Archive for April, 2017

Doc opened the door and saw the large black man sitting on the top step with a worried look distorting his face.

“Well.” Doc turned back to Amanda. “It seems we have a changing of the guard, young lady. Jake is outside, and the Lieutenant has disappeared.

Amanda smiled at Jake from the bed and held out her hand. “He’s my coach.” She announced.

Jake’s face bloomed with surprise and joy. “Me? Are you sure?” He rose and stepped inside the bedroom to kneel at the side of the bed. “I…I….” He stuttered.

Despite the grip of another contraction she reached out her hand and whispered. “I couldn’t think of a better person. You know I love you.”

Jake grinned. “Really? Really?” He pulled her hand to his lips and kissed her fingers. “I was…I just couldn’t. Really?”

Amanda laughed. “It’s alright. Now, do what you do.”

She turned to her side, and Jake immediately began to massage the small of her back. Amanda relaxed and focused on her breathing. When the contraction eased, Doc cleared his throat. “Well, it’ll be a while, and I think you two have things handled for now. Helen and I will be downstairs for a few minutes. Someone mentioned coffee?”  They disappeared from the room.

Jake sat back, and Amanda turned toward him with a questioning look on her face.  He whispered. “I know you loved your husband and I’m sorry he didn’t make it. I know I can’t take his place, but I love you and want to be this baby’s daddy.”

“I love you, too.” She smiled. “Now let’s get this baby born.”

Jake grinned back until he saw her face melt into a grimace. “Right.” He grinned. “I’m gonna be a daddy.”

Doc and Helen came down the stairs whispering and chuckling. They appeared at the kitchen door, and Doc asked. “Did I smell coffee?” He asked as he walked into the kitchen where Matt, Larry, and the girls now sat.

“We’re having a baby now?” Amy asked.

“We sure are, little one.” Doc settled at the table, and Helen poured two cups of coffee, crossed to the table and settled on a chair.

Doc took a sip of coffee then spoke. “Well, Matt, quite the merry little band you have here. I take it, the illustrious Reverend Jacob Billings is a new arrival.”

Matt bounced Clair as she pulled at his collar giggling. “It does seem to be getting a little out of control. And yeah, we got Larry to thank for Billings.” He frowned.

Larry looked up from the cup of coffee in his hands. “I think I should have turned around and left the bastard there. But they were starving. They had those little girls.” His voice trailed off.

“Who exactly did they have?” Matt asked.

Larry shrugged. “Five men plus Billings, two are young men, maybe early twenties. There’s eight women, four middle age, four real young and then three little girls, preteen I’d say.”

“No little boys?” Helen commented. “That’s strange, and all the women are dress in long dresses. They remind me of those Amish or Mennonite folks except the look on the younger women’s faces.” Her voice trailed off.

Larry continued. “The preacher insisted all the women stay in the big camper and the men are in the smaller one next to it. They turned the campers, so the doors face each other. Something weird about them, for sure.”

Doc stood up and nodded toward Helen. “You gentlemen seem to have things to discuss, and we have a baby to deliver.” The old couple ascended the stairs without more comment.

“Well, this is a fine mess you’ve gotten us into.” Matt chuckled and turned to Amy. “Time for you two to get back in bed. One of us will be in to tuck you in in a little bit.”

Amy yawned. “Yes, sir. I’ll fix Claire’s bottle then we’ll go.”

Matt smiled and nodded. “Thanks, sweety.”

He let Claire’s hand slide across his face to his lips. He caught her fingertips between his lips and blew out. The baby giggled as she collapsed against him and hugged his neck.

“Da Da.” She giggled. She pulled at his hair, then sat up and grinned.

Amy appeared and reached out for her sister. “Good night, Mr. Matt and Mr. Larry. Tell Mr. Jake good night for us, please.” She disappeared down the dimly lit hall without a backward glance. The small lantern flicked on and a hint of light spilled from the back bedroom.

“Da da?” Larry grinned.

“Drop it,” Matt growled. “Now, about the preacher.”

“I don’t know what to tell you, but I do know, all those women and girls can’t stay in a one-bedroom camper.”

“What?” Matt jumped to his feet. “How many units did you bring back?”

“Six,” Larry answered.

“I put Doc and Helen and the girls in one, Red and Theresa with a couple kids in another, then the rest of their group in the third. We can go back for two more units tomorrow.”

Matt ran his hand through his hair. “Aren’t any of them families? What in the hell is going on with them?”

Brian pulled his legs from the window ledge and sat upright.  He got to his feet and turned to study the four sleepers now only shadows in the gloom. He turned back to Billy’s flushed face visible in the moonlight through the windows.

“What is it? Is it midnight?” He whispered.

Billy pointed through the window. “No! There! I can see lights.”

Brian wiped his eyes with the back his hand and studied the dark shadows in the distance. He got to his feet, squinted and leaned closer to the glass. After a full minute, he was ready to give Billy hell for waking him when he saw a flash of light. Suddenly there were three more flashes in quick secession.

“Gunfire?” Billy asked.

“You got the keys to the truck?” Brian demanded. “Stay here and keep watch until morning. If I don’t make it back, you know where to go.”

Billy handed Brian keys. “The truck has a full tank. Are you sure you should go?”

“I don’t want someone or something to sneak up on us. Besides, there might be someone we can help.” Billy looked unsure, and Brian continued. “You see any other vehicle than this truck headed this way, you load up and head out the back. Drive like hell. I’ll catch up.”

“Got it,” Billy answered. “I’ll be watching. You want me to get the others up?”

“I’ll take Leon with me but let the other’s sleep for now.” Brian walked to Leon and gave him a shake. Leon jerked away grabbing for a big knife at his side. “Easy, big guy.”

When Leon realized it was Brian, he flopped back against the pile of T-shirts. “Boss, you scared the shit outta me.”

Brian shrugged. “Come on. We have to check out something.”

Leon stumbled to his feet and stepped into his boots. “What’s going on?”

“That’s what I want to know,” Brian answered.

Brian and Leon grabbed a couple go-bags and climbed in the old truck.

The eighty-nine Ford 150. It had original red and white paint and interior though a little worn was in good condition. When Juan had examined the motor, it was evident it had been well cared for. Brian had debated because the standard tires had been replaced with wide, deep tread, off-road versions. The truck would be top-heavy, but at least the engine and muffler hadn’t been modified.

Just as Leon pulled the passenger door closed, Brian slammed the big engine into gear. He stomped on the gas heading for the parking lot entrance.

“Lights!” Leon commented as he clung to the dash, “We need lights!”

“No, we’re going in stealth. I had Juan take out all the light bulbs in the breaks.” Brian answered. “Only headlights left.”

“Where are we going?” Leon asked.

“There.” Brian pointed to two flashes of light. “I want to know who’s doing all the shooting.” The truck turned onto the narrow blacktop and headed toward the gunfire in the distance. Leon rolled down the window and stuck his head out. “I can hear it. Some of it sounds like automatic weapons. Not a .22 for sure.” Leon called over his shoulder.

Brian turned the steering wheel, and the truck left the highway for a narrow side road heading toward the small war in progress. The truck bounced over the rough road, and half a mile from the station could hear the roar of several big engines as heavier gunfire echoed in the distance.

“What are we gonna to do?” Leon settled on the seat and picked up a military rifle with the muzzle pointed out the window.

“We’re stopping in that grove of trees and check out what’s going on.” Brian drove another three minutes while the gunfire got louder and more sporadic. He pulled off the road and backed into a corpse of scrubby trees. He turned off the engine.

Both men jumped from the truck.

“What’s the plan, boss?” Leon asked.

“Follow me, but not too close. If anything happens, head back and get the hell outta here. You and Billy load everyone up and move out.”

Brian jogged to the side of the road with Leon following ten feet behind. The two men hurried between dark shadows until they neared the crest of the hill. Brian took a knee and pulled a small pair of binoculars from his vest and studied the scene below. Leon moved closer and waited in the dark shadows of the overhanging trees alongside the road.

Below in the middle of a small clearing sat half a dozen vehicles. Two heavy duty pickups blocked the road in front of a minivan and truck. The second pair of trucks had blocked their retreat. The van and truck driver had tried to evade the attacker by driving into the trees on the side of the road and gotten trapped by a small stand of trees. They had made their last stand, and it had not gone well.

Four bodies lay on the pavement where they had been drug from the shadows of the trees. A young woman and teen girl had been forced to their knees in the middle of the road. A man in front of them was laughing and poking at the older woman. Each time he reached for the teen the woman slapped the man’s hand and pulled the girl closer. Even at a distance, Brian could hear sobs of terror from both.

Brian tore his eyes from the women and examined the men dressed in camouflage. After a barked order from the man harassing the women, the dozen or so people milling around each seemed to find purpose. Trucks were pulled off the road, supplies were removed from one of the pickups, and a fire was built on the side of the road. One of the men put a coffee pot over the small fire.

Two men began scavenging supplies from dead bodies. They drove a knife into the eye of each body before dragging them away from the camp. Three people went to the disabled vehicles and pulled supplies and personal items from inside each. Suddenly there was a yelp of excitement.

One of the men reappeared from the minivan with a quart bottle in hand. He passed the black-labeled bottle to one of the offenders spreading out a sleeping bag. The man took a long draw on the amber liquid then gave it to another person. Within minutes several of the men were passing the bottle back and forth. Some stopped at one drink and gathered bedrolls and laid down near the fire.

A man gave some gruff orders and the group as a whole drifted to the side of the road where they quickly built a fire and began heating cans of food and a coffee pot.

Brian, Billy, Leon, and Juan walked back into the fueling station gift shop. Margo and Paula had pushed racks and remnants of merchandises into a pile at the back of the store while sorting through the remains of useable supplies. Most of what remained was souvenirs for the traveler; hats, t-shirts, and plethora of knickknacks including a large velvet painting of Elvis that had been leaned against a wall on top of one of the piles as if in a place of honor.

Juan walked to the last standing rack with half a dozen ball caps still clinging to the hooks and pulled one from the stand. He pulled the dirty cap from his head and tossed it to the floor before retrieving a new one and settling it on his skull. He sniffed at his sweat-soaked armpit then moved to a pile of shirts and found a sand colored camouflage pattern T-shirt and headed toward the bathroom. “Gonna get cleaned up.”

Leon followed suit. He sifted through the pile and laid out three or four shirts and began checking sizes.

Margo looked up from a small stack of supplies she was sorting through. “Not a lot left in the larger sizes. Most of the food stores we found were in the office where the manager died.”

Paula appeared from the back office holding up a bottle of Jack Daniel and box of candy bars. “This is the last of it.”

“I’ll take that.” Juan appeared from the bathroom and reached out for the bottle.

Brian pulled Juan’s arm back. “Not so fast. Better keep it for medicinal purposes.”

“It would be. I haven’t had a drink since the bar back in San Antonio.” Juan answered.

“But we’re not wasting it.”

“Señor Brian, you are a hard man,” Juan answered as he walked back toward the front of the store.

Brian laughed. “Everyone, get cleaned up and let’s get something to eat before it’s too dark to see what we’re doing. Between the windows and this place sitting on a hill, the light will be visible for miles. So we will be sitting in the dark.”

After a meal of shortbread cookies, canned vegetables, and Raman noodles the group settled down for the evening. Juan stood at the front door watching the parking lot and black ribbon of asphalt beyond. The rest of the group spread out a few shirts and blankets to make beds. Leon lay on his side using an armful of T-shirts as a pillow. Brian had pulled the office chair from the back room. He leaned back in the chair with his feet propped up on the windowsill.

“It doesn’t seem as dark now,” Margo commented to no one in particular.

“Full moon.” Brain answered before taking a sip of the steaming coffee.

He smiled at the thought of the six bags of coffee they had found in a cabinet. Even if they had to throw a handful in a pot of water, they had coffee for the foreseeable future. He wished there was a way to get the big natural gas tank to his father-in-law’s place. Natural gas would be at a premium soon enough.

Brian folded his arms across his chest and let his chin fall to his chest and mumbled. “Wake me at midnight.” He felt himself drift away to the sound of Leon snoring and Margo sniffling.

“Sir? Sir?” Billy shook Brian’s shoulder. “You need to see this.”