Dantwon "Red" Sturgis lay in the corner of the abandoned gas stations curled up in a ball. Both of his knee caps had been shot out and at this point, it was doubtful he would be getting up and boogieing down any time soon.
Rafe McCallister stood a few feet away, his matching .40 caliber Texas Department of Safety automatics sitting comfortably in their shoulder holsters while Rafe had his arms crossed leaned against a long empty cooler in the looted gas station.
"C'mon Rafe, I needs a doctor, oooohhh, this hurts so bad. We go way back, brother, help me out here." moaned Dantwon.
"Oh way back are we now? Like when you found those three girls hiding in that basement? Yeah, we shared all that didn't we? I gets to find out about it from Cheleco a week later. Or how about this? A little purple bag of coins and you didn't want to let ole Rafe in on it, didja? Lesse, we gots some big gold coins, some little gold coins, some big silver coins and where's old Rafe? Sitting outside plinking punks while Red counts his payphone money."
"Man, it ain't like that, see. The other guys, they gots to know I am the man. I canst' go playing up to you. You know how it works man, help me out, brother." begged Sturgis.
"Oh, I'll help you alright, "brother", replied Rafe as he drew one of his pistols and calmly shot Sturgis between the eyes.
"Feel better now, "brother"?"
Rafe strode out of the station and was met by one of his men,
"Tanks are empty boss. Nothing here but fumes." he said
"I figured as much. Get the the lieutenants over here by my truck and let's have a little pow-wow." said Rafe.
Rafe pulled a county map out of his truck and spread it out on the truck's hood. Four other men, all scruffy, tattooed and carrying a variety of weapons gathered around.
"We got to break up and hit these county roads and find some remote communities and farms. We need more fuel, food and guns and the best way to do it is in strike teams of ten to twelve men. If there are women, take em if you want em, but don't let it slow you down. I want everyone to meet up here in two days. I got a big target picked out and with the combined crews, it should be cake." said Rafe pointing a grimy finger at the map.
The men split up into teams, fired up their fleet of scavenged and stolen late model vehicles and pulled out in different directions leaving Rafe time to think. Had he known it, Rafe just confirmed what Ernie had said a few days earlier - that gangs would splinter and fight among themselves, but sooner or later a strong man would take charge and organize the remnants.
A few weeks ago, Rafe, Sturgis and most of the others were inmates at the Huntsville maximum security unit when The Day happened. Shortly afterward, the guards abandoned their posts, riots broke out and a couple of hundred remaining inmates managed to get out to freedom. The first few days were a spree of looting, rape, and murder inspired by large quantities of alcohol and drugs.
Now, with resources depleted and the more sheep herding together for safety, targets of opportunity were harder to find. Rafe knew that it would only become more difficult and eventually, his gang would have to move on. That was, unless they found a suitable community with the resources in place to house and entertain his gang for the uncertain future, then they might be able to stay in this area of operation.
Fortunately, Rafe had recently made contact with someone who just handed him the keys to the kingdom. If he believed in God, Rafe would have called it a miracle.
Delbert and I went outside with flashlights and surveyed the damage. The first guy I shot on the porch took a round in the stomach and bled out. The rifle he was carrying which I brought in the house was a knockoff AR15 in need of a good cleaning. The satchel still on the body contained some spare magazines, loose rounds, a screw driver, duct tape and a piece of rope.
The second shooter which Brenda had taken down was armed with an M16 which caught Delbert's eye and he carefully examined the weapon closely and told me to put it up on the porch. This shooter also had a few additional magazines, but also had a small bag of coins Delbert called "junk silver" which meant nothing to me other than they were valuable.
The third shooter we located in the field had apparently crawled or walked thirty or so yards after being shot and after we found his weapon, a Ruger 10-22, in the approximate area.
We collected the weapons and took them to the porch. Then we moved the bodies, one at a time, to a central location where Delbert would pick them up with the backhoe and bury them in a common grave near the tree line.
The sun was starting to lighten the sky to the east when Jose drove up in the old two truck with two pit bull mixes tied down in the back.
"Well?" said Delbert as Jose pulled up.
"Got 'em. Dogs tore him up and he was all bled out dead by the time we got to him. We got the other four stacked like wood and stripped of anything useful." reported Jose
Delbert leaned in the cab and quietly spoke to Jose who only nodded and said nothing more. Jose then started the tow truck back up and drove off the property to the east.
"What was that about? What's the secret?" I asked Delbert.
"Wouldn't be a secret if I told you, ugly, now would it? Serious like, I just confirmed a hunch I had with Jose. I'll tell you about it later if it matters, but I think it will."
We went for the backhoe and Delbert set to work disposing the bodies. After we dumped them into an unmarked hole and covered it over, we drove back to the barn and then to the house. I was ready to go back to my trailer when Celina told me to come inside the house first.
She handed me a large cup of coffee and some leftover bread and butter and told me to have a seat at the dining room table. The look on my face must have given it all away.
"Don't look shocked. You did a good job this morning and I know it was not yours to do, but you helped save my daughter. Thank you. Brenda is perfectly able to take care of herself, but even three to one odds are more than she can handle.
I want you to finish that up and go on back to your trailer and get a few hours rest. Afterwards, we are going to be working in the covered beds doing some harvesting and replanting. In a few days, we are going to make another run and that includes stopping by your trailer park and dropping a few more things off. When we go, I want you to go with us, alright?" she said.
"Sure, hey is there any chance I can get a few more things for the folks over there?" I asked.
"What are you going to pay for it with? I am not giving you more food for labor." she replied.
"No, I have a couple of things which might be valuable, I don't know much about jewelry or gold so I will have to trust you." I said thinking of the ring and gold chains I took from Red out on the road.
"Fair enough, but what about you? You can't just keep paying for everyone else out there, you have to look out for number one too." Celina said.
"Seems I wasn't thinking that last night when those guys attacked the house with Brenda in it. I guess I am not that good at the number one game," I said with a smile.
I excused myself and went back to the trailer and found Chuck and Curtis getting dressed after waking up.
"Hey where you guys? I've been out there for a few hours, why didn't you come out after the shooting stopped?" I asked.
"We couldn't. After you went out, we laid low like you said, but when we tried to leave after the shooting, the door to the trailer was locked and we were stuck in here. Delbert just unlocked the door five minutes ago and told us it was safe to get out." said Curtis.
There was a loud knocking on the door and it turned out it was Tracy.
"You two, you're with me. We have harvesting to do so get ready to stoop and pick and don't waste a thing or we'll set Jose's dogs on you. You, knight in shining armor, you get to rest, but don't get used to it, you hear?" she said the last part directed at me.
"Rest? Wha..?" said Curtis.
"Forget that, who's the knight in shining armor?" asked Chuck. "Seems like there's more to this story than ole Mikey is letting on."
"Leave me along, I've been up all night." I said. After they left I hit my bunk and was out in one minute.
Jimmy Cortez and his convoy of three beaters were moving down the country lane trying to scope out a remote target that was both juicy and out of the way. They weren't having much luck.
So far, they had only found one farm which looked good, but they were greeted with a half dozen warning shots when they go within 500 yards of the place. These hayseeds all seem to have guns and know how to use them, though Jimmy.
They were about to turn back when they saw some idiot walking down the side of the road. He was an old guy with white hair and carrying a fancy back pack like he didn't have a care in the world. He even stopped and held his hand in the air when Jimmy's truck approached like he was hailing a cab in New York.
The old guy likely had nothing of value, but Jimmy and the gang liked to get their kicks whenever the opportunity presented itself. They pulled over.