Patty took the first shift and watched from a distance as groups and individuals stopped along the road and setup makeshift camps. Some stayed as close to the interstate as possible probably hoping the Guard would make good thier promise and provide some modicum of security. Others wandered far from the road for privacy and seclusion.
As twilight gave way to darkness, Patty was amazed at the number of stars which appeared in the night sky. It had probably been decades since people we able to see certain constellations and stars this close to the city and it would be something they wouldd have to get used to.
In addtion, there was the prevalent sounds of the night such as crickets, birds and some creatures larger stalking the grass and scrub away from the highway. Patty allowed herself to wonder about Elena and prayed the little girl knew she was alive and was doing all she could to make it home. She knew her parents were watching over her daughter and that the child wanted for nothing, but never the less, the reality of separation was depressing.
She wondered about her two brothers and her sister and how they were doing. One brother lived near her parents which was good to know. But her other brother lived in Missouri while her sister lived in Florida. She had no idea if they would be able to make it back to Texas or if she would see them again.
Patty was shaken from her thoughts by the sound of loud voices coming from the direction of the road. There was some sort of argument going on between several people and it sounded like it was getting more heated by the moment. Suddenly, four gunshots were fired followed by a woman's scream, then more shouting.
Patty readied her shotgun and watched the road, which was more than two hundred yards from her position and well away from the fracas. Then as soon as it started, it was over. There were more voices and the sounds of people moving, not towards her, but away and closer to the road. Soon, the only sound was of a woman wailing in misery.
"What's going on over there?" asked Lamar from behind her.
"I don't know, but it sounded like a fight which ended in shooting." replied Patty not taking her eyes from the direction of the shooting and fight.
"Go on back and get some sleep, we need to be well rested for tomorrow." she added.
Lamar went back in the tent and she heard him moving around before it was quiet again. Patty watched and road and nothing more happened during her watch.
Lamar took over in the middle of the night and Patty slept for a few hours before waking before dawn. While she slept, she had a dream of Elena, wearing a Thomas the Tank Engine backpack, standing alone on the side of the road. The little girl was crying, hungry and mobs of dark strangers with no dicernable features were passing her by ignorning her cries.
At that moment Patty sat upright, awake and in a cold sweat. She could no longer sleep so she changed and put on her new cargo pants, boots and a tshirt. She stuck the boot knife in her sock and put on her gunbelt and holster and went out of the tent.
There, she found Lamar eating canned peanuts and drinking one of the few Diet Cokes he grabbed from the hotel and sitting near the tent in the gray light.
"Anything happen?" she asked.
"Not at all, just some talking and people moving around." Lamar said.
"Let's take down the tent and pack up before we eat. Then I want us to check over the bikes and trailer and get going." said Patty.
The quickly broke down their tent and packed it and the sleeping bags into the trailer. Then Patty went over both bikes and checked the tire pressure and condition of the chains. Lamar put together a quick breakfast and packed up some snacks for the road which they would each carry.
"The goal is to reach Marshall and get more water either along the way or there. Let's get going."
They walked their bikes to the interstate just as the sun was starting to rise behind them in the east. A few other people were stirring but none were getting started as early as they were. They mounted their bikes and started riding at a slow but deliberate pace. Patty was wearing her Glock in her new holster and had the .22 on a sling across her back. Lamar had the shotgun slung across his back and his cargo pants pockets were bulging with spare shells.
Patty had gone over the gun with Lamar last night, but he had not fired it yet. She hoped his brief training was enough and he would not actually have to use the shotgun.
Just before they started biking, Patty saw a small Thomas the Tank Engine backpack sitting open and empty on the side of the road. she quickly turned and rode away.
They road for a few miles before they saw the "Welcome to Texas" sign on their right. Beneath the sign, a family had set up a tent and campsite and were just breaking down when they rolled by and waved at Patty and Lamar. They waved back and kept riding west bound.
Marshall was a good sized town and Patty hoped it was still functioning and there would be a chance they could get some more supplies like water if it was available. They still had plenty of cash and Lamar was willing to part with more of his gold jewelry if need be.
"Patty, back in the hotel, when you confronted Dee, you seemed to change before everyone's eyes. It was effective, but did you mean to do that to scare her or was that some side of you I've not seen yet?" asked Lamar as they cycled.
"Yeah, that. I was hoping you would forget about it, but I'm sure that made you uncomfortable. No, I was not pretending, that was the dark side of me."
"I was the youngest in my family and when I was in junior high, I got caught up in the whole Latina gang thing. I wasn't in a gang, per se, but my friends and I were into that culture because we thought it was cool. We talked like we were tough and tried to dress like we were gangstas, but in reality, we were just being stupid kids."
"We would go to the mall and pick fights with other groups of girls. We would do all those hand signs that gangs use and dress in our colors and talk trash, but most of the time, it was a big act. At least at first."
"Some of the girls I ran around with went down the gang path and never came back. It was very real and very dangerous so I am thankful I got straight before it got any more serious."
"What changed it for you Patty?" asked Lamar as he navigated around a stalled Toyota in the right lane.
"I had a teacher who told me, quote, 'Your intelligence will be judged in the first ten seconds by the way you talk to people you have never met before'. She said the bad grammar, the slang, describing everything as 'like this, you know' marked me as ignorant and that would affect my ability to get into college and have a meaningful career."
"After that, I changed my way of speaking, worked harder on school, got heavily into sports and never looked back." said Patty.
"Smart teacher you had." said Lamar.
"I thought so. But all the same, yesterday, when that Dee woman started making comments about my life and started talking about my daughter, that did it. The Mama Bear came out in me, if you know what I mean?" said Patty looking over at Lamar.
"Patty, I want to ask you about something, and I don't know ah... how to go about this. You shot a man yesterday in the hotel lobby. Do you want to talk about it? Now mind you, I am not being judgemental only that, you must be going through something inside, I can tell." said Lamar hesitantly.
"I don't want to talk about." Patty responded with finality.
The rode in silence for a few moments, avoiding stalled cars and occasional walkers who were oblivious to others on the same road.
"You said your parents were watching, Elena? Do I have that right?" asked Lamar obviously trying to change the subject.
"Yes, they were taking her to their home after school.. wait, I did not even think about that. When things burned out, they were still at my home. I wonder if they stayed there or went to their house? I mean, my dad would have driven his truck and.." said Patty and then she stopped talking.
"We that's me again." said Patty hitting her helmet with her left hand, "My dad drives an ancient pickup he restored himself. He works for a paint and body shop and drives this 1960 Chevy pickup everywhere. He even has a name for it, Rosa. I am sure that old dinosaur Rosa started right up."
"That's good to know, isn't it?" said Lamar.
"What about you, Lamar? What about your wife, Ellen? What do you think she did after the burn out?" asked Patty.
"Well, she sells real estate and had probably not left the house yet that early in the morning. I bet she didn't leave the condo and to tell you the truth, we don't know many of the people who live around us very well."
I hope she went to the Albertsons near us and picked up some things, but we just aren't big grocery store people. We eat out alot, get take out foods and mainly shop at Whole Foods or other specialty stores. As you imagine, that has been worrying me."
"But I know Ellen. She will wait as long as she can for me to get back and if she had to go somewhere, she would most likely go to her best friend's Trudy's house, but that's way up in Preston Hollow, which is quite a way from our home." he said.
"I am sure she is fine, Lamar. It's only been a few days and I think the problems we have seen are limited."
They biked along 20 and soon came to a wide spot where the east and westbound lanes separated and the exit for Wenchow appeared. There was a small shopping center on the north side of the highway featuring a truckstop and Dairy Queen. The DQ was closed, and several of the windows were broken out.
The truckstop had several trucks parked in front and more than a few presumed truckers sitting around in the shade of their rigs in law chairs or on the ground. Patty and Lamar slowed down and as they passed, a man with a cowboy hat and beard sitting next to a red Peterbilt waved them over.
"Howdy! Come on over and take a load off!" he said with a big grin.
Patty and Lamar looked at each other, shrugged and figured it couldn't hurt and seeing as they were both obviously armed, would make a poor target for crime.
"Hi," said Patty as she rolled to a stop. "You look comfortable."
"Doing the best that I can. My name's Earl Montgomery, did you folks come out of Lousiana?" he asked.
"We did, Lamar Hughes and this is Patty Valdez" replied Lamar holding out his sizeable right hand.
"Lamar, Patty, nice to meet'cha. How are things out that way? We've had a few folks passing by, but none could give us the low down." said Earl.
"We came from Shreveport and are trying to get home. When we left, things were just starting to get bad. Daylight robberies, food starting to run short, water pressure out. Some of the city was fine but other parts were bad we heard." said Patty.
"Well, I can't promise you things are better up ahead. Where y'all headed?" asked Earl
"Dallas/Fort Worth" said Lamar and purposefully keeping it vague.
"I heard there was problems in the South Dallas already, but that was yesterday and came second hand from a feller and his family heading to Mobile. He was coming out of Canton and met some folks who said South Dallas went nuclear the day of the Blowout. Folks looting, burning houses, stealing." said Earl.
"The Blowout? Is that what they are calling it? In Shreveport they were saying The Burnout." said Patty.
"Blowout, Burnout, the Shutdown, the Burst, Ejection Day.. I have heard it all. I tell you what. We've all been trapped here since that day on account none of our rigs can start. We figure we'll just set tight until something gives and we got a thumb it home." laughed Earl.
"How are you eating? Is the truck stop still functioning?" aske Lamar.
"Oh, you can still go in there and they got some stuff. But there's almost twenty rigs parked out here. Mervin is hauling a load for Walmart. Birtha Fultz is hauling a less than full for Gander Mountain. And I got a load for Aldis among other things back there. Following me?" he said looking at Lamar and Patty with one eye closed.
"We're sitting on a pile of food, water and other stuff! Ha ha! So we just opened up the back and started a picnic. We barbequed up a bunch of steaks from a reefer the first day, but most of that went bad. So we're just getting by on what we got." he said slapping his leg.
"Would you be willing to sell us some water?" aske Patty. "Or can they sell us some in the truck stop? We wanted to get some more before we moved on and figured we would have to wait until we got to Marshall."
"Well, maybe. What you go to buy it with? I don't want to take any dollars no more, 'sides, I got plenty of Charmin." asked Earl.
"We could part with some jewelry but it seems like we are overpaying." said Lamar.
"How about a turn with the purty lady? Sounds like fair deal to me, sissy boy." said a voice from to their right. Leaning against a nearby trailer stood a tall, skinny man with a four day growth of beard and wearing a baseball cap.
Patty was about to say something, but Earl beat her to it,
"Watch it, Bannister. We told you to stuff that nasty talk and if you don't, you know the rest of us will drive you out."
"sez you." Bannister strolled over towards Patty and in doing so, ran his shoulder into Lamar as he passed.
"See here, you back off from that lady.." said Lamar.
"And if I don't? What are you going to do? Give me a manicure? Huh? Huh?" said Bannister suddenly turning on Lamar and shoving him repeatedly in the shoulder.
"Get near me again and I'll give you a lobotomy," said Patty drawing her Glock and pointing it less than a foot from Bannister's head.
"Well don't that beat all! The little lady is sticking up for her big wussy friend! Ha!" laughed Bannister.
"Again, back off, scuz bucket. We don't want any trouble but we won't be bothered with, got it?" said Patty, never taking her eye off of Bannister.
"Go on, now" said Earl. "Leave these folks alone and git"
Bannister turned to walk off, but turned back to Patty and made a kissing sound at her. "Come see me when you want a real man sweetheart." he leered and then turned and walked back around the trailer.
"ugh" thought Patty. Earl stood up and said, "C'mon over here." and took them around to the back of his truck.
"Sorry about Bannister. He's from somewhere they don't keep good manners. We tolerate him cuz he's a brother trucker, but most times we are ready to run him off of the lot"
Taking out his keys, Earl opened the rear door of his trailer and pulled himself up into the packed rear. After a few minutes of rifling around inside, he came back to the door holding a case of store brand bottled water.
"Here, hold this." he said to Lamar and then he hopped down and secured the door again.
"Go on and take this on account of Bannister's mouth." he said and then went and sat back down on his folding chair in the shade.
"That was very nice of you, Earl. Is there anything we can give you?" asked Patty.
"A magic carpet ride home, a date with Dolly Parton and a plate of my mother's biscuits. Seeing as you don't have any of that, go on and git home to your kin." he said with a wink.
"Nice talking with you Earl," said Lamar shaking his hand once more.
"Same here, Earl." said Patty. "If I see Dolly, I'll send her your way."
After securing the water, Patty and Lamar saddled up and were about to hit the road when Earl called after them.
"Don't go into Marshall proper but stay on the interstate. They got problems in the north side of the city, ya hear!"
"Thank you," said Patty and they rode back on to the access road towards the interstate.
Patty and Lamar rode onward towards Marshall and started seeing more signs for the city as well as for various businesses which operated (Or used to operate) in the area. They also passed more people on foot headed the same direction but a small number coming from the west.
A few miles outside of Marshall, two men on foot, one with a bloody cloth wrapped around his head, passed them heading in the opposite direction. One called out to them as they passed,
"Be careful of the overpass coming up! There are some kids throwing rocks at people!" he shouted and they hurried on their way.
Patty slowed and stopped her bike and made sure her helmet was on tightly, She also checked her Glock once more and the .22 rifle.
"You had better do the same, Lamar" she said when he rolled to a stop next to her. We might be able to ride by quickly and they will miss us if someone is indeed throwing things at people on the road."
Why in the world someone was letting their kids do something this stupid was beyond her thinking. What were they going to do when someone started shooting at the rock throwing brats?
They pedaled on and easily spied the overpass up ahead and standing on top were at least fifteen to twenty young people hooting and making noise. Consequently, every few moments, they would throw something else off the bridge at anyone passing by, namely, at the people on foot.
Lamar and PAtty came to a disabled car in the right lane about two hundred yards from the overpass behind which stood six people, including a small child. Patty rolled to a stop,
"What are you doing? Waiting for them to stop or something?" she asked.
"No fooling lady. We don't want to get hit going past that bridge especially with this little one here." said a man who was obviously the leader. "You got that rifle with you, why don't you fire a couple of rounds at them and maybe they'll go away or something?"
"Or maybe they'll shoot back with something bigger? No, I am going to avoid shooting at kids throwing rocks unless I absolutely have too?" replied Patty.
Patty looked at the overpass and the both sides of the road. They could pull their bikes up the side but it still meant having to deal with the rock throwers when they got on even ground with them. And Patty wanted only to get past this nuisance and home with as few delays as possibl.
"OK, Lamar, here's the plan. When we get closer put the pedal to the metal and race for the overpass. We are both going to go under on the left side, but quickly move to the right in case they drop something off when we exit on the other side."
Patty looked at the people behind the car and wished them luck and moved out. They had a good one hundred yards to one hundred and fifty yards to build up speed before they came in range of most of the rock throwers. Judging by where the first few missiles thrown their way went, it appeared that some of the hurlers were intoxicated or high, which probably explained their actions.
Patty resisted the urge to look at the throwers and instead focused on keeping her head down and her bike moving somewhat erratically to avoid being a good target. She hoped Lamar was following her lead and keeping up with the extra weight of the trailer.
The worse happened as she was almost under the bridge when a cinder block fell only inches to her right causing her to swerve and almost lose control. She held it together and immidiately sheared to the left as she told Lamar to do. Behind her, she heard a crash and a short cry but still heard Lamar peddling behind her, so she doubled down and made for daylight.
As they came out the other side, somebody yelled, "Dere dey ara!" and a fullisade of rocks and other objects flew their way. A rock about the size of a lime bounced off Patty's back causing her to let out a cry but she kept going. About a hundred yards later, the bombardment stopped, but Patty was too angry to let it go.
She skidded to a stop and pulled the Ruger over her head and brought it to her shoulder. As soon as she sighted on the bridge, most of the rock throwers hit the ground but one or two, drunk or foolish, danced and taunted her. She was about to fire when Lamar yelled,
Patty turned and saw no fewer than a half dozen dogs come charging down the embankment towards the interstate and presumably towards them. They were ragged and mangy looking beasts and made gutteral sounds as they charged.
Patty quickly snapped off three shots in their general direction and actually managed to wing one, surprising even herself. Two of the others stopped and one actually whined and went back to the grassy embankment, but the others kept coming.
"Lamar, get that shotgun out, now!" Patty yelled.
Lamar fumbled the gun around and brought it up to fire, but paused as the safety was still on. Patty fired two more rounds as the dogs were slightly more than ten yards away and showed no intention of stopping. She nailed one, a brown pit bull mix, but the small round only caused it to flinch and keep moving.
At that moment, Lamar fired the shotgun but fired high missing all the dogs. He was able to ratchet the slide and fired a second round which swept the closest dog, a big black chow, off the road into a crumpled heap. That took the fight out at one more of the dogs who slid to a start and instead stood in place barking.
The two lead dogs were now on top of them and there was little Patty could do. She fired the remaining rounds in the Ruger directly into the closest dog as the other charged her and lunged at her.
Patty raised the now empty rifle and brought the butt directly down on the dog's head while simultaneously kicking out at him with left foot. The dog faltered and then barred its teeth and went for her shoe but instead received another butt stroke to it's open mouth.
The entire time, Patty was screaming and Lamar, unable to fire his shotgun with Patty in such close proximity, simply got off his bike in one step and kicked the dog as hard as he could in it's side. The dog stumbled backwards and looked confused at to what set of feet to attack, but his quandary was short lived as Patty pulled her Glock and put a round into its' side and which put it on the ground.
Patty turned to shoot the other dog she had fired the Ruger at, but the miserable thing was limping away on three legs leaving spots of blood on the road behind it. The other dogs were loosely standing around on the embankment, a couple still barking, but the fight clearly taken out of them.
Patty turned to look at the overpass and saw its residents were lined up obviously facinated by the scene of two cyclists versus a pack of strays and she hoped they were sorely disappointed by the outcome. Patty was about to raise the Glock and pop off a few rounds, but was too worn out from the adrenaline rush to make it.
"Let's get out of here before something else shows up." said Lamar climbing back on his bike.
Patty nodded, opened her fanny pack and took out a fresh ten round magazine for the Ruger and replaced the empty one. She then safed the rifle and put it over her shoulder and they headed out warily watching the remaining dogs.
They decided to ride as many miles away from the outskirts of Marshall in the event they were followed and eventually stopped just north of the Brady Branch resovoir on the north side of the interstate. There was a small dirt road which lead to a decent sized clearing and which offered two different ways out.
Patty rolled to a halt and she and Lamar surveyed the area. They would set up the tent first and then Patty would prepare their meal this evening as it fell the Lamar the night before.
Patty topped off the magazine in her Glock and refilled the Ruger magazine as well. She tossed her previous food plans out the window and cooked two dehydrated packets of spaghetti and meatballs using the single burner gas stove. They would have that the remaining fresh fruit tonight before it went bad.
Lamar finished with the tent and raised his arms for a long stretch.
"I have been using muscles I thought I got rid of years ago. My back is killing me but the pain in my calves is distracting me from thinking about it!" he laughed.
Patty was about to say something when the bushes behind Lamar parted and a large man wearing a striped workshirt and blue jeans stepped out. He was in his fifties, balding and one of his eyes was cockeyed and drifted slightly to the right.
He smiled and walked in to the clearing,
"Thought I heard some folks over here. Hey! Looks like dinner is on, too! Man, my timing is still perfect." he boomed.
He then took a long look at Patty before saying,
"And there's dessert too. Well, well, well.."
Patty reached for her Glock but instead felt a blow to the back of her head, saw stars and blacked out.
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