Posts Tagged ‘winter reading’

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

CHAPTER   TWENTY-SIX

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

 Ann Rand

 

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

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

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

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

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

 Cliffson dropped the hammer on his gun.

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

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

 “Deal,”  Hank muttered.

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

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

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

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

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

 Hank swore under his breath.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  


 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 “How you know this?”

 “I overheard a conversation.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 “How’d it go?”  Cliffson asked.

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

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

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

 “Hook line and sinker.”  Cliffson grinned.

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

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

 It was then Cliffson realized just how nervous Monk was.

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

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

  


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

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

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

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

 “Yes, yes, so you’ve said.”

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

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

 “What’s Monk doin’, Dust?”

“He’s gonna lock up.”

“What?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 “Aye,” Monk grunted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  


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

 “Monk, is everything all right, allright?”

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

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

 “You rook for trouble, Mr. Chin?”

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

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

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

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

 Monk quickly declined the offer as politely as he could.

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

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

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

 Monk and Cliffson shook their heads.

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

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

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

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

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

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