"Big" Bill Hough was not an impatient man. On the contrary, he had all the patience of Job. When he wanted to be mayor of Hobbs, he took his time and spent several years on the town council, in the Rotary Club, the Chamber and other organizations building his network. After he became mayor, he wanted to be county commissioner, but again, took his time building up the tax base of Hobbs so he would have more leverage in the county.
When the war was looming, Hough already had a plan he had carefully formented over the years. He knew that the time to seize power would be in the first confusing hours and that is exactly what he did. He ran off the man who replaced him as mayor and strong armed the current police chief to fall in line behind him or find himself permanently replaced.
Once done, Hough ordered the inventory of both the grocery stores in Hobbs commandeered as well as the fuel in the service stations, the supplies at the feed and grain store and everything else on the local businesses shelves.
He had a handful of men take the only running tractor trailer over to the Walmart distribution center outside of Bremen and take a full load of food and ammo. He also helped himself to all the cargo on board 18 wheelers stranded on the highway and at the local truckstops. Then he setup the road blocks on all four roads into town with orders to take whatever still ran on the road, such as he did to Mike, Chuck and Curtis.
Hobbs was fortunate in it was far enough from Austin and the other surrounding big cities and the fallout, thanks to the fickle wind and dumb luck, was nominal. Surrounded by hundreds of thousands of square acres of good farmland, Hough could expand his empire to possibly one of the richest producing crop areas around. All of the millions of hungry mouths across the state would come to him and offer whatever they had for their next meal. It meant wealth. It meant power.
Hough was physically imposing. He stood six foot three and had a large head of prematurely gray hair going white in some places the which gave him the appearance of an aging lion. He sported a big mustache and favored well worn blue jeans, denim shirts and cowboy boots. He was as fit and strong as a man half his age but his imposing gaze was enough to push around most men especially the weak type who made useful followers.
"Big Bill" had one problem though. A problem he could not solve or send one his lackeys to take care of. Providence intervened when those three young men fell into his lap though, so he had to speak to them himself and soon. One of them, the long hair (as one of Big Bill's deputies called him), said they had run into a group of kids from UT just yesterday. Bill wanted to question these young men and find out what they knew. It was a long shot, but better than any other information he had up until then.
I was reunited in the hallway with Chuck and Curtis and were then escorted down a long hallway, up two flights of stairs and down another hallway to an office. The office was three times the size of the room I had been held in and inside, sitting casually on the edge of the desk, was a big man with wild gray hair and a mustache.
We were directed to three chairs set up a few feet in front of his desk with our hands still zip tied behind our backs. For a few moments, the old man just stared at us from his perch on the desk, then he picked up a legal pad sitting next to him on the desk.
"Who's Curtis?" he asked while staring at the pad.
"That's me." said Curtis slumping back in his chair.
"I understand you and your two traveling companions ran into a group of young people yesterday, that true?"
"Yep, what's it to you?" replied Curtis more defiantly than I had ever seen him before.
The big guy shifted on his desk and it appeared he was unused to a response like Curtis gave. For a moment, an angry look flashed in his eyes before he relaxed again and he showed a restrained smile.
"It's no big deal, son. I just happened to be looking for a certain person and thought he might be in the group you met. Here, I have a picture which might help. Did you see this young man?"
The picture was a portrait of the kid Billy we met yesterday but looking a lot better than he did currently. Between the three of us, I am sure at least one of our faces showed recognition as Hough pulled the picture away and set it aside.
"So you did see this person, didn't you? OK, I need you to tell me exactly where you last saw him."
"No," said Curtis without skipping a beat. "After getting robbed, handcuffed and slapped around, I don't think I can remember where that kid was. It sort of slipped my mind, dude."
"Shut up, Curtis" Chuck hissed. "You're going to make it worse for us."
"You shut up you chicken sh*t. Hey old man, we don't know where that kid is. Looks like you need to go hijack some other people out on the public roads and ask them. Let's talk about something else like who does your hair?" Curtis said with a smirk.
"You should listen to your friends smart mouth. You, where did you see him last?" Hough said looking directly at me.
"I don't remember either, sir. Curtis is right, things are a little hazy from yesterday and we're not from the area." I answered.
Hough turned to Chuck, but Chuck just looked at the ground and mumbled "I don't know".
Hough paused for a moment and then looked at Curtis.
"Curtis, you know my deputies can be very persuasive. How about I have a couple of them take you downstairs to the basement and take over this questioning for me? You like the sound of that?"
"Yeah, and I can tell lies all day long, bud. I don't know if anyone told you, but the world's gone to heck and I really don't care anymore. By the time they get done with me you'll be looking in that fat deputies butt for your guy." Curtis said looking Hough right in the eye.
"What if I questioned Chuck here? What if we did that in front of you? I am sure you don't want anything bad to happen to your friends do you?" Hough said slowly and in a low voice.
"HIm? I hate this guy. I've been stuck with him and camper boy here for the past two weeks and they both need a bath and good slap in the head. I'll even help you. Just get these zip things off me and give me a stick or something to hit them with." Curtis responded.
Hough took a deep breath, stood up, went around his desk and sat down in his chair. He put his chin on tented fingers and stared at us for few minutes. He finally broke the silence and said,
"OK boys. Here's the deal. I need to find that young man and soon. Normally, the three of you would find yourselves in a shallow grave outside of town in about two minutes for talking that way to me. But seeing this is more important, I am going to let that slide for the time. So I will give you another deal. You tell me where you last saw him and I will let you walk out of here free men. I won't even hold you until my men pick up that young man, I will just let you go. How's that sound?"
I spoke up first, "Sounds good. When do I get my truck and all of our stuff back?"
"You can have your personal possessions back of course. The truck, however, is not part of the deal. We are short on rolling vehicles and will need to keep it. I am afraid this is the best deal you are going to get and my patience has just about run out." Hough replied before sitting back in his chair.
"So that's it? The clothes on our back? What about all the food you took, my shotgun, the camping supplies? You short on those things too? If that's the case, I'll take the shallow grave because if you send us out without food or protection, we're dead anyway.
Look, you want that kid so bad, then you either you go find him yourself or give us a fighting chance. That kid, Billy, he didn't get that chance and he is walking dead right now. That's the best deal we have today. take it or leave it." I practically shouted.
Hough honestly looked shocked in response to my outburst and when I said the name Billy he looked like he was about to cry. He stood up slowly from behind his desk and walked directly over and stared down at me.
"Mike, I appreciate your candor. Alright, I'll take your terms. You tell me where you last saw Billy and I will see your personal possessions including your camping gear, shotgun and adequate provisions are returned to you and your friends. I give you my word on it. Do we have a deal?" he said slowly and carefully.
"If my hands weren't tied we could shake on it," I replied.
"Alright then." said Hough. He reached over to a large wooden box on his desk with a row of buttons on the base and pushed one where upon a voice came over a speaker,
"Carl, see that the possessions belonging to these three young men are rounded up and brought back here. Then I want you, Holtz and a couple of the others to get two vehicles and take them out of town. I want everything ready in twenty minutes."
"Oh and Carl, send someone up here to cut these ties off these young men."
"Right away, Bill".
While Hough was on the intercom, I noticed a picture on his desk that I had not seen before because of the way it was turned. It featured Hough and Billy and said at the bottom, "Big Bill and Little Bill Hough. Winner 2009 Bass Tournament".
Billy was Hough's son and he wanted him back bad.