“I have six” she said “and they’re always loaded…20 rounds each. I also carry one of the .45 match pistols with 6 mags for that one too. What’s the mission?”

Army looked at me, and hesitated. “He says it’s top secret, and I’m not invited to go.” I said to her. “It’s important.” I got up and left the table to let them finish their plans. I heard her ask why I was not going. Army answered “he needs to stay here to keep calmness and order while we’re out.”

I lit another smoke, and took a slug of coffee, and walked to the front. I saw George and Gina had opened the bank and the Sirens were there.

I walked over. “Mornin'” said George. “What’s going on? I saw you and Army go ’round back. It must be secret.”

“It is” I answered, “and even I am not included.”

The Sirens walked over “what’s the matter” they wanted to know.

“Some kind of mission that Army has got planned” I said.

“We wanted to talk to you about the community kitchen” said Jenna. “We spoke a lot last night and this morning, and we want to do it.” All three of them were smiling.

“Outstanding!” I was excited too. “Did you mention anything to George?” I asked her. I guessed not, because George had one of those looks that just screamed “I don’t know what’s going on.”

“No” she said. She proceeded to tell George about the kitchen. He too, looked excited. He looked at me. “Where are you going to set up?” he asked me.

“I was thinking that empty house next to the high tech house. It has a huge garage, large patio, and large shaded driveway” I answered. “They could move in today. I’ll talk to the mason about building an oven and a large open fire outdoor stove. Jenna has a wood stove which will be a real big help. They could use pits that are not used for the time being. I have a smoker that can be used as a pit also…”

“What a wonderful idea!” said Gina. “George and I are happy to help you with anything you need. We have a big pit that we never use and a lot of wood.”

“Sounds like we got some work to do” I said. “Army is going to be using the pickup today for a mission. We’ll have to use the Mustang and the trailer, but that’ll be fine. Do you ladies know more or less what you want to take? It will help speed up the move, and we’ll have to have armed folks go with you beside me.”

“Aren’t you going on the mission with Army?” Brandi asked.

“No, I need to stay here and help with the patrols; especially after dark. It could be a very long day today. “l’ll see about rounding up the car and some moving help” and I walked away toward Army’s house to get the car.

I saw Jim coming up the street at me. “You coming to get the car?” he hollered, cupping his hands around his mouth.

I nodded and waved. “What are you gonna do?” he asked.

“The Sirens have agreed to cook in the newly created Community Kitchen” I answered. “They’ll be cooking a huge meal once a day for everyone. They are all chefs and bakers. So, I am getting things started to move them today. Where’s the trailer?”

“It’s still over at that house where Frank was digging. It’ll have to be unloaded here.” He got in the Mustang, and we went to the smuggler’s house.

Army was speaking to Mandy about the recon missions. “The daylight mission is kind of a recon for the nighttime recon. It might even be better if we left like right now, in order to make it quick. We’ll need to make a note of stalled cars. We’ll need to note cars that have blocked intersections. We’ll need to note burned out houses and buildings the best we can. Especially keep eyes open for white t-shirted guys and make a note of the location. Make a not of anyone we see; any weapons, location, etc. We don’t really want to do any shooting in our daylight run. The nighttime run is pretty much a search and destroy the white-tees. That was kind of why they gave us the 50 cal. The way you shoot, you won’t need the big gun. Our orders are to take out as many as possible in one sweep.”

“I guess we’re taking the pickup?” Mandy asked. “I haven’t seen it…where is it?”

“It’s being painted” Army answered. “One of Robby’s neighbors worked out there with he and Stan, and he did all their painting. It’ll be a nice camo job that’ll help to blend in many places; night or day.”

“When to we leave?” she asked.

“As soon as we can round up the patrol” he answered, getting up.

“RC to Recon” Army said into the radio.

“Go ahead, RC” a voice answered.

“Saddle up.”

“10-4.”

“Get your stuff Mandy, and meet us at the gate asap” Army said to her and turned away. Mandy went to her gun stash, picked up all her mags, and headed toward the gate.

CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE

Jim got the call from Recon about preparing for the mission while we were just finishing unloading the rest of the ordinance at Army’s. “You’re going too?” I asked in disbelief.

“Piece of cake, Bennie” he said. “Don’t worry, I’ll watch out for Mandy.”

“I know” I retorted. “It’s not just that. I don’t like being kept in the dark about stuff.”

Jim pulled me aside to the other side of the trailer. “Tonight’s mission is a search and destroy. We’re supposed to find these white tee guys, and kill them…as many as possible…period. End of story. The sheriff’s department don’t have a clue about where they are, who they are, or what their ultimate goal is. They do know that they are absolutely ruthless to get what they want. They have killed and tortured women and children to get information. I think the daylight recon is a good idea, yet it’s still dangerous…not as much as tonight’s mission though…” his voice trailed off. “If I were you, I”d be on extra guard for the next 12-20 hours.” He looked right at me. “I’d shut down the gardens, and get every man at a perimeter post. Have the ladies make and bring food. Keep the perimeter tight.”

I looked right back at him and said “will do.”

By then, the Recon patrol had gathered by the pickup. It looked sharp with the camo. The shade had a strange effect…like making it invisible. Jim, Army, Mandy, three others got into the back, and two guys in the cab. They were all dressed like a bunch of beach bums. The rifles went onto the floor in the bed, and drivers had rigged a holder on the floorboard, with the barrels pointing at the floor. I unslung the Mossberg with the 50 round bandolier, and said to the driver “sure you don’t wanna take Ol’ Blue?” handing it to him.

“We got it covered, Bennie and thanks” he said as they drove through.

“Ya’ll don’t stay out all day now, ya hear!” I yelled as they drove off…a few of them laughed.

The sentries pulled the car back with the tractor. “How long have you guys been on shift?” I asked them.

“We were supposed to get off an hour ago, but Army came up with the daylight Recon, so we’re gonna run another shift.”
“What about the others?” I said.

“Couple of guys were in the truck” the other answered. I’m guessing that they were replaced with fresh sentries.”

“You guys have radios? I said looking at them.

“Yessir” we have one.

“You guys know my handle?”
“Yessir”

“All right then. I’m to round up another sentry to ghost you…do you know what that means?”

“Kind of like he’s watching over us, but we can’t see ’em?” asked the younger one.

“Exactly” I replied. “I may ghost you myself, if I have to. You guys keep extra frosty. Need coffee?”

“Yessir, that would be great” they both said.

“I’ll get you some and a taco or toast or something. I’ll be right back” and I turned and left to the house. I called Al on the way. “Eagle 1 to Eagle 2”

“Go ahead”

“Where’s AJ?”

“He’s here with me at the south Gate. Army said to be extra diligent while they’re gone.”

“Anyone else with you?” I asked.

“Yeah, Darren is here.”

“10-4 Eagle 1 out.”

I arrived at the house to find Marie with her sidearm. I said nothing. “I told the guys at the main gate that I’d bring them some coffee and food. They’re pulling a double shift.” She pulled out a thermos and a sack of what looked like egg sammiches from nowhere. “A thousand thanks” I said to her. I turned and left back to the gate. “Here ya go” I said and I left again and said “I’ll be back” and disappeared around the corner of the house.

I headed to the “garden area” in the central part of the ‘hood. There were several working. I hollered “I need a few volunteers who know how to shoot.” Four guys came over.

“We walked patrol some last night, but gardening is boring” said one guy.

“I need you guys to ‘ghost’ the gates. Are all of you issued the full auto AKs?” I asked.

They all nodded yes.

“I need all of you to shadow the entire ‘hood until the Recon gets back, OK. Just be extra sharp for anything out of the ordinary. I want you to pick an area, and stick with it. Move around, but be discreet. Just like on patrol, but this time, you’re hiding from your pals. I don’t want them to know. There are two at the main gate, I’ll go stand with them. OK?”

They took off in all directions. Wow, there’s hope for our youth yet.

I went to Jim’s house and walked through to the deputy’s house. I knocked on the patio door, and Carla was quick to answer. “Is everything OK?” I asked her.

She opened and said “what’s wrong?”

“Some of the guys went on a short mission, and I am working the behind the scenes for a while” I said. I noticed she had her .45 strapped on. “I was just checking on you on my way to the north perimeter.”

She let me through, and I just walked to the front. I stopped let her open the front door. Good thing too because she removed a wire connected to the door that went to a box on the floor. “Thanks. Be extra careful for the next several hours.” She nodded, and I walked away. I went to the gate at the M street north edge. Two sentries were there.

“Hello, Bennie” said Josh.

“Hello guys” I answered. “Anything unusual going on here today?”

They looked at each other shaking their heads. “Is there trouble?” Josh asked.

“No, but we may be in for some. Did you guys get something to eat this morning?”

They both nodded, and were silent.

“They sent out a Recon patrol for a practice run. We’re 8 people short for a while. Stay frosty OK?”

They both nodded, and resumed their vigil.

I walked all the way west on Q street to 17th where it ended, and we had a roadblock to keep traffic from the north out. Two sentries were there.

“Hey guys” I said walking up, shouldering the Mossberg and offering my hand to both of them. “Anything going on here this morning?” I asked them.

“No, why? asked Michael.

“We sent out a Recon and we’re about 8 guns short for a while. Be extra alert for activity.”

“It’s the same old stuff here” said Michael. “There’s people over in that 2-story that yell stuff to us from time to time, but that’s all. Nothing today. It’s kind of early for those clowns to be up” he added with a smile.

“You two be careful today, and more than likely, you’ll be on duty for quite a while yet. Are you hungry?”

“We ate already” said Michael.

“Ok then, keep your heads down. I’ll check back later.” I walked back towards Al’s house.

When I arrived at the T intersection, George and Gina came running up to me. “Where is everybody?” George asked. Fred and Sandy came over as well. Clay came out too with his weaponry and wandered over.

“Army took some guys out for a Recon for a mission they’ll do later” I said. We’re short some sentries and I have pulled a few people from gardening to add sentries. Clay? Will one of you go to the north gate, and stand with the guys? He nodded and headed back the way I just came.

“Fred? You’re a vet, right? Would you…”

I was interrupted “Hell yes” he said. “I’ll help these youngsters watch the gate.”

“Good” I said. “Put some real shoes on, and I’ll bring you a gun.” He took off and so did I. I returned to Al’s and got the other AR we found, and picked up a Glock .45 with some ammo, magazines, and a holster. When I returned, he had is combat boots on, with jeans, cammo shirt, and a boonie hat.

“Do you know what these are?” I asked him handing the guns to him.

“Sure; an AR15, 2 20 round magazines, and a Glock .45.” He pulled a mag and popped it into the AR, and aimed at nothing. “Ahh, just like the MeKong delta. He took the Glock, dropped the mag, checked the chamber, and popped the mag back in. He holstered it and said “what are my orders?”

“Please go the main gate with those two guys, and just be watchful until the Recon gets back. We may have to do this tonight also.”

He nodded, and headed down the street. ” He was in Nam?” I asked Sandy.

“Heavens yes” she answered. “Don’t get him talking about his war stories or you can write off the next several hours of your life.”

“We need veterans out there” I said. “Veterans always have tactics they can show the younger guys. Besides, he can tell the kids his stories. It’s not often they get the opportunity to talk to someone who’s seen some real combat. As a matter of fact, I believe he’s the only sentry on the line at this point who has seen some fighting in a life or death situation. Veterans tend to be calmer in general also.”

“Main gate to Eagle 1” my radio went off and I was already on my way.

“Go ahead”
“Vehicle approaching from south on M street”

“I’m on my way. Do not engage unless they fire first.”

“10-4”

The vehicle was at the main gate when I got there. It was an old Chevy with two guys in the back behind the cab, and two guys in the cab. I assumed they were all armed.

The tall one in the truck asked me “are you in charge?”

“I am, but not my choice” I answered.

“We’re looking for someone who disappeared from our group a couple days ago. We thought you might have seen ’em” said the tall guy in the back. He made no aggressive moves.

“Why do you think he’s here?” I asked.

“We last saw him heading this way and thought he might have spoken to you.”

“What would he say to us?” I quizzed.

“You sure are hard to talk to” he said, in a tone that was sounding irritable.

“Mister, if you want to know something, just ask straight out and stop this bullshit beating around the bush.”

He sighed heavy and looked down. “I’m looking for my son, Reginald. He left the other day real mad. He’s got different ideas about how to deal with this situation we’re all in.”

I looked at the sentries and said quietly “what did you guys do with Reginald?”

“He’s locked up in Army’s tool shed” said the first sentry.

“Go get him” and he left.

“I believe we have him” I said. Tall guy breathed another sigh. He made a move to get down out of the truck, and the remaining sentries all pointed their weapons at the truck’s occupants.

“Hold on now, we don’t want any trouble” said Tall guy. He put his rifle down in the bed. “The rest of you guys, put down your guns.”

They did so, and I added “and keep your hands where we can see them.”

“We don’t take orders from you, porky” said the driver.

I keyed the mic and said “Main gate to Ghost. Give 3 warning shots..”

I hadn’t even finished my sentence when I heard 3 shots fired over the truck. The driver’s hands went into our view immediately. The rest of them ducked instinctively, then showed their hands; except tall guy. “I walked over to the driver “you were saying? Oh, that explains that. He’s your brother isn’t he?” I looked up at Tall guy. “You sure have your work cut out. A couple kids with mouths like that. Let me guess; a lifetime of problems going to school. I’ll bet one of ’em is bipolar too.” I shook my head and walked back to the gate.

The sentry returned with Reginald. His hands were tie-wrapped and he was gagged. His eyes got big when he saw me, and even bigger when he saw his father. I pulled out my Buck knife and approached Reginald, and he started to speak with his gag. I walked behind and cut the tie. “Go on” I told him. He beelined to the truck. His dad met him and hugged him.

“Mister” I started speaking to Tall guy. “Your son has a real big mouth. I almost shot him myself in front of everybody yesterday. He has been labeled a spy, gathering information about our group. It’s really amazing that he hasn’t had a major asskickin’ to shut that mouth of his. Take him and go.”

“What about my radio” Reginald asked.
“I’ll keep your radio, and you can keep living” I said.

Tall guy walked over to me and stuck his hand. “Thank you for giving my son back. I know he has a big mouth, we’ve had other problems because of it. I’m Reggie…SR.”
“Bennie” I said reaching out with my hand. We shook. He had a firm handshake. “Could we talk sometime soon? We may be able to help each other out.”

“Reggie” I started “I am all for meeting new people and discussing options. Why don’t you come here to the gate tomorrow morning, and we’ll talk over breakfast. Just tell the sentries to radio me, and we’ll have you escorted in. OK?”

We were still shaking hands. “Bennie, thank you. I’ll be here.”

They all jumped into the truck, and drove away. We watched until they went out of sight.

“Porky?” I said.

“I think he said Pokey” said one sentry.

“Pokey? Porky? WTF?” I said.

“Eagle1 to Ghost.”

“Go ahead.”

“Thanks.”

“10-4.”

CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX

I left the main gate and headed up the street. People were waiting. I keyed the radio and announced. “Eagle 1 to all. All is well. Repeat, all is well.” I walked up to those who were seemingly curious and said “we gave our spy back to his dad. It turns out the spy has a brother, with a mouth just like Reginald’s. No one was hurt. We just kinda of flexed our muscle a little.” I turned and headed to Walter’s. I hope he’s got some extra firepower for us.

I walked up the side street that looped back to L street, stopping a Walter’s. He was in the garage. “Walter, how goes it you mad scientist you?”

He looked up and smiled. “You know, Bennie? I sometimes feel like an evil scientist since the stuff I’m making is for killing people. It kind of changes the perspective a little.”

We shook hands and I said “I see they recruited your assistant away from you for today.”

He sighed and said, “Yes, Darren was needed to help with the patrols. I’ve pretty done all I can do for now. Everything Army asked for the Recon is ready to go for tonight.”

“What do you have?” I asked.

He showed me a box what looked like some type of Molotov cocktails. “These are napalm cocktails” he started. “They’re fairly harmless unless they’re ignited. Just light the rag, chunk one and” he motioned with his hands and arms “whoosh! Instant fireball. The fire will burn hotter, brighter and longer than the run of the mill Molotov. Correctly placed, these can funnel the enemy to where you want him, if you get my meaning. Basically, they’re made of gasoline, mixed with some Styrofoam peanuts, and used motor oil.”

My wheels were already turning. “Got it” I said.

I noticed long pipes on the floor. “And those?”

“Those are just some very basic portable cannons…no more than one shot though. Look.” He rolled one over. “Here is the fuse hole. You just put one of these in” he went to a crate next to the wall and pulled out a sack “and shove it to the end with this.” He pulled a long stick that had like a cork on the end that would just fit inside the barrel. “Then you put your load of whatever you’re going to shoot. If you had a sack of ball bearings, it would be like a huge shotgun. I haven’t devised any type of exploding projectile, that’s a little out of my league. I’d need a huge testing area for that, but you can still put nails, glass, or whatever down the barrel and shoot it out. The heavier the projectile, the longer the range. Unfortunately, it’s not real accurate at any distance greater than maybe across the street.”

I looked at it and said “what about some type of napalm bladder as projectile? It would ignite at ignition, right? Anything in front for 50 yards would be consumed in raging flames. We could even use several in one shot…if it’s just one time use, then why not go out big?”

He cradled his chin on his hand, pondering what I just said. “Hmmm. Yes, the trick would be the material for the bladder, or even some good wadding on top of the powder charge and you could still load the bottles. You might want to use a time-release fuse. I don’t know how close I’d want to be when it went off, but yeah, that’s definitely a feasible use. Of course, if your shooting something solid like 10 pounds of 3/8 inch steel ball bearings, you better have it backed up against something or it will lose muzzle velocity. It would have to be bolted down, or up against say a wall or tree so it wouldn’t kick backwards. And don’t put too much stuff down the barrel or it could turn into a huge bomb itself…if you catch my drift.”

“Oh yes, I used to make small bombs out of like the powder from 500 firecrackers when I was young. Cram the powder in, and tape it up real good. Bore a hole in the side, and use waterproof fuses like they use on cherry bombs. No shrapnel, but really made lot of noise. I understand about too much projectile. I would probably stick with the napalm. Something they wouldn’t expect you know? It would throw off the enemy…confuse them, and well, hopefully catch a few of them on fire. Is that bad?”

He chuckled. “Naw, these are hard times. Look what Jim brought me.” He walked to the back of the garage and pointed to a couple of really heavy pieces of pipe about 6 feet long. “Jim calls this drill collar pipe. This pipe weighs like 200 lbs. This will be one of several fougasses that will buried in the street to shoot straight up at some poor slob driving over with an APC or maybe a tank, if necessary.”

“I’m no expert, but I would think that would do the job. What else have you made?”

He walked over to another crate and pulled out a piece of 3 or 4 inch pipe that was cut longways. “This is one of my homemade shaped charges. It’s kind of a homemade claymore. It has to be anchored or set against something. I used my plastique, and Jim brought a whole bunch of OO buckshot. I just embedded the shot onto the plastique with a little epoxy. It requires a detonator or a very hot fire to ignite it.”

“Like a napalm fire?” I quizzed.

“We won’t need those tonight, but I can think of many other uses for those.”Would you do me a personal discreet favor?” I asked him quietly.

“Sure” he answered.

I leaned closer in and spoke softly. “You are aware of the mission tonight, correct?”

“Yes” he answered quietly.

“Between you and I, I think the county has fed us wrong intel on purpose, and our Recon patrol is going to run into some serious trouble. What I need is two or three of something that’s portable and hopefully one can throw it by hand, that has a super explosive punch; shrapnel, ball bearings, OO shot, whatever you got. I’d like a cannon too to mount to the top of the Mustang with some napalm bombs. Can you rig up 2 or 3 bombs like that? If they’re too big, then we’ll have to place them. Basically, a large hand grenade is what I’m after.”

“I have the cannons already, but you’re probably a little safer just using them like a bazooka, instead of mounting them to a vehicle” he said seriously. “And as I understand, you have plenty of hand grenades, but I can get some pipe bombs ready easily.” He thought for a few seconds, and asked “Can I go too?”

“Walter” I put my hand on his shoulder “if we have to go to help them, it’s going to be hell on earth my friend. I’m sure they can expect far more than “about 100″ as the deputy put it. We need an equalizer. Perhaps you could whip up some of these for their group as well, like the napalm cannons. Do you know what? A regular, everyday, pipe bomb would work as good as anything. Those would be all we’d need. Maybe tie one to a napalm bomb. We don’t need a MOAB yet.”
“MOAB?” he looked perplexed.

“Mother Of All Bombs” I answered. “They supposedly have enough power to wipe out all life for like 2 miles in every direction. They’re designed to explode a few feet off the ground for max kill power. In theory, one MOAB can wipe out like 30,000 troops if the troops are concentrated enough.”

“I get it” he said ” and that gives me an idea for something later.”

“As it stands, they’re going to have 8 people going along. That pickup will have six people in the back. If the fight is on one side, all of the will be shooting from that side. Can you imagine the confusion that might ensue if something like that happens? Don’t say anything to Army about my knowing about this, because I’m not supposed to know. So, what do you say? Can you do it?”

“Yes, I’ll get started right away. I only have to pack the charges as I already have some pipe cut and threaded.”

“Throw in a sack of steel ball bearings” I said as we shook hands. “I’ll bring them back if I don’t use them.”
I turned and left to go find the Mustang.

I stopped at the gate and checked on the sentries…all was quiet.

It was at Army’s garage. It had 1/2 tank of gas. I checked the trunk; empty. The keys were in it, as always.

I headed to the north gate and that would give me time to think this through.

I started thinking about who I was going to “recruit” for this evening’s extra excursion. Myself, Al, AJ, like it or not, Clay would have to go or walk a gate for the night. The car will only hold 5, and that’s an uncomfortable 5. We’re all going to be carrying every mag we can possibly hold, and those will be fully loaded. The same with pistols. We’ll carry some extra ammo in the trunk, but only loaded mags. No one needs to be loading mags during a firefight. We’ll have some napalm bombs, and we’ll have to mount the cannon on the roof of the car…it’s too long to put inside. Fred is capable, but he’s kind of big. Geez, all of us are 6 feet…and we still need one more. We’ll have to work on the car and remove the fuses for the brake and taillight circuits. Make sure I have matches or lighters to light the fuses and wicks. I guess I’ll leave the Mossberg home. I’ll take one of the newly acquired AKs. Probably be a good idea to load every stinking mag for those and take…wait. Better if everyone carries AKs for ammo sake, it’s all the same; same mag, same ammo, just a duffel full of mags and they’re all the same. I like that. Recon 1 will probably use AKs as well, except for Mandy with her BAR. Wait, there’s only 10 full auto AKs and the rest are for the sentries. That’s ok because we’ll load every AK mag and take it with us for the others. So that limits us to Al’s AK, AJ’s AR, Clay’s AR, all semi auto, and what about me? Mister Pistol? There are still the 9mm. Those hold like 15 rounds in each mag, there were 12 mags for both pistols. Or maybe just the 9mm and I’ll man the napalm cannon, the pipe and fire bombs, I might could get 2 rounds through the cannon if the barrel does not ignite on the inside. I’ll have to deal with Army later about mounting a cannon… on my car? I can just hear him. A couple of rounds of the napalm ought to scatter them. They won’t be expecting that. Plus I’ll have hand thrown napalms too with the pipe bombs. With 4 extra guns, the fire and pipe bombs oughta be enough. Wait, I’ll bring a couple of Law’s rockets for Army. Those will give us a huge upper hand. By then, their population will be severely dwindled. Ok, that will work. I guess we’ll just take four. I’ll drive. Al shotgun, AJ and Clay in the back. I can’t say anything to anyone until after Recon 1 has gone. How to proceed. Shadow them? Pick their brain about their daytime mission? That would be wise. Make them send a signal if they get into trouble? How? Flare gun? That would work too. I’ll get the flare gun to Mandy secretly. There’s bound to be one in someone’s boats, there are several boats in this neighborhood. They all should have flares. 4th of July rocket? Good idea, but who’d have one? AJ! That guy is a little kid at heart. He just might have one. I’ll have to check with the gates, and they may not like having to run another shift. I’ll ask them if they want to move to a different gate for a change of scenery.

“Where are you?” a voice said. I was totally unaware that I had walked back to Al’s right past George, Gina, Sandy, Lea, and Marie, who were standing at the food bank.

I laughed and looked sheepishly at the ground. “Yes, I was a million miles away. What are you guys doin’?”

“We were talking about why there is nothing going on here today” said George.

My silence was obvious. I never was good at keeping a big secret. The more quiet I was, the more obvious I was hiding something. I walked right over to their little group, and stood well within their personal spaces. “Do you guys trust me?” I asked them. “Without question?”

They looked at each other, and nodded. “Good. I need for you not to ask me any questions. I will tell you later. There is something serious happening this evening. I need all of you to get your pistols, rifles, shotguns bats, rocks and help watch the perimeter this evening. If there’s not enough guns, teach the ‘have-nots’ how to load magazines. Don’t ask me any more until Recon leaves on their mission tonight. OK? Please? This has to be kept quiet.”

Lea walked over to me, took me hand and said in a low voice “You’re going with them, aren’t you?”

“Please” I said, “all of you. I can’t let this leak to Army. I’ll tell you everything later; I promise.”

I stepped away under their stares, and walked back up. “When the daylight recon returns, they’ll be hungry. I don’t think it would be wise to use bbq pits this evening at our place. That reminds me, has anyone seen Rudolfo, the mason guy?”

George answered “Yes we’ve talked to him and he’s over at Jenna’s new place working on an oven. He’s actually gotten a lot done.”

“Great!” I said. “What I was going to say was, that we need to have some food ready for the Recon patrol, and the sentries at the gates. We’ll have to deliver food to the sentries until they are relieved; and that might not be until morning.”

Gina spoke up “I thought that Jenna’s girls were doing the kitchen thing.”

“That’s the plan” I nodded.

“Well, I’m certain that Brandi came over and got like 10 lbs of dry pintos. I think they are starting the kitchen today.”

“Perhaps we should pay them a visit” I said as I turned towards their new home. The garage was open so I just kind of walked saying “Hello ladies.”

Margret came out drying her hands on an apron. “Hello Bennie. What brings you to the kitchen?”

“I heard that you gals were already diving in today. Is that true?”

“Yes, we have a ways to go, but there will be a few things ready in about 30 minutes.”

“Excellent! You ladies have already exceeded my expectations. I’ll be off and see you later.”

“Wait!” Margret said. “What’s your favorite food?”

Without much hesitation, I said “if I had my druthers, I think I could eat tortilla chips and pico de gallo pretty much all the time.” I patted my belly “but it’s not good for me! Gotta run, thanks for askin’.” I turned and walked back to the street over to George’s where the rest were still standing. “You were right. They are on top of it. She said there would be some food ready in about half an hour. You can pass that along. If people still come up for food, ask nicely if they would donate their charcoal and firewood to the kitchen so A. we won’t be out as much food, and B. this will save us a lot of wasted charcoal and wood. Sound OK?”

“Yes, there will always be those that don’t like it” said Marie.

“I know, and then we’ll have to check on their garden and see if they are earning their keep. If not, we cut them off of the food bank and they can eat after everyone else has finished until they get their garden up to speed. We cannot afford to have any freeloaders here” I finished by sounding a little annoyed at the thought. “Furthermore, we should have garden inspection from time to time to see if everyone is actually doing what they’re supposed to do. Also, please inform the masses that we may have some tropical weather in a few days. The deputy said there was a tropical storm crossing the Yucatan heading this way. We’ll probably get some rain, and we need to figure out how to get water into those giant containers.”

“Containers?” said Marie.

“Yes, there is another at the deputy’s house…500 gallons each, I believe. Let the folks know to get an empty jug or two and put them outside with a funnel, under a rain gutter with something over the downspout like pantyhose or cheesecloth to filter out the stuff from the roof. Make it clear they shouldn’t drink it until it’s be sanitized. I have enough of that to purify half the ditch water. I thought that was some good news.”

“Quietly round up your guns and see what you have” I went on. “Lea carries a .22 semi auto, but prefers the revolver as they are easier to use. We have two revolvers, that are also .22. Al has a .22 rifle, a Winchester 30-30, a nice deer rifle, a smaller .45, but still a .45. He also has a 12 gauge semi auto shot gun, and a 16 gauge single shot.” I turned to Marie “look those up and locate some ammo for each. Ask Lea to load up her mags for the .22.”

I looked at George “George, do you have a problem killing someone who is trying to kill you or one of us?’

“Yes I do”.

“All right, do you have a problem carrying a gun and looking like you mean business?”

He shook his head a rather unconvincing ‘no’.

“Good” I said “because I need to you stand watch at a gate tonight. Find Jonas and let him know that he’s up for gate duty this evening for a while. Fred too” as I looked at Sandy.

“I had another idea” I started. “Be thinking of a way that we could all quickly identify a member of this neighborhood; something in common for everyone. A bracelet, tattoo, I don’t know, but after what happened yesterday, we need to think about some more security.”

“I’m going to check on the gates now. I’ll be back after while.” I turned and headed north.

I hadn’t gotten far when Clay spotted me, and headed towards me. He met about half way “what’s going on? There is nothing happening over there.”

“That’s the way we all would like it to be and probably because we have armed sentries, just that fact alone is why it’s quiet” as we continued toward the gate.

I stopped and said “are you aware of the mission tonight?”

“Yes” he nodded.

“I have it in my head that the Recon patrol is walking into a trap. I am organizing a second Recon to help them in their hour of need. Do you want to go? We’re probably going up against 200+ of these white tee gangsters. They won’t be well armed with firearms, but they will have the usual bats, chains, clubs, rocks, stuff like that. Their strength is their numbers. Recon 1 was asked to go out this evening for search and destroy; in other words, kill as many as possible. Recon 1 was told there would be about 100. There’s something wrong with that. Too many things do not add up. Why would Army just up and agree to do this for the deputy? The deputy could be feeding us bad intel, and probably not by his doing, but following orders. I believe that there are many more than what we were told. If that’s the case. 8 men shooting full auto AKs at 200 rushing gangers, will be overrun before too long. My plan is to follow them back a ways, and dive in when the fighting gets heavy. Plus, I got some special surprises coming from Walter the bomb maker. I have included myself, Al because of his experience with firearms, AJ, because of his experience with firearms, and I need one more. If you don’t want to go, then I’ll need you here to walk roving patrol throughout the ‘hood. You’d be checking all the gates, and you don’t necessarily need to let them know you’re watching them, and walking the west perimeter, which is our weakest. It’s a lot of walking, but it has to be done. The sentries that are here now will be pulling a shift for the rest of the day; probably for at least 12 more hours. That’s risky on their attention level. They have to change gates every few hours to not get bored. I’ll get one of the guys at the main gate if you want to help out here.”

“Part of me wants to go, but I don’t know how I’d react in a situation like that. It scares me just thinking about it. I’d probably freeze up.”

“That’s cool” I said patting him on the shoulder. “We’ll need you here OK?” I got up and said “besides, we don’t want Paula coming over here and finding out you’re dead! She’d kill you and me too!”

We both laughed. I headed south toward the big T, and Clay went back to the North Gate.

.

CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN

“Main Gate to Eagle 1”

“Go ahead” I said.

“Recon approaching from the south.”

“On my way” and I headed toward the Main Gate. I started walking fast, but decided to amble instead. By the time I got to the gate, the truck was already parked in front of Army’s house, and they were bailing out. That’s a good sign. At least no one required a trip to the infirmary. Jim waved to me as he hopped out of the back. I waved as well. I realized something: I was worried, and I missed them.

As I approached, Jim said “well I can see that you’re in no hurry to check on us; to see if we’re ok, or if someone was injured or dead.”

I was quick to retort “I would be running if I saw the pickup pull up to the infirmary, because then I’d know that something was wrong. I missed you too my friend” I said with a smile. The rest of them were unloading their ammo and mags.

Army said to them “you all go get something to eat and get some rest.” He pointed at me and said “I need to talk to you now” he said with very serious look and tone. “Of course” I answered looking at Jim. He quickly turned away, but not quick enough.

“OK you two, I don’t have to read minds to know that something ain’t right” I told the both of them. By then, the rest of the Recon had headed down the street to the kitchen. Army and Jim pulled their duffels out of the pickup and motioned me to go with them to Army’s garage, where we stood in the shade.

“We were told” Army began, “that this was a search and destroy of these bastards the white-tee gang…and we were to maybe expect a hundred of them; no more. After our afternoon excursion,” he was cut off because I interrupted.

“Saw a whole helluva lot more than a hundred, didn’t you?” I looked at both of them. “Didn’t you?” I repeated more forceful.

“Yes” Army answered with a surprised tone. “How could you possibly know that?”

“I noticed a couple of odd things, that didn’t fit” I said. “How many do you think there may be?” I then asked him.

“More like 300” said Jim.

I was quiet for a few seconds like I didn’t know what to do, then I started my speech.

“Al, AJ, myself, and one of your sentries from the main gate will follow in the Mustang. I checked the gas, it’s got half tank. All of your guys will be carrying full auto AKs. Mandy will have her BAR so there will be three extra. Give them to our vehicle. We’ll fill every magazine we have with every round we have. I won’t use a rifle, but I’ll carry those two nine mils we found with the 12 mags; that’s 180 rounds.”

Army inhaled to speak and I held up my hand and said “patience, my friend. I am far from finished. I spoke to Walter this afternoon right after you left. He has come up with some…shall we say…field multipliers?”

I told them about the napalm cocktails, and the cannons. Then I went on about the pipe bombs, and some of the “special” rounds we could use. “Not to mention your Law’s rockets, the RPGs, and the grenades. Before you say a word, think about everything I said.”

I reached into my pack for my flask with the bourbon. I unscrewed the top, took a sip, and passed it to Jim. Jim took a sip and passed it to Army, who passed it back to me. I lit a smoke, and took another sip and passed the flask around again. We were silent for several minutes.

“Before you make a decision, we should go talk to Walter. He mentioned another possible surprise for us” I said softly.

“What else do you think he could add?” asked Army, who seemed totally surprised at all the things I told him.

“I mentioned in passing about a MOAB” I said and continued “when I explained what they were, I could see the gears turning inside. He could make a mini-MOAB using that beat up Ford Fiesta over on that side street. We just pull the seats and the engine out. We don’t have to be gentle either. He places his bomb inside, with several hundred pounds of ball bearings, gallons of napalm, and anything else that could break apart as shrapnel. We put it on the trailer, and just disconnect the trailer, and leave it there and detonate. Boom! the battle begins…maybe it’s over before it really starts. I’m sure you now have some intel about their nest.”

“Yep, we know where it is” Army started. “What we think is their HQ is just a house that’s really not buried that far into the neighborhood” he said looking at Jim. “They have an alley behind that was totally open, end to end. We could drop that mini-MOAB there and leave it; you know set a time or whatever Walter uses.” That would be smack dab in the middle of the turf. When those roaches begin coming out of the walls, the rest would be like a shooting gallery.” He pulled out a pad and drew a map. “We approach both vehicles from the north on 29th. The first block past the school has the alley. The Mustang will pull the trailer, go down the alley, and unhook it, and leave down the alley. We meet on the road to the north, and”

“I don’t think we want to be that close young man” I said. “It this does what I think it will, we’ll need to get as far away as we can in like 30 seconds. After that, we could clean up. That bomb will likely clear a spot big enough to be seen from orbit. I don’t wanna be too close. Isn’t there a school across the street? That might be a perfect place to hide behind, and make our last attack from. Wide open space. If they decide to come after us, then we just have target practice. If it gets hairy, then grenade time. Then the napalm cannons and cocktails. Hell, we could throw some napalm bombs around the hood to expand the circle of fire; you know just break a few on the street here an there. We couldn’t stop for lemonade though, we’d kinda hafta be movin’ fest?” That broke the seriousness and we all laughed a little.

“Yeah Bennie, I hear you” Jim said nodding. We need to see what Walter has before we make any more plans” he added getting up.

I put the flask away, flung my butt into the street, and said “Let’s go gents” and we headed to Walter’s. “What did you see today?” I asked.

“We saw that neighborhood south of the school just crawling with the t-shirts” Jim replied. “They watched us really close, and the looks we got were absolutely not friendly. A couple of times some guys threw some rocks. We drove up and down most of that area, and it seems that most of the shirts were in those first two blocks, right Army?”

“Yeah, it seemed that way to me too” replied Army. We arrived at Walter’s who was still in the garage, but had a large box on a moving dolly by the garage door.

He saw us and broke into a grin “Hi guys! How did the recon go? Did Bennie tell you what we’re making? And wait! I have a special surprise” and he pointed to the box. It was one of the crates the grenades came in. He opened it and started talking. “This M&M has a hundred pounds of plastique inside those chunks of pipe.”

“M&M?” Army asked.

“Yeah M&M for Mini-MOAB. Clever huh?” and he continued. I have about 200 lbs of assorted steel balls we got from Beverly…you know Stan the mechanic, Robby’s brother?” I nodded. It’s around 500 or so, but he also had a whole shitload of these chards, that look like he saved a lot of scraps from cutting plates of steel. I’ll put a big box of these in the box as well. The box will have a steel plate on the bottom and will be bolted to another steel place on top.” He paused to see what we would do.

“I get it” I said. So the projectiles are shot out in a 180 degree circle, parallel to the ground. This way, the balls only shoot out the sides…not out the top of the bomb. Great idea Walter!”

Jim and Army nodded like they got it.

“There’s more” Walter said. We’ll use these napalm balloons also inside the car, all the way around. There will be fire on top of fire on top of thousands of projectiles coming out of this baby.”

“How’s it detonated?” Army asked.

“That’s the tricky part” he said. “This bomb is nothing anyone wants to be near when it explodes. With all the napalm in there, it could be very iffy to light a fuse.”

I started “Walter, I’ve got one of those windup alarm clocks that the dinger goes back and forth between the two bells on top…certainly something like that would work.”
“Oh yes, yes, that would be perfect! Please bring it! As soon as you can!” Walter was excited.

“I’ll be right back” I said and I exited toward the west end of the loop. Some folks were gathered at the kitchen as I passed by. It smelled really good, but I went on to the house to find that damn clock.I hope I can find it. I’m not sure where it would be…with my stuff..oh the box with all the Crown Royal bags.I went right to the box, got the clock and the Hamilton, and headed back to Walter’s. Was I dreaming? Yes, I was dreaming to think that I could walk by George and Gina’s and the kitchen twice in 4 minutes, and not get stopped.

“Oh Bennie!” called Lea. “Would you come here please?” She was over at the kitchen with George, Gina, Marie, and Sandy. “Yes dear” I said “I’m kinda in a hurry..what do you need?”

“We want to know what’s going on” she exclaimed. The Recon patrol is not saying anything…”

I interrupted her “Did you forget everything I told you people and hour ago? Be patient.” I pulled her close and said softly “we may have a spy here still. I cannot say anything right now.” I kissed her cheek, smiled at the rest standing there and I said while walking away, “I’m off to Walter’s.”

Walter was ecstatic about the clock. “Say, this is an old one.”
“Yep, it was my gramma’s and it still works just fine. It’s yours for the cause.”

“Yes, this will work fine. You will have to let me know how long you want it set for. It’ll have to be started here before you leave.” Walter kind of winced because that was not good news. Somehow, we’d have to figure driving time to the drop off point, unhitch the trailer, and get some distance between us and the M&M. And the only working timepiece was my Hamilton.

“I have the Hamilton” I said. “It’s a windup watch that the railroads used to used at the turn of the century. It still works. We’ll have to use the Hamilton as the watch our timer on the bomb and drive accordingly.”

“That will be fine” said Walter. You still need to tell me what time to detonate. I have to put the clock inside before we bolt it together.”
“I’ll let you know in plenty of time” Army said. “Where’s that mechanic? We need to get started on the car and trailer so Walter can get this bomb inside. We’re going to use one of the water trailers, right Bennie?”

“Yep” I answered.

“I’ll go find the mechanic” said Jim. “He’s probably at the kitchen, and I’m hungry too” and he headed off.

“What else do you have ready” I asked Walter.

Walter looked at me like whether or not he should say anything. “It’s OK Walter” I said. “I told Army everything.”

“I made 20 pipe bombs” he showed us one. It seemed very typical. “It’s about a 6 second fuse. Look where you’re going to throw it, light it and throw. Hold if it’ll be closer. Any closer to thrower than 20 feet will be fatal.” He looked both of us in the eye. “This ain’t no grenade. This is worse…I mean it!”

“I understand Walter” I said, “go ahead.”

He continued “There are two crates of the cocktails” he walked over to show us. They were all stuffed with rags tightly in the necks. “No smoking around these. Keep these away from open fire. They are a little gassy. There are 24 of them. I had to use the rest of the napalm in the bomb. And these” he pointed and walked over to the cannons “are the launchers…cannons if you must. There are 6 powder charges, that’s six shots. You could maybe put two charges in as long as your projectile wasn’t real heavy. I have two sacks of OO buckshot, courtesy of Jim. I put them in smaller sacks to fit down the barrel. It’s just a big shotgun. You could put a charge, a sack of buckshot, and a cocktail at once. Be sure you have some fuse to stick in the end. Be sure you poke a hole in the powder sack after you ram it to the end with an icepick or something. You could, in a pinch, stuff the end with rocks or what have you, and put this ” it looked like the endcap of the cannon “over the end, use a longer fuse, and haul ass. It will be like a huge pipe bomb. Be sure to get the hell outa there…60 feet away minimum. There are two of these. I don’t know how they will work. They may only be good for one shot it the ass end cap is blown off. The napalm projectiles will cause less stress on the ass cap than the OO. Remember that. Do not stand behind this when firing. It has to be set against something…a tree…the side of the truck to keep it from kicking back. If you don’t, you will lose velocity and range. Any questions?”

I looked at Army, shrugged, and said “we’ll take ’em! We will get the car ready so you can finish the minime.”

“Minime?” said Walter.

“Yeah, the M&M. It’s just easier to type” I answered.

Walter rolled his eyes.

“OK, OK Walter. From now on it will be designated as WWMD..Walter’s Weapon of Mass Destruction. How’s that?”

“How about the Wally Bomb? How about the Wallinator? How about Wally the Judge? No wonder scientists never get along with the regular world.” He looked a little disgusted, and went back to his workbench.

Jim came back with a plate and mouthful of food. He was pointing to the plate, and I said ‘OK Jim, stomp once for good food, and twice that Bennie’s is better.”

One stomp was all I got, as I predicted. When he finished is mouthful, he said “the mechanic is gathering his crew, and they’re going to strip the car, and push it over here.”

“OK, I’ll need to get the water tank off the trailer, and get the trailer here too.”

“Why don’t you ride with me” Army said. “The Mustang will be pulling the trailer anyway for the mission…save you some steps…Porky.”

My trigger finger twitched.

“Oh, so you heard. I plum forgot to tell you about Reggie. Good thing you forgot to execute the kid. We could have had another battle on our hands. He’s due in here in the morning to talk, I assume, an alliance.”

“Alliance?”

“This is my guess. That is a gated community, which spells wealthy people with big bucks. A lot of the time, folks with lots of money buy expensive stuff, but do not know how to use it. They probably have lots of weapons, generators, and high dollar bbq propane pits; you know stuff like that. I seriously doubt if any garden over there has more than a couple of tomato plants, and that bitch is probably the gardener of the month in that neighborhood. Let’s see what they have to offer, and if it’s worth our while…I’m sure it will be.”

“Bennie, you do have a way with words” Army said, laughing and shaking his head.

“It would probably be beneficial for one of us to go back with him, as a gesture to see how they’re set up” I added.

We arrived at the high-tech house, and there was help waiting for us. I went back to Al’s and picked up a small can of paint and paintbrush. I rejoined them, and we drove the trailer to Walter’s for a bomb fitting. Robert, the mechanic and his crew were pushing the Fiesta down the street after a few minutes. The trailer had ramps that we had prepared, and help the guys push the car up the ramp. They really didn’t need our help as without engine, transmission, and interior, the car probably weighed less than 1400 lbs. I noticed that they left the emergency brake installed…good idea.

Walter walked out and asked “OK, it’s decision making time. What time do I set this to go off?”

I pulled out my Hamilton, and prepared to synch it with the windup clock. “Army? Jim? Bennie?” Walter was pressing for an answer.

“2:30 am” I said. No one argued.

Walter looked around. “So be it.” He wound the clock and synched it with the Hamilton. “7:30 now?” he asked me.

“Got it” and I set the Hamilton.

We were so engrossed in what Walter was doing, that we didn’t notice a crowd gathering outside Walter’s property.

Lea was in the front, with her arms folded. “When are we going to hear about what’s going on?” she demanded.

Army and I stepped out into the yard and started from the beginning…what the deputy told him about the gang, how they were growing so fast that it was going to reach us in a matter of time…the day time recon that went to 29th by the school, our plan to leave the bomb in the alley…Our speech/explanation was interrupted by Lea.

“I taught at that school for 15 years” Lea said. “You guys are placing your bomb in the wrong place. It shouldn’t go in the alley. It should go further west in the parking lot by those apartments. Even better if you can get it placed between the apartment building and the house next door to the west. I’d bet anything that is where they have their HQ.”

Army and Jim listened, and looked at each other, then at me. “Better listen to her guys. She’s been all over that playground, and it extends to across the street from the apartments. Change of plan then? Might I suggest that we come in from the west down Dandelion street, drop the car off in the apartment building lot as close to the big house…or something similar, and haul ass across the street. We’ll need to arrive at the apartment like at 2:15 or so. We run over to the playground, set up our defensive position in the open…”

Walter interrupted. “You guys need to be a long way away from the blast.”
Lea added “drive to the north side of the school…you’ll be protected there. Then head back to make your stand.”

Walter continued “remember that this has lots of napalm in it, and it will throw intense fire burning for at least 200 feet, and it will continue to burn a while after. It would be better if you could put the car in the alley behind the apartment building. The bomb is designed to explode parallel to the ground, 180 degrees, a giant circle explosion. The blast is intensified in this way. If you put it in the open, you’ll waste it.”

I started in with “OK, then that’s what we’ll do. We’ll drive the trailer down the alley, unhitch and leave it. Walter is right. We can’t leave it in the open.”

“We leave here at 1:30. There is a convenience store at the corner of Dandelion and Weir road. We’ll wait there briefly to let time catch up. Perhaps we can enter the alley from the west; that would be ideal, as we could drop the trailer, and continue east to the street, and smoothly leave the blast zone. How does that sound to the Patrol?”

By now, most of the neighborhood had gathered, and were listening. “Who all is going to go along?” someone asked.

I answered “there will be 12 of us in all. We’re taking both vehicles. The Mustang will have myself, AL, AJ, and one more to be determined. The Mustang will also pull the trailer. The pickup will consist of the same members of the daytime Recon. Army, Jim, Mandy, Ted, Roberto, Juan, and David.”

“I’ll volunteer for the last spot” a voice said. The crowd looked around at the voice. Willie, one of the sentries had volunteered. “You’re in!” I said.

Army said “OK, we have preps to make. All of you going, need to eat now. We will be loading every mag for the AKs that we have. That should be 100 times 20 is 2000 rounds. Let’s get those filled and distributed to all those who are carrying AKs. That’s 200 rounds per gun. Carry your pistols, and fill their mags as well. Carry all that you can with you. We’re on our own. There is no backup. Report back here when your weapons are ready.”

“Someone should probably go tell Al and AJ that they’re going too. There still watching the South Gate” I said. “I’ll go. I volunteered them.” I walked towards the gate. Lea came along too.

“You don’t have to do this, you know” Lea started in. “There is a large supply of men here..”

“There is a short supply of men with balls” I interrupted. “Some fools put me in charge of this group. I am leading, and I am not alone in this.”

I stopped and looked at her. She had tears in her eyes. “If we don’t stop these guys now, they will be in our neighborhood in a couple of weeks. We would not be able to stop them. A sound military strategy is to take the fight to them. And with your intel, that is probably the clinching factor that will give us the advantage.” I took her hand, and we continued toward the south gate.

The three guys were still there, watching and waiting. I keyed the mic “Eagle 1 to North Gate.”

“Go ahead Eagle 1”

“Send Clay to the South Gate. He’s going to relieve them.”

“10-4”

“And have him stop at the kitchen for some food for himself and the sentry that’s here. We’ll have someone bring you guys food in a few”

“Thanks”

We arrived at the South Gate and I said “Al and AJ, we’re going on the Recon run tonight. I volunteered the both of you. I’ll brief you on the way to the kitchen. Darren, you are needed here. Clay is on his way to man this post with you. He’s also bringing food.”

“What about my relief? I’ve been here most of the day.?” asked Darren.

“I’m sorry son” I walked over to him. “We are shorthanded with men today. There are still roving patrols out watching your back, even though you probably don’t see them. We have to finish this mission, or all of our lives will be in jeopardy. I need you to walk a post. You can switch with another if you like, but this gate has to have a couple sentries on it all the time. OK?”

“OK.”

I patted him on the shoulder, then turned and the four of us headed north to the T. I could see Clay coming south. I briefed Al and AJ on the mission, and told them what they needed to bring. When we got to the T, Marie and Rhonda were waiting.

“You guys get something to eat, and prep for the mission. Meet at Walter’s when you’re ready.” They walked off with Marie and Rhonda.

Lea and walked over Al’s so I could get myself prepped. We went into the front bedroom and I found the two 9mm Glocks and the mags. I began to load up the 12 mags.

“What if you don’t come back? What’ll I do then?” She was at the verge of tears.

“Lea, love of my life, I need you to be strong now. You can help the other ladies by staying busy tonight. The gate sentries will need coffee and a snack from time to time. Get your guns out and load them. Have them ready. Put on your holster and be ready yourself. Take Ol’ Blue. Someone must be here to watch the west. Will you do that?” She nodded.

I continued “Of course I’ll be back. We won’t be gone long. Get out and make a round with a partner. If you help others, you will feel better. Everyone is scared tonight. You and Marie are the matriarchs of this group. Get out and show them your sand. You two walk together. If folks have their own guns, rotate them around the gates and the west side here. We’re all riding on little sleep and adrenalin. The gate sentries have been there for 24 hours already, and they’ll be there all night. They are really tired. They need to know all is well. They know what’s at stake, and yet, they need to know that their positions are not forgotten. You can help everyone here by being visible. Wear your sidearm, by golly! Carry that 12 gauge with that 50 round bandolier like you know what you’re doing! You’re not a coward! You’re spunky! Show them! We’ll be back by 4 at the latest.”

I finished loading the mags after a few minutes, and put them into a vest. I strapped on the two holsters, and decided to slip the .44 in my belt…just in case. I checked my Zippo. I found my fluid, and topped it off. The flint looked good. I pocketed it, and went out the door into Al’s driveway. I checked the Hamilton. 8:30. I went back inside for what had become my favorite flashlight; the hybrid. I slipped it into my vest.

Lea was waiting outside for me. She had indeed, strapped on her Beretta U22, and was carrying the Mossberg. “What? No bandolier?” I asked jokingly.

“It’s too heavy” she said.

“Take out about half the rounds” I told her. “Remove every other one.” She went back inside.

Al and AJ were returning to Al’s with their wives. “Did you guys get enough to eat?” I asked.

“I wasn’t very hungry” said AJ “even though I haven’t eaten since this morning.”

“Me neither” said Al.

“Well it’s no wonder, you both going to almost certain death” said Marie with disgust.

“Marie” I started firmly “if we don’t stop these guys now, they will be knocking on your door in a couple weeks, and we would not be able to stop them. Stop with that kind of talk. You have a huge responsibility here. You make double sure that the infirmary is ready, and I mean ready by 4 a.m. Get your nurse friend out and be ready. Expect the worst, and you’re usually surprised. I am counting on you to take care of come what may. I’ll watch your boys, and make sure they get back ok.”

“Is that all the weapons you’re carrying?” asked Al. “Where’s your 12 gauge? You never go anywhere without it.”

I answered “I am in charge of a lot of the ‘special ordinance’ we’ll be using tonight. I won’t need a rifle.”

Lea walked up at that moment with Ol’ Blue cradled in her arms. “Lea is going to use the Mossberg tonight” I said.

“To do what?” Marie asked.

“To walk around the complex and show everyone else that you’re prepared. I want you to do that too. And you too, Rhonda. I know you have a pistol. Stay visible for all to see here. I gave Lea some instructions. We’re only going to be gone a couple of hours. The gate sentries are pooped. Go talk to them. Get them to teach you what they know about keeping guard. Get the Jenna sisters too…and any others with firearms. One thing though, if you’re at a gate, you must listen and follow instructions from them. Keep the coffee going and refreshed.”

“How do you know all this stuff?” Rhonda asked. “I feel better knowing what you said.”

“It’s what I would do, and have been doing” I answered.

“You guys probably have time to catch a nap if you’re up to it. We won’t leave here until about 1:30” I told them.

“Shoot” AJ said “I can’t sleep.”

“Then I suggest you stay busy by loading up your mags, and maxing out your bullet carrying capacity. We’ll need to go over the plan again and again before we leave. I’ll see you guys there” I smiled at them all to lighten the mood. Lea and I walked off toward Walter’s.

“Wait for me!” it was Mandy. She ran up carrying her BAR. She had her .45 strapped on, and was carrying her vest. She really looked loaded down.

“Are you sure you want to go Mandy?” You don’t have to you know.” I kidded her.

“Are you kidding me?” she exclaimed. “This is going to be the most exciting thing I ever did in my life!” She was grinning from ear to ear. “I’m so excited!”

“Mandy” I stopped walking, and so did Lea and Mandy.

“We are going to try to kill 300 people tonight. Please keep that in perspective. They won’t like it; us trying to kill them and all. They will try kill us back; by any means necessary. Remember that, OK?”

She nodded, and her smile disappeared. “Any of us could be injured tonight. Personally, I’d like to see all of us make it through unscathed, and that’s a pretty tall order I’m afraid. It’s ok to be little scared. It’s part of what makes us human. Ready? Let’s go then.”

We began walking to Walter’s. We passed the kitchen (mistake), and here they came; George, Gina, Sandy, and the three Jenna sisters. They literally were jogging up to us.

“Bennie!” said Jenna. “We heard there was going to be a big battle tonight!” I did not answer right away.

“Yes” I stopped to listen. “We are preparing now to leave later to take the fight to a gang that has been terrorizing the city to the south of us. Their numbers are growing daily, and we’ve got to stop them before they reach us.”

“What can we do to help?” asked Jenna.

“You ladies are doing plenty to help with morale around here” I answered. “Did you hear the people talking here tonight during the meal? It was like a potluck supper at church. Smiling faces, people laughing…that’s because you have given them back a common thing..eating together as a community is almost an instinctive trait by people, and everybody feels great to eat your food! It was wonderful! There is a group of us going out this mission tonight, and the perimeter here is guarded by folks who have been on duty for 24 hours. Got leftovers? Make coffee and some snacks for the gate guards tonight. Talk to them. Be visible for all to see. If you have firearms, strap them on. Show the other 50 people here that they are not abandoned. Help them to see that they are still protected. I know it sounds kinda corny, but please don’t everyone cower down inside their homes. If someone is watching this community from the outside, they won’t touch us if they see armed people walking around…I mean it. You want to help more? That’s what I suggest. Can you bake quick cookies? Something sweet that doesn’t have to be baked? A sugary snack is always welcome. Do you see what I’m saying?”

“Thanks for your wonderful cooking” I said as I started walking down the street. “I look forward to tomorrow’s feast” I waved and smiled. Mandy and Lea were on either side of me.

“Nice little speech Dad” said Mandy.

“Yes, you have a knack for words that border on philosophical” Lea added.

“We don’t need folks panicking because 12 men are gone for 2 hours” I said. “This community should be able to fill any gap of someone if something happens, and continue on. It’s called autonomy. There’s no reason it can’t happen here.”

We arrived at Walter’s house, and the bomb fitting was almost done, from what I could tell. Walter yelled at me “Bennie, time?”

I pulled the Hamilton and said “9:00.”

“We’re right on time” he said excitedly. “Bennie, let me show you something.”

He motioned for me to get on the trailer and look at the bomb. I put a viewing glass on the side here so you can see where the time is, if something happens to your Hamilton; God forbid.”

“Good idea Walter” I told him. ” I was thinking about that.” I reached into my backpack for the paint and brush. The car was a very dark blue, and I had some plain white paint.

“What are you going to do with that?” said Walter.

“What do you think I’m going to do with it? ” retorted. “We have to christen the beast; after all, it’ll probably contribute hugely to saving all our lives.” I said matter-of-factually. I got no argument that time.

“I need some suggestions to name this piece of modern scientific ingenuity” I called rather loudly so the group could hear. “Any ideas? Anyone?”

“Tee Terminator” said one.

“That’s clever” I answered.

“WALLYMINATOR” I said “with accent on the Y.”

“Hell on Wheels” said another. I nodded with approval. “It will definitely be that” I agreed.

“Rolling Thunder”

“Great Balls of Fire”

“I’m going to leave it up to Walter” I said. “Those are all good names.” I whipped out my brush.

“Wait just a minute” a feeble voice said. “You can’t write worth a damn dad. I’ll do the artwork.” It was H.

The crowd went hushed. “She’s right” I concurred. “Ever since 4th grade. Never could get it right. Maybe it was a ploy to get you to do it…H.” The crowd laughed a little. I handed the paint and brush to her as she climbed onto the trailer.

“Well Walter?” I asked. “What’ll it be?”

“I’m torn between ‘Tee Terminator’ and WALLYMINATOR” he answered.

“How about just a skull? Followed by a T?” I suggested.

“Yeah!” Walter exclaimed. “That’s good!”

“OK” replied H and drew a huge skull, followed by a giant T on both sides of the vehicle, and on the hood.

I checked the Hamilton. It was 9:30.

Army spoke up. “Recon members! I need your attention please!” the crowd quieted. “I need to brief the Recon team on their mission. We need to talk it out loud, and repeat it, look at the map, memorize it, do it. Please give us some time to study this by ourselves. Guys, come on in the garage. Stow your gear in whatever vehicle you’re in.”

I popped the trunk on the Mustang, and loaded the pipe bombs, cocktails, the two OO sacks, and the six powder charges. The two launchers went into the pickup. The T killer was strapped down.

Walter walked up, carrying a 5 gallon gas can. “This is 5 gallons of the napalm. Just open it, and pour out behind the truck as it drives down the street.” He put it into the back of the truck.

Army started our briefing “Ok, I think this is what we’ll do. This mission is divided into two parts; Plan B. before blast, and Plan A. after blast. Please hold your comments until I’m finished. We take the two vehicles down Owens to Weir, then south to Dandelion at the 7-11. We’ll park there for a while until 2:15. If at all possible, I’d like to take a couple of guys to see if there is an alley that would run from Weir on east to 30th. If so, and if it’s clear, then at 2:15, we’ll pull the trailer out on Weir, turning east into the alley. We’ll drop the trailer behind the second house; between the apartment building and the second house. The trailer is disconnected, and the Mustang proceeds to 30th, turns left and to Dandelion, where it drives across the playground to the northeast side of the school. The pickup will drive east on Dandelion. We will uncork the 5 gallon napalm can after we pass 3-4 houses past 30th street, dousing our trail good, to set up a solid firewall all the way to 29th.

I am guessing that the apartment and the big houses will be obliterated by the blast; possibly blocking Dandelion with fire at that position. That will shut off their escape to the west on that street. They can still get into the ditch at the west side of the school property depending on the blast radius. If this blast is as good as Walter says it will be, then there should be fire in the ditch for a 100 feet or so; maybe more, keeping the roaches from escaping to the west. I would like to run some napalm on 29th, southward, using the launcher to keep the roaches contained inside our new fire perimeter, which will include Dandelion street, once we establish a napalm perimeter on the east. If we keep them holed up between these two firewalls, they’ll be forced to come at us from a width of like 3 or 4 houses. We’ll have to get close, like across the street from the row of houses. We don’t anticipate any large caliber arms fire, but we’ve been lied to already about this. If they are not trying to escape the fires by now, then our job is done, and they’re all dead. I wouldn’t count on it. We’ll save a couple of the napalm cocktails for the launchers. We’ll see how the napalm works. We may not have to use all of them to ignite the houses. Now who has lighters?”

I whipped out my Zippo, opened,it and lit it; first time. Al held up his cigar torch and added “I just filled it. This will help with the launchers. It will torch the hole directly if we cannot get a fuse in it.”

Army whipped out his Zippo and threw it at me. I caught it and said “what?”

“Pick a partner” he said.

“I’ll choose Willie” I said. I tossed the lighter to him. He was the logical choice. We was riding with us in the Mustang, and he volunteered.

“What next?” I asked.

“This all hinges on whether or not there is an alley behind that apartment building” Army said. “If there’s not, then the other plan is to drive the car in the middle of the courtyard, and leave it there…yeah, it’s riskier I know. That part of town is a little old, so I’d bet a steak dinner that there is an alley where we all hope it is. Also, we have no idea how the napalm launchers work. They may be fantastic, they may be utter failures for reasons we cannot fathom. If Bennie gets down to 29th with that first launch, and it just pisses out the end, we gotta get down there…”

I raised my hand. “Go Bennie” said Army.

What if, after we drop the bomb off, instead of going to Dandelion and driving across the school yard, we go right? Then turn on the next street left all the way to 29th. We drop napalm cocktails on 29th street all the way to Dandelion. We drive up to meet you guys, and wait for the T-killer to blow. Willie and I stay with the Mustang, Al and AJ hop into the pickup, and you assess where to make your stand on the playground. We take the Mustang, and use the launcher to set hellfire down 29th. We load the second launcher with two cocktails, and launch them facing west down Dandelion. That would funnel those roaches coming onto the street right at you guys and your 2000 rounds of ammo and…adios muchachos. We chunk a few pipe bombs down 29th at the house side of the street, just to stick it to ’em, and maybe throw a few into the first couple houses on Dandelion. Just an idea.”

Army scratched his chin for a few seconds. “You two better not hang out too long on the corner. You are not well armed. You have to constantly assess your situation. It will change rapidly for the entire battle. One more thing; it would be better if you’re trying to lengthen your firewall, so to speak, that you throw those cocktails so that when the hit the street, that napalm will be maybe 6 feet long, instead of a big wet circle on the street. You get my meaning?”

I nodded.

“Ok, Army said. “Let’s go over it again. As it becomes clearer, ask questions.”

We went over and over and over again and again. “OK” he said. “What’s our time, Bennie?”
I pulled out the Hamilton. “11:30.”

“All right, let’s take a little break and another gear check. In two hours, we’re leaving. I want everyone here at 1:00. If you don’t have a watch, hang with Bennie. He won’t be very far.”

We opened the garage door and realized it had been hot in the garage. The night air felt cool, and there was a stiff breeze from the southeast, but that was typical for this part of the country. I lit up a smoke and went out to the driveway. A lot of people were still hanging around; mostly family members of the Recon team.

“How did it go?” Lea walked over and asked me.

“Fine…pretty much what I had pictured. What have you been doing?”

“I’ve been talking to some of the people here. A lot of them are scared that you guys won’t make it back.”

“What did you tell them?”

“I said that this had to be done for the future of all of us to stay here peacefully. And that you guys were very well armed, and a lot are ex-military, and have experience in these types of situations.”

“Very good Lea. Now you need to begin your patrolling. In the box we brought over from the house with the sugar in it, is a big bag of Jolly Rancher candies. Grab a couple handfuls and pass them around; especially to the sentries. It’ll help keep them awake. We’re still going to be here for a couple of hours. I need to think about my part in this so that I don’t make any mistakes. You get some help and do some patrolling. Just make a round and drop back by. The guys don’t need the distraction of all the families hanging around.”

“OK” I could tell she was disappointed. I gave her a kiss. “Thanks, I really needed that.” She turned and walked away.

Jim came over “are you ready?” We sat down on the curb.

“Jim, I’ve been ready since you guys drove off this morning. I knew this had to happen. I feel we are very fortunate to have the stuff that Walter has prepared for us.”

“Yep, Walter has been a great find for us. He really wanted to go along, you know.”

“Yeah” I said. “He asked me earlier today also. I have no doubt that he’s probably more qualified to be in a firefight than a lot of us going.”

“That was a good idea; naming the bomb for Walter” he said. “He’s very proud of what he’s done.”

“Make sure he gets a steak when we get back” I said.

“We’re all gonna get steaks when we get back” said Jim. “And a couple of beers” he added with a smile.

“I’ll go along with that, and about 8 hours of sleep. The sentries, who are supposed to do 4 hour shifts, will be pulling 24 hour shifts by the morning, you know. There is a lot of sleep to catch up on tomorrow.”

“Army and I both know that, and some of them made comments that you went and checked on them today; brought them food and made small talk. They appreciate that and so do I. You have a good instinct for folk’s needs.”

I flicked my butt into the street and Jim said, “you know? Those things can kill you!”

He stood up and pulled me up as well. I smiled and said “one more item on a growing list.”

“Final gear check?” I said, pulling the 9 mils out, and checking the mags. 12 extra mags. The vest wouldn’t hold them all, so I had put them in a side pocket on my backpack. I also decided to put some of the pipe bombs in the backpack. Check Zippo, light it, ok.

Others were checking their gear as well.

1:00 am

Lea and others started to gather at Walter’s as we continued to check our gear, and go over the plan. I remembered something Lea had said and walked over to Army.

“Lea mentioned that the north gate at the school could be locked with a padlock and chain. Might be a good idea to bring the bolt cutters” I said to him.

He was standing by the pickup cab, reached into his duffel, and pulled out the bolt cutters. “Third in line behind duct tape and baling wire” he said with a smile. “Stop worrying” he told me. It’s a good plan.”

“I know it is and I’m only worried about the things we haven’t thought about that could go wrong” I answered.

He stopped what he was doing and said “Bennie, you and I could stand here all night and figger out things to go wrong, and the list would be almost infinite. We have a good plan. You are great with contingencies. We’ll adapt as necessary. I know it.”

“Thanks, you’re right” I answered, a little relieved.

I walked back over to Lea and gave her a hug. “Remember what I said about showing your sand. Weaker people, folks who are more scared, need to see others unafraid. We don’t want to return to a neighborhood falling apart by mass hysteria.” I held her face in my hand and kissed her mouth, remembering our song by Sting, so many years ago; Fields of Gold. “I’ll see you in a couple of hours. I love you.”

“I love you too. Please be careful” she said.

Jim walked over, put his arm around my shoulder and said to her “don’t worry ma’am, I’ll see he don’t do anything foolish.”

Army came out and said “OK everybody, let’s saddle up!”

The Mustang crew was myself, driving, AJ and Willie in the back, and Al riding shotgun. The kids got in the back.The Mustang pulled the trailer.

The pickup crew was Army driving, Jim riding shotgun, and in the back were Mandy, Roberto, Alex, David, Juan, and Ted.

The vehicles started. The pickup led, and the Mustang followed. We pulled away from Walter’s and headed to the Main Gate. It was opened. We pulled out of the gate and turned right.

It was 1:35..

END OF DAY FOUR

CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT

Army drove south down M street to H street. We cut over to Devlin through the neighborhood to the south. It was dark and quiet. The vehicles were very quiet as well. I sure am glad Army decided not to put a set of headers on his Mustang.

We turned right on Devlin, and drove west to 23rd, turning south to Owens where we turned right. I had not been here in a while. There were a few dead cars scattered on the sides of the road here and there…maybe 6 on the entire trip. We drove slow without headlights. I had forgotten Army had mapped this route earlier for potential problems in the road. He had not mapped Weir road though.The advantage of Weir was that it was 6 lanes, divided, which would give us more room to maneuver around, if necessary.

We went right on Owens to the west. We crossed 29th, which was our exit street, and continued west towards Weir.

We reached Weir, and turned south. The next major intersection was Noland. We continued slowly across Noland. No activity. The next intersection would be Dandelion, where we would pull into the convenience store lot and wait.

It wasn’t far. The street was totally deserted. Those Tees must have everyone scared to death to keep every single person indoors.

I saw no headlights from any other vehicles. I just followed, as I could not see what the pickup saw.

We turned at the crossover before the intersection, to enter the store lot from the north side. This is where we would split up. The pickup stopped under the canopy by the gas pumps. I pulled up on the right, and stopped. I left the car running, as did Army.

Jim whispered loudly “time?”

“2:05 on the nose” I replied.

Army got out and said “we’re gonna take a look-see at this alley.”

“Like hell” I said “If I’m driving it, I’ll be going too.”

“I was going to include you” he sighed “let’s go.”

I noticed he had the night-vision with him. I opened the door, and the dome light came on. Al was quick to “extinguish” it. I got out and followed Army and Jim across the street.

We walked around back over to Weir and went south to where we thought the alley was. Sure enough. Words cannot describe my relief finding the alley. I could just see myself backing that trailer into the alley from 31st…We walked quickly down the alley. We saw no vehicles in the alley. It was clear all the way to 31st, which was where the apartments were located. There were two large houses to the west of the apartment building, which were suspect to be one of the nests of the white-tees. They both were two story. I could see lights in the windows. We stopped, and returned to the vehicles. I got in the Mustang immediately, looked at the pickup crew, and said “I’ll see you at the bar later…ALL of you.”

2:18

They waved. I shook hands with Army and Jim. I put the car in gear, and we pulled out onto Weir. We’re cutting this a little close.

We turned left down the alley, and proceeded to the drop spot. The car pulling the trailer made significantly more noise on the caliche alley, than on the pavement. We arrived at the drop zone. We exited the vehicle, and began to unhitch the trailer. Unhitching the trailer was much easier in the daylight, than it was in the darkness.

Army drove the pickup east on Dandelion past the 2 big houses and the apartment building on 31st. When he had passed 3 homes past 31st street, the napalm can was opened and poured behind them as they traveled east to 29th street.

2:23

The trailer unhitched, we piled back into the car, and drove to 31st street, and turned right. We drove to the next block, and turned left. This too was unrehearsed. I couldn’t see anything at all because of the tree canopy, blocking out all the moonlight. We drove over something. The car suddenly got squirrelly.
“We’ve got a flat” I whispered loudly.

The flapping of the tire broke the still quietness of the night. We arrived at 29th, and we turned left. The guys popped the trunk, and pulled out a couple of cocktails each. I drove down to Dandelion. They followed and threw their cocktails back toward the intersection from which we just turned. (The cross street dead ends to the east because of the ditch, which pretty much runs the length of the city.) We got to Dandelion and the pickup was there with the launchers on the ground. AJ and Al got out, got their gear, and got into the truck with the rest. They headed towards the north side of the school to wait for the blast.

Willie and I pulled a launcher that had been preloaded with a charge. We removed the ramrod, and put in two cocktails.

Then came the explosion. We weren’t ready for it. I could feel the shock wave try to push me over. Fire was everywhere I could see to the west; and a good sized fireball went into the sky also. The fire was very bright. The blast of fire went clear across Dandelion, and onto the school grounds into the west ditch. The apartment building was nothing but fiery rubble. The second house was totally engulfed in flames, and the 3rd house, was also on fire, but not near as much. There were small fires on the playground. There was no way anyone was coming either direction on Dandelion to or from Weir for a while. The house across 31st street to the east of the apartments was totally ablaze. 31st street between them was a wall of fire.

Willie and I took the launcher, set it in the street, with the ass end of it resting against the curb. The other end was pointing south on 29th towards the row of cocktails. I lit the fuse, and we ducked to the east across the street.

It went off with a loud WHUMP! A stream of fire shot out the launcher, and it ignited the napalm that had been thrown on 29th street earlier.

I saw the pickup heading across the playground to set up their position.

There were white tees coming out of the houses now.

Willie and I returned to the launcher, to find the ass cap blown off.

“What’ll we do?” said Willie in a panic.

“Get the other and load it up two more cocktails.”

The other was close by and I was thinking that we shouldn’t have the cocktails so close the launchers. Willie held the launcher while I rammed the powder charge to the end. He pulled the icepick, poked a hole in the powder sack, and installed a fuse. I got two cocktails and put them into the barrel.

The tees were flooding out of the houses on Dandelion.

I walked to the south side of the intersection. I held the launcher. “Fire it up! Just do it!”

He did, and it too went WHUMP! It jerked almost out of my hands, but the stream of fire went right down Dandelion to the west, right in front of the houses. I ran back to the cocktail stash, and threw one at the corner where there was a gap in the firewall. It filled the gap of fire nicely.

I heard AKs firing from the pickup crew…a lot. I grabbed another cocktail and threw it down the street to fill in the gap, where tees were running through, toward the pickup crew. I saw lots of tees falling. The pickup was a mass of muzzle flashes. I never thought I would hear 10 automatic rifles firing at the same time. I could feel my heart pumping.

The plan was working. The firewall had successfully prohibited anyone from coming across Dandelion to the playground, except through the gap we had left open.

Tees were screaming as they were catching on fire, trying to run through the burning napalm.

The tees kept coming out of the houses into the gap in the firewall.

The pickup crew was also relentless. As many tees crossed the street to the playground, were cut down by the gunfire coming from inside and around the pickup.

The pipe bombs!

I ran to put on my backpack, and pulled out a couple of pipe bombs. Willie grinned as I handed him one. We each lit up, and threw them down the street into the tee mob. The explosions were more than I expected, as they literally blasted tees to pieces.

Now, some of the tees were heading towards Willie and I. He pulled out the AK, and started shooting. I lit pipe bomb after pipe bomb, and threw them into the masses.

The tees kept coming out of the walls. It reminded me of the movie “The Warriors” and the Ducky Boys gang that kept climbing out of nooks and crannies. No matter what we did, they kept coming. They were now climbing over bodies to get to us.

Willie had grenades on his vest. I pulled one, the pin stayed. I threw it down the street at the front of the oncoming mob. Now, the front of the mob is on the ground. I pulled another grenade and threw it at the mob. Another front line advance thwarted. The tees were now giving up on advancing to us. I threw the last cocktail at the pile of bodies. They’re turning to the pickup, that means they’re starting to give up.

Willie had stopped shooting. We went back to the car, crammed the launchers into the back seat, and limped across the playground to the pickup crew. I had forgotten about the tire. We parked behind the pickup. I pulled the launchers out of the car.

Al and AJ came over. The rest were still firing. The tees were still coming.

“We’re out of ammo” said Al.

“Take the Mustang and go back to the house” I told him. “We need to keep the car safe. You and AJ go on back. Don’t worry about the rim. I’m sure we can find a junk car to steal a rim from. Just drive a little slow. Do you have pistol ammo?”

AJ shook his head. I pulled out one of my 9 mils and 4 mags. “Here, you shouldn’t have much trouble getting home. Go now” I told them. They got in and drove off. I put one of the launchers into the bed of the pickup.

I hopped into the back of the pickup and pulled another grenade and tossed into the advancing mob…but they were advancing slower. The tees were not coming out of the walls like hungry ants any more.

The AKs were still firing.

Ted was lying down in the pickup bed. He was unconscious with a bleeding head wound. I pulled my pack and dug out the bag of gauze and maxi-pads. I roughly put the gauze around his head to hold the pad over the wound.

“Out!” Army yelled.

“Me too” said, in no particular order, Juan, Roberto, Willie, and Alex.

I heard Mandy scream and she fell.

“Army!!” I yelled “pull back.”

He drove to the left a circle that took us back 50 feet. Jim was still firing. “I’m about out” he said.

Mandy was hit in her right shoulder, and was bleeding badly. I pulled another maxi-pad, and put it on her. She was conscious.

“Hold this here, Mandy” I said.

“I have two more mags in my right leg pocket” she said.

“OUT!” Jim yelled. I handed her gun to Jim. I found the extra mags, and gave those to Jim as well.

Then, I got mad. Mad dog mean.

“Army, circle back around to them! NOW!” I yelled.

He did so.

Jim fired the BAR. Tees kept dropping, and they weren’t coming hardly at all now.

“Stop!” I yelled. We were close to what was left of their front. I pulled out the 9 mil, and began to shoot the ones that were still coming.

They had not the exuberance that the first 250 had.

“Out!” Jim yelled.

“See what you can do with Mandy!” I yelled while firing.

I kept firing. “Oh did you want some of this?” I fired into two advancing tees. “I forgot about you! Here’s some for you too!” I fired and fired. “Get some! Get some!” I kept yelling and screaming.

“Army! Circle around and get closer!” I yelled.

“Are you fucking crazy?!” he yelled back.

“Just fucking do it! NOW!” I screamed.

I dropped a mag, and loaded another, while we circled closer. We were so close now that we were driving over bodies of tees. Many of them were still alive.

“Stop!” I yelled and continued firing at the stragglers. Now they stopped coming. They turned, and were running the other way. I kept firing and dropped them too. “Get some!” “Here’s some for you!” I yelled and fired. “Here’s one for your primo!”

“Willie! Toss ’em that last grenade!” I yelled at him.

He did so with great accuracy. It blew behind the guys that were running away. The rest of them now were running too.

I banged on the roof. “Army, let’s go home!”

He obeyed, and we crossed the playground to the northeast, and got onto 29th, turning right and headed north. We had driven about half a block when Army said “we got company behind us.”
I looked over the gate…bicycles with tees on them shouting they were going to kill us in Spanish. . “Army! slow down a little!”

He learned to stop questioning me. The bikes were catching up. I stood up in the bed, picked up the failed launcher, and threw it sideways out the back onto the street. 3 bikes in the front were ‘assholes and elbows’ falling down, taking the bulk of the rest of the gang too. They stopped.

“Stop!”

He did, and I pulled out the last pipe bomb. I lit it, and threw it at the tee bikers. It skittered right up to them, and exploded.

I started to yell

“We’re going to come back tomorrow and kill your hermanas!

Then, we’re going to come back the next night and kill your madres!

Then we’re going to come back the next night, and kill your abuelitas!

Then we’re going to come back the next night and kill your tias and your tios!

We’re going to keep coming back until everyone wearing white tees are dead!”

“Go!” I yelled at Army. He did so, and I emptied the 9mm clip at the bikers.

As we drove out of the neighborhood, people were standing on the side of the street clapping.

“Stop!” I yelled.

Army stopped.

I stood on the bad and spoke to the bystanders. “You people get organized and live. You can beat these guys. Block off your streets. Keep the gangs out. They can’t kill everybody. You can stop them!” I banged on the roof, and Army drove away slowly. The crowd still waved and clapped.

I looked back over the school yard at the fire still burning brightly.

Army sped up, as we left most of the crowd behind.

Jim pulled away from Mandy and said “She’s still bleeding, but it’s slowing.”

I looked over and Mandy said “where’s my gun?”

“I’ve got it” answered Jim. “Would you sell it to me? It’s a really nice gun.”

She shook her head, then winced “no, it’s not for sale. My shoulder really hurts bad.”

“You took a bullet, although I didn’t see anybody with guns” I told her. “We’ll see what Marie can find when we get home. You’ll be fine. Just try to lay still. OK?”

She nodded, and with a smile “we sure showed them, didn’t we?”

I patted her knee “we sure did. Rest now.”

Jim started chuckling, that grew into laughter. “Bennie, I swear you are the baddest mo’fo’  I ever saw!” He stopped because he was laughing. “Remind me never to piss you off….ever!” and he started laughing again.

We turned onto Devlin from 23rd.

“Eagle 1 to Main Gate.”

“We’re ready for you. The others made it back ok.”

“Tell the infirmary we’ve got two wounded; a bullet wound to the shoulder, and a concussion.”

“Will do, Eagle 1”

“We’ll be at the Main Gate in less than two minutes. Eagle 1 out.”

“10-4”

We turned onto M street and could see the crowd, waiting for us in the street. As we approached, they all asked “who got hurt?”

“Ted got a bump on the head, and Mandy took a round in the shoulder” I answered.

Army drove through the gate, Juan, Willie, Alex, David and Juan bailed out. We headed straight up the street for the infirmary. Someone was swinging a lantern in the street. Army pulled right up to it and stopped. Al pulled the gate open, and they had a stretcher ready. We eased Ted on the stretcher while he was in the pickup bed, then slid him out. The bed was covered with blood. Al, AJ, George, and Jim helped take Ted in. I had Mandy in my arms by then, and I got out of the truck with her.

Marie had Ted on the main exam room table, and she was cleaning him.

“Put Mandy in the room around the corner” Marie said. Jeanette is in there. I walked into the next room, and placed Mandy on a makeshift exam table, which was actually quite well done.

“Don’t go dad” she said almost sitting up.

“Shhh. Mandy, Jeanette will want to examine you without family members around. I’ll be right outside waiting. Shhh. You’ll be OK.” I gave her a kiss on the forehead, and left.

I walked through where Ted was, and stopped briefly. Marie said “when I know something, you’ll know.” Without even looking.

“What happened to your bedside manner?” I retorted .”Oh that’s right. You never had any” I muttered as I walked outside, where a crowd was gathering.

Lea was waiting and gave me a big hug and kiss. “I’m so glad you’re OK!” she exclaimed. “We all saw the bomb go off. We could feel it from here.”

“Yeah, it was a big one” I answered. “You should have seen it up close.”

Jim walked up with his flask. “Care for a nip?” he asked.

“Gladly and thanks” as I sipped a little on the bourbon. “Ahhh!” was all I said. Al took a nip himself. We passed it around a few times until it was gone. Then I pulled my flask, that we three had started earlier, and finished that too.

The crowd was full of questions and what they saw, what they heard, etc.

I checked the Hamilton. It was covered with blood.

“Is that blood on your pocket watch, Bennie?” Al asked.

“Yeah, I just wanted to see what time it was.” I wiped off the”blood. “Just after 4:00″ I said. We’ve got an hour and a half before the sun comes up.”

“The whole bed is covered with blood” I told Al. “I dressed Ted’s wound, and Mandy’s too. Then I carried her in, so I’m sure I have blood on me.”

Army whipped out his flashlight. “Your jeans are soaked, and your vest is too. Take off your vest.”

For some reason I cannot explain, I complied; in front of the crowd. My shirt was soaked on my right side too. “Take off your shirt, Bennie” he ordered.

I did. Some people gasped. I looked and I had blood flowing out of a lateral cut across the right side of my rib cage. “Please hand me my backpack from the truck” I asked.

Army said “looks like you got creased; or maybe hit with our own pipe bomb. You and Willie were sure throwing those things around out there tonight.”

Someone brought my backpack over and I pulled out the last maxi-pad. I opened it up, and put it on the wound, and with the gauze and some help from AJ, ‘gauzed’ the maxi-pad to the wound tightly. Everyone was watching. “Maxi-pads” I said. “Now, 1002 uses.” The crowd laughed, and everything went black.

CHAPTER TWENTY-NINE

I awoke to find myself lying on the couch in the infirmary, with Lea’s dimply smiling face about 8 inches from mine.

“Have I gone to heaven, and you’re an angel?” I said.

She just gave me a kiss on the forehead.

“Watch it buster” with a smile.

I had been disrobed, but I was clean. “Oh, you took my clothes. I’ll bet that was fun.”

“You wish” Marie said as she came in.

“Would someone, Lea, please bring me a change of clothes? Please?” I asked.

“All right” said Lea “but watch the wisecracks.”

I moved to sit up, and had an excruciating pain in my side. I sat up anyway. Marie made it very clear: “If you rip those stitches open, I’ll whoop you with a knotted plow line” and she held up a fist.

“Oh, are these your first stitches in a real person?” I stood up.

“Well, well. You are really something else today, Bennie” she said sarcastically putting her hands on her hips.

“You goddam right I’m something else today, as you put it, after what we did last night”

She got quiet, and I went on, agitated:

“I don’t have any idea how many people I killed last night, by burning them, blowing them up with pipe bombs, watching them explode with hand grenades, running over them, or just plain shooting them down, until those that weren’t injured just ran away.”

Lea came in with my clothes and I ripped of the gown, exposing everything to get dressed.

“I can still hear the screams of their wounded as we drove over them to get closer to kill more of them. The twelve of us went through 2000 rounds of ammo, plus grenades and firebombs, and they kept coming after us. They were like roaches coming out of every crack there was.”

I continued to get dressed.

“They had to climb over their own dead to get to us. That playground has literally hundreds of bodies there and in the street; piles of bodies, and we set fire to them.”

I put my boots on, and stood up. “No, I am not the same person I was yesterday. Please cut me a little bit of slack. Thank you.” I turned and walked outside.

“I need coffee and food” I said out loud. “And a smoke…they can’t take those from me, I have a secret stash.”

“Who the hell you talkin’ to you crazy sombitch?” It was Al.

I hugged him, and cried. He cried too. Just for a few minutes we did that. A few people walked up asking if we were OK. “Yeah, thank you. We’re just tired and really hungry.”

“I’m buyin” Al said.

“I need coffee” I said. “Really bad so I can smoke a few smokes. Who are you having for breakfast?”

“Army, Jim, you, me, Walter, AJ is sleeping…growing lad you know.”

I laughed at that. AJ was not an early person.

We walked around the corner, and the gang was there, with an empty spot at the table. Lea brought a plate for me. “Thanks darlin'” I said to her as I sat down, and gave her a kiss on the cheek.

I grabbed the coffee and took a good sip and by habit said “ahhh. I reached for a piece of bacon and said “so you guys want to play some ball today or something? I know where a lot of bats are.”

The table was silent. I continued to eat. I watched them for a few seconds, and said “Gotcha!” and pointed at them.

“Dammit Bennie!” Army said. “You really scare me sometimes. You had me going.”

“Me too” said Jim. “Are you all right?” he asked me in all seriousness.

“That’s a good question, and I am assuming you speak of my mental state. Let me ask all of you a question: are you all right? Speaking for myself, I don’t know if I’ll ever be all right again. I do know this” I stopped eating, and leaned over my plate at them. “I will never be the same again after what I did last night…what we did last night.”

The crowd was quiet for a few moments when Jim said “what you are experiencing is a type of Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. We all are going through it, and since you have never been in a live combat situation, it has affected you more than Army or I. It’s not easy for any of us. I understand what you’re going through, and I won’t pretend to say that I know how you feel. If you need to talk, we’ll listen.”

“Combat situation?” I said sarcastically “oh, you mean where people actually shoot back at you?” Thank you, Jim” I replied. “You’re right. Killing is new to me. I have shot countless rounds at the gun range, but practice did not prepare me for what we had to do last night.” I looked around at the rest of the gang. “Walter, your field multipliers were the key that saved all of us.The mini-MOAB was pure genius. I’m sure you felt the explosion and saw the fireball.”

He nodded and said “I am very happy all of you made it back. Many of us were worried…lots of things could have gone wrong. I am also glad that I was able to contribute to the cause, so to speak.”

Army’s radio came on “Main Gate to RC”

“Go ahead”

“The deputy is here, and another guy looking for Bennie. Said Bennie invited him to breakfast this morning. Reggie is his name.”

“Let ’em both in, and escort Reggie to Al’s. Take his firearms.”

“He wants to drive his truck in.”

“Have him leave it on M street by the curb while he’s here today. It’ll be safe enough there.”

“10-4”

Lea came out with another plate of toast, bacon, eggs, and coffee.

“Bennie” Army started. “As a friend, I would ask that you keep a lid on your emotions while the Deputy is here. Let me talk and debrief him inside. You talk to Reggie, and find out what you can about their situation. Agreed?”

“Will do Army” I concurred.

The Deputy is allowed to bring his car inside the perimeter, so he was there quickly. “Good morning all” he said as he came around the corner. We all stood up and greeted him. Army picked up the plate of food, and motioned for the Deputy to follow him inside. They did so.
A couple minutes later, one of the sentries brought Reggie around the back, and Lea brought out yet another plate of food. She set it down at Army’s place.

I was still standing, as I felt more comfortable doing so. My side hurt constantly, and not having to get up and down, seemed to ease the pain some.

“Good morning, Reggie” I said as I offered my hand. We shook, and I introduced him to Jim, Al, and Walter.

“Sit down and have some chow” I told him, which he gladly agreed. He was obviously very hungry, and ate quickly, washing down his breakfast with coffee. I was still eating, so conversation was light, until Reggie finished.

“Man, that’s the best meal I’ve had in days” he said with a smile, wiping off his mouth.

“Lea! Come out and meet Reggie!” I called to her. She came right out with her huge dimply smile.

“Ma’am” he started “thank you for that wonderful breakfast”

Still smiling, she answered “you’re welcome. Would you like some more coffee?”

“Indeed I would ma’am” he replied, holding out his cup.

“My name is Lea, and if you’re sitting at this table, than I am your friend too. No need for formalities here” she said as she poured him another cup.

He took another gulp. “Easy Reggie” I said. “There’s more.”

He wiped his mouth again. “I apologize for my manners. You guys have quite a setup here. How do you do it?” he directed his question at me, while taking a sip of coffee.

“It’s a very long story, but basically, we have been preparing for a disaster like this for years. We’ve stored food, water, guns and ammunition, seeds for gardening…” I went into how the gardening was working, how we had confiscated food and whatever from the empty homes, how the food bank was working, and that we were fortunate to have a lot of the skilled labor that was available to build this community. “We’ve some folks with military experience, that have proven invaluable…actually, every person here contributes something every day that makes it work; they’re all invaluable.”

At that moment, Marie walked up and handed me something. “I thought you’d want to see this” she said. “It might be important.”

“Thank you Marie” I said, and I introduced her to Reggie. “She’s an RN, and in charge of the infirmary, which she has stocked up nicely, I might add.”

Reggie was amazed, and spoke to her briefly about how she did it.

I looked at the item Marie had given me, and it was a 30.06 armor piercing round. “Did you get this from Mandy?” I asked Marie.

She looked miffed as I had interrupted her conversation with Reggie. “Yes, I did. Is it important?”

“Yes, it’s very important” I answered, my anger rising.

“She’s asking for you” she went on.

“I’ll be right back” and I left to the infirmary. I turned, walking backwards and added “Don’t let the Deputy leave until I say my peace” I directed the table, and I turned back to the infirmary.

Mandy was in and out when I got there. Jeanette said they had just gotten the bullet out, and were able to stop the bleeding, but she was needing a transfusion. Mandy looked very pale.

“Do we know here blood type?” I asked Jeanette.

“AB negative” she replied. “Know anyone with that rare one?” she asked me.

“Hell yeah” I said with a chuckle. “Me and Al both have AB negative. Just let us know when. Marie probably won’t let me since I’m also damaged, but I’ll let Al know.”

“Hi Dad” Mandy said hoarsely.

“Hello Miss Mandy!” I said with a smile.

“Jeanette says you need some blood, and you’ll be OK in a few days. For now, you need to rest, OK?” I leaned over and kissed her forehead, and patted her knee. “I’m never far away if you need me, but please listen to the nurses. You could not be any better hands” I said as I turned and walked out the door.

I was met outside by Marie and Al. “Jeanette told me about Mandy’s blood situation” I told them. “Are you donating today, Al?”

“Yes I am” he replied, and they went on into the infirmary.

I walked around back to Al’s and Army and the Deputy were sitting. The Deputy got up, ans I approached and offered me his chair.

“No thanks Alan” I said, it’s easier for me if I stand. The doctor” I gestured towards the infirmary “said not to move around too much, or I’d be in real trouble.”

I continued “I want to show you something, and you tell me what it means. I know what it means to me…” and I tossed the bullet onto the table.

The Deputy picked it up, and said “a bullet. It there something significant about it?”

Army reached over to look at it. “This is an armor piercing round shot from a 30.06 rifle; probably an M1 Garand. You can tell by the stripes on it. This is military issue only. This round is not available to civilians.” He tossed it back onto the table. The Deputy was speechless.

“You want to know what I think?” I asked. “First we had what; 300 white tees attack us last night? That’s a far guess from 100, Deputy that you told us we would run into. Good thing that we took a few extra guys huh? And now, we find an armor piercing round in the one person that’s the biggest threat to any outsider(s) who would want what we have here. It looks to me like we were fed false intel, so that our people would get killed in the Recon. And Mandy, her injury is more likely an attempted assassination.”

I looked at Jim and Army, who were speechless, but followed exactly what I was saying. “Cut off the head of the chicken and the body dies, right? Deputy? With Army, Jim, and Mandy dead, and a few other insignificant members of our group, and we’d be hurting really bad for some defensive strategy. Was that your strategy?”

I was getting really mad now.

We are not insignificant here” I told him, my voice rising in volume. “We have 70 people here that will survive this situation this because they are working together as a community, because we told them we would protect them.”

“Hold on a minute now you guys” the deputy said quietly while holding up his hands. “You’ve got me all wrong. I’m on your side. If the intel was bad, it was bad. We had operatives in that gang that gave us the information. I wouldn’t do anything to hurt you folks out here. I believe that what I do makes a difference, and I certainly would not endanger this community. My wife lives out here.”

I grabbed Army’s radio. “Eagle 1 to anyone. Tell Clay he’s needed at HQ at once.”

“10-4”

“My friend Clay is from Bufort, South Carolina” I started saying “Jim, take Clay over to meet Carla, and get her talking about Bufort. If she can convince Clay that she’s from Bufort, then I’ll be convinced that the deputy is legit. Clay lived in Bufort most of his life. His dad was retired Marine Corps. If she’s from the area, he’ll know…either way. If she’s not, then he’s not leaving; and neither will she.”

Jim nodded and left.

Al walked up, holding a gauze over the crook in his elbow. Army gave him his chair, and asked inside if there was any kind of juice for Al. I asked him “how’s she doin’?”

“When she found out that you and I both had her blood type, she was almost adamant about getting the transfusion from you” he answered. “Marie had to explain to her that you had lost blood too, and couldn’t give any up right now. Mandy seemed happy enough to know that she has the same type as you and I.”

Lea came out with some Tang, more coffee and toast.

I had calmed down some. Army was quiet. Walter didn’t say a word until “you know, I’ve got some work to do, and I think I’ll recruit that young fella at the gate for a while. Thanks for breakfast guys.”

“Thank YOU Walter” I said “for all your help.”

Reggie was still at the table, taking this all in. “I’m not a military strategist, but it sounds to me like you guys were responsible for that big explosion we heard and saw last night? Am I correct in assuming that?”

Army answered “that’s right. We were asked by the Sheriff’s department to kill 100 of this gang called the white Tees that were terrorizing towards the south part of town. Instead of 100 tees, there were probably closer to 300. It took every round of ammo we had, before they ran away; thanks to Dirty Bennie here. He kept shooting and throwing grenades, shouting, cursing in Spanish at those guys before they just quit. We have two wounded; a young woman who can outshoot any man I ever saw, and one of our better sentries. It has been proposed that we were purposely fed some false information, and that it was a trap to kill the top people in this group, so the group could be taken over from the outside easier. I can’t figure out why though. Why? What is here that they want from us here? I don’t see it.”
“So Reggie, we started this day to talk to you about your group. How are things with your people?” I asked him.

Jim walked up and sat down. “I left Clay with Carla. They started talking about some huge football rivalry back in the day, and they were laughing…”

“Did she give him some lemonade?” I asked “because if she did, he’s done for the day.”

Jim nodded. “I found it hard to turn down, but I declined. Yes, Clay will soon be another victim.”

“Ok Deputy,” I said. “I won’t keep you. I believe what you say about making a difference.”

He stood up, held out his hand and said “no hard feelings here, Bennie.” We shook, and he sat down. “I’d like to hear about Reggie’s situation too.”

“Not anywhere close to how you guys are. You have organizational structure, people actually do their jobs…I mean our people are a joke. They argue about charcoal, who’s got any, can I borrow, I’m out of propane, can I have some ice, I need water…they all expect to get what they need from someone else. There are people with guns and rifles, and they talk badly to each other, and threaten to shoot to get their food…and these people have been neighbors…for years! Betty, the only person in the area with a garden, had her tomato plants stolen right off her patio last night.”
I looked at Jim, smiled and shook my head and interrupted Reggie with “We decided very early on, that no one could survive by him/herself. I think I said once ‘all of us need all of us’, and that’s true. If they don’t wanna comply, or join, or help, then cut them off. Those are the people to watch out for; the lazy liberals who want everything for nothing. We fell into it easily; Army almost shot me at 2:30 in the morning when I was heading to my brother’s house to start planning. Army loaned us his car to help us move all our stuff. Jim showed up after a 20 mile hike from north of Edinburg. We already had like-minded individuals here; folks that were already preparing for disaster. Your neighborhood is full of rich folks; some retired maybe. It may not be too late. Your biggest problems are those two big-mouth boys of yours, as I see it. They will cause your group trouble, disappointment, and maybe pain and death. They don’t like taking orders from anyone, including you. Without total cooperation, everybody loses.”

“What can I do?” Reggie asked.

Army added “You need to assess what you have; right now. You need to talk to everyone about options, which are few. It won’t be too much longer, that there will be roving gangs that will prey on neighborhoods that are weak. They will take your women, your food, kill the men, take whatever they want from you homes and consume that, then move on to the next neighborhood. You need to know where you stand before you make a stand. Whaddayagot? Food? everyone kicks in, and it works here just fine. Everyone has a garden on their yard. The first harvest is in less than 90 days. If we’re lucky, we’ll get two, and maybe 3 growing seasons. We have pounds of seeds, and we have people who are willing to go out and dig, weed, and mulch. All we need is rain, which should be here in a day or two. What about firearms? The people that have them get to be in charge of setting up some type of rotating guards. Your neighborhood is surrounded by a 10 ft.high concrete wall, right? Shit man, you’ve only got one main gate to get in or out. That’s almost like a fort! You’d be surprised how most folks will cooperate if you can lay out the truth without all the disruptions. We had a few in the beginning, but we just told them, they were welcome to make a go by themselves. Know what? Everyone decided to join up and cooperate. Take a census. Find out who has what; if they’re not willing, just go on to the next home. Are there generators? If so, get a couple of fridges hooked up and pool your perishables. You got lots of cars, so gas isn’t a problem for a while. You just have to do it. I know you have balls, because it took some brass huevos to come up to our gate and ask where your boy was. We can’t help you unless you get some kind of order going.”

The deputy chimed in “Reggie, this group has captured the attention from the Sheriff’s department too, because of how they run this community. We cannot be everywhere, and we can help those who help themselves. If a community is full of dissenters and “lazy liberals” as Bennie put it, then they will die; one way or another. That’s just the way it is.”

Reggie thought for a few seconds and started “OK, I see what you’re saying, and I know what I have to do.” He stood up and offered his hand to all of us, thanking us for the info and for listening. “I’ll be in touch.”

“What would you recommend I do first?” he quizzed.

“Personally, I would assess your firearm situation. Talk to those that have firearms, and ask them to work on shift for sentries. You have a main gate, block it off. Siphon gas from vehicles around, and put those empty vehicles at the gate. Take a census of food and water. See if the people that are in your group, actually are in your group. Get a trusted friend to help. You cannot do it alone.”

We reached the gate, and shook again. “Thanks for everything Bennie. We’ll talk again soon.” He collected his firearms, hopped into his Chevy, and left.

We never saw him again.

“How long have you guys been here?” I asked the gate sentries.

“Seems like forever” said the younger guy. “How is Ted?”

“Ted has a concussion, and is in a coma. His vital signs are all good. It’s up to his brain to wake up now. I’ll see about getting you relieved.” I walked back to Al’s.

I felt weak, and my side was hurting. I looked, and it was bleeding. I went around the back to the patio, and the rest were still there. “Any chance of relieving the sentries?” I asked Army. “Most of those guys have been on duty for 24 hours.”

“I know” Army said. “I’ll take care of that right away”.

“I’m headed back to the infirmary, as I seem to have sprung a leak. She ain’t going to be happy with me” and I left for the infirmary.

“I don’t like to say ‘I told you so'” Marie started in on me “but I told you so.”

“I know, and you’re right” I told her. “What are your orders?”

“You need to take some ibuprofen, and lie down for a while. You haven’t slept much either in the last 30 hours. You need to rest, Bennie. Just go into the other room, and I’ll change your bandage.”

“What about danger from tetanus, Marie?” I asked her as she was working on the bandage. “All three of us should probably have a booster, if there is any available.”

Marie always had this look when she was ‘one-up’ on someone, not in a bad way. She replied “I allocated some DPaT vaccine from the hospital a few weeks ago when Al cut his hand when he was sharpening his knife. I have several doses; even though it’s not as much of a problem as the medical profession would have one believe. However, I gave all of you a booster.”

I smiled at her and said “you little closet prepper you!” I laid down and went right to lala land.

I dreamed the battle again, except this time, they shot back at us. All I heard was gunfire and screaming. The smell of gunpowder filled every breath I took. My ears, I felt, would never stop ringing. It wasn’t a night time battle, this was in the daytime. They kept gaining on us. We were getting surrounded. We were now in a circle, all of us firing outward from the center.

I was awakened to the smell of food. I opened my eyes, and there stood Al with a plate of steak and beans. “Hello, my brutha” I said to him.

“Good afternoon my brutha” he replied. “You need to tell people where you are. We were out looking for you when Army mentioned that you were bleeding when he saw you last.”

He set the plate down on the table. I was able to sit up, and in came Marie. She did her usual thing, check pulse, feel forehead, check bp. “Well, you have some color back now” she said. “A good meal would do you good. I recommend you stay out of the hot sun for a few days too.”

I didn’t need no second invitation. Al gave me a rundown of the day. It was late afternoon. “I slept all day?” I said in pure astonishment.

Al chuckled a little. “Yep. Army got the sentries relieved, and then we woke them for the bbq. They didn’t complain. Everyone has been asking how you are, and we just said that you were resting.”

“How about you?” I said. “Have you gotten any sleep today?”

“Army ordered all members of the Recon to get rest today…” he hesitated.

“What?” I inquired. “What else?”

“It’s clouding up to the southeast. We’re definitely going to get some rain” he commented.

“That’s a good thing right?” I asked.

“Yes, we’ve got a make shift gutter system made by Walter, who by the way is getting pretty good at welding. He and Darren built a system from the gutters, into the pipes, that dump into the water tank in the garage. He has a system of coarse and finer filters that should keep out most of the solids. You said you had some chlorine concentrate?”

“I do, it’s in your shed in a couple of 2 liter soda bottles, but we shouldn’t add any of that until we know how much water is in there; or at least add chlorine according to how much is there. I have the ratios of chlorine to gallon on the side of the bottle. I believe the tank has hash marks for like every 50 gallons on the side?”

“Ok. I’ll get the chlorine to Walter, as I think he may have his eye on one of the Sirens, and he’s been kinda hangin’ around.”
“And the tank at the deputy’s house?” I asked.

“Walter had the tank brought from the deputy’s over to an empty house on the second block, and put it in the driveway. It’s still on the trailer, but he wants to try what he calls a trough funnel off the roof; just to see if it works.”

I was almost done with the steak. I held my fork with a hunk of the delectable rib eye, whilst chewing and said something like “Al, I think food tastes better since the Burst. Man, this is great. I’ve gotta get out and thank those hard working people; and those wonderful cooks. That Brandi can really cook some dem beans, boss.”

“Beers are on the patio, brother” Al told me. “I’ll see you later?”

“Count on it. I’m going to say hi to Mandy and Ted, before I go out, and try to mend a fence with Marie” I indicated.

He opened the door to go out, turned with a smile and said “I wouldn’t worry about it, she was actually kind of amused at the stance you took. Gotta go” and he went outside.

I turned around, and Marie was standing there. I walked over, gave her a hug, and apologized for being a jerk.

“I understand” and she gave me a peck on the cheek. “No hard feelings” she added with a smile.

“I wanted to say hello to Miss Mandy, if she’s awake” I made no move to go into her room without a go ahead from Marie. Rules are rules ya know.

“She was asleep a few minutes ago, but you can peek in if you like.”

I did so, and she was still asleep. “I won’t even ask about the prognosis and her recovery” I said. “How’s Ted doin’? Has he moved at all today?”

“You know, Bennie, he has moved. When we laid him down, both feet were pointing up, and he has shifted one of his legs. I would think that he is beginning to come out of his coma, and is now maybe just in a hard sleep.” She smiled. “That’s good news!”

“Let’s get you some more ibuprofen, and check your bandage” she pointed back to the other room where she changed the bandage again; the bandage had hardly any blood on it. “Where did you learn about using maxi-pads for bandages?” she asked while she was finishing the taping.

“I used to read a lot articles, books, websites, blogs, about emergency situations. Maxi-pads were mentioned frequently for field dressings because, well, that is what they’re made to do, so I picked up a couple packages. They are sanitary and individually wrapped too.” I added almost excited. She looked at me strangely and I continued, “OK, I guess I’m preaching to the choir here” I said with a smile.

“Your bleeding has stopped. You need to be careful about moving around too much. It would be better if you stayed here tonight, instead of at home. I’ll be in and out checking on the others. You can radio me if you need something or if one of them needs something.”
“I am glad to help you” I said. “I do have to make some rounds…”

“I know, people have been hanging outside all afternoon. Just take it easy with getting up and down.”

“I will, and thanks for all you do. I’m glad you’re here. I’ll be over to the house in a little while to have a nightcap. I know, I know I’ll be careful, and relieve you here then; deal?”

“That’d be great!” she said, and I went outside.

They were right; a crowd was there, and a quiet one at that. “There’s Bennie!” a voice said, and folks walked over shaking my hand, patting my shoulder, asking me how I was, and how Ted and Mandy were.

“Did everyone get something to eat?” I asked the crowd. “I’m going to go thank the kitchen cooks on this wonderful meal.” I headed across the street. People seemed to be in a good mood; smiles, chatting, different from last night. The kitchen was in full swing, it smelled delicious, even though I had just eaten. A few walked over with me, and I walked around the crowd shaking hands, and talking. “I’ll be fine” I said, “I just got a scratch that’s all. Mandy and Ted are doing well.” The crowd quieted. “Mandy sleeps a lot, as she lost a lot of blood. She had a transfusion, so that helped her out a lot. Ted is still unconscious, but Marie said that he has moved a little, so he may be waking up very shortly.”
The crowd clapped a little. “Let’s eat!”

I managed to get over to the ‘buffet’ where the folks were dishing up. I went behind and help Brandi serve some. “Beans anyone?” I said. “Beans made in heaven…you’ think you were there; they are soooo good.” Brandi just grinned as I dished up plate after plate.

Rudolfo, the mason came over for some food. I dished him right up and commented “Rudolfo, thank you for the wonderful mason work you did for the bbq and outdoor oven.”

He just smiled and said “senor Bennie, I am happy to help out” he kept smiling. “The oven won’t be dry for a few days yet, but when it is ready, the ladies should be able to make very good bread.”

“Tell me” I went on, can you make a long smoker; you know what I mean, they put the fire on one end, and it’s like 10 feet long, covered with sheet metal?”

“Senor Bennie, what do you want to cook in there?” he asked.

“We’re going to hunt hogs later in the summer, and we’ll need a big smoker to cook them, Rudolfo.”

“Ah, Senor Bennie, you don’t need a smoker. You just need a deep pit in the ground, some oak coals, and some sheet metal. It will be so tender, that the meat will fall off the bones. I can cook them for you when you’re ready.”

“OK then, Rudolfo. We’ll let you know a couple days in advance so you can build it. Let me know if you need help…and thanks!” I shook his hand, and left to sit down.

“You ladies are doing a wonderful job here” I told Brandi. “The community really looks forward to getting together like this.”
She turned a little red and said “thanks Bennie. We are really feeling like a part of this group now.” She was giving her beans a quick stir. “We try to do our part.”

“You three are critical to morale these days” I said, looking out over the crowded garage. “They are totally enjoying these get-togethers.” I looked at her and said “If you ladies need anything, please let me know. Thanks for all you do.”

I started to turn and walk away, and Brandi asked “could we get some firearm training? We were thinking that well, you know, the more people with guns, the better off the group might be. We don’t want to be helpless.”

“I am certain that it can be arranged. Have any of you ever shot a firearm?” I asked her.

“Not any handguns” she answered. “I can’t speak for the others, but I have shot a rifle before, a couple of times and not well.”

“I’ll talk to Army about it. We’ll have to set up some type of a range to practice. Maybe Lea could get you started on some safety tips and basic operation, which includes dis-assembly for cleaning. We have a couple of .22 revolvers, and they are by far the most reliable to shoot for those just starting out. I’ll get back to you real soon on that.” I paused and went on, “you know, that’s a really good idea, Brandi. Perhaps we could come other women interested in learning to shoot.” I nodded smiling. “Spread the word. Enough pressure, and I’m certain that it could happen. You pretty much get to see everyone in the group on a daily basis, right? Why don’t you kind of feel out some of the other women, and see what kind of interest there is, and get back to me. Did you all have any guns when you moved over?”

“Yes, the guys had guns.” Her demeanor went kind of south. “We brought them with us. There are a couple of rifles, and some handguns. There are boxes of bullets, but we don’t know anything about them.”

“Good enough” I said. “When you get a break, look me up and I’ll take a look and see what they are. You might mention to Marie also your interest. She has a concealed carry license.”

“Ok” she said with a smile returning. “I’ll do that and let you know.”

“Great! I’ll see you later then” and I left the garage thinking about the possibilities.

I chatted with Juan for a few, he didn’t seem affected. “Have you talked to the others from last night?” I asked him.

“Yeah, I saw Willie and Alex, they’re ok too” answered. “I think Alex is still sleeping. I’ll check on him.”

“Let me know if he’s ok or not” I told him, and I turned to walk away.

“Bennie” he stood up and shook my hand. “I’ll follow you anywhere, my friend. I had not thought that kind of bravery was inside any man.” He shook my hand hard.

“Thank you, Juan. And I you sir. And I you” I patted his shoulder and said “next mission, you’re with me pal.” I smiled and headed over to Al’s.

The clouds were building in the late afternoon sun. I remembered that we were expecting a storm. We need a good rain to get the gardens off to a good start. I wonder how else we could capture water for watering? I’ll let H worry about that.

“He must be daydreamin’ again” said Jim as I approached Al’s house.

I nodded, and gave my ‘I’m busted’ look. “Yes, I was thinking about the upcoming storm. We have to treat this like it’s our only chance at water for a while…because it is.”

He was coming from the infirmary and I asked “anything new in there?”

“Naw, Ted is still out, but he has moved again. Mandy is fast asleep. Marie says they’re both stable” Jim went on “I think Marie would prefer that they both slept all night.”

“I told her earlier that I would stay there tonight, and let her get some rest” I said. That bed is much easier to sleep on with my side like it is.

We rounded the corner to Al’s, and Army was already there chatting with Al. There was a bowl of beans on the table, and I decided that I was still hungry. I sat down and dished up a plate.

“Good thing you’re stayin’ in the infirmary tonight” said Jim with a laugh.

“Who said so?” Lea said from inside.

“I volunteered to stay there so Marie could get some rest away from there. That bed in the other room is very comfortable, and seems to agree with my wound” I told her. “Of course, you may stay too, if you like. It’ll be kinda like stayin’ over at a friends’; yes?”

I took another big bite of beans. “Maybe I’ll stay here” she said with a smile.

“These beans are better than mine” I said while chewing another mouthful. “And I’m very proud of mine.”

Al produced some beers from an ice chest he had hidden behind him. “Boy, I am really going to enjoy this” I said as I opened the beer. “Ahhh” I said as I took a drink.

“I’m still kinda pissed at you telling these guys to drive my Mustang on a flat tire. The rim is totally shot” Army was saying. He was serious enough.

I went inside to the other ice chest, and pulled out my last German Wheat homebrew. I brought it outside and set it in front of him on the table. “It’s ice cold, and it’s my last one. It’s yours. I am sorry about your car.”

“OK, you’re forgiven” he laughed as he opened the homebrew. “Ahhh.”

“Besides” I went on taking a drink of my brew “I know it has a full size spare, because we took it out when we were moving the first day. With our mechanic’s skills, I feel certain that there must be a vehicle here that has a wheel that can be fitted to that fine classic automobile.”

“I know. I just wanted that last beer, Bennie. You do make a mean brew. It was totally worth it to see the look on your face, albeit ever-so-briefly, when I told you about the rim” he said with a smile.

Thunder rumbled in the distance. It was staring to get dark. We each had a couple beers, and Army brought out his Crown, and we sipped that for a little while. I mentioned to them about the Sirens’ interest in learning to shoot, and Army seemed to be for that idea.

“Everyone can benefit by learning to shoot. It builds self-confidence” he said. “Self*- confidence is important, especially in our situation.” He looked at me “I noticed that you don’t seem to short on self-confidence.”

“Self-confidence, stupidity, or insanity” I said, taking a sip. “Pick any or all of the above.”

Jim leaned forward and asked “Bennie…what happened to you last night?”

“I got mad” I answered without hesitation. “When I saw Mandy get hit, a flash of ideas went through my head that was something like…we brought this little girl along, and we all bragged about her, waved her flag, and toted her on the front of our ship like a freakin’ mascot to fight these bunch of losers, here she lies bleeding; and for what? That’s when I got mad, and I decided at that moment that the only way we could win, was to make them retreat; run away. If we left, and they were still coming, they would win, and they would know it. But if they run, then they are finished; their spirit broken, if you will. And that’s what we did. We kicked their asses while they were running away! They were running and we were still shooting at them. Willie threw that last grenade, and it blew the asses of those guys who were running away.”

I held up my glass “may we never have to do anything like that again” and we all toasted, then we all nodded in agreement.

Thunder again; still distant.

“Are we ready for some rain?” I asked everyone. “I know the gardens will surely do well with a nice soaking.”

Al said “I’m kinda curious to see how Walter’s collection systems will work. What he said made sense to me.”

“From what I’ve seen come out of Walter’s head, I think we’re in good hands” Army kicked in.

“Has anyone seen Clay today? After I sent him to the moonshine mistress?” I asked.

They all started laughing. “Oh yeah” Jim said, still laughing. “He was singing songs too, as he was heading home…” Jim was laughing and could not go on.

Army pitched in to help “he couldn’t remember which house he was in, so he just sat on the curb; singing. Uhh, we couldn’t understand everything, but we think it was like an old high school fight song.”

“So then, Carla is legit, and so is the deputy I s’pose” I said with a sigh. “Clay is not one to hold his liquor, but he’s really a good guy.”

Army started again “I thought you were gonna shoot the deputy this morning. The only reason I didn’t physically restrain you is because you were not armed.”

“By the way, where is Ol’ Blue?” I asked.

“You didn’t take Ol’ Blue, and it’s inside” Lea said through the door. “And which gun is Ol’ Blue anyway? I think you call the .44 and the Mossberg Ol’ Blue.”

“You’re right” I said, “I do. From now on, Ol’ Blue is the .44 and the Mossberg is Mossberg.”

“You took the Glocks last night” Army reminded me. “We’ve all been working on cleaning up the truck, all the guns, and the pickup bed…it had a lot of blood in it. One of the ladies from the second block took yours, Mandy’s and Ted’s clothes to wash them. We’re going to leave the truck out in the rain, in hopes that it will wash it out good.”

I nodded my approval and added “I think I’ll go and relieve Marie, and hopefully, get a good rest, so I can go back to work tomorrow.” I stood up, and went inside to say good night to Lea.

I waved to the gang, and went to the infirmary. I entered, and Marie was ready for me.

“They are both still asleep” she started my briefing. “Here’s some meds for Mandy if she wakes up during the night. You may have to help her to the bathroom, as she has been drinking some water today. Ted’s meds are here if he wakes up; some ibuprofen with water. Help him up if need be. Call me at the base. I’ll be close” she said with a smile. “How are you?” she asked.

“I’m good” I said. “I’m really tired, and will take some meds myself before hitting the hay. You go on. We’ll be fine, thanks to you.”

“OK” she said “g’night” and she gave me a peck on the cheek.

“See you tomorrow” I said as she walked out the door. I watched and made sure she got across the street to Al’s. She turned and waved as she walked around to the back.

Marie had been using the little solar lights that we used around the pool as a nightlight. It actually put out a lot of light; enough for the main areas in the infirmary.

I took my ibuprofen, disrobed, and crashed.

END OF DAY FIVE

CHAPTER THIRTY

“Dad!”

I heard a voice calling from a distance. “I’m on my way Mandy!” as I struggled to get up and out of bed. I went to her room, and she was trying to get up.

“Hold on there little lady..I’ll help you.” I went around the left side of her bed, and helped her sit with her legs dangling off the side. She winced a couple of times, favoring her right shoulder.

“I have to go to the bathroom” she said sleepily.

I walked around, eased her off the bed, took her left arm, and guided her to the bathroom, where I helped her sit down on the seat.

“I’m starting my period. I need to take off the gown, and I can’t do it myself.”

I pulled up on her gown and eased it over her head, and even easier over her right arm.

“I’m going to get a flashlight” I said, and I went to my pile of stuff and got my trusty hybrid. I turned in on and started looking under the bathroom sink for feminine items. “What do you prefer?” I asked. “Tampons or pads?”

“I use both” she answered.

I pulled out a box of tampons, and gave her one. I heard her wince, and I opened the package of pads and offered it to her.

“Dad, I need panties for those. There are some in my bag in my room.”

I went to her bag and brought the whole thing to her, and set it on the floor.

“Please look for the white ones” she asked.

I found them, handed them to her, and picked up her bag and took it back to her room.

I returned to help her up and she said, “I can’t put these on by myself.”

I knelt in front of her, and put her panties on, one leg at a time, and slid them on as far as I dared. She stood up, put her pad in, and finished pulling them up. I then found the gown, and helped her back on with it, then helped her back to her room. I sat her down on the side of the bed, and said “wait here.”

I went back to the bathroom and sanitized my hands, and brought the sanitizer to her, and she did same. I then found her meds, a bottle of water, and gave them to her. While she was downing her meds, I felt her head. Just a tad warm. The ibuprofen will knock that down in a while. She drank half her water, and I set it on the stand. I walked around to her left side, and helped her lie down. I found a sheet and covered her. “G’night Dad.” She went right back to sleep. I found Marie’s ‘chart’ and wrote:

2 ibuprofen tabs with water, forehead seemed a little warm, her period started..aided finding tampon and pad.

I heard a loud crash from where Ted was.

I walked in and could see he was thrashing around. I walked over to him saying “Easy big fella. It’s Bennie. You’re in the infirmary. You took a nasty bump on the head. You’re going to be fine. Easy Ted..”

He stopped thrashing and looked at me “Bennie? Is that you?”

“It is” I said. “How are you feeling?”

“Like someone hit me with a bat. My head hurts like hell. I gotta pee real bad.” He made a move to sit up, and I grabbed his hands, and got him up.

“OK, swing your legs over the side slowly” I told him. “Now, put your feet on the floor, and put your weight on them slowly.”
He did so, and stood up. He seemed ok for a second, then held the side of the bed so as not to lose his balance. “Easy Ted.” I said. “Give your brain a chance to catch up with the rest of you.”

He nodded, and took a shaky step. “Let’s go out the back and pee” I told him “I gotta go too.”

“Hey” he said “someone undressed me.”

“There’s a lot of that going on” I answered, and I realized that I was still in my underwear. Oh shit! Nah, she was totally out of it.

After a few steps, he seemed ok. We went out the door to the right, and through the kitchen to the back door. We went outside. It was very dark. “Storm clouds blocking out the stars tonight” I said while peeing.

Ted seemed successful in his urinating as well; for some reason, I was thinking it was important for a concussion victim to be able to pee…that’s just me.

“Storm clouds?” he was surprised. “Are we getting something tropical?”

“Yep, don’t have any idea how much, but it will all be welcome.” We just looked up at the sky…me in my underwear, he in a makeshift hospital gown.

“What happened to me?” he asked. “I don’t remember anything after…after…I was shooting…”

“No one seems to know what happened to you” I said. “You’ve been out for 24 hours solid.”

“I’m almost afraid to ask how the battle went” he went on. “I remember a lot of fire in front us moving down the street. Those tees could only come after us through like a 40 foot wide gap.” He was trying to put it back together. “We were all firing like crazy…everyone was unloading entire magazines, dropping, reloading…over and over…and they kept coming…I was standing on the driver side at the back of the truck. I was right flank and…I saw something…a tee guy!” He looked at me “one of them got around our right flank totally unnoticed..he threw something at me…I fired at him a couple of rounds, and I turned my head to the right…that’s all I remember.”

“That would make sense” I told him.

“Did you see a body behind us?” he asked.

“Ted” I told him my version of what happened; how we circled back twice to get closer.

“So we won?” he quizzed.

“You’re damn right we did” I said emphatically.

“What happened to you?” he asked.

“Again, no one is sure. We figure it may have been pipe bomb that exploded too close. I took a bunch of stitches” I showed him the bandage.

“Mandy took a bullet to the shoulder, she’s in the next room inside. She’s in considerable pain, and probably some painful rehab, but she’ll be all right. Marie and Jeanette dug out an armor piercing 30.06 round from her shoulder.”

“So everyone here was wounded from the battle?” he asked.

“Yep, us sickies have to stick together” I said jokingly. “I volunteered to relive Marie. She has been here since they brought you two in.”

He seemed to rock a little. “Let’s go in” I told him. “I have orders to give you some meds and water. If you’re up to it in the morning, you can eat breakfast with us.” I opened the back door, and motioned him in. “Army will want to hear what you remember, and we’ll let your wife know that you’re ok. She’s been checking on you.” We went in and he sat on his bed.

“My wife and I were going to get a divorce before…before the Burst” he said softly. “No one knows about this.”

“Sorry to hear that” I said. “How far had you two gone into this?”

“She had already hired an attorney and had filed. The only reason I was home that night was to get my guns.”

“Wow, that’s irony for ya” I said “Is there someone else involved?”

“Why do you ask?” he queried.

“It’s been my experience that many times, it’s the wife who files when there is another person causing the breakup. Not always, but it’s just my experience.”

“Do you two have any children?” I asked.

“No, and that was the problem. We both wanted kids, and I couldn’t give them to her…shooting blanks and all that.”

“So, it’s not a loss of love causing the breakup. Well Ted, ya just never know. Sometimes, in a crisis like this, it can bring previously strained relationships together. It could happen. I won’t say a word to anyone. I’ll put out a radio call in the morning to have one of the sentries inform…I’m sorry, I don’t remember her name.”

“Angie” he said with a smile.

“I’ll have Angie informed you’re ok, and see what happens.”

“Thanks, Bennie” he said.

I got the meds and the water and gave them to him. “Cheers” I said. “We’ve all taken our ibuprofen tonight.” I pointed to them. “That stuff really works.”

He took his pills and laid down.

“I’m glad you’re OK” I told him. “I’ll see you in the morning. I hope you’ll be hungry.”

“I don’t think that will be a problem” he said as he settled in.

I went into Mandy’s bathroom, removed the trash bag lining the toilet, tied it up, and replaced it with a new one. I put the used one outside the back door.

I went back to bed, and did not have any trouble going to sleep.

CHAPTER THIRTY-ONE

I awoke to the sound of rain. It was just daylight. I swung my feet over the side of the bed, and I got dressed this time before I got up. I check on Mandy; still sleeping. I walked by Ted, still sleeping. I walked out the back door, and peed off the patio. It was a nice gentle rain. It’ll probably be a raging torrent later. I’ll see if we can’t get Army to relax the sentries for some dry duty today…just a thought…or provide umbrellas…AKs won’t be bothered if they get wet.

I lit up a smoke, and watched the rain. It had been a while since I could actually watch and be glad for the rain. I decided to let Ted and Mandy sleep in before I called Marie. I wished I had a cup of coffee. The gardens should really spring to life after this. A rain like this could really work out great if it doesn’t dump too much at once. A slow soak would be ideal. I finished my smoke, and went in. I heard some rummaging around, and saw that Ted was still asleep.

I went into Mandy’s room. She was out of bed, and digging in her bag.

“Good morning Mandy” I think I startled her.

“Hi Dad” she continued to dig.

“What are you looking for?” I asked.

“Some clothes. I”m tired of wearing this gown” she said with obvious disdain.

“Just a suggestion Mandy, but I urge you to wait until Marie gives you the OK to wear clothes. You’ve a ways to go before you are healed.”

She was still digging.

“I took all your clothes out last night” I told her (I didn’t really). “You need to get Marie’s ok.” She looked hurt. “This is what dads do for their children.” I added softly. She pulled out her robe.

“Ted woke up last night” I said, and she quickly put her robe on.

“Is he gonna be all right?” she asked.

“It looks like it, but then I’m not the doctor” I told her.

The front door opened, and Marie walked in carrying a cup of coffee and her umbrella. “Good morning all” she said.

We all reciprocated; even Ted.

“Ted” Marie was smiling “how are you feeling?” She walked over, checked his forehead, took his pulse, and got her blood pressure tool. “Have you been up and around?” she asked him as she pumped up the monitor.

“I was up last night, and Bennie helped me outside to pee. My head hurts some, but I feel OK otherwise. I’m real hungry.”

Marie took off the thingy, wrote down some stuff and said, you need to take it easy; no heavy lifting, no running or anything strenuous, very light duty. Has anyone called your wife?”

“I’ll do so now,” I volunteered. “I’ll just go tell her rather than pull a wet sentry from one of the gates. May I borrow your umbrella?” I asked.

“Of course” she replied.

“Or” I started “I ‘ll just take Ted home” I said, looking at Ted.

“You promised me breakfast, and I’m counting on that” he said. “If you don’t mind, please go tell her, and maybe she’ll come with you.”

“OK” I said “I’ll see you at Al’s in a few” and I grabbed the umbrella, turned to Marie and said, “Mandy is getting some cabin fever…just a forewarning” I saw Mandy peeking from her room. I waved at her, and walked out the door. I fired up a smoke. I stood for a minute, in the rain, enjoying it. I turned down the street for the trip to Ted’s.

Ted lived behind Walter on the last street. I saw a few people hanging in their garages looking out. I waved and hollered “Ted’s awake and gonna be ok!” I continued to Ted’s.

I knocked on the door, and someone said “Who’s there?”

I answered “It’s Bennie.”

The door opened “what’s the news on Ted?” she looked genuinely concerned.

“He’s awake and it looks like he’s going to be fine” I said excitedly with a smile. “He sent me to get you.”

“H..he did?” she asked.

“Yep” I said and continuing “get dressed because you two are going to get breakfast cooked for you today…C’mon let’s go” I hoped I wasn’t overdoing it.

She had a look of total disbelief that Ted had sent for her.

“I’m kinda glad he finally woke up myself” I started “I stayed at the infirmary last night to relieve Marie, and that guy was talking in his sleep asking for you! Yes indeed, let’s not keep him waiting.”

She was smiling so big. We got under the umbrella and headed for Al’s.

“Would you hold this?” I asked handing her the umbrella.

She was only happy to oblige. I fired up a smoke. “Thank you Angie. I don’t see you around much. What did they assign to you do?”

“We have a huge garden in back. We’re growing corn with two other neighbors.”

“With this rain, you guys are going to be heroes!” I told her. Everybody likes corn. Wow, 3 yards; it’ll be a huge crop. And you get a day off today too.”

She didn’t seem enthused much. “I really like to sew. I have a manual sewing machine. I’m not much working out in the garden.”
“What a great idea!” I said to her. “What do you need to make it work?” I stopped so suddenly that she walked away with the umbrella, and I was getting rained on. “Do you like do repairs? or sew like entire clothes from scratch? Wow, that would be awesome if there was someone who could to that. Would you be willing to talk to us about being the seamstress of Quail Run?”

I caught up to her. She said “do you really mean it?”

“Heck yeah!” I said “I’m always serious about delegating responsibilities” I said with a smile. “I’ll bring it up during breakfast…I’m sure it’ll be ok.

We rounded the corner to L street, and headed to Al’s. There was laughter going on when we arrived. Al, Jim, Army, and Ted were eating, talking, chatting, smiling…

Angie stopped. I gestured to the patio and said to her “welcome. Please sit down and eat as our guest.”

The guys all stood up and Ted walked immediately over to her, and they hugged for a long time.

“OK guys. Go back to eating now” I said. They had a chair for Angie next to Ted, and I squeezed in next to Al.

“Good morning my brutha” I said to Al “and to my friends” I added. Lea came out with more coffee and some for me. “Thanks puddin'” I said to her.

“We weren’t sure we’d see you this early” said Al.

“I was in charge of the infirmary, and I take my responsibilities very seriously” I said “no matter what I do.”

“How did it go last night?” asked Jim. “Any news?”

I gestured to Ted. “What about that? That’s good news.”

“It certainly is” Jim said. “Hey, why don’t you lovebirds come and have some breakfast before your eggs get cold?” he called to Ted and Angie who were still in the clutches of reunited love.

“I have some news” I started. “It seems that Angie is quite a seamstress.” This got their attention and they both sat down smiling rather sheepishly.

“Oh really” Lea said from inside. She came out and introduced herself to Angie. “I’ve got a couple things I could have patched if you have time” she said.

“Oh yes” Angie said “I’ll start on them today when I get back” and she dished up some eggs, and put them on her toast like a pro.

“Great!” Lea said. “I’ll talk to you after breakfast.”

“See?” I said to Angie. “You’re in kiddo” I added with a smile.

“So Bennie, how did the conversation get around to sewing?” Jim asked almost sarcastically.

“I was asking her about the garden, and she mentioned that their garden is one of three in a row with corn. She indicated that she would rather sew than work in the garden. That’s how.” I took a drink of coffee.

“Do you know what I would to if I could do anything?” Lea said from inside.

Silence.

“Play my piano” she said sadly.

“Well darlin’, we can’t do it today, tropical storm and all, but I’ll see what I can do. OK?”

She peeked out the door “you mean it?”

“Of course I do” I said. “If these people knew how well you played the piano, they would insist that we move it today. We’d put it right in Marie’s front window. With the window open, half the neighborhood could hear you play.” I paused. “She turned down a chance to become a concert pianist” I went on “you cannot tell if she’s practicing or playing a concert; she’s that good!”

“Stop it Bennie” Lea said.

“I’ll make it happen” I told her. “I promise. It will be good for everyone…like having a neighborhood seamstress. Good for everybody.”

I quit talking and started eating. Army and Ted had their debriefing about the battle. We had toast, bacon, eggs, and coffee, while they were yakking. Angie went inside with Leah.

My radio went off “Infirmary to Eagle1”

“Go ahead”

“Mandy is asking for you”

“Be right there”

I got up and said, “nobody leave until I get back.” I went across the street to the infirmary. Mandy was crying on exam table.

“What is it Mandy?” I asked.

No answer.

“Marie?” I looked at Marie.

“She doesn’t want to be in here” Marie said.

“Mandy, go put a shirt on, and some sweats of some kind.”

Her face brightened. Marie’s eyes were shooting darts at me.

“Get your slippers or shoes. I’ve got Marie’s umbrella, and all three of us are going to eat breakfast.” I looked at Marie and said “I’ve got some good news for you too, if you will put down your cobra glare.”

“You know how risky it is to be outside…in the rain…with that kind of wound…do you Bennie?”

“Marie, I understand that it is risky with our wounds to be out; I do. Something tells me that you nor I will be able to keep her inside this building. So what do we do? We compromise. Mandy? I want you and Marie to accompany me to Marie’s house for breakfast. After, you have to promise that you will come back and rest, and trust me, you will want to after you find out how much your arm is going to hurt while you try to eat…but you have to promise.”

“Ok Dad, I promise to come back and rest when we’re done eating.”

“Marie, is that acceptable to you?”

“Yes, thank you Bennie.”

“Now if you lovely ladies will accompany me, I will walk behind and hold the umbrella to keep you two dry.”

Mandy was obviously anxious, as she was stepping faster than Marie. Good thing it’s not very far.

We got to the patio and the guys stood up and gave Mandy a hand, and gentle hugs all around. She was ushered to a chair, where she was fed like a queen.

“What’s the good news you promise?” Marie asked.

“Angie! Would you come out here please?” I called.

“Marie, I think you already know Angie, but did you know that Angie is a seamstress?” I let that sink in juuuust for a couple of seconds, and Marie’s face broke into this huge smile, her voice went high, and then they were like old friends, and they both went back inside. I overheard something about hospital sheets, linens, stuff like that.

“Am I good, or what?” I said.

“Oh, I suppose you’re going to take credit for something now?” Army said.

“Inside of 15 minutes, Angie was in the dumps, Marie and Mandy were almost going to blows, and Lea was near tears. Now look at ’em! I rest my case.” I exhaled on my nails.

Army just shook his head looking down, then he said “and this day has just begun.”
“All right then” I said “since no one wants to have fun no more, I have a couple of things we may have issues with later today.”

“Such as?” Army asked.

“The rain” I replied. “One cannot cook over an open fire while it’s raining. The kitchen will be getting ready to start their meal in a few hours, and…well look at the sky. Suggestions?”

“Start soaking your beans, and cook them on your Volcano, for starters” Jim suggested.

I answered “I’ll do just that. I suppose we could put the Webers under the patio roof, kind of a collective thing. Perhaps someone should go and see what the kitchen wants to do. They have proven to be very inventive. OK, I’ll look into that shortly. The other issue really is not something that is an immediate concern, and for that matter, it might not be a concern at all.”

“We’re listening” Jim said.

I gestured towards the ditch. “This row of houses is a very weak; and I mean almost nonexistent defense against anything of substance coming in from the west, agreed?”

They all nodded. “So what can we do to make this border such to as deter any serious attack? Something that’s feasible? Wouldn’t require any extra permanent manpower?”

“I’m sure you have an idea, so let’s hear it, Bennie” Jim seemed eager.

“We cannot really ever expect to keep out individuals, but what about large numbers, or even vehicles? The distance between the ditch and the fence here is about what, 30 feet? If we could find a way to increase the width of the ditch this direction, it would prohibit large numbers of troops and vehicles from easy access to our western perimeter.” I stopped and thought for a minute.

Army said “that would work, but we wouldn’t have to do the entire distance between Devlin and Trailblazer. Just expand the width at the two streets. That would keep vehicles from coming on this side of the ditch from either direction. Less work too. Maybe widen the ditch to 10 feet of the fence, about 10 feet wide. Hell, if we got that done, the next heavy rain would make it for sure impassable to any vehicular traffic. A few rolls of barb wire strategically placed would make individuals think twice too.”

He continued “We would still require foot patrols, irregularly, walking the line from this side…from time to time. or perhaps we could setup a lookout/sniper post in one or more of the two story homes. The Barrett would be at one place, and the 7mm Remingtons in the others. Binoculars, weapon, radio would be what they’d need along with alertness. Those posts would be our first line of defense. They would also be a good place to shoot our larger ordinance, should we run into any choppers.”

“All sounds good to me” I said, taking a sip of coffee. “Perhaps a day or two after the rain stops, I could take a few guys and start digging? The backhoe would be a help too, if that thing still runs. There is some asphalt that would have to be dug up as well. Hmm, if the path that’s left is say, 3 feet wide, we could put some barb wire there too to deter any passage…just a thought.”

“You’d better not be out with a shovel yourself, mister for at least a week!” Marie called from inside.

“Aye Aye Cap’n!” I answered jokingly.

Mandy smiled a yawn. “I saw that” I told her. “Time for your nap. Let’s go.”

I stood up and Marie came out “I’ll take her. She’ll need help with some personal things.”

I nodded quickly in agreement.

“I guess we could check on the water tanks to see how they’re filling” I started and paused when no one said anything. “Or not. I guess there’s not much to do with the rain and all.”

“I think Angie and I will just go on home then” Ted said. “Since there’s nothing to do” he smiled.

“You might want to stop by and see Marie for any last minute instructions” I said “just so you stay on her good side” I laughed.

“Good idea” he agreed “I will.”

“Thanks for the breakfast” Angie said “nice meeting all of you finally, and thank you for saving my husband’s life” she said with a smile.

“We all thank Ted for participating in the whole thing” I said. “Everybody who went is a hero, and we’ll try to put it behind us.”

They turned and left, hand in hand. Bennie, you are good. I was smiling as they walked out.

“OK, what are smiling about now?” asked Army. “You don’t play poker well do you?”

“That is correct, I do not play poker well, I play for fun. And as far as at what I am smiling, I am sworn to secrecy.”

“Should we check on the kitchen and see what plans they have, in case they have to make some modifications on their preps today?” I asked.

“You, Bennie” Army said. “Give yourself a break, man. We have plenty of time to check on them to help. Enjoy the rain, and the rest. We all need a break from routine…and from things.”

I smiled and said “you’re right and I will enjoy the restful time, thank you.”

I got up and cleared off the table, and went inside with the breakfast leftovers.

“So, what about that piano?” I said when I came outside.

“Geez Bennie” Jim started laughing “you never stop do you?”

“Well, it’s too early to start drinkin’!” I retorted.

“The hell it ain’t” Army said, and left. I assume to get some liquor.

I called after him “I still got some moonshine here!” He did not return. “I have some good bourbon too! What about Cazadores Reposado!” What’s up with him? Maybe he’s going go visit Carla.

I turned to Jim “is he angry?”

“I think he’s got a little cabin fever himself” Jim answered. He’s really not used to being around a lot of people who have fun. He’ll probably come back with a bottle of whiskey, as you suggested.”

“Hell” I said “I’d just as soon go relieve the sentries and just pass the bottle around.”

Jim said “the sentries got nothin’ to do at home either. The rain is a good thing. All will enjoy it. Maybe take a shower…gosh knows we all need one.”

“Now that’s the best idea I’ve heard all day” I said with enthusiasm. “This tropical storm is pretty weak. It should really be coming down, if it had any intensity.” I stopped and looked at him. “You’re still right. Light, heavy, downpour, sprinkle; it’s a good thing. I just might go and find a bar of soap and freakin’ shower right here…sober! On second thought, I would not dare to incur the wrath of Marie; although I am not opposed to asking her first.”

“Another thing we need to talk about and probably not put off too much longer, and that is the drilling of our fougasses in the street Have you guys discussed this yet?” I asked Jim.

He thought for a moment, and said “yep, we’ve talked about it with Walter, and we have a rough plan. We’re not absolutely positive that Jonas’s auger will be able to get through the asphalt street, so that will have to probably be done by hand. We’re a little concerned about how to patch it after we’re done to be less conspicuous.”

“Cut some plywood to fit over the hole” I started “put some paint on it, and cover it with gravel, dirt, pieces of the street you just dug up.”

“Sounds like we just need to figger out where to put it first, then wing it from there. Count me in on whatever labor you need” I told him.

I picked up the breakfast plates, and cleared off the table. “You know, the more I think about a shower in the rain, the more I like it” I told Jim. “Perhaps on the north side of the house by the small porch by the other back door that we blocked off.” I looked at Jim…he was waiting for my next move. I keyed the radio “Eagle 1 to infirmary”

“Go ahead” Marie answered.

“Request permission to attempt a shower in the rain”

A long pause ensued. “I’ll be over in a minute” she said.

Jim asked, “where is this going to happen?”

I gestured to follow, and we walked around the south side of the house to the other back door, which just had a 4×4 porch, but with its proximity to the door, it would be easy to soap up, rinse off, and dry by just stepping inside into the back entrance to the boys room. I pointed this out to him, and he nodded in agreement. “I think we boarded up the door from the inside a few days ago” I told him “but we just used deck screws, so it won’t be difficult to undo.”

We walked back around to the patio, and Marie was just arriving. “Let me see your plan” she asked, obviously interested as we could all use a good bathing. I took her around and showed her, and she thought it was good idea as well. “As for you” she said pointing directly at me, “you will need to extremely careful about your wound. You’ve got fresh stitches, and you and I don’t want that to start bleeding again, and getting it wet can certainly cause the bleeding to start again. Not to even mention the possibility of infection.” She spoke sternly, and I understood exactly what she was saying. “You must be sure to get it as dry as soon you can when you’re done. You know what? As a matter of fact, I’ll need to look at it when you’re done so I can dry it and maybe put some antibiotic on when I re-dress the wound.”

“OK” I said. “That all makes sense to me. I’ll get the door opened, and make arrangements for towels, soap, and shampoo for anyone who’s interested. I’ll go first, and let you know when I’m done. Deal?”

She smiled and said “Deal.”

After making the necessary arrangements inside the house to clear out folks from the shower area, Jim, Al, and I pulled the screws off the door, and set up a kind of a drying off area where folks could dry, and get dressed. There were lots and lots of towels, and we set up an area where we could sit down and dress as well.

It was still raining well enough for a shower, so I started first. You know something? Rainwater is cold on one’s bare body. I soaped up good, then let the rain rinse me off. I had removed the dressing, and just let it get washed with the rainwater also. When I finished, I opened the door, and stepped inside where Lea was waiting with a towel. She also was undressed for a shower as well, and I dried off while she showered. It worked out well.

When she got dried and dressed, we exited the room where others were waiting. Al, Marie, Jim, and yes, even Army were all next in line to shower. AJ and Rhonda expressed their intentions as well.

“I’ll take a look at your wound when we’re done showering” Marie told me as she and Al entered the shower area, and closed the door. “Just leave your shirt off for now.”

I nodded my compliance.

“Feel better?” asked Jim. He seemed really eager to clean up as well.

“Oh yes” I said. I leaned closer to him and said softly, “the rainwater is very cold.”

“Army?” I asked looking at him “are you ok? You seemed a little miffed earlier.”

“Naw, I’m ok” he answered “at the time, it seemed a good idea to have a little nip of something, as it looked like there was nothing else to do. But I think I’ll have a shower too. I used to kill 45 minutes taking a shower. It looks like I may not be able to do that again.”

“Perhaps” I said “but the water is very cold…at least colder than I expected. You might not be taking a long shower today, kemosabbe.”

Army whipped out a big jug of Irish Cream. “This is what I went back for. A little bit in your coffee, and the day could go by quickly” he smiled.

“Irish Cream” I repeated “one of my favorites of all time.” I went on. “At one point in my life, I made a very crude copy of this, and thought it not bad, even though it was bad. This is what I used to drink on Christmas mornings.” I know I must have been smiling as I poured a little in my coffee cup, then poured coffee soon after. I took a sip while others were fixing their cups. “Ahh!”

I stood and held my cup out saying, in my best Irish accent “may you be in heaven an hour before the devil knows you’re dead!” We all laughed as we took another swig.

The shower idea spread, and soon others came to see how we did it. Those that didn’t have the right type of semi-secluded porch, used Al’s.

Marie and I went back to the infirmary where she dried and redressed the wound. It hadn’t started bleeding again. Mandy was sleeping, and I asked Marie about her wound and prognosis.

She began by saying “I am so glad Jeanette was here. She got the bullet out with very minimal damage to surrounding muscle tissue. I couldn’t have done that then…I probably could now after watching her.”

Marie continued “Mandy is going to have some painful therapy after her wound heals. We don’t want her muscles to atrophy, and that is always the tendency in recovery because it hurts so bad.”

“You might be surprised” I told Marie. “I never saw her shed a tear. She’s a very tough kid.”

“I hope you’re right” she said. “Her wound seems to be healing nicely, as yours is.”

“That’s a reflection on you” I told her. “I’m glad you’re here.”

She smiled and patted my shoulder. “OK, you’re good to go for now. I’ll need to check it by bedtime this evening, ok?”

“Will do” I answered.

“Try to keep it dry too” she said as I left.

I nodded.

I returned to Al’s, and we were discussing the kitchen, and we agreed to send someone over to see if the rain was going to hinder cooking. “Another thing” I said “since no one will be working outside today, it may be a good idea to get the kitchen started early…because folks will have nothing better to do than eat.” It made sense to me.

We had a shortage of umbrellas, and I elected to stay at Al’s, to keep from moving around too much. I had started the Volcano stove to cook beans and corn bread for lunch, while some of the others ran errands around the community.

Army went to check the sentries, and Jim went to the kitchen to check on their plans.

I was right. People were checking the readiness of food well before lunchtime. The ladies were already working on it. They couldn’t use the oven, but the other pit was very close to the patio, and they were cooking away.

I began to ponder how to get some chickens. I knew a couple who had four laying hens, but I’m not sure I’d want the people in our community.

Unfortunately, I’d be pressured to get the rest of their family, who were scattered around the area; and then there would be their friends of friends, etc. Nope.

They could, however, point us to where we could perhaps barter for some ready to go laying hens and a rooster.

I’d have to suggest that to Army. We’ll have to have meat, and either we would have to go hunting for it, or raise it ourselves.

I checked the beans, and they were simmering nicely. They needed a couple more hours, easy.

Jim walked up then as said “the ladies seem to have everything under control. They were on top of the rain situation, and began cooking early.” He sat down, and poured another cup of coffee with the Irish Cream. “The water gathering system on the house seems to be working well. Al is adding some more chlorine now. I tried a glass, and it did have a little chlorine odor, but I thought it was ok. I didn’t even see any sediment or roof grit in it. The filters are working good too.”

“That’s good to hear, Jim” I said. “I’ve really sweated thinking what we would do if we couldn’t make this rain work for us. Of course, there’s always bad with good. We’ll be expecting a huge increase in the mosquito population in the next few days…oh well, could be worse.”

Jim nodded smiling as he took another sip of ‘coffee’.

“Has anyone heard anything from Clay since his moonshine testing yesterday?” I asked Jim, as I sat down wincing a little from the stitches.

“I haven’t seen him” Jim said. I thought I heard on of the Sirens say that he had been over earlier asking about mealtime.

That reminded me “the deputy hasn’t been here today. That seems strange since he’s been here every day since the beginning.”

Jim looked at me and said “do you remember what you said to him yesterday?”

“Of course I do” I told him. “What I said, had to be said, and you guys were thinking the same thing. It’s always better to put your cards on the table, instead of beating around the bush, not saying what’s on one’s mind. It’s called being blunt” I said with a smile. “The deputy is a grown man. If he runs home because his “widdle feelings were hurt” then he’s in the wrong line of work. We do not have the time to play games here.” I took a sip of my coffee.

I leaned over the table to Jim and said “I’ll tell you what, Jim. If Army’s got a couple cases of this stuff in his stash, I’m going to don that Kevlar and stand watch over his stash personally.”

“Bennie” he started with a smile and pointing to his coffee cup “this is the tip of the iceberg. Army has always been a firm believer in stocking up on essentials; and ‘liquor will never spoil’ is what he used to always say.”

“Talking about me again behind my back?” Army said, walking up putting his rifle down.

I poured some coffee in his cup, leaving space for the Irish Cream. “Well Army” I started “you’re a very interesting individual and quite honestly, very much bears talking about. What’s the word on sentry duty?”

“I sent this shift home, and the next ones are getting set now” he answered. “The rain seems to have made everyone hungry and extra bored. That was a good call Bennie.”

“I started some beans here a while ago, it’ll be a couple of hours, and then I’ll make some cornbread.” I looked at Jim. “Got any sausages we could start thawing and cook up some for appetizers? I think the ladies inside are making some flour tortillas.”

Jim thought for a second, “yes, I think I have something that will be beneficial to all” and he got up and went around front.

I pulled one of the Webers closer to the patio, dumped the ashes, and fired up the chimney starter. “It’s really unfortunate that I showered not two hours ago, and now I’m going to smell like a bbq. Seems like all I do is sacrifice” I said shaking my head smiling.

“We’re glad you’re getting back to your old self” Army said, with a serious look. “Whatever it was you found inside yourself to do what you’ve been doing the past couple of days, I’d like to bottle it; and use just when I need it. I don’t think I’d get along with you if you were like that all the time.”

Silence.

“That’s a compliment, Bennie” Army said.

“Thanks Army, I got that” I told him. “It took a lot out of me, and some of it, I won’t be able to get back…ever.”

Jim walked around the corner with couple of large grocery bags, and he set them on the table. “Feel free to cook as necessary” he said with a big smile.

I smiled back and looked in the bags saying “I’m sure that everyone will enjoy it. Thanks Jim!”

Inside were several packages of assorted link sausages. I nodded in approval, and emptied them onto the patio to thaw. I went inside to get the large cast iron skillet. Leah and H were making tortillas, and doing a great job. They already had a couple of stacks so maybe a couple of dozen so far. I found some foil, and wrapped those up. I gave them each a kiss and hug as well. “If you need me to relieve either of you, let me know” I told them.

Lea smiled and said “we got this covered. You just starting cooking out there. We’ll have two dozen more in 20 minutes or so” and she shooed me away. Life is good.

I went outside, and Army had disappeared again. I just looked at Jim with my look of “now where did he go?” and Jim just shrugged.

I sat down, poured coffee, and some IC, and fired up a smoke. “The IC is almost gone” I said.

“Yeah, Army noticed that too” Jim said laughing.

I joined in knowing that that was where Army went; to resupply.

Al showed up with a bottle of water. “How is it?” I asked him.

“See for yourself” he said as he put the bottle on the table.

I took a long drink, and sat the bottle down. “Better than city water, I must say. What do you think?”

“I thought it was fine” Al said. “I took a few bottles to the infirmary, and Marie agreed.”

“Well, if Marie likes it, then we’re good to go!” I exclaimed. “How do you think the collector system is working?”

He thought for a second as he sat down, and said “I think it’s working fine. We may have to figure out a way to change the filter while water is running through it. I think it’s getting clogged, as the water flow has decreased noticeably.”
I thought for a second and said “didn’t Walter mention that? Wasn’t there a valve that you shut off to stop the flow, and then either empty or change the filter? It looks like a disk, that blocks the flow…nuthin’ fancy.”

“Oh yeah, I saw that” Al said. “That makes perfect sense too. Thanks Bennie! I’m on it” and he got up, turned and briskly walked around to the front.

“I do have that other filtering system that we could use to further filter the rainwater that comes off the roof, if we need to. It’s not just dirt, roof grit, bugs, and leaves that come off the roof you know. At least we have some water now that we can filter, and that’s really the main thing.” I was talking to Jim.

Army came around the corner with another bottle of the IC, smiling. “Just in case” he said.

“Oh, we’re already there my friend” I said with a laugh.

He sat down, and prepared another coffee.

“We were just talking about the water tank.” I started and went on “it looks like the collector will work well. I mentioned that I had an additional system to filter water. I think we might live longer if we use that to filter the water from the tank.”
Jim and Army nodded.

I got up and went to the shed, and brought out the two buckets with a filter. “The filter attaches here in the bottom of the top bucket, and you put that bucket inside this one like so. The bottom bucket has a spigot, from which you draw your cleaned water. It also removes chlorine and chloramines, so perhaps we should discontinue adding chlorine, or we’ll just waste it. We can always add chlorine after it’s filtered to make it last.”

“That’s pretty cool” Jim said, looking the ceramic filter.

“Yeah” I said “just shake the filter every 3-4 months to keep the stuff from getting packed. Every 6-8 months, it just needs to be wiped with a soft clean cloth. It can be used again and again. We aren’t locked in to just using these two buckets either. As you can see, one could figure out many ways to make this work. We might have a faster flow rate if we could attach it to the big tank; more water, more pressure, more filtered water. It is very cool.”

I continued “I have a hand pump that the deputy brought, so we can pump the water from the tank into this or other containers to be filtered. Just let me know. We should probably get someone on this today, since we seem to have an abundance of people looking for stuff to do. Hell, they could bring their own container and fill them while they eat.”

“Where did you get this” asked Army. “I would have bought some of these.”

“A website called http://www.monolithic.com ” I said. “I found them quite by accident.”

“So, stop adding chlorine as the filter will remove it” Army was repeating “the filtered water will last what…several weeks, if it’s in the dark? Water here won’t last that long, so we won’t need to worry about chlorine until” he paused “we have to pull water from the ditch…shudder.”

“That’s about it” I said. “I’d go and do it, but Marie has been on my case about getting wet, so I will stay here and cook, while you guys delegate responsibility for water duty.”

I got up and tended the fire on the Weber, and spread the coals, and added some more, while they took their new toy over to the high tech house, where the water tank was.

I went inside with a package of sausage, and started cutting on the cutting board. “How goes it ladies?” I asked my little tortilla makers.

“We’ve got more now, so you can begin making some tacos” Lea said.

“Outstanding” I said as I dumped a pile of sausages into the skillet.

I went outside, and began cooking sausages; entire links, cut up in the pan, halves, chunks on the grill, what have you. The skillet didn’t take up much room on the grill, but I had better control over them.

I soon had some curious folks peeking around the corner asking if they could help. Heh heh heh…my plan is working. They loaded up tortillas with sausage and beans, rolled them up in foil, and stacked them in milk crates, and hauled them to the kitchen. I started the first batch of cornbread in the dutch oven after removing the beans from Volcano stove.

The helpers returned for more and loaded up a couple dozen more. I went back inside to check on the factory, and they were getting tired. “Just finish what you got” I said. “There’ll be plenty. I’ve got corn bread started too, and by the time the second batch of that is ready, the kitchen will have its stuff about ready. Great job ladies. Take a break for the rest of the day. Go eat with the gang…see what’s happening. Thanks for all your help.”

I could feel my stitches pulling, and like a beacon, here came Marie with Mandy. “You didn’t take your meds this morning” scolded Marie. “I’ll bet you can feel those stitches now, can’t you?”

“You’re right, of course” I admitted sheepishly while wrestling the last round of tortillas to the table. “Lots of folks were wandering around with nothing to do because of the rain, so I got Jim to bring out some sausages to curb the early birds who are bugging the kitchen to eat. Want some cornbread?” I knew that cornbread was one of her favorites.

“Of course I do” she said, and her gaze turned to a smile. “Here are your meds mister. You have to help me remember.”

“I’ll try” I said as I pulled the dutch oven from the volcano. I removed the lid, and dumped it on the bread board on the table. It was perfect. I set the dutch oven down, and put the next round of batter in it, and placed it back on the Volcano, then replaced the lid. “I’m going to need another batch of batter, because this batch is for us here” I told her. She already had cut a piece for herself and Mandy. They both had full mouths with crumbs all around them.

“Mandy?” I started “you feeling better?” knowing full well she was, and furthermore knowing that she could not answer. I smiled.

I was favoring my side and Marie said “I’ll do the batter for you. This is the honey cornbread, right?”

“That’s correct” I answered.

The helpers came back and I asked them to take the bean pot over. I gave them each a nice potholder, and put the lid on the 3 gallon stainless steel pot. “Now you two be careful” I said “these are still very hot and will burn you. Walk slowly. Tell Brandi the beans need seasoning.”

They nodded and left…carefully.

I looked at Mandy “so, I can tell you’re feeling better, you’ve got your smile back. ”

She smiled through another mouthful. “My shoulder is really sore. Marie has a therapy plan to get it back in shape” she said as she took another bite. I poured her some coffee with some IC. She looked perplexed.

I put my finger to my lips “Shhh.”

I too, drank some more coffee while cleaning up the cornbread crumbs, and putting the rest into some foil.

I could smell the cornbread, so I took the next batch out about the time Marie came out with the batter. Good timing.

I dumped it out, and poured the last batch into the dutch oven.

Marie cut up the cornbread, wrapped it, and took it to the kitchen.

She returned saying, “you’ve started a mutiny with your cornbread” she was laughing. “There are people waiting in line for 8 pieces of cornbread. You’re going to have to make more. I’ll help.”

She went inside to get her dutch oven, and I assume to mix another batch of batter.

Mandy was now eating a taco, and sipping coffee. Her eyes went wide on the first sip, and a smile.

“Better not drink too much coffee” I said to her quietly “Marie wants you to sleep. That’s how you get better. You won’t be doing any therapy until your shoulder heals Mandy.”

She nodded and drank a big gulp of coffee. I poured some more IC in it. “Do you like this stuff?” I asked her.

She nodded “What is it?”

“It’s called Irish Cream” I told her. “It’s made with cream, chocolate, Irish whiskey, and some other goodies. It’s one of my all-time favorites” I smiled.

She reached and got another taco, and was well into that one when Marie came out with her dutch oven. I pulled mine off the stove, and replaced it with hers. I dumped the fresh batch on to the board, where she cut it up. She reached inside the door, and pulled out another bowl of batter, and poured it into the extra dutch oven. I put some coals from the grill on top of the dutch oven on the Volcano, then stacked it on top of the other one. “20 minutes” I said for both of them.

She picked up the other batch of bread, and hauled it to the kitchen.

I sat down at the table. The meds hadn’t kicked in yet, as my side still felt like the stitches were pulling out. I peeked to make sure that I wasn’t bleeding…nope, all ok.

When I looked up, there were the Sirens. I hadn’t heard them walk up.

Jenna spoke first “we must have your recipe for the cornbread…please.”

“Then you shall have it” I told her.

“We want to make it a daily thing” Brandi said. “Everyone is raving about it. There were people almost arguing over the last piece. When they saw Marie, they ran out to get first shot…in the rain.”

“Of course you can have the recipe. It uses 1/3 c honey, that’s the extra sweetness. I have substituted maple syrup before, and it changes the sweetness to a different level.” I was going to get up, and Jenna handed me an index card and a pencil.

“Dad, you’re bleeding” Mandy said, pointing at my side.

I looked and sure enough, my shirt had blood on it. I shook my head, and said “I am in for it with Marie.”

I just sighed and wrote down the recipe. I gave it to Jenna with my left hand. “Here ya go! I hope there’s a lot of honey around, because if you make this recipe every day to feed this many people, you will use it up quickly; and that is one thing that there is probably not much of around here. I’m flattered that you all like it” I said with a smile.

“Will there be any more today?” Margret asked.

“Not made by him” said Marie from the doorway, as she opened the door.

I stood up, ready to take my punishment.

“You should not have been lifting those 20 pound dutch ovens” she said. “You’re all pale again. Let’s go” and she grabbed my arm. I felt dizzy, and sat down again, wincing. Mandy came over and helped me up.

The kitchen ladies were offering to help and Marie just said “he’s overdoing it too early. He’s got 15 stitches in the side of his chest, and he shouldn’t be doing anything. He just needs to rest. He’ll be fine.”

The three of us walked to the infirmary, where Marie changed my bandage again, and I just laid down and went to sleep thinking that I hope they can find me this time…I drifted off into a dark, disturbing sleep.

.

CHAPTER THIRTY-TWO

When I awoke, it was dark outside. Geez, I slept all day! I wonder what time it is.

I just looked at the ceiling. I heard no noises, which I thought was odd, depending on what time it was. I didn’t hear any rain falling either. Too bad…we could have used more.

I turned my head and looked around the room. Something wasn’t right, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. I sat up, and put my feet on the floor. I had my jeans on still, clean socks and shirt. I saw my boots by the couch in the other room. Ol’ Blue and the Mossberg were also sitting on the couch, along with my vest.

I looked in Mandy’s room, but it was empty, and the bed was made. That’s strange. She’s not well. She should still be here.

I went through the kitchen out the back door to pee off the patio. Yep, it had stopped raining, and the sky was clear, as I could see stars. I finished my business, and went back inside. Wish I knew what time it was.

I went over to the couch, and put on my boots, gun belt, and vest.

I went to the front door, and walked outside, then closed the door. The street was empty. There were no lights on at any of the homes. The only light was from above. I wonder what time it is.

I walked to Al’s, and the gate to the back was locked. All right, now this is getting weird.

I reached for my smokes, and fired one up. I stood by Al’s monster truck thinking. Where is everyone? What time is it?
I looked at George and Gina’s, and across at the high-tech house, along with the kitchen. No activity…nothing.

I walked down the sidewalk toward Army’s house.

The street wasn’t even wet after all that rain.

I could see the Main gate as I got closer, but I didn’t see any sentries. Good, those guys are staying out of sight. I reached for my Hamilton, but it wasn’t there. I wish I knew what time it was.

As I approached Army’s, I heard voices coming from what I thought was his garage. I slowed down my pace deliberately, and as I got closer, I could hear what they were saying. I checked the Mossberg for a round in the chamber; there was. I pulled out the .44, and checked the cylinder; ready.

“What are we going to do with him?”

“Well, we can’t have him alive and talking, can we?”

“I didn’t get into this to be a cold-blooded killer like before!”

“OK then. Give me another option. You know damn well he’s gonna blab when he wakes up; don’t you? And stop whining about Dad. He had to go.”

Who is talking? I can’t see their faces. I have to move closer. Something familiar about one voice though.

I moved closer…ever so slowly…quietly…I took 5 seconds for each step through the grass toward the driveway. I was hugging the house with my back…sidestepping closer.

I still could not see faces. I did not know who was talking.

“All right then, how do we do it? Shoot him while he’s unconscious?”

“No, you idiot. We just take what we want from here, and set his house on fire. No one will ever know what we took, or what he even had. We got a lot of stuff out in the truck already.”

“Too bad Dad’s not here to see the loot. He might have changed his mind.”

“Dad would never have changed his mind, and he would have been pissed to see what we have done here tonight. Just shut up and let him go, damn you! It was him or us!”

I was almost to the edge of the driveway now. They had some kind of light inside the garage, because I could see their shadows now. I would have to pass through a thin hedge of oleanders to get onto the driveway.

I took the safety off the Mossberg.

I now recognized the voices. Reginald and his brother. Who did they have as prisoner? What time is it?

I rushed through the oleanders. The oleanders grabbed me. I can’t pass through them! I began to thrash and fight the oleanders with the Mossberg…swish…swish…back and forth swish..

“Bennie! Bennie! Stop it! Stop it! You’re OK! Stop!” voices said to me, and I felt someone pressing my arms. My side hurt like hell.

I opened my eyes, and I was surrounded by Lea, Al, Marie, and H, in the infirmary.

“Whew!” Al said, releasing his iron grip across my chest. “You were really fighting off some bad guys, my brutha! Do you know where you are now? You’re in the infirmary. Are you OK?”

I nodded and smiled weakly. My side felt wet.

“You’re still bleeding” Marie said “and you have a fever.”

Lea kissed me on the forehead and said “another bad dream Big Guy? You kept asking what time it was, and then you started waving your elbows back and forth. If Al hadn’t have been here, you might have just ripped those stitches out.”

“Yes” I said hoarsely. “Another bad dream.”

“I need to you roll over on your side” Marie said. “I have to disinfect the wound. This will probably sting like hell.”

I did so, and she was correct.

“What were you dreaming?” asked Lea.

I told them about it, and about Reggie’s kids. “I wonder if that’s why he never came back” I said. “Maybe he’s dead.”

Marie continued to redress the wound and said sternly “I’m not going to say I told you so. You are hereby ordered for nothing but bed rest until further notice. That wound is in a very difficult place to keep from getting reopened, considering the kind of activities that you participate in. We will have food brought in, and you can get up and use the bathroom as necessary. No trips outside until further notice…period. Got it?” she was serious now.

She made me sit up, and she bandaged all the way round this time, instead of tape on the side. She gave the usual meds, plus another. I looked at her.

“An antibiotic” she said. “You have a small infection, and we’re not taking any chances. It could have been picked up from the rainwater too during your shower.”

“You have to stay down, or you’re not going to heal. Those are the words you told Mandy, and she listened to you” Marie went on.

“All right Doc” I said to her. “You’re the boss.”

I think I laid back down, and went to sleep. Maybe I won’t dream this time.

It was still raining.

CHAPTER THIRTY-THREE

I was awakened by something cold on my face. I tried to speak, but couldn’t. I saw Marie through the fog. She was speaking, but I could not understand the words. I felt her help me to sit up, and she gave me some more meds. I remember her making me drink a lot of water. It was cold water too. It tasted good. I finished all the bottle, and laid down again.

The next thing I remember was having to pee real bad. I woke up and got my bearings. No one was around, but I could hear Marie talking to Mandy in the other room. I tried to sit up, but could not. I felt like I was looking through a strange glass. Everything seemed fuzzy. I tried to call out, but my throat was so dry.

I tried again to sit up, with not much success. The fog was beginning to lift now. I saw clearer. I tried to swing my legs over the side of the bed, and was able to do that. Using my left arm, I pushed myself to sit up. My head hurt bad, and I was dizzy as hell. I sat for a couple minutes, hoping that my head would clear up and I could go and pee.

Finally, the dizziness subsided, and I stood up. I felt shaky and unsteady. I took a step towards the back door. I could hear it raining. That’s good. I must be awake then. It was dark. I shuffled through the kitchen, and went out the back door to my usual pee spot on the patio. I was successful, and there was a lot of pee. I shuffled back into the house, closed the door, and was met by Marie.

She came over to help me back to bed, chattering about how I needed to stay down, because I have a high fever, and was I burning when I peed? I shook my head, but did not speak.

She brought another round of meds, and some more cold water. I downed all easily and eagerly. I tried to speak, but could only barely whisper. She shushed me, and told me to lie down and rest. No argument here. Out again.

Through the fog, I remember thinking about the Polar Bear Club. How these crazies would, in the middle of winter, jump into a pool, lake, or what have you, filled with ice water. That would feel good. I heard people talking around me, but cannot make them out. I feel achy all over. I feel dizzy, and I’m asleep. My head hurts so bad. I think I drank some water.

I was awakened again by a strange light in my face; sunshine. I opened eyes, and saw the bright sunlight coming through the window. Must be morning.The sun is coming right through this window. I need to put some foil on it to keep out the heat.

I rolled to my back and heard Marie “hello Mr. Sleepyhead! How do you feel?” She walked over to feel my forehead. “Your fever has broken.”

“I need to pee” I said trying to sit up. It was much easier than last time, and I didn’t feel near as dizzy. “The dizziness is gone…mostly, mostly” I said.

I swung my legs around and put them on the floor. She helped me to stand, and I was steadier than before. I headed towards the back door, and she asked me “would you rather used the toilet?”

I pointed towards the door “I have my own special spot.”

She smiled, knowing that I was indeed, feeling better.

Upon my return, she helped me back to bed, where I just sat down. “What the hell happened? I asked her. “My memory is just a big blur. How’s Mandy?”

Marie pulled up a chair close to me and took my hand. “I wasn’t sure you were going to live. Your fever was at 105 for a long time, and probably would have gone higher if we hadn’t gotten you into the tub for a cold bath.” She squeezed my hand, and she started tearing up. “You’ve been out for 3 days. You’ve been talking in your sleep constantly when your fever was really high…about the battle. Lots of people were here. It sounded like you relived it. Lea, H, Al, Mandy, myself, and Jenna were here for that. There wasn’t a dry eye here…including yours. You were very upset.” She had tears streaming down her face. “I’m sorry for what you went through.”

I pulled her close, and kissed her on the forehead. I squeezed her hand. “We all do things that we don’t want to do, but these things have to be done. That task fell to me, and yes, it was a horrible thing that I hope I never get over…because if I do, then I am less of a person than I was.”

She wiped her tears and I said “you didn’t want to undress me and give me a cold bath, but it had to be done…you had to make that decision, and it was the right one.” I smiled at her, and kissed her hand. “Thank you.”

“Did you?” my expression changed to that of total uncertainty.

“No, silly” she fake swatted my arm, laughing.

“Dad!” I heard two voices in unison. H and Mandy literally ran over, surrounded us on both side, and hugged me. “You’re going to be fine?” asked H. She looked at Marie.

Marie smiled, nodded and said, “he’ll be fine if he continues to follow doctor’s orders” she said kind of sternly. She winked at me.

“Yay!” again, in unison jumping up and down.

“One of you needs to go tell Lea that I’m up OK? Please?” H dashed out of the house, leaving the door open. I just sighed. Mandy closed the door.

“Well Miss Mandy, I can see you’re feeling better because if I’m not mistaken, you were just now jumping up and down.”

She nodded with her large Mandy smile “Marie said that tomorrow, I can get dressed and assume light duty.”

I looked at Marie, and she nodded. “She followed my orders, and now she reaps the rewards.”

“Hey, that’s great Mandy!” I said. “Lots of folks will feel better knowing that you’re recovered…including me.”

“How’s the shoulder?” I asked.

“It still hurts, but not like earlier” she answered.

“She has been doing well with her therapy, and her wound is healing nicely” Marie interjected.

Lea came in, walked right over and hugged me. She had tears in her eyes.

“It’s been a long time since I had so much feminine attention” I said with a smile. “I kinda like it!”

“You don’t feel hot any more” Lea said. “Yesterday, you were literally burning up.”

I gestured to Marie “you’ll have to thank the doctor, and whoever carried my ass in to the tub.”

“That would be me, my brutha” Al said as he walked in.

“My little brother” I motioned toward him “has saved my ass more times than I saved his…ask me about it sometime” I stood up and hugged my brother too.

“We were very worried about you” he said pointing at me. “We could almost cook off you, you were so hot” he said shaking his head.

He pulled up a chair as well. Marie brought a bottle of water…cold. “I could get used to this cold water” I told everyone. “A hundred five, huh? I only saw that once when I was little, and my little little brother had himself an alcohol bath. I remember dreaming about the polar bear club and thinking how good it would feel to jump into the pool of cold water. Coincidence?”

Al started by saying “you were talking a lot…I think delirious is the proper word. We all heard you talk about the battle; from your perspective.” He paused for a minute, and I stopped him.

“Al, I heard I relived it. I will never forget. We don’t need to repeat it again.” I looked around at other tearing up faces. “It had to be done…” I was interrupted by Al, who was now tearing up.

“You’re worried about us?” he looked around. “You cried the whole time, Bennie. I don’t know what happened there after we left, but I do know that it weighs heavy on you, my brutha. You had tears flowing like rivers when you were screaming at the bad guys. What I’m saying is that we all saw how your subconscious dealt with it. We’re your family here, Bennie, and we all love you. It was a very difficult thing to watch you go through that. If you need to talk” he motioned to the group “we’re all available to listen. That’s all we’re saying.”

He got up and said “I’m glad you’re back. We need you outside when you’re up for it.” He patted me lightly on the shoulder, turned and walked outside.

“Look, everyone” I started “I know that I can depend on any or all of you to watch my back, and that includes my mental state…or yours. I give advice all the time, without thinking…”

Marie interrupted “Bennie, this is not about watching one’s back. Just accept our support when or if you need it.”

“Gotcha” I said. “I’m hungry. What’s to eat?”

“I’ll bring a couple of tacos” Lea said. “Coffee?” she looked at Marie.

Marie nodded and stipulated “no Irish cream” she said waving her finger back and forth.

“I’ll take whatever I can get” I said. “Even a huge bowl of beans would be great for starters. Thanks in advance for whatever you bring.”

“Is it morning?” I asked seriously. “I seem to be stuck in needing to know what the time is so I can know what to do.” I shook my head.

“There has been some excitement since you’ve been ill” Marie added. “That guy Reginald that you captured? He came to the gate yesterday with a bunch of armed guys, looking for you. They were foul mouthed, and were probably lucky Army didn’t order them all shot.” She shrugged. “I probably shouldn’t have said anything, but you do have your own wisdom about such things. I can’t recall how many times Jim and Army have asked about you.” She paused and went on “we all need you to get well. Eat, enjoy, take your meds, and rest. No one is supposed to be in here except family.”

Lea came back in a few minutes with a couple varieties of breakfast tacos, and some beans. “Thanks, Darlin'” I said to her. I wolfed down the tacos and some water; I decided against the coffee for now. I finished the beans in what seemed like a just a few mouthfuls. I began to feel stronger. I decided to lie down and stay within Marie’s good graces…besides; I was tired.

“Please don’t let me sleep all day” I asked Lea and Marie. “I need to get up and eat later, so I can sleep tonight. I’ll need to get up and around some tomorrow…just between here and your home” I looked at Marie.

Marie nodded in agreement as she brought over my meds “if you feel up to it, I would encourage you to get around some…just don’t exert yourself” she was very specific.

I took my meds, and nodded as I fell asleep.

I awakened by myself later, and by the shadows in the room, I could tell it was much later in the day. I peeked in Mandy’s room, but she was gone.

I went out to the patio to pee, wondering if it would be different, since it was broad daylight. I looked around casually at first, and seeing no one, I took care of business.

I looked through the front window, and the kitchen was peaked with folks eating. I smiled, thinking what a great idea that had been. I just hoped our food stores would hold for the harvest; some 10 weeks away…or how long was it now?

How long had I been down?

Is it really important?

Time?

Of course it is. It’s just that now, we’re not all driven by the clock. We are driven by the sun; coming up and going down, and the time between.

I heard the door open, and it was Marie. “Hi Bennie! How are you feeling?” She had her big smile on.

“I truly feel better than I did earlier” I answered with a smile as well.

“I was thinking about letting you go across to the kitchen, but you’d be mobbed by well-wishers, and good-hearted people. I’m happy to bring you a plate, if you’re up for it.”
“Marie, you tell Brandi that I can smell her beans clear over here. I’m happy to eat a plate of whatever they’re serving, if you’d be so kind to bring it.”

Marie turned, went out the door, and headed across the street to the kitchen. A few people stopped her, on her way to the serving line, then they looked over to where I was. I saw here disappear inside the garage, where the line was, and in a minute or so, she came out with Brandi. Brandi waved at the infirmary, and I opened the curtain, and waved back. The closer Marie got, the hungrier I got. I opened the door for her, and grabbed the plate and headed to dining area which was just a little breakfast nook, with a table and chairs. Steak and beans, with some kind of new bread. I broke off a piece, and handed it to Marie.

“This is new” I said “here, try it.”

“I’ve had some. It’s some kind of crusty wheat bread” she was saying. “Rodolfo said it was OK to start using the oven, and this was the first day. They’re very proud of the bread. I thought it was delicious.”

Indeed it was. Bread to sop up the bean juice? Life is good! I just nodded with my mouth almost overfull.

Marie laughed. “I can tell you’re better. You have my permission to start a regular day tomorrow with your fellow leaders. I know they have some important issues that they want you included in the decision-making.”

I managed to blurt out a “yay!”

She came right over into my face and said “you must not lift anything over the weight of your firearms for another week.” She was serious “no dutch oven lifting. There are people” she was pointing across the street “that have offered to bring you food, to cook for you, to make homemade soups for you. You do not need to be doing anything except thinking. Do you remember what you said before the battle when you told us to be visible? To show our sand? Now you must do so. Let others do for you for the next few days. They will fall over themselves doing so…trust me.”

I had managed to finish chewing my huge bite, and I touched her cheek and said “I owe you. Thank you.”

She smiled, and went out the front door while I finished eating. There was something about that bread. I drank another bottle of water, and decided to go lie down a bit.

I awoke with that familiar sensation of having to urinate. I got up. It was dark. I went out back and finished my task. I checked on Mandy, and she was asleep. I too, went back to bed, although I could see the very early signs of dawn. I went to sleep anyway.

CHAPTER THIRTY-FOUR

I was awakened by the front door opening, and in walked Marie and Al.  I sat up, with little discomfort compared to my last recollections of getting out of bed.

“Morning” I said to both of them.

“G’morning Bennie” said Marie as she felt my forehead. “How’re you feeling this morning?”

“Pretty good, I guess” I answered. “I’m kinda hungry.”

Al laughed “well, I got just what you need. A nice breakfast with “The Committee” which is what everyone is calling us now…and  you too.”

I thought for a second and said “I’m not sure I like of the sound of “The Committee”. It sounds too socialist for my taste…even hints of communism.”

Marie said “you guys finish your political theorizing at home. Bennie, get dressed; you are free to go. Just remember what we talked about last night.”

She left, and I went out back to pee. It was just getting daylight. Strange to have Al so rarin’ to go this early. I finished, went inside, and ran the sanitizer over my hands. I proceeded to get dressed while Al talked.

“I sure am glad to see you up and around, Bennie” he started. “We sure have missed you. We’ve been having a lot of problems with Reginald and his brother. They’ve been coming here every day asking for you.”

I stopped him and said “I’m glad to see you too my brutha. Let’s go eat.” I put on Ol’ Blue, and grabbed the Mossberg. “The only thing I need besides these would be the Winchester. If we run into those guys again, I’ll need it loaded. OK?” I headed to the door, and we went to his house.

I could smell the bacon before we even got to the yard. As we rounded the corner, a small cheer went up from my new friends; Army and Jim. I walked directly over to them and we exchanged hugs.

“Bennie, are we glad to see you” they said as we all shook hands and sat down smiling at each other.

“I’m pretty glad myself to get out of the infirmary” I retorted. “I’ve realized another important thing since the Burst; if you’re in the infirmary, you’re really sick.” I said with a distinct nod.

Jim poured me some coffee, and I fired up a smoke. There was bacon and toast on the table. The toast was left over from the kitchen last night. I grabbed some of each, while I smoked.

“All right then.” I started. “I hear there is some concern about that Reginald guy…so fill me in.” I took another drag.

Army started “almost from the minute you went into the infirmary, we have had to deal with Reginald and his brother…we don’t know his name. They drive up, almost ramming the gate sentries, and the gate every day. The brother drives, with a guy riding shotgun. There are usually 6 guys in the back, all armed.”

He leaned closer and went on “I don’t think the guys riding shotgun are…shall we say as excited as Reginald? If you get my drift?”

I nodded and asked “armed with what?”.

“From what we have seen, mostly shotguns, semi-auto pistols, revolvers, and a couple of ARs.” Army went on. “Reginald has been asking for you. He gets real mad when we don’t produce you. We told him you were very sick…we didn’t say from what. He has called you every derivative of coward I ever heard, and some that I don’t even know are words are not…because you won’t face him.”

I was putting my smoke out and I said “ya mean like an old west shootout?”

“Yes” Jim said. “He claims that in a fair fight, he could shoot you right between the eyes, and holster his gun before you hit the ground.”

“Why didn’t you guys just shoot both of them?” I said, taking a bite of bacon. “Hmm…this is good stuff. It’s been too long mr. bacon.”

I stopped and looked up at them. “Why?”

Silence.

“They had no weapons drawn” Al stated “they; HE, has been looking for you, specifically. None of the others ever said a word.”

“How many others are there?” I asked, sipping some coffee.

Al thought a few seconds “the numbers seem to dwindle every trip. I think yesterday” he looked at Army “there were only 4 others.”

No one was eating now, except for me. “I’ll need another single action revolver, and a left hand holster.” I washed down some bacon with coffee. I looked up to my right, squinted my right eye, and said “I ain’t particular about caliber.”

“What for?” asked Army.

“To make a statement” I answered with a smile. “You do trust me, don’t  you?”

“I’ve still got that old .41 magnum” Al said. “I have some ammo, but I don’t have a holster.”

I nodded with approval while eating some toast.

Army, while getting up, said “I can help with the other.” He left.

The sun was just barely over the east horizon. No visible sun yet, but daylight was plentiful. I continued to eat.

Jim was looking at me strangely while he was eating. “You OK pardner?”

“Almost 100%, my friend” I said while looking directly at him. Nothing like a good breakfast to get a man started for come what may…right?”

I finished what was on my plate, leaned back, and lit up another smoke.

“Those things will kill you, ya know” Jim said with a laugh.

I laughed back with “you keep saying that.”

Army showed up with another gun belt, with the left handed holster. “Here you go. Is this what you needed?”

Al went inside; I assumed to fetch the other six gun.

I stood up, fumbled a little putting the other belt on over the regular one. The holster did not detach, so I just snugged both of them down.

Al brought out the .41 magnum; also a Ruger.

He checked the cylinder, as did I. Al always took good care of his guns. I cracked the hammer back and spun the cylinder. I must have smiled because the others laughed.

“Al” I said, “I have never seen anyone take better car of a weapon than you. This is a beautiful sound.” I spun it again…beautiful.

I holstered it, and stood and checked the height of the weapons. No one knew that in a secret fantasy life, I was Marshall Dillon. I practiced with the Heritage revolvers; drawing, taking a bead, practicing, never firing, stance, glaring, mouth positions, eyes fixed, the gait, posture, and holstering. The guns felt good. I never had to look at them. I pulled them both, spun them three times, and re holstered them at the same time. Yeah, feels good.
At six feet two, I had to wear the guns low, as my arms are very long. I liked to have my fingertips just past the butt when at rest. That’s low and as I draw out the gun, I have to bend my elbow less, so I can raise the gun more quickly.

Army, Jim, and Al were mortified.

I said nothing, and I went around the corner to pee.

The sun was up now, and the morning was in full swing.

I went back to the patio, Army’s radio went off.

“Main Gate to RC”

“Go ahead”

“They’re back”

“On our way”

“10-4”

Silence.

“You guys go on up to the main gate. I’m going to come up behind them from the alley to the south. You just keep them busy until I get there.”

“What do we tell them?” Jim asked.

“Be evasive” I said. “That will start getting him fired up.”

I reached out and shook all their hands. “This is gonna be fun.” I slugged down a sip of hot coffee, and headed around the front towards the alley, that would exit behind the truck on M street. Al and the gang would get there before me, and more than likely, Reginald would already be agitated.

I continued down the alley, towards M street. I could see a station wagon blocking the entrance to the alley. They had dug the dead-falls, but left a narrow ridge next to the fence. By the time I got to M street, I could hear Reginald yelling. There was a ghost patrol of ours across the street, and I doubt that Reginald’s crew noticed them.

Reginald’s pickup was in front of the main gate. He was driving, and had gotten out to confront the sentries.

“Where is that fucking Bennie!?” he yelled. He was wearing a sidearm that looked like a revolver, but I couldn’t tell…no matter.

I came out to the street, and walked slowly towards the back of  their pickup. They only had two guys in the back today…they looked like they didn’t want to be there.

“C’mon Bennie! You fucking coward! I’m calling you out goddammit! If you have any fucking balls then you’ll come out and face me now! Now goddammit!…NOW!!!!”

I was right behind the pickup, and I fired up a smoke and said

“I’m here Huckleberry.” I took a drag.

Reginald turned and looked at first with a look of genuine horror; you know, eyes open, mouth open. That look turned into a sneer. “Well, look who’s come back to the living.”

The two guys in the back of the truck made absolutely no movement at all. Reginald’s brother was riding shotgun.

“Just for you, asshole.” I took another drag, looked right at him, and exhaled through my nose.

“Let’s get this over you bi-polar son-of-a-bitch” I got serious. “I’ve got coffee getting cold back on the table, and I aim to finish it.” I took another drag. “And I’m still hungry.”

“Well you’ve already eaten your last meal, because I’m going to blow your fucking head off!” Reginald yelled, taking a step towards me.

“I’m going to do you one better, dickbreath” I said “I’m gonna allow your stinking brother to draw on me too. I’ll take you both at the same time.”

“Dewey, get out here. This dumbass thinks he can take us both! Get out here!”

Dewey got out of the truck and stood about 12 feet to the right of his brother.

“Dewey and Reginald” I said. “No wonder you guys are such assholes; with names like that. Someone should have put you out of your misery a long time ago.”

Their faces flashed a glimmer of fear, and insanity.

I threw my cigarette off to my left and said “which one of you mama’s boys killed your own father?” I looked both in the eye.

I got into my stance. “Did he beg for his life before you shot him in the head, or did one of you fucking cowards shoot him while he slept?”

They had no plan, because they did not know they would both be facing me together. I knew that would be a slight advantage for me.

Reginald made his move.

I pulled my .44 out in a deliberate move, cocked just after leaving the holster, brought it up to aim at center chest. Reginald’s gun fired first; he missed. I didn’t. He dropped like a rock to the street. Dewey drew right after I did. He fumbled with his semi-auto, and I pointed the .44 at him and fired two shots. The first one caught him in the left arm. The second went into the left side of his rib cage. I holstered immediately. Dewey hit the ground.

I heard someone, somewhere say “Damn!  Doc Bennie!

“Zis is how ve do it in ze old country” I said with my best Romanian accent.

I walked to the back of the truck where the other two guys were still standing. “What’s your story?” I asked them. They put their hands up.

“Please don’t shoot us Doc” the smaller one said.

“Everyone stand down!” I called out.

“You guys drop your weapons and get down” I said.  They complied.

“What are you gonna do now that your leaders are down?” I asked them.

“They are not our leaders” said smaller guy.

“Name?” I said.

“Sammy” he answered “and this is Edward”, gesturing to his friend.

I held out my hand “Bennie” I looked around and said with emphasis “not Doc!”

The crowd laughed.

“Reginald made us go with him” Sammy started. “You were right. We pretty much think one or the other of them shot their dad.”

“Yeah, Reggie actually tried to organize the group after talking to you folks a few days ago. What he said made a lot of sense, but the boys wanted nothing to do with it. They were in it all for themselves…especially Reginald.” Edward went on. “They said their dad died of an accidental gunshot.”

The two looked at each other, and shook their heads and looked down.

“We’re all gonna die over there” Sammy said.

“How are you fixed for water?” I asked, full well  knowing the answer.

“Not good” Sammy said. “Just what we’ve kept from others. Everybody keeps their own. The boys have made everyone stingy. I’ve probably got just under a case of bottled water.”

Like an Angel from heaven, Lea walked up with a bag of food and some coffee in a thermos. The guys sat on their tailgate, and thanked her profusely while oogling her as she walked away. I tapped my .44 and said “my wife guys.”

They turned their attention back to eating.

I walked to the gang and said “how can we help them?”

Army scratched his chin and said “we’d have to go over and assess. Most of those folks are used to having people do stuff for them…they might have a bunch of cash though…could be helpful to get them started…perhaps an alliance? These two sound concerned…probably have families too. Let’s find out about population,,, empty homes. perhaps relocation is the answer,,,they have a nice fort though…high walls, and only one entrance. They’re probably safer there than we are here.”

Edward and Sammy had walked over and were listening while eating. “Are you guys getting all this?” I asked them.

“If you can gain the trust of the folks in your neighborhood, then you can do all this stuff. If you could convince your people that we’re there to help, then we will do what we can. You have to talk to them first. My guess is that they will probably be glad to hear of the demise of the dick brothers. Speaking of which, we have a special place for burying folks like this.” I told them about the killing field up the road.

“One more thing guys, if your people have cash it still might not be too late to make some runs to either the Sam’s or W-Mart. Trust is the key element here. You are going to need water, and we barely have enough for ourselves. If you band together, you can beat this, but it will take everyone’s cooperation to happen. OK?” I looked at both of them.

They nodded. I walked over to the dead bodies, and pulled their hardware. Dewey had a Glock .45, and Reginald had a nickel plated Colt .45 revolver. The ammo belt was full of 45 ammo. I only found a couple of extra mags for the Glock. I asked the 6th street guys..”what’s you’re firearm situation as far as you  know?”

They looked at each other and began “personally, we didn’t own firearms. These were given to us by them” Edward said nodding his head towards the dead guys. :There are some shotguns, pistols, and rifles. I’ve seen some like that” he pointed to one of the sentries’ AKs “and some that look like M-16s.”

“Find out what you can, and get back to us.” I gestured towards Army “Army is pretty good about assessing your defensive situation. We offer to form an alliance between the 6th Street Militia, and the Quail Run Militia. That means that if your people agree to certain terms, we will help with setting up your gardens. It won’t be fun; it will be hard work, and we are not going to do it all for you. If there are those who don’t want to work, then let them starve. Another thing  you need to do, if you haven’t already, is to get into homes that are vacant and get their food stores…everything salvageable. Don’t bust in the doors…go in through windows; they are easier to patch.”

“Let’s load up the next bonfire, and drop this trash” I said. I didn’t help, given my strict ‘no lifting’ orders, but there was no shortage of volunteers. “Have you some type of accelerant to torch these guys with?”

They nodded , pointing to a gas can in the back, that was tied down. “Grab their ids so they won’t get traced to you.” I added.

They both made an extra effort to say ‘thanks’ and shake all of our hands. “We’ll be in touch” Edward said, and they drove north to the burning field.

We all stood there and watched them drive away. We could see them pull over at T street, and dump their cargo. Soon after, a plume of smoke appeared, and they drove to Trailblazer, and went right.

I turned to the rest of them and said. I’ve still got a cup of coffee, and I think I’d like some more of that bread.” I fired up a smoke, and headed to Al’s. The rest of the gang came along.

“Where did you learn to quick draw?” Al asked.

“I practiced a lot, but not shooting; just getting the belt set at the right height, so that my hand didn’t have to reach for it. It was tricky getting the height just right. After that, it was just technique. If you think about it, it wasn’t really a quick-draw. Actually, my draw is very slow, but I never missed a target on the first shot. More often than not, and definitely in this case, I had him so pissed off that he couldn’t have hit a barn door. He sure was fast, but he wasn’t accurate. Plus, it’s different practicing quick draw, than when the other guy is shooting back.”

“The other guy wasn’t ready. Dipshit just took an opportunity to kill me without thinking. His brother only drew when he saw me draw. If he had drawn the same time as Dipshit, then I possibly might not be standing here now…but they didn’t and that was my plan. I used his own anger against  him, and I furthered that to where he was blistering with rage.” I took a big drag on my smoke.

“You sure looked calm” said Jim. “I know you some, and you didn’t look the tiniest bit scared.”

“I wasn’t” I said. “I knew from the get go that this would be unfair. Reginald was definitely a mental case, as I mentioned when we saw his dad. Ask Army. Taking full advantage of an enemy’s weakness is military strategy 101…right?” I looked at him.

He nodded and said “I have to say Bennie, that you are full of surprises. I have said it before, and I’ll say it again, I’m glad you’re on our side” he added with a smile.

Nodding in agreement, I said “I’m lucky to have friends like  you guys. I wish I’d known you years ago, and yet somehow, I feel that we already know each other to a depth not always attained by friends who have known each other for years.”

“That’s a little deep” Jim said, “but I  understand what you’re saying…and I fully agree.”

We had arrived back at the patio, and were greeted by smiling, happy, faces of Lea, Marie, Mandy, and H. I removed the extra gun-belt.

“Good morning ladies” I said as I found my chair. The rest of the guys found chairs and put their coffee on the table within their reach. Someone had made some more toast. I just could not get enough coffee.

“We heard gunshots earlier” said Lea, sipping some tea. “What happened?”

“Those two guys were watching your butt when you brought the food” I started “they’re pushin’ up daisies now.”

I deftly changed the subject.

“So how are the gardens coming since the rain?” I began.

H gave me a report. “All of the planted seeds are doing well. Most are 3 inches at least. Weeds are also starting, but I’ve got everyone on weed patrol on a daily basis. Mr. Martinez said he would have some tomatoes to donate to the kitchen next week, and for several days after.” She looked through her notes. “One of the gardens at the edge, is not being kept well. It’s starting to get weedy, and that guy is not real friendly.”

“Who is it, is he on the the original census, and what is he growing?” I asked.

H got up “I’ll get the census.”

I stopped her. “Go ahead and sit down. Just let me know so we can get him some “special “help if he needs it.”

She grinned and continued her onslaught of the delicious homemade bread.

I held a piece up and said “you know, this bread is absolutely wonderful. Remind me to tell the kitchen witches.”

“OK, H is all over the gardens. Any work starting on the Devlin and Trailblazer accesses as far as narrowing the pathway to deter traffic?”

No one spoke.

“OK, how is the ‘patching the holes’ in the perimeter doing?”

“We’ve got barb wire, dead-falls, and some holes have claymores wired. We feel we’re secure enough” Army said. “Not tight, but a definite improvement.”

I nodded my acceptance. “Good job. That was one of my top priorities. Any word from the Deputy?”

“Not one word” said Army.

“Someone should go check on Carla” I suggested. “And we need to get that other water tank off their driveway.”

“We picked up the water tank the other day when you were….sick” Jim said. “I waved at Carla when we got it.”

“How is the water filtering going?” I asked eagerly.

Al started by saying “it’s going well. We’re getting about 18 gallons a day, and that water is delicious.” He was smiling. “The folks bring their 5 gallon jugs, and we have a bunch now that are always there. It’s working out well. We were able to get both tanks in the high tech house garage. We had to use some muscle to move the other one over, but there’s plenty of room. Walter is looking to modify the system to both tanks, when it rains again. He’s also looking into getting the tanks higher off the ground, so we could rig a perpetual siphon into the filters regulated by just a little pinch valve. We also found another bucket so we can now have two filters going and getting as  much as 35 + gallons a day. We have a closet at the back of the garage that we can put the filled jugs in so as not to have any algae growth. We probably have 20 filled jugs right now, there’s 6-7 jugs that are waiting for refills. People who bring small bottles of water are allowed to refill them without supervision.”

“How’s our supply?” I asked.

“The first tank is almost empty” he answered “and the other has not been touched, and it has bout 300 gallons in it. We added chlorine since it was sitting in the direct sun for a couple of days.”

“Excellent my brutha!” I exclaimed. “Now, I can scratch two major things that have been puddling around in my head” I said with a smile. “Let Walter know that he can implement his plan to raise the first tank if he so desires.”

“We may need to work on an exchange program for the 6th Street people” I mentioned “I hesitate to give them our plentiful and pricey 5 gallon jugs without something in return…like empty jugs? Is that reasonable?” I looked at the others.

“Perfectly” Army said. “We’ll have to wait and see what kind of cooperation they get. If those rich folk don’t want to work, then we may have some more people moving here.”

H came up with the original census documents. “Here it is” she said pulling out the sheet with the address. She looked at it briefly, then gave it to me with a concerned look on her face. The occupants listed were husband and wife; Jake and Teresa. “You have not seen his wife?” I asked H.

She shook her head “I have only been in the yard from the neighbor’s. They don’t like him either.”

“Sounds like an investigation is in order” I said as I stood up, pulled my .44, unloaded the three empties, and put in three new rounds. “Perhaps Mr. Crotchety needs a visit from Ol’ Blue” I said as I holstered the weapon. “Does anyone know this guy from seeing him at the kitchen?”

No one answered. “I’m getting a lot of that today.”

“What?” said Lea.

“Silence.”

“OK H, you and Mandy come with me” I said to them.

H nodded, and Mandy smiled. I pointed at Mandy “you can bring only your .45. We’ll go in from the neighbor’s, and quiz them first. If this guy is a transplant, then we’ll find out.”

“How?” Mandy asked.

“Ve have vays of making you talk” I said with my best German accent.

“Let’s go” I said to them.

They both jumped up like school girls and headed around the corner. I stood up and asked “anyone else? This could be interesting.”

Al jumped up “I’ll go.”

We tried to catch up with the girls. I had to call to them to slow down. “We’re going to the neighbors first. Wait! Let’s get a couple bottles of cold water for the neighbors…greasing the palms always helps…it’s little things that make life work.”

I sent the girls over to George’s to get the water. He gave them the water, looked at me and gave me the WTF?

“I’ll explain later” I said when the girls came up.

I started developing  a plan. “We’ll go to the neighbors first…what are their names?” I asked H and she looked at me funny.

“Ted and Angie” she said.

“OK, my former roomie at the infirmary!” I hadn’t seen him since they left that house that morning. We went down 17th to the last one before the barricade, and went left towards Ted’s. The other guy’s house was past Ted’s so we kept close to the house when we got into Ted’s yard.

I knocked. Ted answered it with a smile in his skivvies. “Hello Bennie! Hello Al!” he shook our hands as he invited us in. He looked at the girls and asked “what are you ladies doing here again so soon?”

The girls handed him the water, and he called for Angie. She came around the corner, and stopped very quickly and backtracked when she saw Al and I. Good thing too, because she wasn’t wearing very much…at all…at least under the negligee.

“I’m sorry Ang” Ted called to her “that I didn’t mention we had company. I thought you had changed.”

“Well, that would be NO, Ted.” she said with some embarrassment and disgust.

“We didn’t want to intrude, but we are on a mission this morning” I was telling Ted. Angie came out wearing a robe.

“Hello girls” she said to them with a smile and hugs. “What are you doing back so soon?”

“I have a report that your neighbor next door” I gestured “may not be who he claims to be. What can you tell me about him?”

“He’s not very friendly” Angie said. “I hardly see him in the garden at all. His side has a lot of weeds; even before the rain. It’s hard enough work without having a loafer next door who won’t do his part.”

“When did you seem him last” I asked both of them.

They each thought for a minute and answered “yesterday..maybe the day before” they looked at H “when she was here.”

“Has he been here, as far as you know, since day one?” I asked. “Has he always been your neighbor? You two have been here a while. Is he the same guy? Our census shows that the original people in that house were Jake and Teresa. No one remembers him at the kitchen.”

They looked at each other, thinking. “That’s right” Ted said. “There was a nice couple there like in their fifties…” he was still thinking “that’s not the same guy!”

I turned to H “have you ever talked to the guy at his door, or been in his house?”

I knocked on the door once, and he wouldn’t open it.

I looked at Ted and Al. “Any ideas?” I don’t like the sound of this at all. Ted? I need your help.”

“Sure” he said “what do you need?”

“Get dressed for starters” I said with a smile. He left to change.

“What do you think is going on?” asked Angie, pulling her robe tightly around her neck.

“I am thinking that this guy, for whatever reason, has the couple captive…don’t know. It’s very hard to  hide bodies these days. Did this guy seem…well was he like young, tough guy, strong, husky, skinny, old fart, how would you describe him?” I looked at all the ladies now.

“Not as tall as you” said Angie “heavier than you, but more muscular.”

“He had a limp” H said “the other day when I was in back. I saw him walk up the steps on the back porch, and he had to use the handrail, and it was obvious that his left leg or foot was hurting.”

Ted came out dressed, with his .45. “What are we doin’?” he asked.

“I think we’re going to invade your neighbor. Let’s try not to kill anyone unless we are fired or aimed upon. Does that make sense to everyone?” I looked at them all. “H, you stay here, and watch through the window there.” I turned and looked at the crew. “Does anyone know if the back door is a sliding door?”

“Never mind…this is Quail Run. Everyone has sliding doors here.”
“Ok. Volunteers to go through the back. If it doesn’t open, we’ll have to shoot the lock. We’ll have to kick the front in too, unless the back is unlocked. Either of you seen him today?” I looked at Ted and Angie.

“I didn’t see” Ted started “but I heard him close the back door. It is sliding. He slammed it  hard enough that it might be open.”
“OK, I’m going through the back. If it’s open then I’ll just walk in. Al, you back me up from the side of the door. I go in, you count to five, then come in. I’ll key the mic, and Ted, kick the front in, moving quickly into the house. Mandy, you back up Ted. Remember, don’t shoot unless somebody draws down on  you. We are in the wrong here, and if we are, then we’re going to have to kiss some ass. We’re going to move fast out the doors here over next door, in case he’s looking outside. When we go, we go.” I looked at everyone. “Everybody OK with this?”

All nodded.

“Let’s move” I said. Al and I headed to Ted’s back door. Ted and Mandy went right out the front, so Al and I followed suit. Off the porch, across the yard to the back sliding door. The curtains were open. I reached up and slide the door open…quietly. I went in, and keyed the mic. I saw no one. I heard nothing. I walked all the way in through the den with my .44 drawn. I looked around and saw the kitchen to the right. Straight ahead was the hallway leading to the front door. Ted opened the door quietly. He came right down the hall towards me. I heard Al behind me. So far, nothing.

Ted swept off to his left into what may have been a formal living area, and went in. Mandy passed him and was passing the next room on her right when someone grabbed her. She inadvertently dropped her .45. It clattered to the hardwood floor. Guido had his left hand over her mouth, and a huge knife in his right hand. I was 12 feet from them; slightly off to their right.

“Put your gun down or the kid dies in front of you” he said. He started smelling her hair, and touching the knife on her cheek.”Little girl, have I got plans for you” he whispered to her.

Her shoulder had started bleeding. “Ohhh, she’s bleeding already. He touched her wound with his knife. “I won’t t–” he started to speak, but I interrupted him with a quick aim and fire of the .44 to his right eye socket, taking off the right side of his head…pretty  much. I ran to her, and he had dropped the knife as he fell.

I caught Mandy as Guido dragged her down, loosening his grip as the life oozed from him. She was trembling, and I held her for a moment saying “it’s OK…you’re OK now.”

“Let’s see if we can find Jake and Teresa.” Ted and Al  headed down the hall to the bedroom part of the house; pistols out.

I put my finger to my lips, looking at Mandy as I followed Ted and Al. She picked up her .45, and was ready once again for come what may.

Al stopped at the first door, motioned for me to come up. A man was slumped over, tied to ta chair. I motioned Al to go on. I checked the man’s head. Still warm. I check for a pulse in his neck. Weak, but still a pulse. I pulled the Buck out and cut the bindings on his hands behind the chair. His legs were tied to the chair legs as well. I helped him to the bed to lie down. He was very weak and couldn’t have weighed more than 125 lbs. I keyed the mic

“Eagle1 to H”

“OK”

“You and Ang come over. Bring the cold bottled water for survivors.”

Ted came up behind me. “Teresa is alive too. She’s beat up bad, and more than likely sexually assaulted.”

I fought back the tears and keyed the mic “Eagle 1 to infirmary and RC. Bring pickup to Ted’s neighbor’s house to east…asap”

“10-4” I heard the pick up start and head to pick up Marie.

“I’m ready” Marie answered.

H and Ang brought the water bottles, and I instructed them to help Teresa get up and dressed, and some water. “Let her know that you are her friends. Tell her Jake is unconscious but alive.”

They nodded and rushed down the hall. I looked at Al “see if you can find a towel, washcloth or something to  wet for his head.”

He was back in just a few seconds. “Thanks. Make another sweep to be sure there’s no one else here…just to be sure” I asked, and he and Ted took off. I wet the cloth with the cool water and started padding Jake’s head, talking softly to him. A few drops on his lips, and his eyes started to flutter open. I left the cloth on his forehead telling him that more help was on the way. “Teresa is alive. Both of you will be going to the infirmary.”
I heard the pickup in front.

Marie came running in. I moved out of the way, and she started her smiling bedside manner. He was more comfortable right away. “Drink a little bit of water.”  She looked at me and said “you’re in good hands with Bennie. I’ll go check on Teresa” she smiled an patted him on the shoulder, and left.

“Can you sit up?” I asked “to drink some water?” I was very intent on getting him to sit up. I helped him up, and sat next to him holding him a little. I handed him the bottle and let him sip it.

He tried to speak, but was only a whisper.

“Is there anyone else besides you and Teresa?” I asked.

He shook his head and took a little sip.

He tried to speak again. “Where’s Antonio?”

“The big guy with the gray streak in his hair?” I queried.

He nodded.

“I’m sorry. He’s lying on your front porch, with the right side of his head  missing.”

Jake teared up, and put his hand on my shoulder. “Thank you so much.”

“Not to worry, Jake. We take care of our own here.” I added “we’ll catch up later. You sip some more water, and maybe you can walk out of here.”

Army came in with the makeshift stretcher they had made. They went down the hall. In a few minutes, Army came out with Jim holding the stretcher. They stopped at the door, and Teresa looked in with a weak smile. Jake burst into tears.

“He’s going to be all right ma’am” I told her. “You get on to the infirmary and let Marie get you fixed up. I’ll take care of Jake.”

She raised her arm and waved. Jake dried his tears with the cloth. He was now taking larger swallows of water.

I heard the pickup start, and leave.

“What’s wrong with her?” Jake asked finally able to speak.

“She’s alive” I said. “And that’s a very good start. Marie is an excellent RN. Teresa is in very good hands. Drink some more water.”

Al came in. “Everything OK?

“Marie took Teresa to the infirmary. She was weak, and she was smiling” I told Al. “This is my brother Al, Jake.”

Jake smiled a little and said “no, you two don’t look a bit alike.”

“I like this guy” I said to Al. “He’s got a sense of humor!” I was smiling.

Jake drank some more water.

“Was my wife injured?” he asked not looking at me.

“She had been abused some, from what Jim told me” I answered. “Jake, she will need you more than ever for the next few weeks. You will have to be strong for her. She will get strength from you.”

I heard the pickup pull up. “Can you stand?”
He stood up shakily. We helped him out of the room, down the hall, and out the front door, where we passed what was left of Guido. Someone had covered him. “I want to see” said Jake.

I reached down to pull the tarp and I said “I hit him with a .44 magnum in his right eye. This is not pretty.”

I raised the tarp. Jake spat on him. I lowered the tarp. Jake got into the pickup, and Army drove him to the infirmary.

“We’ll give Army a shout in a few, and get this piece of crap down to the burning field with the rest of the dregs of what is left of our society” I said to Al. I fired up a smoke.

It was just he and I. “Did the girls go back too?” I asked.

Al said “yep, Mandy, H, and even Angie went back with Teresa. They had a little umbrella to shade her from the sun for the trip over. She was talking to the girls when they drove off. I would think that if she’s not badly injured internally, she’ll be ok.”

“You know something Al” I asked him in all seriousness “we have got a really good group of people here…the way everyone jumps in and helps without question; without asking for payment or compensation or…”

Al interrupted “that is the atmosphere that you have created. Look at  you! Fresh out of the infirmary, and 3 killings before noon. You didn’t want the job. You just did it. People notice. I’m proud of you.”

“Thanks bro'” I said with a smile. I took another drag, and tossed the butt into the driveway.

I walked over the the body, and rolled him over, searching for a wallet. I pulled it, and of course, check for cash. It had a thick stack of hundreds. I looked for a license…didn’t see it, but found several credit cards with different names on them.

Army pulled up with the pickup, and backed into the driveway. I wasn’t really up to it, but this guy was bigger than the wimps that were loaded up earlier, so I helped.

Army looked at the wound, looked at me and said “Bennie, you’ve had a busy morning.”

I nodded and said “the day is far from over too.”

Army got into the truck, as did Al “you comin’?” they asked me.

I shook my head “I’ll clean this mess up; after all, it’s mine.”

They drove off, and I went inside. I found some cleaning materials in the usual place and commenced to wipe down the front hallway of blood and other remnants of such a hit. It took a while, but I got it done. These poor people don’t need to come home and find blood and guts on their porch.

I went inside to where they found Teresa. The bedding had some blood, so I pulled the bedding off, found some clean sheets, and replaced them. I looked in the other rooms, but saw nothing that needed my attention. I locked the front door, but left the back unlocked. I walked out to the garden, and started pulling some weeds. There were a lot, but the ground was mulched fairly well, and they came out easily. I threw them into the yard, rather than leave them in the rows. This corn was about 4 inches high. There were eight rows, and they went from this yard, through Ted’s, and to the other side of his neighbors’ yard. I kept picking for a while, until I had cleaned up about half the rows. I decided to gather up the sheets and leave.

I took the dirty sheets down the street to the washer lady.

Ola senor Bennie” she said shaking my hand. “Como estas?”

Bien, gracias senora” I said. “Por favor, limpia la ropa cuando puedes. Son para el hospital. Necesitan ustedes algo?”

“No, gracias senor Bennie. We have everything we need.”

“OK” I replied, as I waved and walked away.

CHAPTER THIRTY-FIVE

I decided to show up at the south gate for a visit.

Darren and Clay were manning things. Clay waved “Hi Bennie! I heard you were laid up!”

I walked up and we all shook hands. “Yes, I had some infection from an injury” I told them. “How have you guys been?”

“OK, I guess” said Darren. “They make me stay here most of the time. I don’t get to guard any other post.”

“Sentry duty is voluntary” I told him. “Talk to Army about you getting some more field ops training so you can rove like the others. I’ll talk to him to about it as well.” I looked at both of them. “We don’t want the sentries to get bored. That is when someone could take advantage and sneak in. I just shot a guy an hour ago who had a couple tied up in their own  home; probably for days. No one knew, and the only way we found out was that H noticed that their garden was not getting weeded like it was supposed to. This guy got by our perimeter, and invaded their home, took them prisoner, and did God knows what to that poor woman. If you don’t want to be a sentry, please tell Army. We don’t want people slipping in ever again. Those who don’t walk sentry, in one way or another, will work the gardens.”

My radio went off “Infirmary to Eagle1”

“Go ahead”
“Please report to infirmary”

“10-4”

“I’ve gotta go” I said to them “I’ll talk to Army, and you do the same. I thought there were supposed to be three on this gate.”

They shrugged, and I walked away towards the infirmary, which was about a 3 block walk from the south gate.

I went inside, and was met by Marie. Teresa was on the main exam table, and seemed to be resting comfortable, as she waved and smiled when she saw me. I waved back as Marie pulled me into the kitchen, and onto the patio outside.

“Jake was very dehydrated, but should be ok after some rest. Teresa was brutalized. She has mutilations on her breasts. That animal raped and sodomized her repeatedly. Physically, she’ll heal. It’s her mental state that I am worried about. You saw here wave and smile? That’s all she does. She does not speak coherently.”

“Perhaps if you let her body recover, her mind will recover as well” I suggested. “We don’t know her state before the attack. She may have been flighty then as well.” I put my hands on her shoulders. “You’ve done all you can do. Treat her like an adult. Tell her she will fully recover. Talk to her. If you need me, I will read to her. I’m here to help if you need, OK?”
Marie wiped a tear, and I hugged her. “Let’s go and talk to her.”

I opened the door, and we went in. Teresa was sitting up on the table. I put my guns on the couch in the living room. I got a chair from the kitchen, and sat down at the foot of the exam table, sitting to her left. “Hi Teresa!” I said. “Do you remember me? I’m Bennie. Marie told be that you’re going to heal fine, and that Jake will be ok too.” I gave her a chance to maybe recognize me from a meeting of the early days. She just smiled and nodded. “Marie wants you to stay here today to rest and get something to eat. Are you hungry?” I paused to let it sink in. She just smiled. “The ladies across the street cook a meal for everyone now, and Brandi makes some really good beans. Shall I go get some for you?”

She nodded and smiled. I remembered that the kitchen probably won’t open for a couple hours. “OK, I’ll bring you some food, when the kitchen opens up today. Have you had any water today?”

Marie pulled out a bottle of water, opened it and offered it to her. Teresa didn’t even look at it. Marie poured some into a little cup, and held it out to her. She didn’t even look. “Teresa?” Marie asked “would you like some water?” No response. Marie put it back on the counter.

“Have you seen Jake today?” I asked her. Her expression changed briefly to that of a loving one.

“Where is Jake?” I asked Marie.

“He’s asleep in the other room.” Marie held out her hand to Teresa, helped her down to show her Jake. They approached Jake’s room, and Marie pointed saying “There’s Jake. He’s sleeping.”

I could not see, but Teresa said “Jake…Jake…Jake…help me!”

Marie directed her back to the table to lie down. I collected my things, and said “you might get Jeanette over to stay. She might be afraid of m-e-n” as I spelled it out…”just a thought. Good-bye Teresa” I said as I left and waved to her.

Army and Al were coming up the street in the truck. They pulled up to the curb where I was standing. “Howdy sailor! New in town?” Army said jokingly.

“What are you guys up to? How did the trash dumping go? Any problems?” I asked them.

“It all went OK” Al said. “What are you doing here?”

“Marie called me over. Teresa is in a bad way…some kind of traumatic mind lock-out. Marie says physically, she’ll heal. Jake’s ok too, but he was fast asleep. I left thinking that Teresa maybe scared of any man until she works through this. I dunno.”

“Army, Darren asked if he could start rotating the posts…you know, like the rest of them do. I stopped by there on my way over here and we chatted. I told him I would mention it to you, but he still would have to ask you…man to man thing. It’s mentioned. I was thinking about going to Al’s patio and resting a while” I said “I ain’t used to all this activity.”

I turned to go and Al said “we’ll be over in a minute.”

“See you there” I said, and I was halfway across the street.

I plopped down in one of the chairs, poured some lukewarm coffee, and fired up a smoke. I could have napped, I was so tired.

Mandy came out, walked over to me and hugged me with her good arm. She stood there for several seconds. I patted her on the head. “You and me have been through some scrapes together, huh Mandy?”

She giggled a little bit. “How did you know that..how could you tell..”
I interrupted her. “Are you asking in a roundabout way, how I shot him instead of you?”

She nodded quickly.

“He was more interested in you…he was totally engulfed in all the things he planned to do to you. I could see he was serious about hurting you for his own pleasure and when he was talking and thinking about what he was going to do, I shot him. I knew that you knew the only way was to shoot him so I figured you wouldn’t struggle and make a more difficult shot.”

“He didn’t see me as a threat after he saw how pretty you were, and when he saw your shoulder bleeding, that distracted him in another direction…boom! I used his own perversions against him.”

“You think I’m pretty?” she asked wide-eyed.

“Of course!” I exclaimed, then continued.

She smiled and sat down. “I heard what you did this morning.” She was piddling with an empty coffee cup. “I wish I could have seen it” she added in a disappointed voice. “Is it true?” she asked.

“Is what true?”

“They said you called out both brothers to draw on at the same time, and that you shot and killed both of them with only one gun, even though you carried two.”

“Mandy” I said leaning towards her “there is no glory in killing another human being, no matter what that person has done to you or anyone else. It is not something to be proud of. Others may cheer for you, buy you drinks, give you gifts, pat you on the back, but do not be proud. If you kill a killer, does that make you better than he? If someone else kills you, does that make that person bad?”

“Folks who are relieved when a bad person is killed, are relieved because they were scared of the bad person. Even bad guys respect courage and bravery. Many people here are scared about the unknown. They are glad when bad guys are killed, because they have less to be scared about.”

“One can be afraid, and still have courage that outweighs the fear.”

“Sure, a person can cower down, hide behind the curtains while bad people hurt or kill good people in the street, and the person will survive. Fear is a very powerful weapon. Folks without fear are either very brave or insane.

“Like you” Mandy started “standing in the back of the pickup.”

“Yes, the problem there was that the tee boys were also without fear, and we won because their numbers dwindled. That was their strength; their numbers. They knew that and that alone invoked fear into all who came up against them. I’d be kidding myself and everyone if I told you that I wasn’t scared, because I was.”

“A person who will go one-on-one against someone, all things even, has courage. A person who goes against more than one is at a clear disadvantage, and if the person still faces them, has lots of courage. He may not win. If you fight someone who is brave, you will know it. If a brave man fights a coward, the coward will turn and run. Courage too, then is a powerful weapon. One can be afraid and still have courage. You cannot have one without the other.”

“Some folks just have courage oozing out of them, and some have cowardice oozing out of them. Some people can reach inside themselves, find courage, and use it. It’s harder for some than others. Most people have courage, they just have to find it and use it.

Al and Army walked up about that time, and sat down. I started “I was thinking” I pulled out the wad of cash I had gotten off Guido, and laid it on the table. “We need to make a last run to a store, and stock up one last time. Don’t care where; Sam’s would probably be the easiest.  We never know what we’ll run into later…it seems that one cannot have too much food…stored away. Beans, rice, water, sugar, flour, things along that line. Of course, we should get a list from Marie to fill her needs as well. There’s three grand there. Let’s go find out, and let’s make that our priority for the next few days until all our cash is gone. We’ll get cash and lists from people, and of course they could go along. Agreed?”

I was tired. Al said “OK, you’re probably right. We should maybe mention it at the dinner today…that’s the best way to get a message out to everyone.”

“Perhaps a run to Sam’s this morning to see if they’re open?” I said. “Count me in.”

“Me too” said Mandy.

I stood up, grabbed the Mossberg, and checked Ol’ Blue.

Army sighed “I suppose you want the trailer and the pickup?”

I turned to him “Army, it’s been what…10 days since the burst? This will be our last chance to stock up. Hell, I’d be overjoyed to drop the 3 grand at Sam’s. Would you maybe just want to make a dry run with a few guns and see if they’re open? Load up what we can if possible? That would work for me.”

“I like it better too” Army said. “Less work.”

“I never figured you for a loafer” I said, remembering a line from The Outlaw Josie Wales.

“I’m ready whenever you are” Army said, standing up.

“Al, you in?” I asked my brother.

“Dang right, wherever you go, there’s always stuff happenin’!” Al said, as he checked his Glock. He went inside for his AK.

“Anyone else have a Sam’s card?” I asked.

All shook their heads.

“Let’s rock!” I said, perhaps a little too exuberant. I picked up the cash, and we headed to the truck. Army drove, Mandy rode shotgun, Al and I sat in the back.

Jim ran up while we were leaving and said  “oh  no. I’m going where the action is.” Army slowed, I took his AK while he climbed over the tail gate, and sat down.

I was looking at the right side of the pickup where Mandy fell, saw a bullet hole. I looked at the outside, and sure enough, the hole was at a downward angle, meaning the bullet was fired from up high. We may not be through over there.

We passed the burning field, the body of Guido still burning. Man, burning bodies really stink.

We turned the corner on Trailblazer.  The entrance was half a block up. We turned in, and drove toward the front parking lot. There was some pedestrian traffic, so we pulled up in front.

I would imagine it’s a bit intimidating to see a truck full of guys with guns, so I hopped out, passed my arms to Al, and walked to the door.

“Are you a member sir?” the man asked me.

“Yes” as I pulled out my card.

“We are only taking cash sir. Do you have cash?”

We passed the carts and went right to the flatbeds. We were escorted by an employee with a flashlight who was very helpful, as he knew where everything was. We loaded up bag after bag of pintos, rice, sugar, flour, honey, corn meal, syrup, peanut oil, assorted toiletries, and bottled water.

“Do you have fresh eggs and bacon?” I asked.

“Yes” and he led the way.

We had to go get another flatbed. The employee wrote down as we loaded, and kept a running total.

“Are they still charging sales tax?” I asked.

“Yes” he answered “for now.”

“Let me know when we get close to $3000” I asked him.

“With your last addition of eggs and bacon, you’re right there” he said.

We headed for the checkout and he gave his list to the checker.

He looked at all the food. “Your total is $2998.47.”

I gave him the 30 100s. “Keep the change.” The thought of counterfeit had not even crossed my mind. He whipped out his marker and ran it across the bills…they were all good. “Any idea how long  you will stay open?” I asked.

“Probably as long as their is fuel for the generators” said the checker. “They pay us daily in whatever food we need. The store is completely locked up at night, and there are several roving armed guards every night. They are paid daily with food and supplies as long as they continue working. We’re open from sunup to sundown. If any of you are interested in working security for food and supplies, I’m sure the boss would like to talk to you.”

I looked at Al…”We just might be able to accommodate you. We’ll probably be back later. We may have some news by then. Any particular requirements?”

“I think just a semi-auto rifle and pistol. Like I said, the place is locked down pretty secure after dark…heavy doors behind the glass doors, so the boss isn’t worried about the guards breaking in.”

“Well, you seem to have a whole lot of food left. I am sure that we’ll be back with a trailer next time.” I stuck out my hand “I’m Bennie Barnes. This is my brother Al.”

He seemed shocked as he offered his hand “I’m please to meet you; Fernando Moreno” as he shook both of our hands “are you the one they have been calling Dirty Bennie?”

“Yes, that would be me” I said.

“When the boss finds out you’ve been here, he’ll want to hire you for security. When the hoodlums find out it’s you running security here, no one will bother this place.”
“Oh, have you had some problems?” I asked.

“From what I heard, the guards have raiders every night. Small groups all night, every night. They are allowed to shoot without asking any questions.”

“I’m not for hire, but we may have some interested folks. Like I said, we’ll probably be back later for another run. Let your boss know to expect us, and see what we can work out.”

We headed for the door, and the helpers opened it. Army backed up to the door, and we all pitched in unloading…except me.

“Bennie” someone called behind me. It was Fernando and another guy.

“I’m Bennie” as I turned around.

“Jerry Thomason” he said offering his hand. “I’m the general manager here.” He offered his hand. We shook.

“Fernando says you might have some people who would help out with the night security” he said, being very interested.

“I’m fairly certain that I know a couple of young men who would be willing work for food…or beer” I smiled. “I’m kidding.”

He said “no, no that’s fine. Whatever  you want from the store, food, paper supplies, beer, meat, even cookware…anything.”

“I’ll pass that along to them, Jerry. As I told Fernando, we’ll probably be back in a little while.”

“We also need help inside the store in the daytime with helpers and clerks, as well as guards” he added. “Mostly  nighttime. It pays the best, and it is very hard and dangerous work.”

Army honked. “I have to go, Jerry. I’ll pass the word, and have the guys ask for  you, OK?” I got into the back and sat on a couple bags of pintos. I waved as Army drove off.

“Damn” Jim said, looking around at the haul “did you leave any at the store?”

“Hell” I said “we’re going to come back and load up again. That place is full of food. We need to get in now. This is prime food bank stuff. They’re also hiring night security guards. They get paid every morning at shift end with merchandise…beef, beer, food, pots, pans…anything in the store. Pass the word to the guys. It would probably better if they went in pairs; even though it’s not much of a walk, he said they have attacks nightly, and guards are issued kill orders.”

“I’m happy to go back, but we’ll need cash and lists from everyone who needs stuff. Probably should take a woman too. Maybe they’ll let me bring two people in next time. Too bad they don’t sell ammo. I wish I had more cash myself.”

“Gosh Bennie, you’re the least selfish person I know. What do you need?” Jim said.

“I was thinking about some luxuries…candies, sweets, Hershey bars…stuff like that…you know, treats. Supplies to make cookies and cakes. This kitchen witches are itching to get into making sweeter things, now that they have the main meal down.”

“I’ll give you all the cash you need to get that stuff, Bennie” Jim said. “I’ll give you $500 to start when we get back, and more if  you need. Just get me some beer.” He smiled.

I had to look away, and brush away a tear.

We turned onto M street, and I noticed several groups of people watching from the school and the lot across the street, as we drove south to the main gate.

The sentries were awed by the load of stuff. “What, no beer?” they said.

I laughed and said “next trip…promise.” I didn’t think to look if they had ice there…if so, we could take that big ice chest, and get sodas too.

We headed to the food bank, and George and Gina were ready for us. Their eyes grew wide as Army back the truck into the driveway with the goods. The Sirens were there too, and also seemed pleased at the refill of supplies.

“You ladies make a list of stuff you need to do some baking, and I’ll see that you get it” I told Jenna. “We’ll be making another run to Sam’s this afternoon, and anything you need personally, get the list to me or Mandy with any cash you may have.”

“Who paid for all this?” asked Jenna.

“This $3000 worth of food is courtesy of Guido, who died suddenly this morning in Jake and Teresa’s house from lead poisoning” I said, almost jokingly. “I am thinking that dollars may not be good for much longer, so kick open your piggy banks, and lets stock up while we can.”

A crowd was gathering, helping to unload and help George stock the stuff where he wanted.

Mandy had a legal pad, and was taking orders from various folks. I heard a lot of “I’ll go get the money” with people running to their homes to fetch their money.

“Where’s the trailer?” I asked in general.

“At Jonas'” said Army, as he unloaded another bag of pintos.

I went next door to the infirmary to check with Marie. I poked my head in, and she was cleaning her hands. I waved and motioned for her to come outside. “What’s going on?” she asked, looking at the activity at the food bank.

“We’ve just returned from an impromptu trip to Sam’s, and the place was still full of food. Their fridges are still working, they have fresh meat, and even frozen stuff…just like it was regularly open. They are still taking cash. Make a list of stuff that you need for the infirmary, and whatever else…”

She stopped me “I would really like to go, if possible.”

“I was counting on someone from the female persuasion going, and you’d be my first choice” I told her. “Work on your list. We still have to hitch up the trailer. I am anticipating a huge load.”

“I have a working list” she said matter-of-factly. “I’ll be ready when you are. I need to find someone to watch Teresa too.”

“How is she doing?” I asked. “No change really…she seems responsive to Jake. He’s still asleep, but ok. I think she needs supervision until Jake is up and can talk to her.”

I heard the pickup start. “OK, we’ll stop here on the way out.”

Jim came walking up with a handful of cash. “This is for you, Bennie. Please get me some beers…I trust you know what I like.”
“Hefeweizen seemed to flow nicely last time” I said “will that be ok?”

“As I said, you know what I like” he smiled, and hopped into the truck as it headed to Jonas’.

I tucked the cash into my pocket. Mandy was surrounded with people holding lists and money. I went over to help.

About half of them came over to me giving me lists. “Make sure your name is on here, so you will get what’s yours everyone, OK?” Some pulled theirs back and scribbled more.

“I don’t have enough money for this” said one lady.

“If your name is on here, then you will get whatever is on it” I said. ” There will be extra money. There will be no change given back people. We will get everything on your lists.  Sorry, no flat panel tvs today. Don’t hang on to your cash, it might not be any good tomorrow.”

I was stuffing money in one pocket, and lists in the other. The crowd subsided after a few minutes. Everyone wanted to go along.

“They told me that only one person is allowed inside with a member. If any of you are members, please join me inside Sam’s for what may be our last shopping excursion! Meet back here in 10 minutes, and we can only take people who have weapons, and know how to shoot. I saw a bunch of undesirables watching us as we drove home. OK? We will have a driver, a shotgun, and 4 in the back.”

That caused a few to back down. I guess I had them thinking it was like going to the mall on Sunday. My fault.

Marie came from Al’s in some different shoes, with a list of her own in her hand. She waved her list and said “ready!”

A few moments later, Army and Jim drove up. I had to smile when Mandy hopped in before the rest of us. Army and Jim in the front, myself, Mandy, and Al in the back…Marie decided to ride in the front betwixt the two guys. We drove down the street toward the main gate. A couple of off duty sentries asked to go along to talk to them about security work. The piled in with their AKs, and we turned north on M street.

We got to Trailblazer, and the little gangs were still there. They seemed more alert, seeing as we had the trailer this time, and a couple extra guns.

We pulled right in again to the same spot, and I got out with the ladies. We left our weapons in the truck. Army drove around and positioned the pickup with the best defensive position. We walked to the door, and they let us in. Jerry was there as well.

“Hello Jerry” I said “these men are interested in your security offer. Is it ok if I bring two helpers?” I gestured to Marie and Mandy.

“Sure, that’s fine. You go ahead, and I’ll talk to these gentlemen” Jerry said as he led them to an office. He looked at Mandy and added “we miss you Mandy. Are you ok with these guys?”

She just smiled and nodded.

I proceeded to get a flatbed, and Marie got a cart. Mandy had her lists out, and was already leading the way. I let them go by themselves, and I went my own way with my lists. I saw the ice machine, and made a note on my list to get a few bags as we left. I picked up 20 lbs of butter, oatmeal, brown sugar, molasses, got boxes of Hershey bars, snickers, Jolly Ranchers, Kit Kat bars, and other candies. I pulled out my lists, and started in on the individuals. OK, tampons, pads, toothpaste, bar soap, laundry soap, paper towels, paper plates, hand sanitizer, toilet paper, the lists were pretty much the same. My Sam’s helper was adding as I went around. I picked up some powdered milk, some big bags of roasted peanuts in the shell, 5 cases of Jim’s beer..it’s just a grocery list.

When I saw the ladies had finished as well, I grabbed 4 bags of ice, and another case of beer. I also grabbed 4 10 lb bags of potatoes.

They added up all the carts and I used most of the money I had; including Jim’s.Oh well, tomorrow we may not even be able to use money to wipe our butts. I keyed the mic “on our way.”

“10-4”

Army backed the trailer right up to the door. Anyone watching would not be able to see even what was being loaded. I pulled the door down, and Fernando helped load up as well.

“Looks like we have some extra help with the night security, thanks to your guys here” said Jerry walking to me with our sentries.

“Did you guys sign up?” I asked.

They both nodded. “We’re starting tonight.”

“It might help us get some intel on what else is going on” I said. “I suggest you get some sleep when you get home. And be sure to let me know when they have the beer on sale.” I said with a laugh.

They laughed too, along with Jerry.

They help load as well. I decided to lock the trailer door this trip, and just stay in the back of the truck; although I looked long and hard at the structure of the trailer roof for some kind of rooftop mounted platform or rest for a person.

The loading was done, and I locked the door. I asked Jerry, “do the gas pumps work?”

“They sure do, although we have no one out there to man them, I’d be happy to arrange it if you need” Jerry answered.

“Thanks a lot Jerry” I said as I shook his hand. “I’ll take you up on that soon. How do you communicate with  your superiors?”

“We use a satphone” he said.

“We’ve got one too” I said “let’s exchange numbers.”

We did so and I said as we drove off “if you need help in an emergency, call us, and we can be here in 5 minutes.”

He smiled, waved and said “thanks!”

That really went well. We got a whole bunch of food today. We may have to kick on the other fridge to hold the extra stuff. Plus, we can get gasoline too…if we have any more money.

I was excited. With this load today, we will have enough food easily, and much more, when we harvest our crop in the early fall.

I heard a gunshot that broke my reverie. It came from the front. I stood up immediately, flicked the safety off of the Mossberg, and aimed over the top of the pickup. There were several guys blocking the road with guns. I fired all 5 shots without thinking, and the rest of guns from the back of the truck mowed them down without another shot fired from their end. I was reloading when we drove past/over them.

“Stop!” I shouted. Jim and I jumped out, and started grabbing the weapons, and handing them to the people in the back. There were seven of them, one was still moving, Jim finished him off. “We’ll have to unload, then come back and burn ’em. Sound ok?” I asked him.

“Yeah” he said looking around. “Let’s go.”

We turned south on M street once again. Killing always seemed to make the conversation lag on the trips home.

People were waiting at the gate when we arrived. One can see from Trailblazer all the way to H street on M street; it is straight as an arrow. The gunshots alerted them, as they should have.

“Is everyone ok? Is anyone hurt?” they asked.

“Everyone is ok” we said.

Army said, “someone better check Bennie. Sometimes he can’t feel his wounds.”

“Ha ha” I said while checking myself for wounds. The rest of them laughed, including Army.

We drove up to the food bank, and Army skillfully backed the trailer up. Mandy and I got out our lists and called out names, then passed out supplies to all. It was actually quite warming to see everyone laughing, talking, joking together.

I pointed out the ice to Jim, and he immediately found the big ice chest and proceeded to fill it with beer. “If you sprinkle some salt in that ice, it will make that beer ice cold in 30 minutes” I told him. “And I want to be there, as I am parched.”

Mandy and I continued passing out groceries for quite a while. George and Gina were overjoyed at the supplies we had brought. Jim’s freezer was about half full, so a lot of the stuff could go there…butter freezes well I have learned.

I motioned to Jim “we need to take care of those dead guys, and I am on strict orders not to lift.” I paused and lowered my tone. ” And I am tired of haulin’ bodies to the damn field.” I looked at him.

He had a somber look and nodded slowly. “I am too.”

“Let’s get it over with, so we can have some frosty brews” I said with a smile.

“Now you’re talkin’!” he said and smiled too. We took the trailer back to Jonas’ and dropped it, and came back around to the main gate. There were three sentries. “Cold beers for you who help us drag those bodies to the burning field” Jim said.

The truck had 3 people in immediately. We looked at each other and shrugged, and turned north again up M street. I double checked the Mossberg.

There was some commotion as we approached the intersection where the bodies were. It was the Deputy. He walked over to the truck. I was driving.

“Bennie” he held out his hand “I heard you’ve been pretty sick. You doin’ better?” We shook.

“My first day out of the infirmary” I said. “They said I was delirious.”

The deputy looked around “and you’ve had a busy day today, haven’t you? How many dead today?”

I thought for a second “Ten today, and the day ain’t over yet.”

“What happened here?” he asked.

“We came out of Sam’s ’bout half hour, forty-five minutes ago, and these guys were blocking the street. Then they shot at us…We shot back. We unloaded our stuff, and came back to take care of the dead.”

“You mean burn ’em?” he said.

“Yeah burn ’em. There aren’t any cemeteries around here. I sure as hell ain’t gonna bury people that tried to kill me and my family. We came back to take care of that. If you want to, you may take care of the dead bodies. These people attacked us. What’ll it be Alan? Like you said, it’s been a busy day, and I’m kind of tired. My doctor will ride my ass if I get a relapse.”

“OK, go ahead and go” he said “I’ll take care of this. I may not be able to leave you out of this though.”
“We will do it our way. It smells a while, but it’s a clean disposal. What’s the problem?”

“These people say they are witnesses, and they claim you guys drove over them, then shot them while they were in the street.”

I busted out laughing as did Jim…for a couple minutes. I was shrieking…it was genuine laughter. “You’re a standup comic Alan!” I managed to get out through my laughter. “That is no shit, hands down, the funniest thing I’ve heard since the burst.” I was holding my stitches.

I turned to the guys in the back “give those weapons to the deputy” I said, then turned to the deputy “these are what they attacked us with.”

Sentries handed the guns to the deputy as he examined them…a 12 gauge pump; loaded, a 20 gauge single shot, loaded, 2 .22 revolvers, loaded, a .22 rifle, loaded, a 30-30 lever action rifle, loaded, and a double barrel 12 gauge, loaded, with one shell spent.

The deputy looked up…”looks like self defense to me. It’s a good thing you picked up the guns. They might not have been here now.”

“Come by for breakfast tomorrow, my friend” I told him as we drove off.

We turned around, and went back to the main gate; Jim and I were still laughing.

We dropped off the sentries, and one said “do we still get beers?”

Once again, Jim and I had our funny-bones tickled and we tore off again into a cacaphony  of laughter. I could only nod that they would get their beers. “We’ll bring them when they’re cold, if you’re still on shift…otherwise swing by Al’s and I’ll give you some.”  I managed to get all that out without stopping. “Whew! that was a long sentence” and I started laughing again. We did  manage to get the truck back up to Al’s, without incident.

Army walked up, with a curious look “everything go ok?”

Jim and I looked at each other and yes, burst out laughing again. A couple more people walked up out of curiosity.

“Have you guys been drinking?” asked Army. Off we go again to land of laughs.

OK, I thought to get some composure and ‘splain’, and I did.

Army laughed too.

CHAPTER THIRTY-SIX

When we finally calmed down, I told Army about our last excursion to Sam’s, including the two sentries that wanted to work at night. I expressed my concern that it might not be safe  to walk down at night; armed or not. I would hate to lose a sentry, not to mention a full auto AK that could be turned against us.

“I’ll talk to the guys and express our mutual concern” Army said. “Maybe we should take ’em.” He looked at me like it was more of a question than a statement.

“Hey” I said “I am the first one in line to keep our people safe. That’s fine with me…maybe there are others who want to do this as well; although I can’t figure out what they need to work for. The folks who take them down need to return safely as well. If this becomes a regular run, the bad guys might try something…like I dunno like throw stuff onto the street to give us a flat…maybe they lay low in the ditch, and throw cocktails at us…I mean it will be night…the job is dusk til dawn.”

“But that’s just me” I said “and I’m ready for a fine wheat beer. Won’t you join me? and we promised a couple of sentries some beers for riding with us too.”

Jim and I got out of the truck, and Army accompanied us to Al’s patio, where Jim had so graciously salted the ice, yielding very cold beer.

Jim commented first “that’s a good idea, salting the beer.”

Army nodded.

“I have seen beers freeze in a salt-water brine” I told them. “Keep adding warm beers when you remove cold ones, and it will even out after a while.”

“RC to main gait”

“Go ahead”

“You guys finish your shift?”

“Relief has just arrived”

“Jim has something for you guys when you’re done. You know where to find us.”

“10-4”

I don’t think it was 5 minutes when they arrived. Jim opened the chest and gestured at the cold ones “help yourselves…sit down if you want.”

“Thanks for the beers” they said “we gotta be going to eat.” They turned and left with smiles, and a couple beers each.

Jim added some more to the chest. We just sat back and sipped our brews. We were having one of those moments that say ‘life is good’. Al came over, cracked open a brew, and fired up a cigar. I knew he was feelin’ good to do that.

None of us spoke for a few minutes, enjoying the quiet. Only an occasional ‘ahh’ was heard.

After a few minutes, Marie walked up with Jake with a plate of food. We stood up, and introduced ourselves, and then sat down again, allowing him to eat.

“Beer? Jake” I asked.

“Maybe in a few minutes…thank you” he answered as he gulped his food.

“Jake, slow down” said Marie. “There is plenty of food, and  you need to slow down and give your body a chance to get used to food. If  you don’t, you’ll be throwing up or have diarrhea; so slow down, drink some water after a couple of bites.”

He nodded, and complied.

“How’s Teresa?” I directed my question at Marie.

“Actually, she’s much better since Jake has been up and around.” Marie continued “I got Jake up a couple hours ago, and gave him some Gatorade and vitamin water. Teresa made a 180 degree turnaround when he came in sat down with her at the breakfast table. She was talking, crying, laughing, and even joking some.”

My eyes were opened wide as she spoke. “That’s incredible” I sounded mystified, I’m sure as I looked at Jake for answers.

“She just needed to talk to me, I guess” he started as he sipped some water. “I didn’t even know she was alive until you folks arrived. I haven’t heard anything for I don’t know how long.” He took another small bite “Antonio showed up at our house like 4 or 5 days ago saying that he was from the group and needed a place to stay because his house was taken over by you guys for other people, and since he lived alone, Antonio told us he was assigned to us.”

I shook my head in disbelief.

Jake went on “that was the day before the explosion. We had fixed a meal, and he got angry saying that he wanted  meat or steak, and starting beating us. He dragged me into that first bedroom, and tied me to the chair. The next thing I saw was him forcing Terry down the hall at knife point to the other bedroom. I heard her scream, and then he came shut the door to my room.”

He got quiet as did the rest of us.

“I never heard or saw her again until today. Antonio came in a couple of times, and let me use the bathroom in my bedroom, then tied me up again. He would give me water every now and then, but no food. I was too weak to do anything.” He took a drink of water and smiled at us. “Thanks to you, we’ll both be fine.”

I spoke up “I cleaned up your home after we left today. It is ready to occupy whenever you like. If you cannot go back there, we can find you another home, and will help you relocate, should you desire.”

“Of course” I continued “it’s really up to Marie to say when either of you are able to return to  normal activities.” I looked at her and she smiled with approval.

“Perhaps another day for Jake, and he can resume, should he choose. Teresa needs to rest for a few days yet, and she’s not ready to be in public yet, but I think she’ll be fine.”

Jake was still eating “If I keep eating like this, I’ll be ready to go very soon” and he smiled.

We caught him up to speed on the kitchen, and our supply runs to Sam’s.

“I found three grand on Guido” I said “and I used that to get a lot of supplies today. Somehow, that money was probably yours, I am thinking.”

“No, he didn’t take any money from us” Jake said with a concerned look.

“His wallet had several credit cards with various names on them” I said “there was no ID. I’ll save the wallet for the deputy when he comes for breakfast tomorrow.”

“Infirmary to Marie. Please come over fast” it was H.

I answered “Marie is on her way” but she was already gone.

Jake too got up to go “Jake” I said. “Please sit for a minute. Marie will call if she needs something. H is there to help with Teresa for now.”

He nodded, and sat down, continuing to eat a little.

I motioned to Jim to get Jake a beer, and he did so, and sat it down by Jake’s plate.

Jim said “enjoy Jake. This may be the last one for a while.”

Jake smiled “thanks guys” and sipped the cold Hefewiezen. A little ‘ah’ was heard after he swallowed.

“So Jake” I started “what did you do before the burst?” I asked him.

“I taught at the university” he said, sipping his beer. “I teach…taught history, and some political science.”

“Did you see anything like this coming?” I asked.

“I didn’t expect the burst, as you call it, but I felt that there were so many things wrong with the federal debt, and they way they kept spending, and how the reserve was handling/causing inflation, that yes, I knew a collapse of some kind was imminent. Terry and I have a lot of food stashed away at the house. We’ve been preparing for a little while now. I am so grateful that you good people organized this community to work together and survive.”

“It’s far from Utopia” I said with a smile “I think we’ll get through, if we can hold off the bandits.”

“That will be the whole trick won’t it?” Jake said.

“Indeed” I replied. “What we’ve seen so far is nothing. We’ve still time to prepare and build up our defenses before the bandits get stronger and try to take what’s ours.”

“If you need me to walk sentry duty, count me in” he said, taking another sip. “I have a couple of guns and I know how to shoot.”

“Army is in charge of the militia” I said, gesturing to Army.

“What kind of firearms you own?” said Army.

“I own a TAC-308 and a 1911 gold cup match .45” he answered with obvious pride.

Army was a bit taken aback, but replied with “I’ll introduce you to Mandy, whom you’ve already met this morning. She’s our designated sharpshooter at this point. She has a BAR 1918 that she has not missed her target yet. Perhaps we could discuss tactical positioning for snipers…I feel we’ll need them eventually. We also have a Barret 50 caliber loaned to us by the county sheriff. We welcome any and all input you may have in this area. Do you have considerable amount of ammo for your rifle? I assume you load your own.”

“Yes I do, and I have probably 100 rounds loaded for now. I’ll get some more going as soon as Teresa is better” Jake answered. “I think I have about 1000 rounds for the .45 for now, and several mags.”

“Mandy also has a pair of match .45s. You two would be rather formidable to bad guys” I said. “I didn’t see any shooting trophies in your home” I added.

“Exactly why. I am always the timid professor” he laughed a little. “The guns, trophies, and reloading equipment are hidden. I have a small shop off the rear of the garage.”

Army said “you’re hired, whenever you’re ready. Just let me or Bennie know. We have a couple of homes we’re looking at for nests right now. One is better than the other, but will require some trimming of a tree on the east side of the neighborhood, which would give that position almost a 360 degree view of the ‘hood. A good sniper plan could make a big difference here, and we need all the field multipliers we can get.”

“Infirmary to Eagle1”

“Go ahead”

“Please send Jake over”

“10-4”

Jake got up and said “thanks to all of you for saving us. Count me in on your team.” He turned and left.

“Wow” I said “how lucky are we huh? guys? How often does one get a sniper dropped in one’s lap?”

“I hear that” said Army, raising his beer. “We’ll need to work on our sniper nest plans. I was thinking that the nests could also be used for helicopter defense as well, with the RPGs and the Laws rockets. One more thing though; nests are very vulnerable after a perimeter has been penetrated. If we have people up high, then our defenses have to be heightened as well. High ups will have to include some long range observation also…perhaps not right away, but eventually. Fortunately, one can hear a chopper coming from quite a distance, but I’ll need to draw up a plan to implement our troops to defend against them. Snipers can take out choppers too, as long as they’re not the Apache type. I doubt if we’d see any high end tactical helicopters here to get our 12000 square feet of veggies.”

“We might want to get started on our tank defense as well. I’d be happy to help dig those circles out of the street, but I cannot risk life, limb, and the worst of all, the wrath of Marie should I rip those stitches open again.  I can point my finger though, and say do this…do that” I said serious at first, then grinned.

“OK then” Army said “I’ll see about getting some volunteers to start that after Jim can get with Walter for a plan to build those. We also need to start digging out on the south side of Trailblazer, and the north side of Devlin to minimize probabilities of having any vehicle showing up at your back door. I’ll see about getting Frank and a digging crew tomorrow. After the rain, it’ll be a lot easier to dig all that clay.”

I added “after that is done, we’ll need to use whatever barb wire we have, and install it like concertina wire along the back of all the homes here…just as a mild pedestrian deterrent. You said you guys already used some around the neighborhood at the gates, and some of the open alleys? Right?”

Army and Jim looked at each other “yes Army said. We did used some on the open alleys as a deterrent, accompanied with deadfalls and cars with flat tires. Those will only keep out casual pedestrians though. Right now, we’re depending on the sentries at the gates to watch all the alleys; which they can see from the gates. Determined people can wait until the sentry turns away however, and sneak in. If someone does make it past those, they will connect with a Walter Surprise; a homemade claymore, and they are deadly. When we hear one, the sentries know to radio to me the appropriate sector, at which time others will be dispatched. We are being more careful about abandoning any of the gates at any time, so as not to leave them unguarded.”

I looked at them in surprise “I’m glad I didn’t trip one this morning on my way to ambush Reginald.”

“You walked down the only alley that doesn’t have a trip, because that’s half block from the main gate” Army said. “We wouldn’t let you walk into a dangerous situation. Be forewarned though; all the rest are booby-trapped. Stay on the streets unless you know exactly where they are. …a little lightening bolt points to the trip wire visible only if you are walking towards the street. If a bad guy walks down the alley away from the street…boom!”

“Do all of our people know this?” I asked.

“Yep” Army said “each sentry has his or her list of people to pass on information. Most people have two sentries giving them info about such stuff.”

“Good idea!” I said. “Are there enough sentries now to accomplish what you had originally planned?”

“Yes” he replied ” I had to recruit some more guys, but the gardens take minimal work these days. A lot of folks just either sleep, or do odd jobs to keep busy, now that we had that rain. I didn’t get any flack from the recruits. All the new guys are always at a gate with one of the originals. We still run the roving patrols with a recruit attached to them as well.”

I nodded in surprise. “I am impressed with your strategy” I told Army. “I really like it.”

He smiled in agreement, taking a slug of his beer. “We’ve been seeing some increased activity across the ditch, and to the north” he said. “Nothing threatening as of yet, but will probably escalate to violence soon.”

“Gangs?” I asked earnestly.

“Nothing organized, from what I’ve heard…just observations of small groups of people wandering… we expected that sooner, but here it is.” He looked at all of us. “We’ve already talked about this. It’s here. Be prepared. That’s the word now.” He gestured to the ditch “especially until we get that digging done, your home will be extremely vulnerable.”

I thought for a minute, looked at Al, and said “Al, looks like we’ll have to maybe pull some night watches for a couple days.”

He wasn’t looking at me, but I could tell it was weighing on him, and he nodded slowly.

“We could take these empty beer bottles, rig a trip wire behind the fence to knock a box full of ’em off to crash on the ground” I said, finishing my beer. “And then we come out blastin’. Something like that. We could put up the skeeter netting, and sleep on the patio. We might even have more than you and I sleeping outside. I know it’s cooler outside than in, at night. If we had trouble, the rover patrol could be here in like 2 minutes…probably less. Just thinkin’ out loud. Besides, we can handle ourselves.”

Al smiled and said “yessir, we’d be quite a match!” with a smile.

Jim volunteered “Heck, I’ll bring my bag and hang with you two. You’re right; it’ll be cooler here.” He laughed “Al, I agree with you. Wherever Bennie is, the action will soon follow.”

“Suits me fine” I said. “I was thinking about getting something to eat for now, before I get too sloshed on beers” I added getting up “I haven’t had any chow since this morning, and I’ve been thinking about them Brandi beans for a while and some of that wheat bread…man that’s good stuff.”

“You eat too may beans, and you’ll be sleeping alone” said Al with a laugh.

“She does something to them that makes them gasless” i said in all seriousness. “Really” and I headed towards the kitchen, with the rest right behind me.

The crowd was cheerful at the kitchen, and the mood was good. We all dished up and made the rounds. Even Jake popped over for a few minutes. Everyone was concerned about Teresa, and he let them know that all would be well. Folks were asking how I was, and I explained that I’d be back in the swing in a few more days.

We ate well, went back to Al’s and rigged up a primitive alarm with some paracord staked at the edge of the ditch to the fence, where the bottles were sitting on a stack of pallets. We rigged one for north/south traffic, and one across the ditch for about 30 feet, also pulleyed around a stake tied to the bottles as well…like I said, primitive but effective.

As soon as Mandy found out, she wanted to sleep outside also. I left that up to Marie, and Marie said no gun butts on her shoulder. Mandy then wanted to use a shotgun. I tried to show her that she was too short to shoot over the fence…yes, I was nice about it, and even took her to the fence. She was very disappointed, and did not have a problem showing it. “What about your pistols?” I asked her.

She just smiled and said “OK.”

So, then were four of us on the patio for out little ‘campout’. Jim, brought his cot and bag. Al had two cots, but none for Mandy. Again, the little poutyface.

“Mandy” I said pointing to the couch 2 feet from the other sliding patio door “you’re sleeping right there. You’re only 4 feet from the rest of us. C’mon! Put your pistol on the coffee table. If you hear the bottles, get your butt up and come out quietly. You may have to wake us up too. You are still recovering from a bullet wound; remember?”

She was barely convinced.

“Tomorrow, ask around to see if you can borrow a cot from someone. There’s got to be someone you can borrow one from” I said, then added “Mandy, we’re probably going to be out here from now on…at least someone will. This isn’t a slumber party. Try to grow up a little bit.”

I heard Army’s radio “main gate to RC”

“go ahead”

“A couple of the guys want to go on over to Sam’s for the night shift. Just letting you know.”

“10-4. I’ll be over in two minutes” Army said, and left to the main gate.

Al brought out his seemingly 7000 square yards of mosquito netting for the 3 side of the patio. Triple layered it, and it seemed to work just fine. We had to practice getting in and out a few times, as the extra layers made it a little difficult to navigate.

Army returned and gave us the scoop on the two diehard sentries that insisted on going to Sam’s to help out with security. I had to know…

“So, Army. What is the grand reason why these two needed to go and do night work, that they can do here?” I asked him.

He sighed and nodded. “I guess you should give them both raises to keep them here” he said with a smile, and continued “they didn’t say specifically, and I didn’t ask. I think it’s kind of cabin fever; so to speak.”
I nodded slowly in agreement “my gut tells me that after what happened today, we’ll see more action soon. The people are now running out of food, and are starting to wander, as we saw today. Those people knew we had just left Sam’s, and were after our food. It’s just the beginning. I think one night of fighting off people will be enough for the sentries; regardless of their reward.”

Army brought out his bottle of Crown, and we all partook; responsibly of course.

I took a sip and said to Army “Army, Jim hinted that you have more dollars tied up in liquor than ammo.”

Army looked at Jim, smiled, and said “well, I never put a pencil to it.”

“Well” I said “we’ve always got Carla!”

I went on some about how she could make such high-quality moonshine right here in the neighborhood. “It takes a lot of sugar to make shine” I started, “and the distillation process supposedly has a very distinct, ugly odor…not to mention the possibility of being blinded from getting too much wood alcohol.” I paused “I’d risk it again though.”

“Sounds like you’re an expert” Jim said with a laugh.

“Naw” I started “I read a lot.”

Our conversation drifted to our personal experiences with the legendary moonshine; or at lest what we could remember. The rest was all hearsay.

“I’m about ready to turn in” I stated, and went off the patio to pee. The others followed, more or less, and we checked our weapons, chatted a little while we lay on our respective cots, and drifted off to sleep.

CHAPTER THIRTY-SEVEN

I was awakened by assorted  noises from within the house. The rest of the guys were stirring, and dawn was upon us. I got up, rolled up my bedroll, folded my cot, and put it away. Then out to pee.

By then, the others were starting to move, as I could smell bacon. I, in turn, started the Volcano stove to make the toast.

The others put their stuff away while I went inside to brush teeth, and do what little I could to try to smell  human. Lea was up cooking bacon. I gave her a morning kiss, and brought out the first pot of coffee.

I had never really paid attention before, but it seemed like there was absolutely no conversation until the coffee appeared. I sliced up some bread, leftover from the kitchen last night. The Volcano was heating up nicely, and I started the toast.

By the time the Deputy showed up, Lea had all the bacon done, and eggs were close behind, with the coffee flowing the conversation started.

“I’m glad to see we’re all back on good terms again” the Deputy started, taking a long draw on his coffee. “I heard you had some more excitement besides the goons down the street” he added, looking at me.

I sighed “yes, it seems wherever I go, trouble follows.” A few laughs and nods with that remark all around.

I explained the details of Reginald and his brother, then went on to the situation at Jake and Terry’s.

He listened while he ate, taking in all the info. When I was done, he nodded and said “sounds justifiable to me…all around. Reginald did draw first? Correct?”

The others all concurred.

Deputy smiled and said “I liked Tombstone too. Great movie.”

I went on to explain that our family had once lived in Tombstone in the late ’50s. “My mom used to tell us that Dad would get so pissed off as we lived behind the OK Corral, and all the re-enactments they had would wake up the babies…Al and I…Yeah, I  took some lines from the movie…Val Kilmer’s greatest role, in my opinion.”

Most nodded in agreement while sipping coffee, munching on bacon, or eating toast. Lea was out shortly thereafter with scrambled eggs.

In between bites I managed to get out “so Deputy, any activity going on in the area that you know of?”

“We’re seeing more and more small raids bent on getting food from homes.” He started “a few shootings, nothing really organized…yet” he stopped and looked at each of us. “You do know that what you’ve seen so far is just the beginning, right?”

We all nodded and I briefly went over our plan to work on widening the ditch closer to the back of the homes, to keep out larger vehicles. I didn’t say anything about our fougasse plans.

“How’s your water supply?” he asked, and I nodded towards Al, and he explained what we were doing with the tanks.

“We also were able to pick up a lot more at Sam’s” I added. “By the way, are we clear for the shooting yesterday?” I was careful not to look at Jim and recollect our hysteria.

“I filed a report stating it was justifiable, and gave all the details” he said. “They really don’t like civilians killing each other, but it seems that so far, most of the shootings reported have been self-defense. Still…our biggest concern is the prison inmates that were let go. It seems that many headed east toward some of the northern little towns close to Highway 107, and are wreaking havoc there. We have patrols running regularly through some areas, and we’ve shot bad guys too…there’s plenty for everyone.”

We were all silent.

I broke the silence “We all understand what we could be up against in the coming weeks and months” I began. “And we also know good and well that what we’ve seen is child’s play, and speaking for myself, after what I seen and done recently, I feel I’m ready for anything.” I looked at my friends and neighbors. “Every person here will back me up to the death as I would for them. I told these folks in the beginning that I will shoot to kill until the bad guys are all dead, or I am if need be.” I paused for a moment and let it sink in a little. “You know what?” I started again “if you run outa ammo, you run outa ammo and get the hell out to get some more. I”ll tell you this too: none of us who were there will never run out of ammo again in any firefight.”

I looked at my friends and family and they were agreeing. “There is nothing short of heavily armed military forces that will be able to take over our neighborhood…even then, we’ll give ’em pure hellfire.”

“I hear what you’re sayin’, Bennie” Deputy said “I believe what you say to be true. I am not worried about the locals here at this time. Personally, my biggest worry down the road is Mexico. If they start crossing to invade, there’s just too many of ’em for the small militia groups to handle.”

Silence again.

“Yeah, and I could get struck by lightnin’ sitting here too” I said, trying to break the mood, which seemed to be going downhill. I fired up a smoke, sat up straight, and said “look…no, we don’t have a plan to fight off 30,000 Mexicans invading…but we’re not the only ones fighting here either. Certainly whatever’s left of the USA is not going to let Mexico have it back. We’ll just hold ’em off until the cavalry gets here. For now, we’re just gonna hunker down and keep what’s ours, and we can certainly do that” I said with some conviction.

“We’ve got some work to do before we can really say we’re ready for anything, but I don’t think it’ll take more than a few days.” I told the group.

The Deputy stood up, and said his good byes. “I’ll be checkin’ in on you from time to time” he said.

“I hope so” I said, shaking his hand good-bye “you’re our only contact outside the neighborhood…” I went on to tell him about the two sentries that had gone to Sam’s last night.

“I was asked to check Sam’s this morning” he said “they had some trouble last night. We got a call from the manager this morning.”

I looked at Army “any word from our two moonlighters?”

He shook his head, and left toward the main gate talking on his radio.

“Keep in touch Alan” I said. “These breakfasts are not free ya know” I told him with a smile.

He laughed and said “I’ll keep you apprised of everything I find out. Just keep that toast comin’. That’s good stuff.”
“I’ll tell the ladies in the kitchen you said that” I told him “be prepared to haul home an extra few loaves shortly. Those gals can really cook. Tell Carla to drop by some afternoon and partake…It’s well worth it.”

He smiled and left “I’ll let her know.”

I helped clean up the breakfast trash, and saved the leftovers for whomever. The leftover food never was around very long. We had learned to eat hearty whenever we could, and not worry about stuff like oh, I’ll just have a little now, and some later. Those days were gone.

CHAPTER THIRTY-EIGHT

“RC to Eagle1”

“Go ahead”

“Our sentries arrived home ok. Will fill you in later”

“10-4. We’re taking a patrol down to Devlin to measure for some digging, then up to Trailblazer for same. We don’t expect trouble, but you never know”

“10-4”

I decided to do some scouting on our ditch plans, and looked for volunteers to form a patrol to looksee. Of course, Mandy was in, with strict instructions for hip shots from the 12 gauge only. I carried Ol’ Blue, and the 30-30. Ol’ Blue’s belt had 30 rounds in it, and I loaded up the bandolier with 50 rounds of various 30-30 rounds. Al took his AK, and Kimber, and Jim had his AK and .45.

“Plan” I started “we’re just gonna take a look at the ditch down by the street; first, we’ll go to Devlin, then off to Trailblazer. I want to get some measurements of how far we have to go to widen within like 6 feet of the fence. Be looking out for any movement across the ditch and the street beyond, and behind us as well. Jim is in charge of patrol movement.”

He nodded, and we left out Al’s back gate, which we had Lea lock behind us. We made sure she had her pistol, and asked her to keep a sharper eye out than usual on the yard.

We walked to the left, south toward Devlin. Most of the homes were within our neighborhood for maybe 10 houses southward, and our ‘jurisdiction” ended close to some apartments. Jim walked us slow, giving us tips on moving, watching, stopping, observing, and positional responsibility. We walked on the asphalt path, then we’d mosey to the fence single file. It was still early, and there was lots of shade, this time of day. No activity.

We arrived at Devlin street, and I got out the tape measure, and figured that we’d need to dig a trench 10 foot wide, which was easy. The hard part was the 30 feet from the ditch edge to within six feet of the back of the fence. The first building north of Devlin that had some huge ash and live oak trees, was the choice for the trench. Even heavy equipment would have difficulty traversing the yard with the huge trees in it; not to mention the below ground pool next door. I drew a little sketch (not a strong talent for me) and made some notes. The rest of the group seemed to be intent on some action coming up the street.

“Everyone get down” Jim ordered. We complied to our haunches; watching the car coming south on Centennial. I couldn’t see what it was. Sneaky Jim had his binoculars out and turned to us and said “it’s a state trooper.”

“Is it really, or is it hijacked?” I asked in a loud whisper. We were still in the shade, so fairly well hidden against the fence.

He kept looking. The car was now approximately behind Al’s and it stopped. Why did they stop there? They would have to go down into the ditch, and back up to get to Al’s.

We did not move. I knew that they did not see us. Slowly, ever so slowly, I reached up and keyed the mic “eagle1 to RC! Please send stealth patrol to back yard Al’s stat…quietly!”

After what seemed like forever, and now I had to pee too “10-4”

Jim motioned for us to move out slowly along the fence line in the shade. We did so.

The driver side car door opened up.

Jim halted our movement. I went up behind him and whispered “those aren’t troopers. we need to send our mostest stealth person into the ditch to come at them where they can’t see…now.”

I looked at Jim “something’s wrong. A trooper wouldn’t just stop in the middle of the road. We need a volunteer to go down into the ditch, and get closer to them. Army’s on his way to Al’s.”

“I’ll go” said Jim. “I never get to do anything” he smiled.

“I suggest you stay towards the bottom until you’re almost there. Keep checking backwards…I’ll wave at you when you can climb up and approach the vehicle. I got you covered from here if they catch on to you” I patted the 30-30.

He nodded, and snaked across the path over to the top of the ditch, and then downward. I realized that I would not be able to see him unless I too, was at least at the top of the ditch…well in plain sight.

“RC to Eagle1”

“See if you can work around behind them. Jim is coming towards them from the bottom of the ditch, which they cannot see from their position. I am guessing that these guys hijacked that car, and there may be troopers still alive in the trunk or back seat.”

“Will do”

I saw a very slow form crack Al’s gate, and snake across the path to the ditch. At that position, the pipes crossed the ditch, and Army’s group could cross quicker and get almost immediately behind the car.

One by one, they crept down to the pipes and across. I crawled to the edge myself, and saw Jim was almost directly under the car. He stopped, I waved, he crept up the bank towards the car.

Army was in position at the top of the bank.

The guy in the car tried to start it. They’re out of gas.

The second time he tried to start, Jim and Army’s patrol moved in. I motioned Al and Mandy to follow me back to Al’s.

I could hear them speaking Jim was right in front with his gun aimed at the driver. Army’s men had surrounded the rear of the car, and moved in. Apparently, there was another guy in the passenger side. He got out with his hands up. The driver seemed to need more encouragement. A shot interrupted the quiet morning air.

The driver put his hands up, and went to the front of the car, where they were both ordered to lay down on the pavement; hands out and spread eagle. Jim opened the back door, and called to me “Bring the pickup Bennie! We’ve got survivors!”

I nodded and turned to Al and Mandy “Coming?”

I turned and headed through Al’s yard for the pickup.

Lea and Marie were watching. I said “you might have another patient Marie…we’re going to bring the truck and pick them up.” I said all this as I walked by them, followed closely by Al and Mandy.

We picked up a couple bottles of cold water from the bank, and took the truck over to Devlin, then up Centennial towards the growing crowd of folks at the trooper’s car. Al had also reminded me to pick up a 5 gallon can of gas before we left.

The trunk was now open, and there were indeed two state troopers now sitting wobbly on the edge of the truck cavity. I passed a bottle of water to Army out the window, shut off the truck and got out.

Jim was talking to a woman who what looked like, had been tied up in the back seat..bound and gagged if you will. I handed the other cold water to Jim, who opened it and gave it to the gal. All three of them were very thirsty.

“Jim” I said “is she ok?”

He looked at her, she smiled weakly, and said hoarsely, “I’ll be ok…thank you” she said looking at Jim.

I went to the trunk where the troopers were now doing some talking of their own. They stunk really bad from bo, and other bodily excretions.

Army said “Captain, this is the guy I was telling you about; Bennie and his brother Al.” Army gestured to us and I offered my hand.

The captain hesitated then I said, still holding my hand out “Bennie Barnes. Pleased to meet you captain. We have hand sanitizer.”

He laughed, shook my hand, and said “Captain Abner Hodges…my friends call me Abe. Pleased to meet you …Dirty Bennie?”

I looked down at the ground, shaking my head “yes, that’s what some folks call me.”

The other guy, much younger stood up, held out his hand and said “I’m trooper Bill Nichols” I shook and so did Al.

I gestured to Mandy, “this is Mandy, our sharpshooter.”

She smiled, did not offer her hand, but said “hello”.

“Guys” I said, “you reek. What do you say to a clothes washing party, accompanied by a shower, and some real food while you guys recuperate?”

The captain said “we’d be fools to turn that down.’

I gestured to the front “what do you want to do with them?”

The Captain lost his friendly face, and stood up. He walked to the front of the car where the two were toasting nicely on the pavement. The Captain must have been well over 6 feet, and he looked very charismatic standing in front of the bad guys. No question why the Texas Rangers had such reputations.

I walked around to the front of the two, with the Captain at my right. I pulled out the .44, and handed it to the Captain: “Captain, it’s obvious that these two degenerates had assaulted you, your partner, and the young lady. We cannot let them go, and we cannot keep them.”

“Tie them up, and we’ll deal with them later” said the Captain.

We used the trooper’s cuffs, and loaded everyone into the pickup except me. I put the gas in the trooper’s car, and after a few attempts it purred to life. Al decided to drive the interceptor back.

The radio in the car went off saying something like “blahbadiblahblah Captain Hodges”

I grabbed the mic, keyed it and said “Captain Hodges is alive and well, as is Trooper Nichols. We are taking the troopers to our home to clean them up, and get some food for them. They’ve been locked in the trunk of a car for a couple days, but they’ll be fine. When we get home, we’ll ask the Captain to give you a call, verifying what I have said.”

There was a pause for like almost a minute, and a  man’s voice said “To whom am I speaking please? This is Lieutenant Perales.”

“This is Bennie Barnes.”

Another pause “Dirty Bennie?”

I answered chuckling “yes Lieutenant, that’s what Cap’n Hodges said too. He’ll be fine…really. We’re almost home. I’ll ask the Cap’n to call you when we arrive. Stay close.”

“All right, thank you”

We arrived at Al’s and I asked the Cap’n to call in. He spoke for a while. We left him as more than likely, many questions would be about us.

Al had the ladies prep the “shower pad”. They were heating up some water, when the Captain showed up with Bill.

I directed them to the pad, and ordered them to strip and put their clothes into a trash bag, and toss the bag over the fence into the front yard, after which I would run them down to the washer lady.

I left them alone to clean up, and then took the bucket of hot water for them. I noticed the Captain had a gash on the back of his head.

“Cap’n, after you get dressed, you’ll need to see Marie in the infirmary. She’ll be able to dress that wound, and you may need a shot of antibiotics.”

He nodded and said “OK” as shampoo was running into his face.

“Ya’ll just walk on through the house when you’re done. There are towels just inside the door, and some temporary clothes. Sorry, overalls was the best we had.” I shut the door, and walked around to the front, picked up the trash bag, and walked down to the washer lady.

They had cuffed Beavis and Butthead to the tree in Al’s front yard. As I walked by one asked “what are they gonna do with us?”

“Probably execute you. Martial law is in effect now, and crimes against people are dealt with swiftly…” I paused “and harshly.” I left them…

CHAPTER THIRTY-NINE

I walked around the washer lady’s house to the back yard. She was just starting her pot of water.

“Ahhh, senor Bennie!” she exclaimed when she saw me. She walked over and gave me a hug. “How are you feeling” she asked. “We heard you were shot” she looked very concerned.

“I am fine, thank you senora” I told her with a smile. “My sister in law is a good nurse.”

“Yes, I know Marie for long time. My daughter used to work for her. She is very good to us” she said, stirring her water.

“You brought some clothes for me?” she asked.

“Yes” I opened the bag and showed her the trooper’s clothes.

She was open-mouthed. “Rangers” she said. “I will make those good as new” she said with pride. “I will use the iron on them too” she said.

“Thank you senora” I told her. “I bought some jabon at the store yesterday…did you get it?”

“Oh yes senor Bennie. It was my favorite. Thank you”

“You are very welcome senora. Is there anything I can do for you?” I asked.

“No senor Bennie” she stopped working for a minute. “You know something? Since the big burst, I sleep much better, no more loud music, no more loud cars at night, I wash the clothes, I sing my songs all day, nobody bothers me, the kitchen cooks wonderful food, I have plenty of friends here who help me in the day. My life is better now than it was before…thanks to you.”

I walked over to her, held her face in my hands, and kissed her on the forehead. “We all work together, senora. Your neighbors are my neighbors. We all help each other.” I was still holding her face…she had a tear, and so did I. I hugged her again, and walked away saying “thank you again, senora, I will return in a few hours” I bowed and turned the corner towards the street.

Now I get to watch two more people die.

I headed back to Al’s.

CHAPTER FORTY

The two bad guys were still tied up under Al’s big oak tree. I pretty much ignored them as I passed by and went into Al’s back yard. I smelled food. The two troopers were eating some leftovers from breakfast, and yes, toast. That stuff is a hit.

“Weeellll, you two certainly smell better” I said walking up to the patio. I fumbled with the skeeter netting, removed my 30-30, poured a cup of coffee, refilled their coffees, sat down, and lit up a smoke.

Abe smiled as he said “you guys have a pretty good set up here” he looked at Bill “probably the best we’ve seen.”

I sipped some coffee “Captain, it’s really about the people that live here. There were a lot of scared folks here the first day or two after the burst. Everyone here pitches in without question. Army runs the militia, and he’s got some good people on that duty; shift change every four hours, roving patrols daily and nightly. He’s got a good strategy that rotates most of them around to all the gates, and rovers too.”

He was still eating and Bill asked “we heard that there was a kitchen that provided meals?”

“Yep” I said taking a drag “three ladies volunteered to cook and  meal for everyone…everyday. The food bank is just storage, but George and Gina keep track of inventory. Anyone can get food and water, and take it home; no questions asked. The kitchen ladies plan their meals on a daily basis, and always have some really good food. I invite you to stay into the afternoon when they started putting out food. It’d be worth it. One of the guys built a brick oven in back of the kitchen house, and a brick outdoor stove…both wood-fired.”

They were looking in disbelief.

“We’ve got thousands of trees here; mesquite and oak for building fires. We were getting low on charcoal when we found out about our resident mason. We did a census early on so we could see what skills people had. The census has proved to be another good idea, and it has saved lives too.” I explained about Jake and Teresa.

“We have a not-too-big Ford tractor that has been a huge help in moving cars around. Of course, the fact that Marie is a Registered Nurse, is what really makes this a safe place. It’s too bad that she’s been busy with all the assaults taking place…5 women including the one brought in today. She’ll be welcome to stay also, if she prefers.”

I looked at Al “I assume she’s still at the infirmary?”

He nodded “and Jim too.”

I nodded slowly, letting the obvious hit me. “Oooookay.”

I turned back to the troopers “we were lucky in that we were able to come up with quite a bit of cash to get over to Sam’s and load up on stuff. Most of the folks here have gardens..I think it’s now up to 14,000 square feet of gardens with every type of veggie and herb you can think of. In about 75 days, we’ll have a huge harvest, barring drought, flood, hurricane, invasion, I could name more “what ifs” but I won’t.”

I paused for a moment and then brought up the subject that I think they were avoiding. “We need to take care of business with those bad guys” I said, standing up. “I already explained to them about martial law and how crimes against persons are dealt with swiftly….and harshly.”

The Captain’s demeanor changed again, to all business. He nodded, stood up, and motioned for Bill to do same. We walked around the front to the tree. I got the pickup, and brought it over where the thugs were loaded into the back with the troopers. Al hopped in with his AK…ya just never know.

No one spoke as we drove to the the field. I stopped the truck far enough past the other bodies, so all could see the plan. The troopers dragged the two men out of the truck and into the field.

Bill held the two men while the Captain said these words:

By the authority invested in me under martial law, Captain Abner Hodges of the Texas Department of Public safety, I sentence you to death for crimes of assault against person and persons.

Bill stepped back, Abe pulled out his .357, and shot both in the head without any hesitation. The men fell to the ground, and Bill pulled their wallets, and gave them to the Captain. I squirted some napalm on the bodies, waited a little while the troopers got some distance, and set them on fire.

We all got back into the truck, and drove home without saying a word.

CHAPTER FORTY-ONE

When we arrived at Al’s, Jim had returned with his new friend, Julie.

Jim stood up and introduced Julie to all of us. She too, was obviously famished, as she was shoveling in toast and bacon. She managed to smile at each of us as Jim pointed out the introductions. She watched Jim closely.

“Captain” I said “perhaps I should take you over to the infirmary and let Marie look at your wound.”

We headed over and Army was almost to Al’s. He looked at tad worried.

“What’s wrong?” I asked him, stopping, as did the Captain.

“The Deputy was just here, saying that there was a bunch of folks heading up 10th street, raiding, looting and the like. Not organized, just a gang of angry people heading this way.” He sounded a little out of breath.

“Let the boys know and the sentry posts. Probably better call in off duty and ask them to hang close to the perimeter” I suggested.

“I did the latter” he smiled “and was heading to tell ‘the boys’ when I ran into you. Where you two off to?”

“The infirmary” I answered “the Captain has a gash on his head…just wanted Marie to take a look and dress it if necessary. We’ll catch up to you in a bit” I said, turning towards the infirmary.

We entered and I had forgotten about Jake and Teresa, who were still staying there. “I have another patient for you Marie” I announced as we went in.

I introduced the Captain to Marie and she was looking at his wound when Jake said “is that you Abe?”

The Captain turned slowly and looked at Jake with a smile “Hi Jake. Good to see you. I didn’t know you lived out here now.”

It was my turn to look dumbfounded.

Jake and the Captain shook hands fiercely. Jake looked at me and said “Abe and I are shooting competition partners from some years back. We went to a lot of competitions together.”
I smiled and said “well, we are in very good hands then.” I looked at the Captain “Jake has volunteered to aid in our defenses by using his talents on sniping.”

The Captain looked at me and said “there are few, if any, finer shooters with the long gun than this man.”

I nodded and Jake added “Abe here won several pistol shooting awards. Don’t let him be modest.”

I headed to the door and said “I’ll let you guys catch up. I’ll be at Al’s.” I looked at Marie “what’s the word with Julie?”

Marie hesitated, then said “she’ll be fine. She said she wasn’t assaulted, and she didn’t appear to be. Those guys just terrorized her…basically scaring her almost to death.” She continued “she seems to have taken quite a shine to Jim.”

She looked at me like I was supposed to confirm or deny that statement. Instead I replied “and he to her.” I guess that was what she wanted.

I left and closed the door.

Outside, Army, Al, and trooper Bill were outside in the street. Everyone was loaded for bear. Army was the first to speak “I put Josh up in one of the high positions. He’s watching for any activity from the south.”
“What’s he shooting?” I asked.

“Just his battle rifle. We should get someone with a long gun upstairs, I think” he added.

“Got anyone in mind?” I asked.

“Mandy would be my first choice” he said, but quickly went on “I know her shoulder isn’t up to it yet. Jake would be my next choice.”

I thought for a minute. “It turns out that Jake and the Captain are former competition shooting partners. They couldn’t say enough good things about each other.” I paused again, then added “I’ve got a strong feeling that you and Jim have probably done some snipering. ” I stopped again and thought. “Al and AJ have done their share of shooting their  7mm Remington Magnums.”

Army was still listening. “Is Jake up to it?”

“Jake is up to it, to answer your question. He did indicate that he only had 100 rounds of ammo or so. Personally, I think lookouts are a great idea, for strategic purposes; furthermore, I sure as hell hope we won’t need any serious snipers for a while yet. If we get attacked by an angry mob, I suppose it would depend on how many there were. Well- placed napalm cocktails might work better than spraying the mob with 1000 rounds of precious ammo.” I held up my hands, as he didn’t seem too receptive. “Just my opinion, Army. Put me wherever you want.”

He didn’t say anything, like he was thinking about something bigger.

“Army” I started “it’s been what 14 days since the burst? Most people didn’t have food stored away, and are now either out or very close to running out of food. Some people may even be hungry. There’s a hundred thousand people in this town, and my bet is that 98 percent of them are about out of food stores. We were warned this would happen. This is just the beginning and there are going to be literally be thousands of people starving to death here, and THEY WILL WANT OUR FOOD!”

I stopped talking and started thinking. We should have planned better for this. More cars blocking outlying roads to keep wanderers and roamers from being too curious. Dunno. And these run might not even get over this far…

I ran this by Army, and he seemed to relax a little. “We need to start on the ditch soon” I said “to deter folks from coming into our back yards; yet, I know it will happen.”

He nodded. “You’re right…at least today about the snipers. We should save those for more of an organized attack. A downed tree would be as good a deterrent as any, instead of an army of well fed militia.” He was still nodding. “All right then, we’ll leave the plan as is for now.” He looked at me. “You pick a patrol of six, split into two groups, and watch the length of the ditch behind the houses.”

He looked at my 30-30 and Ol’ Blue. “I recommend semi autos.”

I nodded and said “I’ll bring one of the Glock 9  mils.”

“You call us if you need us” I said. “If need be, I could spare two of our patrol to lend a hand. We’ll do same if we start getting overrun.”

He nodded. “I’ll let the rovers know that you’re out there and to keep an ear open for any aid if need be.”

“Sounds good” I said, as Army headed to the main gate.

I looked at Al. “Unless you’ve got an assignment, I’ll need you and AJ.”

Al nodded towards the south gate. “AJ’s been assigned to the south gate UFN (until further notice); but I’m available.”

“OK, that’s two. We’ll need Mandy and Jim.”
Al looked at me funny and I knew why. “I know, I know. Maybe we/I could fashion a shoulder pad for Mandy. Something leather with laces…like an old pair of boots. Cut off the sole, and lace the sides to her shoulder; front and back. At least it would keep the butt of that gun causing damage to her shoulder.” We walked to Al’s patio where Jim was speaking to Julie.

“Jim, my friend” I started “we have orders to patrol the section between the streets and behind the houses until further notice.”
I looked at Julie “would you have an experience with firearms?” I looked at Jim too, who looked at her as well.

No one spoke, and she was hesitant. Jim broke the silence “she said she had shot like a lever action rifle at her dad’s ranch, and she can shoot a bolt action.

I looked at Julie. “Are you up to some patrol duty today? Sure could use the help. We could have some trouble, according to Army.”
This time, I waited for a response. “I guess so” she said. “I don’t know how much help I can be.”

“I’d like you to pair up with Jim, he’ll get you a firearm, and teach you all you will ever need to know about how to shoot it.”

I stopped talking for a second and then said “I need one more person for this run. Anyone seen Mandy?”

“Right here” she said as she came outside. She had her BAR. “I think I might have the answer to my shoulder. She opened her vest and showed the leather pad she had been working on.

“Looks like you’ve been working on that a while” I said. We all got closer, including Julie. Mandy was explaining to Julie how she got wounded. We were all just looking at her ingenious pad.

“I used moleskin that Marie gave me from the infirmary, and had Angie sew it to a piece of an old jacket that was in turn, sewn to part of an old leather shoe.” Mandy was real proud of it.

“I’m off the hook then if Marie knows and is already involved” I said with a smile. I looked at Mandy and said seriously  with me shaking my finger “don’t over do it. Shoot from the hip when  you can. Remember” I stopped and looked at everyone “we never hope to have to shoot at people. We never fire at anyone unless they have fired first, or drawn first blood, or are making aggressive moves.” I was still looking at them from face to face.

They all nodded in agreement as always.
I called the infirmary. “Eagle1 to Marie.” After a pause “go ahead”

“How is your patient?”

“I gave him an antibiotic and dressed the wound. He should be ok”

“We have a situation outside, and we’ll need trooper Nichols at Al’s armed immediately.”

“10-4”

Bill showed up in 5 minutes with an AR-15, a nice Glock .45, and several  mags for each. I briefed him, and sent him with Jim and Julie. Al, Mandy, and I headed to the south towards Devlin which, I felt, would be the main access for anyone trying to get to us.

Al brought his binoculars and was watching east on west on Devlin, and south on Centennial. The city hadn’t finished Centennial all the way through to Nolan, as some idiot put a museum in the way, causing a severe curve in the access from Nolan to Centennial north. Still, it hadn’t been “finished” but was very usable for said distance;  18 blocks which translates here to about a mile and a half. It was also bordered on the east by the ditch.

It was reaching midday, and nothing was happening.

“Eagle1 to RC”

“Go ahead”

“Request sit-rep”

“All quiet here”

“Ditto”

A pause. I then suggested “suggest recon south on 10th?”

“Good idea. I’ll pull 3 sentries and go for a look-see. Will call with updated sit-rep in 20”

“10-4”

“What was that about?” asked Mandy.

“Army is taking a small patrol over to 10th street and maybe southward to see about this mob thing” I answered her. “We are to stay here until we get further orders.” She kinda had her poutyface on again.

“Mandy” I said, “we take orders because that is our job. If we disobey orders, our community could be compromised by infiltration, which could lead to injury or death to our neighbors and friends. If you do not wish to obey orders, you may return to the neighborhood, and wander around. Everyone on perimeter takes orders because lives depend on it. Period.”

I gave her and Al a Jolly Rancher which brought smiles to both of them.

We walked over to the bridge across the ditch and looked down into the shallow water. Al and I reminisced about when we were much younger, our Saturday morning trips to the ditch with our BB guns.

Usually, the water was a little deeper under the bridges. It might get 3-4 feet deep, and an overflow from them was what caused the flow northward. The actual stream might get 2 inches deep, but still it flowed. This water came from the storm sewers in the neighborhoods. A neighbor washing his car, or a nice rain would drain lots of water into the standpipes in the ditch, which would turn the 2 inch quiet stream into a temporary raging torrent.

We saw a carp in the pool. No way, no how gonna shoot that for food. We watched a water snake cross the top, and few minnows near the edge. It was crystal clear, and we could see our shadows on the bottom of the pool.

“Note to self” I said out loud. “Under the bridge might be a good place to hide if need be.” I thought briefly that ‘all water snakes are venomous’ might deter me from deciding to head to the cover of the bridge first thing.

We kept our vigil. We saw no other persons moving about anywhere in any direction. I understand now about why the sentries move around every so often. It didn’t take long before I knew where every tree was within 50 feet of our position.

We started hearing barking dogs to the west. Al looked, but couldn’t see them, but they seemed to be getting closer.

“RC to Eagle1”

“Go ahead”

“We walked past the tracks south to Devlin, and saw nothing. We’re heading back.”

“10-4, we are  hearing some barking dogs to the west on Devlin. They seem to be getting closer. Will advise.”

“10-4”

I no sooner finished the conversation, when we saw the first dog running like a bat out of hell straight east on Devlin.

Mandy was ready with her BAR.

Was the pack chasing the first dog, or was it a scout for the rest?
I looked at Al for answers. He had his AK shouldered.

“Eagle1 to RC. We’re gonna have to shoot a pack of dogs heading east on Devlin”

The lead dog spotted us on the bridge, and changed its course to straight at us. Al fired. It went down, and skidded on the hot pavement to a stop.

The rest of the dogs kept coming. There were maybe 15-20 of assorted sizes and breeds; shepherds, labs, chows, lots of mutts.

Al’s AK barked a couple of rounds, as did the BAR. I fired the 30-30 at the next dog that was still heading our way, and emptied the rifle on the rest. Note to self: self, a dog running at you can cover a lot of distance in a very short while. I pulled the Glock and began firing into the pack. Mandy’s BAR went into full auto, and with Al firing the AK, the pack fell except for two, that turned tail and ran the other way. I pulled the .44 and picked one of them off.

The entire encounter didn’t last 30 seconds.

“We probably should drag these to the field and burn them” I told Al. “It would be a good idea not to touch the bodies with our bare hands.”

He nodded as we pulled out our gloves, which was part of our EDC (every day carry).

We dragged them to the field, piled them together, and did our usual napalm soaking, left our gloves as well, and set fire.

“Check for fleas” I told Al. He already was. I found none on me.

“I’ve never seen dogs act like that” said Mandy, when we got back to her. I think she was a little bothered by killing the dogs.

“People can’t or won’t feed their pets any more,” I started “so they let them go. The stronger, bigger animals will roam together, and pack hunt.” I stopped and made sure I had her attention. “A pack of wild dogs is just as bad as a pack of wolves. They will tear their prey to pieces, and eat them while they are still alive. You must keep shooting if they are after you, as they will not stop until they or you are dead. They will not wait while you load another magazine into your weapon. Become proficient at it.”

She nodded with a tear in her eye. “This is nothing” I went on. “The next pack will probably be bigger in numbers, more vicious, because they will be hungrier.”

I looked at both of them. “This why no one in our neighborhood should ever walk outside without a firearm…ever; even in their own yard. A dog or two slips inside the perimeter, then a few more, soon there are 10 and someone is dead. Always carry your sidearm…minimum. Don’t hesitate to kill, because they will certainly kill you.”

“Eagle1 to RC”

“Go ahead”

“We just took out a pack of 22 dogs”

“Problem?”

“No, just updating. Folks hear gunfire, and fear the worst.”

“Will pass it on.”

“Maybe we should call the Deputy and find out if his intel was first hand, or hearsay; like last time”

“Captain is on his radio looking into it”

“Nice it have friends in high places”

“10-4. Maintain position until contacted”

“10-4”

I looked at Al and Mandy. Their looks said it all. I slung the 30-30 over my shoulder, and fired up a smoke. I held it up and said. “great time killer these things”. I handed them some more Jolly Ranchers and was met with smiles and thank-yous.

The sun was passing midday into the afternoon, and that meant that we were no longer sheltered from the direct sun.

I was trying to remember what day it was, but couldn’t exactly.

Sometime in mid-June, I think. This started right on Memorial Day weekend. That’s why there were so many people gone.

I finished my smoke, and took a drink from my canteen. I began to pace a little; to and fro. I realized we had absolutely no cover, unless we jumped the fence into the yard behind us. I was unaware of any open gates this far south, as these people were not in our group. I also realized that it might be a good time to dig some…while we were just standing around anyway. Army said to maintain position.

I looked over at the burning pile of dogs. The wind was carrying the smoke to the northwest, as our usual wind pattern here was off the Gulf; to the northwest.

Again, Al was looking through the glasses. Nothing going on.

Man, it’s hot out here in the sun. Water or no water.

Mandy was checking her gun. She had already loaded a fresh mag.

I was talking to Al “you know, one of the last things that Army told me before we left was to bring a semi-auto. If I had been alone, I’d be dog food right now. I emptied that 30-30 and a 15 round mag, and you guys emptied at least 20 rounds each. That’s like 65 rounds for 22 dogs.”

I was loading the 30-30. I just put six into the mag for now. I noticed that I had only brought one mag for the Glock. I rolled my eyes and thought how lucky I/we were that there were no more dogs than there were. I emptied the only .44 brass out, and put in a fresh round.

“RC to Eagle1”

This got Mandy and Al’s attention.

“Go ahead”

“All clear?”

“Just dead dogs”

“You guys can return now, we got this straightened out”

“10-4”

Mandy led the way back to Al’s.

CHAPTER FORTY-TWO

We met the other patrol just as we got to Al’s. Jim was shaking his head and smiling at us.

“I told these two that wherever Bennie is, that is where the action will be” Jim was saying “I guess I was right.”

I laughed as well, “yep, Jim you’re right as usual.” I looked at Al and Mandy, who had long disappeared, and said “I learned something today that I am going to pass along to you.”

Jim seemed interested, as did trooper Nichols.

“A dog running directly you can cover a lot of distance, in a very short period of time” I gave them my words of wisdom. “Practice putting in fresh mags, and become proficient at it; they won’t wait for you to reload” I added with a smile.

We went into Al’s yard, and put down all our hardware. Army showed up with a handful of beers.

Army, Jim, Julie, Al, trooper Nichols, myself, and even the Captain came up, and we all sat down and relayed our experiences of the day. Lea brought out another chair, and Al fired up a fine cigar. He offered one to the others, and the Captain took him up on it. Sure was smokey.

“As it turns out,” Army started  “the deputy’s intel wasn’t quite correct. There was a gang of people on 10th wreaking havoc, but they were down by the mall, on south 10th.” He nodded to the Captain and continued “Captain Hodges was kind enough to call HQ and get a unit to observe this crowd to verify its existence. The DPS reported that the gang was pretty much smashing windows in businesses and cars. They were setting fire to buildings after they had gotten from them what they wanted out. Numbers of the crowd were estimated at 75-100 people.” He paused and took a drink from his brew. “I’d like to thank everyone for pulling duty today. It was a good exercise in manning our defenses, and seeing how manned up we really were. The Captain and I did some logistics figuring, and came up with the fact that we are stretched pretty thin on our outer perimeter. If we have to use snipers, we’ll lose some of our forces on the outer edge. We are working on that to cut down the necessity of using a lot of troops on the west side” he looked at our patrol “where you guys were today. We’ll start our digging tomorrow morning.”

“Count me in” I said “as a digger. I spent several hours today looking at the ditch, and I think I have a good plan that’s simple to do, and won’t take all day, and won’t be dangerous for the backhoe. The concertina wire install, I’m leaving to Jim…of course, I’m willing to help you, but I want to be involved with the digging first.”

Jim nodded and toasted me “it’s OK buddy; I know you’re good for it” he smiled.

I added, “if we have more cars, I can think of a few places that could use some more blockage…with some of Walter’s surprises…if you know what I mean. The south gate could use another layer of vehicles, as probably could the north, and the other M street entrance as well. Maybe cutting a tree or trees on the M street entrance would be easier…dunno. It almost seems a waste to put sentries there, given the amount of traffic they see, and not to mention the number of people that are on that street…I can’t think of anyone.”

The Captain puffed his cigar and said “Al, thanks a bunch for the cigar. He look around at the rest of us…you people have a really good group here…cooperation is everywhere. I walked around today introducing my self around to your neighborhood. I saw smiles on everyone. No one had any…any complaints of any kind. Everyone thought it was a fair deal going on here. I looked at  your gardens, and spoke with H, your biologist, and she showed me some beautiful gardens that would shame most home gardeners. Mr Martinez, the tomato man, has the most beautiful tomatoes I have ever seen. I spoke to the washer lady, as you call her, by the way, her  name is Elena. Bennie, she absolutely loves you and your family. You should have seen the job she did on our uniforms.” He paused and took another puff, and a swig of Hefeweizen “when Bill and I were in that trunk, and heard the loud voices outside, and knowing you guys had weapons, we really thought we were dead. I am refreshed to know that there are still good guys out there.” He raised his beer, and we all clinked.

The Captain continued “Julie, Bill and I have to be leaving soon. Will you be joining us? Do you want us to take you somewhere?”

“I’d like to stay here for now, if it’s ok with all of you” she looked around at all of us…and Jim. We all nodded ok. “My dad’s ranch is up close to Hebbronville…that’s quite a walk from here..or drive” she said, and we saw her smile for the first time.

“Was your family ok when you left?” I asked.

“Yes” she said, “why?”

“Well, we’re going to be needing a place to hunt in the not too distant future. A ranch up that way could have some  nice game on it…deer, hogs, even some exotic stuff. We have vehicles to get there…if you’d think he’d ok it.”

“Oh, he’d ok it” she said with a lot of conviction. “He’s probably worried sick about me.”

“Does he have a satphone?” I asked. Eyes lit up all over the table.

“Yes he does, do you?” she asked, her excitement becoming evident.

“Lea!” I called “is the satphone charged?”

She was out the door with the phone before I finished my sentence. “Lea, please meet Julie. She’s joining our group today.”

Lea had a smile and a face that would make anyone feel welcome anywhere, anytime. Julie’s face lit up as well when they shook hands. Lea handed her the phone. “If you’d like some privacy, you could walk to the front” Lea pointed around the corner.

Julie got up…so did Jim, and they went to the front yard.

I took a drink of my still frosty beer. “Today was a good day” I said, looking around at the group at the table. “We made some new friends, probably saved some lives, and have once again proven that it’s better to be a good guy, than a bad guy. And if you’re a dog, it’s probably better to stay on the back porch these days.”

A few snickers. “I have to make light of bad things” I said “otherwise, I could not make it through the day.” I stopped for a minute and looked at the Captain.

“We have killed people almost every day since this started” I said, shaking my head. “I know the killing won’t stop for a while also.”
“You’re right, Bennie” said the Captain “these days will be very difficult, and there will be more to come. There has been a lot of killing across the state. Austin is nothing but a glowing cinder; as is San Antonio, and most all large cities, which has caused large scale evacuations from these areas. These evacuees are mostly all dead now from exposure, and yes, bad guys. You folks have dealt with the problems thrown at you, and you’ve done probably as good as I’ve seen. You’ll do fine if you stick together.”

He sat back, puffed his cigar, and continued “hell, if I could, I’d stay here myself. This is heaven to what I’ve seen in the past two weeks. I’ve seen a lot of the bad side of people, and we will see more in the future. Yes Bennie, your group will have to continue to kill to survive; plain and simple fact.”

He leaned over towards me “gimme your satphone, and I’ll plug my number into it. You and Army can always call me for anything, and I’ll do my damnedest to get it for you.” He stuck out his hand, and we shook, as did Army and Al.

Jim and Julie came back from the front. She handed me the satphone, and I handed it to the Captain.

She and Jim sat down, and she was saying “I spoke to my dad, and they’re fine. He said that you can hunt up there any time and all the game you want, as long as I get to go.”

We all laughed.

She continued “he’s got a huge workshop, lots of food stored, water wells, septic system, and lots of stuff I don’t understand. He had vehicles that run too, and he’s got underground gasoline tanks, motorcycles, lots of guns…” she stopped because I held up my hand.

“All in favor of moving to Julie’s dad’s house, raise their hand” I said jokingly, and the rest laughed as well.

“Is there a pool?” I asked.

The crowd laughed again.
“As a matter of fact there is” Julie said, still laughing as did the rest of us.

The Captain was rubbing tears from his eyes.

Lea came out with her hands on her hips and said “what’s so funny?”

I said, “we’re all moving to Julie’s dad’s ranch” and the crowd went off again.

“Does it have a pool?” she asked innocently, and the crowd went again.

I managed to blurt out in between sobs “as a matter of fact, it does!”

That was it. We all went off into hysterialand for a couple of minutes.

“Whew!” I said “that felt good!”

“Julie, you just help yourself to the phone, and keep in touch with your dad. Put his number in it, so we’ll know who it is.”

I sat back and finished the last of my beer. “I’ll bet that the kitchen ladies have some lunch going by now” I said, and stood up. “I think I could eat.”

The rest pretty much followed. “I’ve been looking forward to this” said the Captain. We ventured around the corner of the house, and over to the kitchen.

“You won’t be disappointed” I told him. We had gotten there late, you know, being out on extreme perimeter duty and all, so a lot of the crowd had gone. The ladies were very curious about information from the north, and the captain was only too glad to share.

The Captain and Bill had the joy of yet another meal from the group that day. The Captain threatened to take Brandi home because of her wonderful beans. Then he wanted Brandi and Margret, as it was Margret’s bread recipe that is so good.

It seemed like it had been a while since I had actually sat down and ate at the kitchen. Even Marie, Jake, and Teresa  joined us for a bit.

Jake asked me kinda privately “you did say you cleaned up the…ahem…mess at our house?”

“Yes, the best I could. There’s no blood left, if that’s what your asking. I changed the sheets too, and took those to the washer lady. I took a once-through and saw nothing else that I felt needed to be cleaned. It should be fine, Jake.”

“Thanks, Bennie. We will probably go back this evening” he said.

“We were talking earlier about getting your input for a nest. Army thinks that time may be near that we may need to implement at least a full time lookout. You might want to load some rounds and get ready.”

He nodded and said “I’ll get right on that, and I’ll be checking in with Army tomorrow to see how he wants to do this.”

“Great!” I smiled “how is Teresa? I was kind of worried about her in the beginning after we brought her to the infirmary.”

“She seems to be fine” he answered, a little concerned. “She has not discussed the incident at all, and that bothers me a little.” He looked at me “we’ll have to take it day by day.”

“I was under the impression that she did not want anything to do with anyone else except you” I told him. “She hasn’t spoken to any man except you. I’m no doctor…just observing. I hope she feels better when she gets home.”

He nodded and said “me too.”

Teresa walked up with her plate, and sat next to Jake. She probably just needs time to work through what happened. Maybe some social interaction is what she needs. You can’t fix everyone, Bennie. I know, but if she freaks out when Jake is on sniper duty, it could be dangerous for all of us. That is pure conjecture.

I finished my bread and beans, without stuffing myself too full, tempting as it was.

I saw Frank heading over to the kitchen, and I waved him down. “Frank” I said shaking his hand, “I’ve got a project and I need your backhoe skills.”

He smiled and said “I heard you were going to be doing some mods on the ditch bank. Is there a plan?”

A fair question, and an intelligent one.

“I certainly do” I replied pulling out my crude sketch from earlier today. “Art was never a strong suit for me” I added sheepishly.

“Neither is handwriting” he said with a laugh.

I showed him what we were trying to do. I furthered my explanation by adding “we don’t even need the hole to go all the way to the edge of the ditch. Leave maybe 2 feet on the ditch side, and same on the fence side. The hole should be deep enough to keep any vehicle from accessing that road. The same on the Trailblazer end.”

He studied it for a couple minutes, then nodded saying “Yep, that’s very doable. When do you want to start?”

“Tomorrow morning” I answered “come on over to Al’s just after sunup, and we’ll treat you to breakfast. We’ll have a crew to help with the digging and guard duty.”

“I’ll be there” he said with a smile, and headed to the ‘buffet’.

Jim and Julie were all nestled together off by themselves. Good for them.

Mandy was sitting off by herself so I went over to her and sat down. “How’s your shoulder?” I asked her.

“It  hurts” she answered. “I showed it to Marie, and it wasn’t bleeding or anything, it’s just sore” she dipped her bread into the beans.

“Well, at least now you know for sure” I told her “you can still pull duty if you feel like it. We’ll need some guards in the morning for the ditch project. I’ll be there to help dig too” I looked around intentionally side to side “don’t let Marie know” I pointed to her, then me, then her, then me “our secret.”

She smiled.

“Besides, it’ll be shady in the morning. If we can get started right after breakfast, we should be done by the time the sun gets to noon, and then Jim is going to show us how to string barb wire.”

“If he can break loose from his new girlfriend” Mandy said with just a little bit of disgust in her voice.

“Amanda Lynn” I said just like a dad would “I’m surprised at you. Why would you say something like that about someone you don’t know?”

I paused for a minute to let her explain. I think I heard a little sniffle, but I wasn’t sure. “I like Jim” she said, almost choking.

“I like him too” I said “he’s a great guy.”

She looked annoyed. I swear, I had never seen her like this,  nor thought it possible. “I mean really like him…”

“Did you tell him?” I asked.

“No, nice girls don’t do that” she replied “that’s what my mom used to say.”

“There are other ways” I told her.

“How?”

“Well, you could have hung around him  more..ask him how to do things. Mandy, the men here have a lot of respect for you. When the right guy comes along, you’ll both know it. Talk to some of your friends here. Talk to Lea about our story. We waited a very long time.”

I did not want to get to lecture mode, but rather, nurture mode.

“Jim is too old for you” I continued “but he’s not old. Personally, I think more than ten years age difference is too much. What about that young trooper Bill? He’d be a good catch.”

“Did  you see the wedding band?” she snapped.

“What is it Mandy? Are you looking for a permanent relationship right now? Are you going to be grumpy about it if you don’t connect with someone right away? You are still very young. Please give yourself a chance to be by yourself, to learn who you really are, and blend in with the community. Everyone’s lives have changed so very much since the burst. Most people are wondering if they will survive all this.  You are a beautiful young woman, and have everything going for you.” I kissed her on the forehead, and stood up. “Please be patient.”

She smiled a forced smile and said “thanks dad. How did you know my real name?”

“Because if I had a daughter, I would have named her Amanda Lynn” I told her without hesitation.

She jumped up and hugged me like it was her last day on earth. “Where’s my family?” she was crying now.

“I don’t know, baby” I answered, and paused for a minute to let her get out the tears.

“It’s quite possible, that they’re ok, and trying to get home to you. Your dad is quite clever, from what I saw.” I patted her as I spoke. “After all, he taught you everything you know. In his own way, he taught you to take care of yourself. He taught you to shoot well, and a large part of that ability is self-confidence. He taught you to be tough, without even trying. You are the way you are because of him. Besides, you did leave them a note telling them where you are. If they make their way home, they’ll find you.” I nodded with my own self-assurance.

She had stopped crying, put her glasses on top of her head,and was wiping her tears away on her t-shirt. I reached into my pocket, pulled out my Kleenex stash, and gave her a couple.

She finished wiping her eyes, and asked “do you really think they’re ok?”

I leaned over to her and said “I have every reason to believe so. Anything is possible.” I gestured around behind, only to see that most of the crowd had quieted, and was listening to our conversation.

“Never give up hope, Mandy; never” I told her.

“K” she said.

I gave her another hug, and asked “can I count on you to walk sentry tomorrow while we’re digging?”

She smiled her usual smile “you bet, dad.”

She finished her last bite of food, and tossed her stuff into the trash barrel.

I walked over to the kitchen ladies and asked them “do you ladies have everything you need? Your cooking sure makes a lot of people happy.”

They all started talking at once, and when they decided to speak one at a time, Jenna answered first “Bennie, we have everything we need, and we love doing this” she said with a smile.

“Me too” said Margret. “The Captain said he was going to requisition myself and Brandi” she said giggling.

I put on my deadpan face “I can’t let that happen.”

They didn’t buy it, as they all giggled together.

“Do you have plenty of supplies?” I continued drilling them “is there anything you are running out of?”

All three stopped for a few seconds, and I could see the wheels turning.

Brandi said “I can’t think of anything we need. We have plenty of everything” she looked at her sisters, and they all shook their heads no.

“What’s wrong with Mandy?” asked Jenna. “She’s usually so stoic.”

I thought for a minute to put my words together carefully. “She’s feeling a little lonely, and some worry about her folks” I started. “This whole thing is like a camping trip for Mandy, and she’s starting to understand that it’s for real.”

“You gave her some sound advice” said Jenna “just like a dad would.” She smiled. “We all love her…and you’re right in that she’s like a child sometimes. I don’t think I would have handled it any different, Bennie. I’ve got three myself, you know…” her voice trailed off to hoarseness.

“I know your children” I said to her softly “they are wonderful. You and Robby did a great job with them. I’m proud to know them” I stood up straight, looked Jenna in the eye and nodded.

“RC to Eagle1” my radio went off.

“Excuse me ladies” I said, as I walked away, smiling.

“Go ahead”

“DPS are leaving from main gate”

“On my way” and I headed to the main gate.

I walked quickly, as I didn’t want them waiting on me.

The troopers certainly had sharp-looking uniforms. The Captain was right: the creases were very sharp.
They were indeed, waiting for me.

Captain Hodges was the first to speak. He walked to me as I approached, sticking out his hand “Bennie, you’re the Peacekeeper here. I see how you talk to people, and keep your neighbors sane. You’re a good man, and the Texas Department of Public Safety will be available for when you need. Thanks for all you’ve done for us.”

“Captain, I am honored at your kind words. Please thank everyone here for helping you guys out. It’s a team effort, and we have a great team.”

I shook hands with trooper Bill as well. “Good luck to you trooper. Feel free to stop by anytime you’re in the ‘hood. We’ve always got breakfast at Al’s. You two have a permanent invitation.”

“We’ll probably take you up on that” said Bill with a smile. “I haven’t eaten so good in a long time.”

They both made their rounds, and got into the car. Army had given them an extra 5 gallons of gas…interceptor you know.

We all kinda stood there watching as they drove away.

It kinda reminded me of my next door neighbors, when Al and I were little; Jimmy and John who were patiently waiting for the milkman so they could buy ice cream, one hot summer morning. Apparently, they had gone inside for just a moment…long enough for the milkman to stop, make his delivery, and drive off again. Jimmy and John ran outside as the truck pulled away down the street. Jimmy held up is hand and yelled “stop! stop!”

The truck kept on going.

John turned towards us and began to cry.

Jimmy just watched as the truck drove off.

Funny how things click in your head to take you back 50 years…like listening to Cat Stevens..

We just stood in silence, and watched our new friends drive away.

CHAPTER FORTY-THREE

I was first to turn and walk back up the street. I stopped at the kitchen to see if I could bum some bread and tortillas for breakfast. They ladies were always so accommodating.

“Whatcha got there?” asked Al, as he walked up beside me.

“Just some stuff for  breakfast” I answered “I told Frank we’d feed him in the morning when we get started on the ditch.”

“Excuse me?” it was Marie.

Dang! Busted! I shook my head and winced. We turned and there she was, standing with her hands on her hips. “You’ll have to come see me before you go digging” she said. “We’ll see how your wound is healing” she said kinda bossy like, which was certainly better than being chewed out.

“OK, I’ll be over directly” I said with a smile, holding up my goodies, heading once again to Al’s house.

Al met my pace and said, “that coulda been a whole lot worse, you know.”

“I know” I said “I fully expected a full-blown ass-chewin’ that time; probably because I would have deserved it. I know better than to push it.”

We arrived around the back of Al’s, and I unloaded the stuff on the table, explaining to Lea what it was for, and I had to go to the infirmary to get an ok from Marie…

I went back to the infirmary, and met Army, Jim, and Julie.

“Got busted didn’t ya?” said Army. “Marie caught wind of your plans huh?”

“It’s for the best” I answered and continued “I sure don’t want to get like I was last week. I’d rather get an ok or a re-bandage than to go through that again. I’ll see you guys in a while.” I kept on toward the infirmary.

Marie was waiting when I entered. She had me remove my vest and shirt, and asked a bunch of general questions about how I was feeling, sleeping, eating…were the stitches hurting? etc.

I just said that I felt fine, and ate well, and I slept well, and I hadn’t been in any pain.

She put on a fresh bandage, and wrapped it tightly around my chest. She waggled her finger at me saying “You still need to take it easy. You’re almost healed, but there is a little blood yet on the wound, and that tells me that you’re pushing just a little. Don’t use your pick tomorrow, use a shovel…very sparingly…come see me when you’re done, or you start to bleed…I  hope you use common sense and take care of yourself. Don’t work until you bleed..”

I cut her off. “I got it Marie. I was really hoping I was ready to help, but obviously, that’s not the case. I will not dig, or use tools that require touching dirt until you give the ok. It still has to be done, and I’ll have to just sideline it still. I’m good with that. Thank you for caring. The rest of the guys will understand. I don’t want to go through again what happened last time.”

She gestured at my wound “you’ve done your time already.”

I smiled, jumped off the table, and put my shirt and vest back on. “I’m still taking my vitamins, and drink lots of water” I told her.

She smiled and said “OK then, my work is done for today.” She began packing up her bag, and we walked back to Al’s, chatting about Jim and Julie.

“They seem to be really close” I said. “I have read about the rescuer/victim syndrome, but I don’t think it applies here.”

We stopped at the foot of Al’s driveway, and she declared “I’m a little concerned about how she even got here. We haven’t heard any explanation about how she ended up in the DPS car. The troopers seemed to accept her as a victim as they were, but what if” she stopped and looked around, and her voice got really low “what if she was in on it?”

I stopped to think myself, because I had been curious too, to know how she ended up in the back seat of a state trooper’s car, with troopers in the trunk, and she not assaulted.

I nodded and said “I agree and will step up my caution meter.”

I didn’t like having secrets about other people. I feel very uneasy around said people; hence, I’ve never been good about keeping secrets, secret.

“Perhaps, Marie” I started “it would be better to ask and air our concerns, than to be suspicious.”

“Perhaps” she said, unconvinced. “I’ll let you handle it.”

I nodded, and we proceeded around the corner to the back.

“So, Bennie…what’s the word?” asked Army. “Are you fit for manual labor?”

I gave a weak smile “only in a supervisory capacity. I’m not 100% yet; besides the backhoe will do most of the work. Try as I might, Marie strongly suggested that I leave the shovels and picks for someone else, and to just carry firearms for now.” I shrugged. “It is what it is.”

I sat down, and someone handed me an ice cold brew. “Thanks” I said and fired up a smoke. “What’s been going on back here today? We had some excitement today huh?”

I took a long drink, accompanied by my traditional ahh!

No one was speaking, so I continued my sly pursuit of the truth. “I spoke with Frank, and he’ll be here early to start with the backhoe. If he’s lucky, he could finish up by noon, and not have the sun on him in the morning. Mandy agreed to help with the ‘digger patrol’. Any other volunteers?”

“I’ll help” said Al. “We were pretty good team today…and like Jim always says, wherever YOU go, action always follows; although I think he uses the term trouble, instead of action.”

“Thanks, Al” I said “reminds me of the old days on Saturday mornings. I’ll still need a patrol to watch the other end until it gets dug, and we get the barb wire up.”

Jim raised his beer to me and said “you can always count on me, buddy” he said with a smile.

“Yes I can, Jim” I said “thanks.”

“Hell, I could probably stand a couple of hours with you guys…and gal” Army said looking at Mandy. “I need to take a closer look at the west side anyway…it’s as good a time as any.”

“So, Julie” I startled her and continued “what’s your story? How was it that you ended up kidnapped by those two?”

She hesitated not one bit and answered “I lived close to McCook” she started “where I worked at one of the grain elevators when the burst hit. I had some food and water stored in the trailer where I lived, so I was ok for several days. My car wouldn’t start, so  I was walking to a friend’s down 490 to the east, when the state trooper’s car came up beside me. They opened the door sharply, and it knocked me down. They jumped out, and tied me up, and threw me in the back seat. They spent the next several hours talking about how they were going do all these things to me, and then sell me. This was last night. They drove around all night, and this morning…that’s when they ran out of gas, and you found us. I didn’t even know there were people in the trunk. These two never talked about them.”

I nodded and took a swig of my still cold beer, and took a drag from my smoke. I shook my head, and looked at the group. “What the hell is it my friends, that when society breaks down, that the men go after the women? Does anyone know why? I guess it really doesn’t matter why.”

“Julie, if you haven’t already been told, you are welcome to stay with us.” I raised my bottle in her direction, as did the rest of us, and she smiled. “Of course, if you decide, for whatever reason that you do not wish to stay here after a while, you will not be allowed to leave…for security reasons of course.” I didn’t laugh at this. It was kind of a test of character on her part.

“No, I’d like to stay. I am sure I’m better off here than in McCook” she said and continued “I can help with some patrolling, with proper training I could be a part of that. I am not  a stranger to the kitchen, and I know how to use tools…my dad taught me to work on cars. I am not afraid to use firearms.”

“Did you notice…I realize it was difficult being on the back seat…did you notice any other people around? Cars? roadblocks? If not, we may be able to make a run to your trailer and rescue some of your belongings, if there are things that you absolutely need…maybe.”

I continued “Hebbronville is around 81 miles from here, and her ranch is south…maybe 10-20 miles…McCook is 30 miles from here. With that in mind, her ranch could possibly be driven in one hour.”

“There are a lot of lonely roads after McCook to get to Julie Ranch, which could be problematic for travel. Even the road to McCook past Moorefield Road is a kind of low-life area.”

“You’re right” she said agreeing with me. “The ranch is south of the Border Patrol station several miles. I really don’t need anything out of my trailer…If we did get to the ranch later, I’d like to stop in and get some things.”
“What about your friends down the road? How are they making out?” I continued my interrogation.

“That’s why I went to check on them; with the phones out and all. They live east of Moorefield Road on 490. No, I didn’t notice any roadblocks or lots of travels. I figured I was safe with the DPS car…wrong! Those two just cruised around like they were on vacation or something. Do you think we might be able to check on my friends?”

No one said anything so I leaned over to her and said “Julie, we have folks right here in this house that have moms, dads, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, grammas, grampas right here in town, that we have made no effort to rescue.”

She thought for a minute and added “you might find this family useful. They are farmers, and I think he’s like an ex-marine or Navy seal, or Army Ranger, or something like that. He is retired military. His wife is my best friend. I know they’re still alive, and probably don’t need our help. That’s why I was heading over, to move in with them.”

“Did you not have a pack of some sort with clothes or food and water, in case they weren’t around? You just took off on a 5-6 mile hike with nothing?”

Jim interceded “Bennie, where are you going with this?”

“I just asked a question, Jim. She said she was going to move in with her friends, yet she left her trailer with nothing; not a bottle of water, not a Datrex bar, not a tampon, underwear, shirt, jeans, or shoes. It seems like something is missing, or is it just me?” I looked at the rest of them. “Not even a hat, shades…nothing; just the clothes on her back.”

Julie started to stammer a little “th-they ttook my pack, wwent through it, and tth-threw it out into the ditch.”

“Is that so unbelievable?” asked Jim. He was now standing up, and he gestured at her.

“Not unless she just made it up” I answered.

Now, his voice was obviously irritated. “So uh what do you propose happened?”

I was still calm “I’m just trying to find out how she got here. She’s very attractive, kidnapped by two men, who just tied her up? In my world, the average low-life would have his pants off before the car stopped, and they would have beaten her first before they had their way with her…multiple times.”

I looked at Julie, and Marie was at the screen door. “Where did the car door hit you, Julie when they knocked you down?”

“On my arm” she said, still shaken.

“Which one?” I continued.

“My right..no left” she knew she was breaking.

“Well, let’s see. If you’re walking down the right side of the road, and a car pulls up behind  you and knocks you down, then they would hit you on your left side, unless of course they pulled to the right of you and the driver’s door hit you and knocked you down, which would be your right arm. That would be some pretty fancy driving for a couple of half-witted country boys.”

I looked up at Marie. “Did you see any injuries on her that would be consistent with her account?”

No one noticed her in the doorway, and looked up at her waiting for her answer.

“No, I didn’t” she answered immediately.

“This supposedly happened last night, and you don’t have a scratch on you, according to Marie” I went on.

“Everything I said is true” Julie was adamant.

“Looks like it’s just her word” said Jim, arms now folded across his chest. “What will you do next?”

I stood up, “oh, I know how to disprove her story, or at least cast more doubt on it.”

Army now stood up, holding his hands up saying “what are we doing here?” He looked at me “Bennie?”

I looked at Army and said “Are you telling me that you believe her story? Army?”

I left it at that, and the group was silent until he answered “I must admit, there are holes in her story. How will you disprove it?” His look was dead serious.

“I’ll call Captain Hodges” I answered, heading for the satphone.

“What’ll that prove?” asked Jim, his voice rising.

Still calm I said to Jim “My guess is this: Julie, Dipshit, and Shitferbrains jumped the DPS car. The troopers never saw her, as the ambush was at night. One of them flagged down the troopers, and the other whacked the Captain, then overpowered trooper Nichols. I don’t know what their plan was, after that, but running out of gas certainly threw a huge wrench into their plan.”

Marie came out and said “the satphone is missing.”

“Well, I think that pretty much nails my case shut” I said.

Nobody moved, or said a word. Jim was now casting different looks at Julie.

“All right, let’s all just stay here for a minute” I said as I pulled Al aside. I whispered to him “get AJ’s satphone and call mine.”

He nodded and left quickly. “We’ll have this settled in a couple minutes” I said “in the meantime, everyone just be cool.”

I was thinking that AJ was on patrol, and Rhonda didn’t know where it was, so they had to break him out of rover patrol to get the info to Al on where the phone was.

After what seemed like two lifetimes, I heard the ring of the satphone coming from Julie’s ass. It was Jim that yanked her up, and practically ripped the phone from her jeans; pocket and all. He answered it “hi Al. We found our traitor” and hung up.

I have heard women swear before, but I have never heard even a man say the expletives that came from her mouth as Jim tied her hands behind her back. I didn’t even have to suggest to gag her, as Jim took care of that with some duct tape; accompanied by a small piece of cloth diaper that we used to wipe off the table. He wasn’t being nice about it either.

Damn! I hate being right all the time.

Al showed up, and was surprised to see what was going on.

“Load her into the truck” I said. “Looks like the day ain’t over yet.”

Jim manhandled her to the front of Al’s, and roughly dragged her into the back. I drove, and Army stayed at Al’s. Al accompanied Jim in the back, and we headed to the field once again.

As we drove over, I was thinking that no one said a word about what had to be done. We knew she had to be executed for our own safety. Executing bad guys was getting to be a comfortable habit. I don’t really know if it bothered me or not, but the words were there, in my head.

We pulled up to the field, and Jim had her out of the truck before it was in Park. The bodies from earlier were still smoking. Jim dragged her over them, and stood her in the middle of the ever growing pile of skeletons.

Jim was eager to kill.

I held my hand up and said “due to the fact that we are now under martial law, and you have been determined guilty of sedition, and accomplice to crimes against persons, you are hereby sentenced to death. Her eyes got really big. Jim backed away, I pulled out Ol’ Blue, and let her have it between the eyes. Jim did the honors of the burning.

It was almost dark, and there were people out watching us. We paid them no never mind, and drove straight back to Al’s, where Army already had the Crown ready to pour.

.

CHAPTER FORTY-FOUR

Al, Jim, and I sat down, and I asked the ladies to leave us alone briefly. We got no back talk this time.

I held up my glass, and said “we are all in this together guys. Let’s put this behind us, and move on.” We all toasted; Jim hesitated, then clinked as well.
We all took a long drink, then Jim spoke.

“I am so embarrassed for myself today. I was like a schoolboy in love.” He was not looking at anyone in particular, then he looked at me and said “Bennie, I was ready to kill you when you were attacking her…but you knew that didn’t you?”

I nodded, said nothing, and took another drink.

“Why did you keep on, knowing how I felt?” asked with sincerity.

“I took a chance on the Jim I knew” I started “you have a very logical mind. I played that part of you would overrun your infatuation, and it did thanks to Army. I was losing some credibility until Army put in his two cents, which was all I needed to sway the crowd. She didn’t back down one bit, and held on to the end. She didn’t count on us having another satphone; bad planning on her part. I would have demanded a search of her, had we not had the extra phone.”

Army held up his glass and said “a toast to detective Bennie, the Great Interrogator” with a smile, and a few laughs followed.

“When did you start being suspicious?” asked Army.

“No backpack from home…nothing” I started “c’mon man! Women can’t go to 7-11 for a Coke without makeup, perfume, purse, wallet, you get the picture.”

I looked at the ladies, who were watching from inside, and held my hands up defensively “no offense intended ladies.”

“Then she pushed about going to her friends’ house. That might be useful info to get to the Deputy or Captain. Then there was the actual no injury door slam thingy that didn’t fit either.”

Marie, Lea, and Mandy came out from the house, and sat down. Mandy sat next to Jim. Marie was chatting about how women’s intuition came into play. “I didn’t like her from the get go” Marie said…she even poured a little shot of Crown, as did Lea and Mandy. “When I examined her, she was just dirty. She had no real injuries to speak of, which just fueled my suspicions. I spoke to Bennie about it and he also saw some inconsistencies in her story. Besides, she had the ugliest tattoo I ever saw; it was a skull piratey thing that said ‘NEXT?’ It was on her upper, inner, left thigh.

“Quite frankly, I wouldn’t have pursued it all, if Marie hadn’t mentioned that we were thinking along the same track” I started again. “If I’d have known about the tattoo, my suspicions would have been aroused earlier.”

The crowd laughed a little.

“Who can say who she was really in contact with? Maybe ‘her dad’ was really  Big Daddy of some biker gang…who knows?  She must have had some kind of plan…we’ll never know. I say we just have some drinks, forget it, and start a new day tomorrow, because gosh knows, we have a lot of work yet to do.”

I took another drink of the fine Crown Royal, and just enjoyed it. Al lit up a cigar, and it was like yesterday. Good thing. Sometimes, a man gets involved with a woman, can’t get over it soon…the longer the relationship, the more difficult it is; for one or the other. A 10 hour relationship? Prolly no permanent damage at all. Hopefully, Jim will be over it by morning.

We sat in silence for a little while, drinking and making small talk about tomorrow’s tasks. The thought of the ever growing problem of other people starving, and what they would do to get food, hung in the back of my mind…and hopefully, everyone else’s.

I allowed them to think about that some, and then I had a new completely different thought, which I shared. “I want to remind you about diversions. Specifically, children. I  have read where the powers that be will send a cute little child into a compound, gather intel, take it back to the Boss, and then they attack with much knowledge of their compound. Pass that to your sentries, if  you haven’t already please. The rule is, we let no one in without ok, and they are guarded until then; unless we know them like the Deputy or such.”

“And now a subject that no one wants to talk about, but everyone thinks about.” I started and everyone got quiet. “As we all know, we’re going to start seeing people wandering the neighborhood streets looking for food. We’ll see people that want us to let them in our hood. There will be people who will want to join our group. We will see the beginning of starvation, and that is what I want to discuss. What is our plan? Do we turn everyone away looking for food? Do we shoot people who try to enter our barricades? Do we cut down crowds of people trying to get in? We have to establish a policy quickly and stick to it forever. This is open for discussion to all. Anyone?”

Marie started in, (as I knew she would) “I think that we are not beyond being charitable. We have fresh made food every day here, and I think we can certainly share some of it. There seems to be a lot of food in our storage, more than we need to last until the harvest.”

It was silent for a moment, then Army kicked in “if it was up to me, I’d say no, and I’ll tell you why. Bennie already mentioned that we’d have people actually staying outside our perimeter, waiting for the food train to run by. They won’t have latrines, and they will be crapping on the street. We do not have an unlimited water supply here. What we have is what we have. We are mostly dependent on rain for water at this point, and if you recall, we are in the most severe drought in over 50 years. We cannot spare any to outsiders. We cannot take in new people off the street, unless they demonstrate some extremely useful talent, that which I am unable to think of at this point.” He gestured towards Mandy for point of fact.

He poured another drink, as did I.

Jim was next to speak up “I gotta agree with Army. Personally, I have a lot of food stored at my house, and I did not spend all that money, time, and effort to give it away to others. I worked at prepping for years, and I did it for my own survival. Sorry, I’m keeping what’s mine, and I’ll move it back home, if it comes to that.” He finished his glass, and poured another.

I spoke up again “I hear what  you guys are saying, and I agree with you. I spent years and money as well, and I did not do that to give it away. I guess the question that remains is this: would you kill someone rather than give them a bottle of water, a can of beans and a slice of bread? This is the question that I posed earlier, and we have dodged it.”

I left it on the floor for now, then added “we’ll need to decide in the next day or two, as we will see starving people very soon. If we start giving out food, word will spread, and then we will have to kill, thus negating our decision. I’m the first one to say, that I would have a hard time deciding either way. For myself, it would depend entirely on the circumstances. I know that’s kind of chickenshit, but it would be very difficult to make a blanket policy that would kill a little old lady asking for a bottle of water, the same as a gang of thugs trying to take it.”

I took a drink and let it sink in for a few minutes, all of which were quiet ones.

I continued “unless free trade opens up again, we have lots of things in storage that are finite…no more than what we have OK? I’ll name some off for you: flour, whole wheat flour, corn meal, sugar, brown sugar, honey, syrup, yeast, cornstarch, baking powder, baking soda, Bisquick; these are for starters. This is all I can think of right now, but there are more, I’m sure you could agree. We are not growing any wheat at all, nor do we have any whole kernel wheat; just ground into flour. I kinda like bread, don’t really want to give it away.

I stopped and took another drink, and lit up a smoke. No one said anything. “How about if we just rely on circumstances, and go with that for a while? We obviously cannot give cases and cases and bottles and loaves and such away.”

Army spoke up “OK, I think I get it. Roving gangs, to hell with them. Smaller groups, maybe a bottle of water, and some leftover bread? Something like that?”

“Yeah” I said “something like that. It’s vague for now, and it may be crystal clear in the next few days exactly what we are able to do.” I looked at all of them. “Does that sound like a fair start on our upcoming adventures?”

I looked at Marie. “Marie?” I said.

She sighed and said “I guess so. You guys are in charge.”

My tone raised a bit “OK, Marie. What do you want to do? Just give whomever food when they walk up and ask for it? Will you heat it up too? Are you willing to eat MREs every day for a month after we run out of food, waiting for the harvest? What food will you give away? How much do you have? I know I told you that my food is yours, but not to give away. Are you going to give away water too? How much water do you have? Will you make them bring their own containers? or will you give away our bottles, that we have worked and worked to keep sanitized? You’re going to have some stiff opposition if this is the stance you take. Perhaps you should walk perimeter and talk to the would be mooches, and face their logic; or their weapons. That is what you are asking others to do, by making your demand behind the gated walls of this community. How will you feel when AJ takes a bullet while getting bread for someone?”

“Have you ever calculated how many potential calories we have stored? Do you know how many calories the average human needs to survive on a daily basis? Why don’t you run some numbers, and see what  you come up with. I think you’ll be very surprised. And then what? What if the harvest is poor? A hurricane will wipe it out…the drought could wipe it out. And you want to give it all away, because you think there is ‘more than we need’? And what if there is ‘more than we need’? Do we give that away? so we break even? I had no idea you were so liberal, Marie.” I knew I had over spoke, but I was tired of her indirectly running my life.

I sat in silence after that. She was always like that. I’m sure Al will get an earful tonight.

I added one more line “If you want to “be charitable”, then you carry a .45 and walk the perimeter with your food with the rest of the sentries. Meet some folks who would like to do you harm because of what you have..” I was interrupted.

OK Bennie! I get it!” Marie’s voice could sure be shrill.

I leaned towards her “Oh yeah? What did you get? Please tell us!”

“That you guys would rather kill than share.”

“Holy fucking shit!” I said “you are a fucking liberal! And you’re the worst kind…You would give away what does not belong to you.”

“This discussion is closed for now. For the time being, discretionary tactics are to be used in each occurrence.” I put out my smoke, and pulled out another, but didn’t light it.

“This is not how I wanted to end this day” I said, shaking my head.

I looked at Marie. “Marie, we’ve known each other for almost 40 years, and we have never had harsh words between us…ever, that I can recall. I apologize for yelling at you and calling you names. That was very immature of me. I’m sorry, and I apologize to the rest of  you for acting like a child.” I looked at all of them. “I have no excuse for my actions. I love Marie like a sister, and she knows that.” I looked at her; and she was crying.

I stood up and walked around over to her where she stood up, sobbing against my shoulder. Everyone else was silent. I realized that I had a tear as well. I just hugged her for a  minute or so until she stopped. She pulled away, and sat down.

She started speaking, a little broken, but she went on “Of course, I know you people are right. We cannot give away our food to strangers, because so many here depend on it.” She stopped for a minute, and then continued. “I wish there was a way that we could help those that really need help.”

I spoke “I have an idea that might work out.”

Marie was intently listening.

“Go around to our community members, and see if you can get cash donations, and whatever you may have  yourself. If you get a substantial amount, I will take you to Sam’s myself, where you can purchase whatever foods you may wish to have ready for those not as fortunate as us.”
“Like what?” she said.

“Well, you could buy flour for bread; maybe some sugar, some bottled water, yeast, pintos…you know, just basic foods that can easily be carried..that would be up to you. I’m sure the kitchen witches would be happy to keep a few loaves of bread around extra for homeless. Sourdough bread would be easy, and inexpensive to make and keep…just an idea. They always have extra, and then make more the following day.”

She smiled “Thank you Bennie” I could tell she was pleased. “I like that idea, and I’ll see what I can get done tomorrow.”

With that, she got up, said her good-nights, and went in with a smile. Lea did same, kissed me good-night and asked “I assume you’re sleeping out here?”

“Yes, my love. Perimeter security and all that nonsense.” She too, went inside.

I was shocked to see Mandy pour another shot of the Crown. I shrugged, and did same, as did the rest of us, and I lit my smoke that I had pulled out earlier.

I sighed. “I’ll probably regret this in the morning” and I took a long sip of the fine Canadian whiskey.

“Here’s to hoping that we have no uninvited guests this evening” I help up my glass, and Army said “here here.”

Al said “you know Bennie, you’re right about the food.”

“I was hoping so” I answered “Sam’s might not be open tomorrow, or ever again. We’re sitting pretty right now, with respect to food. I’d hate to see it compromised. Most of us spent our last cash on what we have. I’d kind of like to hang on to it, and it seems to be the general consensus here.”

The rest nodded; even Mandy, who was sitting sideways now with a crooked smile.

“Mandy” I said to her. “Some free advice of which I will also heed this evening about drinking straight whiskey. Before you go to bed, make sure you pee, and drink an entire bottle of water. If you have aspirin handy, take a couple of those also.”

“Why?” she asked.

“I have always followed the theory that 1 ounce of alcohol requires 8 ounces of water to successfully digest. If you don’t have enough water in your system, you will wake up with a hangover headache. There are few things in this life worse than a hangover…very few. Am I right guys?”

“Damn right” said Jim. The rest nodded.

“The rest of us right now are dancin’ with the devil because in addition to our straight Crown Royal, which Army has so very generously been donating, we had beers earlier. That can be almost a guaranteed hangover. Drink water, take aspirin, migraine medicine if you have it. You may feel like a sloth, but you won’t have a hangover. I cannot emphasize this enough. A hangover will ruin your day; I promise. End of free advice. The ice chest is over there. I urge all of you to partake of water at bedtime, which for me, will be when I finish this last drink. I must say thanks to Army for his generosity with the Crown.” I nodded to him.

He smiled and said “I’m glad you guys like this. I have quite a bit stashed, along with some nice bourbon.”

“When the weather cools down this winter” I started “I’ll brew some German wheat  homebrew. I’ve got enough to make over 100 gallons. I’ve also got some wine kits to make some 40 gallons of wine. So you better keep me alive.”

They all laughed. Laughter is the best medicine.

Al had already had his water in hand, as did Mandy. As we finished our drinks, we moved the table, and set up cots. I found my pack and pulled out my now rare, OTC migraine meds and gave everyone two.

We all finished our waters, took our respective turns at the latrine, or the side of the yard and went to sleep. I heard Mandy go inside, and lay down on the couch. I made a mental note to get up and start breakfast.

CHAPTER FORTY-FIVE

As expected, the morning came earlier than I would have liked, but no hangover. I hit the latrine, and went inside to start coffee. It was just dawn. I cleaned my hands, and started bacon on the the other burner on the Coleman stove. I returned to the sea of snores, put my cot away, and started the Volcano stove. The rest of the guys were now stirring. The smell of cooking bacon causes that.

By the time the Volcano had taken off, I had the cast iron skillet heating up, waiting for toast.
The first pot of coffee went into the carafe, and I started the next one. Marie had gotten up and I made sure she had a cup of coffee.

I was surprised that Frank had not shown up, but that gave us more time to prepare. I hated working under pressure.

“Main gate to RC”

“Go ahead”

“Deputy is on his way”

“10-4”

I had several pieces of toast done and had thrown on a few  more. The first pot of coffee was gone, and the third was on the stove. A pound and a half of bacon was almost done, and the eggs would follow. There were some leftover flour tortillas, and I heated those as well on the Volcano.

The deputy came in, and we had coffee waiting for him, as the guys talked about the events from yesterday.

I heard the backhoe pull to the side of the house, and Frank was soon at the table.

Being one of the cooks, I already had toast, bacon, and coffee, so I was content to stand, sip, and smoke while the rest chatted.

The sun was up now. Mandy was up, and no worse for wear. I guessed all the late night drinkers had survived without incident. I stood and watched as everyone ate and conversed.

“There’s been some really positive talk about your group since your rescue of the DPS troopers yesterday” said the Deputy. “Captain Hodges was really impressed with your operation and your people.”

“We were really impressed by him” I said from behind. “I’m refreshed to see such professionalism in such a high-positioned law enforcement officer…besides you of course.”

“Well, he went on about how he liked your people, and the way things are run. There has been talk” he stopped and looked at me “just talk of perhaps…PERHAPS setting up some kind of a substation here. It would be subsidized with provisions, and probably some officers that would operate separately, yet with your group to maintain some type of order out here.”

I looked at Army, and he looked at me; each of us waiting for the other to express a yay or nay or ask a question…something.

“That’s fine, Deputy” I said. “There’s me, and there’s God, OK? If these “additional officers” cause things to get dicey around here, I’m pulling the plug…if you get my drift.”

Army nodded and gave me a thumbs up sign.

The Deputy said “I reminded them of just that, and the substation probably would not even be within your boundaries. It’s just a hub of sorts for what little vehicles the sheriff, DPS, and local police may have. Right now, they have go all the way back to base for anything. If there was another location for these guys to do stuff like shift changes, gas up, so they wouldn’t all crowd the base stations, it would be beneficial to all.”

“Deputy” I started “I have grown to trust you without question. If you get a plan on how this would be implemented, we’d be happy to listen. They could even use the area that we don’t cover which is kind of in the horseshoe of the neighborhood, which we don’t cover well, as it’s a little isolated.”

He thought for a minute and said “Bennie, that’s a great idea. Carla says that most of those homes are abandoned anyway. They wouldn’t be in your way at all. There are some really good men out there right now.”

“What about the rest of them that aren’t good?” I asked. “I have certainly heard about rogue groups of LEOs starting their own coups.” I stopped as I knew he knew what I was talking about.

“You’re right, Bennie.”  The Deputy continued “I cannot and will not vouch for all of them, and you are right about cops going rogue. This is just in the planning stages now, and quite frankly, Captain Hodges wanted to be involved in its implementation as well, so there would be state troopers here as well.”

I nodded, and looked at Army, who seemed unwilling to make any display of emotion; positive or negative.

“The law enforcement communities are trying to organize their efforts together to help maintain the peace. Also, there will be allowances for food distribution at these substations as well.”

“Well that’s very interesting and coincidental that that is on the table Deputy, as we had a little heated discussion about just that very thing not 12 hours ago. If a central location is setup where food is distributed, then that will draw every low life in the area here; and they will park their lazy asses HERE…where will they sleep? on the street. Where will they..they..crap? on the street…what will they do in between waiting for food? hang out on the street. We won’t tolerate that. Food distribution will have to be somewhere else.”

“Hmm, that’s a good point, and that’s why we’re talking to you first” he answered as he jotted down some notes. He really is listening.

“Deputy” I started “I speak for all of us when I say that the substation is a good idea. We will not tolerate any…any interference from them. That would be construed as insurgence. I’m just making our position clear, sir.”

That got a nod from Army.

“Gotcha, Bennie.” He said “Captain Hodges wanted to talk to you and Army himself about the possibilities. He seemed very excited about it.”

I just said, “you know where to find us. We’re always willing to talk.”

He stood up, smiled, shook my hand, and said “I always liked that about you people.”

“I gotta go” he said as he made the rounds with the so long handshakes.

“Yeah” I started “we’ve got a full morning ahead of us too. Always good to see you Alan” I said as he headed back to his car.

“Frank?” I said “I guess we played as much as we can.”

He laughed and said “thanks for the breakfast guys and gals” he added as he looked into the back. The ladies waved at  him. He patted his stomach “I feel like I’ve been over at the kitchen. Great food, and yes, I’m ready.”

“I have been given orders not to even go close to a shovel today.” I told  him. “Mandy and I will be watching  your six.”

“Not a problem” he said “I don’t think it’ll take very long…we should be done by noon easily…both ends” he smiled.

I opened the back gate at Al’s for him, and let him through with the backhoe. I pulled all the ‘alarms’ we had put up, and he headed south to Devlin for the first dig. I had my pack, but had no canteen.

“Mandy” I asked her as she scurried from behind, would you bring my canteen please? It’s by the ice chest.”

She nodded and went back for it. Army, Jim, and Al were headed north to Trailblazer, as I tried to catch up with Frank.

I brought my usual armament; the Mossberg, Ol’ Blue, and a 9mm Glock, with 3 extra mags.

By the time I reached Frank, he had already started. He used the blade to draw a rough outline of the plan, and it was exactly as I pictured. He had already dug several loads. He  pointed to where he was piling the dirt; on the north side of the dig. I gave him a thumbs up. This guy maybe needs to be more involved in the planning. He’s got some good common sense.

Mandy came up with her usual load; the BAR, who knows how many mags…prolly all of ’em, and her .45. She brought my canteen, and an extra bottle of water I assumed for Frank.
Frank started the hole about thirty-six inches from the back fence. With the hole ten feet long, and as wide as necessary to get it within a foot or so of the top of the ditch bank, it would be impossible for a vehicle to get through it, and with the dirt pile on the north side, it could make a good defensive position also.

Mandy and I walked around to the street, where we began our vigil. We alternated using the binoculars; practicing holding still with them, scanning slowly across an area, yet being able to spot details. My eyes weren’t so good, but she could see very well. She spotted a cat fight on the side of the ditch quite a ways down. I couldn’t see it even when she pointed it out.

The backhoe wasn’t really loud, but the sounds it made broke the stillness of the usually quiet morning. I wondered if it would attract attention; it did.

Mandy had the binoculars, and she spotted them first. She pointed and said “Dad, there’s people coming up the street.”

I keyed the mic “Eagle1 to RC”

“Go ahead”

“I got three individuals heading towards us from the west”

“10-4”

After a minute, Frank saw them too, and stopped.

“Keep digging Frank” I asked him “we’ll take care of this.” I was astonished at how much he had done. I tossed him the other bottle of water, and he continued.

As the group got closer, they turned out to be 2 men, and an older woman. They had packs, hats, and guns.

“They’re armed”

“10-4”

I had gotten into the habit of leaving a round in the chamber on everything I carried these days. Today was no different.

We watched them closely. Mandy looked at me, and opened a pouch in her pack; there were two more bottles of water in it. She just smiled and said “in case they’re thirsty.”

We kept our guns cradled as the strangers approached. They too, kept their guns in non-aggressive positions.

They got to the other side of the bridge and stopped. The taller guy yelled over “OK if we cross the bridge!?”

“It’s OK!” I yelled, and motioned them forward.

It looked like the tall guy had some type of hybrid AR, but I wasn’t sure. It had a huge magazine on it. The other guy had a Remington 870 shotgun; what I used to call riot shotgun; 9 shot mag. They all carried pistols. The woman did not have a rifle.

They got close enough to carry on conversation, and stopped.

“Good morning” said the tall guy.

“Good morning” I replied. “How are y’all today?”

He shouldered his rifle, took off his hat, and wiped the sweat. “Well, we’re doin’ all right considerin’ what’s happened. How about yourself?”

“Likewise” I answered.

He looked over my shoulder at Frank and asked “what’s he doin’?”

Without looking back, I said “he’s digging a hole wide enough so folks won’t go driving vehicles down behind us.”

He watched for a second, and the other guy asked “you are going to do the same at the other end?”

“Yes, friends” I said with a smile. “We just started this morning…one of those things that hang on the back burner ya know.”

“That should work” the second guy said “prolly not a lot of vehicles around though.”

“Nope, not a lot” I said “but it would just take one.”

He nodded “so you guys live around here?” asked the tall guy.
“Trying to” I answered.

“Could we trouble you for some water?” he asked.

I walked over behind Mandy, opened her pouch, and tossed the bottles to the guys, one at a time.

“Thanks, stranger” said the tall guy, as he opened the bottle and took a drink. The second guy opened his, and gave it to the woman for a drink. She smiled and said “thank you sir” and drank. The second man also drank and said “thank you.”

The tall guy was looking at the bottle and said “these still had the seals on them. Did you have these stored?”

“We got them at Sam’s the other day” I gestured behind me towards the store. “They’re still open, if you have cash..at least, they were still open a few days ago.”

They all took some long drinks. I still didn’t have a read on them, so I kept up my guard.

“I’m Ralph” the tall guy said, and he approached with his hand out. I shouldered the Mossberg, and shook his and “Bennie Barnes.”

Ralph was momentarily taken aback and then he said “Dirty Bennie?”

I shook my head with a smile “yes, some folks call me that.”

Ralph pointed to the other man “this is Denny, and my sister Lindsay.”

Denny came forward, as did Lindsay, and we all shook hands. We all relaxed our guard some.

Ralph gestured at Mandy and asked “who’s this?”

“My daughter Mandy” I answered. She just smiled.

“That’s a really nice Browning you have there, young lady” said Denny. “How does it shoot?”

“Very well actually” she answered. “It belonged to my dad.”

They looked confused, and I offered “we kind of adopted her since this whole thing began.”

The nodded and smiled.

“We appreciate your giving us some water” Ralph said “most people we have come across pretty much start yelling or shooting at us.”

“We like to give everyone a chance to be human here, before it comes to any type of aggression” I answered.

I heard the backhoe stop, and I turned and looked at Frank. “All done Bennie! Shall I go and head to the other side?”

“Sure, Frank” I answered “stop at the house, and take a break. Tell the ladies that we have some hungry guests.”

“Will do” and he turned his machine around and went back.

Army had taken up a position behind the dirt bank, and came out, weapon shouldered. “Everything ok?” he asked.

“Yep” I answered “I was going to invite these folks to the house for some food and water.”

“OK” he answered.

“If y’all are willing, we’d be glad to offer you a meal and some food and water” I told Ralph.

“I’d be a fool to pass that up Bennie, sure and thank you” he replied.

“I have one condition though” I continued “please remove your mags or empty them, and leave your bolts open.”

“OK, Bennie” Ralph said, and they all complied, without any hesitation.

I led the way, the rest followed, and Army brought up the rear.

“RC to  rovers”

“Go ahead’

“Request two of your sentries break off, and watch Centennial and Devlin until further notice.”

“10-4”

We headed north along the fence towards Al’s, and Ralph asked “are you folks guarding this entire fence line?”

Army answered “not the entire line is guarded by our group. The extreme north home and the extreme south are outside of our perimeter. What we did today helps all the rest of them…whether they need it or not.”

We arrived at Al’s, and we all entered. Marie and Lea had some left over breakfast set out with coffee, and our guests were not bashful about diving in.

Mandy went back out towards the north team where Frank was heading. Mandy had picked up some water bottles for the rest.

Army and I stayed behind to converse with our guests.

While they ate, Marie asked them of their general health, and that she was willing to give them exams if they had any complaints or ailments. They all seemed healthy, and weren’t really interested in being examined except for Lindsay, who didn’t overtly agree, but I saw her look at Marie with interest.

Ralph and Denny didn’t seem to interested in drinking a lot of coffee, so  more water was brought for them to wash down their breakfast. After twenty  minutes or so, they had slowed down to the point where they could talk.

“Man” Denny started while tapping his belly “that was the best meal I’ve had in three weeks” he nailed it with a small burp. “Excuse me” he said.

“Me too” said Ralph. “The beans and bread are absolutely delicious” he declared with a smile.

“The meal is some leftovers from yesterday’s kitchen meal” and I explained how the kitchen worked, as well as other things that I may have probably didn’t need to divulge so early in our friendship. They all listened intently, and nodded and oohed and ahhed at the way things worked.

Army piped in how the sentries worked; their shift, the rotations, and the rovers.

“Lindsay” Marie started “would you accompany me to the infirmary across the street? I’ll give you a once over, and see how you’re doing”

Lindsay smiled, nodded, and got up with Marie. They disappeared around the corner.

“You have contact  with the outside world?” asked Ralph.

I explained briefly about the Deputy, and his proximity to us.

Ralph nodded with approval and added “as I understand it, the county sheriff pretty much has all jurisdiction in this situation, unless they specifically request help from state or feds.”

“I’m pretty sure that’s correct” I said, agreeing with him. “We haven’t heard of any federal interest in our local predicament yet. I trust the Deputy will keep us informed.”

“So, what’s your story?” I asked Ralph.

Ralph started “we all lived in Mission, and worked for one of the hardware stores there for many years. After the burst, we got to work the best we could the first day, and the store stayed open for a while, until the bad guys starting coming in, and stealing stuff.”

Ralph looked at Denny, and Denny continued “Ralph moved in with us, as we lived a lot closer to the store. Lindsay’s job at the therapy place was obviously gone, so she was home by herself. We only went to work a couple more days after that, as the street people got really bad, and we had to arm ourselves. The last day, some guys broke into the house, and tried to…assault her, and she got rid of them with her 9 mil. She didn’t kill, but they ran right to the cops, and the cops showed up threatening to confiscate all our weapons. About that time, we heard this huge explosion from this direction, and the cops up and left.”

I looked at Army, and we smiled with a chuckle.

“We then gathered all we could, and went to Ralph’s place; quite a walk from where we were. We stayed there until the food ran out, a couple days ago. We’ve been heading east ever since. Walked over to Weir Road, then came north, and zigzagged our way to when we ran into you this morning.”

Ralph chimed in “why did you two laugh when he mentioned the explosion? That is probably why were not in jail; or worse.”

“The explosion you saw was the beginning of the battle of the white tees” Army explained. “Our group, at the ‘suggestion’ of the county, took those punks out.”

“How’d you folks like to stay here with us?” Army continued. “We need some more men with brains walking perimeter. We would find a house for you…you might be bunking with others. We’re needing some manpower for a couple of projects right now, that I think you could be of good use.”

“Sure” said Ralph. “We don’t mind working at all, and we’d be more than happy to move in and help out.”

They looked at each other and smiled. About that time, Lindsay and Marie came around the corner. Lindsay had some clean clothes, and looked like she had had sponge bath or something.

“Marie” I said “we have three new members” I gestured towards them. “Anybody seen H today?” I asked in general.

“She went over to Jake and Teresa’s to help with their garden” Marie answered.

Ralph interrupted, a little excited “not Jake from the university?”

“That’s him” I said. “Do you know him?”

“He’s our uncle” said Lindsay. “We knew he lived over here somewhere, but haven’t been to his new place.”

“Well, perhaps a visit will be in order. Maybe he’ll let you stay with them. Teresa went through a difficult time recently” and Marie explained Teresa’s general mental health.

“That’s ok” said Lindsay “I am a certified therapist, and besides that; Teresa likes me.”

“All right then” I said. “Let’s get them over there to have their little reunion. If, for whatever reason, you can’t stay with them, have H contact me and we’ll find another home. H is our census taker, and is in charge of helping the folks with their gardens.”

Ralph and Denny got up and started thanking us for the meal. A round of handshakes were in order, and Marie took them under her wing and headed out. “When you folks get settled in, We need some help running some concertina wire at the holes we just dug.”

“Will you be there?” asked Denny.

I raised my shirt and showed my stitches. “I am forbidden to use hand tools for another day or two, but I will be there with my other tool” and I tapped Ol’ Blue.

“How’d you get that?” asked Lindsay, walking closer towards me, looking very concerned.

“Battle of the white tees” I answered “this is one of the scars that shows.”

She looked right into my eyes, and said, “I can see you have a lot of sadness and anger inside you, Bennie. If you want to talk, let me know. I can help.”

And she turned and left with the others.

“I guess I’ll go check on the other hole, and then back to guard duty to the south” I told Army.

Army got up and started towards the front. “I think I’ll keep an eye on our new guests for a few minutes.”

I nodded, and we parted ways.

CHAPTER FORTY-SIX

When I arrived at the north end by Trailblazer, Frank was almost done. The rain we had recently apparently made a huge difference in digging the clay. He had done the same here as the other; the dirt from the hole was piled on the inside bank of the hole, giving some defensive protection if need be.

“We recruited some new people” I told Jim. “Two guys and a gal from Mission. They’re related to Jake and Teresa. I volunteered them for the concertina wire installation.”

“Good thinking” Jim said with a smile “sometimes, you remind me of Tom Sawyer.”

I laughed and said “I get that sometimes.”

“What’s your plan for the barb wire?”I asked out of pure curiosity.

“Well, we really don’t have enough to run the ‘concertina’ as  you put it. We would need 4 times as much, and maybe more to get that coiled look…which is very effective. We’ll be putting down some coils, but this stuff will only stop beginner bad guys. Army said he’d talk to the Deputy about getting some more wire for the entire back area along the ditch.”

I thought for a minute. “Could we, along the entire back of our perimeter, bust out a small section of fences in all yards in our group, so that sentries/patrols could freely move along the rear undetected? With a handsaw, a couple guys could knock that out in an hour or so. See how good I am about finding shit for other people to do?”

Al and Jim both laughed. “Yeah Bennie” Jim said after he caught his breath “that’s a good idea. Better than having the guys hit yard after yard…You know, lots of yards already have fences knocked out for garden extensions. I think you’re onto something there. We should look at all of them and see which ones aren’t opened between…those will be the ones to cut out a small section. We probably should discuss with Army for the folks to leave their gates open for sentry quicker access…in and out.”

I nodded in agreement. It was still before noon, and Frank was done. “Frank” I told him “you have relieved a great load from my shoulders. Please come by this evening for a couple of brews after the kitchen meal.” I looked around and said “hell, come on by right  now, and I’ll have one with you.”

I headed south back to Al’s, and Frank passed me by with anticipation. Al and Jim were not far behind. What is this…mid-June? late June? I could not longer remember. I just knew it was hot and still, and a cold beer would be good.

We arrived, and I didn’t make any bones about it, I was thirsty for beer. I passed them out to all who were interested. Seems like it was the same party we had last night.

I toasted Frank “Frank, with what you’ve done today, the folks living along the back here, can sleep a lot easier now, without having to worry about extra traffic immediately behind their homes. Thank you. A job well done.” I  held up my beer, as did the rest. Frank smiled proudly, and nodded with appreciation.

Here came Army, and the new guys. “What the hell is this?” Army asked. He looked at Frank “did Bennie talk you into this?”

“Actually, Bennie said to come over later this evening” Frank said “then changed his mind, and well, here we are. I reached into the chest, and passed beers to Army, Ralph, and Denny. They all scrounged around for some chairs, then introductions were made.

When Al and Ralph shook hands, it was obvious that they already knew each other from the old dirt-bikin’ days. Al and I used to ride the state circuit, but Ralph was before my time, although I had heard Al talk about him often. They carried on their own conversation for a while.

“What’s the word on Jake and Teresa?” I asked Army. “I was talking to Jake the other night, and he was going to move back home…seems like maybe it was yesterday…dunno.”

Army laughed “yes it was yesterday, and they did go back home. When Ralph and Lindsay showed up, it was like an old timey family reunion. Teresa was very happy to see them, as was Jake.”

Marie came around the corner, flashing a handful of cash. “Look, Bennie! You said you’d take me to Sam’s if I got some donations. I’m ready when you are.”

Jim jumped up, and left; more than likely to get some cash for beer. Geez, someday Sam’s will be closed. What will these guys do then? This is like a drawn out free for all.

I looked around for rescue. None. “How much cash do you have?” I asked her.

“I picked up $250 in donations this morning, and I have some cash stashed away that I will put in for a total of $400.”
“Do have a list ready?” I asked.

“I’ll get started” and she went inside.

“For those of you who are in the dark on this, Marie wants to make a Sam’s run to buy stuff to make food to give away to…those who are not as fortunate as us…shall we say. I told her I’d take her. It’s a good thing because I think we should fill all the gas cans while we still can, as well as the pickup. Anyone else who needs stuff, should get their cash to Marie…and of course any and all are welcome to go. This is all provided that they are still open.”

“We’d like to go and put stuff on the list” said Lindsay. “We have money.”

“Please talk to Marie and make any arrangements you need” I said. “They won’t let us take firearms inside, but our presence will keep the bad guys away. We’ll drop off Marie, and one person to shop, leave a few outside in the shade, and the rest will go fill up gas cans.”

“I heard Army talking about needing some more barb wire” said Ralph. “A friend of mine has a feed n seed store. He sells that type of stuff. I know he’s got barb wire.”

“Whereabouts is it?” I asked, although I had a general idea.

“It’s on Jennings Road, like a half mile from 495” he said.

“Yeah” I said “just south of 2 mile line. I know right where it is.”

Ralph went on “I just know he’s hunkered down there.”

“Would he have any chickens, do ya think?” I was curious.

“He might, if not he’s got connections all over that that kind of stuff. His store was one of the popular places for FFA students to hang out” Ralph added.

“Army, what do you think?” I asked. I could tell he was listening.

“I’d be interested in getting some wire, sure. Chickens, Bennie? What a great idea! I’m for it. Let’s do the Sam’s trip first, and see how that goes. If all is well, let’s do it!”

Jim came up, panting with a handful of cash, giving it to Marie. “Beer please. Five or six cases of the Hefewiezen. The rest is for you.” He must have given her five hundred dollars. “Oh, and some ice please, and whatever Bennie wants.”

“Thank you, Jim” she said with her dimply smile. She looked at me with her eyebrows raised “and you?”

I held up my pack of smokes “a carton of these please.”

She just shook her head.

“Hey, they relax me” I said, knowing it was a weak excuse.

Things came together quickly, and soon we were off. The gas cans that were empty were now in the trailer to be filled. The pickup would be used for food this trip.

Army drove, with Marie and Lindsay in the front. Jim, Al, Mandy, Ralph, Denny, and myself rode in the bed. All of us were armed, save for Marie. We drove to the front of the store, and it was dark and dead. A sign posted at the front door said that Sam’s was closed indefinitely.

There was no sign of life in the parking lot; we hadn’t noticed it was completely empty.

All this time we were like a bunch of boys building a fort, and running inside to get a glass of Kool-aid when we got thirsty. We’re on our own now. What were we thinking? I have to admit, I have eaten better in the past three weeks, than the preceding 3 months. I shall remember this moment.

We all sat there a moment, as I’m sure similar thoughts raced through the others heads.

“Let’s head back” I said, and Army turned around heading for home.

The trip back had much less excitement than the trip over. “Why not get over to Ralph’s friend at the feed-n-seed?” I suggested generally. “We’re already geared up, and full bellies, and we need that barb wire.”

We pulled up in front of the infirmary. Marie didn’t want to go. I could tell she was very disappointed. “Marie” I called over to her “we’ll figure out something to help the less fortunate.”

Forced a weak smile, and went into the infirmary.

“All who need to pee, do it now” I said “we’ll be out of radio range, so load up your mags…we’ll be on our own this trip.”

With that information, everyone jumped out, and scattered in all directions. “Take 10 minutes, and meet back here!” I called loudly, but most had already disappeared. I, too had to pee.

I remembered some Vermont maple syrup I had put into quart jars. I went and got one, and a couple small containers of Tupelo honey. I had specifically purchased these for barter. I also picked up a pint jar of baking soda, baking powder, bread yeast, 5 lbs of flour, and cornstarch. I boxed a few odd cans of food with that, and a couple bottles of water.

10 minutes later, everyone had showed up except Army, who arrived carrying an RPG.

“Good idea” I said. Everyone else had gotten their extra mags, which always gets attention from the others around, so we had a small crowd gather. I had Ol’ Blue, the Mossberg with alternating slugs and APRs, the 30-30, and a Glock 9mil.

Army was driving, Al riding shotgun, Jim, Mandy, Ralph, Denny, and myself in the bed. Lindsay had considered, but decided to stay back with Marie.

Army loaded the RPG, which Jim took command of. Army stood inside the cab, and tried to reassure all that it was mostly routine. “We’re going to make a short run to Jennings Road to get some barb wire, and try to trade for some chickens. Since Sam’s is now closed, we’ll need to rely on other sources for fresh meat, and we knew this was coming folks. We’ll be back in 30 minutes, if the place is closed, and longer if someone is home.”

He jumped in, and we left.

Ralph had said that their walk had not encountered any problems with hostiles. We drove west on Devlin to 23rd, south to Owens, then west to Jennings Road; about 2 miles from 23rd…maybe three. There was little change on the road,from our last joyride at the battle of the tees.

We turned south on Jennings road, and saw up ahead, the roadblock at the 2 mile line intersection. The feed-n-seed was no more than a couple hundred yards south. Al, and Jim were scoping out the roadblock with their binoculars. I have to remember to dig mine out of the camping equipment. I couldn’t see well, and Army had slowed. I couldn’t see anyone at the roadblock. It looked like they used railroad ties. Had we not the trailer, we could have just drove in the ditch around it to the west, as the ties only blocked the actual asphalt.

Army stopped about 50 yards before the intersection. I still saw no signs of activity.

I didn’t know whether or not the RPG had enough blast potential to take out the center of the ties. I did know this: railroad ties, when set afire, burn for a very, very long time with all the creosote they use to soak them in.

He opened the door as did Al “I don’t like it” said Army “but I can’t see any activity either.”

He looked at Ralph “any ideas?”

“Two teams of two persons east and west side of road for recon” he said, looking intently at the roadblock. I knew Army wanted to avoid a firefight to protect the truck radiator. The trailer made maneuvering much more difficult.

I jumped out “I’ll go. I used to work this area. I’ll take the west with Mandy…if that’s ok.”
Mandy jumped right down with a smile. She checked her BAR right after and said “ready.”

“Ralph, you and Al take the east side behind the convenience store, and work around towards the roadblock. Bennie, you two will be fully exposed…”

I held up my hand. “This subdivision has a gate here in the front; notice it’s open as it always is. We’ll go through, and around the first cross street past the first house, we’ll run south, where another street comes off of 2-mile. We’ll have excellent coverage.”

I pointed to the northwest corner of the intersection. “I’ll wave to you from there, and I’ll be able to see the other team as well. Then we’ll move in.” I looked at Jim “if you need to fire that thing, give us a  heads up will ya?” I said with a smile and Mandy and I took off across the street into the subdivision. It was a more difficult task with all the hardware. Just as well that Sam’s was closed, so I can now really quit smoking.

We ran through the gate, and around the corner to the right straight south past another house to the 2-mile. We stopped there and checked the traffic/activity east and west there…nothing. The roadblock was dead. We walked east to the corner of the subdivision, and I waved at the truck and the other team. I motioned to go, and we just ran across the street towards the roadblock. There was no one there. I few shotgun shell casings, and some 7.62 casings were scattered around. I saw no signs of blood. I waved the truck ahead, keeping all eyes out for hidden hostiles. We were able to tear down the west side of the roadblock with all of us pushing ties off, and dragging them to the front. The pickup was then able to get around the east side of the north bound lane which was wider at that point because it was a right-turn-only lane. Army pulled past, we piled in, and continued our journey.

The feed-n-seed had it’s gate closed; some type of heavy duty 3 inch pipe across the entrance to the lot. Ralph jumped out, and hopped the fence. “I’ll be back in a few minutes” he said, I see the garage door is cracked a foot or so. He does that when he’s working in the garage.” He smiled and took off across the parking lot.

The rest of us were watching in all directions. There was lots of would-be cover from the citrus orchards that surrounded the store, and the road on both sides. I was proud to see the rest of us in “watch mode”. No one spoke. All eyes were watching every angle around us.

I heard footsteps, and Ralph showed up with a string of keys, and unlocked the gate. “Is your friend ok?” I asked.

“It’s easier to see for  yourself” he said with a smile as he opened the gate, and cast a glance at Denny.

I don’t know if I can ever explain myself or how I am, but I have a really hard time trusting anyone, except immediate family. We are here at this strange place, at this stranger’s say-so. I have not seen anyone from inside. Denny seemed uninterested. The only thing that kept me from going into all-out paranoia, was the fact that we left Lindsay back at the ‘hood. Still…

Ralph motioned Army to drive in, and I jumped off the tailgate to the right, into the ditch, and lay on my belly. Ralph closed the gate, did not lock it, and followed the truck. I waited…I found a red ant bed. “A real test of your ability to keep quiet and still. At least I peed before I left. This is my reward.

The building to the immediate left was like a open air fruit stand. It backed up against a barb wire fence, with maybe just over a foot space between them. I decided to move fast, in case my absence was detected.

I crawled over the driveway, under the gate, and behind the fruit stand. I stood up, and squeezed myself between the barb wire, and the back of the fruit stand…more so against the fruit stand. I scared up a couple of rats that scurried off into the ditch.

I worked myself to the corner of the stand, and was looking at the north side of the garage. It had maybe a 24 inch square window. The pickup was empty.

The garage, from what I could tell, was a stand alone structure. Off to the west of the garage was a small shed; like a tool shed. Its door was open. To the west of that, was the store, and a warehouse or something attached on the west side. To the west of that, was the house, and a barn further behind that.

Not much time to think. Probably better to meet them head on, instead of trying to figure out what the inside of the garage looks like.

I moved on my original line, behind the garage to go around it. I walked carefully, slowly, each agonizing step twigs snapped, and dried grass rustled. I pressed on. I ducked low as there were two more windows facing the east. I could hear raised voices. I dared not look into the windows.

I got to the south side. The garage was large enough to house two cars, with a shop that was the size of a car stall. In effect, it was a three car garage. There was another building behind the tool shed; it looked like maybe a bunkhouse?

I moved around the corner to the south side of the garage, where there was another window. I removed my hat, and slowly rose up to look inside.

As I suspected, Ralph and Denny had the rest at gunpoint. I couldn’t see Jim. The bad guys were facing west. My friends were between me and the bad guys. There was an open door facing west, and part of a wall that would have blocked them seeing me round the corner. I chose to do that.

Just before I lowered from the window, I saw an older man move behind Ralph. Great, there’s three of them. I have to do something fast.

I lowered, checked the Glock for a round in the chamber; good. I had checked Ol’ Blue before we left.

I heard Mandy scream, and some commotion. I flattened against the wall, and Denny came outside dragging Mandy out of the garage, heading towards the bunkhouse. Denny was not armed. Mandy saw me, I pulled the Glock and showed her, I pulled Ol’ Blue and shot Denny in the right shoulder. As he spun and released Mandy, I tossed her the Glock. She caught it and put two rounds in Denny’s lower abdomen. I rushed the garage where Ralph was taking a bead on Mandy. I hit his hand with the .44. The older fellow wasn’t holding a gun; as a matter of fact, his hands were up. I gave the .44 to Jim, and went to check on Mandy.

She was madder than hell. Denny was bleeding to death in front of us. “Finish him!” I told her sternly. A quick round between the eyes took care of that.

I got Mandy and pulled her close, kissed her forehead, and headed back to the garage. Jim was holding Ralph at bay, who really wasn’t much trouble at this point, with a large part of his hand missing.

“I’ll take Ol’ Blue” I said to Jim, and he handed me the .44.

“Oh, that’s rich” said Ralph “named your gun after the kid’s gun in Christmas Story? That’s real mature.” He laughed.

I was reloading the two shots I had used as I approached him, and I swung the mighty .44, striking him on the side of his head. He fell over, still conscious.

“Ol’ Blue says hi” I said, finishing putting the shells in.

He said nothing.

“Nothing clever to say now?” I asked sarcastically.

Mandy, and the rest were picking up their firearms

“Who the hell is this?” I pointed the .44 at the older guy. “Is he armed? Has he been armed since you’ve been here?”

Army shook his head “I don’t think he was in on it, Bennie.”

“Dirty Bennie?” the third man asked.

“Yeah” Ralph said “he’s a real pussy cat, once you get to know him.”

I walked over, dragged Ralph out of the garage, threw his sorry ass onto the caliche driveway, and said “we are under martial law. For crimes of sedition, you are sentenced to death.”

I pulled Ol’ Blue and said “Ol’ Blue says bye.” He got it through the side of his head. I holstered the .44. He fell over in a heap.

“Now about the bitch we left behind with our wives and children?” I asked the old man.

The third guy said “she’s in on it too.”

“Yes, mister. I’m called Dirty Bennie sometimes, but Ralph was right; I really am a nice guy most of the time.”

“I’m Claude Weaver” he stuck out his hand “and I sure am glad to meet you people.”

He went around shaking everyone’s hand, and thanking everyone.

“Claude” I was asking “do you have any barb wire for sale? We made this trip specifically to you to trade.”

“You bet I do Bennie, and you can have all you want” he said with a smile.

“Would you by any chance have any chickens?” I asked.

He grinned with what teeth he had left “sure I do Bennie.”

“Then we’ll be doing some trading” I said. “Are you here alone?”

He whistled loudly. I guess having only seven front teeth does have its advantages.

A woman appeared at the door of the house, across the yard. He waved to her, and she headed over.

“Whatcha got to trade?” he asked eagerly.

Jim was already coming back from the truck with the box of goods.

His wife came up, white hair in a bun, wearing an apron “I’m Emma” she said, offering her hand to me. I took it and said “I’m Bennie Barnes, ma’am.”

Her eyes got big, but she didn’t say it. “What are guys bringin’ anyway?”

I told them what was in the box. When she heard all the baking ingredients she was like a kid in a candy store; almost  jumping up and down.

“Claude, we’re gonna eat like king and queen tonight” she was ecstatic. “I’m sorry boys” she said “we have lots of flour and other things, but the leavenin’ ingredients, we didn’t have any extra of those, and we thank you much.”

“Ma, they want some of our chickens, a rooster, and some barb wire” Claude continued.

“Well you just make sure they get whatever they want, and git ’em some chicken feed and some baby chick food too” she was very insistent.

“Easy Ma” he said “I’ll get them whatever they need” he laughed and said “y’all back your trailer to the barn, and we’ll get you fixed right up, yessirree.” He limped to the barn, and Army started the truck…the rest of us fell in behind. Mandy helped Emma with the box of goodies.

I heard Emma chatting with Mandy, as they headed back to the house.

Claude opened up the barn door all the way. It was a wall of barb wire, from floor to ceiling it seemed. “You boys just take whatever you want now, I don’t foresee selling any more for a while…just help yourselves, and I’ll round up some chickens for ye.”

In pairs, we started gathering up rolls of barb wire, and loading them into the trailer.
Claude came back with some feed sacks, that he chunked into the pickup bed. He turned to me and asked “what’s yer plans for the chickens? I mean y’all starting a coop for eggs?”

“We have around 75 folks that we’re trying to feed” I said “I’d like to see at least 60 laying hens as soon as we could to have fresh eggs every day.”

He nodded, pointed to some rolls of chicken wire, and returned around the back again. We continued loading barb wire, and filled the entire bottom of the trailer.

Claude came back with some more sacks chicken feed, and a book.

“You can feed the adults most anything” Claude started “bugs, cracked corn, weeds, grass, vegetables, whole grains, stuff like ‘at. Babies gotta eat chick food.” He held up the book. “This’ll help git you started” and handed it to me.

“Thanks, Claude this is exactly what we need.”

The guys had finished loading the wire, and Claude asked “you gonna just put the chicken in the trailer like that? That’ll probably be ok for the trip home. Be sure  you get ’em watered soon. The heat is bad for them without water. These chickens I’ll be bringin’ are all egg layers. You can keep a better eye on the eggs is you incubate them yourself. Hens can raise them ok, but if you get a bunch of hens, with a bunch of chicks, and a rooster mixed in, it can cause problems for the little guys.” He tapped on the book “it’s all in there.”

We were all silent for a minute and Claude said “would you boys be interested in tasting some homemade wine? Made it myself, and it turned out pretty dang good, even I do say so myself.”

“Claude, we’d be honored to sample some homemade wine” I told him.

He smiled and headed off to a secret corner of the barn, and returned with a large gallon crock, and a handful of Dixie cups. He poured eagerly some for everyone. He held up his glass and said “to new friends.”

“Here here” we all said and toasted and drank. Man, that was some very smooth stuff.

“Elderberry?” I asked him.

“If ye can taste what’s in it, then I’ve done something wrong” he said.

“That’s the best homemade wine I ever had” I said “and I make wine too…but nothing like this.”

Mandy and Emma approached, and Mandy with an armful of what looked like clothes. “Whatchagot there?” I asked.

Emma waved it off “I had these clothes that belonged to my daughter, and she was Mandy’s size. although if you men keep her playin’ army, the right man could never tell how pretty she is.” Mandy put the clothes in the front of the pickup.

“Geez, I forgot” I said slapping myself on the forehead “the dead guys.”

“What to you want to do with them, Claude?”
I had hardly finished the sentence when Claude interrupted and said “pigs will eat ’em.’

“What?” I said. “The pigs will eat ’em?”

“Hell yes” he said “it’s true what they say, pigs will eat anything, and everything.” He went into the barn, and wheeled out a four-wheeled dolly. The guys followed out to the dead guys. The bodies were loaded, and Claude headed around the other side of the barn, and I followed.

Sure enough, a pig pen. “I never even heard them” I said.

“One thing though” he said as we stopped at the side of the pigpen.”
“I know, we gotta undress ’em”

He chuckled as he sat up Ralph “done this before, have ya Bennie?”

I pulled off the shirt and replied “ain’t sayin’ I did, and I ain’t sayin I didn’t”

He laughed as we finished undressing the bodies and tossed them into the pen. “In a couple days” he started “won’t be a trace of them.”

We walked by a smoldering trash barrel, and he tossed the clothes in there.

“How the hell did you know Ralph?” I asked, as I was confused about what the hell went on today.

He stopped and sighed. “I knowed Ralph and his sister their whole lives” he started. “He worked for a good friend of mine that owned the hardware store. I could never really put my finger on it, but I always thought Ralph was just on the edge of doing something bad. Turns out, it was almost me!”

“What did he want with you?” I pressed.

“I’ll show you” and he led be around behind the house to another garage like building. He unlocked the door, and inside were two Studebakers; a 1962 Lark, and a 1955 Avanti. “They both run too” he said “like a bat out of hell. That Avanti will do better than 200 MPH top end.”

The paint jobs were totally unblemished. “They’re beautiful” I stammered “I had two Larks when I was a kid” I said “They were a different kind of car.”

“These were what he wanted to drive around.” He shook his head.

“What about the girl?” I pushed.

He was still shaking his head “I thought there was something  unnatural about those two. We’ll never know.” He looked directly at me and said “you’ll have to kill her too. She is just as devious as Ralph. If you left her with family, you’d better go back quietly, because she won’t die alone…I mean it.”

I put my left hand on his shoulder, and held out my right “Claude, you’re are the best thing that’s happened since this began. Thank you for what  you’ve done for us, and your information.”

He shook hard and replied “It’s I who should thank you for saving my life today. And if you need one of them cars, you’re welcome to have it.”

“Thanks again” I said.

We headed back to the barn, where all were waiting. “I’ll go get the chickens” Claude said, and he went around the other way.

“Will you two be OK out here?” I asked Emma.

“Lord yes, Bennie.” She flung up her hands “we’ve been living in this house for 55 years, and it didn’t have electricity or running water then…this is just like when we first got married.”

I leaned to her and said “you wouldn’t mind if we dropped in and checked on you from time to time, would ya? Maybe bring some supplies?”

“Well, if you do, you be sure and bring that pretty young lady with you” Emma said, looking at grinning Mandy.

Claude came around the corner with four chickens that he put in the trailer. It was quickly close. “I’ll go get the rooster” he said as disappeared around the corner.

“What are y’all gonna do with Lindsay?” Emma asked.

“According to Claude” I said “she is not to be trusted, and our loved ones may already be in danger. She’ll suffer the same fate as Ralph, regardless what we find when we get back.”

Emma nodded. I heard clucking, and here came Claude with another handful of chickens and a rooster in the other.

We snuck the door open, and managed to get them all in without losing any. The trailer was closed, and we began to board.

Claude and Emma stood with arms around each other’s waists, as we drove off. I had to get out and open the gate, and I closed it after we passed. I waved to them, got back in the truck, and we drove off. Another tear formed in my eye. I checked my guns…yeah, still had all of them.

We got to the roadblock we debated whether or not to put it back; we decided to put it back the way it was. It was a pain; it’s always easier to destroy than create…such is the way of the world.

The trip back I was lost in thought.

Damn! How will we explain this to Jake and Teresa? What will we find when we return to the ‘hood? Will Lindsay have taken hostages? What was their plan? It was not well thought out. We all fell for it this time. What could they have possibly wanted? Just to kill us 5? What would they have done then?

We had to kill again. Will we have to kill Lindsay too? We’ll have to. We cannot trust her. Another blow to Teresa. I just don’t get it. I just don’t. Too much trust, too quickly.

You’re too trusting. No I’m not. If I was, my friends would all be dead; and maybe me too. You’re too paranoid. If I wasn’t, my friends would be dead. You’re getting confused. Maybe…you see what my choices are as to whom to listen.

CHAPTER FORTY-SEVEN

As we approached Centennial and Devlin, I banged on the roof, and had Army pull over. He did so, and we all got out…everyone seemed to be thinking the same.

I started by saying “In my opinion, we may have a problem with Lindsay.”

The others nodded.

“I suggest that we send a two person team up the ditch, and wait at Al’s back fence. Secondly, I would suggest that we send Al over to the south gate, where AJ is walking sentry. This needs to be done secretly, so no one radios that we’re back. That could trigger some unanticipated response from Lindsay.”
I turned to Al. “You need to work your way up 17th, and surprise them at the gate. Make absolutely sure that no one uses the radio.”

Al nodded.

“Next, we could either send AJ to the infirmary with some type if fake injury to get inside and see what’s going on…OR…” I turned to Army.

“Do you have a command that causes the sentries to change their radio frequencies?”

“Yeah, the command is ‘Radio Check 4’, which causes all operators to change to the 4th frequency up.”
“Does Marie know this?” I kept asking. “I sure didn’t.”

He paused a moment, and said “I have never told her, why?”

“If you issued a command…no that won’t work..everyone knows your voice.”

I turned back to Al. “Looks like you’re in stealth mode. Get to AJ, have him radio a change command, then use ‘Red Alert’ one sentry from each post get to infirmary and assess situation.”

“The only other way, is to access Al’s backyard, but they could be sitting right there.” I was thinking out loud.

“I’m outa ideas, guys” I said.

Al pitched in “What about Jonas’ house? His gate is unlocked. That would put us right at the north gate, and we could come straight south, and get to the infirmary from the back.”

“I like that, and we can still use AJ. He could go in and, you know, just be Marie’s son and complain about ‘one of his headaches’ or something. Lindsay wouldn’t know. If there’s a problem, he could key his mic a couple times, and we could rush it…something like that.”
I looked around for approval. No one seemed to have anything else.

“None of us can be seen by infirmary until we’re in. Lindsay cannot know we’re here. Unfortunately, I’m almost  hoping she’s got a gun on someone in order to have concrete evidence for….execution.” I sighed.

“All right. Al,  you’re solo. Just be sure to surprise the gate. Tell AJ to get to the infirmary and fake something. The other teams will be in position.”

“Who would volunteer to hit the North Gate? I think three would be in order. We’ll need the others to stay here and watch the truck.”

Nobody moved, nobody spoke.

“The others?” Jim said “there’s only one person left. Army, Mandy, and I will go to Jonas’ and come down 17th to the infirmary, and see if we can peek inside. When AJ gets to the infirmary, we’ll be ready to do whatever, if anything needs to be done. You stay here. Mandy, leave him the BAR, and just use your pistol. It’s only one lady people; we’ll not need automatic weapons.”

All left their rifles in the pickup, and left. I stood watch at the pickup. I do that best by firing up a smoke, and did so.

Al disappeared quickly to the east, and around the corner heading toward the south gate. The other three covered the distance behind the fence line to Jonas’ pretty quick, considering that Jonas’ house was 5 houses further north of Al’s. I watched them go into the yard, and that was all I heard or saw until they called me later.

I finished my smoke. Another hot, sticky day. I heard barking dogs in the distance. It’s only a matter of time now before we see more of them. I walked around, and hopped bag into the bed for a higher view. Nothing. Good, I’ve had enough excitement for today. I knew that the day was far from over. Man, I am tired of killing.

I turned and looked to the east at 10th street. Nothing moving. I lit up another smoke, and had a drink of water. I continued my NSEW sweeps. Reminder to dig out your binoculars when you return. I leaned against the back of the cab for a bit. I jumped out, and walked around the immediate area, just looking at the ground. I noticed at the edge of the ditch, a lot of footprints; various sizes. Across the hole on the dirt pile were more of the same. We’ve got rats. I made another mental note to get the barb wire up asap. I zipped back up to truck, forgetting my primary responsibility momentarily. A quick 360 revealed nothing had snuck up on me.

I’d be a lousy sentry. Too easily sidetracked.

I walked over to the bridge, and looked at the pool beneath. It had been stirred up, meaning someone or something has been wandering through it. I saw more tracks on the other side of the ditch. We need a dead possum in the pool to keep out those who would try to go around our barricade. I flicked my butt into the pool. Another 360. Nothing. I walked to the other side of the bridge, and looked into the pool there. It was stirred up as well. We’ll have to run barb wire across the ditch at the bridge, it looks like too. That oughta be a fun job with all the mutated strains of bacteria that no doubt live in the water. I guess I’ll do it.

“RC to Eagle1”

“Go ahead”

“All clear. Come on in. We’re waiting for you.”

“10-4 On my way”

I hopped into the truck, and headed up Devlin to M, then north to the Main Gate. They had the gate opened. Ted was there today. I stopped and talked for a minute “Hey Ted! How you been?” I shook his hand.

He had a huge grin on his face “We’re doing great, Bennie thanks to you!”

“Whaddayamean?” I queried.

He leaned into the truck and said quietly “Angie and I are going to have a baby!”

“Dang, Ted!” I said “they know what causes that now” I said jokingly. “Congratulations to you and Angie.” I shook his hand again. “Does anyone else know?” I asked.

“Nope” he said “just you.”

“You should probably talk to Marie and keep her up to speed. She’ll want to watch Angie real close.” I patted him on the arm “tell Angie I said congrats and hello” and I drove on through the gate.

My mood went straight to hell. What will I run into now. I am having difficulties with all the highs and lows.

I pulled in front of the infirmary, where the crowd had gathered.

Army, Jim, Al, Mandy, Lea, Marie, George, Gina were there,  and most everyone else as the kitchen was in full swing as it was mealtime. Lea came up to the driver’s side before I got out and gave me her dimply smile and a kiss. It can’t be as bad if she’s in this good of a mood. I got out and walked around to the crowd which parted to let me in. Lindsay was in the middle and had been crying.

I looked at her for a minute, then turned to Army and I said “Well? Are we having another execution today?”

Lindsay let out a blood curdling scream, lunged straight at me. I stuck out my open hand, with a little force, and it caught her right on the mouth and nose. She dropped like a stone to the ground. She wasn’t unconscious, just less determined.

I sighed. “Back to my original question.” I looked around. Marie had been crying too.

AJ stepped forward. “When I entered the infirmary” he pointed at Lindsay “she was slapping my mother around. She did not anticipate me walking in. I dropped my AR on her, and  held her at bay until the rest came in a couple minutes later. She” he pointed at her again “kept saying how sorry she was and don’t tell anyone please, and I didn’t mean it.”

“Did anyone check her for firearms?” I asked.

None answered. I reached down, and pulled her dress over her head. Strapped to her thigh was a small revolver which I removed. “.32 caliber anyone? Just as deadly as any other.”

“Duct tape” I demanded. Surprisingly, Army whipped out a roll. I figured he knew what we had to do. I pulled her hands behind her back, and dragged her to a standing position.

Al and Jim had unhitched the trailer while this was going on.

I then dragged her to the pickup. Army followed and drove. No one else made a move to go. It figures.

He hung a quick U and we blasted down to the main gate. They had it open. Army almost burned tire as he turned left to go up the street to the field. We made it in record time. I dragged her out and into the field of burned bodies. We found a semi-clean location. I happened to be leading her, and Army took over the ugly duty of the sentencing and execution.

“Since we are under martial law, crimes against persons are dealt with swiftly and harshly. You are guilty of assault against person or persons, and are sentenced to death.”

He withdrew his .45, I stepped back Lindsay said “don’t I get any las…” she didn’t get to finish.

I pulled my 4 oz bottle of napalm and did the honors. People watched from the street that I used to live on. We drove away again, I turned to Army and said “thanks.” He nodded.

CHAPTER FORTY-EIGHT

The gate was open, and we drove right in. I nodded at Ted, and he shook his head. Army drove back to the trailer, and we hitched it back up, readying it for our next task, which would be dropping the barb wire rolls at the appropriate locations from which to run it.

I stepped out of the truck and said “I need a volunteer to choose a location, and build a chicken coop…now. We have chickens and a rooster. Any and all help will be appreciated.” A couple of folks raised their hands, and checked out the chickens in the trailer. They removed them, and went off to somewhere. I was more concerned about getting the barb wire up.

Jim walked up and I said “Jim, I am at your disposal to install and run barb wire, and I do have a suggestion. If we had a cordless drill with a masonry bit, I could put a couple of holes on both sides of the bridge, and anchor some wire across the tunnel. I saw footprints on both sides of the ditch earlier.”

“OK” Jim agreed, “I’ll get the drill and help you with that.” He turned towards the small crowd. “I need some volunteers to shore up our defenses on the west. We’d like to finish it this afternoon. The more people we have, the quicker it’ll go.”

He ended up with 8 people besides the usual four from the Committee.
He gave instructions on what he wanted. A request went out for post hole diggers, shovels, leather gloves, and heavy wire cutters.

I drilled four 3/8″

holes with anchors on either side of the tunnel, and tied off barb wire to each bolt, strung it across the water in the pool.

The rest of the guys dug some post  holes, which they put in leftover halved landscape timbers, and anchored the barb wire in various places to the timbers. Once the holes were dug, and timbers placed, the wire didn’t seem that difficult. It was a very good thing we took 18 rolls, as we used almost all of them.

They ran some concertina style around the holes that were dug earlier, on the outsides facing the streets.

There were various placements of short fence runs, with concertina attached to the fence. He staggered them like a maze. Some perpendicular to the fence line, some parallel to the fence line.The posts were invaluable for this type of barb wire placement. Some of the shorter posts were cut to a point, so they could be driven into the ground. The newer the posts were, the more hits they could take until the top would splinter. We tried some cans and pieces of lumber on the top, and it  might have given a few extra whacks. All in all, we figured that we could not pound an eight foot landscape timber into the ground very far, so we pounded the shorter ones. The taller ones were used with hand dug post holes.

He ran some tanglefoot in a couple of places also. It would be difficult for friendlies to get through unscathed.

I always hated digging post holes, as my hands were never used to the jarring.

I just kept telling myself that this wire would easy my worrying somewhat of being defenseless on the west side. Jim said he had already talked with Walter about setting up some dummy booby traps, and some real ones.

This took the rest of the afternoon, and we were bushed, and ready for a debriefing.

It was near dusk when we wrapped it up, and headed for home. We ended up going around the long way, as that was the whole idea; a deterrent, and we did not want to negotiate our newly installed wire in the dark.

We hadn’t quite finished, as we still needed to work on the ‘runway’ as we called the path in all the backyards on the west fence line.

We arrived at Al’s, and the bbq pits were both going. Apparently, Jim had snuck a request to pull out a bunch of his t-bones for the crew. They did not go to waste.

Al had ducked out an hour or so earlier, and had started cooking. Besides keeping a clean firearm, my brother knows his way around the bbq pit.

It turned out to be quite a gathering, as lots of folks had brought their own meats to cook. Al, Marie, Lea were all busy when we arrived. They had borrowed some picnic tables from somewhere, and there were plenty of places to sit, eat, and relax a little.

After a lot of folks had left, we pulled out some of the wheat beers; mostly for the crew, who grabbed a beer, and left for their respective homes. Many were working sentry later that evening.

The fires had died down, we had finished our steaks, and were working on some brews. Al fired up a cigar, and me a smoke from a finite, dwindling supply.

Army started the conversation that I knew was coming “Bennie, I know that none of us have asked you yet, but how the hell did you figure out that Ralph was up to no good? I mean, you saved all our lives today; because you obviously saw something that we didn’t.”

I took a long drag from my smoke, and a good draw off the Paulaner Hefewizen. “One thing that was unanswered, and I never asked was that fact that Ralph said that they walked clear from Conway over to here. Claude’s place is between here and there, and he said nothing about stopping in on their way over here; did they?”

All shook their heads.

“It bothered me a little, but not enough to make me suspicious. When we pulled up to Claude’s gate, Ralph jumped out of that truck like a damn monkey; like he had planned to do just whatever it was in his head. Denny showed absolutely no interest at all at what Ralph was doing. All of you were looking around at Claude’s place. I jumped into the ditch, and no one saw me except Mandy, and she kept quiet about it. There was just something too familiar about the way he scrambled over that gate, yet didn’t stop over on his way to our ‘hood. If I had been wrong, I’d have just walked around like I was exploring the property of something…doesn’t matter. I had absolutely no idea how I was going to handle those guys as you were between them and me; NO IDEA except to rush them and get lucky. Then Denny grabbed…” I was interrupted by Mandy.

She rubbed her neck, where her vest had rubbed when Denny dragged her outside. “I never felt so helpless in my life when he grabbed my collar. It was all I could do just to keep my butt from being dragged on the caliche; then I saw Dad. He was holding a Glock, that he indicated he would throw to me. I couldn’t nod, but he knew that I knew what he was going to do.”

“I caught a lucky break when he did that, and Ralph was more concerned about shooting you, than whoever shot Denny.” I explained.

Jim questioned “why the hell were Ralph and Denny there anyway? What is it that they risked their lives for at Claude’s? I saw nothing there that was worth much.”

“In a garage behind the house” I answered him “he’s got two” I held up two fingers “pristine, running Studebakers.” I let that soak in for a few seconds. “An old Lark…say ’62 or ’63, and a 1955 Avanti.” I stopped to see their faces.

I sipped my beer and puffed my smoke “for those of you unfamiliar with Studebakers, the 1955 Avanti held the world land speed record at Bonneville salt flats in said year, with none other than Mario Andretti driving. Claude said that his car will top end at 200 MPH. He also said that we were welcome to one of them for saving his life.”

I continued “I told Emma we’d stop by from time to time…well, you all were there.”

“I thought we were all dead” Jim started “I didn’t even notice that you were gone until you shot Denny. I could not  mistake that cannon for anything else” he grinned.

“Me neither” said Al “I did not see it coming, nor did I know you were absent. I just didn’t think we’d get out of that one” he finished shaking his head, looking at the ground between his knees. He looked at me and said “Bennie, I’m proud to call you my big brother.” He held up his beer “to my big brother; a thank you for saving our lives” he and the others toasted.

Army, true to form and whether it was planned or not, I’ll never know, but he whipped out a huge bottle of Maker’s Mark Bourbon, and the rest of us finished our beers, and went straight for the hard stuff.

I then directed my questions at Marie. “Marie, why the heck was Lindsay doing knocking you around?”

Her eyes immediately filled with tears. Marie was always a gentle person. I don’t recollect now if I ever even heard her raise her voice in anger. She’s not physical; she’s a brain. “Lindsay was demanding the morphine” she started “as soon as she figured out that I was not much of a threat to her, she really started being physical with me. I know I showed fear and pain, and that’s what seemed to give her more drive to hurt me. All she wanted was the morphine.” She shook her head, and wiped her tears. “This was the first day since the beginning, that I didn’t wear my CC.” She held up her .380. “Never again.”

“Well” I started after a pause, and included a pause of my own “I am going to go out on a limb here, and suggest that we do not take any strangers in from now on. Give a little food and water, to passerby, but absolutely, positively, unequivocally, we do not ever take anyone in unless the entire group approves. We could allow interrogations from everyone here to their satisfaction before voting someone in….dunno” I laughed “something like that?” I poured a glass of bourbon. “In addition, anyone new would have to bring their own firearm, and some type of useful skill to the group….like that will happen” I muttered the last under my breath.

“It is a delicate subject, and we must be careful about how we throw around our authority” Marie suggested. She turned to me “you mentioned the ‘group’ for approval. That would include whom?” she asked me point blank.

“You, I, Al, Army, Jim in no particular order” I answered. “Does the committee need more women on it?” I asked.  “I mean, you are privy to more information than any of the other women here, except for Lea.” I turned to Lea. “Do you want to be a part of the decision making process here?”

Lea did not hesitate to answer “no way.”

“Mandy is too young” I went on “no offense Mandy.”

She smiled and shook her head.

“That’s pretty much it, Marie.” I continued “Anyone else we choose to include in the rather exclusive group, will have to be informed on pretty much everything, and quite frankly, I don’t think most people here want to know what types of decisions we have to make on a daily basis.”

Marie thought for a few seconds and answered “that’s true. I have no desire to include anyone else in our group, and I think the five of us have varied inputs that seems to jive well with the group’s needs are.”

“OK then. If we all agree to bring a person in, then so be it. If any of us has an objection to a person, then it must be discussed within the group. Agreed?” I asked all of them.

They all nodded, and smiled. It’s always good to be in agreement.

“Another thing ladies, on a different subject” I started looking at Lea and Marie. “Please carry your sidearms when you leave the house from now on. And please pay attention to the west side now. Just check when you walk by and see if there’s activity. Just carry your sidearms please. And be sure H does the same. Wear your vest with your extra magazines also when you step outside. Be sure you have a radio when you leave the house.”

I got some puzzled looks from them and I added “with the addition of the barb wire today, it might attract attention. It might send a message saying something like ‘we have stuff you can’t have’.  I am just saying to keep your guards up more than usual.”

“Questions on this evening’s discussion?” I was getting tired of talking about serious stuff.

“I’ll continue to sleep on the patio and all else who want to” I stopped and looked at Mandy “and who can get their own cot. This will be added security for the west. Who better to than the five of us to guard this fence line?”

Mandy piped in “oh, I see. You include me when it’s a security matter.”

The rest of the group laughed.

“I think tomorrow, I’ll work on this fence run along the back here. With one volunteer” I looked at Al, we could knock that out in an hour or so.”

Al nodded “I’m game.”

“OK” I agreed, and finished off my bourbon, and poured another. Others did same, and it was quiet for a while. It had been a hard workday; more than I had been used to. I checked my wound out of habit, and it seemed ok.

Marie caught me looking “Well?”

“I’m not bleeding, and it’s not hurting” I said defensively. “You’re welcome to take a look if  you like. If it was hurting, I’d be complaining.”

She smiled and said “drop over in the morning before you start your fence cutting.” She got up, and said “I’m gonna hit the hay guys. See you tomorrow.” She kissed Al goodnight, and went in. Lea did same, and Mandy as well.

The rest of us were all tired, and we kinda went through the motions of prepping for bed, then crashed shortly thereafter. I went to sleep thinking how nice it was to have this netting around us.

CHAPTER FORTY-NINE

I awoke to the smell of bacon and coffee. I was the last one up. I was amazed they could all pack up their sleeping gear, without waking me. I considered myself a light sleeper. As soon as I packed up my own gear, they had the table set up and chairs positioned. I went from cot to latrine to chair in 5 minutes.  Coffee, bacon, and toast were in front of me. I chugged the coffee quickly, as I could feel an early day coming…something just felt like it.

“Main gate to RC”
“Go ahead”
“Deputy is on his way”
“10-4”

“What the hell?” I inquired “how did you guys all get up and packed whilst I slept?”

Al laughed “Bennie” he was still laughing and looking at the others, who were all smiling “you were snoring so loud 30 minutes ago, that we had to post an extra sentry on the west…kidding, but man, you were really sawing some logs!”

I nodded, smiled, and sipped  my coffee. “Thank you all for putting up with me. All you gotta do is ask me to turn over, and usually I comply. Right Lea?”

I could see her inside the door, and she was smiling too. “That’s right y’all!”

Deputy Sharp came around the corner about that time, and greeted all of us. He sat down, and a plate was set in front of him, as well as a steaming cup of coffee. He looked up at Lea and said “many thanks, Lea.” He sipped and added “for someone who doesn’t drink coffee, you sure make a great cup.”

Lea smiled her huge dimple smile and answered “you’re welcome Deputy. We’re always glad to help out.”

He sipped again, took a bite of toast, and started in by saying “I noticed a new body in the field today.” He looked at me.

I shook my head, and replied “yessir, we had to shoot three more yesterday.” I went back to eating. Army and Jim took turns telling the Deputy what all had gone down yesterday.

He listened intently while he ate. Army and Jim took turns eating while the other relayed the story, with some help from Al.

I said nothing, and just drank coffee, and ate.

The Deputy said, “We’ve gotten scattered reports of increased gunfire, and roving mobs yesterday, last night, and this morning. You guys be ready, you’ll probably see more folks moving through here today and tomorrow.”

We all nodded quietly, knowing full well what that meant.

The Deputy continued “I have gotten some aid for you people.” He finished his coffee, wiped his mouth, and stood up. “Let’s go see what Santa brought” he said with a smile.

We all got up and followed him out to the car. He opened the back door, and pulled out a box, and gave it to Army. He reached in and pulled out another like it. Army opened it, and it was full of loaves of bread, tortillas, beef jerky, and some other hand to mouth foods. “The other box is the same. Give this to peaceful people passing by.”

He walked to the trunk, and  opened it. There were 6 cases of bottled water. “These also, you may give away to those who may need it.”

We all helped unload, and he said “Bennie, I’ve got something for you.” He pulled out another box, and gave it to me. Everyone else was crowding in. For me, the coffee was just kicking in. The box was about half the depth of a shoe box. I hesitated.

The deputy looked around and said “this is a gift from the Sheriff’s department. We took this from some…folks who didn’t need it anymore. We felt a man with Bennie’s particular skills could use it.”

I opened it and a gasp swept through the crowd. They all recognized the familiar sight of the mighty Ruger Blackhawk .44 magnum. It had a holster as well, for the left side of a gun belt. My eyes went open wide, as I pulled the holstered gun from the box. Army took the box, and the holster. I cracked the hammer, and spun the cylinder…and smiled. The crowd laughed.

“That gun’s practically brand new” said the Deputy. “It might be a little tight yet. I spoke with Angie through Ted, and she said she could fit that holster on that belt, so you wouldn’t have to wear two belts.” He was smiling big.

“Th-thank you” was all I could stammer. How could I tell him that my entire life I wanted a two-gun rig?

“You’ll have to give up your belt for a couple of hours so she can sew that on” it was Ted, and he was smiling too. “She’s ready now.”

Angie came out from the back of the crowd. “Ted and I have an announcement to make, and no one knows except Bennie.” Angie waited until the crowed quieted. “Ted and I are having a baby early next year.”

The crowd went absolutely insane. Cheers, applause, back patting, cheek kissing, hugging, handshaking, screams, hands over mouths yelling, were all common.

At that moment, AJ and Rhonda walked up and AJ yelled “we are too!”

Again, more yelling, tears from Marie the grandmother-to-be, crying from Al the grampa-to-be, jumping up and down, even the Deputy had a huge smile, and was shaking hands with moms and dads-to-be. I almost cried myself to see everyone so happy.

New life in spite of what is happening. Look at these people. One  might think they just won the lottery.

Angie made her way over to me, and gave me a big hug. “Thank you for what you’ve done for us” she said with a big smile. Her cheeks were rosy, and her eyes just glistened. She kissed me on the cheek, and said “I’ll fix your gun belt, if you can let go for an hour or so.”

“Oh gee, I don’t know ’bout that” I said jokingly.

I reluctantly removed Ol’ Blue, and gave her the belt. “How do you want it?” she asked. I showed her where to attach the holster, so both holsters would be low, and would require tying down to my leg.

“‘Bout there oughta do” I showed her. “Thank you Angie, and congratulations to you.”

She pulled me away from the other now quieting crowd, where AJ and Ted now had center attention. “Ted told me what he told about us…what was going on when this all started…”

I started to interrupt, but she shushed me.

“I’m not sure what  you told him, and I’m not sure what you told me that day he woke up was true, but Bennie; he and I just fell head over heels in love all over again. We absolutely cannot keep our hands off each other!” she was whispering, and she seemed a little embarrassed.

“I know this” I started “I could tell by the tone of his voice when he told me you two were splitting up that he loved you, and how sad he was about that.” I smiled “I ain’t admitting to anything else because I too, was wounded and suffered trauma.”

She hugged me, held up the holster, and said “I’ll get right on this, and will get it right back to you when it’s finished.” She smiled and ran over to Ted, and they walked away waving to the crowd.

I stood alone for a moment, stupefied; remembering something, I chased after Angie. “I have something else I need” I said, running up behind them.

They both turned, smiling and said “name it, Bennie.”

“I need a scabbard of some type that mounts on the back of my pack for my 30-30” I said.

Angie looked puzzled briefly, then asked “like the cowboys carry on their horses? but that somehow attaches to your backpack?” She looked at me, and nodded. “Sure, I’ll make the scabbard first, and I’ll let you know. We’ll have to figure a way to attach it to your pack..”

I waved her off “I got that figured out. I just need a short scabbard…like a holster just to hold the rifle, that I can reach over my shoulder, and pull it out when I need it. It needs to be able to hold the Mossberg too; I like to carry both. The slings get in the way. One at a time, no biggy, but both of them is proving to be a problem.”

“No problem Bennie” Angie said with a smile. “We’ll let you know” and they walked away.

I went back to the Deputy’s car, and the crowd had quieted down to normal. the ladies were all still giggling, and making plans.

Marie walked up to me and had me escort her to the infirmary. “Have I missed something about you, Ted, and Angie?” she asked sincerely.

“Like what?” I asked with my best attempt at feigning innocence.

“I know you know something about them that you’re not telling” she went on as I removed my shirt.

“Marie” I said “I know plenty, and I am not allowed to discuss it.” I smiled “it’s one of those good secrets.”

She smiled and nodded “OK” unconvinced, but wouldn’t pry any more. She continued to examine the wound. “I’ll put on another wrap-around bandage which seems to help it from tearing” she started “It looks a  little strained, but with your vitamin regimen, it may be helping it heal nicely. Do try to take it easy today. I know you and Al have some working plans, but you let Al do the sawing.”
I smiled and said “as was my plan…gramma.”

“Isn’t that exciting?” she was just absolutely ecstatic.

“I remember when you were pregnant with him” I was reminiscing. “I baked you a large tray of my special lasagne, and to this day…”

Marie interrupted “AJ hates lasagne! You remembered! I had forgotten.”

“You might want to check around and see if anyone has any baby furniture…” I suggested “you’re pretty much in tune with other ladies…Jenna has that granddaughter that is probably getting out of cribs now…”

Marie nodded “good idea. I’ll check around for both of them.”

I finished getting dressed, and headed for the door. “Thanks, Marie. I hope we all have a good day today.” I waved and left for Al’s. I felt naked without Ol’ Blue.

Army walked up carrying his lefty holster “Bennie, you can borrow this while you’re waiting” he sounded out of breath “I know you probably feel like you’re not wearing pants” he added with a smile.

“I was thinking the same thing, Army” I said “Thanks” I donned the holster and  locked down Ol’ Blue. I stuck the new .44 in my belt. It wasn’t loaded.

The Deputy was getting in his car as I walked up “thanks, Deputy” I said shaking his hand “for all you do.”

He smiled and replied “it works both ways. You ok? I saw you’re back at the infirmary.”

“Yep, I finally quit bleeding, and after yesterday’s workout, that was a good test. I’m still under ‘be careful’ orders for a couple more days.”

“I had another gift” the Deputy started “and I gave it to Army…I got him 1000 rounds of 7.62mm ammo for the AKs.”

I nodded with approval “we will never have enough. We could use all you could get for us.”
He started the car “I’m on it. See you soon. Thanks for breakfast.”

He drove off with a brief wave, and I waved back, as I headed around to Al’s back yard.

I went inside to put the .44 away, and found the extra ammo belt, and loaded up the lefty belt.

Al was in the shed, deciding which saw to use.

He chose one, and we decided to start with his own yard, as both sides had not been cut down. We started on the south side first. We cut the bottom (he did) crossbeam wide enough to allow a running person through. We left the entire section lying against the fence, and decided to do that on every one.

His neighbor to the south had a pool. It hadn’t turned too green with algae yet. “Al?” I started “I know I said that pool water cannot be treated to drink, but in my memory banks, I have this thing that says that boiling will not help, but a good filter, like the ones we have, may work. I’d like to try one and see how it turns out. What do you think?”

“If you say try it, then let’s do it. No one knows more about this than you” he replied. “If nothing else, we can always use it to bathe and wash clothes.”

I nodded in agreement.

We continued past the pool, and went from fence to fence to the south, cutting where necessary. Some homes already had the fences removed in the center parts of the yard for garden expansion. A couple of yards with gardens still required cutting of the fence as the garden was butted against the fence.

We stopped at the next to last house, and saw the roving patrol. They walked over to check out what we were doing. We took a short break and showed them.

“All the way to Trailblazer?” one of them asked.

“Not all the way” Al explained “just to Q street, as the streets north of that aren’t friendly.”

They looked down the row of yards, and saw the clear (almost) run straight to Al’s. “We’re gonna paint an ‘A’ on my gate so you’ll know where you are” Al said.

“That’s a good idea” said Juan. “What about this end? Like maybe a giant ‘S’ for south?”

I looked at Al “works for me. We’ll also have to talk to all these folks and make sure their gates are unlocked, and preferably open. The barb wire we set up yesterday, should keep a lot of curious folks out…maybe funnel ’em around to the front.”

They nodded, and headed down the row. We cut our last section, and headed north to start cutting there. There was not as many northward and south. Jonas’ house was the last one, and we painted an ‘N’ and a ‘J’ on the north fence, with an arrow pointing towards the street saying ‘Q’.

It was late morning when we walked back to Al’s, and on the table, was my dual rig gun belt. I wasted no time in strapping it on. I got the other gun, and loaded it. I put the extra ammo belt in my pack…two guns, more ammo needed. I decided to split the ammo belt with .44 ammo and 30-30. I had a bandolier for the Mossberg already with assorted rounds in it. It fit nicely, and seemed less off balance with both guns on. I was actually almost as good a shot left handed as right; just not as fast on the draw, which I was totally ok with.

I walked around a bit to get used to where my long ass arms will now have to negotiate around. I pulled them out at the same time, then each individually.

I walked to the main gate to see what they had done with all the food the Deputy had brought. Ted was working “Bennie” he called as I approached “how’s the holster?” he was smiling big.

“Just fine….dad!” I said jokingly. I walked up to see what they had done. Army had split up the food at the North, South, and the main gate. The Q gate was not really manned any more, as that part of the ‘hood was cut off anyway because of the way the streets were laid out. Army had assured me that they had ‘deterrents’ in key places that would alert us.

I walked to all the gates, to see who was doing what. With the barb wire done, I had less to worry about, and decided to participate more actively when available, for perimeter security.

After checking the gates, and I went back to the newly made ‘runway’ as the rovers had named it. After a few runs, I was familiar with the yards, and several had people in them working gardens; they just waved and smiled as I walked briskly along the fence; stopping, peeking over, through, and around the slats.

All looked quiet, and I went to check on the chicken coop construction. Rudolfo, the mason, had volunteered to have the coop in his back yard, and they had nearly finished by the time I got there.

“Morning guys!” I started “is there anything I can do to help?” I put down my pack, ready to work.

“Thanks senor Bennie” Rudolfo said “we are almost done” he added with a smile. “I had lots of guys volunteer yesterday, and we got most of it done then” he said as he pounded a nail into some chicken wire on the corner post.

Personally, I was never much of a carpenter, but I could schlep stuff around if necessary.

“Army said you wanted to start a hen house?” he quizzed me.

“Yes, we need to have around 30-50 hens for eggs, then we’ll see how our meat supply  holds out” I answered.

“OK” he said, stretching some wire for the next guy to nail it down. “The chickens will be in their new home shortly, and we’ll plan to let the eggs hatch until we get a lot of chicks. It’ll still take several months before they’ll be able to lay.”

“I’ve heard that, and you good men just do what needs to be done, and I’ll leave you alone” I said with a laugh. I packed up and left. I sure like it when I don’t have to supervise every detail.

I was walking to L street when Army came running at me. “Where’s your damn radio?” He was out of breath. “I’ve been trying to reach you. We’ve got trouble at the south gate.”

I pulled my radio, and it was dead. “Looks like battery” I said, walking with him to the south gate.

“What’s the word?” I asked.

“A group of ne’er do wells are making trouble there. AJ, AL, and Darren are there, and I called up a pair of rovers to ghost” he answered.

We picked up our pace, turned the corner, and headed across the yards to the gate. Mandy caught up with us.

“Mandy” Army started “you stay out of sight with a good view. Maybe run up to sniper 2 and watch the gate from there.”

She nodded, and disappeared towards one of the designated sniper posts.

We each took opposite side of the street, trying to maintain some cover for ourselves while moving closer to the gate. I head yelling, so I ran out across a yard directly to the gate, carrying the Mossberg. I fired a shot into the air as I approached, and it got a little quieter.

Still holding the Mossberg aimed into the air, I asked Al. “What’s the trouble?”

As Al started to respond, Mr Bigmouth started “this asshole won’t let us through. This is a public street.”

I pulled my new .44 with my left hand, cocked it, and aimed it right at him. “You shut the hell up, or I’ll part your scalp right now. Martial law is in effect, and we own this street.” I kept my pistol on him, and looked at Al.

Al explained “he says they need sanctuary because there’s a gang heading this way, causing trouble. He says the gang killed some of their people, and took over their neighborhood.”

I uncocked the .44, and holstered it. “Do  you see how much easier things go if you’re nice?” I said to Mr. Bigmouth.

He nodded with a look of relief, as did many others in the group of maybe 15, consisting of men, women, and children.

“We cannot give you sanctuary here” I started as I put down the Mossberg, while loading another round into the magazine. “We can give you some food and water, and point the way out of here.”

“Why can’t we stay here?” he asked indignantly.

“Because we don’t trust you” I said without hesitation, and a little forceful.

“Where can we go that we’ll be safe?” he asked. “We have children here.”

“Tell me about this gang” I said. I heard Army radioing for food. “How many are they? How far behind you are they?” I waited.

He looked at his sidekick, who kept looking at my .44s. The sidekick said “are you Dirty Bennie?”

“I’ve been called that, and other names as well” I replied.

Sidekick then said “we heard you were one of the good guys. Why won’t you help us?”

I answered quickly “we are the good guys. We stay alive because every person here I trust with my life. Every person we have allowed inside our gates are lying up at the corner” I pointed behind me “at Trailblazer and M street. We had to execute them for crimes of assault and sedition…Now, info on the gang.”

I hear noises from behind me, but I did not turn. Jim and Marie showed up.

A voice from back of the group shouted “Marie!” She came through the crowd. I did not know her.

“Lisa?” Marie called to her. “Is that you?”

“Yes” replied Lisa, obviously excited to see her friend.

Marie turned to me and said “we have to help them.”

I turned to Marie and explained “I have offered to help them, as we agreed, and they have all but refused wanting more.”

Marie glared at me.

I said firmly “do you remember what happened yesterday?”

Her glare subsided. “Lisa Hopkins and I have been friends for many years. She and Gary lived in Palmdale…” She looked at Lisa “where’s Gary?”

Lisa’s eyes immediately filled with tears, and she managed to stammer “d-dead…”

Mr. Bigmouth continued for her “the gang I was telling you about came into our gated neighborhood late last night. We had guards at the gate, and they shot a few, but our people are not soldiers. The gang killed them, and then started kicking in doors, and dragging people…our neighbors into the street, raping the women, and then shooting them and all the men. We had out of town guests for the holiday when this thing started, and here they are. My family from Van Alstyn, and Lisa’s family…what’s left. Gary ran out to try and stop the bad guys with a shotgun. He did some damage, but they gunned him down too. The rest of us were in our home at the far end of the subdivision, and we escaped over the wall with the clothes on our back, a few bottles of water, and some jerky and candy the kids had. We have no weapons of any kind, except may be a pocket knife or two.”

“Here’s what I’ll ask you to do” I started “walk over to M street” I pointed “turn left and go to the gate. We’ll meet  you there and talk some more. We can’t let you in here because this whole gate area is a giant, deadly, booby trap.”

“Thank you, Bennie” said Mr Bigmouth. “I am Charles Townsend. I’ll see you there.” The group turned and started to leave.

Marie waved at her friend “I’ll be there Lisa!” she called.

Lisa waved back and smiled. The group headed east. They looked pretty raggedy, no surprise I guess; getting fifteen people over a ten foot wall has to be a challenge, given what there alternative was.

Marie took off toward the main gate.

I looked over the others in the committee. “Concerns?” I asked.

“Always” Army replied.

“Suggestions?” I asked.

“Constant supervision” Army answered.

“Have anyone in mind?” I continued the public/private conversation.

“What about Clay?” Army suggested. “He’s harmless enough. They could stay with him. He’s by himself in that big house.”

“Works for me”I said. “I also suggest that Clay be at our breakfast from now on for daily debriefing until we’re all satisfied.”

They all nodded in agreement.

“OK” I said. “Anybody else? Objections?”

No one said a word. “This matter is always open for discussion or debate” I said “it is not a closed issue. Ok, I guess we’re off to the gate.”

Army, Jim and I left while AJ, AL, and Darren continued their vigil at the South Gate.

CHAPTER FIFTY

I swung by Al’s to get a fresh battery for my radio. Idiot.

By the time I got to the main gate, it was like a picnic. People were sitting on the cars, eating what the kitchen had provided, with water for all. I counted 5 men, 4 women, and 4 children of various ages from maybe 7-14. Marie was milling with Lisa, and getting introduced to the guests.

Charles walked over to me and Army and he introduced himself to myself, Army, and Jim. Jim and Army were cordial, but not overly friendly. Sidekick walked up, and it turned out that he and Charles were brothers. Patrick was his name.

Army asked a few more question about the weaponry of the gang, and how they were getting around.

Patrick started by saying “I saw one pickup, an old one, that pulled a …like a small open U haul trailer. There was an old motorcycle too; an old Honda 350 street bike. It has stock mufflers, so it was quiet. Most of them had guns. I noticed lots of semi-auto pistols in holsters. Some of them had pistols tucked in their belts. There were a lot of AKs” he pointed at Army’s rifle “like yours. There were a couple guys with shotguns, a couple of hunting rifles, you know with slings and scopes. There were around twenty of them; give or take one. One of the first things they did, after they killed most everyone, was to begin getting gasoline out of our cars, and filling their cans and tanks. They had five or six of those  military style gas cans, and a few smaller ones like we use to fill our lawn mowers with. They kept those in the trailer, that I saw. ”

I interrupted “did any of your people have guns, that these guys might confiscate?”

“At our house, we only had a 20 gauge shotgun, and a .22 pistol” Charles said. “I’m not sure about anyone else.”

“Did anyone stick out in particular that looked like a leader?” I asked.

Charles and Patrick looked at each other and shook their heads almost simultaneously “no, not that we saw.”

“Did your people have a lot of food?” I asked “I mean how long would it take for them to consume what you had, and hit the road? You did say that they were ‘heading this way’?”

“I didn’t mean that they followed us, just that they were in the neighborhood. There was probably enough provisions for a few days, depending on if they liked what we had stored. It’s not like they could kick back, watch tv, and enjoy cold beer until it ran out.”

“I understand” I said. I wasn’t trying to rile him up. “Is the gate the only way in except for coming over the fence? Are there any dogs in your neighborhood?”

Charles answered “the gate is the only way in, yes. There are no dogs that I know of. The neighborhood association wouldn’t let folks keep dogs.  There were very strict rules about such things. Why?”

“I was thinking of a surprise attack. Taking out their trailer with that gas would be a crippler. There is a guy who lives on Owns around the corner from you that flies a Gadsden flag. Do you know it?”

“Sure do” replied Charles. “That’s ol’ Deke. Kind of an extremist, but in these times, we’d all have to admit that he was right.”

“Do you know him?” I asked.

“Yeah, I met him one when a car accident at the intersection there busted in flames. A few of us from the neighborhood were trying to help before the police got there. Deke showed up with a water tank on his trailer. He had a gasoline water pump on it, and he put out the fire almost single-handed. We introduced ourselves, and talked some.”

“Would you know him well enough to walk up and ring the bell?” I further inquired.

“I guess” Charles replied “he gave me a password and said if I needed help, that I would need it to get inside his compound.”

“OK guys. That’s good info. I appreciate it. We may have an excursion soon, and we’ll need your help; and Deke’s too if he’s willin’. Are any of the folks in your group familiar with firearms?”

Charles was pointing at his brother “we know how to shoot, but we never had any military training.”
I pressed on “if you were issued a firearm, would you kill to protect yourself?”

Without any hesitation, both nodded and said “sure.”

“Great” I said, standing up. “We’re going to put you folks up with Clay Bertolli, who is our only successful transplant thus far. It ain’t great, but it’s a roof and there is a latrine dug in the back. I think it’s a two-holer…no waiting.”

Patrick gulped.

“Clay will get you settled and fill you in on how we operate here. Y’all just enjoy the food, and get some rest. We’ll talk later.”

“How can we thank you?” said Charles “after the way I talked to you?”

I answered “that’s a separate issue, and the guy that you called ‘asshole’, is my brother. You may want to steer clear for a day or so. As far as thanking us, everyone here raises gardens in the back. Not just a kiddie garden; a yard sized garden. It has to be dug, prepped, planted, and maintained until harvest. Everyone here shares what they grow. That’s the deal. Men who walk sentry duty get a little break from garden duty. Think about it. H will help you set your garden up, and she’ll decide what needs to be planted.”

Charles smiled “sure beats running for our lives.”

Army and I turned and left, and the other men went back to their families. Marie and Lisa were reliving some of their old days.

We walked over to Army’s driveway, and stood in the shade while watching the mingle. Jim walked up from I don’t now where, and Mandy appeared out of the shadows. “Did anyone think to inform Clay of his new responsibilities?” I asked no one in particular.

“Well, I figured that since he’s your friend, you can bring up to speed” Army said.

“Eagle1 to South Gate”

“Go ahead” Clay answered.

“Twenty?”

“Prepping for south gate day shift”

“You have new job for a while. Sentry duty is cancelled for you. Come to MG when you can.”

“10-4”

“You’ll need to replace him, Army” I reminded him. “Any ideas on security as far as Clay goes? Guns? Where to keep them? ammo?”

“I got it covered” he said calmly. “And we may have to have two homes for that brood. Isn’t there an empty home next to Clay?”

“I got it covered” I answered wryly.

They all laughed and Army said “you are almost always one step ahead of me”  with a smile.

Almost is the operative word there, my friend” I said.

After some chitchat, Clay bounded up ready for action.

I explained what we had done, and why he was chosen for this, and he didn’t blink and eye. He walked right over to his new roomies and introduced himself. Teachers…have that gift of gab.

I looked at Army and said “that went well.” I leaned over a little closer to him and continued with “feel free to pass along any more difficult assignments my way, and I’m happy to oblige.”

“You’re a wise-ass” he said.

“It keeps my wits sharp” I responded.

“All right you two!” Jim intervened laughing. “Enough.”

“Since we now have all these children, perhaps we could have Lea and Clay work on some type of school for them. I know there are several kids around.” I was looking around for Lea, but didn’t see her.

“What would they teach them?” asked Army.

“The usual stuff…Lea has been teaching all grades for over 30 years. I’m sure that she could put some really decent curriculum together for just about any age combination. And besides” I continued “she just loves it…almost as much as playing the piano.”

“And that reminds me about picking up her baby grand from the house” I added. “I’ve not forgotten. It seems to me that it may fall to us to do something about this gang.” I stopped talking and looked at Army and Jim. I had their attention.

“What do you propose?” Army quizzed. “Search and destroy? Maybe some rescue?”

“Yes, and I was thinking that ‘Deke’ as they call him, could be a very valuable ally” I said. “Those guys might go after him next. It might be beneficial for us to try to communicate with him what’s going on. He may well be able to fend off and armed gang, but if we happen to be there, we’d have a friend for life.”

Army was thinking out loud “what’d he say? about 20 guys? armed? two vehicles? Last night? It  might be to our benefit to hit them tonight. Bert and Ernie would have to go thought, and another guy who would know his way around their ‘hood. We’d need a sniper or two on the walls. Hmmm. let me think on this a little while. Bennie, of course you’d go right?”

“Of course, that goes without saying” I answered quickly.

“Ok, myself, you, Jim, Mandy, Al, Fred, we could get more of the original white tee raiders also. We would need to try not to blow up everything. The cars and bike would be nice to have as well as the gasoline and trailer. If the former inhabitants had firearms, it’s always good to pick more common caliber weapons. It’d have to an an ambush. We’d almost need recon.”

He looked at me and Jim. “We would need to draw them out; all of them…all those houses would be difficult to watch and see where they all were…still, some recon would be nice. Let’s get Bert and Ernie, and make a trip to Deke’s. After that, I suggest we just prepared for an assault.”

I put in my two cents “this will be different. One way in or out of the ‘hood, counts for us as well, unless we go over the wall, which I assume is part of the plan, depending on what our brief recon will show. Also, these guys will be shooting back; plus they probably still have live hostages.  You’re right; surprise is key. Snipers with suppressors would be nice.”

“Part of the problem” Army continued “is that they will more than likely have sentries posted. How far is the gate from Owens?” he asked me.

I looked up, like the answer was in the tree top “the only way we won’t be seen coming to them from Owens, is if they are both standing inside on the north side of their gate. We can go around, and come straight south through Palmdale. We would have to pretty much walk right up to Deke’s though, but I think he’s far enough east so the gate sentries couldn’t see us approach him…unless they already know about him.”

“Perhaps surprising the guards, and killing them quietly would be to our advantage.” I suggested. “Know what else?” I was real serious. “The sooner we hit them, the better for us. They wouldn’t expect anyone to mess with them so soon. They probably don’t know there are people missing.”

Army was nodding, looking with his thousand yard stare; thinking. “White tee raiders would be our best force” he was saying, nodding, stroking his nonexistent beard. “Ted, Alex, David, Roberto, and Juan; those guys are my best sentries. We’ll get Jake to snipe from the front gate, after we kill the gate sentries, silently.” He stopped and stood up. We’ll need more info. Get Bert and Ernie over, and let’s plan this thing. This’ll work. Have them make arrangements to stop at Deke’s too.” He stood up and walked around the back of his house.

“OK” I went looking for Bert and Ernie and Al. Jim went to round up the rest.

I got to Charles and Patrick, and I motioned them to come over. They pulled away from Clay, who was entertaining the ladies, and walked over. “We have decided to go on a search an destroy mission to eliminate this gang, and salvage what we can from your neighborhood; people wise and provisions. We also want to contact Deke, and we’re counting on you to give as much detail as you can on the layout of your neighborhood; any tips you may have about where to hide, places that may not be visible for anyone who doesn’t live there…know what I mean?”

They nodded.

“Meet over at Army’s in 5 minutes, and we’ll talk some more. We’ll need both of you to go along. We won’t put you directly in the firing line, but we do need some on sight recon; someone who knows the area; to point and lead, if necessary. Army will probably insist you carry at least a .45 on you. OK?  Five minutes.”

I went looking for Al. Marie was not going to like this at all.

CHAPTER FIFTY-ONE…MaryAnne

I found Al up at George’s…with Marie. I must have looked concerned, as they all stopped talking when I walked up. “What’s up Bro’?” asked Al.

“We going on a search and destroy very soon” I started “We need AJ also.”

“What does he need?” Al asked. Marie was speechless.

“Full camo for night patrol, and his AR” I told him “same for you. Meet at Army’s when you’re ready. We’re leaving very soon.”

I went to Al’s to get my own gear, and met Lea who was in tears. “What?” I asked while I was changing into some darker clothes.

She just sobbed.

“Lea” I started “we have to stop these guys. I saw you talking to Lisa. I’m sure you heard some pretty horrible stories about what those guys did…”

She nodded.

I helped her up and hugged her saying “they have to be stopped. They may have more guns now, and get braver.”
“Why is it always you?” she sniffed.

“I am one of 12 others going along” I answered “I am not doing this by myself…you should be glad that we have these types of resources to help people, Lea. Things could have been different, and we could have been cowering in our homes like they were, and they are dead now. Let’s help them, by stopping these guys.”

“Why can’t you just wait for them here?” she asked.

“One of the first things one learns in military strategy is to take the fight to the bad guys whenever possible. If you have to fight from your home…that makes it a lot harder to win. Stop them before they get to you, is kind of an accepted practice. Please don’t worry, we’ll get these guys.”

I heard a noise on the patio and it was Marie. “Why are you taking AJ with you again?” she was near tears herself.

Without any hesitation I answered “I want AJ along because AJ knows how to use his rifle. He practices with it, and by god, that kid can shoot. Most of the rest of these people here are teachers, bankers, stuff like that, without firearm skills. I take the best, because I want all of us to return safely. If we get some greenhorn out there, more than one of us would be in danger.” I pulled her close to me and looked her right in the eye. “He’ll be fine. The kid is a great shot.” I hugged her, and Lea joined us.

“RC to Eagle1”

“Go ahead”

“Ready when you are”

“On my way”

I turned to them “get your pistols, and walk around some. Make your presence known. Watch the west. Stay alert. Start your own roving patrols that move from gate to gate. We’ll back in a couple of hours; hopefully with some more survivors.” I turned to Marie.

“You may need some help with what we may be returning with.” I added.

I headed to the main gate where the rest were waiting.

I began with “I suggest we head to Owens, then split up. The pickup will go straight west past Tyler Road. Deke’s house is the last one on the right before we get to Jennings Road.” I turned to Charles; “we’ll need you and  your password to talk to Deke.”

I turned to Army “pull slowly up once we’re in sight of Deke’s. You know it? his house?”

He nodded “more or less.”

I continued “he has a long driveway before there is a huge iron gate. I am counting on the fact that the bad guys in the hood, cannot see us as we approach Deke’s gate.”

“The Mustang will go North on Tyler to the 4 Mile Road, turn west, and then south on Jennings. Evaluate as you go. There is a church on the corner of Owens and Jennings Road. You should be able to watch the north wall from there. The entrance to the ‘hood in question is around 1/4 mile south of Owens. We’ll bring up your six when we’re done talking to Deke. For now, find out what  you can. It’ll be dark in a little while.”

In the Mustang was Jim driving, Al, Jake, and AJ. The pickup had Army driving, myself at shotgun, Mandy in between, Ted, Juan, Roberto, Alex, David, and Charles.

We left the main gate, and headed south through the ‘hood. Left on Devlin to 23rd, south to Owens, then straight west.
When we arrived at Tyler, we stopped and waved at our partners, who went north. We watched them until they turned, a mile north. We drove west to Deke’s.

Army drove careful slow, as I watched for the entrance to the Jennings Road ‘hood. We arrived at the drive, and Army pulled in, just past the road. I got out, and motioned to Charles to do the same. We walked to the gate.

“Deke!” Charles called. “It’s Charles Townsend! We need your help please!”

A voice from nowhere said quietly, but firmly “what’s your password?”

“Don’t tread on me” answered Charles.

“OK, who the hell is with you with them .44s?” the voice asked.

Charles was a little shaken by now “th-this…”

He was cut off as the voice said “must be Bennie Barnes.”
I nodded.

I heard a large click as the gate opened partially. “Come on in you two” the voice said…I still did not see how or where the voice originated.

A figure appeared after we entered, from some brush. Perfect camouflage. He stuck out his hand to me and said “Oscar Dietrickson. Friends call me Deke.”

I shook his hand and replied “Bennie Barnes. Some say I’m dirty, but I’m really a good guy.”

“I heard that about you, Bennie. Who all you got out there?” asked Deke.

“There are a bunch of us in two vehicles running a raid across the street” I indicated pointing toward the neighborhood. I have another guy I’d like to have him speak to you out in the truck…the rest can wait out there.”

He eyed me over some and said “who’s the guy?”

“I only know him as Army…he refers to himself as RC for his radio handle.”

Deke chuckled “Richard Chapa? Could it be? Bring him in!”

I motioned to the truck, and Army got out.

As he approached the gate, the two guys rattled off their military bases, stations, and all that stuff I don’t understand. They obviously knew each other.

“Dang Richard, I didn’t know you were still here!” said Deke hugging his friend.

“Well” Army replied “I been trying to stay low…you know how I am.” he laughed.

“Yep, I know you, and you were the best at that!” Deke said with a smile. “So what the hell are  you guys up to? a raid?”

Army began filling him in.

“Numbers?” asked Deke.

“Twenty, maybe less” replied Army.

“Armed too, but not heavily, right?”

“Not as we understand.”

Deke stroked his chin. “I heard some gunfire last night late, but couldn’t see anything from here; but then, I hear that almost every night from somewhere. Do we have a map?”

Charles produced his sketch of the roads and homes inside the gate.

We all were looking at it. Army and Deke seemed to be on the same page. “Put a couple people on the wall, and maybe get lucky. Are we to assume that all adult males are dead?” He looked around.

Charles nodded.

“OK, then let’s take out the gate as quiet as possible…sniper?” He asked.

“We’ve got a real sharpshooter in the truck” Army answered “she shoots a BAR 1918, and she never misses.”
“OK then, I’ll work with her over to where we can see the guards. It would be better if we had a quieter approach.”

“The other sniper shoots a TEC 308, but he’s with the other car at the church.” Army responded.

“All right, let’s pack up and go around and meet them. We’ll work our way across the street and take out the guards. The others will follow by the wall. When the guards are down, the rest will enter by squads of two or three. Pick them now, Army. Be ready when we get to the others. Mount up!”

We headed out to the truck, loaded up, hung a U, and went back around to Tyler, then north to 4 Mile, west to Jennings, then the mile south the church.

Deke and Jake backtracked some to get caddy corner from the ‘hood, then worked their way to the corner. Deke waved the ok and we crossed the street by twos, then to the gate. I never heard a shot or saw a muzzle flash.

There were three guards, and they were all dead with head shots. Damn good shooting. The gates had been closed, but weren’t locked. Jim went inside the gate with Alex. We counted to 5, then David and Roberto went in. I dragged the bodies away out of sight. The gate guards were wearing hats similar to ours. Al and AJ went in with Army next. I gave Mandy a boost, and she took position on top of the wall. That gave her complete and unobstructed view of the street. Her orders were to kill anything that went into the street. I was ordered to stand at the gate, and look like one of them, in case they had rovers. Deke had come across with Jake singing praises of his shooting. They went in with Charles, and crossed to the south, and Juan and Ted followed. I could see our people  from time to time as they crossed driveways, but otherwise, I saw nothing. I closed the gate, and walked back and forth. I carried the two .44s, and the Mossberg, loaded with slugs.

I tried to stay in the dark, to be able to see better down the street. I looked up at Mandy, but could only see the barrel of her gun poking past the wall.

I  heard a noise behind me. I was in the shadow of the wall, so I don’t think I was seen. I pulled Ol’ Blue. A figure came from across the entry from the south.

“Hey, where the hell is Dick and Peanut?” he said out loud.

“They’re taking a piss” I whispered.

He walked toward me. I cocked the pistol, and put him down with one shot to the head.

I heard more gunfire now. First from a house on the north, then the south. Yelling. More shots. A figure ran across the street. A shot from the Mandylizer took care of him. I was watching my three and nine o’clock. More shots…a lot of them this time on the far west side on the north. Tempted as I was, I stayed where I was.

I had both pistols pulled now. A sound and movement to my right. Up went my pistol, cocked. No password came out, and I fired, dropping another bad guy who probably never saw me.

I heard the familiar sound of a garage door opening. Out came a pickup, turning towards the gate. I grabbed the first dead guy, and threw him over me into a fireman’s carry, heading toward the pickup.

The truck slowed down and the driver said “who the fuck is that?”

“Peanut, just a bump on the head” I worked my way to the bed. There was only one guy in the back, and he was wounded.

“Hurry the hell up!” the driver said “these guys are serious.”

I threw the body over the bed and let him drop. Even before he hit the bed, I had ‘Ol Blue out and at the driver’s head. At that point in time, I hadn’t worked out how to get him to surrender, since he had his foot on the brake, and I only saw one hand on the wheel. So, improvising, I shot  him in the shoulder, and opened the door. His left hand had a .45 in it, which was attached to what was left of his shoulder.

I heard a shot from close by and a loud noise behind me, as the wounded guy in the back fell out of the truck, and to the street, dropping his pistol in the process as well as missing part of his face. Thanks Mandy.

I dragged the driver out by his hair onto the street, and hopped into the truck and pulled it around so as to block the gate from both lanes, and turned it off. I was watching for the motorcycle…I was not disappointed.

More gunfire down the street, and the sound of Mandy’s BAR going off twice. I heard the engine rev as it left a driveway, heading to the gate. A shot from the BAR, dropped the biker at the foot of the driveway. I ran up to it (it was further than I thought and shut it off, bringing it up to park with the kickstand. Damn Hondas, gotta baby ’em or they’ll flood. I ran back to the house, and worked my way back to the gate through the yards.

I hadn’t heard gunfire in 30 or so seconds.

I heard Mandy fire then she yelled “jam!”

I pulled the Mossberg and set it on the side of the truck bed. I saw what she was going to shoot at, two figures running down the street. Both had guns and were firing them willy nilly at the pickup. I fired the Mossberg. I didn’t wait to see if I hit him or not. I ran into the shadow, and fired at the second man. It took two shots, as my skills at moving targets were not the best, but at 25 yards, I got him on the second try. It looked like he was trying to put in another mag when I hit him. My first shot proved to be successful, as there was a body a few yards behind him. I saw two rockets go up, which was our signal that the area was secure.

Our people began to filter into the streets with some former hostages. Ol’ One-arm was still breathing where I left him. I looked up at Mandy “did  you fix your gun Little Lady?”

“Yes, Dad. Are you OK?” she was starting to come down.

“I’m fine. You stay there until we’re sure these guys are all dead.”

One-Arm said “who the hell are you? We never heard you coming”

“That’s the idea. My name is Bennie…yes, that’s the one. Why the hell would you figure you’d get away with this?”

Some of our people were walking up by now with some hostages. “Is anybody hit?” I asked almost not wanting to know.

“Everyone’s fine” said Jim. “I count fourteen dead guys from the west to here. How many you got?”

“Three outside the gate, one on the south, one on the north, One-arm here isn’t dead yet, but will be soon, two in the street and Mr. Motorcycle.”

“How many hostages survived?” I asked.

“At least three ladies” Jim said “they are going through the homes looking for others and hopefully some children.” He came over and looked at One-Arm. “A live one Bennie? You’re losing your touch.”

“Oh, I figured we save him for any survivor who want to shoot his balls off before we execute him.”

“You can’t touch me” said One-Arm “I got rights.”

Jim and I laughed out loud…yes, the hysterical kind again.

“I’ll give you one phone call….” I couldn’t finish as I started laughing again.

“Wait!” Jim said “I’ll defend him!” more laughter.

We managed to quell our giddiness, and set it aside.

“What’s it like in homes, body wise?” I asked Jim.

“They’re scattered some. Ted, Juan, Roberto, and Alex were going to round them up” he answered. “Deke, Jake, Al, AJ, David and Charles are helping the ladies look for others.”

“To the victor, go the spoils” I said, and proceeded to move the pickup, and gather the bodies we had collected at our end. We pickup up their guns, and took whatever ammo they were carrying. Jim found the trailer, and it contained several cans of gasoline.

I drove the pickup around and collected the rest of the bodies. “Someone find out from Deke where we can burn these bodies.”

Charles walked up “I heard there was a live one.”

I pointed at the bleeding mess on the ground. “There he is. Feel free to execute him, Charles. We’re under martial law, and he has assaulted and killed. The penalty is death. If  you don’t, we’ll just burn him alive with his friends.”

“That’s one of the guys who killed Gary” Charles said. “Check his left side, and I’ll bet there’s a buckshot wound from Gary’s gun.”

Deke and Jake walked up with some ladies, and a couple of little girls. “Bennie, what’s the situation here? Can we take these people for some medical attention?”

“Sure, we’re a little short on vehicles, and it would more comfortable if they went in the pickup, but as soon as we dump this one, we should be ready” I answered truthfully.

One of the ladies walked to me and gave me a hug. “Marie and I have been friends a long time” she said “I’m Rebecca Bradford. This is my daughter MaryAnne.”

One of the little girls walked over to me; she was maybe six. I knelt down to greet her and she told me in the saddest most pathetic voice “my brother is dead.” I hugged her too and cried out loud.

“I’m so sorry MaryAnne” I kissed her on the forehead. “The rest of us will not let anything else happen to you…ever again” I said, trying to hold back the tears.

“Promise?” she said.

“I promise” I said.

I stood up “did you see Al and AJ?” I asked Rebecca.

“Yes, I talked to them a few minutes ago.” she smiled.

“Bennie, sorry to interrupt” Deke said “we can dump this load over yonder in that vacant lot, and do with what you want from there.”
“OK” I said “I’ll drive, but I need a couple volunteers to help unload.”

Charles was the first one to volunteer. “Grab one of those cans of gas” I asked him.

Jim was always good to volunteer for the dirty work, and Alex went as well.

It was just caddy corner to the ‘hood, so we were there in less than a minute. We soaked the ground a little, and piled them on, soaking as we went. One Arm was the last one, and he was mostly dead, but we threw him with his pals of gasoline soaked death. I gave Charles the matches, and he did not hesitate to light one, and toss it on the heap of bodies. It flared up immediately, and we jumped into the truck, picked up the Mustang and our truck on the way back. The troops went into the bloody Chevy, and the ladies rode in the cleaner one. We stopped at Deke’s before we hit the road, and chatted a bit. AJ took the cleaner truck home as one of the ladies needed some medical attention. Al drove the motorcycle home. Mandy rode with the ladies too. They were surprised to hear what she had accomplished, and the amount of respect that the men had for her.

Deke came out with a bunch of beers, and gave one to all. “Job well done” he held up his can. “Anytime one comes home after a raid like that, deserves a toast.”

We were all bushed and thirsty, so we chugged the brews down, and hit the road. “Deke” I said “If you ever need anything, the password at our gates is “hooty-hoot! hooty-hoot!” I shook his hand “thanks for your help. We’ll be back to visit soon.”

He waved as we drove off. I had the bloody Chevy with the trailer, and the Mustang followed with Army driving it.

We arrived at the Main Gate, where the troops disembarked. I drove the new truck to Jonas’ where we unloaded the gas cans. I then went back to Al’s where Lea was waiting.

“All is well?” she asked after a few hugs and kisses.

“Yep, thanks to Mandy, wherever she is. She saved my life again tonight. That’s why I like to have people who shoot well along. We had no injuries at all, that I know of.”

“Any word from the infirmary?” I asked.

“No, when they arrived, some of the others came over and wanted to help, but Marie has it under control. Jeanette came as well, although there won’t be any surgeries tonight.”

“You might go over and see if you can help with the children” I told her. “Maybe some of your teacher’s instincts can help the little ones through this. Read a story or something.”

“Sounds like your trying to get rid of me” she said.

“No” I started “we’ve done our parts and saved their lives. Now they must heal, and that takes the community of which you are a part.”

“I’ve got to debrief with the troops” I said, walking toward Army’s. “We’ll be done in a while, and we’ll probably be thirsty.”

She veered off to the infirmary, and I headed straight down the street.

Some of the guys were done, and were leaving. Having squads cut down on the debrief time. Ted and Angie were leaving as well. They seemed eager to get home. Mandy was there…I guess technically she was part of my squad. She smiled when she saw me coming. Army was writing stuff down, and quizzing the squads.

It seemed that our group caught them totally by surprise. They didn’t even hear my shot at the gate. The squads, based on Charles’ map,  hit the homes that he suggested because of jewels, general wealth…for some reason he knew all that about his neighbors. Most of the guys were just drinking and drunk, so it wasn’t really much of a gunfight. When they got to Rebecca’s, it was different, as they were assaulting her. Two dead quickly.

Army got around to me. I told him how I had shot the first guy who thought I was one of them, then the other two that came from either side, then the guy in the truck, how I feigned I was one of them carrying the one dead guy, and shot the driver, then Mandy saving my hide again, the two running down the street, and Mr. Motorcycle.

“Ok, I got 22 dead guys” Army said. “We added 4 .45s to our arsenal, a 30.06, a couple shotguns, some .22s owned by the residents, a few beat up AKs, and some assorted odd caliber rifles and pistols. It might be worth another trip to run through and gather what food may be left, guns and ammo. Might find more survivors too. We are now, in addition to the 15 people this morning that joined, proud to have three more ladies, and two young girls; one who has been asking for Bennie.”

Army put his pencil down, put his hands behind his head, crossed his feet on the trash can, and said “what is it with you and the ladies,  Bennie? What is your magic?”

“Have you seen magic?” I said, and looked around. ” I don’t have any magic. There are plenty of ladies here who all but ignore me.” I went on. “Let’s go have some brews…I’m buying.”

I turned, and headed towards Al’s with Mandy taking up position beside me, smiling big.

“What’re you smilin’ at Missy?” I asked her.

“We make a good team, huh Dad?” she asked.

“Yes, I can honestly say that I would not be here now if not for you Mandy” I began “thanks again for saving my life.” I reached over and patted her on the back. “How’s the shoulder?”

“It’s still a big tender” she said, rubbing it, and I’m still wearing the  pad, and probably will for a while yet.”

“Well, you were rockin’ tonight Mandy” I continued “I didn’t see you miss once. I’d glad you fixed your jam. Did you figure out what it was?”

“I had dinged the mag when I got on top of the wall. I put in a fresh one, so we’ll have to look at it tomorrow.” She looked over at me “it sure was a bad time to have a jam. I saw those two guys running at you. That was a good shot with the Mossberg. Were you shooting slugs? That guy stopped in his tracks like he was hit with a brick.”

“Yep” I replied “a slug certainly has more more punch than OO, and I figured wouldn’t be in much close combat. Good thing too; I didn’t know whether or not I hit him until I got to cover, then I shot the other guy who looked like he was reloading on the run.”

I looked over at her. “Remember, if you’re on the ground, you need to be moving right after you shoot; especially at night. If they can’t see you they can certainly open up on the position of your muzzle flash. Shoot and move, shoot and move.”

“Got it Dad” she answered.

By then, we were walking by the infirmary, and Lea was exiting with two little ones. “Uncle Bennie” I recognized MaryAnne’s little voice, as she ran to me. Lea stood and smiled as I hugged the little one. “I was looking for you, and they said you were busy.”

“I know darlin’, but I’m here now” I said to her. “Are you feeling ok? Did Marie look at your scratches?”

She held up her elbow that had a Band-Aid on it. “Yeah, I’m OK now.” She looked toward the infirmary “my mommy is hurt, but she’s gonna be OK too.”

“I’m glad to hear that, MaryAnne” I told her. “We’re going to Al’s house now.” I looked at Lea.

She nodded, held out her hand, and said “come MaryAnne, and we’ll find something for you to eat.”

“I wanna go with Uncle Bennie” she said as she drew closer to me.

I stood up and said “we’ll all go. C’mon honey” I held out my hand, and off we went across the street to Al’s.

I heard a noise behind and it was Army “see? how you are?” He held his hands out at his sides.

MaryAnne held my hand tighter and looked at Army “there’s a man back there.”

“That’s Army, MaryAnne” I said “he’s my good friend, and he’s your friend too. He will help me keep you safe.”

“K” she said, her hand relaxed a little, and she turned frontward, as we went around the corner to Al’s back yard.

MaryAnne was a little hesitant as we rounded the corner, as it was dark, but most of us could traverse the path day or night. The patio was semi-lighted from the lanterns in the den. We made our way through the mosquito netting, and proceeded to set up the table.

Lea came to MaryAnne “come, sugar. Let’s find you something to eat.”

“I wanna stay with Bennie” she said, with her little whine.

I squatted down to her level and told her “you go with Lea now. I know you’re thirsty, and I can hear your tummy rumbling ’cause there’s nothing in there” I tapped her tummy. “I’ll be right here, and you can come out and sit in my lap when you’ve had something to eat. Deal?”

She smiled and nodded saying “K” and went inside with Lea.

I put some chairs up with Mandy and Army’s help, and sat down. It seemed like a long time since I had done that, even though it really hadn’t.

I fired up a smoke, and just enjoyed it. Jim came ’round the corner with an ice chest, and we gladly helped him get through the netting. Al and AJ showed up as well as Ted and Angie.

“I just came for a beer” said Ted, as he fished some out of the chest and passed them around, while Jim was getting settled into a chair “but I’ll help share”.

“Angie” I said to her “I sure am enjoying the holster you made for me. It works perfectly” I held my thumb and index finger together forming a circle. “Thank you.”

“You’re very welcome Bennie” she started “I’m glad I could finally help out, after what you did for us.”

“Y’all don’t owe me nothin’ and you know that, and I thank you again for your fine work. I’ll recommend you to others who need similar” I added, tipping my beer towards her.

“Is it really necessary for Ted to be going on these raids?” she asked “I’m so fearful of losing him.”

Ted looked surprised and started to speak, but I interrupted.

“The reason we have Ted go with us is because he is one of our best militia, if not the best. He’s a great shot, and moves like a panther in the jungle. They modeled stealth mode after him. He teaches us stuff. We don’t want to lose him either, and we will all do our damnedest not to lose him.” I tipped my beer to Ted this time. “Angie, we never really know what we’re going to run into, and we need every single guy that we trust with our lives out there. I would rather have too many guys, than not enough; then no one gets back. It’s still up to him, these missions are voluntary. We don’t force anyone to go, but it has to be done. Thank you for loaning him to us.”

She smiled and hugged Ted. “OK, but you better watch over him Bennie” she said, shaking her finger at me.

“I watch over everyone” I answered with a smile.

“Thanks guys” she said, and she and Ted headed out. Ted shrugged at me as he walked, and mouthed ‘thank you’ as they left the patio.

“Dang, Bennie” Army started “you’re getting spread kind of thin; watching over all these folks.”

I sipped my beer and said “I was thinking the same thing, but I’ve got my guardian angel” I gestured towards Mandy “she saved my ass again tonight.”

They all tipped their beers at her “way to go Mandy…nice  job”

She smiled and said “Bennie threw one dead guy over his shoulders to stop the truck. When he threw the dead guy in the back, the other wounded guy stood up with his gun. Bennie had his gun drawn at the driver, and I got the guy in the back of the truck before he shot Bennie. Then my gun jammed, and Bennie shot the other two guys that were running at him. By then, I fixed my jam, but the excitement was over.”

“What?” Jim said “your BAR jammed? What happened? How did you fix it?”

Mandy pulled out her mag “I must have bumped it when Dad helped me get up the wall. It has a dent in the corner, I think.”

Jim looked at it in the pale light and said to Mandy “I’ll help you fix it tomorrow, OK?”

She nodded with a big smile.

“That was quick thinking, Mandy” Jim added, passing the mag back to her.

“So” I started “you now know our excitement at the gate. What about the rest of you?”

“They’ve all debriefed” Army said. Al, AJ, and I kicked in one door, only to have an MZB standing just inside. Broken nose, and then a major headache from my AK.”

He continued “Juan and Ted walked in on two guys taking turns assaulting Rebecca. Two dead quickly there.”

“Deke and Jake set up on the corner and shot three running into the street from other homes. Jim and Alex caught the rest of them in a drinking party, also working up to assaulting the other two ladies.”

Jim put his beer down and said “just like fish in a barrel. Didn’t wast no ammunition neither. That Alex is a rock. Those women were screaming when we busted in and started shooting. There wasn’t a gun within 20 feet of any of those guys.”

“David and Roberto backed up Jim’s team when they heard the shooting” Army went on, then they went door to door to check for signs of life, finding none. Deke and Jake showed up and Deke fired off his rockets.”

“After that, they gathered up the survivors and searched for the little ones, and found the two girls…” he paused, then continued in a lower voice “there still may be more. We should plan to make another run for supplies, and more survivors…just to be sure.”

I nodded in agreement. “What happened to Jake?” I asked “I didn’t see him at the debrief.”

“He left for home, as soon as we returned to check on Teresa” replied Army. “He’s OK.”

“Damn!” I said “three head shots in like two seconds. I never heard a shot, nor saw a muzzle flash. Those guys never knew what was happening.” I shook my head. “The driver of the truck said the same thing; that they never saw us coming. I’d have to say, gentlemen, that this was a very successful raid; especially that none of us got hurt.” I held up my beer. The rest did same. I finished my beer with that last swallow, and Jim had another in front of me before I could ask for another.

“Thank you, my friend” I said with a smile.

I heard the patio screen door open and out bounded MaryAnne, who came right for me “Uncle Bennie” she called, and climbed into my lap. She settled right against me, and said not another word. She was asleep in two minutes.

“Any word on her mother?” I asked Lea, who was just watching me with a smile.

“I’ll go check” she said, and left for the infirmary.

“Where’s she going to sleep?” asked Mandy, knowing full well the answer to that.

“We’re going to unfold the couch you sleep on, and MaryAnne and her mom will sleep with you on it, end of discussion. You sleep on this side, in case you need to get up and stand watch or something.” I hoped I didn’t sound like I was taking sides.

“I know, it’s the right thing to do” she said. “I talked to Angie a little earlier, and she said she would make me a foldaway cot.”

“That’s great!” I said “she really does some good work. You better watch it though, if yours is better than ours, we may try finagle it from you.”

She just smiled and said “no you won’t” and she was right.

Lea, Marie, and Rebecca came around the corner, and AJ got up, and went inside, leaving a chair open. They worked their way into the web of netting, and all sat down.

Rebecca was smiling.

I said to her “well, we’re all glad to see you smile” I told her in all honesty.

She answered “I see you have a new best friend” she smiled at her daughter, fast asleep in my lap.

I looked at her too and replied “yep, she’s all tuckered out. I think Lea gave her a bath as well.”

“Well, she sure has gotten attached to you, Bennie” Rebecca started “she has been asking about you ever since we left home. I hope you don’t mind.”

“I’m glad to help if I can” I said “we can fold out the couch” I gestured inside. “You and the little one can share with Mandy for tonight if you like.”

She put her hands in her face and cried for a bit. “You have no idea how we prayed for the beatings to end…no idea. You and your men were the answer to our prayers.” She wiped some tears and continued “and when we arrive, Marie treats us like family. My little girl was so scared that they were going to hurt her, like they did her big brother, that I too, thought they would hurt her because she just cried and cried. They kept telling her to shut up.” She sobbed again and looked at me “and when Bennie crouched down and hugged her and cried for her brother, it was like all the fear left her. Thank you Bennie. Thank all of you for what you’ve done, and may God bless you all.”

Marie and Lea helped her inside, and I could see them struggling with the couch. They finally got it unfolded, and Rebecca laid down, and I’m sure she was out. I heard whispering and Lea came to the door and asked me “Will you bring MaryAnne to bed when you retire?”

“Of course I will” I said. Lea waved at me, then walked out of sight.

“Is there a plan for tomorrow?” I asked “aside from a run back to the Jennings neighborhood?”

I swigged a couple gulps of beer.

“That’s all I got” said Army. “More thorough examination of the homes, might prove to be useful. There’s like twenty huge homes out there. We have maybe representatives from ten homes here. The rest were out of town or…dead, I guess. We need to check, and move over here whatever we can. If some of the folks want to go, that would be up to me and that person’s general  mental health.”

“I hear that” I said, nodding.

“We should take the trucks” Army went on “I wouldn’t need all the militia we had last night. I assume all of us are in?”

The five of us nodded. Mandy never missed a chance for adventure.

“I’d like to take Charles. He seems to have a level head, and know a lot about the neighborhood. I would need maybe two additional militia to watch the gate while the rest of us go looting. We’d need some water…say 15 bottles, in case we do run into some needy people, some bread and general food. Everyone load up on ammo like we’re never coming back…just in case. Bennie, bring your 30-30 as well as the rest of your ordnance. Mandy, check that mag out, and bring an extra can of ammo…just in case. We’ll swing by Deke’s too, and see if he wants to share the booty.”

“We’ll need radios. We’ll go by what Charles suggests, but I would think start at the back side where we never got tonight. There are some huge homes there. We could be in for a surprise; I mean we could find an underground gasoline tank, or a cache of weapons and ammo that would shame us, food caches, and yes I know you’re thinking of it…liquor.”

“We eat breakfast, fix that mag, and go after we fill the tanks on the trucks. Later, we’ll work on the Chevy; change the oil, that kind of thing. OK?”

“Sounds good” I said getting up. “Sounds like we might need to grab some shut-eye pretty soon. It could be a long morning.”

“Agreed” mumbled some others.

I managed to slide the door open, and get inside to put MaryAnne next to her mom, who woke up; startled, then a smile. “Thank you” she whispered. I just winked back.

Mandy was right behind me, and she found her spot on the other side. “G’night Dad” she said.

“G’night Mandy” I whispered.

I went back out, peed in the yard, and hit the sack. The next thing I knew, I smelled bacon.

CHAPTER FIFTY-TWO

I got right up, and this time, I was first. I went and peed, then packed up my cot. I then started the Volcano for the cast iron skillet…makes great toast, if one can wait.

Lea was up inside, and I went in an kissed her good morning. The coffee was done, in the carafe, and the second pot was brewing. It was barely daylight, after I thought about it. “Dang, you’re up early” I said to Lea.

“It’s that damned rooster” she said” “it’s been crowing for 45 minutes.”

“I never heard a thing” I said, stealing some bacon.

“Well you should sleep in here then” she said.

“Oh, I see” I started “well you could either sleep outside with us, drink more, or stop complaining; or all three together. It is cooler outside, my love, and further from the rooster.”

“OK” she said.

“Hey, did Clay talk to you about starting a school?” I asked her. I knew that would brighten her up.

I was right. “No! he didn’t say anything” she said, and she put down her bacon tools, and folded her arms.

“Well” I said “there are several children here now, with the addition of the crew yesterday. I thought it might be a good idea to start a school, and see where it goes. You love to teach,  most of the kids are younger than 10, which is your forte. I thought it might be a good idea to get the kids together, and parents busy with their own chores.”

She burst into a smile, and hugged me til I was outa breath, then she was jumping up and down. “Thank you, what a great idea! Yes, Clay can help. I’ll talk to parents today. Where will we have it?”

“Check with H on the census and see what homes are still open, and who has kids. Take the time to add our new additions to the census as well.” Man, I’m good.

She started back to the bacon, and I could see the wheels turning.

I went back outside where the rest were stirring. The fire for the Volcano was not quite ready. I came back inside to get the skillet, and some bread which Lea had ready.

Mandy stirred, then I saw Rebecca move, and finally MaryAnne. Mandy smiled “good morning Dad” she said, and headed outside…presumably to pee.

“Mandy, take MaryAnne with you and show her how it works, OK?” I asked her.

“C’mon MaryAnne” I scooped her up. “Your big sister is going to show you how big girls go potty.”

MaryAnne rubbed her eyes and said to Mandy “are you my big sister now?”

Mandy took her hand and said “yes, I’m Mandy, your new big sister. Did you know that your name and my name have the same first letter?” Mandy led her outside chatting away. I might have had a tear in my eye.

Rebecca got up and said “I guess I should learn too” as she stepped onto the patio.

“It’s a two-holer!” I said after her “no waiting” I chuckled to myself. That always gets ’em.

I followed her out with my skillet and bread, and began to toast some slices. I heard Army’s radio go off with notice that the Deputy was on his way. The rest of the guys filtered around to the table, and poured coffee.

MaryAnne finished her business, and plopped herself into my lap. “Good  morning MaryAnne” I said to her. “Did you sleep good?”

She shook her head, and looked up at me and said “I had some bad dreams.”

I gave her a hug, kissed her on top of her head and said “I’m sorry darlin’. I have bad dreams too sometimes, but they’re just dreams.”

She nodded and snuggled into my chest.

“Looks like you have a new friend” said the Deputy as he walked onto the patio, smiling. He sat down next to me. He held out his hand to MaryAnne and said to her “I’m Alan, what’s your name?”

She pulled closer to me and I told her “MaryAnne, this is Deputy Alan. He’s my friend, and your friend too. He will help us keep you safe.”

She stuck out her little hand and shook his, then back to me. “I see you have some new additions…anything I should know?” He looked around. Army looked at me.

I stood up and said “MaryAnne, would you like some toast and jelly?”

She nodded, and I took her inside, while Army briefed the Deputy.

I found a stool and put MaryAnne on it and Lea had a plate set up for her. Rebecca had been watching and I said to her “you might want to grab some coffee, and go talk to the Deputy to corroborate what Army is telling him…if you’re up to it.”

She nodded, took her coffee, and went outside, sitting at my place at the table with the guys.

I sipped my coffee, and ate some toast. MaryAnne was watching me, so I sat down beside her. I took a piece of bacon and said “Mmm. Good bacon.”

She, in turn, took a piece and did same with a smile.

“Lea” I said “I think there is some sweetened condensed milk in one of those crates. Maybe we could mix up some milk for MaryAnne.” I turned to MaryAnne “would you like a little milk?”

She nodded, and took a bite of toast. Lea went to the pantry and I took her place at the stove, finishing the pot of coffee, and putting the last of the bacon on the big plate.

Lea returned with the condensed milk and asked “how should I mix it?”

“I would try like maybe a teaspoon into a tall glass of water. I’ll run to the food bank and see if I talk George out of a bottle of cold water.” I stood up and MaryAnne slid off her stool too.

“We’ll be right back” I said taking MaryAnne’s hand and heading out the front door, instead of going ’round back.

“Where we goin’?” she asked looking up at me.

I pointed to George’s “over there to see if we can get a cold bottle of water, so you can have cold milk.”

George saw us coming, and called Gina out too. MaryAnne drew closer to me, as we neared them.

“Good morning all!” I said to them, offering my hand to George.

“Well good morning” said George with his huge smile, looking at MaryAnne. “Who is this young lady?”

“This is MaryAnne” I said “MaryAnne, this are my friends George and Gina.”

MaryAnne offered her hand to each of them and asked “could we have a bottle of cold water so my Uncle Bennie can make me some milk?” Who could refuse?

“Of course you can” said George while Gina went into the garage and fetched one. “How are you going to make milk?” he asked me.

“A little sweetened condensed milk with a large amount of water, should be good” I said “we’ll experiment and see how she likes it.”

Gina handed her the water “here you go MaryAnne.”

“Thank you” said MaryAnne, and she took my hand to leave.

“I thank you as well” I said as she drug me away. “She’s hungry” I said with a smile and turned and left with her.

We arrived back at Al’s kitchen, and tried a teaspoon of condensed with some of the cold water. MaryAnne drank it right down, and asked for more. She was still eating toast, and had a little egg as well. We didn’t deny her anything. A hungry child is usually healthy, IMO. I looked at Lea “in the OTC meds box, there should be a bottle of Flintstones vitamins.”

Lea disappeared before I finished my sentence. I drank some more coffee and finished my toast. I ate another piece of bacon “Mmm bacon” I said.

Lea returned with the vitamins, and MaryAnne picked Fred. We poured her a small glass of water, and she downed it too.

“We may need to check our inventory of the milk, and mix up some and keep it in George’s fridge” I suggested. “We can also add some powdered milk to it the mixture for the vitamin D. Probably no more than a quart or so. I know there are other children too. We should probably make it available to all of them.”

“Good idea” said Lea. “I’ll talk to Marie and George.”

“Bennie!” I heard my name called from the patio. “Please join us when  you’re ready.” That Army and his sarcastic wit.

On my way out, with MaryAnne at my right hand, I said to Lea “do you still have  your b-e-a-r? The one that was in the chair or maybe a small d-o-l-l?” I pointed at the little one.

Lea smiled and nodded.

I got outside, and saw that Rebecca had been crying.

“Army say he wants to return and make another sweep” Deputy said.

I nodded “there were several homes that we didn’t even get close to towards the south. If we don’t get their stuff, probably some bad guys will. There could even be preppers holed up in one or more. I totally agree.”

Deputy stood up “OK then, good luck to you and be careful. We’ll be seeing more of this, so I suggest you get in, and get out as fast as you can. I urge you to go early as possible.”

He shook good-bye to all present, and even MaryAnne.

I started by saying “so, is there a plan?”

Army stood up and said “yep, two guards at the gate; Mandy would be a great guard.” He pointed to me “you, me, Jim, Al, and I’ll round up Alex for the other gate guard. We’ll take our trailer. Load up for bear. We’ll stop at Deke’s and let him know what we’re up to, and knowing him, he’ll volunteer. We’ll need Charles or someone else who might know people we could encounter.”

“The Deputy is right” he continued “we need to move fast…in and out. If we find people that want to go, then move them out, help load their stuff into the trailer…essentials only…food, water, some clothes, guns, ammo, meds…got it?”

We nodded. I have not seen him so..so..concerned. I wondered what I had missed.

He looked at Al. We’ll need AJ’s satphone. I’ll have a team on standby in the Mustang, if we get into trouble. Questions?”

Rebecca said “I’ll go. I know all those families in that part of the neighborhood.”

“Can you shoot?” Army asked.

“Yes” she answered.

“What’s your weapon of choice?” he quizzed.

“A .45 model 1911 if you have one, otherwise Glock .45 would be fine.”

“Bennie? You still have that stash?” Army asked, and I was up and heading inside, with MaryAnne close behind.

I found the bag with a .45 Glock and 4 loaded mags, with a mag in the pistol. I pulled a holster as well. I went to the patio and stopped to talk to MaryAnne.

“MaryAnne” I started with my hands on her arms “I’ll need you to stay here with Lea until we get back, OK?”

She pouted and almost whispered “I want to go with you.”

“MaryAnne, it will be too dangerous for you there. You’ll be safe here with Lea and Marie. You can help Lea start up a new school.” I opened my eyes wide, like it would be exciting. She bought it.

“OK” she looked at Lea “are we going to school?” she seemed enthused. I let her go, and I went outside. The rest were gone except Rebecca. I handed her the Glock and ammo. She dropped the mag, put it back, popped a round from the chamber, dropped the mag, and replaced the round quicker than I could have. I nodded to her with my approval. I brought the 30-30, the Mossberg, both .44s, and three bandoliers with appropriate ammo… maybe 150 rounds, not including the ammo on the belt.

“Let’s go” I said to Rebecca, and we walked around to the front, where the rest were waiting in the two pickups.

They had hitched our trailer to the Ford. Army drove the Ford with Al, and Jim drove the Chevy with Mandy riding shotgun. I hopped in the Ford, and Rebecca followed. Alex came running up, and got in the back of the Chevy. Off we went. The sun hadn’t been up an hour yet.

CHAPTER FIFTY-THREE

We went out the main gate, and headed to Devlin.

“My MaryAnne is certainly attached to you” Rebecca said smiling.

“What happened to her dad and brother?” I asked “sorry for being blunt, but there is something we need to discuss and I need to know.”

“Her dad and brother were killed last night” she teared up. Her dad was at the gate when the bad guys first showed up. When they finally got to our house, my son who was 12, tried to fight off the guys with a bat. They shot him in front of both of us. Then they attacked me. I thought the night would never end. I kept thinking they were going to hurt MaryAnne, but they didn’t.”

“OK, I very sorry for your losses and what you have gone through. About MaryAnne…she seems to have a problem feeling ‘safe’. I told her I would keep her safe, and I promised. She seems very content to know that someone will keep her safe. I introduced others here. Army, Lea, Marie and others telling her that they would help me keep her safe. When I mention ‘keep her safe’, she relaxes and is more open to said people.”

I paused and Rebecca said “I hear you, I think I know what you’re going to say, go on…please.”

“This is just a suggestion, and I think you should tell her that the rest of us help you keep her safe. She saw her brother killed, and you assaulted. She has lost that ‘safe’ feeling from you. Tell her with conviction, that you will keep her safe. She’s very bright and understands more than one thinks.”

She thought for a minute, and said “you have good insight, Bennie. I’ll work on that with her. She will probably be attached to you forever though” she added with a smile.

“She’ll probably outgrow it” I started “I’m usually very busy, and normally don’t have time for the little ones. I’m happy to help if I can with her.”

“I know you already have two daughters” she said “and I can see that they love you. You’re a great dad.”

I smiled “thanks…actually H is Lea’s daughter, and we kinda took Mandy in when this first started. She started calling me Dad, and it stuck. My two boys are safe in the mountains of Colorado, I hope.”

We began to slow down, and Army backed into Deke’s driveway, where Deke was waiting. He walked over carrying a  tricked out AK. “You guys are up to no good, I can tell” he said as he got to the truck. What’s goin’ on?”

Army gave him a quick briefing. “Count me in” he said, and he locked his gate, the climbed in the truck. We drove to the intersection, and scoped out both directions…nothing happening. We drove through the gate, and Mandy hopped out, as did Alex with their ammo packs.

I looked at Mandy, who seemed a little frightened. I hopped out and went to her and gave her a hug. “Use the radio” I said “if you need any help. You have your instructions.” I kissed her on the forehead, and hopped back in.

“Where to Rebecca?” I said.

She poked her head around the truck and told Army “the house with the boat in the driveway is mine.”

Headed straight down, and stopped in front, as did the other truck. The drivers stayed with the trucks, and I said “pick a couple of us to help.”

She pointed at me, and Deke since we were closest. I told Al, “check the boat for those red gas tanks, and flare guns.” We followed Rebecca inside. We saw a sheet over what must have been her boy. She went into the kitchen, and pulled out boxes of food and bottled water. While we were hauling it out, she went upstairs. She returned with a suitcase and what looked like a pistol pack. She held it up and said “my husband didn’t like guns. He didn’t know I had it. We never heard them coming.”

We exited and loaded back up into the trucks. “Turn left at the end, and pull into the first driveway on the left. That’s the Bales family. I think they were out of town that weekend.”

“Across the street are the Zarates…I don’t know much about them.”

We all disembarked, and began knocking on doors and windows. No answers so went to windows, and broke a pane and entered. The Bales’ had lots of dry goods and we were quick to haul them out into the trailer. The medicine cabinets had common OTC items, and we took those.  Their garage yielded two five-gallon cans of gasoline. A peek in the attic found some kerosene lanterns, sleeping bags, and assorted camping equipment. A search through closets found blankets, which we took. Looking for firearms in closets, under beds yielded nothing in that house. We locked it up.

The Zarates had less food, but we took it all. We dared not open fridges. Their garage had a couple of gas cans too. We took those. I thought it strange, so had a quick look myself, and found a hollow wall behind a closet which contained a nice pair of Glock 9mm with several mags and maybe 1000 rounds of ammo. I found no other secret panels…not that there weren’t any. I put the panel back, but took the guns and ammo.

We went house by house, as quick as we could, finding some hunting rifles, and shotguns with assorted ammo. We made many trips hauling dry and canned goods from the homes.

There were two left. One of them was downright huge. Mansion by definition. I thought I had smelled something cooking, but blew it off thinking I had bacon grease on my mustache or something.

It had its own gate that was locked. We stood there a minute, deciding what to do.

“Well, if there is someone here, they’re probably better off than we are…hate to say it” I said.

Army was looking at some spots on the driveway. They were on the street from the direction we just came.

“Blood” Army said, squatting down. “I’ll bet one of our missing family members is here. Probably that guy who was shot.”

“Go away” a voice said. We were all startled.

“I am Rebecca Bradford” Rebecca started I live down the street.

“I know who you are” said the voice. “What do you want?”

Then, she became indignant. “Are you people aware that last night many of your neighbors were shot and killed? Many of the women who survived were raped? While you sat here inside your castle? What the hell is the matter with you? We found blood on the street leading up here. Is Gary Hopkins in there? His wife thinks he’s dead.”

“He’s here, and he’s wounded” said the voice “we just want to be left alone.”

“We have access to a nurse and a surgeon” Rebecca went on. “We may be able to fix him if he’s willing to come with us.”

After a pause “he said he’d come with you, but he’ll need help to walk.”

The gate unlatched “just Rebecca and the tall guy with all the guns. Please leave some of them at the gate.”

I left the Mossberg and the 30-30 and the pack.

Rebecca and I walked up to the front door. It opened, and a man barely able to stand was there. He got between us, and Rebecca and I started down the sidewalk to the drive, when a man from inside said “who are you mister?”

“Some call me Dirty Bennie” I replied, not turning around. Gary let go of me, and Rebecca and he continued towards the driveway. Then I turned around.

He said, much more relieved, “if I’d a known who you were, I would have been more cordial” he continued with a smile “you’re something of a hero.”

I stood in my stance, with both guns at the ready, and I got angry. I lit up a smoke and took a couple of deep drags before I spoke.

“Did I hear her correctly?” I gestured towards Rebecca. I tossed the smoke away. “You assholes sat here in your big fucking castle, while your neighbors were being raped, tortu