Archive for January, 2018

The five soldiers sat around the kitchen table for over an hour. Lists were made, inventories consulted and options discussed, some dismissed while others added to the list. Eventually, the items on the list were prioritized and scheduled for implementation.

“There’s a small front-end loader in the barn. We can dig out the hill and slide in a small shipping container near the playground. If we cover it with soil and plants, it’ll be warm, but the kids can survive for a couple days. We can put in a couple vent pipes with a wind vane for ventilation and a composting toilet behind a curtain. If we store water and MREs, the kids could hide up to forty-eight hours. I can make it easy to open and secure from the inside.” Jenkins commented.

“If we get everyone trained, we’ll have thirty-plus adults protecting the camp,” Larry added. “Then we can start thinking about sending the girls to their grandfather.”

Matt, with his elbows on the table and clutching a cup of coffee, moved his head from left to right and sighed impatiently. “It’s over four hundred miles. Even if we could make it to Guadalupe National Park, we’d have to find the place.” Matt lamented. “All I have is a road number and name of the site.”

Jake answered. “It’s a chance to get them to their family. Hate to see you break your word, man.”

“How in the hell can I leave? It takes all of us working full time to keep this camp going.” Matt snapped.

“Can you live with not?” Jake answered. “Besides, we’re going to be training everyone.”

Matt scowled. “Getting them there would be at the expense of the camp?”

“Not necessarily if we ensure everyone could help defend the camp, you could take off a couple days to go to Guadalupe National Park.” Larry grinned. “You were gone four days with Tate, and we managed just fine. You aren’t as indispensable as you think.”

At the sound of footsteps at the door, the conversation fell silent. Everyone turned to see a slender silhouette standing in the doorway. “Is this a private meeting?”

“No. Come on in,” Larry called out. “Is there something we can help you with?”

“Got any beer?” She settled on a stool in the corner while Jake opened the frig and passed her a bottle of Lone Star. Tate shrugged an inked shoulder, and the tattooed panther’s eyes peeked from under the wife-beater. “Better than nothing, I guess. You said something about Guadalupe Park.”

“Yeah. It’s where Amy and Claire have a family,” Larry chimed in. “We were headed that way when we ran across Jenkins and the busload of kids. They were in pretty bad shape when we got here, so we decided to stay a day or two. It got complicated, and we never moved on.”

“I guess so with the fuckin’ Pied Piper there.” Tate laughed when she saw Matt cringe. “Where ever he goes, he picked up strays. Haven’t you noticed?”

Jake chuckled. “Yeah. He has been doing that, lately.”

“I was heading to Pine Springs Canyon on the east side of the park. I have family there. He used to talk about some crazy shit back in the day, but no one ever believed him. I guess he knew more than anyone knew. He met some old man at the VA once. The man offered Randy a job. He’s been living out there for the past couple years. I’m hoping Randy made it into Houston to get my mom and sister. I think his name was Edwards, Edmond or something like that.”

“Edmonds? He’s the girl’s grandfather.”

Leon searched his bag and found a small LED flashlight. He used the narrow beam to walk to the stove in the diner and turned on a gas burner under a metal pot of water and threw a handful of coffee grounds in the water. He lit a candle on the table near the prisoner and pocketed the flashlight. When steam rose from the pot, he crossed the room to the stove and turned off the burner. He watched the grounds settle then poured a cup of coffee.

“Mind if I have a cup?” Henry whispered as he struggled to sit with his hands still bound together around the leg of a bench.

“I suppose it won’t hurt for me to watch you drink coffee.” He poured a second cup of coffee. “Don’t know how you gonna drink it, cause I ain’t cutting the zip ties.”

Henry chuckled softly. “You give me the cup, I’ll manage.”

Leon passed him a cup then settled on a bench where he had a clear view through the front window. He brought the cup to his lips and slurped the hot liquid.

“Not good,” Leon whispered. “But it’s coffee.”

Henry clutched the big cup and leaned close to suck at the hot liquid. “Ah…thank you. I know you don’t have any reason to believe me about the people in the camp. Most are good folks. Just got tangled up with assholes.” He slurped at the coffee again.

“Why didn’t your menfolk step up and do something, man?”

“Only people with guns were Grant’s people. When he didn’t come back, the people he left behind are even worse.”

“Who stands guard?” Leon asked as he poured another cup of java.

“Wilson was the name of the man your boss killed. He only left six men behind to keep the camp in line.” Henry held the cup toward Leon. “I tried to talk to Wilson about making some changes. That’s when he locked up the women and made me come on this raid.”

Leon refilled Henry’s cup of coffee. “My guess is you’re lucky to have survived. Is that why you didn’t have a gun?”

Henry nodded. “Wilson told me if I didn’t get with the program, I was useless. He was right, I couldn’t save that woman’s husband or her son. If I had tried, I’d be dead.”

“We saw what you did to protect them,” Leon answered. “That counts for something in my book.”

Henry looked toward the first hint of dawn shining through the large plate glass window. “I guess we’ll see when your boss wakes up.”

One by one the sleepers awoke and found their way to the coffee pot. Margo poured a cup of coffee and took a swallow then coughed coffee across the counter.

“How can you drink this shit? You make coffee, and it’s filled grounds? Why didn’t you use a filter?”

Margo poured the contents of the pot down the drain, used bottled water to rinse out the last of the ground and then refilled the pot with water. She laid out a filter, poured a cup of grounds then put another over the top. She walked to the counter and retrieved a stapler. She folded the edge of the filter over, stapled the edge, folded and stapled again until she had an enclosed packet. She tossed the bundle into the boiling water, then repeated the procedure for a second pot.

Ten minutes later, coffee was being passed around when Brian walked into the diner. He was given a Styrofoam cup and took a swig. “Not bad…not bad at all.” He nodded at Leon. “You have hidden talents.”

Leon laughed. “Not me. It was her. She’s more resourceful than we thought.”

Brian walked to the pot with the coffee and saw the filter packet floating on the rich dark liquid. “I guess so.” He walked to where Henry still sat on the floor and pulled a knife from his belt. He slid it between the man’s wrists and freed him from the bonds.

“I understand.” Elaine wiped at a tear sliding down the side of her face then answered, “We’re ready to go.” She struggled to her feet picking up the bag of supplies with Sandy following suit.

Brian led the women to one of the trucks and helped them inside with Paula at the wheel. He walked around the back of a second truck and pulled at the rope hanging on the roll bar and used it to bind Henry’s hands and feet. Billy, Leon, Juan, and Margo each got into the remaining vehicles, and they caravanned back to the gas station.

Once the women had settled inside the gift shop, Brian and Billy went back outside and pulled Henry across the bed of the truck. They slid him off the tailgate none too gently and deposited him on the ground.

“Alright, Henry Dodd, this is your chance to live. I want to know everything about the camp.” Brian leaned toward Henry menacingly.

Henry held up his tied hands in surrender. “You got it….”

Henry talked for nearly an hour before Brian finally spoke again. “You’re sure of the numbers?”

Henry nodded excitedly. “A man by the name of Grant was in charge until last week. He left with a group scavenging and just never came back. Most people figured he ran into the military or took on someone he couldn’t handle. Anyway, that’s when this bunch took over. You have to understand, not everyone in the camp is bad. Grant brought in a bunch of assholes right after the attack, and everyone is afraid to do or say anything. One of the men you killed was a decent man, too. He was just too scared to do anything about it just like me.”

“Decent?” Brian interrupted. “It’s so-called decent men standing by while others do harm that will be our downfall, not the damned dead!”

“I know. I’m ashamed of what I watched happen, but I had my family to think of.” Cringing, Henry pleaded. “You got a family? Wouldn’t you do whatever it took to protect your family?”

Brian turned away. He kicked at a cigarette butt on the concrete. Henry was right. If he were honest with himself, he would do whatever it took to protect his family. Finally, Brian spoke. “We’ll do more talking tomorrow.” Brian pulled Henry to his feet. “For now we’re going inside and get some rest. We’ll have a guard, and you’ll stay tied up for the rest of the night. Any trouble and you’re dead, no second chances.”

Henry gave a quick nod. “You won’t have any trouble with me.”

Brian led Henry inside the gift shop, and found a place for him to sleep away from the others but in plain sight. He secured Henry’s hands around the bench leg then turned to Billy. “Get some sleep I’ll keep an eye on our friend and wake Leon in a couple hours.”

Brian settled on the office chair he had used earlier and watched the night slip away. It was a quiet passing of time. Around three, his eyes grew heavy, and he woke Leon.

Leon started, looked around, then stood and stretched his arms wide, muscles bulging in the undersized, t-shirt. “I got it, boss. Anything I should watch for?”

“All’s quiet. Just keep an eye out and watch sleeping beauty over there.” Brian nodded toward Henry. “He hasn’t moved since I tucked him in.”

“He sounds like a freight train.” Leon laughed.

“Just make sure he stays where he is. I don’t want him moving around while most of us are asleep.”

“Got it,” Leon answered to Brian’s retreating back.