Posts Tagged ‘shtf’

This week I have a book signing at a local book store.  It is the first time I have worked a book signing and I’m looking forward to it.

CHAPTER  TWENTY-SEVEN

 “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery.  Today is a gift and that is why they call it the present.”

 Mike Ditka

 Over the next few weeks things returned to normal, at least as defined under the Chinese occupation.  Unfortunately the mosquitoes were thriving under the Chinese rule.  Benefitting from abandoned water features and hot tubs scattered throughout town, the new habitat was adding millions to their numbers and making life miserable.

The garden was providing fresh greens and raspberries and Kate and Dustin’s relationship was blooming right along with the new crops.  They gladly volunteered for the garden chores because it usually meant time they could spend alone together.

The work on Thomas’s cabin was also progressing nicely.  They’d stripped the Crank house of siding, two by sixes, windows, doors, hardware and some of the cabinets.  All that was left to complete the Jefferson’s cabin was the roof and needing experienced hands for the job, they garnered the help of Gary West.

With Gary busy framing the roof, Cliffson drove the pickup they’d inherited from Hank to a local hardware store in hopes of finding someone to trade with.  He knew the big box stores were obvious targets and would long ago have been ransacked.  No reason for their managers to stick around and risk their necks for something they didn’t own.  It would be the little guy who’d invested his life in a business that would fight to protect what he had.

When Cliffson arrived at the downtown store he found the windows smashed. Not a surprise really, but once inside he found obvious signs of a gun fight, but the place was not as torn up as it could have been.  Still, it made him sad.  Many of the shelves stood empty, the cash register had long ago departed from the counter and all the hunting gear and clothing was gone except for a lone child’s jacket hanging on the rack.   Making his way toward the back of the store, Cliffson’s hopes of finding the owner dimmed and he hoped the ol’ boy was still alive.

In the back of the store where the roofing materials were kept, he realized that although a lot of stuff was gone, no one had been particularly interested in roofing.  Cliffson found tar paper, shingles, roofing nails and one last tube of caulking, which he didn’t need but thought would be good to have.

After backing the truck up to a broken window at the front of the store, Cliffson was headed back inside for the last few items when he heard the characteristic sound of a shotgun shell being chambered.

“Get your hands up and turn around.”

Cliffson did as he was told and upon turning around, found an elderly man dressed in overalls, shotgun held waist high.  He tried to tell the man he’d done business there many times before and asked if the man recognized him.   Maybe it was the shock of all that had happened but the man said no and refused to lower the gun.

Cliffson attempted to convince him he had come prepared to pay, but the man would have none of it.  Finally allowed to reach in his pocket, Cliffson showed him the silver he’d brought.  After seeing the silver rounds being offered for payment, they quickly came to a deal.  The fellow was so excited about getting the silver he ran to find a couple roofing hammers and threw them in as part of the agreement.

“I apologize for pulling the gun on you Cliffson, but after everything we’ve been through I just couldn’t believe anyone would be willing to pay for what they were taking.”

“It’s all right, I probably would have done the same, but let me ask you something.”

“Shoot”

“It’s still wrong to steal.  Right?”

“Right.”

“And we’re both still Americans?”

“Certainly.” The fellow nodded.

“Well, then the way I see it, if we’re gonna somehow get through this and get our country back, we can’t be at each other’s throats.”

“I’m with ya.  Gonna have to stand together.”

“By the way, I didn’t catch your name.”  Cliffson asked.

“Sam, Sam Keller.  The men shook hands and when they looked each other in the eye Cliffson knew this was a man he could trust.

“I live just across the street at the top of that two story brick building.  My little store don’t have much in the way of tools right now, but if you need something, please come back and I’ll see what I can do for ya.”

“I certainly will Sam.  Now how are you set for supplies, I mean how have you gotten by all this time?”  Cliffson asked.

“Been here most my life.  I’ve got friends and we’ve been planning for something like this for quite some time.  Wasn’t hard to see it comin’ if you was payin’ attention, ya know.  Course the city folk never saw it comin’; poor suckers, all wrapped up in their meaningless fluff, with not a clue about where the basics of life come from.”

“You mean how those grocery store shelves don’t just poop out that fresh loaf of bread each morning?”  Cliffson added.

Sam chuckled.  “Yep, no different than electricity comin’ from the wall, or gas coming from a pump at the station.”

“Don’t get me started, Sam.  We could go on and on.  It’s just good to know we’re in agreement.”

Cliffson wrote down his address for Sam and told him to come by if he ever needed something.

“Cliffson, you’re a good man and I don’t say that lightly.  This old world hasn’t had a place for good men for some time and it’s a pleasure to meet you.”

“Pleasure’s been all mine, Sam.”

“Thank you, friend.   It’s good to know there’s someone else I can count on.  The Chinese won’t be around forever and I reckon on being here long after their gone.  Gonna be a lot of rebuilding then and that’s when my little business will get back on its feet.  You be sure and come back.”

“I certainly will.  Be careful now and remember, if you ever need anything you know where to find me.”

It felt good to make an honest transaction—one without government interference—just one man making an arm’s length transaction with another.  It gave him hope these values still remained, even if it was from a couple of old salts the previous world would have readily discarded.

With the transaction complete Cliffson drove away.  The experience left him feeling good—a feeling that took him back to a time when America was a rural nation and self-reliance was the norm—a world where your word had better be as good as gold and a hand shake sealed the deal.  These values built the nation he had come to love; unfortunately, they’d become nearly as meaningless in the modern world as lying was the norm. Course the modern day world aint really around no more, is it?  he mused.

Over the next few days the Jefferson’s modest house was finished.  Diminutive and simple, it would do the job.  The wooden floors in the living space and entry way were furnished with warm rugs, a small wood stove and a table and chairs, including a rocking chair.   The tiny kitchen was in back on the right.  Without electricity or running water there was little need for it to be full-sized.  The bedroom was on the left side. A door in the back opened to a pit toilet pushed out the back wall of the bedroom.

Windows were strategically placed so Thomas could have a clear, 360 degree view of the property surrounding the cabin and the first four feet of the reinforced walls were filled with sand for protection in a gun fight.  It wasn’t anything like their old home, but it was just as cozy as their cabin in the woods and the Jefferson’s were thrilled to have it.

The Crank’s old house was salvaged for everything it had to offer and then burned to the ground to clear the field of fire.  Without siding, the fire was not as big as expected until the building came down.  Once the flames took to the shingles the place burned like a pitchy log in a mountain of tires.  The thick smoke rolled into the sky on angry orange and black clouds billowing like an oil gusher.

Cliffson was enjoying a sandwich and watching it all from his yard.  A train, likely loaded with timber, rumbled in the distance.  He wrestled with mixed emotions about the Cranks and the events leading up to burning their house, but was most thankful no one had been hurt when his family was attacked.  It was the first time in many weeks he could relax a bit and it felt good to put it all behind him.  The fire was the perfect exclamation point and he was enjoying a simple moment of tranquility.

Without warning four trucks roared into Cliffson’s driveway and disgorged at least 20 well armed men, dressed in fatigues similar to the U.S. military.  Before he could stand two men had weapons in his face, forcing him back into the chair.  Then he heard yelling coming from inside the house and tried to stand but was shoved back down.  A moment later, Jean, the Jeffersons, and Kate were marched from the house at gun point and forced to sit on the grass next to Cliffson.  Dustin and Monk were soon marched back from the burning Crank house at gun point.

After being gathered together on the lawn, a bear of a man ambled through the group of soldiers to face Cliffson.  He was dressed in fatigues like the rest of them and wore a .45 pistol on his hip.  Cliffson rose to face him and the two men sized each other up for moment before speaking.

“Cliffson, I presume?” the soldier asked.

“Who’s asking?”

A smile spread across the big man’s face before he spoke.  “I would have expected no less from you.  On the outside you appear soft, helping those around you with water and picking up strays like the Jefferson’s.  But there’s a reason you’ve lasted this long.  You’re alert and you don’t take any crap from anyone, not even that Chinese Commander.”

“And just how do you know all this?’  Cliffson glanced at Monk, but got no response.

“We’ve been watching the riffraff sort itself out for some time.  Quite honestly we didn’t expect you to survive.”  The big man chuckled.

“Why’s that?”

“Too many assets and not enough fire power.  You’d already be dead if Thomas hadn’t been lucky enough to overhear the conversation in the Crank’s driveway that night.  You need our help.”

Cliffson’s eyebrow rose.  “Somehow I’m not feelin’ the love.”

The man nodded to someone Cliffson assumed was second in command, who ordered the group to move back to the vehicles.

“We didn’t come to harm you.  Our show of force was meant to demonstrate what we can do and convince you to accept the deal we are about to offer.”

Cliffson squared his shoulders and looked the man dead in the eye.  “I’m not feeling like I have the option to decline.  Convince me otherwise and maybe we can talk.”

“Quite honestly, you don’t have that option.  We just took down your house and all of you would be dead if we wanted it that way, but that’s not how we operate.  I hope that fact alone persuades you to work with us.  We operate on the basis of principle, many of the same principles I’m sure you believe in Cliffson.”

“What B.S. Those days are gone.  Everyone’s just out for themselves.”

“That’s not true.  May I have a seat so we can talk?”  The commander asked.

Cliffson hesitated, then nodded to Jean, “Would you mind getting that chair from the back porch, hun.”

Yes, Herr Commandant, Jean thought to herself.

Jean hurried back with the chair and presented it to the man-bear.  “Thank you, mam.”  As the over-size man settled into the chair, Cliffson was thinking he’d never fit.  The fella was simply huge.

“Cliffson, my name is Gunner.  I’m the commander of a group of about 60 men, most of whom have military experience.  Our offer is simple.  You have things we need, fresh fruit, garden veggies, fresh eggs and water to name a few.  We offer you protection in exchange for a portion of what you produce.”

“Protection?”  Cliffson said flatly. “Protection from whom, you?”

“Come on Cliffson, there’s no need to play games.  Even you know the smaller groups are rapidly disappearing.  Soon, only the stronger gangs and organized forces will remain.  There’s simply no way you can protect yourself from them without our help, yet you hold assets that literally everyone is willing to kill for.”

“And just how will you go about protecting us?”

Gunner smiled, as if he was about to play his strong suit.  “Two ways.  First, we have an established network throughout this community that keeps us informed of the various groups’ activities.  It’s how we knew about you and Hank.”

“Go on.”

“Secondly, we’ll set you and Monk up with solar powered radios so you can contact us at any time in the event you need help.  We’ll also help make your place more defensible and will station men across the street in the cul-de-sac.  Afterall, if you agree to share what you have, we wouldn’t want to see those resources lost to someone else.”

“And I’m just supposed to trust you because you’re such a sweetheart of a guy?”

“No, you trust me because you need me and I’ve demonstrated that I can back up my word.”  Gunner extended his hand.

“Not so fast.”  Cliffson forced the issue.  “This whole thing has a bad feel to it.  I want to see your base of operations.”  Now Monk was nodding his head.

“Sorry, can’t do that.  To begin with we’re spread out, and secondly we don’t share the location of our headquarters with anyone.”

“Well I guess we don’t have a deal then.”

Gunner rose to his full height and stuck out his chest.  Cliffson noted the massive shoulders.  The man was a mountain of power.

“Cliffson, I admire your spunk, but it’s a fine line between bravery and foolishness.  Tell you what I’ll do and maybe this will convince you.  There are three local groups who are organized and well armed.  Our intelligence tells us they’re well aware of your little place here. It’s only a matter of time before they come and take you down.

We’re in negotiations with one of those groups and there’s an agreement to cooperate at least to the extent of not attacking one another, with hopes of coordinating our efforts in the future.  One word from us and they’ll leave you alone.  The other two groups are made up of animals the likes of which you don’t ever want to meet.  They’d think nothing of ripping you and this place apart to get what they want.  You need to think of your women Cliffson.”

That was a low blow, but it struck home.

“I’m going to give you the location of both gang’s base of operations.  You do your own scouting and see if I’m not telling the truth.  I’ll be back in two days and we’ll talk again.”

Gunner tipped his hat to the ladies and marched back to his truck where the rest of his troops were waiting.

Cliffson turned to Monk.  “What do you think?

“Makes sense on the surface, but I don’t rightly know how I can trust someone I’ve never met before today.”  Monk removed his ball cap and scratched the pale moon on top of his head before continuing.  “I don’t question what he says about protection.  It’s been a concern of my own.  The day is gonna come when we have to face one of these groups and we just don’t have the fire power.”

Cliffson shoved his hands deep into his pockets and shrugged.  “Best we can do is check out the places he told us about I guess.”


Monk and Cliffson spent the next two evenings scouting the gangs’ bases.   The first night was quiet and after four hours of hiding in a hedge of prickly shrubs they’d spotted just two look-outs—that is until the fight broke out.  About one in the morning the front door of the house flew open and two men flung each other out the door onto the ground.

Soon a group of fifteen highly intoxicated men gathered round to cheer for their favorite.   The fight continued and the group grew louder and louder until one man stepped from the house and strode to the middle of the group.  Without hesitation he raised a sawed off shotgun, fired it twice and both fighters lay dead.  The gunman grumbled some kind of command and the group broke up.

On the second night Monk and Cliffson had no more than settled into watch from behind the remains of a broken down wooden fence, when two pickup trucks roared to a stop in front of the house.  About twenty men poured from the run down dwelling to greet the men in the trucks and threw open the doors of the king cabs to grab their cargo.  Screams and shrieks for help rent the still night air.  Three young women were thrown over the men’s shoulders and carried into the house amidst riotous shouts of laughter from the surrounding men.

The scene left Monk and Cliffson shaken, but there was little they could do.  Well, yes there was.  They could make sure it didn’t happen to their women.


Like clockwork, Gunner and his lieutenant showed up the next day at the strike of noon.  He was fully aware of the previous night’s events and just nodded when Monk and Cliffson began to tell him about it.

“So do we have a deal, Cliffson?”  Gunner stood with his arms folded across his chest exuding full confidence.

Cliffson looked down at the ground searching amongst the rocks in the gravel for a solution he’d not yet found.  He knew he had no choice but still didn’t like it.

“You know we do Gunner,” he said begrudgingly, “but that doesn’t mean you can take advantage of us.”

“You’ll find we are honorable men Cliffson.  Well, mostly.”  He laughed.  “I want this to be a long term arrangement.”

The rest of the afternoon was spent working out the details of their agreement.  After much discussion and a little frustration when both sides laid out their demands, an understanding was reached.  Gunner’s men would get all the water they needed as long as they weren’t trying to fill a tanker truck or something similar.  They would also receive 25 percent of the garden produce, fresh fruit, eggs and honey.  Gunner had asked for a third, but knowing that no good negotiator starts out asking for what he wants to end up with, Cliffson had refused.

In return, Gunner would station ten men in two of the vacant houses at the end of the cul-de-sac across from Cliffson’s house.  Cliffson had to admit that was comforting.  The rest of the homes that remained standing were empty now, except for Randy and Linda on the corner.

It had been a tense couple of days and Cliffson was relieved when the two men finally shook hands in agreement and Gunner left, promising his men would be moved in the next day.  It seemed too good to be true and Cliffson remained suspicious.  He and Monk agreed they wouldn’t let their guard down.

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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.

Please check out Truth’s Blood at Amazon or Barnes and Noble.  Only $2.99 for an ebook.

CHAPTER  TWENTY-THREE

 “Now you will feel no rain, for each of you will be shelter to the other… “

 Apache Wedding Blessing

“Will you tell me a story, Monk?  Cliffson joked and then looked away.

Monk only grunted and pulled another metal fragment from Cliffson’s arm.  “What, little Johnny needs a story while the doc patches him up?”

“Just hoping to learn a little more about you, Monk.  Ever done this before?”

Monk scoffed, not taking kindly to the comment and his steely gaze said so.  Then he changed the subject.  “Why don’t we learn a little more about Mr. Jefferson instead?  He can tell us how he came to be at the back of your house while I put you back together.”

Thomas began their story and Monk continued removing fragments and cleaning the wounds in Cliffson’s arm.  It was clear the Jefferson’s had been through a lot, but more than that, Cliffson felt indebted to Thomas for taking out the man who had shot him.  Though Thomas offered little in the way of useful skills, Cliffson thought he had an idea that might work.

“Mary, how’s your arm doing?”  Cliffson asked.

“The painkillers have helped, and I’m sure Monk did his best to patch me up, but it’s still quite sore.  I’m very grateful to you all, but I must ask another favor.”

“You and Thomas are welcome to stay with me tonight,” Monk interrupted.  Thomas began to thank him but Monk cut him off.  “We have much to talk about but it’s getting late.  I’m sure Cliffson here could use some warm milk and a bed time story.”

Cliffson shook his head.  “Soon as your done torturing me that’s exactly where I’m headed.”

“Well that ought to do it.  Might not be the prettiest thing, but the girls will love the scars.”  He winked at Jean.  “Now listen to me.  You were lucky the bullet hit the gun instead of you.  Count your lucky stars it was just fragments we’re dealing with and not the bullet itself.  I’ve cleaned it the best I could, but I’m concerned about infection.  You need to keep an eye on it, and keep it in that sling so you don’t pull the stitches out.”

“All right, Doc,”  Cliffson grinned at Monk.  “Take an aspirin and send you fifty bucks.  Right?”

Monk looked up from his bag of tools.  “Jean, you want to put little Cliffy to bed now, he’s getting kind of cranky.”


The following morning was dark and overcast and the resulting gloom infused heart and soul alike.  The daily fight for their lives had become a reality.

Monk and Dustin gathered up the bodies and Cliffson helped when he could.  Disfigured by Dustin’s shotgun blasts, the bodies left behind dark stains and chunks of flesh on the grass.  It made for a gruesome and repulsive task, but one that had to be done.

Cliffson watched Monk and Dustin dig a shallow grave in the field behind the Lang’s house.  When the last body was laid in the hole, “Hank the Crank” showed up.

“Which one of you assholes shot my house up last night?”  Crank yelled.

Cliffson drew his Glock, but Monk moved in between them.  “Go home Hank.  There’s trouble enough without you stirring things up,” Monk ordered.

“Someone shot my house up last night, wounding me in the process and I aim to find out who the hell it was!  You think my arms in a sling for nothing,” he roared.  “Now I find you people burying these folks.  I’ve caught you red-handed and I’m going to the authorities.”

“You mean your Chinese buddy, you traitor,”  Monk sneered.

Hank swung a meaty fist at Monk with his good arm but missed and in a flash Dustin was on him, pinning him to the ground.   “That’s enough,”  Dustin yelled.  “For all we know you were part of the group that attacked us last night when you were shot.”

Dustin grabbed Hank’s legs and pulled him to the grave.  Monk grabbed his good arm and they rolled him in on top of the dead men.

“You want to join them?”  Dustin yelled.

Lying on his belly, Hank was having trouble getting his good arm under him so he could push himself up.  He was whimpering and beginning to swear when Dustin put his foot on the back of Hank’s neck, forcing him face to face with one of the dead men.

“Any more trouble and you’ll join them.  Are we clear?” Dustin shouted.

Hank cried yes and Dustin let him up.  “Now get out of here.”

Hank walked away shouting obscenities and threatening them all.

While they shoveled dirt over the dead men an ominous sky released its rain and Monk turned to Dustin.

“Were you just saying that, or did you really see him last night?”

“Oh, you mean about being part of the attack last night?’  Dustin asked.

Monk nodded.

“I just made it up, why?”

“Well, I wasn’t going to say anything because my eye sight ain’t so good in the dark, but I coulda sworn I saw him last night in the back of that pickup, pulling cover for the other four guys.  If’n my gun hadn’t a jammed when the fighting started I’d a killed him.”

“Geez, do you really think…..”  Cliffson stopped himself.  They all looked at each and agreed that yes, Hank would.

It was raining harder now and the three men turned to go.

On his way back to the house Cliffson thought of Welfare and how much he missed the dog.  He hoped that somehow the dog was still alive.

In the garage he found a towel and a pair of pants Jean had laid out for him next to a bucket of water so Cliffson could clean his feet.  She always thinks of me, he thought, as he washed the mud away with his good arm.  He was sitting down to pull on his pants when Monk and Dustin dashed outside with two 80 gallon food grade drums to collect water from the downspouts.

After returning to the garage, Cliffson hugged his son.  Holding him at arm’s length for a moment he couldn’t help but notice the strongly toned muscles in his son’s young body.

“You gonna be all right, Dustin?”  Cliffson asked.

“Dad I’m fine.  You’re the one I’m worried about.”

It was quiet for moment as neither man spoke.

“I’m sorry Dustin, so sorry this had to happen to you.”

“It’s all right Dad.”

“No, it’s not really.  I’m glad you’re man enough to do what’s required of you, but it shouldn’t be required of any man.  We need to be helping, not killing.”

“It changes you doesn’t it,” Dustin said quietly.

“Yes, it does, son.  It hardens you in a wicked way.”

“And Dad.”

“What son?”

“We are helping.”

Monk nodded and smiled knowingly.  He knew they’d be all right and even more prepared for what was to come.


It continued raining all day.  Monk joined with the Lang family to discuss the possibility of the Jeffersons joining them and the potential repercussions.  They also made their daily call to check in with the Wests.  Maybe it was the weather interfering with the radios, but after numerous attempts they couldn’t raise them and were beginning to grow concerned.

Late in the afternoon a decision regarding the Jeffersons was reached and Dustin was sent to bring them back from Monk’s house.  Upon arriving at the front door, Cliffson shook each of their hands and directed them to take a seat on the couch.

“Please sit down folks.  I know you’re anxious to learn what we’ve decided, so let me get right to the point.  Your request to remain here with us is a difficult one.  Our resources are limited and we’ve carefully weighed the added burden of supporting another family, against the skills you have to offer.  Quite honestly we’re unsure that the cost of allowing you to stay is worth any service you can…”

Thomas jumped to his feet.  “It’s because were black isn’t it?  You won’t take us in because we’re black!”

“Thomas, stop it,”  Mary demanded.

“Aw Mary, I’ve known it from the time we got here, that little military midget sitting over there has had it in for us.  Ain’t that right pirate man!”  Thomas glared across the room at Monk.

The air in the room seemed to dissapate and grew as cold and silent as a stone frozen in a winter pond.  Cliffson stood and took two steps toward Thomas.  The men were nearly the same height and with faces inches apart, each man’s steely eyed look impaled the other.  Tension crackled in blue bolts between them.  Thomas stood with fists balled at his sides. Cliffson stared unflinching.  Monk was poised to intervene and for a long moment neither man moved.

Then, in an enormous effort to control his anger, Cliffson gathered himself and tersely addressed Thomas through clenched teet,.  “If I was not an honest and fair man, you would already be out the door for making an accusation like that.  If you knew me, if you knew Monk, you’d know how wrong you are.”

Relaxing just a bit he continued.  “You will begin by apologizing to my good friend Monk,” and then grasping Thomas’s shoulder with is good hand, Cliffson continued,  “and as long as you remain in this house, you’ll do well to remember there is no white, black, or any other color to be found here.  People are just people.”

Thomas was bewildered.  “You’re allowing us to stay?”

Not quite smiling Cliffson added, “Yes, that is our decision, you and your wife are welcome here, though you nearly just changed our minds.  There are, of course, some conditions you must agree to, but we believe you’ll find them acceptable.”

Tears came to Thomas’s eyes and he shook Cliffson’s hand.

“I am so sorry for what I said.  Monk, please accept my apologies, I promise to make it up to you.”

Monk stuck out his hand, “Its already forgotten Thomas.”

The remainder of the afternoon was spent getting to know one another and discussing the conditions under which the Jefferson’s could stay.  Monk volunteered training to help them overcome their admitted lack of experience with firearms.  In return the Jefferson’s would be fed and housed, and as soon as possible, a small cabin would be built for them on the south end of the Lang’s property.  While it rained and stormed outside, the chill wind couldn’t dampen the warmth of a budding new friendship.

It was getting dark and Jean was bringing out some additional candles when the radio began to chirp.

A look of horror spread around the room as its meaning began to register.  If they were ever unable to speak, but were in need of help, the radio was to be keyed repeatedly.  The radio squawked a few more times and then fell silent.  The Wests were in trouble.

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.”

I hope this finds you well and looking forward to another chapter of my book.  Have a good week folks.

CHAPTER  SIXTEEN

 “Never believe anything in politics until it has been officially denied.”

 Otto von Bismarck

 The stress of the day’s events had taken their toll on Thomas.  Somehow he’d managed to find a way out of town and was just now turning onto the dirt road that would take them the last few miles to the cabin.  The calm of the forest was a soothing balm for his frayed nerves, but did little to quiet the roar of his thoughts and he couldn’t get the image of the head staring back at him from atop the Rover’s hood, out of his mind.  Thankfully, Mary was still asleep.  He reached over to grasp her hand and hoped a good night’s rest would help.

His first sight of the cabin brought a flood of emotions.  It looked the same as it had when the family was there for a week the previous summer, but had an empty and forlorn air to it now.  Thomas couldn’t help but think of the time spent here with his son and the memory stabbed at his conscience.

After helping Mary inside and stowing the supplies, Thomas used the remaining light to have a look around.  Finding nothing out of place he took a seat on the front porch steps and listened to the pines whispering in the breeze.

I need to take stock of our supplies.  Lynching’s?  I would never have believed it if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes.  What could have happened to Davis?  Poor Mary.  How did it come to this?  His mind struggled to take it all in.

There was the decision to leave the Mercedes outside instead of storing it in the garage.  He would never have done that before—and the decision to drive through the crowd, running people over if necessary.  It seemed as though there was a part of him rising up inside he’d never met before. Until now he wouldn’t have believed he was capable of running over someone.  I’m a civilized college professor who teaches tolerance and acceptance.  I don’t conduct myself in the same way as the unwashed masses.  Am I being forced to change?  No, a man always has a choice.  So what is this other side of me I’ve never seen before?


At the front door Cliffson kissed Jean good bye.  Then turning to Zach, put a hand on each shoulder and held him at arm’s length.

“Zach.  Sorry to leave the moment you get home, but I need you to keep an eye on the place and keep your mom safe while I’m gone.”

“I will Dad.”

“Watch yourself when you go outside.  Be prepared for anything.  People are short of food, fuel and money and will do anything to get them.  And the people that made it over the mountains before the passes were closed may begin showing up soon too, so keep a weapon with you at all times,” Cliffson said.

“We’ll be fine. You can trust me Dad,”  Zach said.  “Just bring Dustin home safe.”

“We will. I just hate leaving you and your mother here alone.”  Cliffson hugged his son and turned back to Jean.  “I wish we could have gotten away a little quicker, but we should be home late tomorrow.  It’s gonna be all right.”  He gave her another hug and turned to go.

Monk was waiting in the driveway with his late model Ford pickup.  He’d just returned from Gary’s to fill the tanks with diesel.  Cliffson put his bag in the back and climbed in the cab.

“Monk, I don’t know how I’ll ever repay you or Gary for this,”  Cliffson said.

“Hey, what do you think friends are for?”

“I know, I know,” Cliffson said as they backed out of the driveway.  “But it’s asking a lot and you could be putting your life in danger.”

Monk took a slurp of coffee.  “Times are changing mate.  Ain’t no one gonna be lounging in no easy chair anymore.”

It was becoming more dangerous to be out at night so when the road topped Juniper Butte, the men were relieved to see few headlights stabbing at the dark.  Monk fired up his CD player with Black Oak Arkansas’ “Jim Dandy to the Rescue,” and with a smile turned to Cliffson, whose own look caused Monk to reach back and turn it off.

With that, Monk pulled out his cell phone and teased Cliffson.  “I know you gave your boy my phone number so ya better be figurin’ out how to use that thing.”

“Some relic from the downfall of our society?”  Cliffson replied snidely.

“No, that would be paper money,”  Monk parried.

“How do you turn it on?”

“Green button, right in the middle.”

Cliffson was shining a small flashlight on the phone.  “All right, I found it.”

“You heard anything more about what’s happening on the west side of the mountains?”  Cliffson snapped the phone shut and leaned back in his seat.  “Those poor people; it sounds like civil war over there from the little I’ve heard.”

“Yes sirree Bob.  The crush of people attempting to flee the city collided against the mountains like a massive tidal wave and then fell back on the waves that followed.” Monk smacked his hands together.  “Lot of folks ain’t gonna be around to greet tomorrow’s rising sun.”

A gloomy spirit was plaguing Cliffson’s thoughts.  “With the cities going up in flames or torn up by mobs, there’s not going to be much left of the world we knew Monk.”

“I’m afraid you’re right about that.  You know how lucky your son was to escape?” Monk asked.

“That’s not something I’ve wanted to think about.  And I still don’t understand the Chinese motives for doing it.”  Cliffson shook his head.

“You’re asking me to think Chinese and I don’t even speak it,”  Monk chuckled.

Cliffson eyed him closely.  “Those folks want their money and I don’t blame them for that, but I can’t get my head around what they’re up to.  You think we’re going to see more incidents like what happened in Bend?”

“You mean the executions?” Monk asked.

“Yep.”

“People are getting desperate, but the Chinese don’t care and won’t tolerate anyone stealing their food and supplies.”

“Not the time to be leaving Jean and Zach home alone.  I don’t like it Monk.”

Monk nodded in agreement.  “But right now your other son needs help, Cliffson, and that’s just what we’re going to do.”

The two and a half hour trip through the rural farm and rangeland of north central Oregon was uneventful.  Cliffson settled back and dozed on and off, while wondering if he was up for what lay ahead of them.  He’d never done anything like this and questioned how he would react.  A person likes to think he can do what’s required of him when the time comes, he thought, but how can you really know?

Monk was piloting the truck across the Columbia River Bridge at Biggs, when a drunk stumbled into the middle of the road and confronted them with a pistol.  The shots missed and Monk slammed the pedal to the floor, directing the turbo charged truck straight at the man.  For a moment the drunk was frozen in his tracks and Cliffson was sure Monk would run him over, but at the last minute the guy fell to his side and Monk veered just enough to avoid him.

On the other side of the bridge Cliffson was just getting his breath back.  “You could have killed him Monk.”

“Settle down Cliffson.  You don’t seem to grasp how things have changed and if you want to see that son of yours home safely you’d better start figuring that out.”

“But would you really have run him down?”

“Cliffson, he shot at us with the intent to kill, and yes, I would have run over him given no other choice.”

Monk’s calm demeanor annoyed Cliffson.  How did he adjust, or adapt, so quickly?

On the other side of the river the focus quickly turned to Dustin and again Cliffson questioned if he had the requisite courage for the job.  His 40 cal. Glock and .223 rifle weren’t as comforting as he thought they’d be.  Monk had also fallen quiet, but Cliffson knew that for him there would be no questioning and the silence was nothing more than Monk clearing his mind of everything but the job at hand.  It wouldn’t be long now.

When they passed mile post 23, Cliffson felt his hands get sweaty and began to fidget in his seat.  Near mile post 24 a pair of eyes stared out at him from the brush.  It was only a deer but it keyed him up all the same.

Monk sat in the glow of the dashboard lights and seemed quite at ease, though he remained quiet.  When they passed mile post 26 he looked at Cliffson and winked.  “It’ll be all right big guy.  Take a few breaths to settle your nerves and just follow me when we get there.”

Mile post 27 came and went.  Cliffson looked over at Monk who kept on driving.  A little further and Monk pulled the truck off the road and doused the lights.  After retrieving their gear from the back of the truck, the two men climbed the roadside bank and began walking back towards the gravel pit while Monk explained he wasn’t going to stop there without knowing what might be waiting for them.  A shallow moon provided just enough moonlight to allow them to see where they were going.

Cliffson watched his breath rise up in the cool night air.  He was breathing harder than he should be.  The smell of burnt rubber and metal from Dustin’s burned out car assaulted his senses and he knew the gravel pit was nearby.  Looking down from the edge of the pit they could see the outline of the van but saw no sign of human activity and continued around the rim, searching for the trail Dustin had told them about.

Sagebrush obscured the rarely used trail.  In the dark the men missed it and had to backtrack to find it.  A cold trickle of sweat was seeping down Cliffson’s neck.  Where was Dustin?  Their attempts to contact his cell phone had gone unanswered.

It was slow going and Cliffson was wondering how much further when Monk brought them to a halt at the edge of a rim where the trail dropped into a slight valley.

“Where could Dustin be?” Cliffson whispered.

“Obviously he’s not here to meet us so we’re gonna have to assume something’s happened.”

Cliffson shuddered.  “I have to get my son back, Monk, let’s go.”

“Now hold on, we can’t be goin’ off half cocked.  Let’s watch this cabin for a moment.”

Cliffson was dying inside, but he knew Monk was right.  They took seats at the canyon’s edge and watched the cabin disappear in the dark whenever a cloud passed in front of the thin moon and then reappear afterwards.

“We need to draw them out and separate em.”  Monk spoke softly, as if talking to himself and Cliffson knew he was preparing to go.

They descended the trail slowly, stopping to listen from time to time.  The cabin remained dark and the only sound Cliffson could hear was the blood pounding in his head.

Fifty yards from the cabin they separated.  Cliffson swung wide, to cover the left side of the cabin.  Monk belly crawled to a position near the front door and burrowed into the ground behind low sagebrush.

Nerves shook Cliffson’s hands like a strung out stranger and tall sagebrush scratched at his face as he padded over sandy soil and crept near the cabin.

There was no sign of activity from within the cabin and when the night grew still Cliffson knew it was his turn to act.  His thundering heart threatened to leap from his chest when he ran to the left corner the cabin.  From there he could view the front door and along the wall to his left, leading to the back of the cabin.  After pausing for a moment to collect himself, he stepped away from the side of the building and heaved a heavy stone at the front door.

The crash it made splintered the night and he swiftly dashed back to the corner of the cabin, banging against it hard in the dark.   Cliffson heard the clump of boots moving inside.  Then a lantern came on in the front of the cabin and the front door opened a crack.  Come on, Cliffson thought, you need to step outside.

Seeing no one, the little guy stepped out onto the porch, perfectly silhouetted by the yellow light from inside the cabin.  He held a pistol and a flashlight clamped between both hands, and swept them back and forth, stabbing into the dark.

Cliffson stepped behind the corner of the building to avoid being seen.  A few seconds later he heard the crack of Monk’s crossbow.  The pistol and flashlight fell to the ground, followed by a bubbly, gurgling wheeze.  The little guy grasped at his neck, twisting and turning before pitching forward into the dirt.

Moving from behind the corner of the building to approach the front door, Cliffson was nearly knocked to the ground when the thin wall of the cabin exploded in front of him.  He dove for the dirt and a second shot exploded immediately above him.  Then another shotgun blast tore through the wall slightly ahead of him.  So much for drawing both men outside.  Yet another blast tore through the wall and Cliffson burrowed into the ground.  Enough!

Moments later the big man came out the front door holding Dustin for a shield in front of him and a shotgun in his right hand.

“Step out where I can see you before I take his head off,” he bellowed.  Cliffson knew once he exposed himself he was likely dead.  Where was Monk?

“I’m counting to three.  If you don’t show yourself by then college boy gets it”,  he snarled.

“One”

“Two”

“Three”

“I’m right here.”  The calmness of his own voice surprised Cliffson.

“Throw down your gun and step out where I can see you.”

Cliffson shuffled little by little to his right, buying as much time as possible.  With his hands raised he stepped into the yellow light cascading from the cabin.

“Drop the gun,” the big man demanded.

“Let my son go, and I’ll do as you ask.”

“Like hell!  You’re in no position to bargain.”  His throaty growl rattled the wood sided cabin.

“Let my son go.”

“How touching.  Daddy’s come for college boy.  What do you think sonny, you’ve seen what I’m capable of, think the old man’s up to it?”

Dustin remained silent.

“All right chickenshit,”  Cliffson bellowed and threw his gun to the ground.  “Drop your gun.  Just you and me fat man.”

The valley shook with the big man’s laughter.

“Sounds like fun, but first I take care of your little boy.”  He raised the shotgun and Cliffson’s voice filled the valley.

“NOOOOOOOOOOOOO.”

Dustin fell away from the big man who unexpectedly dropped his gun and clutched at his right knee.  Sticking out from the back of it was another of Monk’s arrows.  Then Dustin was on him with a sweeping soccer kick to the groin.  For a moment nothing happened as the big man stiffened, before grabbing his heritage with one hand and landing a massive blow with the other that sent Dustin sprawling.

Cliffson landed a round house right, square on the big man’s nose—like dad had always said—it staggered the man but he still didn’t go down.  Instead, the big man grinned a wicked smile and reached behind his back to withdraw a massive, curved knife.  The blade gleamed even in the cabins tallow light.

Cliffson jumped back, then heard a dull ring and saw the big man fall to his knees before sprawling on his face at Cliffson’s feet.  A smiling Monk appeared in the doorway, iron skillet in hand.

Dustin was back on his feet, unsteady as they were, moving towards the door.  His left eye was already swollen shut and blood was leaking from his nose.  He moved past Monk to lead them both inside.  Cliffson grabbed the blade from the big man’s meaty palm and followed.

Dustin led them over creaking wood floors to a damp and musty smelling back room.  Judging by the holes in the wall, Cliffson knew this was the room the shots had been fired from.

A candle dimly smoldered in the corner next to a wooden chair where the girl was tied.  Her eyes flew to the knife Cliffson was carrying and she struggled to free herself.  Dustin knelt beside her and tried to explain she was safe but she shrieked against the gag in her mouth and fought all the more.

Then Dustin reached for her shoulders and held her firmly. “You remember me—from the diner—and then on the road?  My name’s Dustin.”

A sudden look of recognition swept across her face and Dustin removed the gag from her mouth.  “Please get me out of here, get me out of here now,” she cried.

Dustin used the knife to cut the rope that bound her to the chair.  When he stood and gave the knife back to Cliffson, the girl buried her face in his neck.  She was tall and her long raven hair cascade across his face and shoulders.  Hesitantly, he put his arms around her while sobs of relief broke free and racked her body.

When the tears subsided Dustin let go and stepped to the side.  She immediately moved back against him, snaking an arm around his waist and rest her head on his shoulder.  Then, wiping away tears and replaced strands of stray hair, a small, almost embarrassed smile broke across her face.  “Hi.  My name’s Kate,” she sniffed.  “Sorry, sorry for the scene, it’s just…”

“It’s all right,” Cliffson said. “You’re safe now.”

Kate looked up at Dustin.  “I can’t believe you came back.”  She buried her head in his chest again and he squeezed her just a little with the arm he held around her waist.  “I’d lost hope of anyone coming to help me.”  The tears came again.

“But I didn’t really do anything,” Dustin said.  “I followed you here but they caught me.  I was tied up and gagged out there in the other room and didn’t get free until that monster took me outside.  Dad and Monk did everything.”

“Are you hurt anywhere, did they….” She interrupted Cliffson, “No they never touched me.  The little guy wanted to, but the big man wouldn’t let him, saying something about getting more money for clean merchandise.  They were headed for California and I think they intended to sell me to someone in the sex trade industry.”  She broke into tears again and turned to the shelter of Dustin’s arms.

“Well, who’s ready to get out of this place?”  Everyone turned to look at Monk and then broke out in laughter.  Monk was standing in the doorway, still holding the iron skillet.

“Gonna make us some breakfast, Gunnhildr?” Cliffson asked, and that brought even greater peals of laughter, allowing the tension of the moment to melt away.

Dustin looked at Kate. “Are you ready to go?”

“I’ve been ready from the moment you walked in here,” she said.  The only person in the room to miss the twinkle in her eye was Dustin.

Monk led the way out but abruptly stopped at the front door.  The big man was gone.

“He can’t have gone far,”  Cliffson said.

Monk immediately took to the trail. “Let’s go.”

They moved as quickly as they dared, but like a wounded bear, feared the big man could be lying in wait.  After gaining the rim at the edge of the valley Monk’s flashlight began picking up signs the big man had used the trail.  He was dragging his wounded leg and digging a noticeable ditch in the dirt with his boot.  Occasionally they found spots of blood.

Holding up his hand, Monk stopped.  “Hear that?” Everyone listened.

“I thought I heard a car door slam.”

Well, we know it ain’t Dustin’s.  Cliffson’s thought.

Sounds of the Volkswagen coming to life resonated in the dark and the group gave chase.  By the time they got to the road the van was gone, though the echo of its retreating engine came back from the forest.

Still, Dustin and Kate were safe and for the moment that was all that mattered.  Monk led the way to his pickup and the rest of the group followed.

Dustin got in back of the king cab and slid to the side giving Kate plenty of room, but she slid close and put her head on his shoulder.

Cliffson climbed into the passenger seat and looked up at Monk just in time to see him wink that crazy one eyed wink.

“So Monk, why didn’t you take the guy out?”  Cliffson asked after they were underway.

“There was no back door and I could only see part of him through the window.  I had to stand on a rickety old chair to take my shot through the window.”  Monk reached for a thermos of bad coffee in preparation for the drive home.

“Old buddy, you amaze me sometimes.”  Cliffson smiled.

“Wasn’t that hard a shot.”

Cliffson chuckled.  “That wasn’t what I was thinking.  Picturing an old boy like you climbing through that window brings quite a sight to mind.”

“You best be glad I could old man,”  Monk quipped.

The sun was burning the wrapper off a new day when they approached the Columbia River.  Looking in his rear view mirror Monk saw Kate and Dustin snuggled together, both fast asleep.  Crossing over the bridge Monk woke them up. “Anyone back there hungry?”

Kate mumbled something about coffee and burrowed a little deeper into Dustin’s chest, but Dustin was hungry. “Biscuits and gravy, right old man?”

Cliffson turned to have a look at him.  “And maybe a rib eye steak for that eye of yours.  Didn’t anyone teach you to duck?”

“No,” Dustin responded. “I was only taught to hit the guy in the nose.”

Cliffson chuckled. “But that wasn’t his nose you hit, was it?”

Monk pulled into the parking lot of an empty truck stop hoping the diner would be open.  Everyone climbed out and made their way to the front door which Dustin found unlocked.

It was dark inside and Cliffson rang the silver bell on the counter while the others took seats at a table in the corner where they could monitor the parking lot and front door at the same time.

A short little man with black hair in a greasy crew cut appeared from the back room.  “Can I help you folks?”

“You sure can.  Menu’s and lots of coffee for starters, oh, and some ice in a plastic bag if you have it please,”  Cliffson replied.

“Be right with you.  My waitress hasn’t shown up just yet so please be patient.”

“No problem,”  Cliffson said.

The café lights came on and Cliffson asked how the man had power.

“The Chinese and some of their truckers come through here real regular.  They promise to supply me with fuel for my generators as long as I remain open.”

Cliffson thought that sounded kind of strange, but did anything make sense these days?  He walked back along a blue counter lined with stools covered in red vinyl to join the others.  After rejoining the group Monk asked, “What’s up with your leg mate?  When you were standing at the counter I could see a stain on the back of your thigh, you all right?”

“Um hm.  I think I caught a pellet or two when those shotgun blasts came through the wall, but I’m all right.”

“Danged if you ain’t the most buggered up sumbitch I ever did know.” Monk kidded.

Cliffson smiled.  “I’ll be fine, I got my son back and that’s all that matters.”

The biscuits and gravy were good enough, and once the waitress showed up, the coffee flowed freely.  Kate had a waffle and shared some bacon with Dustin while he filled them in about escaping from Seattle.  Kate explained how the two men had grabbed her at a gas station in Seattle when the entire city was in a crazy rush to leave.

Then it dawned on Cliffson he hadn’t called Jean so he asked Dustin to call and surprise her.

Kate mentioned she’d also like to call her parents in Los Angeles.

Dustin punched up the number in his cell phone, but there was no connection.  He tried again and got the same result.  Worried glances were exchanged around the table and they quickly paid their bill and got a new bag of ice for Dustin’s black eye.  Upon leaving the diner, two truck drivers walked in the door talking about how they were glad they had CB’s because the entire cell system was down.

A sour feeling filled Cliffson’s gut and it wasn’t the biscuits and gravy talking.  It was the same feeling of dread he’d gotten when Dustin called to ask for help.

They quickly loaded up and headed toward home.  Dustin sat behind Cliffson and Kate snuggled against him, applying ice to his swollen eye.  Monk happened to notice that in addition to the ice, a few gentle kisses were also being applied to Dustin’s eye and forehead for the benefit of their great healing value.  Dustin didn’t seem to mind.

Monk brought the truck up to speed.  Knowing Cliffson was worried about his family, Monk pushed their speed up to a steady 80 miles per hour.  Then he poured some more coffee and settled in for the ride home.

The trip home was uneventful, until the group arrived in Redmond.  Monk reached over to wake Cliffson who rubbed his eyes, unsure of what he was seeing.  No words were spoken as the horrific scene played out before them.

The streets were empty and the hushed air of a morgue lay heavy on the town.  Ragged bodies hung from street lights at nearly every intersection.  Strips of tattered clothing twisting in a light breeze, suggested a fight.  Everywhere the glassy, bulging eyes of the dead watched their passage—some with two eyes and some with one, the missing one having been carved away by the gathering ravens.   There were also bodies dangling from each side of the bridge over the dry canyon and blue lipped heads, spiked atop of each lamp post, maintaining a constant watch with dead flat eyes.

Tension poured from Cliffson’s grip on the door handle and flooded the cab of the truck.

Monk was speeding towards Cliffson’s house when Kate awoke and shrieked at the sight of what had just come into view.  More bodies, this time hanging limply from the fence in front of the Lang’s property.

Cliffson sprang from the truck and ran to the house.  The door was unlocked and he charged inside, but no one was home.  After searching the house Monk approached him and held out a note.  It was from Jean.  “I am at the West’s.  Please hurry.”

Monk drove them north, through the neighborhood, before taking a dirt road short cut to the West’s.  Along the way they passed two other fences with bodies tied to them.  Kate hid her face in Dustin’s chest.

“The bastards” Monk whispered.

“Monk?” Cliffson asked.  The question hung in the air like bad gas while Monk struggled with his answer.

“During World War II, the Japanese captured a number of Australian soldiers on one of the Pacific islands.   The prisoners were taken out to the beach, tied to palm trees and used for live bayonet practice.”

Cliffson groaned.

Monk flew up the West’s long gravel driveway so fast even “Rocky” the black bull looked startled.  Cliffson jumped from the truck before it could roll to a stop and raced for the front door, arriving just as it opened.

Gary greeted him with a forlorn look just before Jean rushed into his arms.   She was trying to be strong but the tears poured from her eyes and he barely understood her when she mumbled, “They’ve taken Zach.”

It was an unexpected sucker punch and Cliffson reached for the nearest chair.   Jean rushed to hug Dustin.  Then the entire group settled in the living room to bring one another up to speed.  Gary further darkened the somber mood when he revealed they had not heard from either of their own kids.  It was beginning to look as if they hadn’t made it across the mountains.

“Shortly after the mountain passes were closed, the Chinese swept through town rounding up all the young men.  It had to have happened right after Cliffson and Monk left town,”  Gary explained.  Those who resisted were either shot or hung.”

“You can control far more people with fear than you can with any army,”  Monk added.  “But why were some bayoneted?”

“No one knows for sure, but a lot of it happened near places where people resisted and Chinese soldiers were killed.   People were rounded up to be used as examples I guess,”   Gary replied.  “It’s why you see women, children and old men out there.  No one is to feel safe.”

Cliffson looked to Jean and shuddered at the thought of the bodies hanging on his fence at home.  “How did you escape?”

“It all happened so fast.  They grabbed Zach the moment he opened the door.  I tried to fight them but the men threw me down and held me at gun point.”  Jean couldn’t hold back the tears and had to stop. The rest of the group waited patiently until she could continue.

“There was a lot of shooting somewhere to the north and the soldiers rushed out to join the fight.  When they left, I ran out the back door and released Welfare from his cable.  He ran to the truck where they were loading Zach.  I heard him yelp before one of the men came after me.  I ran for the field, but they must have called him back because he turned around and left to join the fight to the north.  At first I hid in the barn, but that seemed too obvious, so I moved to a more concealed place behind one of the rock walls.”

Cliffson looked up.  “But the bodies?  When did that happen?”

Jean continued,  “After the fighting was over I saw small groups of soldiers going house to house taking people away at gun point.    I don’t know if they had orders to collect a certain number of people or not, but it seemed that way.  The prisoners were marched to the fence and tied up.  Cliffson, one of the people they killed was the widow Rose.

“When they left, I snuck back to the house and wrote the note you found.  I didn’t feel safe staying there, so I went back to the pasture and did my best to stay out of sight until I got to the Wests.  It was dark and I don’t think anyone saw me.”

“Smart girl,” Cliffson said.  “You never saw Welfare again?”

“I looked for him in the driveway after the truck left but he wasn’t there.  I think they took him with them.”

Gary mentioned he’d heard they were looking for Monk.  “The Chinese only went to houses in town and haven’t come out here yet.  Since you weren’t supposed to leave the county you can tell them you were staying with us.”

“I appreciate that.”

Barb fixed a light meal and the group considered what to do next.  Monk finally spoke up.

“Look folks, we’ve been through hell the last couple days.  This can wait until tomorrow.  Let’s get some rest and meet at the Lang’s tomorrow afternoon.  Right now I just want to get some sleep.”

Everyone agreed and soon Monk was driving them home.   The bodies hanging from the fence renewed everyone’s nightmare.  When they got out of the truck, Cliffson shook Monk’s hand and thanked him for going to rescue Dustin.  Both agreed to meet early in the morning and deal with the bodies.

The government is still closed down today.  Yes, I am smiling, as I remember what Thomas Jefferson said – the real one, not the one in the story.

“The government that governs best, governs least,” said Thomas Jefferson. He
was right. The less “governing” you do, the less you are lying,
cheating, stealing and murdering people. The less you are using force to get
what you want.

CHAPTER  FIFTEEN

 “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety”.

 Ben Franklin

“In recent years, spurious substitutes have been palmed off on the American people for these basic virtues of free men: government aid for self-reliance; collectivism for individual initiative; a partly socialized economy for personal responsibility; soothing propaganda for vigilance; public subsidies for thrift; subservience for pride in citizenship; paternalism for courage; materialism for religious faith.”

 H.W. Prentis, Jr. 1948

 “Drive safe,” Chris said.

“I will.  It can’t be any worse than yesterday and thanks again for the gas.”

Chris’s mom hugged her son.  “Least we could do for you Dustin.  We’re just thankful to have Chris home safe with us.”

The sight of the family standing together in the driveway waving good-bye fueled Dustin’s desire to get home.

The cool night air had not yet left the valley floor and the warm air from the car’s heater felt good on his feet.  Still haunted by yesterday’s events, Dustin thought the morning sun looked as magnificent as he had ever seen it.  Its joyful light helped to ease his mind and lift his spirits.  It was also good to be back on the road and headed home.

The freeway at Ellensburg was nearly empty—then Dustin remembered the passes were closed and he wasn’t likely to see much traffic.  Anxious to get home and with no one around, he stepped on the gas and left yesterday far behind.

After turning south on Highway 82 the freeway remained uninhabited and he pulled out his phone to check in with his folks.  Jean and Cliffson were glad to know he was on his way but warned him to be on the lookout for trouble.

Speaking with his parents relaxed him and after digging through his music collection, Dustin found a Ben Harper CD, cranked it up, and let the road unwind behind him.  The open hills rolled by, silver guard rails flashed and he found his mind in places it had never been.  Places that hadn’t even existed until yesterday.  The highway wasn’t a highway at all, but a steel blue ribbon cutting through a pastel sky, taking him through time, to a place unknown; a place with no cities, no electricity and lime green vans.

The CD advanced to the next track and Ben Harper began singing “Fight For Your Mind.”  Dustin thumbed the player back a few tracts to “Burn One Down” and cruised on.

Near Toppenish, Dustin turned off the freeway and continued south on Highway 97.  The road climbed through national forest to Satus Pass where low hanging clouds dripped with moisture.  On the other side, his descent took him through a thinning forest, mixed with rangeland where the highway exited the mountains and entered a narrow and twisting canyon.  Dustin slowed for the corners, crossed a low slung bridge over Cozy Creek and put the canyon behind him.  Now the road straightened and he was just beginning to make out the shape of a car in the distance.

It was stopped on the right hand shoulder of the road and tilted at an awkward angle where the ditch dropped steeply into the creek.  Then an unseen hand reached for Dustin’s neck from the back seat and the jolt of alarm froze him in place.  It was the lime green van.  He told himself it couldn’t be, but the bumper sticker said otherwise, and he recognized the girl standing beside it waving her arms.

His brain had already sent an electrical impulse to floor the gas pedal, but his heart cut it off half way and Dustin pulled over to the side of the road.   The girl swaggered over and suggestively leaned through passenger side window.

“Hey, I’ve had a breakdown and…and…it’s you, from the diner.”  Then she whispered, “Get out of here, it’s a trap.  Go now.”

Dustin hesitated only a moment before hitting the gas, spinning his tires and tossing gravel at the two men climbed up from the ditch.  He was racing away to safety when the image of the girls pleading eyes began to stare back at him through the glass of the windshield.

Dustin smashed his fist against the dashboard.  She saved me.  I can’t just run away to the safety of my own family knowing this girl’s in trouble.  I have to do something.

The road continued for another half a mile before bending around a hill and out of site of the van.  At mile post 27 Dustin parked his car in a gravel pit on the left side of the road, grabbed his jacket and cell phone and jogged across the highway to the creek.

Three well spaced boulders allowed him to jump the creek and enter the dense willow and elderberry foliage on the other side.  There he found a game trail and followed the creek back to the edge of an opening forty yards from the van.  What am I going to do now?  The two men were hiding near the creek waiting to spring their trap.

It may have only been ten minutes, or maybe it was an hour, but he’d been squatting in the brush long enough for his legs to begin to cramp.  Dustin was about to move up the hill and deeper into the timber to get away from the creek when he heard the sound of squealing brakes from an approaching car.

The girl played her part just as she’d done before and the man inside the car leaned over to engage her in conversation.  Immediately the two men charged the car.  The little man pulled the girl aside and the other man shoved his shotgun through the window.

The girl’s screams and report of the gunshot filled Dustin with rage.  He was tired of feeling scared and helpless.

The big man rifled through the car, removed the dead man’s wallet and a laptop computer before pushing the car off the road and into the creek.  Then he joined the others in the van and drove off in the direction of the gravel pit.

Dustin knelt in the brush unwilling to move.  He already knew what he’d find in the car and refused to look.  Unsure of what to do next he sat at the edge of the stream, numbly staring at a limb bobbing in its current.  When the water took on a red tint he burst from his hiding place and ran back towards his car.

After crossing the creek and climbing the bank to the road, Dustin stomped his feet on the pavement in frustration and to remove the mud from his shoes.  I should have done something to help her before they got away.

Then the sound of a car door slamming in the gravel pit seized his attention and Dustin froze.  In the middle of the road he was exposed with nowhere to hide.  The approaching sound of boots crunching on gravel chased him back across the creek to hide in the brush on the other side.

Peering through a clump of willows Dustin watched as the big man appeared at the top of the bank, where he stood stock still, listening carefully.  Upstream a covey of quail burst from the creek and flew into the forest.  The man raised his shotgun and fired into the area until his gun was empty.  Again he waited and listened, then turned to walk back across the road.  Dustin shuddered.  He’ll kill me first chance he gets.

When things grew quiet Dustin crept back across the creek and climbed the bank.  Daring to peek above the crest in the road, Dustin raised his head enough to look towards his car.  He couldn’t see it, but the sounds of men swearing and rummaging through the vehicle were clear.

The damp creek side and cool evening air were bringing on a chill, but he didn’t dare move any closer.  Unexpectedly, a loud whoosh filled the air and black smoke began rising from the gravel pit.  Then the thud of heavy boots returning to the road forced him to rush back across the creek and hide again.  The boots continued their march across the pavement and soon the big man was standing at the top of the bank again.

“We have you now college boy.  That’s your car going up in smoke over there.  You’re stuck here in the wilderness and we’ll find you soon enough.   Sweet dreams college boy.”

The man’s laugh rolled down the drainage and rumbled through Dustin’s ears to reverberate in the forest behind him.  Dustin was sure the man had looked right at him, but he walked away instead and Dustin took stock of his situation.

He had no car, the sun was setting and he was not looking forward to a night alone in the forest.  His options were limited at best, but given a second chance, he was not going to abandon the girl this time.  He waited by the creek until the cool evening breeze forced him to move.  At least he’d taken his jacket with him.

Remaining on the side of the creek away from the highway, Dustin climbed the bank and moved uphill into the forest.  Now he could see across the road and began to look for a vantage point from which to watch the group.  The flames were still leaping from his car when he reached a high point and sat down behind an enormous ponderosa pine.  It was beginning to get dark, but the orange light from his burning car allowed him to see the lime green van and the silhouettes of three people there.

Dustin breathed deep and tried to calm the tremors jolting throughout his frame.   He still had no idea what he was going to do, when he saw the three people leave the van and disappeared over a low hill in the back of the gravel pit.

Unarmed, his options were limited, but he had to do something.  His mind wrestled with itself.  This is stupid Dustin.  You could get yourself killed.  No harm in following to see what opportunity might present itself.  Yeah, right.  Unarmed you’re gonna whip that gorilla and save the girl.  In your dreams, Dustin, in your dreams.  But I‘ve got to do something, even if I don’t know what that something is right now.

Finally deciding he could use the growing cover of darkness to conceal himself, he set off to follow them.  After crossing the creek, he skirted the gravel pit to the left, to remain on higher ground.  The forest thinned on this side of the road and he began moving through a mixture of rangeland grasses, sagebrush and a few scattered pines.

From atop a low rise, Dustin looked across a stretch of rangeland and tried to decide which direction he should take.  It was nearly dark now and the moon was of little help.  Then a flickering beam from the group’s flashlight caught Dustin’s attention and exposed their location.  He slithered across the open rangeland and stopped behind a dead pine tree with a broken top.  Now he could clearly see the bobbing yellow light that was leading the threesome back into the hills.

Following at a safe distance, Dustin soon found himself watching the group disappear into a shallow valley.  He moved away from the trail the group was following and crept to the edge of the canyon rim to peer below.  From his vantage point he watched the flashlight stop momentarily at the front of a building before disappearing inside.  Soon lanterns were lit and egg yolk colored light spilled from two small windows and a crack under the door.

Now what?  I’ve found their hideout—he laughed to himself at the thought of calling it a hideout—but what can I do?   Moving back from the edge of the rim he sat down next to a round boulder and pulled out his cell phone.   Knowing the local authorities had been required to assist in closing the mountain passes, he knew calling 911 would be of no help and decided to call home.  His parents would be worried anyway because he should have been there by now.

“Dad.”

“Dustin where are you?” His father’s anxious voice didn’t do much to calm his tingling nerves.

“I’m ok, but I need your help.  My car’s been torched and I’m stranded.”

“What?  What happened?” Cliffson replied.

“I don’t have time to explain.  I’m north of Goldendale.”  Then he paused, remembering the mile marker he’d seen—“At mile post 27 is a gravel pit.  You’ll see my burned out car there.  Go to the back of the pit and follow a trail for half a mile or so and you’ll find an old cabin.”

“A cabin?  Dustin what are…”

“Dad listen, two men have kidnapped a girl and are keeping her there.  I not only need a ride, but I need some help,”  Dustin pleaded.

“All right, all right.  Lay low until we get there.  I’ll grab Monk and we’ll be there as soon as we can.  I love you Dust, please be careful and don’t do anything I wouldn’t do,”  Cliffson told him.

Dustin knew it was meant to reassure him because it was kind of an inside joke they shared.

“Ok dad, I’ll be right here.  And dad, they have a shotgun and a pistol with them.  Please hurry.”

After hanging up, Dustin leaned back against the boulder and looked into the sky.  The stars blinked back from a black emptiness that gazed into eternity and he suddenly felt very alone.