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A Change of Major (Chapter Nineteen)

The gate was opened and Celina drover her pickup with trailer into the camp grounds and stopped next to the welcome center. Everyone gathered around including most of the folks from the motor home crowd and a smattering of people from the manufactured housing section I had never seen before.

Hap came out looking as depressed as usual and welcomed Celina with his own version of a happy greeting.

"Good to see ya. I hope you got our stuff cuz we got some extra mouths to feed"

"Always a bright ray of sunshine, aren't you, Hap?" said Celina with her hands on her hips and her head cocked.

"Come on back here. I got potatoes, more corn, the extra eggs you wanted, ground flour and a few other things." Celina said walking to the back of the pickup.

I moved closer to the pickup and got a better look at the passenger in the front seat. He was another big guy, was wearing dark clothes and sunglasses as well and clearly had some sort of rifle butt down in the floor board because I could see the military type barrel pointing upwards.

The other rifleman continued to stand behind the cab and was dressed like the woman(?) in the back of the other truck - heavy black down coat, black baclava, sunglasses but their rifles were now pointed up and being held much more casually.

Besides the corn and potatoes in the back of the truck, there was even more stuff in the trailer including a large metal basket of brown and white eggs and what looked like a good sized pig carcass.

Hap had Hartman and some of the other tent people start unloading crates of corn and potatoes from the truck while he paid Celina with a small handful of old quarters and dimes he carefully removed from ancient paper coin tubes.

"Where Pat?" said Celina shortly afterward while holding a large green glass jug.

Pat, the woman I met just a few minutes ago, came forward, her hair still askew and wearing a coat over some sweats.

"I got your wine you wanted, Pat. Got payment for me?"

Pat pulled her wedding band from her left finger and held it out to Celina.

"I can't take that. Is that all you have?"

Pat nodded.

Celina returned the big jug back to the truck, rummaged around and pulled a smaller fifth sized bottle out.

"Here, hon. Take this one, on the house." Celina said holding out the bottle to Pat. Pat took the bottle, murmered "thanks" and went back up the hill to her motor coach.

Celina watched Pat for a moment and then yelled, "Holland! Where's Holland?"

Holland came forward and in a airy voice said "Ah, the illustrious Celina. I hope your trip was uneventful?"

"Save it Holland. I got what you wanted. A full sized pig and ten gallons of my finest. Got my payment?" Celina said.

"Wonderful, what a party it will be. Just have someone bring it in to the kitchen for Hap to get started on" Holland said eyeing the pig in the trailer.

"Payment first, Holland." barked Celina.

"Goodness, you know I am good for it, Celina. You have enough of my gold as it is haven't you? Just bring it in and we can discuss terms over some coffee up at my motor home." Holland said.

"Terms? I don't do terms Holland. Cash on the barrel head, same as always. Say, are you going to be a pain, Holland? We don't like difficult customers do we guys?" said Celina to nobody particular in her trading party behind her.

Holland started looking flustered. He turned to the group who had come down from the motor homes up on the hill.

"My friends, I wanted this to be a surprise, but due to the lack of sufficient protein in our diets, I have acquired this fine pig as the main dish for a spectacular party. As you can tell, our demanding supplier has required money up front so as embarrassing as this sounds, I am going to have to ask that each of you put forth payment now rather than at the time of serving.

So please bring forth coin, jewelry or barter item of value and let's send this merchant on her way and make ready the festivities."

It was amazing how Holland turned the problem of payment into his friends dilemma, but was more interesting was the reaction. Nothing. None of the hill people came forward, reached into their pockets or went to their home to get some form of payment.

"Oh come now, don't be bashful. We have to pay this incorrigible woman before she makes a scene. I need everyone to reach down deep and invest in this splendid endeavor. Anyone? Evelyn? Cooper? Dawson?" pleaded Holland.

He then turned to the rest of us, "You people, as much as this pains me, you too can partake of this bounty. And I know many of you are hoarding valuables among your meager possessions, well, it's time to pay the piper as they say. I have been subsidizing your sloth for some time and you each owe me for the food in your bellies and those of the children you could ill afford. So hand over what you have and let's get this taken care of."

Everyone looked somewhat shocked except for me and Curtis. We both had smiles on our faces what with Holland cajoling everyone all while trying to stave off his inevitable humiliation.

Holland stepped forward and grabbed Mrs. Hartman's arm, "This simple wedding trinket. Remove it woman and give it to me!"

Mr. Hartman stepped forward and pushed Hartman away. "Don't touch my wife, Holland or I'll rip your arm off!"

Holland drew back shocked with his mouth open, his perfectly coiffed white hair now askew.

"You trailer trash! We should never have let your kind in here. Ingrates! Hap, remove these people immediately. But take their things first, they must forfeit all for their insolence. You know the rules!" Holland shrieked.

Hap who the entire time stood by wordless finally spoke, "It's you Holland who should know the rules. Don't touch other men's wives, that's a no-no."

Holland turned and took a step towards Hap, but suddenly turned to Celina.

"Your men? They are probably in need of company," he said slyly. "Have them take their pick of any of the young women in the camp. Or the children if that's how they are, I am not one to judge. Let's ask them and put this matter behind us."

Celina was the one who looked shocked this time, but only for a moment. "You disgust me, Holland. Guys, we got a problem in here."

The pickup truck door and both doors on the tow truck opened and three men stepped out of their respective vehicles. All were big, all were armed and all did not look like they were someone to be messed with. At the same time, both riflemen (or woman) on the backs of the truck worked the actions on their AK's (for effect, I doubted they were going to spray the crowd over Holland) and leveled their guns in his direction.

Holland stumbled backwards and fell over his own feet onto the wet grass.

"Celina... You have taken all my gold and silver. All the fuel from my home. I have given you enough and now this..? Is this any way to repay a good friend and customer such as me..?" he blubbered.

"You're no friend of mine, Holland. You're trash as far as I am concerned. Guys, go up to Holland's place and turn it over. I want everything of value he's got up there. Take the tires off the thing if you have to, just get my money." Celina ordered.

That was when me and my big mouth stepped up to the plate. Again.

"How much you want for that pig and the other stuff?" I asked.

Celina turned, "Whose this? You gonna bail this scuz bucket out? You a friend of his or something?"

"No, I can't stand him. In fact, I was hoping you were going to work him over so we could all have a good laugh. No, I want to know what you want for that pig. Here, is this enough?"

I reached in my pocket and pulled out the plastic bag with the silver coins in it that I had taken from the dead guy in the coverall. I tossed it to Celina who deftly caught it with one hand.

"Morgans, huh? Nice, but not enough. That's a whole pig and he ain't coming back to life any time soon. What else you got?" she said.

"How about labor? What's my time worth working your place?" I asked.

"You? What do you know about a farm and our line of work? Think it's just bailing hay and watching cows?"

"I know enough. And I am young, in good health and can learn what I don't know. Anyway, it will give you more time to run around making deals. You might even make up for Holland."

Celina eyeballed me for a moment and then said "One month labor. Hard labor. Any complaining, slacking or backtalk and I leave you naked fifty miles from here on the side of the road. Can you handle it?"

"One month, deal." I said holding out my hand.

"Two weeks," said Curtis from behind me, "'Cuz there will be two of us, not one."

"Um, ten days. Oh sorry, ten days and eight hours that is, for three of us. There are thirty one days in this month." said Chuck pushing his glasses up his nose.

"What do we have here, the Three Musketeers? This will be interesting. OK, but I'll decide when you have done enough IF you can handle it. What do you want me to do with the pig? Give it to Holland?" Celina said.

"No, them." I said hooking my thumb at Hartman and the rest of the crowd.

Mr. Hartman stepped forward. "You can't do that. I won't let you be slave labor so we can eat for a few days, it's not right."

"We'll be fine, Mr. Hartman. Besides, you have earned it as well working as much as you have while your kids go hungry. No, you take it, feed Tyler and the rest and don't worry about us." I said.

The three men came back down the hill from Holland's motor home carrying more than a few things with them.

"What you got, Delbert?" said Celina as they walked by.

"A few cans of good coffee, couple of bottles of whiskey, a .357 pistol with some cartridges, a gold ring and some other odds and ends. I think we got enough to hurt him without having to pull parts or tires off his rig." the big man replied.

Holland stood up and clenched his fists, "You can't take those things! They are mine! You are thieves, common thieves!"

Celina and her crew ignored Holland and his rantings as they went about unloading the pig and other food stuffs.

"You!" Holland pointed at me. "You humiliated me for the last time!" he marched forward and tried to grab Ernie's M1 from his hands but Ernie was watching Holland the whole time. Ernie stepped aside, drew back the rifle and planted the butt solidly into Holland's midsection.

Holland let out a loud "Oof!" and went to the ground. Hap walked over and said, "Holland, pack up your stuff and clear out. You have one hour." and then walked back into the welcome center.

I turned to Curtis and Chuck. "I can't get rid of you guys can I?"

"Nope, besides I like that Celina woman. You think she's into younger guys?" said Curtis.

"I have a feeling your next girlfriend is going to look more like that pig in the back of the truck, dude." said Chuck. "Seriously, I wonder if we are making a good decision this time, she looks like a pretty tough boss."

"I think we can handle any amount of work she's got. But what I wonder about is the rest of what she does. There are at least two bullet holes in that truck and one buckshot hit that is fairly recent. We have seen what it's like on the road, now imagine what it's like when you are hauling around food. And look at the security. I hope we get back here in one piece." I remarked.

We went back up to our camp site and started taking it down. We shook out and packed the tent and ground cover and stuffed our gear into our packs and duffles. We shook hands and exchanged hugs with the Hartmans with Curtis promising Tyler he would bring him back something when we returned in the next week and a half.

We went down the gate where Celina and her crew were waiting for us.

"You," she said point at me, "You go in the back of my truck. You, in the tow truck and hippie guy, you go with Jose in the Mustang. Beat it, I want to get back before nightfall"

We took our positions in the vehicle with the rifleman in the back of the pickup staring at me for a moment as I got in before turning back to his work watching the front of the truck. I settled in and pushed my gear to one side and rested my shotgun on my lap and watched the road behind us. I had no allusions that this team would need my firepower if trouble happened, but I wanted to try and not look like a slacker.

We rolled down the road and made several turns down various farm to market roads and even down one dirt road. Many of the farms and homes we saw along the way were buttoned up and under heavy impromptu guard. Some families must be doubling or tripling up as it was not uncommon to see seven or eight adults working outside of one modest sized home.

We drove for about forty five minutes before turning onto a long dirt track which came to an end with a heavy pipe fence and gate. The big guy from the front of the pickup got out and with a set of keys removed a padlock and pushed the gate aside for all to drive through.

We went five minutes and then stopped in a wide space in the road which had three dirt tracks going in a different direction. Curtis got out of the Mustang and came and climbed in the back of the pickup with me. Chuck got out of the tow truck and did the same and then all three vehicles took a separate road away from each other.

"What's the deal?" I asked.

"Jose who drives the Mustang lives down that road. Same property, but different houses. He's Celina's brother in law." said Curtis.

"The guys in the tow truck are her cousins, they live in another house down there." said Chuck.

Celina drove the pickup until the road stopped in front of a large two story house surrounded by multiple out buildings and paddocks. There were numerous large plastic wrapped, mini-structures surrounding the house as well the purpose of which I had no idea.

Celina stuck her head out of the window and told us to get out and wait on the porch. We grabbed our gear and did as we were told.

The pickup and trailer were backed into a barn and Celina, the gun man in the back and the big guy, Delbert, came walking out. Just then, the other rifleman, or I guess woman judging by her voice at the camp ground, who was in the back of the tow truck came around from the back of the house.

She walked over to the rifleman from the pickup and they both removed their sunglasses and baclavas. I was wrong. Both were women, might have been late teens or early twenties and were very attractive. I was speechless as were Chuck and Curtis.

They walked by us and as they were going up the porch steps, the one with darker hairs turned' held up her AK and said,

"Yeah, we're pretty, but we both can use these. Mind your manners." They laughed and walked into the house together.