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[Story] In the Blink of an Eye
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  1. #1

    [Story] In the Blink of an Eye

    <b>October 21, 2003
    Into the Arms of Morpheus</b>

    The boy put down the phone then turned to the man sitting in the reclining chair watching television to say “Dad, Pete and I want to go to the mall. Can I go?”

    Larry Nichols looked away from the glowing screen to contemplate his son, considering whether he should grant the requested boon. “You finish your homework Eddy?”

    “Yes sir. Both my algebra and grammar homework are done.”

    His father nodded his head slightly. “I suppose you can then, but I’m going to want to see it when you get back. Did you fix your bike headlight? I’m not paying for any more tickets…”

    “It just needed new batteries is all, dad. I replaced them as soon as I got home that last time. I’ll make sure the head and tail lights work before I leave. Can I go now?”

    Glancing at the clock the older man nodded again then said, “Yeah, go if you want to, but be back BY nine o’clock. No excuses.”

    The boy smiled his thanks and said, “Yes sir. I’ll be back by nine. Thanks dad.” He went into his bed room to put on his shoes then reappeared with a flannel shirt over his t-shirt serving as a light jacket. Larry heard the kitchen door close and the distant sound of the back yard gate opening and closing. Speaking aloud to no one he said, “Got to find something meaningful for that boy to spend his time on. Damn sure nothing worth doing at that mall.” He glanced at the clock again and settled back into his chair to get back into the flow of the movie he was watching on HBO, Schwarzenegger was picking up a mini-gun…

    It was nearing nine o’clock and the credits were scrolling when Barbara Nichols came through the front door. “Hi hon!” she said to her husband, concealing her annoyance at finding him in front of the TV again, three empty bottles of Bud Light on the end table next to his chair.

    “Hi baby,” her mate replied, “How was the meeting?” Picking up the remote he turned down the television volume.

    “Like the others, mostly useless.” She sighed, “It’s the same old, same old about ‘if only…’ and ‘why can’t…’ and never anyone new to stand up and say ‘I will…’” She slid her jacket off and tossed it on the stuffed chair in the corner of the living room that served to collect coats and other artifacts. “There are times I’d just like to say ‘stuff it!’ and quit but it’s the only organization that really has any standing with the schools at all so it’s work through them or not at all.” She allowed her pent up frustrations over the local parent-teachers organization to flow out in an exasperated sigh.

    “Well, why not quit going then?” Larry asked, reaching for the TV Guide on the end table. “You’re always frustrated when you get home.” He started thumbing through the pages looking for the Tuesday listings. “I don’t see why you keep torturing yourself like this.”

    She sat down in the chair next to his, reached over for his beer and took a swallow. “It’s the only way we’ve got of participating in Eddy’s and Cindy’s education dear heart.” She kicked off one shoe, the other and took another sip of the beer. “If we stop acting interested what’s going to happen to their interest in school? We’re NOT going through another year like last year with struggling to keep Eddy passing! He’s really had a major turn around since I… we started meeting with his teachers regularly and participating in the school. It’s just that there is so much… more… that could be done if we could only get more parents actively involved.”

    He punched a button and the TV changed to another movie channel as the opening credits of “Hang ‘em High” scrolled. Larry looked at his wife to say, “You had quite a lot of parents involved last Fall, can’t you get them going this year?”

    Tilting her head back she drained the bottle to the dregs before replying. “Yeah, but last year Dan Phillips was still here and Steve Andrews. Now they’re both off in the Middle East somewhere with their units and God only knows when we’ll see them back again – if we ever do. I don’t think any of us really appreciated what they did for the school PTA until after they were gone. There just doesn’t seem to be anyone left here who can really motivate the other parents and make them want to participate the way they did.” She studied the label on the bottle for a moment, idly thinking about calories and hating her concern. “I’m hungry. That SlimFast bar I ate before the meeting gave up the ghost hours ago. Have you and the kids eaten already? I’m going to make myself a sandwich.”

    “Yeah, we had that lasagna you froze last week. Cindy made us all salads to go with it. She’s in her room Net surfing. Eddy went to the mall with Pete.” He picked up his bottle and shook it, “How about bring me a beer when you come back?”

    Barbara looked at the clock then at her husband again. “What time did you tell him to be home? It’s 9:00 o’clock now. I wish he wouldn’t hang out there so much.”

    Larry sighed, “I told him to be home by nine. He’ll be here in a minute. It’s OK baby, he’s not off getting into trouble.” Turning back to the set he drifted off into the movie.

    “I wish I felt as sure of that as you do.” She said softly as she went to the kitchen and met her son coming in the outside door. “Hi mom!” he said cheerfully, “Nine o’clock just like dad said.”

    She smiled at him and gave him a motherly kiss. “Just like he said” she agreed. “Now go get washed. I want to see your homework before you go to bed.”

    “Yes ma’am. It’s all finished. Dad wouldn’t let me go before I got it done.” He said over his shoulder as he went through the door.

    She stared at the empty doorway for a moment then turned to the refrigerator for the sandwich makings. When her hasty repast was assembled she joined her husband in front of the TV. Cindy came out of her room on the way to the kitchen , saw her mother and came over for a hug. A gun fight was playing itself out on the screen which caused her to wrinkle her nose and say, “Daddy, why do you watch this stuff? It’s gross.”

    Her father grinned at her and replied, “It’s just virtual reality punkin. Like you’re always telling us, it’s just virtual reality.” The girl shook her head and went into the kitchen for her drink then went back to her room.

    “You know, we could watch something the whole family likes.” Barb said.

    “Yeah?” her husband replied, “And what particular title would that be? Cindy won’t watch anything she thinks is too violent, Eddy won’t watch anything that isn’t. You want meaningful films, especially if they’re foreign meaningful films with subtitles, and I just want entertainment. We can’t watch comedies all the time.”

    She sighed but did not respond. Too tired this night to play her role in the perennial discussion over family entertainment. The film played on and presently Eddy came out, hair damp, dressed in sweat pants and a t-shirt. “Here’s my homework, it’s all done and I checked my answers. What are you guys watching?”

    Taking the papers his dad said “Hang ‘Em High with Eastwood” and began to glance over the math papers, handing the grammar papers to Barbara.

    “Cool!” said the boy and sat down next to his mom. She picked up a pen from the end table and began to circle his errors. Larry divided his attention between the TV and the algebra, didn’t find any mistakes and gave them back to his son.

    When she finished with her paper she handed it back to her son and said, “You can finish the movie, but I want you to correct this work before you leave for school in the morning. You’re getting better, I only found three mistakes!” She reached over and tousled the boy’s hair.

    “I don’t know why I have to spend so much time on grammar. No one talks like that anyways.” He said in reply, with a faint smile.

    “You’ll talk like that young man!” She said emphatically, “At least you will if you want to ever amount to anything. While you’re still in school you can convincingly fake it if nothing else. Now don’t make me regret letting you stay up to see another mindless shoot-em-up movie.”

    The boy said nothing and the family lost themselves in the western. Presently it came to a close and she kissed her son good night then sent him off to bed. The girl had given them her goodnight kisses sometime earlier. Local news came on, the next day was forecast to be warmer but another cool front was dogging its heels as the year progressed further into Fall.

    With the end of the local news came national and international news. The U.S. remained deeply involved in Iraq with no clear idea of when it would be able to bring the bulk of its armed forces home again. The Royal House of Saud, rulers of Saudi Arabia, appeared to be teetering on the brink of collapsing as senior members fought amongst themselves for control following the death of the old king. The struggle was presently confined to rhetorical battles but threatening to break out into the real thing any day now.

    Larry drained his sixth and last beer for the night and set the bottle down. Barbara looked up from filing her nails and asked, “Have you heard from Nick lately? Does he have any idea when he’ll be sent home?”

    Her husband’s face clouded somewhat at the mention of his brother’s name. He said nothing for a moment then replied, “No, not since the letter I told you about last month. You know the Army censors his mail. I get the impression though that the Army doesn’t have matters as well in hand as the media would have us believe. Of course, he’s only an officer in the Medical Corp, who knows what Army Intelligence really thinks – or what the political leadership understands.” Outside of his wife and children his brother was his last living relative and he’d grown to dislike talking about him, mainly because he brooded about it when he did. Looking for distraction he turned back to the television.

    After the Middle Eastern news which had become such a constant over the last year that it felt like a permanent part of the news world the next item was the continuing diplomatic struggle over North Korea. A joint South Korean/Japanese negotiation team returned empty handed and Pyongyang was once again threatening to repudiate the 1950’s era armistice that had ended the Korean War, but not before it took from Nick and Larry a grandfather they had never known. That too threatened to lead him into another reason to brood so with a grunt he jabbed the ‘off’ button of the remote control and went to bed.

  2. #2
    <b>October 23, 2003 Processes and Procedures</b>

    “Cindy, hurry up! We’re going to be late if we don’t get out the door right now!” Larry said loudly down the hallway in the direction of his children’s rooms. “Eddy, make sure the kitchen door is locked and the toaster oven is off.”

    A muffled “yes sir” drifted back from the kitchen as Cindy came out of her room shrugging herself into a coat with her book bag in one hand. Eddy came out of the kitchen and headed towards the front door shrugging into his denim jacket, his own book bag in hand. “I’m sure glad you’re giving us a lift to school today dad! Man, look at that rain come down.”

    Larry gave him a sour smile. “Yeah, well, couldn’t exactly go and leave my children to walk to school in a rainstorm at fifty degrees now could I? DCF would cart you two off for sure and your mother would have to focus all her energies on me! Come on, let’s go.”

    The three of them trotted down the walkway to the drive where Larry’s truck was parked. It was a beautifully restored 1962 Ford pickup in aqua and white with a diamond plate tool box in the back. He’d bought the truck five years ago and spent two years on its restoration until it looked just like the truck in the photo in the frame on his dresser. The picture was of his mother and father just before he was sent to Vietnam in 1969 never to return. The tool box was his own addition, a nod to practical necessity. The kids found it to be hot and noisy in the summer given its age and lack of air conditioning but its heater worked well and today they used it. It started on the first try and they were on their way.

    It was usually Barbara who would give the kids a ride to their schools when the weather was bad but this day she’d caught a ride to work herself with a friend because her Pontiac was in the shop – again – with ignition problems. In fact, automotive electronics had become one of Larry’s pet peeves ever since they’d bought the vehicle used the year before. For only being three years old and given its physical condition he thought they’d made a good buy but “I guess we know why the original owner sold it now. Damned black boxes. Gotta be a rocket scientist and have a NASA workshop to fix the damned things. At least with the truck I can understand what does what and have some hope of fixing it without having to call for a witch doctor.”

    The truck backed out of the driveway and went on down the street, windshield wipers slapping to and fro in the cold October rain. “Dad, you ever gonna put a radio or a tape player or a CD box in this thing?” Eddy asked. “Gets kinda boring in here don’t it?”

    His father looked at him for a second before turning his eyes back to the road, grinned and shook his head. “Son, you’re not even going a full mile down the road to your school. How can you get bored in such a short time as that? Besides, the truck has a radio as you can plainly see.”

    His son grinned back at him, “I don’t mean that old thing, I mean a real radio. That thing doesn’t even have FM!” His son punched one of the buttons on the front of the unit set between the two dials. The old AM radio was original to the truck and even had the two little triangles marking off the 640khz and 1240khz channels of the old CONELRAD system of the Cold War. Larry didn’t recall the radio in his dad’s truck having the little triangles actually, but then he hadn’t seen it in thirty years and probably hadn’t paid attention to them when he did. He had missed the school Duck & Cover drills and CONELRAD was ancient history now, but the radio still worked.

    “Your mom’s car has a nice stereo,” the elder Nichols replied, “and we’ve got no less than three at the house. I think for a mile you can put up with AM, not that you’ll be in here long enough to listen to even a short song before we get to your school. I like that old radio. It reminds me of when I was your age. We didn’t have FM back then, nor stereos for that matter.”

    Eddy laughed and retorted, “Yeah, yeah, and you walked barefoot in the snow, uphill, both ways too. I know dad, I know.”

    Conversation lagged for a time and the truck pulled into Eddy’s school. He jumped out and trotted for the shelter of the walkway overhead waving at the truck as he went. Larry waved back and pulled out again to make the journey to Cindy’s school just a few blocks away. “Well, I kinda like that old radio” the girl said, “it reminds me of those old movies they show sometimes on TV. Kinda staticky but it’s like history or something.”

    Her father nodded his head gently as he turned the corner to agree, “Reckon it is at that darlin’, I reckon it is at that. Kinda funny how your life slowly turns into history on you without realizing it until one day it just hits you.” He snorted and grinned at her. “Not that I expect you to discover this for a long time yet, your life is more future than past just yet.”

    The girl did not reply and they made the rest of the trip in silence, soon pulling into her school. “Better scoot or you’ll miss the last bell” he said to her as she opened the door. She slammed it shut and ran for the building in front of her. He watched her go in, then let out the clutch and pulled out again heading for work. Glancing at his watch he could see that he was going to be late, but there wasn’t much help for it with the weather and all. Max would complain but he’d make it up out of his lunch break, a man shouldn’t be expected to let his kids have to walk to school in the cold rain.

    Once out of the suburbran traffic and onto a main thoroughfare he turned the dial on the old radio and after a few seconds the tubes had heated enough for the sound to become clear. AM radio hadn’t been much to listen to for years, but there were still some decent stations around and the one at 1240 had a good news program for the morning drive time.

    <i>The North American Aerospace Defense Command today confirms yesterday’s initial reports that North Korea has indeed made its first successful launch into orbit of a satellite and now joins the other space faring nations of the world. Reliable sources in the Pentagon indicate they believe the Korean communist government may have used a new variant of its Taep'o-dong ballistic missile to place the satellite in orbit. The purpose of the space craft has not yet been determined. The North Korean government has not made any official announcement concerning the launch nor has the White House commented, but has in the past expressed concerns about proliferation of North Korean missile technology.

    In other news reports of sporadic gunfire from the Saudi Arabian capital city of Riyadh last night have proved to be true. The official Saudi Information Ministry spokesman states the gunfire was as a result of miscommunication between two groups of bodyguards in the Royal compound. No further details have yet reached us.

    Today’s weather is forecast to be continued rainfall slowly diminishing in the late afternoon. Sky’s should remain cloudy until late evening and begin to break up in the early morning hours. Lows tonight are predicted to reach 45 degrees. Tomorrow is predicted to be sunny and breezy with highs reaching 60 degrees.

    This is WGNV 1240 AM. Now this – </i>

    The radio went into a commercial for some men’s formula or another that Larry tuned out as he watched the traffic build and the rain increase. His mind wasn’t really on the news this morning anyways, it just served to fill the silence of the truck cab. He was really thinking more of the tension building between him and Barb. She seemed to want to just jump hip deep into everything and go, go, go. He knew it annoyed her that he preferred to spend his evenings relaxing after work, but he did. He worked hard at the foundry and he enjoyed the work. When he’d started there fifteen years ago after losing his job at the archery plant he thought it would be just a temporary thing to get him by until he could find a better position. The work was dirty, hard, noisy and he enjoyed it. At first it had really taken a lot out of him, but over time he’d toughened up. Once the sheer physicality of the job no longer flattened him he began to gain skill until today he was the highest paid non-management employee in the plant.

    He found a lot meaning in what he did and did not see why he should feel bad about just wanting to spend some time relaxing after a long day at work. It wasn’t like he spent all day in front of a computer like Barb, she needed something to burn energy on. He needed to recharge. He sighed and started looking for ideas of things he could do to make her happy. He felt put upon, but she was his wife and as a husband it was his duty to try to make her happy – if he could. Maybe he and Eddy could find a mutual hobby or something. Plainly the boy needed something better to do with his time than simply hang out with his buddies at the mall.

    For the thousandth time he wished Eddy had taken an interest in Scouting the way he had when he was a boy, but they just never really seemed to spark his interest. He wondered again if he hadn’t made a mistake in not leaning on him more to keep going, but he still remembered the resentment he’d felt at his mother for forcing him to go when he was a boy. He’d hated Scouting for quite a while in the beginning. Yes, eventually he came around and really got into it. Never quite made it to Eagle Scout, but he’d been into it good. Nevertheless, the resentment for forcing him to go stayed with him. He’d resolved when Eddy was born he would not force the boy to participate in any after school activity that he didn’t want to spend time on. Eddy had gone to a few troops meetings then his interest waned. He’d tried 4H too, but they lived a suburban life in town, not a country existence like he’d lived as a boy, more out of economic necessity than by any choice of his mother’s. In town 4H seemed very different to him than the country style he’d grown up with and Eddy drifted away from that too. He’d be off to high school next year and Larry idly thought about trying to interest the boy in joining the schools ROTC program.

    He quickly quashed that thought. Bad enough Nick went in. he wasn’t going to encourage Eddy to give the military a free shot at him too. “We’ve paid our dues, damnit!,” he thought to himself. The commercial break ended then and the news came back on, this time with a story on the current budget difficulties of the Florida counties. This caught Larry’s attention since he knew the plant was vying for a contract with the county for storm drain castings. It could mean a substantial bonus for him if they landed it…

  3. #3
    <b>November 25, 2003 Something Good from the Oven.</b>

    Barbara reached into the drink case at the Jiffy mart and took out a Diet Coke then paused to consider her choice. She was tired, and really wanted the caffeine boost but she knew that she was also feeling high strung tonight and becoming snippish because of it. She sighed and replaced the can back in its rack and took out a caffeine-free Diet Coke instead. She looked over to Cindy holding the inevitable can of Mountain Dew and shook her head. She used to drink the stuff when she was Cindy’s age too, but now as an adult she found the flavor too cloying to swallow. “You ready?” she asked her daughter who nodded her head in reply and they went to the counter in the front of the store to pay for the drinks and the gas she’d pumped before they came inside. They were just going to have enough time to go through a drive-through on the way to Cindy’s Girl Scout troop meeting without being late.

    In the car they opened their sodas then Barb pulled out into traffic, angling across the lanes when she could to make the turn at the intersection so she could hit the McDonald’s driveway. “Filet O’ Fish again, Cin? Or do you want something different this time?” she asked as the car bumped its way into the entrance.

    “Oh, I guess fish is OK…” Cindy replied as she scrutinized the menu board looking for something new but not finding anything “and some fries.” After their orders had been placed they waited in the inevitable line to reach the window. “I saw the turkey in the refrigerator mom. Sure is big. Who’s coming to Thanksgiving this year? Grandpa for sure, but who else?”

    “Hmm, grandpa, aunt Marge is coming down from Atlanta.” Barb tallied the guest list in her mind, “She’s got a conference in Orlando next weekend so she’s coming down early to eat with us. Your cousins Sonny and Samantha are coming with her too but uncle Richard isn’t. She’s bringing an au pair named Nanette so there’ll be nine of us to eat and maybe grandpa’s friend Mr. Jacob, if he’ll come, so we might have ten.”

    “Oh, I hope he comes!” Cindy said excitedly, “I like him. He’s all sort of serious and funny at the same time. Kind of hard to tell sometimes if he’s making fun of me though. What’s an ‘aw pear’ anyway?”

    Barb smiled at the way her daughter repeated the phrase then answered her. “An ‘au pair’ is a person who a family hires to watch the children, like a nanny. It’s a French word. Marge says Nanette is from Brittany in France and is spending a year here in the United States to improve her English.” She giggled then continued, “Though I can just imagine how she’ll sound when she goes back to Europe speaking English with a Southern drawl. I think you’ll like her, she sounds quite interesting.”

    “Cool!” Cindy said as they reached the window and her mother pushed the window button so she could pay for their food. “Maybe she’ll teach me to speak French and I could help her with her English!”

    “Well dearheart, I think it’ll take a bit longer than couple of days to learn to speak another language, but I’m sure you’ll all have a good time anyways. Now be careful with that ketchup.” She pulled out into traffic again and they made their way to the meeting. Barb steeled herself for another attempt by Nancy Singleton to convince her to take over the troop. It was a worthwhile undertaking she had to admit and Nancy had already done more than her share, but she just wasn’t sure if she wanted to take on the additional responsibility of running a Girl Scout troop on top of her volunteer school work. It wasn’t like she was a stay-at-home mom the way Nancy was needing to do things to fill up her days. There were times it felt like she hit the ground running at 6:30 a.m. and didn’t slow down again before 9 p.m. Still…, it would be a way to be sure Cin was getting the most out of the Scouting experience. “Damn it, make up your mind woman! Do it or don’t do it, but stop worrying over it!”

    Of course, it wasn’t Cin who’s days really needed filling. A wrinkle creased her brow as she considered the problems of her son. He was drifting and both she and Larry knew it. They’d had a real heart to heart about it last weekend when the kids were sleeping over at friend’s houses and Larry said he was putting a plan together but wouldn’t say what he had in mind. “I’m still working on the most important part” he’d said “and it hasn’t been settled yet so I’m not saying any more until it has been. Just be a waste of time to discuss it if it doesn’t come off.”

    The car pulled into the wide driveway of the troop leader’s home and she didn’t have any more time to ponder it. Cindy got her latest crafts project out of the trunk and they walked up to the door. Barb stared at the bundle of fabric material her daughter was holding as they waited for someone to let them in. “Why can’t the girls go camping or hiking sometimes?” she wondered to herself, “Seems like all they ever do is inside activities. Of course, it is kind of hard to imagine Nancy Singleton sleeping in a tent, on the ground, where there’s bugs and no climate control.” A sardonic smile crossed her lips, “Too messy. If it were me I’d take the girls camping. It’s been ages since we’ve gone, three or four years I think since Larry took us all up into the Smoky Mountains.”

    The door swung wide and there was Nancy, immaculately dressed as always, and she invited them in. “Hi Cindy!” she said happily, “Have you been working on your jungle parrot? It’s going to be so pretty when you get it done! Hi Barb, come inside, come inside!” The Nichols females dutifully followed her in and she closed the door.

    In the rec room they found the rest of the troop and Mrs. Whittendon, and Misses Schmidt, two neighborhood retired ladies who enjoyed spending volunteer hours helping the girls with their projects. Cindy took her place at one of the card tables that had been set up. Barb turned to Nancy and said, “Can I help you with anything?”

    “Oh yes!” Nancy replied, “I’ve got the snack trays already laid out in the kitchen if you’d like to help me with them.” The two women turned and walked in to the kitchen. It was nearly the size of the Nichol’s living room, but Nancy came from money and her husband was one of the more successful attorney’s in town and their home reflected this. On the kitchen table were four enormous platters of cookies, a different type on each tray. On the counter next to the oven were a half-dozen loaves of seemingly several kinds of bread.

    “What a spread Nancy!” Barb exclaimed, “Did you bake all this yourself? It must have taken you days.”

    “Well, all day today to be sure.” Nancy explained, “Fortunately, the Bosch mixer Frank gave me last Christmas is built for heavy work so it didn’t really take as long to mix everything as you might think. That and I can put four pans of cookies in the convection oven at a time. Now that the weather is starting to cool I’ve had a real yen to do some serious baking so with Frank out of town most of the week I jumped in with both feet. Besides, I’ve got all that non-perishable food my hubby bought last winter when the government was trying to scare everyone to death. It needs using up.”

    “Oh?” Barb asked, “I didn’t realize you and Frank took all that seriously? Frank has always struck me as pretty level headed.”

    “Well,” Nancy slowly replied, “he is, in most matters anyways. He’s as sharp a negotiator as they come but when that duct tape and plastic thing hit the papers last winter he took it seriously. He practically filled my pantry with non-perishable foods, bought water barrels that are wasting space in the garage, candles and all sorts of stuff. Of course, you know who’s got to deal with it week in and week out, move it, sort it, put it away. I’ve been using it all summer but I never feel like serious cooking when the weather is hot. Now that it’s cooling off some I can start really working through that stuff and get it out of my pantry. Frank wouldn’t hear of giving it away, says we have to use it! That’s easy for him to say. I enjoy baking so at least I’ll get some good experience from it. The bread is for some friends and what cookies don’t get eaten tonight I’ll divide up among the girls and send home with them.”

    Reaching up for a stack of plastic cups Barbara observed, “Well, you certainly have been busy. You’ve baked more today in one day than I think I’ve done in the last six months combined. You must show me your system for keeping this stuff organized. Larry and I did put away our own emergency kit last winter, but it’s nothing like what you and Frank did. I’m always forgetting to take out the old supplies and replace them with fresh stuff. Just doesn’t occur to me. You must have quite a system in place.”

    Nancy began putting ice in the cups. “No, no real system. He bought it all at the same time so it’s all the same age. I’ve just been steadily using it up and getting it out of my way. I don’t normally keep pounds and pounds of anything on hand, I like to buy it fresh. That enormous pantry was Frank’s idea when we had the house built. I actually wanted a maid’s room but Frank comes from a working class background and won’t hear of hiring domestic servants. Thinks it’s demeaning. The best I’ve gotten him to agree to is to have a girl come in three times a week.”

    “You mean you’re not replacing the supplies you bought last winter?” Barb asked, “Don’t you think you’ll need them in case of an attack or some sort of emergency?”

    “Well, we do keep a few things on hand. I grew up in Savannah so we keep hurricane supplies and such, but really! Frank bought enough food and such to feed us for six months! I honestly don’t know what he was thinking. I’ve discussed this all with Dr. Clark over at the University, he’s in foreign policy analysis you know, and he thinks there’s absolutely no need to be keeping so many supplies on hand. He says three days to a week is all that anyone needs and anything more is just wasted. So I’ve been just using stuff up and getting space back.”

    Barb hesitated before she said anything. “I suppose you may be right. If he actually bought six months worth of food that is a lot. Larry and I bought enough stuff to last for three or four weeks and it’s hard enough to keep up with that.” She allowed the matter to drop. She did not often interact with Frank Singleton in a social way, the Singleton’s social strata was considerably higher than the Nichols’s but she had worked with him several times through her company and she thought him very astute. Finding out that he had put away six MONTHS worth of food and supplies last winter surprised her. She had felt foolish buying what they had and had to put up with Larry’s gentle mockery as she made him help her compile their lists. Now she felt guilty for not maintaining their own emergency supplies better. “Well,” she admonished herself firmly, “I’ll fix that this coming weekend for sure.”

    The ladies began moving the drinks and cookie platters into the rec room and the girls fell upon them like devouring wolves. While some of the girls ate cookies other worked with the retired ladies on the betterment of their projects while Barb and Nancy kept things organized and clean. Only one other mother was in attendance but this did not surprise anyone. So many parents were non-involved in their children’s lives they’d long since come to think of this as the norm. As they worked they continued their conversation.

    “Nancy, you said Frank was out of town all this week. Is he off at a conference?” Barb asked.

    “Oh no, he’s working.” Nancy replied, “One of the tech companies the University spun off hired him to negotiate with the Federal government over a licensing agreement for something several of the faculty members developed. The Pentagon wants to classify the whole thing so it’s all very hush-hush. Frank won’t tell me a thing about it. He even told me not to discuss it with anyone we didn’t know! Really, like he ever tells me enough of anything that a spy would be interested. It’s all very frustrating actually, to have your husband just go off for days at a time and not have any idea of what he’s doing. For all I know he’s off drinking and whoring. It is Washington D.C. and all.”

    Barbara chuckled at this. “Yes, it is Washington D.C., but Frank strikes me as too intelligent a man to do anything that foolish. Besides, he’s probably locked up in some conference room somewhere in the bottom of that five side labyrinth. The government will bring in the girls and booze and keep it all very hush-hush.”

    Both women laughed and went on with enriching the lives of their Scouts, unrealized emergencies and negotiations forgotten.

  4. #4
    <b>November 27, 2003 Thanksgiving</b>

    The clock radio clicked on in the middle bars of <i>Sympathy for the Devil.</i> Mick Jagger’s screaming croon of <i>“I’ve road a tank, held a general’s rank, while the blitzkrieg raged…”</i> seemed a continuation of the dream that was now evaporating into the aether of Barb’s subconscious mind. She rolled over to stare at the clock – the glowing red coals of its LEDs showed the time as 5:30 a.m. – and she considered whether she really wanted to get up so early on a non-work day, at least a non-paid work day. Larry’s breathing pattern changed and she knew that soon the sound of the music would wake him so she reached over to slap the kill button on the clock and used the momentum of her action to swing herself out of bed. She tugged her t-shirt over her head and as she was slipping off her panties muttered to herself “Family! No one can make you crazier than family on the holidays!” then dutifully trudged off to find the shower.

    Twenty minutes later she was out of the shower feeling considerably more awake [<i>…stolen many a man's…</i>] and somewhat more energetic, dressed in thin cotton khakis, old penny loafers, and one of Larry’s old dress shirts. “My cooking outfit” she thought to herself as she slipped quietly into the kitchen. Larry slumbered on, but she felt no annoyance at this. Christmas was coming and he was working a lot of overtime to pay for it so deserved a good night’s sleep.

    In the kitchen she popped a couple of sweet rolls into the toaster oven to heat through for her breakfast and began to get out the necessary tools of the day. [<i>Anastasia screamed in vain…</i>] Her father would be arriving at just past one after picking up her sister Marge, her kids and the au pair at the airport and she wanted everything finished and just coming out of the oven when they got here. She’d spent several hours the night before doing prep work with the actual cooking mostly to be done today. A glance at the kitchen clock showed the second hand sweeping towards 6:00 a.m. and the morning news so she turned on the little under-the-cabinet TV Larry had given her for her birthday two years before. The aroma drifting from the automatic drip coffee maker announced the brew was done so she poured herself a cup. Barb was not one for extravagance - except for her coffee. She bought whole beans and ground them herself, and sometimes toyed with the idea of roasting her own. She kept her coffee maker scrupulously clean and used only distilled water to brew with. She put in a scant teaspoon of the brown sugar she liked then turned to the toaster oven to slide the pastries onto a paper towel.

    The opening pleasantries of the morning news show were ending as she sat down at the small kitchen table to eat.

    <i>It looks like it’s going to be a beautiful Turkey Day this year here in North Central Florida. Today’s highs are expected to be sixty five with a mild northwesterly breeze, high scattered clouds and little chance of rain. Tonight’s lows are expected to be in the mid-forties. Tomorrow will be warmer with highs expected to reach seventy and increasing cloudiness towards late evening. Saturday is expected to be cloudy, with a good chance of rain. Now maybe Richard can give us some good news to match our good Thanksgiving Day weather.</i>

    [Sound of an off camera chuckle then angle changes to news anchorperson] <i>Well, Scott, let’s see what we have. The Alachua county chamber of commerce reports that retail sales are predicted to at least match last year’s Christmas figures and perhaps even exceed them by five to ten percent. Seasonal hiring in the month of October rose to match these expectations. November’s is expected to do the same.

    Over the vocal protests of several tax watchdog groups the Alachua county commission voted to raise property taxes across the board by three percent. Arthur Waxman, chair of the county commission, pleaded necessity for the increase stating the county was beginning to have trouble selling its bonds to raise the necessary funds for county road improvements. “We have simply begun to outgrow the existing county road infrastructure and if we do not soon begin to increase the rate of improvements and new construction it is only going to get worse. The residents of this county need to decide if they are more willing to pay a SLIGHT increase in their property taxes or suffer with increasingly deteriorating roads. We as a county will not long be able to sustain our rate of economic growth if we cannot provide sufficient transportation infrastructure to maintain it.”</i>

    This really caught Barbara’s attention because an increase in county roadwork would mean an increase in the county’s purchasing of the sort of castings that Larry’s employer made. [<i>…while your kings and queens…</i>] If the foundry could land some of that business there was a good chance that Larry would be able to work more overtime or perhaps receive a larger bonus. With careful management they might be able to pay off a nice chunk of their mortgage with the extra income. Larry had an aversion to personal debt that was almost religious in its fervor and over the last fifteen years of their marriage he had managed to communicate it to Barb. She figured it was probably a result of having grown up the son of a widowed mother who had found it necessary to pinch every penny. [<i>“Who killed the Kennedy's?”</i>] It had made for some tough times early in their marriage but they had managed to get by with no debts owed other than their mortgage. They might not live in the high style of some that she knew but except for that one debt they owned what they owned free and clear and she was proud of it. The thought of driving a stake through the heart of their mortgage led her into one of her favorite day dreams of remodeling their home after the kids had gone off to college, perhaps into something more suitable for entertaining… [<i>I'm a man of wealth and taste</i>]

    She came out of her reverie when she reached the bottom of her cup and got up to refill it. The local news had passed into national/international news.

    <i>…released by the White House today confirms last night’s initial reports that North Korea has made it’s second successful launch of a satellite into Earth orbit in as many months. This makes the third known space launch made by the totalitarian nation. Earlier this month the North Korean space program suffered an apparent set back when it’s second launch attempt exploded spectacularly in mid-flight as was recorded by a DoD spy satellite…</i>

    [<i>I rode a tank…</i>]Barb pointed her sweet roll at the television and said, “They can’t even feed their own people, yet they throw money down a rat hole building their own space program.” [<i>just call me Lucifer…</i>]

    <i>…President Bush has stated that he will send the Secretary of State to make a presentation to the United Nation’s Security Council concerning what he says is ‘a dangerous proliferation of missile technology by a rogue state, especially in light of its pressing ahead with its nuclear weapons development program. It has become known to us that North Korea is being aided and abetted in their technological weapons programs by other nations and we will address that problem shortly.” The President did not elaborate as to which nation or nations he thought was giving aid and assistance to the Korean Communist nation.

    In the Middle East today a skirmish broke out just inside the Northern Iraqi border with Turkey between elements of the Turkish army and a Kurdish separatist group which the Turkish army claims was attempting to infiltrate into Turkey. A spokesman for the Turkish foreign ministry stated “Turkey will not idly stand by as these Kurdish criminal nihilists attempt to forcibly subvert Turkish sovereignty and society. If the American army cannot keep these criminals under control the Turkish military will have little choice but to take matters into our own hands to bring this to a satisfactory resolution. Officials with the U.S. military Central Command have stated they will release a statement concerning the alleged incursion later today.

    In the Saudi Arabian kingdom the U.S. military high command has ordered all U.S. personnel not to leave their bases unless on official business and then only in groups of six or larger as infighting between factions of the Saudi royal family becomes more violent. In the last month four U.S. military personnel have been killed by rioting mobs and fourteen wounded. Central Command officials have stated they are in the process of moving vital command and control and logistical operations out of the stricken kingdom to nearby bases in neighboring nations until such a time as civil order in Saudi Arabia can be restored.

    A spokesperson for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies reported today that food aid shipments are now successfully reaching all areas of Iraq since the U.S. Army began providing transportation security. Losses to bandits and theft have significantly decreased but the spokesperson also reports that unless monetary and food donations from the global donor countries are increased the Iraqi people face the prospect of a winter short of vital supplies of all types.</i>

    The station broke for a string of commercials and Barb realized that her second sweet roll and coffee were gone and with them her excuse for not getting on with the Thanksgiving meal. [<i>Made damn sure that Pilate washed his hands…</i>] She put her cup down next to the sink then switched the set from TV to a local country and western radio station. “Stupid song. What a thing to get stuck in your head on Thanksgiving day morning!” she said irritably to herself. She turned the oven on as she walked past to begin pre-heating. The roasting pan was already on top of the stove and the turkey already prepped in the refrigerator. “Once more into the breach!” She said aloud in a dramatic way, “And craven be she who cries, ‘Nay, I’ve cooked enough!’”

    -- -- -- --

    “Hiya doll” John McLeod said as he hugged his daughter when Barb and Cindy came out to greet them in the drive way. “Larry and Eddy in the house?”

    “No,” his daughter replied, “Larry said that he and Eddy needed to see a man about some business this morning and they’d be back before we sat down to eat. Wouldn’t say what it was about but insisted that Eddy had to go with him so I suspect it’s for Eddy, whatever it is.”

    John nodded his head as the rest of the family climbed down from his van. “Barbara!” her sister Marge exclaimed, “It’s good to see you! The house looks marvelous. I know you’ve repainted the outside, but what is it about the yard that looks so different from last year?”

    Cindy ran over and gave her cousins Sonny and Samantha a hug, they were twins and all three within six months of each other in age. They ran into the house giggling.

    “The yard?” Barb frowned, “Oh! That’s right. You came down just before Larry ripped the entire thing out and sodded it. He used to swear vilely when he’d have to dig up sandspurs and last summer with the drought and all we grew a bumper crop. He walked out one morning barefoot to get the paper and collected about six of them in the bottoms of his feet and lost it. The next weekend he rented equipment and totally scalped the whole yard off then had truckloads of sod brought in. He and Eddy worked like slaves for two weeks laying it all out, but doesn’t it look nice now!”

    “Yes, it does.” Marge agreed, “That must have really taken some effort, but it does look nice.”

    Barb cut her eyes at her dad and went on, “Yeah, Larry was going to put me in a nice garden patch in the back yard while he was doing it, but dad got all upset about it so we just put in some orange trees.”

    Their father chuckled, and interjected, “Now darlin’, you now that isn’t exactly true…”

    Marge laughed, “Oh I bet it is, dad! Who drove all the way to Atlanta with two bushels of produce last year? You’re just afraid your children might grow their own!”

    All three laughed and headed into the house. Marge breathed in dramatically. “I can smell the food all the way out here Barb, you must have been slaving all morning.” She sighed in a way very similar to Barbara, “Between the kids needing to be here, there, and everywhere and Dick traveling all the time it seems like if it doesn’t come frozen I don’t cook it anymore.”

    Barb opened the front door and ushered the other two in. “Oh, I know what you’re talking about there sis, but as they say ‘needs must when the Devil drives’

    -- -- -- --

    With a frown of annoyance Barb looked at the mantle clock in the living room then spoke to the others. “Well! If Larry and Eddy don’t get here in the next five minutes we’ll just sit down without them and they can eat leftovers. I’ve got everything ready to go right now and I’m NOT serving dried out, overcooked food.”

    Marge was just opening her mouth to try to persuade her sister to be patient when the sound of a worn out muffler could be heard in the driveway. Barb stood up and walked to the living room window. “Now who is that in that beat up old truck?” she said with a look of annoyance on her face. “Oh great, it’s parking. It’ll probably drip oil all over our drive before they find out they’ve got the wrong house.”

    Her father stood up and went to look out the window. “Isn’t that Larry getting out of the passenger side?” he asked.

    Barb looked again and said, “It is Larry. And EDDY IS GETTING OUT FROM BEHIND THE WHEEL!” She rushed out the door to confront her husband standing in front of the truck waiting on his son. “Lawrence Edward Nichols! What is our son doing driving this rolling catastrophe of a truck!”.

    Larry stood his ground calmly, apparently oblivious to his wife’s agitated state. “Well, why shouldn’t he drive it?” he asked. “After all, it’s his truck.”

    Barb opened her mouth to continue her tirade when the import of her husband’s words sank in and she stopped, mouth open for a second, then said in a quieter tone. “His truck? What do you mean ‘his truck’? The boy is only fourteen years old! He’s not old enough to even be driving, much less to own a truck that’s older than he is!”

    With a grin Larry said, “Well, in actual fact my name will appear on the title along with his, but it’s his truck right enough. He may be too young to legally drive right now, but given the amount of work it’s going to need restoring it he’ll probably be old enough for his driver’s license by the time we’re finished – especially since Eddy’s going to be doing most of the work. I’m only his advisor.”

    At this point the boy could no longer contain himself, “Yeah mom! Dad and I are going to completely rebuild it then he’s going to let me drive it to school and to work when I get a job! I’ll be able to drive Cindy to school and to her soccer matches and everything! Isn’t it totally cool! It’s going to look awesome when we get it painted!”

    Barb was taken aback, furious with her husband for doing something like this without consulting her first, but afraid to dampen the enthusiasm of their son who was more excited about his gift than anything she’d seen since the first time they’d gone to Disney World. “Oh.” She stared at the truck again like she’d never seen it before. “You and Eddy are going to rebuild it? Well… I suppose it will be a learning experience for him. It would be good for him to learn to work on cars I suppose.”

    Her husband nodded his head, “That’s right, it would. Especially while he’s young and can’t afford to pay mechanic’s fees and all. He’ll have a vehicle of his own that he can work on. More than can be said for modern cars. And being that it’s a pickup truck he won’t be drag racing out on University Blvd either.” He winked at his son and continued, “But by the time we get it completely restored and painted I don’t think he’ll have any trouble cruising for chicks.”

    She was about to retort hotly when her father walked up. “Did I hear you bought this truck for Eddy?” he asked. “That’s really nice, Larry! I bought a truck just like this back in ’65 brand new off the show room floor.” He ran his hands over the hood, “I was single then and had been three years in the service. Paid half down and financed the rest. Red and white it was, met Barb’s mother that same year and married her in ’66. We had Barb the next year.”

    Eddy looked at his grandfather in wonder, “Really grandpa? You had a truck like this? Wow! Dad, can we paint it red and white like grandpa’s was?”

    His father grinned at him, “It’s your truck son, you can paint it any color you like.”

    Barb stared at her son, then at her husband, and finally at her father. She realized she now faced the united front of the family menfolk.

    “Well,” she said with a shrug, “dad, you once told me I should learn to cooperate with the inevitable. Eddy, looks like you’ve got yourself a truck…”

  5. #5
    <b>December 24, 2003 Christmas Eve</b>

    “Merry Christmas, grandpa!” Cindy said brightly as she handed her grandfather the plate of cookies. “I took them out of the oven just before we got in the car to come here. They’re sugar cookies, your favorite!”

    The older man’s face lit with an animated smile as he received the plastic wrapped plate. “Why, so they are!” he said, “Did you make these?”

    The girl put her hands behind her back and rocked back on her heels, “Yes sir, I did. Mom didn’t help me at all this time.” She replied proudly. Her mother behind her nodded her head in agreement.

    “Well, come inside and lets have some!” her grandfather beckoned at the new arrivals, “I’ve got a big kettle of hot mulled cider ready to pour. These will go just fine with it.”

    The Nichols family followed the man inside, arms laden with gaily wrapped packages. It was chilly now that the rain had stopped and they were glad to be going inside.

    In the living room they found Marge, her husband Richard, their two children Sonny and Samantha, Nanette their au pair and an older gentleman, Ben Jacobs, neighbor to John McLeod. A fire was burning pleasantly in the glass fronted wood stove and on top of it steam a lidded pot smelling fragrantly of apples, cinnamon, and cloves. In the corner a potted cedar tree had been decorated appearing to sprout out of a pile of wrapped gifts.

    Greetings were exchanged all around as the new presents were placed under the tree and John began to pour out steaming cider into a waiting tray of cups. Marge was slicing fruitcake and spooning sweetened rum flavored whipped cream onto the slices. Soon everyone had found a place to sit laden with plate and cup.

    “This cold front’s got things feeling almost Christmassy outside” Ben Jacobs said after taking an appreciative sip of his cider. “If the weather people have it right we’ll wake up to a white Christmas in the morning. Supposed to freeze hard. Not quite the same as snow, but I reckon it’ll do.”

    Larry said, “I missed the forecast today. What are they saying it’s supposed to get down to tonight? Are we going to need to drip faucets?”

    “No,” Ben answered him, “No I don’t reckon you’ll have to drip your faucets or anything if’n you don’t want to. If it hits the low 20’s like they’re predicting I’m sure they’ll drip all by themselves come midday or so.”

    Larry chuckled along with the older man. “Yeah, I suppose they would at that. Barb, don’t let me forget to attend to that tonight. I don’t care to be fixing plumbing on Christmas day.”

    Conversation wandered off into winter storms that various members had known and speculation about the prospects of serious low temperatures for the coming cold time of January and February. The cookies, cake, and other Christmas dainties gradually disappeared as the level of the cider in the kettle fell to be periodically refreshed by John. From time to time John, Ben, Richard, and Larry found reason to excuse themselves to the kitchen with their cups, a device the women of the family affected not to notice and which caused the younger children to cut their eyes at each other while suppressing giggles. Once Larry even accidentally picked up Eddy’s cup by mistake, only to return a moment later to exchange it for his own. Eddy puzzled over this until he took his next drink of cider then struggled to conceal his astonishment and hoped his mother hadn’t been looking at his face.

    When everyone had had their fill the time came for the exchanging of presents and following the tradition of the McLeod family the eldest opened theirs first, then the next eldest and so on. Ben made a show of protest over this as he ranked John by several years of age, but the family stood united against him and he made another show of giving in. Although he was no actual relation of the family he and John had been firm friends for the ten years that John had lived outside the small town of Trenton and having no family of his own on this side of the continent he had been adopted by John’s family so spent the occasional Christmas or Thanksgiving with them. The Nichol’s family presented him with a sturdy garden hoe to his great delight. “I’ve been making do with cheap junk from the big box stores for years. This is the first new eye hoe I’ve seen in I can’t remember when. It’ll outlast me, I can tell you that!” He winked at the younger children and said, “Reckon I’ll be able to have hoe cakes for my breakfast now.”

    “Aw c’mon Mister Jacobs,” Cindy said, “you don’t really cook hoe cakes on a hoe. That’s just a name.”

    “Why you sure do Cindy!” Ben insisted, “That’s how they got that name. The poor folks used to make up a corn meal dough and cook the cakes on the blades of their hoes at the edges of the fields for their lunches. Can’t do it with them flimsy things that pass for hoes nowadays, but you sure can with a good, heavy eye hoe. If you like I’ll make some for you some time.”

    The expression on Cindy’s face plainly said that she thought Ben was pulling her leg again as he had done many times before but she did not push the issue further. Ben worked his way through the rest of the gifts and expressed delight with all of them, especially the one John gave him. “Why John! Where on earth did you find this old corn sheller? I ain’t seen one of these in years. This will be just the thing this Fall when I need shell my meal corn.”

    John shook his head with a grin, “Ben, I keep telling you if you’d just learn to use that computer your kids gave you that you’d be able to find this kind of stuff for yourself. Heck, I learned, you can too! I found that sheller in about five minutes on Ebay and that was after looking over several others.”

    This was a long running argument between John and Ben. The Jacobs children had given him a home computer the year before in an effort to improve communications between the elder Jacob and his relations now living in the Midwest and the West Coast, but he refused to have anything to do with it even though he did sorely miss seeing his children and grandchildren.

    John’s turn to unwrap his gifts came next and he gradually worked his way through them, one by one showing appreciation for each, especially those from his grandchildren. Then it was Larry’s turn, then Richard’s, Marge’s and so on down the line. Gradually it became clear that this year John had chosen his gifts based on practicality. Wind up flashlights raised some eyebrows but he explained them away as being a good idea when you have children who seem to eat batteries as modern day kids seem to do. The propane camping stoves he explained as being for winter storm or hurricanes or even to use when camping. Each of the kids received battery powered radios from Radio Shack.

    “Hey!” Sonny said excitedly, “They get shortwave, TV and weather too!” Eddy received one of his own, but also a tool kit in a handsome case. “Every man should have his own tool kit” John explained, “Especially when you own vintage vehicles. This is only a starter, you’ll want to expand it as you go along but it’ll get you going.”

    From Ben each of the children received wood carvings of the native wildlife he observed from the porch of his home. He and John would often spend evenings there passing the time in conversation while Ben plied his pocketknife on pieces of wood that he would find while walking. He’d been whittling since his grandfather had taught him how over sixty years ago and now possessed a high degree of skill. Eddy’s gift was not wildlife, but a handsome representation of a pick up truck carved from native ironwood. “It’s for hanging from your rear view mirror Eddy” he said.

    Between the parents and the adults came Nanette’s turn and she presented each of the men with small bottles of Calvados, the apple brandy of France that she’d asked her father to send her. The women and girls received tiny vials of perfume and the boys each received a game the she said her brother’s enjoyed playing. In turn she received gifts with an American theme, a western hat, a Southern hoop skirt and Ben surprised her by presenting her with a carving of an American eagle perched atop the French fleur de lis which brought tears to her eyes and she made him blush when she kissed his cheek.

    The children were gathering the discarded wrapping paper while the adults chatted when John looked up at the mantle clock and said, “The President is supposed to speak at 9:00 and I want to hear him.”

    Richard raised an eyebrow, “He’s making a speech on Christmas Eve? What about? Are we going on Orange alert again?”

    The older man walked across the living room to open the doors of a wooden cabinet to reveal a television set. “Don’t know if he’s going to raise the alert level or not” he replied. “Supposedly going to talk about Korea. Reckon you all were on the road and didn’t hear the news, but North Korea is supposed to have performed an underground warhead detonation test last night. It’s gotten the Pentagon pretty agitated.”

    He punched the power button of the Sony and the screen began to glow. He changed the channel to a local broadcast affiliate showing closing credits of a program that was ending.

    “OK, I suppose something like that would” Richard persisted, “but why is the President going to address the nation about it on Christmas Eve? Seems like a sure way darken the mood of a festive holiday and certainly isn’t going to do any good for the markets when they open on Friday.”

    The credits ended but instead of commercials following there was a brief “Please Stand By” with the next scene showing the White House gaily decorated and dusted with snow. “Don’t know Richard. We’re just going to have to wait and find out like everyone else.”

    A voice over came across which stated, <i>“We’ll be going live to the President’s address in just a moment. According to the press briefing given an hour ago when this address was announced President Bush will be speaking to the nation about the North Korean nuclear weapons test detonation. Word has also reached us that the U.S. has requested an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council for Friday afternoon. Uhh, here it comes now. We are taking you to the White House press room.”</i>

    The screen flickered and then showed the podium in front of the blue background flanked by flags familiar from previous Presidential addresses. A voice from off-camera loudly announced <i>“Ladies and gentlemen, the President of the United States.”</i>

    The President walked into view and took his place behind the podium, a look of calm determination on his face. He placed his papers on the lectern then looked straight at the camera.

    <i>“My fellow Americans I come to you tonight with grave news that has the potential to affect the security of the entire free world. As many of you may have already heard it has been confirmed by virtue our national technical resources and the resources of the International Atomic Energy Agency that in the early hours of this morning the nation of North Korea detonated a nuclear device deep underground, apparently as a test of its nuclear weapons program and in direct contravention of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty of which it is a signatory.”

    “It has become known to us over the last month that North Korea is in possession of a great deal more plutonium and highly enriched uranium than was previously realized. Alone this would be news of grave concern but when taken with the fact of this rogue nation’s proliferation of missile technology and it’s steadily increasing abilities to launch objects into space it is alarming. In November I tasked our national intelligence gathering agencies to determine whether this sudden increase in the sophistication of its space launch resources could be attributed solely to North Korea’s own technical resources or if she was receiving aid and assistance from other nations. Last week they reported back to me that they believe North Korea has been receiving technological aid and assistance in nuclear weapons design, rocket development and guidance from the People’s Republic of China. I have spoken with the Chinese ambassador and informed him of our displeasure at his nation’s furtherance of the goals of that evil nation and as of today have ordered a cessation of technological exchange between the P.R.C. and the United States. What’s more, I have requested an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council for Friday afternoon to discuss the possible options open to that body.”

    “It has not been forgotten by me that China holds a veto power in the Security Council just like the U.S. and will therefore be in a position to block tangible actions by that body if they so choose. As I have indicated in the past concerning other areas if the United Nations finds itself paralyzed by internal politics the United States is willing to take unilateral action if she must in order to address a direct threat to her national interests and the security of all freedom loving peoples.”

    “At this time I am not ordering an increase in the Homeland Alert Status, but I do ask that each and every American pay regular attention to your local news sources should it prove necessary to raise the Alert Status at some point in the future. I will address the nation again as future developments warrant. May God watch over our nation. Good night.”</i>

    The President walked off the stage without speaking further. As soon as he has cleared the area the National Security Advisor walked up to the podium to answer questions that came at her fast and furiously from a frenzied press corp. John tapped the power button on the TV and the screen went blank.

    “I don’t think we’ll get anything more that is pertinent tonight” he said, “and I don’t want sour what has otherwise been an excellent evening! Now, who is for hot chocolate?!”

    All of the kids respond enthusiastically so Barb and Marge went off to the kitchen to heat the milk. Nanette offered to teach the children a French Christmas carol and led them off to one corner of the room to practice which left the men near the woodstove. Richard took a swallow of his cider and spoke up, “I sure don’t see why the President thought he had to call a special conference to tell us that. It could have waited for the papers. The market on Friday is going to plummet for sure. John, I hate to do this but I think we’re going to have to head back tomorrow night, or better still if you think they won’t run you ragged I’ll leave Marge and the girls here and head back Christmas night myself and come back for them Sunday. It’s going to be a crazy day on Friday and I’d better be there for it I’m afraid.”

    John shrugged, “Well, I suppose you know the business better than any of us. If you feel like you should go I think I can ride herd on the kids for you until you get back.”

    Larry asked, “You really think this is going to shake things up?”

    Richard rubbed the back of his neck before replying, “Well, it might not. But the country has been spooky for months. It’s hard to say what will set the market off into another major tank. John, you retired out of the Air Force and spent most of your career with the Strategic Command, do you think North Korea can directly threaten us?”

    John shrugged his shoulders. “Well, in my day it was still the Strategic Air Command. That StratComm stuff came after I cashed in my chips. I’m afraid the intel analysis boys don’t share much with crew chiefs so maybe I’m wrong, but no, I don’t think North Korea can directly threaten to nuke the continental United States. Now South Korea or Japan would be a different matter but even there they’d have to know we’d respond harshly.”

    “That takes a load off my mind then.” Richard said with a sound of relief as he stood from his chair. “Speaking of taking a load off, I think I’d better let out some of this cider before the girls come in with the hot chocolate.” He walked off in the direction of the hallway and the bathroom to be found there.

    Ben Jacobs watched the man walk off then glanced at the blank, silent screen of the television. “I remember as a youngster there was this other boy in my class who was bad for sucker punching people. He’d come on all peaceable like until you took your eyes off of him and he’d hit you in the kidneys or something. You said you didn’t think there was any way North Korea could directly attack the U.S. If they get to thinking President Bush is going to do them like he did Iraq is there any way they could indirectly attack us?”

    The next oldest man drained his mug and sat for a moment looking into it, as it trying to read the future in the patterns left by the cinnamon and clove particles in its bottom. Presently he looked up and said, “I don’t know Ben, I don’t know. I suppose it depends on how badly stressed they get to feeling.”

    “A desperate man will take desperate chances… and he just might surprise you.”

  6. #6
    <b>January 12, 2004 Signs and Portents</b>

    John sat down at his kitchen table, a cup of coffee steaming in front of him as his lunch heated in the oven. The fingers of his left hand were tingling again, not painfully but pronounced enough that it was beginning to concern him leading him to wonder if he should schedule an appointment with his G.P. “Well, you’re about to turn 60.” He said aloud to himself “Need to start paying attention to these things. Probably just some sort of tendonitis or something from swinging that splitting maul this morning.”

    Glancing up at the clock he saw that it was time for the noon news so he stood and walked into the living room to open the TV cabinet and turn on the set. The local broadcast stations didn’t run much midday news but they should at least have something on the Korean situation. He wondered if maybe he should investigate getting one of those micro-satellite dishes he was seeing on other rural houses more and more lately. He was several miles outside of the service area for the Trenton cable company and was really beginning to notice the limitations of broadcast television, even with the forty foot antenna mast he’d had installed when he bought the property.

    The local weather came and went - it would freeze hard again tonight - then came the brief national/international news.

    <i>The Chinese ambassador to the United Nations has again denied any Chinese involvement in the furtherance of North Korea’s nuclear weapons or space program, in spite of last night’s assertions by the U.S. ambassador that the U.S. has tangible proof of such involvement. A closed door session of the Security Council has been called and we will keep you posted with details from that session when they are released.

    Tension over the Korean situation ratcheted up significantly last Monday when the Northern Communist nation achieved their third successful space launch. Thus far North Korea has not yet explained the purpose of any of the three satellites it has launched beyond stating that all three were for “space research” purposes. Officials with the U.S. Space Command have been tracking the North Korean satellites but other than determining their orbital paths they have been able to deduce little about the crafts purposes. The first satellite has transmitted no perceptible radio signals, while the second and third are transmitting telemetry that appears to be in code. The White House has tasked the National Security Agency to break the codes in an attempt to determine the satellite’s purposes. No further nuclear weapons detonations have been detected although North Korean officials last Friday released a terse statement that “future underground test detonations will be conducted as necessary.”

    In Riyadh, Saudi Arabia twenty two people were beheaded this morning after being convicted of treason to the Saudi nation. Government officials report three members of the royal family were among the condemned. A list of names of the executed has not yet been released. Although foreign media have been barred reports have reached the outside world that the streets of Mecca and Medina remain calm after two days of violent rioting. Units of the Saudi Army remain deployed in the two holy cities in an effort to keep the peace.

    A 6.0 earthquake severely shook the city of Kobe, Japan this morning. Damage has so far been reported to be light with few casualties. Another temblor measuring 5.7 was reported an hour later in the Aleutian island chain of Alaska. No reports of damage or injuries have been received yet from that area.

    Sports news is next…</i>

    He turned the television off and went back into the kitchen to take his lunch out of the oven. The tingling in his fingers was subsiding and after a morning splitting stove wood he was hungry. A serious, thoughtful expression had settled over his features as he had been watching the news. He set his plate on the table, opened the flatware drawer and took out a fork. Out of a second drawer he took a steno pad and pen. Sitting to the table he began to eat his lunch and make notes in the pad. By the time he’d finished his meal he’d finished with the pad.

    He tore the page out, folded it neatly and slid the paper into his shirt pocket. He took his plate to the sink, washed it and the coffee cup and put both in the drainer. Looking at the framed photo on the kitchen window sill. “Seems like old times Cath,” he spoke to the pretty girl in the photo, her hair done up in a style of a bygone era, “if your dad hadn’t been transferred to McCoy during the Missile Crisis you and I would never have met when I arrived in ’65. Now it’s another crisis and all of a sudden I’m your dad. It was a hell of a ride all those years. I’m sorry you’re not here to share it with me now. These kids nowadays just don’t know. I think if I can get Barb on board she’ll drag and kick Larry along with her, but I don’t know about Margie and Richard. You know she never took this stuff seriously and Richard won’t look up from his ledger book long enough to notice. Remember that time Margie hid from us when the warning sirens went off for that emergency drill?” He shook his head with a smile, lost for a moment in another time then crossed the kitchen to the back door, took down his hat and coat, put them on and went outside.

    The direct sun had melted the frost but the temperature was still below freezing and wasn’t expected to top the high thirties for the day. John opened the door of his truck, got in and cranked it. He looked out the windshield for a moment then looked around the cab of the truck. “You know?” he said to no one in particular, “Other than air conditioning and a better radio there’s not a lot of difference between Eddy’s truck and this one built thirty five years later. Just more complex is all.” He backed the truck out of the gate and drove a hundred yards down the unpaved road then turned into Ben Jacob’s drive. He left the motor running so the cab would continue to warm, walked up and rapped on the door frame.

    Ben came to the door dressed in a quilted flannel shirt and worn overalls, fleece lined slippers on his feet. “Well howdy John!” he said, “Pretty day ain’t it? Used to butcher hogs on days like this. Come on in and have some coffee.”

    John replied, “Actually Ben, I’m about to head over to Gainesville and go the Sam’s Club over there. You want to go with me? I’m figuring on maybe having an early supper at that Cuban place you and I went to that one time. Haven’t had black beans like that since I was stationed in Homestead.”

    The older man scratched the back of his neck then turned and looked into the house. Turning back he said, “Well why not? Durn sure too pretty a day to spend it all cooped up in the house. Wouldn’t mind having some more of those beans myself, and a cup or two of Cuban coffee. Used to be this little café not far from the station down to Miami that I liked way back when and they remind me of it. Come on in and warm yourself by the stove while I put some shoes on.”

    The other man stepped through the door and closed it behind him. “Sounds good Ben, got something I’d like to talk over with you while we’re out…”

    -- -- -- --

    “Uhh!” the man said as he set the last box down on the back porch, “Old man, you’re just going to have to learn to start using a hand cart to move stuff like this.” John rubbed his left arm which had begun to ache as he carried the last load in from the truck. “Well, it’s all inside now. It’ll be OK until the morning. I’m for some Tums and a drink.”

    He picked up the package containing the latest selection from his book club and went into the kitchen. As he was washing down the antacids the kitchen phone rang so he answered it. “Hello?… Hiya doll… My 60th birthday? Well, yes, I was generally aware that it was approaching… Wouldn’t you all rather come out here?… Ah, his truck. OK, yes I would like to see what he’s gotten done on it so far. OK, I’ll come over there. Got something I want to discuss with you anyway. Alright, I’ll see you then. Good night!”

    Replacing the phone on its hook he finished the water, the crossed the kitchen to the refrigerator and took out a beer. He pulled out the slip of paper that he’d put in his pocket earlier that day and began to mark off lines. Opening the pad he copied over what was left onto a fresh sheet of paper and added some additional notes. “Think I’d better talk to Ben about some of this. There’s probably not a lot of call for this kind of thing anymore.” Folding the new paper he put it in his shirt pocket. He went to the refrigerator and took out a beer then picked up his book club package. He went into the living room and sat down in front of his PC to download his e-mail, not that he got much beyond junk, but some of his service buddies would write occasionally and the grandkids would once in a while remember to write their grandfather.

    The machine beeped, whined, and flashed as it booted and when it was finished he activated the dialer to connect to his ISP. After a few seconds the password prompt came up and he stared at it for a moment before it came back to him. “Too damn many passwords!” he muttered to himself, “one for the ISP, a different one for the SAC board, yet another for the ATM. Can’t write ‘em down – that’s bad security – but can’t remember the damn things when I need ‘em!” Finally the ISP was satisfied as to his veracity and allowed him to download his e-mail. As expected most of what he received was spam. “Why did they ever call it that?” he wondered. “Always liked it as a kid, now I can’t eat it without thinking about computer junkmail.”

    He began deleting the unsolicited, unwanted advertising and very nearly missed one from a buddy in California. “Well hey Earl!” John said with a smile, “How’s life out there in the desert?” With a click of the mouse the e-mail opened to reveal its message.

    <i>Hey John! How’s life down in Florida been treating you? You managed to make time with any of them sweet young college coeds yet or you feeling too old for that kind of thing?</i>

    John smiled again at the jest. Earl had never married. “I’m married to my plane, John,” he used to say when the topic came up, “I just chase the girls when I want a break from flying.”

    <i>We finally got fiber optic out here. What a difference it makes for Internet connects now. Got some defense company built a few miles down the road and now we’ve got all the latest and greatest in the telecomm world at our fingertips. Got armed guards at the gates over there but the place looks pretty benign from the outside. With the stuff they’re playing with nowadays I could probably be looking right at it and not recognize it as a weapon or intel system or whatever.

    You going to try to make the reunion this year? Haven’t been to Offut since my last tour through there. Probably wouldn’t recognize the place now. Been having good luck in finding a lot of the old crews. My grandniece – the computer genius – turned me on to this new search engine at There’s more of the old crews alive than I thought and we’re getting some great photos and other material for the unit histories. Sure hope you can make it.

    Gotta go now. There’s this pretty young history major coming over to interview me as part of her research on the Cold War for her thesis. I’ll let you know how I make out.


    “Earl, you probably won’t stop chasing skirts until they hit you in the face with a shovel full of dirt.” John laughed out loud “You’re too damned old for a paternity suit!”

    John closed the e-mail and scanned the others. Finding nothing of interest he deleted them all then opened and reread Earl’s e-mail. He copied the URL in the message, opened his web browser, pasted it into the address bar and sent it off. The site came up and he read the intro material. Once he understood the way it worked and how to refine his searches to exclude extraneous hits he began to plug names into it from memory and just as Earl had said found many correct hits. He opened a file in his word processor and began to copy and paste contact information for some long lost service friends who were still alive and connected to the Internet.

    After a time he’d worked his way through many names and he began to wonder about who else the clever search engine could find so he began to plug in names of people he knew. He was not surprised to find many hits on Barb, Margie, and Richard but then they made their livings with computers so it was to be expected. Ben Jacobs came up as a no-hitter but this was not a surprise, “Ben hasn’t progressed technologically since 1969” he chuckled to himself. His barber came up in an official state record – a lawsuit it seemed but he did not read further. Larry’s name came up in several old car forums as did Eddy’s, both searching for information on automotive restoration or parts. Finally he keyed in Cindy’s name.

    Being only twelve years old he was not expecting many hits on her name and he was correct, there were just three. The first was in a discussion forum relating to Scouting which he read for a few moments. Going back he found the second was concerning the Lord of the Rings movies which she was mad about, but whose attraction was utterly lost on John. The third seemed to be some sort of kid chat room. He clicked on its URL and was taken there where he found a short biographical piece by Cindy Nichols of Gainesville, FL. It was chirpy in a twelve year old girl sort of way talking about how she liked new experiences, surprises, meeting new and interesting people and “taking dares” which brought a smile to his face as she was actually a rather shy child. A hot link at the bottom said “see me!” and without really thinking about it he clicked it.

    The dial up connection was slow when it came to downloading graphics so he had to wait for several seconds before the picture sharpened and refined enough for him to see it clearly. “Son of a bitch” he said as he hit the print button to copy the photo and its URL onto paper. There on the screen was Cindy. He recognized the bathing suit she wore, her mother had bought it for her especially for that trip to Wild Waters down in Ocala that John had taken the family on last summer. Her grandfather had taken everyone’s picture and when it came Cindy’s turn for a photo in front of the wave pool she had struck a twelve year old’s idea of sexy pose which had made him laugh when he snapped the shot.

    Now he wondered if perhaps her innocent actions might not already be trolling up a predator. “Child,” he said to the screen, “your mother and I have to talk.”

  7. #7
    <b>February 01, 2004 Pressure</b>

    “Happy birthday grandpa!” Cindy said as she walked out of the kitchen carrying the white frosted cake with a brightly lit candle in its center. The Nichols family, John and Ben Jacobs were sitting around the table, a noonday meal of grilled hamburgers behind them. Cindy set the cake down in front of her grandfather and said, “Now make a wish before you blow it out!”

    Her elder looked at the ceiling as if in thought then leaned forward to extinguish the candle. Cindy began cutting pieces of the cake and putting them in bowls while her mother dipped out the ice cream accompaniment.

    “That’s a fine looking cake Cindy,” he said, “did you make it?”

    “I baked the layers and mom helped me frost it” his granddaughter replied, “How come you don’t like chocolate?”

    He chuckled, “Well now, granddaughter, there’s a lot to be said for a good vanilla cake. A lot to be said. I rather like them, especially when they’re made by pretty girls.”

    Cindy said, “Oh grandpa” as she took her place and they all began to eat their cake. While they were doing so John asked his grandson about the progress on his project. “Looks like you’ve got the motor and transmission out Eddy. Are you working on the overhaul now?”

    The boy nodded his head. “Yes sir. Dad and I are stripping the block now then we’re going to send it out to have the cylinders bored. A lot of it is machine shop work that we can’t do. We just located a decent looking hood last week so we’re going to drive to Jacksonville next weekend to buy it. I’ll probably work on getting it prepped for painting while we’re waiting on the machine shop.”

    “That’s sure going to be a fine looking truck when you and your daddy get done with it Eddy” Ben added, “I had a ’67 Chevy truck myself back then. Never would have thought I’d see folks rebuilding them like they are now.”

    Conversation centered for a time on the relative differences between trucks of the sixties and those of the twenty first century then drifted on to other topics. As the cake and ice cream were finished Cindy and Eddy excused themselves to find other things to occupy themselves with. From the garage Eddy called for his dad to assist him with a difficulty he was encountering which left John, Barb and Ben at the table.

    After making some small talk John asked, “Barb, you bring Larry around any on expanding your emergency supplies?”

    She sighed at the question then replied, “Well, sort of. He just doesn’t believe there’s going to be any real need for these supplies but he did agree to at least not say ‘no’ if I want to increase them. Not that I can really expand them a lot, we simply don’t have room to keep much more here what with Eddy’s truck out there in the garage. Money’s a little tight right now too, at least for another month or so until we get the last of Christmas behind us. Larry paid cash for Eddy’s truck, there’s all the other expenses related to it, plus the usual Christmas bills. I have put away more non-perishable foods and did pick up another tank for the grill at a yard sale. That brings us up to three. I can’t get any more than that into the pump house and Larry won’t let me keep them in the garage – says it’s too dangerous.”

    Her father nodded his head, “OK, well at least you’re trying. You’re way ahead of Margie and Richard. I don’t think they’ve got more than the three day kit they had last year.” He shrugged in resignation. “I can’t force them to prepare and can only do so much through Christmas gifts.”

    Everybody looked unhappy at this and by unspoken consent that line of conversation was dropped before it could drag the mood down so John moved on. “You have any more trouble getting that website to take Cindy’s stuff off?”

    Shaking her head negatively she answered, “No, not at all actually. They were very cooperative once I explained to them that her parents had not approved her picture being posted. It took a little longer to convince Cindy of the idea, but I think eventually she understood. I’m glad you told me first, Larry’s head nearly came off when I showed him that printout. We had a long talk with both the kids about what they should and should not reveal about themselves on the Internet and why it was important. I found a couple of news stories in the Gainesville paper archives about pedophiles who preyed on kids in Internet chat rooms and I think it scared her so she’ll be much more careful now. Larry initially wanted to take away their computers altogether, but Cindy is really coming into her own at school thanks in part to being able to access the Internet and Eddy uses his a lot in researching and talking to other people about restoring his truck. We made spending further time and money on it dependent on his continued good grades at school so now he really stays on top of his class work. You can bet we’ll be paying closer attention to what they’re doing online from now on though.”

    “Glad to hear it. I think it would be hard for a predator to get next to her, but there’s no sense in trolling for them which that picture was certainly doing.” John glanced up at the clock, “Well, I want to service my rototiller today so I can turn the summer garden over next week so I think it’s time for Ben and I to be going.”

    “So soon?” Barb asked, “Don’t you want to stay for dinner?”

    “Thanks Barb, but I want to catch the news tonight which means I have to be finished with the machine before then. Maybe another time.” John and Ben stood up and he gave his daughter a hug. They shrugged into their coats and gathered up John’s birthday gifts and were off.

    -- -- -- --

    [High distant sound of air raid sirens] <i>“The sound you are hearing is not a screening of an old war movie but that of yet another emergency drill here in Seoul, South Korea as tensions continue to ratchet ever upwards on this blighted peninsula. With hundreds of thousands of North Korean troops and thousands of artillery pieces within close proximity to the South Korean capitol the national government is taking the threat of war very seriously and doing what it can to ready the city population should war break loose here.

    This morning the White House announced that President Bush had ordered a third carrier task force to proceed towards Korean waters from the Arabian Gulf as troops, ships, planes and supplies are being moved to U.S. bases across the Eastern Pacific. Yesterday’s announcement of a second underground test detonation by North Korea has increased the already heightened tension over the North Korean nuclear weapons program. After news of the test became generally known the Japanese government released a statement to the effect that Japan would not wait to be directly attacked by North Korea, but would instead act preemptively if she felt such an action was called for in the face of any provocation by the hardline communist nation.

    In a statement released this morning by Pyongyang the North Korean government strongly restated their position that any military attacks upon their soil would be considered an act of war and would result in full retaliation against the attacker and their allies. China has once again called for direct talks between North Korea and the United States and is offering to mediate between the two contending nations, as has the government of South Korea. The White House has not yet responded to these latest offers. Another closed door meeting of the United Nations Security Council has been called for this afternoon, but little hope is being held out for a decisive resolution from that body with China strongly opposed to military intervention in the peninsula.

    This is Dan Phillips reporting for CNN from Seoul, South Korea.”

    In other news reports are now coming in of wide scale fighting taking place in and around the Northern Iraqi town of Zakho near to the Turkish border. Units of the Turkish army are in the act of occupying the town in response to what they claim was several attacks on Turkish Army units on the Turkish side of the border along the road that runs from Zahko to the Turkish town of Cizre. Turkish army spokesmen state the Kurdish groups responsible for the attacks were seen withdrawing across the border into Zakho where they are now believed to be cut off by the encircling Turks. White House and Turkish government officials are holding high level talks to try to resolve the crisis which has been steadily worsening as Turkey complains of increasing numbers of attacks by Kurdish guerillas inside of the Turkish frontier. Statements released by Ankara have indicated that Turkish patience is wearing thin and mass reinforcements are being sent to the border region – a move believed by many to be a prelude to a major Turkish movement into Northern Iraq. The Iranians are also complaining of increasing Kurdish unrest but have as of yet not been observed moving large numbers of troops to the border region. A consensus building among Mid-Eastern analysts is that the U.S. is on the verge of losing control of the Iraqi situation possibly resulting in several of Iraq’s neighbors moving troops onto her territory in attempts to quell security threats to their own national interests. Only time will tell if such a scenario can be averted. This is Nick Andrews reporting for CNN from Baghdad.</i>

    CNN cut to a commercial and John took a long pull from his beer bottle. He looked over at Ben sitting in a chair nearby and said, “Looks like we’re about to find out whether we really can fight a two front war. Iraq is still threatening to blow itself apart and North Korea isn’t going to wait much longer. Security Council or not, somebody is going to take a poke at Kim Jong Il before very much longer. What I can’t understand is why the communists are pushing so hard? Four satellites in orbit, two failures that we know of, two underground nuclear weapons detonations. They just seem Hellbent on forcing President Bush to act and I don’t think he can put it off much longer. China’s running interference for them for some reason, but then they always have so maybe they just can’t bring themselves to jettison them.”

    Ben took a swallow of his beer before replying. “Sure looks like Bush ain’t gonna back down over this, that’s for sure. The way he’s been talking these last few weeks if North Korea keeps punching his buttons I think he’s going to push the button on them, China be damned!” He took another swallow of his beer then watched the shampoo commercial on the screen for a moment before continuing.

    “’Course, I do have to wonder at all this. Them Chinese are supposed to be clever folks. What if they are putting them Koreans up to all this? President Bush has made it right clear he thinks the Chinese are helping ‘em with their missiles and bombs and stuff. Maybe they’re just using them Koreans somehow, trying to pick a fight between us and them. That Kim Jong’s Ill ain’t wound too tight seems to me. If he blows a gasket and attacks South Korea and Japan like he claims they would we’d beat the tar out of the North Koreans and when the dust settled there’d sit China looking pretty claiming she tried to make peace between us’n and them but couldn’t. We’d look like the bad guys, or at least ONE of the bad guys, them South Koreans would be about blasted to pieces, Japan might be pretty beat up, and China would get to pick up all their business. You ever notice how much stuff in the stores comes from China nowadays? Used to be Made in Japan’ or ‘Made in Taiwan’ now seems like it’s all ‘Made in China’ or someplace that you never heard of before.”

    The commercial string ended and a segment of economic news opened – all of it was bad. The Dow had been in a steady slide for a month, wiping out much of the gains following the U.S.’s victory in Iraq and analysts were projecting a steepening drop when the market opened on Monday. U.S. exports to Asia were dropping as was the value of the American dollar while the price of gold had been steadily climbing for over two months.

    John drained the last of his bottle and softly belched. “Ben, you could be right. Either their ‘Dear Leader’ is just crazy mad or he’s being manipulated and from where I sit China’s the only ones who are in a position to do that. Of course, from what I’ve been reading about the North Koreans old Kim Jong Il may just be crazy out of his mind and thinking he can buffalo the rest of the world into giving him what he wants so he can stay in power. I can’t see how he’s managed to stay in power as long as he has. If he got himself vaporized the Chinese would probably just breath a big sigh of relief – as well as take advantage of whatever opportunity a war would present to them.” He shook his empty bottle and looked over to Ben. “I think I need to refuel. You ‘bout ready for another one?”

    The other man considered his near empty bottle, drained it, then replied, “I do believe I will.”

    John stood up, retrieved Ben’s empty bottle and went into the kitchen. He had put two fresh bottles of beer on the counter and was looking for a bowl to pour some pretzels into when Ben called to him from the living room. “John, I think you’d best come in here and see this.” Something about the way Ben said that disquieted him so he left the pretzels on the table and went back to the living room.

    On the screen was a flashing “breaking news” banner and a talking head reading from a sheet of paper, an uncharacteristic note of tension in his voice – <i>“…have reached us that a U.S. Air Force RC-135 strategic reconnaissance plane has been lost inside of North Korea, possibly shot down. This report is coming to us from the Korean Central News Agency which is the official news organ of the North Korean government. We have yet to receive confirmation from the Air Force, Department of Defense or the White House. KCNA is quoting high North Korean government officials as saying ‘This is a premeditated move to find an opportunity to mount a pre-emptive attack on the DPRK,’ The DPRK stands for the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea. These sorts of intrusions into North Korean airspace have happened in the past resulting in a sort of cat and mouse game between U.S. and North Korean air craft, but this is the first time that one has been lost inside of the communist nation. We will bring you further details as they become available. This is CNN.</i>

    “Well,” John said, standing staring at the screen, “I don't think anyone can pump any more pressure into the Korean balloon now. It's about to pop."
    Last edited by A.T.Hagan; 02-25-2003 at 05:01 PM.

  8. #8
    <b>February 03, 2004 - The Wine of Dionysus </b>

    <i>“…Footage shown today by the Korean Central News Agency which serves as the official news organ of the North Korean government showed the crash site of the U.S. Air Force RC-135 reconnaissance plane and the sole surviving member of the crew, co-pilot Lieutenant Andrew Jefferson. The location of the downed plane was not revealed but appeared to be in a mountainous area possibly near the coast. In a statement released yesterday evening by the Pentagon it appears at this time the American plane was inside of North Korean airspace and under intense harassment by North Korean fighter jets. Air Force officials state the plane was experiencing difficulty with malfunctioning electronic equipment at the time of the incident which may have included the plane’s navigation system. They also stated that it does not appear the reconnaissance craft was actually shot down by the fighters, but seems to have suffered some sort of collision with one of them either by accident or intention. As of this time the Pyongyang government has not revealed the whereabouts or fate of Lieutenant Jefferson. This is Dan Phillips reporting for CNN from Seoul, South Korea.”</i>

    “Well, so long as we’re not actively shooting at each other I suppose that’s a good thing.” John said as he shifted his position in his chair to something more comfortable. He splashed water out of the pan in which his left foot was soaking which deepened the look of annoyance already on his face. “Drive clear to Thomasville, Georgia to get that thing and the bottom comes out of the box as I’m carrying it through the door!” He took another swallow of his beer, the alcohol in conjunction with the steaming water was helping to take some of the throbbing pain out of his injured extremity. “Damn lucky it didn’t actually break any of those little bones and further lucky none of the castings broke. God knows where I’d have to go to replace that pump, if one could be found at all. Going to gall me for a long time to pay such a steep price for it – TWICE what Lehman’s wanted but they’re backordered for months and no one else that I can find has one in stock either and all for something I’m probably never going to need anyways!”

    The beer and the medications he had consumed were giving him heartburn so he reached for the crutches he’d been given the day before at his doctor’s office and levered himself to his feet to go to the kitchen for some Tums. While there the phone rang. “Hello? Yes, this is John McLeod. Oh, Tricounty Pump, yes. Friday morning? OK, if that’s the earliest you can get here. Yes, I have the pump. Clear to Thomasville in South Georgia, but I have it. Yes, I’ll write you a check that morning when you finish the job or I can pay cash if you’ll discount the price… 5? How about 10? Let’s split the difference. That’s fine. I’ll see you first thing Friday morning.”

    He hung up the phone and went back into the living room. He was tired of the news. If the world came to an end today there wasn’t much he could do about it so he sat down to the computer to write some e-mails. He couldn’t really concentrate though so eventually he turned the machine off and sat down in his recliner again, picked up his novel and began to read. Presently his eyes closed and he began to snore, the book resting open on his chest.

    -- -- -- --

    <u>Sea of Japan – 5:12 a.m. local time 3:12 p.m. Eastern Time</u>

    “Yellow Base, this is Yellow 6. I am on station.” The North Korean fighter pilot suppressed a yawn. He tiredly cursed the lack of planes and pilots that required him and his brother pilots to fly back to back patrols nearly to the point of exhaustion, but he did so only in the confines of his mind. Even for experienced fighter pilots it was not safe to question the wisdom of government policy. He scanned his radar - there was the American task force right where it was expected to be - the outer fringe of the carrier screen crowding the territorial limit claimed by North Korea. He would watch them, they would watch him, and that would be that. He yawned so hard that his jaw hinges creaked and a muscle under his chin began to cramp forcing him to keep his mouth open in a caricaturized goldfish expression as he desperately massaged the offending muscle to get some relief.

    An hour into the patrol he knew that he would have to do something - he had already momentarily nodded off once and was afraid to drink any more water or he’d have real difficulties because of it later before his patrol was finished. With a grimace he tore the wrapper off of an amphetamine tab and swallowed it with a minimal sip of water. He really disliked taking the stimulant. For a time he would be wide eyed alert, if also somewhat prone to emotional overreaction but the rush had a nasty way of suddenly ending, leaving him so exhausted that he could barely walk. “I’ll be on the ground before then.”

    A half hour later the almost palpable rush of nervous energy began to course through him and he felt hot. Increasing the air flow in the cockpit cooled the temperature as he carefully scanned each of his instruments. He was distrustful of the confident self-assuredness the drug gave him and wanted no screw-ups because of it.

    Twenty two minutes later the routine was shattered when his radio unexpectedly crackled to life. “Yellow Base to Yellow Six. A frigate of the American task force has come far inside of our territorial waters. Proceed thirty six degrees from your position and make a close pass on the ship. They are attempting to provoke us and we must show them we are vigilant.”

    “Roger Yellow Base. Thirty six degrees from my position and make a close pass to the ship. Do I have permission to activate armament systems.”

    “NEGATIVE Yellow Six. Repeat NEGATIVE.”

    “Roger Yellow Base, negative on armament activation. I have the American ship on the edge of visual range. Decreasing altitude now.”

    He banked his plane slightly as he dropped altitude. He knew the Americans would see him. Up here there were no secrets, everyone could see everyone else except for perhaps the American stealth air craft that whispered rumor insisted were being stationed at the American air bases in the capitalistic southern end of the peninsula. He knew the foreign devils had such craft, but so far nothing had led him to believe they were in his operational zone. His scopes registered no less than four American fighters in near proximity to him now. He would make his pass then resume his original position, the opposing fighters would shadow him all the way and all would be as it was before, just another round of the perpetual cat and mouse they played with each other.

    The thunderclap of the American fighter passing within mere feet of his canopy startled him so badly that for a second he nearly lost control of his craft. “Bastards!” he yelled at his windscreen as he fought for control. A second fighter passed him nearly as close as the first. He increased his forward speed and pointed the nose of his craft down at a steeper angle and soon made his pass of the ship. He’d no sooner began to nose up when a third fighter rattled him again, this time causing two red malfunction lights to appear on his instrument panel. “Son of a bitch!” he swore passionately, “I’ll be an hour writing the damned reports about this! I didn’t wreck your precious spy plane!” He pushed his throttle forward and began gaining altitude more rapidly.

    A fourth harassment pass made a third red light appear on his panel and a surge of anger flowed through the Korean pilot. “You swine! I’ll give you something to write your own pig humping reports about!” and banked his plane hard to bring it around. He’d heard the Russians has actually flown mere feet over the flight deck of an American aircraft carrier, he’d do the same to the frigate!

    “Yellow Base to Yellow Six, situation report.” The radio crackled imperiously. He was keying his mike when another American pass shook him, filling him with rage. Fairly screaming into his microphone he said “Yellow Six under intense American harassment. Making pass of ship now.” He dropped the plane nose once more and began to gain velocity.

    “Yellow Bas to Yellow Six. Our sensors indicate the American fleet is activating numerous targeting and guidance radars. Break off pass and return to station.” Before he could reply another mind numbing boom shook him and brought another red light to life - his radio. A red rage began to settle over the vision of the Korean pilot and he screamed at his useless radio, “Bastards, I’ll kill the next one of you that does that” as he flicked switches on his armament panel bringing his weapons systems to life.

    He pushed his throttle to its maximum position watching his radars carefully as the American fighter jets buzzed around him like angry bees. The next pass was so close he thought they must have made actual physical contact and he thrust at the missile release button to kill his tormentor. In the instant his finger was sweeping down the shockwave struck his plane and slammed his hand hard against the stick sending his plane into a dive towards the swells below. In panicked desperation he managed to pull out of the dive, salt spray on his canopy and focused on his panel. “Son of a bitch!” burst out of him as he realized that he had fired more than just his air to air bird.

    A brilliant fireball was blooming from the side of the American frigate coming fast at him.

    He was just beginning to realize the enormity of his mistake when an American air to air missile sent him and his plane on to whatever waits on the other side of death for communist atheists.

    -- -- -- --

    <u>5:30 p.m. Eastern Time</u>

    John awoke from his nap, neck stiff, mouth dry, foot throbbing. He picked the book up from his chest and raised his head, eyes falling on the television screen. A breaking news banner was flashing across the top while a talking head read from a paper in his hand and a video box over his right shoulder showed jerky video of some sort of naval vessel burning, throwing bright spears of light in long arcs into the sea as various munitions cooked off. He collected his wits together so that he could concentrate on what was being said <i>"…video taken of the U.S. Naval frigate Edward Davis struck by a North Korean anti-ship missile in the Sea of Japan a little over two hours ago. Naval officials have not released any comment on the nature of the attack stating only ‘there is evidence leading us to believe the attack was not accidental.’ President Bush has been in a closed door meeting with the Vice President, Secretary of Defense, the National Security Advisor, and the Secretary of State since word reached him minutes after the attack. We do not yet have any word on the number of casualties or survivors of the Edward Davis. Naval officials tell us the ship is still burning and beginning to list badly in the rough seas of the area. More details as we receive them…”</i>

    “Son of a bitch” John said passionately, glancing at the living room clock. “5:30 – naturally – won’t be anyone home yet. Gotta try though, they’ve all got answering machines.” He stood up, forgetting his crutches momentarily until he put his full weight on his injured foot. He stopped just long enough to snatch up his crutches and quickly made his way to his computer desk and its phone. He dialed numbers and listened as patiently as he could, waiting for the requisite number of rings that it took before his call would be handed off to the answering machine. “C’mon,” he said, urgent aggravation in his tone, ‘answer the damn phone!…”

  9. #9
    <b>February 04, 2004 Apogee</b>

    Barb was feeling harassed and ready to unload on somebody, anybody that was foolish enough to cross her. With a sour chuckle she said to herself as she pounded the keys of her computer, “I’m down to my last nerve this afternoon, and you just KNOW that some fool is going to come along and jump on it!” Even her boss was stepping lightly around her since the disastrous lunch time meeting when the office computer network had crashed in the middle of an important demonstration that she had spent days preparing. It had been no fault of hers the server had chosen that particular moment to go toes up but it didn’t seem to cut any ice with the home office executive for whom she’d made the presentation. He’d never actually come out and said anything directly about his perception of the poor state of preparations of the Gainesville office, but his tone and several oblique allusions had made it clear enough that his report of their performance when he returned would be cool at best.

    “Like I’m the one who installed that low-ball network in the first place! If they weren’t so damned cheap we’d have decent equipment for doing this sort of thing, but NO! Can’t spend what it takes to buy quality equipment or hire qualified IT people, we have to limp along with whatever we can get.” She realized that she was pounding the keyboard so hard that she was getting double and triple strikes. Closing her eyes she raised her hands from the board, took a long deep breath and slowly exhaled. “OK, no more caffeine for me TODAY. Just get through the rest of the day and Cindy’s Scout meeting tonight and then it’s a big cup of hot chocolate with some of Larry’s bourbon in it and a good book until I can’t keep my eyes open any more.”

    The thought of curling up in her big, fuzzy robe with a cup and the latest Danielle Steele novel softened her smile somewhat and she started deleting the extraneous characters her too vigorous typing had introduced. She glanced up at the photo of Larry and the kids she kept next to her monitor. “It’s only Tuesday and it’s already turning into the Week from Hell.” Returning home from work last night to discover her father’s anxious message on their answering machine had started the ball rolling downhill and it gained velocity as she watched the developing coverage on CNN.

    Naturally Larry had seen little reason for anxiety. “Korea is what, five, six thousand miles away?” he asked, “Yeah, it’s a tense time if you’re in the military or the government, but baby – nothing’s going to happen to us here in Gainesville. New war or not, the mortgage company is still going to want theirs in a few days, the same for the power company, and everyone else. You’ve got the whole kitchen as packed as it’ll go with non-perishable food, Eddy and I bump into those water barrels your dad gave you every time we turn around in the garage, and we’ve got enough gas for the grill to barbecue for the next three years. Calm down and let’s get on with our lives. The news will tell us if we need to do anything else.”

    She’d had misgivings but there really didn’t seem to be much else they could realistically do – except wait. Larry did agree to fill up the tank of his truck and their three spare gas cans – all that could be stowed in the pump house – but made it plain he was doing so only to humor her and keep the peace. “That’s fine” she thought to herself “just so long as you actually did fill those cans.”

    Glancing at the lower corner of her monitor screen she could see the time was creeping up on five so she logged off her computer and shut it down. She gathered up coat and purse, locked her office door and headed for her car as the late afternoon shadows crept across the sidewalk. In the car she paused for a moment debating whether to listen to one of her Enya tapes which usually soothed her or to the local NPR station that had the best drive time news on the radio. She finally decided she wanted to know what was going on in the world more than she wanted soothing and punched the FM button.

    <i>“… President’s speech was very clear that regardless of what the U.N. does or does not do that we as a nation would not allow the North Korean attack on the Davis to go unanswered. He did not make any specific statements about how American displeasure would be expressed but there seems little doubt now that it will be direct and quite soon in coming.”</i>

    Barb’s stomach gave a bad acid squirt and she reached into her bag for the tube of Rolaids she had been noshing on all afternoon since her failed presentation.

    <i>“As expected the Department of Homeland Security has raised the National Threat Level to Orange and hinted that it was not inconceivable the nation might soon go to a full Red Alert status for the first time since the Alert system was instituted. Nationally, many grocery and hardware stores are reporting selling out of batteries, bottled water, camping fuel, duct tape, plastic sheeting, and other supplies. Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge gave a press briefing that ended just minutes ago. ‘While it would be prudent at this time to review your emergency preparations please allow me to make it quite clear the United States is NOT presently under attack and it would be foolish to act as though it were. Prudent preparations are good, panicking is not. Your government asks that you remain calm, act rationally, stay abreast of the news and help your nation get through this time of crisis by being a part of the solution rather than making yourself a part of the problem.’”

    “International reactions have also been tense. Our correspondents in Seoul, the capitol of South Korea which lies within striking distance of North Korea, report that residents of the city have been leaving in a steady procession since news of the attack on the Edward Davis first reached the city. Women and children have been sent to stay with friends and relatives away from the border area. The civil government and many of the major Korean corporations located there have said today that all non-essential personnel will be sent to the south as well.”

    “In Tokyo the Japanese government has placed their military on a state of full alert and Japanese civil defense organizations are preparing themselves for immediate action. A defense ministry spokesman repeated their prime minister’s statement that Japan would not hesitate to strike preemptively at North Korea if it appears that nation is readying itself to launch an attack on the Japanese home islands.”

    “U.S. Markets closed lower today and a further sell off is expected tomorrow. European markets are slightly up as liquid capital seeks a safe haven. Precious metals are up and oil futures have spiked sharply.”

    “We will have further reaction to the President’s speech and the situation on the Korean peninsula after this.”</i>

    The local station came in to give local weather and sponsorships. Barb chewed her lip as she approached the house trying to decide if she should skip the Scout meeting tonight but eventually decided in favor of going. “If I stay home I’ll just sit in front of CNN and worry. The Scouts will be a good distraction and besides, Cindy nearly has her project finished and she’s up for patrol leader with Monica Straun moving away.” Pulling into her driveway she was relieved to see that everything looked perfectly normal. “Well,” she laughed at herself, “what were you expecting? Bombers flying over the house or something? I am really starting to get squirrelly!”

    Walking into the house she found Eddy and Cindy finishing sandwiches and chips in front of the TV – watching cartoons, she was happy to see. “Bad enough I’m worrying myself to a frazzle.” She thought with a sense of relief “The kids don’t need to as well.” They looked up to see her and both said, “Hi, mom!” then went back to their show.

    Eddy finished his sandwich and said, “Dad called a little while ago. He’s going to be late getting home. Said something about needing to go to Lake City to see a man about some business but that he filled the cans like you wanted. Can I go to the library while you and Cindy are at her Scout meeting? They’ve got a history book I want to check out.”

    This caused her to quirk an eyebrow. Eddy was a bright enough boy, but he did not often read for pleasure and it was an unusual request. “What sort of history is it?” she asked, “And what branch is the book at?”

    He grinned at her as he replied, “It’s a photo history of Ford trucks. Stevie says it’s got some really cool pictures of a lot of their older trucks from when they were new. I thought it would give me some ideas or somethin’…”

    Barb thought she could not imagine a work that could be more dull, but if it led her son to pick up and read a book of his own initiative, she was all for it. She nearly laughed out loud at the feeling that dealing with so mundane a problem gave her. “That’s fine hon, but what branch is it in?”

    “It’s at the Main library, downtown. I can ride down University Avenue to get there.”

    The mother in her hesitated. Since he’d turned fourteen Larry had insisted on giving him greater freedom in going somewhere by himself like he’d had himself at that age. It was nearly five miles to the mall and he had never had any problems getting there on his bike, but the main library was downtown. Probably no further than the distance to the mall, but still it wasn’t the most savory area.

    The boy could see the hesitation in his mother’s eyes. “It’s lit all the way mom! I’m fourteen now, I can take care of myself. I’ll stay on the sidewalk or bike paths and stay in the lights. You know there’s people all over the place on University Avenue downtown. I can do it! I really, really want to see that book!”

    She had misgivings, but it was well-lit all the way and there would be people everywhere, at least in the early evening. That truck was doing wondrous things for the boy and she was hesitant to discourage him. It wasn’t like he could pass for old enough to get into any of the clubs the college students favored. She sighed and said, “OK, OK. You can go. Just be back before nine and make sure your homework is done by the time I get home. I’ll go over it with you when we get back.”

    “OK, Mom. I’ll be back before nine.”

    She gathered up the kid’s plates and took them into the kitchen as Cindy gathered her project materials together and put on her uniform. She threw a sandwich together for herself to eat in the car and they were soon off.

    In the car she punched the radio to catch more news which elicited Cindy to say, “Mom, do we have to listen to that? It’s all that anyone wants to talk about today. Can’t we listen to some music?”

    Barb considered for a moment, she really wanted to stay on top of the news, but at the same time she didn’t want to make Cindy any more anxious than she might be already. “I could stand being a little less anxious myself,” she thought with an internal chuckle. “OK, Hon, you pick the station and we’ll listen to it.” She said aloud, “We’ve got just enough time to fill the tank and still make the meeting on time.”

    Cindy glanced at the gauge on the dash then asked, “How come we’re buying gas now? You filled the tank after you and I went to Wal Mart on Sunday and you’ve still got nearly three quarters of it left.”

    Her mother smiled in replying, “Well, Sweetie, things are a little tense just now and I think it’s a good thing if we keep the car tank as full as we can. If there’s a war or anything there might be really long lines for gas. Besides, I’m in the mood for a Dove Bar. How about you?”

    The girl’s eyes lit up and she said, “Sure! Can I get a Mountain Dew to go with it?”

    Shaking her head with a smile, she replied, “If I drank one of those things with a big chunk of chocolate I wouldn’t get to sleep until dawn. You can have one if you like, but enjoy it while it lasts. One day age will creep up on you too…”

    -- -- -- --

    “You did very well Cindy.” Nancy Singleton said enthusiastically, “I don’t think you’re going to have any problems at all.”

    “Thank you, Mrs. Singleton!” Cindy replied happily. The troops newest patrol leader took her seat and the meeting progressed. In the back of the room Barb and Nancy were chatting.

    “I saw Frank’s BMW when we came inside tonight.” Barb commented, “Does this mean he’s home this week? Did he finish his negotiations with the government or is it all too hush-hush to say?”

    Nancy chuckled as she replied, “Oh yes, he finished all that up. In fact, he’s supposed to have gone to Denver yesterday, but after that terrible news about our ship came across CNN he postponed the trip. He’s been terribly busy all day today emptying the water out of the barrels in the garage and refilling them and was up before dawn this morning to go to the Albertson’s. It’s open twenty four hours, you know. We… had words about the food in the pantry so he replaced it this morning. It’s more full than ever now and the weather is going to be warming up soon!” She sighed elaborately before continuing, “I realize that I promised to love, honor and obey, but really! Sometimes he is just so unreasonable. It’s not like HE has to deal with it all. He just brings it all home and says ‘put this up’ while handing it to me. He’s in the garage now. Won’t let me come in and says to keep the garage door strictly shut until all the girls have gone home. All he’ll say is that some tools are too dangerous for children to be around”

    Barb nodded her head, new worry twisting her stomach. If both her father and Frank Singleton were going to such lengths, then the situation was becoming grave indeed. She let the matter go as it was plain that Nancy was embarrassed about it. Nancy and Frank must have had a fight when he found out that she’d been using up the food supplies he’d purchased and discovered how much his stockpile had dwindled.

    Almost as if by thinking about him they made him appear, Frank Singleton came into the room, walking over to his wife. “I’ve got a bit of shopping to do before the stores close for the night.” He bent down and kissed his wife. “I’ll be back shortly.”

    Nancy looked at her husband curiously, but said only “OK darling. Be careful.” Frank nodded at her and looked at her guest, “Good to see you, Barb. I’ll be back shortly,” then walked out. His BMW backed out of the driveway and disappeared down the street.

    The meeting eventually wound down and the Scouts were cleaning up the room preparatory to going home. Parents were beginning to show up to retrieve their girls when a loud sizzling bang was heard from down the street. The lights in the house went out.

    “Oh for Heaven’s sake!” Nancy said in an exasperated tone, “What a time for a power failure!” By the light of the waxing moon outside Barb saw her stand up and head for her kitchen. “Everybody just sit still.” Nancy said, “I’ll get some flashlights so we can see.” The troop leader disappeared into the deeper darkness of her kitchen.

    Out of the corner of her eye Barb saw sparks falling down the street so she went to the front window of the living room to see what was causing them. From her new position she could see a transformer on a power pole about halfway down the block was in flames and shedding the occasional shower of sparks. “Looks like a transformer blew out, Nancy” she said in explanation. “You won’t have any lights, I think, until the power company can come out and replace it.”

    The troop leader returned with two flashlights and a battery operated lantern. “Well isn’t that just the way of it.” She sighed in exasperation, “At least we were finished with the meeting. Girls, don’t worry about the clean up now. I’ll handle it after the lights come back on. I suppose it’s probably best for everyone to just go home now. Wasn’t it a fun meeting though?” The girls all agreed that it had been and began to gather their things.

    More problems soon revealed themselves as parents tried to leave. One of the other patrol leader’s mothers had difficulty starting her car. After several moments of coaxing it finally caught, but ran ragged and rough. “I don’t understand” she said, “my husband just had it tuned last month and it’s been running like a champ since then. It’s never run like this before.” With some difficulty she pulled her car out of the driveway and drove off. Another parent’s car would not start at all. The motor turned over and over, but would not start. Finally the mother threw her hands up in the air and said, “I’m sorry Nancy. I’ll call AAA and have them come tow it off. Never had this sort of trouble with it before, but it is three years old now so I suppose it’s getting to be that time.”

    Nancy and the woman went back into the house to look for the telephone only to return a moment later looking distressed. “Would you believe the phone isn’t working either? I suppose that transformer must have burned the phone wires up on the pole. Really! What a night this is turning out to be!”

    The other parent who had arrived before the excitement began offered to the woman and her daughter a ride home. “It’s no problem. You can call AAA from home and have them come get your car then.” They all climbed into her vehicle and soon found the problem was worse than they had realized. The third car would not even turn over. A strange feeling was coming over Barbara and she realized the hair was beginning to stand up on the back of her neck.

    Goose flesh ran up her arms as she took her keys out of her purse. She had not yet tried to start her car because of the other cars behind it. She looked at Cindy and said “Stay here a moment, Hon. I want to check something.” Sliding into the driver’s seat she inserted her key and turned it. Her dashboard lights came on but the starter would not turn. She tried the other electronic components in her car, the radio merely crackled. Pulling the key out she left the car and walked back over to the group of women and girls.

    “Nancy,” she said with an uneasy tone, “I don’t know what’s going on, but this isn’t natural. A transformer blowing up and taking the phone lines with it would be one thing, but four cars side by side that won’t start or run right is something else. Maybe we’d better try to call for help or something.”

    Nancy bit her lip, unease playing across her face. “Do you think maybe somebody could have vandalized everyone’s cars?” She turned and looked around the darkened neighborhood as if to catch the villains in the act of sabotaging someone else’s car. Several houses now had faint lights showing from the windows and flashlights flickered here and there. Coming back to the vehicles in her driveway her eyes fell upon her own car. “Let me go inside and get my car keys. I know my car is locked and it has a very good alarm system. I don’t think anyone could have done anything to it without it going off.”

    She walked into her house, flashlight beam bobbing nervously in her hand and returned a moment later. She pointed the little wireless door remote at the car and pushed the button. Nothing happened. Her eyebrows rose and she pushed it again. Still nothing happened. “Now I just replaced that silly battery last month” she said with annoyance. Walking up to the car she inserted the key into the lock and opened the door. Sliding behind the wheel she put the key in the ignition and turned it. The starter clicked rapidly, but the motor never turned over. She could get nothing on the radio and the instrument lights would not turn on. She stepped out of the car again and carefully locked the door with the key, then walked back over to the group.

    “Barbara,” she said, trying to sound calm and collected, “perhaps you’re right. I think maybe we’d better go back inside and wait for Frank to get home. He’ll be able to think of something.”

    Barb nodded her head and they all began walking towards the house. As they did the thought occurred to her “If Nancy’s Lexus won’t run, will Frank’s BMW run where ever it is he’s at? I wonder how wide of an area this problem is happening in?”

    One of the younger Scouts looked at her mother as they went in and asked, “Mama, how are we going to get home?”

    Her mother looked down and said, “It’s alright Darla, if Nancy’s phone doesn’t come back on by the time your daddy gets home from his lodge meeting he’ll try to call here and when he can’t he’ll come over himself to check on us. We’ll go home with him and get our car in the morning.”

    Another girl asked, “What are we going to do while we’re waiting?”

    The troop’s newest patrol leader spoke up, “Well, why don’t we finish cleaning up for Mrs. Singleton and then we can sit in a circle and tell ghost stories!” This appealed to the younger girls and the mothers blessed the quick thinking of the child. They quickly set about finishing their interrupted task by light of the lantern and were soon immersed in their stories, drinking the Koolaid Nancy had made earlier.

    -- -- -- --

    Eddy was in trouble and he knew it. Mom had told him to be home by nine and it was nine o’clock right now. “I shoulda just got the book and went straight home.” He said under his breath as he stood in the book check out line at the front desk. “I shoulda come back later to look at those other books. Now I’m not going to get home before Mom does and I ain’t even started on that algebra.” The line seemed to move forward at a glacial pace but eventually he presented his book and card to the librarian behind the desk. She smiled at him as she scanned his card, then the book and ran it over the demagnetizer, “It’s due back February 18th.” she said, “Those are some nice looking trucks.”

    He gave her a quick smile in reply saying “Yeah, my dad is helping me restore mine and I want to get some ideas. Thanks!” He quickly went out the door to the bike stand in front of the library. As he was unlocking his machine the lights in the parking lot went out. He thought he’d seen a bright flash coming from above in the far distance to the north but wasn’t sure if it wasn’t one of the big sodium vapor lights on University Avenue blowing out. He heard several thundering booms, some near, some far and at the other end of the block could see a transformer on a power pole in flames, sparks spraying into the street and dripping burning matter onto a car parked underneath. Others in his field of view did not seem to be affected. “Wow!” he said aloud, “Cool!” His fascination with the unexpected light show quickly wore off as he realized that not only was the parking lot now quite dark, so was the library. One pale emergency light inside could be seen from his position and people began to file out of the library door, the security guard inside assisting them in finding their way with his flashlight. Looking around he could see many other nearby buildings that were completely dark and a trickle of fear began to run down his spine.

    He checked his bicycle light and with a feeling of relief the headlight came on. It was a tough little light, bulb and battery in one small package. The taillight was similarly built and it too came on when he thumbed its switch. Mounting the machine he road off. When he reached the corner he knew something was very wrong. The traffic light was out, but he was expecting that. What he wasn’t expecting were the cars stopped at the intersection. He could hear several with their starter motors grinding, one close to him was emitting a fast clicking sound. Several more were just inert. He looked around carefully and rode through the intersection. When he’d reached the other side and rolled up the sidewalk he saw a car coming from the opposite direction down the street, a maroon Chevy Nova, early seventies he thought. He didn’t think much of it at first until he’d passed a half-dozen more cars stopped in the street. He stopped and looked back the way he’d came but the Nova was no longer to be seen. Mounting his bike once more he started rolling again, fear slowly congealing into an icy knot in his stomach.

    Reaching the train tracks he slowed and looked carefully in all directions. The tracks and several side streets all came together at University Ave and it made for a complex intersection which required a cyclist or pedestrian to look carefully even when the street and traffic lights were working. Seeing no oncoming cars – that were moving – he rolled into the intersection.

    “Hey boy!” a voice from very near called out to him. “Where you going?! Come here, we wanna see yo’ bike!” Startled he looked around and saw four black males forty, maybe fifty feet away, possibly in their late teens but it was hard to tell in the moonlight. He shot forward as fast as he could and heard the sound of shoe soles rapidly slapping the pavement behind him. The main Gainesville library was situated downtown adjacent to the county courthouse, an area which was very nearly surrounded on all sides by poor neighborhoods like many Florida cities. Eddy had stayed on well lit University Avenue on his way to the library, but now there were no street lights and it seemed the shadowy trouble his mother had feared was now creeping into even the well traveled areas which the lights had previously kept at bay .

    After a hundred yards or so he could no longer hear the sounds of running feet behind him and he slowed his pace, but did not stop. His front light reflected from the blind headlight of a car parked in front of a store and he decided that with cars being stopped – most of them anyway – it might be better to ride with his lights off so that he’d be less of a visible target. Reaching under his seat he flicked off his taillight then his headlight. He soon found there was too much shadow on the sidewalk to easily navigate as people were beginning to become serious obstacles in the pedestrian spaces. At the next intersection he cut over into the street itself. He’d come seven, maybe eight blocks and had seen no more than four cars moving and many stopped all over. Some had headlights on, most did not. People stood in the streets and sidewalks. He could see the occasional flashlight beam and the soft glow that suggested candles to him lit the odd window.

    After a close call with one of the few cars that he’d seen that was still moving of its own volition he slowed and carefully approached all intersections. No one spoke to him and he spoke to no one himself. He was approaching the big 13th St. & University Ave. intersection – dark like all the others – when in the distance came the distinct sound of gunshots. Blam…blam, blam, blam. Fear rose in him again and he quickly made his way through the confluence. He was riding past the University now. He could see pale emergency lights shining from some windows of the library and accounting school. Most of the windows of the businesses across the street were blank and dark.

    At the intersection of North/South Drive coming from the campus and University Avenue there was an accident. A classic Volkswagen Beetle had struck an old Chevy Caprice broadside and the two drivers were standing in the street screaming at each other. He was angling to go around the obstacle when he felt his front tire bump over something in the road then heard a distinct hiss and the steering became mushy. “Aww shit!” he said, climbing off the bike and examining the tire, “cut wide open.” He looked behind him and laying there on the pavement was a piece of thick glass, apparently smashed from the VW’s headlights. He picked it up and could feel a sharp edge, sharp enough to lance open his tire. “Goddamnit!” he swore passionately, knowing he was in serious trouble and hoped it would only be with his parents when he finally did get home. Looking behind him he could see dozens of people – students mostly it looked like – on the sidewalks and streets and in front of him was mostly student and middle class residential areas. He nodded his head, “Should be safe enough to walk the bike home I guess. No way to patch the tube with a hole that big in it and wouldn’t do no good anyway with the tire cut wide open too. Oh man, I’m going to be soo late getting home!” He suddenly remembered that his mom and sister were supposed to be at a Girl Scout meeting. Looking at the cars scattered up and down the length of the usually very busy avenue – silent and still – another thrill of fear ran down his spine. “What if mom’s car won’t run either?”

    He resolved to get home as quickly as he could, any fear of his parent’s anger at his being late shoved away - he just wanted to get home where he belonged and hoped the rest of his family would be able to as well. “If I have to I’ll just drop the bike” he said to himself as he pushed it down the street “maybe they’ll stop for it and leave me alone.”

    Hunkering down into the saddle of himself against the night he pushed his wounded machine down the street.

    -- -- -- --

    The girls were looking bleary eyed and no one really wanted to sing any more campfire songs. As the night wore on and the darkness seemed to deepen around them an unspoken consensus developed that scary stories were not what was wanted so for a time Nancy’s daughter Judy had shared out her comic book collection and they read by the lights of several candles the adults carefully monitored, more to prevent spilled candle wax on Nancy’s carpet than out of any real fear of fire.

    One girl who lived a half mile or so away had already gone home when her father had walked to the house to fetch her. The rifle slung over his shoulder had caused many round eyes when he appeared at the door. The man grinned very self-consciously about it. “I feel like a damn fool carrying this thing, but Annie insisted I bring it. We heard shots in the distance somewhere just before I left. I’ll have to holler up the house carefully when we get back so she doesn’t pepper me with my own shotgun!” Collecting his daughter they disappeared into the darkness. More girls left with fathers who had walked to the house, and several on bicycles. A pair of sisters went soon after when their father rode up on a beautifully restored Harley Davidson motorcycle. He’d been apologetic about not giving more of them a ride home but everyone could plainly see that a grown man and two half-grown girls was all the load the machine could carry. “I’ll come back after I get the family squared away and give some more of you rides if you need it. There’s not an electric light on in Gainesville I think unless it’s battery powered. Cars stopped everywhere.” He shook his head with a rueful smile trying to make light of it, but Barb could see the man was nervous, “I’ve never seen anything like it.” He’d ridden off an hour ago and had yet to return.

    Finally at eleven o’clock Frank Singleton made it home. He was limping and sweating. He’d taken off his flannel shirt and using twine had tied it into an impromptu pack and had it slung over his back. Nancy looked so relieved when he made it home Barb thought she might burst into tears, but she contained herself. She did kiss him more passionately than Barb had ever seen her behave towards him before, even Judy raised her eyebrows. “Damndest thing I’ve ever seen” the man said, “there’s cars stopped everywhere like they were just turned off where ever they happened to be. Most won’t restart, including mine, some would but ran badly, some ran OK. Those were mostly older cars - why I don’t know. I was in the checkout line at Wal Mart when the lights went out. Wasted an hour trying to get the car running then trying to reach someone on the cell phone. Never could get through to anyone. Finally decided I really needed to be here so I started walking. $150 dollars for these shoes, but I can tell you they weren’t made for serious hiking.”

    “Frank,” Barb asked, “what do you think is going on? I mean this isn’t just some power outage. Why won’t anyone’s cars start, at least any car not old enough to vote?”

    The man shook his head, “I don’t know. I suspect it’s an attack of some sort, but I don’t know what it could be.” He ran his fingers through his hair and laughed, “I never took all that ‘end of the world’ stuff seriously. It was only when a client who deals with the Pentagon took me aside and said I should seriously consider stocking up that I put any credence in the government’s warnings. He clears several million a year and works closely with people in the Defense Department who really know what’s going on. I asked him how much he thought I should put away and he said he was doing six months so that’s what I decided to do. Until the Koreans sank our ship I was starting to feel like a fool for having wasted the money when he called me yesterday and said he was leaving for Arizona right away and suggested I postpone any travel for a few days. I know for a fact he was supposed to speak at a major conference in Washington today so for him to duck out on it had to be serious. I’ve been breaking my neck” – said with a meaningful glance at his wife – “all day getting us in shape and nearly got trapped at Wal Mart!”

    “Well, what was so important that you had to go to Wal Mart anyway darling?” Nancy asked.

    Frank said nothing, just took the impromptu pack off of his shoulders and removed a bag out of the several contained within and opened it to show her what was inside. The green and yellow boxes were printed with the words “Remington Core-Lokt”. He closed it up again and put it back. “They didn’t have much left. In fact, I got the last of it. Picked up some more first aid supplies too while I was at it. I’m going to put this stuff away now” and disappeared into the garage.

    With Frank’s return decision crystallized in Barbara. “Nancy, I think I’d better get Cindy home. Eddy may be at the house by himself. Larry called before we left and said he wouldn’t be home till late – I don’t know why. We need to get home.”

    Nancy looked alarmed at this, “But Barbara, how are you going to get there? Walk? By yourself? In the dark?”

    With more bravado than she actually felt Barb replied, “I’m a big girl now. I’m not afraid of the dark. It’s only three miles or so to the house. We’ll make out OK.”

    The other woman chewed her lip again before replying, “It’s not the dark I’d be afraid of Barb.” A genuine tone of worry in her voice. “It’s what might be in the dark.”

    “Well, it’s not like we’ll be entirely helpless” Barb said, trying to reassure her. “I’ll get the pistol out of the glove box and carry it with me. It’s in a holster so if I untuck my shirt it won’t show if I wear it.”

    “Barb! I didn’t know you carried a gun!” Nancy looked quite surprised.

    “It’s not like I carry it *on* me, Nancy. I just keep it in the glove box, or I should say Larry makes me keep in the glove box. It used to belong to his mother. His dad gave it to her and Larry said he made his mother keep it in her car. He inherited it after she died and he insists I keep it in my car. I only shoot it once a year when Larry makes me use up the old bullets and puts new bullets in. I don’t like guns, but it makes him feel better if I have it in the car when I’m out by myself.” She gave a rueful grin, “To tell the truth, for the first time I’m glad I have it.”

    Nancy still wasn’t entirely convinced and said, “Let me talk to Frank, maybe he’ll walk you home or something.”

    Barb didn’t object and they went into the back of the house to find Frank in the bedroom, shoes off examining a large blister on the back of one heel. He looked up to see them coming and said, “This is what living a soft office life does to you. When I was a young man I wouldn’t have thought anything of a five mile walk. Now I’ve got blisters on the backs of both heels. I think it’s been fifteen years or more since did five miles all at once.”

    His wife looked crestfallen at the condition of her husband’s feet, but she went forward regardless. “Frank, Barb wants to walk home with Cindy. I can’t talk her out of it. Maybe you can talk some sense to her.”

    Frank did not care for the idea of her walking home either and tried his best to dissuade her, but after explaining to him the scattered condition of her family and about the pistol in her glove box he relented, “OK, OK, I guess I can’t really argue with you. I’d be worried about my family too. Give me a few minutes to doctor these blisters and I’ll walk you to your house.”

    “Don’t be ridiculous, Frank!” she said, “You’ve got blisters on both feet already. It’s only three miles for us, but it would be six miles for you! It’s not a war zone out there, we’ll make out OK. If anyone threatens us I’ll have the pistol.”

    With a disquieted look he relented, “Well, it’s not a war zone – yet. It probably shouldn’t get bad for many more hours, maybe even a couple of days yet. You say that you only shoot the gun once a year. Do you take it out and handle it other than that?”

    “Me?” Barb asked, “No. I mean I know how to handle it, and to shoot it, but I don’t take out it and play with it or anything. Why?”

    “Then how about let’s do this.” The man explained, “Go get the pistol and any extra ammunition for it you have out of your car and let me look it over for you. If it’s been kicking around in that glove box for months since anyone handled it there might be crud in the action, dirt in the barrel or who knows what. I’ll feel a lot better about you doing this if I know your weapon is in working order.”

    She considered for a moment. It had been months since she’d last closely looked at the pistol. “OK. I’ll go get it.” She went out to her car and returned a few minutes later with a revolver. Frank turned on another battery powered lamp, unholstered the pistol and examined it closely. Using a small brush he cleaned out some lint and dust, unloaded the ammunition then spun the cylinder. He looked down the muzzle for dust and lint then closed the cylinder. He dry fired it several times until he was satisfied it was in good working order. With that he reloaded the ammunition, reholstered the gun and handed it back to her. He stood and left the room for a moment and when he returned he handed her six more rounds of ammunition. “I’m afraid I don’t have a speed loader to give you, but it’s not likely you’ll need to reload anyway. These extra rounds are more for reassurance than anything else.”

    “OK, your pistol seems in good working order. It’s got a good clip that will go right on the belt of your jeans and your shirt will conceal it nicely. I advise you to keep it well concealed. If you should happen to need to show the weapon, you want it to come as a nasty shock to your opponent. Don’t show it unless you’re prepared to draw it. Don’t point it at anyone unless you’re willing to shoot them. Don’t shoot anyone unless you’re willing to kill them. Walk with confidence like you belong where you’re at, and most predators should go look for easier prey.”

    Barb nodded her head. “OK. Thanks for looking it over, Frank. I mean that. We’d better be going now.”

    On the way to the front of the house Nancy said, “If you’d like you can leave Cindy’s stuff here so you won’t have to carry it. It’ll be alright until you can come back later. I’ll get you both a bottle of water in case you get thirsty.”

    At the front of the house Barb collected her daughter, explained what they were going to do and put the two bottles of water in the little daypack that Cindy had brought. Nancy also gave them one of her flashlights then they were off.

    The night closed quickly around them.

    -- -- -- --

    Larry was in a sour mood. He had a headache from the cheap malt liquor that Nicky drank and the blackout was making driving a pain in the ass. “Shoulda just dropped it off, got the stuff and left. I’da been nearly home before the power went out.” But he knew he couldn’t have done that. Once he’d gotten to the place, Nicky had wanted him to show him a few licks. It had been nearly ten years since Larry had last even turned it on, and he was very rusty. “A beer will limber you up!” Nicky had said and had brought out a couple of tall boys. After the first one he had gotten smoother, the old reflexes started to come back to him and he got into the groove. It had felt good, like the years were falling away. Eventually, though, he could not ignore the clock. Barb, his family and his job were waiting on him and it was going to be an hour getting home. Larry had handed the instrument to Nicky for the last time, and collected his goods in return.

    He’d just loaded them all in the tool box and had gone back inside to get his cap when the lights went out. “Well ain’t that some shit?!” Nicky said sourly. “Just get the thing and ain’t got no power to play it with!” Larry just shook his head and said, “Probably just as well, Nicky. This way your neighbors won’t be calling the cops on you – tonight, at least. Remember what I said about not turning it over an 8 if you don’t want to blow it out.”

    Climbing into his truck he’d pulled out of the driveway and drove through the darkened neighborhood heading into Lake City towards the I-75 interchange on the other side of town. A half-mile down the road he came upon a Honda stopped dead in the middle of the road, dark and immobile. Larry braked hard and swung into the other lane to go around. “Goddamned idiot!” he said to the windshield, “Somebody’s gonna rear end that dumbass son of a bitch and get killed.” A couple of hundred yards later he came upon another car stopped in the road, and then one on the shoulder of the oncoming lane. A man was standing beside the car looking annoyed.

    Larry pulled over and asked, “Why are you stopped in the road like this? You’re the third person in the last half-mile I’ve seen stopped in the road.”

    The older, gray haired man looked at him bewildered, “Beats the hell out of me! Damn thing just cut off. Can’t even get it to click. You say you’ve seen others done the same? Then why is your truck still running?”

    The hair on the back of Larry’s neck began to stir and he said, “Don’t know. Why shouldn’t it run? You think this has got something to do with the power failure maybe?”

    The other man chuckled, “Only if I had a really long extension cord. Never seen anything like it. Do you reckon you give me a lift back into town? I live behind the shopping plaza about a mile back down the road. I’ll fetch my wife and the truck and tow the car home.”

    Larry reexamined the man, decided he didn’t look dangerous and said, “Sure, hop in.” He leaned over and unlocked the passenger door.

    The other man climbed in. Larry asked, “Now you said the plaza about a mile down the road?”

    “That’s right” and the man closed the door as the truck started rolling. The closer to the plaza they came the more cars they passed in the road and shoulder, most with people standing near them. A few cars still moved, almost entirely older models. Larry pulled over and let the man out in front of the darkened plaza. “Thanks friend” he said, “Much obliged. My knee won’t take much walking anymore and you saved me a sight of trouble.”

    Larry drove off, slowly down the darkened highway weaving around the motionless cars heading towards the Interstate, his unease growing with every mile. “I don’t know what the Hell is going on here, but this ain’t no ordinary blackout.” he said aloud to himself. Reaching over to the radio he turned it on but got nothing from his usual station at 1240. Keeping one eye on the road looking out for stalled vehicles and the occasional moving one like himself he began to scan the dial. Ordinarily at this time of night the AM band would be crowded with stations far and near stepping on each other, but this night all he could get was static. None of the American stations he’d heard before could be found and though he did once or twice catch a few words in English he was unable to keep them. Even the Cuban stations were badly fragmented, not that listening to them would do him any good since he could not understand Spanish. Frustrated he finally turned the radio off and gave his full concentration to driving.

    He pulled onto the I-75 southbound ramp and as he expected found motionless cars there as well. On the Interstate itself he found enough cars scattered across the three southbound lanes and emergency strip to make any sort of normal driving dangerous. He’d have to drive slowly enough so that he could weave in and out. The snowbirds heading south away from the January and February cold of the Northern states swelled the traffic on Florida’s highways at this time of year. He saw in the distance a car in the northbound lane that was doing the same as he, but could not make out what it was. In the now darkened world a single pair of headlights stood out like search lights. Several miles ahead he could see another car in the southbound lane as it traversed a slight rise.

    Several miles south of the interchange he came upon a knot of vehicles. Two semi-tractor trailers had stopped side by side with a big dually pickup truck in the third lane. He swung into the emergency lane to go around when several men stepped into his path waving their hands in the air. At first Larry was inclined to stop until he saw the unmistakable flash of a nickel plated revolver in one man’s hand. Without thinking Larry stomped the accelerator of the truck and it leapt forward towards the men who dove to the side to get out of his way. He heard a muffled banging over the sound of his truck engine and the outside rear view mirror shattered into a spray of gleaming shards. He kept the truck moving fast giving thanks for what appeared to be a long open stretch in front of him.

    A mile later he came upon a slight rise and stopped the truck at the top so that he could see in both directions for a long ways. Getting out, he examined the truck carefully, but other than the mirror had apparently suffered no damage. Climbing back in he opened the glove box and took out a large revolver old fashioned in appearance. Swinging open the cylinder he checked the loads, worked the action, and then closed the cylinder again. He slid the holstered pistol under his right thigh.

    It was a long way to Gainesville yet and he’d be a long time getting there at the new speed limit that had been imposed on man’s darkened world.

    -- -- -- --

    “Mom, when will the lights come back on?” Cindy asked, unease written across her face.

    “I don’t know, Hon.” Her mother replied, “I don’t know what made them go off. Or why our car won’t start.”

    The two females had walked over a mile through darkened neighborhoods. It wasn’t totally dark, the waxing moon shed some light though it would not be full for several more days yet. Many of the house windows they passed were lit, mostly by candles and oil lamps it seemed. One house had its regular lights on which raised her curiosity until they drew close enough to hear the muffled roar of a portable generator. Many people were standing in front of the house talking to a man whom she took to be the homeowner. He would occasionally point at the machine as he talked and she reckoned he must be explaining the ins and outs of home power generation to a newly interested neighborhood audience. The sight of the people standing there relieved her somewhat and she and Cindy waved at them as they went past.

    Presently they left the residential area and approached several darkened shopping plazas and other commercial buildings. The parking lots had a fair number of cars, all motionless, and only a few of the stores had any lights on at all. Barb assumed they must be some sort of emergency lights running on batteries. As they were passing the first stretch she heard glass breaking not very far away and she tensed again. They kept walking. The streets were so silent in this stretch that she could hear a car in the distance coming up from behind them. For a moment the wild hope that it was Larry in the truck sprang up within her and she turned around, but she could tell by the headlights it wasn’t Larry’s truck. She turned around again and they kept walking until the car pulled up along side.

    Out of the glare of the headlights Barb could see that it was some sort of old sedan. It reminded her a lot of the Ford Ltd. Brougham her grandfather had driven when she was a little girl. It seemed vaguely familiar to her like she’d seen it somewhere before, but just where that might have been wasn’t coming back to her.

    The passenger side window was down and as the car slowly paced them the driver turned on the interior dome light and leaned over. A white man looking to be in his late forties was driving. He had on a sweatshirt pulled over some sort of collared shirt and he appeared harmless enough.

    “Good evening, Mrs. Nichols. Hi, Cindy! This power failure looks like it’s blacked out the whole city! I just saw some fellows smashing the window of that liquor store back there! Do you really think it’s safe for you two to be out walking in the dark like this? I can give you a ride home, if you like.”

    Barb stopped so Cindy stopped along side of her. She squinted at the man to get a better look. Plainly, he knew who they were, but she wasn’t sure she knew who he was. She was hoping it would be someone she knew as she’d really really like to get a ride the rest of the way home. No, she still didn’t recognize him. “I’m sorry Mr…uhh, but do we know you?”

    The man looked a little puzzled himself at first then he said, “Oh! You probably don’t recognize me out of my uniform. I’m Hank Brewer, one of the janitors at Cindy’s school. Let me get out of the car and you’ll know me then.” He stopped the car, put it in park, opened the door and stepped out. Coming around the front of the car he stood in the headlights. “Do you recognize me now?” the man said as he came around the car to open the rear passenger door, “Would you all like a ride?” He smiled widely and seemed perfectly genuine if a little tense.

    The events of the night had her feeling tense herself so she could perfectly well understand how he could feel the same way, but still… she was unsure. Barb looked at Cindy and asked “Do you know Mr. Brewer?” Cindy stared at him for a moment and said, “Yes ma’am. He started this year.” She hesitated, plainly nervous about saying anything then spoke in a lower tone of voice so that only her mother would be able to hear her, “I don’t want to ride home with him, Mom, he gives me the creeps. Melody Strickland says he hangs out a lot around the girls gym.”

    A chill that had nothing to do with the temperature spread over her, and Barb decided they would not be accepting his offer. “Umm, Thanks just the same Mr. Brewer, but it’s not very far to the house. We’ll walk. Thank you very much for offering, though.”

    “But Mrs. Nichols,” the man protested, “It’s still nearly two miles to your house from here.” He left the car door open and began to slowly step towards them, arms wide, face open and guileless. “Please, it’s cold out here and it’s not safe. I insist. Let me give you and Cindy a ride home. I know she likes taking dares, but this one is too much. You should both be safe at home.”

    Adding a firmness to her voice she didn’t not truly feel as a genuine feeling of alarm she could not explain spread through her she repeated, “Thank you Mr. Brewer, but no. We will walk home. Two miles is not going to hurt either of us.”

    The man was ten feet away when with unexpected suddenness he leaped forward and grabbed Cindy by her upper arm growling at her, “I said get in the car!” and shoved her roughly towards the waiting vehicle. The child screamed and Barb shouted “NO!” at the man and grabbed for him. He whirled around quickly and struck her in the face with his fist knocking her down – bright skyrockets of pain shooting across her vision.

    For a moment she was senseless on the ground but she regathered her wits and while screaming “NO!!!” at the top of her lungs leapt to her feet to attack the man roughly shoving her daughter into the back seat of his car. She had fallen on the mass of the revolver when she’d struck the ground. It had bruised her hip badly, but had also reminded her that she was carrying it! She clawed the weapon out of its holster as he slammed the door shut and turned to confront her again. The dark blue steel was difficult to see in the pale moonlight and Barb later decided he probably never even saw the gun that she shot him twice through the chest with. The two jacketed .38 slugs punched through his clothing and chest, spraying blood over the car behind him. A look of stunned amazement crossed his features as he staggered forward, hands still outstretched to grapple with her until he finally collapsed. She was forced to take several hasty steps backwards to keep him from hitting her when he fell, the revolver tracking his movements all the way down.

    For a few seconds she kept it pointed at him, unsure of whether to shoot him again. He did not move and in the car she could hear Cindy screaming. She took several more quick steps back then ran around to the other side of the car where the driver’s door stood open, never taking her eyes off of the man until she slid into the driver’s seat. She slammed the door shut, threw the car into drive and mashed the accelerator. Yelling into the back seat she said, “Cindy! It’s OK! It’s OK! We’ve left him behind! I’m driving the car and we left him back there!”

    The child seemed unable to stop screaming for several more seconds until she managed to wrestle herself under control again. Tears ran down her face. “He… he… he… grabbed me, Mommy! Mommy, he grabbed me under my skirt while he was shoving me in the car!”

    Barb knew the child was terrified as Cindy had stopped calling her mommy when she turned eight, but Barb was terrified too. “Get home! Got to get home!” repeated again and again like a mantra in her head. She reached over the seat and took her daughter’s hand who immediately grasped it with both of hers. “It’s going to be alright Cindy. It’s going to be alright. Mr. Brewer is back there and we’re in here. He can’t hurt you now.” The girl sobbed inconsolably as her mother navigated the remaining distance home.

    Pulling into the driveway of the house she turned off the headlights and was opening the door when Eddy came around the corner with a baseball bat in his hands. “Mom!” he yelled excitedly, “I’m glad to see you! I’ve been worried about everyone since I got home and found no one here. Whose car is this?”

    Barb was beginning to feel shocky with reaction, but she did manage to get out “Eddy, I can’t tell you how glad I am to see you, too.” She pulled him to her and hugged him fiercely. “Now help me get your sister into the house. We’ve had a bit of a scare on the way home and she’s going to need our help. After we get her into her room I want you to lock all the doors and windows. Do you understand?”

    “Sure mom, sure.” he answered. “What happened to you and Cindy? Your face is bruised. Do you know where Dad is? I tried to call, but the phone isn’t working.”

    “I’ll tell you what I know and what happened, but first we have to get your sister inside.” Taking one of Cindy’s arms Eddy took the other one and they quickly carried the girl inside to her room. That done, Eddy set about shutting out the night from the Nichol’s household.

    A half-hour later as Cindy dropped into a deep slumber, induced by the sleeping tablets her mother had given her, Larry pulled into the driveway. He came into the house with a long package over one shoulder and a rectangular metal can in the other hand. “I see you made it home in one piece” he said with a visible look of relief. “I’ve had a hell of a time getting home from Lake City dodging dead cars all over the Interstate and the occasional bandits. I was really afraid I was going to have to come looking for you when I got here. Whose car is that out in the driveway? What happened to your face?”

    Hysteria threatened to bubble out of her again and she viciously repressed it before she allowed herself to speak, “Cindy and I managed to make it home alright. Not quite in one piece, but we made it home.”

    “Larry, we’ve got to talk. I… I… I had to do something very serious on the way home and it involves how I came by that car.”

  10. #10
    <b>February 05, 2004 Descent</b>

    “Dad, there’s a gym bag in the floorboard back here.” Eddy said from the back seat. “I don’t think it’s mom’s or Cindy’s. Should I leave it?”

    Larry stopped for a moment in the front seat where he was spraying glass cleaner and wiping every surface. “No, better check and see what’s in it. Anything else back there?”

    Eddy said nothing for a space then replied, “A lot of trash is all that I see so far. I’ll check the bag.”

    His father returned to ‘sanitizing’ the front of the car and would do the same for the back of the cabin when he finished where he was at. He was working fast because he wanted to move the car away from the house as soon as possible once he’d removed any evidence of Barb’s and Cindy’s occupancy of the vehicle.

    Inside the house Barbara sleeping. He’d given her some of the sleeping tablets she had dosed Cindy with. In spite of the antacids he’d eaten earlier his stomach still knotted sourly as rage, guilt, and fear fought for dominance.

    “Dad, I think you’d better look at this.” his son called from the rear.

    Larry stopped, turned around in the front seat and said, “What is it?” Eddy passed him a handful of papers and he examined them in the illumination provided by the small penlight he was using. The very first sheet was Cindy’s bathing suit photo taken from the chat room website. “Christ!” he said, unable to control himself. Quickly scanning the other sheets he found pages from her school’s yearbook of the girls swimming and gymnastics teams, facial photos of Cindy and a dozen other girls that he did not recognize. A spiking pain seemed to grow in the back of his head and he said to Eddy, “Give me the bag. Don’t look at any of the rest of it, just give it to me.”

    The boy complied and quickly handed him a small, black nylon gym bag. Inside were a roll of duct tape, scissors, a sheathed knife, a roll of heavy cord, and a digital camera. After thoroughly examining the bag to be sure he’d missed nothing he replaced everything but the papers and put the bag in the front passenger floorboard. Five minutes later he was satisfied the front was finished so went to the back of the car after telling Eddy to examine the trunk. The boy was right about the trash, candy wrappers, soda cans, bags of burger and fry packaging. He left it all and quickly examined under the front seats, felt in the back seats, then wiped every surface. Eddy soon reported the trunk to be full of ordinary junk, “the spare’s flat though.”

    “OK,” his dad said, closing the car doors then wiping off the door handles, panels, and the car roof. “We’re ready. Remember what I said about keeping your gloves on. Just follow me and we’ll be to the park and back inside of twenty minutes and we’ll put this all behind us.”

    Eddy nodded gravely as he got behind the wheel of the car. Larry pulled out of the driveway, lights off and navigating by moonlight and the boy did the same. Six blocks away they turned on their headlights and began to make for the southern end of town to the park near to the end of 6th street. Larry had chosen the location because of the occasional stories in the newspaper about the police arresting the hookers and drug dealers who hung out there. “Right now a car that will crank and run is worth a lot. If we leave the keys in the ignition it won’t stay in that park long. If the police ever do get around to investigating Brewer’s death that car’ll have probably been handled by all sorts of lowlife’s. Robbery and murder will appear to be the natural explanation and they may not look any further than that.”

    It had taken twenty intense minutes for Larry to convince Barb not to try to report the matter to the police. “Baby, right at the moment where are you going to find a cop to report to? There ain’t no phone, they probably don’t have any more cars that run right now than anyone else, and their radios are probably shot too. Just now a cop is a man with a gun and a badge and not much else until they can get themselves reorganized. What you did WAS a clear cut case of self-defense but will it appear that way to an investigator when you shot the man, left him for dead and drove off in his car? The last thing we need right now is to be caught up in some drawn out homicide investigation. I don’t know how that man came upon you and Cindy but the fact was he was in a car that was still running driving around late at night. If someone shot him and went off with his car it’s going to look like a carjacking. I’m willing to bet that’s how the cops will see it too if they don’t find any evidence to the contrary and won’t take it any further. I’ll sanitize the car to get yours and Cindy’s fingerprints out of it and drop it off somewhere in the southeast part of town. Plenty of carjacker types down there. It’ll look natural if anyone ever gets around to checking.”

    In the end Larry wasn’t sure if Barb had really been convinced of his reasoning or if exhaustion had finally set in to the point she couldn’t argue anymore. In any case they were going with his plan. Now that he’d seen what was in Brewer’s gym bag he had a pretty good idea of how the man came to be where he was when Barb and Cindy were walking home. “Goddamn predator’s probably been watching her and the other girls in her school for a long time now I’ll bet” he growled to himself as they turned onto Southwest Thirteenth St. “That’s how he knew how far it was from that shopping plaza to the house. He’s been watching Barb and Cindy. This blackout must have looked like a natural opportunity. Thank you Jesus that Barb had the sense to carry the pistol with her.”

    He made the turn onto 16th Ave leading to 6th St., few lights of any sort were to be seen in this area of student housing. “Course not,” he said to the windshield, “All them highly intelligent college students wouldn’t ever have thought about putting away candles or oil lamps.” Even at 1:00 a.m. in the morning there were a few people on the streets, but when he turned onto 6th St itself there were none to be seen. The little park was below the level of the street as the land fell away towards a small creek and combined with the trees made for deep darkness now that the surrounding street and apartment complex lights were out. Turning into the parking lot he circled the truck around the parking area but the headlights caught no one in the open. “Reckon there wouldn’t be any johns or customers coming down here where it’s darker than the Pit so they all split.” He stopped the truck and Eddy pulled the sedan into a parking space behind it. He turned the ignition off and got out of the car. He left the door unlocked as he ran around the side of the truck and got in, Larry’s hand over the dome light so that no faces could be seen. Pulling out again he left in a direction different from the way they had come.

    Neither spoke a word for many blocks until Eddy asked, “Dad, do you really think this is going to work? It just seems wrong somehow. What mom did was right, that man was going to hurt Cindy. Why do we have to hide it?”

    For a time his father said nothing, then spoke, “Son, I’m going to be honest with you. I’m doing the best I can here. Nothing like this has ever happened before, at least not to me or anyone I know anyways. Under normal circumstances we would turn this over to the police, but circumstances aren’t normal right now and I don’t know when they will be normal again. May never be normal for all we know. Right now I think it’s best if we can distance the family from that pre… that man and his death. I’m not going to try to fool you, we’ve got a hard road to travel ahead of us I think. I don’t know what has happened, but I think it was some sort of attack. Your grandfather has been mighty worried about it for sometime now and I was starting to get a little nervous too. Shoulda took it more seriously, but I wasn’t expecting anything like this. Neither was anyone else I guess. I don’t know when the power will come back on again, nor how long it’s going to take to get people’s cars working again, but if it takes very long at all things are going to get pretty bad. We don’t need to be dragging a killing along behind us when it happens. Right or wrong, it’s done now. We’ll just have to see it through.”

    The boy said nothing further until they were nearly half-way home when he asked, “Dad, you really think this was some sort of attack? Like from the Russians or somebody?”

    Larry scratched the back of his neck. “Don’t know what else it could be, Eddy. A power outage would be one thing, but I can’t see any other way to explain why all of sudden most people’s cars won’t start. Especially seeing as how the truck here is running fine, Brewer’s car ran, I’ve seen maybe five or six others that are running. Only thing is except for that one Porsche I saw on the Interstate all the cars I saw that were running are older than you are. Whatever it was that took out the power took out the newer cars too, maybe something about their electronics, I don’t know. That’s only thing I can figure that’s different between new cars and old cars like our truck.”

    Eyes shining from the panel lights Eddy asked again, “Who do you think attacked us?”

    The older man shook his head. “Don’t know. Could be the Russians I suppose, but there hasn’t been anything in the news about trouble between them and us lately. Maybe the Chinese, they’re supposed to be sneaky, but we’ve been shipping them all of our manufacturing and money for years now. Doesn’t make much sense to me to kill your best customer. Maybe it was the North Koreans. The President has sure been unloading on them lately what with them putting satellites into space and doing nuke tests. They just sank one of our ships too. It’s a long way from North Korea to the United States though. I wouldn’t have thought they could reach that far. Maybe it was something they shipped in on a container ship. Hell, for all we know it might have been old Osama Bin Laden who turned out the lights. Just don’t know.”

    The two Nichol’s men did not speak again before the truck pulled into their driveway. Larry stationed Eddy outside the front door while he made a quick circuit around the outside of the house. Finding nothing out of the ordinary he joined Eddy at the door and they went inside. All was peaceful inside and Larry spent some time sitting on the end of Cindy’s bed watching his daughter’s chest rise and fall in the moonlight as she slept. Presently he left the room, found Eddy and made him go to bed. “Gonna be a long day tomorrow. You need your sleep.” The boy went off and soon the house grew quiet and still again.

    In the living room Larry sat in the darkness of the moon shadow, lost in thought, staring into the thousand year night.

    -- -- -- --

    John woke to the sound of birds singing. It was cold in the house, but it usually was at this time of the year. There’d be enough live coals left in the woodstove to have a lively fire burning before his coffee finished perking though. Throwing back the covers he stepped into the fleece lined slippers Barb had given him several Christmases ago and then shrugged into the heavy dressing robe that Margie had given him that same holiday. He went into the kitchen and picked up the percolator from the stove to fill at the sink. He turned the tap and the pot began to fill, if somewhat slowly. “Points must be getting sticky again” he said to himself. He set the pot on the stove and turned on the fire underneath. With the coffee on he went into the living room and opened the stove flue and damper, then the doors. Raking up the coals he laid several split lengths of dry oak on them and was gratified to see they took flame almost at once. He closed the doors but left the draft open until the wood was burning well.

    He walked back into the kitchen, turned over the cast iron frying pan from where he’d set it yesterday morning to dry over the pilot light and went to the refrigerator. His foot was just beginning to makes its presence known again, but not as much as it had yesterday morning at this time. He had no doubt though by tonight it would be throbbing again the way it had last night when he’d gone to bed early, exhausted from dealing with it and the tension stress of the last several weeks. Opening the door of the ice box he peered into the dark corners and frowned, “Bulb’s not on.” he said to himself. He flicked the door switch several times but it still did not come on. Frowning he closed the refrigerator door and opened the freezer door over head. That light did not come on either and it was plain the contents of the freezer was starting to thaw somewhat.

    “Marvelous.” he muttered darkly as he closed the door. “Damn refrigerator has quit.” He walked over to the kitchen light switch to get some more light in the room so he could take a closer look at his problem appliance. He flicked the switch, but no lights came on. His frown deepened as he flicked it several more times. “Has the power been out since last night?” Turning to the breaker box behind the kitchen door he opened it, flipped all the switches off and on, but still no lights came on.

    “Wonder how long the power’s been off?” he asked himself as he went to the phone. “Maybe Ben was still up when it happened.” Picking up the phone he put the receiver to his ear as his other hand reached out to punch Ben’s number.

    There was no dial tone.

    John’s eyebrows rose and the back of his neck tingled. “Okkaayyy” he said slowly. “Reckon whatever took out the power took the phones too. I’ll just go over to Ben’s and ask him directly if he knows when the power went off.”

    Passing into the living room on his way to his bedroom he saw the wood was well lit so adjusted the draft. He got dressed, went into the kitchen, shrugged on his coat, turned off the fire under the coffee and went outside. He pulled out his truck keys to drive over but reconsidered. His foot was feeling much better than it had yesterday, he’d walk the several hundred yards to his neighbor’s house.

    By the time he reached Ben’s porch his foot was throbbing again, but not unbearably so. Rapping on the door frame he stood waiting until Ben came to the door.

    “Good mornin’ John!” he said as he opened the screen door. “Come on in. I’ve got coffee boiling on the woodstove.”

    John shook his head and smiled at the aroma. “Sounds good. Your power off too?”

    “Yep, sure is.” the other man replied as he poured a cup and handed it to John. “Went off about nine last night right in the middle of my show. Taking their sweet time about getting it back on too!”

    “Since nine?” John said, a puzzled expression on his face. He looked at his wristwatch then continued, “That’s nearly eleven hours ago. Must have happened just after I went to bed. There wasn’t any rough weather last evening. I wonder what it could be that the Cooperative wouldn’t have it back on by now? That’s a long time for people’s power to be off. My refrigerator freezer is starting to thaw already.”

    Ben took a swallow of his coffee. “Them Co-op folks aren’t the quickest things about getting the power back on unless’n you live in town or something, but you’re right, they’re usually faster than this. Maybe the power plant caught fire or something.”

    “You tried listening to the radio?” John asked, “Power’s been off this long the Trenton station might be saying something about it, especially since it took the phones with it when it went out.”

    “Done tried the radio, John.” Ben said, “Can’t get the Trenton station, nor the Christian station. Can’t get none of the Gainesville stations either. In fact, I haven’t been able to get any station today. Might could be my radio I suppose, I don’t use the battery one but once in a while, but it worked OK when I used it last week. Tried putting new batteries in, but still couldn’t get no stations. ‘Course AM ain’t worth a whole lot during the day nohow, but I couldn’t get none of the FM music stations either. I was just thinking about going into town and asking at the café if anyone knows what’s going on. You had breakfast yet? I could do with a plate of ham and eggs this morning.”

    John said nothing for a moment as he sipped his coffee then said, “Sure, why not? I know there’s nothing wrong with the radio in the truck so maybe we’ll hear something there, but either way I could go for some ham and eggs myself. Let’s go.”

    Ben put on his hat and coat and the two men left his place and walked back over to John’s to get his truck. They climbed in and John turned the key in the ignition. The motor slowly turned over, but never came up to cranking speed. A second try produced only clicks.

    “Well, damnit!” the man said in an annoyed tone. “If it’s not one thing it’s another. That battery hasn’t given me any trouble all winter. Hell, it’s only two years old, it shouldn’t be acting like this.” He popped the motor hood and climbed out to examine the connections from the battery to the starter, but could find no sign of anything amiss. “Well, that’s that. Battery’s about spent and there’s no power to run the charger with to bring it up again.” He slammed the hood shut in frustration as Ben climbed back down out of the truck.

    “Ain’t nothing to get worked up over John,” his fried temporized, “we’ll just walk back to my place and take mine.” With a curt nod of his head they both walked back the way they had come, John’s foot was beginning to force itself upon his attention more insistently than before. They walked up to Ben’s carport and climbed into his truck, Ben inserted his key and turned it. The starter emitted a rapid clicking, but did not turn the motor.

    “Well, ain’t that somethin’” Ben said, as he climbed out of the truck. He lifted the truck hood and performed much the same sort of examination that John had done with his vehicle. “Noo, can’t say that I see anything wrong with the connections.” Ben said in a puzzled tone. He climbed behind the wheel again and tried the key once more. Again he got a series of clicks, but the motor did not turn over.

    “Now, I just don’t understand all I know about this.” Ben said in a baffled way.

    A chill began to spread down John’s spine as he himself began to realize that he did understand now all that he knew about this. Speaking softly to no one, “The satellite launches. It had to be the satellite launches. I didn’t think they had the capability, but it looks like they have it now!”

    He turned to his friend, a look of deadly earnestness upon his face to say, “Ben, I think we’ve got a serious problem here…”

  11. #11
    <b>February 06, 2004 Impact</b>

    Larry woke to Barb’s soft hands rubbing his neck and shoulders. The sun was shining in the living room window but it was quite cool in the house. His neck was stiff as it always was when he slept in the recliner. Licking his lips he asked, “What time is it? Power back on yet?”

    “Just past nine and no, it isn’t.” Barb replied. “Why did you sleep in the recliner?”

    “Didn’t mean to fall asleep. Thought it best if someone stayed on watch.” He sat up slowly from the chair, feeling cold and stiff all over. “Wasn’t a very good watchman was I? Don’t seem to have much talent for it as can be seen from last night and this morning. Has Cindy woke up yet?”

    Barb took her husband’s head in her hands and pulled him to her, then gave him a firm kiss. “Larry, you couldn’t have known what was going to happen last night anymore than I could have. Don’t beat yourself up about it. If you hadn’t insisted I keep that pistol in the car I wouldn’t have had it with me when I really needed it. It was bad, but we made it. We’ll get through this too and make it to the other side. Cindy’s still asleep, but I expect she’ll wake up soon since she’s starting to stir now.” She released him and walked out of the room.

    He stretched for a minute to work out the kinks. Barb came back and handed him a cup of hot coffee. He smiled and quirked an eyebrow, “How’d you boil water for coffee with the power out? Build a fire in the back yard?”

    Grinning at him his wife replied, “No, you goofball! I put a pot on the gas camping stove dad gave us for Christmas and made it that way. Might want to let it settle for a moment or you’ll get grounds in your teeth. Should have bought a stove top percolator, but I didn’t think of it.”

    Taking an appreciative sip Larry smiled as he poked some gentle fun at her, “I should have known if there was any way to make coffee at The End Of The World you’d find it. If having to drink cowboy coffee is the worst we have to suffer in all this I reckon we’ll have done alright. You going to cook breakfast on that stove too?”

    Nodding her head she said, “Yes, I am. Going to be a big breakfast too so I hope everyone is hungry. The stuff in the refrigerator is going to spoil if we don’t eat it soon I’m afraid. It’s pretty cool outside, I think if you and Eddy can get the chest freezer onto the back porch and we wrap it with blankets or something we can probably keep the stuff in there from spoiling until the power comes back on.”

    He winced at the idea of their freezer. “Damn! We must have a couple of hundred pounds of food in there! How long do you think it’ll take before it starts to rot if the power doesn’t come back on?”

    She shrugged her shoulders. “I don’t know. Two or three days maybe if we don’t open it more than we have to and we keep it well wrapped.”

    Scratching the back of his neck he said, “Yesterday the radio said the predicted highs for today would be near sixty or so and clouding up tonight. It’ll get warmer than that in the house as the day progresses so I suppose you’re right, if we move it out onto the back porch stuff shouldn’t thaw so fast. If we don’t get the power back on before then there’s no way we’re going to be able to eat it all before it rots.”

    “Well, there’s not as much as we’d normally have.” she told him “I haven’t been buying any frozen foods for a while, but there is still quite a bit in there.”

    They walked out together onto the back porch where Barb had set up the camp stove on the porch table. Across the fence he could see their backdoor neighbor lighting a charcoal grill. Larry watched him thoughtfully for a few moments then asked, “I wonder how many people are going to find themselves short on food soon if things don’t get back to normal in the next couple of days? You know the way the grocery stores jammed last year when that hurricane came close. We should be eating what we can before then but if the power don’t come back on by the time the freezer stuff seriously begins to thaw I could build a fire in the backyard and we could make a big pot of soup, or stew or something in the crab boiler. Invite the neighborhood. Damn sure wouldn’t be any sense in just letting it rot because we couldn’t eat it in time. If the power doesn’t come back on soon there’s likely going to be quite a lot of people with the same problem.”

    Barb watched their neighbor at his grill for a time as well then asked, “Do you really think the power is going to stay off for that long?”

    Shaking his head Larry said, “Baby, I don’t know. I don’t know why it went off. It hasn’t come back on yet and I haven’t heard anyone say when it will. Speaking of that, anyone had any luck with a radio? We should get the kid’s car TV and see if it’ll work, it runs off 12 volt power.”

    “No, I haven’t heard a radio or a TV since before we left Nancy’s house last night. I think I saw Cindy’s radio that dad gave her for Christmas in the living room. I’ll go get it and see if we can get some news.”

    She was turning to go into the house when Cindy’s voice reached them from within. “Daddy! I think you’d better come in here! Something’s wrong with the toilet!”

    Larry looked at Barb as he started moving, “What could be wrong with the toilet? There ain’t no water. I hope she’s not trying to use it.”

    The pair of them went inside and joined Cindy in the bathroom where she pointed to the toilet bowl. The lid and seat were up and inside the water level was rising. It reached the lip of the bowl as they watched and slowly began to spill over. “Aww damn!” Larry said heatedly. Turning to Barb he told her, “You and Cindy get everything off the floor in here and in our bathroom and try to keep this from spreading on to the bedroom and hall carpets. I’ll go and see what the hell is causing this.” He started heading down the hall and saw Eddy sitting up in bed rubbing his eyes. “Eddy, get dressed and find me outside. I’m probably going to need some help.”

    The man stepped out of his front door and onto the walkway leading to the street. He turned and looked to the north eying the level of the ground and the number of houses between him and the slight crest of the rise their street traversed several hundred yards away. “Well, shit.” he muttered, “And going to be lots of it too. Them folks are getting water from somewhere to flush their toilets and it’s just flowing right on downhill. Turning and looking to the south at the half dozen or so houses between him and the intersection he said, “Man, it must be running over all over the place down there.” Going back into the house he went out to the small metal tool shed he kept his lawn mower and yard tools in and came back with a spade. In front of the house he began searching along the bottom of the front wall behind the hedge until he found what he was looking for, the mark he had made from when he had needed to have his sewer lines routed out several years before. He stepped through the hedge two paces and began to dig. Eddy came out then and he said, “Go and get me a spare bike tube, your bike pump, some of those old towel rags out of the garage, and the small pipe wrench - quick.”

    After a few moments of digging he uncovered the cleanout that he’d been looking for and shoveled out from around it, in particular digging a hole several feet deep to one side. Eddy came back with the requested items and Larry began working the clean out cap off with the wrench. When it came free sewage immediately began to overflow out of the pipe and into the hole.

    The boy stared down into the small excavation, “Man, that stinks! Why are we uncovering the sewer pipe dad?”

    “Because the power to the sewage pumping station at the bottom of the hill is off too, son. That means the sewage is not being pumped over the hill to the treatment plant so that now whenever somebody uphill from us flushes their toilet it’s just going to back up the sewer pipe out there in the street until it comes out of somebody’s toilet or sink. The only way we’re going to keep it from running into the house is by blocking the pipe.”

    The man took the tube out of the box and unfolded it then wrapped several towels around it loosely. He threaded the bike pump hose onto the Schraeder valve of the tube and then shoved the mass into the pipe one the street side of the cleanout. “Hold this in place for me son while I pump it up.”

    Eddy was clearly less than enthusiastic about sticking his hands into the sewage, but he did as his father had told him and held the towel wrapped tube in place against the flow. Larry quickly pumped it up and soon the flow shut off altogether with only the backflow draining out of the house dropping into the hole. “We’ll just leave the clean out open for a while” Larry explained, “and let what’s going to run out of the house plumbing come out.”

    The pair stepped out of the hole and Larry stuck his head in the door of the house and yelled, “Barb! Bring us a couple of gallons of water and some soap! We need to wash up out here.”

    She came out a few minutes later with the requested items and they cleaned themselves up. Having finished, Larry told Eddy, “Run next door and see if Miss Annie is having problems too and then check Mr. Edwards place the other side of her. I can’t recall the new folks names who moved in next to him, but stop there too. Then do the same across the street. There may be some downstream of us haven’t figured out how to keep their plumbing from overflowing yet.”

    Nodding his head the boy took off at a trot. Larry left the shovel next to the hole since he expected to be needing it again soon. He went back inside and found Barb and Cindy cleaning up the malodorous overflow using water laced with laundry bleach. “Did it get into the carpet?” he asked.

    “No, we blocked it off with towels.” Barb answered, “We’re using what water is left in the toilet tanks to clean up.”

    “OK.” Larry nodded his head to one side of the house, “How much water do we have put away in them drums you put in the garage?”

    “Each drum has about fifty five gallons in it. Call it 160 gallons total. Dad says we should allow two gallons per person per day for drinking, cooking, and limited cleaning so for the four of us that’s about three weeks worth of water, if we’re careful with it.”

    Larry scratched the back of his head. “Two gallons a day ain’t a lot. Better than none at all by a long shot though. Looks like we’ll all be taking spit baths until the power comes back on. I reckon the city should have the juice flowing again before we run out.”

    Cindy joined the discussion when she added, “Mom, there’s the water in the hot water tank. We could use that if we drain the tank and turn off the breaker so it won’t catch fire when the power comes back on.”

    Her father turned to look at her, an expression of amazement on his face, “Why, so we could at that Cindy! That’s a sixty gallon tank and I reckon it should still be about full. What made you think of it, darlin’?”

    “Daddy, if you’d read the Red Cross brochures I brought home last year when we were doing the classes for our Emergency Preparedness badges you’d know it too.” The girl looked at him in the way children do when their parents don’t take what they’re doing seriously.

    His mouth clapped shut as color rose from his collar to his face. For a moment he said nothing then finally allowed, “You got me on that one, darlin’. I didn’t read your brochures and I’m sorry for it now. I’m glad you got that badge. Do you still have those papers?”

    Cindy looked excited, “Some of them daddy. I kept the ones for things like hurricanes and stuff. Do you want me to get them?”

    Smiling at her, he hunkered down and pulled her close to give her a hug. “Yes, I do. Run and get them, and the radio that your grandfather gave you. I have a project for you to use it on.”

    The girl ran off to collect the requested items and Larry stood up, shaking his head, smiling at his wife. “OK, you can call me a dummy now!”

    Barb gave him a rueful smile and said, “Well, I wouldn’t say it very loud if I did. She brought them home for both of us to look at and I didn’t either. Sooner or later we’d probably have thought about that tank, but she knew it off the top of her head. I will say I’m not going to put up with any more of your grumbling about the time and money we spend on her Scouting activities!” She poked him hard in the ribs as they turned to leave the room.

    “Oof!” he grunted. “OK, OK, we get through this and I’ll never complain about it again… well, not much anyways.”

    -- -- -- --

    “That should do it Mrs. Singh. Looks like that bundle of rags is going to stay put.” Larry said as he wiped dirt and filth from his hands. “I’ll leave the clean out cap off and it’ll drain out of your house plumbing into the hole I dug. I’m sorry about the mess in your bathroom.”

    The matronly looking Indian woman came out of her house and kissed him on the cheek, then Eddy as well who blushed. “I can take care of that, now that it’s no longer running out of the toilet! What a smell! I’ll have to leave the windows open all day. I can’t thank you enough for stopping up that pipe! I’m sure if Basil were home he’d have fixed it himself, but he’s not due back from L.A. for several more days yet. I’m certainly going to give the city a piece of my mind about this! Thank you again for your help.”

    “You’re welcome Mrs. Singh.” Larry said with a smile, “Just trying to be neighborly. I bet when everything gets back to normal the plumbers are going to do very well for themselves installing backflow valves such as what Mr. Edwards has at his place. City should install them as a matter of course seems to me. Would have saved us all a lot of stink!” Turning to his son he asked, “Didn’t you say Mrs. Singh was the last one?”

    The boy looked at him, dirty, tired, but grinning and said, “Yes sir. Mr. Edwards said he’d go uphill and ask people not to flush their toilets when I went by his place to see if he was having problems too. I reckon he’s had enough time to do it by now. You want me to ask up the hill some more?”

    Shouldering the shovels and spades they’d brought with them Larry replied, “No, I reckon if anyone else was having a problem we’d have heard by now. I don’t know about you, but I’m starving. I’d really like wash this stink off and eat some breakfast!”

    The woman thanked them again as they walked down the street then crossed to their own home. They went through the side gate and around to the back porch. Barb met them with a bucket of warm water, soap, washcloths, and towels. She unrolled the bamboo slatted screens they used inside the porch wire screens in the summer and said, “We kept breakfast hot for you. You’ll have privacy now to clean up. There’s clean clothes for you there on the table.” She walked back inside and closed the door.

    Larry began shucking off his fouled and stinking clothes then noticed Eddy hadn’t begun to undress yet. “Well, what are you waitin’ on? Don’t you want to get clean and go eat?”

    Looking embarrassed the boy said, “Uhh, dad, are we really like going to get naked and bathe here on the back porch?”

    Suppressing a smile his father said, “Yes, son. There’s no running water in the bathrooms and no place for it to drain to if there was except into that hole outside the living room window. The sun screen’s down so no one is going to see us and I’m sure your mother won’t let your sister come to the back of house before we’re done. Now do you want to sit out here hungry and stinking, or get bathed and go inside to eat?”

    Reluctantly the boy undressed along with his father and they cleaned themselves up, dried off and got dressed. As he was pulling his shirt on Eddy asked, “Dad, what are we gonna do for a bathroom if there’s no water or sewer?”

    His father finished buttoning up his shirt before replying. “Been thinking about that myself, Ed. I suspect about a half hour after we eat it’s going to become a pressing issue. Reckon we’ll just have to do what we did that time we went camping up to Cherokee and use an outhouse. Have to build it first, so until then we’ll just have to do what your great-grandfather did when he was your age and use a thundermug.”

    “But dad!” the boy protested, “That outhouse stank! And what’s a ‘thundermug’ anyway?”

    Larry chuckled as he ran his comb through his hair. “It stank son because it was July and a hundred people were using it. I think in February with four people using ours we can probably get on top of the smell problem. A thundermug is what they used to call a chamberpot, or a bucket that people would go in while in the house at night when they didn’t want to go outside. In the morning you dump it in the outhouse. Some people call it a honeybucket. We’ll use one for a while and if the power don’t come back on before too terribly long we’ll just have to get out the shovels and dig a pit for a shack. Leastwise this time we’ll have real toilet paper and not have to use the Sears Roebuck the way your great-grandfather did.”

    They turned to go into the house. Eddy looked at his dad like he thought he was pulling his leg but asked, “Use the ‘Sears Roebuck’? I thought they were a store, do they sell outhouses too?”

    Chuckling again as they passed through the kitchen his dad answered him, “No, they don’t sell outhouses, but they did used to give away these big catalogs. Before your time I suppose. Back before the Internet and before people would just jump in their car to go some place when ever it pleased them a lot of stores like Sears would send out these great big old catalogs that had just about everything in the world in them. They came out every year so rather than throwing the old ones out folks would tear out the pages and use them for toilet paper, or more correctly I reckon you’d call them ‘outhouse paper.’”

    As they entered the dining room Eddy looked at him with a plain expression of disbelief, “’Outhouse paper’, uh huh, OK dad.” and asked no more questions. Barb and Cindy had put down a very large breakfast and after a morning of digging holes and stopping up pipes they fell on it like famished wolves.

    -- -- -- --

    The match scratched on the strike pad of the pasteboard box and flared into life. Larry applied the flame to the wick of the glass oil lamp then fitted the chimney back into the little metal fingers that held it fast. He allowed the flame to develop for a moment then adjusted its height to give the maximum light without too much smoke. He set the lamp on the mantelpiece and slid the little mirror Barb used on her bureau on its stand behind the light to throw more illumination into the room.

    Barb came into the room from the hallway. “Well,” she said, “the cardboard seat helps a lot, but I can tell you that five gallon bucket full of Oil-Dri still leaves a lot to be desired.”

    Her husband chuckled at her complaint. “Well, it’d probably be better if we’d used sawdust, or shavings, or something, but we don’t have any of those. What we’ve got is Oil-Dri and it’ll just have to do until the power comes back on.

    Cindy came into the living room to join the rest of the family, a flashlight in one hand. Larry crossed to the bookshelf on the opposite side of the room from the mantelpiece and lit the lamp there. The family had three of the old fashioned flat wick lamps as part of the hurricane supplies that any prudent Florida family kept, though heretofore they had seldom been used. “You know,” Barb said to Cindy, “if we have to go the old fashioned route for very long I bet we could cut the bottoms out of some jars like we did last year and make some candle lamps using some cans for the bottoms.”

    “Yeah!” the girl said excitedly, “I bet we could make some cool lamps. If we can find some colored glass jars we could even make colored lights!”

    Larry considered the idea for a moment. “Let’s try it with some clear glass first, darlin’. But it sounds like an idea. If the power doesn’t come back on soon we’d probably best start conserving what batteries we have. If you all can come up with some safe way to use candles instead of flashlights that would be a good thing.”

    Eddy joined the conversation by saying, “Dad, if we had a battery I bet we could rig up some wiring and some of the interior lights out of my truck. I bet we’d be able to burn a light like that for a couple of days before we had to recharge the battery.”

    Nodding his head his dad agreed, “That’s a thought Eddy, but that old battery out of your truck was on its last legs when we brought it home. I don’t expect it’s much good by now and I don’t want to use the battery out of my truck for fear we might drain it too far to start the motor.”

    “But we don’t have to, dad.” the boy insisted, “we could go and get mom’s car and tow it home. Her battery is good and we could use the gas in her tank to keep the truck running until the power comes back..”

    Larry raised his eyebrows and cut his eyes at Barb. “Boy’s got a point there, hon. We really should be retrieving your car from Nancy’s house anyway. If the battery isn’t damaged by whatever knocked your car out I can put it in the truck and charge it when it needs it. Be too heavy to lug from room to room, but it’d sure give us some good light here in the living room, or in the kitchen when you’re cooking supper. Eddy, go out in the garage and see what bulbs you can salvage out and we’ll diagram your system out when you get back.”

    His son picked up the flashlight that Cindy had used and went to the garage. The elder Nichols man looked to his wife and said, “Sure looks like the kids are getting into this.”

    His wife smiled back at him to say, “I think a bit of sibling rivalry may have something to do with that, but since it benefits the family this time it’s a good thing.”

    A faint sound of static caught his attention and he turned his head to where Cindy was sitting, slowly turning the tuning dial of her radio, an earbud stuck in her ear the better to hear faint signals. Her father asked, “Any luck with your radio now that it’s dark?”

    Sighing in a manner much like her mother his daughter replied, “No sir, not much really. I can get some AM stations that sound like they’re speaking in Spanish, but I can’t make any sense out of them. There’s nothing on the FM band. I’ve found several stations in the shortwave bands but mostly they sound like they’re talking like Donald Duck and I can’t understand what they’re saying. The other stations are in foreign languages, or I can’t get enough signal strength to keep the station. I did pick up one station in English, but it was like the last few seconds then they went to another language. I’ve checked that one several times but nothing has been in English again.”

    She said nothing else for a time and her parents considered her revelations, but before either could speak she started again. “I did pick up some stuff on the CB bands. There’s not much there, nothing like there was back when Eddy and I were listening after grandpa gave us the radios. One man who lives over by the Westgate shopping center said they found a man shot dead on the edge of the parking lot there. I think he was talking about Mr. Brewer.” The girl looked down, a troubled expression on her face and said no more.

    Larry stood from his chair, walked over to his daughter and grasped her to him tightly. “It’s going to be OK, darlin’” he said, “Mr. Brewer was a bad man and what your mother did was right. He gave you a good scare, but he didn’t have time to hurt you and he’s never going to be able to do that to you again.” He led her over to his recliner, sat down, then pulled her down into the chair with him. “Now I was just about to read some of these here Uncle Remus stories. You used to like these quite a lot way back when you were only a little thing. Now that you’re near abouts grown up how about you reading them to me this time?”

    Smiling weakly Cindy picked up the book, looking at the cover and stroked the rough edge of the collected pages. “OK daddy, I think I’d like that.” She opened the cover, turned to the front page and began “One evening recently, the lady whom Uncle Remus calls “Miss Sally” missed her little seven year old… girl. Making search for her…”

    Some time later Eddy came back into the room with his bulbs and long lengths of wire and set them on the coffee table. He looked impatient to get started on his project, but after a direct look from his father he desisted and after a time, began listening to his sister reading the much loved Southern tales of Uncle Remus.

    When an hour had passed and Cindy’s voice began to grow hoarse Larry gently removed the book from her hands, inserted the blue ribbon he used as a bookmark and closed the book. Looking up he announced, “I reckon we probably ought to be off to bed. It’s been a long day and it’s going to be an early day in the morning. Eddy since you have the flashlight you can use it to go and get into your pajamas. When you’re done come and give it to Cin then your momma and I will be off ourselves.

    The family set themselves into motion and soon the house was dark and quiet. Larry opened one of their bedroom windows about halfway telling Barb, “I want to be able to hear better what’s happening outside.” She said nothing and slid into their waiting bed. A dog barked in the near distance, the sound of which seemed to spread out in a slow ripple motivating other dogs into sound and motion which further perpetuated the spreading wave of sound. He was on the edge of sleep when the sound of shots was heard, a shotgun he thought, first one, then two more soon after. The canine telegraph shut off instantly. Larry carefully reached under his pillow to reassure himself the pistol he’d taken from the truck was where he meant it to be. Anxiety sped his heart rate for a time until he finally drifted off to a troubled sleep.

    Thus ended the first day of the new Dark Age.
    Last edited by A.T.Hagan; 03-06-2003 at 07:23 PM.

  12. #12
    <b>February 06, 2004 Implications</b>

    Cindy jolted awake, the feeling of rough hands on her thighs so strong that for a moment she struggled wildly to free herself from them before she realized they were only her blankets tangled about her. She laid her head back down on the pillow, eyes wide, breathing rapidly and wondered if she’d screamed out loud or had only dreamt that as well. After a time the emotional impact of the nightmare began to fade into the subconscious aether it had came from and her heart rate slowed to its normal beat.

    She rolled over to look at her clock radio then remembered the power was out so she reached over to pick up her wristwatch from her nightstand and pushed its button to illuminate the dial – 4:00 a.m. Laying it down again she tried to go back to sleep. After an interminable time of her mind always being pulled back to the same chain of thought – Hank Brewer and the door of his car gaping open to swallow her like some terrible monster – she sat up in bed and looked about her bedroom. The moon had was rising over the top of the house across the street and it shone in her window. There on her desk in front of the window she could see her radio. The little manual that had come with it had said that various frequencies would become available for listening at different times of the night so she got up, put on socks, slippers, and robe against the early morning chill and went to the desk.

    Seating herself she slipped the little earbud into one ear, turned on the radio and selected a short wave band, slowly turning the wheel in tiny increments. Mostly it was fruitless since her set was not equipped to properly receive single sideband transmissions. She did pick up several stations clearly, but who were broadcasting in foreign languages and made note of their frequencies to try again later in case they also had English language broadcasts. She’d actually had a year of Spanish in school and had done quite well at it, but could not pick up more than the occasional word in the Spanish language broadcasts she caught. Slowly, steadily, she worked her way through the frequencies. Traffic was light compared to what she and her brother had discovered when they’d first started listening after their grandfather had given them the radios, but there were still some people talking across the radio waves. She knew that if she stayed with it she should come across someone she could understand and finally she did. A voice speaking clear, British English seemed to leap from her ear piece –

    <i>…with the unprovoked high-altitude nuclear attack upon the North American continent the United Kingdom as a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization finds itself at war with the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea…</i>

    Cindy flicked on her flashlight and laid it across her desk so that she could see to write and hastily took out a pad of paper and began jotting down the gist of the what she was hearing. She didn’t really understand it all, but she thought daddy might or know someone who would.

    <i>…hasty realignment of British and American military units from their Middle Eastern postings to the new Asian theater is being made. Other NATO signatories are mobilizing and preparing to move military assets overseas. Australian and New Zealand defense ministries report they are mobilizing reserves and beginning preparations to move military hardware and troops to their respective ports for transshipment.

    Japanese naval and air force units are reporting multiple strikes against installations along the North Korean coastline though what damage they may have caused to their heavily fortified targets is not known at this time. Ministry of Defense officials indicate they successfully intercepted and destroyed four incoming North Korean ballistic missiles before they were able to reach their targets. Fires rage out of control in the cities of Kobe and Hiroshima from the two airburst Korean nuclear warheads which were not intercepted. Japanese emergency organizations are reeling as they attempt to coordinate their people and equipment in the absence of electronic communications after the ElectroMagnetic Pulse induced blackout of the Japanese power and telecommunications networks.

    On the Korean peninsula itself South Korean and American military units have completed their withdrawal from the South Korean capitol of Seoul in the face of the massive North Korean advance. Casualties are reported to be heavy and the city is in flames. Reports from the now highly fluid front lines indicate that NK military units successfully crossed the DeMilitarized Zone in force before authorization for the use of tactical nuclear weapons could be obtained. We have received several unconfirmed - repeat unconfirmed - reports of multiple nuclear detonations north of the DMZ which are believed to be American weapons denying strategic transit points or destroying major Korean armored units.

    Efforts to quickly move further American and Canadian military materiel and troops to the Eastern Pacific are being severely hampered by the damage to the North American power and telecommunications networks. All priority is now being given to bringing rail and port facilities back online so that the necessary transshipment of the goods of war may be carried out.

    The International Red Cross reports they are rapidly building up for the beginning of emergency aid shipments to the stricken cities of Canada, the United States, and Japan but their efforts are being hampered by the lack of air and marine transport and the damage done to airport and port facilities on the North American continent and Japan. The Mexican government is moving all available electrical utility crews and repair equipment to the stricken cities of the American southwest in an effort to repair the damage to the vast and intricate water distribution network that exists there before the shortage of water can threaten the lives of millions of U.S. citizens and Mexican immigrants alike.

    We have no reports as of yet on military preparations or movements by the Russian Federation or the Peoples Republic of China, both of whom border on North Korea. Regional Asian governments are reporting they have put their respective militaries on alert.

    This is the New BBC North American Service. We will have further news at 1000 hours Universal Time.</i>

    The next segment concerned the economic impact on Europe of the Korean attacks which Cindy found to be of little interest. She continued to comb the shortwave bands. She picked up several other stations broadcasting in English, but which were too weak for her to be able to lock on to them. She tried twiddling the antenna this way and that, but it did not seem to help. The radio manual had mentioned an antenna that could be built out of wire which should improve her reception and she resolved to ask her father to help her construct one. Fully absorbed now in her task she continued her slow scan. A half hour later she had some luck in the two-meter band which her book stated was used primarily for local communications.

    {voice one}<i>… Oh, yeah, you’re right about that. When the pulse hit us last night it practically blew my Icom right off the desk! Knew I shouldn’t have trusted to that imported crap for surge protection, clamp time was too slow to catch it before it fried the transceiver. I’m ‘casting from my back up now. Gonna have to get some help to drop the tower and repair the damage.</i>

    {voice two}<i>… You gotta admit I told you that junk wasn’t fast enough. The EMP didn’t get my shack equipment, but it sure got my big screen TV, stereo, computer, and the cordless phone. I fired the genny up and started plugging things in to see what still worked and what didn’t. Ironic thing about it is that I had ordered the protectors for the home entertainment gear but they were backordered and hadn’t come in yet. Probably zapped my home insurance company too so I’ll have to eat the whole loss.</i>

    {voice one} <i> You caught anyone else local? I haven't heard any of the usual call signs and I know at least a half a dozen of them have their own Field Day set ups, but I haven’t heard any of them. Of course, they may be having to rebuild their rigs like I did and haven’t got on yet.</i>

    {voice two} <i>I’ve heard a few on the USB, but none in here in town yet. Mostly been down in the Caribbean which didn’t get pulsed from the sounds of it. Plenty of Spanish talkers. Not many out of the U.S. yet, but I think that’s because most are having to rerig like you did or are just plain too busy to get on the radio. In another day or so we should start getting some traffic, though it’ll probably be a long time before we get a lot of it again. Most won’t have power and a Hell of a lot of radios probably got zapped.</i>

    {voice one} <i>You had any trouble out around your place yet? It was pretty quiet around here the first night right after the attack, but last night about nine or so the fella at the end of my road lit up someone with a load of birdshot when he caught them running out of his barn. We’ve got the dogs up around the house now. I won’t be surprised if we don’t start having trouble with that trash over on the next street before long, but I expect the dogs’ll let me know if I need to shoot anything.</i>

    {voice two} <i>No, I don’t expect any trouble, but then we’re way out here in the woods of Levy county, not living in town like you city slickers. Our varmints all come with four legs.</i>

    {voice one} <i>Speaking of varmints, you heard anything about what the President is going to do about the North Koreans? I caught a tiny little piece of a news broadcast on AM skip, but couldn’t I.D. their location or call sign.</i>

    {voice two} <i>Pretty bad from what I’m hearing. VOA’s back on air and I expect some of the other big guys will be back up before long. Everybody’s running for cover in Asia right now with the Koreans shooting rockets all over. Caught some fella out of Jamaica who said he caught some ‘cast from Chile who claimed to have gotten it from another ‘cast out of Taiwan that we’ve already popped six nukes on North Korea. You can bet the Chinese are screaming. The Japs are supposedly attacking as well. The fella said they shot down several Korean missiles, but didn’t get the ones that took out Kobe and Hiroshima. Hard luck for Hiroshima to be nuked twice. He made some passing mention they zapped Vladivostok too which didn’t make any sense to me. Of course, this is all third, fourth, and fifth hand so how much of it’s true I don’t know. </i>

    {voice one} <i> Have you heard how big an area the pulse hit here in the U.S.?</i>

    {voice two} <i>The VOA ‘cast faded on me before I could get a lot of news, but it sounds like it was three high altitude bursts pretty much in a straight line across the country. I think we were on the fringe of it, but the central West Coast, Central MidWest, and Central Atlantic states and the NorthEast sounds like they took it hard. Might be some fringe areas didn’t get zapped too bad, but I don’t know. It’ll start coming out in the next few days I think. </i>

    {voice one} <i>Well crap. There goes my battery light. Better shut down I guess. Supposed to be cloudy and building up to rain so I doubt my panel is going to put much juice into the batteries today. I’ll try to get back on at nine tonight if I can. Catch you on the flip side.</i>

    {Voice two} <i> I hear ya. Good luck with the repairs and catch you next time.</i>

    The band was silent after that and Cindy was fairly stamping her foot in frustration. “You’re supposed to give your call signs!” She said in a frustrated tone, “Where were you two speaking from?!” Dead air was her only reply so she sighed and went back to scanning the airwaves. She didn’t know how true it all was but at least she had more news than she had before she got up.

    -- -- -- --

    “Try it now Ben!” John yelled around the open hood of the truck. The starter spun the motor, it coughed several times, exhaled blue white smoke and died.

    Ben leaned out of the window, “Well, better than we’ve got so far” he said optimistically. “Give her another shot of that starter spray. I think she’ll catch this time.”

    The other man sprayed more of the fluid down the throat of the carburetor, gave it a second to work its way down then said, “hit it again!”

    Once more the starter whirred then the engine coughed, backfired, coughed again then finally caught. It ran raggedly for a few minutes then slowly smoothed out.

    “Whoop!” Ben yelled, “By jingo, I think we’ve got her!” He eased his foot off the gas pedal slowly until he was sure it wouldn’t shut off again then stepped out of the truck. He walked over to where John was standing in front of the open hood. “Well, that old roll of gasket material was pretty beat up, but I reckon she’ll hold well enough.”

    John nodded his head, “If it blows the carb right off the top of the motor I wouldn’t be the least surprised. But it’s running, for the moment at least. Pull her out of her there and lets see what we’re going to have to do about the tires.”

    The older man climbed back into the truck, gave it a bit of gas, pushed in the clutch and dropped her into gear. The motor died and their hearts were in their throats. Ben turned the key once more and after a moment’s hesitation the motor started again which caused them both to breathe a sigh of relief. Giving it a bit more gas this time Ben put the truck into gear and with the protesting creaks of machinery that has not moved for a long time the truck slowly crept forward out of the barn where it had sat motionless for years into the sunlight of a changed world.

    “Glory and trumpets!” Ben yelled out of the window, “John, I think we’re on the road again!” He took the truck out of gear, pushed in the parking brake which complained and left the motor running as he stepped out of the cab.

    “Tires are about dry rotted.” John observed, “Hoses and belts don’t look so good either. We’re going to have to replace them before we can go very far. I suspect we can probably come up with something, somehow to make a belt with to at least get us someplace that we can get a real belt, but what are we going to do about the tires? From the looks of them I wouldn’t trust them to get us to the end of the driveway.”

    Ben hunkered down to examine the rubber more closely then stood back up. “Reckon you’re right about that. They were about give out when I put the truck in the barn and they ain’t aged any better we have. I think the tires off’n your truck will fit though.”

    “But the rim are different Ben,” John pointed out, “they won’t bolt on to your truck.”

    “I can see that John. We’ll just have to swap your tires onto my rims.”

    John raised an eyebrow, “I suppose we could probably get the tires off my rims, but how do you propose to get them seated onto your rims?”

    With a grin his friend allowed, “Well, when I was just a sprout my daddy would sometimes mount a tire onto a new rim when money was tight and we couldn’t afford to take it into town to have it done at the service station. He’d wrap a rope around the outside of the tire, put a stick in it and twitch it up tight until the tire was near about squoze in two – he called a ‘Spanish windlass’. That would force the bead onto the rims, most times anyways. It was a real chore even with them old bias ply tires but it could be done. Sometimes had to bounce them all over to get the bead lips to move that last little bit. He’d soak the tire and rim with soapy water and pump it up with a tire pump, leastways, he’d have me do the pumpin’. Can’t say how easy it’s gonna be with your radials, but I think we might could do it.”

    The other man tried to visualize what his friend had related then said, “I think I’d rather take a chance on those old tires making it into town but for the fact no one there is going to have power to run a tire mounter so it wouldn’t do any good. I guess we’ll try it your way Ben, at least we won’t have to hand pump the tires. I’ve got a 12 volt compressor we can run off the motor for that. Let’s go over to my place and we’ll try it with the spare first.”

    With a nod, they got into the old truck and drove over to John’s house to start that phase of their joint effort to become mobile again.

    Neither was under the illusion it would be a quick job and they were not disappointed.

    -- -- -- --

    “Dad, is that smoke coming over Mr. Jeffrey’s house back there?” Eddy pointed towards the back of the yard where a dark plume of smoke seemed to be rising, possibly from their backyard neighbor’s house.

    Larry watched it for a moment then said, “C’mon Eddy! We’d better get over there and see if we can help. I doubt the fire department is going to be able to send a truck now and no way to call them if they could!” He went out the screen door of the porch and ran across the back yard, Eddy followed close behind and they both quickly hopped the chain link fence separating the two yards.

    Running around to the front of the house they could see smoke pouring from the windows of the house directly across the street. People were beginning to gather out front and men could be seen running out of the door with whatever could be grabbed before the fire took it. Larry ran forward to the house and from inside he could hear the sound of a fire extinguisher being discharged. Before he could enter a thick gout of smoke blew out obscuring the door.

    Another man ran forward and grabbed him before he could enter shouting through the door, “Stay out of there! It’s too far gone!” Turning to face into the door he shouted as loudly as he could, “Get out of the house! The smoke will kill you!” It was Mr. Edwards, their neighbor from down the street. Two men came staggering out of the house coughing violently.

    “You fought house fires before, Mr. Edwards?” Eddy asked.

    “No,” the older man replied, “but I’ve had enough training to know the smoke in these sorts of fires will kill you just as dead as the fire itself if you’re not properly equipped – and we aren’t.” Turning around to face the crowd gathering on the sidewalk he shouted, “Does anyone know if there’s anyone left inside?”

    A woman holding a young boy spoke up, “No, Dean and Bill were the only two still inside and that’s them there.” She started crying and said no more. Mr. Edwards told everyone it would be best if they came no closer to the fire than across the street in case something exploded, a precaution that many took to heart when the side windows of the house suddenly blew out and the fire took on new life. Everyone hastily crossed the street and Mr. Edwards walked over to speak to the woman of the now burning house and her husband and neighbor, both of whom were still coughing. Many people asked “Can’t we do something?” but with no pressurized water and no fire trucks there seemed little that anyone could do but watch the structure burn. A shuddering bang from within the garage was heard and the folding garage door blew out of its frame into the driveway in a gout of flame. This encouraged many to leave the area and the crowd was soon reduced to only a few.

    Walking over to where Mr. Edwards was speaking to the victimized family Larry heard him ask, “Do you have anyone you can stay with today? The Red Cross usually helps people out in these sorts of situations, but it might take awhile to be able to contact them – if they’re still in business.”

    The man who had been identified as “Dean” spoke up to say, “They’ll stay with me – cough! – we’ve been friends for years. It’d be – cough! – good if the Red Cross could help, but – cough! - Dena and Bill won’t lack for a place to stay. God only knows how long – cough! - it’ll take their insurance company to pay off.”

    “Does anyone know how the fire started?” Edwards asked.

    Bill turned to look at his wife. She had a stricken expression on her face and would not meet anyone’s eyes. “I… I was cooking our breakfast over a Sterno burner. The pan tipped over and spilled. I tried to put it out, but it got into the drapes before I could stop it and it… it…” She burst into tears again and her husband gathered her to him.

    No one said anything for a time, nor did they look at the weeping woman. Finally Edwards said, “I’m sorry. I’ll see if I can put you in touch with the Red Cross when I’m able to reach them.” Turning to Dean he stuck out his hand and said, “You’re a good man to take your friends in like this. The world could do with a lot more like you.” They shook then Edwards began to walk down the sidewalk to the connecting street to go home.

    Larry and Eddy followed him rather than cross their neighbor’s property again and soon caught up with him. Edwards nodded to them both and they walked the block together. “You sound like you know something about disasters, Mr. Edward.” Larry spoke, “Were you a firefighter or something before you retired?”

    Shaking his head negatively, the older man replied, “No, actually I was an accountant before I retired. After my wife died several years ago I just started sitting in front of the TV all day watching soap operas and giving in to rot. The minister at my church suggested I take up volunteer work and after a time I finally did. I tried different groups, but it was the Red Cross that caught my interest. About a year or so later the county started it’s own Community Emergency Response Team program or CERT for short and I joined that. Ostensibly we are supposed to help assist the county emergency management agencies deal with natural disasters and the like but after 9/11/01 they began to widen the scope of our program to cover things like assisting with weapons of mass destruction attacks. We’re all just volunteers with a minimal amount of training, but in a major disaster we could play an important role in helping respond when the trained professionals are overwhelmed. If this power outage doesn’t end soon it may be that we’ll be called upon to assist, but I haven’t heard anything about that yet. In fact, I haven’t heard hardly anything from nearly anyone. You heard any news? My TV and stereo are as dead as everyone else’s and my little battery operated radios aren’t picking up anything, in English anyway.”

    Larry related to him the news that Cindy had copied down that morning. Edwards stopped on the sidewalk and turned to face them. “You’re serious aren’t you?” He said in a tone of disbelief, “We really have been attacked? With nuclear weapons?”

    Shrugging his shoulders Larry said, “Well, that’s what my daughter heard on her shortwave radio this morning from the BBC and she heard some fellas talking about it on another radio frequency. I can’t say that I understand how it works myself, but apparently the North Koreans exploded nuclear bombs in space over the U.S. and that’s what knocked out our power, telephones, and most people’s cars. From what she says it sounds like we’re in World War Three right now.”

    Edwards rubbed his jaw, “I heard people talking about an attack this morning, but I just put it down to the sort of wild rumors that one hears anytime there’s a lack of actual hard news. But it seems they were right! Mr. Nichol’s, may I ask a favor of you?”

    Raising his eyebrows Larry said, “I suppose, what do you want me to do?”

    “Just this,” Edwards explained, “I haven’t heard anything from county emergency management since the blackout. If what you say is true it’s probably because their communications and vehicles have been knocked out by this nuclear pulse. Will you or your son watch my house for me until I return? I’ve got a good bicycle in my garage, I’ll ride it to the county emergency management operations center and see what’s going on and if they’re going to activate us CERT volunteers. I’d be much obliged if you’d watch to make sure no one gets up to any mischief at my home while I’m gone.”

    “Sure, Mr. Edwards” Larry agreed, “We can do that. Maybe you can get some more news while you’re there. It’s not knowing what’s going on is what I’m finding hard to take.”

    “Thank you, Mr. Nichol’s, I am much obliged.” The man began walking down the sidewalk again, this time at a faster pace, “When I get back I’d like to talk with you some more. I suspect we’re probably going to need to talk to a good many people in the neighborhood, but I'll know better when I get back.”

    Walking quickly down the street they soon reached Edward’s house and he disappeared inside for a few minutes before returning with a sturdy beach cruiser type bicycle. Using a binder clip he tucked one pants leg out of the way.

    “Thank you again, Mr.Nichols. I’ll be back as quickly as I may.”

    He mounted the bike and was soon out of sight.


    CERT Program =
    Last edited by A.T.Hagan; 03-11-2003 at 08:31 PM.

  13. #13
    <b>February 06, 2003 Realization</b>

    “You bitch! You ain’t nothing but a blood sucking harpy! You ain’t got no right to run a man out of his own home!”

    Larry looked up from where he was covering the hole he’d dug the day before to open his sewer clean out to see where the shouting was coming from. Up the street two houses across the way stood a disheveled man in the front yard, barefoot, bare-chested, hair in wild disorder shouting at the front of the house. In front of the house stood a woman nearly as disheveled as he, a swelling purple bruise disfiguring the left side of her face. She was holding a shotgun in her hands, pointed downwards but facing the man in the yard.

    The man launched into another string of slurred obscenities at the woman then threw an empty bottle at her – apparently a liquor bottle – which smashed on the outside wall of the house near to the door. The woman swung the shotgun upwards and fired a shot into the air and the neighborhood instantly fell silent.

    “Go sleep at Willy’s you bastard!” she shouted at him, “If he’ll have you! You can come pick your clothes up in the morning! You’re history! You are NEVER going to hit me or Ashley again - do you hear me! NEVER! So help me God I’ll kill you if you ever hit my daughter again! Now get away from here!”

    The man was starting another profanity laced diatribe against the woman when Eddy came out the front door, Cindy peeking from around the doorframe to see up the street.

    “What’s going on dad?” he asked, “Why is Mrs. Watkins pointing a shotgun at Mr. Watkins?”

    Larry turned quickly to face his son, “Get back in the house right now! Take Cindy with you and I DON’T want you two watching from the windows. You understand me?”

    The boy was taken aback by the forcefulness of his father’s orders. “Uh, sure dad. OK.” he said backing up and quickly went back inside the house taking his sister inside with him.

    Larry turned back towards the sounds of the shouting just in time to see Mr. Watkins charge the woman where she stood on the front stoop. Again the shotgun swung upward and Larry’s heart was in his mouth, sure that he was about to see murder before his eyes. The shotgun spoke with a slight belch of smoke and grass and dirt shot up inches in front of the charging man’s feet who fell face down into the turf in his effort to stop.

    “You’re a worthless abusive son-of-a-bitch, Aaron,” Larry could hear her faintly, but clearly in the unnatural stillness, “You come near me again and I’ll put a load of buckshot in you. That was the only warning shot I’m ever gonna give you. Now I said get the Hell away from here!”

    While she was speaking the man had struggled to his feet. Staring at her he seemed about to move forward again until the woman cycled the slide action of the weapon to chamber a fresh round. The clack-clack of the gun checked him and propelled him backwards. Mouth working furiously but saying nothing he turned and ran down the street, bare feet slapping on the concrete sidewalk. Rounding a corner he was soon out of sight.

    Remembering to breath Larry exhaled in a long, low sigh. He startled badly when he felt a hand on his arm and swung around to see his wife. “What was all that about?” she asked, wide eyed in wonder.

    Looking back at the house in question he responded, “Looks like he’s drunk off his ass again and beat up his wife and step-daughter this time. I reckon she’s had enough.” He paused for a moment, “For a second there I thought she was about to shoot him down in front of God and everybody.”

    “He beat her up?” a note of concern in her voice, “How bad did she look?”

    “I could see a big bruise on the side of her face all the way from here. Can’t say more than that.” Turning to look in the direction he’d last seen Aaron Watkins moving he surveyed the now empty street for a moment then turned back to Barb, “I think you’d better make sure you have your pistol on you whenever you come out of the house until things get back to normal. Power’s been out two days now, no phone, no radio or TV, and most folks don’t have any cars that run. If this doesn’t blow over soon I think we’re going to see more of this kind of thing, maybe right here on our street. Men the likes of that Watkins fella don’t need any special reason to get drunk and mean, but we might see others go the same way if things start getting bad. I want you to be armed when you come outside. I don’t want Cindy leaving the house by herself either.”

    She studied his face for a moment before replying, the gravity in his voice deepening her look of concern. “Yes, Larry. I suppose you’re right.” Hesitating, she continued, “I don’t think we’ll have to worry about Cindy going out alone though, she hasn’t left the house since… that night… and I suspect she won’t willingly leave the house for a long time. I think we’re going to need to look for some therapy or counseling for her when things get back to normal.”

    In turn he studied her face, “You think so? Well, you may be right. Let’s check into it when we can. Supper going to be ready soon?”

    Nodding her head she answered him, “Yes, it is. It’s going to be something of a smorgasbord since it’s the last of what we had in the refrigerator and refrigerator freezer. If the weather doesn’t turn cold again soon we’ll lose the deep freeze in another day, maybe day and a half.”

    He sighed, “Yeah, I reckon we might as well assume it’s not going to come back on. If what Cindy has been hearing, and the news going around the neighborhood is right it’s going to be a long time before the power comes back on. Tomorrow I’ll dig a fire pit in the back yard and start scrounging up wood and we’ll cook up a big pot of whatever we’ve got left and invite the neighborhood. I don’t suppose there’s anyway to save any of it is there?”

    Shaking her head negatively, “Not really. I don’t have any jars to can food in, or lids or rings. We could salt some of the meat, I guess, but we’ve only got four cartons of salt. I wasn’t expecting this, I mean to have to suddenly deal with something like this. I’m sorry.”

    Puller her against him, he kissed her lightly. “It’s OK babe, we’d be in a hell of a lot worse shape if you hadn’t insisted on doing what you did. I’m sorry I poked at you about it. Let’s just make the freezer food last as long as we can then we’ll throw a party with the last of it before it rots.”

    She said nothing, but laid her head against his chest. Looking down the street he saw Mr. Edwards round the corner on his bicycle heading towards his house. He let go of his wife saying, “Mr. Edwards is back, I want to go hear what he found out. Getting to be past time we saw some government help around here.”

    Barb kissed him again briefly then went back into the house as Larry walked down the street to see Edwards. Seeing the man coming he stepped off of his machine and waited.

    “Hello Mr. Edwards!” Larry called, “Any luck downtown?”

    The older man unbuckled his bike helmet and swung it off of his head, sweat slicking his hair to his scalp. He stuck his hand out and said, “We’re neighbors Mr. Nichols, you can call me Mike if you like.”

    Larry shook his hand and replied, “Fine by me. I’m Larry. The county have anything to say?”

    Shaking his head ruefully Edwards answered him, “Yes, they did. Quite a lot in fact. The situation is both better and worse than I feared. All but a few of the vehicles belonging to both the city and the county are down, electronics fried. What few vehicles that are left running are older trucks and stuff used for service work shortly to have been sold off as obsolete. They’re working on repairing what they can, but parts are in very short supply even with local government having a priority. What vehicles they can get back on the road are going to serve as emergency reserve vehicles for when they need to move maximum numbers to a given area in a hurry. That’s for the police. The fire department has exactly two old pumpers they mostly used for brush fires, but are still running. The electronics on their newer trucks are fried. The factory that built them is in Ocala, but it’s fried too so no one is sure when they’ll be able to get their trucks back on the road.”

    Hanging his helmet on his bike he began to push it towards his garage door and Larry followed. “There’s no ambulances running at all, but they think they might get one or two on the road in the next several days. That’s just drivable, their electronic equipment is dead. Every governmental two way radio system in the county is damaged and in need of repair before they can be used again. The portable belt radios seem to be mostly OK, they said something about them not being big enough to be hurt, but they’re all built to use the county and city repeaters not transmit directly to one another so they’re not very usable until they can get the big towers back on air again. The vehicle mounted radios are all damaged, it seems their antennas were big enough to collect a significant charge.”

    Opening the garage door he pushed the machine into the dim light of the interior. “The two power plants are going to be offline for quite a while. Everything is computer controlled now and the pulse burned the chips in the computers. They’re supposed to get a priority on replacements, but no one knows how long that’ll take. Same thing for waste treatment and the water plant though they think they’ll be able to get the city water supply going again at least part time in another week or so, maybe longer. It’ll be an hour on, so many hours off sort of deal or maybe they’ll do it by zones. There’ll be a lot of restrictions on what you can and cannot use the water for. A lot of the garbage trucks are still running more or less so they’ll at least be able to move garbage but a shortage of fuel is going to limit how much can be collected.”

    He hung the bike on plastic coated hooks mounted on the inside wall of the garage. “On the hopeful side G.P.D. thinks they’ll be able to field at least a partial force starting tomorrow, maybe the day after. At least we’ll have some minimal police presence. Taking away from that though is that both the city and county were already short of some personnel from all the military reserve call ups last year that hadn’t come home yet. While I was there they got a message in activating every last remaining deployable National Guard and Military Reserve trooper in the state with the strong probability they’ll be heading overseas.”

    Edwards struck a match and lit a candle inside of a glass sided box with a handle on top. He turned towards Larry, “So the long and the short of it is, there’s not going to be any water for a while and when it does come back it’s going to be very tight. The sewage system is not coming back anytime soon, garbage pickup is going to be very minimal and eventually I expect it will stop completely. There’s virtually no fire service, little emergency medical service, and no way to contact them easily if we did need them. We will have some police presence, but it’s going to be very slow and badly undermanned, especially in light of the present circumstances and they’ll have no back up from the National Guard. As bad as that is, we’re still better off than the people living out in the county who will have even less than we have for lack of vehicles that run and soon a lack of fuel. Until the local and state governments can get themselves on their feet again we’re largely going to be on our own.”

    Closing the door from the inside Edwards led Larry into the house then around to the front door. “I need to think this over for tonight and get myself organized. I think we can probably do a lot to improve our situation if we can get the neighborhood to cooperate. In fact, with your help I’d like to call a neighborhood meeting tomorrow for say… noon… at the Methodist church around the corner. The pastor and I are friends so I don’t think he’ll have a problem letting us use the fellowship hall. Will you help?”

    Larry ran his fingers through his hair, “Sure,” he said, “I’ve got a family like most here do. If the government can’t help us we’re just going to have to help ourselves.”

    “Good man!” Edwards said with a smile, “And thanks again for keeping an eye on my house. I’ll see you tomorrow at the church.”

    Larry stepped out the door and walked the short distance home, his neighbor Miss Annie waved at him as he passed.

    -- -- -- --

    “Works like a champ dad!” Eddy said proudly as the kitchen filled with light.

    Nodding his head his father agreed, “Yep, son, it sure does. That was a good idea you had.” With a grin he looked at the boy, “Might even be enough to get your mother to forgive you for running her car into the back of the truck and busting out her grillwork.”

    “Awww, dad!” The boy complained, “I couldn’t help it! You ever try to use power brakes when there ain’t no power?”

    His dad reached out and tousled the boy’s hair, “It’s OK son, it’s not like you’ve had a lot of experience towing cars. I’m not mad at you.” He chuckled, “Though I’m not sure about your mother! Let’s go get her and show off your new light system.”

    They walked into the front of the house to fetch Barb and Cindy and when they came Eddy proudly showed off his twelve volt light system. “See mom!” he said happily, “Now you’ll be able to see better when you’re cooking!”

    His mother admired his handiwork and if she was annoyed about the damage to her car she did not mention it. Cindy was impressed too though she tried to hide it, but Eddy could tell.

    The boy demonstrated how to turn the lights off and on using the switches he’d cannibalized from his truck. When he was done his father asked him to go with him to help dig a hole and bury the contents of the family's bucket toilet. “Don’t sound like we’re going to have sewer service anytime soon.” his dad said, “We might as well get on with digging an outhouse hole in the morning. That bag of Oil-Dri ain’t gonna last much longer.”

    The moon had not yet risen and the heavy cloud layer blocked the stars so the back yard was quite dark. Larry widened the beam of his flashlight and they dug a hole near the fence to bury the waste. They worked steadily and soon had the bucket emptied, rinsed, and the hole refilled. On their way back they walked across the yard back and forth. Finally Larry said, “I reckon right here next to the tool shed will do for the outhouse, but we’ll do this over again in the morning to be certain. We need to be sure that water ain’t going to run into the hole when it rains. We’ll use handsaws and cut a hole in the wood floor of the toolshed, then undo the hurricane straps and pull the thing over the pit with the truck when it’s dug. It’ll be private and dry that way.”

    With a tentative location for the new family toilet facilities found he turned off the flashlight and they stood for a few moments in the backyard. The starless sky and lack of street lighting left the yard nearly as dark as the inside of a cave. Many houses had dim lights in at least one window - candles or oil lamps they thought. The electric light given off by the truck bulbs in their kitchen shed little illumination beyond the window. As their eyes adjusted to the darkness they gradually became aware of a glow in the sky to the east.

    “Dad, what’s that glow over there?” Eddy asked. “If the power’s off what’s lighting up the clouds?”

    His father stared at the illumination on the bottom of the low hanging clouds for a few moments then said, “It’s a fire, Eddy. Must be a pretty good sized one too to show up against the clouds like that.”

    “Do you think it’s a brush fire maybe?” The boy sounded quizzical, “Seems like it’s kinda wet for a brush fire.”

    Larry had been studying the horizon ever since Eddy had mentioned the glow in the sky and realized he could see a faint glow there as well. “Too close to be a brush fire.” He thought to himself, “Been too much rain lately for the woods to catch fire anyways.” The hair on the back of his neck slowly rose. “Gotta be some sort of building fire, maybe downtown or on the east side of town. Building fires, more likely the way it’s shining off them cloud bottoms.”

    “Dad, do you think it’s a brush fire?” Eddy repeated.

    “Don’t know, son.” he answered, “Could be I suppose. It’s not real close anyways.”

    They continued to stand and watch the glow against the clouds for a time. In the middle distance angry voices could be heard, a man and a woman from the sounds of them. Larry said nothing but thought it must be another domestic dispute. Dogs could be heard barking in several areas. The sound of a ragged truck motor could be heard, muffler seemingly on its last legs. After two days of near automotive silence the sound was almost strange to their ears. A heavy mist began to fall from the sky impelling them to walking towards the house. Suddenly a scream filled the night. It sounded like it might have been on the next street over, then gunshots followed it – bam! bam! Nothing more was heard. Larry stopped and for a time considered going to investigate before reluctantly deciding it would be foolhardy to do so in the dark.

    Eddy too stared off into the darkness in the direction from which they’d heard the scream. After a moment he asked without turning, “Dad, if the power doesn’t come back on soon is it going to get bad? I mean, like that?”

    For the space of a long breath his father did not reply then spoke, “Son, upon a time a boy your age would be given a sword and a shield and be told ‘come back with your shield or on it.’ I won’t try to fool you. If the power doesn’t come back on right soon now it likely is going to get bad… like that. You’re old enough to start taking on a man’s responsibilities which means you deserve to be told the truth. If we’re careful, and lucky, we won’t have to do anything too awful bad to get by, but our country isn’t used to doing without electricity and clean water and grocery stores full of food and doesn’t know how to cope when those things disappear. For a little while at least we are own our own and it’s going to be up to us to see that the family makes it through. It may be that you or I or both of us are going to have to do things we’d never have thought about doing before life as we knew it disappeared in the blink of an eye. It’s a new world now and somewhere in it we may find monsters.”

    Neither spoke for the time of several more breaths then Eddy broke the silence again, “Dad, I’m scared.”

    Larry reached out and laid his hand on his son’s shoulder, “I am too, son.” he said. “But it’s OK to be scared sometimes. Scared can keep you alive. John Wayne once said that ‘courage is being scared to death and saddling up anyway.’ and I reckon he’s right. The whole world is scared just now I bet, but so long as we don’t let it get control we’ll do alright.”

    Turning back towards the house Larry said, “Now lets go find Cindy’s swimming pool from last summer and see if it needs patching. If it’s going to rain tonight I want to catch all the run off from the house we can. Gonna need something to wash clothes and bathe with, might as well use rain water.”

  14. #14
    <b>February 07, 2004 Reaction</b>

    <i>… forces have successfully pulled out of the South Korean city of Wonju under heavy fire from the advancing North Korean army. This city is an important road junction for many major South Korean highways and it is feared that it will be subjected to nuclear attack in an attempt to stop the NK advance. Elements of three American carrier task forces and strike craft of the American, South Korean, and Japanese air forces continue to strike at important road and rail junctions in North Korea in an attempt to slow the onslaught of the communist juggernaut advancing to the south. U.S. Defense Department spokespersons report that combined elements of the Allied air forces are close to achieving command of South Korean air space from the present front lines to just north of the DMZ. As another American and a British carrier battle group arrive within the week along with additional air power from the allied nations arriving in the peninsula it is expected that allied forces will soon achieve complete air superiority throughout the peninsula.</i>

    A pen scratched rapidly, but neatly in a feminine hand across the paper as the child transcribed as quickly as she was able the news coming through the ear bud of her radio.

    <i>The People’s Republic of China abstained from voting in last night’s United Nations Security Council meeting in Geneva paving the way for an easy passage of a resolution condemning North Korea’s aggressive actions towards the United States, Japan, Canada and South Korea and authorizing the use of military force to end the North Korean threat. This marks the second time the United Nations has authorized the use of military force against North Korea and only the fourth time in the history of the United Nations that a resolution of this type has ever been successfully passed by the Security Council.

    In other world news reports of rioting in several major American cities have begun to reach Europe as the second full day of national power and communications outages affect the U.S. and Canada. The American cities of Detroit, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Philadelphia experienced incidents of rioting, looting, and arson that were exacerbated by the nuclear induced blackout of American power, electronic communications and motor transport. A shortage of military personnel to assist the civil police is causing delays in responding to the lawlessness, but American Homeland Defense officials insist the rioting will soon be brought under control. Twenty four hour curfews have been imposed in the problem cities. Federal officials indicate that if the lawlessness does not soon end that shoot-to-kill orders will be issued for all rioters and looters. Senator Hillary Clinton of New York has declared that if sufficient domestic law enforcement and military personnel cannot be found to restore law and order to the stricken areas she will submit legislation to the American Senate authorizing the use of NATO or UN troops to assist in bringing the strife to an end. The White House has not yet commented on Senator Clinton’s proposal.</i>

    The flashlight begin to noticeably dim and flicker. Snatching it up Cindy smacked it against the palm of her hand, “Not now!” she said anxiously. The light brightened again so she set it down and took up her pen once more, but the newscast was ending.

    <i>We will have further news at 1000 hours Universal Time. This World News Report has been a service of Radio Netherlands.</i>

    “Well, shoot!” Cindy said in exasperation. Flipping through the pages of her little composition book that she was using for keeping notes in she began to look for another frequency to try. Before she could settle on one the flashlight began to darken once more. She picked it up and slapped it against the palm of her hand again, but the light brightened only marginally for a moment then began to fade again. “Oh, alright!” She clicked the light off and set it on the desk. “I’ll have to ask mom for some more batteries when she gets up. Maybe we should try to make those candle lamps today.” For a minute she considered continuing her scanning work in the dark, but decided against it. “Can’t see to write and I’d probably forget something important if I didn’t.” A yawn split her face so she got up from her desk and crossed the room to her bed. Slipping off robe and slippers she climbed back under the covers and went to sleep. Any further radio work would have to wait until daylight.

    -- -- -- --

    The sound of barking from Miss Annie’s little Yorkshire terrier shattered Larry’s slumber. For a moment he lay there then decided to get up. Looking out the window he could see his elderly spinster neighbor on her front lawn with her little dog as he “did his duty” as she put it. Going into the bathroom he poured water from the bucket on the back of the commode into the mixing bowl in the sink and used it to wash his face and brush his teeth. He considered heating some of the water on the stove so that he could use it for shaving, then decided it would be a waste of gas and he could use cold water just as well. Lathering up his face he pulled the razor across his face. “Uhh!” he said, surprised at the way it dragged. “OK, new razor time.” he said and opened the small drawer he and Barb kept their razors in and removed a new one. The new instrument produced a smoother shave, but still nothing like the one he was used to in the morning after a hot shower had softened the tough beard hairs. “Well, maybe I ought to just let it grow out.” but he knew he wouldn’t. Barb didn’t like beards, said they were sloppy even if he kept it neatly trimmed. “That’s a Service brat for you.” he said to himself in the dim mirror, “Gotta be regulation clean cut.” He dipped a wash cloth into the bowl, squoze it out, then wiped his face clean.

    Back in the bedroom he got dressed as Barb awoke and blinked at him owl eyed. “Good morning!” he said, with a tone of cheerful happiness. She was not by nature a morning person and it was a private joke between them for him to be bright and happy before she had her first cup of coffee. “Bleep the morning!” she said as she threw off the covers and headed for the bathroom. “You can bleep that bleeping bucket too!” and shut the door firmly.

    He went outside to look around and see what had passed in the night. It was lightly raining but off to the northwest the sky was quite dark so he figured they had still more rain coming. Walking around to the side of the house he found the inflatable swimming pool that he and Eddy had put out the night before to be overflowing. “Good!” he said with satisfaction. “Think I’ll scrounge around and see what else we can use to hold water.” Passing through the gate into the backyard he headed for the tool shed to see what might suggest itself. Looking up at the horizon in front of him he could see a pale gray column of smoke rising from the east. “Must be the fire we saw last night. Hope it wasn’t downtown. Probably be all over town what it was in another couple of hours.”

    In the shed he emptied out several plastic buckets and a trash can that had no holes. Taking them to the pool he dipped water into them then scrubbed them out with a brush. When they were clean enough to suit him he took them to the other side of the house then went into the garage for some tools. He unfastened the lower portion of the downspout and modified it so that it would now flow into the trash can. A satisfying trickle of water began to drop into the container.

    “Good morning Mr. Nichols!” came the voice of Miss Annie from behind him. She was standing on her side of the low hedge that separated their respective yards looking at him with some interest, a cheerful pastel umbrella suspended over her head. Larry turned around, smiled at her and said, “Good morning Miss Annie! Looks like it’s going to be pretty wet today.”

    “Yes it does.” She agreed. “If you don’t mind my asking, why are you putting a trash can under your downspout?”

    Glancing back at it for a moment to be sure it was filling properly he answered her, “Well Miss Annie, the water’s still off and it’s not going to come back on for quite a while from the sounds of things. We’ve got to have water for washing and bathing so might as well use rainwater to do it.”

    An astonished expression came over her features, “Why shouldn’t the water come back on Mr. Nichols? Have you heard something on the news? I’m afraid I haven’t been able find much on my little radio.”

    Not wishing to hurt his aging neighbor’s feelings Larry kept his tone reasonable and explained to her what had brought them into their predicament. “Yes, ma’am. I have heard something on the news so to speak. My daughter listens to her shortwave radio every night and Mr. Edwards next door to you went up and saw the county emergency management people yesterday. We’re at war Miss Annie, and the country has been attacked by the North Koreans. They’ve damaged our power and phones which is why they don’t work now and the same for most people’s cars. The county says it doesn’t know how long the power and water’s going to be out, but it won’t be coming back on anytime soon. Until it does we’re pretty much own our own. I don’t mean to sound like I’m trying to tell you what to do, but it might be a good idea for you to be catching some of this rain water for yourself.”

    “Oh!” the woman said, alarm written across her face, “We’re at war you say? Oh dear! But if the power and water stay off for a long time how are we to get by?”

    He walked up to his side of their hedge so that he would not have to speak so loudly. He kept his voice gentle and said to her, “Well, ma’am, we’re just going to have to get by as best we can. I’m sure the government will do what it can to help, but just at the moment they’re not much able to even help themselves from the sounds of it. Mr. Edwards has worked up some ideas about how maybe we can help each other and would like the neighborhood to come talk about it at the fellowship hall at the Methodist church around the corner at noon today. I’m sure he’d be delighted if you’d come.”

    Voice still somewhat shakey, she said, “I do believe I will Mr. Nichols. Thank you for telling me about this. I feel such a terrible fool for not trying harder to find out for myself. I’m afraid I don’t know what to do. I wasn’t expecting this so I don’t have very much water. Perhaps Mr. Edwards might suggest something. He’s always been a very nice man.”

    Nodding his head Larry said, “I’m sure he is Miss Annie.” He waited a space then continued, “If you like I’ll see what I can do to help you catch some of this rain water for yourself. I don’t think I’d drink it, but it would be OK to bathe or wash clothes in it, maybe even cook with it if you boil it.”

    “Thank you, Mr. Nichols.” she said in a stronger voice, “I would like that very much. I’m sure I have something around the house that could be used. Perhaps I can fill the bathtub and keep the water there.”

    “I think that would be an excellent idea, Miss Annie.” Larry agreed. “Looks to me like we’ve still got more rain coming so if you’ll find what containers you can I’ll come over with my son and we’ll get you set up after breakfast.”

    “I’ll do that, Mr. Nichols. I can’t thank you enough for your neighborliness. I’ll put Clyde here on the porch and start rounding up some pails or something. I’ll see you after breakfast.” She gave the dog a gentle tug and he began heading towards the house.

    “Yes ma’am,” he said as she turned to go, “we’ll be over right after breakfast.”

    They both went into their houses, Larry pondering upon the problems that people like Miss Annie presented. She lived by herself, was on the wrong side of seventy and could easily be overlooked by people focused on their own personal situations. “I reckon we’d better talk about that too at the meeting” he said to himself as he went inside to be greeted by the aroma of brewing coffee.

    -- -- -- --

    Even with all of the window blinds opened to their maximum extent the fellowship hall was gloomy without the electric lights it was designed to use. With no air conditioning it was also somewhat clammy in the cool, wet air, but it was the best facility they had so it had to be made to serve.

    Edwards lit a Coleman lantern and its pressurized gas vapor light brightened the inside of the hall, though he found its persistent hissing to be annoying. Looking up at the waiting crowd of people who had gathered after he, Larry and Eddy had gone from door to door this morning he decided the turnout was probably as good as could be expected. “Maybe about a quarter to a third of the total people we spoke to” he thought to himself, “but it’s a start. We’ll pick up more as we go along.”

    Clearing his throat he said, “Good afternoon! Thank you all for coming today, especially with the rain and all. My name is Michael Edwards and I live here in this neighborhood. In fact pastor Douglas and I are old friends which is why we are meeting here in the fellowship hall today. I recognize many of you, at least by face anyway even if we’ve never spoken before and I expect many of you will recognize me as well.”

    He’d never liked public speaking, not at all, and felt like a fool standing in front of these people but there didn’t seem to be anyone else to do it, so sinking feeling or not he pressed onward. “Before we get on to the real purpose of this meeting I suppose it would be best if everyone knew about the events that have led up to my calling us here together like this.”

    “In a nutshell, we’ve been attacked by the North Koreans and are now at war. The attack they launched upon us here in the continental United States was a series of high-altitude nuclear explosions in low orbital space. While these explosions produced no direct blast, fire, or radioactive fallout to endanger us they did knock out our electrical power and most everything that uses any sort of sophisticated electronics. What this means is that we have no electrical, water, and sewage utilities left working. The attack also eliminated most electronic forms of communication, and damaged the electronic workings of most cars.”

    Looking over the room he could see that all were paying close attention to his words, though one man in the back of the room had an angry expression on his face, why he could not tell. “Much of what I know came to me courtesy of the daughter of Mr. Nichols here who has a shortwave receiver. When he told me about the attack I rode my bicycle downtown to the county’s emergency management operations center to see what I could find out. In the past I have been a Red Cross Disaster Response volunteer and am currently a part of the county’s Community Emergency Response Team so I’m familiar with the operations center.”

    “When I arrived I learned of the damage that we have sustained locally and I’m sorry to say it seems to be considerable. At the moment there is not an ambulance in the county that is running. The four hospitals have had their electronics severely damaged, to include their lighting and air conditioning so are at best semi-functional until power can be restored and repairs made. The city has only two pumper trucks for the fire department that are functional, nearly all of the police and sheriff’s vehicles are in the same condition that most of our cars are in. They hope to have at least some limited operation of the city’s water plant in a week or so, but they cannot guarantee this. Even if they do manage to get it running again the supply of water will be very limited and available only at restricted times. The sewer system will be offline for the foreseeable future with no predicted date of when it will come back online. Most of the garbage trucks still run, but soon the shortage of fuel will keep them off the road. Both of GRU’s power generation stations are offline with no predicted date of when they will come back on and the same for the telephone system. Every governmental radio system in the county is damaged and will have to be repaired before they can be used again so there is very limited communications between the emergency services dispatchers and the police, fire, and ambulance services. Making matters even worse is that over the last eighteen months half of the deployable National Guard and military reserves in the state were sent to the Middle East and now orders have come from Washington that what National Guard and reserve troops remain are to mobilize immediately, probably to be sent to the Korean theater.”

    He paused for a few moments to allow the news to sink in. When the import of what he had said seemed to have expressed itself fully to everyone he continued, “So, for those of us right here what it means is that until government can accomodate itself to the new reality we are largely on our own with only small hope of any sort of governmental assistance. It is because of this that I asked you all to come here today. If we are to get through this we need to organize ourselves and decide how best to meet this new challenge.”

    Looking around the room he saw some who were nodding their heads in knowing acceptance, his words holding no news for them, while others seemed to be in a state of shock and dismay. Finally, a man in the back spoke up. “You say you talked to the county people, when did they say the government was going to come in and help us? Isn’t this what FEMA and Homeland Security is for?”

    Edwards stuck his hands out from his sides and shrugged. “Just now the government can barely help themselves. I’m sure when they are able to collect themselves again they’ll come and do what they can, but this attack hit the entire nation at the same time. At this moment there may not be a single town or city in the country with a working power plant. I honestly don’t know how much they’ll be able to do for anyone – or when they’ll be able to do it.”

    “Well, what are we to do then?” a middle aged woman in the front asked indignantly. “This is what the government is for! To help us out in times of disaster! Where’s the Red Cross? Where’s the National Guard?”

    “Honey,” said the man sitting next to her, “didn’t you just hear the man say that half the Guard got shipped out to Iraq last year? The other half is going to be on their way to Korea it sounds like.”

    “But what about us?” She persisted, “Who is going to help us? Is the Red Cross going to come in? FEMA? Who?”

    Gentling his voice Edwards pointed out the obvious to her, “Ma’am, this is what I’m trying to get across. The Red Cross will do what it can I’m sure, but they’re not set up to handle a disaster that strikes the entire nation at once and they’re suffering from the same problems we are from the nuclear pulse. The Salvation Army and all of the other non-governmental disaster response organizations will be having the same problems. FEMA perhaps might be better off since they were once Civil Defense and are supposed to be prepared for nuclear attacks, but what they can do for the whole country all at the same time I don’t know. I suspect not very much.”

    “Well they’d BETTER do something!” the angry man in the back of the room he’d seen earlier spoke out, “We’re American citizens and it’s our RIGHT to get assistance. We pay a lot of taxes for this stuff. If they can give billions to other countries they can damn sure help us when we need it!”

    Edwards sighed then went at it again, “Mister, I might agree with you about the foreign aid, but the fact of the matter is the government is not going to be here for us for a while. No matter how much we may demand our rights, they can’t produce aid and assistance out of thin air! We’re still heavily involved in the Middle East, we’ve got a hot war going on in Asia and the whole country is in a blackout! It’s going to take time, probably a long time, before the Federal government is going to be able to do much of anything for anyone.”

    A studious looking young man with an odd hair cut stood up to ask, “Well, what about the state government? How about the United Nations? The UN does disaster relief work all the time all over the world. Why can’t they come and do it here?”

    An older man with a short crew cut and a button down shirt near one wall said loud enough to be heard, “We’ll never see any help from those worthless leeches. Even if we did I ain’t taking no handouts from Commies.”

    Edwards ignored the other man and responded to the younger man’s questions. “I’m sure the state is doing what it can right now, but with the National Guard being mobilized for overseas duty and probably most of their remaining vehicles damaged like ours are their response is almost certainly going to be slow in coming and very limited. As for the United Nations if what Mr. Nichol’s daughter has been hearing on her shortwave receiver is true they are trying to send aid right now. It’s being hampered by the shortage of plane and ship transport since the priority is going to the war. Even when they get here there’s still the very real problems of the loss of electrical power and electronic equipment so it’s going to take some time for them to get any significant quantities of supplies here and probably as long a time or longer to get themselves organized enough here to start distributing them. Maybe in a few weeks we’ll see some aid, but it might be longer too. I simply don’t know how long it will take and I don’t think anyone else does either.”

    Many people started to speak loudly at once and the meeting began to dissolve into chaos. Edwards was feeling acutely conscious of how unsuited to the role he was that he was attempting to step into and felt at a loss as to how to regain control of the gathering as it collapsed into anarchy. He cleared his throat several times in an attempt to restore order, “Uhh, excuse me! Can I have everone’s attention again please! Excuse me!” but his words may as well have been spoken into a whirlwind.

    Finally Larry stood, picking up a boardbound hymnal on the table next to him and slapped it flat and hard onto the table. The report of the impact sounded like a gunshot and the room quieted instantly as all eyes turned towards the sound.

    “Excuse me folks,” he said, “but Mr. Edwards here has gone to a lot of trouble to try to think this out and we really ought to at least listen to him. He’s not with the government, he’s just one of us common folks who thinks we maybe ought to try to help ourselves since the government ain’t gonna be able to do much for us it seems. Why not let the man speak?” The eyes of the assembly turned towards Edwards once again.

    “Ahem, thank you Mr. Nichols.” Edwards said with a tone of relief. “Like Mr. Nichols said, I’m just a person who lives in the same neighborhood you do. I’ve had the benefit of some training, but none of it was ever intended to cope with a disaster like this. I don’t have all the answers, nor do I know what all the government intends to do in the near or distant future. What I do know is this: For at least the next several days and possibly a good deal longer the only assistance we’re going to receive from anywhere is going to have to come from right here. From us. The longer it takes for outside aid to reach us the more important it is going to be for us to be able to help ourselves. This is what I asked you all here for today – to discuss how we collectively are going to meet this crisis that has fallen upon us.”

    The angry man in the back stood up and said, “I don’t need your help fella. I can help myself.” He walked out of the door without looking back.

    Nodding at him as he left Edwards addressed the rest of the gathering. “Well, I suppose that’s one way of coping. Would anyone else like to make any suggestions?”

    A middle-aged woman in the center row spoke up to say, “I don’t mean to sound like I’m complaining or anything, but I am very nearly out of water. I have two children in the house. Does anyone know where I can get water? I mean safe water for my children and I to drink?”

    Many people in the room looked uncomfortable at her question and did not look at each other. Edwards allowed the mood to build for a few moments, the woman looking increasingly disappointed. “Ma’am” he asked, “do you have any laundry bleach in your home?”

    With a puzzled expression she answered, “Yes, I do. Why?”

    “Because the weather looks like it’s going to rain all day today, maybe even longer.” he explained, “If you have some way of catching the rain water running off of your roof you can use your laundry bleach to sanitize the water and make it safe to drink. Filter the water through several layers of cloth such as a bath towel folded over a couple of times and you’ll have water for you and your children.”

    “I can?” she looked hopeful, “Can you tell me how to do this? How much bleach do you use? I thought it was poison.”

    Reaching over to a small paper box Edwards removed the cover and took out a stack of papers. “There are instructions right here.” Handing a number of the sheets to Eddy he asked “Son, would you be kind enough to pass these out to everyone? Bring back to me any that you have left.”

    “Sure, Mr. Edwards” the boy said and began to do as he was asked.

    “As you’ll see” the man continued, “the front of the page has instructions on how to sanitize water by boiling, using chlorine, or iodine. The back of the page has instructions on how to make an expedient toilet. There are also instructions on how to dispose of garbage and human wastes so that insects and vermin won’t get into it and so that it won’t contaminate water supplies and make everyone sick.”

    Many people eagerly accepted the papers that Eddy handed out, some began reading them right away.

    The woman quickly read down her sheet then asked, “This looks like really good information, but what do I use to collect the rain water?”

    Larry spoke up before Edwards and asked, “Ma’am, you say you have two children. Do they have any sort of little wading or swimming pool?”

    She turned to look at him and said, “Yes, they have a pool I bought from Wal Mart last year. It’s still laying out in the back yard though and is full of leaves and rain wa… Oh, of course!” She laughed out loud, “Well, that was about a stupid question wasn’t it? I can just scrub the pool out and catch the water in that. I’ve got a couple of plastic trash cans I can clean out and use too!”

    He smiled at her and said, “Yeah, that’s what we’re doing. Even if you don’t have house guttering you can still catch a lot that way.”

    “Henry, you can’t be serious!” The woman who had earlier demanded the government come to their rescue said, “I am NOT going to use an outhouse like some country rube!”

    Several people smiled at her outburst and one or two looked annoyed including Larry who resented the remark. Her husband, however, spoke before anyone else could, “Marie, you’re just going to have to come to terms with it. The city sewer pipe is going to fill up soon and no matter where we find the water you’re not going to be able to flush the toilet anymore! You’ll then either use an outhouse or bust!”

    Several more listeners began to turn red as the memory of toilets overflowing onto their floors came back to them, overflowing because of the stubborn insistence of people like Marie to continue using their non-functional plumbing. Larry saw Mrs. Singh in the row behind Marie clouding up to storm and quickly interjected himself before an open spectacle could break out.

    “Ma’am” he said hurriedly, “it’s not as bad as it sounds. I’m sure with a little work your husband here could make it a lot like your regular commode in your bathroom. In fact, the only hard part is digging the hole. If we could find a pair or two of post-hole diggers it’d make the job a lot simpler and easier.”

    Marie began to turn red in embarrassment and refused to look at anyone as she realized she was involved in a public discussion of her bathroom habits. Her husband though looked delighted at Larry’s suggestions. “That’s a very good idea Mr. Nichols!” he said, “It so happens I have a pair of post hole diggers that I use for putting in shrubbery for my wife here. I think Andy two doors down from me has a pair as well. I bet if we help each other out we could probably get the holes dug all up and down the street in no time at all.”

    “I think we could at that Mr…? I’m sorry, I didn’t catch your name.” Larry said.

    “Waters, I’m Henry Waters, and this is my wife Marie.” the man said enthusiastically, “I’ll bet there’s at least one other pair of post hole diggers somewhere on our street. Every house in the neighborhood has got to be having the same problem so there’s going to be a lot of holes needing to be dug and some sort of seat and coverings needing to be built.”

    “You’re quite right, Mr. Waters.” Edwards agreed, “Would you be willing to head up the neighborhood effort for at least getting the holes dug? I’m sure every family who has an able bodied man will probably want to dig their own, but we’ve got several households here in the neighborhood that have only elderly residents or single mothers with children. It would be quite a service if you would undertake seeing those holes put in. I’m sure we could get men to volunteer to help you.”

    Waters considered for a moment, pondering if he really wanted the responsibility. He stared at the sheet of paper in his hands, then looked at his wife Marie and said, “Yes, I will. I’m sure there’s got to be handsaws in the neighborhood and most everyone has hammers and we’ll scrounge up nails from somewhere. I’ll do it.”

    “Wonderful! Thank you very much Mr. Waters.” Edwards started to move on when another female voice spoke up. Larry looked backwards and saw that it was Mrs. Watkins, the woman who had run off her husband with a shotgun the day before. “Excuse me,” she said, “I’ve been sort of out of the loop on the news since the power went down. Has anyone heard if the grocery stores are open or when they’re going to open? I… I, uhmm, well we’re short on food in the house and I really need to do some grocery shopping. I suppose the kids and I can walk to the Kash and Karry or the Publix with their wagon, but I’d hate to walk that far with them only to find they’re not open.”

    The mention of food brought looks of concern to many faces again. “Yeah,” one gentleman against the wall said, “Edwards, you hear anything about when the government is going to bring in food supplies? Another week or two and a lot of people are going to start getting hungry.”

    “When I was at the operations center I heard one of the police officers there mention something about the city inventorying the local grocery stores and warehouses.” Edwards explained, “But I didn’t hear anything about how they intend to distribute it. In fact, it’s one of the things I want to find out myself. With few cars, little fuel, and no power food is going to become a problem sooner rather than later unless the government steps in. I’m sure they’re going to do just that, but I don’t know how or when.”

    From the back of the room Pastor Douglas spoke, “Mrs. Watkins, if you’ll see me after we’re done here I’ll see what I can do to help you. The church is going to be organizing a relief committee and I’m sure they’ll be able to do something.”

    She turned to look at Douglas, the large, purple bruise on her cheek plainly visible and said, “Thank you. I guess you know I haven’t attended your church before, will that matter?”

    “Not in the least, Mrs. Watkins.” he reassured her, “You live in this neighborhood and that makes you part of my flock in my book, even if you’ve never so much as darkened our door before.”

    “Pastor Douglas makes a good point.” Edwards pointed out, “Government help or not, we are not working in a vacuum here. I’m quite certain that most of the area churches will be organizing to provide what help they can for the needy and many neighborhoods such as ours may do the same as we are doing.”

    “Not every neighborhood.” the man who’d spoken harshly of the U.N. said, “Reckon you heard Union Street Station downtown burned to the ground last night.”

    “But we just built that a couple of years ago!” another man said, “I hung the sheet rock! It’s got a fire system all through the building.”

    “Don’t work worth a crap when there’s no water and no power” the first man said, “especially not when someone torches it.”

    Edwards frowned, “Someone burnt the building on purpose? Why?”

    The man shrugged, “Don’t know. I’ve heard a couple ah different stories already. One says a resident in one of the second story apartments started the fire when they knocked over an oil lamp. Another said looters set it on fire. Heard someone else say it was someone trying to cover up a murder. All I know is it burnt to the ground last night. Made a hell of a fire.”

    The news that nearly a city block of downtown Gainesville had burned down the night before put a pall on the gathering. Finally Edwards spoke again, “Well, another good reason for our neighborhood to pull together. No matter how that fire came to start, it’s for certain the city doesn’t have enough fire fighting resources to cope. With electrical power out everywhere most everyone is going to have to use candles, lamps, or lanterns unless they have a very healthy supply of batteries. The dangers of fire are going to be high. If one of our homes catch fire then chances are it’s your neighbors who’ll have to come to the rescue – if anyone can at all.”

  15. #15
    <b>February 08, 2004..........Stone Soup</b>

    “Mrs. Nichols, I’ve paid good money for meals that didn’t satisfy half as much.” Mike Edwards doffed his hat in Barb’s direction. “I’ve never been more than an indifferent cook myself so it is nice to eat a meal prepared by one who clearly takes pleasure in her craft!”

    “Well, there is nothing quite like hunger to make anything taste better, Mr. Edwards.” Barb smiled back to him in return. “But I can’t take all the credit. You’ll have to thank Larry for the bread. He’s the one that baked it.”

    “Oh?” the man said, “Is that true Larry? You baked these biscuits? I thought Barb said that you all had an electric stove? How did you manage it?”

    “An oven’s just a box that holds heat, Mike” Larry explained, “I cooked these on our gas grill. Put the pan on the top rack, keep the flame low, close the lide, and that’s all there is to it.”

    “That’s a use for a gas grill I’ve never heard of before.” Cathy Watkins said, “Makes me wish we had one now. We’ve always used a charcoal grill for cooking out.”

    “There’s a lot of different ways to bake a biscuit, Cathy.” Larry explained, “Like I said, an oven is just a box that holds heat. If you’ve got a cardboard box and maybe some aluminum foil you can bake that way using a couple of charcoal briquettes or even just coals out of a wood fire.”

    “How do you know these things Larry,” Mrs. Singh asked, “You sound like you’ve done this before.”

    The man in question chuckled then answered her, “I know these things because once upon a time I was a Boy Scout. These are all just different kinds of camp cooking like we used to do on campouts and such. Well, not the gas grill I suppose, but that was just applying something I already knew to a new method.”

    Edwards stared thoughtfully at the biscuit he was using to chase gravy on his plate then said, “You know Larry, what you know could be of real value to the community. I wasn’t a Scout myself and I’m sure a good many others in the neighborhood weren’t either. If these expedient cooking methods are as simple as you make them out to be then they would be very useful in our present circumstance. A lot of people have electric stoves they can’t use now. If they could use some of your camp cooking techniques it might help a lot of people who would otherwise be at a loss, at least for baking anyway.”

    “Well, I suppose I could, Mike.” Larry agreed, “I suspect there are more former Scouts like myself than you'd think. I’ve still got my old Scout manual kicking around someplace. I wouldn’t mind showing folks how to do a little camp cooking. With no more people that showed up at the meeting today that shouldn’t take long I expect.”

    “Oh, that number is growing now that word is getting around. I had six people stop by the house this afternoon to ask for copies of the water and sanitation sheets I handed out.”

    “Speaking of those sheets,” Barb said, “I read the one that Larry brought home. That’s really useful information! But how did you make those copies or did you already have them on hand before the attack?”

    “No, I’ve had them for years.” Edwards explained, “In fact for about five years now. The fellow who wrote the <I>Prudent Pantry</I> book they’re taken from was in my first CERT class with me along with his wife. That was back in early ’99 and it turned out half the class were people preparing for the Y2K computer problem. He was finishing his book about then and when he found out I was a Red Cross volunteer he gave me that box of handout sheets from his book. Of course, the whole Y2K thing was a big flash in the pan so none of that stuff was ever needed, but I couldn’t quite bring myself to throw those handouts away. Never thought I’d ever need them for something like this though!”

    Henry and Marie Waters came through the side gate along with two others. “Are we too late for dinner?” Henry asked.

    “No!” Larry said, “Glad to see you. We’ve got more stew left in that pot than all of us could eat in two days!”

    “I’m sorry we’re late.” Henry explained, “I had a devil of a time getting that old Coleman stove to keep pressure in the tank and finally realized one of the seals had gone bad. Had to cobble together something to replace it with before we could do any cooking. Cake came out looking pretty good though.”

    Ashley, Cathy Watkin’s daughter, said, “You made a cake? Did you bake it in a box or on your gas grill too?”

    The man with the cake said, “Gas grill? No, I’ve got an old folding Coleman oven that I put on top of the stove. Haven’t used it in years, but it still worked like a champ! It’s just a box mix cake I’m afraid and canned icing.”

    “I’m sure it will be just fine.” Barb said as she stood and relieved the man of his burden. “A couple of weeks like this and a box mix and canned icing will taste better than French pastries.”

    “Oh, I hope it doesn’t last that long!” Marie Waters said, “I’m not sure if I’m ready for weeks of camp cooking and no fresh foods.”

    “Ready or not, it does appear that is exactly what we’re going to have do, Marie” said the man who had come in with her, “I just hope that a few weeks or a month is all that we’ll have to do it for.”

    Henry spoke up, “This is my neighbor Andy Nelson, and his wife Gloria. He was at work this afternoon or he’d have come to the meeting with me.”

    Larry stood and shook Andy’s hand and said, “Pleased to meet you. Mrs. Nelson, you look familiar, have we met?”

    “I believe we have Mr. Nichols.” she answered, “I work for the city roads department and I think we met when we came to your foundry to look at your castings. You were answering questions for us.”

    “That’s right.” Larry said, “You were there. Mr. Nelson, do you work for the city too?”

    A cloud passed over Andy Nelson’s face as he responded, “No, I manage Main Street Automotive Electronics, or I should say I used to manage it.”

    Edwards quirked an eyebrow at the way he said that and asked, “Don’t you think you’ll be able to go back to it when the power comes back?”

    “Don’t know” Andy said, shaking his head, “Store was looted last night. I’ve been riding a bike to work every day since the blackout. Don’t know why I call it ‘work’ since we haven’t actually been open for business since the attack, but I went everyday just to keep an eye on the place and do what I could to straighten things out until the power comes back. Last night the place was looted. Battery back up to the alarm system ran down I guess. They hit my place and several other stores. The police showed up, but they were hardly even interested. Said a dozen stores had already been hit last night and yesterday night, all dead-of-the-night kind of stuff.”

    “Well, at least the police responded” Barb said, “I haven’t seen a police officer since the attack.”

    “Oh, they’re out there.” Andy explained, “But they’re spread much too thin and mostly they’re trying to guard the important places like grocery stores and food warehouses, and other places. They’re on bicycles believe it or not. Gainesville’s had a bike unit for years, supposed to have been pretty good, but now they’re ALL on bikes. A friend of mine runs Main Street Bikes and he says all the bike shops in town have contributed bikes and gear to the police and sheriff’s department. I don’t think they’ve got hardly any radios working yet, but they’re mobile at least. Somewhat mobile anyways.”

    “At least it’s a start.” Henry said, “I was beginning to think we were entirely on our own! A cop on a bike is still better than no cop at all.”

    “We’re not far from being on our own even with cops on bikes.” Cathy observed. “There was a home invasion robbery over on 35th St two houses behind us last night. My back fence neighbor said they beat the man up pretty bad and stole a bunch of stuff, liquor mostly it sounded like. He’s a manager of the ABC liquor store on East University. Sounded like they picked him out in particular. She said they jumped into an old Ford sedan of some sort and took off. I’m not sure if anyone ever managed to contact the police about it or not. Short of walking or riding a bike downtown I wouldn’t know how to contact the police now. It’s for sure the 911 system isn’t working anymore.”

    “A home invasion?” Miss Annie asked, plainly nervous, “On the street behind us?”

    Cathy nodded her head. Edwards glanced at Larry, but said nothing, then at Henry and Andy. “I think perhaps we’d all better sleep with one eye open tonight.” he said, but did not pursue the matter further though in his heart he was deeply troubled.

    Diverting the conversation onto a different topic Edwards asked, “Cathy, how did you make out with Pastor Douglas? Another couple of days of not being able to shop and no power for refrigeration I’m wondering if quite a few won’t be running short on food.”

    Embarrassed to be asked, she finally answered. “He helped me out. The church has always had a food pantry program and that’s where he took me. We’ve got enough for a few days, but that’s it. He said the city had contacted him the day before about working with them as a food distribution point. When the pulse hit us it not only blew out the power for the grocery stores and their whole electronic just-in-time inventory system it also blew out the banks. Even if the stores could open for business most people would soon be out of money to buy food since they can’t get money from their bank accounts. No checks, no credit cards, no ATM machines, no check cards. Apparently the state is trying to coordinate with the counties to get something worked out, but communications are so bad that it’s mostly a local effort so far.” She paused for a moment then finished, “The Pastor didn’t come out and say so directly, but I got the impression that if the state or federal government didn’t do something fairly soon about bringing in more food the whole city was going to run out.”

    Conversation died for a time as the gathered neighborhood members digested what Cathy had related to them with troubled looks crossing the faces of many as they mentally inventoried their remaining food stores at home.

    Finally, when the silence began to become awkward Barb asked, “Anyone heard any more news about Union Street Station? Seems like the stories get wilder every day. All that money spent on downtown redevelopment to build that place and it burns to the ground.”

    Andy answered, “Lots of stories, but if the fire department knows for sure they’re not saying yet. Some witnesses said the fire started on the second floor so I’m inclined to think it may well have been an accident. I heard that someone knocked over an oil lamp or a candle and the fire started that way. By the time the word got to the fire department it was pretty far along so the two pumpers they could bring to bear on it never had much of a chance to get it under control, especially since there’s no pressure in the fire hydrants.” He chuckled as he said, “They managed to keep it from spreading to any of the other downtown businesses, but Hooters, I’m afraid, is gone.”

    Henry changed the course of the conversational flow again when he said, “Did you all see Chuck Jones this morning? He packed up his wife into that old Dodge Dart of his and pulled out. Had the back so full you couldn’t see in the rear windshield so I guess he’s bugged out. Haven’t seen him since he left first thing this morning?”

    Mrs. Singh asked, “I think I remember seeing a Dodge Dart come down the street once in a while, but I don’t recognize the name. Has he lived here on the street very long?”

    Andy sighed, “Yeah, he’s lived here for at least the last ten years since that’s how long we’ve been here and he was here when we moved here. You probably wouldn’t know him Mrs. Singh, Chuck is so reactionary in his views on everything that he’s practically hypergolic. Doesn’t associate with anyone that looks ‘foreign’ if he can help it. Probably would have joined the John Birch society if they were still around.”

    Edwards spoke up, “I know who he is now. He’s the hothead who walked out the meeting saying he didn’t need anyone’s help. I’ve seen him driving that old Dart. Not that he’d wave to a neighbor or anything. Well, if he’s the only one who leaves we’ll be doing alright.”

    Cathy asked, “Do you think we’ll see a lot of people leaving?”

    Shrugging his shoulders he replied, “Probably. The longer this blackout lasts the more those who have some place to run to and some means of getting there are going to do it. Wild rumors aside, we’re pretty calm in this area. I can only imagine what it must be like in places such as New York, or Boston, L.A. or Detroit. I suspect a good many people will be pulling up stakes and moving towards whatever places of safety they can find if they have any way of doing so.”

    A thoughtful expression came over Larry’s face, but he said nothing. After a time several more neighbors arrived, each bearing plates, bowls or pots. Edwards handed out more of his water and sanitation sheets and gradually explored each person’s interest in participating in helping to better organize the neighborhood. News of the home invasion robbery had spread fast through the neighborhood and rumors of even darker events had as well.

    The meal gradually wound down and it was mutually decided that everyone with an interest would come over the next day and work with Larry on learning camp cooking techniques. “Word gets around about this, we might get more people interested in working together” Edwards commented. “A few more nights like last night and the night before we may see quite a few suddenly become interested in working together.”

    -- -- -- --

    “Looks dry to me, John” Ben said as he examined the bottom of the truck fuel tank upended on the workbench. “I reckon six coats should be enough to hold it. You ready to bolt ‘er back in?”

    The other man ran his hand over the tank feeling for soft places in the bonding material. It felt solid and dry. “I suppose so. Lets bolt it in and see if she’s going to work. At the rate we’re going we’ll have disassembled, repaired and put back together the entire truck! Got to be an easier way to get around than this.”

    “Sure is.” Ben commented, “We could walk! I’m sure it’s not more than thirty, thirty five miles or so. One way.”

    “Yeah, yeah, yeah.” John said in a grumpy tone as a grin tugged at the corners of his mouth. “OK, you got me on that one. Let’s put the tank back in and see what else is going to break. At least we didn’t lose more than a couple of gallons of gas.”

    The two men bolted the fuel tank back into position, filled it with the gas they had drained out, then restarted the truck. “Now lets see if we can find where Dan Armantrout has lit out to and get him open the NAPA store for us so we can replace them hoses and belts.”

    The two men drove off down the road, keeping the speed to a steady fifty five in deference to the unbalanced tires which had taken them more than a full day to mount using Ben’s primitive methods. Pulling up outside of the parts store manager’s house they walked up and knocked on the door. After a few minutes his wife came to the door and said, “Hello Mr. Jacobs! Haven’t seen you in quite a spell. You looking for Dan?”

    “Yes, ma’am. I am at that.” he answered her.

    “He’s down to the store today. He won’t be back until after noon when he closes.”

    “Thank you Mrs. Armantrout. I figured with it being Sunday and the power being out and all the store would be closed.”

    She laughed for a moment then explained, “Well, that first day he did close it then a stream of people started coming to the house wanting him to open the store so they could buy parts to get their old clunkers back on the road. Store’s not even usually open on Sunday’s but there he is! Is that what you’re looking for him for too?”

    “Yes, ma’am, it surely is. Got the old truck out of the barn going, but she needs belts and hoses. If he’s got the store open I reckon we’d best be heading over there. You going to be at the dinner-on-the-ground next Sunday? That was a fine pot of chicken and dumplings you made last time.”

    “Oh, we’ll be there.” She laughed again, “Might have to cook them over a fire in the yard, but we’ll be there. No power, no TV, no radio, and no phone doesn’t leave much in the way of socializing. You should have seen the turn out at the church this morning!”

    Ben chuckled at this, “Yes ma’am, I’m sure there was a right smart turn out. I’d have been there myself but we were still trying to get the truck gong. Thanks again. We’ll see you then.”

    The two men went back to the truck and headed the rest of the way into town. Pulling up in front of the NAPA store they saw an old Rambler and a Falcon wagon. Ben hooted and said, “Anther week or so and we’re gonna feel young again from seeing all these old cars on the road!”

    They went inside and found Dan behind the counter. “Well hey Ben!” he greeted them, “Hey John! Reckon you two need parts like everyone else. I’ll save you asking, we are slap out of any sort of electronic ignition parts and automotive fuses.”

    John smiled and said, “We figured that would be the case. No, this time we’re looking for hoses and belts. Ben and I pulled his old truck out of his barn and got it running again, more or less, but the rubber goods are on their last legs.”

    “Ben, you got that old Chevy running again?” Dan asked, “I remember Buddy and I raising Hell in that old truck. He always said he was going to restore it, but he got that job offer out west so I guess it just ended up on blocks in your barn. Hoses and belts I think I can help you with. Let’s look up the parts numbers and see what you need…”

    The shadows of the trees were stretching long across the yard when they finally finished running the new rubber. Both men were tired, filthy, and grumpy from prolonged labor in uncomfortable positions.

    Ben was wiping grease from his hands on an old rag when he asked, “You wanna try to make it to Gainesville tonight?”

    John was flexing the fingers of his left hand. They were bruised from where the twitch bar they’d been using to mount the new tires had slipped from his grasp and spun around to rap him strongly on the back of the knuckles before he could move it out of the way. He stared at the sun nearing the horizon then said, “Well, I’d like to, but honestly I am too damn tired today. Let’s go clean up and eat something. I feel like I carried that truck back from Treton on my back!”

    The older man grinned at him and said, “Let’s go see if that stew we put in the haybox this morning is ready then. I’ll whomp us up some cornbread and put it on the wood stove while you’re washing up and I’ll wash up while it’s cooking.”

    “Sounds like a plan!” The two of them went into Ben’s house. After they had both cleaned up and were waiting on the corn bread to finish baking and the coffee to finish perking they sat around talking.

    “You been thinking of Buddy and Anita much?” John asked “We’ve been spending so much time getting that truck running so we can go and check on Barb and Larry and your kids are off in Iowa and California.”

    A look of gravity came across the older man’s face, his years making themselves plain. “Yeah, been thinking about them right smart, John, but what can I do? No phone, no way to get there, nothing much I could do for them there if I could get there. They’re both grown and got kids of their own. I’ll just have to have faith in the Lord that he’ll look out for them and give them enough sense to keep them out of trouble. Buddy’s place is actually outside of Des Moines a piece and there’s lots of farm folks still left around there so I reckon he and Ginger and the kids will make out OK. It’s Anita and Tom that I’m concerned with. It’s a nice area up in the hills they live in, but the people there are crammed in cheek to jowl! With no power they’re not going to have any water and them hills are dry most of the time. I talked to both of them after you and I spoke the other day, but you know they think I’m just an old, uneducated redneck even if I am their daddy. They said they’d put their kits together, but who knows if they really did or not.”

    John nodded his head in agreement. “I understand. I finally talked Margie into a verbal corner and forced her to agree to expand the little three day kit they put together last year, but I never heard if they actually did it or not. Richard never has seen any point in preparing for anything more than a winter storm or something like that. Wouldn’t even have gone that far if it hadn’t been for a couple of storms that left them without power. Sure hope he wasn’t working late when the attack came. It’s thirty five miles from his office to their house and some of them bad neighborhoods though you’d hardly notice going past at seventy miles an hour on the Interstate.” He sighed as he thought about it, “Well, it’s been fifteen years but did do a stretch in the 82nd Airborne so I imagine he’ll make out OK. If they haven’t already had trouble, I expect they’ll be seeing it happen shortly when the food begins to run out. I know he’s got a bird gun since we’ve shot together and he bought Margie a pistol to keep in the house so they’re not exactly defenseless. I’m hoping they won’t freeze and the grandkids won’t go hungry. It’s only Atlanta I know, but it’s still early February yet.”

    “Beats being in Minnesota without any power, John.” Ben pointed out. “I think you underestimate Richard, he’s always struck me as having a good head on his shoulders even if he does see the world over a ledger book.”

    John took a deep sip of his water, “I hope you’re right Ben, I hope you’re right. At least tomorrow I’ll be able to check up on Barb and Larry. I’ve got enough gas put away that a seventy mile round trip won’t be a problem and still have some left over.”

    “You reckon Larry’s gonna be willing to let his family come back with you?” Ben asked.

    Shaking his head negatively the other man replied, “No, I doubt it. They’ve got most of what they own tied up in their house and I can’t see him abandoning it lightly. He’ll know as well as I do that if they pack up and leave for a long period of time that house would probably be looted, or at least vandalized. I guess what I’m really after is news of how things are holding together in Gainesville. With all the crazy rumors we heard today I don’t know what to think. If things are bad I’m hoping to at least convince them to let me bring Barb and Cindy back here. If things aren’t bad then I suppose they’ll all stay. Water’s eventually going to be a problem though with them being on the city water system and all.”

    Ben stood up and studied the color of the coffee bubbling into the little glass knob on top of the percolator. Judging it ready he poured himself and John cups of the hot brew. He picked the metal box up from the top of the woodstove and studied the top of the cornbread in the old cast iron pan and decided it wasn’t quite finished. He replaced the lid, handed John his coffee and sat down again.

    “You reckon there’s anything to that story Dan told us about smallpox getting loose in Seattle? Could be a real problem for the West Coast folks if it’s true.”

    Shrugging his shoulders John said, “Don’t know. Didn’t hear anything about it last night on the shortwave, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not true. Of course, where would Dan find out about it from? There’s no local radio stations on the air nor any television. In any case, with the pulse attack and all it’s not going to spread across the country very fast, not even from Seattle to Des Moines. For the moment I’m going to put it in the same category as the Chinese army that’s supposed to be landing at Long Beach. Possible, I suppose, but no way to know for sure. I didn’t think the North Koreans could hit us with an EM pulse either, but they did. Could be a lot of things we were wrong about.”

    For a time the two men sat and said nothing, each absorbed in his own thoughts. When sufficient time had passed Ben checked the corn bread again, judged it done and set it aside to cool. Stooping down to the cardboard paper box set near to the woodstove he took off the lid. Reaching inside he removed a lidded kettle from its nest of densely packed paper and set it on top of the stove. When he took the lid off it gave a fragrant steam into the air of the room.

    “Smells good, Ben!” John said appreciatively. “Where’d you get the idea for that box?”

    “Used to use ‘em when I was a youngster. When we were working too far away to go back to the house for dinner mama would cook up whatever it was we were going to have for the noontime meal, put it in a lidded pot and set it down inside a haybox. We’d work all morning and come dinnertime daddy would open the box up and we’d have dinner. Had to be a mighty cold day I can tell you for whatever was in that pot not to be still so hot that it’d scald you if’n you stuck your finger in it. Haven’t thought about it in years, but I reckon a lot of folks are going to find themselves going back to the old ways now.”

    Nodding his head in agreement John eyed the box thinking about how far back into the past they were all going to find themselves since the sudden flash in the sky had changed life as they knew it.

  16. #16
    <b>February 09, 2004 By the Sword </b>

    <u>9:00 p.m. February 8th</u>

    <i>“esting…This is WGNV 1240 AM broadcasting on reduced power from Gainesville, Florida… Testing…This is WGNV 1240 AM broadcasting on reduced power from Gainesville, Florida…”</i> The air went dead

    “Woohoo!!!” Cindy yelled excitedly. She leapt up from her desk and ran into the living room where the rest of the family was gathered to tell them the news.

    A moment later they all came back into her room and stared expectantly at the radio. “They were doing some sort of broadcast test a minute ago.” Cindy said, “Maybe they’ll come back on the air again!”

    Larry tousled her hair. With a grin he asked, “Sugar, how did you know that 1240 was gong to be on the air tonight?”

    The girl looked at him excitedly and answered, “I heard some Hams talking about it on the two meter band. One of them is the broadcast engineer for 1240. He’s been living at the station since the blackout trying to repair their transmitter and he told a friend of his that he thought they might get back on tonight. AM reception is best at night and that’s when he wanted to try it. I’ve been listening every few minutes ever since it got dark and this is the first I’ve heard from them!”

    They stood waiting expectantly for several more minutes, but no sound came from the little radio’s speaker but a static hiss. Finally, Barb said, “Well, maybe that was all he was going to do tonight, Cin. I want to get back to my mending so I can finish up before it gets late.” The girl looked crestfallen, but said nothing. The radio remained mute. Eddy left the room and his mother followed behind.

    Larry continued to stand with his daughter, both staring at the radio. Finally Cindy asked, “Daddy, do you think they’ll come back? Maybe there was too much damage and they can’t repair their transmitter?”

    “They’ll be back, hon.” he reassured her, “Maybe not tonight, but they’ll be back. It’s getting to be about time we saw things starting to pull back together. It may be a long time before we get back to what we were before the attack, but we’ll pull back together sure enough. Our country is tough and it’ll take more than this to knock us out for the count.”

    The radio remained stubbornly silent and eventually Larry stood, saying to Cindy, “I’m going to clean up. Call me if you hear anything else.”

    “OK daddy.” She replied, “I’m going to try the rest of the AM and the FM bands, maybe one of the other stations is trying to come back.”

    He went off to bathe and Cindy resumed her scan of the airwaves. Slowly, but steadily she was locating operable shortwave stations which they could sift for news, but except for the few seconds of WGNV she had discovered no local stations of any description beyond the occasional broadcast on the two meter band.

    The night continued to deepen and Cindy finally tired of her radio scanning. She turned off the radio, dressed for bed, then set the little windup travel alarm clock she’d borrowed from her mother for 2:00 a.m. when she planned to try again. Gradually, the rest of the house went to bed and by 10:00 p.m. the house was dark and silent.

    -- -- -- --

    Larry was dreaming: He was in the backyard where it was as dark as the inside of a crypt. He desperately needed to find his way to the outhouse, but as he blindly groped for the toolshed that housed the family’s necessary he felt a cold fear flow around him, rolling over his feet, rising above his waist, climbing his chest and finally cresting above his head. Somewhere in the darkness of the yard something was watching him with a fell, malignant intent. His bowels cramped in their urgent necessity as the skin prickled down his spine. He was nearly blind in the blackness, so he listened and felt as intently as he could. Reaching into his jeans he pulled out his pocketknife and extended the blade as he made his way across the now utterly alien yard the distance from the backporch to the toolshed seeming to have stretched leagues. Finally, his groping hand fell upon the knob of the shed door and he knew it was from within that the evilness which watched him lurked. A cramp that nearly drove him to his knees struck him and he could wait no longer. Knife in one hand, he swung the door open…”

    A scream from the middle distance made the hackles of his neck rise and he quickly sat up in the bed – unsure if he was really awake or if the sound and his reaction to it were a part of his dream. He sat without moving for a time, how long he did not know, but heard nothing else. Finally, he decided the scream had been a part of his nightmare and resolved to go back to sleep. As he was plumping his pillows Barb rolled over and looked at him, saying “huh?” then abruptly sat up herself when the sounds of a gunshot shattered the night. BOOM!… That shot was close!

    The bed covers were still settling as Larry snatched up the old Browning auto shotgun that had come down to him from his grandfather from where it leaned against the wall next to his nightstand. He turned to Barb and told her, “Get the kids and bring them in here. You’ve got your pistol. I’m going out into the yard to see what the Hell is going on!” Two more shots broke the night - BOOM!…BOOM! He vanished through the doorway and as she entered the hall heading towards the kids rooms she heard the front door slam.

    The yard was only dimly illuminated by the moon and stars due to a high altitude haze. As he raced through his front door he looked around trying to determine the direction from which the gunshots had come. He heard a door slam to his right and looked up the street to see a car parked in front of Cathy Watkins’ house. Three men were running wildly across the yard towards the car and as he began to move in that direction he vaguely saw Cathy appear in the doorway, shotgun in hand. BOOM! A tongue of fire leapt from the gun muzzle and the man closest to reaching the car spun around as the rear windshield shattered. “AARON, YOU BASTARD!!! I’M GOING TO KILL YOU!!!”

    Larry began to run towards her house, the other two men snatching open the right hand side doors of the car and leaping in. The third man staggered to his feet and began to move towards the car, but before he could reach the machine it began to move down the street. The headlights flicked on and caught Larry on the sidewalk. With a squall of rubber the car swerved across the street heading directly towards the man with the shotgun. “Shit!” he screamed and the gun leapt to his shoulder. BOOM! BOOM! Half of the front windshield of the car fragmented inwards and the car swerved still more sharply, smashing down a mailbox, running over a boxwood hedge before coming to rest against a redbud tree in his neighbor’s yard.

    Running towards the vehicle he shouted “Get out of the car! Put your hands out the windows and get out of the car!” For a moment nothing happened and Larry swung the weapon to cover the front passenger window. “Don’t shoot! Don’t shoot man!” Hands came out of the right hand side windows. “Oh man, you done shot us to pieces! Don’t shoot no mo’!”

    The front passenger door opened and a man stepped out dressed in blue jeans and a sweatshirt with a dark ski mask over his head. It was difficult to tell in the bad light, but from looking at his hands Larry thought the man was black. Cathy reached the car as Larry yelled again, “You! In the back seat! Get out of the car right now or I’ll shoot you where you sit!” Cathy shucked her own gun and the door swung open. Another man stepped out, in dark trousers and a zippered jacket with a bandana around his lower face and a cap pulled down low over his brow. “I told you I’d kill you, you son-of-a-bitch!” and Larry swung around in time to see Cathy’s shotgun rising. While trying to hold his own gun steady in his right hand he quickly grabbed the barrel of her Winchester just in front of the magazine tube and snatched it upwards. The metal felt warm in his hand.

    “Let go of my gun, Larry!” She screamed at him, “I told that bastard I’d kill him if he ever threatened me again and I will!”

    He struggled to keep her gun muzzle raised where it could not harm anyone while covering the two men besides the car. She was not a large woman, but her rage gave her a strength that belied her physical stature. The gun muzzle was steadily lowering and he realized he was going to have to drop his own weapon or let her shoot the man because he could not keep her from it much longer one handed. Finally, another figure ran forward and grabbed the woman around the waist with one arm and the other also grabbing her gun and pulling it skyward once again. “Cathy! Let go! He’s not worth it, Cathy! Let go!”

    Larry was so delighted to see Edwards he thought he could kiss him. The older man tripped her and she went to the ground, losing control of the weapon to Larry as she went down and he flung the gun behind them. Turning back to the two men by the car he saw the man with the bandana whom he realized had to be Aaron Watkins starting to run - BOOM! The charge of buckshot struck the ground within an inch of the tips of his sneakers and he fell face down on the grass. “One more step and I’ll shoot you down like a mad dog, mister!” Larry yelled at the man on the ground. The man in the ski mask kept his hands open, spread wide in front of him, wide white eyes nearly glowing through the dark holes of the ski mask.

    Lights were gradually springing to life up and down the street. After a few moments of silence had passed doors began to open and a few men, guns in one hand and flashlights in the other stepped out. Finally, Edwards managed to bring Cathy back to her senses and they stood, tears running down her face, an occasional hiccupy sob breaking the silence.

    Aaron Watkins regained his feet and keeping his hands clear stood next to his compatriot by the damaged car. Edwards asked, “Cathy, what happened? Did these men break into your home?”

    Struggling to control her voice she answered him, “They…they… the bastards broke the front door open! Those…those niggers came into my house and demanded I give them crack! We ain’t got no goddamned crack in my house!” The woman was now fairly shouting her rage, “That bastard Aaron told them we did crack and I had a big stash!” Pointing a hysterical finger at the man standing beside Aaron she screamed at him, “That nigger threatened to cut my daughter if I didn’t give them our crack! We ain’t got no crack! I DON’T DO DRUGS YOU SON OF A BITCH!” Ripping herself loose from Edwards she ran forward, her right fist rising from nearly the level of her knees to catch her enstranged husband with a flat smack! on the left side hinge of his jaw. He fell backwards onto the rear hood, head striking the sheet metal with a solid thunk and rolled off onto the ground. Edwards ran forward and recaptured her as she brought her foot back for a kick to his ribs.

    An animal scream ripped from her as they struggled and it appeared for a moment she might get away from the man until several more men ran forward and helped to control her. As they were doing so Larry kept his eyes on the other man. “Take the mask off, fella” he said.

    Doing as he’d been told he ripped the ski mask off over his head. Eyes wild, hands shaking. “It’s cool man! I ain’t gonna try to run! It’s cool!”

    “OK.” Larry said, “Now strip down to your shorts.”

    The utterly unexpected request took his prisoner by surprise, “What?” he said as if not quite sure he’d understood what had been said.

    “I said strip down to your shorts!” Larry shouted at him, “I’m not going to come over there and search you. You strip right now so I can see you ain’t go no weapons or I’ll just put this load of buckshot in you.”

    Voice quavery the man did as he’d been told. “Ok man, it’s cool! I’m stripping! It’s cool!” He quickly disrobed and was soon standing dressed only in a pair of white briefs that seemed to glow in the dim light.

    Andy came up to say, “Larry, what can I do?”

    Not turning his head to look at him he said, “Get someone to get the one on the ground there stripped like the first one. There was a third man who I think Cathy may have winged that didn’t make it into the car so he may be around here someplace and probably armed so make sure everyone knows that. We need some rope or something to tie these two up.”

    Andy turned to go as Henry Waters ran up, agitated and excited. Taking the man by the shoulder with one hand Andy explained to him about the one who had escaped and asked him to tell everyone else. With a sharp nod of his head Henry quickly departed. Bystanders quickly began to fade back into their houses after that. Andy and another man roughly stripped Watkins. He had no underpants on so he sat moaning naked in the grass alongside his accomplice, hands and feet tightly bound with clothesline. Eddy came forward and said, “Dad, I brought flashlights.”

    “What the hell are you doing out here boy!” His father demanded.

    Eddy flinched then said, “It’s OK dad. We could see from the window. Mom said I could come out a minute ago. We didn’t let Cindy watch.”

    He hadn’t intended to be so harsh with his son so he struggled to soften his voice. “It’s OK, son. Give me one of those flashlights.”

    The boy handed a light over and his dad handed him the shotgun. “Keep your eyes on them at all times, son.” He raised the volume of his voice so it would carry, “If you see ether one of them so much as try to stand up I want you to shoot them. Do you understand me?”

    Nervous excitement in his voice the boy said, “Yes, sir.”

    Larry flicked on the light and went forward to the car. Andy went up with him and a moment later Edwards came forward, having left Cathy in the care of a neighbor woman.

    The first round of buckshot from Larry’s Browning autoloader had struck the windshield nearly square in front of the driver. The second round had been somewhat higher and to the right, smashing the glass in the upper right corner and chipping paint from the dented metal of the glass frame. Larry’s heart sank into his stomach as he finally recognized the green Ford sedan – it was Hank Brewer’s car. He quickly cut his eyes at Andy to see if he’d noticed his hesitation but he didn’t seem to be aware. The motor had shut off when the car had impacted the tree and they could hear faint popping sounds as the metal cooled. Walking around to the driver’s side he went forward to look in the driver’s window.

    There was a dead man laying sprawled on the front seat. The window was down so Larry leaned inwards slightly to play the light across the man. An acid bile rose into his throat as he examined the shot torn corpse, Larry’s first charge of buckshot seeming to have caught him full in the face and throat. Blood was spattered on the dashboard, shining darkly red in the flashlight beam. It was spattered on the front seat as well, but it looked like most of it was running into the back of the seat, a remote part of him thinking, “gonna be Hell to clean that out.” There was trash in the front floorboards and when he played the light across the backseat he saw even more trash than there had been when they’d abandoned the car. Without opening the doors he saw nothing of interest. He stepped away from the car and went to where Cathy stood.

    “Cathy,” he asked, “if they had Ashley at knifepoint how did you manage to get your shotgun?”

    Still shaking slightly, but with a calm firmness of voice she answered him. “They broke the door in. There’s a sledgehammer in my foyer they used to do it with. We were sleeping together in the living room cause it was warmer and they grabbed us before I was really awake. The nig… man… on the ground there pulled out a knife and put it to her face and said he’d cut her if I didn’t give them my stash. I didn’t even know what they were talking about at first and he looked over at him” pointing at Aaron “and said, ‘Well? You said she had a bag?’” He made out like he didn’t want to speak but the man asked him again and he finally said, “She’s got it. Make her tell you.” He tried to make his voice sound different, but I knew it was him. That bastard brought them niggers here to murder his own wife and step-daughter!”

    Keeping his voice low and gentle so as not to agitate her more than she already was Larry pressed, “Cathy, how did you get ahold of your shotgun if they grabbed you before you were awake?”

    She didn’t speak at first, just breathed deeply in and out. Finally she swallowed and continued, “I knew it was Aaron, but I didn’t let on. I didn’t know what to do. We don’t got no drugs, I’m a God fearing woman! Finally I told the man I’d show him where the drugs were. I don’t know what I was hoping was going to happen. I was just trying to buy time to think. The man there nodded to another man and said, ‘go with her and get the stuff.’ I started walking towards the bedroom and that man followed me. It was dark in the bedroom and when I went through the door I jumped across the room and grabbed up the penny bank on my dresser. Aaron spends up all our silver change, but I keep a piggy bank and when it gets full I give it to Ashley. It’s about the size of both my hands and it’s nearly full. I used to play second base softball and I got a pretty good arm on me so I threw the bank at the man. I could see his silhouette in the light coming through the door, but he couldn’t see me because it was so dark in the bedroom. The bank hit him in the head and he fell back into the living room. That gave me time to grab the shotgun from off the bed where I’d left it. Stupid to leave it in there like that, but I did. I was heading for the door when another man came running through. I shot him and he fell in the doorway and kinda blocked my way for a moment. I saw another man through the door and I shot at him, but I think I missed. I finally jumped over the one I’d shot in the doorway, but by that time they were all heading for the door. I got another shot off, but I don’t think I hit no one and they were all out the door. Ashley was laying on the floor dead so I decided to kill them all if I could. I’m pretty sure I hit one before he got to the car. May be laying in someone’s yard for all I know. Larry, please, please, please, give me my gun. I got to kill that bastard even if I go to jail for a million years!”

    At this point Larry turned to Andy and Edwards to say, “Y’all go and check the house right quick.” The two men hurried off, flashlight beams bobbing as they ran.

    “Uh, hey… hey man. What you gonna do with us?” the black man on the ground asked.

    Larry’s head turned slowly like the wheels of Justice and he observed the pair on the ground, one frightened black man in white, white shorts and a naked white man with an angry look. Finally Larry said, “Well, I reckon we could just get a rope and throw it over a tree limb right now.”

    Voice cracking with fear, wide white eyes fairly bulging from his face the black man said, “H-h-hey man! We gave up! We gave up! You can’t just kill us like this!”

    Taking three long strides to the man Larry kicked him in the side of the head knocking him hard to the ground. “Can’t I? Can’t I?! You goddamned predator! You murdered a child just so you could steal drugs! I’ll throw a rope over that oak tree over there and haul your goddamned ass up myself!”

    The man moaned and Aaron began to struggle to his feet, a wild look his eyes. He quickly stopped and fell back onto the grass with an “umph” as he saw the shotgun rise to Eddy’s shoulder. Henry Waters came forward and took Larry by the arm, “La… La… Larry! Control yourself Larry! The police will know what to do with him! W… W… We’re not a lynch mob!”

    Reason came back into his eyes and Larry possessed himself once again. Looking at Henry like he’d never seem him before he said distantly, “Police. Yeah, the police. We need to contact them. Reckon I’ll have to go fetch them in the truck.” He turned and looked towards his house and the garage where he truck was secured, Henry’s hand still on his arm. Turning to look at the other man again he said, “Yeah, OK, the police. We oughta wait until Andy and Mike gets back from Cathy’s house first. If I leave Andy and Eddy here can you help them keep things under control? I wanna take Mike with me to help explain what’s happened.”

    Adams apple bobbing up and down Henry said, “Yeah, sure Larry. We’ll keep everything under control. There’s other men here on the street who’ll help if we ask I’m sure.”

    “Good” Larry said. Turning towards his son he said, “Eddy, remember what I told you about them moving. You’re in charge of keeping an eye on them two until I get back. Got that?”

    With only a minor shake in his voice the boy said, “Yes, sir. I understand.”

    The man crossed the street heading towards the Watkins house. He was just stepping up onto the stoop when Andy and Edwards came through the doorway, a girl’s form over his shoulder. Larry eyed him for a moment then asked, “Should you be moving the body like that? The police are gonna need to take photographs and stuff.”

    With a grin that spread from ear to ear Andy replied, “This isn’t a body, Larry! She’s alive! Going to have a glorious bruise on the side of her face but by God she’s alive!” The man set the girl down on her feet. She was still glassy eyed from shock, but quite plainly alive.

    “Sweet Jesus!” Larry burst out, “That’s the best damn thing I’ve heard all night! Child, you don’t know how happy your mama’s gonna be!”

    Andy said, “I’ll take her across the street and join them up. They’ll come and spend the night with us. Can’t expect them to stay in there now.”

    Nodding his head Larry watched the man walk off with the girl. Turning to Edwards he asked, “What’s it look like inside?”

    Edwards said nothing for a moment as he watched the man and the girl crossed the street then said, “I think she told it pretty straight, except maybe about the drugs. There’s more to that than she is letting on I think.”

    “Did she kill one in the house?” Larry asked.

    “Yes.” Edwards replied, “He’s there in the bedroom doorway just like she said. Took him full in the chest, blood all over the floor. She blew a picture off the wall in the living room which I interpret to be the second shot. There’s a hole in the wall in the foyer which was probably her third shot. The sledgehammer is right where she said it would be. You can plainly see they smashed the door in with it. The penny bank she threw is ceramic and it shattered when it hit the man so I figure it must have hit him in the forehead to knock him backwards like that and to break on impact. There’s pennies lying on the floors of the living room and bed room. No silver change just like she said.”

    “Why do you think she’d lying about the drugs?”

    “Can’t say for sure, Larry. It’s just a gut feeling. She doesn’t look like a drug user or dealer, nor act the way I’d think one would act, but there’s more to her story than she’s letting on I’m willing to wager. Can’t prove it though.”

    Nodding his head in understanding Larry said, “I reckon we’ll go and have to fetch the police in the truck since there’s no way to call them. I’d like you to go with me. You’re an educated man and saw a lot of it. They’ll believe you I think.”

    “OK,” Edwards agreed, “I’ll go. You think they might suspect something other than what really happened?”

    “Never know when you’re dealing the police what they’ll believe.” Larry explained, “But it’s always a good thing to have your story straight when you talk to them.”

    Turning towards the house the two men began to walk down the street. Larry opened the garage door, went inside, cranked the truck and backed out. Edwards was just opening the passenger door when two police officers on bicycles rolled up, guns in one hand. They quickly stopped and dismounted, looking around carefully. Two more arrived from the other direction going towards the group in the neighbor’s yard where the two bound men were illuminated by flashlights. They had pistols in hand as well. “Everybody just freeze right where you are - Gainesville Police! Son, put the shotgun down on the ground and step away from it! All the rest of you put your guns away!”

    Larry killed the motor of the truck. Without turning the gun away from where he was covering the two men Eddy looked towards his dad for guidance. “Eddy, put the shotgun down like the man said.” he said loud enough to be heard by everyone. “It’s alright. They’ll take over from here.”

    The boy slowly put the gun on the ground and stepped back three steps from the weapon. The officer who had spoken asked, “Did anyone see what happened?”

    Many heads turned towards the truck. Feeling very conspicuous Larry said, “I reckon that would be me.” Slowly, he reached out the window of the truck and opened the door from the outside and stepped out. Edwards stepped away from the truck and came around the other side. The officer approached them and asked, “What the Hell happened here?”

    “Home invasion gone bad.” Larry answered him. “Cathy Watkins there threw her husband out the other day after he got drunk off his ass and beat her and his step-daughter. He came back tonight with this trash and broke their way into the house with a sledgehammer. They went inside and threatened to cut the girl unless Cathy told them where the crack stash was. Cathy tricked them, got ahold of her shotgun and killed one dead in the house and probably wounded another one that’s gotten away from us. I heard screaming and shooting and came out the door of my house there just in time to see those two and the one who got away running for that car there. Those two jumped in the car and took off leaving the one we think is wounded behind. I was on the sidewalk right there when they pulled away from the curb and turned on their headlights. I was on the edge of the beam, but they saw me coming with my gun so they cut their wheels and floored it right at me. Come daylight you’ll probably be able to see tire rubber where they swerved towards me. I was out in the open with no place to go so I shot the driver. He’s dead on the front seat. When I shot him the car went out of control and ended up here. We took these two prisoner… into custody I suppose and started trying to find out what had gone on. Mike and I were just leaving in the truck to come find y’all when you rolled up. I’m not sure exactly how much of it all Mike saw, but he probably saw a good bit of it.”

    “I see.” the officer nodded his head. “You two come with me.”

    They all walked over towards the two bound men on the ground. “Why’s that one naked and the other one in his drawers?”

    “Well.” Larry allowed, “weren’t none of us willing to frisk ‘em so it seemed easier to just make take their clothes off so they couldn’t hide any weapons.”

    Nodding his head again the officer put his flashlight on the pair, “Aaron Watkins, I’ve seen you. Drunk and disorderly last month at the Gator Hole.” Turning towards the other man he said, “Well, Leroy Green! Looks like you’ve got yourself in a pickle this time my man! Hustling, pimping, and dealing not enough for you anymore you got to do home invasions now?”

    A surly expression came over the black man’s features. “No, man!” he said, heat beginning to build up in him. “That ****head sold me a bunch of bullshit about having a crack stash in the house, but he wife kick him out and he couldn’t get it! Said he’d split it with us if we helped him get it back! Lying sack ah shit!”

    Before anyone could stop her Cathy rushed forward and kicked Aaron solidly in the gut. An explosive burst of air came out of him. “You bastard! You did have drugs in my house! You SWORE to me you were never gonna touch drugs again!”

    Two of the officers came forward and restrained her. She struggled briefly and relented.

    “That’s Mrs. Watkins?” The lead officer asked.

    “Yep.” Larry answered.

    “Well, this night has sure turned to shit. Everyone just wait here. I’ve got to see if I can hit that goddamned tower from here.” He walked back to his bike and removed a radio from the rear basket. Extending a telescoping antenna he pressed the transmit button and spoke into it, but Larry could not make out what he was saying. He spoke into it several times before an answer came back. The conversation lasted for several minutes before the officer put the radio back into the bike basket and came back to the rest.

    “I thought you guys didn’t have any radios?” Larry asked.

    “We don’t.” The officer replied, “Goddamn pulse blew out the whole damned system. That’s a handheld CB. Comm ran a new antenna up the big tower downtown and we’ve requisitioned, begged, and borrowed all the CB and business radios that we can find that still work. Tower’s got enough height that most places in town we can reach it. It sucks as a comm. system, but beats hell out of no radios at all. The department’s sending a homicide team out for this one. They should be here in a few minutes.”

    “That’s pretty fast to get here from downtown on a bicycle” Larry said.

    “They ain’t on bikes. The department’s got about a dozen cars and pickup trucks, all pre-electronic ignition, that belonged to departmental personnel or family that we’re borrowing for the duration. Just got new cruisers last month and every damn one of them and the old ones too shot to hell from the pulse. Stuff like homicide, the big bosses, and the departmental SWAT team use them. Not enough wheels and not enough gas for us street cops to go around. That sucks too, but better than walking. Won’t have no trouble passing the goddamned PT test this year!”

    In about ten minutes a blue ‘69 Ford Galaxy and a primer gray Chevy panel van that Larry could not determine a year on rolled up. The watch lieutenant got out of the Galaxy with his partner. A homicide/forensic team stepped out of the van. Soon the clothes of the surviving bandits had been searched and they were untied long enough to get dressed then properly cuffed. Statements were taken from all witnesses and participants. Evidence was collected from the car, the girl was examined for injuries but was found to be merely bruised and in shock. The lead detective then spoke with Cathy who shook her head affirmatively. Looking at two of the patrol officers he said, “Get Watkins on his feet and follow me with him. We’re going to look in the house.”

    Dew began to settle from the night’s chill. Barb brought out coats for her man and sent Eddy into the house to stay with his sister. “How bad is it?” she asked.

    “Bad enough.” Larry responded, “But it looks like a pretty clear cut case of self-defense to me. The drug thing might queer it though. Mike thinks she’s not letting on all she knows about it.”

    The patrol officer who had initially been in charge to ask questions to complete his paperwork. With black humor Larry chuckled, “End of the world or not, there’s no escaping the paperwork.”

    The officer snorted himself and said, “Yeah buddy. You got that right.”

    He was winding up the last questions when the detective returned from across the street with Cathy, Aaron and one of the patrol officers. He walked over to the officer talking to Larry and the watch lieutenant joined them. Reaching into his pocket he pulled out a plastic ziplock bag and showed it to them. Inside was a smaller plastic bag containing a scant handful of small white chunks. It was the first time that Larry had seen real crack cocaine and he stared at it. “It was in the utility room in a toolbox.” the detective said. “Not a big stash, but enough to be worth a robbery I guess. Put those two in the van. The medical examiner is on his way out to deal with the rest.”

    They watched the two men stuffed into the van. Larry asked the watch lieutenant, “Y’all even putting people in jail and all since the attack? No power, no sewer and no water must be kinda tough to keep jailbirds.”

    Shaking his head the officer replied, “Well, we’re not locking up the ones we used to, but for those two we’ll make exceptions. We’ve taken over the fairgrounds to keep the non-violent offenders in that we just have to lock up. Looters mostly. We got word last night the governor is about to approve shoot-to-kill on looting so I think we won’t be picking up so many in another day or so. Alive anyway.”

    They watched the van pull away and slowly recede down the street. When it was lost to sight the lieutenant turned to Larry and said, “Mr. Nichols I understand you’re the one who took out the car as they were trying to get away?”

    Another taste of stomach acid came into his mouth, but Larry said, “Yeah, that was me. It was either shoot them or be run over.”

    “I’m not accusing you, Mr. Nichols.” the lieutenant reassured him, “I don’t suppose you realized it at the time, but six people saw that car come towards you and you shooting it. So far, that’s the only part of this case that is clear – to me at least.”

    Spitting out some tobacco juice he continued, “No, the reason I said that was you seem to be a man whose willing to stand up and be counted when the chips are down. Another little thing that came down from Tallahassee today – by motor courier mind you – is the Governor is activating the State Defense Force. It’s going to be drawn from the state’s unorganized militia. I think you’d do well.”

    Larry stared at the man like he’d started speaking Urdu. “Ahh, lieutenant, I don’t think I follow you. I’ve never heard of a State Defense Force and I’m sure as hell not a member of any militia! I don’t think I’d be able to help you, I’ve never been in the military and don’t want to either.”

    The lieutenant continued patiently, “Mr. Nichols, you’ve never heard of the State Defense Force because so far as I know it’s never been needed before – until now. It’s all right there in the Federal Code and State Statutes, not that anyone ever really paid them much mind before. The only reason it’s being called up now is that every deployable National Guard trooper and all of the active and reserve military troops in the state have been called. Either they were already in the Middle East or they’re on their way to Korea. The few National Guard troops that the law requires to be kept in state aren’t even a patch on what’s needed and there’s no one else to call on. Well, maybe U.N. troops if that loon gets her way. You may not realize it but you are a member of the unorganized militia and always have been. Every able bodied male in the state between the ages of 17-45 is a member. Never needed to call on them either which is why hardly anyone’s ever heard of it before. Plain and simple there’s not enough cops and National Guard in the state right now to keep things from falling apart. The Governor is calling up a State Defense Force to fill in the gaps. You won’t have to leave town. In fact, most likely you’ll never have to do anything more than a Neighborhood Watch kind of thing.”

    Shaking his head incredulously Larry resisted, “I told you lieutenant. I’ve never been in the Service. My brother is, but he’s somewhere in Iraq, or was. Maybe on the way to Korea now for all I know. I’ve never been in and don’t know anything about being a soldier.”

    Persisting in his sales pitch the lieutenant said, “We don’t need trained soldiers for every position Mr. Nichols. Florida has plenty of military retirees or men who have served a hitch or two. What the state needs is responsible, level headed men who won’t flinch if things get tough and are willing to stand up and be counted. I can’t force you to join, but I think you’re a natural for it nonetheless. As soon as they get the radio station on the air there’ll be a general public announcement recruiting men from all over town. We’re going to be drawing on every organized group that we can find from the C.E.R.T. teams to the Scouts, but men who can do what you did tonight don’t grow on trees.” The officer put out his hand and Larry shook it. “Just think about it. I think you’ll see the good points if you do.”

    Walking to his aged, impromptu cruiser he climbed in the passenger seat while his partner cranked the motor. Pulling out into the street the car soon disappeared from sight.

    The medical examiner arrived shortly after and began his work. A problem quickly came to the fore when the evidence team wanted to take Larry’s shotgun. A heated argument between Larry and the officer ensued until the lead officer came over and told the tech to process the weapon on site and return it. “We’re in the middle of a major disaster with crime running wild I think we can leave Mr. Nichols his means of defense.”

    Cathy was allowed to return to her house to pack up necessary items for Ashley who would be staying at Andy’s and Gloria’s. She herself would have to go downtown for further questioning, the detectives in the van returning an hour later to retrieve her. Andy reassured her that once the police were finished he’d clean up inside and see that the house was secured.

    Finally, as the sun rose redly in the East the techs finished. The bodies had already been removed. The street slowly emptied as the light grew stronger. Edwards said, “I’m too old for this kind of thing. I’m for bed.” and went home. At last there was no one left but Andy and Larry. Andy turned to the other man to say, “Might as well get some sleep while you can Larry. New day and a new day’s problems ahead. I’m going to go put some bleach on the blood in Cathy’s house, nail the door shut and I’m for the sack myself.”

    They shook hands and Larry said, “Good to have you tonight Andy.” The other man replied, “Hell Larry, we all live here. Like it or not, we’re going to have to start working together or we’ll go one by one like that.” and nodded his head in the direction of the Watkins’ house.

    Staring at the open door way of the house, the shattered door swinging slightly in the dawn wind, Larry said, “I’m afraid you’re right, Andy. I’m so damn tired right now I can’t think straight, but I reckon we’d better have us another meeting and figure out what we’re gonna do. Good night.”

    He walked into the house and firmly shut the door, turning the dead bolt to lock it. Cindy came up to him with a glass of water which he gladly drank. “Daddy, while you were outside with the police the radio station came back. They’re going to be broadcasting ten minutes at the top of every hour. Just news and announcements and stuff like that, but I’ve heard them three times now.”

    Squatting on his haunches he pulled his child tightly to him and gave her a long hug. Releasing her he said, “Three times now? How long you been up, doodlebug?”

    Looking at her feet she said shyly, “Well, there was too much excitement to get to sleep so I’ve been listening to the radio. I got a bunch of news and stuff for you.”

    He smiled and said, “Thanks sugar, I’m sure I’ll want to hear it when I get up. Until then I want you to turn your radio OFF and go to bed yourself!” He gave her a kiss on the cheek and swatted her on the behind. “Now off with you! We both need to get some sleep.”

  17. #17
    <b>February 10, 2004 Absence</b>

    Larry had read somewhere that it was written in the Koran that dawn was when you could distinguish between a black thread and a white. He didn’t know if it was true or not, but it seemed a reasonable enough definition. His watch said 6:50 a.m. His eyes were grainy, he was tired of the smell of wood smoke and he thought if the Devil popped up just then and offered him a long, hot shower at the price of his soul he’d have to think it over.

    John Fisher, an up street neighbor, motioned at him with the big Aladdin bottle, but he shook his head no. He’d had enough coffee already to give him a fearful case of heartburn. He was nodding again so he stood up from his lawn chair they’d placed behind the impromptu barricade made of cars which blockaded the vehicle access of this end of their neighborhood. “Well, it won’t be our turn again for another week.” he said to his partner, “I reckon I can stand one night every seven days.” Gradually the illumination improved and he was able to pick out finer details of the surrounding landscape as color flowed slowly into the world with the returning light. Finally, it was 7:30 and others begin to arrive. The vehicle owners unlocked their respective machines, put them in neutral and a group would push each one into their proper driveways until nightfall when they would be used to block the streets once again.

    There was only a little small talk, most of the men looked tired, but it had been a quiet night. “Maybe word gets around we’re posting armed guards now there won’t be any more crap like what happened to Cathy Watkins.” John said, “They’ll look for easier meat.” He picked up his lever action .30-30 and turned towards his house up the street. “See you at noon for the cookout.” then started on his way home.

    Larry stood chatting with a few of the other men for another couple of minutes then went up the street himself. He unlocked the front door and said loud enough to be heard to the back of the house “Eddy, it’s me.” before stepping through. The house felt strangely empty when he entered, a feeling which he ascribed to fatigue and low blood sugar. He went to the bedroom and set his rifle in the corner. He looked at the empty bed and the lonely feeling washed over him anew. He sighed and went into the bathroom to wash his face. Eddy poked his head around the corner, rubbing sleep from his eyes, and said, “Morning, dad. Want me to make you some breakfast or you gonna just go to bed?”

    His father drank a glass of water first then answered him. “No, I reckon I’ll eat first. Got the heartburn too bad to go to sleep on an empty stomach. What’d you have in mind?”

    The boy said, “I figured I’d make up some oatmeal with brown sugar and raisins if you’d like. You want Tang to go with it or you want me to make some coffee?”

    “Tang will be fine. I’ll come give you a hand in a minute.”

    The boy went off to the back of the house to get started as Larry finished cleaning up. Soap and cold water revived him somewhat and he found a bottle of Tums in the medicine cabinet to allay the burn in his stomach. The inside of the house was chilly with only Eddy providing any heat through the night so he slid into sweat pants and shirt, socks and house slippers. He joined his son in the kitchen where they soon had breakfast laid out and they sat to the table.

    Conversation was slow in starting so they steadily worked their way through the oats. Finally Eddy said, “That was some fight you and mom had last night. I don’t think I’ve ever heard you two yell at each other like that before. It really scared Cindy.”

    Larry said nothing, but stared into the dim empty kitchen for a time before replying, “Your mother is a proud woman son. A proud woman. One of the reasons I asked her to marry me, though truth be told I’ve never understood why she said ‘yes.’ It’s not like her to run from a fight. Especially not one that threatens her family. I’d hoped to bring the subject up easy like and maybe soften her up a bit before springing it on her, but when your grandfather and Ben showed up unexpectedly yesterday afternoon it seemed like now or never. Between him and me I reckoned we’d convince her. I’ll admit it was a near thing there for a time because I thought she was going to fend us both off before she finally gave in. I still think it’s for the best. After that… incident… at the Watkins, the home invasion the next street over and the rape in the park night before last I felt it best for the womenfolk to be out of harm’s way. The less that would have to be defended. We’ve not seen this worst of this I think, not by a long shot. It may get ugly before it gets better and I want the Nichols family deck cleared if we have to go into action. Most everything we’ve got is tied up in this place and I mean for us to defend it for as long as we possibly can, but we don’t have to put everyone in danger to do it.”

    The boy swallowed a spoonful of oats then asked, “Are you really going to let me go on guard?”

    Nodding his head affirmatively his father said, “Yes, I am. You’re old enough to start taking on a man’s responsibilities. It’s not like you’ll be out there by yourself. Andy’s a good man. You listen to what he tells you and keep your finger off the trigger unless he says it’s OK. After I get up we’ll go over your gun handling some more before folks start to show up.”

    They finished their meal and Eddy began to gather the dishes together. “What do you want me to fix for lunch, dad?”

    “Just a couple of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches will be fine. Might as well finish up the bread. It’ll mold before much longer. I’ll put us some soup together for tonight. I’m going to make a couple of pans of cornbread to demonstrate the gas grill and box ovens for the folks who didn’t see it yesterday. That’ll keep us in bread for a few days. While I’m asleep I want you to go and check on Miss Annie. Don’t be nosy, just sort of see how she’s getting along.”

    “OK, dad. See you when you get up.”

    Larry stood and walked back to the bedroom. He wound the little travel alarm and set it for eleven. In seconds he’d fallen into a deep dreamless sleep.

    -- -- -- --

    Barb awoke to the distant sound of a rooster crowing and for a moment she lay there wondering what on Earth somebody was doing with such a creature in the middle of town? Finally, it came to her where she really was. She sat up in bed, her hand coming down on the empty pillow next to her. A strange mixture of anger, loneliness, and regret welled up inside of her until she quashed it ruthlessly. “Don’t start.” she said firmly to herself as he put her feet down on the cool hardwood floor of her father’s guest bedroom. She slid into her slippers and shrugged on her heavy house coat against the morning chill and padded softly into the living room to find her father putting a billet of wood in the stove.

    “ ‘Morning, doll.” he said, looking up from the fire. “Were you warm enough last night?”

    She stood next to the stove, spreading the fingers of both hands in its rising warmth. “Yes, dad. It was fine. Reminded me of when you were stationed at Pease in New Hampshire. I used to love playing around that woodstove.”

    Her father smiled at the memory, “I remember the time you burnt yourself on that stove. You yelled bloody murder for over an hour. Your mother really gave me the what-for for having lit it.”

    They both stood for a few moments staring at the flames, lost in memory. Finally Barb asked, “Do you really think they’ll be OK? If it’s so bad that Cin and I needed to flee why not Larry and Eddy too? It’s just a house.”

    The older man sighed gently to himself, realizing he was going to have to have this discussion many times until his daughter finally resigned herself to the idea. “It’ll be alright Barb. The shock of the attack is starting to wear off. The reasonable and intelligent people in the neighborhood are starting to come to realize they can’t afford anymore the urban anonymity that we’ve all become comfortable with. They’ll come together and start cooperating with each other about things like neighborhood security. This isn’t to say it’s going to be smooth sailing. It’s been six days now since the attack and the government is only just now beginning to really get it together on moving in any sort of relief supplies. I expect what they do move is going to be slow in coming. Food is going to start getting tight, probably water too. Trouble will come out of that, but if they stand together they’ll make out alright. Like some other people I know your husband is a proud man in his way. You two have most everything tied up in your home. He’s not the type to go and abandon something like that if it can possibly help it. He’ll stay and fight for what’s yours for as long as he’s able, but he wants his women out of harm’s way.”

    “I’m not helpless, dad!” she said heatedly, “I can fight too! This is the twenty first century, not the sixteenth. Even in the nineteenth the pioneer wives fought along side their husbands!.”

    Resolving himself to let her vent it out he kept his voice low and steady, “You’re right they did. But they did because there wasn’t any choice. There was no where for them to go. It’s only human nature, dearheart, to want to get your loved ones out of the danger zone if you can. No one thinks you’re any less brave for coming here. Besides, here we’ve got wood heat, a good food supply, and as soon as we can get that pump installed we’ll even have an assured water supply. Speaking of which, Ben and I are going to try removing the submersible pump today. Can you help us with it?”

    She knew he was deliberately changing the course of the conversation, but she really didn’t want to fight with her father over something that was more properly a matter between herself and Larry so she said, “Yes. I’d like that. How do you plan to get the pump out of the ground?”

    “We’re going to build a tripod out of saplings we’ll cut from the back lot and use a pulley to hoist it out of the ground.” he explained, “Or at least that’s the plan. It sounds simple enough in theory, we’ll see how well it works in actual fact. We’ll give it a try after lunch when it’s warmed up a bit outside. I’ve got coffee on and planned on making hotcakes for breakfast. You game?”

    “Hotcakes sound wonderful, dad.” she said. “I guess we’d better start learning the routine around here.”

    With a chuckle as he walked towards the kitchen her father said, “There’s been precious little that could be described as ‘routine’ around here for the last week, but I’m sure we’ll work one out.”

    -- -- -- --

    Larry lifted the box from its little wire stand that he’d made from coat hangers so that everyone could see the golden brown cornbread in the cake pan that had been baking there. The aroma excited much interest from the gathered crowd.

    “That’s all there is to it?” One of the women who’d been watching said, “Just a few handfuls of coals out of the fire and a foil lined box?”

    “Yes, ma’am” he said, “That’s it. Needs a bit of experience to get a feel for heat levels and cooking times, but that’s it.” He picked up the pan and set it down on the table then replaced the box on its stand to conserve heat. “OK. Now that you’ve seen it can be done does everyone have their materials with them for their ovens and what they want to cook?”

    The small gathering outside the fellowship hall began to pull out the various materials they’d brought with them and working on the tables they’d set up outside he began to show them how to assemble them to make their own box ovens. At another group of tables a little distance away Mitchell Cartwright, a resident from one street over from Larry, demonstrated other camp cooking techniques. Thought not a former Boy Scout himself he had much experience with rough and ready cooking from his childhood, military career, and an interest in hunting and fishing. He had shown up at the second neighborhood meeting held the day before and immediately proved his value when he’d made several excellent suggestions concerning how to organize the neighborhood security. On the other side of the hall Louis Meier who lived around the corner next door to the parsonage discoursed on primitive sanitation techniques he had learned from his time spent as a church missionary. Each person brought what they could and shared what they knew. The neighborhood was organizing.

    By midafternoon each person had assembled their ovens, baked their foods and had gone home. Larry was tired, his morning nap not having been long enough, and decided to knock off the day’s chores and turn in early. When he got home he found Eddy in the backyard stirring the pot of soup he’d started over a low fire. “As long as we’ve got sticks and stuff laying around we may as well conserve the gas” he’d said that morning. The boy’s radio, twin to the one Cindy had proved so handy with was on the porch table. He looked into the pot and saw the soup had come along nicely, Eddy having kept it stirred and the fire tended. Glancing at his watch Larry tuned the radio to the AM band and turned it on. For a few seconds there was only static then clear air –

    <i>This is WGNV 1240AM broadcasting from Gainesville, Florida. For this hour’s broadcast we have a number of bulletins and announcements then we will cover national and international news.

    The Governor has authorized the formation of the Florida State Defense Force and is now calling for volunteers. The FSDF will assume the duties that would ordinarily be taken on by the Florida National Guard presently serving overseas. Volunteers must be able-bodied men or women between the ages of seventeen and forty five. Prior military experience is a plus, but is not required. Supplying your own firearm is not required, but would be helpful. Military retirees over the age of forty five are also being sought. Interested parties should contact your local law enforcement agency or emergency management office for details.

    Beginning at noon today the Governor has signed an emergency order authorizing shoot-to-kill for looting, rioting, and other forms of violent lawlessness. Law enforcement, National Guard, or other authorized personnel will give one warning to surrender and may then fire upon any who do not immediately comply. Repeat: Law enforcement, National Guard, or other authorized personnel will give one warning to surrender and may then fire upon any who do not immediately comply.

    By order of the Alachua County Commission and Gainesville City County there is now a dusk to dawn curfew in the Gainesville metropolitan area. Anyone unauthorized person found away from their homes during curfew hours are subject to arrest and detention. After hours travel authorizations are available from the Gainesville Police Department, Alachua County Sheriff, Gainesville city offices or the county offices downtown.

    Alachua County Emergency Management has announced that food distribution will begin today at the following locations:

    In Gainesville: Publix supermarkets at Butler Plaza on Archer Rd, Gainesville Shopping Center on North Main St, Hunters Crossing on NW 43rd St, Millhopper Shopping Center on NW 16th Blvd, Newberry Square on NW 76th Blvd, Publix at Steeplechase on West Newberry Rd, Springhill Commons on NW 39th Ave, The Exchange on NW 13th St., Tower Square on SW 75th St, and West Gate Shopping Center on SW34th St. Further locations to be announced.

    In the city of Alachua: The Winn-Dixie supermarket on U.S. 441
    In High Springs: The Winn-Dixie on Santa Fe Blvd
    In Newberry: Hitchcock’s Foodway on Newberry Rd.
    In Archer: Hitchcock’s Foodway on U.S. Hwy 41
    Melrose: The Food Lion supermarket on Hwy 21

    Further food distribution locations in other Alachua county locations and the surrounding counties will be announced as we receive them. All persons wishing to receive food aid must present identification and proof of residency in order to be served. Anyone found attempting to receive food aid beyond their allotted issue will be subject to arrest. </i>

    “It’s about time they got around to that.” Larry said, “I reckon the transport problem has slowed them down. Got to be a lot of people starting to get hungry about now.”

    <i>Water distribution points are being arranged at multiple locations throughout Gainesville and the county at local fire departments as well as the food distribution points mentioned earlier. Residents must supply their own containers and will be limited to five gallons per person until greater access can be arranged. All residents using drinking water from local sources are requested to boil or otherwise sanitize their water in order to deter the spread of waterborne diseases. Information on how sanitize drinking and cooking water may be found at your local fire departments, libraries, or food distribution points.

    Further bulletins and announcements will be given as they arrive.

    In national news relief flights of food aid from the European Union have begun to arrive in cities across the East Coast and reaching into the MidWest. Relief flight for cities in the Western States and the West Coast are being arranged. International Red Cross officials state that distribution will be through state and local emergency management infrastructure. The first flights reached Miami, Jacksonville, and Orlando last night with other Florida cities expecting to receive aid shipments in the near future. State emergency management officials caution that the total amount of aid that will reach the state from European sources will be far less than the minimum actually needed. This will require strict food rationing until the American food distribution network can be brought online again. Aid shipments from South America are also being arranged, but have been delayed due to technical difficulties.

    This from the Associated Press: Michigan National Guard officials state that rioting has been successfully suppressed in the cities of Detroit and Dearborn making it possible for emergency relief aid to begin moving into those areas. No reports of casualties have yet been released, but local witnesses are telling stories of volley fire into crowds of rioting looters.

    In Montana, North Dakota, and Minnesota state emergency management officials are evacuating residents trapped in their homes without heat or power as temperatures drop below zero in the late winter blizzard now striking the area. Reports are incomplete, but we have learned of thirty seven people who have frozen to death in their homes. Evacuated residents are being taken to local schools and other shelters where emergency heat is being supplied. The storm front is expected to move out tonight and into the eastern states. State officials in Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, New York and the New England states have gone on alert.

    On the West Coast the governors of California, Oregon, and Washington state have signed shoot-to-kill orders for anyone found to be looting or otherwise engaged in acts of criminal violence. Legislators in all three states as well as many activist groups have protested these orders. California governor Gray Davis bluntly stated, “The State of California simply will not accept any further violence against state residents or any attempts to interfere in the workings of state emergency management officials or attempts to sabotage military operations or infrastructure needed to support the war effort. Our nation is at war, our survival is at stake, and it is about time certain groups and individuals realize it.”

    The Border Patrol along the Mexican border reports a sharp rise in border crossings by illegal immigrants, some of whom are now armed. Local residents along the border are reporting they are increasingly coming under fire and are beginning to band together in self-defense. A running firefight was reported yesterday in the Texas city of El Paso between border infiltrators and residents on the outskirts of the city. There are no reports of casualties.

    Internationally, Japanese officials are reporting that fires in the city of Hiroshima have now been brought fully under control and it is expected the same will be done in Kobe in the next twenty four hours. Australian and Chinese nuclear response teams are now assisting in coping with the survivors of the two nuclear attacks. Rioting in Tokyo has been suppressed now that food and water distribution difficulties are being resolved. Radioactive fallout from the low-altitude nuclear detonations in Japan and Korea is now being received in measurable quantities on the U.S. West Coast, but Federal Emergency Management Officials stress that it is well below emergency safety levels. Four individuals in Los Angeles are being treated for potassium iodide overdoses.

    In Moscow, Russian president Vladimir Putin has indicated that he has authorized military operations against North Korea in response to the nuclear attack by that nation against the Russian port city of Vladivostok. North Korea continues to deny they attacked the city.

    In Beijing officials with the Chinese Central Committee have indicated the People’s Liberation Army is moving six divisions of troops, armor, and artillery to its border with North Korea. The purpose of this action has not been made clear.

    In the Korean peninsula a fourth carrier battle group has arrived on station and is now flying sorties against the North Korean aggressors. Four squadrons of Australian and one of New Zealand fighter planes have transitioned to new basing and will soon join the Allied forces. Allied air superiority is now virtually complete over the entire peninsula, but the North Korean Army is proving difficult to stop in its advance. No further nuclear detonations have occurred since the one of February 8th that destroyed a large portion of the strategic South Korean city of Wonju. U.S. Department of Defense officials have refused to rule out further use of nuclear weapons in their efforts to halt the North Korean onslaught.

    In other war news the South Korean city of Ch’onan fell today in spite of heavy Allied air attack. A large North Korean armored force is now advancing on the nearby city of Ch’ongju but Central Command officials believe this advance will be stopped before they can take the city. NK commando forces are already engaged in the rear areas of that municipality.

    This is WGNV 1240 AM broadcasting from Gainesville, Florida. We will have further Bulletins, News, and Announcements at the top of the hour.</i>

    Larry tasted the soup, decided it was done and took it off of the fire. They picked up the radio and went inside. Setting the pot down on the table he said to Eddy, “Maybe the tide is beginning to turn against the Koreans, but it sounds like we’re going to be pretty involved here in the States for a while. Might as well hunker down. It’s going to be a long haul.”

  18. #18
    <b>February 11, 2004..............A New Day</b>

    The long pump handle was hard to push and the pump squeaked as it cycled, but water poured from the spout into the bucket underneath. A smile crept over the girl’s face as she watched it fill. Eventually fetching water would become just another chore to be gotten over with, but for now the novelty had not worn off and she enjoyed the experience. When the bucket level had reached the half-way mark she stopped to put a fresh bucket underneath the spout. She had already learned she could not move a full five-gallon bucket very far without spilling it.

    From the pump to the house and the house to the pump she went until the toilet tank in the bathroom had been filled and another bucket of water had been placed next to it. She filled the two buckets in the kitchen and finally was done. Her arms were sore, but as with any adventure she knew that was to be expected. By tonight when she’d have to do it all over again she’d be ready.

    In the kitchen she found her mother cooking their breakfast – this morning was to be fried Spam, grits, reconstituted powdered milk and orange drink. She liked most of it well enough, but she was still having trouble with the milk. It just didn’t taste right especially at room temperature. Her grandfather said they’d have to experiment with ways of reconstituting the powder and maybe they could make it more palatable.

    They sat to the table and began to eat. Putting the day’s plan together Barb asked her father what was on his agenda.

    John took a sip of his coffee then answered her, “Steve Case, the fellow who lives back of us on the other side of the woodlot, said yesterday he’d heard they were setting up relief distribution in town. I thought I’d give my old beach cruiser the once over and ride on in and see what’s what.”

    “Are we going to apply for relief supplies?” Barb asked, “I thought all of this stockpiling we did was to keep from having to do that?”

    Her father shrugged. “Can’t hurt to at least look into it. It’s not like we’re going to be able to go to the grocery store ourselves. From now until… whenever… the only food coming into this area will be whatever we can produce for ourselves and whatever the government brings in as relief supplies. Maybe we can hold out until the economy starts to breathe again, but it seems right now no one has any idea of when that will be. We’re probably better off than a lot of people, but we’re not completely self-sufficient.”

    “Grandpa, I saw your garden plot turned up. Are we going to plant a garden this year?” Cindy asked interestedly.

    Nodding his head he said, “Yes, we are. In fact, quite a large one. What you see out there now is just where we’re going to put in the early spring plantings. The hot weather plants will go in a different area which we still need to get turned up.”

    Barb set down her cup. “Looks like gardening is about to go from pleasant hobby to earnest necessity. I’ve always hated weeding, but a few more weeks of living off of canned goods will make the thought of fresh veggies very appealing. Got any work gloves to spare, dad?”

    “Oh yes,” he said with a grin, “work gloves I’ve got. Hopefully won’t be too much weeding though. That’s what those two big rolls of last year’s hay near the edge of the garden are for. We’ll just take them apart and use it for mulch. Ought to cut down on the amount of watering we’ll need to do as well.”

    “Are we going to have a farm, grandpa?” Cindy asked.

    “No, I don’t think we’ll go that far. We’ll probably end up helping Ben out though. He’s always grown a small patch of field corn and I imagine he’ll expand that quite a lot now if he’s got enough seed. He’s got a tractor and all, but there’s still a lot of work to be done with a hoe. That’s probably as close to farming as we’ll get. I don’t have any livestock or anything unless we can talk Steve out of some hens.”

    “I think it would be cool to live on a farm!” the girl said excitedly, “We could have cows, and chickens, and a pony!”

    Both of the adults laughed at this. “Cin, you only think it would be cool to live on a farm now.” her mother said, “I think a few weeks of the real thing might cause you to rethink your enthusiasm.”

    Conversation turned towards the nuts and bolts of serious gardening as the family finished their breakfast. When it was over Barb collected the breakfast dishes and put them in the sink, then poured water from the pot that had been simmering on the stove over them and cooled it with some water from the kitchen bucket. In the other compartment she poured cool water to rinse with.

    John went out to the toolshed to lubricate his beach cruiser bicycle then rode into town to learn what he could. Barb and Cindy finished the dishes and cleaned the kitchen. As she drained the water from the sink Barb said to her child, “I can tell you this. It won’t take very long for this <i>Little House on the Prairie</i> adventure to get old after we’ve had to do everything by hand for a while. Probably just about the time we get finished with the first laundry day, I think.”

    Cindy thought about this for a moment then asked, “How are we going to do the laundry, mom?”

    With a sigh her mother answered, “The hard way, dear heart, the hard way.”

    -- -- -- --

    “Hey Dan.” Larry said to the man pulling the little Radio Flyer wagon down the sidewalk in front of the house. “You on your way back from the supermarket?”

    The man stop, dropping the wagon handle against the front of the machine and flexed his fingers. “Yeah. It’s my second trip actually. First time was for water. Got fifteen gallons which I suppose will keep us in drinking water at least. Wish we’d have caught some of that rain water to wash with.”

    “I’m sure it’ll rain again in another few days. This time of year it usually does.” Larry reassured him, “Everyone will be catching water then because we’ll all be needing to wash clothes. How did the food handout go?”

    An ambivalent expression came over the man’s face. “Well, I suppose I really don’t have any right to complain since it was free. You have to make out an application giving your address, the names, ages, and gender of everyone you’re picking up food for and they base what you get on that. You don’t get any choice in what you receive, they just use some sort of equation and pick stuff up out of different bins to fill your box. That’s what I got here for Denise, Michelle and me. Wouldn’t have gotten the powdered milk at all if Michelle had been older.” He reached into the box and pulled out some cans, “Beets… I hate beets… and no one in the family drinks grapefruit juice. Looks like we’re going to learn now. This is supposed to last us a week.” He set the cans back in the box. “We used to go through that much food in about three days, maybe four, but if a week’s what we’ve got to make it last then it’ll just have to last.”

    “Are you all out of food already?”

    “Just about.” Dan said sourly, “Hard to believe, but we’re just about out of food. Our own damned fault I suppose. Got a fifteen cubic foot upright freezer and it was full too, but it all thawed out and started to spoil three days ago. We ate what we could, but there wasn’t anyway to keep the rest. Couldn’t even give it away because everyone else had the same problem. We’ve never liked canned foods much so Denise went shopping every two or three days to keep us in fresh foods and we ate frozen for everything else. The only thing we have a lot of is Jujube’s dog food because Denny caught a good sale on it last week and bought four bags. Until they announced the food handout I was afraid we were going to have to eat that.”

    Larry shook his head. “Don’t sound good, that’s for sure. Still beats nothing at all though. I’m sure the government will get things in hand in a few more days though and matters will improve.”

    The other man stared into the box then turned back to Larry, “I don’t know. There’s some funny stories going around down there. There’s a lot of people down there right now so you can hear all kinds of things. None of the relief workers would say anything, but I kept hearing over and over again that there haven’t been any food shipments into Gainesville since the attack. Might not be but another day or two of food left in town. Between you and me, when we get down to the last two days of food here if we haven’t heard that more food has come into town I’m taking the family out of here and going to Steinhatchee. I grew up there and still have the house on the creek my daddy built. Least I can fish and crab to keep us alive.”

    “I thought you drove an Expedition, Dan” Larry said, “How you gonna get all the way to Steinhatchee?”

    “Gonna walk if we have too, Larry” the man said with heated determination, “Won’t be able to stay here! I gotta feed my family. Not much use for a systems analyst when every blasted computer in the country has been fried! If we can’t do no better we’ll put Michelle in the wagon and walk. Now I gotta get home. See you around.”

    The man took the wagon handle in hand and went up the street. Larry watched him for a time until he finally disappeared over the hilltop. Eddy came out after a while and sat next to his dad on the lawn watching the neighborhood. Occasionally other people would be seen moving up the street – some pulling children’s wagons, some carrying bag or jugs in their arms, or rolling grocery store shopping carts. Finally Larry said, “I reckon it might not be a bad idea to go down and see what’s what down there to the Publix. You want to go with me?”

    Eddy said, “Sure dad, but what about the house?”

    His father replied, “I’ll go see if Mike Edwards is home and ask if he’ll keep an eye on the place for an hour or two. How about you go and get the wheelbarrow out of the garage and see if it needs air in the tires. We’ll take it with us.”

    The boy stood up and said, “O.K.” then went to do as he’d been asked.

    Larry went to Edwards house and found the man in his garage. He agreed to watch Larry’s house while they were away. When he got back he found Eddy with the bicycle pump putting air in the barrow tire. When it was taut they walked the blocks to the supermarket.

    When they arrived they found the supermarket doors open, but with no lights on inside. Outside was a long line of people with various hand-pulled means of carrying things from children’s wagon to baby carriages to shopping carts. To one side was a ancient battered flatbed truck with a large water tank hitched to it and another such tank next to it. A line of people with water containers was in front of it. The drug store next to the supermarket was boarded up, but he could see broken glass on the ground in front. The natural foods store door was smashed as well. At the gas station on the corner there was another older tank truck with two men in orange vests standing next to it. A hose stretched from the station tank hatches to the truck tank and he reckoned they were pumping out the underground tanks.

    They walked up and joined the line leading into the grocery after asking around about how to get their food issue. “Ed, you stand in line with the wheelbarrow while I float around a bit.” Larry said, “I’ll keep an eye out and come back before you make the door.”

    The boy nodded but said nothing, looking widely around himself.

    Larry began wandering around to no apparent purpose. There seemed to be quite a few others doing the same thing. Not standing in line, but gathered in small knots talking. He sidled up to one. “…Mexicans coming cross the border in droves. I caught it on AM skip last night from some station in Mexico. Of course, it was all in Spanish, but the wife speaks it. She’s Cuban, but she can understand Mexican. She says the station is telling people to cross the border. They know how to live without electricity and running water and we don’t so they should just come on up and start occupying the place. Billy over to the muffler shop tells me he’s heard that the Mexican army is going to take El Paso and that the Texans are forming an army to fight back. He said they’re calling for volunteers from the other states too. Been thinking about going myself, but Maria put her foot down about it.”

    He wandered over to another group of men and stood. “…niggers broke into Joe’s toolshed last night and tried to steal a buncha tools, but he heard ‘em and gave one a load of birdshot in the ass while he was runnin’. He dropped the stuff and Joe said he screamed like a woman as he jumped his fence goin’ away. Shit goes on like this much longer and it’s gonna be a race war, I can tell you that. That’s alright cause Jeff and I are ready. Got the whole damn yard wired and any nigger comes creepin’ round my place it won’t be birdshot in my gun!”

    Shaking his head in disgust he walked on, “You hear about them Europeans comin’ in? Woody said he saw a team of ‘em yestiddy over to the courthouse acting all lordly like they was better than everyone else. We’re gonna have to bow and scrape to them bastards if we want them to help us out. Done clean forgot all about how many times we’ bailed their sorry asses out. Shoulda just let Hitler have the lot of ‘em I say.”

    Another group near to the water truck, “Fran said her little boy is sick. Sounds pretty bad. She said he’s been playing in the creek and thinks maybe something he got from there is doing it. She’s got him over to North Florida Regional now. Must be something to it because they took him right in and he’s getting treated. Everyone else is being triaged and you practically have to have one limb off before a doctor’ll see you.” This gave Larry pause and he listened for a while longer. “I told her not to let Sammy play in that water. Too many folks trying to use it for drinking and washing and you just know there’s no lack of idiots probably peeing in it now that the sewers don’t work. The weather turns warm we’ll be lucky if we don’t see typhoid or something. Bobby said he saw a lot of cholera when he was in the service overseas back in the sixties and says it’s real easy for it to get started because people are stupid about how they use water. Uh, look, George has the jugs full. I’ll catch you later.” The knot of people broke up and moved on.

    There was a man standing on top of a metal bucket with a bible in his hand in front of the boarded up drugstore. He read from the book for a time then would break into spells of extemporaneous preaching, “Ye Godless creatures, ye heathens and idolators. The Lord has stretched forth his Hand and has smote down your towers of Babel. No more shall ye revel in sin and debauchery as ye pour rivers of pornography over yourself through your Internet providers. No more shall ye give yourself over to the sins of envy, and jealously and conspicuous consumption through your satellite dishes, cable connections, and wide screen TV’s! The Hour of Judgment is come and ye have been found wanting. The Final Judgment is nigh and the time of repentance is short! Heed the Holy word now while you still can!” Larry stood and listened to the itinerant preacher for a time. He had a resonance and intonation that really commanded the attention and a group of at least twenty people stood in front of him. Eventually he called for prayer and as the little group bowed their heads he moved on.

    Off to one side closer to the forlorn natural foods store stood another group of men, mostly in their thirties and forties it seemed, clean cut and dressed in clean clothes. He recognized a few faces, but had no names to put to them. “Just got back from the courthouse a little while ago. Joined the Defense Force. I got my DD214 five years ago, but I think I can remember which end of a rifle to put against my shoulder. They’re getting the local command structure in place right now and then they’ll start organizing the city. The Major thinks we’ll be needed in another four or five days if the State or the Feds or somebody doesn’t get some more food into the pipeline. He didn’t come out and say so but I got the feeling he’s expecting something like food riots. We’re doing alright, Mandy made a run over to the family cannery in Jax about a month ago, but I don’t know about some of our neighbors.”

    One of the other men in the group looked up and saw Larry. He came over and stuck out his hand. “You Larry Nichols?” he asked. When he nodded his head affirmatively the man continued, “Good to meet you. I saw you at the meeting the other day when we were setting up the neighborhood watch, but I didn’t get a chance to speak. That took real balls to blow that scumbag away like you did.”

    Shaking his head as if to deflect the man’s praise Larry said, “That wasn’t balls, that was self-defense. He was about to run me down.”

    The first man who had been speaking came over and shook his hand as well. “Are you the one Quinn’s been talking about that took out that car load of drug dealers? I heard about that myself. There’s not a lot of people who’d do that.”

    “I was just trying to show a little neighborly concern.” Larry explained once more. “I wasn’t really expecting to go into combat or anything.”

    “But that’s just the point.” The man persisted. “Neighborly concern has been hard to find lately. You took it on yourself to act when others might have stood by and done nothing. Those predators would have gotten away with literal murder if you hadn’t stood up.”

    “I’m hardly unique. Others would have done the same thing.”

    “Some others, maybe. Some others. But the types of men who would are hard to find these days. There’s a lot of otherwise good people who would let fear and hesitation keep them from acting. You didn’t. You stood up and made a difference. Have you signed up for the State Defense Force yet?”

    Larry’s voice went flat. “I don’t cotton to things military. I lost my father, grandfather and maybe a brother to the military and its wars. The Nichols family is heading for extinction and I don’t intend to let them finish the job. I’m not signing up for the Army.”

    Several of the men looked away. The man in front of him said nothing for a moment, then pressed on. “O.K., I guess I can understand how you feel there. I lost friends in the Gulf and my father lost friends and an uncle in the ‘Nam. But the SDF isn’t the Army, not in the way you’re thinking. It’s more like the local militia. We’re not going anywhere, but here. It’s because the Guard and reserves aren’t here that we’re coming into being in the first place. We’re not going overseas, we’re not even going out of state. Hell, chances are we’ll never even leave Gainesville. The Defense Force is needed right here where it belongs, guarding your home and family and mine and his, and all these other people’s. I think you’d be a natural for it. Might as well join, you know you’re not going to stand by and just let the predators run wild. You’ve already shown that. If we organize we’ve all got a better chance of making it than if we try to go it alone.”

    The men stood looking at him, saying nothing.

    A pressure seemed to be building up behind Larry’s breastbone.

    Finally he said, “Alright. I’ll think about it.”

    “Good man. I’ll be looking for you then at the next Force meeting. Now there comes my wife out of the store so I guess I’d better go pull that wagon up the hill for her.” The man slapped several of the men on the shoulder and walked off. After a moment Larry walked off as well, a troubled expression on his face. Looking at the line he saw Eddy was within a few feet of the door so he walked up to join him.

    Ten minutes later they were inside of the door, but the line still snaked back and forth in the area in front of the registers before they reached the folding tables in front of the customer service area. When they reached the first table a tired looking older woman with a clipboard asked him without looking up, “Full name, address, number of family members, their ages, and gender.”

    Larry hesitated for a moment unsure of what to tell her and the woman looked up at him with an expression of annoyance. “Well, come on. There’s a line here.”

    Decision crystallized within him and he gave just his and Eddy’s information. The woman quickly wrote it down and handed him the paper. “Just give it to the woman at the next table.” and turned to the next person behind him.

    The next table had three women, each with a laptop computer. He gave his paper to the one not serving anyone who took it and began to key in his data. A moment later she wrote down some arcane shorthand on a receipt pad and handed it to Larry. “Take this down to the register aisle – anyone will do – and they’ll fill this for you.”

    Eddy wheeled their barrow down the aisle until they came to an empty register. There a harried looking man took their slip and studied it. He grabbed a shopping cart and said, “I’ll be back in a few minutes.”

    As they stood waiting father and son looked around them at the rest of the operation. The back of the store was only dimly lit, but they could see men moving back and forth putting various items into shopping carts and bringing them up to the register line. Waiting on them were people like themselves. Two registers over he heard one matronly woman loudly complaining “But we don’t like olives! We shouldn’t be expected to eat this stuff!” The tired looking older man serving her cut off her complaints with a brusque “Lady, we don’t do swaps or substitutions except for health reasons. Take it or leave it.” He pushed the box of food towards the lady, spluttering in her indignation and loudly said, “Next!”

    At the register behind them a younger woman with a baby in a sling was weeping softly. A sad faced young man was packing bags for her, “It’s OK, ma’am. You got a baby so you get infant formula in your issue. Better make it last though because we’re nearly out and the canned milk ain’t gonna last much longer.” The woman smiled her thanks and loaded the bags into a baby carriage and left.

    In front of the register aisle was another table with a hand lettered sign that said “Food Restrictions.” There he saw three people sitting in chairs in front of the table and three people on the other side with clipboards. He could not clearly hear what they were talking about but did hear the word “peanuts” quite plainly and another said something about “gluten.” Looking at Eddy he said, “I think those folks must have food allergies or something. You remember Cindy’s friend from last year who couldn’t eat any nuts because she was so allergic to them?”

    Their service person came back and began to remove cans and packages from the cart and put them into a box. It wasn’t a very big box and he did not fill it. When he finished he pushed it down the register slide to them and said, “Sign here at the bottom of the slip, please.” Larry did as he’d been told and they put the box into the wheelbarrow. They stepped away from the register as the man said, “Next!” and walked out the door.

    In the sun again they stopped and examined what they’d been given. “Well, I suppose it could have been worse.” Larry said, “I don’t see any beets, or rhubarb, or spinach. Don’t reckon it’d matter much if we had. We’d still have said ‘thanks’ since beggars can’t be choosers. What did you think of the experience, Ed?”

    The boy looked back at the store and the line of people stretching out the door then at their wheelbarrow and their meager box of a week’s rations. “I don’t know, dad. I sure am glad we don’t have to live off just that.” He reached in and picked up several cans of store brand vegetables – succotash, turnip greens, and stewed tomatoes. “I mean what if we’d gotten spinach? I suppose with enough pepper vinegar I can eat turnip greens, but there ain’t no way I’m gonna eat spinach.”

    He looked up at his father who was looking at him with a flat expression, “Son, you get hungry enough you’ll be mighty proud to have a can of spinach. Weren’t for your mother we might be having to do just that right now. Come another week or two and it might be there’ll be folks who’ll be happy to have a can of Alpo. Now let’s get on home and see about what we can do to get some laundry done. I’m down to my last pair of clean socks.”

    The pair wheeled their craft across the parking lot and up the street. At the intersection they could see a scattering of other people, some moving towards the shopping center, some away from it. In the distance they saw a truck pulling another water tank approach.

    It was another day in the life of the new reality they were all coming to terms with.

  19. #19
    <b>February 13, 2003..........Work Day Blues</b>

    The soft chiming of the mantle clock in the living room invaded Cindy’s dream and woke her… bong… bong… bong… Already dressed in anticipation of the early morning cold she slipped out from under her covers and into her slippers. Sitting down to the small folding card table in front of her window she lit the candle in its holder. In its pale light she connected the long-wire dipole antenna her grandfather had strung for her to the radio’s antenna hookup then turned it on. Slowly turning the tuning dial the radio emitted staticky scratches until she hit the frequency band she was looking for and clear air. An educated voice speaking English came out.

    <i>…Federation armored forces staging out of the border city of Khasan are advancing on the North Korean city of Sonbong against determined resistance. It is expected the city will fall in the next twenty four hours opening the way for an assault on the coastal city of Najin. Progress of the Federation forces has been greatly hampered by the refusal of the People’s Republic of China to allow any form of Federation troops, equipment, or material to cross its frontier necessitating a round a bout route for such forces to approach North Korea through the narrow finger of Eastern Siberian that borders on that offending nation. Federation theater commanders have warned their opposite numbers in the PLA that if Chinese forces cross the international border of the Tumen river as Federation forces approach the North Korean city of Onsong they will be fired upon as combatants. There has been no reply from either Beijing or the provincial capital in this regard.

    In our great port city of Vladivostok the fires resulting from the unprovoked North Korean nuclear attack have been extinguished. In spite of severe damage to rail lines entering the city medical and food aid is now flowing in and injured survivors, many horribly burned, are being evacuated to regional hospitals. Radiation counts resulting from the low-altitude nuclear detonation continue to fall.

    In world news the allied powers of the United States, South Korea, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and the European Union have achieved air superiority across much of the Korean peninsula. North Korean armored advances into South Korea have also been checked, but at a cost of the nuclear destruction of the South Korean city of Wonju. Fallout from that detonation and the six weapons that were used north of the DeMilitarized Zone is now coming down across the peninsula, into the Sea of Japan and the Japanese home islands. Emergency talks between the western allied forces and the Russian Federation are being held now to circumvent any inadvertent conflicts between the respective forces now operating in the Korean peninsula.

    In North America another night of rioting has passed in many of the major American cities as federal, state, and local governments prove unequal to the task of coping with the difficulties brought on by the unprovoked North Korean electromagnetic pulse attack on the North American continent. Food supplies in many cities have run out and safe drinking water is now in very short supply. Severe cold is threatening the lives and well being of many in the American states along the Canadian border and in Canada itself. Across the continent many of the American states are now resorting to forming ad hoc militias from local armed citizenry as they attempt to quell the looting, rioting, and burning that threatens to bring down the American war effort. Along the U.S./Mexican border reports have reached us that Mexican economic immigrants have come under fire by these American militias resulting in many deaths. Mexican President Vincente’ Fox has protested these unwarranted attacks to the American President Bush and has stated he will be taking his complaints to the United Nations Security Council and, if necessary, to the World Court at the Hague.

    In Great Britain today Prime Minister Tony Blair states that he is confident he will survive the no-confidence vote against him in the British House of Commons and refuses to call for early elections. British Monarch Queen Elizabeth made a personal appearance on BBC television yesterday calling for unity in the face of mounting threats to the British people. Ministry of Defense officials have indicated that further call ups of British military reserves are likely.

    In Turkey today, Turkish defense ministry officials confirm that the Turkish army has been placed on a state of high alert as sporadic outbreaks of violence by the oppressed Turkish Kurds increase in frequency. Ministry spokesmen have stated that Turkey will not allow another rebellion similar to the one that cost 37,000 lives in the Kurdish regions of that nation and will, if necessary, move in with overwhelming force to restore order. U.S. military officials at their headquarters in Dohar, Qatar warn that large numbers of Turkish troops coming across the Turkish border into the Kurdish dominated areas of Northern Iraq will not be tolerated and have hinted they will fire on any such movements. Numerous reports have reached this service from Northern Iraq of Kurdish incursions into both Turkey and Iran. Iranian military officials state that Iranian army units are being moved to the frontier to stem the flow of guerrilla insurgents into their nation. Sporadic firefights between Kurdish groups and Iraqi Sunni tribesmen around the oil city of Kirkuk continue to occur.

    This is the Voice of Russia. We will have further news at 0900 hours Universal Time.</i>

    A cultural program came on next so the child began to slowly turn the dial once more combing the airwaves for more news. A few moments later she found another English language broadcast –

    <i>…ent of Defense officials hinted today that the American Navy has recovered parts of the North Korean missile that failed to achieve orbit several months ago from its resting place on the sea bed at a depth of several thousand meters. Technical analysis is still ongoing, but sufficient conclusions have been drawn that the American president may soon schedule a meeting with the world press. It has been obliquely communicated to us by these anonymous officials that President Bush may make a shocking revelation at that time. No further word has yet reached us as to what the nature of this revelation might be.

    In Iraq, Al Jazeera television is reporting the deaths of sixty seven Iraqi nationals on a bus struck by a Hellfire missile launched by an American Apache heli…”</i> the anonymous voice began to break up. “No!” Cindy said under her breath as she grabbed the unit and shook it. For a moment the signal cleared, <i>“…women and children returning from a hospital in Bagh…”</i> and the signal broke up again. This time no amount of shaking would clear the signal, nor adjusting the tuning knob or tightening the antenna connections. Finally she noticed the little red battery light flickering and realized the batteries were nearly spent. “Oh, shoot!” she said in frustration, “I don’t know what station that was!” As she watched the light continued to fade and finally went out altogether. She considered going to the closet that her grandfather kept his spare batteries in, but hesitated at the idea of taking them without asking first. “Oh, alright!” she said in exasperation and punched the power button. “I’ll wait until everyone gets up.” She wrote down the frequency and time that she had found the broadcast then neatly squared away her equipment. Blowing out the candle she made her way to her bed and climbed in. In spite of her frustration she soon fell asleep.

    -- -- -- --

    A mound of white suds flowed slowly over the top of the five gallon bucket and on to the patio pavement. Eddy maintained the steady up and down motion of the plumber’s helper he was using for another minute then removed it. Reaching into the bucket he pulled out a pair of blue jeans and examined them critically. Rubbing the material together for a moment he decided they were clean enough and dropped them into a second bucket containing other pieces of clothing. He picked up another pair of jeans, dropped them in the sudsy water and began to plunge once more. After a half-hour of this exercise he came to the end of the pile of trousers and began to rinse them one by one. When at last they were all clean and rinsed of soap he wheeled the barrow containing the basket of wet, heavy denim to the impromptu clothesline his dad had strung and began to drape each pair over the line. After he’d put up a half dozen pairs of the saturated jeans the line began to sag dangerously near to the ground. The boy sighed and picked up the pole his dad had said he’d probably need and propped the cord up. He went back to hanging the rest of the laundry and soon finished. The long line of pants dripped water steadily in the cool February sun. Next to that line was one of shirts and underclothes, many now nearly dry. He sat down for a time to rest then got up and cleaned his laundry station, dumping the soapy water into the grass and using the rinse water to wash everything off. Finally he took a sparing amount of fresh water and rinsed his equipment with that before upending the buckets to dry.

    His stomach had been rumbling as he finished so he went inside where he cut a slab of cornbread and spread it with peanut butter for his lunch and mixed up a glass of Tang to wash it down with. Once finished he eyed the shirts slowly waving in the breeze and decided they were probably dry enough to take down. Going outside with a basket he started to take in the clean, dry laundry. The drip dried shirts were stiff and retained their shapes after he’d taken them down. “Ugh,” he said, “that reeks. Look how stiff this stuff is! I hope my underwear isn’t going to be like this!” But to his disappointment all of the laundry was unyielding as he took the dry clothing down. Taking the full basket into his hands he went onto the back porch and began to fold the clothes. “Man, those jeans are gonna be too stiff to walk in!” he lamented.

    By the time he reached the half-way mark his father came home. “Hey dad!” the boy said with interest, “How was the Defense Force meeting?”

    His dad sat down at the table with him and picked up one of his undershirts to fold it. The shirt came out of the basket nearly in the same shape as it had gone in and he turned it over in his hands. The unpliant garment retained its drip dried form. One eyebrow rose and he looked at his son critically. “What did you wash these in? Starch?”

    His son’s face fell into a hardened expression. “No dad!” he said in an aggrieved tone, “I washed them in laundry detergent just like the instructions on the box said! Then I rinsed them – twice! – and hung them up to dry! They’re all like that! I don’t know why, they just dried like that!”

    Mildly astonished by the boy’s badger like defense of his work the elder Nichols sorted through the basket and soon realized he was right. The entire load was stiff. He checked himself for a moment to remove the critical tone from his voice before he asked. “OK, you used just detergent and you rinsed them out good.” He carefully examined the dry clothes then looked out at the line where the blue jeans were still occasionally dripping into the grass. “How much did you wring them out?” he asked.

    “Wring them out?” the boy asked, confused. “How am I gonna wring them out? I just washed them, rinsed them, and hung them to dry. It took me all morning to do it too! My arms are tired from that plunger!”

    The older man sighed as he examined the laundry. “Son, you can’t just leave all the water in the clothes when you finish rinsing them. They’ve got to be wrung to get out as much of the water as you can or they’ll dry stiff as a board like this” he held up another of his unyielding undershirts. “The water’s hard here and if you leave a lot of it in the material it makes the fabric stiff. You wanna wear shorts like this?”

    “Well…no.” his son replied, “But dad! Do you know how much work it’s gonna take to wring everything out like that? By hand?! It’ll take all day to get the laundry done like that. It took all morning just to get this done! I miss mom!”

    Unable to contain it, a chuckle escaped from his suddenly amused elder. “You mean you miss your mama’s washing machine!” He dropped the shirt in the boy’s lap then tousled his hair. “O.K., I shoulda seen this coming, son. It’s not like we’ve ever asked you to do your own wash before, especially not by hand. Looks like we’ve all got a thing or two to learn here. I’ve got an idea of how to save this load so that we won’t have to rewash it, but we are going to have to rinse it, wring it out, then hang it up to dry again.”

    His son looked at him with a plain look of aggrieved exasperation and for a moment Larry thought he was going to refuse but finally he let out his pent up frustration with a sigh as he said, “O.K., O.K., I’ll do them over again. I’ll rinse, YOU can wring them out!”

    Larry put out his hand and said, “It’s a deal.” and they shook. He stood up and disappeared into the kitchen then returned with a jug of vinegar. “Gonna wish we had more of this.” he said as he filled a bucket with water. When he had what he wanted he poured a small measure of the acidic fluid into the water and stirred it with his hand. “Alright, you rinse all this stuff in this water then I’ll wring it out and hang it. Shouldn’t take long.”

    The younger Nichols did as he’d been told and started putting the stiffened fabric into faintly sour smelling water. “Uhh, dad,” he asked, “why did you put vinegar in the water?”

    “Water’s got lime in it” his father explained, “that’s what makes it hard. Lime is bitter. Vinegar’s acid or sour and it cuts the lime. This will help wash the lime out of the clothes and then I’ll wring ‘em out and hang up ‘em up. Still won’t be as nice as what we’re used to when your mama dried our clothes in the dryer, but it’ll be better than what we had a few minutes ago.”

    They soon reprocessed all of the freshly washed laundry through the bucket and quickly discovered that while hand wringing shirts and underclothes required no great effort doing an adequate job on heavy blue indigo denim required considerable exertion. When the last pair had been wrung out and rehung Larry waggled his fingers. “Whew! That’s gonna be quite a chore I can see. Why don’t you and I put our heads together and see if we can’t come up with a better way to get that job done than wringing each one out by hand. I do believe a man could wear out a pair of hands if he had to wring out blue jeans all day long.”

    The day had steadily improved from the morning cool and when they finished with their wash day chores they sat in lawn chairs in the afternoon sun exchanging small talk. Larry had attended his first State Defense Force meeting, more out of curiosity than any real desire to join, but found himself drawn into it in spite of himself. “It’s not as bad as I thought it’d be.” he found himself explaining, “They’re not a buncha wannabe soldiers. Mostly they’re just men – and a few women – like myself or Andy or John. Just working class people and some educated types who all live here and want to help keep things together. They are using military ranks, but the Major says that’s going to be pretty fluid for a while until it’s clear how various people are going to work out. Mostly we’re working on organization and how we’re all going to relate to each other and back each other up if we need it. Not much equipment yet except for what you bring yourself.”

    “Does that mean you’ll be taking your rifle to the meetings?” Eddy asked interestedly. “When did you get it anyway? I don’t remember ever seeing it before.”

    A curious ambivalent expression came over his father’s face. “Yeah, I reckon it does at that.” He stopped for a moment and looked at Eddy for a time. “I traded the Stratocaster to Nicky for it. He’s been wanting it for years and he had that SKS he bought last year so I swapped him for it and some ammo for the rifle and shotgun.”

    “Your guitar, dad?” the boy looked at him incredulously, “I thought you’d never let that go! What’s mom gonna say? Didn’t you used to play it for her when you were dating?”

    A ghost of a smile traced itself across the man’s face. “Yes, I did, but that was long ago, Eddy. I ain’t played a lick on that axe in years. It’s not like your grandfather ever liked it anyways. You shoulda heard the way he’d complain about it when I’d come over to see your mama when we were dating. I hated to let it go, but your mother got to me with all that stockpiling she was doing which got me to worrying we didn’t have enough protection in the house. We didn’t have the money just then to buy a rifle like that and there weren’t any around to buy if we’d had it. Nicky brought the Stratocaster up again so I told him then and there I’d swap him for the rifle and ammunition. That’s why I was in Lake City the night of the attack. The night that… well, the night your mama really showed what she was made of.”

    “I’m sorry you had to trade your guitar, dad.” the boy said, “But I guess we did need the rifle more than an electric guitar.”

    Larry smiled to reassure his son and said, “Well, you know how Nicky is. In a year he’ll be on to whatever it’s gonna be that catches his attention at the time and the Stratocaster will be his closet gathering dust. He’ll be broke again, I’ll offer him a hundred bucks for it and I’ll have it back.” He looked at his watch then Eddy and continued, “It’s your night to stand guard isn’t it?”

    The boy nodded his head affirmatively.

    “Well then, it’d be a good idea for you to go and get a little shut eye before it gets dark. Falling asleep on guard duty is a serious offense. I’d hate for you to be put up against a wall and shot on your very first night.” He grinned at the boy to show he wasn’t serious. “Get on with you and I’ll come roust you out in time to get yourself together before you have to go meet up with Andy.”

    -- -- -- --

    The whirling tines of the rototiller made steady, laborious progress across the ground as John guided it. Behind him Barb and Cindy wielded garden rakes to smooth the soil and remove the chewed up grass, roots, weeds and occasional stones of the newly broken ground. Finally John reached the end of the last row that he’d marked off and shut the machine down. When the motor vibrations ceased he realized the stinging, tingling sensation in his left arm was not subsiding and he seemed to be having difficulty drawing a satisfying breath. Glancing over at his daughter he walked slowly, carefully to the lawn chair he’d put under the tree off to one side and sat down. Leaving his left arm laying casually in his lap he took off his cap and mopped his face with a bandana. Even in the cool February air the exertions of creating the new garden space had heated him to a sweat.

    Barb noticed her father sitting in his chair. Even from a distance he looked gray to her so she stopped raking and walked over. “Dad, are you alright?” she asked, “You look pale.”

    Nodding his head he answered, “I’m fine. Just beat from that rototiller. That sod is tough stuff. I should have asked Ben to harrow for me first with his tractor. Let me catch my breath for a few minutes and I’ll come help you all finish raking it out.”

    His daughter nodded her head but said nothing. Turning she walked to the house and returned a few minutes later with a pitcher and some glasses. She poured water into a glass and handed it to him. “You look like you could use it.” she said. He took the glass and drank deeply.

    “Thanks! That hit the spot.”

    Pouring two more glasses she handed one to Cindy when she walked over and drank the other one herself.

    “Grandpa, what are we going to plant in this garden?” His granddaughter asked.

    The elder man breathed deeply then took another drink from his glass before answering her. “Well, the garden over there is for cool season crops. Sometime around the end of April or the beginning of May they’ll play out and we’ll rest the ground until Fall when we’ll plant it again. This new ground is going to be for hot weather crops. Tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, okra, sweet potatoes, and things like that. Mostly they’ll grow all summer and come winter we’ll sow it to something else. Next year we’ll swap the beds. That’s called ‘crop rotation.’”

    “We’re going to grow okra?” she asked, her face wrinkling. “I hate okra. It’s so slimy!”

    Her grandfather chuckled, “Yes, okra. It grows very well here. One of the few things we can grow all through August as a matter of fact. It doesn’t have to be slimy though, not if you cook it right. Of course, us Yankees aren’t used to it, but Ben’s been showing me how to make it so that it’s good. I like it a lot with tomatoes and onions.”

    The girl looked dubious at his defense of the maligned vegetable, but she said nothing more about it asking instead, “What’s crop rotation?”

    “Well, Cindy, it’s like this. Each type of crop like corn, or tomatoes, or okra, has it’s own nutrient needs. If you grow the same crop time after time on the same ground pretty soon you begin to run out of the nutrients that particular crop needs and it doesn’t grow very well anymore. Of course, there are some nutrients that all plants need in common so even swapping them around will eventually cause problems if you don’t keep putting nutrients back into the soil. The biggest reason for rotating your crops though is that each type of plant tends to attract particular types of insects and disease that attack them. If you keep planting the same thing in the same place time after time pretty soon the insects and diseases that attack those particular plants will get so bad that you won’t be able to grow them. But if you put a different type of plant in that spot the next time that isn’t attacked by the same kinds of insects and diseases that attacked the plants that were there before they’ll decline and maybe disappear instead of increasing. The big farmers can get around that to a degree by spraying pesticides and other chemicals to fight those things off, but we can’t do that here because we don’t have them. It doesn’t always work anyway.”

    Nodding her head Cindy said, “OK, I think I understand. So if we plant tomatoes and watermelons in this garden here this year does this mean we’ll plant them over in the other garden next year and put something else in this one?”

    “That’s it.” he agreed, “That’s exactly what we’ll do.”

    John stood up at this point, concealing the care with which he did so, and said, “OK, let’s finish this up. If we get right on it we should be done by dark, I think. I’m going to put this machine in the workshop and clean it up since we won’t be needing it for a while.” Starting the motor he allowed the tines to pull themselves along the top of the ground as he guided the machine towards the shop. Barb and Cindy picked up their rakes once again. Once inside he shut off the motor and sat down again, slowly flexing the fingers of his left hand.

    -- -- -- --

    Larry and Eddy walked down to the end of the street. The boy had his shotgun cradled in his left arm at the port arms position like his father had shown him. As they arrived they saw several men pushing the blockade cars into position. Checking the flashlight for function Larry handed it to Eddy. “Alright now. You remember what I showed you about how to handle that gun. Don’t point it at anything you don’t want to shoot. Don’t shoot anyone you don’t mean to kill. Keep your finger off the trigger unless you mean to shoot right then. Got it?”

    Nodding his head the boy said, “Yes sir. I’ve got it.”

    “Good.” Turning to Andy he continued, “I reckon y’all ought to be OK. No one coming through here except on foot or maybe a bicycle. Anyone fire’s a shot and the whole street will come running.”

    With a grin Andy said, “Yes, dad!” and began to laugh. Larry laughed along with him.

    “OK” he said, “You got me on that one. Do keep an ear open though. Heard at the meeting today that the number of burglaries has really been going up what with everyone feeling the money and food pinch and all. Even with us keeping watch like this I’ll be surprised if someone doesn’t try it here.”

    “We’ll be alright, dad.” Eddy assured him. “If anyone tries anything we’ll hear them.”

    Larry shook his son’s hand “See you when you get home then, son.” He walked back to the house in the twilight. As he passed Miss Annie’s house he realized he had not seen her all day and resolved to check on her in the morning to see if she was OK. She’d seemed confused lately.

    After checking around the outside of his own home he went inside, lit one of the lamps and turned on the radio to catch the newscast. As he did so he flipped through the pages of his old Scout manual, lost in memory of another time. The news came and went and he turned the radio off. Finally he tired of reading by lamplight and decided to go to bed. “Up and down with the chickens” he said to himself as he washed his face. When he was finished cleaning up he lay down and soon fell asleep.

    -- -- -- --

    “Evenin’ Sal, evenin’ Fred” Andy said to the two men who had come to relieve them for the night. “Been pretty quiet all night. Heard some shots in the distance sounded like maybe down to the food distribution area. Some yelling from a couple of streets over, but that was two hours ago. Two trucks went up the road and that’s been it for the last three hours.”

    “Sounds good to me.” the man who’d been addressed as Fred replied, “I guess we’ll take over from here. I relieve you, sir.”

    “I’m relieve to hear it!” Andy said with a grin. “I’m for some shut eye. Eddy, you ready to pack it in?”

    “Yes, sir!” he said enthusiastically.

    “Good! Let’s go home.” Andy turned and started to walk up the darkened street, Eddy walking by his side. They were both feeling talked out so neither spoke. The moon had not yet risen so it was only by starlight could they faintly see the pale concrete sidewalk against the dark background of suburban lawns.

    They were passing the Singh household when the faint sound of tinkling glass was heard. Andy stopped and a pace later Eddy did too. Both stood still as stones, ears straining to hear. Again the sound of glass breaking. Reaching out with his hand Andy took the boy by the shoulder and pulled him close. Whispering into his ear he said, “Quick as you can run back to the barricade and get Sal and Fred. Tell them what we heard and bring ‘em here. Move quiet, but move fast.”

    Nodding his head, but not saying anything Eddy stepped into the grass strip between the street curbing and the sidewalk and began to run back the way they’d come, the shotgun now held in both hands.

    He soon returned with the other two men and holding their heads so close together as to nearly touch Andy related what he’d heard and from where the sound had come. It was quickly decided the three older men would maneuver around both sides of the house towards the back where Andy thought the noise had come from while leaving Eddy on the sidewalk to keep watch. As quietly as they could the three men disappeared into the darkness, Fred and Sal to the left, Andy to the right. Eddy shivered slightly, not sure if it was from the late night cold or excitement. He quietly worked the bolt of his shotgun to chamber a round and slipped off the safety, consciously remembering to keep his finger off the trigger.

    The boy’s time sense seemed to distort and he could not later recall how long the men had been gone when a feminine scream split the night. Everything happened very quickly then as a man shouted, a door banged, glass broke and then there was shooting – BANG!BLAM!…BANG!BANG!BANG!…BLAM! Eyes nearly popping from their sockets as he strained to see in the blackness he thought with that last very loud shot he saw a faint flicker of light. He was just starting to wonder what might have caused it when someone jumped the fence separating the Singh’s front and backyard and he could hear the sound of feet running towards him very quickly across the grass.

    “H…h…Hey!” the boy shouted, excitement rendering his voice nearly into a squeak in his ears. In truth he could not clearly see who it was but he knew that neither Andy, or Sal, or Fred would come running towards him like that without saying something first. “Stop!… Stop or I’ll shoot!” Before he could even move the gun to his shoulder he felt a sharp stinging sensation across his left side – CRACK!CRACK!CRACK!CRACK! It seemed like hours from the time the pain entered his side and the quick yellow flashes in the night from the figure running past him to the left came together in his mind to realize he was being shot at! Without consciously thinking about what he was doing the boy’s shotgun rose to his shoulder, eyes looking for the running figure. There! A passing darkness across the pale concrete of the driveway across the street and the gun spoke – BOOM!BOOM!…BOOM! He wasn’t sure if he’d hit anything or not until the screaming started. He started forward to see then remembered the running figure had shot at him and quickly dove behind the Singh’s brick mailbox column. Silence fell over the neighborhood, but for the gassy screaming in the darkness across the street. Eddy considered using his flashlight to try to see where his opponent had fallen, but hastily reconsidered.

    After what seemed like many long minutes lights began to spring up. He heard a door slam very hard and his father’s voice rang out – “EDDY!!! – then the sounds of shoe soles moving fast on pavement.

    Leaning out from around his cover the boy yelled as loudly as he could, “Dad! I’m across the street! Look out, he’s got a gun! Don’t run towards Mike Edward’s place!”

    More lights began to spear into the night and voices were raised as the screaming continued. The sound of running footsteps came closer and when he saw a darkness cross the driveway Eddy said, “Dad! I’m behind the mailbox.”

    Larry quickly took cover with his son. “Where’s he at!” he asked in an urgent whisper.

    “Across the street!” the boy replied, “I shot him as he crossed Mr. Edward’s driveway, but I don’t know how bad he’s hit. He came running around Mrs. Singh’s house and shot at me!”

    Raising a big six volt lantern battery flashlight Larry said, “Keep your head down.” He elevated the light as high as he could next to the column while keeping his own head low and flicked on the light. The powerful beam stabbed into the night and reflected off the front of Edward’s house and began to play along the lawn until it came to the driveway. In seconds they could see a prone figure rolling in the grass, screaming and trying to clutch at his back. More flashlights began to illuminate the figure. A nickel plated revolver shone brightly on the concrete about ten feet from the writhing man.

    Larry and Eddy stood then and carefully made their way across the street, never taking their eyes from the wounded suspect. Andy came from around the house and joined them. “Frank and Sal are checking out Mrs. Singh. I don’t think she’s hurt, just shook up good. We’ve got a dead one in the back yard. There were two of them.”

    Clearing his throat Larry said, “OK, good. If there were two then Eddy got the second one there.”

    Over the next minute more than a dozen armed men with flashlights and lanterns arrived to stare at the figure of the man on Mike Edward’s lawn. It was a young white male, Larry figured about college age, wearing blue jeans, Nike sneakers and a dark blue University of Florida sweatshirt and a length of dark stocking over his face. Edwards came out with a first aid kit and with the help of several men pulled the shirt off of the wounded man whose struggles grew more feeble. The young man’s back was a bloody mess and Larry could see at least a half a dozen puncture wounds from the #1 buckshot he had loaded the boy’s shotgun with. One of them bubbled as the man breathed. Edwards quickly slapped a piece of petrolatum impregnated gauze over the wound, then a plastic wrapper and taped it in place. Two other entry points bled vigorously and he applied pressure bandages. The man worked quickly and quietly, speaking only when he needed something done. Rolling the man over several exit wounds could be seen and Edwards quickly dealt with those. The man’s breathing was fast and shallow and gurgling.

    “Sit him up and prop him against the tree there.” Edwards directed the men helping him. “He’s bleeding into his lungs and will drown if we leave him on his back.”

    Looking up at Larry he said, “We’ve got to get him to the hospital quick. North Florida Regional is closest. You’ve got the only vehicle on the street that stills runs.”

    Staring at the dying burglar Larry felt ambivalent about the necessity of taking him to the hospital in his truck, but quickly decided he could not reasonably say ‘no.’ “Alright” he said, “I’ll run him in. We’ll put him in the bed and you can tend him while we’re moving.”

    “It’s a plan.” Edwards said and went back to his patient.

    Handing the big light to Eddy the man dogtrotted up the street, rifle in hand, to the house. He unlocked the garage door, went inside and cranked the truck. He backed out into the street and turned on the headlights. He pulled up over the curb into Edward’s yard and as he did so the headlights played over his son. The boys shirt was red from the chest down on his left side and Larry’s breath caught in his throat. He slammed open the door and ran to his son. “How bad you hit, boy?!” he fairly shouted as he grabbed Eddy’s shirt and started pulling it out.

    The boy looked confused at first until he looked down at his shirt that his dad was yanking out of his jeans in the light from the truck. “Oh” he said in a wondering tone. “I forgot about that.” A roaring blackness swelled up from the ground and took him.

  20. #20
    <b>February 15, 2003 A Day of Rest</b>

    The morning sun shining through the window slowly crept down the wall and across the bed to illuminate Eddy’s sleeping face. As the minutes passed the solar brilliance could no longer be ignored and the boy awoke. His feet were cold. They were always cold it seemed when he woke. In fact, the house seemed as though it had never known a warm day. He lay there for a time wriggling his toes and drawing his legs up to his body to conserve his warmth and contemplated getting up for the day or closing the curtains and going back to sleep. Bladder pressure finally decided him in favor of rising and he slid out of the bed carefully. The bandage on the side of his left breast tended to pull when he got up and it hurt when it did.

    Sliding his feet into the fleece lined slippers his mother had given him last Christmas he tied one of his dad’s old housecoats around himself. He was wearing long johns under a sweatsuit and two pairs of socks but still felt cold. He slipped his coat over the robe and made his way out the back door to the family necessary. The thermometer on the back porch read twenty seven degrees and there was a white frost on the grass shining brightly in the sun that would soon melt it. He entered the tool shed and closed the door. He stood for a minute staring at the privy box trying to decide if he needed to empty his bowels badly enough to put his bare behind on the below freezing seat liberated from the bathroom in the house. With a sigh he decided that he did and braced himself for the cold shock he was about to encounter.

    Back inside the house he found his father cooking breakfast on the camp stove in the kitchen. “Morning, son.” he said, “How are you feeling today?”

    Warming his hands over the blue flame Eddy answered, “OK, I guess. I’m still really stiff on the left side, but I’m not feeling sick like yesterday.” The aroma of the frying ham roused his stomach and he continued, “I’m really hungry this morning. I think I can eat now.”

    “Good. Glad to hear it.” the elder Nichols said affably, “You’re on the mend then.”

    “Do you think mom knows yet?” Eddy asked in a serious tone.

    Larry hesitated a moment before answering, then said. “No. I haven’t told her yet and I probably won’t for a while longer.”

    “Do you think she’s going to be mad at me?” the boy said, a tone of worry in his voice, “When do you reckon we should tell her? I mean, she’s going to find out sooner or later.”

    With a grin his father said, “I figured I’d tell her… oh…about the time you graduate from college.”

    “She is going to be mad, isn’t she?” Real worry shone in the boy’s eyes.

    “Oh yes indeedy, son. She’s going to be angry enough to chew nails.” his father reassured him. “But she ain’t going to be mad at YOU. It’s me that she’s going to be gunning for and I’ll be lucky if she don’t snatch me baldheaded when she finds out! I ain’t in no big hurry to be telling her war stories about your first night on guard. After the family womenfolk find out about your latest adventure my behind won’t hold shucks. Time enough for that tale later on – much later on.”

    The boy grinned weakly at his father’s comic discomfort and Larry said, “You want some coffee? Just took it off the fire.”

    Eddy nodded his head and the man poured him a cup and pointed to the sugar and a small jar of powdered milk. The boy mixed his blonde and sweet then took an appreciative sip. “Boy, that’s good on a morning like this. It’s always cold in the house now it seems like.”

    “Well, with just the two of us and no electricity to run the furnace there ain’t much help for it, son. It’ll start warming up in the next couple of weeks, but we’ll probably have a couple more cold snaps before then. Come summer it’ll be hot and we’ll be wishing it was cold again.”

    “Do you think the power’s going to be off that long?” Eddy asked.

    His father shrugged his shoulders and said, “Don’t know. I hope it’ll be on by then, but no one’s saying anything just now about when it’s coming back. I suspect we’d best settle in for a long campout.”

    Changing the subject Eddy said, “I fell asleep again before you got back from the meeting at the church yesterday. How’d it go?”

    “Pretty good. Pretty good. Mike Edwards thinks we had better than three quarters of the neighborhood turn out this time. Except for a few old stiff necks he thinks that’s close to everyone that’s left.”

    “That’s left? the boy asked, “Did more people move out?”

    Nodding his head as he turned the browning meat over in the pan he said, “Yep. Sure did. I didn’t see them since I hit the sack after we got back from the hospital with you until just before the meeting, but Henry and Mike said that four different families pulled out. One family left with some folks in an old flatbed Ford, another family rode off on bicycles and two left on foot. That’s five families on our street alone so far. We’re going to canvas the neighborhood today and tomorrow and see who else may have left too since local command wants those houses identified.”

    “The local command?” the boy said quizzically.

    “Uhm hmm.” his father explained, “One of the things that happened at the meeting yesterday is that we’ve brought the whole neighborhood watch association under the State Defense Force. Your shootout with those home invaders put the wind up just about everyone and they’ve all had a ‘come to Jesus’ moment about not having it happen again. Pastor Douglas is going to mention it today at church so that word will get around to anyone who doesn’t know yet.”

    “At church? We’re going to church? When did we start doing that?”

    With a smile Larry said, “Today. There’s more to a church than praying and that’s why we’re going. If you feel up to it that is. I’ll go by myself if you want to sleep in.”

    “I reckon I’ll go. Starting to feel cooped up in here anyways. Am I going to have to wear a tie like last time?”

    The question brought a genuine chuckle of mirth from his father and he said, “No. I think we’ll pass on the suits this time. I’m afraid we wouldn’t be able to get them to the dry cleaners. Just wear something clean and presentable and that’ll do. I’ll check your bandage before you get dressed.”

    After another minute had passed he judged the ham sufficiently browned and removed it from the pan. He sprinkled in a scant spoonful of flour into the ham grease and stirred it slowly as it browned. When it had reached the desired golden hue he poured in a half-cup of black coffee and continued stirring. The browned flour began to thicken and he added water as needed to bring it to the desired consistency. When he was finished he pulled down some plates and said to Eddy, “Breakfast is ready! Fried ham, grits, and redeye gravy and coffee to wash it down with. The hot sauce is on the table. Food to stick to your ribs and put hair on your chest!.”

    The boy grinned at his father’s theatrics and fixed his plate. They soon sat to the table and began to eat their meal. “Sure am glad we’re not having to eat nothing but that food we got at the relief station.” the boy said after he swallowed a bit of ham. “I don’t think I could put enough Tabasco on it to make the tuna or canned clams they gave us go down with grits.”

    His father failed to smile at the boy’s jest. Instead he said, “There’s some doing just that right now. If they’ve got anything to eat for breakfast at all. One of the things we’re going to talk about today is the fact that Major Smallwood told me yesterday the food distribution points won’t be opening on Monday as planned because they ran out of food Saturday morning and the train they were expecting isn’t going to get here before Tuesday at the earliest. There’s been some sort of scheduling screw up and the fuel they were supposed to get to bring it down here went to the military since they’ve got the priority. He thinks we may have food riots come Monday afternoon and wants the neighborhood Defense Forces to pitch in and help keep things under control.”

    “Do you really think people will fight over food?” The boy sounded somewhat incredulous at the idea.

    “Eddy, you’ve never been hungry in your life. I mean, real hunger like you haven’t eaten in two days. When a man’s got a family to feed and nothing to feed them he’ll likely do whatever he thinks he’s got to do to keep them alive. Yeah, it may come to a fight. I sure hope not, but it may. I’m not sure if the Major’s gonna get many volunteers or not, but we’re sure gonna try. He says the longer we put it off the harder it’s going to be to come together at all.”

    “Why do we have to wait on some train, dad?” the boy asked, “Can’t the Defense Force just go and get food from the local farmers?”

    “Yeah, the county has been doing just that, Eddy.” he answered, “but this isn’t a big farming area, at least not in February it isn’t. They’ve been bringing in cattle and such that they’ve requisitioned from local farms and dairies, but it’s only a patch on what’s really needed. The local farmers haven’t been any too cooperative about it either and the Major isn’t willing to risk trying to take their goods by force. Says he figures in the long run that would do more harm than good, especially seeing as how most of his force are just volunteers like me. He and the local emergency management folks have been working out all kinds of deals for this and that to give the farmers who have cattle, pigs, chickens, feed grains and whatnot. Some are cooperating, some aren’t. Even if they all did it wouldn’t make much difference. There’s upwards of a quarter million people in Alachua county alone, never mind any of the surrounding counties. Most of the real food we eat comes from the Midwest or California, or South Florida or is imported from overseas. The largest agricultural industries around here are trees, hay and cattle. Getting regular food deliveries is vital, but from what I’m hearing it’s been one screw up after another because everything is having to be done manually. Eventually that train will get here, but we may have trouble before then.”

    An expression of concern came over the boy’s face as he asked, “Dad, if there is going to be fighting are you going to go?”

    The older man did not immediately answer, but took a sip of his coffee first. “Yes, son, I am. Another thing that came out of yesterday’s meeting is that I’m now the commanding officer of the Hickory Ridge Neighborhood Association Defense Force. Mike, Andy, and Henry hornswoggled me into it. There’s men here on this very street with military experience, but they want me to do it. I tried to get Mitchell or John to take it, but they wouldn’t. Said I had more natural talent for getting people to stand up and go forward than any military school could give someone. I tried to get Mike to do it, but he sloughed it off saying he was too old. So now I’m stuck. I’m provisionally second lieutenant Nichols now. I only agreed to do it if Mitchell would be my second. He’s got experience at this and I don’t. I think he’d be better than me, but he’s too doggone introverted to do it. He did agree to be my backup though.”

    The boy looked at him wonderingly. “That’s really neat, dad! Wait until mom finds out!”

    An ambivalent expression came over Larry’s face and he said, “We’ll see how neat it is come tomorrow or the next day if it really does come down to a fight. Some of them folks we might end up shooting at could be people we know.”

    -- -- -- --

    “Cin, are you about ready?” Barb called through the closed bathroom door, “We’ve got to be going or we’ll be late.”

    The door opened and her daughter came out tugging at her dress. “I guess so, mom. Do I really have to go? Why are we going to church anyway?”

    The mother pulled her child to her and gave her a hug. “Honey, you haven’t so much as left the yard since the night of the attack. It’ll be good for you to see some other people. There’s more to life than this house and a radio. There’s more to church than singing hymns too. It’ll do us all some good to get out of here and be sociable for a while. We’re probably going to be staying here for some time so you ought to get out and meet some other kids your age in the area.”

    The girl looked at her shoes, plainly unconvinced, but made no further protests. John came out of his room knotting his tie. When he finished he said, “Is everyone ready? Good. Let’s go see if Ben is ready to go.”

    Barb and Cindy carried a cooler between them as the family walked down the driveway and rounded the end of the fence to walk up Ben’s drive. John knocked at the door and Ben let them in, buttoning up his shirt as he came. “I’ll be ready in a shake. Y’all warm yourselves by the stove.”

    A few minutes later Ben reappeared fully attired and they left the house and piled into the old truck. It was cramped but they all were able to get in and soon they were off. John said, “We’re going to have to do something about finding more bicycles if the fuel supply doesn’t straighten itself out soon. Five miles to the church isn’t an unpleasant bike ride, but it’s more than I’d care to walk.”

    Ben spoke up to say, “Well, Buddy and Anita’s old bikes are still in the barn. Don’t reckon there’s anything much wrong with them that a good cleaning and oiling wouldn’t fix. I imagine the rubber’s probably about shot by now though so you’d need to find tires and tubes from some where. I’ll bet old Ed Stillwell will be there today. He owns the hardware store and may still have some in stock. Better ask him today though because I’ll be a lot of people will be thinking about bicycles along about now.”

    “That’s a good idea, Ben.” John said.

    It took only a few minutes to reach the church. There were quite a few bicycles to be seen as well as several horses, even one horse and buggy, along with a dozen cars – all older pre-electronic models. They exited the truck and went up to the doors where Ben introduced them to the pastor who also introduced them to others in the congregation. Many people came up to greet the newcomers and welcomed them.

    Finally the hour approached and everyone went inside. The sermon’s message was one of hope and perseverance in the face of adversity and this theme was expanded upon and amplified in the Sunday school lessons that followed. When the usual order of business finally came to a close a group of men began to move tables and chairs out into the sunshine for the dinner on the ground. Barb and Cindy went to the truck and carried the cooler up to the table. They opened it and Barb removed a large pot of beans and ham from its bath towel nest inside and Cindy took out several pans of cornbread to accompany it. When all was ready grace was spoken and the congregation began to tuck into the meal.

    John and his family joined the line leading to the tables and behind them came Ben and an older gentleman who he introduced as Ed Stillwell, owner of the hardware store in town. John put out his hand and said, “Pleased to me you Mr. Stillwell. We’ve met a time or two in your store, but we’ve never been introduced. I’m John McLeod and this is my daughter Barbara and my granddaughter Cindy.”

    “Pleased to meet you, Mr. McLeod.” the man said, “I remember you. You bought all those pipe fittings a couple of weeks ago. Did you ever get your pump installed?”

    “Yes, we did.” John answered, “Had to do it ourselves, but we got it in.”

    “Glad to hear it. Seems like a lot of other folks are digging up old hand pumps from one place or another because I’ve sold just about every pipe adapter I’ve got. Sold every foot valve too and most of the smaller widths of PVC pipe.”

    “Foot valves?” John asked, “For repairing pumps?”

    “No. For making primitive hand pumps. If the water in a well isn’t too far down you can put a foot valve at the end of a piece of pipe and jook it up and down until the pipe fills and it spills out the top. Put an elbow at the other end and maybe an adapter to screw on a garden hose and it’s ready to go. It’s a real chore to pump water that way, but it beats no water at all.”

    “Hmm, I’ve never thought of that. Must get awful heavy if your water is at any real depth though.”

    The older man nodded his head, “It does. Works best for shallow wells. I expect someone will come up with more ideas on how to get water up well pipes without electricity. I had two old pitcher pumps been kicking around in the back room for years that no one ever wanted. Sold them both the second day after the power went out. Wouldn’t surprise me if folks don’t start digging wells by hand again so they can drop a bucket into them.”

    “Water’s a problem for most everyone.” Ben added. “If you can’t get it from somewhere you’re just going to have to go where it is then. Folks are going to have to go back to the old ways of getting around too, leastwise until everyone can get their cars fixed.”

    “Speaking of getting around, Mr. Stillwell” John said seizing the opportunity, “Ben tells me you might have bicycle tires and tubes. I need some to get a couple of bikes on the road for Barb and Cindy here. Have any left in stock?”

    John and Barb both noticed the slight, but definite change in expression on Stillwell’s face. He answered, “Yes, I do. A few anyway. Come on down to the store first thing tomorrow morning and I’ll see what I can do for you. Better be there at eight sharp though because I’ve been steadily selling them and don’t have a lot left. What did you have in mind to trade for them?”

    If John was surprised at the question he managed to conceal it well. “Well, I don’t know. Anything you’re looking for in particular if you’re not dealing in cash anymore?”

    Shaking his head negatively Stillwell confirmed his suspicion, “No, not dealing in cash. At least not for the time being. Between you and me I have no idea what a dollar is worth now and I suspect most others don’t either. I have no idea when I’ll be able to get more stock in to replace what’s going out the door so I’m doing barter only now. At least I’ll get something in return that I can maybe trade later. I’m pretty open on what I trade for, but canned goods, ammunition, and fuel move quick so I usually give a better deal for them than some other things.”

    Nodding his head John said, “Very good, Mr. Stillwell. I’ll see you at eight o’clock sharp tomorrow morning.”

    They had reached the serving tables by this point and John and his family went down one side while Ben and Ed went down the other. Soon everyone had fixed their plate and were searching for seats at the tables. As they began to eat Cindy asked her mom in a low voice “Isn’t the idea that everyone brings food to one of these things? There’s a lot more people here than brought food from what I can see.”

    “Yes, hon. That is the idea.” her mom answered, “You may see some people sitting down that didn’t contribute, but it is not going to be noticed. A dinner on the ground is about fellowship. And just now there are probably people here who don’t have any food to share. The attack caught a lot of people unprepared. It’s nearly two weeks now since the lights went out and some people are probably running out of food to eat. This meal may be all they get today.”

    Cindy looked down, ashamed, and said, “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said anything.”

    Barb put her hand on her daughter’s knee and said, “It’s OK. There’s no need to be embarrassed, but let’s not embarrass anyone else either.”

    The tables began to fill and soon the Nichols were surrounded by other diners. “Did you hear about Mae Roswell?” a woman in front of Barb said to another sitting next to her.

    “No. What about her?” the other replied.

    “Will McCormick told me this morning before services that Julian Nash, her next door neighbor, found her dead in her house. Said he thought at first someone had killed her, but the sheriff says he thinks she shot herself.”

    “Shot herself!” the woman said, shocked, “Whatever for?”

    “Well, you know she was suffering from depression. She’s been taking Prozac for over a year now. Ever since her kids moved down to Orlando. Not that I can blame them the way she was forever trying to run their lives for them. After the doctor put her on the Prozac they bought her a computer and they pay for her Internet service and it really did seem to help since she could do things with it at home. I guess with no electricity and no way to get around she just went deeper and deeper until she couldn’t cope anymore.”

    “But where on Earth did she get a gun from?” the woman’s companion asked, “Mae wasn’t the type to fool with guns!”

    The first woman said, “Sheriff figures it probably belonged to George, her husband. You remember he died about seven years ago come next month. Heart attack as I recall. He used to run that little country store up 129 before they widened the road. Sheriff thinks it was the gun he used to keep in the store. Said it didn’t look like it had been handled in a long time.”

    “What is this world coming to?”

    “I don’t know, Sarah, but between you and me I won’t be surprised if we don’t see more of it in the next couple of months if things don’t come back together. A lot of people’s medications are going to start running out before too long and the food situation being what it is. Some people are just going to give up and die.”

    At this point the first woman looked down and said, “Well, for heaven’s sake, I forgot to get a fork. I’ll be back in a minute.” She got up and started walking in the direction of the serving tables.

    A man and a woman next to Cindy were talking about the news and the woman asked, “Al, did you hear anymore about the Russians landing in Canada? Have they reached the border yet?”

    “No.” her husband replied, “Just what Dennis told me yesterday. Said he’d heard they’d taken Halifax and were unloading troopships. Said they’d told the Canadians they were bringing relief supplies, but were really an invasion force. He figures they’ll be attacking Boston by the end of the week.”

    Cindy’s ears pricked up at this and she said, “There aren’t any Russian troops in Halifax. They really are unloading relief supplies. They sent some to New York too. The European Union has ships coming too but they haven’t arrived yet.”

    The woman next to her turned and looked at her for the first time. “Honey,” she asked, “How do you know these things?”

    “I have a shortwave receiver” Cindy answered, “I listen to the news every night. Radio Canada is back on the air now and they’ve been talking about the aid shipments starting to arrive. They’re having a lot of trouble moving stuff though because everything is still so screwed up from the attack and all.”

    “Do you mean they’re not really invading Canada and the United States?” the woman asked then turned to look pointedly at her husband.

    Cindy laughed and said, “No, ma’am. The Russians have these great big cargo planes called Annasomethings and they’re flying in relief aid. The Air Force escorted them in. They said that right in the news story about them coming. There’s supposed to be ships coming to Jacksonville and Savannah too, but they didn’t say when they would get here.”

    A man sitting across the table from the pair spoke up and said, “Well, aren’t you something! You say you have a shortwave receiver?”

    “Yes, she does.” John joined the conversation. “I gave them to all my grandkids last Christmas, but Cindy here has really taken off with it. She listens every night and gets up before dawn every morning to use it. She’s been keeping us up with what’s going on all over the world.”

    Across the table and one place down from John another girl spoke up looking at Cindy, “I’ve got a shortwave receiver too, but I haven’t listened to it in a while. Would you be willing to share the station frequencies and times with me that you’re using?”

    Surprised and delighted at finding another girl with a common interest Cindy said, “Sure!”

    The two girls began to share their thoughts about the ins and outs of shortwave listening, but the news starved adults around them wanted to know what was going on in the world.

    “Honey, how are we doing in Korea?” An elderly man several places away asked, “I’ve got a grandson over there in the Army and haven’t heard anything about what’s going on.”

    Another women from down the table asked, “Is it true the Chinese have landed in Mexico and are invading through Texas?”

    A man from the row of tables behind them came over and asked, “I’ve heard the President ordered all Koreans on the West Coast to be interned like they did the Japanese. My son married a Korean girl and they live in Carmel. Do you know anything about this?”

    Soon the girl was overwhelmed so John stood and said, “Easy folks! Let’s let Cindy finish her meal, I’m sure she’ll be happy to relate the news when we’re done. Give her some peace until then.”

    Disappointed, everyone returned to their food. Cindy found she could barely eat hers. “Wow, mom!” she said, “Did you see the way everyone reacted?”

    Her mother smiled and said, “Well hon, there hasn’t been much news of any kind since the attack and people are really feeling in the dark. You may not realize it but you gave them a bit of light to see by. Now eat up, you’re going to be very popular when the meal’s done.”

    Gradually everyone finished their food. When Cindy finished the pastor came and asked if she’d like to relate the news she’d heard. The thought of standing and talking in front of so many people made her want to shy away, but between her own excitement and her mother’s and grandfather’s promptings she allowed herself to be led away. Many people asked her questions and she shot down many rumors that had circulated around the community. Finally her mother stepped in and said, “I think that’s enough for today. She’s only twelve and not used to this. Let’s give her a rest.”

    Disappointed, but accepting her mother’s will the crowd began to fade. All but the girl who had spoken earlier. She approached Cindy and said, “That was quite an audience. You’re as popular as the Beatles!”

    Cindy blushed and said, “It’s not really me, just my radio. I guess I sort of took it for granted how cut off a lot of people are since the attack.”

    “You can say that again,” the girl agreed, “I’ve got a stack of CD’s and DVD’s three feet high and the latest Playstation and can’t do anything with them because there’s no power! Until you started talking I’d forgotten about my shortwave receiver. My uncle gave it to my brother a couple of years ago, but he thought it was boring so I got it. I kinda listened to it for a while, but it’s so staticky I got bored with it too. Now that there isn’t any TV or Internet or anything maybe I should pull it out again.”

    “That would be great!” Cindy said excitedly, “We could get together and share stations and times and stuff. Do you live near here?”

    “Yeah.” The girl pointed up the road in the direction of Cindy’s grandfather’s house, “I live about six miles up the road off a dirt road a piece. We rode bicycles to get to church this morning, but I’m not sure if we’ll come next Sunday or not. Dad was pretty unhappy about the ride.”

    Cindy stared for a moment up the highway they had driven down to reach the church building her resolve. “Well,” she said, “maybe if you’re not too far away from my grandpa’s house we could walk or ride bikes back and forth. Let’s go talk to my grandpa and see if he can figure out how far away you live from us.”

    The two girls ran over to the tables where John, Ben, and Barb were talking with others and put their problem to John. After talking to the girl for a moment he said, “Cin, I don’t think Marla here lives more than a mile or so away on the other side of us. I don’t think it would be any problem for you and her to see each other.”

    Their excitement levels rose and the two girls walked off chattering a mile a minute about their common interests and what Cindy had found on the airwaves. John rejoined the conversation he’d been in previously and after a time the pastor joined as well. When the conversation lulled the pastor turned to John and said, “Mr. McLeod, I wonder if I could speak with you for a moment? If you’d be willing there’s a neighbor of yours who lives not far from you I believe that perhaps you could extend a little Christian charity to. Or I should say, if you and her mother is willing perhaps your granddaughter could. I’ve been at a loss these last several months about this, but now I realize your family coming here today may have been Heaven sent.”

    Nodding his head John said, “I think we’d be willing to help a neighbor if we can. Why don’t you tell me about him…”

  21. #21
    <b>February 16, 2004..........The Call of Duty</b>

    Although he had just made it the coffee in Larry’s cup tasted acidic and sour. He considered putting some powdered milk in to mellow the flavor but poured it out instead. “Too keyed up this morning for coffee anyways.” He refilled the mug with water and sat down to the breakfast table with Eddy.

    “What time is the distribution center supposed to open, dad?” the boy asked.

    “Nine o’clock.” Larry answered, “We’re going to get there a little early so we can give the place a once over. The Major doesn’t think anything will happen early on. He figures it’ll take a while for the mood to build if anything’s going to happen today. I’m hoping it doesn’t. I don’t like this. Not at all, but I’m hanged if I can thing of anything else to do.”

    Spooning oatmeal into his dad’s bowl he continued, “How many men are going with you?”

    “Ten of us. The rest of the neighborhood force will stay put. Just ten of us are going to the distribution center. The center manager there is supposed to have a radio and he’ll be able to call the Ops Center if it looks like we need help. I don’t want to really try to force the issue right now. We’ve all only been working together for a few days and some only for one day. More than a few families here in the neighborhood going hungry themselves. Maybe if we get a little experience under our belts we can get more men, but for right now I only took the ones who volunteered.”

    Eddy stared into his bowl, not eating, then asked, “Do you have to go, dad? I mean, it’s not really your responsibility is it?”

    His father said nothing for a time, but ate his oatmeal which soothed his stomach. At last he answered, “I think I do, son. I’m not really sure if I know how to explain this, but there comes a time in every man’s life he’s just got to do what he thinks is right. Even if it is dangerous. That other night with them drug dealers, that really wasn’t like this. I went out there because I thought there might have been a threat to the neighborhood – to us as a family – and when that fella drove the car at me I reacted without even thinking because it had come down to him or me and I wanted it to be him. But this is different. I wish this attack had never happened, but it did. I wish so many folks weren’t going hungry, but they are. Sooner or later if things don’t get better all Hell is going to break loose. There’s no one here to try to stop it but the police, a bare handful of National Guard and us. If we can’t keep it together we’re going to end up looking like them places we see on the news like Sarajevo, or Baghdad – except that it’s going to be right here.”

    Larry reached out and put his arm on his boy’s shoulder. “But don’t you worry about your dad. I don’t intend for us to get into gunfights. We’re just going to be there as a show of force in case any hotheads want to run their mouths. It’ll be OK, you’ll see.”

    The boy did not really look convinced, but he didn’t pursue the matter anymore. Instead he looked at the clock on the wall and said, “It’s eight. News is coming on.”

    Glancing at his watch Larry said, “So it is.” and reached over to the radio on the bar and turned it on. For a few seconds there was only dead air then the hourly broadcast came on.

    <i>“Good morning. This is the 8:00 o’clock broadcast of WGNV, 1240AM, from Gainesville, Fl. Weather today is expected to be partly cloudy this morning building to cloudy by this evening with a 30% chance of rain in the early morning hours. High temperatures today are expected to reach seventy degrees. For tomorrow expect cloudy skies and a 70% chance of rain with high temperatures expected to reach only sixty and falling after this latest front passes tomorrow evening. The present temperature is fifty five degrees.

    In local news there will be another meeting of the Alachua county division of the State Defense Force at the O’Connell center at the University of Florida this afternoon at two p.m. for all able bodied men and women between the ages of seventeen and forty five who are interested. Local companies are forming across the city and county with open positions still to be filled.

    A statement has been released by the Gainesville Regional Utilities that they expect to have partial function of the city water treatment plant by the end of this week. They advise that water service will be limited to selected hours and days on a rotating basis for the various areas served by the municipal water system. No word yet has been given as to when the municipal sewer system will come back online or when either of the city’s two power generation plants will resume production.

    The Alachua County Sheriff’s Office reports the arrest of six men last night at the Tower Road Publix Shopping Center as they attempted to loot the food relief distribution center located there. Two more suspects were killed in a gun battle between the onsite security officers, the suspects, and sheriff’s deputies. County Emergency Management officials indicate that security at the distribution centers will be increased. The Sheriff’s Office wishes to remind the public that all distribution centers are under curfew from the hours of 5 p.m. to 9 a.m. Monday through Saturday and all day on Sunday. Anyone caught trespassing during these hours is subject to arrest and detention.

    State Emergency Management officials in Tallahassee today report the first shiploads of relief supplies from the European Union are expected to dock in Jacksonville, Miami, and Tampa possibly as early as Thursday of this week. They caution that these supplies are not sufficient to meet the needs of the entire state and that shortages of food, fuel, and medicines will continue for the foreseeable future until the damaged American industrial and transportation infrastructure can be repaired.

    Other state news includes a story from the Orlando area of wide spread rioting in the Pinecastle area of South Orange Blossom Trail when expected relief shipments failed to materialize last Saturday. The outbreak of violent disorder still has not been brought fully under control but State Defense Force and Emergency Management officials indicate it has been contained within a five mile square area and is expected to be brought under control by tomorrow evening at the latest. Current casualty figures are nine known dead, forty eight injured which included two slain law enforcement and Defense Force personnel. Injuries among the Defense Force and various area law enforcement personnel is not available at this time.

    In Collier County residents of Islamorada in the Florida Keys report a raid on homes and businesses on the island by unknown persons who came ashore in three boats. Four residents were injured, one seriously. It is believed two of the suspects were also injured, perhaps seriously when they attempted to break into a home that was defended by the owner. Mr. Harry Maxwell of Islamorada reports shooting two of the suspects as they came through his kitchen door after breaking it open with an axe. Collier County sheriff’s deputies report finding large amounts of blood on Mr. Waxwell’s kitchen floor trailing off in the direction of where the boats landed, but no bodies or wounded individuals were found. Local law enforcement authorities fear that more incidents of modern day piracy may happen in the near future and are requesting residents of the chain of islands to organize into units of the State Defense Force to better assist local law enforcement.

    In the Miami area Dade County health department officials have confirmed two cases of cholera in the MetroDade area and have requested all Dade county residents to boil or otherwise sanitize their drinking and cooking water to limit the spread of this water borne disease. Officials indicate they believe the disease is contained to just one neighborhood of recent immigrants to the United States and have no reason to believe at this time it has spread to other areas.

    In national news rioting has been suppressed overnight in Philadelphia and New York City by the use of Federal troops which were temporarily reassigned from preparing for overseas deployment to local duty. Homeland Defense Secretary Tom Ridge stated last night in a Washington press briefing that suspension of Habeas Corpus will continue in the affected metropolitan areas for the duration of the national emergency. Legislation has been introduced in the House of Representatives mandating involuntary conscription of all able bodied persons for military service who are picked up during riot suppression. A companion bill is expected to be introduced in the Senate. President Bush has given no indication as of yet as to whether he will sign such a bill.

    U.S. Navy Pacific Fleet officials in Hawaii today report that anti-submarine forces operating out of Hawaii fired upon and possibly sank a submarine in the late evening hours of yesterday after it entered the sea lanes approaching the islands and refused to identify itself. No further details are available at this time.

    In Korea, Allied forces continue to progress against the invading North Korean forces with advance units now within fifty miles of the South Korean capitol of Seoul. Allied forces have achieved air superiority over the entire Korean peninsula. An agreement has been reached with Russian Federation military commanders to warn each other of any combat flights to be flown by both forces within fifty miles of their respective fronts. Pentagon spokespersons continue to deny that any Russian air craft have been shot by Allied forces.

    In Northern Iraq, Turkish forces are continuing their advance on the Northern Iraqi city of Zakho in their continuing effort to eliminate cross-border raids into Turkey by Kurdish rebels. High level talks between the Turkish Foreign ministry, European Union officials and the U.S. State Department are ongoing to resolve the situation. Both Turkish and U.S. military command officials have emphasized strict orders have been issued to their respective troops not to fire on each other. U.S. Central Command officials in Qatar report strengthening U.S. military patrols in Northern Iraq in an effort to stem the Kurdish cross-border raids into Turkey.

    In an early morning vote in the British House of Commons in London Prime Minster Tony Blair won a no-confidence vote by a comfortable majority. Call ups of British military reserves are ongoing. France has indicated it will be sending an air craft carrier to Korean waters today.

    This has been WGNV 1240AM broadcasting from Gainesville, FL. We will have more news, bulletins, and updates at the top of the hour.</i>

    There was clear air for a few seconds then static as the signal faded. Reaching out once more Larry turned the radio off.

    “Well. If we can just hold it together for a little longer I think maybe we’ll get through this.” He ate the last spoonful of oats and drained his mug then slid his chair back from the table, “When I was your age your grandmother used to tell me ‘sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.’ I didn’t appreciate it at the time, but she was a wise woman. Now it’s time for me to get my gear together. Stay close to the house, son. I’ll see you this afternoon.”

    He tousled the boy’s hair and Eddy said, “Good luck, dad.” then Larry went to his room and gathered his gear and was gone.

    -- -- -- --

    Larry met up with his men at the creek bridge that separated the residential areas from the commercial district on 34th st. He had his rifle slung over his shoulder and was wearing a dark tan vest with the words “State Defense Force” on the front and back. He had more over one arm and began to hand them out. “Best they could do for right now” he said, “But we’ll stand out and maybe look less like a bunch of vigilantes.”

    “Yeah, and make us better targets too.” one of the men said with black humor. After everyone had put their vests on Larry spoke up, “OK, all we’re going to do today is keep the peace down to the distribution center when they announce they’re not opening today. There’ll probably be a few hotheads who want to run their mouths, but that’s OK. Let’m holler if they want to, even if they holler at us. Just keep your heads up and your eyes open in case there’s any problems. I think most folks will just go on home and that’ll be that. Once the crowd fades we’ll leave it to the distribution security people and come on home ourselves. Everyone got their weapons and their ammo?” He looked around and one by one each of the men nodded their heads.

    “OK” Larry continued, “No one’s got a round in their chamber right?” Once again he looked at each man who opened the bolts of their respective rifles to show empty chambers and carefully closed them again making sure they stayed that way. The sixth man pulled the bolt back on an AK47 copy and a round of ammunition clattered out and tinkled on the pavement. Silence fell thickly on the group.

    “Uhmm, Billy, you wanna pick that round up and this time make sure it STAYS in the magazine?” Larry said, eyeing the man pointedly.

    Face red Billy quickly bent down and snatched up the offending ammunition and jammed it in his pocket. “I’m.. I’m sorry about that, Larry. I forgot.”

    “That’s why we check these things, Billy. OK, that’s everyone, but me.” Larry pulled the bolt back on his SKS and showed his empty chamber to the group then using his thumb to push down on the ammunition in the magazine so that the closing bolt would not strip loose and chamber a round he closed the weapon. “Alright, everyone make sure your safety is on and don’t anyone go chambering a round unless I say so or we get shot at. For damn sure, don’t anyone actually SHOOT at anyone unless I say so or they’re shooting at you. Everyone got that?”

    The men all nodded their heads affirmatively and Larry said, “OK. Let’s go get this over with. That damn train had better get here is all I can say.”

    Walking down the street they crossed the intersection and soon arrived in front of the distribution center. A crowd of twenty five or thirty people were already gathered outside. Larry’s stomach knotted tighter.

    They approached the store and the security guard opened the door to let them in. It was cool and dark inside, but for the light of a Coleman lantern shining at the customer service counter. Larry went to it and found the center manager, a middle aged male with pattern baldness and thin framed glass. Putting his hand out Larry said, “I’m Lieutenant Nichols, Defense Force. Are you the manager?”

    The man put his hand out and they shook. “Yes, I’m Robert Foote. I’m responsible for this facility. How many men did you bring with you?”

    “Including myself, I’ve got ten.” Larry replied.

    “Just ten?” the man said, clearly disappointed, “Well, I suppose it will have to do. I really hope there isn’t going to be trouble today.”

    “I hope so too, Mr. Foote.” Looking around the darkened store he continued, “Can you show me around? I want to get a feel for the place before we have to go outside.”

    “Very well. Come with me.” the man picked up the lantern, “There’s really very little left other than the store fixtures. Everything edible has been distributed already.”

    Foote spent ten minutes showing Larry the layout of the store. He’d shopped there before so the Defense Force lieutenant was already familiar with the front, but the back of the store was new to him. He also saw that Foote was telling the truth, there did not appear to be anything edible remaining in the building. When he was satisfied they returned to the front of the store.

    “OK then.” the lieutenant said, “It’s nine o’clock. Let’s go and get this over with.”

    The security man unlocked the door again and everyone filed out. Foote was plainly nervous and agitated, but he stepped forward to the edge of the sidewalk on the edge of the driveway in front of the store.

    Stumbling at first he announced in a loud, clear voice, “Uhmm, I’m… I’m sorry, but the distribution center will NOT be opening today. We issued all of our remaining food stocks Saturday morning and we have not yet received any new food shipments. I… we hope that a new shipment will arrive perhaps by tomorrow afternoon, but until then the distribution center is closed. Water distribution will continue as usual. Thank you for your patience.”

    Slowly scanning the crowd Larry could see it had grown while they were inside and now numbered nearly fifty people. He watched the emotional evolution on the gathered faces from incomprehension to shock to mixtures of resignation or anger.

    After a span of seconds that seemed like minutes to the nervous Defense Force leader a man shouted out, anger in his voice. “I waited in line all Saturday morning and you ran out of food! You told me there’d be more food today! My wife and kids are living on crackers! We need food! What the Hell are you people going to do about it?!”

    Another voice, plaintive in its anguish “But, you HAVE to have food! What are we supposed to do? My little girl is hungry!”

    A swelling cacophony of angry and disappointed voices washed over them and Larry’s stomach gave a bad acid squirt. Behind him he heard Billy cough nervously and Larry prayed devoutly the boy would not funk it.

    “I’m sorry, people!” Foote shouted pleadingly, “I can’t do anything about it! There was only so much food in Gainesville and it’s GONE now! We have been PROMISED that a train load of relief supplies is on its way, but it is going to take TIME! I’m HOPING it will arrive by tomorrow afternoon, but there is NOTHING I can do about this! We’re just volunteers here, not supermen.”

    “You’re lying!” an angry middle aged man with a flat top and tattoos on both arms said, “I saw pallets of food in that store when we were here on Wednesday! Come across with it, buddy!”

    A woman came forward holding a little boy of perhaps three years. He was cotton headed and blue eyed and sniffling back tears. “Please!” she said earnestly, “We ran out of food this morning! There is NOTHING left in our house to eat! I have to feed my son!”

    Like pressure rising in a tea kettle the gathered voices began to grow - “Open the doors!” “Let us have the food!” The voices grew more strident, “Liar! Open the doors!” “That’s OUR food!” “I paid good money in taxes! Where’s the goddamned government when we need them?! Why isn’t the Red Cross helping us?!” Slowly the crowd began to advance towards Foote on the edge of the sidewalk and he shrank back towards the Defense Force men behind him.

    Larry knew they were on the verge of losing control and must act. He stepped forward to clear the building overhang while snatching the bolt back on his rifle then fired a single shot into the air. BLAM!!!

    The sound of the shot echoed from the storefront and bounced off the shopping center across the street to echo down University Ave. The crowd froze and for a few seconds the only sounds to be heard were the men behind him hastily chambering rounds into their weapons.

    Before anyone could speak Larry spoke loudly and deliberately. “Folks, there is NOTHING here for you! I’ve been inside and there is nothing in there that can be eaten! I am SORRY but there’s nothing he or any of us can do about it. Go home and when new supplies come in it will be announced.”

    “You’re lying!” the tattooed man said.

    Larry turned his head to look at the man and for a time they locked eyes, silence passing between them. Finally the lieutenant said, “Alright, mister. If you think I’m lying I’ll prove it to you. Come here and you and I’ll go in the store and you can see for yourself.”

    The man looked around for a moment, then stepped forward. Many others came with him.

    “Hold it!” Larry said, putting his hand in the air, “I didn’t say all of you.” Looking around he pointed to the woman with the little boy, and then at an elderly man in a pea coat. “OK, you ma’am, and you, sir, come with him. You’re going to be the inspection team. I’ll take you three inside and show you there’s nothing inside and you can come out and tell everyone else. Will that satisfy everyone?”

    Many people looked around, hoping for direction, still others wouldn’t meet anyone’s eyes. “Alright then.” Larry said with a tone of finality, “That’s what we’ll do. If you folks will follow me, Mr. Foote and I will allow you to inspect the store. The rest of you good folks will wait out here until we get back.” Without waiting he turned and walked towards the door and the security guard opened it for them. Foote and the impromptu delegation followed.

    He allowed them to take their time and showed no hesitation at allowing them to see any part of the store they wanted to see. After fifteen minutes even the tattooed man looked resigned. They walked back to the front of the store and before they reached the door Larry turned to face them. “I’m sorry. I really am.” then they were through and outside. The waiting crowd had grown, but they could tell by the resigned set of the shoulders of the inspectors that there was nothing inside. Many turned and walked away without speaking. Others went to the water trailers and had their containers filled. Slowly, steadily the crowd melted away.

    Watching them drift away Larry saw the woman with the little boy turn to go and he stepped down from the sidewalk, reaching into his pocket. “Ma’am” he said, and she turned to face him. He pulled his hand out of his pocket and removed two sandwiches and a pack of raisins. Handing them to her he said, “I’ve got children too. Most of us do. We’re just regular folks like the rest of you. Take this and feed your boy here.”

    The woman looked at the sandwiches and fruit in his hand, pride striving with necessity then finally reached to take it from him. “Thank you.” she said, “Thank you. His name is Benjamin.” She tucked the food inside of her coat and walked way.

    The Defense Force stayed until noon. By then the word had gotten around and the only people who came to the distribution center were carrying water containers. Larry found Foote inside the store. “I think that’s that. Emergency Management is supposed to have extra guards coming down tonight. We’ll be back tomorrow about noon.”

    “Thank you, Lieutenant Nichols.” Foote said, offering his hand. “You did a good job defusing the situation this morning. I’ll be sure that Major Smallwood hears about it.”

    Larry walked out of the store and collected his men. The sky was becoming thick with cloud and there was a feeling of dampness to the air. They walked up the street and back to their homes.

    Eddy saw his father walking up the drive and opened the door for him. “Any trouble?” he asked.

    “No.” the man replied. “No trouble at all. Just a lot of disappointed people.”

    “But that train had better get here soon.”

  22. #22
    <b>February 17, 2004..........Conflict</b>

    The rain was coming down in wind ripped sheets. Standing inside the darkened store front Larry watched the gray precipitation wash across the largely empty parking lot and splash off of the few cars that had been abandoned there after the attack. Idly he noted that two already had flat tires and wondered if they’d gone down by themselves or if they’d been vandalized. Over the last week he’d come to believe there were those who would destroy just about anything for no other reason than the sheer joy of the act of destruction. A faint rumble of thunder entered the building and seemed to echo through the darkened empty supermarket. The twelve other men of the Defense Force detachment that he commanded stood along the walkway in front of the store just underneath the overhang. In front of them a crowd that he estimated to contain more than one hundred fifty people stood waiting in the rain, saying nothing, but looking expectantly at the store. Many watched with hope, some with anger, and the rest with resignation.

    Behind him coming from the Customer Service area he could hear the distribution center manager talking to the county Emergency Operations Center over a radio. “…oming or not? It’s raining to put out the fires of Hell out there and there are still more than a hundred fifty people waiting out front with more coming all the time. They want an answer and they’re not going to wait forever to get it. What the Hell do you expect me to tell them? Over.”

    He let go of the mike key and for a moment there was dead air, then responding to his entreaties the County EOC director came back. “Robert, I don’t know what to tell you. The train isn’t here yet and I don’t know when it will be. The last report I have of it’s still somewhere in Western Alabama on a siding because it got bumped by military traffic. I’ve been hearing hints the Army is stripping everything it’s got that will move or shoot from every base in the country and putting it on trains to move it out and stomping all over everyone else’s traffic. The State Director has lodged all kinds of complaints but no one is listening. I don’t think it’s going to get here today and I fear it won’t be here by tomorrow either. There’s nothing we can do about it. Over.”

    The center manager dropped the microphone onto the counter in resignation and looked at Larry. “Lieutenant Nichols, do you have any suggestions?” he asked.

    Popping a couple of Tums into his mouth the man said nothing for a moment as he chewed. While he was doing so he saw another group of a half-dozen or so people coming across the parking lot. Finally he said, “You got anything in this building that’s irreplaceable?”

    Foote looked confused for a moment then said, “Well, just the radio and the laptop computers. They’ve got all of our data. Everything else is really just paperwork and clipboards. Why?”

    Nodding his head in decision the Defense Force lieutenant said, “Good. Then here is what you do. There’s a stack of them plastic tubs with lids in the back the store uses to ship small dry goods in. Get some plastic bags and a roll of tape and wrap the computers in them and tape them up good. Find something to pad them with and pack them into a tub. Wrap the radio too so it won’t get wet, but leave it out in case we need to use it.”

    Foote came around the Customer Service counter and walked over to where the lieutenant was standing. “That sounds like you’re planning on pulling out!” he said indignantly, “You’re supposed to defend the center!”

    Turning his head to look the man in the face Larry replied, “Look out there. There’s more than fifteen times the number of people than I’ve got men here to defend this place with. In another few minutes we’re going to have to go out there and tell them folks there’s still no food and we don’t know when there will be any. I heard what the EOC manager told you. Those people are going to be angry, very angry and this time we might not be able to keep them under control. I want you to get your stuff packed and get it out the back door into that raggedy old car they’ve given you and get away from here as fast as you can do it.”

    “But that’s running!” the man protested, face turning red. “We can’t just abandon the center! What if they wreck the place?! Your men have guns! If they try to attack the center then fire some warning shots and scare them away like you did yesterday!”

    Larry stepped forward until their faces were less than a foot apart. “You listen to me, mister.” he said in a low, even tone that made Foote’s skin prickle. “Look out that window and LOOK at the faces of those people! I did not scare them off yesterday. I demonstrated to them there was nothing here for them and gave them hope there would be something here for them TODAY! Now, I not only have to tell them there’s STILL nothing here for them, but I don’t know when there will be! Maybe they’ll go home, but maybe they’ll just decide to take out their anger on us and this building. Don’t you think at least a few of them folks are armed? I don’t know where you’re from, Foote, but in the South a LOT of people own guns! They are desperate and a lot of them are angry. A lot more of them are going to be angry when we have to tell them we’ve got nothing for them.”

    Foote swallowed as he pointed his chin up. “Very well, I’ll call the EOC and request more men. We can stall them off long enough for them to arrive. The State Defense Force has been suppressing riots all over the state. If necessary we’ll do it here too.”

    A feeling of great calm came over Larry as he reached out and grabbed Foote by the front of his collar and pulled the man to him. “Look out that window, mister.” The manager continued to stare at him and he repeated himself, “I said look out that window!” The cold in the lieutenant’s voice compelled him to do as he’d been told and he looked out of the window.

    “You see that man there in the red jacket near to the front?” He nodded his head in the direction he was looking.

    “Uhm, yes… Yes, I do.” Foote said, trying to keep his voice steady.

    “Good. I don’t know that man’s name, Mr. Foote, but I do know he’s the father of one of the girls in my daughter’s class at school.” Nodding his head towards the other side of the crowd he continued, “You see that fella there in the blue jean jacket and grease stained pants with the umbrella?”

    Nodding his head the center manager acknowledged that he did.

    “Good. That man’s name is Pete. I buy parts from him at the scrapyard for the truck I’m rebuilding for my son. He’s got pictures of his wife and two daughters on the wall over the cash register.” Nodding his head again in a new direction, “And that man and woman over there in the orange and blue ponchos? She works in my wife’s office. She brought a damn fine chocolate cake to the office Christmas party last year.”

    The angry lieutenant let go of the man’s shirt and Foote stepped back, breathing deeply as Larry continued, “Do you suggest that I send for more men so maybe I can shoot and kill those people if they decide they’re angry enough to attack this God forsaken empty store that’s got nothing in it worth a damn to anyone?!”

    “Uh…uhmm… No, Lieutenant Nichols, I’m not suggesting that at all!” the frightened manager said, “What do you suggest we do then?”

    “I suggest you do just what I told you already. Get your stuff packed and get the Hell out of here. When you’re gone I’m going to go out there and tell them folks the news and pray to God they’ll go home. But if they don’t I’m am NOT going to order my men to fire at them.” He stopped for a moment and took a deep, calming breath. “Mr. Foote, one day this… emergency… is going to pass and we’re all going to be able to go back to whatever it was that we used to do before the war or find some new way to make a living if we can’t. We all live here and the memory of what happened during these days is not going to go away. It may be that in spite of anything that I, or you, or the EOC, or the governor can do those folks and a lot more like them may go on a rampage and it’ll come down to killing. Maybe. But I’m not in a big hurry to pull the trigger. I’ve already killed one man and my son has killed a man as well. By the Grace of God I pray they will be the last. If them folks out there decide they want to tear this useless building apart then I’m going to let them do it. It’s not worth the lives of my men and it’s not worth their lives either. Maybe they’ll be satisfied with that. People’s homes and lives I will defend, but I’m not killing anyone for this useless building. Now get your stuff packed and get out of here. Leave the radio on the counter, I may need it.”

    “Very well, Lieutenant Nichols. I will do as you say.” Foote’s voice began to firm, “But you can rest assured I will give Major Smallwood a complete report.”

    “That’s fine, Mr. Foote.” the lieutenant reassured him, “That’s fine. You tell him what you think you need to tell him. But for right now get your stuff and get out of here. Those folks aren’t going to wait forever.”

    The center manager retreated to the back of the store and soon reappeared with a plastic packing crate. Hastily stuffing the precious computers into bags he placed them in the tub and padded them with more wadded bags. Picking it up he disappeared into the gloom and did not return. Larry stood waiting for a few minutes longer then collected the radio, wrapped it in a plastic bag and went to the front door. The security guard unlocked it for him and as he went through Larry told him, “Just lock it behind you and come with us.” Nodding his head the man did so.

    Walking over to Mitchell the lieutenant explained what they were going to do. The man nodded his head saying quietly. “Good. Nothing here worth killing anyone over and sure as Hell not worth getting killed for.” Nodding his head in agreement Larry continued, “OK, if it looks like it’s going to get rough Mitchell I want you to take over tactical command. This is more your baliwick than mine. Keep the men together and get us out of here however you can.” Mitchell turned and went to collect the other men.

    The crowd came forward in expectation and Larry turned to face them. Breathing deep and slow he spoke loudly.

    “Folks, I’ve been in contact with the County Emergency Operations Director over the radio. He has informed me the relief train we have been expecting has been sidelined somewhere in Alabama due to military traffic and it is not known at this time when it will arrive. We’re hoping it will be here by tomorrow. Relief supplies ARE COMING but it is taking time and just now they have not arrived. I’m sorry. Now everyone please go home and it will be announced when the supplies get here.”

    Like the day before Larry observed the emotional evolution of his words in the faces of the crowd. Hope faded and died and some did indeed turn and begin to walk away, but others grew angry.

    “You promised us there would be food today!” the man with the tattoos on his arm from the day before shouted. “I have NOTHING left in my house for my family to eat!” The man walked forward, fists clenched.

    “I’m sorry mister. I have no control over this and nothing I can do will make that food get here any sooner than it’s going to.” Larry spoke, in a firm, but gentle tone trying not to further enrage the man.

    “Sorry don’t feed my crying children you son of a bitch!” the angry man screamed, spittle beginning to fly from his lips. A murmur arose from the gathered people and quickly began to escalate in intensity.“FOOD! That man promised us food! Where is it!” “We’re hungry!” “We have a right to aid from the government!” The crowd began to move closer and following Mitchell’s lead Larry began to edge to the left so as not to be trapped against the store foyer. More people began to shout and to hurl profanity at the Defense Force. Steadily moving back and to the side they retreated from the store front. “Liar!” “Where’s the food!” “Give us the food!” “They’re lying! Look in the store!” “It’s in the store!” “The bastards are holding out on us!”

    Finally having move backwards enough that he no longer was in line with the doors the crowd had to decide whether to follow the Defense Force men or move towards the store. A rock came out of no where and struck Larry solidly on the left shoulder and he staggered backwards. Looking over his shoulder he saw Billy unslinging his rifle and the lieutenant forcefully motioned for him to stop. Catching the motion out of the corner of his eye Mitchell spoke to the boy and he checked himself then slowly reslung his rifle. Still walking backwards so as to face the angry, moving mass of people Larry dodged another rock.

    A third stone grazed his side and then there was the sound of shattering glass. With an almost animal roar the crowd surged towards the building and more shattering was heard. The enraged, pulsing mob began to disappear into the store and when more than half had vanished around the corner of the foyer Larry turned and began to walk away. Mitchell led the group of men around the far corner of the shopping center to get them out of the line of sight. Larry was ten feet from the corner when a bullet spanged off the pavement and buried itself in the building façade several feet to his right. With an act of will he forced himself not to run, but walked as he had been. Another round spanged off the pavement as he rounded the corner.

    Rejoining his men Mitchell said, “We’ll cross over University here behind the building then get behind the liquor store and follow the creek bank until we get to the bridge. I’m betting once they’ve taken their anger out on the grocery store they’ll go on home. This rain is cold, the temperature’s dropping and the wind’s picking up again. They won’t stay out long in this for nothing. We’ll post some men on the bridge where they’ll be able to see both intersections on 34th st and we’ll have an idea if we need to call for reinforcements.”

    Nodding his head Larry said, “Sounds like a plan.” They crossed the road and disappeared behind the liquor store that had been looted days before. The creek was high from the day long rain and everyone hoped they wouldn’t have any trouble making the bridge. As they rounded a bend in the stream they caught sight of the bridge and saw six men wearing the khaki Defense Force vests standing there. In minutes they joined them.

    “Damn, Larry!” Andy said, pumping his hand, “Good to see you! We could hear that crowd from here. When we didn’t hear any shots we were hoping you all had run for it.”

    With a grin the lieutenant said, “Well, it was more like we walked for it, but it got a mite tense for a few minutes. There were better than a hundred in that crowd and I decided an empty grocery store with nothing worth defending in it was worth killing folks. They’ll probably trash the store then go home. I hope."

    Turning and looking at the group he began to detail men to move up and down their side of the creek bank to vantage points where they’d be able to tell if the mob was moving towards any residential areas. “Don’t get yourself into a fight. Just fire three quick shots in the air and start running. We’ll be moving men towards you when we hear your shots. Small groups and individuals are OK. It’s only a mob we need to worry about.”

    The force began to deploy and Larry hunkered down under a thick tree and extended the antenna on the radio, shielding the instrument as best he could with his poncho. “Nichols to the EOC. Nichols to the EOC. Over.”

    A moment later and the EOC radio op came back. “We read you Lieutenant Nichols. What is your situation. Over.”

    “Put Major Smallwood on the horn. Over.”

    “Hold one, lieutenant. Over”

    A moment later a new voice came on. “This is Wes Levy, County Emergency Management Director. Smallwood is not available. Go ahead Lieutenant.”

    “This is Nichols. We’ve evacuated the building. I’ve sent off Foote with the computers in his vehicle and have withdrawn my men across Hogtown creek. I let the crowd have the grocery store. There’s nothing in there worth killing a lot of people for or getting my men killed. I suggest you get observers on West University this side of the University, and on Second Ave and on 34th st this side of the 34th St. graffiti wall. Over.”

    There was silence for a moment then Levy came back. “Are they ransacking the building? Over.”

    Larry keyed the mike again, “Sounded like it when we left, but there’s practically nothing in there but the store fixtures. We’re hoping they’ll take their anger out on the grocery store and go home. It’s raining buckets out here and the temperature’s dropping. They’ll cool off and come back to their senses. Y’all damn sure better get some relief supplies coming in here because when this cold front passes they’ll probably be back on the streets again. Over.”

    “Well, I was hoping to retain the building.” Levy said as he came back again, “But I suppose we can use the health center across the street if it’s too damaged. OK, Lieutenant, we copy the situation and GPD is moving officers to observe the area. Have you got observers out on your side of the commercial area? Over.”

    “That’s a fact. I’ve got them all up and down our side of the creek. It’s pretty high from the rain so if the mob moves towards the residential areas they’ll have to cross on one of the bridges. I think we can hold them there, but those apartments on the south side of Second Ave behind that health and fitness place are still exposed. Over.”

    “I copy, Lieutenant. We’ve got another area Defense Force moving that way to cover the south side. Continue to observe and report. Major Smallwood is tied up on Main Street with another riot like yours. There’s been shots fired there and initial reports suggest at least several people have been hit. Try to contain the situation in your area to the commercial district and maybe it will wash out like you say. Over.”

    “I copy, EOC. Nichols out.”

    There was dead air for a few seconds then Larry picked up the radio. Looking around he saw the house on the northwest side of the bridge had a good vantage point so he said to Mitchell, “Let’s use their carport as our base. We can see the bridge from there.”

    The two of them, the center security man, and the two remaining men moved over to the carport. Knocking on the door no one answered so Mitchell went from window to window looking in. Finally he came back to the carport and said, “I think these people have pulled out. Looks like no one is living here now.”

    “Well, that simplifies things.” Larry said with a nod of his head. Taking off his dripping poncho he hung it on a hook outside the utility room door and set the radio on a bench along the wall. There were several lawn chairs folded under the bench and he pulled them out and handed them around. Sitting down in his where he could see the bridge he said, “Gentlemen, make yourself comfortable. Could be a long day.”
    Last edited by A.T.Hagan; 04-04-2003 at 08:25 AM.

  23. #23
    <b>February 18, 2004..........Getting By</b>

    The cold woke Larry up. It was chilly in the bedroom and he felt cold even with three blankets on the bed. He reached over to the nightstand, picked up his watch, pushed the illumination button and read the time - 6:32 a.m. He set the watch down and lay back on his pillow considering whether to try to go back to sleep or just get up for the day. Faintly, as if from a distance he could hear Miss Annie’s dog, Clyde, barking. Even fainter the sound of a truck could be heard, muffler on its last legs. Finally he decided he would not be able to go back to sleep and slid out of the bed. He pulled on a pair of nylon dress socks then a pair of wool socks over them, long underwear, heavy flannel shirt and last, his blue jeans. He pulled on his boots and went into the kitchen to get the pot on the stove for the morning’s coffee.

    The heat rising from the camping stove felt good. He lit a candle lamp and began setting about making breakfast. He really wanted eggs, but they’d eaten the last of theirs days before. He craved a grapefruit as well, but who knew when those would be seen again. Finally he put on water for oatmeal and decided to slice and fry some Spam to go with it. If he sliced it carefully there’d be enough for their breakfast and a sandwich apiece for lunch. He’d never taken such care with eating before, but since the riot of the previous day at the food distribution center he’d become very sensitive to the subject. He’d been exhausted when he finally got home in the late afternoon, but in spite of his fatigue he and Eddy had fully inventoried the remaining food in the house and had started working up meal plans for how it would be used. So long as food remained in short supply he was determined to make the most efficient use of what they had.

    He was taking the coffee off the heat to put the pan of Spam on when Eddy came into the kitchen, similarly attired to his dad and yawning. “Good morning, son. How are you feeling today?”

    “Mornin’, dad,” the boy answered him. “Not bad. But my side itches really bad. Do you think maybe it’s getting infected?”

    Nodding his head Larry said, “Probably just a sign that it’s starting to heal, but I’ll take a look at it after breakfast. The doc said it was a clean hole and would probably heal up OK if we kept it clean.”

    “Do you think you’re going to have to take the Defense Force out again today?” Eddy tried to keep his tone light, but his dad could tell the idea worried him.

    The older man looked out the kitchen window into the back yard just now coming into plain view as the newly risen sun shed its light upon it. The grass, fence, and bushes were white with frost. “Could be, son. Looks pretty cold out there to me though. Maybe folks will stay home at least until the afternoon when it should warm up a bit. Maybe that train will be here by then.”

    He poured the boy some coffee and set it on the counter for him. Slowly stirring the now simmering water he began to pour the oatmeal into the pot. Eddy measured Tang into two glasses, poured them full of water then mixed. When all was ready they sat to the table and ate their breakfast. Both avoided discussion of the riot the day before and instead concentrated on how to maximize the heat in the house. It was decided that Eddy would sleep with his dad in the master bedroom so they could keep the door closed and retain more warmth. They’d also hang blankets to cover the open entrance ways into the hall, kitchen and dining room so that the living room would stay warmer.

    When breakfast was finished Larry examined his son’s wound and pronounced it clear of any signs of infection. Eddy looked relieved

    When he applied the last strip of tape Larry said, “I’m going to take the truck up to the Emergency Operations Center and see about when we can expect some relief. I’ll leave the radio here. If any real trouble starts you call the EOC. Someone will find me and I’ll come running.”

    “OK, dad.” Eddy said, “I’ll start hanging the sheets to cover the doorways. When I get done with that can I go over to Pete’s? I’m feeling cooped up in here.”

    “As soon as I get back, that’ll be fine.”

    Larry put his hat on, went to the garage, opened the door and backed the truck out. It felt almost strange to be driving again. He crossed over the creek bridge and went through the commercial area. There was trash scattered across the parking lot, the windshields of the abandoned cars had been smashed and one burned. The doors of the stores were broken and shattered, but not the big windows. Turning east onto University Ave he began moving towards the center of town. Although the sun was shining brightly the air was below freezing still and very few people were to be seen. When he reached the University itself he could see little change there from the street other than perhaps a lot of trash scattered, but no worse than after a big football game. The business’s opposite the University were another matter. Several of the stores there had their windows smashed and all had broken doors. Trash lined the sidewalks. One man lay in a doorway and for a moment Larry thought him dead until he turned over and an empty liquor bottle rolled onto the sidewalk. “Dead drunk is more like it.” he said to himself, “Lucky he didn’t freeze to death.”

    Continuing towards the downtown area he realized there were no cars remaining in the middle of the street and wondered who had pushed them out of the way?. Crossing through the big University Ave and 13th St intersection he saw the gas station there on the corner had burned, but he didn’t know when. More trash all over. Many of the stores still had their windows intact, but all had their doors broken except for the Seagle Building where he saw a man in a rumpled uniform holding a shotgun. Further down the street the telephone company building seemed intact and there were many vehicles in its parking lot. Several people could be seen walking in and out and he took that as a hopeful sign. The drugstore a couple of blocks further down however had been looted and debris littered the sidewalk and street in front.

    Finally he reached the area of the courthouse, city and county offices and came to a roadblock. A Gainesville police officer walked up to the truck. “Good morning. You have business downtown?”

    Picking up his SDF vest he showed it to the officer and said, “I’m Lieutenant Larry Nichols, State Defense Force, Hickory Ridge Neighborhood. I’m on my way to the EOC to see Major Smallwood.”

    “Hold one. “ the GPD officer said keying a radio and speaking into it. A moment later he waved Larry through. “Go on to the EOC, Lieutenant. They’re expecting you.”

    He turned south onto Main Street then onto Second Ave to park. Looking down the street he could see a part of the burned Union Street Station. It had been completely gutted and two cars lay incinerated alongside. Stepping out of the truck he saw armed men standing sentry at several points and one came to greet him. “You Lieutenant Nichols?”

    “That I am.” Larry said, “I’m here to see Major Smallwood. He in the EOC or where?”

    “He’s down there.” The man assured him, “Come with me and I’ll take you down.”

    They walked through the small, non-descript but heavy steel door and down a flight of stairs to below ground level. There was no light in the hall so when the outer door closed his guide flicked on a small penlight for them to see by. At the bottom of the stairway they went through another heavy steel door and were in the EOC itself. Threading their way through a confused mass of desks, boxes, personnel, radios, computers, and wiring they headed towards the back of the center.

    “How come the Pulse didn’t take all this out?” Larry asked his guide.

    “The EMP did take a lot of it out.” The man explained, “The newer stuff. The older stuff was all Cold War installation and built against it. The rest has all either been repaired or replaced. What we could replace anyway. The radio situation is just about driving our comm. techs out of their minds.”

    As they approached the rear wall Larry began to make out the Major’s voice from the background noise “…it all? How much did that idiot have in there? Hell yes I want to hold him? On what? I don’t know! How about felonious stupidity? Just hold him!” Dropping the microphone onto his desk the man rubbed his stubbled cheeks with his hands then noticed Larry and his guide approaching.

    “Good morning, Lieutenant” he said tiredly, “Welcome to Bedlam.”

    “Morning Major.” Larry said putting out his hand. He realized he probably should be saluting, but wasn’t precisely sure how it was done. The Major did not seem to notice and they shook hands.

    Looking at the man who’d brought the lieutenant in Smallwood said, “Steve, would you have someone bring us some coffee? Thanks.”

    The other man left and Smallwood turned to Larry and said, “Now, what can I do for you this fine chilly morning?”

    “I’m hoping you’ve got some good news for me, Major.” the Lieutenant explained. “We got lucky yesterday with that storm front coming through, but I figure by this afternoon it’ll have warmed up pretty good and folks are going to be in the streets again.”

    “We have had some luck in that regard, Larry. The State Director bent the Governor’s ear yesterday afternoon and laid it out for him what is going to happen in this state if we don’t get some food in here. I’ve only got this third and fourth hand, but I’m told the Governor sent a message in the clear addressed to the President that if those relief trains didn’t start moving soon he’d order the recall of all Florida National Guard troops that he could locate to defend the State. My contacts at Blanding and Stewart intimated that quite a few other State Governors are saying much the same thing. I don’t know how much of that is true, but I do know that three trains destined for Florida started moving last night. The one that’s supposed to drop part of its load here in Alachua county ought to be coming around the Big Bend as we speak. With luck it’ll be here by midafternoon.”

    “Well, I’m damn glad to hear it!” Larry said grinning. “It’s about time those Washington idiots started getting it together!” His grin faded away to barren starkness though as he continued. “I can’t tell you how much yesterday put the wind up everyone in the neighborhood. They’ll keep themselves together if any trouble stays confined to the commercial area, but there’s a lot of frightened and angry folks out there and more by the day. If it comes down to shooting it’s going to get ugly quick. Especially when some of my men don’t have any more food than the ones they might end up shooting at! We’re not a disciplined military force here, just a bunch of homeowners and family men with something to protect. If push really comes down to a hard shove I’m not sure how many of them will stand their ground and how many will cut and run.”

    Underwood sighed then said, “I know, Larry, I know. It’s that way all over the state. Even in the groups that have a lot of men with prior military service many of them have never actually seen combat before. That’s why we’ve been beating the bushes for men like you who’ll stand up and go forward when there’s trouble. If you do, then chances are most of your men will too. I hate that it’s this way. Who could have known we’d be spread so thin for troops when something like this happened? If trouble starts to heat up again we’ll just have to do as best we can. Keep them from crossing to your side of the creek and the other associations will do the same for their sides.”

    The lieutenant did not find this to be reassuring, but he knew there was little else the major could say. Shaking his head he stood to go.

    The major, however, raised his hand and said, “Wait. Since you’re here I’ve got something for you.” Before he could continue a man came in with two mugs of coffee and set them down on the desk. “Thanks, Harry.” the major said and the man nodded his head and walked out.

    “What have you got?” Larry asked, picking up one of the mugs.

    “The comm. techs have been steadily repairing what radios they can.” Smallwood explained, “We’re at the point now that we can begin to distribute them to key points. I’ve got three GMRS radios for your area that we got from a local business. If you’ll canvas around you may find some FRS radios in your neighborhood. These radios will pick up and transmit on those frequencies as well. You’ll be able to communicate and coordinate with your men which could be a big help.”

    “Proud to hear it.” Larry said, “Even just three radios will be a big help if I have to put men along the creek.”

    “They’ve already been set aside for you. Stop by the Comm Room on the way out and pick them up. That’s not all though.”

    “Oh?” the lieutenant said, “What else have you got?”

    “Trouble, I’m afraid. Last night looters got into one of the downtown clubs. You know the one with the jungle theme? Apparently the idiot that owns the club had a storeroom full of liquor that he didn’t report like he was supposed to. The looters got it all. I don’t know if there’s going to be trouble because of it or not, but if there is I may need to call on you for assistance.”

    With a disgusted sigh Larry said, “Well, ain’t that special.”

    -- -- -- --

    The garage door came down with a bang and Larry locked it with the key. Walking around the outside he entered through the front door. “Eddy! I’m home!” he said loudly as the door swung open.

    His son came into the foyer with a hammer in one hand and a nail in the other. “Hi dad. I’m about done with the sheets.”

    Walking into the living room the father examined his son’s handiwork. “Not bad, Eddy.”

    “I reckon it’ll do.” the boy said, “We’ll have to spackle and repaint the nail holes when the power comes back, but I couldn’t think of anything else to do.”

    “A little spackling and paint is a small price to pay for warmth. Good job, son.” Larry put his hand out for the hammer. “I’ll finish up here if you like. Didn’t you say you wanted to go to Pete’s?”

    “Thanks, dad.” Eddy said grinning. “It’s kinda boring in here with no radio or TV.” He disappeared into his room and came back a moment later.

    “I want you home well before dark, son.” his father admonished. “If I’m not here when you get back I may be over to the fellowship hall. If I’m not there you just wait for me here.”

    “Yes, sir.” the boy said then disappeared out the front door.

    The elder Nichols finished nailing up the last sheet and put away the hammer and nails. The light was shining in brightly through the window and he stood for a time soaking up its radiant heat Finally, he decided to go out and distribute the radios he’d brought back with him. Stepping out of the door with the bag he was carrying them in he locked the door, then started down the sidewalk.

    As he passed Miss Annie’s house he heard Clyde barking. He wondered at this as he’d been barking when he woke up too and it wasn’t like him to bark all day. Turning from his path he went to her front door and knocked loudly. Clyde’s barking redoubled in intensity but no one came to the door. He rapped again, still more loudly. No one came. Finally deciding no one was going to answer he went to Mike Edwards house and knocked. Edwards came to the door in a thick robe. He was red eyed and red nostriled and looked ill.

    With a frown of concern Larry said, “Mike, you look like death warmed over. What’s wrong?”

    Edwards gave a sour chuckle, “Damn cold, I guess. It gets chilly in the house at night and I think I’ve caught a cold because of it. I’ve been coughing and hacking all day.”

    Shaking his head ruefully Larry said, “Sorry to hear that, Mike. But I reckon if it’s just a cold it’ll pass in a few days. But look here, I was just over to Miss Annie’s house and she’s not answering her door. Clyde’s barking his fool head off and he was when I woke up this morning too. Has he been doing that all day? I’d ask Eddy, but he’s gone off to a friend’s house.”

    Edwards turned to stare at his neighbor’s house like he’d never really looked at it before. “You know?” he said with a quizzical tone, “I think he has. I’ve been so self-centered with this cold it never came through to me, but I think Clyde has been barking all morning. That’s not like him. It’s not like Annie to let him do it either. You say she won’t answer her door?”

    “No, not when I tried just now.” Larry affirmed, “You reckon she may be sick or something? I don’t think I’ve seen her leave her yard but once to go to the fellowship hall since the attack. The way Clyde’s acting she may be inside there, in trouble.”

    With a firm nod of his head Edwards agreed, “You’re right. Let me get some real clothes on and we’ll go over and investigate. The last time I can remember seeing her was yesterday afternoon when she came out to ask why all the men with guns were going down the street.”

    Mike went back inside and reappeared a few minutes later dressed to be outdoors. Crossing the yard they banged on the front door again, but with still no result. The dog continued to bark incessantly. Edwards went around one side of the house trying to see in windows while Larry took the other side. They met at the back door and both reported no results. “Well, with the cold and all she’d naturally close her curtains” Edwards said. “I think we’re going to have to break in.”

    “I reckon you’re right, Mike” Larry agreed. He opened the screen door and without further discussion slammed his booted foot into the door next to the knob.

    The door stoutly resisted and Larry cursed. “Damn! That hurt! This ain’t as easy as the movies make it out to be.”

    Planting himself more firmly he kicked the door again and a splintering sound was heard. Once more and the wood around the lock shattered and the door swung inwards. Larry stood for a moment carefully flexing his battered ankle as Mike stepped inwards to be met by the manic dog. A moment later Larry followed. Seconds later they found Miss Annie unconscious on the kitchen floor.

    “Sweet Jesus!” Larry exclaimed, “How long you reckon she’s been laying here?”

    Mike carefully examined the elderly woman and determined that she was still alive, though her breathing was shallow and her heart beat faint. “I don’t know for sure, Larry.” He said, “But I think since last night. She’s chilled and in shock. She’s also still wearing the dress I saw her wearing yesterday.”

    Finishing his examination Edwards said, “I think we’re going to have to get her to the hospital. I’m fairly certain she’s broken her hip, maybe when she fell. We’re going to have to use something for a stretcher and carry her out of here.”

    Staring first at the unconscious form on the floor then at the two doorways they’d come through to find her Larry said, “Gonna have to be something that’s narrow enough to get through those doors. Let me look around in here real quick for something.”

    “Sounds like a plan.” Edwards agreed, “Get a blanket or a sheet to cover her with while you’re at it.”

    Ducking into the next room Larry immediately spotted an ironing board and grabbed it. “Better’n nothing.” he said to himself and quickly went into a bedroom and stripped a blanket off the bed. He went back into the kitchen where Mike looked at the ironing board then said, “That’ll do. Good thinking.”

    The two men carefully slid the woman over onto the board then covered her with several layers of folded blanket. Mike secured her onto the makeshift stretcher as best he could and pronounced her ready to move. They quickly discovered that even for a person as small and light as Miss Annie a limp body on an ironing board made for an awkward load. With difficulty they got her outside and moving towards Larry’s house. Clyde followed them out the door. When they reached the Nichols driveway they set the board down. “Wait here with her.” Larry said then went to open the garage. He disappeared into the house and quickly returned to start the truck and back it out. Loading their patient into the bed, Mike climbed in with her. As Larry slid behind the wheel for the drive to the hospital he said, “I’ve got to stop at the fellowship hall real quick and drop off a radio. I don’t want to be out of touch if there’s going to be trouble at the food distribution center.”

    “Make it fast, Larry.” Edwards said, “I don’t like the way she’s breathing.”

    -- -- -- --

    With little traffic on the roads and no traffic lights they made fast time reaching the hospital. The grounds around the buildings were neat and free of litter, the first area such they had seen for over a mile. Pulling up outside of the emergency room they were greeted by a sheriff’s deputy. Mike said, “We’ve got an elderly woman here who I think fell and broke her hip sometime last evening. She’s been laying unconscious on her floor all night and is in shock. We need to get her stabilized right away.”

    The deputy looked down onto the pale, shrunken form of the unconscious woman and said, “I’ll get a team out.” and went back inside. A minute later two men in rumpled scrub suits came out with a gurney and took over. With a practiced efficiency they quickly had her on the gurney and rolled it into the emergency room. Mike went inside to give what information he could while Larry moved the truck away from the ER doors.

    After parking, he went back inside and found Mike explaining the situation to the triage nurse. “…met her nephew last year when he came to visit. He gave me his contact information in case of an emergency. I’ll have to bring it from the house. He lives down in Lakeland somewhere. He’s been trying to talk her into moving into a home, but she was afraid of losing her independence.” The triage nurse dutifully recorded the pertinent details and was soon finished.

    Mike stood up and went back to the waiting area. Larry asked, “Any reason to hang around?”

    Edwards looked back towards the treatment room they’d taken Miss Annie into and shrugged. “I guess not. She’s in good hands now and there’s nothing more we can do for her. She may not wake up for hours.” He started to say more, thought better of it and fell silent. They walked out the doors and to the truck.

    As they rolled down the driveway Larry crossed the road into the mall parking lot. Mike asked, “Going someplace in particular?”

    “No. Not really.” Larry said, “Just wondering if the mall’s been looted like the other places have been. He drove slowly around the outside, never closely approaching the building and saw only two windows that had been broken and were boarded up. As they passed the food court entrance he saw why – a man on the roof with a rifle. Nodding his head in that direction he said to Mike, “If there’s one, there’s probably more that we don’t see. I noticed an armed guard at the Seagle Building too.”

    Pulling out onto the main road the radio he’d taken from the distribution manager crackled to life. “EOC to Lieutenant Nichols. EOC to Lieutenant Nichols. Do you copy? Over.”

    His eyebrows rose as he reached for the microphone. “This is Nichols, EOC. Over.”

    Smallwood’s voice came out of the speaker to say. “Lieutenant, the Fairy Godmother just smacked us with her wand! The train has arrived and they’re offloading now. Can you get your force together and get down to the food distribution center right away? We need to secure the building and get things squared away so it’ll be ready to use when the trucks pull in.”

    Wide smiles split the faces of the two men in the truck. Larry keyed the mike and said, “Yes, sir. I reckon we can be there right away. I’ll get my men together and head out as soon as we can. This is the happiest I’ve ever been about a train!”

    Smallwood’s laugh came back at them and he said, “Me too, Lieutenant. Me too. Out.”

    Putting the microphone down Larry picked up the other radio and keyed it. “Mitch, this is Larry. You there?”

    For a moment nothing happened then a staticky but recognizable voice came back. “I’m here, Lieutenant. We got a problem? Over.”

    “Only of the good sort, Mitch. The train has finally come in. Can you start getting the force together so we can move down to the distribution center? Smallwood wants us to secure the area and clean it up so it’ll be ready to go by the time the trucks get there. Over.”

    “I copy, Lieutenant.” A tone of relief plain in Mitch’s voice. “I’ll get the force together right now. A lot of them are here at the fellowship hall now anyways.” A chuckle was heard, “I’ll remind them to bring their rifles. Right now everyone’s grabbing empty boxes!”

    Minutes later Larry pulled into his driveway. “I want to leave a note for Eddy so he won’t worry.” he explained. “You gonna go down with us?”

    Edwards sneezed then shook his head. “No, it’s going to be a mob scene down there for hours – a good mob scene, I hope, but a mob scene nonetheless. I’ll wait it out. Besides, I want to repair the damage we did to Annie’s door.”

    With a laugh Larry asked, “Who’s gonna repair the damage to Mr. Larry’s foot?!”

    Mike smiled as he got out. “Better your foot than mine, Larry! If I’d kicked that door they’d have to put me in the bed next to Annie!”

    The lieutenant quickly jotted a note and trotted inside to leave it on the front of the refrigerator where the family left such things and grabbed up his rifle and gear. Back outside he jumped into the truck and moved down to the fellowship hall. His men were waiting outside.

    “Hop in, boys!” He said, “We’ll go in style today.”

    With four men jammed into the cab and eight more in the back the truck handled sluggishly, but they soon made their way to the forlorn supermarket. A half dozen people were standing outside in the sun, apparently waiting. When the truck stopped and the men began to jump out one of them yelled, “Hey! Any word yet when that train’s going to get here?”

    Larry looked at Mitch who shrugged his shoulders. The lieutenant scratched his chin then said, “They’re gonna figure it out for themselves when they see us cleaning the place up. Might as well them, I guess.”

    The man who had asked walked up and Larry said, “Just got word the train’s here in Gainesville right now. We’re going to clean the place up and get it squared away for when the trucks get here. Probably gonna be another several hours though.”

    A grin split the man’s face from ear to ear. “Hell! We’ve been waiting out here all day for nothing. We can wait that long for something!” He turned and ran off. News began to spread like wildfire and soon Larry had to station eight of his men outside to keep people from coming in while the rest of them made things orderly. A group of men from another neighborhood association arrived shortly afterwards and said they’d been told to report to Larry. He detailed them to keeping the steadily growing crowd orderly.

    In an hour they had restored the building as best they could and Larry figured there wasn’t much more they could do to make the place more usable until the trucks arrived. The crowd had grown to more than two hundred people and more were arriving by the minute. Addressing the radio the lieutenant called the EOC. “Nichols to the EOC. We’ve secured the Westgate Distribution Center and have squared it away for use. Any ETA on when the trucks will arrive? We’ve got a couple of hundred people out here and getting bigger by the minute. Over.”

    The radio crackled and the EOC manager’s voice came back. “Lieutenant Nichols, this is Wes Levy. The first trucks are pulling out now and should arrive your location within a half hour. Start getting the people ready. Tell them this is going to be a very basic foods issue and only a limited amount. We’re expecting another shipment tomorrow or maybe the day after to flesh this one out. Over.”

    “I copy, EOC. Nichols out.”

    Larry put the microphone down and went outside to tell the crowd. The burble of sound markedly increased after his news.

    Thirty five minutes later three flatbed trucks pulled in behind the store to the loading docks. People began to crowd around, but Larry had anticipated this and detailed ten men to keep the area clear. “Go to the front!” they repeated over and over. “Go to the front! No one gets anything unless they go in the front door!”

    At the front of the building Larry disposed his remaining dozen men in setting up lines of people and keeping them orderly. The distribution staff arranged themselves and began to set up as pallets of bags and boxes were brought forward from the back. Robert Foote, the distribution center manager found Larry. For a moment there was an awkward silence between the two men until finally Foote put out his hand to Larry, who accepted it. “Good to see you again, Lieutenant Nichols. I’m glad that you and your men were able to get away unscathed. You’ve done a good job of getting the center ready for use again.”

    In spite of himself a smile crept across the lieutenant’s face. “Well, nothing like anticipation of being fed to get men moving, Mr. Foote. I hope your folks are ready for a day’s work. From the looks of that crowd outside they’re certainly going to be busy.”

    “Oh, they’re ready, Lieutenant Nichols. No one was happier to see that train come in than us.” He laughed, a trifle nervously, “Having a potential lynch mob measure one for a necktie party is very unsettling.”

    The manager turned and walked away to oversee his people and Larry went out the front door to see how the crowd was behaving. A line of people stretched away from the area in front of the doors far out into the parking lot reaching the edge and turning back towards the building again with more coming to join the line.

    Walking the length of the line Larry studied the faces he found there. Most were hopeful with only a few that looked angry. He began to feel the day might pass without incident. Ahead of him some small distance he saw a black man and woman with laundry baskets under their arms. He paid them no particular mind as another black man and woman walked up and joined them. From near the end of the line where it folded back towards the building a young white man in faded blue jeans and worn chambray shirt shouted “Hey, nigger! The line starts back here! No cutting ahead in the line!”

    The sound of conversation died and it seemed to Larry that time slowed. The black man who had walked up to the line turned towards the man who had shouted at him and said, “Who are you calling a nigger?” Pointing towards the woman who had been standing in the line he continued, “That’s my wife, asshole!” and then pointing to the woman who had accompanied him he shouted, “And that’s my sister! That’s her husband standing there next to my wife, ****head!”

    The lieutenant was already moving towards the altercation, but before he could reach them the young man jumped the man he’d accused of cutting in the line and they began trading punches. The man’s brother in law came to his aid and two men who had been with the young man entered the fray as well. Larry turned to call for backup and saw Mitch and six of his men running towards him. He turned back just in time to see a knife cut the young man across the chest and his shirt began to turn scarlet. “Shit!” he swore, swinging the rifle from his shoulder pointing the muzzle upwards. BLAM! BLAM!

    The sound of the rifle shots shattered the fight like glass and the area fell silent once more. Larry brought his rifle to bear on the man with the knife in his hand, “Drop it mister! Or I’ll blow your goddamned head off!” The rest of his men arrived, rifles pointed at the fighting men. All five stood still, the wounded man clutching his chest trying to staunch his bleeding. The rest slowly raised their hands into the air, wide eyed at the rifles that pointed at them with earnest intent. The knife clattered to the ground.

    Looking around Larry said, “Billy, didn’t you tell me you had first responder training?”

    Swallowing visibly, the young man said, “Yes, sir. I did.”

    “Good. You take care of the one who got cut and let me know if we’re going to have to run him down to the hospital.” Pointing at the other four men he said, “You four get over there to that car and keep your hands where we can see them.”

    The men started to do as they’d been told when the two black women began to shout at the Defense Force men. Larry motioned them to join their husbands which they did then everyone moved towards the abandoned car he had motioned at. When they arrived Larry detailed three of the men to search them while he and Mitch covered. The two women objected but quieted when the rifles came up. The searches found three pocketknives and a butcher knife in a crude cardboard sheath.

    Looking at the remaining two white men the lieutenant asked, “Your wives or somebody here with you?”

    One of the men said, “We’re not married.”

    Looking at Billy he asked, “How bad is he? We gonna have to take him in or can he move under his own power?”

    The young man said, “He ain’t gonna die, Lieutenant, but he ought to see a doctor. I think if his buddies help him out he could probably get there by himself.”

    Nodding his head he looked at the remaining two white men he said, “I ought to run the lot of you into jail, but I don’t have the men to spare. So here’s what I’m gonna do. You two take a hike and get your buddy to the hospital. You can come back tomorrow, but if I see you today you WILL go to jail. Got that?”

    The younger of the two men looked at the other then said, “Yes, sir. We understand.”

    “Then get!.” Without further word the two men left.

    Larry turned to the two black men, specifically looking at the man who had wielded the knife. “Mister, the only reason you’re not going to jail right this moment is that there were three of them and two of you. This is what I’m going to do. You two get the hell away from this distribution center. If I ever see you here again I’ll put you under arrest on the spot.” Looking at the other man, “You can come back tomorrow, but like I told them other three if I see you back today you’re going to jail. Your wives there can draw your issue, but you two are out of here.”

    The man who had shouted back at the young white man began to swear at Larry, making profane gestures for emphasis. The second man was just opening his mouth to join him when a rifle butt caught his buddy in the kidneys and he fell to his knees with a grunt.

    “Mister.” the lieutenant spoke in a soft tone of finality, “This isn’t a debate. You can walk away right now or go to jail. You wanna get mouthy you can go to jail in damaged condition. I don’t want to hear another word from you. Now get away from here.”

    The man looked up at him, one hand clutching at his back sucking in his breath. He nodded as he slowly rose to his feet. “C’mon Jimmy, let’s get out of here” he said to his brother-in-law. Without looking back they walked to the edge of the parking lot and crossed the street. Turning to look at the two women Larry said, “You to want to get in line or are you gonna leave too?”

    One of them nodded her head and they turned back to the line, taking places at the very end. When he turned to look back on the gathered people the lieutenant saw the entire line staring back at him. Slinging his rifle he walked nearer then stopped.

    “Listen to me!” he shouted. “I will NOT tolerate fighting! Anyone who wants to scrap can leave now or go to jail! Any more crap like we just had here and everyone involved will be kicked out! Everyone is going to get their chance to go inside and get their food! I’m here to keep the peace and keep this place running smoothly. Anyone got a problem with that had better speak up now or get the Hell away!”

    Several men in the line looked as if they might speak up and dispute his words, but none did and gradually the crowd turned or averted their eyes. No one contested the lieutenant’s mastery.

    Walking over to where Mitch stood he said quietly, “And thank God for that! Sixty or seventy black people in this line and that idiot had to start yelling ‘nigger’! I wonder if that’s how that scrap over to Main Street happened the other day?”

    Mitch said softly, “You did OK, Larry. You jumped on it hard and right away and got it under control before it could spread. If we keep moving fast and keep things under control we’ll do OK.”

    “Shit, I hope so.” Larry said earnestly. “Like we ain’t got enough trouble as it is without that.” The two men began to walk the line which was slowly moving forward and the burble of conversation rose to its former level. More people arrived on foot, by bicycle, and a few in cars. Nodding his head at an old Cadillac that pulled up he said to Mitch, “Won’t see much more of that I don’t think. Gas is getting shorter by the day.”

    With a chuckle Mitch said, “IF you have anything to burn gas in, Lieutenant. You wanna buy my pickup? Got a beautiful 2002 GMC that I’ll sell you cheap.”

    The two men laughed at the joke and kept walking. Another flatbed truck arrived and disappeared behind the store. Nodding his head at it Larry said, “Looks like we got by this time, Mitch.”

    “But for how long?” the other man replied.

    Neither could answer that question and they wondered if there was anyone who could.

  24. #24
    <b>February 19, 2004..........That Old Time Religion</b>

    Cindy came in with her buckets of water in hand and set them down next to the kitchen sink. “Grandpa, Pastor Arquette is here. You won’t believe what he’s driving!”

    John turned and looked quizzically at his granddaughter. “He’s driving? I seem to remember he said he drove an Olds 98?”

    The girl grinned at her elder and pointed out the door. He stood from the table and went to the entrance to look through the window. “Be damned!” he said with a laugh, “No, I wouldn’t have believed it. Barb, come look at this!”

    His daughter stood up as well and moved to the doorway. She chuckled herself. “But he said he lives in town. I wonder where he got the horse and buggy from?”

    The family went outside to greet the man of the cloth as he set the handbrake of the doctor’s buggy he was driving. “Good morning, Norm!” John called out to him, “That’s some rig you’ve got there!”

    The pastor grinned then said, “Isn’t it though! Never thought I’d ever come calling in one of these but here I am!”

    Cindy began to stroke the horse’s nose as the driver climbed down. Barb asked, “Pastor Arquette, I thought you said you lived in town? How are you keeping a horse?”

    The man smiled as he explained, “Oh, this rig doesn’t belong to me. It’s the one you saw last Sunday at the church. It belongs to one of the church members who has graciously allowed me to borrow it to call on parishioners who live outside of easy walking distance. I can tell you even with Jud Nelson sitting next to me I was a lot more nervous learning to drive this buggy than I was learning to drive my daddy’s car when I was a boy!”

    “Pastor Arquette,” Cindy asked, “why are you dressed up like that? Is that a Colonel Sanders tie?”

    The man in the buggy seat chuckled then said, “Well, Cindy, it’s like this. I have an old photo of my granddaddy from when he was a young man newly come to the calling. In that picture he’s sitting in a buggy much like this one wearing a coat and tie, a string tie just like what I’m wearing now. When Jud offered to loan me his buggy my wife Martha thought of that photo and made me this tie from some black silk ribbon. I do have to admit I look like a slightly older version of my grandfather now. My wife was so tickled she took pictures of me to put in our photo album next to my grandfather’s picture.”

    “Well sir,” John said, “you do look like something out of a history book, that’s for sure. Of course, with no power and very few cars we’re all living like we’re in a history book so you look quite natural. Would you care to come inside and have a drink of water before we go over?”

    “Thank you John,” the man replied, “I do believe I would. I probably ought to water the horse as well.”

    Before anyone could ask her Cindy went to the pump and filled a bucket for the horse while the adults went inside. Once she had watered the animal she went in to fetch her bag then went outside again to watch the horse and examine the buggy. After a short time the adults came back outside and her grandfather said, “Cindy, you ready to go?”

    “Yes, sir.”

    “OK then. Let’s take a carriage ride!”

    The pastor climbed into the horse drawn conveyance followed by Cindy and lastly John. He released the brake and clucked at the horse while guiding the animal into a turn to take them through the gate.

    With a broad smile the girl said happily, “I’ve never ridden in a horse drawn buggy before!”

    John smiled himself then said, “To be honest, I haven’t either!”

    The pastor guided the animal into another turn that took them onto the county road. “Not quite like driving a car, but it sort of grows on you. I’m afraid it’s a little bumpier than a car is. Jud says the buggy springs help a lot, but it’s not the same as having good shock absorbers.”

    The driver clucked the horse up into a slow trot that soon demonstrated the difference in the smoothness of the ride. After a mile they turned left onto a graded road and John commented, “I see what you mean about the suspension! Can’t imagine riding one of these things for miles on an ungraded road! Those stagecoach drivers must have been tough.”

    A half mile later they made another turn then into a short driveway. Cindy’s eyes lit and she pointed at the house they were moving towards. “Look at that antenna, grandpa! If I had something like that I bet I could hear China!”

    The pastor chuckled gently as he slowed the horse to a stop then said, “Well Cindy, you might just get the chance. Here we are. Let me go and knock on the door and see if Edna and Jesse are up to receiving callers today.” He set the brake then climbed down and walked to the house.

    He rapped on the wood door and presently an elderly woman came and seeing Norm in the window said, “Good morning, Norman!” as he opened the door. “Won’t you come in?”

    Nodding his head the pastor answered, “Good morning, Edna. I’ve brought some company if you’re up to visiting today.” He turned and looked towards the buggy where John and Cindy were sitting.

    “Well, I do declare!” Edna said, smiling, “You came in that? Invite your friends to come on in. I’m not sure if Jesse is up to company today or not, but you know how he is. Maybe he’ll rouse himself.”

    “Maybe he will at that, Edna.” The pastor agreed as he motioned to the pair in the buggy. They dismounted and soon joined him at the door and entered the house.

    It was a small structure of concrete block, unremarkable in appearance but clean and well kept. Edna saw them into the living room and invited them to sit. “Won’t you have some coffee?” she asked.

    They agreed they would and she disappeared into the kitchen for a few minutes to put the pot on the stove then came back out. “Let me see if Jesse is up to visiting.” and went to the back of the house.

    “Who?” they heard a querulous voice ask from down the hall. “Pastor Arquette? Oh, alright. I’ll be there presently.”

    Edna came back into the room and they began to chat. A few minutes later her husband Jesse rolled into the room. He too was elderly and was confined to a wheel chair. He bumped into the end of the couch entering the room, corrected his course and cleared the obstacle. He bumped into many things now because he had gone blind a year before.

    Orienting himself by the sounds of the voices he could hear the man said, “Good morning, pastor. Glad you dropped in.”

    “Good morning, Jesse.” Norm replied. “I’ve brought some company with me today. This is John McLeod, a neighbor of yours from not far away and a former military man himself with the Air Force. This is Cindy Nichols, his granddaughter. They’ve recently started attending our church.”

    Putting his hand out Jesse said, “I’m pleased to meet you Mr. McLeod, and Miss Nichols. I’m Jesse Marlborough and this is my wife Edna.”

    The group exchanged pleasantries for a time and when it was ready Edna served coffee and shortbread cookies. Cindy asked if they were home made and Edna said with a soft laugh, “Yes, Cindy. I made them. They’re not as good as they usually are since I’m out of butter and had to use butter flavored Crisco, but they still manage to hit the spot.”

    As the conversation flowed Edna asked about the dinner on the ground of the previous Sunday so Norman detailed for them all that had gone on. Jesse had not participated much in the conversation until the pastor explained the way Cindy had captivated the congregation’s attention by relating the news she had been picking up from her shortwave receiver. At this point Jesse interjected, “Cindy, do you like listening to shortwave?”

    The girl turned to look at the man in the rolling chair to say, “Yes, sir. My grandfather gave all of us grandkids radios for Christmas last year. I’ve been having a lot of fun with mine. I saw your antenna outside. Are you a Ham?”

    The old man said nothing for a moment. “Well, I used to be. Went blind about a year or so back – old age mostly. Haven’t much had the heart for it since.”

    “Oh,” the girl said, “That’s too bad. I bet you must have had a lot of fun with it though.”

    He nodded his head, “Yes, I did. All over now though. You stick with that radio, child. The whole world will open up to you if you stick with it.”

    The conversation drifted off for a time to other places when the subject came back around to the news. Edna asked a question about when the power might come back and Cindy spoke up, “I heard on the radio yesterday that they’re going to try to have the Crystal River nuclear power plant back online by the end of the month.”

    “Did you hear that on your shortwave receiver, Cindy?” Pastor Norman asked.

    “Yes, sir.” she replied, “but the station was the AM station out of Gainesville. They had a short piece about it yesterday. They’re having a problem replacing damaged equipment, but they think the nuclear plant might come back first.”

    Jesse turned in his chair to face the girl, “How are we doing in the war anyways, Cindy. GNV out of Gainesville doesn’t give much war news.”

    “From what I can tell we seem to be winning, Mr. Marlborough. We’ve taken Seoul back and are supposed to be getting ready to push north. The Russians are bogged down though and aren’t moving very fast now. I don’t really understand a lot of that news so I have to ask grandpa what it means.”

    The man nodded his head, “Good. Sounds like we’ve turned the tide then.”

    “Did you fight in a war, Mr. Marlborough?” the girl asked.

    Another nod of his head, “Yes, Cindy, I did. In Korea as a matter of fact. How I ended up in this chair. Treacherous people. I’m glad to hear we’re finally going to put paid to them.”

    Seizing the opportunity the pastor spoke up to say, “You know, Jesse. I’ll be Cindy here would really like to see your radio shack. Perhaps you could show it to her.

    Jesse’s mouth set firm and for a moment no one spoke, “Very well, Norman. Cindy, would you like to see my shack? I’m afraid I’ve had all the equipment unhooked and packed away, but you might like to see my contact cards.”

    Excitement crept into the child’s voice and she said, “Yes, I would, Mr. Marlborough! Thanks!”

    Without speaking the man turned his chair and began to roll down the hall with Cindy following.

    The remaining three in the living room watched them go until they were out of sight. The pastor looked to Edna and said, “What do you think?”

    The woman looked down into her coffee, “I don’t know, Norman. He’s been having a very difficult time since he lost his sight and all. Since the attack came with the power being out and all and the car not working I’ve all but lost hope. Some days he won’t even get out of bed and he hardly eats anything. He’s lost weight. He needed to do that, but not that way.”

    “Have faith, Edna. I think this might work and it’ll be good for Cindy too.”

    John added, “Well, she certainly got everybody at the church excited. Maybe if he can bring himself to see through her eyes he’ll find some new interest himself.”

    Conversation wound around to other topics after that discussing local affairs, the prospects for food and fuel shipments into their little county and how people were generally getting on. Finally, the clock began to swing towards noon and the pastor indicated it was time for them to go. John stood and went down the hall to fetch his granddaughter. He found her in Jesse’s radio shack wearing headphones and an enraptured expression. He knocked gently on the door frame and the two turned to look at him. “Grandpa!” she said excitedly, “I can hear single side band! I’m listening to a couple of Hams talking. One’s down in Miami, the other’s in Northern Virginia near Washington! I made my first contact!”

    Her grandfather smiled, “I’m glad to see you having so much fun, Cin!” He let his gaze wander around the crowded little room before coming back to the child, “But Pastor Arquette says it’s time to go.”

    The girl’s face fell and she took off the headphones. “Oh. Well, OK. I guess.” She turned to Jesse to say, “Thank you, Mr. Marlborough, for letting me listen to your radio. I really had a lot of fun.”

    The old man smiled and said, “You’re welcome, Cindy. If you’d like to come back sometime you can listen to some more if it’s OK with your grandfather.”

    “Oh, I think we’ll be able to arrange something.” John opined, “I wouldn’t want the family radio operator to miss out on a chance to get some good experience. Now let’s go find the good pastor and get on back home. I’ve got work to do in the garden.”

    They took their leave of the Marlborough house and rode back to John’s house in the buggy, Cindy talked excitedly the whole way. “He said he’d teach me code if I wanted to learn it! Mr. Marlborough let me copy a big list of frequencies to listen to! He says some of them might not be there anymore with the war and all, but I’m hoping to find a few I haven’t heard before!” The girls excitement proved contagious and the two men smiled.

    When they reached the McLeod house Cindy and John dismounted and Pastor Arquette made ready to go. Before he turned the buggy he stopped to say to John. “This was has been a misery to a lot of people, Mr. McLeod, but just now, just here I think your daughter may have perhaps given one person a reason to live. The Lord works in mysterious ways. Thank you both for your time.” Clucking up the horse he turned the craft and was soon out of sight.

    -- -- -- --

    The evening meal was finished and the dishes had been washed and put away. In the living room Barb and her father were reading. Cindy went to her room and took down her radio and plugged in the headphones Jesse had loaned her then turned the set on to scan the airwaves. Finally she found the signal she was looking for and discovered a music program. Glancing at the clock she decided to wait and see what the top of the hour would bring. The program ended and a newscast came on:

    <i>Radio Japan again hinted today that the Americans will soon be announcing discoveries they have made since recovering the failed North Korean missile from its resting place on the sea bed. The Japanese government has declined to give any further details, but an emergency meeting of the NATO allies was held at Supreme Headquarters yesterday, apparently in relation to these discoveries. We will bring you further details as we receive.

    Further news from the United States relates a request from the American President to their Congress to reinstate involuntary military conscription for the first time since the American involvement in Vietnam in order to meet the demands for troops due to the U.S. involvement in the Middle East and Korean peninsula. Several American legislators have denounced the call, but the measure itself is expected to pass both houses easily when it is finally introduced. Unconfirmed reports indicate that for the first time able bodied women of military age may be conscripted as well.

    The BBC is reporting that conflict has broken out in Los Angeles as large, well organized gangs vie with one another for control of major areas of the city. California governor Grey Davis has authorized the use of that state’s National Guard to suppress the fighting, but latest report indicate they are making little headway as the gangs are revealing and beginning to use modern military small arms and tactics in their battle for control. Primarily funded by drug sales and other illicit businesses these California street gangs have grown large in the last twenty years as the Americans find themselves unequal to the task of controlling the inflow of drugs into their nation. State officials fear the fighting may spread to other California cities. National Guard authorities have stated that if they are unable to bring the fighting to an end in the next twenty four hours they may request the Governor to ask for Federal troops to bring the conflict to an end.

    In European news the British Ministry of Defense has announced the Royal Navy’s anti-submarine warfare air craft carrier the HMS Invincible is being dispatched to the Korean theater to join her sister carrier, the Ark Roya,l already on station. Other Allied NATO military units currently in transit include units of the Royal Netherlands Air Force in the form of F-16 fighter jets and Norwegian F-16 fighters. A German armored Panzer unit left the port of Bremerhaven yesterday for the Korean theater as well.

    Rioting has once again broken out in the French city of Marseilles which resulted in units of the French army being dispatched to suppress the outbreak of lawlessness. Six such riots have broken out in the previous seven days in four cities and French authorities have now begun to round up and detain radical Muslim clerics whom they believe to be responsible for inciting their Muslim followers. Travel between France and her former African and Middle Eastern colonies has been temporarily suspended until the unrest can be dealt with. A similar riot in the former West German capitol of Bonn broke out last night but was quickly suppressed by the German Polizei.

    This has been a service of Radio Netherlands. We will have our next newscast at 0300 Universal Time.</i>

    A look of satisfaction had crept over the girl’s face as she hurriedly copied down what she could. When she had finished she studied the list she had obtained from Jesse and consulted her own book then began anew her hunt for stations. She soon found another and when that one played out searched for and found still another. A hand came down upon her shoulder and she startled badly. Whirling around she saw her grandfather smiling down at her.

    He lifted the ear phones from her head then said, “OK, Sparks. It’s nearly midnight. Time for young ladies to be in bed!” Her face fell into a pout and he began to laugh, “There’ll still be plenty of news for your to find tomorrow. Now off with you and give your poor old radio a rest!”

  25. #25
    <b>February 20, 2004..........Echoes of Futures Past</b>

    Mike got into the truck and shut the door. He was stone faced and said nothing.

    Larry gave him a meaningful glance then turned the key. After the motor had caught and was running smoothly he said, “I reckon from the look on your face it’s not good news.”

    Shaking his head Mike said, “No. No it’s not. She died last night. Never regained consciousness.”

    The truck pulled out onto the main road and began heading in towards the center of town where Larry and Mike were to attend a meeting at the county emergency operations center. As they passed the mall on their right Larry said, “I’m sorry, Mike. But maybe it’s for the better this way. Being the way things are and all what sort of care would she have gotten if Annie had regained consciousness? At least she didn’t suffer too much.”

    Mike looked out the window for a time, saying nothing. Finally, without turning he spoke, “I suppose you’re right Larry. Like it or not the nation is in a triage situation. The ones who can be saved we spend the effort and the critical resources on and the rest we just have to let go. Doesn’t make it any easier to accept, but that’s the way of it and we must learn to cope.”

    Neither man spoke for a time and the truck made its way down West University towards the downtown area. There was more trash in the streets now, a few more windows broken, but otherwise it looked largely unchanged since the last time Larry had come this way.

    When they reached the downtown roadblock Larry noticed it was now more heavily manned than on his previous trip. Two uniformed GPD officers and three men wearing the khaki State Defense Force vests stood at the barricades and on both sides of the street he saw sandbagged emplacements to provide covering fire for the barricade. The two men identified themselves and were cleared to pass through. As they looked for a parking space Mike said, “Looks like they’re expecting trouble.”

    With a slight nod of his head Nichols agreed, “Reckon so. Those emplacements weren’t there when I came through two days ago.”

    The parking spaces on the street in front of the EOC were blocked off so they parked further out and walked towards the building where they were met by one of the sentries. The man took them to the EOC. As they passed both men noted that grounds around the administrative offices and court house had been largely cleared of obstructions and there were trenches dug here and there.

    The passed through the outer door, down the hallway which was now dimly lit by a single bulb on a wire and into the EOC itself. Smallwood met them coming in and said, “We’ve moved the meeting to one of the conference rooms upstairs. Going to be too big to meet down here.” They followed him out and around the building to enter by a different door and up a flight of stairs to a large conference room which was nearly half-full when they arrived. As they entered a man with a clipboard took their names and checked them off of a list. In the corner was a large urn of coffee and they helped themselves. “I don’t want to start before we get everyone here.” Smallwood said.

    Larry sat down and waited for the rest of the group to arrive. On one wall he noticed a map of Gainesville that had been marked off in various colors with the names of the neighborhood associations written inside of each section. He saw his own and began reading the surrounding associations. Working his way east he reached the downtown area and noticed several blank spots with nothing written inside along with several more east of Main Street. As he studied the map a young woman began to circulate handing out name tags. Taking his he saw, “Larry Nichols. Hickory Ridge.” Mike’s was similar – “Mike Edwards. Hickory Ridge.”

    Another twenty minutes passed and the young man with the clipboard nodded at Smallwood. He rapped his knuckles on the table to draw attention then said, “Looks like we’ve got enough to get started. Have a seat, please.”

    After everyone found a chair the Major started the meeting. “You all know me, but a great many of you don’t know each other. Except for five neighborhoods what we have here is at least one representative from each Neighborhood Defense Association in the Gainesville metropolitan area. Hopefully, our laggards will show up soon. This leaves certain areas that do not have their own defense force, for reasons which I will cover today. After the main part of the meeting is over I’d like you all to break up into groups by compass quarter of the city so you can get to know each other. To make that easier I’m going to call each one of you by name and neighborhood and when I do please stand up so everyone can see you.”

    The major began to slowly read off from the list on the clipboard and when he arrived at Hickory Ridge Larry and Mike stood for a few seconds then sat again. Four more men arrived as he was reading down his list and when he reached the end he asked them for their names and added them.

    “OK, now that we know each other let’s get down to brass tacks.” He waited for a moment for the room to quiet then continued, “I have just this morning returned with Wes Levy from a meeting of county emergency operations coordinators in Tallahassee. Some of what I’m about to relate to you is not yet common knowledge and it needs to stay under your hat until you hear it on the radio.” The major looked meaningfully around the room to make sure everyone understood what he had said before continuing.

    Two more men entered the room and the major paused to allow them to find seats and receive their name tags before he continued. When they were finished he began again. “Food supplies should continue to stabilize over the next few weeks as the new logistics networks work themselves out. There’s not going to be a lot of it and there’s not going to be much variety, but everyone should be eating. The European Union is sending various kinds of assistance, but mostly it’s coming from our own domestic sources now that they’ve figured out how to get things moving without much electronics. We’re beginning to see fuel shipments as well, but they’re going to be very limited and there will be no fuel for public sale for the foreseeable future. We’re already having a problem with fraud and profiteering, but that’s more of a matter for law enforcement and not the Defense Force. You might want to put the word out though that anyone convicted of hoarding is going to find themselves on a road gang as a way of discouraging the problem.”

    “The main reason you’re here is that various units of the State Defense Force need to better coordinate and communicate within our respective counties. There are two driving forces behind this move: The first is that Congress passed a military conscription bill yesterday and the President has signed it. Starting next Monday the Selective Service Administration will begin calling up conscriptees for service. They didn’t tell us how this was going to work with no power, computers or phones. I strongly suspect it’s going to be very direct. The call up will be small at first until the military can get their training system fully enabled, but over times it’s going to put pressure on the SDF’s ability to carry out its mission as young, able bodied men of military age ship out. We need to begin to prepare against this now.”

    Smallwood glanced up at the young man who’d been recording names previously who then stood and closed the door. As it softly thumped into its frame their speaker continued. “The second driving force behind this meeting is not for public consumption and I’m serious about that. So far this has been largely suppressed or discredited in the media – what’s left of it – but it’s not going to stay that way forever. Before the news gets out we need to be ready for it.”

    He paused to let the import of his words sink in then continued. “The second driving force is that we have what seems to be the beginnings of an armed insurrection right here in the United States. The night before last elements of the California National Guard and some scratch Marine units from the base at Twentynine Palms lost control of a large portion of Southern Los Angeles to a surprisingly effective combination of forces comprised mostly of street gangs armed with military weaponry to include M16’s, light machine guns, and a few heavy machine guns and shoulder fired rockets. As a result of this pullback the military installations at Long Beach may now only be approached from the east and southeast and they are putting pressure on those routes as well. More Federal troops from Pendleton and other area bases are being sent in with what heavy weaponry is available, but the last I heard was they had not arrived yet.”

    “This would only be a curiosity to us here in Florida but for the fact the FBI thinks what is going down in L.A. may be part of a larger coordinated movement. Already open fighting has broken out in limited areas of Detroit and Chicago. With the military moving more and more of their combat effective troops overseas this means it is going to fall to us to cope with this if it flares up here. Fortunately, we have very little organized gang activity here in North Florida, but the Feebs are concerned that if the large organized gangs in California and other states score some showy victories it might encourage local freelancers to make a play as well. If we’re organized and ready we should be able to stop anything that might flare up here before it gains enough momentum to become a problem.”

    “Jack here,” he nodded to the young man who had closed the door “is going to hand out area maps that show your various neighborhoods. Each one has been marked to show the surrounding neighborhoods you should work with for support if you should need it. There are common radio frequencies for use within your own neighborhood units, other frequencies to use between neighborhoods and last, frequencies to be used to call the area command which is me. I know not all of you have a lot of radios and some of you won’t have radios with the right frequencies. After we’re through here and you’ve met with your neighboring Defense Force people come see me and we’ll do what we can to see that you’re properly equipped. We’ve got more radios that the techs have gotten working again so I believe we should be able to work something out for everyone.”

    “I cannot emphasize to you enough how important it is to make this work. We are winning in Korea but it will be months before we are going to be able to get any meaningful number of troops back from overseas. Until then WE are the cavalry who is going to have to come over the hill. I know this is not what some of you signed up for, but it’s here now and we’re going to have to deal with it.”

    “Now that I’ve thrown you all into depression I do have some good news to relate. Gainesville Regional Utilities has partially restored their water distribution system. Starting tomorrow they’ll begin rotating water service throughout their service area. WGNV will begin broadcasting tonight the rotation schedule of what areas will have water at what times. I’m telling you this because at the present time the sewage system is NOT online so you’ll probably have a few problems at first until all of your people realize they still can’t flush their toilets. GRU tells me they’re hoping to start bringing the sewage system back online starting mid to late next week. Now, does anyone have any questions so far?”

    Many hands were raised and one by one the major began to work his way through the concerns of the assembled Defense Force leaders.

    One man asked in a mildly hostile tone, “You said there were some areas that didn’t have their own neighborhood associations. Since two of them border on my area you want to explain to everyone what the problem is?”

    Smallwood sighed, as if he was about to deal with an unpleasant task. “OK, Pete, you and a lot of you Eastsiders already know so this is largely going to be for you men from the west side of town. There’s been a million rumors of what’s been happening so I don’t know what each of you has heard. Those blank areas on the map there are residential areas that we have not been able to form any sort of stable neighborhood defense association.” He looked around the room at the faces looking at him – mostly white, a significant minority of black faces and the occasional Hispanic or Asian. Biting down on it he went to the heart of the matter, “Those regions represent the poorest areas of Gainesville. About half of them we simply could not find anyone who was willing to take on the task of trying to organize their neighborhoods. For the other half at first we had some success, but after a week or so their organizations fell apart.”

    He looked at the man who’d asked the question, “Or after sufficient of their Defense Force people were killed the rest fled. We have only partial control of these areas now.”

    A man towards the back of the room loudly snorted at that statement, but the Major carried on. “During the day we can send armed groups in, but at night they are in the hands of the enemy. For a short while there we thought we were going to lose control altogether, but we were able to shore up a few sagging Defense Force Associations just as the relief shipments began to arrive. These are the areas that are going to be our problem spots. Mostly inhabited by Gainesville’s poorest residents they have little in the way of resources to get them through the current crisis and unfortunately they have a strong – call it a ‘subculture’ for lack of a better word – subculture there that has no problems with living by whatever they can steal. If we’re well organized and responsive we can keep that subculture sufficiently suppressed to keep a lid on things. If we begin to give the appearance of weakness or laxity they’ll start becoming a serious problem. If the rioting and looting in the major cities begins to spread I strongly suspect some natural leaders in those areas are going to come to the fore and begin to organize the presently chaotic social situations in those neighborhoods and will soon present us with a very serious threat that we’ll only be able to overcome with bloodshed – a lot of bloodshed. This is why we’ve got to get our act together. So we can deter others from doing the same and doing unto us first.”

    Mike Edwards raised his hand and was called upon. “Major Smallwood,” he asked, “aren’t these problem areas beginning to subside now that relief shipments are coming in regularly?”

    “Yes. For the moment they are reasonably quiet now that food is coming in. And I hope with water coming back online that will help too. But for right now the economy is showing no signs of coming back to life and if the problems on the West Coast and in the Northern states aren’t soon brought under control I think some rabble rouser will start pumping up the malcontents. We need to be ready for this.”

    A very large black man with closely cropped hair and a military bearing stood and asked, “What’s your plan for ‘being ready for this’?”

    “Just organization and communications, Ken. At the moment that’s all that’s called for.” he stopped to glance at the map again, “But with your area bordering two of the blank neighborhoods you know as well as I do that if it busts loose again we’re going to have to be able to call in more help fast and be able to coordinate movements to make the most effective use of our forces since we’re probably going to be outnumbered like we were at the Main Street Distribution Center.”

    “I’m not so sure, Major.” the man’s deep voice had a skeptical tone, “I’m hearing talk that some… people… think maybe they need to intimidate these ‘problem neighborhoods’ into being quiet. Last night one of my block watchers claims she saw men in white hoods. What do you intend to do about that?”

    For a moment there was silence as the two men looked at each other, then Smallwood asked, “Ken, did anyone else see this group of men in white hoods?”

    All of the heads in the room turned to look at the man. His face was hard. “No. Just her. But if other people see them what are you going to do about it?”

    The Major’s face was equally hard as he replied, “I’m going to have them arrested, Ken. You know as well as I do that it’s illegal to wear hoods in public like that. And if they put up a fight I’ll have them shot. This is not the nineteenth century and I am not going to put up with that… bullshit… HERE. I know you’re feeling pressured from two sides but you have as much to lose as any of us do. Let’s not borrow trouble, but just deal with what we can see. Anyone who starts making out like the Klan will get the back of my hand just as surely as the rioters and looters do. Does that satisfy you?”

    Ken stood staring at Smallwood and the tension in the room was palpable. Finally he nodded his head slowly then sat down. The air pressure in the room seemed to fall like air leaking from a balloon.

    A breath later the Major continued. “Are there any more questions?”

    There were a lot of questions and the meeting ran into the afternoon with only a brief break for a lunch of soup and sandwiches. When the main meeting was over they broke into subgroups and began to familiarize with adjoining Defense Forces, comparing notes, and working out communications between themselves and working with the communications techs to cover blank areas in their radio nets.

    Finally, as the clock ran past four the meeting broke up and they filed out. As he climbed into the truck Larry asked Mike, “Didn’t you say you lived in L.A. at one time? What do you think about this gang business?”

    Mike shut his door and waited for Larry to crank the truck. “I moved out of California over ten years ago when I retired. Gangs were a real problem then, but if they’re capable of doing this now then they must have really gotten worse since I left. Parts of the city have always been run as much by the gangs as anyone else and many of the big highways go through those areas. It’s not inconceivable, I suppose, that with the current state of our remaining military here in the U.S. that these gangs could take control of at least part of the city like that. Usually they’re more interested in killing each other, but if somehow they started working together instead of trying to do one another in they’d represent a large, well disciplined force.”

    “But do you really think they can be a problem for the rest of the country?” Larry’s tone was skeptical.

    “I don’t know, Larry.” Mike sounded uneasy. “It may be a matter of what they’ve gotten their hands on. Even back when I was still in L.A. there was concern over the kinds of weaponry showing up in gang hands. There’s been a lot of base closures and redeployments since I left the West Coast, but Long Beach used to have a lot of military installations. It may be whoever is behind this insurrection is trying to take those installations for their own purposes. If they do the Federal government could well have a problem on its hands.”

    “That’s California, Mike.” Larry persisted, “How is all that going to affect us here in the Southeast?”

    Shrugging his shoulders the man said, “I don’t know. Probably won’t, I think.”

  26. #26
    <b>February 21, 2004..........Storm Front</b>

    The first large drops of rain splashed on his hat as John packed away his tools. When he finished he walked over to the Marlborough back porch to join Ben and Edna. “How’s that for timing!” he said to Edna with a grin “I think we’ll give her a half hour or so to wash off the roof and clean out the piping Ben and I put in and we’ll let her fill. From the looks of that cloud bank coming out of the West it’s going to rain all day and maybe all night. Probably fill the whole thing in one go.”

    “John, you and Ben have certainly be angels in the service of the Lord the way you two put in that water system for us.” Edna said taking their hands in hers. “I don’t know what we can do to repay you.”

    “Oh, I wouldn’t worry about that Edna.” John assured her. “These things have ways of working out. I’d say from the way Jesse has completely captured Cindy’s interest with his Ham shack you’ve more than paid us back for jerry rigging your roof guttering to collect rain water for the house. It wasn’t much work.”

    The woman laughed then said, “But that’s something else we owe YOU, John! If Pastor Arquette had not brought you and Cindy by here Jesse would have just curled up and died on me. That child has given him a reason to live again.”

    Her benefactor chuckled. “How about we just call it an even trade then?”

    “Very well, but can I sweeten the deal with a cup of coffee and some cookies?” Edna asked.

    “Missus Marlborough,” Ben spoke up before John could, “old Modesty here may not say, but I for one would purely appreciate a cup of hot coffee!”

    “Well, let’s go inside then.” Edna said opening the door, “It’s becoming rather cool out here.”

    The three went inside where silence filled the house. Gradually it came to them that they could hear an irregular mechanical beeping “dah.dit.dah.dit dit.dit dah.dit dah.dit.dit dah.dit.dah.dah”

    “Very good Cindy!” Jesse’s deep voice rolled down the hall. “You picked that up very fast. I think you’ve got some talent for this.”

    A girls giggly laugh followed his voice down the hall, “That was fun, Mr. Marlborough! Can you really copy twenty four words a minute?”

    “No.” her mentor replied, “That’s just how fast I send, I can copy faster than that. Used to be faster, but my fingers are old and slow now.”

    The three in the kitchen smiled amongst themselves as they eavesdropped on the radio shack conversation. Edna poured water into a coffee pot and put it on the stove then began to measure grounds into the basket.

    John looked at Ben and said, “I wonder what it was she was tapping out?”

    Without looking up from what she was doing Edna said, “Cindy. She was spelling her name.”

    The two men turned to look at her, expressions of surprise on their faces. “You know Morse code too, Edna?” John asked.

    She laughed softly for a moment. “Oh yes. When you’re married to a Ham like Jesse it’s either learn code or go mad! Actually, we learned it together after the war. He was having depression problems then after he came home from Korea like he is now. One of the doctors at the VA hospital was a Ham from his days in the Boy Scouts. He got Jesse interested and as a way of keeping his interest up I learned code too. I’ve never been into radios as much as he is, but I still have a pretty good fist on me and I haven’t lost my ear for it either. It was a lot of fun actually. We used to send ‘secret’ messages to each other at social functions poking fun at the people we met.” She laughed again, in a more spirited way. “In fact, we met one of our best friends that way at a party when I tapped out a message to Jesse poking fun at how fat one of the other guests was. You should have seen the expressions on our faces when the man I was talking about turned to me to say, ‘Yes, I am fat, aren’t I?’! Turned out he was a Ham too! We all became best friends after that until he died about twenty years ago. Hams are a close lot in a way.”

    John said, “I’ve known a few Hams over the years from the Service and all, but Edna you’re the first woman I think I’ve ever met who was into it.”

    “Oh pshaw!” she said, “There’s women Hams out there, but you’re right in one sense. Boys will be boys and there’s a lot of men who think it’s a man’s world on the airwaves. One reason I stayed with code, I guess. It’s hard to tell who you’re talking to.”

    Voices came down the hallway and were soon seen to belong to Jesse and Cindy as they appeared around the corner. “I thought I heard voices in here.” Jesse said. “Sounds like it’s raining too. How did the work go, gentlemen?”

    “No problem at all, Jesse.” John assured him. “All it needed was some minor rerouting and putting together a sand box to filter out the chunky bits before it goes into the barrels.”

    “Glad to hear it! It’ll be nice to get properly clean again. We’ve been skimping the water as much as we could to make it last.” Jesse wheeled his chair around to partially face where Cindy was standing. “Your granddaughter here shows some real talent for sending code, John! I think you may have a Ham in your family.”

    This brought a deep laugh from the man he addressed. “Oh, I’ve never doubted that we had hams in our family, Jesse! It’s just that none of them have ever shown any talent for using a radio before!”

    Cindy made a face at her grandfather. “Well, I like it. It’s fun! Mr. Marlborough says if I can learn to send and copy at least five words a minute I can use his radio!”

    “Is that so?” John said with a smile. “Does this mean you’re going to run your mother and I out of the house tap-tap-tapping on the pots and pans?”

    “No.” the girl said matter-of-factly, “Mr. Marlborough is going to loan me a key so I can practice. It uses a battery and lasts forever and ever.”

    “Is this true, Jesse?” John asked.

    “Yes.” He answered, “It’s just a practice key hooked up to a nine volt battery and a small speaker. Even with a lot of use she can go months on a single battery. I’ve got some cassette tapes that have the various sound combinations of all of the letters and numbers that she needs to learn to copy and send that I could loan her as well. Only problem is she’d need a cassette tape player to use them which means batteries. It’s not the best method, but she can learn code out of a book then practice with someone who knows code already. It’s the way Edna and I learned.”

    “Batteries.” John rubbed the back of neck. “Yeah. That’s going to be a problem. Cindy’s little radio really doesn’t use batteries up very fast and we get something very tangible in return. If that practice key lasts as long as you say we could expend a nine volt battery on it. But cassette players are battery eaters. We don’t have a large enough stockpile of batteries to use them up like that. I guess she’ll have to learn the old fashioned way.”

    Cindy’s face fell and there was silence for a moment. “Well, at least I can practice with the key while I’m at home and then with Mr. Marlborough when I come over to visit.”

    Ben spoke up to ask, “John, doesn’t your truck have a cassette player in it? You could wire it to your truck battery straight. I imagine it would go for quite a while before it would need to be recharged. There’s going to be times we have to use my old Chevy for something or other. We could just drop the battery in and recharge it while it’s running.”

    The girl looked at her grandfather hopefully as he mulled over the idea. “OK, I think we could do that. For a while at least until we run out of fuel.” He shook his head with a grin, “But if I’m ever able to repair the ignition it’s going to take a week to put my truck back together the way we’re slowly taking it apart!”

    The aroma of the coffee begin to fill the kitchen and Edna said, “Would you all care to sit in the living room? I’ll have the coffee in a minute.”

    Outside the rain intensified as the wind began to pick up. Seating himself on the couch John asked, “Jesse, now that you’ve hooked your radios up again are you hearing anything interesting? Cindy keeps us up to day with what she hears, but those are all regular media. What are the Hams talking about?”

    Jesse rolled his chair near to their woodstove so that he could soak in the radiated warmth. “Oh, I hear plenty but mostly the usual things, what they’re seeing going on around them and passing messages on for people. Some big doings going on in Southern California these last couple of days.”

    “What sort of things, Jesse?” Ben asked.

    “Hard to tell.” the man replied, “The story is confused. From the sound of it the big gangs in L.A. have organized and are taking on the local authorities. Some have said the black and Hispanic gangs are working together and others have said they’re not, only just not shooting at each other. One fella claiming to be north of L.A. says there’s Chinese troops involved too. Another fella said they were being led by Mexican army regulars. The governor sent in the National Guard and they ran into trouble so they called for Federal troops. From the sound of things I don’t think there’s a lot of Federal troops left in the continental United States right now, but the local commander at Twentynine Palms threw together what he had and sent them only he didn’t have much in the way of heavy weaponry to send with them. Yesterday I started hearing they had to pull out of South Central L.A. and some other areas. One Ham we were hearing from regularly that lives in South L.A. hasn’t come back on the air since. Others that live further away say there’s a lot of smoke now and some say they can hear shooting. A fellow I know who lives on the main road out of Camp Pendleton says he saw quite a big convoy from there heading north, but what with the situation in San Diego now they may not be able to stay.”

    “Is there fighting there, too?” John asked.

    “Sounds like it. I heard second hand yesterday we sealed all of our bases in Southern California after somebody blew up a fuel storage area at one of them in San Diego. Last night I caught an AM station on skip claiming that the city offices were under siege but it faded on me before I could catch their I.D. They mentioned a lot of the gang members have automatic weaponry and other infantry gear and speculated it was coming up from Mexico with their aid shipments. My battery started crapping out on me so I couldn’t catch much more and with this front coming through now I won’t get much of a charge today.”

    Silence filled the room for a time as they digested what Jesse had related. Finally John asked, “Cindy, have you heard anything about this fighting in L.A. and San Diego?”

    “No, sir.” she answered. “The only thing I’ve heard from Southern California is that they’re supposed to be bringing their power stations back online. The BBC had a story about how the Mexican power companies have been helping us out by supplying spare parts and stuff to replace what we lost in the attack.”

    “She’s right.” Jesse added, “There hasn’t been anything on the mainstream stations that I’ve heard. I started hearing the first reports from Hams about the fighting the day before yesterday, but none of the mainstream AM or shortwave stations have mentioned it yet. I think what we have here is non-news.”

    “Non-news?” Ben asked.

    ”Yes. Non-news. Stories that intentionally are not broadcast. The government knows about them, the major media knows about them, but you and I aren’t supposed to know about them. I’ve known it to happen from time to time, but usually overseas. I think the government is suppressing this news because they’re afraid this trouble will spread. Just before my battery gave out a Ham in Chicago said there was a lot of shooting on the South Side and that he could see armored personnel carriers moving into the city.”

    “Jesus!” John swore, “That’s all we need. We’re in the middle of a hot war in Asia, still up to our waist in the Middle East and now two of our most important ports are threatened right here in the United States!”

    Nodding his head Ben said, “I reckon the Reconquista may be coming out into the open.”

    Cindy frowned at his statement and asked, “The Reconwhat? I don’t understand.”

    “The Recon-quista, Cindy, meaning the reconquest.” Ben explained. “The Mexicans are trying to take back what we took from them.”

    “What did we take from the Mexicans, Uncle Ben?” the girl said with a confused look on her face. “I thought the Mexicans were our allies?”

    “Well, there’s friends, Cindy, and then there’s allies. You can count on a friend when you’re down, but an ally may turn into an enemy on you if he thinks you’re weak or hurt. Haven’t they taught you about the Mexican-American War in your school?”

    The girl turned to look at her grandfather then looked at Ben again. “No, sir. We fought a war with Mexico?”

    Ben chuckled before answering. “Yes, child. Oh, it was a long, long time ago now. My great great grandpappy was there as a drummer. Got killed in the War Between the States that came later on. Still got his sword to the house. Yep, way back when a big chunk of the U.S. belonged to Mexico but they were weak and we were strong so we took it from them. It may be now that they’re trying to take it back, or at least somebody is.”

    John said, “Ben, I didn’t know you were interested in Mexico.”

    “Well, I’m not, really. Much anyways. But old Steve Case who lives on the backside of your woodlot is from Texas. His family is old settler stock from down there close to the border. Been there since Texas joined the Union, but he said when the Mexicans got to outnumbering the white folks he moved the family out of there to here about fifteen years ago. He figures the Mexicans ain’t forgot about that war and the revolution in Texas and one day they’d try to take it all back. Mayhaps they are. Or maybe it’s just them drug gangs gotten so big they think they can be the government now. Either way I reckon if the Army can’t get them under control right quick the country is in for a spell of trouble.”

    “Trouble is right, I’m afraid.” Jesse agreed. “We’re on the verge of trying to fight a three front war with the economy blown to bits. We’re in for a tough time.”

    “What else have you heard, Jesse?” John asked, “Anything here in Florida?”

    “Not much. I was in the wrong bands for local stuff. Hadn’t gotten around to them when the battery started going down. Did hear some fellow out of the Midwest say his brother who he said was living on a boat down in the Keys said they’re having a problem with piracy down there. Said his brother had shot some guy who came on his boat one night when they were all asleep.”

    “Jesse, you said your radio battery was run down. How do you propose to charge it back up again?” Ben asked.

    “Oh, that. No problem. I have a photovoltaic set up that’ll bring it back up fairly fast once the sun comes out again. Just have to unpack it and get it set up again. Somebody will have to help me with it now with my eyes the way they are, but I can tell them how to do the set up.”

    John asked, “You don’t think the pulse damaged it, Jesse? I’d think solar cells would be rather susceptible to EMP.”

    “Don’t know, John” Jesse answered, “But I suspect they’re OK. I don’t keep the system assembled. It’s part of my Field Day set up. Haven’t set it up in a couple of years since my eyes started crapping out. It’s all packed away in the cans out in the barn. Should be OK, I think. Maybe Cindy can help me put the system together tomorrow if it stops raining by then.”

    The girl looked at her grandfather expectantly and he said, “Sounds fine by me if it’s OK with your mother. I’d like to see his set up myself.”

    -- -- -- --

    The rain came down hard and fast on the breast of a cold, gusty wind which forced Larry and Eddy to close the windows in the house to retain some warmth.

    “Man, look at it coming down, dad!” Eddy said, “I think it’s going to fill every bucket we have soon.”

    “Probably so, Eddy.” his dad agreed, “Be good to fill the pool again. Probably ought to wash some clothes today while we’ve got all this water so we’ll have something clean to wear to church tomorrow. Sure hope it stops by midnight though!”

    The boy laughed. “Why dad? You ain’t gonna melt!”

    Larry poked the boy in his ribs. “Laugh it up, boy. How about *you* go stand guard tonight and I’ll stay inside where it’s warm and dry?”

    “Oh no, dad!” he laughed, “I’m on the sick list!”

    “Speaking of that. Let’s take a look at your side.” His father made motions that he should lift his shirt.

    Eddy pulled his shirt out and Larry moved the oil lamp close to throw better light onto the boy’s side. Carefully pulling off the taped gauze he critically examined the boy’s wound then said. “Looking good. No sign of infection at all. Going to leave you an interesting scar though. You can use it to tell lies to the girls. Probably going to be another week or so of needing to keep a bandage on.”

    “I’m glad. It itches like crazy and I get to worrying that it’s infected. Sure be glad when it heals up so I can get out and really do stuff. I’m tired of hobbling around like an old man.” Eddy’s shoulders drooped. “I’m tired of being cooped up in this house too!”

    Larry began to carefully clean around the wound. “Well, son. Why don’t you get out of the house for a while? No need to sit around moping in here all the time.”

    “Where am I going to go, dad?” he asked.

    Patting the skin dry with a clean cloth the older man replied, “Well, go see Petey or something.”

    The boy’s face fell further. “I can’t.”

    Looking up from where he was cutting lengths of adhesive tape his dad asked, “Why not?”

    “Because Pete left with his family two days ago. Barnaby and his family are gone too.”

    “Gone?” Larry said with a frown, “Gone where? Did they all bug out?”

    “Yeah. Pete said his dad was taking them all up to Union County where his grandparents live. His dad said it was too dangerous to stay in Gainesville anymore after the riot down at the Publix so they packed up their stuff and left on bicycles. Pete says his grandpa always keeps a big garden and has chickens and cows and stuff and live out in the country so his parents think it’ll be safer there than it is here. I don’t know where Barnaby has gone. I went by his place yesterday and they’re just gone.” The boy sounded like he was on the edge of tears. “Everyone’s leaving, dad! When are we going to see mom and Cindy again?”

    Larry sighed as he began to apply the tapes to hold the gauze in place. “I know, son. It is hard to see so many people up and take off. We’ll make out. Things are bad right now, but we’ll make out. There’s still a lot of solid folks here in Gainesville and we’ll come together and make out OK. I tell you what, Major Smallwood said there was supposed to be fuel shipments coming into town soon. If it’s true and I can get some more gas for the truck we’ll go out and visit your granddad and see mom and Cindy. Would you like that?”

    Forcing a smile, Eddy said, “Yeah, dad. I’d like that. This place is too quiet and it’s always dark and cold in here now. At night I get to worrying about noises I hear outside. It’s like it’s not home anymore. It’d be nice to see everyone again.”

    “That’s what we’ll do then. Now tuck your shirt back in, I’m done here. I’m going to get some dirty clothes together and wash a few things.” He packed up the medical supplies and put them away. Eddy stood up and tucked his shirt in then went to his room to gather his dirty clothes together as well.

    They had just met on the back porch with their laundry when the radio on the bar crackled to life. “Cartwright to Lieutenant Nichols. Do you copy? Over?”

    Larry put his basket of clothes down and walked inside in time for the radio to repeat itself. “Cartwright to Lieutenant Nichols. Are you there? Over.”

    He reached the mike, picked it up, and responded. “I’m here, Mitch. What’s up? Over.”

    “Better put on your slicker and get down here, jefe’. We’ve got a killing on our hands and maybe more to come. Over.”

    The Lieutenant swore passionately before keying the mike again. “What’s going on? Over.”

    For a moment there was dead air then Mitch came back. In the background he could hear shouting. “Caught a hoarder in the line when his name popped up on the computer. Sent Ronny and Cyrus over to take him into custody and he resisted. Before I could get more men over the fella cut Ronny pretty bad and Cyrus shot him when the guy jumped at him. Two men jumped Cyrus and things got kinda bent in here before I could get it all straightened out. I’ve got one dead, four hurt pretty good including Ronny and a lot of angry people out here claiming the dead one wasn’t a hoarder and that we’re singling out black people. I’ve got it under control for the moment, but I think you’d better get down here with some more men.”

    “Shit!” Larry crushed the mike in his fist as he responded. “I copy, Mitch. I’ll be down right away. Get on the EOC channel and let Smallwood know. Nichols, out.”

    “I copy, Lieutenant. Get here quick. Out.”

    He dropped the mike on the counter and turned towards the door to find Eddy standing there. “Eddy, I’ve got to get down to the food distribution center. There’s trouble.”

    “I heard, dad.” the boy replied. “Be careful.”

    “You know it.” his dad said heading down the hallway.

    -- -- -- --

    The truck pulled up behind the grocery store and Larry climbed out, quickly walking through the back door heading towards the front of the building. Exiting the front door he found Mitch with one of his troopers standing next to several battered looking men in handcuffs sitting with their backs against the front wall of the grocery store. One of the detainees was semiconscious with his head wrapped in a red stained bandage. A body wrapped in a ragged blanket lay on the sidewalk, a scarlet stain spreading across the fabric. The store itself had been emptied of all but the relief workers who were nervously grouped by the customer service desk. In the parking lot stood a group of about a fifty people. He could hear several men and women talking loudly to the others and occasionally shouting at the Defense Force men keeping them from approaching the store.

    “Tell me about it, Mitch.” he said to his second.

    His second in command turned to nod at the sitting men and the body. “About ten minutes ago the deader there got flagged in the computer and the front desk people asked to see his identification. They had him in the files as having two aliases. The girl is supposed to give us a signal when she’s got one that may be trouble, but she didn’t before she confronted the man and he began raising Hell about being persecuted. You could hear him all over the place so I sent Cyrus and Ronny over to detain him since we’re supposed to be cracking down on fraud and hoarding. Before they could get him in hand he pulled out a flick knife and cut Ronny pretty bad. He folded up and went down so the knife man started coming at Cyrus. He threw down on him with his rifle and shot him stone dead. I had three more men moving towards them but before they could get there two other fellas who’d come with the deader jumped Cyrus. Had quite a brawl for a few minutes and we had to bust a few heads to break it up. Ronny’s gonna need a doctor and that fella there with his head wrapped up, maybe a few of the others.”

    The Lieutenant let out a long aggrieved sigh as he surveyed the crowd in front of them carefully noting in his mind the ones who seemed to be doing most of the talking. For the moment they were not openly threatening anyone and he began to think about how to make them disperse. Before he could conceive of a plan a GPD cruiser and a flat bed truck pulled in. Police officers and Defense Force men began to unload. Major Smallwood and the police lieutenant that Larry had spoken with the night Aaron Watkins broke into his estranged wife’s house came up.

    “Damn glad to see you two.” Larry said.

    Smallwood gave him a sour smile then said, “I’m sure you’ll understand if I’m not happy to see you! What’s the situation.”

    Larry nodded to Mitch and the man gave them the rundown of what he’d just given to Larry. Smallwood turned to the police lieutenant and said, “What do you think?”

    The man shrugged then said, “Seems clear to me Rudy. If they made a good I.D. on the dead one and he resisted with a lethal weapon it was a good bust. That front is supposed to dump rain on us all day and into tomorrow so I think the hot heads will cool off when they get wet enough. Probably better keep some extra men down here. We’ll take the injured over to North Florida Regional.” He turned to Mitch, “Any of the resisters you want to have charged?”

    Nodding at the man with the bandaged head, “Him. He pulled a knife too and caught a rifle butt in the head. The other two in cuffs wouldn’t take no for an answer but gave up when we put rifle muzzles against their heads. The rest were nothing special.”

    “Alright. I don’t know if we’ll be able to hold those two or not but I’ll take them in anyway.” He turned to the police officers who’d come with him. “Get them loaded up and we’ll take them off.”

    The body of the dead man, the injured man and the others were loaded onto the flatbed. As they were doing so a woman broke free of the crowd and ran towards the truck. “Where you goin’ with my man?!” she shouted at the lieutenant. He turned to face her then said, “He’s under arrest for resisting and obstruction. You his wife?”

    “No.” she said, “I’m his girlfriend. You can’t take him off! He was just trying to protect me!”

    “Lady, you can pick him up from the county jail if the judge says it’s OK.” The police officer climbed into the truck and the woman began shouting obscenities at him. Several more in the crowd also began shouting obscenities and abuse towards the truck. Smallwood motioned to two of his men who came and forced her to move away. As the flatbed pulled away more people began shouting. “Why you taking them off?! Thay ain’t done nothing wrong! Leroy wasn’t no hoarder! You killed him for nothing! You killed him because he’s black!”

    At this point one of the Defense Force men came forward and began shouting back at the crowd. “I’m an African-American too you dumb ass! Your friend cut Ronny bad and he’s African American like you! I didn’t shoot that man because he’s black! I shot him because he was coming at me with a knife! You pull a knife on me and you’re gonna get hurt! That trash got what he had coming!”

    Larry and Smallwood ran forward and put themselves between their man and the crowd and shoved him back. Larry talking low and fast to his man, “Cyrus, don’t. Just don’t. It ain’t no good getting into it with them. What you did was right, you ain’t got to justify yourself. Just back up and don’t get into it with them.”

    Tears were running down the man’s face as he stared at Larry. “Lieutenant, you don’t understand! You don’t know what it’s like to be wearing this” and he plucked at his khaki SDF vest “and be called a Tom because I’m with you instead of stealing and jiving with the brothers.”

    “No, Cyrus, I don’t reckon I really can understand” Larry said softly, “You’re caught betwixt and between here and I’m sorry for that, but screaming at that crowd ain’t gonna help any. Come on, let’s get away from those folks and see if Rudy can get them to go home.”

    The man allowed himself to be led away as Rudy spoke with the crowd. There was much shouting and angry words for a while but as the temperature dropped with the rain they gradually began to disperse. Major Smallwood ordered the distribution center closed for the day to reopen on Monday. Slowly the crowd melted away. The Defense Force men kept watch over the building and the Major made arrangements for a beefed up guard for the night.

    Inside the building out of the wind a group of the men stood talking. “Cyrus, you gonna be OK tonight?” Larry asked.

    The man looked out the window for a time in the direction of his home. “Yeah, we’ll be OK. My brother and his wife and my father are all with us now. They’ve both been in the Service like me and we have weapons. Rudy helped us get a good organization going so we’ve got pretty good security at night. I don’t think we’ll have too much trouble. Most of that trash today wasn’t from my neighborhood anyways since they couldn’t buy their own places like Ronny and I did.”

    “Well, I’m sorry it had to be you.” Larry said.

    “Who else was Mitch gonna send?” Cyrus asked. “There’s seven neighborhoods using this distribution center. We should all be helping keep things right down here which is why Sammy sent Ronny and me to help out. Mitch did the right thing sending us to take that fool down because we’re black and he was too. Gotta keep that racial tension down and all that shit. Wouldn’t have thought that fool would have pulled a knife like that.”

    “I suspect he really didn’t want the law taking a good close look at him.” Smallwood joined in. “We’ll know more tomorrow perhaps. You did right Cyrus. He pulled a knife and there wasn’t much else to be done. We all know how close everything is to breaking down. It’s up to us to hold it together.”

    The black man stared at the Major. “Ain’t that some shit though? The whole damn world out there just waiting to go for each other’s throats and who is there to stop them? Us. Just us.”

    Larry looked at his watch then said, “Rudy, it’s going on towards dark. How about I drop you and your men from the EOC off downtown? I want to go check on Ronny and see how he’s getting along over at the hospital. I think Mitch’s crew can hold the fort until your night men get here. Cyrus you wanna go too?”

    Rudy looked off into the gathering gloom of the approaching evening then said, “OK. I think it’s done here for the day.” He turned to the men he’d brought with him to say, “The Lieutenant’s gonna give us a ride back to the EOC. Load up in the back of his truck.”

    Larry spoke with Mitch for a few minutes then he, Rudy, Cyrus and one of the others climbed into the cab and eight more men climbed into the back forcing the truck nearly down onto its springs. Larry cranked the truck and pulled out. “Should have brought a bigger truck!” the Lieutenant laughed. As he climbed the hill approaching the University he dropped the truck into a lower gear then asked Smallwood, “Didn’t you say we’re supposed to be getting some fuel coming in? I don’t have an infinite supply to be running around putting down riots.”

    Smallwood nodded. “Yeah, Wes says we should be getting a tanker in on Monday. You’re on the fuel ration list so you’ll get your ten gallons like everyone else.”

    “I noticed the Lieutenant was driving one of the department’s Crown Vic’s. They getting them back on the road again?”

    “Yes, they are. They’ve repaired a dozen now and have another dozen about to hit the road again. The Sheriff’s department got the lion’s share of the parts since they’ve got a whole county to cover but we’re starting to get modern vehicles back on the road.”

    Cyrus asked, “When are we going to see these parts for sale? I’d like to get my BMW back on the road again. Cycling is good exercise, but I’m ready to drive again.”

    Smallwood shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know. The parts we’re getting to repair governmental vehicles are all pre-war stuff. I don’t know where the parts are made. If they’re made here in the U.S. I suppose they’ll have to repair the factories first before they can make the parts. May have to fix the factories that build parts to fix factories with before they can do that. I wouldn’t look for the local auto parts store to have any in stock any time soon.”

    “I was afraid you were going to say that.” Cyrus said glumly. “Larry, I should have gone in for classic cars like your old truck here. Could of rebuilt my daddy’s old truck like you did but I wanted air conditioning and a hot stereo.”

    The truck rolled down the virtually empty street splashing rain water as it went. Downtown he dropped Smallwood and his men off then he turned around and went back the way they’d come. At the hospital they found Ronny sitting in the ER waiting room, his chest swathed in white bandages.

    “How you doing, Ronny?” Larry asked.

    “I’ve had better days” the injured man said, “but at least I ain’t looking at my guts lying on the floor.”

    Cyrus eyed him, noting the paleness in the man’s face. “How many stitches they put in?”

    “Thirty two” Ronny replied. “and no anesthetic!” He managed a weak grin. “That doctor hurt me worse than that idiot with the knife did!” The other two men smiled at the jest. Ronny continued, “Now don’t do anything to make me laugh. Breathing pulls on these damn stitches bad enough.”

    “Where’s the other man?” Larry asked.

    “Upstairs someplace, they admitted him. He’s got a skull fracture and concussion. Mitch about knocked his head off when he butt stroked him with that old antique of his. Sounded like a baseball bat hitting a watermelon when that Garand caught him in the back of the head.” He chuckled at his humor then grimaced and pushed his hand against his chest.

    “You about ready to get out of here?” Larry said. “I’ll give you a lift home. Can’t expect you to walk home in the rain.”

    “Yeah, I’ve seen all of THIS place I want to see today!” Ronny said firmly.

    The three men climbed into the truck and began heading out. “Ronny, you gonna be alright tonight?” Larry asked.

    “Yeah, he’ll be alright.” Cyrus said, “He lives across the street from me. We’ve got a good organization in the neighborhood. Everyone’s a homeowner so we’ve all got something to protect.”

    “You think we’re going to have trouble come of this killing?” Larry asked.

    Ronny kept looking out the window and Cyrus said nothing for a time then finally answered. “I don’t know Larry. You know how it is. There’s a lot of people in this town that don’t have anything and if they think they can get something and get away with it they’ll try. Right now there’s some trash talking trash in the poorer neighborhoods about how oppressed we black people are and how now is the time to get some of our own back. Things don’t start getting better soon more and more of them are going to listen. There’s poor white people in this town too, but they don’t hang together the way the poor black people do. Sooner or later something’s going to happen and we’re not going to get it back under control. Don’t know what’s going to happen then.”

    The rain came down harder and the worn wipers of the truck were pressed to keep the windshield clear. It became difficult to see clearly to guide the truck. It came to Larry that they were all having the same problem. Events were starting to run together and it was becoming difficult to see clearly what the future held.

    Outside the darkness began to cover the world and it felt to the three men in the truck that is was true inside as well.

  27. #27
    <b>February 22, 2004..........Thunderbolt</b>

    John swung the doors shut on the wood stove and adjusted the damper and flue. The dry seasoned oak began to flare where it lay on the bed of hot coals within. Outside the day was fading into an early twilight as heavy mist fell from the cold front that seemed to have stalled on top of them. He stood for a moment basking in the more intense heat his near proximity to the stove made available and enjoyed the way it seemed to loosen the tightness of his knees and shoulders. Turning towards Barb he said, “It’s day like these that really make me feel my age. Glad I didn’t decide to retire to Ohio!”

    His daughter nodded her head absently as she cerebrated over her crossword puzzle, but said nothing. Ben came in from the kitchen with two mugs in his hand and handed one to John before he sat down. Off to one side Cindy sat at a folding card table, her notebook and radio in front of her. She turned a page, read from it then looked at the clock on the mantelpiece. “Grandpa, Voice of America should have a news broadcast in about another minute or so. Would you like to hear it?”

    Taking a drink from his mug first he said, “I’d rather hear the local news if we can. Has GNV come back on the air?”

    “No sir,” the girl replied, “I guess they’re still down for maintenance.”

    “Well, then VOA it’ll be then.” He sat in his chair. “Fire her up and let’s get the bad news for the day.”

    “Maybe there’ll be good news today, grandpa.” the girl said optimistically.

    “Ha! World news is seldom good, child. But I suppose we should hear it.”

    She clicked the radio on and quickly tuned it to the correct band and frequency. The opening of the program was in progress and quickly flowed to the days news.

    <i>Fresh information continues to come in concerning the nuclear detonation in the South Korean capitol of Seoul earlier today. Contrary to initial reports it is now believed by the Department of Defense the device was a fission type weapon with a yield in the twenty to thirty kiloton range and not a thermonuclear hydrogen fusion warhead as was earlier thought. Radioactive fallout continues to fall across the central interior areas of the Korean peninsula and is hampering the flow of men and materiel moving towards the front lines now just north of the former DeMilitarized Zone. Much of the already battered South Korean capitol is reported to be in flames with casualties predicted to be in the thousands. Rescue and recovery work is being hampered by the necessity to carefully check for boobytraps left behind by the North Korean army after they pulled out yesterday. Casualties to Allied ground forces in the city are reported moderate as the urban area was being bypassed by the main thrust of the Allied advance. This morning’s blast marks the eighth nuclear detonation on the Korean peninsula since the war began.

    Confused reports continue to reach the outside world of mutiny in the Russian army as it continues its advance into North Korea. Several unconfirmed reports have indicated outbreaks of virulent communicable disease in North Korean villages through which Russian Army units have advanced. Other reports seem to indicate low morale brought on by bad weather and poor logistical support are the underlying causes of the stalled advance. Russian military spokespersons in Moscow continue to accuse the People’s Liberation Army of China of interfering with Russian logistical supply lines and have stated that any further attacks will result in the attackers being destroyed whether inside of Russia or elsewhere. No clarification of this statement was given, but some Kremlin watchers believe this to mean that the Russian military will not be stopped by the Chinese border in their efforts to eliminate a threat to their vital supply lines.

    In Northern Iraq a ceasefire between Turkish military forces and Coalition forces has been arranged and appears to be holding. Among the terms of the agreement is the removal of all Kurdish military forces from the Iraqi city of Kirkuk and the withdrawal of Kurdish forces behind a line 100 kilometers from the Turkish border. U.S. and Turkish government officials continue to meet in Geneva to try to bring about a peaceful resolution to this military impasse.

    In a video tape sent to the Arab media outlet Al Jazeera a spokesman claiming to represent the Al Queda terrorist network took credit today for the truck bombings of yesterday outside several U.S. businesses in the Saudi Kingdom. Casualties are now reported to be 176 Saudi dead, 12 American, 4 Filipino and seventeen others whose nationalities have not yet been determined. Yesterday’s attacks represent the eighth bombing incident against American interests or allies claimed by Al Queda since the present war crisis began. The Al Queda spokesman in the video tape claimed the bombings were in reprisal for the assassination of four Al Queda officials last week in Indonesia by U.S. Delta Force operatives. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld restated in a White House interview that Al Queda will soon find they have no place of refuge as the U.S. will go where ever they must to eliminate the terrorist threat.

    In national news President Bush signed an Executive Order that all persons attempting to interfere with military traffic or communications will be subject to military justice up to and including summary court martial and execution in extreme cases. This order is in response to continued interference of the war effort by groups on the West Coast, particularly in
    Southern California and Oregon.

    In Washington today the Selective Service Administration has stated they will begin the first call up of military conscriptees on schedule tomorrow Monday. The SSA officials did not state how word of an individual’s selection would be sent with the national communications and postal services being offline, but they did emphasize contact would be made in a prompt manner. Initial call ups are expected to be small until the conscription and training system can be brought fully online.

    Coast Guard officials in Miami today report that three pirate craft were fired upon and sunk by action of a combined unit of Coast Guard and Florida State Defense Force units working cooperatively. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge has ordered that all functioning coastal radio and television stations are to broadcast periodic public service announcements that any watercraft engaging in acts of piracy, robbery, and theft would be fired upon without warning.</i>

    A sound of rustling paper is heard in the background as dead air came from the speaker. A moment later a different voice comes across –

    <i>We are interrupting our normally scheduled news broadcast to bring you a live address from President Bush.</i>

    More dead air for a moment then faintly in the background a voice could be heard, “three…two…one..”

    <i>Ladies and Gentlemen, the President of the United States.</i>

    A slight change in the carrier background then -

    <i>Good evening. I come to you tonight to tell you about a matter of grave importance to the United States and the security of the Free World. As all of you are surely aware by now the United States and portions of Canada and Mexico were subjected to an unprovoked attack by ElectroMagnetic Pulse originating from satellites launched into orbit by the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea. I say ‘launched into orbit’ because now by means of our national technical resources we have been able to establish that the nuclear warheads and rockets used in this cowardly attack upon a peace loving nation were built, at least in part, by the People’s Republic of China.

    As you may recall in early November of last year one of the many rocket launches conducted by North Korea failed in mid-flight and fell into the sea. By virtue of the highly skilled men and women of the U.S. Navy we were able to retrieve that failed rocket from its resting place on the deep ocean seabed last month. Since that time we have carefully analyzed what was have found and have come to the unmistakable conclusion that much of the technology used to build the rocket and the thermonuclear warhead it carried were American in origin. It is our belief that this technology was stolen from the U.S. by the People’s Republic of China or bought by her from certain American technology companies who will be named later by the Justice Department.

    As a result of these discoveries I felt compelled to ask the Congress of the United States to recognize that a state of war now exists between the People’s Republic of China and the United States of America. One hour ago I was informed by the Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate that such a condition has been recognized. Ten minutes ago I so informed the Chinese ambassador of this declaration of war and have asked him to leave our nation by the earliest possible means.

    I know that you, the American people, have been called upon to make great sacrifices in the nearly three weeks since the war began, but I must ask for even greater sacrifice now if we are to survive as a nation. Never doubt that we WILL win this war and that the United States of America has the necessary resources and will to see us through. May God watch over and guide us in this cause. Thank you and good night.</i>

    There was silence on the radio for nearly thirty seconds before the announcer came back stating the President had taken no questions then cutting away to ‘analysis’ by a commentator. The gathered group sat quietly for another minute before John stood, walked to the radio and turned it off.

    He cleared his throat as the others looked at him then said, “I think perhaps we should pray for our Nation… and for us… now.”

    -- -- -- --

    Larry had just blown out the lamp flame in the bedroom and climbed into the bed when as if from far away a long, drawn out wailing sound slowly rose. It slowly oscillated from high to low and after fifteen to twenty seconds Eddy asked, “Dad, that sounds like one of those old air raid sirens like you hear Second World War movies.”

    They listened for a few seconds more then his dad replied, “Damned if it doesn’t. I wonder who dug one of those up and why they’re blasting away with it 7:30 at night?”

    Almost as if in answer to his question the radio crackled to life. “EOC to Lieutenant Nichols. EOC to Lieutenant Nichols. Do you read? Over.”

    The hair on the back of his neck slowly stood up as he flicked on a flashlight and picked up the radio microphone from the nightstand next to the bed.

    “This is Nichols. Go ahead, EOC.”

    “Lieutenant, Major Smallwood has called an emergency meeting of neighborhood Defense Force leaders at the EOC. You are requested to come immediately. Do you copy? Over.”

    Nodding his head Larry keyed the mike again. “I copy, EOC. Does this have something to do with that air raid siren that’s waking up half the state?”

    “That’s an affirmative, Lieutenant. The meeting is to begin at, mark, fifty five minutes from now at the Emergency Operations Center. EOC out.” Dead air followed.

    Putting down the mike the Lieutenant carefully placed the flashlight upright so that it would shine on the ceiling and provide illumination for him to dress.

    “Dad, what’s going on?” Eddy said, worry written across his face.

    “Son, I don’t know. I can’t believe we’re actually having an air raid, not in Gainesville, Florida anyways. I haven’t heard one of those things since I was a boy. Didn’t think we even had one in town anymore. Wonder what basement they dug that thing up from?” He stopped for a moment to pull up his trousers. “Whatever it’s about they’ve damn sure woke up the whole town.”

    He pulled on his boots and reached for his coat. “If you don’t want to go back to sleep how about you pull out the shortwave receiver your grandpa gave you and see what you can find. Maybe GNV is back on the air by now.”

    Eddy climbed out of the bed and began to get dressed. “Yes, sir. Wish I had Cindy’s list, but I reckon I can find them on my own. Do you reckon the Koreans are bombing us again?”

    Buttoning the last of his coat buttons his father said, “Damned if I know, son.” He put his hat on, “But whatever it is it had better be good if they’re calling everyone to a meeting 8:30 at night when it’s ten degrees below freezing.” He walked over to where his boy was pulling on his jeans and gave him a tight hug. “I’ll leave the radio here. Don’t call me on it unless it’s an emergency. If this is going to take all night I’ll call you. I’ll be back as soon as I can.”

    Pulling out a smaller flashlight he stepped through the door and was gone.

    Alone in the house Eddy bundled up against the cold, lit the oil lamp to provide heat and save batteries, and began to search the airwaves for anything that could illuminate the darkness he was feeling.
    Last edited by A.T.Hagan; 04-28-2003 at 09:30 PM.

  28. #28
    <b>February 22, 2004..........Reverberations</b>

    There was ice on the roads so Larry did not make the downtown area very quickly then it took considerable time to get through the checkpoint which was now manned by no less than eight armed men. Reaching the building a man at the door motioned to the other stairs leading to the upper floors. Overhead the air raid siren had wound down as he walked towards the proper door. Gradually he could hear the thumping sound of an industrial generator as it softly echoed from the downtown buildings in the now still night air.

    Inside the building it was warmer. He climbed the stairs to the next floor and was met by a man in an SDF vest who indicated he was to go to the conference room they had used previously. Once there he found the room about half-full of men, many of whom were openly wearing side arms. Up front Major Smallwood was talking to a small group of men and he headed that direction. As he neared he began to overhear their conversation where Ken Graham, SDF leader for his neighborhood on the East side of town was speaking “…again last night, Major. No doubt about it, two of my people saw them. What do you propose to do about it?”

    Smallwood sighed. “Ken, what can I do about it? I don’t have men enough to stake out every street corner in the black parts of town. If your people can catch them we’ll put them in jail. In JAIL, Ken! The State Defense Force is not fronting for a lynch mob.”

    Conversation faded as they saw Larry approach. “Evening, folks. What’s with that antique air raid siren? I imagine you’ve about scared the greater part of Gainesville half to death by now.”

    Without smiling Smallwood replied, “Why shouldn’t they be? I’m about scared half to death just now myself.”

    Larry stared at him for a moment, seeing the fatigue and anxiety written across his face. Finally he said, “Major, I’m not following you. I was just going to bed when your noisemaker started wailing so maybe you’d better tell me what’s going on. You know WGNV has been down all afternoon.”

    Looking around the room the Major said, “Just over an hour ago the President gave a live address. It seems we recovered one of the failed missiles North Korea launched and now think that they received considerable help from the Chinese in building their rockets and nuclear warheads. We’ve declared war on China.”

    The rest of the room seemed to fade into the distance around Larry as the implications of the Major’s statement came to him. “I will be dipped in shit.” he said.

    Ken spoke up with a grin that showed strong, even white teeth, “You can say that again. Right out of the frying pan and into the fire.”

    “But Major,” Larry said, “there isn’t any Civil Defense anymore. Hell, I didn’t even know we still had an air raid siren left in Gainesville. If the Chinese start dropping nuclear bombs on us what are we supposed to do about it?”

    “We found the siren in the basement of the old courthouse.” Smallwood commented absently, “Figured it would work as well as anything to alert the city since there’s no power. GNV has promised us they’ll be back up within the hour to get the news out.”

    “Well that’s fine,” Larry persisted, “but what the Hell are we supposed to do about it? It’s not like there are any fallout shelters left. I can’t remember the last time I saw one of those old CD signs on buildings marking the shelters. If we start taking nuclear hits what on Earth as we supposed to do!”

    In a low, quiet tone Smallwood replied, “I don’t know. I don’t think there’s much we can do.”

    For the space of a long moment there was silence in the little knot of men. Finally Ken spoke up. “We may be at war with China, but no one’s dropped any bombs on us yet.” He turned his head and surveyed the room steadily filling with men in khaki vests. “What I suggest we do is concentrate on the present and the problems we KNOW we have - like terrorists in white hoods.”

    Color deepened in Smallwood’s face as he retorted, “Ken, they’re hardly terrorists. They’re probably just a bunch of good old boys getting off on scaring people. Don’t make more out of this than it is.”

    Ken opened his mouth to speak but just then the young man who had been assisting Smallwood at the previous meeting came up and gave the Major a folded slip of paper. He stood as if waiting for an answer. Rudy unfolded the paper and read what it contained.

    After a moment he nodded then looked at the young man. “Good. Tell them to load the stuff as quickly as they can and get it down here. Tell Chuck to do whatever it takes, but I WANT that stuff here and I want it FAST.”

    Nodding his head the man walked out. Scanning the room Smallwood caught the eye of the young woman sitting by the door and she gave him a sign. Nodding his head again he cleared his throat and said loudly, “OK, looks like we’re all here. Gentlemen, be seated, we have a lot to discuss.”

    Chairs scraped and creaked as everyone found a place. When the room was quiet again Smallwood began.

    “In case there’s anyone who doesn’t yet know, an hour ago the President went live to the nation and declared war on China. It seems we recovered one of the missiles the North Koreans were using to launch their satellites. The Defense Department feels certain that a lot of the technology used to build those rockets and manufacture the nuclear warheads they were carrying could only have come from the U.S. The President claims the Chinese stole or bought our technology and then slipped it to the North Koreans. He mentioned something about American companies selling missile technology to the Chinese and said the Justice Department would be naming names which I interpret to mean they’re going after those companies. Now what we have to decide here is what we’re going to do about it.”

    For a moment there was stunned silence in the room as the gathered men absorbed his words then everyone began to talk at once. Finally the Major pointed to one man in particular and said, “Yes, Dr. Jacob, what would you like to say?”

    Heads turned towards a man sitting near to the far end of the table. He appeared to be in his late forties with a look of both academia and military sharpness about him. “Rudy, we’re at war with China and we all know she’s a nuclear power like we are. Did the President say anything about whether we were going to use nuclear weapons against her? Do you think she may use her nukes against us? If this thing goes nuclear we need to get the word out to the public on how to prepare.”

    “Prepare!” a man on the far side of the table, nearer to the front spoke out. “What’s to prepare for?! If this thing goes nuclear there ain’t gonna be anyway to prepare! We’ll take millions of casualties all across the country! The ones that don’t die immediately will die in the weeks and months to come from the radiation! We’ll all wish we were dead!”

    Before anyone else could speak a deep, steady voice came from the back of the room, “Any of the living who find themselves envying the dead will find it easy enough to join them.”

    Many heads turned in the direction of the sound and saw the voice belonged to a tanned, blonde haired man standing in the corner. He tossed a green soft bound book onto the table and the slap of its impact sounded like a pistol shot. “Those of us who want to survive are going to try. There is information available on how to do so for anyone who has the intelligence and determination to use it.”

    Rudy bent over and picked up the book. The title read “Nuclear War Survival Skills” authored by a Kresson Kearny. He started to ask about the work when the man put up his hand. “But just at the moment we don’t know if we have anything to worry about or not. The nearest primary targets to us here in Gainesville are down in Tampa and up to King’s Bay in Georgia - both of which are well over a hundred miles away and not upwind of us. The next nearest is in Panama City at Tyndall which is nearly three hundred miles away. The Chinese could nuke all three targets and we might never see any meaningful amount of radiation here. We’ve got other problems to worry about. Namely how the great unwashed out there are going to react when they learn we’re at war with China after we’ve already scared them half to death with an air raid siren!”

    A wave of sound washed through the room as everyone tried to speak at once again. Finally the Major slapped the table top with the book and its sharp report shattered the noise into silence.

    “Thank you. Now if we can all pull ourselves together again I want to get this meeting back on track.” He looked at the man in the back of the room who had tossed the book on the table. “Ian, would you mind if I take a look at this book after the meeting? How did you come by it?”

    “Sure, you can borrow it.” The man replied, “It’s a spare copy. A fellow I used to shoot with turned me on to it. Haven’t seen him in years. Last I heard he’d moved out into the country somewhere to raise children and chickens or some such.”

    “Thank you.” Smallwood resumed, “Nuclear war is not why I called you here tonight, but it is a matter that we’ll need to discuss – just in case.”

    He set the book down and put his hands on the table. “I think the reaction we just saw in here a moment ago is a good illustration of what we’re probably going to see out there” he gestured at the window. “There’s not much we can do about the panickers. They’ll pull themselves together or not. No, what I’m concerned with are the opportunists. We may well soon be seeing individuals or groups who decide this new situation as an exploitable opportunity. If we’re not ready when they make their move we could lose control.”

    Dr. Jacob spoke loudly enough to make himself heard over the rest. “Rudy, is there some reason you’re more concerned about this now than before we declared war on China? I thought we were doing all that we could already in this area.”

    The other voices died away as new concern began to display itself on the faces of the men at the table and they turned towards the Major again to hear his answer.

    “Yes, Dr. Jacob. There is reason to be more concerned.” The man stopped for a moment as if struggling with an internal decision then with a firm nod of his head he continued. “It is becoming clear to me now that there is a program of disinformation, or perhaps it would be more accurate to say a program of suppression of the news, happening here in the United States. As most of you know we have a number of amateur radio operators as well as professionals who work in cooperation with the State Defense Force and other emergency management authorities. Several days ago some of them began to bring in rather unsettling reports of civil insurrection in the larger cities of Southern California. This was later confirmed through official channels who assured us that it would soon be suppressed.”

    Rudy picked up a sheaf of papers and motioned with it at the group as if offering evidence to back up his words. “Well, over the past two days it has become self-evident this has not happened. Our radio net has been steadily collecting, cross referencing, and confirming whatever they could find out there. It’s become apparent the insurrection has spread now far beyond Southern California.”

    Flipping through the pages one by one he read off place names, “San Francisco, and Oakland, California; Portland, Oregon; Seattle, Washington; Detroit and Dearborn, Michigan; Philadelphia; New York City; Birmingham, Alabama; and Atlanta are now all reporting breakdowns of civil order of one sort or another. Have any of you heard about this yet?” He stopped and looked around the room, a few men nodded their heads knowingly, but most looked shocked.

    “No, I can see that most of you have not. Why? Because it’s not being reported in the national media.” He threw the papers down on the table, “Nearly every one of those reports there came off of the amateur radio bands and other such bands. They’re from people with transceivers who live in those areas and are trying to get the word out.” He reached down and fished around in the stack then pulled out a particular sheet. “Right here is a report that Louis Farrakan was killed yesterday in Dearborn, Michigan in an arrest attempt by the Department of Homeland Security. The Ham who broadcast the report states the President has signed an Executive Order that the Nation of Islam is a terrorist organization and has ordered the round up of all Nation of Islam members. He said that much of Dearborn is now in flames as open fighting has broken out in the streets. In spite of repeated attempts to contact him we have not been able to reach that Ham again since this morning.”

    The Major stopped for a moment to let the import of his words sink in. Dr. Jacobs asked, “Rudy, that is unsettling news to be sure, but what has it got to do with us? We’ve had no such outbreaks here, at least not since the food distribution straightened itself out.”

    Smallwood shrugged his shoulders. “I can’t say for a fact we’re going to have the same trouble here, but I can tell you this. Since just past noon today the State Defense Force radio net has been unable to contact many of the amateurs who provided the earlier reports. In fact, in some bands they haven’t been able to contact anyone at all. The consensus among the more experienced radio people is selective jamming.”

    Another man of medium height, deeply tanned, with a crewcut dressed in blue jeans and chambray shirt spoke up. “Jamming? By who? How many bands?” The temperature in the room seemed to drop with his words.

    “We don’t know by who.” Smallwood answered, “At last report there were at least six bands blacked out. Seven amateurs who we established contact with previously on other bands are now not responding to our calls.”

    Ken Graham asked, “But why would they want to black out communication like that?”

    “Because it’s contagious.” Heads turned towards the back of the room again to look at the man whom Smallwood had called Ian. “Right now the nation is on the verge of a full scale civil breakdown. Somebody in the government, the Federal government, is trying to limit the spread of the contagion. I believe it to be highly likely the insurrection has spread even further than we already know.”

    Another man, short, balding and bespectacled, but wearing a well used large frame holstered revolver said, “But who’s instigating this? How on Earth did it get so widespread without anyone knowing about it before?”

    No one spoke as many looked at each other. Finally, Ian did. “May not be any overarching conspiracy at all. Doesn’t need to be one. I think there’s always been thousands, maybe tens of thousands, possibly even hundreds of thousands of people who for one reason or another want to violently change things. They just never made their moves before because they knew the law, or the military if need be, would crush them. Now, they think that’s no longer the case. Who ever is fighting in Portland, Oregon may not know or care about whoever is fighting in L.A. or New York City. Then there’s the looters that we see every time we have a civil breakdown of some sort. All they want is to steal whatever they can get away with, but they’ll swell the numbers of the first group. Right now our government and military are stretched nearly to the breaking point. The very fact we are all here in this room now is evidence of that. The only question we really need to be concerned with is what are we going to do about it all – here.”

    Dr. Jacob followed him with, “OK, so let’s leave aside the questions of who is interfering with communications and who is instigating the fighting and deal with that one. What ARE we going to do if this… insurrection… breaks out here in Alachua county?”

    “We’re going to have to be better organized and respond faster than the enemy.” Smallwood said. “This means everyone has to know their part and be ready to move when the need arises.”

    “What do you have in mind, Rudy?” Ken asked. “Most of us don’t have vehicles that run and we’re still short on radios. We can’t even seem to catch a half-dozen fools in white hoods.”

    “Radios we can do something about.” The Major held up the folded piece of paper he’d read earlier. “This is a report that the task force I sent to the state surplus property warehouse in Starke found seven cases of radios. They’re old, many on different frequencies, but they still work or can be made to work. They’re on their way back with them now. We’ve requisitioned every deep cycle and car battery we can lay hands on and have them charging. As the tech pass each radio they’ll be mated to a battery and passed out where they’re needed. Communications we’ll have. Transport is coming. That will be piecemeal too, but we’ve gotten a large part of the county school bus fleet running again. We’ll use those to move men to where they’re needed. What we need to do now is to decide who is going to support who and how they’re going to do it.”

    Smallwood walked over to one wall and slid a panel back to reveal a large white board next to the map of the city with the neighborhood defense zones. “OK then, let’s get down to work. Before we leave I want this worked out. There’s no telling how much time we may have.”

    Gradually, with much discussion, a plan began to take shape for how to defend the city from trouble within and without using the available resources at hand. Food and hot coffee were brought in. Random reports from the SDF radio net came in and were incorporated into the planning.

    At two a.m. in the morning the faces in the room were haggard with fatigue and stress, but the defense planning was nearly complete. The young man who brought reports to the Major came in and spoke softly into his ear. Smallwood’s face clouded and he said, “Goddamn it! OK, bring him in. Might as well get it over with.”

    The man left and returned a moment later. A black man wearing an SDF vest accompanied him. A bloody bandage was wrapped around his upper left arm. He walked up to Ken Graham and threw down a bloody piece of white cloth. “We got them, Ken. But they done started a world of shit.”

    The black SDF leader reached out and picked up the cloth and shook it. It was a white hood.

    The messenger said, “Those goddamn crackers burnt a cross in front of the Depot Avenue Baptist Church and one of them threw a firebomb in the window. The church is burning. We manage to grab them before they could get away, but we ran into a mob on the way back. We lost two of them in the fight. Benny, Leroy and Eli are hurt. Benny’s pretty bad. One of the three we got away with is hurt bad too. I’m pretty sure the two we lost are dead now. There’s a couple of hundred people out in the street down there now, Ken.”

    The room fell quiet as they stared at the bloodstained white hood in Ken’s hand. He turned to look at Smallwood.

    “Well, Major. Looks like we may get a chance to find out if this plan’s gonna work or not.”

  29. #29
    <b>February 23, 2004..........Fall from Grace</b>

    The radio popped and hissed badly as Larry spoke into it. “Mitch, fall back across Main Street. I’ve got covering fire for you. We’re going to have to let them have the East side of the street. Over.”

    For a moment there was no reply and in the near distance the rattle and crack of mixed small arms fire could be heard. On the next street over a thudding blast belched a rolling fireball into the air rising above the treeline like a brilliant phoenix.

    The radio crackled to life, “I copy Lieutenant. That blast was an LP tank in the back of that restaurant. We’re fal…” and the rest of the transmission was lost in static.

    “Goddamn it!” He angrily swore. “We ever find out whose screwing with the radios I’ll kill the son of a bitch myself!” In front of him he saw the first of Mitch’s men begin coming back across the road and he flashed his light at the riflemen lined up behind the retaining wall. Flashes of fire were seen as two dozen men began to run across the road. Their pursuers were not far behind and both groups fired at each other on the run. One man fell in the middle of the street and two others grabbed him without stopping and kept moving. The pursuers who stopped to perfect their aim quickly realized that was a fatal mistake and began to take cover as they came under the fire of the men on the west side of the street.

    Billy came up from behind and spoke into Larry’s ear. “The Major said to fall back, we’re going to let them have the shopping center. We’re to reinforce the group defending the police station. We’ve lost the sheriff’s dept.”

    Mitch made his way in a low crouching run to where Larry stood. The Lieutenant nodded at Billy then said, “OK, tell him as soon as we can get everyone back we’ll pull out.” Looking at Mitch he asked, “We leave anyone over there?”

    His sergeant spat on the ground, “We lost Hank Collins. Took a round through the head. They’ve got a sniper or two. Had to leave him or get cut off. Everyone else is out, but we’ve got three wounded bad enough they’ll have to be evacced.”

    Larry swore some more then said, “OK, get your men on the bus. My group here is less winded than yours so we’ll pull drag. Start moving them down 6th st. towards the GPD buildings. Smallwood’s going to make a stand there.”

    Mitch nodded, turned and left to collect his men. Larry began to work his way down his lines speaking to his men, Billy as his radio man followed. “We’re falling back, but don’t go until I give the word. I want them to pay the toll for crossing the road before we give it to them.”

    The sun was near to reaching the edge of the tree line on the east side of the road and would soon be shining in their faces making it difficult to see dark skin and clothing against the greater darkness of the other side of the street. The opposing commander knew this as well because after two brief sorties that left six lying motionless in the street and on the sidewalk he made no further attempts. Minutes passed with only the sound of distant gunfire and screaming near and far to be heard. The skyline was still dark enough for the fires on both sides of the streets to be clearly seen.

    In the interim Larry pulled his men back into a reinforced crescent. Behind the shopping center were two busses waiting for him and his men. Ever so slowly the sun crept down the sides of the building until at last the opposing commander felt it was time. Wild screaming was heard as dozens of men began to rush across the street. The first six or so made it to the sidewalk on the west side when four rifles spoke once, then twice, long streaks of fire indicating tracer rounds. Instantaneously four trash piles on the east side of the street exploded giving birth to brilliant yellow-white blossoms of flame that rose into the sky and scattered fire in wide circles. A number of attackers found themselves in the radius of the fiery blooms and began to burn themselves with high pitched screaming. The rifles of the rest of the task force began to speak so that man after man fell in the street, sidewalks, and parking lot of the shopping center they were running towards. One man exploded in midstride, the detonation flinging limbs and anonymous gobbets of flesh in a wide radius.

    “Fall back!” Larry shouted and half the men stood and ran, then finally the last of the men along with the Lieutenant pulled out. Shots rang out and bullets spanged off the retaining wall, pavement, and building but no heavy fire was taken. No one tried to cross the street again as they retreated.

    Larry, Billy, and four men were the last to embark. He and Billy jumped into the cab of his truck and the four others into the bed. Leaving the lights off he pulled out and quickly made their way over to Sixth St and headed south. He parked in the drive of the tire place in front of the police headquarters and everyone climbed out. A man met them and said, “Lieutenant, Major Smallwood is on the roof there and would like you to join him. He’s keeping your men in reserve to give them a chance to rest.”

    “Thank you.” Larry said, “I’ll find the Major.”

    Billy and the four men went off with the man and Larry loped towards the police building. Inside a GPD officer at the desk showed him onto the roof where he found the Major with a half dozen other men.

    Larry walked up and shook hands then asked, “Why’d you pull me back from the shopping center? I think we could have held them to the east side of Main Street. Now they’ve got the stores and everything.”

    “Stan Greenhauser funked it and ran. His men ran with him.” Smallwood said curtly, “You would have been flanked to the north within the hour. We’ve lost most of the Duck Pond area. Except for the downtown area and GPD here we may lose everything east of Sixth Street. Let them have it, they’ll just have a larger perimeter to have to defend against our counterattacks.”

    “Anyone figured out who’s interfering with our radios?” Larry spat to get the foul taste of the powder smoke from the Chinese ammunition out of his mouth. “I might could have put some backbone into Greenhauser, but we couldn’t get through more than a word or two at a time before we’d get washed out.”

    “Not yet.” Smallwood offered him a canteen, “But I’ve got a crew of Hams on a fox hunt looking for him. They figure he’s not far off and think they’ll find him before long but getting around to the east to triangulate him is taking time. He’s got to be using a scanner to pick up on our frequencies so fast since we’re using such a mix of radios. He’s probably got a half dozen radios himself and whenever he picks one of us up on his scanner he just flips over to that frequency and blows us out. He’s pushing a lot of watts.”

    “Good, I hope they find that bastard quick! We could have held this shit to Porter’s Quarters if that asshole hadn’t started screwing with the radios. Did Ken Graham make it out?”

    Smallwood pulled out a flask from his pocket, unscrewed the cap and took a swallow before offering it to Larry. “Yeah, he got out. Lost two men in that fiasco though. I’ve got him and his two neighboring groups digging into their areas since they’re now the front lines. Jones isn’t making much of a push down there which is a smart thing. It’s all mostly black, middle class and if he leaves them alone he may yet get them to come over to his side.”

    “Jesus!” Larry swore after swallowing a drink of the whiskey in the flask. “You think they will?”

    Rudy shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know. Some will, likely, but how many I can’t say. Whoever this Jones fellow is he seems pretty smart. Too smart. If we can’t get on top of this pretty quick we’ll see some defections.”

    New sounds of gunfire began to erupt in the middle distance to their north. “Sounds like Jones has crossed the road.” Larry said. “We slapped him down pretty hard before we pulled out. That idea Billy had about putting that starting fluid in them big glass jugs full of gasoline was inspired. Put a couple of jugs into a pile of flammable liquids and hit ‘em with tracer rounds and they went off like nuclear bombs! Old Jones got the wind up him for a while there and we managed to pull out without any problems. Looks like he’s found his balls again now though.”

    “Not bad, Larry.” Smallwood commented. “Good to see some creativity. We’re going to need it.”

    “Yeah, they’re getting creative alright. Mitch is writing down a bunch of ideas we can use if we can find the materials.”

    A man came up and handed the Major a folded sheet of paper. He opened the page and read what was on it then looked off to the southeast. Turning to look at Larry he said, “Comm thinks they’ve got the local area of our jammer fixed and expect to have him pinpointed close enough we should be able to find him in the next half hour. You up to a fox hunt?”

    The Lieutenant nodded his head and they walked over to a map covered table. Rudy pulled out a large area map of the city and said, “They think he’s in here somewhere. It’s in Jones’s area but away from the fighting. If you loop around to the south of town and come in from the east you could probably get into there without too much trouble. They think the jammer may move periodically so it would be good to have you in his area when they pinpoint him so you can jump him before he pulls up stakes again. You up to that?”

    “Yeah, I’ll do it, but how are they going to pinpoint him for me without him twigging to us with me over there and them having to tell me on the radio?”

    “Good question. Let’s go talk to Sean and see what we can figure out.”

    The two men went down into the GPD radio room and talked to the chief communications officer about the problem. “No problem.” he said, “Our jammer can only cover so many channels at once I think. When ever we need to talk to you we’ll have operators on two other radios key up first and give bogus, but realistic sounding traffic. His scanners ought to lock on to them first and he’ll probably start screwing with them. After they start we’ll key up and call you. If you need to reply you’ll just use clicks, two for ‘yes’, three for ‘no’ and so on. I think we can keep each transmission brief enough that he won’t catch on to them before you catch on to him.”

    “OK, sounds like a plan.” Larry said, “I’ll have Billy go over it with since he’s my radio man. Rudy, what can you give me in the way of manpower and transport?”

    Smallwood took off his cap and ran his fingers through his thinning hair. “I think it would be best if we kept the force small. A big group would attract attention. Three trucks would probably do it and about fifteen men. If you can’t get in with those you probably won’t get in with five times that many. I’ll send a surprise with you though.” He turned and walked out of the radio room, Larry following after.

    An aide came up to the Major and gave him another message. He took it then told the man to round up several people and have them meet him outside in the station parking lot.

    Outside a man in BDU fatigues came up and said, “You wanted to see me?”

    “Yes, George. This is Lieutenant Nichols. He’s going on a special ops mission for me and I want you to go with him for firepower. It’s a search and destroy thing and he’s going to have to move fast and light so he’ll need you.” Smallwood pointed across the street to Larry’s truck. “I think you should be able to operate out of the bed of his truck.”

    George surveyed the truck the said, “OK. Use what you got. I’ll get my stuff and set up.” The man walked into the building as others came up and the Major began issuing orders. Ten minutes later two more pickup trucks arrived along with Mitch and many of Larry’s men. Smallwood explained the mission to them and they began to make ready. Billy came out of the building carrying a new radio.

    Walking over to his truck Larry pulled out his DeLorme Atlas & Gazeteer and studied the available roads and discussed with Billy how much longer the Hams on the fox hunt would need to more specifically pinpoint their jammer. Billy replied they thought they’d have him pretty close in another twenty to thirty minutes.

    “Ok then,” he said to the other drivers. “this is what we’ll do. Looks to me like he’s somewhere in the Lincoln Estate area. We’ll take out due south on U.S. 441 then cut across here on these county roads until we hit Newnan’s lake then up the lake road until we hit Hawthorne road. We’ll come into Lincoln Estates here. Hopefully they’ll have something more specific for us by then because that’s a pretty big area. When we get in there we’re going to have to move fast or we could get cut off and trapped. We really want to take this fella alive if we possibly can, but if it looks like we’re going to lose him then take him and his damned radios out however you can. Everyone got that? Any questions?”

    The two other drivers discussed the roads, one of the men was intimately familiar with the area having lived there at one time. When everyone was familiar with the plan they loaded up. The man known as George climbed into the bed of Larry’s truck and using cargo straps made a harness for himself. Larry watched him for a while then asked, “Why are you building that?”

    George said, “If you have to do any violent maneuvers I don’t want to get thrown out. I’ll have both hands full and won’t be able to hold on.”

    “Hold on to what?” Larry asked.

    The man bent over and opened the lid to a long, narrow wood crate to pull out a belt fed machine gun. He set it down and pulled out a bipod to mount it on. “Really better to have it mounted to the truck but there’s no time for that. This’ll have to do.”

    “Where in Hell did you get that?!” Larry said, staring at the weapon.

    “I’m a Class Three collector. This is an M60 and is the only belt fed machine gun in private hands in the county. Legally in private hands, anyways. The Major asked me to come into town and help out.” He mounted the bipod to the gun. “From the sounds of what we’re going to do, I think some heavy firepower may be what we need. I’m sorry now I didn’t buy that MaDeuce last year.”

    Nodding his head Larry said, “Right. Glad to have you. Speed and firepower are what we need. Everyone load up!”

    When the three trucks were loaded Larry pulled out and headed west to catch 13th st which was U.S. 441 in town then began moving south. They encountered no problems and saw very few people. George kept the M60 below the top of the bed and out of sight. With no other traffic to contend with they quickly made their way out of town, crossed Payne’s Prairie then cut east near to the town of Micanopy. They followed county roads seeing nothing but the occasional dead car until they reached the road around Newnan’s lake where they encountered a barricade manned by a half dozen white men.

    One of the guards put up his hand and walked forward while the rest stayed behind cover. When he reached the truck he asked Larry, “Who are you guys? Why do you want to come through here?”

    The Lieutenant pulled his vest away from his chest so the SDF initials could be seen. “We’re State Defense Force and I’m Lieutenant Nichols. We’re on official business and need to get through. Move the barricade out of the way.”

    The man looked Larry up and down then the men in the other trucks. “Look, uhh, Lieutenant, are you involved in that fighting going on it town?”

    Exasperated Larry said, “Yes, mister! We are. Now move the barricade and let us through!”

    Looking back towards the other five men at the barricade the man faced Larry again and said, “No sir. I can’t do that. We don’t want no part of that trouble in town and if we let you through it’ll look like we’re a part of it. You find another way to get where you’re going.”

    A feeling of calm washed over the Lieutenant like a wave as he stared the man in the face. “Mister, I’ve just told you we’re State Defense Force and we’re on urgent, official business. Now get that damned barricade out of our way or we’ll move it for you. I ain’t got time for your shit just now - we’re in a hurry.”

    Visibly shaking, but steadfast the man again said, “No, sir. You find another way to go. We don’t want no part of you.”

    Larry turned his head towards the rear of the truck and said loudly out the window, “George!”

    “Yes, sir!” the man responded.

    “This gentleman here is uncooperative. Now I’m in a hurry and don’t have time to argue. Please be kind enough to persuade these gentlemen to get the **** out of my way!”

    George stared wide eyed at the other men in the truck bed with him for a moment then nodded his head and shouted back, “Yes, sir!” Squatting down into the bed he picked up the machine gun and turned around with it pointing it over the cab. The gun began to stutter and a stream of bullets ripped along the side of an old Cadillac parked behind and to one side of the barricade. The men that had been manning the structure quickly disappeared into the trees.

    Larry looked back to the now white faced guard and said, “Now, I said get that goddamned thing out of my way! Comprende’?”

    “Uhh..uh..uh… Yes! Yes, I’ll do that!” The man ran to the barricade and began to drag pieces out of the road. Mitch detailed several men to help him and soon the way was cleared. The convoy quickly passed through the area and was gone.

    Shortly before they made the Hawthorne road the radio came to life and they were given more specific information on where the jammer was thought to be. They could not narrow the search to a specific house, but they felt he could only be in a four block area in the Lincoln Estates area and would probably have multiple visible antennas. Billy replied with a double click and the radio lapsed back into silence.

    Larry stopped the truck at the intersection of the lake road and the Hawthorne road to confer with the other trucks. Mitch reminded everyone not to bunch up in case of an ambush and how to give covering fire. Climbing behind the wheel they took off again driving much faster than they had before.

    In minutes they reached the entrance to the subdivision. Just before turning several men were seen running away from the road but Larry forbade anyone to fire on them for fear of giving themselves away too soon. George stood up and belted himself into his impromptu firing harness with the bipod of the gun resting on the top of the truck cab. Larry made his first turn and was into his second one when Mitch slapped the top of the cab, “Turn right on this next street! I see three antennas sticking up close to each other and they don’t look like for a TV!”

    Larry swerved to the right hoping he wasn’t throwing anyone out of the truck, but afraid to slow down for fear of losing surprise. After a half-block Mitch slapped the cab again and said, “Next left! It’s on that street!”

    A hard left and about halfway down the block on the right hand side a light purple house with three antennas on masts could be seen. They appeared to have been recently erected. Larry floored the truck as he saw men starting to come out of doors from houses on both sides of the street. Above him the M60 began to chatter and he saw a line of bullets begin to trace themselves along the front of house on the right side and the man who had run from its doorway fall. Others in the back of the truck and the other two trucks opened up. Larry shut it out and concentrated on the house. He slammed a garbage can out of the way with the truck bumper as George raked the windows and doors of the frame house with the M60 and Mitch screamed, “Go! Go! Go!” and men jumped from two of the trucks to run towards the house while the remaining men provided covering fire. Larry threw open the door while shouting at Billy, “Stay with the truck. If we ain’t out in two minutes take the truck and get the Hell out of here!”

    Mitch was blowing the lock out of the door with his shotgun when Larry arrived and the men ran in. For ten seconds there was much fast and furious shooting then it fell quiet in the house, but for the screaming. The men quickly searched the house and when Larry kicked the door of the master bedroom open he found what they were looking for. A wide eyed young black man was holding a pistol in his hand, standing in front of a desk covered in radio sets, undecipherable electronics and papers. “Freeze fella!” Larry shouted.

    The gun fell from the man’s hand as he raised his arms into the air. Running forward the Lieutenant grabbed him, spun him around and slammed him over the desk. Another man came in and quickly pulled his arms behind him and ran a heavy electrical tie around his wrists and zipped hit shut. A third man came in with a can of gas and splashed it across the desk and it ignited immediately, possible as a result of the live electronics. Yanking their prisoner through the doorway they hustled him out of the house towards the waiting truck. Sporadic gunfire was being exchanged and Larry could see the rear truck was leaking coolant and the other had a flat tire. The sergeants began to hustle the men back into the trucks, several having to be carried. As they pulled out the M60 spoke again breaking up a knot of men beginning to concentrate behind a wall of a neighboring house. Driving as fast as he dared Larry led his convoy out of the area.

    Occasional shots were fired at them on the way out, but they were moving fast enough that Larry reckoned they had small chance of hitting anything. At the entrance to the subdivision they found two cars pushed into the street and men moving others to widen the barricade. George raked the cars and the men to drive them away and they drove through a yard running over a well tended flower bed on the right hand side of the street going around. Had they managed to get the last car in place they would have had to dismount to move them to get out again.

    At two miles distance from their target the motor seized on the truck with the coolant leak. Larry ordered it abandoned and distributed the men among the other two trucks. They drove another mile then stopped to allow the truck with the flat to change tires. That truck had a floor jack and with several men helping the work was quickly done in under a minute. In the distance Larry could see several cars moving towards them.

    “Looks like they’re going to chase us some.” the Lieutenant said. Turning back towards the truck, “George, give them a salute when they get close enough.”

    He quickly looked around but did not see the man he’d addressed so he asked, “Where the Hell is George?”

    Mitch nodded down into the bed of the truck and looking down Larry saw him, the bed slick with blood. Mitch shook his head negatively then said, “Took a round right through the throat there as we were going through that yard getting out. Nothing we could do.”

    “Shit!” Larry said, “You know how to use that machine gun?”

    Nodding his head Mitch said, “Oh yeah, I can use. You get us moving, Larry, I’ll discourage anyone from getting too close.”

    The men quickly loaded up and began pulling out. Looking in his rear view mirror Larry could see their pursuit would catch them before they made a half-mile. At a hundred yards Mitch began to walk his fire into the lead car over the hood and into the windshield. The two other cars quickly swerved off and began moving evasively. Mitch flattened the tire of one before he stopped firing.

    After that no more attempts at pursuit was made. Taking an indirect route to the north, opposite of the way they had come the convoy made its way around the northeast side of Gainesville to come back to the area of the GPD headquarters from the northwest. Smallwood met them in the parking lot.

    “How bad did we get hit?” he asked Larry as he walked up.

    “Bad enough.” the Lieutenant replied, “We lost George, and Bill Bradley. Zero, Clint, and Stevie are hit bad enough to need a doctor. Lost one truck when it took a round through the radiator.”

    Smallwood winced then said, “Damn. That hurts. But it was worth it. You took out the jammer and we’ve been able to coordinate much better since you did.”

    Larry stepped out of the truck, walked to the side of the bed and reached in to grab the man by the collar and haul him up where he could be seen. “We got him alright. Right here! And he’s going to tell us everything we want to know!”

    A surly, defiant look came into the man’s eyes and he spat, “I ain’t gonna tell you nothin’ motha****er! I got my rights! Civil rights or Geneva Convention, I got my rights.”

    Mitch squatted down beside the man so that his head was next to his. Speaking in a soft tone of voice. “Oh, but you will my friend.” His pocketknife snicked out into his hand, blade open as he slowly, tenderly reached up and shaved the man’s right sideburn off. “I don’t think you understand the kind of war you’ve gotten yourself into. We don’t give a shit about your civil rights or the Geneva Convention.”

    Mitch motioned to the other men in the back of the truck then said, “Get this piece of shit over into the office of that tire joint there. We’re going to play Twenty Questions.”

    Smallwood clouded up and said, “Mitch, we’re not savages here.”

    Larry reached out and took his commanding officer by the arm and began to walk towards the police headquarters. “Rudy, just walk away. Don’t force this into a confrontation you can’t win. It’ll just cause no end of trouble.” The Major pulled away and Larry took new purchase of his shoulder. Several other men joined him and walked the protesting man towards the building. The now hysterical prisoner struggled in Mitch’s grip as they lifted him out of the truck.

    The door of the police headquarters was swinging closed when he began screaming.
    Last edited by A.T.Hagan; 05-02-2003 at 08:56 PM.

  30. #30
    <b>February 24, 2004..........Acceleration</b>

    Cindy sat astride her bicycle impatiently tapping her foot on the ground. Barb came out of the house with a box and several bundles and began to situate them for transport. Unable to contain herself any longer the girl said, “Mom! We’re going to be late!”

    Looking up at her daughter with an exasperated expression Barb retorted, “Well, darling, why don’t you come over here and make yourself useful? Maybe then we’ll be able to get off sometime today.”

    Abashed, the girl dismounted her machine and began to help her mother stow the bundles. “What is all this stuff, mom?” she asked.

    “Mostly it’s mending that needs doing. Edna said I could use her treadle Singer. That box there has the beans, and cornbread we’re having for lunch so be careful with it. There’s a bundt cake in there for dessert.”

    “Beans again?” the child said with disappointment. “I hate beans. When this war ends I’m NEVER going to eat beans again!”

    Barb laughed at her daughter’s passionate discourse concerning their lunch. “Well, young lady, until this war IS over you’ll eat beans and like them. Right now I can tell you there are millions here in America who’d be grateful for a bowl of beans and a hunk of cornbread. I was reading one of your grandfather’s history books last night about the Siege of Vicksburg during the Civil War. Let us hope we don’t come down to having to eat rats like they did.”

    “Rats?!” The girl’s face wrinkled in disgust. “Ewwww!”

    “Ewwww is right, but if you get hungry enough a big old hairy rat would look pretty tasty.” She smiled then continued, “But I will agree that I could really, really go for a good old Big Mac right now.”

    John came around the back of the house pushing his bike from the workshop where he had been repairing its chain. Seeing his daughter’s bike he laughed aloud. “Good lord, Barb! Do you have enough tied onto that machine? It’s not a truck! You put too much weight on that thing and you’ll blow a tube. I’m not honing to get skinned by old Ed Stillwell again dickering for another.”

    His daughter stuck her tongue out at him then said, “It’s mostly clothing, dad. It doesn’t weigh much. The only heavy thing is the lunch. Besides, with the weight I’ve lost I’m not the load I used to be.” She paused for a moment, as in thought, then said, “Now that you mention it, you never did tell me what you traded Mr. Stillwell for the tires and tubes.”

    Her father shook his head with a rueful grin. “Oh, not more than a limb and a few fingers. He drives a hard bargain, but I got what we needed.”

    “But what did you trade him?” Barb persisted.

    “Ammunition. .22 long rifle ammo. Five boxes per tube, ten boxes per tire. A half case of Winchester Super-X .22 long rifle.”

    Barb whistled. “Dad, that’s steep. We didn’t really have to have bikes. We could have walked.”

    “Oh yes we did have to have bikes, daughter.” His expression became serious. “Before this war is over a working bicycle is going to become as important as a horse was to anyone who didn’t live in the city back in the 19th century. I paid high for what we had to have, but I was glad to pay it nonetheless. I got the very last tires and tubes he had that could be made to fit our bikes. Who knows what that same rubber would cost today? IF you could find it at all.”

    Barb looked to her daughter then said with a laugh, “Well dearheart, take good care of your bike or we may have to sell you to the gypsies to fix it!”

    Using a bungee cord to secure the last bundle to the back of her bike Barb said, “OK, I’m ready.”

    John ducked into the house to secure the doors than came out again. “Alright, let’s get on over to the Marlboroughs.”

    The family rolled down the driveway and made the turn onto the paved road. They waved to Ben in his front yard as they went by. A few minutes later they turned off the pavement and began taking the graded road. “Oof!” John lamented, “I should have bought a mountain bike.”

    Barb angled to one side to avoid the worst of the washboard only to discover it left her in deep soft sand. “What you should have bought was a road grader!”

    They made their way forward and soon came to the connecting road that led them to the Marlborough driveway. Dismounting their bikes John chained them to a tree. “We may be in the country, but there’s no sense in taking chances.”

    Edna came out to meet them as they were taking their bundles off of their machines. “Good morning!” she said cheerfully. “Hasn’t it turned into a pretty day today!”

    They stood in the yard for a time exchanging pleasantries and basking in the winter sun as the chill of the morning began to fade. A noise was heard from inside the house which prompted Edna to say, “Well, we’d best be going inside. Jesse’s been busy as bees all morning in the shack and he’s just bursting to tell someone about it.”

    Inside Edna, Barb and Cindy prepared the meal for the table then they all sat down to eat.

    John sprinkled chopped onions on his beans then passed them to Jesse. “Have you heard anything new on the fighting in Gainesville?”

    “A good bit.” The radioman replied, “I’ve been working the local bands mostly since it broke out.” He nodded his head in the direction of his antenna outside. “It’s a good thing I’ve got a seventy foot mast or I’d miss a lot of it. Many of the frequencies they’re using don’t carry very far.”

    “Jesse?” Barb asked, “Have you heard anything about my husband? His name is Larry Nichols and he’s a lieutenant with the State Defense Force in Gainesville. We live on the other side of town from the fighting. I’m hoping he’s not involved. He’s there with my son whose name is Eddy.”

    “It’s hard to say, Barb. I’ve heard a number of transmissions to and from a lieutenant named Nichols, but I’m not sure if he’s yours or not. If he is he’s still alive at any rate because I heard him this morning. I’ve heard one by the name of Eddy, but that voice sounded like it belonged to an older man. Certainly wasn’t a boy’s voice.”

    She smiled her appreciation. “Thanks Jesse. I’m sure that’s him unless there’s two Lieutenant Nichols with the Gainesville SDF. Eddy wouldn’t be involved in any fighting. He’s only fourteen.”

    John asked, “Does it sound like they’re getting it under control or is fighting still spreading? GNV hinted this morning said it was getting out of hand up north and out west.”

    “Hard to say about that, too. You can hear things on a radio, but sometimes it’s difficult to tell how much of what you hear is true. Near as I can tell the lines in Gainesville have stabilized. Now that they’ve taken out the jammer the SDF has been much better able to coordinate their movements and that’s stopped the spread of Emperor Jones’s forces.”

    “Jammer? Emperor Jones?” John looked at him quizzically, “I think you lost me on the curve there Jesse.” he said with a laugh.

    Jesse chuckled. “Of course. You haven’t been here to listen to the running play-by-play that Edna has.” He took a deep swallow of his water. “Not long after the fighting broke out in Porter’s Quarters somebody began selectively jamming the radio frequencies being used by the SDF. They’ve got such a Rube Goldberg radio net that it took them a while to figure out for sure what was going on. Near as I can tell it’s why they weren’t able to keep the fighting contained because whoever was doing it was sending fake traffic to cause confusion and selectively jamming the real traffic. They had men going in all directions but the ones they were needed in.”

    He took a spoonful of his beans, chewed, swallowed and continued. “Sometime not long after dawn they finally put two and two together and figured out what was going on. A fox hunt was set up to find the jammer.”

    Cindy looked at Jesse with a puzzled expression. “A fox hunt, Mr. Marlborough?”

    “Yes, Cindy. It’s what we call a search for a radio transmitter. There are ways one can determine the location of any transmitter if you have the knowledge and equipment to do it. Mostly we do it for fun, but once in a while someone misbehaves with a radio or is calling for help, but can’t tell us where they’re at. We put up a fox hunt and track them down.”

    “But wouldn’t the person they’re hunting know he was being hunted?” John asked.

    “Hmm, yes, perhaps. If he was an experienced radio man he’d probably be able to figure it out. Even if he didn’t know for sure he’d know enough to keep moving his location so he’d be harder to track down. But the SDF net in Gainesville was pretty subtle about it. I know a lot of those men. There’s many decades of experience between them. If I hadn’t been at this for so long I might not have twigged to it either. Whoever the jammer is – or was- I don’t think he’s a Ham, at least not a long time Ham anyways. He knows something of radios, but I suspect he didn’t know a lot about radiomen. Sometime late yesterday morning the jamming stopped and hasn’t started again. Leastwise, the jamming of the SDF frequencies has stopped. The Emperor seems to be having trouble getting his traffic out now. I think the SDF net is returning the favor.”

    “There’s the Emperor again.” Barb said, “Who is he? He sounds like some sort of joke.”

    “Oh, in a way he is, Barb.” Jesse took a bite of his cornbread. “He doesn’t call himself ‘Emperor’ that’s just a tag I gave him after an old opera that Paul Robeson sang in way back when. Used to listen to it a lot and the plot seems like it might apply here. No, Jones is actually ‘Mr. Jones’ and seems to be the leader of this rebellion in Gainesville. He’s got a radio network of his own and that’s the name that comes up when orders are being handed down. No one seems to know who this person really is, at least not yet, but he seems to be the one who launched this little insurrection. They do seem to think they know where he’s broadcasting from.”

    “Really?” John said, “Did they do a fox hunt on him too?”

    Nodding his head Jesse said, “Yes, they did. Took a little longer to find him since he doesn’t broadcast as much as the jammer did, but they found him. His transmitter, anyways. Seems he’s taken over the Division of Forestry headquarters in Northeast Gainesville. They’ve still got the old fire tower there for some reason and now Jones has an antenna farm set up on top of it. Quite a bit of height there which means he’s got a lot of broadcast range. Well into his territory too so the SDF can’t do much about him either other than jam his signals. Only problem is that he’s using many of the same frequencies the SDF is so they can’t just blanket the bands without jamming the good guys too.”

    Barb looked at her father and Edna. “This Jones character doesn’t sound like some jumped up drug dealer, Jesse. Whoever he is must have put some serious time and resources into planning this. I wonder how long he’s had this in the works?”

    “I think a lot of people are wondering the same thing, Barb. There’s considerable traffic between Gainesville and FDLE in Tallahassee, much of it coded. I’d be willing to bet it deals with the Emperor.”

    John chuckled, “The Emperor. I like that. Is he trying to set himself up to be the King of Gainesville?”

    Jesse shrugged. “That I don’t know. I’ve never heard anyone actually claiming to be Jones on the radio. I don’t know what he’s after. All that I’ve heard is other people talking second, third, or fourth hand of what he’s supposed to have said. A lot of talk about overthrowing white oppression and setting up a free black state in North Florida but none of it coming from anyone actually claiming to be Jones himself.”

    “I think he sounds creepy.” Cindy said. “I sure hope daddy and Eddy are OK.”

    Barb reached out and took her daughter’s hand to say, “I’m sure they are, Cin. Daddy’s not going to let Eddy go off anyplace with a gun and he’s not going to get himself involved in any shootouts. They’ll both be OK. You’ll see.”

    Jesse asked, “Would you like me to send your husband a message? I can easily contact the SDF net. I don’t think it would be any problem for them to pass a message to him for you.”

    “Really?” Barb said, her face lighting up, “I’d like that very much. At least to tell him we’re OK and find out if he’s OK. Thank you, Jesse.”

    He laughed. “No problem. It’s what Hams do in times of disaster and this has certainly turned out to be a disaster.”

    “I take it the war’s not going too hot today then?” John said.

    “Which war are you talking about, John? We’re in three. Today, at least. Tomorrow it might be more.”

    “How about the homefront war?” Barb asked. “Is the fighting spreading to other cities?”

    Jesse took another swallow of water to wash a spoonful of beans down. Putting down his glass he answered her. “Yes, it is. There’s rioting in Houston, Dallas, and Austin. At least they’re calling it rioting. May be open warfare for all we know. Bandits have crossed the border in Southern California, Texas, and Arizona. The local citizenry have formed militias to cope with it like we have here in Florida.”

    “Is the Mexican government involved?” John asked. “Do you think they’re behind this or are they trying to suppress the raids?”

    The radioman shook his head. “John, I just don’t know. I’m hearing so many crazy stories now that it’s hard to tell what to put credence in and what to laugh at. Some of the most improbable stories may be true. There’s one fellow out of California who is very sincere and persuasive in trying to convince anyone who will listen this is all a plot by a group of people he calls ‘Khazars’ who are in cahoots with the ‘Illuminati.’ Mad as a hatter, but if you listen to him long enough he’ll have you believing it too.”

    “Isn’t there any way we can call on the Federal Government for help?” Barb asked, a frown on her face. “What ever happened to ‘provide for the common defense and promote the general welfare?’”

    Jesse shook his head. “The Federal Government is very badly caught between a rock and a hard place. If only half of what you can hear is true they simply don’t have the manpower to send to help! If we pull major numbers of troops out of Iraq a rebellion against the new government foams up, apparently instigated by Syria, Iran, or some other regional power. Afghanistan is now on the verge of outright breakdown as well so we’ve stripped all the troops out of the Middle East that we can unless we’re just going to abandon whole areas. It may yet come to that. Korea’s eating manpower as fast as we can ship it there and with this epidemic that seems to be spreading there now we might not be able to bring them home even if they could be spared. Now we’re at war with China too! The only help with our problems we’re going to get from the Federal Government is to round up and take away the able bodied, military age troublemakers. At least we won’t have to figure out how to keep them contained once we capture them.”

    John raised an eyebrow at this. “The Federal Government is rounding people up and taking them off? For what?”

    “Why, for military training, John!” Jesse chuckled, “You know they’ve brought back the draft. This is how they’re using it. If you get caught fighting on the wrong side they figure you’re willing and able so off you go! Oh, they’re not putting it across as such, but I’ve heard enough talk about it now that I’ve come to believe it. It seems a trainload of involuntary conscripts came up out of South Florida yesterday bound for who knows where. All young men swept up in the riots that are happening down in Miami and other such places. If you stop to think about it, the idea makes sense. At least from the government point of view. The State and Local governments need to get the troublemakers out of their hair. The Federal government needs recruits for the military, but with telephones, mail, and computers being down how are they going to contact anyone to tell them to report? This kills off several birds with one stone.”

    “But what about due process?” Barb asked, concern on her face. “What if you were just trying to get away?”

    “What about due process, Barb?” Jesse asked in return, “We’re in a State of Emergency - a euphemism for martial law - and Due Process has been suspended for the duration. Oh, I suspect they’re probably using some sort of filtering mechanism on who gets sent off and who doesn’t, but given the state of the world just now I don’t think anyone’s going to look too closely at what’s really happening. Most especially if the breakdown of law and order continues to worsen, which is certainly happening as we speak.”

    “Mr. Marlborough,” Cindy spoke up, “you said something about the epidemic in Korea. Is this the one that’s caused the Russian Army to stop advancing?”

    Jesse grinned, “Good for you, Cindy! You’ve been listening to your receiver it seems. Yes, that’s the one I mean. Now, I don’t know if the disease outbreak has really caused the Russians to stop or if it’s just logistical problems aided and abetted by the Chinese, but there does seem to be some sort of outbreak over there right now. Many sources are beginning to mention it. Japan has suddenly announced they will not be allowing anyone from the Korean peninsula to disembark in the Japanese Home Islands and Taiwan sounds like they may do the same thing. No one’s really said yet what the nature of the disease is but it seems to be scaring the regional governments.”

    “Well, for the love of Pete!” Barb said, blowing out her cheeks. “Don’t we have enough problems without an epidemic as well?!”

    Edna reached out and placed her hand on Barb’s and said softly, “The Horsemen always ride together, my dear.”

    Cindy cocked her head to look at the woman and asked, “The Horsemen? I don’t understand. Who are they?”

    “They’re the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Cindy.” her grandfather answered, “Their names are War, Famine, Pestilence, and Death. They’re mentioned in the Bible in the Book of Revelations.”

    “Not quite exactly as Scripture has them, John.” Edna said, “But that is the common interpretation. Anytime you find three of them you can be sure the fourth will surely follow.”

    “You have me there, Edna.” John admitted. “I’m afraid it’s been a while since I’ve read Revelations. Too gruesome for me.”

    She chuckled softly. “Oh it’s not like I’ve memorized that part of Scripture myself, but Revelations is difficult to escape from if you spend enough time listening on the airwaves.”

    “Oh?” Barb said, “Does it get discussed a lot?”

    With a grunt Jesse said, “Yes, it does get discussed a lot. Most especially since the war started. The End Timers are running wild everywhere now.”

    “End Timers, Mr. Marlborough?” the youngster said quizzically.

    “End Timers are those folks who believe we are in the End Times as foretold in the Book of Revelations in the Bible. There is a series of events, bad events such as we’re in now, that must come to pass before Jesus returns to Earth. These people believe we are in those times right now.” The blind man wiped his mouth with his napkin then set it back in his lap. “And a good lot of them are barking mad too, but you can see how the events of the last few months could be interpreted by them in a certain way.”

    The diversion into the Supernatural cast a chill onto the conversation so for a time there was little talk and everyone ate their meal until they were finished. Barb and Edna cleaned up then took up with the sewing machine. Jesse, Cindy, and John retired to the radio shack.

    With Cindy’s assistance Jesse showed John how to use his receiver and he began to scan the bands for programming. While John was occupied Cindy began sending code to Jesse using her practice key and he gave her pointers on how to improve her fist. By dint of enthusiasm and diligent practice the girl was rapidly learning the code and improving her speed and accuracy in sending and receiving. Jesse cackled with delight and urged her to pick up her pace.

    Behind them John quickly found himself immersed in the aetherial world of the electromagnetic spectrum as he slowly crawled the bands. “Feels like old times.” He thought to himself, “Almost like being in the Service again.” After spending time listening in on the Air Force bands – in use, but much of it coded and unintelligible – he changed over to the world bands to look for news programming.

    Finally, he found an English language broadcast –

    <i>…Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao has again emphatically stated that the top Chinese leadership had no knowledge of any technological assistance in the areas of nuclear weapons or missile design being given to the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea by the Chinese government or military. The Premier states that an internal investigation into the matter has revealed a plot by certain Chinese ultra-nationalist rogue elements within the People’s Liberation Army in order to further their own ends in promoting Chinese power. In an unprecedented offer the Premier has offered to surrender the leaders of the plot to the United Nations to be put on trial by the World Criminal Court. The White House has made no response to this latest offer from Beijing.

    At the same press conference this morning the Premier also dropped a bombshell when he again denied any knowledge or involvement by the Chinese military officials who passed secret American nuclear and missile technology to the North Koreans in the nuclear attack on the Russian port city of Vladivostok. “The nuclear destruction of the city of our neighbor, the Russian Federation, occurred nearly two hours after the despicable nuclear attack by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Kobe and the high altitude attacks on the American mainland. The Chinese national defense surveillance network tracked that missile in its flight. Our analysis of its trajectory indicates that it originated at a distance of three miles from the coastline of North Korea in the Sea of Japan. Intelligence analysts from the People’s Liberation Army are certain the missile originated from an American submarine which could have committed such an atrocity only at the order of the American Commander In Chief who desired to bring the Russian Federation into a war against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.”</i>

    “Son of a bitch!” John exploded. Jesse and Cindy startled and turned to look at him.

    “What is it, grandpa?” She asked.

    “Hush, child” he said and went back to listening.

    <i>…the allegations as preposterous and unworthy of comment. There was no immediate comment from the Kremlin. The Japanese foreign ministry has stated they were taking the matter under advisement and would not comment further.

    In other U.S. news the American navy reports sinking another submarine in the sea lanes approaching Hawaii when it refused to identify itself. An investigation to determine the identity of the underwater craft is in progress. A second submarine was believed to be damaged five miles from the western opening of the Panama Canal. At the same time as the Hawaiian incident the Navy made several unidentified contacts very near to the coast of California off San Diego, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. The Navy public information office declined to speculate on the possible identity of those submarines.

    Further war news concerns persistent reports of virulent contagion in the Korean war zone. Anonymous sources in the Russian Ministry of Defense state that the pulmonary flu like disease was first encountered in the important North Korean road junction town of Kilchu near to the Korean northeast coastline on the Sea of Japan. We have been unable to obtain mortality figures nor the suspected area of contagion of the outbreak but sources have indicated that the Russian advance further into the Korean peninsula has been halted until more can be learned of the nature of the disease. We have been unable to confirm reports of mutiny in the Russian army in the Korean theater but local sources have reported that no Russian casualties are being brought into the Russian Federation proper, but are instead being treated in theater. Reports of the contagion breaking out in the American lines are as of yet unconfirmed. Early this morning the Japanese Ministry of Health interdicted all personal travel between the Korean Peninsula and the Japanese home islands. The respective Health Ministries of both Taiwan and Hong Kong are expected to follow suit within the next few hours.

    In other matters relating to northeast Asia both the People’s Republic of China and the Russian Federation have denied that major set piece battles have occurred between their respective militaries along the Siberian frontier. Russian regional military commanders have indicated they believe the rumors to have arisen from a continuing bandit problem plaguing the extended Russian supply lines into the Korean theater.

    In the Middle East the Qatar based media outlet Al Jazeera has broadcast a report that certain hard line elements within the Shiite wing of the Iraqi government have been an effort to purge non-Shiites and those Shia found to be ‘collaborators’ from the corridors of power within the nation. Unconfirmed but persistent rumors in Baghdad have been saying that Iran may soon be sending ‘support units’ to aid in this cause. U.S. diplomatic and military commanders in Qatar and Baghdad have stated flatly that any outside interference in the governmental affairs of Iraq will not be tolerated, nor will the coalition government be overthrown. Motions have been made in the Iraqi legislature calling for the arrest and detention of the ringleaders behind the purge. We will bring you more details of this story as they come in.

    In France the third straight day of rioting in Paris, Marseilles, and Toulouse went on as units of the French army continued their round up of illegal aliens for immediate deportment. Thirty nine deaths have been confirmed with hundreds reported injured. The immigration crack down is reputed to have come down in response to a string of bombings across the nation that have been linked to several Islamic extremist groups.

    In Brussells… crackle Commission… crackle, voted today for… fuzzzzz.....</i> The signal faded away.

    “Blast!” John said, “I never caught a station I.D., I don’t know where it was coming from!”

    Jesse turned his head and said, “Write down the time and frequency you were listening to. We might be able to i.d. the station with that later.”

    In frustration John did what he suggested. “You wouldn’t happen to have any baking soda in your kitchen would you, Jesse?” he asked.

    “Probably do, John.” the radioman answered, “I’m sure Edna would know. Do you need some?”

    “I’m afraid I do. I’ve got a terrible heartburn.” John stood and left the room in search of Edna. He knew the soda would relieve the burning in his stomach but he didn’t know what would relieve the disquiet he felt in his soul.

  31. #31
    <b>February 25, 2004..........The Gathering</b>

    Professor Paris Williams set his pencil down and stared for a time at the flame of the oil lamp illuminating his desk. He idly toyed with the idea of having the generator started so that he could power up his PC long enough to print off some reference materials he wanted for the paper he was working on concerning probability theory. It was never really a serious consideration though, not only was fuel growing too valuable to use it for such trivial matters there was also the security problems that generator noises at night presented.

    He knew it wasn’t the problem of the paper that was disquieting him. It was the greater situation outside of his window. For the last twenty four hours the lines in Gainesville had stabilized and if allowed to continue like this it would ultimately mean the destruction of his cause as the SDF consolidated its forces and brought them to bear. He dreamed the fire for a time trying to conceive a plan to break the stalemate while he still had sufficient momentum to carry him through. Slowly, the plan began to coalesce. It was bold, with lot of highly desirable shock value and it was almost certainly unanswerable by the SDF forces, at least for the sufficiently long period of time that his forces would need to seize a much larger portion of the city. It was not without risk though. If it failed the retribution would be devastating. Finding no other options he turned over the sheet of paper he’d be writing on previously and began writing. The text was clear and concise – it was a point of pride with him that all of his written communications were so.

    The page was nearly full when he heard voices from outside the house. His sentries were questioning an arrival who was passed through. From the front of the house he heard a door close and voices in the front room then finally the sound of feet walking down the hall. He turned to face the door as it swung open.

    “Good morning, Mustapha” he greeted the new arrival.

    “Good morning, Dr. Williams.” the other man said. He began unbuttoning his coat and Williams waited until he was finished before asking. “Did you manage the meet with the Savannah group?”

    Mustapha dropped his coat in a chair next to the door and turned to answer. “Yes. There weren’t any problems. With the meet. But they’re not ready to commit yet.”

    The professor pursed his lips for a moment before speaking. “Much as I suspected. We haven’t achieved sufficient momentum in their eyes yet to appear viable. We’re going to have to take the city on our own before they’ll commit to backing us. If we accomplish that we’ll draw sufficient numbers to our cause to give us the momentum they’re looking for before committing to us.”

    The younger man nodded his head. “But how?! Ever since they took out Rodney and got their damned communications together again we haven’t been able to make any headway at all. They’ve beaten back our last three attacks.”

    “I’m aware of that, Mustapha.” the professor said as if speaking to a student who was missing an obvious line of reasoning. “When one method of attack proves insufficient to the task it is time to find another.” He reached down and tore the page on which he’d been writing from the spiral binding that secured it. Handing it to the other man he continued, “This is what we do next. See to it, but don’t make any obvious moves until I give the word. Take the usual precautions. We’re not nearly secure enough yet for the movement’s leadership to become open knowledge. So long as the SDF is forced to guess it is a tool we can use against them to our advantage.”

    Mustapha sat in a chair near to the lamp and carefully read the list – memorizing it. Finally he looked up to the professor. “Do you really mean to do this?”

    Williams said nothing as he reached into a desk drawer and pulled out a bottle of Glenfiddich. He pulled out a pair of shot glasses and set them on the desk, uncapped the bottle and poured both full. Handing one to Mustapha he said, “Yes, I do.”

    The other man took his glass in hand and peered into the spirits it contained as if looking for answers. “Dr. Williams, you realize this constitutes a War Crime. If we lose we’ll be tried and probably executed.”

    Nodding his head the professor gestured with his free hand towards the world outside the study window that was slowly becoming visible in the dawning. “Look out there, Mustapha. Does that look like a world that any longer cares about the Geneva and Hague Conventions? When those cracker idiots set fire to the Depot Avenue church they set into motion a chain of events that none of us are truly able to control. Now we are playing the most exciting and deadly serious game in the world – the Revolution game. Remember this my friend, in Revolution there is only one rule – you must Win. That’s all - nothing else. You must win. Because it is the Winner who will sit in judgment of the Loser, regardless of what the Geneva Convention says.”

    He reached out with his glass and the other man raised his as well.

    “A toast Mustapha, from the Earl of Montrose -

    <center>"He fears his fate too much,
    Or his desserts are small,
    Who dares not put it to the touch,
    To win - or lose it all."</center>

    The two men drained their glasses. Mustapha set his down then handed the paper back to the professor.

    “I’ll see to this right away.” he said, then turned and left the room.

    -- -- -- --

    The truck pulled into the driveway and he shut it off. He knew he ought to put the machine in the garage but he was too damned tired to care. Eddy came around the corner as he was getting out.

    They boy ran up to his father and clasped him tightly to himself in an embrace before stepping back to look at him. “Man, dad!” he exclaimed, “You look AWFUL! Would you like me to make you some breakfast while you’re cleaning up?”

    With a tired grin Larry asked his son, “Are you saying that my appearance is less than socially acceptable?”

    “Uhmm, yes.” His son said matter of factly “You smell too. What would you like to eat?”

    Raising his arm to sniff at his sleeve his father wrinkled his nose. “Anything you can fix in five minutes because six minutes afterward I’m going to be asleep, then you and I have to talk.”

    “Yes sir. I’ll whip you up some oatmeal. I’ve got half a can of Spam open and I’ll fix that too.”

    Putting his hand on the boy’s shoulder Larry said, “Good man! A quart of oatmeal and some Spam sounds wonderful.”

    The pair went inside the house and Larry began stripping off his clothing. He was appalled at how filthy he was and realized it was yesterday’s bloodstains that were now reeking. In the bathroom he poured water into a large basin and began to wash up. As he was finishing Eddy came in and poured steaming water into another basin and his father sighed in happiness. With the worst of the grime already off he tempered the hot water and soaped up again. Finally he was scrubbed clean. The physical grime was gone, but he wasn’t sure if the spiritual filth he felt coated with would ever come off. “Oh shut up!” he said to himself, “You’re so damned tired you can’t think straight. Don’t start that crap now.”

    He poured the dirty water into the bucket kept for the purpose and wiped out the basins. Walking back into the bedroom he saw his soiled clothing was gone and figured Eddy had taken it. “Probably going to burn it” he laughed, “from the way it smells.” He dug out clean clothing and dressed himself before heading for the kitchen. Eddy looked up from the stove to say, “Oatmeal will be ready in another minute. The Spam’s on the table there with some crackers if you want to start on that.”

    Sitting to the table his father sandwiched pieces of Spam between crackers and started eating. There was a large mug on the table filled with Tang. After another couple of minutes Eddy set a big bowl of oatmeal in front of his dad – the steam rising from it was redolent with the smell of cinnamon.

    “Dad, have you eaten anything since you left?” Eddy looked at his father with concern.

    “Yeah, some.” his dad said, “but it’s been pretty busy since that mess at the church started. Haven’t had time to catch up with what I was burning off. Had a drink with the Major about an hour ago and it just about knocked me on my ass. He chased me off with orders not to come back until he called for me.”

    “You look like you need it, dad. By the way, thanks for calling me once in a while on the radio. The stories on the block have been pretty wild. It was good to hear from you.”

    Swallowing a big spoonful of oatmeal Larry smiled at his son, “Well, wouldn’t hardly be right to go and leave you in the dark, would it?”

    Eddy looked down at the table for a moment then looked back at this father, his expression serious. “Dad… when you go back… will you take me with you? I want to join up. I mean, I want to join the SDF. Ritchie Holley left this morning to join up. He’s only sixteen. Lives on the street behind us.”

    Larry said nothing as he took a deep swallow of his Tang. Setting the glass back on the table he looked the boy in the eye, equally serious. “Son, there’s the matter of that bullet hole you’re sporting that’s not fully healed up yet.” The boy started to cloud up and his father held up his hand, “But let’s you and I talk about it after I wake up. Just now I’m too stupid tired to be making decisions. Does that suit you?”

    “Well… I suppose. It’ll keep until you get up.”

    “Good man. We’ll discuss this when I’m awake enough to be able to think straight.” With that Larry continued his meal making nothing more than small talk until he was finished. Eddy said he’d clean up and his dad tousled his hair and said, “Thanks.” He went into the bedroom, brushed his teeth vigorously and then lay down. He was asleep so fast he did not recall pulling the covers over himself.

    In the kitchen Eddy cleaned up from the meal then went onto the back porch where he’d dumped his father’s clothes. He filled a bucket with water, detergent, and a small amount of bleach. He dropped the underclothes in and swirled them around then picked up the blue jeans to do the same but stopped. Squinting he stared at a sticky black place on the right leg near the cuff and realized with a chill that it was blood. He scrutinized the trousers more closely and found other spots. He dropped them into the bucket and examined the shirt. There was one large streak of blood on the front and many small droplets. The garment reeked of powder smoke, sweat, and other odors he could not decipher. He dropped it too into the bucket and began to agitate the clothing with the plumber’s helper, taking a piece out occasionally to scrub at a stubborn stain. Finally he took the clothing out, dropped it into the basket of a mop bucket, then poured the discolored soapy water out into the yard. He rinsed the bucket out and refilled it. On the back porch again he pushed the handle of the mop wringer and pressed as much of the soapy water out of the clothing as he could then dropped them into the rinse water. He agitated the clothing for a while then dropped them back into the mop wringer, pouring the rinse water over the top. He pushed down hard on the handle to squeeze out as much water as he could then took the clothes out to hang on the line.

    Back in the house he checked on his father who was snoring in a deep, regular pattern then went out the front door. He glanced at the truck then walked over to examine it more closely. There were random holes through the side of the bed and two in the front fender. He stared at them for a moment then placed his finger in one. With a sudden chill he realized they were bullet holes.

    Walking around the truck he counted seven holes. Flies buzzed in and out of the bed, even in the cool February air, and looking down he noticed places where blood had been imperfectly washed away. Under the toolbox in the bed corners he found a half dozen empty rifle cartridge casings and one live round. The butt end of the cartridge read “Winchester Western .308.” In the cab he found random small trash and several more empty shell casings from both rifles and pistols. The knob on the passenger side window crank was shattered and he realized there was a bullet hole in the door which must have been what caused it. Looking at the angle he could see the projectile had to have passed just in front of the knees of the passenger and driver when it entered the cab on its way to bury itself in the driver’s door on the other side. The hair on the back of the boy’s neck rose as a wave of fear for the danger his father had been exposed to came to him. He closed the truck up after carefully locking the doors. Down the street he saw Mike Edwards and waved at him before going back inside. He sat for a time watching his father’s chest rising and falling in sleep then went into the living room to try to lose himself in the novel he’d been reading. After an interminable time he did.

    -- -- -- --

    At three p.m. precisely the wind up alarm went off and sputtered itself around the dresser top. Eddy listened to it ringing for more than a minute then got up and went into the bedroom to find his father still asleep. He stood for a moment considering turning the clock off and letting his father sleep longer but then decided against it. He silenced the alarm and then shook his father’s shoulder. He came awake with a jolt and the boy leapt back when he did. Larry stared at him for a moment not recognizing him then said, “Is it three already?”

    “Yes, sir.” his son said, “Did you really want to get up now?”

    He rubbed his hands over his face for a moment then said, “No, I don’t. But I need to so up I’ll get.” He stood up and began dressing. When properly clad he went out the back door to find the Necessary. Once finished he came back inside and Eddy said, “You want some lunch? I ate a couple of hours ago, but I’ll throw something together for you if you like.”

    “That would be very nice, Eddy.” His dad replied. “Whatever’s handy.” They both went into the kitchen and quickly threw together a lunch. Larry sat to the table with it and the boy sat with him.

    Looking up from his plate Larry said, “Son, we need to talk. You’re a man now and I’m going to give it to you straight. The situation here in Gainesville is dicey. More so than the radio lets on. I want you to go to your grandfather’s until things settle down.”

    The boy’s face clouded up as he protested, “But dad! I want to go with you! I can’t go to grandpa’s! That’s running! I’m not afraid. I want to go with you.”

    For a moment his father said nothing as he looked his son in the face. “Son, if you’re not afraid it’s because you don’t know any better. Your daddy is afraid, plenty afraid. A month ago I would never have dreamed that such a thing could ever happen here in Gainesville, Florida, but right now we have a war – a very real war right here. A lot of people have been killed already and a lot more are going to be killed before this is all over. Anyone in their right mind who doesn’t have to be here would get away as fast as they could.”

    Tears welled up in the boy’s eyes as he persisted. “Dad, I want to go with you! I can take care of myself. I can use the shotgun. I’m fourteen and as big as some of the men you took with you. I can do this! I’m not running!”

    His father stood from the table and went around to where his son was sitting and pulled the boy out of the chair into an embrace. He let go of him, but kept his hands on his shoulders. “Son, I know you’re not afraid even though you ought to be. You WON’T be running. You’ve got a wound in your side that still hasn’t healed yet and it never will heal if you're ducking and dodging all over town trying not to get shot and shooting at other people while you’re doing it. I’m not taking you to Trenton because I don’t think you can do it. You proved that the other night when you took that bullet and killed that man who broke into Mrs. Singh’s house. Never, ever think that I don’t think you can do it. I want you to go to Trenton because we have to keep the Nichol’s family alive – no matter what – we have to keep the family alive. There’s no one at your grandfather’s place but him, your mother and your sister. If trouble comes out there you are going to be needed to defend the family and I know you can do it. You’ve proven yourself and I know you can do it.”

    “But what about our house, dad?” the boy gamely pleaded, “Who is going to protect our house?”

    The older man sighed as he looked around then said, “Son, when I sent your mother and sister off I never envisioned it would come to this. I hate to say it, but if the fighting busts loose again there’s not a lot we’re going to be able to do about the house. It’ll stand or it won’t but there isn’t much we’ll be able to do for it one way or the other if the fighting comes in this direction. We’re going to load up everything that’s worth keeping that we can carry in one truckload and take it to your grandfather’s place when I take you over and everything that’s left will have to take its chances.”

    “Do you really think the fighting will come this far?” Eddy looked out the dining room window that faced East towards the other side of town.

    “I don’t know son. It might. I can tell you that whoever this Jones fellow is he’s no fool. He snookered us good with that radio deal and that’s what let this mess get so far out of hand to begin with. We took his jammer out, but who knows what other tricks he may have up his sleeve.” He let go of his son and sat down again to finish his meal. “I suspect he’s got more tricks he ain’t pulled yet. We’re mighty thin on the ground out there. Got some good men, smart too, but we’re still thin on the ground. He busts out again we might have a hard time boxing him up. I’ll feel a lot better if I know I’ve got a man I can trust watching out for the family out in Trenton helping out your grandfather. Can you handle that?”

    His son looked at him for a long moment, considering whether he should press his cause further. His eyes fell and his shoulders sagged. “Yes, sir. I can handle that. I’ll go to grandpa’s.”

    “Good man” Larry said. “Then how about packing up whatever you want to take with you while I’m finishing up here. Take anything you don’t want to lose – just in case. I’ll help you with the rest of the house when I’m done.”

    “Yes sir.” and the boy walked off, defeated, to do as he’d been asked.

    -- -- -- --

    The truck rolled up to the barricade stretching across State Road 26 just outside of Newberry and came to a stop. An older man carrying a well used Remington 1100 walked up to ask, “You got business in Newberry?”

    Larry turned so his SDF vest could be clearly seen, it was stained and had clearly seen much use, then said, “I’m Lieutenant Nichols with the State Defense Force in Gainesville. This is my son. I’m taking him and his stuff to his grandfather’s place outside of Trenton.”

    The guard looked him, the boy, and the truck over for a moment then asked, “State Defense Force? You see much action in Gainesville? We’ve heard it’s been pretty bad.”

    “Bad enough” the SDF man said, “There’s been considerable fighting these last two days. The line’s are holding for right now, but I can’t say if they’ll stay that way which is why I want to get my family out of harm’s way.”

    The man turned and looked back at the barricade for a moment then back at Larry. “Reckon I can’t blame you for that. I’d do the same thing. You planning on come back this way heading back to Gainesville?”

    Nodding his head Larry said, “Yes, I am. Probably not until dark or a little after. Why?”

    “I think we can scare up some recruits who’d like to ride back in with you. I figure you’re probably short of manpower.”

    The Lieutenant looked at the man carefully, considering what he offered then asked, “This isn’t a riot going on. It’s past that now. Both sides are organizing and the side that organizes the best is the one that’ll likely win. Will your recruits follow orders? I won’t take anyone who’s going to be a liability.”

    The man turned his head and spat tobacco juice on the ground. “I understand. I spent twenty in Corps before I had to retire out for a heart condition. Two of these men are my sons. Never served before but they’ll listen to their sergeants if they’ve got any brains. They want to go and I’m not going to be able to hold them back much longer. Figure they may as well sign up with the SDF and do it right.”

    Larry turned and squinted against the afternoon sun towards the barricade where he could see four other men. “Yeah, OK. I’ll take them. They got their own weapons? They’ll need canteens and good boots. This is a come-as-you-are war.”

    “Yeah, I’ll make sure they’re equipped. Won’t be regulation, but I’ll see to it they’ve got what they need. I’ll have them waiting here for you on your way back.” He stood and gestured at the barricade and two of the men began to pull it out of the way enough for the truck to get through.

    “See you tonight then.” Larry said and pulled through.

    They encountered no more barricades or stops on their way. In Trenton they turned off the state highway leading from Gainesville through Newberry onto the federal highway north of the small city. “Doesn’t look like much has even changed here, does it?” Larry asked.

    “Not much.” Eddy agreed. “No lights or anything, but no garbage all over the place either.”

    Rolling north out of town they soon reached Eddy’s grandfather’s house and were stepping out of the truck when the front door flew open so that Barb and Cindy could run across the yard to grab them up and hug them fiercely.

    After many hugs and kisses had been exchanged Barb stepped back from her husband to ask, “Are you both going to stay? Please tell me you are!”

    Both of the men looked uncomfortable and finally Larry said, “Eddy’s staying. I have to get back pretty quick.”

    “But why?!” Barbed asked. “Why can’t you stay?! Let them HAVE the house, Larry! Stay here. No one’s fighting here. We don’t have to be a part of that now.”

    “Let’s go inside and talk about it.” Her husband said, “Cindy, why don’t you help your brother unload the truck? There’s a lot there. Where’s your grandfather?”

    His wife said, “He’s over at Ben’s. Do you need him?”

    Shaking his head he replied, “No, not yet. Let’s talk first.”

    The two of them went inside and sat at the kitchen table where they quickly fell into a heated conversation about Larry’s plan to return to the fighting in Gainesville as quickly as possible. Barb was distressed and angry that her husband would not stay in Trenton, away from the fighting, but once he made it clear he would not be dissuaded she bit her lip and did not badger him further. They were passionately kissing when John walked through the kitchen door. “Oops!” he said, embarrassment on his face, “I’ll come back when you two are done.”

    His daughter and son-in-law laughed and Larry said, “Come on in, John! It’s your house!”

    The man came and sat down to the table. As he did so Ben’s voice could be heard, “Knock! Knock!”

    “Come on in, Ben!” John said, “Larry and Eddy’s here.”

    Soon all four were sitting at the table discussing the violent turn of events in Gainesville and the happenings in and around the small town of Trenton. Larry was amazed to discover they were so well informed so John and Barb explained how they had come to meet Jesse Marlborough.

    “Proud to hear it!” Larry said with delight. “At least y’all will be able to stay on top of the news. As well as any I suppose. If I need to I’m sure I can get one of our radio people to pass a message to him for you. Do you have his call sign?”

    Barb and John looked at each other. “Cindy might know it.” John said. Barb went to fetch her daughter.

    They returned a few minutes later, Cindy had her little bound book with her. “Sure, I have Mr. Marlborough’s call sign. It’s kf8zy. If they send the message to that call sign he’ll know it’s for him and he can give it to us. That’s what Hams do in times of disaster.”

    Larry wrote the call sign on a scrap of paper and put it in his wallet. When he finished Ben asked, “Larry, do you really think the fighting’s going to spread? Seems hard to believe it could have gone as far as this.”

    Shaking his head the man replied, “Ben, I just don’t know. I never expected it to go as far as this. For the moment we’ve got them contained, but whoever this Jones is, he’s smart. He might break out again. It’s for sure he’s gaining more recruits, we know that. The longer he holds out I figure he’ll get that many more.”

    “The Emperor seems to be holding his own then.” John said.

    “The Emperor?” Larry asked quizzically.

    Barb laughed, “Oh, that’s a joke we’ve been using around here. Jesse says there’s this old play - or was it an opera? - about a Jones who took over this island and declared himself emperor but was later overthrown and killed. He thinks this Jones in Gainesville sounds a lot like him and it’s sort of stuck.”

    He smiled. “Well, it’s as good a thing as any. If we can make people laugh at him maybe they’ll think twice about joining him.”

    Ben pointed the conversation back towards Gainesville. “Larry, you gonna be here very long? I think I might have some volunteers that would be interested in going with you, if you’re willing to take them.”

    The SDF man looked at his watch. “Can’t wait long, Ben. These men dependable? We need fellas who aren’t going to cut and run when the bullets crack past their heads.”

    “Can’t say for sure, Larry.” Ben said, “But a couple of the ones I’m thinking of have been in the service. The rest are just boys not long out of high school, but they’re steady enough and they’re willing. They’ve all got their own rifles and what not.”

    Nodding his head the Lieutenant said, “OK, I want to spend some time with the family so I’ll wait until… how about seven… before I head back. Anyone that wants to go can ride back with me then.”

    The older man put out his and they shook. “Good enough. John, I’m going to take the Chevy into town and put the word out. Maybe be some other fellas come along later who’ll want to join as well. Any place I should point them to when they go?”

    Larry considered for a time then said, “Tell them to go to the Westgate Shopping Center at 34th st and University ave. The Publix there is a food distribution center now. If we’re not still holding that when they show up I don’t know where we’ll be.”

    Ben nodded his head and went out. For the hours left to the Nichols family spent it in deep conversation, Larry calming their fears as best he could. All too soon Ben came back with three men in the back of his truck and another truck with six more men behind him.

    They came into the house and Ben introduced them to the SDF lieutenant. Four had prior military service but the others had never served though they were willing and eager to go. Larry examined them all carefully then their equipment and explained to them what was required. None changed their mind so he had them make ready while he went inside to make his goodbyes with his family.

    Barb kissed him long and deep, but shed no tears. His children hugged and kissed him as well, valiantly struggling to hold back the tears their mother had said they should not shed in front of their father. At last it was time to go and without further adieu Larry and his recruits loaded up and pulled out, the taillights soon lost to sight in the deepening darkness.

    In Newberry Larry found another six men waiting. The former Marine he’d spoken with earlier said there would be more men coming so the Lieutenant told them where to head to when they arrived. The two trucks soon departed heading for Gainesville and the war.

    Across the state and the nation word was going around. Families and individuals were on the move searching for what safety could be found where ever they could find it as fighting began to flare like flames breaking through the roof of a burning building.

    At the same time other men and not a few women pulled on their boots, rounded up what gear they had then shouldered their rifles to answer the call – whichever call it was they heard. When they were ready they too pulled out.

    Riding to the sound of the guns.
    Last edited by A.T.Hagan; 05-14-2003 at 10:10 AM.

  32. #32
    <b>February 26, 2004..........Shockwave</b>

    A hand on his shoulder shook Larry awake and for a moment he did not know where was he was. Then he recognized the bank of radios in front of him as being in the Emergency Operations Center.

    “Lieutenant Nichols?” An earnest, and rather pretty young woman asked.

    “Uhhm, yeah, I’m Nichols.” He replied fuzzily.

    “Good!” she said with a smile, “The security staff at the Westgate Distribution Center radioed in about a half hour ago to say there’s about thirty men from the west side of the county and beyond who have shown up asking for you. They claim to be volunteers for the SDF. Captain Scott says you are to take charge of them and get them bunked in at the University. We’ve got people at the University Housing Office who can tell you where to take them.”

    The Lieutenant stared at her for a moment, smiling inwardly at the unexpected sight of a pretty girl in the war zone his hometown had become and wondering where the hell the Westgate Distribution Center was before he realized she meant the shopping center by that name where he’d told the Newberry crew to look for him. He sat up in his chair where he’d been sleeping then slowly stood up feeling many aches and pains, but glad for the nap he’d managed to steal.

    “OK, I’ve gotcha. Men down to the shopping center, take them to the University Housing Office and get them bunked in and fit them into my lot. Anything else?”

    “Yes sir.” She said, “The Captain says for you to go home and get some sleep while you can once you’ve done that.”

    Nodding his head Larry slipped his cap on his head and buckled on his belt and gear then picked up his rifle. The girl went off towards the front of the EOC and he found himself watching her until she disappeared around the corner. With a tired grin he said to himself “that’s the American Way” as he walked towards the front himself in search of the door.

    Outside he found his truck, got in, and started the motor. He was stiff and sore and hadn’t meant to fall asleep in the EOC. He and his men were all supposed to report back at dawn to relieve the men on the lines. After beating back the third and hopefully last sortie by Jones’s forces the lines had fallen quiet beyond potshots taken by both sides. Ammunition was too scarce to allow such waste and eventually even that faded away except for the heart stopping random crack of a sniper, often enough followed by a scream.

    He cleared the checkpoint and rolled down West University Ave towards the University and the shopping center on the far side of the campus. There was trash and debris in the street to be dodged which slowed his pace. Looking at his watch he saw it was well past eleven o’clock and hoped that if he could get the men settled in quickly he’d be able to get home in time for at least four or five hours of sleep before he’d have to get up again.

    Reaching the shopping center he saw an old stakesided Ford truck with the bed lined with carpet they way the melon farmers did for carrying their harvest to the packing houses. Standing around the truck was a group of men, all armed, and carrying a miscellany of gear. The checkpoint quickly passed him through and he pulled up. A man in an SDF vest came up to him and asked, “You Lieutenant Nichols?”

    Larry nodded his head slightly then said, “I’m him. These the men who came in to volunteer?”

    “That’s them.” The security man said, “The man in the camouflage jacket and blue jeans is their leader. Name’s Don Maxwell.”

    The Lieutenant walked up to the group, approaching the man who’d been pointed out to him. “I’m Larry Nichols. Are you the men came in to volunteer?”

    The man in the jacket replied, “That’s us. I’m Don Maxwell. Bill Westfield who’s heading up perimeter security in Newberry said to ask for you when we came in.”

    Nodding his head Larry said, “Yeah, that’s right. Do all of your men here understand what they’re getting into?”

    Maxwell looked at him levelly then spoke, “Yeah, I think so, but why don’t you tell them yourself so there won’t be any misunderstandings.”

    Larry stepped over next to the flare of a Coleman lantern that was burning on the hood of the truck and the men gathered around him. He knew he couldn’t be presenting a very reassuring image, but figured it would be best to knock any nonsense out of the men’s heads now before they encountered the gritty reality that awaited them.

    Clearing his throat he spoke. “I’m Lieutenant Nichols of the State Defense Force in Gainesville. I’ve been tasked to take you volunteers in hand and integrate you into the existing forces already here. I don’t know what you men may have heard about what’s been happening here so I’m going to lay it out for you. Two nights ago a small band of idiots in white hoods and sheets decided to hold a party at the Depot Avenue Baptist Church where they burned a cross and the church to the ground. This precipitated a general riot which resulted in the deaths of three of the idiots before we could get them away and the loss of one SDF man.”

    Larry spat on the ground then continued. “We might have gotten that fracas under control like we’d gotten other incidents in hand, but someone started screwing with our radios which caused a lot of confusion at the worst possible time. The situation got out of hand and evolved from a riot to a pitched battle when it became plain there were armed and organized men waging war against the SDF. Eventually we were able to take out the radio jammer working for…” The Lieutenant hesitated for a moment then continued, “Eventually we took out the radio jammer working for the Emperor and were able to get ourselves organized enough to stop the enemy advance. We have the jammer under interrogation right now. As of this time the lines have stabilized. The Emperor hasn’t been able to take any more ground, but we don’t yet have enough troops to counterattack with any real hope of crushing him. At least not yet we don’t. We’re hoping that more men like you will come forward and volunteer so that when we get enough we can kill that bastard and put an end to this.”

    Maxwell interrupted to ask, “Who the Hell is this Emperor you’re talking about? Is he this Jones character we’ve heard about on the radio?”

    With a smile the Lieutenant answered him. “Yes, that’s him. We’ve taken to calling him the Emperor after an old play by the title of ‘Emperor Jones’ about an escaped convict who ran off to the islands and set himself up as ‘the Emperor’ only to get himself killed by the natives. It started out as a joke, but now it’s stuck.” Or it will stick when the story gets told enough he thought to himself. Larry had mentioned the Emperor idea to Smallwood when he’d returned to Gainesville and the Major thought it would be useful. He’d scared up a librarian at the city library who found the story of the opera that Paul Robeson had sang in many years ago and decided it would make a good psychological operation against the presence impact that Jones was making in his insurgency campaign. Smallwood had spread the idea to all of the unit commanders with orders to get it into general use.

    “Does that make us rebels against the Empire then?” A young man asked with a grin.

    Larry squinted against the light to see him. He appeared to be of high school age, perhaps a little older, dressed in a brown Carrhart barn coat and looked somewhat like a rough hewn Mark Hamill with a crew cut. With a laugh the Lieutenant replied, “Why yes, Luke, I reckon it does at that.” The rest of the group chuckled at the joke and he continued.

    “At the moment everything’s quiet, but come dawn the men we’ve got on the lines are going to need to be relieved. I’ll be taking you up then so you can get acquainted with the others and the general layout. Before we go though I want to have a look at your weapons and gear. I’m afraid we don’t have much to offer in that regard. This is a come-as-you-are war. We’ve been promised supplies from Camp Blanding over to Starke but they haven’t materialized yet and now the Emperor is between us and them so if they do send anything it’ll have to go the long way around to get here. I want each of you to come up one by one and show me what you’ve got.” He pointed at the young man he’d tagged as ‘Luke’ and said, “We’ll start with you.”

    One by one each man came forward and Larry saw that each had a working rifle, that his footgear was sound and that each had a canteen of some sort. Beyond that the men’s equipment bore no resemblance to uniformity but he figured it would just have to do and they’d make up for it as best they could as they went along. Most of the weapons fell into five calibers - .30-30, .223, .30-06, .308 and the Russian developed 7.62mm X 39mm that had become popular since the end of the Cold War, with a sprinkling of other calibers. With a rueful shake of his head the Lieutenant said to Don Maxwell, “Damn glad I’m not the one stuck with ammo resupply!”

    Finally he was satisfied and Larry said to Maxwell, “You seem to be the leader here, Don. You want to act as sergeant? You seem to know your way around, I figure you for having been in the Service once.”

    Don nodded his head, “Yeah, I was in. Army, tag end of Vietnam, but you don’t really forget the basics. OK, I’ll be your platoon sergeant. You said something about bunking down. Any reason we can’t do it now? Might as well let them get some sleep while they can.”

    “No. No reason at all.” Larry said, “I’m looking forward to getting some shuteye myself. It’s been a long couple of days. I’m supposed to take you all to the Housing Office at the University…” he trailed off as he realized he had no idea where that was at. “Wait here a moment. I need to get directions. I don’t have much to do with the campus so I’m not real sure where that place is at.”

    The Lieutenant walked off to the building and Maxwell began to load his men into the back of the truck. At the store Larry asked around if anyone knew where the housing office was on campus but none of the SDF men could say. Finally, they found a phone book in the customer service area and located the address. He went back outside and found Maxwell behind the wheel of the truck. “OK, I’ve got it. Follow me.”

    He walked over and climbed into the pickup, started the motor and pulled out. Even with the address he had to search for a few moments as he navigated the unfamiliar campus, but eventually located their goal. To his surprise there were twelve men there even though it was past midnight. He reported that he had thirty men needed bunk space and asked why there were so many men hanging around. “Why for the same reason you’re here, Lieutenant!” A tired, harassed looking woman in her late forties said, “We’ve got people coming in from out of the city to join up and Smallwood wants me to find someplace for them to sleep! It’s not like we don’t still have students on the campus!”

    This stopped Nichols for a moment as he pondered what she had said then he asked, “Well, if you’ve got so many students still on campus why aren’t they joining the SDF?”

    The woman looked up from the clipboard with diagrams of the campus on it to say, “What makes you think they haven’t? Some of them have. The rest… well, they’ll get the nonsense slapped out of their heads soon enough.” She looked around and spotted a young man and gestured at him, “Jimmy! Come here would you?”

    The man, a boy from his looks, came up and she asked him, “They’re supposed to be clearing everyone out of Broward. Have they done it yet?”

    The boy grinned, “Yeah. Had some whiners that had to be ‘motivated’ but they’ve got them all crammed into Maquire, Corry, and Frat Row where they won’t be getting in the way.”

    She nodded then said, “Good, take these men over to Broward and get them situated and point the dining hall out to them.”

    The boy said, “Yes ma’am.” Looking at Larry and Don he said, “Right this way, gentlemen. Best rooms in the house. Nothing’s too good for our boys in uniform.” He grinned, “or whatever passes for uniforms these days.” The two men followed him along with a number of others. They squeezed onto Don’s truck and filled Larry’s pickup and rolled out for the residence halls.

    As they were crossing the campus Larry asked Jimmy, “You been seeing many coming in like this?”

    The young man shook his head affirmatively. “Yeah, once the word about the fighting started going out on the radio they’ve been trickling in. More lately than before. A lot going too. Lots of students.” He spat out the window, “I can understand the girls leaving, but there’s been a lot of guys too. Oh, a bunch stayed and joined up, but a lot still left. Cowards.”

    The Lieutenant eyed him then asked, “You join up?”

    Jimmy nodded his head, “Yep, but they won’t let me do much. Got a laundry list of medical conditions, but mostly it’s a heart problem. Since I had a student assistant job with the housing office they asked me to stay on and help out here. Looks like I’m doing some good since I helped develop the reassignment program to move the remaining students to the far side of campus away from the fighting so that you men could have a decent place to sleep close to the lines.”

    “Proud to hear it.” Larry said, “I’d planned on going back to my place tonight since I live in town, but now I think I may bunk with these guys just to save the time. Glad we won’t be having to sleep in the bushes.”

    They arrived outside of the dormitory complex and Jimmy led the men into the building where they found the Resident Assistant who got them into their rooms. Larry carried his radio with him and reported his location to the EOC and that he had his new men settled in and would be moving them to the lines at dawn. The EOC had no new instructions or news for him so he shucked off his boots and lay down on the bed. His eyes were open just long enough to wonder about the odd taste in posters the former occupant had and then he was asleep.

    -- -- -- --

    <b>4:30 a.m. Eastern Time</b>

    Pale ground mist crept slowly across the grass behind the fence at the Gainesville Regional Utilities water treatment plant and merged into the fog rising from the pond in front of the building. The water tank could barely be seen in the starlight looking more like a space ship in its launching cradle than it ever had before. The big trailer mounted generators that were being used to run the plant were silent. The plant would not be needing them before the next scheduled water service at 8:00 a.m.

    Two pickup trucks approached the plant slowly coming from the west on 58th Ave and pulled up in front of the gates. The four men stationed there picked up their rifles and hunkered down behind the impromptu sandbag emplacements until the drivers of the two trucks stepped out and could be seen in their flashlight beams. They were both white, middle aged males in rumpled SDF kahki vests. The guards relaxed as the two men walked up.

    “Who are you guys?” the man in charge of the gate asked.

    “I’m Bill McCollum from the Pebble Creek Association.” The older of the two drivers spoke, “Smallwood sent us down to reinforce you guys. He’s got a wild hair up his ass that Jones is going to try to take the water plant. There’s another twenty men supposed to be coming behind us.”

    The gate man frowned. “I haven’t heard anything about reinforcements coming out. You said Smallwood sent you?”

    “Yeah, he woke us all up an hour ago and told us to get down here right away.” the driver replied in a tired voice. “Call him if you don’t believe me.”

    “I’ll do that. Rick’s got the EOC radio in the plant.” he started to turn back towards one of the emplacements. “I’ll call him and have him call Smallwood. Be back in a moment.”

    The man began to walk towards the emplacement and its radio. As he did so the two drivers pulled machine pistols sporting fat black cylinders on their muzzles from under their coats and cut down the gate man and the other two men who were visible. The fourth man fell backwards behind the emplacement in shock, scrabbling for his rifle as he did so. The two drivers ran forward and leaned over the sandbags as the man swung his rifle around desperately trying to flip his old Mauser’s safety over but was cut down. The suppressors made only minor popping noises as the subsonic bullets left the muzzles and the clacking of the weapon actions could be clearly heard.

    Even as the last man was being cut down others leapt out of the trucks to swing open the gates and the two trucks pulled slowly through, closing the gates behind them. Rolling up driveway they came to the main building of the treatment plant. An angry man in an SDF vest came out to meet them.

    “Who the Hell are you guys!” He asked in a roar.

    The lead driver stepped out the truck, his SDF vest visible in the man’s flashlight beam. “Are you Rick? I’m Bill McCollum from the Pebble Creek Association. Smallwood sent us out to reinforce you guys. He thinks Jones may attack the water plant.”

    The man looked unsure of himself. “You said Smallwood sent you? I haven’t heard anything from him about reinforcements.”

    McCollum gave a tired sigh. “Figures. Rousts us all out of bed in the middle of the night to get down here on the double and then doesn’t tell you we’re coming. Look, go CALL him on the radio and ASK.”

    The man nodded his head. “I’ll do that.” He turned to go in the building and McCollum and the other driver followed. When they’d entered the building the other men in the trucks got down and began to spread out.

    McCollum and his partner followed the man to the second floor into the room where the radio was kept. “Hey Andy, get on the horn to the EOC and ask Smallwood what the Hell’s going on with him sending reinforcements out here without telling me first.” He was turning around to ask for McCollum’s name again when he saw the machine pistols come out from under their coats. His hand flashed to his holster, but his pistol was only just starting to clear the leather when McCollum’s bullets washed over him. In seconds he, Andy, and the other two men in the room were dead. A fifth man ran into the room to investigate the noise and was cut down as well. From elsewhere in the silent, darkened building they could hear motions, thuds, screams, and the sound of shooting, but McCollum did not think the noise would carry far from inside the confines of the building. In minutes Gainesville’s municipal drinking water supply had fallen to the enemy.

    When he was sure the building and grounds were secure McCollum kicked the corpse of the man who’d been called Andy out of its chair in front of the radio. Sitting down he changed the frequency, keyed the mike and said simply, “Tick, tock.”

    For a moment there was dead air then ‘click-click’.

    Two minutes later his men at the gate reported vehicular traffic approaching the water plant from the east on 58th ave. A battered school bus pulled in and disgorged forty more men, none of whom wore the khaki SDF vests.

    The water plant was now firmly in the hands of the enemy.

    -- -- -- --

    <b>5:00 a.m Eastern Time</b>

    <i>SCCRRCHH!! Crackle!… cough, cough! Oh God! Help! Help! cough! It burns! SCCHRRCH! cough! Hel..cough crackle! Help!…</i>

    Larry’s eye came open and for an unmeasurable instant of time he lay there wondering what it was that had woken him. He wasn’t sure if he’d been dreaming or<i>… SCRCH! cough,cough,cough! God hel…cough!crackle! cough!scrchhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh…</i>

    Flinging the covers off he leapt to the radio he’d put on the desk and keyed the mike, but whoever it was on the air had his mike jammed open and he could not break through. Flipping on his flashlight he rapidly switched over to another EOC frequency, but could not get through. He did pick up another unit trying to do the same.

    “What the Hell is going on?” He shouted at the radio.

    “Don’t know!” the answer came back. “A minute ago the EOC radios went nuts and now I can’t get any answer at all.” In the background of the voice came the sudden sounds of gunfire then “Holy shit! They’re coming in forc…” and the mike went dead. Larry thought he could vaguely hear the sound of shots in the distance and ran to the window to open it so that he could hear better but the window would not open. “Goddamn it!” He raged and he snatched up his rifle to smash out the glass with the steel buttplate of the weapon. Now he could clearly hear the sound of many, many guns in the distance coming from the East.

    He ran to the bed and pulled on his boots and gear. Slinging the rifle he shoved the radio under one arm and ran out the door of the room yelling as he did so. “Get up! Get up! We’re under attack! Get up! Meet me at the trucks! GET UP! GET UP!”

    As he hit the stairwell door at the end of the hall flashlight beams were beginning to stab the darkness and doors were opening. Larry hit the bottom stairwell door at a run heading for his truck. He got there, jumped in and started the motor. Picking up the other radio he called for Mitch who answered seconds later. “All Hell’s breaking loose downtown and I can’t raise the EOC at all. I think they’re under attack. Get everyone together and meet me at the intersection of University and 13th St. I’ve got a lot of new men with me. Look for the truck!”

    Mitch came back sounding calm and collected which pointedly reminded Larry that he didn’t. “I copy, Lieutenant. Word’s going out right now. Most of us were already awake. ETA at your location of ten minutes. Over.”

    Taking a deep breath to calm his voice Larry came back, “Make it five minutes, Mitch and I’ll see you there.”

    There was much yelling and confusion in the dormitory driveways as men came boiling out of the buildings. One young man carrying an AK47 copy hit the bottom of the stairwell too fast and burst out the door to fall on his face. His weapon fired when he hit the ground and the sound of the bullet spanging off the building on the opposite side of the street was clearly heard. Don Maxwell charged over and slapped the boy on the side of the head yelling, “What did I tell you about keeping your goddamned safety on!”

    As the ranking SDF man on the scene at the dormitory complex it fell to Larry to get everyone organized. With the aid of Maxwell they quickly found five more older men who seemed to have some idea of what they were about and pressed them into service as sergeants. They quickly divided all of the available men into groups of ten with a sergeant for each who then chose an assistant in his group. It was rough and ready and few knew each other but it was the best they could do. All of the men crammed into the melon truck, Larry’s truck, and another early sixties model Chevy one ton with a tool body and they rolled up 13th St towards the intersection with University Avenue. In the distance they could hear much shooting and screams. As they were loading up into his truck Larry asked, “Any of you ever work a radio before?”

    An older man with a brush cut said, “I use one at work. I used to be a security officer out to the battery plant.”

    “Good!” the lieutenant barked, “Get in the cab. You’re my radioman! I’ll give you the channels and you see who you can raise.”

    The convoy pulled out. Larry rattled off channels from memory and the radioman tried to raise someone. None of the EOC channels had traffic. Larry was able to raise a few other unit leaders, but no one had any clear idea of what was going on. They were approaching the intersection where they were to meet Mitch and his men when one voice came up on the channel they were working. “cough! coughcoughcough! Gas!cough cough! They’re using gas! Oh god! coughI can’t breacough! Gas!coughcoug…”

    The radioman looked to Larry and said softly, “Son of a bitch!”

    A cold chill came over the Lieutenant that had nothing to do with the temperature. He felt panic swelling in his chest screaming to get out and he savagely repressed it knowing that if he could not keep it together his men wouldn’t either.

    They reached the intersection and he pulled up on the university side of the street and had the men deploy in defensive positions while they waited. His radioman continued to scan the channels and it became apparent that Jones was once again jamming their communications.

    Several minutes later a yellow school bus arrived and Mitch leapt out running towards Larry’s truck. The Lieutenant met him. “Heard anymore about what’s going on downtown?” his sergeant asked.

    Nichols spat on the ground then answered him, “Yeah, some. Someone said they’re using gas. Heard a lot of coughing from what little traffic we could pick up downtown so maybe it’s true. The bastard’s jamming again too.”

    “Gas?” Mitch asked, incredulous. “Where the hell would he get war gasses from? That stuff is all supposed to be out west someplace.”

    “Damned if I know. What the hell can we do about it though?”

    Mitch shook his head, “Not a goddamned thing, Lieutenant. We ain’t equipped for that shit. I can’t believe Jones is either!” He stopped for a moment in thought. “Christ! He’s got the northeast industrial park doesn’t he?!”

    Larry stared at him a moment then nodded his head. “Yeah, I think he does. He’s got pretty much all of Gainesville east of 6th St. Why?”

    His sergeant stared off into the darkness towards the downtown area. “Larry, it may be he does have gas after all. I don’t mean like nerve or mustard gas, but poison gas sure enough. Could be damn near anything. Chlorine maybe. There’d be lots of that.”

    The Lieutenant frowned at him. “Chlorine? Shit! The gas supply companies. There’s a big one out there.”

    Mitch nodded his head. “Yep. The wind’s out of the East and blowing maybe five miles per hour, maybe less, so all they’d have to do is just bring in cylinders of whatever it is they could find and open the valves upwind. The damned stuff would just drift right into our lines. Wouldn’t be anything to have fire teams come in right behind it.”

    “So what can we do about it?” Larry scratched his stubbly cheek. “Like you said, we ain’t got any gear for dealing with it. I suspect we could probably round up some scuba gear or the stuff the fire department uses but that ain’t gonna do us any good right now.”

    “Not much we can do about it, Lieutenant. So long as the wind’s towards us we’re at a disadvantage. One thing in our favor is it take a damn lot of stuff like chlorine to cover a wide area. They don’t have an infinite supply. Best we can do is try to form lines outside of the gas. If they bring in more gas we’ll have to retreat. At least until the wind shifts.”

    Nodding his head in decision Larry said, “OK, here’s what we’ll do then. I want you to get our men and these newcomers organized and deploy along 13th St. here. That’s going to be our fallback line. I’ll take… Don Maxwell there… and Billy with me in the truck and we’ll see how close to downtown we can get so we can get some idea of what’s going on over there. We see any of our people I’ll tell them to fall back on you. Got that?”

    The sergeant said, “Sounds like a plan. I’ll get on it.”

    Larry motioned at Billy and walked over to speak with Don Maxwell. The man was plainly disquieted at the prospect of a gas attack, but agreed to go with him to reconnoiter. A fourth and fifth man walked up, one of them saying, “Mitch said we’re to go with you for cover.” They were carrying the M60.

    Everyone loaded into the truck and leaving his lights off Larry proceeded very slowly down West University Avenue towards the downtown area. There was no moon so they had only starlight to see by. In the distance to the east they saw fires begin to rise into the night. They’d gone just two blocks when the first running men approached down the street, empty handed. Larry stopped the truck so that he and Don could stop the men to find out what was happening. The first two were hysterical and fought to get away so they let them go. Soon more men came and were stopped so that they could begin to piece together what was happening.

    The truck crept slowly forward afterwards with Don and one other man walking along side stopping men and telling them to fall back on the lines at 13th St. In the distance gun shots continued to ring out with shouts and screams being heard. One fire began to tower into the night. It appeared to be very near the courthouse and the EOC. They crossed the railroad tracks and began to encounter the first signs of organization among the SDF men. One stood and motioned at the truck to stop so Larry did. The man approached and the Lieutenant recognized him as Captain Scott, Smallwood’s Executive Officer. “Greg!” Larry muffled his shout, but not his feeling of relief, “What the Hell is going on?”

    Scott said, “Don’t go any further towards downtown Larry. This is as far as we control on University now. Anyone in front of us is dead, captured, or cut off.”

    “Shit!” the Lieutenant said, “Are they really using gas? The radio’s useless.”

    The Captain unscrewed his canteen and took a drink then spit it out. He took a deeper drink the screwed the cap back on. “Yeah, the bastard’s are using gas. Not sure what, but I think it’s chlorine from the symptoms and the smell. Smallwood’s dead I think. He was asleep on the first floor of the courthouse where he and some of the rest of us have been bunking. I think they got upwind of us on the north side of University Ave here and started opening cylinders. Got a radio report from the men on the line in that area they were hearing a whistling shrieking sound from in front of them. About a minute later they reported their eyes and throats were burning and started to run. Some of them anyway. A lot of them never got out. The wind just blew it right through us before we could do much of anything. They had men wearing some sort of masks and air tanks coming right in the gas cloud. It’s dark as shit so by the time we could see anyone to shoot at the gas was on us. All we could do was fall back. No masks, no tanks, nothing. They had the EOC before we could do squat. From the sounds of it I think they blew it with satchel charges. That’s probably it or the courthouse we’re seeing burning right there.”

    Larry let out a long sigh. “OK Greg. What do we do about it then?”

    Scott looked towards the west then said, “Fall back, regroup and try to reestablish our lines. If they use more gas we’ll have to fall back again. At least until the wind shifts.”

    Nodding his head the Lieutenant said, “I’ve got my group and about forty or so new volunteers that came in last night deployed along 13th St at the intersection with University and we’ve been telling anyone we could get to stop to fall back there. Will that do?”

    The Captain grinned whitely in the darkness. “Hell yes! Glad to hear someone’s kept their head. Damn sure everyone up this way been losing theirs. OK, let me get word out to fall back to 13th St. I hate to give up the ground but we’re scattered all to Hell here so it’s as good a place to regroup as any.”

    Scott went off to spread the word and Larry turned the truck around. Another man came up as he was doing so to say, “We’ve got wounded here. Can you carry them back with you?”

    He stopped the truck long enough to load the makeshift litters and began moving towards the west. Shots rang out as he did indicating the skirmish line of the Jones forces had encountered Scott’s men. When he made the new 13th St line he stopped and briefed Mitch. Two more unit leaders were with him, remnants of the SDF that had been forced to retreat in the face of the general assault and communications breakdown. Continued shooting could be heard from the east, closer now than it had been before he’d left. More wounded arrived and Larry ordered them all into Don’s melon truck. “You and your men can ride in the school busses, we need a flatbed for the litters.” When the truck was loaded he had one of Don’s men drive it to North Florida Regional across the street from the mall and well away from the fighting.

    At 6:15 a.m. Scott merged what was left of the downtown SDF forces with the line that Larry had established. Slowly it had been accreting men as they either fell back or came forward from the areas to the west as the word went out. 13th St in Gainesville is U.S. Highway 441 and a wide area to cross in the open. The radios were useless. Jones was not attempting to use the airwaves for traffic at all, but simply jamming everything he could. Slowly it became apparent that he was not able to cover all the frequencies available to the SDF but what he could cover comprised most of their available radios. Scott quickly dispatched their few functional machines to the center and far ends of their lines to facilitate coordination. For the rest he drafted the youngest and most able bodied to be runners – on bicycles when they could find them – on foot when they could not.

    For a time the line fell silent with no further pursuit. Mitch was hunkering down with Larry in Tigert Hall, the main Administration building of the University which fronted on 13th St. “Jones just got himself a great big swath of the middle of Gainesville. Probably gonna take him a few to swallow it. He’ll keep on coming though. You mark my words. He’s not done this day.”

    At 7:00 a.m. and still nearly a half hour till the dawning the first shots were fired from the east side of 13th St, but it was still so dark that no one was hit. Larry and Mitch left the building to join the line to put some heart in the men. “Wait for it1” Larry said as he passed up and down. “Don’t shoot at what you can’t see! They’ll have to show themselves to get across the street. Wait until then!”

    Many of the men were nervous, even the ones who’d participated in the previous two days of fighting. Word had gotten around from the survivors of the downtown gas attacks and no one knew if Jones would use poison gas again. The shooting intensified from the opposite side of the street, but the SDF leaders had their men hold their fire. Molotov cocktails began to fly leaving fiery streaks in the predawn sky in their arcing paths. Larry wondered what they were using to be able to throw them so far, but few hit anything of note and fewer still did any real damage. He was beginning to feel hopeful they’d be able to hold when he heard the sound.

    A thin whistling shriek came from the darkness on the eastern side. First one, then a second, a third, fourth. The hair on the back of Larry’s neck stood up then a man stood screaming, ‘THEY USING GAS AGAIN! GAS! IT’S GAS!” and ran into the darkness away from the street.

    The Lieutenant leapt to his feet shouting, “Hold the line! We don’t know it’s gas yet! Hold the line! STAY PUT GODDAMNIT!”

    In the flickering firelight he saw four men who had stood and were looking to the west look at him and started to squat back down again when a scream went up, “It burns! Oh God, it burns! coughcough Help!coughHelcough…”

    This was too much and the four men leapt to their feet and ran, one dropping his rifle. Larry pulled his pistol and shouted, “Don’t run! Fall back as a unit! Don’t run! GODDAMNIT, I’LL SHOOT THE FIRST MAN WHO ABANDONS HIS UNIT!” The screaming continued and men began to panic. Another man threw down his rifle and ran. Larry could barely see him as he pointed the pistol and fired. A flash of flame licked out but the man kept moving and before he could fire again was lost to sight. “FALL BACK WITH YOUR UNITS! DON’T RUN!” A bullet whistled past Larry’s head and he wasn’t sure if it was from across the street or one of his own men.

    “Fall back! STAY WITH YOUR UNITS! FALL BACK!” Men began cramming themselves aboard the busses and trucks parked in the rear. Mitch ran up with the M60, Billy trailing him with the radios hanging from his belt and back and belts of machine gun ammo in his arms. “Mitch! Get in the back of the pickup! We’ve got to slow their advance to give the men time to fall back.” He snatched a microphone from the boy shouting into it. “We’re being gassed and falling back! We’re falling back to…” he struggled to visualize a map of his part of Gainesville in his mind, “We’re falling back to 34th St at the Food Distribution Center.”

    Mitch made it into the back of the pickup truck and Larry savagely turned it around to present the bed towards 13th St. On the radio the sound of Captain Scott’s voice could be heard. “Larry, this is Greg. I copy you’re under gas attack. Try to hold the line at 34th St. The sun’s coming up soon and I think the wind will shift. We’re going to try to anchor the north flank along Hogtowne Creek down to where it intersects 34th St. Ryerson is going to try to hold the south end of the line where he’s at unless they use gas on him too. Over.”

    “I copy, Greg. We’re all FUBARed all to Hell here. Mitch and I are pulling drag to give the men a chance to regroup. Don Maxwell is going to try to round them up and deploy them along 34th but I don’t know if they’ll stop or not. They’re spooked and running like rabbits.”

    “I copy, Larry. Do the best you can. We’ve got incoming. Scott out.” Larry dropped the mike and looked out the window. “Mitch, you see anything?”

    “I get a flash once in a while across the street, but they’re not crossing yet.” Mitch replied, “You smell anything? Chlorine stinks to hell and gone. We should smell it before it gets dangerous. If you do floor this thing and get us the **** out of here.”

    “Damn straight!” Larry said. Before he could say anything else Mitch opened up with the M60 dancing his fire in a wide arc along 13th St. Two other men opened up as well, both of them with full automatic fire from what looked like M16s to the Lieutenant. A dozen men fell writhing in the street but more came on and soon bullets were spanging off the pavement around them and one impacted the tailgate.

    “Pull back!” Mitch shouted, “But go slow. They can’t see us clear except for when we fire.”

    Larry put the truck in gear and let out the clutch. He pulled forward slowly, not using the brake pedal, but using the parking brake by pulling out on the brake release and keeping it out while pushing down on the brake set when he needed to slow the truck. This kept the brake lights from flaring and further giving away their position. Mitch and the men with the M16s fired short bursts every few seconds to slow the advance of the enemy forces. They moved down University Avenue at a slow jogging pace and gradually picked up more men who turned to fire at the advancing enemy. They were passing the University President’s mansion when out of the darkness a truck came rushing at them, men standing in the bed firing at them with some sort of full automatic weaponry. Two rounds starred the windshields of Larry’s truck and he cursed passionately. Mitch put a long burst from the machine gun into the front of the truck and it swerved off of the street and impacted the front of an apartment building.

    At last they pulled into the Westgate Shopping Center where the former Publix supermarket now a food distribution center was located. Don Maxwell had men barricading University Ave and 2nd Ave on the other side of the shopping center. Men were stationed in the trees and houses to snipe at the advancing forces. Larry set up his command post in the health and fitness center across 34th St from the distribution center as the sun turned the sky salmon then yellow and finally into a pale blue.

    Short after the sun brought light into the world again the wind began to shift gradually blowing from the northwest. Mitch said, “That’ll be the last of the gas attacks I think until the wind shifts back. I’m figuring they don’t have any more poison gas though because I never did smell anything unusual that last time and the wind was blowing straight from them to us. I think those last cylinders they opened were something harmless. Nitrogen, or CO2 or something. What do you think?”

    Larry spat a sour taste out of his mouth and took a swallow from his canteen. “Could be Mitch. Except for that one who started screaming what panicked everyone we didn’t take any gas casualties that I know of. I think the son of a bitch bluffed us and we fell for it. I can tell you one thing though. That bastard’s not going to be able to do it again TODAY! The sun’s up now and if they let anymore chlorine or whatever out we’ll be able to see it coming don’t you think?”

    Mitch considered for a moment then said, “Chlorine anyway. It’s a green gas. Don’t know what kind of poison gas they’ve got that might be colorless.”

    Shaking his head Larry spread his city map on the receptionist’s counter and began drawing lines with a red grease pencil. As radio reports came in he made adjustments. Finally he finished then shoved the map to the end of the counter and sat down in the rolling chair.

    Mitch drew the map to him and began to study it. In red grease pencil he saw a study of the war.

    Nearly three quarters of the City of Gainesville was now in the hands of the Emperor Jones.

  33. #33
    <b>February 27, 2004..........Twilight</b>

    “Come and take them you bastards!” The shout echoed off the houses across the street from the modest brick home shortly before a long string of rifle shots sparked and ricocheted from their walls forcing the men watching from the windows to duck for cover. Presently they returned fire of their own as smoking grenades of tear gas arched over the street to crash through the windows of the embattled home. It did not take long for the clouds of acrid vapor to waft through the broken panes. No further shots were fired. Silence fell until moments later the front door of the house opened and a man wearing a camouflage jacket and a wet cloth tied across his face sprinted out, behind him came a boy of perhaps twelve, both firing wildly at the houses across the street. Rifles began to speak and the man went down thrashing almost immediately. The boy hesitated when he fell only to be himself struck. Both writhed on the ground for a few seconds then were still.

    Two more forms stepped through the front door. A woman, hands empty, and a young girl, both with cloths tied across their faces. The woman raised her hands into the air, the girl shrieking in terror. No shots rang out. The females ran wailing to the fallen forms in the grass. Six men exited the houses across the street and walked up to them, pushing them towards the street where a city bus approached. They were forced on board and it drove away. The men picked up the weapons that had belonged to the slain and themselves left. The bodies were left to lay. There was no one to be seen in the neighborhood.

    A seventh man exited the house to walk over to the bodies. He examined them from where he stood then walked up the street to a motorcycle. He sat the machine, kicked it into life and rode away to the northeast and the former headquarters of the state Division of Forestry. The fire lookout tower rose high above the trees and in the cabin above he saw several men, two plainly armed. He was stopped at the corner and identified then rode up to the building, dismounted his machine and disappeared inside.

    An hour later the man exited the building and rode off on the bike taking a circuitous route before arriving at Professor William’s home. Again he was stopped at the corner and identified before being passed through. Entering the house he found Williams in his study.

    “Good morning, Mustapha.” the professor greeted him. “How passed the night?”

    “Very well, Dr. Williams.” Mustapha replied as he sat down. “The attack was successful as you know. We now have the water plant, airport and county jail and hold most of the city east of Thirty Fourth St on the west side. Casualties were lighter than I feared. We’re consolidating our gains now. It’s a pity we did not have more gas cylinders. I think we could have spooked them all the way to the west of I-75.”

    Nodding his head Wiliams said, “Well, we have to make do with what we have. The gas served its purpose. If we acquire more hold it in reserve. Chances are it will never work as well again, but it may yet serve us again. Any problems mopping up?”

    “No, I have teams doing the house-to-house searches in the new neighborhoods now confiscating weapons and radios. Most are cooperating with the inevitable, but there have been a few hold outs. The tear gas we took from the sheriff’s department is working well for that. Anyone who refuses to surrender is eliminated. Any surviving females and small children of the families that resist are being collected and taken to the Fairgrounds. I’ve put a good guard up there so they won’t be molested.”

    The professor’s wife came in with a tray holding a coffee service. She set it down and left. Williams poured coffee for both of them. “That’s good. Make sure they’re properly cared for. Maltreatment of prisoners will only foster resistance. Has the new food distribution begun?”

    “Yes. Starting with on the east side working west. It’s only going to be a small issue as you know. The water plant will be back in service today as well.”

    “Excellent.” The older man dropped a lump of sugar into his coffee and stirred it. “It’s important that we begin to be seen as competent administrators, not simply conquerors. I know the food stocks aren’t large, but if we distribute what we do have and make efforts to ensure safe water is available it will go a long ways towards giving that appearance. Be sure to emphasize to your officers there will be NO looting, pillaging nor molesting of any city residents by our forces. This is important. Use what disciplinary measures you must to impose this. However rough our beginnings we must now come to be seen as a valid military force capable of protecting the property and residents of the territory we control.”

    Khan sighed and put down his cup. “Dr. Williams, you’ve got to know that is going to cause trouble with the men. This policy is fostering serious discontent in the ranks. Already I’ve had to lock up two men who violated orders and raped a white girl. That’s just two that we caught. I’ve got two more that raped one of your tree hugging students too. They’re in the same lockup I’m expecting it to get worse.”

    Williams set his cup down as well. “One of our student activists was raped by our men?”

    “Yeah, the stupid girl went off with two guys talking that earth liberation trash and they put it to her. Gene Brown heard her screaming and broke it up.” The man scowled, “What do we need them for anyway? They make everyone crazy with that trash talk of theirs.”

    “They may be useful later. Whatever their ideology they are well educated and at least a few of them have seen action before in their own causes.” He picked his cup up again then continued. “I want those men tried and executed – publicly. They’ll make excellent examples to the rest of our troops about following orders. Make sure the girl is there to witness it.”

    Mustapha said, “Yes sir.” then rubbed his eyes tiredly. “This is going to cause real trouble with the ‘hood boys, you know that.”

    “I know, son.” Williams tried to console him, “but it’s necessary. Our cause is much bigger now than simply protecting our own neighborhoods as best we can. The more territory we take the more people there will be for us to administer. If they come to see us as nothing more than murderous savages intent only in raping and pillaging they will resist and it will be the end of us. We simply cannot afford to have a large part of our available manpower tied down in security functions in the areas we’ve already taken. I’m willing to sacrifice a few home boys to demonstrate this point. Our mission has entered a new phase and it’s now time to begin thinking like a government. Speaking of which has our Tallahassee contact reported yet?”

    “Yes, he has. I just picked up the report from the tower. He says the Governor is willing to receive our application. Personally, I think he’s just playing us along. There’s no way Tallahassee is ever going to accept us.”

    Picking up a pencil and staring at its point for a moment the professor agreed. “Yes, they are playing us along, but it’s a start. The Governor can read a map as well as anyone. With every passing victory of our consolidated movements his options are dwindling away. The bulk of the population of the state is in the central and southern areas of the peninsula yet the state capital is well to the north and west in the panhandle. If we succeed in taking the rest of Gainesville at least as far as the I-75 corridor he will largely be cut off from the majority of the state population. With the I-95/I-10 Interchange in the hands of the Jacksonville movement we now control movement north and south for much of the state. One more major gain for us and some time to consolidate and he will no longer be playing us along but talking in earnest.”

    “I’m glad you’re confident, Dr. Williams. I am not. I’m not sure how much more ground we can take. We’re overextended as it is.” Mustapha drained his cup then set it down. “I simply don’t think we can successfully hold any new ground we may take if tonight’s attack is successful.”

    “More men will come. I’ve already sent word off to Jacksonville and Savannah of our success last night. Gainesville is vital to their plans for Florida and they know we are in a race against time here. I fully expect them to supply us with extra troops and weaponry shortly.” He poured more coffee into the other man’s cup and refreshed his own. “If necessary, we can put off the attack for tonight, but it increases our risk. Right now the SDF is in a state of shock and vulnerable to another hard push, especially if it comes from an unexpected direction. If we give them a chance to catch their breath resistance will harden and we may indeed not make any further headway. Soon now they will have collected themselves and begin to fight back. We must be ready for this.”

    Mustapha stared at the dark, steaming liquid in his cup. “You are right. A day or two for news of our victory to get around the small towns and backwoods and the good ole boys are going to be streaming in if they have to walk. That’s why I’m hesitant to take still more territory without more troops, but if we can cross I-75 we’ll be in a stronger bargaining position with Tallahassee. It’s too bad we can’t do anything about U.S. 27 and 19 though.”

    “It is a pity, my friend, but at present they are out of our reach. Other movements in other cities will have to attend to them. We will be hard pressed to defend what we will already have very soon now but I believe we can do it. We have a very good chance now of pulling this off. Would you care for something to fortify your coffee?”

    The other man looked down into his cup for a moment the replied, “No, thank you. I’m exhausted and am going to get some shut eye.” He drained his cup and set it down. “I’ll see to the disciplinary orders before I turn in.” He stood up and shook hands with the professor. “I’ll be back at one with fresh reports.” He turned and walked out.

    Paris watched him go and then turned his study window to watch him from the house to his motorcycle outside. After he had ridden away he picked up his book again. It was an old and cracked leather bound King James version of the Christian bible opened to Revelations. He was not an atheist, but it had been some time since he’d last prayed or attended services. It was the memory of a fragment of a dream from the night before that had him reviewing the book of St. John the Divine. He had never put much credence in the literal text of Revelations, indeed found it difficult to believe that any disciplined and educated mind could do so, but neither did he entirely discount the emotional message of the subtext either.

    He had been only a young man then, a curiosity for a black to be pursuing an advanced degree in mathematics, on a warm September’s afternoon reading Yeats under a tree on the Dartmouth campus.
    Turning and turning in the widening gyre
    The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
    Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
    Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
    The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
    The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
    The best lack all convictions, while the worst
    Are full of passionate intensity.

    Surely some revelation is at hand;
    Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
    The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
    When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
    Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
    A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
    A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
    Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
    Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
    The darkness drops again; but now I know
    That twenty centuries of stony sleep
    Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
    And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
    Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
    He’d had an epiphany of his own about The Second Coming and begin to realize what it was that he must work towards. That had been in 1969 with its long, hot summer of discontent. He’d been struggling to keep his head above water in his program, feeling alienated in the seemingly all white world of mathematics. He’d also seethed with anger as the FBI orchestrated arrest after arrest of Black Panther leadership around the country. He’d never actually joined the party, his trusted advisors had convinced him that he could do more good for the cause as an educated black man with an advanced degree working within the power structure than as just another radical student so he had kept his distance and, he hoped, out of J. Edgar Hoover’s files. Nevertheless, like so many thousands of others he knew the System was not sustainable and must inevitably go down in thunder and flames since it refused to change any other way. He’d read Yeat’s poem and it seemed as if a cold wind blew over him and he knew. That was the best that he could express the feeling – he just knew - that it was only a matter of time and that if his people were to survive they must not place their faith in governments but instead would have to save themselves.

    He was never quite the same after that, but the changes the work had wrought upon him brought with them a strengthened resolve to stay the course he had set upon. A year and a half later he successfully defended his thesis and attained his doctorate. Not the most brilliant mathematician to have matriculated that ivy covered hall, but not the worst. Gradually the passion and tension that had defined the previous decade faded away in the next and his mission and conviction slumbered. Having finally gotten this most necessary of academic tickets punched he lost himself in playing the game of finding a worthy teaching position and chasing tenure in the publish or perish world of academia. If the fact of the relative rarity of his race in the professional world of mathematics made it somewhat easier for him to find a worthy position it also put him more under the microscope of professional scrutiny because of it so he went to great lengths to give no one cause to accuse him of radicalism anywhere outside of his arcane field of study. In time he settled in, settled down, and was largely forgotten outside of professional circles.

    Until the early summer of 1980 when by chance he was visiting friends in Miami and the news of the trial of the four policemen accused murdering Arthur McDuffie came in finding them innocent and the riots that resulted soon afterwards. He had not been involved in the rioting, but the airwaves were full of the violent scenes, the streets of every black neighborhood full of violent talk and it combined within him to reawaken his sense of purpose. He knew that open radicalism would soon go the way of all previous attempts so he chose another course and had been toiling in the vineyard of his purpose ever since.

    After an hour he finished with the bible and set it back to rest on its shelf. He’d seldom opened it since he’d been a young man, but he still considered it a treasure of his house as it was very nearly the last surviving relic of his grandmother and great grandparents. On the wall next to the bookshelf there was a framed photo. Even after having it professionally restored it had a faded, well worn appearance but the single story wood framed cracker house with the wide front porch, swept sand yard, well, and fig tree were still plainly visible. Standing in front of the house were his great grandparents and in front of them was his grandmother at a pretty twenty years of age and her four younger brothers and sisters. All were gone now. The house had, of course, burned that January back in 1923 consuming his great grandfather and a younger brother of his grandmother’s. His great grandmother and her surviving son and two younger daughters had escaped on a train to Gainesville, smuggled aboard by the woman who hired her to do laundry. A day later her oldest daughter gained her freedom as well, not knowing yet the terrible secret she carried. The family never returned to Levy County and after so many decades he had not even been able to find where the house had stood. County records had been lost and he could not now be certain. His grandmother had always been adamant they had owned their home, but when he searched the records nearly seventy years later he could find no deed with his great grandfather’s name on it so was left to wonder if the records had been purposefully lost or if his grandmother was simply mistaken. Little now remained in Rosewood but a few houses and a new memorial. In the Williams family only the photo and the bible survived.

    A man came in to give a message. “Dr. Williams, I was told to tell you that Mr. Mason will be pleased to meet with you at 10:00 a.m. and that you would know where. That was it.”

    Paris smiled, “Thank you, Nicky. I understand. You may go.”

    The man nodded his head and left. Williams opened a drawer and removed the bottle and a glass. He poured himself a scant shot, capped the bottle and put it back into the drawer. He hoisted the glass in the direction of the photo to say, “I expect that will be confirmation they’ve decided to back us. We’re almost there.” He tossed off the shot and dropped the glass into the drawer and closed it. Standing he put on his coat and went into the kitchen where he found his man. “Bring up the car. I need to go talk to a man about some business.” The man nodded and left. Mary Williams came into the room and asked, “Would you like something to eat before you go, Paris?”

    Her husband smiled as he bent to kiss her. “Why, yes, dear. I would appreciate a bite. Thank you.”

    She smiled at him and slid some fried ham inside of that morning’s biscuits and he washed them down with a cup of coffee. As he was finishing a green Ford Explorer and an old Chevy pick up truck stopped in front of the house. He stood and put on his hat. “If there’s no problems I expect I’ll be back before Mustapha returns at one. If I’m delayed tell him to wait.”

    She nodded her head and he bent again to kiss her then walked out.

    -- -- -- --

    “Grandpa’s back.” Eddy said, looking out the window. He stood and went to the door, his mother following. Up the driveway walked John and Cindy coming from Ben’s place. A drizzly mist began to fall and it would be dark early this day.

    Inside the returning pair took off their coats and Barb set plates of hot food on the table for their lunch. Everyone sat to their meal. “Any news from Gainesville?” Barb asked, anxiety plain on her face. “Has he heard anything about Larry?”

    John cut himself a slice of bread and replied. “Yes. Jesse said he’s heard Larry’s voice several times this morning so he’s one of the survivors. The rest is pretty bad. Sounds like they used chlorine or some other form of poison gas. Can’t tell what the casualties are yet, but I expect they will be bad. The SDF was pushed way back. Near as Jesse can tell it sounds like the Emperor holds everything east of West Thirty Fourth St. They’ve lost the downtown altogether along with a major part of their communications net.”

    No one spoke for a time, fear and anxiety plain on Barb and Cindy’s faces. Eddy struggled to conceal his. “What are they going to do?” he asked. “Did Jesse have any idea if they’re going to counter attack?”

    His grandfather shrugged his shoulders. “Don’t know. I’m sure it’s not something they’d discuss over the radio. I can say this though they’re really putting out the call for volunteers. Sounds like they’re getting them too. In fact, I’m taking a truckload of men from Trenton into Gainesville tonight.”

    With a look of alarm Barb asked, “Dad! You’re not going to fight are you?”

    Shaking his head ruefully her father reassured her. “No, no. I’m not running off to fight. Just trying to do my part by taking some younger men over who don’t have any other way to get there. There’s a convoy getting together that’ll be leaving at four today heading over. More men coming down from Bell and some from as far away as Dixie and Taylor counties. Quite a few wondering if the Emperor takes Gainesville what else he’ll try to take? Better to take the fight to him than wait for him to come to us.”

    “Grandpa, can I go with you when you go? Maybe we’ll get a chance to see dad.” Eddy asked hopefully.

    “Edward Nichols I’ll not have you running off to play soldier!” his mother said emphatically. “Your father is in enough trouble as it is for letting you get into gun fights already!”

    John examined the boy thoughtfully for a moment as his daughter reacted before speaking up. “In fact that’s not a bad idea, Eddy.”

    Barb turned in her chair to speak to her father and he held up his hand. “Hold it! Just a minute now! I didn’t say I was going to take him to Gainesville to join up. He’ll ride over with me and ride back. The way things are now it would be a good idea to have a trusty man riding shotgun and Eddy’s already proven his mettle. None of them boys I’ll be taking over tonight will be coming back with me. Today, that is.”

    Mother and grandfather discussed the matter for several minutes while both the kids watched. Cindy wanted to go too, but from her mother’s reaction she decided against saying so. Finally Barb relented but only after her father swore that he would bring the boy back.

    Hoping to change the subject before his mother could think of more objections Eddy asked, “Did you get any news while you were over there, Cindy?”

    The girl took a swallow of water before answering. “Yes, I did. Mostly bad news though.”

    Nodding his head John said, “Well, even bad news is better than no news. Tell them what you heard.”

    “We listened to several news broadcasts while we were over there. The fighting keeps spreading. One Ham said a lot of downtown Atlanta is in flames and that he could hear artillery fire. Another said that refugees were walking and riding bicycles on I-16 coming out of Savannah and that the military was having a hard time with them because they’re trying to keep the highway clear. He said the rebels have taken most of the city, but the port is still open.” She opened up her little bound book to refresh her memory. “That Ham said that Hunter Army Airfield had fallen, but that Fort Stewart was still standing, but partially cut off. Another ham said that the military air field in Jacksonville had fallen, but that the naval bases at Mayport and Kings Bay had not. Jesse said a lot of that might be incorrect and that we should get corroboration before believing it.”

    Barb put her fork down and pushed her plate away, her face dark. “War. Right here in the United States. I never thought it could happen here. What do these people want?! Why are they killing each other?!”

    John reached out and took his daughter’s hand. “I don’t know, doll. But we’re going to get through this. The United States is a strong country. We’ve gotten filled up with a lot of nonsense over the years, but we still have a strong foundation. For the foreseeable future things are going to be ugly, but eventually this will pass and the country will come back together. It’s what I believe and I think it’s what you all should believe as well.”

    She wiped her tears away with her napkin before looking up. “I don’t know, dad. Maybe you’re right, but just now I don’t know. I’d find it easier to believe if Larry wasn’t fighting for our lives and my son hadn’t been shot trying to protect a neighbor. Now it sounds like this madman has taken our home too.”

    “Maybe he has. But madmen do not last forever and this one may not last very long at all.” John took both of her hands into his. “There was a newscast about the president bringing troops home from the Middle East. From the sounds of it we’re abandoning Afghanistan and bringing those troops home. Some of the other NATO nations are sending troops here to help out. Poland, the Czechs, Germany, and a few French units are coming over. Before long these murderous nuts will all be dead or rounded up into prison. We’re going to make it! That’s why Larry brought you all here so you’d be safe until things come back to normal.”

    “Maybe they’ll bring back some troops from Korea to help out too.” Eddy interjected “Didn’t they just say yesterday we weren’t advancing there anymore?”

    His grandfather shook his head negatively. “No, that’s exactly what they won’t do, precisely because we have stopped advancing there. There was a Voice of America story about the CDC identifying the disease causing the epidemic. It’s the SARS virus you may remember from last year except that it’s much more contagious than last winter. The CDC spokesman said this may be because the North Koreans are so generally malnourished and susceptible to disease. That’s exactly why they won’t be bringing any troops back from Asia because a big part of the United States is either malnourished now or soon will be with the shortages and disruptions. If that SARS bug got loose here again the death toll could be a lot higher than last year.”

    “Well, maybe the NATO troops and our forces from the Middle East will be enough.” Barb said hopefully. “It’s not like these rebels are really an army or anything. When they run into real soldiers with real weapons they’ll collapse and this nightmare will be over with.”

    John had serious misgivings about the fragility of the insurrection racing across the continent but he kept them to himself so as not to alarm his daughter more than she already was. “You could be right, doll.” he agreed. “The news wasn’t all bad though. We’ve been licking the Chinese pretty good from the sound of it. That same VOA broadcast mentioned we’d sunk quite a few of their ships off of Hainan Island. You might recall that’s the island where they forced our intelligence plane down. The report said we sank seven Sino ships and shot down twenty seven fighters and destroyed two air bases on the island and we only lost one frigate and two fighters.”

    “At least there’s some good news.” Barb agreed. “I was beginning to think we were losing everywhere.”

    “Have the Chinese used any of their nukes?” Eddy asked.

    Shaking his head negatively his grandfather said, “No. Not that I’ve heard. The Chinese are not really in our league in the nuclear field. I think both sides want to keep this a conventional war, at least for now.”

    Determined to lighten the atmosphere in the kitchen John kept the conversational topics light and headed off any attempts to discuss the war further until everyone had finished eating. When they were done Barb and Cindy cleaned up while John and Eddy restocked the wood box on the back porch and took care of other necessary outdoor chores. The rain had strengthened to a light, steady fall and appeared that it would increase further. At 3:30 he looked at the clock and announced. “About time for us to be off. Eddy, make sure you’ve got your foul weather gear.”

    John kissed his daughter and granddaughter and Eddy kissed his mother then walked next door to get the truck from Ben. They drove into Trenton to the county sheriff’s department where they found two other pickups, a melon truck, and a flatbed with a large stock trailer. At least fifty men all armed and clothed against the weather were gathered around several drums containing fires. John pulled up with the other vehicles and turned off the ignition. “Just leave your rifle here in the truck, Eddy.” They got out and walked over to join the rest.

    “Sheriff, you heard anymore about what’s happening in Gainesville?” A man in a camouflage BDU jacket and western hat asked.

    “No, Sam. I haven’t.” The lawman replied, “Last I heard two hours ago the SDF has fallen back into west Gainesville and are trying to regroup. There’s a Captain Scott from Blanding who has taken over from Major Smallwood who seems to have been killed. He got ahold of Tallahassee and got the state SDF command to contact us sheriff’s in the surrounding counties to ask us to help find volunteers. It seems they think there’s outsiders coming in from Jacksonville and maybe even as far away as Savannah to help take all of Gainesville and if they don’t get more help right quick they’ll do it too. That’s why you all are here.”

    The man in the hat looked around at the men, mostly of military age with a scattering of old men and boys. “Sheriff, we’re going to have to do a sight better than this if we’re going to break those insurrectionists. Fifty men with deer rifles ain’t a lot.”

    “Won’t be just you men.” The sheriff countered. “You’re just the ones we could find quick. I’ve got deputies on horseback combing the county right now. Other sheriff’s from here to the Georgia line and as far west as Perry doing the same thing. We mean to crush those bastards and do it right before they take the whole damned state.”

    Many men enthusiastically agreed with the law man with a half dozen more arriving over the next few minutes. Presently the sheriff looked at his watch then said, “Reckon we’ve waited long enough. Anyone else shows up can go in the next wave. You men listen up! This is war you’re going to, not a football game. Some of you likely won’t be coming back, but you knew that. When you get there you’ll be sworn into the State Defense Force making you a part of the official army. You’re not a gang nor a lynch mob. Your best chance of coming back alive is to keep your head, follow orders, and don’t go trying to be a hero! Kill them bastards and come back! Good luck!”

    A minister came forward and all bowed their head for his prayer. When it was over the men loaded up, covered themselves as best they could against the rain and drove off. They were quickly lost to sight.

    -- -- -- --

    Billy came into the office and found Larry asleep on the floor. The Lieutenant awoke with a start, hand on his revolver before he recognized the boy. “Uh, Lieutenant,” the boy said nervously, “Captain Scott sends his compliments and all and says to tell you he’s calling an officers meeting at North Florida Regional Hospital for 2:30. That’s a half hour from now.”

    Larry stared at the boy for a moment trying to get his eyes to focus then replied, “OK, 2:30 at North Florida Regional. Gotcha. Radio back and say I’m on my way. If Mitch is out there send him in.”

    The boy nodded, stopped, gave an embarrassed salute and left. As Larry was lacing up his boots Mitch came in, looking remarkably more refreshed than the Lieutenant felt and he wondered how he’d managed it.

    “You wanted me, l.t.?” Mitch asked.

    “Yeah, Scott’s called a meeting at North Florida Regional in a half hour. I’m about to pull out after I clean up a bit and take a piss. See what you can do about getting the men fed when they wake up and get them ready for action in case we get orders or something.”

    “They’re already eating now. I had the cooks whomp up some beans and rice.”

    “OK, good. See you when I get back.”

    Mitch left and Larry went out the back of the building to relieve himself then came back inside to clean up as best he could. When he’d finished he quickly ate a plate of food then climbed into the truck and drove off. After clearing two check points he reached the hospital, parked and went inside where he found Scott and the others in one of the conference rooms.

    “Anything new today?” Larry asked.

    Scott shook his head, “Not since dawn. They’re consolidating I think. Lot of people say they’re going house to house confiscating guns and radios. Anyone who resists gets taken out, but otherwise they’re not doing much. Their tactics seem to be changing.”

    “Wasn’t Tallahassee supposed to have something for us today?” Larry began to look around the room. It was now past 2:30 and there were several familiar faces that he did not see and a few new ones he did not recognize, including one man in clean BDU’s, plainly military.

    “I’ll get to that in a minute. Let’s get the meeting started.” The Captain rapped his knuckles on the table to draw everyone’s attention then said, “Let’s get started. We’ve got a lot to cover.”

    The men sat down and without further pretense Scott launched into his material.

    “We’ve got a lot to cover so I’m going to make it march.” He turned to the man in the BDU’s and continued, “This is Captain Steve Jones out of Central Command in Tampa. He’s been sent here as an advisor to assist us in taking down the Emperor and will tell us what Tallahassee and Washington has to say. Captain Jones.”

    Scott sat down and Jones stood up. “Good morning. As Captain Scott told you at the request of your State headquarters Central Command tasked me to come here and assist you in whatever way possible to bring your local insurrection problem to an end. Along those lines I’ll give you what we know and what we think we know about your ‘Empeor Jones.’”

    The room lights dimmed and a transparency projector lit the wall behind the man, a photo with the face of a black man being shown. “Based on the description and other information you took from your captured radio jammer we believe him to be this man – Mustapha Khan. He’s well educated, holding a bachelors degree from your university here as well as the training he received while in the Army infantry where he served as a platoon leader as well as staff experience. He has one sister, present location unknown, and his parents, both of whom still live in Bainbridge, Georgia. No criminal record, and no history of radical politics that we are aware of. His Army records indicates he is quite capable, rapidly attaining the rank of captain before resigning his commission. Afterwards our records of him are quite spotty, but we were able to place him here in Gainesville before the war started where he was employed as a route manager for one of your local vending machine companies. This has probably given him an excellent knowledge of the local area and afforded him many contacts.”

    Another photo came up, one that Larry recognized as their captured jammer. “This man, the one you took prisoner, is named Rodney Wells. He too was in the Army, having served in the same platoon as Khan, as a private, later a PFC before his term ended. No particular accomplishments in his record, but he was thought to be quite intelligent if not particularly motivated, showing some interest in electronics. Also no known interest in radical politics. He successfully completed several years of electronics courses at your local community college here, but did not take his degree. Last known employment before the war was at a local Radio Shack. This may be where he acquired the radios and other electronics that he used against you. By the way, that was some raid you pulled off to get him – congratulations. CentCom is quite interested in what he may be able to tell us and has asked to have him sent to them so their trained interrogators can open him up. Would this be possible?”

    Scott glanced at Larry then turned towards Jones. “I’m afraid not. He was in the lock up at the court house when the gas attack started. If he’s still alive he’s back with the Emperor, but I suspect he’s dead since we’re not aware of anyone who got out of the courthouse alive.”

    Jones nodded his head, “That’s too bad. We’ll have to press on without him. Now as far as the Emperor’s organization is concerned we’re not having a lot of luck. Neither Khan or Wells were known to be a part of any political organization other than Khan being a Republican and Wells a Democrat. Ordinarily we’d begin interviewing family, friends and associates, but that will not be possible now. We’re just going to have to go with what we have.”

    From the back of the room a bitter laugh was heard and a voice spoke up. “And what we have is not damn much! With all due respect Captain, did you bring us anything we can use? They’ve whipped our asses twice now. We need some help.”

    Jones smiled before he replied, “I’m afraid I wasn’t able to bring a regimental combat team with me, but I brought what I could.” He walked to a side door and opened it. Six men entered the room, one in a wheel chair, one using a cane, the other four appearing to range from the late forties to early sixties. “These gentlemen volunteered to come here with me. They are military retirees with Special Forces and other special operations units experience. I’m afraid I could not bring combat troops with me, but I did bring men who can help to turn the men you do have into more effective anti-insurgency combatants. In addition, I brought eighteen military tactical radios which your Emperor Jones should find difficult to interfere with. In the truck we came in there’s also a half-dozen M60 machine guns and three light mortars with ammunition for all. I’m sorry it’s not more, but Gainesville is only a small part of the problems we have in this state just now.”

    The men at the table began to smile at the idea of the weaponry and radios and Larry said, “Well, it’s a start anyhow. We were running short on belts for the one machine gun we do have.”

    Jones introduced his six helpers to the room then began to detail his advice to them in how to cope with the Emperor. “First, it’s time for you to stop reacting and start making them react. Take the initiative and put them off balance. This will take a little time to do it well, but starting tonight we’ll comb through your available men for everyone who has had the appropriate military training or who have a lot of turkey hunting and other sort of stalking experience. With most of these men we’ll put together small search-and-destroy teams to infiltrate the enemy lines and see if we can’t shake them up and maybe gather some intelligence.”

    The CentCom man turned to look at one of his men in particular, “But the best of what we have are going to serve a different purpose. With the help of Chuck Andersen here we’re going to put together a different team of hunter-killers and their target will be the Emperor Khan himself. It’s classified so I can’t tell you about Chuck’s experience, but he’s served on covert ops teams before and has a wealth of knowledge and experience.”

    “Who knows? With luck he and his team may just end your problems here in Gainesville with one shot.”
    Last edited by A.T.Hagan; 06-05-2003 at 12:35 PM.

  34. #34
    Blink of an Eye Commentary Thread


  35. #35
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    Never Pick A Fight With An Old Man He Will Just Shoot You He Can't Afford To Get Hurt


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