Archive for the ‘34 Liberty for All – Part 2’ Category

Bernie and Henry made a rough drawing of the camp with guard locations in the dirt then Brian used it to outline a plan. “Billy and I will take out Dixon or whoever is in the main building and get the armory open. You two watch until Billy’s signals then it’ll be your job to get the men out of the cellar and armed. I’ll head to where the kids are being held. Billy and some of the men can secure the front gate and any remaining guards.” He turned to Billy. “If any of the guards don’t give up quietly, do what you have to. The rest should head for the shed and back me up. Hopefully, I will have taken out the guard and finish freeing the camp. I don’t want shots fired unless absolutely necessary. No point in drawing attention to the place. Be sure the men are free and armed before you come out of the house.”

“Yes, sir,” Billy answered. “We’re set, right men?” He looked at Henry and Bernie pointedly. Both men nodded.

Brian and Billy led the two seniors behind the buildings across the edge of the camp amid the weeds and scrub trees. They got to the first building then moved building to building until they got to a cluster of bushes near the target dwelling. Brian paused at the corner of the building when he heard the back door open and slam close. A man walked down the steps and turned to stroll away, then hesitated while he pulled a lighter from his pocket. He flicked the flame to life just as Brian reached out and used his knife to end the man’s smoking habit once and for all. A heartbeat later, Brian pulled his body to the corner of the steps and kicked it into the shadows. Billy appeared at his side with a branch of foliage to hide the body.

Brian vaulted up the back steps and could still hear the angry voices arguing inside the house. He gave the knob a twist. It didn’t budge. “Damn,” Brian cursed as he glanced over his shoulder. “This is not going to be as quiet as I had hoped.”

Billy chuckled. “I got this.” He pulled a small black container from his pocket and sorted through the contents until he found what he was looking for. He slid a key into the lock and pulled his knife from his sheath. He turned the butt of the handle toward the key sticking out of the lock and whispered. “Not as quiet as just turning a key, but this does the trick.”

With a knife in his hand, Brian prepared to slip inside the minute the door opened. Billy took a deep breath and gave the key a quick tap driving it into the lock. Billy gripped the key and gave it a turn. The lock clicked, and the door swung open a couple inches.

“Nice,” Brian whispered as he pushed the door wider and stepped into the old farmhouse. He glanced inside then eased into a room with Billy on his heels. It was an old-style kitchen with scared laminate countertops, a fifty’s refrigerator, and a white enamel gas stove. Apparently, it hadn’t been used much to prepare meals in a while because the counter was littered with beer bottles and a multitude of dirty plates and cups. He stepped deeper inse and looked to the left to see two doors. One would be the cellar and the second the armory described by Bernie. Both doors sported a padlock on a hasp with a pin securing the lock. Brian turned back to Billy and whispered. “As soon as we take care of Dixon, get back here and open those doors then get Henry, Bernie in here and arm the men.”

“Yes, sir,” Billy whispered back.

Both men stepped into the hall and could hear an argument at the front of the house. The voices held an angry tone. Brian raised his hand, and they listened for a moment before moving toward the sound confident the heated discussion would cover their footfall.

“I don’t give a damned who you talked to. They stay where they are until Grant or Wilson gets back. I’m not taking a chance pissing off either one of them.”

“What if they don’t come back? Shit happens.” The second voice responded.

“Then I’m fucking in charge,” Dixon replied.

“You know as well as I do, if Grant were coming back, he’d have made it back by now. No way he’d be gone this long.” The deep voice answered. “We don’t have enough guns on the fence. Maybe we need to let the men out. If we’re attacked….”

“I got it covered. Get outta here and find me something to eat. Send one of the women in here to clean up this place.”

“Sure,” The subordinate answered, then steps crossed a room, and a door opened at the front of the house. “No problem.” The door slammed, and the footstep disappeared when the man stepped off the porch.

Brian side-stepped down the hall with Billy close behind. Brian got to the first doorway and glanced inside. The bed was a pile of messy sheets. From the look of it, the sleeper had not been big on washing up before bed. He did not miss the dark stains on them either. After his quick perusal, Brian continued toward the front of the house. When he got to the front parlor, Brian looked inside to see a man stretched out on an old couch with his arm resting over his eyes. Brian held up a closed fist to stop Billy. Brian crept into the room and turned around a straight-backed chair from dining room table and sat down. The aged wood creaked. Dixon flung his arm aside at the sound and spun around to drop his feet on the floor.

He glared at Brian, ready to rail at the intruder when he realized he was looking at a stranger. Dixon reached for his handgun in the holster on the floor, but Brian held up his own gun and pointed it at Dixon. He pulled his hand back and straightened on the couch.

“If you reach for the gun again, you’re a dead man,” Brian advised calmly.

“Who are you? What is the military doing in my camp?”

“Who I am, isn’t important. What you have to say in the next few minutes will be critical to your future.”

Billy stepped into view with his own gun drawn. Brian gave him a quick nod toward the front door, and the kid took up a guard position there.

“What in the hell do you mean?”

“You’re holding people hostage. Marshall Law is in effect in Texas which means I get to be judge, jury, and executioner. That’s not good news for you if I decide you’re acting adversely to the common good.”

Dixon leaned back on the couch. “I’m not doing….”

“Shut up!” Brian holstered his handgun and Billy raised his. “I see this is not going to go well for you. Standup asshole!” Brian pulled two zip-ties from his pocket and stepped closer. A loud thud just as Brian pulled Dixon to his feet but he jerked free. Dixon ducked and kicked out with his right foot. The impact knocked Brian against the wall just as the front door swung open kocking Billy to his ass while the new arrival gasped in surprise.

Billy rolled and bounced to his feet pointing the gun at the intruder. The older black woman stood paralyzed half inside the door. She gasped as Billy grabbed her arm and pulled her inside and demanded. “Quiet! Don’t move!”

Brian spun around and laid a round-house on the side of Dixon’s head. The man stumbled, and swung out, failing to connect, causing him to lose his balance. Brian made a quick jab and brought Dixon to his knees. While he was down, Brian stepped around his back and grabbed his left arm. He brought it up to the middle of his back and closed a zip-tie around his wrist. Before Dixon could fight back, Brian pushed his wrists together and secured the second tie. The woman gasped, but Brian turned and ordered. “Don’t start!”

After a moment she found her voice. “What are you doing here?” She looked at Billy still holding the handgun. “You’re the military. Are you going to arrest us?”

Brian turned to face her. “No.”

Dixon tried to stand. “What are you gonna to do with me?”

Brian picked up Dixon’s gun and set it out of reach on the table then walked back to Dixon and searched his pockets. He found a set of keys. “Is the key to the armory on here?” He tossed them to Billy. When Dixon remained silent, Brian continued. “If the key isn’t on there, break the lock. When the men get armed, send a couple men to stand guard down here.”

When Billy disappeared back down the hall, Brian turned back to the woman. “Who are you? Are you going to be a problem for us?”

The thick-bodied, black woman chuckled. “Only, if you leave that piece of crap in charge around here,” She answered then turned to the door. “Now, we have to get those kids outta that shed.”

Brian chuckled. “Soon as I have someone to keep an eye on Dixon.”

“Give me a gun, I’ll do it.” The woman offered.

Dixon interrupted. “Shut up, bitch.” He glared at the woman.

Before anyone could stop her, the woman crossed the room and slapped Dixon. The lightning-fast smack connected with his left cheek. The sound exploded with the crack of a gunshot. She got in Dixon’s reddening face and scolded, “You a disrespectful little shit, and I’m tired of your mouth.”

“Well, maybe you CAN take care of the problem.” Brian laughed. “I don’t even know your name.”

“Bessie Brown. Everyone just calls me, Miss Bessie.”

Well, Miss Bessie, I’ll hog-tie this disrespectful little shit and then I need to go take care of getting some kids outta that shed. Can you tell me about the guard?”

Brian pushed Dixon face down on the floor, pulled a paracord from his pocket and secured Dixon’s legs then pulled the zip-ties down to bind his ankles to his hands. He jerked a sock from Dixon’s bootless foot and stuffed it in his mouth.

“Now, that ought to keep him quiet until I get back, Miss Bessie.” Brian stood and gave her a wink. He passed her Dixon’s weapon. “There will be men coming through the house pretty soon. Billy is back there to let them out and arm them. Just stay here.”

She accepted the revolver, checked the load and snapped the barrel back in place. “Young man, you go take care of business and don’t worry about this bag of dog crap going anywhere.” She walked to the table and picked up a cast iron skillet sitting among the remains of meals. “He moves, and I’ll knock him out.” She hung the holster over her shoulder. “You go on now. We’ll be here waiting.”

“Sounds like a plan.” Brian headed for the door. “Billy will send a couple men to help you watch him in a few minutes but if you need anything just call him.”

Brian stepped outside and looked at a crowd of people circling the front of a building on the opposite side of the camp. He glanced over his shoulder one last time then jogged toward the group. An angry voice rose up protesting the situation.

“I ain’t letting ‘em out. Dixon will have my ass.” A bearded man standing in front of the door yelled at the gathering. “I can’t,” He said less convincingly.

Brian got to the back of the gathering of older men and women paused. He placed his hands on two shoulders and gently pushed them aside. He eased through the crowd until he got to the front and faced two men. Both looked angry, confused and a little terrified.

“I’m in charge now. Dixon has been replaced,” Brian announced facing three men.

“You can’t be. Wilson left Dixon in charge.” Another man protested. “Besides, you’re military. You can’t come in here and order us around. We’re civilians.”

“Wilson won’t be coming back, and Texas is under Marshall Law.” He pulled his handgun and pointed the barrel at the angry man. “That makes me in charge, so either open the door and let the women and kids out, or I’ll end this.”

“We gotta do this, man. It’s the right thing to do.” The smaller man of the trio announced.

He turned to unlatched the door, but Brian interrupted. “No. Put down your weapons, then get down here and on your knees.”

The smaller man propped his rifle against a post and raised his hands. “I ain’t got no beef with you.” He turned to the big man. “Come on, Tiny. Things are changin’. We ain’t getting shot for Dixon or Wilson.”

The big man sat down his weapon, stepped off the porch and fell to his knees in the dirt alongside the smaller man. Facing the mass of men and women the third man followed suit. Two minutes later the hands of all three men had their hands zip-tied behind their backs.

Billy accompanied by nearly another dozen men, retrieved Miss Bessie on his way from the front gate. The group was leading Dixon’s guards toward the gathering. After a quick search of Dixon’s guards, Brian left his crew kneeling in the dust amid the pine needles and dirt. Brian’s group were brought into the camp and the gates secured. Lunches were served.

Miss Bessie had organized the older women ensuring the people in the shed including Henry’s wife and daughters were cared for and children united with parents or families to care for them. With the freeing of the men, it was determined that a few had mysteriously disappeared. Despite questioning, Dixon swore ignorance to their fate. Considering Grant and Wilson were in charge before him, Brian wa inclined to believe him. Besides, pain was usually a real incentive to telling the truth.

When Brian saw all the families together, he was surprised at the number of people that had been imprisoned. It was amazing to see what could happens when decent folks were left unarmed. Brian ensured every adult who could handle a weapn, carried one, men and women.

Brian sat on the front porch enjoying a glass of warm tea when Bessie found him. “Captain sir, when we get done here I’ll clean up that house for you and your friends. No point in you having to clean up after this trash.” Bessie spit in the dirt in front of Dixon.

“Fuck you, bitch.” Dixon cursed.

Bessie laughed. “Not likely. I’m used to a real man, not some scrawny little twig like you got.” The crowd roared with laughter at Dixon’s expense.

Brian held up his hands and waited for the chittering to silence. “Since everyone seems to be here, it’s time we have a trial to determine the fate of each of these men. I’m only going to sit here as a judge. You as a community will decide their futures but those offering testimony will not be part of this jury. Each man will be judged individually. Whatever the sentence is, will be carried out immediately.”

“You don’t have the authority…” Dixon began, but Brian interrupted.

“Marshall Law gives me the authority to do as I see fit to restore stability to this community. Do any of you have questions?” No one spoke, and he pointed to Henry. “Charges for each man will be announced, relevant testimony will follow.”

Henry read each man’s name and charges from a list created by several men and women. When he was finished, he turned to Brian.

“Alright. Any of you men have anything to say?”

“You can’t do this! This is a kangaroo court.” One of the men protested.

Brain slammed the butt of his gun on the small table in front of him. “Move on. I’ve already explained my authority to conduct this trial. Anyone have a defense for any of these men?”

Henry, Bernie and several other people stepped up to defend Tiny and three of the men. Henry closed with, “These four did not participate in any of the atrocities committed against folks here. I guess, being scared and trying to get by is a crime most of us have been guilty of since the attacks in San Antonio. I count myself guilty as them. I watched people die and did nothing and then held two women during a recent attack.” Without saying another word, Henry stepped to the side of the four men and bowed his head in submission.

Bernie followed up with, “I agree we have all done things unbecoming of real men of honor. I vote they be punished by a period of hard labor. They are family men and friends. We can’t afford to lose thesm.”

After a flurry of voices and nods of agreement, everyone turned back to face Brian. He smiled and tapped his gun on the table. The assembly grew quiet. Brian inhaled, then began. “These FIVE men have been found guilty of conduct unbecoming. Each is sentenced to work in the garden every day, eight hours a day, six days a week for the next month. Miss Bessie tells me she’s the organizer of the gardening activities and needs to clear more ground to expand, so she will serve as their parole officer. As part of the punishment during that period, they reside in the shed the women were held in.”

After a few snickers, the men were freed and stepped back with voiced acceptance of the sentences. The next hour was spent with testimony being given by residents against Dixon and a second person, named Baker. At least ten people stepped forward to accuse the men of assaults and abuse of one kind or another. Half a dozen woman came forward and accused either Dixon or Baker of rape. One of the women admitted amid a flood of tears to being pregnant as a result.

When the populace grew quiet, Brian asked. “Anyone else has anything to say, do it now?”

A young girl around sixteen stepped forward. “Dixon raped me. After my father confronted Grant, Dixon and Baker came to our cabin and took my dad outside the back gate, and I never saw him again. They killed him.”

“You can’t prove shit.” Dixon protested.

Two more people stepped forward to accuse Dixon of being responsible for disappearances or deaths. When they were out of accusations, and no one else came forward, Brian raised his hand and looked at the accused.

“This concludes this portion of the trial. Do you men have anything to say?” Neither responded, and he continued. “If there is no defense to be presented I’ll call for a vote.”

Dixon looked up finally realizing he was in trouble. “I just did what I was told. It was Grant….”

Brian cut off the tirade with the tap on the table, “I see. Is that your argument? The boss made me do it?” When there was no answer, Brian looked at the populace. “Is there any discussion?”

After a brief consultation with the other residents of the jury, Bernie stepped forward, squared his shoulders and spoke. “You two have been part of the culture of abuse and wrongdoing. We find you equally culpable in the death of George Stevens. We considered banishment but refuse to live in fear of your returning with men of your mindset to once again prey on this community. That said we find the charge of murder is a capital offense and finding these men guilty of murder. Without the abilty to jail them for an extended period of time, the jury sentences both these men to death.”

Brian looked at the collection of faces watching the proceedings. “The community has passed judgment. These two men have been found guilty of murder, and the sentence is death to be carried out immediately.” He tapped the table again, and that was it. “Everyone but the Bernie and Henry is dismissed.”

Most of the crowd of nearly sixty people drifted from the gathering leaving the two men Brian had called out. “This is your camp, you men have a responsibility. For the time being, you will be the leaders here. I would suggest in a few days, you call a meeting and elect a council of at least three people. Be sure there are at least one of the women.”

“But we thought you would be in charge,” Bernie answered.

“No,” Brian replied, “I have a family out west, and I won’t be staying. As for the others, that’s up to them.” He nodded toward the two men still kneeling in the dirt. “You have a sentence to carry out.”

Henry gasped. “Us? We can’t kill them.”

“I don’t have a problem with it. Those two killed my dad.” The young woman who testified during the trial announced. “I won’t lose a moment of sleep killing those two.”

“Tiffany, you can’t do that.” A man, who had not spoken before, protested. “If the soldiers will accompany me, I will be the one to pull the trigger.”

“Eugene, you’ve never shot a gun.” Bernie objected.

“Tiffany’s dad was my best friend. I would like to ask the soldiers to come with me. I’d hate to screw it up.”

Brian interrupted. “If none of you are going to step up, then Eugene, Billy and I will ensure this is done right, but at least two strong men will accompany us to dig graves.”

Henry and Bernie stepped to Eugene’s side. Dixon opened his mouth to protest, but saw the determined look on the faces around him and remained silent.

Baker whimpered and protested. “I was just following orders.”

Billy and Brian grabbed Dixon and Baker by the arms and pulle them to their feet. They pushed them into walking to the back fence. Bernie and Henry stopped at the tool shed to retrieve four shovels and two pickaxes. They fell back into line with the others. The grim group left the camp through the back gate and walked to an area of open ground, about a quarter mile from camp..

Both men were shoved to their knees and held at gunpoint while two graves were dug. It took nearly an hour to get the holes almost five feet.

Brian slid a towel across his damp forehead. “That’s enough for these two.” He grabbed the back of Dixon’s collar and pulled him to his feet while Billy brought the second man to his feet. The man tried to pull away, but Henry stepped up and cuffed him across the face.

“Man up, for Pete’s sake. You were a big man killing that gal’s daddy. Now act like a man paying the price.”

They walked the two to the graves and forced them to their knees in front of the holes.

“You can’t do this!” Dixon cried.

Brian slapped him on the back of the head. “Shut up.”

Eugene laid down the shovel and slowly walked to the back of the two men. He pulled an old Colt from his waistband and raised the pistol toward Dixon’s companion. The barrel of the gun shook violently.

Brian reached out with his right hand and covered Eugene’s hand with his own. “Breath. In and out.” Eugene did as he was told, his hand steadied, and Brian released his grip. “Use two hands to hold the gun. Place our finger on the guard until I count,put your finger on the trigger. I’m going to count to three, and you squeeze the trigger.”

Brian raised his own gun to the back of Dixon’s head. “On three.”

Without further comment, Brian took a breath and counted. The explosion of both guns shattered the painful silence. Both bodies slumped forward and were let fall into the holes.

Eugene dropped the gun and turned away. He took three stumbling steps from the graves and then fell to his knees. “Oh my God….” He whispered.

Brian walked over to Eugene and pulled him to his feet. “Let’s head back.”

Brian led Eugene back to the fence. At the gate, Eugene took several deep breaths and then squared his shoulders. Brian handed him the Colt.

Eugene looked down at the gun and quietly replaced it in his waistband. “I shot infected leaving the city, but this was different.”

Brian let the quiet envelope them for a full minute before he answered. “It’s meant to be difficult to kill a man. The day you can shoot a man and feel nothing, it’s the day you have lost your humanity.”

“But you shot Dixon,” Eugene mumbled.

“I have a duty to protect this country and the citizens from all enemies. This is a different enemy than I could have ever imagined fighting, but I’ll do what I need to, to protect who I can. Those men were part of the danger the citizens face since the attack. Billy and I have a duty to help take care of the problem when we can.”

Eugene sighed. “Maybe we should have exiled them.”

“Do you think that would have worked?” Brian asked. After a long silence, he continued. “They would have done one of two things; victimize others or come back to attack you folks.”

Eugene looked toward the camp beyond the gated fence. “We did the right thing.” His steps quickened. “Let’s get those graves covered then get you and your folks settled for the night.”

After a subdued evening meal, Miss Bessie led Brian and his traveling companions into the house. It smelled of pine cleaner and was spotless. From one end of the small farmhouse to the other, it had been cleaned and swept. The dirty mattress has been removed and cots brought into the house. Each bed had a pillow with a white pillowcase, a sheet and quilt draped over the foot. The foodstuff had been returned to the cellar so there was a bedroom for Margo and Paula, then the mother and daughter they had rescured.

Brian and Billy, Juan and Leon took the first four-hour shift of guard duty during the night. Brian volunteered since he imaged most of the men confined in the basement had not spent much time sleeping.

Billy and Brian stood at the front gate as the sunset. Families and friends gathered to celebrate being back together.

“Wonder what happened to that guy, Grant they talk about?” Billy asked.

Brian shrugged. “Dead. He probably met someone either smarter and with more guns. Eugene said he left almost three weeks ago.”

“How do you make a decision to kidnap women?”

“When the man in charge realized there was going to be an imbalance of men to women and none of the married men intended to share their daughters or wives I guess Grant decided on the plan to find women.”

“That’s crazy,” Billy observed.

“Yeah, it’s crazy. I can’t imagine how anyone could justify killing families. Six women and girls that were brought in by Grant. I’m just sorry I didn’t get here sooner.”

“We’re not staying are we?” Billy asked.

“No. We’ll rest for a couple days. I want to help these folks elect a council and get leadership sorted out before we leave. Long range, the camp has a good set up with the natural spring and garden.” Brian looked toward the compound. “I want to give Paula, Margo, Leon, and Juan a chance to get to know the folks around here then decide if they want to stay or move on.”