Posts Tagged ‘action’

I particularly like this quote by Cliffson and also the “White Rabbit” scene.  Additionally, there is a scene in this chapter that is one of the most intense in the entire book.

CHAPTER  TWENTY-FIVE

 “True science has long since fled the nation, to be replaced by political science; that is, the counterfeit, contrived science conceived by politicians, for the deception of the masses and empowerment of political elites.”

 Cliffson

 With the regularity of a Monsoon rain the deadly raids continued.  At the close of each day, with the sun spreading a new water color painting in the western sky, gunfire would erupt, homes would burn and the screams of the helpless filled the night.  At times the fighting was far off and only the plumes of angry black clouds could be seen rising into the air.  Other times it was nearby and fires would illuminate the nighttime sky in oranges and reds.

Thomas was enjoying a tranquil evening until 3:00 a.m. when an attack on neighbors at the end of the cul-de-sac forced him to wake Cliffson with a call on his radio.  Cliffson jumped from bed, threw on some clothes and rushed to meet with Monk and Thomas on the front lawn.

Monk was adamant they not get drawn in.  “Not gonna risk our lives in that fight mates.  Those folks refused to join with us in preparing a coordinated a defense.  There’s nothing to be gained.”

It seemed so cold-blooded, but Cliffson knew Monk was right.  After taking up positions of cover in case the thugs moved their direction, they watched the neighbors flee their homes.  A few were gunned down in their own yards, but most escaped.

The next morning Monk and Cliffson made an inspection of the two homes and found them ransacked but intact.  One way or the other people were being thinned out and empty or burned out homes were beginning to outnumber those housing families.

Day after day, the level of violence grew and desperation mounted.  Most of the fighting was against small groups of starving, desperate people and the sight of starving children tugged at everyone’s hearts. Occasionally the Langs shared with families passing through, but it was impossible to help all of them.

During his nightly watch, it was Thomas’ custom to call out a warning for people to turn back.  But fewer and fewer people were heeding his call and more often than not, shot into the darkness where they thought his voice had come from.  When his concern for others nearly cost him his life Thomas’ entire demeanor changed.

It was the typical small group.  Four young men were prowling the neighborhood late at night hoping to catch an unsuspecting family asleep.  After ignoring his warning and pinning him down, Thomas was engaged in a fight for his life.  In the heat of the battle his gun jammed and he’d run out of ammunition for his pistol by the time Cliffson and Monk arrived at the last second to rescue him.

Thomas now knew what it was like to stare down the barrel of a rifle and await the slug.  In that moment something inside him snapped.  A translucent switch connecting a long dormant synapse was thrown and he was no longer the mild mannered anti-gun professor just trying to get along.  From that point forward, Thomas used the benefit of surprise to quickly dispatch groups of two or three. “It’s just how it is,”  he would say.   His only exception was for children.

When encountering larger groups, he would awaken Monk and Cliffson with his radio and then proceed to do whatever was required until help arrived.  Drawing the enemy’s attention meant Monk and Cliffson often went unnoticed, slipping out of their houses and into the dark to ambush unexpectedly from behind.  In a very short period of time Thomas had killed many men and he grew cold and more distant with each one.

Thomas quickly became a loyal and trusted member who was greatly respected. He was a good man and Cliffson had grown fond of him—thankful he had come their way.  Though the steady fighting and killing was draining the humanity out of all of them, Cliffson was particularly concerned for Thomas.  There was an icy hardness to the man and a steel glint in his eye that was unnerving.

Thomas knew he had changed in a way he’d never thought possible.   Some nights, while manning one of his secluded sentry posts, he would think about the person he had become and contrast himself with the professor he had once been. It seemed like a life time ago and it shocked him to realize he’d become the very person he once demeaned and called uncivilized.

For Thomas, this new reality was seen in the people who had their hands in the soil, striving to be free and self-reliant.  They were the ones who knew truth and understood life.  No longer did he see them as the poor unsophisticated souls needing to be educated in the enlightened ways of the “Ivory Tower” class.  These people didn’t need to be shown culture, they were the culture.

He saw things so differently now, but it was too late.  People who worked for a living had been outnumbered by those who voted for a living, and the end had come.  It shocked him to see how blind he’d been and he found himself thinking he should have paid more attention to the things his son had been trying to tell him.

His son.  The thought would bring a lump to his throat and his tears would glisten in the moon light while sitting alone at his post in the dark.  How was he doing?  Was he even still alive?  Oh, just to see him again.

The weeks passed, and the fighting continued.   Jean was forced to shoot two men holding Cliffson at gun point in the garden.  They’d knocked him to the ground and were yelling their demands when Jean braced herself in the frame of the garage door and shot them with her rifle.  The emotional toll was grinding and the constant state of alertness drained them all.

Cliffson still offered water to people in need, but there was no longer a line, and daily he noticed fewer people showing up.  It wasn’t hard to know what was happening to them and it saddened him to think of the slaughter taking place all around.

He hated it all.  Monk did too, but reminded Cliffson these were the same people who’d bought into the governments promises and brought all this down upon themselves in the first place.  “Besides,” Monk added, “It’s kill or be killed.  You really have no other choice.”

In time, the attacks diminished, but Monk believed they were now entering an even more dangerous period.  The unorganized unfortunates were quickly being eliminated.  Soon they would be faced with organized militias and well armed gangs looking to establish territories.  It would be a treacherous time for their little family.

“So Monk, I like your idea, but just where are we gonna find all the sand we need for this project?” Cliffson asked.  “We’ve pretty much used up what we could find to fortify our own homes.”

“Not sure yet matey.  Now just keep on a movin’, this wood ain’t a gettin’ no lighter ya know.”

Carrying lumber from a couple blocks away wasn’t a pleasant task for these sixty-somethings, but it had to be done and they were making the best of it.  To preserve fuel, the lumber was scavenged a few sticks at a time from nearby homes.

“At our ages Monk, we aren’t rolling joints, were rubbing them,”  Cliffson joked.

“You’re not just a whislin Dixie mate, but we’re getting there.  Then you can rest and curl up with your Surrealistic Pillow,”  Monk added.

“And the White Wabbit?” Cliffson asked.

Monk, “One pill makes you larger.”

Cliffson, “One pill makes you small.”

Both together, “And the one your mother gives you, don’t do anything all.”

Both were laughing out loud now.

Monk, “Go ask Alice, when she’s ten feet tall.”

Cliffson was nearly falling down he was laughing so hard, “You can’t sing Monk.”

“Neither can you, but get on with it if you know the words.”

Cliffson, “Know the words?  Course I know em, something burned them in my mind.”

Monk, “Yeah, I can just imagine.”

Cliffson, “so if you go, chasing rabbits, and you know you’re going to fall,”

Monk, “tell ‘em a hookah smoking caterpillar, has given you the call.”

They were howling now. “Hookah smoking caterpillar always cracked me up.”  Monk choked out between laughs.

Laughing and singing their way back to the house, they finished the song together.  Standing in the driveway the two bellowed the last lines while everyone looked at them like they were crazy.

“And the White Knight is talking backwards,

And the Red Queen’s off with her head,

Remember, what the dormouse said,”

They dropped the lumber down and standing with their arms around one another finished the song in full throttle.

“Feed your head, Feed your head,

Monk, “One more time.”

“Feed your head.”

Finished, they bowed to a hearty applause.  Monk, hat in hand, bald spot gleaming in the sun, Cliffson in his straw hat and overalls.  It was the first real laugh the group had enjoyed in a while and it was a much needed tonic.

Then everyone made their way to the construction site of the Jefferson’s new cabin.  The foundation was constructed of cinder block on which the floor was just now being framed.  Monk’s plan was to fill the walls with sand, up to about four feet or so.  It would provide an extra measure of home defense.

After a few more trips for lumber they called it a day and retired inside for one of Jeans exceptional dinners.  The evening was quiet; an unsettling kind of quiet.  After completing a double check of the radios, Thomas took up his post and the rest of them turned in for the night.

Goosebumps ran the length of Thomas arms and it wasn’t the cool evening air.  A sixth sense told him something was up and he chose to position himself inside the post with the greatest concealment.

In front of him the quince and ninebark were tall and thick with leaves.  To his left, just a few feet away was a large landscape berm, rising up nearly five feet and covered with currents and lavender.  To his right a split rail fence bordered the Crank’s property.  Draped over much of the area was a huge weeping willow where Thomas was secreted inside.

He rarely gave much thought to being located next to the Crank’s driveway, for they were never out after dark, but tonight it would be key.

The sound of a car door woke Thomas from a half sleep.  Angry with himself for dozing off, he wondered what he’d missed.  After getting his bearings he began tuning in on a conversation taking place in the Crank’s driveway.

Adjusting his position to hear better, the conversation abruptly stopped.  Footsteps approached and Thomas froze.  In the darkness he knew he couldn’t be seen, but if they got suspicious and decided to look through the sweeping branches of the willow, he would certainly be found.  The two men stepped from the driveway and gravel crunched just feet from where Thomas hid.  He held his breath, but feared his pounding heart would give him away.

A sudden burst of red and orange sparks showered the ground, quickly followed by the rub of a heavy boot.  The smell of cigarette tobacco filled Thomas’ nostrils and the two men took up their conversation just a few feet away.

What he heard prickled the hair on the back of his neck.  A force was being organized to take down the Lang household, but he couldn’t warn the others without giving himself away.  Did he stand up and shoot the men in cold blood?  No.  He was not a cold-blooded killer, but he had to do something.  He thought about clicking the transmitter on his radio in a pre-arranged signal, but that would was likely to draw people out into the trap being set.  The wrong decision could get people killed.

Again the tension filled Thomas with the desire to explode upon the men and drop them dead.  No, be patient, he told himself.  Quietly he released the safety on his gun and prepared to charge the two unsuspecting men.

A moment later a white pickup rounded the corner and approached the driveway.  In the headlights of the pickup Thomas saw Hank Crank close the lid on a brief case full of money and hand it to the other man.

Thomas could see it wasn’t the worthless American currency and heard Hank promise some gold coins upon successful completion of the mission.  The two men shook hands and Hank slapped the man on the back before going back inside.

After the pickup pulled away, Thomas called a warning on his radio and rushed for the house.  Cliffson met him at the door.

“We don’t have much time.” Thomas exclaimed.  “Get everyone up and out of the house.”

“Thomas take a breath,” Cliffson told him.

“Ok, Ok.”

“Now what’s going on?”

“I overheard a conversation in the Crank’s driveway.  He’s paid a large group to attack the house with automatic weapons.  They’re going to create a diversion out in front before the main group attacks from the field behind.  You’ve got to get everyone out of the
house.”  Thomas was nearly yelling again.

“Damn.  Get Monk and set up in the bunker across the street.”  Cliffson ordered.  He then rushed to arm everyone and evacuate the house for the field behind.  Stepping out the back door he paused for a moment and glanced at the crossbow leaning against the wall.  He didn’t know how he would use it, but knew he should take it.

“Dad, you coming?”  It was Dustin.

“Be right there, Dust.”

Cliffson doused his lantern, slid the door closed and dashed for the field to join the others.

Initially they gathered in the equipment shed, but fearing they could be trapped inside, Cliffson moved them further away to the banks of a dry livestock pond.  From there the house, gravel drive accessing the shed and the low rock wall stretched out before them.

Mary was whimpering and Cliffson sternly hushed her.  He knew Jean was scared too, but she remained in control of herself.  Hell, they were all scared.

The clear, starlit night and fingernail moon shed a frail light, but it was enough to cast a dark outline.  The damp night air was beginning to chill when Cliffson shared his plan.  If the group was too large they wouldn’t show themselves and would remain hidden or retreat to the West’s house a mile away.

“But what about Thomas and Monk”?   Mary asked.

“Monk and I agreed sometime ago we are not to risk lives unnecessarily for the sake of his own.”  Cliffson whispered.

“But my husband is with him.”

“He’s in good hands Mary.  Monk will take care of him.”

Gravel popped and Cliffson looked up in time to see the lights being doused on a pickup turning off of the county road.  The dark silhouette of the truck rolled deliberately towards the shed and stopped to disgorge the men inside.  Cliffson thought there were seven of them, Dustin whispered eight.  A radio crackled, and the men moved to positions at the rock wall.  Cliffson keyed his own radio to alert Monk and all hell broke loose.

A second pickup roared to the front of the Lang’s home and two men in the back of the truck rained down automatic weapons fire on the Lang household.  A third man fired on the bunker containing Monk and Thomas.

Without rising up Thomas fired back with a rifle Monk had laid across on top of the bunker.  Monk told him he was firing high and to shoot lower.  When Thomas cut loose with the next few rounds Monk rose up and threw a Molotov cocktail towards the bed of the truck.  He missed, but the bottle broke against the door and the cab of the truck burst into flames.

Cliffson saw the flames and knew Monk had struck.  When the burning pickup sped off, the men in front of Cliffson climbed over the wall and rushed the house, leaving one man behind to guard the truck.  Cliffson could see from the muzzle flashes there were six of them.

Dustin startled him with a tap on the shoulder.

“Dad, I’m gonna take out the man at the truck with the crossbow.”

“No it’s too dangerous, you just stay………”, before he could finish Dustin cloaked himself in darkness and slid away on his belly.  The gunfire continued and the sound of shattering glass burst loose the anger burning deep in Cliffson’s gut.  Hank had set this up with the expectation of killing them all.

Abruptly the gunfire stopped and silence rushed to fill the vacuum.  Cliffson watched the men shining flashlights about the house.  Then in a hushed voice Dustin called for them.

Crouching low to the ground, the group hurried to join him.  Dustin was pointing to the guard lying in the grass with an arrow buried in his chest when Cliffson’s radio chirped.

“Cliffson, you all right?”  came Monk’s whispered voice.

“We’re fine, but there are six men in the house.  I plan on dispatching them when they leave.  Keep an eye on the front door.”

“Will do, now be careful.”

Cliffson moved everyone to the rock wall and told them to wait until the men came back outside.

“No one shoots until I do,” he ordered.

Taught nerves twitched the muscles in Cliffson’s right hand as he fingered the trigger of his shotgun.  Flashlights continued moving about the house and it seemed to take forever before one man finally stepped outside and to look about the yard.

“Let’s get out of here.”  Four men soon joined him.

“Where’s Jason?  Jason you asshole, get out here.”  The man stepped out of the house with a bottle in his hand.

“Bet that’s my rum,”  Cliffson muttered.

The men began marching towards the rock wall and the leader yelled for their man stationed at the pickup.

“Mac, fire up the truck and let’s go.”

The men took a few more steps before realizing something was wrong, but Cliffson was already over the rock wall and charging the group, firing his shotgun as he went.  Thinking his Dad must be crazy Dustin jumped the wall and chased after him.

Stunned and surprised, the men froze in their tracks when the darkness exploded around them.  It would be their last move.  Cliffson shot the first two men before they knew what hit them.  A third man was bringing his weapon to bear when Cliffson’s shotgun blast removed his face.  The remaining three men in the group barely had time to raise their weapons before Dustin cut them down with his mini-14.  Then he grabbed his father by the shoulder and spun him around.  “Are you crazy!”

“I just might be.”  Cliffson spun away, leaving his son in a pool of rage.

He approached the bodies on the ground and picked up one of the dead men’s flashlights.  Reaching behind his back Cliffson pulled a 40 cal. Glock from his waistband and shot each man in the head before storming to the house.  His fury exploded upon taking in the damage.  Glass was everywhere, and the walls were shot through in so many places he didn’t see how they could ever be repaired.  Tears welled up and burned a molten path down each cheek.

He stormed through the house and threw open the door to the garage. Searching with the flashlight he found the trunk he was looking for safely hidden in a corner of the garage. Throwing back the lid he pulled out a blanket and unrolled it on the floor.  About that time he heard Monk and Thomas greet the rest of the group before joining him in the garage.

“Slow down there matey and let me see whatcha got?” Monk soothed.

“Feel like dancing?”  Cliffson glared red eyed at the two Taser’s he held.

“Never cared much for dancing my friend, so what, may I ask, do you have in mind?”

“Thomas, you told me you overheard Hank’s conversation.  He ordered the attack and you witnessed the payment.  Am I right?”

“That is correct.”

“And you also heard that we were all to be killed, is this correct?”

“Yes sir, I heard those exact words,”  Thomas replied.

“Then as much as my soul has already been rent, I cannot in good conscience stand by and wait for this to happen again.  Hank’s intent to kill us is clear and I aim to put an end to this one way or the other.”

“Jean, I’d like you and the other women to open up the crawl space and then clean up some of the glass so we can safely walk through the house.  Dustin, reload my shotgun.  I want you to slip over the Crank’s fence and position yourself so you can cover Monk and me from the back door.”  Cliffson said.

“Dad, what are you going to do?”  Dustin asked.

“If Monk is willing, we’re going to go kick in the front door to the Crank house and have a little dance party.”

“I’m with ya mate,”  Monk responded.

“We’ll Taser them both and bring em back here.  Failing that, I am prepared to finish this once and for all.”  Cliffson patted his sidearm.  “Are we ready?”

They both answered in the affirmative.

“Then let’s get it done.”

Jean grabbed his arm.  “Honey, don’t do this.  Someone’s going to get hurt.”

“Damn right they are.  Now please get that crawl space opened and be ready for us when we get back.”  Cliffson pecked her on the cheek and the three men stepped out into the dark.

Dustin pulled himself over the fence while Monk and Cliffson provided cover.  On the other side he knelt down and listened while observing the house for movement.

“The house is dark, no candles no lanterns,”  Dustin whispered.

“All right Dust, we’re off then.  Be careful.”

Cliffson and Monk hurried to the front of the Crank’s house and without hesitation Monk effortlessly kicked in the front door.  He swept to the left and Cliffson followed to the right.  The sound of a shotgun chambering a shell rang out in the dark and both men froze.  A flashlight came on.  To their left sat Hank with his shotgun.  Mona stood beside him holding the flashlight and a pistol.

“I’ve been expecting you,”  Hank sneered.  “Don’t know how you were tipped off, but I guess that doesn’t matter much now.  I’d invite you to have a seat but I think our business here will soon be finished.”

Hank raised the shotgun and an explosion filled the room.  The sliding glass door exploded and glass flew through the building.  The Cranks went down and Monk and Cliffson dove for the floor.

Dustin stepped into the room and advanced towards the flashlight lying on the floor.  Hank was reaching for his shotgun when Cliffson drilled him with the Taser.  Hank danced.   Then Mona dove for the shotgun and Monk fired his Taser.  Mona danced.  It wasn’t the two-step and they weren’t really in time, but as Monk would comment later, “they both had some pretty fancy moves.”

Before Hank could recover, Cliffson put a foot on the back of his neck to hold him down.  “First question Hank.  Where can I find the rest of the men who attacked us tonight?”

“Go to hell.”

It was slurred but clear enough.  Cliffson stepped back and touched off the Taser one more time.  It wasn’t really break-dancing, but that Hank, he sure had the moves.

Mona shrieked at the site of Hank dancing again.  Dustin tore the sleeve off her shirt and gagged her.

Hank was coming around again and they pulled him to his feet.  “You haven’t answered my question yet Hank.”  Cliffson was in his face.

“You can’t make me talk.”

“I’m betting I can.”

Using the wires from the Taser they tied Hank and Mona’s hands behind their backs and marched them out of the house.  Cliffson sent Dustin to get the pickup the attackers had left behind in the field.

When they got back to the house Cliffson questioned Hank one more time.  He refused to cooperate and it was time to ratchet up the pressure.  After binding their feet and hands with duct tape, Cliffson forced both of them into the crawl space.

“Last chance.”

Hank glared.

“Have it your way.”

“Monk.”  Cliffson’s stare bore straight into his good eye.  “We need to dispose of the bodies laying out there in the yard, will you give me a hand?”

“Can’t it wait until morning?” Monk asked.

“No, I expect to have answers by morning.”

“Cliffson, I know what you’re thinking. You are one mean sonofabitch.”

“I am not being vengeful if that is what you’re thinking.”

“Then, just what do you call it mate.”

“Monk, if I was being vengeful, they’d already be dead.”

“Sure looks like revenge to me,” Monk answered.

Tersely Cliffson turned on Monk.  “Dammit Monk!  These people ordered the execution of my family.  We’d all be lying here dead if not for Thomas’ warning.  They give me no choice.  I have a plan and I need information.  They’re going to spend the rest of the night, or however long it might take, in close company with the men they sent to kill us.”  That ended the discussion.

Five of the seven bodies were then dragged into the house and dropped into the crawl space to sleep with the Cranks.  Mona was attempting to scream through her gag and only his last remaining shred of humanity kept Cliffson from enjoying the terror he saw in her eyes.

“Nighty night, assholes!”  Cliffson glowered and dropped the hatch on the crawl space.

With Thomas on watch, they worked through the night cleaning up and assessing the damage.  Every window in the house was shattered.  When the first rays of dawn penetrated the walls to send golden shafts of light dancing on the floor, Cliffson and Jean were overcome with grief.  Excusing themselves, the two weary souls stepped outside to the comfort of their garden.

“Where does one find the strength to keep pushing on?”  The adrenalin was fading and Cliffson faded with it.

“We’re just tired,”  Jean said.

“You’re probably right, but I feel so overwhelmed.”

“Honey, consider what we’ve just been through.  You were so brave last night,”  Jean said.

“Well……”

Raising a finger to his lips Jean continued.

“Hush,” she said sternly.  “You were also incredibly stupid and I’m angry with you.  Did you stop to think for a moment what would happen to the rest of us if you had gotten yourself killed?”

“I just…..”

Jean hushed him again.  “I don’t know what crazy place you went to last night, but it’s time you came back and joined the rest of us.”  She wasn’t done yet and he knew it.  “And you will promise me right here and now that you’ll never do anything like that again.”

More than three decades of marriage told Cliffson not to argue, but he had to be honest.  “I can’t promise you that.  There are certain things I have to do and there’s just so much a man can take.”

“Don’t give me that old man’s world crap now.”  Her trembling hands went to the corner of each eye to wipe away the tears.

Cliffson took her hands and knelt in front of her before gazing into the emerald green pools that had always captivated him.  “Hon, I promise to be careful, but I will not back away from what is required of me.  I know you understand that.  If you lose me, then it was meant to be, and be happy for me.  This world has long been a burden I’ve wanted to shed.  It’s no longer a place where men of integrity walk or are even valued.  You know our nation rejected honesty and uprightness long ago.  I don’t belong here.  There’s no place for me.”  Cliffson kissed her on the forehead and stood on creaky knees.

Jean was crying softly into her hands.  “I can’t do this alone.  I’ve lost my son and I don’t know what I’d do if I lost you.”

Cliffson reached down and pulled her into his arms to whisper in her ear,  “I’m not planning on going anywhere until I get Zachary back.  That I promise.”

He released her and flashed a grin that made his blues eyes sparkle. “There’s a lot I need to tend to.  Stay here for awhile if you like.”

Jean watched her husband walk away.  The heels of his shoes were kicking up diamonds of early morning dew.  “Lord cover him and protect him please.”

Cliffson found Monk in the kitchen chewing on a crusty piece of bread.  Monk’s good eye grinned and Cliffson smiled back.

“Mornin’, Monk.”

“Mornin’,” he mumbled.

“Monk, I want you to know just how much I appreciate having you here.  Don’t know if I could deal with this without you.”

“Goin’ soft on me are ya.”  Monk winked.  Knowing it always cracked Cliffson up.

“Guess I am, guess I am.”  Cliffson’s voice trailed off.  “But I betcha that’s not what the Cranks will be thinking when we haul them out of that crawl space.”

“We goin’ dancing’?”  Monk said while eyeing the Taser in Cliffson’s right hand.

“I hope not Monk.  Hank’s not my type.”

“Ah, now that’s more like the Cliffson I know.  Let’s go see how they’re doing.”

Cliffson raised the hatch and shined his flashlight down on the Cranks.  Mona looked nearly comatose and the pleading look in Hank’s eyes made it clear they’d had enough.  When Cliffson asked if Hank would cooperate, Hank nodded.

Digging them out from under the bodies wasn’t an easy chore, but eventually the Cranks were moved to the living room and bound to wooden chairs.  Taser in hand Cliffson removed their gags and made it clear what would happen if they didn’t oblige him.  Both asked for water and were given full glasses.

The first question was for the location of the remaining group of men Hank had hired for the hit.  Hank reluctantly told them.  Then Cliffson asked where the Chinese stored their food and fuel.  Hank was plainly surprised at this request and hesitated, but when threatened with the Taser, hung his head and gave them the information.  When Cliffson insisted he had access to it, Hank was resolute he didn’t.

Cliffson refilled their glasses and continued.

“There’s only one way you get out of this alive.  If you do all I ask, you’ll be freed, if not, then it’s over for both of you.  Are we clear?”

Hank was getting surly again.  “You can’t do this.  You can’t get away with…”

“Shut up Hank.  I’m out of patience.”  Cliffson put his pistol against Hanks head.  “Full cooperation or it won’t be worth my time to bother with you.  ARE WE CLEAR?”  Both of them nodded.

“We’ll soon find out.”  Cliffson turned to Dustin.  “Have them dig a grave in the field near the barn.  If they so much as move the wrong way, shoot them and put them in it.   You can find shovels leaning against the shed.”

Cliffson began to untie the Cranks.  “When they’re done digging, bring them back here to haul those bodies out of the crawl space.”

Dustin racked a shell in his shotgun.  “You heard the man, let’s go.”

Kate joined Dustin and took up a shotgun of her own.

Cliffson couldn’t help thinking about the things Dustin and Kate had been through in the last few months.  The fear he’d always seen in Kate’s eyes had given way to a laser gaze that looked as if it could cut through a steal beam.  He almost felt bad for the Crank’s.  Well, not really.

With Dustin and Kate off to the field with the Cranks, Cliffson turned to Monk.  “Got any plans for today?”

Monk rolled his eye.  For some reason it always reminded Cliffson of Marty Feldman.

“What’re we doin’ matey?”

“Time to rifle the Crank’s house for anything we can use.”

“Now that sounds like fun,”  Monk said through a giant smile.

The rest of the morning was spent ransacking the Crank house.  In addition to their pickup with nearly a full tank of gas, they found tools and more gasoline stored in the garage.  To their amazement, they also found fresh fruit and vegetables in the kitchen, along with an assortment of cheese, milk, eggs and meat, confirming Cliffson’s suspicion they were being supplied by the Chinese.  Cliffson made a mental note to find out why.

Monk brought a wheel barrow from the backyard to haul the food home.  Jean and Mary, tired of cleaning the shot up house, thrilled at the treat of fresh food.  While the women ate lunch, Monk and Cliffson took plates of food out to Dustin and Kate.

When the Cranks realized their house had been raided they were furious.  Cliffson held up a bunch of grapes.  “Want some Hank?” he smiled.

“You have no right.”

“And neither did you.  Now I’m perfectly willing to share, but first I need a little more information.”

Hank looked up from the hole he was digging.  “And what would that be.”

“What is it you are doing for the Chinese that warrants the food they supply you with?”

“I provide them with information.”

“What kind of information?”

Hank looked down and mumbled, “Information about armed groups who could be a threat to them.”

“And how do you do that?”

“I’ve lived in Central Oregon all my life and made a lot of contacts.  They make a good network for keeping up on things.”

Cliffson fingered his pistol.  “You bring the Chinese down on your own countrymen!”

Hank just shrugged.  “Sometimes, but not always, you see, it can be dangerous trucking supplies through the countryside and the Chinese are obvious targets.  They’ve found more supplies get through if it looks like the truck is being run by an American.  Course they don’t always get through either and so I use my contacts to assist the Chinese in rounding up more drivers.  It’s just business.”

“You’re a sick man Hank,”  Cliffson spat.

Hank just looked away.

“Monk, let’s go.”

“Ahem.”

Cliffson looked down at Hank.

“What about the food?  You said if I answered your questions you’d feed us.”

“Finish the hole and there’ll be a plate of food waiting for you in the house when you come to get the first body.”

I have just  begun book two.  Any thoughts or comments on the first book would be welcome.

CHAPTER  TWENTY-FOUR

 “By giving the government unlimited powers, the most arbitrary rule can be made legal; and in this way a democracy may set up the most complete despotism imaginable.”

 Friedrich von Hayek

 Monk immediately rushed home for his gear, but when Cliffson began putting his equipment together, Jean got upset.

“Your arm’s in a sling.  You can’t possibly go.”  Jean was adamant.

Cliffson tore off the sling and threw it to the floor.  “Not any longer.”

“Cliffson this is foolishness, you cannot go!”

“And I cannot stay.  These are our friends and they’re counting on us.”

Dustin turned to her. “Mom, it’ll be all right.  I’ll keep him out of trouble.”

“You’re going too? No!”  Jean slumped on the couch with her face in her hands.

Monk returned with his gear.  “What’s the matter with Jean?”

Cliffson sat down beside her.  “She’s doesn’t want us to go.”

Monk knelt in front of Jean.  “Look me in the eye.”  Cliffson would have laughed if it wasn’t so serious.  Monk continued.

“I’m promising you right here and now I’ll bring them back.  I give you my word Jean.”

“But it could be a trap and you don’t know how big this group is.”

“I’m not about to let them walk into any trap.  It’ll be all right.”

Monk stood and looked towards Cliffson.  “Time to go, mate.  Got your rain gear?”

Cliffson kissed Jean on the cheek and turned to Thomas.  “You may have been called to duty sooner than you anticipated Thomas, but I’m counting on you to guard the house while were gone.”

“I won’t let you down.”

“Jean will fix you up with weapons and don’t forget, she’s not a bad shot herself.”  Cliffson turned to go, then stopped in mid stride and turned back.  Taking Jean in his arms he looked into her emerald eyes.  “We’ll be alright.  I promise,” he whispered, and kissed her again before turning to leave.

The trio took up their gear and headed out the back door to the fields behind Cliffson’s house.  Driving would draw attention and Monk wanted the full benefit of surprise.  A fearful Jean stood in the doorway and watched them disappear over the rock wall into the rain darkened night.

The men stuck to a low swale that would take them through the fields to the West’s.  Cliffson feared the worst with each passing minute. Jogging when they could, they were slowed only by the numerous barb wire fences.  The darkness clung to them tightly against the howling wind and the rain struck like blunt darts, soaking their jean clad legs and wool caps.

The storm was in full raging crescendo when they crossed the county road and climbed the last fence to a horse pasture adjacent to the West’s property.

Juniper limbs dancing in the windy gusts, deflected shafts of lantern light radiating from the West’s house.  From the shelter of a massive blackberry bramble Monk led them through the pasture to lofty sagebrush growing against the fence at the back of the West’s property.  Next to invisible inside the gales rainy cloak, they watched the house from only sixty feet away.

Through the sliding glass door in back of the house, Gary could be seen tied to a chair next to a rectangular wooden table.  A man in a blue ball cap and an orange down vest stood over him with a pistol.  A second person stood at the other end of the table partially out of sight.  Barb appeared in the kitchen window to the left of the sliding door.

Then under the watchful eye of her captors, Barb stepped outside onto the patio and raised the lid to a propane barbeque positioned under a protective awning.  There she collected baked chicken and brought it back inside.

Soon the man in the ball cap stuck his head out the door and yelled into the dark,  “Johnny, dinner’s on.”  From their right, a third man appeared out of the dark and ran through the rain to the back door of the house.

Monk turned to Cliffson.  “Lookouts.  We need to know how many.  Stay here while I circle the property.”  Monk dropped back and disappeared into night before moving off to their right.  The lookout returned with his meal, pulled up his hood and ran for the protection of a shed scarcely visible in the dark.  Cliffson knew the shed stood adjacent to Barbs chicken coop.

With the next blast of wind driven fury Cliffson shivered and noted the drop in air temperature, though Dustin still seemed warm enough.  While the two of them huddled together in the storm awaiting Monks return, his thoughts turned to how this would all play out.  Cliffson knew Monk would be thorough and take his time.  Hopefully it also meant he would return with some kind of plan.

A short while later a dove cooed from their left and Cliffson knew Monk was returning.  Rain ran from a darkened cap and off his nose as he delivered his report.  In addition to the lookout posted in the shed near the chicken coop there were two additional sentries; one was sitting inside a lime green van watching the driveway and the other was south of the house, taking cover under the awning of an equipment shed.

“Here’s the deal.  They form a kind of triangle.  The first one we saw here at the chicken coop shed is in the middle, within line of site of the other two.”

“How come we can’t see the one to our left, Monk?”  Dustin asked.

“The junipers block your view from here.  Follow me.”  Monk led the way and the three of them moved south about ten yards.  “Look right about there,”  Monk pointed.  At first they didn’t see anything, then an orange dot glowed in the dark.  “That’s him right there, smoking a cigarette.  The guards have to be taken out before we can move inside and it’s gotta be done quietly.  Dustin, you’ve been practicing with the crossbow and I know you’re pretty good.  Can you hit the orange dot?”

“Would be better if I can get closer.”

“Follow this fence.  Just ahead it turns to the right.  Follow it until it turns back to the left and from there you will have a clear shot.

Cliffson, I’m going to circle around the other way and take out the guard in the van.  That leaves the guard near the chicken coop for you.”  Monk reached into his pocket and handed Cliffson something like piano wire.  “Remember, I said quietly.”  Cliffson grimaced but in the dark Monk didn’t see it.  “You need to get over the barbed wire fence and I’ll show you a place where the wire sags and you can step right over.”

Monk paused in thought for a moment.  “Dustin, give me five minutes to get in position, then shoot.  That’s when we all move.”  Cliffson nodded agreement.  “With the guards gone, I’ll move to the front door while the two of you go to the back.  From there we’re gonna have to play it by ear because we don’t know how many are inside.  Be ready to react to any distraction, or create one yourself if you can.”  Monk looked to each of them. “We can do this, now let’s go.”

An ear splitting scream tore the air with the force of a lightning strike and froze them in their tracks.  The sliding door had been thrown wide open and the man at the table was forcing Barb outside.  “Give me the combination to the safe.”  He demanded.  Barb ignored him and struggled even more.  Then holding her arm over the hot grill, he growled, “Last chance lady.”  Barb screamed an unholy scream of the damned, causing even the wind to catch its breath.

“Quickly now, let’s go.”  Monk moved out with Cliffson in tow.  Cliffson didn’t know how Monk found his way in the inky dark, but after about twenty yards he stopped at the sagging portion of fence.  Without saying a word, Monk squeezed Cliffson’s shoulder and moved on.

Cliffson knelt to size up the job that lay before him and didn’t like what he saw.  Upon crossing the fence he would be nearly in front of the lookout.  Tall vegetation a few steps away would allow him to circle around and come up from behind, but with only the rainy night for cover, he would be completely exposed immediately after crossing the fence.

After watching the man pull Barb back inside, he gathered his courage and moved to the fence.  It’s now or never.   Monk was right, his long legs allowed him to step over the fence without much trouble.  Placing his pistol in the pocket of his jacket to free his hands he cautiously stretched one leg over the fence.  Turning to swing the other leg over the fence his jacket snagged on a barb and yanked him to the ground.  The old fence wailed into the night like a boar hog at breeding time.

Dustin had found a comfortable, well braced position from which to take his shot.  The orange dot glowed and then disappeared.  He waited, knowing it would appear again and froze in position, locked on target.  It glowed again, but his aim was to the left, so he waited again.  Each time it glowed he had just one or two seconds to align his shot.

If he could just hold his position against the buffeting wind until the dot glowed again his shot would be true. Moments later the orange glow reappeared and he released the razor sharp bolt.  The orange dot gurgled and fell to the ground.  In the same instant a commotion arose to his right.

Cliffson yanked at the coat to free himself and then reached for his pistol.  Too late.

“Freeze.”  A rifle barrel jammed sharply into the middle of his back.

“Drop the gun.”

Cliffson obeyed.

“Inside.”  The gun barrel never left his back and the two men made their way to the back porch.

Cliffson opened the sliding door and stepped inside.  Gary glanced up through swollen eyes, but it was Barb’s gasps of pain coming from the kitchen floor that drew his attention.

“Well Johnny, what do we have here?”  It was a deep, guttural voice and it came from the man they had not been able to see from outside.

“Found him prowling around outside.  He was armed too.”

A bearded, giant of a man limped over and looked down at Cliffson.  A river of whiskey flowed from his breath when he spoke.

“I know you.”  The man bent, bringing his face within inches of Cliffson’s.   “You was part of that group who attacked me up in Washington.  Johnny, no way he’s alone. Go back outside and look for his friends.”

Then he turned back to Cliffson.  “What is it with you?” Anger contorted the man’s face, or was it the whiskey he’d just swallowed.

“Always showing up uninvited.  Do you know how much you cost me stealin that little girl away?  No of course you don’t.  Well never mind.  Nate, open that door.”

The man sitting at the table with Gary got up, opened the sliding door and returned to stand beside Cliffson.

“You and I are going for a walk,”  The big man ordered.

Gary began to protest through the gag in his mouth.  Nate turned around and slugged him.

“Stop it, you can’t do this,” Barb yelled from the kitchen.

“You think not little lady, well just you watch.  You have no idea what I’m capable of.”  The colossal man took another pull on his whiskey bottle and stuck the barrel of his sawed off shotgun against Cliffson’s chest.  “Move!”

Cliffson reacted instantly, driving his left hand hard up against the barrel, forcing it towards the ceiling.  The gun roared to life and Nate jumped to grab him from behind but not before Cliffson pulled the giants blade from his waist band.  Swiftly swinging the blade behind his back Cliffson drove it deep into Nate’s gut.  Then it was over.  The shotgun was wrenched from his hand and smashed into the back of his head.

Cliffson never heard the shots that laid the big man low.  Monk burst through the front door and fired as Dustin released his bolt through the open sliding door.  The big man’s head exploded when the leaden .45 bullet met the bolts razor tipped blade deep inside his skull.

When Cliffson came to he wasn’t sure where he was, but one thing he was sure of—the nine pound hammer beating incessantly on an anvil inside his head.  While attempting to focus his eyes, his ears took over and he began to recognize Monk’s voice, then Dustin’s.  Both were asking if he could hear them and if he was all right.

“Lime…….Green……..Van.” He whispered.

Monk laughed while Dustin stood there shaking his head.  “Dad you’re crazy.”

Gary helped him sit up.

Monk grabbed a towel to soak in the cool rain before applying it to Barb’s arm.

“Sure…. glad…. you guys… showed up.”  Cliffson struggled to get the words out.  “Thought I was a goner after snagging my coat on that fence.”

Monk explained how he was just getting into position when he heard the fence squeal.  Dustin said he heard it too and rushed back to see what was going on.  “I didn’t have to wait long before they sent that guy back out to look for us.  He didn’t get very far.”  Dustin raised his hands and pretended to shoot the crossbow.

Gary watched through two puffy black eyes.  He was going to hurt for some time to come, but Barb’s wound was the most serious and she was in a lot of pain.  While Monk searched for painkillers in the West’s bathroom, Gary suggested the group spend the night.  Needing to shake off the trauma, the suggestion was well received by all.

Then Cliffson remembered he’d better call Jean and Dustin brought him the radio.  Through a garbled conversation he managed to inform Jean everyone was all right but they were going to spend the night and he would see her in the morning.


The next day Gary’s eyes were nearly swollen shut, and the chain gang was still making little rocks out of big ones inside Cliffson’s head.  Monk offered to stay a few days while Barb recovered and Gary gladly accepted.

Monk dug a hole with Gary’s tractor and Dustin helped him drag the bodies into it.  When they searched the monster mans pockets Monk found the keys to the van.  “I seem to recall that you’re in need of a set of wheels Mr. Dustin.”  Monk’s wry smile lit up his good eye.

“Oh–ho Monk!  Have I got an idea,”  Dustin said.

“I’ve a feelin’ there’s mischief afoot?”  Monk replied.

“Just a little fun.  I’m sure you’ll get the full story later.  See you in a few days.”  Dustin turned to go.

“Son, come here.”  Dustin turned back to face Monk.   “A lot has been asked of you recently and yet each time you unflinchingly do what’s required.  I’m proud of you and I know your father is too.”  Monk reached out to take Dustin’s hand.

“Well thank you Monk,”  Dustin said in surprise.

“There’s more to it son.”  Monk put his arm around Dustin’s shoulder and they began to walk towards the house.  “I’m not sure if you understand what an important part you play in the survival of your family.  A lot more is going to be asked of you before this is over.  Times like this take their toll.  I want you to know I’m always here for you.  If you find these things haunting you, interfering with doing what needs to be done, then come talk to me.”

“I will Monk, and thank you.”

Monk slapped Dustin on the back.  “All right, I’ll see you in a few days.”

Dustin walked the rest of the way to the house thinking how good it felt to have Monk’s confidence.  He was unsure about what more might be required of him, but he’d think about that later.  Right now he was anxious to get home.

Cliffson met him at the front door and the two walked to the van while Dustin explained what he was up to.  Cliffson could only shake his head and then wished he hadn’t.

When they got in the van, Dustin found it creepy to think of all it represented, but Cliffson made an even more startling discovery.  In the back of the van was a 50 caliber rifle with a scope and cases of ammo.  Just what he needed for the plan he was formulating.

Dustin fired up the van and waved to Monk before heading out the long gravel drive.  Overnight the storm had abated and Dustin found the freshness of the new day exhilarating.   When they reached the pavement, he handed Cliffson one of the dark wool hats they had worn and asked him to put it on.  Cliffson grudgingly obliged.

With hats pulled down low Dustin guided the van home.  When he turned the corner and approached the Lang’s house he saw Kate in the garden, picking raspberries.  This would fit his plans even better.

Slamming the pedal to the floor, Dustin roared into the driveway, skidded across the lawn and stopped just short of the garden.  When Kate saw the lime green van racing towards her she screamed and ran for the house.  Dustin jumped from the van and ran to cut her off, catching up and grabbing her from behind just before she could reach the house.  Kate screamed, kicked her legs and beat on his back with both fists as he tossed her over his shoulder.

Cliffson could only sit and watch.  He knew there’d be a price to pay for this, but he couldn’t help chuckling to himself.  Finally, Dustin was laughing so hard he could no longer hold Kate up and collapsed to the ground.

Cliffson had known Jean to have a temper, but wasn’t sure he’d ever seen her as enraged as Kate was right now.  He couldn’t make out what she was saying, but the finger she pointed at Dustin and the look on her face told him all he needed to know.

Everyone was rushing from the house to see what the commotion was all about when Cliffson stepped from the van.  Then Kate’s anger turned to tears.  She leapt into Dustin’s arms and kissed his face.

“I was so worried.  How could you do this!  Are you all right?  Are you hurt anywhere?  I’ll never forgive you!”  The questions flew and she kissed him some more.

While Cliffson watched, Jean came along side of him for a hug and discovered a trail of blood trickling from the lump on the back of his head.

“Last night on the radio you told me everyone was all right.  Look at you.  You lied to me!”

Cliffson smiled and winked at his son, knowing they were both likely to be in the dog house for while.

CHAPTER  TWENTY-ONE

 “The state, or, to make matters more concrete, the government, consists of a gang of men exactly like you and me. They have, taking one with another, no special talent for the business of government; they have only a talent for getting and holding office. Their principal device to that end is to search out groups who pant and pine for something they can’t get, and to promise to give it to them. Nine times out of ten that promise is worth nothing. The tenth time it is made good by looting “A” to satisfy “B”. In other words, government is a broker in pillage, and every election is a sort of advanced auction on stolen goods.

 H.L. Mencken

 Early the next morning Roger praised the group for their progress and spread out the map to show them the route they would take.   Redmond was just two days hike away.  They’d be long days, but Roger insisted on staying abreast of the main body of refugees.  Once the masses fell upon the town, no one would be welcome.

When the group broke camp, Jeff took the lead and Roger dropped back to walk with the Jefferson’s.  He inquired about Mary and assured her there would be medical help in Redmond.

Maybe he was just relieved to have the difficult portion of the trail behind them, Thomas wasn’t sure, but Roger struck up a conversation that revealed a much friendlier side than he’d previously seen.

Thomas soon discovered a very warm and congenial soul beneath the man’s steel exterior and learned how broken Roger was over losing his own son.  The fact he’d not been there to protect his family when the Chinese came through their neighborhood to take away the young men was nearly more than he could bear.

The comment stopped Thomas in his tracts.  Unaware of the Chinese activities, he explained to Roger how his own son had disappeared.  Roger confirmed it was likely the Chinese held Davis as well and informed Thomas there was a labor camp just east of Salem. It was possible both of their sons were in the same camp.

This new revelation made Thomas ache for his son all the more and he asked Roger if he didn’t feel as if he was abandoning his own son by leaving the area.  Patiently, Roger explained his first obligation was to provide a safe place for his wife and remaining son.  Besides, he couldn’t rescue his son single handedly.  Once his family was out of harm’s way he hoped to organize a group and return to the labor camp to find his son.   Without hesitation Thomas agreed to join with Roger in a rescue attempt at the first opportunity.

When Roger left for the front of the group Thomas realized he’d gained a new respect for the man and wondered out loud to Mary how they’d been so fortunate to cross paths with him.

Late in the day, Roger led them south in a detour around the community of Sisters and the possibility of trouble.  Mary and Thomas had gradually fallen behind and when Roger returned to check on them Thomas assured him they would catch up.

“You go on ahead.  We’ll stay on the trail and follow your tracks,”  Thomas said.

“In a few more miles the forest turns to rangeland and I don’t want to camp out in the open,”  Roger said.  “So we’ll camp just ahead.  You sure you’ll be all right?”

“We’ll be fine.  Mary needs to rest a bit and then we’ll catch up.”

Roger hesitated, unsure about leaving them.  “All right, it’s not that far.  You folks be careful and I’ll have some hot coffee waiting for you when you get to camp.”  He clamped Thomas on the shoulder, as if to reassure him and set out down the trail.

“Thomas, I can’t go any further.  I didn’t want to say anything while Roger was here, but I’m exhausted.”  Tears blazed a trail through the dust on Mary’s face and Thomas realized she was reaching the end of her endurance.

“All right, let’s take a short rest.  The others will be worried if we don’t catch up.”

“I just want to lie down Thomas.”

“All right, you get some rest.  I’m gonna have a look around.

“Please don’t go far.”

Thomas was away for about ten minutes when he heard the sound of gunfire cut through the forest.  He rushed back to the trail and found Mary huddled under a pine tree trembling like a frightened puppy.

“It’s ok Mary.”  He sat down beside her in a bed of pine needles before realizing it might be safer if they moved off the trail.

“Honey, come with me.  We need to get off the path.”

Thomas took them up the trail a short distance to where the trees and brush grew thick.  There he turned off the trail and led Mary into a thicket of brush.  It was painful pushing through the brambles, but once inside he found a narrow game path and followed it for a few more yards.

Thomas pulled up and held a finger to his lips.  “I think I hear voices,”  he whispered while motioning for Mary to sit down.  Their position was well concealed but only a short distance from the path.

At first they didn’t hear anything and Thomas was thinking about moving further away from the trail when they heard the voices again, this time much closer.

“I told ya Clyde there were seven of em.  There’s got to be two more around here someplace.”

“Well I don’t see’s em’.  Maybe they split up?  We’ve already come quite a way from the rest of the group, how far could they be? A little further and I’m going back.”

Thomas listened for the dull thump of boots to fade away down the path.  Breathing a sigh of relief he looked at Mary and saw eyes as big as saucers.  It broke his heart to see her like this.   Completely out of her element, gunshot and broken hearted, she’d been such a trooper, but Thomas knew she couldn’t hold on much longer.

Pulling her close he whispered in her ear, “It’s gonna be all right.  They won’t find us here.  Lie still and they’ll be gone soon.”

It seemed to take forever, but twenty minutes or so later they heard the pounding of boots returning down the trail.  Mary tensed immediately and they both held their breath while the two men passed.

After waiting another fifteen or twenty minutes Thomas felt it was safe to push on.  It would be dark soon and they needed to find a place to spend the night.  The brush snapped as loud as fireworks, but they had no choice but to keep moving.  Crawling through a dense patch of bramble they found a small den where some animal, probably a deer, had been bedding down.  Sorry Bambi but your gonna need to find another place to sleep tonight, Thomas thought to himself and then immediately wondered if it might be a bear.

With brush all around and evergreen trees overhead, the space was just large enough to rollout their sleeping bags.   The sky would be their roof tonight and a plastic tarp would keep the dew off.   After munching on a handful of granola and sharing some water, Mary slid into her sleeping bag and fell asleep.

Thomas sat quietly, observing the night sky and listening for anyone who might have followed.  Through the limbs he could see the first few stars appear in a crystal clear sky.   All was quiet and it seemed they were safe.  Soon he too was curled up fast asleep.


Two days after the confrontation at Cliffson’s well, the city’s generators ran out of diesel.  The town was without power, water and communications.

Cliffson watched as neighbors from across the street loaded anything that could carry water into the back of two pickups and headed out to the nearest river, three miles away.  Their strained, anxious looks stared back at Cliffson as they left town.

That afternoon the first of the survivors began arriving from the other side of the mountains—those with fuel for their cars and trucks.  Monk and Cliffson rushed to a gunfight taking place a few blocks north of their homes, but they were too late to help.  The family was dead and the house bristled guards and the gleaming barrels of rifles.  The unwelcoming glare of the new owners kept Monk and Cliffson moving on and they soon returned home.

Later in the afternoon Cliffson was outside getting water from the well when he noticed the neighbors returning from their trip to the river.  It soon became apparent only one shot up pickup had returned and the group’s mournful cries greeted his ears long before he saw the bodies being removed from in back of the truck.  Accessing the river was clearly a dangerous proposition.

That evening the night sky glowed with the red and orange hues of  homes going up in flames.  Anticipation of even more invaders arriving from over the mountains honed a sharp edge to the despair settling over the town.

The next day, Cliffson was outside drawing water from the well when Monk rolled into the Lang’s driveway on his bike with a beautiful day and a toothy grin in tow.  He’d been visiting with a family up the street who were out of water.  After a short discussion with Cliffson, he left to get a two-wheeled yard cart and Cliffson began filling water bottles.

When Monk returned, they loaded the cart and began the eight block hike to Georgia’s house, the family in need.  Dustin trailed them by a block or so in case of trouble.

The rattling cart announced their presence to anyone within earshot and hungry eyes followed each and every step.  They were passing through a newer part of town, built out during the real estate bubble of the early 2000’s, but many homes were in need of paint, driveway faces were taking on the first cracks of age and weeds had taken over the yards.

Half way there, Monk gave Cliffson a break and took over pulling the cart just before turning east onto Poplar St. where Georgia’s family lived.  Immediately upon turning the corner two young men stepped out from behind a hedge with pistols drawn.

“Let go of the cart and move to the other side of the road.”  The young thug demanded.   Monk refused to move and stood there with one foot behind the other.

It was the signal to Dustin there was trouble and he quickly crossed the street to narrow the angle and hide from view.  Inching forward along a wooden fence, he crept toward the corner as Monk began pushing the cart again.

“Where you goin’ old man? I told you to stop,” the thug yelled.

Still moving slowly Monk tried to engage them in conversation.  “No reason we can’t share. Now why don’t you put those guns down so we can work something out.”

“No chance old man.  Set the cart down now, you mother……….”

Monk had had enough and stopped to face the young hooligan.  “I get it.  I’m supposed to be afraid of your profanity.  Makes you a tough guy right?  Well it ain’t nothin more than verbalized ignorance, bludgeon of the witless.  Are you really that stupid?”

“What’d you say?”  The oaf spit out another mouthful of expletives.

“Swearing only shows your ignorance and, believe me, I’m giving you the benefit of the doubt.”  The question mark on the young man’s face grew, so Monk continued.  “Appears that’s too big a word so let me interpret.   You’re a stupid fool.”  Monk smiled as he said it.

“Oh ya?  Well let’s see how stupid you think this is.”  The thug worked the slide on his pistol and pointed it at Monks head.  “Move over to the other side of the road.”

“I ain’t moving sonny.  There’s an old gal and some kids down the road that are out of water and I aim to take her some,”  Monk said.

“Johnny, don’t do it.  They said they’d share with us.”

“Shut up little brother.  I’m the one in charge here.  The old man’s lived long enough and besides, we deserve it more than some old woman.”

“You don’t deserve anything.  Once you understand what that really means, you’ll enjoy life a whole lot more.”  Monk began backing away.

“Too late, old man.”

“Put down your gun,”  Dustin’s voice boomed.  The young thug swung around and fired twice.  The shots hit the fence, one splintering the wood beside Dustin’s head.  Monk and Cliffson dove for the ground and Dustin fired once to put an end to the confrontation.

“Johnnnnyyyy.”  The younger thug dropped his gun and ran to his brother.

Cliffson got up from the pavement and cautiously approached his son.  “Dusty, it’s all right now.  Let me have the gun.”

Dustin was unmoving and appeared not to hear him.  He’d never shot anyone before and his glazed eyes told Cliffson he was in shock.

Cliffson gently continued, “Come on big guy.  You did what you had to do.  Now hand me the gun and everything will be all right.”  Dustin didn’t move and Cliffson spoke more softly.  Slowly life began to return to Dustin’s empty stare.

“You probably saved our lives Dustin, so don’t beat yourself up.  It’s gonna be all right.  Can you hand me the gun now?”

Dustin handed over the gun and Cliffson embraced his shaky son.

“Take the cart and head on down toward Georgia’s house,”  Cliffson ordered, wanting to get his son away from the scene and focused on something else.

Dustin took the cart, shifted his dazed look down the street and slowly walked away.

Monk was offering assistance to the thug mourning his brother when the kid jumped up and grabbed him around the throat.  “You killed my brother,” he yelled.  Just as quickly Cliffson drove the butt of Dustin’s rifle into the thug’s kidney and dropped him to the ground.

Monk looked a little surprised.  “You move pretty fast for an old man, mate.”

“I do what I have to do,”  Cliffson growled.  “Grab their guns and let’s get out of here.”

Leaving the brothers behind, Cliffson looked back to make sure no one followed.  The scene in the road etched itself on a single frame in his memory and would haunt him for weeks to come.  The empty paved street, vacant houses, weed filled lots, two lost young men and a huge pool of blood—so much blood—forming around the kid lying on the pavement.

The younger brother was lying with an arm over the body and a low wailing moan filling Cliffson’s ears.  It didn’t have to be this way,  he thought.  Young kids, thrown into a situation they’re entirely unprepared for.  It tore at him how unmerited it was.  Then he realized it was a scene likely playing out time after time as cities across America burned and the civilization within them collapsed.

They didn’t stay long after delivering the water.  Dustin was still in shock and Cliffson wanted to get him home as soon as possible. Georgia’s family was, of course, very grateful, but instead of feeling good about helping them, Cliffson was downcast.  During their visit it became clear there was simply no way the family was going to survive, and there was little he could do to prevent it.  The thought weighed on him heavily until he saw the horde gathering in front of his own house.

Jean and Kate were in the front yard facing a crowd on the verge of turning violent.  One man confronted Jean, yelling out his demands and whipping up the crowd who would respond with more shouting and raising water buckets high into the air.

Monk elbowed Cliffson.  “Watch yourself.”

The two of them approached the back of the noisy crowd largely unnoticed.   That’s when the man arguing with Jean threw her on the ground and the crowd began to advance.

BOOM!

Everyone froze at the sound of Cliffson’s gunshot and watched as he hurdled the pole fence and rushed to Jeans side.  Reaching down to help her up Cliffson heard the sound of a pistol being cocked and looked up to find the gun inches from his face.

“How gallant.  I sure hope she’s worth it because your either gonna turn your well over to us or eat this bullet.  Now what’s it gonna be old man?”   Second time I’ve been called that today and its beginning to piss me off,  Cliffson thought.

It was Monk’s Colt 45 Defender nestling against the base of the man’s skull that turned the tables.  “Drop the gun matey or you’ll never be thirsty again.”

The man hesitated.

“Drop it.”

The gun fell to the ground. Cliffson restrained himself from kicking the man in the groin for calling him old and bent over to retrieve the gun instead.

Then Monk turned to face the crowd.  “Now what in tarnation is going on here?  I don’t know this feller here, but I do know most the rest of ya.  Are you out of your pea pickin minds or something?”

One man in the crowd stepped forward.  “Monk, we’re sorry about the trouble here the other day, but we all need water.  Cliffson can’t just turn his back on us.”

“Well Bert, I don’t reckon he has, but you’re damn sure not gonna get any water by assaulting his wife.  Who is this butt head anyway?”

“He lives down the block.  Somehow he knows about the well, and when he saw you and Cliffson walk past his place with water for someone else, he got angry and came down here to do something about it.  I’m sorry Monk, but he got us all stirred up.  Most of us are out of water and people are getting desperate.  Cliffson can’t deny us.”

“Cliffson can do whatever he wants.  It’s his well, so let’s see what he has to say about this.”  Monk turned to Cliffson.

“We won’t turn you away, and I apologize for getting angry with you the other day.”  Cliffson’s response was quiet and resigned.  “I’ve made preparations to take care of my own family, not the entire neighborhood, but never the less, Jean and I will help in whatever way we can.  There’s just one exception.  Hank Crank will not be getting his water here and anyone caught giving water to him will also be cut off.”  That didn’t go over well.

“Who the hell are you to decide who gets water and who doesn’t?”  shouted one neighbor.

“Someone who saw what was coming and prepared for this very day while you were buying toys and living it up.  Someone who didn’t choose to rely on the governments lies.  Someone who saw our sociopathic government for what it was.  You people only heard what your itching ears wanted to hear and consequently you’re all unprepared.”  Cliffson resolve returned.  “Why don’t you go squeeze some water out of all those toys in your garage, Randy.”  The crowd grumbled and began to inch forward.  Monk worked the action on his pistol and squared to face them.

“Listen up,”  Cliffson said sternly.  “Like I said, Jean and I are happy to share our water.  We’re also willing to help in other ways if we can, but we’re not going to be bullied.  Your lack of preparation is not our emergency.  If I see anything like I’ve seen today, you’ll all be but cut off.  There’s plenty enough to deal with without fighting amongst ourselves.  The Cranks are a problem and that’s why they won’t be allowed on our property.  I’m only asking for your cooperation.  Are we in agreement?”

A subdued yes came from the crowd.

“Then bring your containers and let’s try to work together instead of being at one another’s throats”.  There were nods and a couple shouts of agreement as the crowd dispersed.

“Monk, thanks for your help.  You saved my butt,”  Cliffson said.  “Why don’t you hustle on home and get back here with your own containers so we can fill them up.”

Monk hurried home as fast as his stiff-legged gait would take him.  By the time he got back a line had already formed, but Cliffson filled Monk’s bottles first.

“Quite a change of heart you had from the other day matey, what happened?”  Monk handed Cliffson another container to fill.

“I was convicted.  It’s been on my heart since the moment it happened.  I’ve always been willing to help, but I let my resentment of the Cranks get in the way.”   Cliffson continued working the pump.  “The hard part is my family has to come first.  These people are completely unprepared and I can’t help them all.”

“I know you have a good heart mate, never doubted you’d do the right thing.  Now quit worrying about helping them all.  It’s their own fault for believing the government’s propaganda.”  Monk set his two containers of water aside and took up a position where he could keep an eye on things.

A crowd of weary people looking more like an image from the depression bread lines than modern America were gathering to wait their turn for water.  Dirty and unwashed, the rumpled assemblage lent a sour smell to the air.

After getting underway at the pump, Jean pointed out a couple families with five little children standing at the back of the line.  The kids were cranky and one hung limp in its mother’s arms.  Cliffson called the two Mexican families to the front of the line.

“Thank you Mr. Lang, our children are so thirsty,” one of the fathers said.

“How long have you been without water?”  Cliffson asked.

“We ran out yesterday morning.”

“Please come up front and let’s get some water for your children.”

A couple Cliffson knew from across the street was next in line.  When they began to complain Cliffson stared them down.

“You would deny these little children water?”  Cliffson asked.  “Look at them.”

Looking ashamed they said nothing and quietly stood aside.

While the families’ water bottles were being filled, Jean came out with a pitcher of fresh water for the children and placed a damp cloth on the littlest ones forehead.

“Gracias, gracias.”

“You’re welcome,” Jean said.

Soon their bottles were filled and the line began to move again.  As the two families were leaving someone in line mumbled loud enough for everyone to hear, “Mexicans are half the reason this country’s in so much trouble.”

“Who said that?”  Cliffson yelled.

No one said a word.

Cliffson stalked back along the line.  “Speak up or I’ll shut down the pump and you can all go home.”

One man took a small step forward.  They’d never met but Cliffson recognized him from a few blocks down and immediately got in his face.

“You just don’t get it do you?  There’s only one way any of us have a chance to see our way through this.  If we don’t work together then it’s over, our chances are nil.”  Cliffson shoved the man out of line.  “If you can’t rise above your petty issues then I invite you to leave right now.”

“All right, all right,” the man said and shuffled back in line.  “I’m sorry.”

The Langs gladly shared, even with those they’d never met.  Word about the well spread and people were at the pump until long after dark.  Late in the evening Cliffson was growing tired.  The last twenty-four hours had brought a lot to deal with and he found himself gazing up at the stars and reflecting on the day’s events.  There you are again, peacefully watching the chaos here, detached and unaffected.  Doesn’t seem to bother you much either.

It was near midnight when the last water jug was filled and Jean, Monk and Cliffson retired to the front porch.  Kate reported Dustin was finally asleep but still distraught over the shooting.

“Geez,”  Cliffson sighed.  “I got so busy with the well and keeping some kind of order I completely forgot about my own son.  Thanks, Kate, for caring for him.  Some father I am.  Damn!  Why’d this all have to fall to us?” Cliffson sat with his face in his hands.  “How is it others are so ignorant and couldn’t see what was coming?”

“Cliffson, I know you’re tired,” Monk said kindly.  “And you may not have signed up for this, but it’s what you’ve been called to do.”

“But Monk, it endangers my family.”

“We can’t just turn these people away.”  Jean gave Cliffson the look.

“Jean, I know what he’s thinking and it’s not what you imagine,”  Monk responded.

Jean looked back to Cliffson who was shaking his head.  “Word’s getting out that we have water.  It won’t be long before someone decides to arm themselves and come take it from us.  You experienced that first hand today.  I’m glad to help these people but the attention it’s brought is very dangerous.”

Jean was silent.

“It’s only a matter of time, and if not the water, then the food in the garden later this summer.  I wish we still had Welfare.”

Monk looked at Cliffson.  “We’re all tired and we don’t have to solve this tonight.  Get some sleep and we’ll talk about it some more tomorrow.”

“Sounds good to me.”  Cliffson rose to go inside.  Monk stood up at the same time and the crusty old coot put his arm around Cliffson’s shoulders.

“We’ll work it out. Remember, we got each other’s backs,” he said softly.  Cliffson was a little taken back by the sign of affection.  He’d always pictured Monk hard as nails and just as cold.

“Thank you Monk, I appreciate it.  See you in the morning.”

Cliffson went inside and Monk turned to Jean.  “You folks have been through a lot these past few days.  I’ve been there Jean and I know what it’s about.  Keep an eye on him for me will ya.  I’m sure he feels the weight of the world on his shoulders.”

“I will Monk,” she said.

“And Jean, you can’t do it alone either.  Promise you’ll come see me when you need help.”

In the darkness Monk may have missed her tired smile.  “I will Monk.  I will.  Good night and thanks for your help today.”

“Good night, Jean.”

There will always be those who treat your work in a negative way.  When you write, you expose yourself in a way few will ever expose themselves.  Don’t let it deter you.  If writing is what you want to do, then go after it with gusto!  This is a long chapter.  Get comfortable and enjoy it as the pace of things picks up.

 

CHAPTER   FOURTEEN

“In a country where the sole employer is the State, opposition means death by slow starvation.  The old principle: who does not work shall not eat, has been replaced by a new one: who does not obey shall not eat.”

 Leon Trotsky

A frenzied mob rolled through the Valley University campus, smashing windows, turning over cars and setting fire to the library.  Thomas raced his Mercedes across university grounds, staying just ahead of the crowd and narrowly escaping the firebombs thrown at his car. He was deep into down town traffic before realizing the entire city was engulfed in flames and looting mobs.  The radio reported fires and rioting spreading along the entire west coast.

 Thomas was caught in standstill traffic when a ghastly scene unfolding at the intersection ahead stole his attention.  My God no, this can’t be happening.  His grip on the steering wheel tightened, as if to better grasp reality, but his mind struggled to comprehend the horror in front of him.

 A black man, dressed in a business suit was forced into the back of a pickup parked on the grass under a large oak tree.  His brief case had just been opened and the apparent leader of the group was throwing handfuls of money into the air for the surging mob to chase.  Thomas inched closer and the chant of the crowd filtered through the locked doors of his car.  Kill the rich.  Kill the rich.  Kill the rich.

 Next a rope was thrown over one of the oaks massive limbs and placed around the man’s neck.  The crowd chanted its approval.  Unwilling to believe what he was seeing, Thomas shook his head as if to dislodge a bad dream, but the apparition became more real with each passing second.

 Nervously working his way through the slowly moving traffic in hopes of slipping past the crowd, Thomas was nearly through the intersection when the pickup drove off.  The business man swung and struggled—the throng of people went mad with approval.

 Thomas looked away.  These kinds of things aren’t supposed to happen.  We have got to leave town—maybe up to our cabin.

 More and more people were taking to the streets and it seemed to take forever for Thomas to navigate traffic and the growing crowds, before arriving home.  The upscale neighborhood where he lived remained quiet, but Thomas was forced to detour around an ugly mob just a few blocks from home.

 The tires yelped at his hard stop in the driveway and Thomas sprinted across the lawn to his front door, but froze in his tracks just inside where Mary lay on the sofa crying. Gently wrapping his arms around his wife he held her and whispered, “Honey, we have to leave.  It’s not safe to stay in town.”

 “I can’t do this, I just can’t do this,” she kept repeating.  “We’ve lost our son and the world has gone crazy.”

 “I know sweetheart, but we can’t stay here,” he said soothingly.  “We need to go to the cabin.  Go get in the Land Rover while I throw a few things together.”

 She sat up and stared at him through blurry eyes.  “Leave our son!  You’re not taking me away from my son.”

 “I’m not taking you away from him.  We are not safe here.”

“NO, no I won’t go,” and she collapsed in tears.

 Thomas gathered her in his arms and carried her to the Land Rover.   His eyes caught on two red cans of gasoline in the corner of the garage and he quickly secured them to the back of the Rover.  Think Thomas think.  What will we need?  He dashed back inside and began filling two paper bags with canned goods.  The propane tank.

 Thomas tossed the canned goods into the back of the Rover and rushed to grab the tank from the barbeque.  Finally, he pulled two sleeping bags from a plastic storage bin and tossed them into the back seat.

 The garage door inched open and Thomas revved the engine in anticipation.  Then the door was up and he hit the gas, shooting out into the street.  That’s when he saw the Mercedes.  Oh to hell with it.  We need to get out of here.  But the thought stuck in his mind.  He was opening his door to get out and move the car inside when the approaching mob caught his attention.  It was the same group he’d seen earlier and they were less than a block away.

 The angry crowd blocked the road in both directions and was closing in.  Mary whimpered and curled up in her seat.  “Hang on Mary.  We aren’t letting these losers take us down.”

 Thomas slammed his door and mashed the gas pedal to the floor.  The Rover plummeted straight towards the crowd with Thomas on the horn.  At the last moment the crowd realized he was not going to stop and parted as if he was Moses honking at the Red Sea.  Stones and bats pelted the Rover and two windows cracked under the attack.

 The Rover was nearing the edge of the mob and Thomas was taking his first breath in what seemed like hours, when a human head landed on the hood and lodged against the windshield.  Blood splattered across the glass and Mary shrieked uncontrollably.  A strip of flesh flapped from the end of a stubby neck and Thomas shuddered at the vacant, glassy eyes peering into his soul.  Then a flow of blood emptied from the corner of its mouth and Thomas swore he’d seen the tongue move.  The head lingered a few moments longer before rolling off the hood to bounce along the pavement.

Keep your own head Thomas and find the safest routes with the least traffic.


 “Dustin, they’re nearly on us,”  Chris yelled.  Chris was turned around in the seat looking backward out the driveway and encouraging Dustin to step on it.  “Run them over if you have to, they’ll kill us.”

 Dustin floored the gas, the tires squealed sharply and the car was propelling into the surging crowd.  A loud crunch and scream broke through the roar of the mob attacking the car.

 “Go, go, go, go,” Chris yelled.

 The car was nearly surrounded by people beating on the windows and tearing at the door handles.  Dustin dropped the clutch and the car lurched forward to race down the street, backfiring once when he shifted gears.

 “Agghhhhh,  Ahhhhh,” Dustin screamed.  “I hit that guy.”

 “They gave you no choice.  You saw how they attacked the car.” Chris shouted.

 Dustin was still yelling.  “I hate it.  I hate it.”

 Thwack!

 A bullet smashed through the rear window and lodged in the car frame between the front and rear passenger windows, directly behind Chris’s head.  Chris was screaming, “drive, Dustin, drive!”

 Though they needed to get to Interstate 90, Dustin knew the freeways would be jammed with people attempting to flee the city.  Instead, he drove north, taking side streets when necessary to skirt congested areas.  In every direction they witnessed storefronts being smashed and buildings looted.  Other stores were set on fire, and looters shot other looters to steal what had just been stolen.

 Dustin took them north as fast as he could in an attempt to bypass the gridlock surely taking place on the freeways.  If only they could get north to Highway 2 they might have a chance to escape.  Though they would need to cross Interstate 5 at some point, Dustin was looking to get as far north as possible before attempting to do so.

 The men continued north and crossed the Boeing Freeway without incident.  Dodging traffic and angry knots of people they eventually made it to Evergreen Way and approached the city of Everett.  There they decided to take their chances on I-5 instead of going into town.

 Atop the overpass crossing I-5 Dustin slowed the car to look south towards Seattle.  About a quarter mile away two burning cars blocked the freeway, narrowing it to one lane.  Further south, a massive, oil slick of a cloud rose above the Seattle skyline.

 With traffic reduced to one lane, the freeway to the north was wide open.  Dustin sped down the entry ramp to I-5 and raced north to the junction with Highway 2 and Stevens Pass.


 Cliffson ran his hands over his face.  Prickly stubble reminded him it had been a while since his last shave.  The tension left him on edge and Jean was rubbing his shoulders, but there was nothing they could do but wait.

 “Cliffson, let’s go outside to the garden.  I’ll take the phone with us so we don’t miss any calls.”

 “Sounds good hun, the fresh air won’t hurt.”

 The carrots needed thinning and they each took a place at opposite ends of the row.  “Isn’t it strange how getting your hands in the soil has such a soothing effect?  Almost like grasping reality itself.  You feel that?”  Jean asked.

 “Sure do.  There’s something missing in a person’s life when they can’t get their hands in the soil. ”

 It was then Mrs. Crank sauntered up and leaned against the pole fence in front of the Lang’s property.  Standing there with hands on hips, her condescending attitude filled the air like a cheap perfume.

 “Hey there plowboy, playin’ in the dirt again?”

 Just digging your grave, Cliffson thought.  “Thinning carrots and weeding the beans is all.”  Cliffson tried to sound amicable.

 “I love green beans—I’ll have to come back by when they’re ripe.”  Cliffson pictured an evil tempest forming a dark cloud of spite over her head.

 “Why don’t you grow any of your own?” Cliffson asked.

 “Me?  Why would I want to do yard work?  We’ve got money, we don’t need to grub around in the dirt like you folks.  We just buy what we need and pay the illegal’s to keep our place looking nice.  And they’re grateful for the work too.”

 Cliffson was smiling now as he stood to straighten his back.  “I’m sure all that green will make a nice salad for you someday.”

 “Hmmph.” She turned her back and strutted across the street to a neighbor’s house.  The air freshened immediately.

 “Somehow wisdom has just never caught up with that woman,” Cliffson said.

 “And I don’t think is ever will.  What gall,”  Jean answered.  “She’ll be hungry someday and find out all that money isn’t as sweet as she thinks it is.”  Jean took up a watering bucket and began watering the tomatoes.

 “Did you see all the new raspberry shoots?” Cliffson asked.  “Doing their natural free born spring time thing.”

 “Yes, I did.  We need to pot some up to sell.”  Jean set down her watering bucket and walked to the nearest row of raspberries.

 “Without power we’ll have to put up a sign on the fence instead of advertising on the web.  Maybe we can do some trading.”

 “Got it covered hun, I’ll get a sign made,” Cliffson promised, while dusting the dirt from his knees.  “Maybe trade for some pre 1965 coins.”

 The raised brick flower bed stretching across the front of the garden was in full bloom and the couple stood together enjoying the sight of their bees exploring each blossom.  Cliffson suggested they walk over to the hives and watch for a bit.

 In the apiary the air was full of bees making their way in and out of the hives.  “When I had the hives apart last week they looked pretty good.  Each has good numbers, except for this hive here.”  Cliffson pointed to a hive on the end.  “But I think it’ll come around.”

 “Bringing in a lot of pollen, aren’t they?”  Jean enjoyed the bees nearly as much as Cliffson.

 “Certainly are.  Making a good nectar haul too.”  Cliffson smiled.  “Honey in the making.”

 Jean took Cliffson’s hand.  “Let’s go back inside.  Maybe Dustin will call soon.”

 Cliffson was in the garage removing his boots when the phone rang.

 “Dad, we barely made it out of town.  It’s crazy up here, but we made it and are on Highway 2 headed over Stevens Pass.”

 “Stevens Pass?” Cliffson wondered.

 “Yes, the only way we could get away and avoid the freeway traffic was to come north along Highway 99 until we thought it was safe to get on I-5.” Dustin replied.

 “Good thinking son.  Will you have enough gas?”

 “No, that’s the problem. We’ll have to find some somewhere.  My roommate Chris is with me and I’m taking him to his parents place near Ellensburg.   Chris thinks his dad might know a farmer who has fuel.”

 “All right, Dust, please be careful and you might check in with your brother when you can.  He is driving home from Boise right now.”

 “Sweet.  I’ll check in with him soon.”

 “Keep us posted.”  Cliffson hated to let him go.

 “I will.  Bye”

 The wait was going to be unbearable, but there was little to be done.  Jean suggested she could use his help with the laundry.  Oh boy, what fun,  he thought.    Instead…don’t I need to pick up dog poop, clean the chicken coop, make some soup, see Monk for the latest scoop, jump through a hoop, form a new group, sit on the stoop, make some goop…


 Dustin’s stomach was growling. “Chris I’m hungry, how ‘bout you?”

 “Yeah bro, haven’t had much today.  I sure could go for a bacon burger, double chocolate shake and some fries.”

 “You’re killing me man. How far to the next town?” Dustin asked.

“Looks like about seven miles to a place called Gold Bar.  Burgers are probably expensive there huh?”

 “Very funny.  Anything beyond that, or is Gold Bar our last chance to strike a claim for a meal?”

 Chris rolled his eyes at the joke and took a closer look at the map.

 “Well, there’s another spot called Index, but we’re getting pretty far into the mountains by then.  We’d better hope to hit a rich vein of bacon at Gold Bar.”

 “Stop it,” Dustin said, and they both laughed.

 Soon their little car was rolling into the tiny town of Gold Bar: population, 2,014.  The town was established as a prospector’s camp in 1889 and later became a base camp for construction of the Great Northern Railway.  Turning off of Highway 2, they saw the first of many aged and faded wooden signs attesting to the town’s history.

 A couple blocks into town Dustin spotted an old greasy spoon diner tucked in next to a boarded up gas station.  The rundown relic from the past had somehow managed to stay in business long after fast food became the rage.  The parking lot was empty except for an old, lime green, Volkswagen van.

 “Hey Dustin, get a load of this, see that bumper sticker?”  Chris said.

 “Ass, Gas or Grass, no one rides for free.” Dustin read aloud.  “My Dad’s told me about those.  It’s from the ‘70s.”

 “Trippin’ dude.  Now let’s go eat.”

 Chris led the way up a couple decaying cement steps stained with the remnants of a reminder they’d once blushed bright red, pulled open a creaky screen door, and headed for a booth with a red and white checkered table cloth on the left side of the room.  Chipped and worn tiles paved a floor that was probably once cream colored.  The air was heavy with the smell of fried food and salted with a double measure of cigarette smoke.  A couple of round tables in the middle of the room were home to napkin dispensers and salt and pepper shakers.  Booth seating along dingy windows on both sides of the room completed the ensemble.

 The kitchen was in back where a balding, pot bellied cook in a dingy wife-beater undershirt and an apron that looked as if you could have rung gravy from it, peered out from behind beady eyes.  He appeared nervous and ran his hands through the few greasy strands of dark hair that fell from the back of his head.   Gruffly he called for his waitress.

 “Betty, customers.”

 The back door slammed, Betty strolled in and pulled the last drag from her cigarette.  She wore white shoes, the kind you often see nurses wearing and looked to be about sixty years old, but her face wore a look that said she’d spent a hundred years on her feet.

 At their table her course smoker’s voice rose up through the gravel bed in her throat and asked, “What can I get you boys today?”

 “Get the cream pie,” boomed a voice from the other side of the room.

Seated in a booth along the opposite wall were two middle aged men and a young woman.

 “Keep your shirt on bubba, I’ll be right there,” the waitress said.

 The deep voice laughed for its own enjoyment, “Just having a little fun missy.”

 Chris and Dustin each ordered a burger and fries with a chocolate shake.  The waitress delivered the order to the cook and went to wait on the other booth.

 Chris leaned across the table and in a hushed voice asked, “You see the size of that guy?”

 Dustin chanced a look.  “He’s huge.  He takes up nearly the entire side of the booth.”

 “Dustin, don’t look now but you see that girl sitting with them?” Chris asked.

“No.”

“What do you mean? She’s sitting right there.”  Chris said

“You said not to look.”

“Come on Dustin, she’s trying to tell me something.”

“Oh Chris, you always think the girls are trying to tell you something, but what you think they’re saying is never what they mean.”

 “Shut up, Dustin.”

 “So I don’t see anything, she’s just sitting there Chris.”

 “Course she is now, the waitress left.  She was only doing it while the waitress had the attention of those two guys’.”

 “Well why don’t you go over and ask her to dance?  Here’s a quarter for the juke box.”

 “Stuff it Dustin, I’m serious.”

 The waitress brought their meals just as the woman and two men got up from the booth to leave.  The first guy was huge. Oily black hair hung in a pony tail down the back of a black leather jacket worn over a white t-shirt.  Old jeans and black leather boots completed the image of a biker.  With a voice of thunder rumbling down from the mountains he looked at Dustin and threatened, “What’re you lookin’ at college boy?”

 Dustin looked down at his food. “Nothing, sir.”

 “You best be keeping your eyes to yourself then,” growled the man-bear.

 The man put his hand on the young woman’s shoulder and ducked his head through the door on their way outside.  Following closely on their heels, the little man’s bravado goaded him to pull back his jacket to display the pistol he was carrying before the screen door slammed behind him.

 A momentary hush fell over the restaurant and even the building seemed to sigh in relief.

 When the waitress came over to asked if they needed anything else, Chris was very quiet.  “A glass of water please?” he gulped.

 “Sure thing.  What direction you boys headed?” she asked.

 “Same way they’re going, I think,” Dustin replied.

 “You boys be careful.  There’s trouble in that group,” the waitress said. “I’m afraid for that young woman.”

 “See Dustin, I told you she was trying to tell me something.  Did you see the sawed off shotgun the big guy was carrying inside his jacket?

 “No”, Dustin said,  “I was looking at the long gash across the guy’s cheek.”

 The waitress returned with water for Chris and handed Dustin a thermos of coffee.

 “Here’s some coffee for the road.   You fellas be careful.  There’s trouble a foot.”  Betty reached inside her faded blue apron for a pad with their bill and laid it on the table. Dustin couldn’t help but notice how her fingertips were stained tobacco yellow from the mountains of cigarette butts they’d caressed.

 While the young men finished their meal, the conversation turned to the trip ahead.  In the mountains there would be few side roads on which to circumvent roadblocks and they didn’t have enough gas for long detours.   Dustin slurped the last of his shake and the conversation fell quiet, each of them withdrawing into their own thoughts.

 “I wish we had a gun,” Dustin finally said.

 “You go on ahead big fella and I’ll follow ya,” Chris said in his best John Wayne voice.

 “I’m serious, Chris, we may need to defend ourselves.”

 They left money for their meals on the table plus a little extra for a tip and the coffee.  Betty pulled a pack of unfiltered Raleigh cigarettes from her shirt pocket and followed them outside.

 Dustin paused at the side of the car for a moment, breathing in the fresh mountain air and thinking ahead to the drive over the mountains.  He was listening to a blue jay chattering away in a pine tree at the edge of the parking lot when the rush of traffic on the highway imposed upon his thoughts.

 Betty waved good-bye from the front steps, cigarette in hand.  Tossing another pebble onto the gravel bed, Dustin mused.  He also wondered what would become of the waitress and the cook.  They were away from trouble for the moment, but for how long?  He hoped they would be all right.

 Those who could escape the firestorm in the city were headed east and Dustin waited at the intersection of Highway Two for his chance to join the traffic.  People were fleeing the city like hounds on a fox hunt—but these hounds didn’t know where they were going.


 Cliffson finished hanging out a pair of jeans to dry and was glad the chore was done.  It was a good time for a beer and he went into the garage to tap a couple glasses of Hermead.  It wouldn’t be cold, but he didn’t care.   He could already taste his homemade nectar.  Jean was in the garden and he walked out to join her.

 Handing her the glass of beer he said, “Radish for your thoughts.”

 She smiled and rested her head on his shoulder for moment.  “Just thinking of how we might expand the garden.”

 “Ha, I’m sure that’s all you’re thinking about.”

 “Not a good time to be sarcastic,” she said.  “I’m trying not to worry.”

 Changing the subject Cliffson said, “Your garlic is sure looking good.   Tomatoes are doing all right too!”

 “Things are coming along pretty well.  We should dig out those old carrots we carried through the winter and give them to the chickens.”  She knelt down to pull back the straw and extracted a carrot.  “Have you had one lately?”

 “Nah.  I imagine they’re getting a little rubbery by now.  They were sure nice to have this winter though.  It’s funny.  People don’t believe it when you tell them you can have fresh carrots all winter simply by covering them with straw.”

 “They’ve really been good and now the chickens will enjoy them too.  Have you noticed the peach tree lately?  It’s just full of fruit and we’re really going to need it.  Maybe we could sell some this year.”

 “Ummm, that brings something else to mind.”  Cliffson removed his hat and scratched his head.  “We could have a problem with people stealing from our garden this year.  Dang, I hate to even think about that.”

 Jean was working up a patch of ground for a second lettuce crop and looked up at him.  “We’ve got enough to deal with so I’m not gonna borrow trouble where it doesn’t exist.”  She stood and brushed off her hands.  “I’m thinking we could expand the garden out this way,” she gestured, “and grow a large crop of dried beans.”

 “That would work.”  Cliffson was admiring his potatoes.  “Have you noticed how well the spuds are doing?”

 “Liking all that chicken manure you worked in there, aren’t they?”

 “It’s the perfect way to recycle—run the manure through the potato plants and eat it as a spud.”  Cliffson grinned.  He knew she found it disgusting when he described it that way.

Jean changed the subject.  “I sure wish Zach would call.  I’d like to know where he is and if he’s doing all right.”

 “Depending on how quickly he got out of town, he should have crossed the state line and be in Oregon by now,”  Cliffson said.  Come on, let’s get the eggs and bring in a little firewood.”


 Zach found the freeway crowded and moving slowly but steadily.  The sharp edged tension was etched clearly in the faces of the drivers he met and the entire procession moved and felt like a funeral march through the lower echelons of hell.

 He eventually reached the Snake River Bridge and crossed into Oregon. There he took Highway 20 and headed east towards Vale.  Traffic thinned and the rural, sparsely populated country of eastern Oregon beckoned.

 For the first time since hitting the road, Zach allowed himself to relax a bit and kicked up his speed well past the 55 mph speed limit.  It felt so good to be out of the city.  He was free again and let the car unwind at whatever pace felt comfortable.   At twenty-four, he enjoyed living on his own and was reluctant to move back with his parents.  That was before the world got so crazy.  Now home looked safe and inviting, and he drove a little faster.


 Dustin followed the winding road into the conifer sheltered mountains.  Dense forest and overcast skies closed in on the little car as if it were traveling down the dark, oppressive maw of some monster.

Traffic was heavy but moving well enough and the two young men passed the time reviewing the events of the day and speculating on what might come next.

 “Dustin, let’s find a place to pee. Time to get rid of some coffee,” Chris said.

 “I hear you.  I wouldn’t mind a little break myself.  The sign back there said three miles to Nason Creek rest area.  Let’s stop there.”

 Soon the tick, tick, tick of the turn signal overtook the sound of tires on wet pavement and Dustin angled for the turnoff.  A light rain was falling and as the wipers cleared the windshield a lime green van appeared directly in front of them and pulled onto the highway.

 Chris jumped up in his seat.  “Dustin did you see that?”

 “Yes, but I couldn’t tell if it had the bumper sticker.”

 “It has to be the same van Dustin, there aren’t that many old lime green vans around.”

 “I’m just glad it’s gone.  I don’t want to run into those guys again.”  Dustin said while maneuvering the car into a parking spot.  “Chris doesn’t this seem a little strange?  There’s all that traffic on the highway but the rest area is empty except for that guy over there sitting in his car.”

 “I don’t know Dust, I just need to pee,” Chris said.

 They got out of the car and crossed the damp pavement to the rest room.  Dustin pulled open the dented rusty door and stopped dead in his tracks.  “Ohh geeeez!”

 “What?”

 But Dustin had already turned around to leave before the hamburger he had for lunch could cross his palate a second time.  Then Chris saw the crimson pool of blood flowing towards the door and joined Dustin in ridding himself of lunch.

 After retching the remains of their burgers, the two men moved behind the moss covered building to pee and calm shattered nerves.

 “Chris you
ok?”  Dustin dry-heaved again.  “We need to go back and look inside again, there might be someone hurt who needs our help.”

 “No way Dustin, I can’t do it.”

 “Then come stand by the door, I don’t want to go in there alone.”

 “All right buddy, I can do that much for you.”

 They walked back to the front of the building and immediately encountered the blood running out from under the door.

 “Ugh.”  Dustin opened the door and stuck his head inside, careful not to step in the growing puddle.  “Anyone in there?  Anyone need help?”  A lifeless echo rattled through the brick building.

 Dustin began to retch again and ducked back outside.  “Chris it’s horrible.  The gunshot nearly cut the guy in half.  Had to… been… a… shotgun,” he said between heaves.  “I need some water.  Chris, go ask that guy in the car over there if he saw anything.”

 “All right Dusty, the water’s in the back seat.  I’ll be right back.”

 Dustin weaved across the parking lot on wobbly legs and steadied himself for a moment at the side of his car while struggling with another gag.  Even the light rain was not helping to clear his head.  Then he heard a long low wail.

 “Nooooooooooooh!  Dustin get us out of here now.  NOW, right now!”

 Chris ran out of one of his shoes racing back to the car and threw himself inside.  Dustin was already backing up when Chris slammed the door shut.  They roared through the parking lot and flew out onto the highway, nearly broad-siding another car.  Neither of them heard the blaring horns nor saw the one finger salutes.

 “Dustin he was just sitting there—he looked so normal.  I thought maybe he didn’t hear me so I bent down close to look in the window.  His eyes were staring straight ahead, right through the windshield, but they were kinda glassy looking.  When I looked closer I saw he’d been shot in the head and there were pink pieces of brain blown all over the passenger side window.”

 Dustin hardly heard him.  His mind was numb and kept flashing images of the man on the floor of the rest room with his guts spilling out.

 “Dustin, wakeup,” Chris demanded.

 Dustin shook his head in disbelief before shifting his gaze to Chris.  “I feel like I woke up in another world today Chris. This is impossible.  It can’t be real.  It just can’t be real.”

 Climbing high up into the mountains, threatening skies darkened under a building storm until the gale finally loosed its fury and shook the little car with waves of rain filled gusts.  The wipers were working overtime to sweep away the rain, but they couldn’t sweep their minds clear of the bloody images.  The two rode in silence, lost in the day’s events, the rhythm of wipers and the drum of tires on a wet road.  Dustin ignored his ringing phone.

 When they passed through the town of Leavenworth, the men barely noticed and Dustin nearly missed the junction with Highway 97 before turning south towards home.  When the rain subsided, he pulled the car to the side of the road for a break at the top of Blewett Pass.

 “Will things ever be the same?” Dustin said more to himself than anyone else.  He was leaning against the back of the car staring into space.  It was the first words either of them had spoken in quite some time.

 “I don’t know Dustin.  How can they be if the cities are gone?”

 “Don’t say that. You don’t know they’re gone,” Dustin asserted.

 “But this morning before we bailed out of town the radio was talking about city after city being looted and burned.  There’s no water, no…”

 Both men froze.  The lime green van roared by, crested the top of the pass and began its descent down the other side of the mountain.


 “I can’t get a hold of him either Mom,”  Zach said.  “He’s not answering his phone.”

 Jean paced about the room.  “I’m so worried, we should have heard from him by now.”

 “I’ll let you know if I hear anything Mom.”

 “How are you doing on gas?”

 “I just went through Brothers.  Even with the car loaded up, it’s looking like I’ll have enough to get home, Zach said.

 “All right.  I love you and see you soon.”

 “Love you too Mom. Bye.”


 “Dustin, let’s wait a while.  I don’t want to follow them down the mountain.”

 “I’m good with that.”  Dustin walked over to a wild current bush to pee.  “How far is it to your folks place from here?”

“Probably twenty, twenty-five miles.  We’ll be there well before dark,” Chris said.

 Dustin returned to the car.  “Sweet. Now if I could just find something in here to eat.”

 “Anything in the trunk?”

 Dustin pulled keys from his pocket and opened the trunk.  “You know I never thought I’d feel like eating again after what I saw today, but I got a real pit in my stomach.  Hey, will you look at this.”  Dustin tossed a can of bacon cheese whip to Chris.  “Suppose it’s any good?”

 “That stuff never goes bad.” Chris tossed it back.  “But I can’t stand that crap, looks like latex paint.  Knock yourself out buddy.”

 Chris’s stomach remained unsettled and he turned away at the sound of the nozzle releasing cheese into Dustin’s mouth.  Dustin grinned and patted his tummy.  “Ummmm, good.  Wish I had some crackers.”

 Chris got back into the car.  “Time to go, I’m anxious to get home.”

 Dustin started the car and eased out onto the highway.  Chris turned the radio on and dialed in the station in Ellensburg.

 “This is the emergency alert system.  We are advising people in rural areas to lock their doors and windows and stay inside.  The exodus from major cities west of the Cascades has led to a wave of crime in outlying areas.  Chinese authorities have already moved to shut down all east bound traffic and stop the violence.”

 Chris watched Dustin rubbing his chin. “I can see your wheels turning Dustin, what are you thinking?”

 “It makes no sense.”

 “What doesn’t’ make sense?”

 Dustin tipped the can up to empty the last of the cheese whip into his mouth before continuing.  “The Chinese turn off the power and allow the cities to burn when the riots break out.  So why are they all of a sudden concerned about the rural folks?  It doesn’t add up.”

 Chris shrugged his shoulders.  “I don’t get it either Dust, but guess what?”

“What?”

“We were lucky.”

 Dustin looked puzzled and put the screwed up look on his face that always made Chris laugh.

 “We made it over the mountains before they closed off the passes,” Chris said.

 “Holy crap.  We could have been stuck over there in that horde of freaked out people.  Chills me to the bone.”  Dustin gripped the wheel a little tighter and said a quiet prayer.  “Stink.  I forgot to call my parents.  They’ll be worried.”

 The oppressive feel of the forest began to lift as the little car hummed along the blacktop, out of the mountains and into the rolling hills of a vast, open countryside, where sagebrush, scattered Ponderosa Pine, bitterbrush and bunchgrass replaced the woodlands.

 Chris was watching the mile markers on the shoulder of the road.  “All right, we’re getting close, just about a mile to the turn off.  We’ll be home soon and you should call your parents.”

 Dustin slumped back in his seat.  “Man, all of a sudden I feel beat.”

 “Me too,” Chris said.  “Turn off is right around the corner.”

 After rounding the corner Dustin saw a white house, nestled against low hills and turned up the long gravel drive.  There was a small red barn behind the house and bounding out from behind it was a huge black dog.  The Newfoundland was excited to see Chris and gave Dustin nearly as warm a welcome too.  It reminded Dustin of a dog he had as a kid.

 Chris’ parents were not far behind the dog.  After hugs and introductions, Dustin excused himself when Chris began telling them about what happened at the rest stop.

 The crickets were tuning up for a night’s performance when Dustin sat down in a lawn chair in the middle of the backyard and dialed home. A sullen, red sun cast the last of its rays through a blood red sky creating a chilling reminder of the day’s trials.  Dustin turned away and looked to the east where a dusky sky was forming on the horizon.

 “Hello.”

 “Sorry I didn’t call sooner Mom, but there were some issues.”  Dustin began to relate the day’s events.  “Yes, I’m ok now but still kinda shaken up.  I’m not sure if it’s all really hit me yet.  Glad to hear that Zach is home safe.”

 “I’ll be leaving early tomorrow morning and will call you once I’m on the road.”

 “Yes, Chris’s dad said he knows where I can get some gas.  I’ll fill up in the morning and come home through Yakima on 97.” 

“Love you guys too, and I promise to call you when I leave.”

CHAPTER  ELEVEN

When you see that in order to produce, you need to obtain permission from men who produce nothing — when you see that money is flowing to those who deal, not in goods, but in favors — when you see that men get richer by graft and by pull than by work, and your laws don’t protect you against them, but protect them against you — when you see corruption being rewarded and honesty becoming a self- sacrifice — you may know that your society is doomed.”

 Ayn Rand

 The following afternoon Monk and Gary met at the Lang’s house for their trip into town.  Monk joined Gary in his old Ford pickup and Cliffson drove his newly “air conditioned” Honda.

On the main road to town, Cliffson stopped at the four-way intersection of Maple and nineteenth.  On his right was an old abandoned farmhouse and kitty-corner to it was a huge new Catholic church.  It was here the city and the country came together; old farmhouse and potato fields on the right, the church and sub-divisions on the other three sides.

Waiting his turn at the intersection, Cliffson noticed a young boy, probably ten or eleven years old, sitting on the steps of the old farmhouse, his bicycle next to him.  Cliffson waved and the boy waved back.

He probably just needs to get away from some upset parents and have a little time to himself,  Cliffson thought.  Reminds me of when I used to ride out the country lane and past this place years ago before the city grew.

Crossing the bridge over the dry canyon “Drivin’ Wheel” came on the radio.  Cliffson loved the old rock group Foghat and turned it up.  It brought back memories of good times.  Minutes later he met up with Monk and Gary at City Center Auto Glass.

After making arrangements for a new windshield, Cliffson asked the owner if he’d heard anything about the Chinese “collection stations.”

The man spat, “Sons a bitches are set up in the post office parking lot.  Its highway robbery, that’s what it is.”

Cliffson thanked the man and joined Gary and Monk in their pickup.

On the way to fill the propane tanks they drove past the post office.  A couple of people were standing in line and a few more were milling around the “collection station”, which was nothing more than an armored truck.   About half a dozen men from the Chinese military formed a perimeter around the place and carried what looked to be AR-15s.

“Damn,” Monk said.  “AR-15s are U.S. military.  How you suppose they got their hands on them?”

“I’m thinking our own government provided them,” Cliffson answered.  “Part of that ‘full cooperation’ the president demanded.”

Gary drove them to a nearby gas station and after a short wait in line the men purchased the propane they needed.  With the full tanks loaded in the back of the pickup, Gary drove them back to the Post Office and parked in the far corner of the lot.  The three men sat for a moment before walking to the armored truck.

“I don’t like this one bit,” Monk snapped.  “It’s a blazin’ hold up, them sittin’ there with all them automatic weapons and us handing over our gold.”

“I don’t like it either Monk,”  Cliffson added.  “Let’s go get it over with.”

Dressed in dark, greenish brown, open neck coats with picked lapel, a peak hat and black boots, the Chinese guards watched them closely.   The three men joined a short line formed alongside the armored truck and waited their turn behind two other men.  One of the men turned and greeted Monk and Cliffson.  It was Tom Stevens, a local realtor.

After Tom and the other man ahead of them were done, Cliffson stepped to the open window on the passenger side of the truck.  When he reached in his pocket to pull out his coins, one of the guards stepped forward, pointing his weapon at Cliffson and shouting commands in Chinese.  Cliffson had no idea what he was saying and put his hands up in the air.  The official in the truck gave a command and the guard stepped back and lowered his gun.

“Little touchy don’t you think,” Cliffson said to the man in the truck.

“You, smawtass,” the official said in strongly accented English.  “I shoot you right now, no?”

“But then you wouldn’t know where the buried treasure is now would you,” Cliffson smiled.

The official glared at Cliffson before reaching through the window to grab the front of his shirt and yank him up against the truck.  “You are fool, misterrrrrr…?”

“Mr. Chin,” Cliffson finished the sentence.  “Hung Lo Chin.”

Monk choked back a laugh.

“You very funny Mr. Chin.   My name is Chen.  I think you make fun of me.  GUARDS,”  he yelled.

In an instant, guards appeared on each side of Cliffson, pinning his arms and striking a crushing blow to his ribs, buckling his knees.  The guards caught him under the armpits and held him up.

“No sense of humor,” Cliffson choked.

“Ah, but you wrong Mr. Chin, fun is just beginning.  How much fun you like to have?” The official in the truck put his pistol to Cliffson’s forehead.

“Ok, ok, my names really Jerry Lee, Jerwy Wee Woowis, the singer.”

The guard worked the action on his pistol and put it back against Cliffson’s forehead.

“All right, relax, we’re just having a little fun here, remember?”

“Let’s start by you telling me your real name… “Mr. Chin.”

“It’s Lang, Cliffson Lang.”

“Aha, now I see why you prefer name of Chin.” The guards all laughed.  “What have you brought for me today, Mr. Lang?”

Cliffson reached into his pocket to remove one gold coin and ten ounces of silver.

“This is all you have?” Chen asked.

“All of it,” Cliffson groaned.

“You lie.”

“It’s all I have.”  Cliffson shrugged.

“What is your address?”

“1726 Maple Street.”

Their eyes locked for a moment, Cliffson’s steel grey, Chen’s coal black.  The desire to kill one another arced between them in a blue bolt of electricity.

“Get out of my sight,” Chen said.  I not forget you, Mr………..Mr. “Chin.”

“Nor me you,” said Cliffson.

Holding his ribs, Cliffson slowly walked over to rest on the tailgate of the pickup while waiting for Monk and Gary.  A few minutes later they were back to see how he was doing.

“You all right, Cliffson?” Gary asked.

“I’ll be fine.”

“Ha-haa, Cliffson, I nearly peed my pants when you gave that guard your name.” Monk had clearly enjoyed the exchange.

“It was kinda funny wasn’t it, Monk?”

“And buried treasure Cliffson? What a hoot. You really pulled that guy’s chain.”

“Yeah, and you also paid a high price for that fun,” Gary said.

Casting a sideways look at Gary, Cliffson answered. “Yes, I did, and I’ll kill that little bastard if I ever get the chance.”

Gary was shocked.  It wasn’t the Cliffson he’d come to know.

“Bet that wasn’t your address you gave him either, was it?  You just make that up?” Monk asked.

“No, that’s the address of the old abandoned farmhouse on the corner across from the church, which, by the way, I want to have a look at when we go home.”

“Why’s that?” Monk asked.

“On the drive down here I saw a young boy sitting there and I couldn’t help but wonder if he was all right.  I’d like to check on him and see how he’s doing.”

“Come on then,” Gary said. “Let’s go home.”

Their route home took them through the dry canyon and the old “Spud Bowl”, where potatoes were once grown. These days, it was the site of a high school soccer field.  Cliffson found himself reflecting on simpler times and thinking back to his first summers away from home as a twelve and thirteen year old kid, working on a farm.

Those experiences grew me up, made me independent, possibly too independent, but all the same, it made a man out of me.  It’s where I learned the values of honesty, integrity and taking pride in my work.  Today, those concepts seem so foreign to most folks and I hate the hypocrisy I see in the people of our nation.  There was a special quality infused into people’s character that came from working the land and a frame of reference for understanding the realities of the world.  Urbanites simply don’t rub up against these truths, so they don’t appreciate how the issues faced by farmers are everyone’s issues.  Without this awareness they lack an understanding of the basic realities of life.

“Cliffson, you with us?”  Gary interrupted his thoughts.  “Is that the boy you were talking about?” Gary asked.

“Oh my gosh, we’ve got to help him,” Cliffson exclaimed.

Gary skidded to a stop in front of the house and all three men burst from the truck at a run.  West of the house was an old stand of poplar trees.  The boy was stripped to his undershorts and tied to one of the trees.  Cliffson could see the tears streaming down his face and he was bleeding from a wound in his leg and another in his arm.

Between sobs the boy tried to explain how three men had been shooting at him, attempting to see how close they could come without hitting him.  Monk cut the boy loose and took a quick look at the wounds.

“What the hell you doing to our boy?” Cliffson spun around in time to see a man in black leather pull a pistol from inside his jacket.

“Get behind the trees,” Monk yelled.

Cliffson grabbed the boy and pulled him behind the tree.

BOOM!          BOOM!     The bark splintered beside Cliffson’s head and the boy shook uncontrollably.

BOOM, Monk answered from Cliffson’s left.  The man in black grabbed his shoulder and nearly fell.

“Now git the hell outta here,” Monk yelled.

The man turned and stumbled toward his black Toyota.

Black Toyota.  The thought struck Cliffson like another shard of glass.  It was a black Toyota at the gas station yesterday.  Then he heard Gary’s truck start up.   Two more men had raced from the building and were attempting to steal it.   Gary had left the door open and the keys in the ignition when rushing to help the boy.  The crooks were in the process of turning the truck around when Cliffson heard Monk’s gun bark three more times before a massive explosion knocked him off his feet.  Pieces of truck were thrown high into the air and the black Toyota was turned over on its side.

In this scene Monk, Cliffson and Thomas make a trip over the mountains to rescue Cliffson’s son from a forced labor camp.  I hope the scene will give you a taste of the story and that you will consider reading the book.  The ebook is quite inexpensive and I promise you wont be disappointed if you pick up a copy of the book.  Thank you.  The story begins below.

“The first day on the road passed quickly.  Fearful of being ambushed, they remained on constant alert and gruesome scenes played out repeatedly on their way over the mountains and Santiam Pass.

Most homes near the highway were burned out.  Shot up and burned out car bodies littered the road, one recent enough the stench emanating from the bodies rotting inside was nearly enough to gag them.  Twice they stopped to roll cars off the road to make room for the van to pass, but otherwise encountered no road blocks set up to ambush.

Fuel was scarce but people were scarcer.  The lone individual they encountered swiftly scrambled back into the forest when the van came into view.  Mostly, it was just quiet.  Eerily quiet.

After reaching the mountain pass and beginning their descent down the west side of the mountains, the tension in the van rose with each passing mile.  It wasn’t something they’d anticipated and couldn’t quite put their finger on the reason why.  Though they saw no one, the feeling someone or something was watching, haunted.  The searching eyes, hungry stares and probing gazes went unseen, but not unfelt.

A few hours before dark, Monk pulled onto a side road in the timbered foothills east of Stayton.  Tree limbs reached out to grab the van, or possibly to hide it.  Cliffson wasn’t sure why, but sliding deeper into the forest reduced the tension and they all relaxed a bit.

Another mile over the pine cone strewn dirt road and their path forked.  The right fork continued uphill following the ridgeline.  Monk turned left and the road soon leveled.  In another half mile or so they came upon a small cottage.  Probably someone’s weekend retreat.  Cliffson thought.

A detached garage stood to the left a light blue house with a covered front porch of weathered wood.  Amazingly the house seemed unscathed, appearing to have dropped in from another space in time after the fighting had passed.  It didn’t fit and Cliffson found himself getting uncomfortable again.

“We’ll check the house first.”  Monk nearly whispered and turned off the van.  “Cliffson come with me, Thomas wait on the porch and cover our backs.”  No one else said a word.  Shotguns at the ready and pistols strapped to their sides, the three approached the dwelling.

The wooden porch complained, announcing their arrival and Cliffson felt a shiver run down his spine.  Monk knocked loudly but there was no answer.  He reached for the glass doorknob, found it unlocked and pushed it open.

The house was dimly lit but orderly and well kept.  Throw rugs covered the living room floor, window sashes were neatly hung and faded pillows reclined on the couch.  Ahead and to their left was the kitchen.  The tile floor was neatly swept and dishes were carefully stacked on a drying rack next to the sink.   There was no one around, but clearly someone had recently been here.

Monk was checking the single bedroom and bath in the rear of the house when Cliffson discovered something odd.  In front of him, on the dining room table, were an ash tray and a deck of cards.  Two wooden chairs on opposite sides attended the wooden table and in front of each chair was a stack of chicken bones, one pile larger than the other.  The house was so neat and clean it seemed odd to find chicken bones left out on the table, no matter how slicked off they might have been.  He was gazing at the table when it dawned on him those weren’t chicken bones.  Cliffson reached down and picked one up.

“H-yah!!!” he yelled and flung the bone to the floor.  Monk appeared at his side and assessed the piles of bone lying on the table for moment before picking one up for examination.

“Uh-huh, finger bones and they was a using em for chips in their poker game.”  Monk gently set the bone back on the pile and with a whimsical look turned to Cliffson.

“Looks to me like they played a few hands too.”

Cliffson marveled how nothing seemed to rattle the man, like he’d seen it all before.  “Looks to me like they were all losers,” Cliffson shivered.

“Well, there’s no one in the house and those old bones wouldn’t keep me from spending the night here, so let’s go have a look in the garage.”  Monk turned and led the way out with Cliffson on his heels.

Outside, Cliffson filled his lungs with the clear mountain air while Monk told Thomas what they had found.  “Gives me the willies,” Thomas said.

“Let’s go see about the garage.”  Monk stepped off the porch and began making his way across the gravel driveway.”

The reviews have been quite good, but if you pick up a copy I would be interested in hearing your comments.  Thanks for reading.

I would also like to add – the heart of the story reminds me of a commercial I once saw.  Click this link.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OTSQozWP-rM

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/truths-blood-tyler-roberts/1114020093?ean=9781475966794&itm=1&usri=truths+blood

http://www.amazon.com/Truths-Blood-ebook/dp/B00AREMKV6/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1375279846&sr=8-1&keywords=truths+blood

This reluctant author actually enjoyed participating in this interview on BookLOADS and I thought I would pass it along.  Just click the link below and may you all have a great day!

http://bookloads.weebly.com/june.html