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Thread: Foreign & Domestic Part IV - Colder Weather

  1. #51
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    Chapter 12 con't

    Well I’ll be dipped in slop and calling the hogs for dinner!” the officer declared as he approached the gates at what had once been Offutt Air Force Base. “I thought the Private had lost his mind when he went through the mess discreetly asking the officers and NCO’s if anyone knew someone calling themselves Little Bo Peep.”

    “Sgt. Barnes?” James questioned out load.

    “The one and only!” he pronounced with some flair.

    Staff Sergeant Isiah Barnes had led the patrol that intercepted the British squad as they neared McArthur. He’d also played an integral part in the post-EMP shift that took place in rural Ohio.

    “They made you an Officer?” Dallas asked.

    “Open the gate, Private,” he instructed to the guard then turned his attention back to the four travelers. “Wasn’t given much choice. After I opted to be deposited here during Hoplite’s trip out west, we had a fair amount of churn in the Officer Corp over the years.”

    “So, Major,” Josh began as he took in the man’s rank insignia. “Don’t suppose you’d have some empty cots for a couple of road weary friends.”

    Barnes crossed his arms.

    “The OP says there were three more travelling with you. Where’d they go and run off to?”

    “Just met up with them out on the trail. Safety in numbers… you know how it is. Said they were headed on to Casper I believe,” Josh replied innocently as he rustled his reins and the horses began heading into the base.

    “Hmpf, yeah right,” the man bristled. “And where would you four be headed I wonder? Just seeing the countryside one last time?” Applying an Australian accent he added, “On a walkabout are you?”

    “You know us, Isiah,” Dallas inserted with a chuckle. “We get bored just sittin’ around waitin’ for stuff to happen…”

    A smirk developed on the man’s face in reply. Without asking, and with very little effort, Barnes waited for the wagon to be next to him then pulled himself up and onto the seat next to Josh.

    “I can give you two nights in Barracks 3. That’s standard for traders. Best I can do,” he announced loud enough for the guards within earshot to hear.

    “Really?” James feigned. “That would be great!”

    Josh knew the disposition of every single one of Carlos’ contingent that traversed the United States. Isiah Barnes, like Dex and Jake, was a known commodity. Josh could feel it in his bones; this man knew something about the chatter they’d been listening to for the last decade. As the mini caravan head through the dilapidated Air Force Base, the Major started.

    “Damn good to see you, sir,” he began.

    “Good to be seen,” Josh replied. “So what’s the story around here? On the surface it looks fairly normal, but I’ve been around long to know better. So, before we start BS-ing each other, I’ll tell you this, I’m here for supplies. Specifically, I’m in need of certain elements that go ‘boom’.”

    Isiah glanced in his direction and then shifted his gaze to James, Dallas, and Juan. The trio sat stone faced in their saddles. Only Dallas broke character when the Major thought he saw a crooked smile developing.
    “So, you guys left McArthur… what… about a month or two ago… if you knew I was here then you probably stopped by and saw some other old friends along the way too. Mind if I ask where you’re headed?”

    “Gonna pick up some friends on the other side of Nebraska, Señor,” Jesus replied from his mount as he rode next to them.

    Isiah wasn’t aware, but Jesus’ hidden sidearm had been pointed in his direction the entire time. While Major Barnes was known to them, his presence in southeastern Ohio was limited to only a few years. No one had seen or heard from him in over a decade. Unfortunately for Barnes, it made him the proverbial weakest link in the list of visited friends on the way to Kearney, Nebraska.

    Another thing the three riders did was to constantly rotate around the cart like a protection detail. Barnes, much like the young Deputy Provosts they’d previously encountered and used sleight of hand on, had absolutely no idea that a wrong answer could have inadvertently caused his premature death.

    “Why didn’t they just come to you?

    “Like I said, needed supplies… and we needed to collect some old friends. Plus, Calderon has every base in the Midwest and Southeast under his thumb and, try as we might; we can’t get anyone on the inside to aid us in our endeavor.”
    The Major took stock of Josh, shocked at his candor. “I see,” he replied noncommittally. “Where are they coming from?”

    Josh shrugged then answered flatly, “Northwest Territory, I presume.”

    “See, now that is an interesting development because Carlos and the rest of the gang stopped by here on their way home almost a decade ago. Heather did most of the talking cuz the guy was damn near catatonic after what he saw. Which brings me to my next point… Now, as far as I am aware, the only two men I know that are still out that way, don’t really care for each other all that much… assuming of course they are both still alive.”

    “They are,” James inserted.

    “Well, apparently one of them is a homicidal lunatic.”

    “They’d just murdered his wife and son,” Josh stated flatly. “And as far as I know, I’m the only one that’s even come close to walking a mile in that man’s shoes. So, as far as that goes, been there done that. Personally, I don’t care if they like each other. This operation isn’t a drum circle, chanting to the spirit world, incense burning, hug-fest. This is about justice and the rule of law… plain and simple.”

    Isiah could almost hear the war drums beginning to thump and thunder in unison in Josh’s tone. The only thing he could think to do was to offer a nervous half chuckle at the comment. When he saw a patrol approaching, he snapped a quick salute and remained silent until they passed by.

    Barnes had to decide right then and there whether or not he was in or out. He’d seen enough of the Calderon administration, and knew just enough of the Constitution, to know that the man needed to go. Throwing caution, and the potential for a firing squad, to the wind, he began confessing to his actions for the last several years.

    “OK, here’s the deal…” he begin in a whisper barely moving his lips. “Personally, your tone and demeanor are scaring the crap out of me right now, but I’m gonna trust ya’ll. You guys have always projected a great deal of drive and conviction and that’s something that is seriously lacking in these parts, save for a few. That being said, I want in… and so do about a dozen other guys. This region and the Provosts have entirely too much latitude for perceived crimes and subsequent punishments. That only happens if there is little direction from Richmond.”

    “Or perhaps that was the direction, Señor.”

    Isiah looked over at Jesus in time to see him holstering his sidearm. Eventually, the Major nodded his acceptance of another plausible theory.

    “Who have you been in contact with?”

    “Dex, Jake, and Grappler,” Josh replied in clipped response. “Grappler is bringing Longbow so while your point is well taken, a personal request from Katherine will get their collective attention and keep them in line. We had a guy in Richmond, but unfortunately, we lost contact. Haven’t heard from Carlton in almost a year.”

    Barnes glanced over at him in disbelief then shook it off.

    “Damn,” he replied truly impressed, then added “Sorry to hear about the Corpsman though, always liked him.”

    Josh looked over and took in the man’s demeanor… facial expressions, posture, all of it. Knowing that they didn’t have much more time before they reached the line of barracks, the man stated, “I know you’re holding something back, Isiah. Spill it already.”

    “You always were able to read people. I forgot that,” the Major replied. Hesitantly, he began to explain. “We’ve been fueling a subversive campaign out here for some time with things we’ve smuggled out of the supply line and removed from the logs. These items are being stored under Barracks 8. You got that? Everything is under Barracks 8.”

    Josh nodded then motioned for Dallas. When he came close enough to the wagon, he simply held out his hand. Without saying a word he placed a gold coin in Josh’s palm and rode ahead. Isiah looked at the pair as if they were a bunch of loons.

    “I knew you were behind it. Thank you for confirming it. Dallas and I just had a little side bet. He lost,” he declared with a wide beaming smile.

    “How would you even remotely know what I just told before you got here?”

    “Well, I knew where Carlos dropped everyone all those years ago and we still monitor the comms. Since the EMP, you guys don’t have the military satellites anymore. Sooo…”

    “So?”

    “So unless you guys employ some form of encryption or a cypher of some kind, anyone with a radio can ‘hear the news,’ as it were.”

    “But we never used the radio!” the man stated shocked.

    “No, but the Provosts did. Every time someone hit a caravan, supply line, or raided a weapons depot, we heard. We figured someone had to be supplying them with intel, weapons, etc. And their movements were far too precise for civilians. The only person I knew out here with the training and a conscience was you… Just putting two and two together.”

    “Man!” he declared. Shaking off the Colonel’s revelation, he added. “Look we’re almost to the barracks, so, whatever you need, you’re welcome to… of course. Anything in that cache is yours because whatever this is,” he declared as he gestured around, “This isn’t the United States I know and love. I do have one request though.”

    “Name it.”

    “Leave a little something for the locals.”

    “Done,” James inserted as he approached from the rear.

    “I’ll let the others know,” Isiah continued then added, “We’ll begin slipping away a few days after you’ve departed. Anything you looking for in particular? Things that ‘go boom’ is kind of vague.”

    “Got any iron or steel plates and 105 howitzer shells lying around?” Josh asked somewhat jokingly, but with enough of an air to be serious as well.

    “Maybe,” Barnes replied cautiously. “Why?”

    “Jake wants to go out with a bang… apparently.”

    “I should say so!” Barnes retorted.

    With a shrug, Josh continued. “Seems he has his heart set on some designs for an IED he saw used over in the sandbox. In a pinch, he said he could make do with some Semtex or C-4, det cord with clackers, claymores… you know, stuff like that. James and Jesus would like any sniper rifle with matching ammo… got any McMillan’s that need a good home?”

    “That’s it?” Barnes asked.

    “That’s it,” Josh reiterated. “Short and sweet.”

    “Not a problem. Thought maybe you boys wanted something more exotic after the shelling of Columbus.”

    The old farmer chuckled. “Oh, I think the 105’s are gonna be as outlandish as we get on this one. Just want to get the job done. No frills... No fuss no muss.”

    “Barracks 8 has what you need,” the Major stated in hushed tone. “The guards patrol this area on a fifteen minute rotating basis and they switch out every three hours.” Then, more loudly, he proclaimed, “Pull up here on your left. As you can see all of the barracks are numbered one through twelve. You fellas will be in hut seven. The showers are located behind the structure and to the right. Chow is down on the left.”

    “It’s good to see you my old friend,” Josh stated for all to hear as he extended his hand. As the two shook, he added, “Perhaps you can join us in the dining hall for a quick meal?”

    “That would be a great idea, Colonel Simmons. I’m betting that a lot of the squad leaders and Officer Corps would jump at the chance to meet you.”

    “I look forward to it,” his friend replied.

    The other three men in Josh’s entourage didn’t want to tell the pair that their acting sucked, so they were willing to let the awkwardness of the entire episode go.

    As Major Barnes departed back to his office, the four men began unloading their duffels and hauling them into the structure. They made sure to keep the weapons cloaked under blankets. Scott’s hidden compartment had once again eluded inspection.

    “What’s the story,” Jesus whispered as he and Josh passed.

    When they crossed paths again Josh replied, “We’re in business.”

    * * *
    Hannibal ad portas

  2. #52
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    Chapter 12 con't

    “Everything on my body hurts,” Layla lamented as she flopped into the well-worn easy chair. “Jake, when are you gonna take this TV down?” she asked as she gestured toward the old nineteen inch tube style television in the corner that had been collecting dust for over two decades.

    Pausing from the preparation of dinner, he straightened and glanced in her direction.

    “I’ll take that and chuck it in my burn pile when the lights come back… not one second before. Until then, it’ll sit there as a reminder of what once was.”

    “Fair enough,” Heather replied from the kitchen table. “Can I help you with any of that, Jake?”

    “Nah, I got it,” an answered. “You’re pregnant. Just sit there and bask in the glow of your pregnancy,” he stated sarcastically.

    “Ha!” she declared. “Ya know what they don’t tell you about the glow… it’s fueled by perspiration, indigestion, and gas.”

    Her sisters and Jake vocally laughed at the comment.

    “Why don’t you get out of that hard wooden chair and go lay on the couch? Layla, give your pregnant sister the couch will ya.”

    “Oh, if I lay down I’m not getting up!” she declared as she massaged her baby bump. “She’s fine where she is.”

    Even through all of the conversation, Jake heard the quiet footfalls on his front porch. He thought he’d been hearing things when the rattle of a horses bit and bridle originally caught his attention. He’d been in that house for over a decade alone after his father passed. He knew every one of the expected creaks and moans the old farmhouse would make. These were foreign noises not attributable to the home. He had visitors.

    “Heather, will you go answer the door please.”

    “Huh?” she questioned. “There’s no one at the d—,”

    A clipped knock, knock, knock was heard at the front door.

    “That’s weird. Expecting anyone?” she asked as she stood.

    “No, but I’ve had two visits from long lost friends in the last ten days or so. Nothing surprises me at this point, especially when Colonel Simmons has a mind to get something accomplished.”

    Heather chortled at the comment as she walked behind him toward the door. “Tell me about it.”

    As she opened the door, the face of her husband stood before her. “Carlos!” she squealed as she rushed from the doorway and wrapped her arms around him.

    “Lucy! You got some ‘splainin’ to do!” he proclaimed lovingly.

    His reply only worked to make her laugh.

    Her sisters quickly sat upright then bolted from their resting spots.

    Before they made it to the door, Layla heard her husband’s smooth French voice.

    “Est-ce que ma belle épouse est là?” (Is my beautiful wife in there?)

    “Oui!” she declared as he crossed the threshold and she leapt into his waiting arms.

    Katherine stood back and watched as her sisters showered their husbands with welcome hugs and kisses. She was a little jealous that her husband hadn’t made the trip, but their relationship was different. She was the protector. Her sisters and Scott were the emotional ones. Katherine knew that Scott was safer and better served being back on the farm helping others.

    Jake rounded the open the door and declared, “What in the hell is this about?”

    The two men erupted in unison, “Jake!”

    The pair extricated themselves from their wives embraces and went to greet their host with equal vigor. When Carlos finished shaking his friends hand he made a show of picking up his sister-in-law, Katherine, and giving her a big hug.
    “Scott and the kids send their love,” he said as he set her back down on the floor.

    “Good to see you too, Carlos. What are you guys doing here?”

    “Someone decided it would be a good idea to keep secrets from her husband,” Hoplite declared as he took his wife’s hand and led her into the light of the home. “Is it true? You’re pregnant?”

    She began nodding vigorously as he went to his knees in front of her. She held his head in her hands as he lifted her double layer of shirts and exposed her belly bump. Gently, he leaned forward and kissed her skin.

    “Hey there, little buddy,” he whispered. “It’s daddy. I’m here now… and I’m gonna keep you nice and safe. So you just hang out in there and we’ll see you in a little bit, ok?”

    “Who’s hungry?” Jake declared. “Dinner’s ready!”

    “Starving!” Heather proclaimed as she released Carlos.

    “Hello, Lady Katherine,” Philip said as he kissed her on the cheek. “I trust my darling wife hasn’t complained too much on this journey.”

    “No more than usual,” she replied with a wink in the direction of her sister.

    The lot of them made their way toward the kitchen and the meal Jake had prepared. Small talk consumed the group as they recounted their various journeys across the country. The sisters wanted to know how things were getting on back at the farm, while their husbands were curious about their safety throughout the trip. They were none too pleased with Katherine’s bravado in Peoria. Their host brought the group to raucous laughter as he described James’ mood and actions the night they received visitors.

    “I swear, those three get more ornery and cantankerous as they get older,” Layla stated.

    “Quelle? En français s'il vous plaît.” (What? In French please.) Philip asked of his wife.

    “Ornery et cantankerous est comme grincheux,” (Ornery and cantankerous is like grumpy.) she explained.

    “Ah,” he stated and shook his head knowingly. “I see. Yes, they are getting incredibly grumpy in their old age… and forgetful,” he replied in English.

    “So those three went with them to Omaha?” Katherine asked.

    “Yep… just like that. But I wouldn’t worry though,” Jake said in an attempt to assuage their fears. “Your father, along with Dallas, James, and Jesus, they’ve been reading people for decades,” then he paused before he continued any further.

    Katherine noticed and inserted leadingly, “Buuuut?”

    “But nothing. Josh just has a mind to get something accomplished. He picked up three here and there’s no telling how many people he’s recruited since he left McArthur. That man’s building an army.”

    No one said anything.

    “By your silence, I take it you aim to stop him and take him home before he gets himself killed? Before you answer, I do want you to know that I am with him one hundred percent in this endeavor. That gut buster in Richmond is the classic definition of a budding oligarch. If your dad wants to blow his inauguration stage into a million pieces, I aim to help him.”

    “Hardly!” Katherine declared. “Listen, dad has it in his mind that they broke this experiment called America and come hell or high water, he’s gonna do everything he can to fix it. We’re here to help him… and keep him safe if the Alzheimer’s progresses before he finishes what he set out to do.”

    Without flinching, Jake asked, “That the reason for the little black book he carries around?”

    She nodded.

    Concerned, he asked, “When did that start?”

    “Couple years ago,” Heather answered. “At first it was cute… this little old guy writing things down.”

    “Little old guy my ass!” Jake declared. “I saw him man handle some stuff out here that I wouldn’t mess with if I had two guys helpin’ me. Personally, I think if he were to hit someone full force, he’d kill ‘em!”

    “I think she was referring more to his mental strength as opposed to his physical strength,” Layla inserted.

    “At first, I thought he was starting a memoir or a book of some kind. But then we started noticing that he’d forget certain details about his time in the Marines, or about his parents… long term memories. Which reminds me,” Heather stated as she shifted her gaze to her husband. “I was thinking, if it’s a boy, I’d like to name him Brent.”

    “Ok, and if it’s a girl?” her husband asked.

    She glanced at Layla and Philip.

    “If it’s a girl, and if it’s alright with you two, I’d like to name her Sophie, after Philip’s mother.”

    “Quelle? Tu ferais ça?” (What? You would do that?), Philip replied.

    Replying in French, Heather answered, “Oui. Ce serait un honneur.” (Yes. It would be an honor.
    )
    “L'honneur est tout à moi,” (The honor is all mine.) he replied as got up and kissed her on both cheeks.

    “I’m assuming he said that was OK,” Jake deadpanned as the group chuckled. “I’d like to get back to Josh though. How far along do you think he is… mentally I mean?”

    “It depends,” Katherine began. “How well has he been able to hide certain things from us… from Sam? I know the book idea started about five years ago so if you follow the trajectory Basilia has described, we’ve got a few years where it’s more of an inconvenience than a hindrance.”

    “Then?”

    “And then it becomes a liability,” Layla answered. “As in, depending on the climate out here in the states, he probably can’t leave the farm.”
    Hannibal ad portas

  3. #53
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    Guess I'll just wait then and help pay the bills.
    Once on safari in deepest darkest Afganistan we ran out of Gin, and were compelled to survive on food and water for several days.


    I typically carry a flask of vodka for snakebites. I also carry a small snake.- W. C. Fields

  4. #54
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    Excellent, thank you! I'm afraid in going to have to take notes........ I can watch a movie or read a book, then do it again later almost like it's brand new to me. I have an absolutely terrible memory.
    Don't bring skittles to a gun fight.

  5. #55
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    thank you
    Greater love hath no man than this, That a man lay down his life for a friend.
    John 15:13

  6. #56
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    Chapter 13

    James, Dallas, and Jesus entered Josh’s room with zero noise in advance of their clandestine shopping adventure under Hut 8. Each of the members was dressed entirely in black; black pants, black shirts, scarves, face paint for exposed any skin, and hats. They knew he’d started the slow decent into the disease that claimed his mother and their friend Jim. He was especially prone to confusion immediately after being woken up. As a result, James motioned for Dallas to wake up their friend only after they had gathered the last of their gear.

    His old friend walked over and began to gently shake him awake.

    “Josh… Josh…. Need you to wake up buddy.”

    His eyes immediately flung open. Dazed and confused, he pulled his Beretta from under his pillow and began screaming.

    “Get your f— hands off of me!” he declared as he sat up and began to wildly point the gun at his unrecognizable friends. “Don’t you f— touch her! I’ll f— kill you all!”

    “Whoa!” Dallas proclaimed as he grabbed ahold of the flailing pistol with both hands. “It’s us!” he proclaimed. “It’s Dallas, James, and Jesus!”

    “I’m no infidel you f— bastards! I’ll f— gut you, ya little Serbian a—!” Josh screamed.

    Dallas wailed as the hammer came crashing down on the skin between his thumb and forefinger when Josh pulled the trigger.

    “James!” he hollered in protest as he tried to calm his friend while the pair wrestled over the gun.

    Josh’s old Gunnery Sargent stepped toward him and socked him in the face. The first blow stunned him.

    Still confused about his surroundings and his place in space and time, Josh quickly shook it off and reverted back to the battle hardened Marine he once was. “Is that the best you got, you f— limp d— bastard!”

    James’s second blow knocked him out. Even at seventy plus years old, the old Marine still packed a powerful punch.

    “Kill the lights!” Dallas ordered in hushed tones toward Jesus as he extricated the Beretta from his friends vise like grip. “Secure those blinds too! Keep a look out for sentries, somebody probably heard all of that commotion.”

    “Gimme you belts,” James declared as he stood over his friend’s limp, unconscious body. “We’re gonna have to tie him up and gag him or he’ll blow this whole Op.”

    The three men removed their belts with the distinctive thwack, thwack, thwack of leather exiting a belt loop. James quickly tied the man’s hands above his head and secured them to the metal frame of the military issue cot. He did the same to his feet. The third belt was secure in his mouth in case he woke up and began screaming.

    When they were finished, Dallas asked, “What happened?”

    James shrugged and offered his theory, “I think he just woke up in Bosnia in 1995. We shoulda woke him up earlier before we changed. I think he’s under the impression that we’re the Serbs that hauled him off to that hell.”

    “That’s crazy dude!”

    “Depends on where he was in his nightmare maybe?”

    “Could be our attire,” Jesus inserted.

    “C’mon man! That was no dream!” Dallas whispered harshly.

    “We’ll leave him here for tonight’s run and not let him fall asleep for tomorrow’s. We can use him tomorrow, tonight is a ‘get your bearings and grab some light armament’ type of run.”

    “Damn it,” Dallas muttered under his breath as he shook his head. Then he leaned in real close to Josh’s ear and whispered, “Sorry bud. You enjoy that nap. We'll be back soon.”

    When he stood, he turned to Jesus. “Anything moving out there?”

    By the light of the moon working its way through the slight opening, he could see Jesus nodding, ‘Yes’. He then held up two fingers. The pair stayed away from the windows, lurking in the shadows waiting for another signal or sign.
    After what seemed like an eternity, the ever watchful eye of Jesus Martinez gave them the thumbs up.

    “Normal patrol, let’s go,” he declared in his accented English as he pulled up the hidden trapdoor in the floor. “We’ve got fifteen minutes til they come back according to Major Barnes.”

    Instinctively, James reached for his wrist and went to set his watch. Feeling only skin and bone, he realized it hadn’t been worn in many years. Shuffling back over to Josh, he grabbed the pocket watch Josh carried that had been placed on the nightstand. He went to the window and pulled the curtain back enough to see the time, 2:15 AM.

    “We need to be inside Hut 8 before they get back at 2:30,” he declared. “Once we’re inside, we have fifteen minutes to stage everything by the entry point, wait for their rotation at 2:45 and head on back. Let’s go!”

    * * *

    As Deeks stood by Mary’s side during the final negotiations of her future store front, he couldn’t help but be distracted by the small wagon sitting out in front of McGovern’s Trading store. It was only about six or eight feet long, dual axles, and the front seemed capable of pivoting to aid in turning. If he didn’t know any better, he’d have sworn they’d found the device in front of some old restaurant and refurbished it. Regardless, it was hitched to a single horse. A horse he had, but what he needed was a more efficient way to move his stuff without making his horse work like a pack mule.

    Backing away from the conversation, he pulled Samuels with him. Confused, the old man looked up at him.

    “When we first met, you said just about everyone in this town was armed. Is that true?”

    The man nodded.

    “Do you think those boys over at McGovern’s are using rifles when they attempt to hunt?

    He nodded again.

    “Be right back,” he declared and went to his push cart.

    His little pull behind bike carrier was still loaded with all of the supplies and materials he’d placed in it back in the cavern. Once they had returned to Mary’s homestead, he would need to figure out how to get it all loaded on a horse. A wagon would make the journey, and the load out, far easier.

    Fishing around in the bottom of the cart, he located the dozen or so loose rounds of 30-06 he’d chucked in initially. The three ammo cans remained buried under his gear for safe keeping. He wasn’t about to go strutting down Main Street carrying an ammo can. Quickly, he began to inconspicuously stuff the dozen and half rounds into his pockets.

    Samuels watched as he approached the general store, inspected the wagon and its condition, and then went inside.

    Once inside, Deeks approached the counter.

    “Are you Mr. McGovern?”

    “Sure am, what can I do you for?”

    “I was wondering if you’d be willing to sell that horse and cart.”

    “Not a chance,” the man stated as he chuckled. “You don’t look like you could afford much even if I was interested.”

    “Don’t be so quick to judge, Mr. McGovern. You never know,” he stated with a shrug. “I just might be able to make it worth your while. Name’s Deeks Calhoun,” he proclaimed as he offered his hand.

    As they shook, McGovern looked him over, eventually recognizing him from his first night in the tavern. “You that young man looking to get to Gregg Chastain over Logan?”

    Deeks nodded. “I’ve got a horse I can trade, but that wagon sure would make it easier to get me and my gear down the road. Where did you get it?”

    “I found it… just like everything and everyone else.”

    Deeks looked at him skeptically.

    “Fine,” he declared. “I traded it for a dozen mason jars full of ‘Lightning’. Happy?”

    Deeks had heard the term ‘lightning’ before and knew that it referred to some form of alcohol. He had never seen or tasted it, but knowing about it would probably be enough for the purposes of his conversation with McGovern.

    Skipping over the alcohol comment, Declan replied, “Not really, I was hoping that, given the abundance of trees around this region, someone had a mill of some kind to make boards like the ones over there in the corner. You know, so people could learn a skill like carpentry and build things like homes, barns, carts, wagons, furniture… useful things,” Declan stated bluntly.

    “Nah, there’s nothing like that around here. Sure would be nice if we did though… that I can tell ya.” Then the man gestured toward the corner. “You are close though. Those boards were salvaged from old barn that outlived its usefulness.”

    “Oh, c’mon. Someone round here must be creative enough to figure out some form of belt and wheel system to turn a blade… I bet you if you went into that library there’s bound to be a book on it.”

    McGovern chuckled. “Probably ain’t many books left. Most were used for heat some years back.” The man took a step back and looked Deeks up and down. “Now I get it,” he declared.

    “Get what?”

    “The widow Mary,” the store owner replied.

    “I’m sorry, I don’t follow,” Deeks replied earnestly.

    “You’re what we call an ‘idea man’.”

    “And what is that exactly?”

    The man crossed his arms in a rather stern fashion and declared, “An idea man is a guy who gives people just enough hope to get what he needs and then skidaddles, “ he declared with an exaggerated thumbing gesture and a whistle. “Before they realize it can’t be accomplished, he’s gone.”

    “Ah, I think you might have that confused with a snake oil salesmen… at least that’s what my grandmother used to call them.” With confidence, Declan placed his hands on the glass topped counter and corrected the older gentleman. “I can assure you, sir, by my way of thinking, an idea man is someone who teaches those who need help and doesn’t leave until they have all of the tools and knowledge they need before he heads on down the road.”

    “Mm mmm,” McGovern answered. “We’ll see.”

    “You need convincing?”

    “I believe I might, yes.”

    “OK, if you were to stop in and pay Mary, Samuels, and her new laborer, Jameson, a visit, I think you’ll be more than satisfied that I haven’t left them with any form of unattainable hope. If you’ll look out the window,” Deeks directed and he gestured toward the dirty glass. “You’ll see that Mary is finalizing a lease agreement with the Adkins boy. She is going to provide them with free poultices, salves, and tinctures for as long as she has the business. Where do you think she got that home remedy and herbal knowledge?”

    McGovern glanced over at him.

    “That’s right. Between my grandmother and me, we’ve given her over one hundred and fifty recipes to address everything from colicky babies and sore muscles to kidney stones and herpes.” Now it was time for Deeks to bring the alcohol topic full circle. “What Mary will need though is the services of your ‘Lightning’ manufacturer.”

    “How do you figure?” McGovern asked curious.

    “Well, I’ve given Mary recipes for both 80 proof alcohol as well as yeast. Things would be simpler for everyone if she delegated… so to speak.”

    The man’s eyebrows arched.

    “I see you’re intrigued by either the alcohol or the yeast. I’m gonna take a guess and say it’s the alcohol.”

    “Go on,” the shop owner directed.

    “You can’t make the tinctures she needs without alcohol. Your man can’t make the alcohol she needs without the yeast she can provide him. What I’m suggesting is a mutually beneficial arrangement. Talk to your guy and then tell Mary when he agrees,” he declared confidently.

    McGovern was still looking at him skeptically.

    “You’re a man that still needs convincing. I can see that. Got something to write on… and with?” Deeks asked.

    The shop owner produced a narrow, but firm, piece of wood fashioned from a stick and a small bucket of dark black soot from underneath the cabinet. Declan took the instrument without thinking and wrote:

    Ingredients:
    4 lbs. Malted Barley
    25 lbs. Potatoes
    5 1/2 gal. Water
    1 1/2 oz. yeast

    “See if your ‘Lightning’ man can do anything with that… and let him know that Mary will be providing the yeast and about half of the potatoes in the first year and all of the potatoes thereafter,” Deeks stated confidently. “He’ll need to source the rest as she isn’t growing barley.” He then paused to let the shop owner read over his text.

    “Vodka,” the man stated.

    “Excuse me?”

    “You’ve just given me a recipe for potato vodka. You want eighty proof right?” he declared more than asked. “Well, this is a vodka recipe.”

    “Sure. Let’s call it vodka.” Deeks replied but truly had no clue. “Assuming you’re sufficiently convinced that I’m not, in fact, a snake oil salesman, or a charlatan, would you be willing to do a horse for horse trade? The one I have is in similar, if not better, shape. Maybe a hand or so taller too.”

    Standing erect, with his arms still crossed in defiance, but more than a little intrigued, McGovern gave a slight nod toward the young man.

    “Good, now the only question is, what else is it gonna take to purchase that cart?”

    “Oh, I’ve already said it’s not…” the man began before Deeks distracted him. Without saying a word, he took a round from his pocket and stood it up on the counter.

    McGovern’s eyes widened.

    Smiling, he said in whisper, “Don’t suppose you’d be interested in one of these?”

    “That a –,” the store owner began.

    Keeping his voice low, Deeks interrupted him by inserting, “30-06 original military load.” He then reached back into his pocket. Giving it a little shake, the contents jingled and clinked together. “I’ve got a eleven of his friends that would like to join him in trade for that wagon. Is it for sale now?”

    Swallowing, McGovern picked up the round and inspected it. He turned it over and examined the primer and stamping then briefly checked to see how well the bullet was seated into the brass cartridge. Eventually he nodded his agreement.
    “Excellent!” Deeks proclaimed as he stood back up.

    “Why don’t we go into my office and finalize the sale,” McGovern stammered.

    As the pair worked their way through the racks and aisles of merchandise toward the back room, Deeks took a closer look at the weathered planking leaning up against the sidewall. An idea struck him as they entered through the office doorway.

    “I don’t suppose you’d be willing to sweeten the pot by throwing in some of those planks?”

    McGovern closed the door and headed to his desk. As he took his seat, Deeks placed the eleven remaining 30-06 rounds on the table top. The man leaned forward and collected the complement, pausing briefly to verify they were of similar manufacturing as the original, and then swept the lot into his top drawer.

    As the store owner thought about the latest proposition, Declan added, “Oh, you can collect the horse down at Mary’s place on the edge of town. I’ll let her know you’ll be coming by.”

    “Sounds good. What did you have in mind for the lumber?” the man asked curiously as it turned the conversation back to what he wanted to really talk about.

    “Looks like you’ve got about a dozen boards there… how about a two for one?” the young man offered and then casually placed the additional six rounds he had in his pocket on the desk.

    McGovern didn’t even hesitate. He abruptly stood, picked up the new allotment and placed them into the same drawer. As he closed the desk he proclaimed, “Pleasure doing business with you, Mr. Calhoun.”

    The pair exited the man’s office as the conversation returned to a normal volume and topic.

    “Well, I’d like to thank for you coming into McGovern’s Trading Store. My man out front will get those boards loaded for you no problem.”

    “Sounds good,” Declan declared. “I’ll be back in about an hour. It might be easier and less time consuming if I take your man with me back to Mary’s. He can ride the other horse back, fair enough?”

    “Oh, I think I’d like to stop by and inspect the merchandise. Perhaps I’ll sit a while and chat with Mary and Samuels. If there are any discrepancies, I’m sure Mary and I can work it out.”

    “I’m sure that’ll be just fine, Mr. McGovern. I’ll let her know you’ll be visiting soon,” Deeks stated in reply.

    The store owner extended his hand. “Come back to Ontario and see us anytime.”

    Deeks exited the store and began walking back toward Mary, Samuels, and Jameson. As he stepped off of the covered front porch he heard McGovern telling the laborer to get the wood loaded up. When he approached his friends, a wide beaming smile was stretched across his face.

    “What are you grinning about?” Samuels asked.

    “You’ll see.”

    The pair watched as McGovern nonchalantly strode across the street to what remained of the library.

    Once the bartered agreement was finalized between Mary and Adkins, the group collected Deeks’ new horse and cart and made their way back to her home. Upon arrival, Samuels watched in rapt fascination as Deeks made quick work of the planks with a handsaw and fashioned a hidden recessed compartment under the cart and bench seat for the rifles and ammo.

    “Where did you ever learn how to do that… hide the goods I mean?” the older gentlemen asked.

    “My grandmother had me build all kinds of stuff over the years so people would have a hard time finding things of value if they entered our home and we weren’t there,” the young man replied as he stood and stretched his back. “Wanna hear something weird?”

    “Sure, I love hearing your latest revelations.”

    “When I do stuff like this, it’s almost like I’m in a trance. Like, I’ve seen someone do this and then they had me do it over and over and over again until I did it perfectly,” Deeks explained. “It’s the same thing with trapping or with butchering. I see a piece of vine or wire and before I know it, my hands have already twisted and tied the line. Put a knife in my hands and I swear I could process animals blindfolded. That’s weird, right?”

    “Oh, I don’t know,” Samuels began to reply. “You had a pretty severe head injury, at least, according to Sonja’s notes. Just because your brain doesn’t remember when you learned something doesn’t mean it forgot how to do it. You didn’t have go and re-learn how to walk and talk did you?”

    “No, not that I can recall. One day I just woke up and there was this lady who said she was my mother. She looked familiar, but I couldn’t remember. I figured she was telling the truth.”

    “Sounds like the injury only affected your memory then,” the old man concluded. “Maybe if you get hit in the head again the memories will come back,” he stated with a smile. Then somberly he added, “Or, perhaps Sonja’s right. Maybe you saw and heard so many things that a child should never witness and your mind is just protecting you by locking away all of the bad stuff.”

    “Maybe,” Deeks replied as he put the hammer back on the workbench. With his illegal goods safely stowed, he grabbed the remaining items, as well as his bike carrier, and threw them into the back of the cart. “Time to get this show on the road!” he declared.

    The two men exchanged handshakes and hugs.

    “You take care out there on the road,” Samuels implored him. “Keep clear of people you see. Not everyone out there has good intentions.”

    “Understood,” Deeks answered knowingly.

    “I have a little something for you,” he stated then reached for his back pocket. “If you happen to see any landmarks, this old map might help you figure out where you are.”

    Samuels then spent the next few minutes teaching Deeks how to read the old tattered Rand McNally. As the pair began heading toward the house, Mary and Jameson exited to say their goodbyes.

    “So long Mr. Calhoun,” Jameson proclaimed much to Deeks’ dismay. A second or two later, Declan smiled.

    The two young men shook hands when Deeks offered, “You take care of these two, OK? Everything I’ve tried to teach you and more has been written down. Mary has all of the various recipes in case you get hurt or have aches and pains. Remember, if you can’t figure something out, take your time and think it through, got it?”

    “Yes, sir. I’ll do my best,” Jameson replied sincerely. “Spring’s in full bloom so life should be a little easier since we aren’t freezing to death in dark winter!”

    “You guys, don’t be in such a hurry to sell everything either. Make sure you’ve secured everything you need for your own well-being. And don’t just be thinking in terms of current needs. You need to be thinking long term, multiple seasons’ in advance. I don’t care if it’s the meat, hides for warmth, seeds, fruits and nuts you’ve collected, or vegetables from the garden. If you aren’t healthy, then what’s the point, right?”

    “Spoken like a true survivor,” Mary declared as she began to wrap her arms around his neck one final time.

    Deeks bent slightly then slowly stood, lifting her from her feet as he held her waist.

    “Don’t you go breaking too many young girls’ hearts, Declan Edward Wrigley-Chastain,” she said softly in to his ear as she rattled off all the sur names of his fractured past.

    Deeks slowly placed her back on the ground then released her with a gentle kiss on the cheek.

    “Yes, ma’am,” he replied with a sly grin.

    The three watched as Deeks climbed atop his new mode of transportation and grabbed the reins. “I expect you guys to try and master as much as you can and then pass along the knowledge to others. We can’t rebuild a town, much less a country, if everyone is starving to death.”

    “We will, Deeks,” Mary answered then looked to the east. As she released the break for him, she added, “Looks like you’ll have a good couple of hours of daylight. You go find your family.”

    Declan turned and looked west and took in the position of the sun, then set his eye back to the east. Without answering, he gave a little wave then shook the reins. The horse started on its way with little prompting.

    Mary watched until the cart disappeared. Deeks never turned around.
    Hannibal ad portas

  7. #57
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    Chapter 13 con't

    * * *

    Grappler placed the cuffs on Gregg’s wrists. “You ready?”

    “I don’t see why this is necessary… even if it is just for show. We’re literally in the middle of nowhere,” his faux prisoner replied.

    “I can’t go riding into a town wearing a Marshal’s badge and not have a prisoner in cuffs.”

    “Well who says I have to be a prisoner. I could be a trainee or something.”

    Grap physically laughed out loud. “Yeah right!” he proclaimed as he straightened himself back up in the saddle. “You’re a funny guy.”

    “What’s the point of these things? We both know I could pick the lock in about thirty seconds.”

    “I know you could, but we are about to leave the Northwest Region and enter the Upper Midwest. If you’d left the area sometime in the last decade you’d know that when you cross from one into another you might as well be changing countries in Europe during the Cold War.”

    “What? Like check points and border guards and ‘show me your papers’ type stuff?”

    “On some of the more heavily travelled roads, yeah. The cuffs are for when we get into town. We shouldn’t see anything out here at the state line. You’ll definitely see an increase in the visibility of the Deputy Provosts in the border towns though. They keep most of their focus on those. Some of the Provosts can be kinda nasty. Josh’s daughters probably aren’t gonna take well to some of their methods.”

    “I can imagine. What the hell are they looking for?”

    “Mostly contraband, weapons, and what not. Refusing a search is an automatic three-day jail sentence.”

    “Are you immune to searches as a Marshal?” Gregg asked.

    “Yep, and so are prisoners so that’s another reason for the cuffs. A ‘trainee’ would still be subject to searches. It’s just easier this way,” Grappler concluded.

    “So how far are we from Kearney?”

    The Marshall took in the remains of a roadside sign through the last remaining light of the setting sun. It read ‘Kid Fireworks’. “We’re at the state line now so I’d say ’bout a week… little less if we hustle.”

    “So why aren’t we? Hustling I mean…”

    “No need. According to Katherine’s telegram we have time on our side. They probably won’t be there until the end of the month,” Grap replied casually.

    Shaking his head in disbelief, Gregg stated, “I still can’t wrap my brain around this.”

    “’Round what?”

    “Those guys leaving the farm en masse to come halfway across the country to get us. Why not just ask us to come to them if we were needed so desperately?”

    “Yeah, that one’s got me stumped too,” the Marshal replied and then glanced at his riding partner just in time to see a broad smile beginning to form. “What?”

    “Huh? Oh, nothing.”

    “Yeah right. Out with it,” Thomas ordered.

    Movement in front of them caught their attention as they both turned and strained their eyes to see what it was. Men and horses bustled around in silhouette. As they drew closer, they could see the ‘Welcome to Nebraska’ road sign and it became apparent.

    “Checkpoint,” the Marshal declared.

    “What? Out here? Thought you said they only do major roads.”

    “Well, I guess I was wrong. Don’t talk to them and go with whatever I say, got it?”

    “Roger that,” Gregg replied but couldn’t resist the temptation to add, “Boss.”

    “Whatever, smart ass. What were you smiling about back there?”

    “Nothing really. It’s just that something occurred to me is all.”

    “Why do I always feel like opposing counsel when I talk to you? Just say it already, will ya!” the Marshal implored his prisoner.

    “Geez, relax,” Gregg retorted. “It’s just that, given the meeting point in the middle of the country, the only reason I could think of for those guys to leave the farm, and come all the way out here, is Omaha.”

    Now it was Grappler’s turn to smile.

    “Is there something still there?”

    The man just nodded then turned his attention to the approaching border guards. As they neared the checkpoint, a solitary figure stepped out and raised his hand to signal the riders that they needed to stop.

    “Dismount and subject yourself for inspection,” the drone declared. When the pair made no attempt to climb off their mounts, the man glanced up and saw the badge glinting in the firelight. “State the nature of your visit to the Upper Midwest Region, Marshal.”

    “Prisoner transport from Cheyenne.”

    The man looked at him quizzically, then asked, “Cheyenne? What are you doing all the way up here. You should be down on 80.”

    “I would have been if this little bastard hadn’t jack rabbited all the way up to Fort Laramie.”

    “This guy got away… from you?” he questioned as he took in Grappler’s size. “I find that hard to believe. He looks older than dirt,” the border guard decreed as the other three men moved closer.

    “Not me, I was getting a shave. Left him with two Deputy Provosts. Son of a bitch damn near crippled both of ‘em for life, I’ll tell you that much. Young bucks… kind of like you four. Don’t let age and appearance fool ya. These old timers, they’ve seen some stuff. This guy here, William Munny, why I bet he’s killed more people with his thumb than you four have dipped your wicks into combined.”

    The four guards looked at Gregg with weary suspicion for a few silent moments. Eventually, one proclaimed, “You’re just telling tall tales now.” He then turned his attention toward the prisoner, “Hey! Old timer!” he began as he slapped Gregg’s leg. “How many people you kill?”

    “I wouldn’t stand near him like that, son. He’s liable to kick you in the face, send the cartilage from your nose straight into your brain, and drop you like a sack of potatoes.”

    The kid turned to look at him.

    “Seriously, I’d back up if I were you,” Grappler warned.

    “Two hundred and thirty five,” Gregg answered in a low grumble. “It’ll be two forty if I get my hands on the Marshal’s sidearm.”

    Just then, in a lightning fast movement, Gregg thrust himself forward and grabbed the punk by the front of his shirt.

    With their faces just inches apart, Gregg declared, “I know who two thirty six is gonna be if he touches me again.”

    All of the guards flinched and jumped when Grappler fired a shot into the air. Gregg didn’t bat an eye. He held on to the guard that, who until just a few seconds earlier, had been full of so much bravado.

    “William Munny!” the Marshal hollered.

    Calmly, Gregg replied, “Marshal Doolan.”

    “You release that boy or I’ll put you down right here, right now!”

    He waited a few seconds before complying. “It’s alright, Marshal. I’ll let him go… he’s pissed himself anyway.”

    As Gregg let go with his second hand, the Deputy Provost crumpled to the ground in a heap. He quickly got to his feet and scampered off to the relative safety of the makeshift guard shack.

    Grappler turned to the original guard and asked, “Now, do you want to inspect my transport papers or are we free to go?”

    “We’re good here, Marshal. You can go on through.”

    Thomas shrugged and placed the papers back in his inside breast pocket. Looking off to the east into the darkness, he didn’t see any candle lights coming from the town he was expecting to see.

    “How come there’s no movement down there in Henry?”

    “Bad thunderstorms rolled through this area some time ago… lightning lit up the sky like the sun they townsfolk said. Whole town got burned to the ground. The survivors packed up and moved over to Morrill. You’ll find accommodations there.”

    Grap tipped his hat to the young man as a ‘thanks for the information’ gesture. The pair rode in front of the three remaining Deputies with little fanfare, but there were a lot of stares.

    When they were well beyond earshot, Gregg began giggling to himself. When he could find his words, he stated, “Well, at least you made me a Clint Eastwood character this time. William Munny… always loved that movie.”

    “Thought you’d appreciate that.”

    “So how far is Morrill?”

    “Eh, it’s about ten miles from the border. So, what’s that, two hours, maybe… if we continue to try and save the horses.”

    “Do me a favor and just bring me into town this time, will ya.”

    The Marshal cocked a weary brow at him.

    “This sleeping in the dirt on the outskirts of town while you get to bathe and grab a meal is getting old. Throw me in the damn jail for all I care. Just order me a meal or two a day and a bath before we leave. Just let me sleep on something soft for a night or two. We’ll rest the horses and check the wire to see if the gig is up.”

    Thomas thought about the proposal, then eventually nodded his agreement. “Two nights then we’re back on the road. Deal?”

    “Deal,” Gregg declared. “Here are your cuffs.”

    “Why you little…”
    Hannibal ad portas

  8. #58
    Join Date
    Jan 2011
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    Sweet Tennessee
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    Well done
    Don't bring skittles to a gun fight.

  9. #59
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    Aug 2018
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    Quote Originally Posted by theauthor View Post
    C
    “This sleeping in the dirt on the outskirts of town while you get to bathe and grab a meal is getting old. Throw me in the damn jail for all I care. Just order me a meal or two a day and a bath before we leave. Just let me sleep on something soft for a night or two. We’ll rest the horses and check the wire to see if the gig is up.”

    Thomas thought about the proposal, then eventually nodded his agreement. “Two nights then we’re back on the road. Deal?”

    “Deal,” Gregg declared. “Here are your cuffs.”

    “Why you little…”
    Don't mess with the old guys for they will shoot you instead of fighting....

    Texican....

  10. #60
    Join Date
    Nov 2009
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    East Tennessee
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    Good stuff. Thanks
    Greater love hath no man than this, That a man lay down his life for a friend.
    John 15:13

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