Posts Tagged ‘good holiday reads’

It’s the time of year when my outside hobbies have been put to bed and I turn to indoor hobbies.  That includes writing and I have recently been working on the sequel to Truth’s Blood. 

CHAPTER   TWENTY-SIX

  “You can avoid reality.  But you cannot avoid the consequences of avoiding reality.”

 Ann Rand

 

The day had flown by.  After searching the Crank house for furniture to replace that which was shot up in the attack, Monk and Cliffson began removing siding for repairs on the Lang’s home and to side the cabin Thomas was building.

 Monk was just leaving for home and Cliffson was eating from a can of pork and beans when Dustin and Kate ushered in the Cranks.  Mona and Hank were worn and dirty and demanding something to eat.  Jean gave them a can of beans and a plastic spoon.

 While they ate, Cliffson pried for more information.  When Hank refused, Cliffson took Mona outside on the back porch and put his pistol to her head.

 “Honestly Hank, I’ve got no use for either of you.”  Cliffson worked the action on his Glock and shouted.   “Give me the information now or I shoot!”

 “All right, all right.  Jeez, just relax a little,” Hank pleaded.

 Cliffson dropped the hammer on his gun.

 Mona flinched and a wet stain crept down the legs of her jeans after Cliffson discharged the gun next to her ear.  Hank sank to his knees and began babbling his cooperation.

 “Don’t tell me to relax Hank!   You’re going to answer my questions and if everything goes as planned you both leave here alive.  If not,…well, I’ll just let you use your imagination.  Deal?”  Cliffson demanded.

 “Deal,”  Hank muttered.

 Later that evening, Thomas, Monk and Dustin set out for the other side of the dry canyon in the pickup the attackers left behind.  They parked a few blocks away from the address Hank had provided and cautiously approached the house.  Many of the surrounding homes were burned out wrecks and the charred smell filled the air.

 Monk set them up in a triangle shaped perimeter around the house where a single candle burned in the front window.   He was getting uneasy.  The blackened remains of the nearby homes provided little cover.  There was only supposed to be three people in the house, but he feared there could be more.

 Dustin had settled in behind a charred truck.  A dog barked a few blocks away.  Was someone coming?  In the same instant the front door to the house opened and a man with a rifle stepped out onto the porch.  He was wary and allowed his eyes adjust to the dark before checking the immediate vicinity for trouble.  Soon a match blazed and the red-orange radiance of a cigarette glowed.

 Cliffson was riding in the passenger seat of Hank’s pickup and told Hank to stop a few blocks short of the house.  Before getting out he left Hank with a final warning.

 “Remember Hank, it’s up to you to make it happen.  There’s no alternative.”  The tension caused him to chuckle. “Mona’s counting on you.”

 Hank swore under his breath.

 Weariness from the last couple days set hard on Cliffson and his patience was fading fast.  “Sell the plan Hank,”  Cliffson hissed.

 Cliffson got out and Hank drove the last few blocks to the house.   Concealed behind a scorched evergreen tree, Cliffson watched Hank park the truck and walk to the front door.  The street was empty and quiet when Hank knocked on the door.  A face appeared between parted curtains, glanced outside and then opened the door for Hank to come in.

 Keeping a close eye on the front of the house, Cliffson moved to the passenger side of the truck and quietly slide inside.  It seemed to take forever, long enough for the evenings chill to make him uncomfortable and he thought of Monk.  The old boy’s bones registered cold better than any thermometer and he knew Monk would be feeling the chill.

 Eventually the front door of the house opened and Hank returned to the truck.  Inside the cab Cliffson told him to keep his hands on the wheel where he could see them.  Fearing his friends may have slipped Hank a weapon, Cliffson frisked him before continuing home.

 When Monk, Dustin and Thomas returned, Monk was complaining about the cold.  “Warm up by the stove Monk.  Jean has some hot tea ready for you and it’s got my honey in it.”

 “Thank’s Cliffson.  My bones is a achin’.  It ain’t freezin’ yet but it might be by mornin’.”

 “Thomas,”  Cliffson said. “Why don’t you stay inside tonight.  Tie these two hoodlums up and stay in where it’s warm.”

 Thomas chuckled.  “Gladly.  Beats spending the night out in that cold breeze.”

  


 

The plan was made and the following day Monk went about putting it in motion.  Fearful Cliffson’s encounters with the Chinese commander would complicate things, Monk went to meet with Chen alone.  He took the attacker’s pickup and after a couple stops in town, located a soldier who knew where to find the commander.

 Arriving at a guard station on the north end of town, Monk extended his hand and greeted Chen with a smile.

 “Mista Monk, to what do I owe dis great honor?”

“I have information I think you’ll find valuable.”

“I see.  And what would this information be?”

 Monk proceeded to inform the commander Hank was going to steal food, fuel and ammunition from a storage warehouse.

 “How you know this?”

 “I overheard a conversation.”

 The commander remained doubtful.  “I am no fool Mista Monk.”

 “What if I told you the warehouse was one Crank and his men truck supplies to regularly?  The guards are familiar with him and won’t question his presence.”  Now he had the commander’s attention.

 “Mista Monk, if you lie to me, I hang you from dry canyon bridge.”

 “Of that I have no doubt sir, but I am not lying to you.”  Monk gave him as stern a gaze as possible with one eye.

 Chen dug in his ear and checked his fingernail before wiping it on his pants.  “Why you tell me this?”

 “It appears you are going to be here for awhile and we don’t want trouble.”  Monk turned up the bullshit meter.

 “Wise man Mista Monk, but this Cliffson, he not so wise.  You can control him?”

 “Funny you should ask.  I’ve just recently been put in charge of our group and we’ve come to an understanding.  He will no longer trouble you.”  Monk stated firmly before extending his hand.  “I’ve come to you with this information as proof we can work together.”

 The commander remained suspicious, but gripped his hand.  “It is agreed then.  I bring men to warehouse tonight to seize Crank.  We will see then if you tell truth.  If you do not, then you see how I too, am man of my word.”  Chen turned his back and strode away.

 Monk returned to the attackers’ pickup and maneuvered the truck onto the highway.  Mission accomplished, he relaxed a little and turned on the CD player to see what might be playing.  John Haitt was singing “The Tiki Bar is Open,” and that sounded good to Monk.  It was time for a little of Cliffson’s beer.

 When he rolled into the driveway, Cliffson came out to greet him.

 “How’d it go?”  Cliffson asked.

 “We’re set to go, but you’re gonna see me swing if the Cranks don’t do as they’re told.”

 “Don’t worry Monk, I’ve told them as soon as they deliver the goods from the warehouse they’ll be free to go and they can have some of the fuel they steal so they can beat it out of town.

 “And they believe all this?”  Monk was looking for a little reassurance.  They’ve bought in?”

 “Hook line and sinker.”  Cliffson grinned.

“Bein’s I’m the bait fish, I sure enough hope so.”

“They’re inside right now, planning their escape route with the three men remaining from the squad that attacked us.”

 It was then Cliffson realized just how nervous Monk was.

 “Monk, you look like you could use a drink.”

 Monk’s eye lit up in that unique way that always tickled Cliffson.  “My thoughts exactly.”

  


 That evening Monk, Dustin and Cliffson drove Mona and the rest of Crank’s crew to the yard where his trucks were kept.  Monk released Hank so he could unlock the gate and followed close behind, shotgun in hand.  Hank crunched across the gravel lot to his office, unlocked the door and selected a set of keys.  Then the group followed through the darkened yard to the truck he’d chosen for the job.

 The night sky was clear and the cover capping the heavens appeared to have suffered a million pinpricks, allowing light to shine through from the other side.  At that odd moment, in the middle of pulling off their hi-jinks, Cliffson’s mind flashed to Zach and Welfare.  Were they looking out at the same sky?  Were they even alive?  He shuddered with another chill.

 Hank fired the diesel engine and made a quick check of the truck and its equipment.  Before they left, Cliffson went over the plan with him one more time.

 “…and we’ll be watching every move Hank, so stick to business.”

 “Yes, yes, so you’ve said.”

 Cliffson could have decked him.  “No more crap Hank.  Just get the goods and return to the house.”  Cliffson spun on his heel and marched back to the pickup.  He overheard Monk saying something to Hank and wondered what he could be up to.  I just want this to be over and Hank gone.

 Dustin and Monk escorted the semi across the yard while Cliffson trained his rifle on the truck’s cab.  Hank slowed at the gate before swinging wide onto the pavement.  Monk moved to the gate while Dustin got in the pickup.

 “What’s Monk doin’, Dust?”

“He’s gonna lock up.”

“What?”

 Dustin chuckled.  “Monk got Hank’s keys so we can come back and look for supplies.”

 Cliffson shook his head.  “What would I do without him?  It just never dawned on me.”

 “You got a lot on your mind Dad.  You can’t think of everything.”

 Cliffson grabbed hold of his son’s shoulder.  “I sure can’t and I don’t know what I would’ve done if you hadn’t made it back to us.  It’s tough enough with your brother gone.”

 Cliffson fired up the truck, stopped for Monk and then followed Hank towards the edge of town.  About a quarter mile from the warehouse he pulled the pick-up to the side of the road where they could observe Hank’s semi, stopped at the guardhouse.  Chinese voices floated in the tranquil night air, asking Hank routine questions before sending him through.  Then the truck roared to life and exhaled a dark breath before moving into the ware yard.

 Three warehouses, surrounded by a ten foot metal fence topped with concertina wire were lit with high powered lights and Cliffson could hear a generator chugging in the distance.  When Hank’s truck approached, the gate was opened and he maneuvered the semi up to the loading dock.  The men got out and began loading immediately.

 Nearly an hour later there was still no sign of the Chinese commander and Cliffson was getting nervous.

 Monk was in the back of the pickup leaning over the top of the cab, watching the warehouse through a pair of binoculars.  Dustin was standing beside him.

“See any whales there matey”?  Cliffson asked from his seat on the tailgate.

 “Aye,” Monk grunted.

 “I’m thinkin’ a telescope might work a little better for you capt’n,” Cliffson joked.

 “I sees just fine and my nose is in perfect workin’ order too.”  He turned to look at Dustin. “Since when do they let the bait boys up in the crows nest?”  Monk laughed good naturedly.  Dustin laughed too, which caused him to fart again with each burst of laughter.

 Monk looked back at Dustin and changed his assault.  “And this here cabin boy, whoever let him up here?”

 Leave it to Monk to lighten the mood, Cliffson thought.  He enjoyed the banter but was beginning to think he may have been the one who was outsmarted.  If the Cranks figured out the trap and brought their loaded semi-truck back to the Lang’s house, Hank would be in the position to turn the tables on him.

 Cliffson was just about to move up to the cab and discuss the possibility of being ensnared in their own ambush when the lights of a dozen military vehicles appeared from over the hill half a mile down the road.

 In no time, the Chinese were on top Hank and his gang.  Hank was dumbfounded and tried to explain, but he’d been caught red-handed and no one was listening.  Under armed guard Hank, Mona and the rest of the crew were loaded into the back of a personnel carrier and taken away.

 Cliffson breathed a sigh of relief.  “Problem solved guys, let’s go home.”

  


 The next morning Cliffson watched as a jeep and two military trucks pulled up in front of Monk’s house.  Hastening to pull on boots, he grabbed a jacket and ran next door.

 “Monk, is everything all right, allright?”

“Everything’s fine Cliffson, the Commander here was just thanking me for last night.”

 The Commanders steely gaze fell upon Cliffson and the old hatred he harbored rose up from deep inside.

 “You rook for trouble, Mr. Chin?”

 Monk immediately intervened and positioned himself between the two men to insulate against the sparks that were fast igniting.

 “He’s fine, sir.” Monk looked at Cliffson and fired a warning shot from his good eye that could have sunk a ship.  “He just hasn’t had his morning coffee yet.”

 Cliffson got the hint.  “Ah, no sir, no trouble here, just hoping everything went well for you last night.”

 The Commander puffed his chest, “It went well indeed.  In fact I was just about to offer Monk invitation to execution, but I change mind.   I make offer to both of you.

 Monk quickly declined the offer as politely as he could.

 “But this be special Chinese hanging.  We no snap necks.  Just hang from rope until nearly dead, then let them back down and disembowel them just as they regain consciousness.”

 This time Cliffson and Monk both made it clear they were not interested in attending.

 “You sure now?” the commander asked.  “Is end to your problem. You no watch?”

 Monk and Cliffson shook their heads.

“Agh, you squeamish Americans, this why Chinese rule world.  Americans weak, but never mind.  You will know Chinese keep word when you see bodies, no?”  Chen turned away and strutted to his jeep.

 After he left, Monk turned to Cliffson.  “That was not so much an invitation as it was a threat.”

 “I think I caught it pretty clearly.”  Cliffson answered.  “It’s meant to keep us in line, meaning he has the same thing in store for us if we ever cross him.”

 Monk rubbed his neck, “You’re so very right and my, how my own neck is feeling better all of a sudden.”

 Days later, when Monk and Cliffson headed out to search more distant houses for building supplies, they passed through the intersection where the church and old farm house were located.  Hanging from light poles on opposite corners of the intersection were Hank and Mona.

 The ravens had left the eye sockets vacantly gazing across the street at one another, but had yet to clean up blackened bowels spilling from the bloated bodies.  It left no doubt the other three men would be hanging from the bridge over the dry canyon.  Monk and Cliffson chose not to go look.