Hough brought out a map of the county and we outlined our route for the past two days including Todd's house and the farm to market road where the barn was located. I figured even if they set off on foot after we left, they wouldn't be more than a few miles from the barn. Hough genuinely looked appreciative as he used his intercom and sent four of his men to the area immediately.
The deputy named Carl was going to take us downstairs to get our stuff when Hough stopped me on the way out.
"Mike. I want to thank you for leading me to where my son is. Don't be surprised, I saw you looking at the picture on my desk. I appreciate you giving him and his friends food and aid when they needed it most. Most guys like me would consider that sort of action the work of a sucker, but since it's my son, I see things different.
When you are taken out of town, I told Carl to give you something extra for your trouble, but don't take it the wrong way. Don't come back to Hobbs. We are taking care of our own and will treat returning drifters and vagrants as target practice. Got it?"
"Sure. Let me ask you something, though. You are taking stuff from people who never did anything to you other than cross your path. Tell me, what are you going to do when someone bigger shows up and does it to you?" I said as I stood in his office doorway.
Hough paused and then said, "Ask me when it happens. See you around, Mike."
He then shut the door.
Carl took us downstairs to a room where our gear was waiting. I gave my backpack and the other bag I was carrying a cursory look before asking for my shotgun. Carl told me that would be returned when we reached our destination outside of town. We gathered our things and went outside where my truck and an older model pickup waited in the parking lot.
Without a word, the four deputies watching us were joined by four others and together, they grabbed us and zip tied our hands behind our backs again. Then a black hood of some sort was placed over each of our heads so we couldn't see a thing. I was lifted up and dumped into the bed of the pickup and felt Curtis and Chuck being dropped next to me. Then our gear was tossed into the truck bed on top of us.
I then heard Holtz's voice, "Looks like the convict wagon is loaded up and ready to move out! Let's go!"
The trucks started and with a lurch we started moving. I must have banged my head on the truck cab four or five times before I was able to readjust myself.
"So what do you think they are going to do to us?" Chuck shouted over the noise of the engine.
"I don't know, maybe Holtz is just trying to scare us." I replied.
"Hey guys, if something does happen, I hope you know I was just messing with you back there. I don't hate you guys, not even you, Chuck." said Curtis his voice muffled by the hood.
"We know, Curtis," I replied. "You played that really well and if we get out of here alive, we can thank you for it."
"And if we die, I will find a way to thank you as well." said Chuck.
We all laughed in spite of our predicament. Life is short and you got to find the bright spots when you can.
The truck rolled on for about fifteen minutes before coming to an abrupt stop. Once again, we were rolled out of the truck and tossed on the ground before our hoods were ripped off. We found ourselves on a country road with the four deputies looking down at us. Only Holtz was smiling.
Two of the deputies went to the pick up and tossed our stuff on the ground. Then Carl went to my truck and started unloading cardboard boxes and grocery bags and setting them down more carefully on the side of the road. Finally, he took out my shotgun and set it on top of the boxes and bags.
"OK, guys, here's the deal. We are going to cut you loose but you have to stay seated for five minutes after we leave. If you try and get up before we go, you won't like what happens. Got it?" said Carl.
"Um, when do I get my truck back?" I asked.
Holtz found that funny and he started cackling like a drunk chicken.
"Your truck? Heck, boy, that truck is mine now, you gave it to me. Don't you remember?" he said his grin marked by irregular brown teeth.
"Hey Holtz, Hough said I was going to get my personal gear back. You don't want to cross him do you?" I replied
Holtz laughed again, "Don't you worry about that old buzzard, I ain't ascared of him. You just be lucky you're walking out of this town alive. Now all of ya get up on your feet. I got a going away present for ya."
We stood up and Holtz told one of the deputies "OK Deuce, cover 'em"
Deuce pulled his service revolver and stood watching impassively as Holtz threw a punch straight into Curtis's stomach knocking the wind out of him and sending him to the ground. Then Holtz reared back to kick Curtis on the ground but I threw myself into him before he could and knocked him to the ground. I heard Deuce' pistol cocking back when Carl yelled,
"That's enough! Holtz, get up and get in the truck! Deuce, put away that sidearm now! Do it!"
Carl watched as the two reluctantly followed his orders, Holtz glaring the whole time at us. Carl pulled a folding knife from his pants pocket and ordered us to turn around. He cut the ties and told us to sit on the ground afterwards.
"You guys head that way," he gestured down the road, "And don't come back to Hobbs. We have orders to shoot you on site if you do."
Carl then turned and got into my International,started the engine and slowly drove down the road, the pickup following. About five hundred feet down the road, a hand came out of the car and dropped a white plastic grocery bag on the ground where it split and several red and green shotgun shells spilled out. The last thing we saw was Holtz' giving us the bird out his window.
I wordlessly walked over to the pile of boxes and bags and picked up my shotgun. I checked and as expected, found it was empty. I walked down the road and started picking up shells from the ground loading as I did. There was a mixture of buckshot and slugs both of which I did not have before for my gun. I guess this was a gift from Hough and surprising considering I wanted to give some of these shells back in the direction of Holtz and Deuce.
After gathering the shells as best I could in the damaged grocery bag, I went back to Chuck and Curtis.
"Mike, we are sorry about your truck. We know it meant a lot to you." said Chuck quietly.
I ignored him, "So what did they leave us here?"
"More than we had before. There's bottled water, canned food, jerky, trail mix, potatoes, all kinds of stuff." said Curtis.
"OK, let's get this stuff picked up and off the road. We will need to redistribute everything in our packs because we will be walking now. Getting things packed right will determine how far and how long we can go"
We started moving things off to the side of the road behind a stand of stunted mesquite trees. We grabbed our bags and I spent the next hour organizing the food and storing it in backpacks and the two duffle bags which remained. It kept my mind off the sinking feeling of my truck being gone and driven around by some stranger and I that I would most likely never see it again. It was just another thing from my life being ripped away piece by piece. Soon there would be nothing left.
As we packed, Curtis was tossing the empty grocery sacks and cardboard boxes away to the ground. I stopped and him and told him to keep at least the plastic bags as they were useful for a number of tasks. The cardboard could be unfolded for a sleeping pad but I did not want to commit to that option until I saw how much more we had to carry.
It was getting late and by the time we got going, we would only be able to go for a few hours before being force to make camp. On top of that, the perpetual cloud cover looked darker than normal and the smell of rain was in the air. I instructed Chuck and Curtis to start collecting dry wood and placing it in the empty grocery bags for our fire tonight.
As we headed out in the direction Carl told us to go, I kept my eyes open for any sort of shelter we could use in the event the rain was heavy. We walked for about three miles when I spied a remains of a agriculture shed off to the side of the road. It was half tumbled down but had its back to the road which might keep us from prying eyes.
I cut across the field with the others following me and checked it out. It wasn't in the best shape, but it offered a partial covering from the sky and as long as a stiff wind didn't blow up and knock it over on top of us, we should be alright. A dropped my gear and setup a fire while Chuck and Curtis put together the tent.
The tent was a two man so we would either be sleeping like the Three Stooges or one of us would have to stay out and keep watch. Considering how violated I felt, the first watch would be mine, no questions about it.
The food was more than we had before and unlike the quickie stuff from the vending machine, was more substantial. There were several bags of store bought jerky, trail mix, dried fruit, chocolate and nuts. There was powdered milk, instant potatoes, oatmeal, boullion cubes, and dried beans. There was salt, pepper and spices in lightweight containers. There were several cans of vegetables and fruit. There was foil packs of tuna, salmon and slices of Spam. There was instant coffee, tea bags, Tang and sugar.There were a few small plastic bottles of cooking oil, honey and syrup. And there was two bottles of multivitamins along with our original first aid supplies which had been augmented heavily.
Whether this was Hough's way of saying thank you or overloading us so we made a good target for the next bandit we came upon, who knows? I only knew we had enough to keep us going until we reached where ever we were ultimately headed. After supper, Curtis and Chuck bedded down and left me to my thoughts.
Mentally, I was exhausted. Too much had happened in such a short time. Two days ago I was on campus in a homemade fallout shelter. Two weeks earlier, I was posting on Facebook and eating fast food. Three months ago I was saying good bye to my parents as I headed back to college.
I noticed that I was becoming different than Chuck or Curtis. Chuck's parents were going to leave town and hide out in a rural area. His brother was on a ship at sea away from the cities that were hit. His mom and dad might be hungry and scared, but most likely alive.
And Curtis on the other hand was not particularly close to his family but as far as we know, they should still be alive. After all, they did go out of town somewhere for the Thanksgiving holiday which means they could have been in the Bahamas or Hawaii that day drinking margaritas which has to be a consolation to Curtis.
For me, it's different. My parents and sister were five miles from ground zero and they are probably dead. My home in Dallas is probably gone as well. Everything from my life before which I had at home or in my dorm is gone. Even my dog is probably dead. My truck is gone and whatever II have left is what I am wearing or in my backpack. My whole life has been reduced to what I can carry and yet I have no where to carry it to. I have no destination and my past has been destroyed.
Now I just keep it bottled up and pushed down but I know I won't be able to forever.