Thank you for the kind comments.
A Change of Major Chapter Twenty Three)
The M16 lay on the dining room table like an exhibit in a court room murder trial and had things been normal, it probably would have been. Delbert picked up the unloaded weapon, and like a trial lawyer, spoke to us
"We have obtained through trade, sale and other means a number of firearms of all types. This one is interesting not because of what it is, but where it came from. As you can see, there is a metal tag on the base of the stock which clearly identifies it as belonging to the Texas Department of Corrections.
What we was worried about has come to pass. Huntsville prison was left unattended and the worse of the worse are running around doing God knows what."
"But Delbert, there's a good chance they guy who had that rifle may have just stolen it from someone else, maybe even an abandoned DPS vehicle or a house of guard, true?" said Celina.
"Sure, that's possible, but every one of the the guys we got last night was cut from the same mold. Lots of bad tats and plenty of identifying marks tying them to prison or gang activity. I think these guys were part of the breakout.
Now, to be fair, all them dead guys they may be the whole gang, but Jose and I both think that this is part of a larger gang. We found their vehicles and they hardly had any fuel or supplies. That might mean they left their stuff at a central location or they are supporting a bigger group. Further, a group of locals or refugees from Houston is not going to pull off what these guys were up to. They were prepared to kill or commit a simple break in, almost like they had plenty of training in Crime 101"
"So what do we do, Delbert?" asked Brenda.
"What else? Be on our guard, try and find out where the center of the gang is and take them out when we have the chance, if we get it. Most of all, quit thinking inside the box." he replied in a matter of fact voice.
After I woke up, I dug around in my bag and took out a power bar, some trail mix and jerky to eat before I headed out. I really wanted a shower, but knowing that was out of the question, I rinsed off my hair, hands and face with the water from one of my containers and then brushed my teeth.
I started wondering if it was possible to get lice or something from all the dead guys I have been around combined with my lack of regular hygiene. All the same, we need to hurry up and get normal in this world before things really get nasty, I thought to myself.
I dressed in jeans, a clean sweat shirt, coat and scraped off my muddy boots. Then grabbed my hat and shotgun and headed out the door to join the others. I found them in the big planting area between the barns working the rows of covered beds.
Each time a carrot or head of spinach was harvested, Celina had a new seedling from her greenhouse ready to go in the ground along with some fresh compost. She was careful what to take this time and what to keep in the ground.
Some of what was harvested would be sold fresh while others would be canned, dried and stored for later. I knew that cold weather crops such as some greens, potatoes and carrots would only do well until the late spring. When the weather became too hot, if it ever did, tomatoes, melons and peppers would take their places.
We filled several large bins with produce and moved them by hand truck ("can't waste the fuel for a hundred yard trip") to the barns.Everyone had to work with the exception of some people Delbert called "our eyes and ears" whoever they were because I did not see anyone.
After a long day for all, we were told to clean up and go to the big house for dinner. Since everyone worked in the field, we were required to help with meal preparation and serving.
After my shower, I went into the kitchen and was assigned to work with Brenda peeling and boiling potatoes. For some reason or another, Chuck and Curtis were sent with Delbert outside to kill something, while Tracy and Celina were doing something else in the house, leaving Brenda and I alone.
Being the dense lightbulb when it comes to girls, I was oblivious that this was a setup.
Someone said once that when two people go through a traumatic event together, they are naturally closer. Apparently, Brenda felt something about me after that business on the front porch and wanted to see if I felt the same.
OK, so take a normal, healthy, college age guy and put in him a close proximity situation with a very pretty girl and leave them alone. Do the math.
Before your mind rolls into the gutter, it wasn't like that. First up, I have been through some tough stuff the past few weeks. I have accepted that my family is dead, my home is destroyed and any plans I had for college and afterward are toast. I have killed several people and will probably be forced to again in the near future. I don't feel too good about myself as a person but I try to keep that under wraps.
All the same, Brenda and I aren't meeting at some frat party or at a night club on Sixth Street in Austin, rather we are together because of a nuclear war and a bunch of people want to kill us. Falling in love and rolling around in the back seat are the last things you have on your mind.
We were peeling potatoes and making small talk. She told me how her father died when she was seven in a truck accident. How her mother used the life insurance to purchase the land for the farm and slowly built a working business. She told me about going to Austin County Community College for two years and then leaving after a bad break up with some kid she was dating.
She was far different than the AK47 toting tail gunner riding shotgun through post-apocalyptic Texas. Then she had to do it.
"Your parents. Do you think about them?"
"Um, sure, all the time. I try not to, though."
"Do you miss them?"
"Of course. I keep hoping they are alive and someday, maybe not for awhile, we will find each other again. I have to hope."
"What was your mom like? What was she like with you?"
"She was, like a mom, I don't know... She did mom stuff. She was closer to my sister because they were both girls and could do the shopping and stuff. But mom always did nice things for me like birthdays and being at all my sport practices and game. Just stuff you take for granted until it's not there anymore.
I remember every Thanksgiving when we all came home, she would make us wear matching sweat shirts or sweaters. Each year it was something else, and then we would have to pose for a Christmas card picture. It was so lame, but it was something she did." I said.
For a moment, the memory swept over me, like I was watching a film about someone else's life.
How simple my mother's love was and how much I missed it and then, how it was gone as if it never happened. Mom was dead. Dad was dead. My sister, Kristy was dead. No more goofy pictures. No more holidays. No more phone calls. Nothing. A lump grew in my throat and I turned to look out the window at the darkness.
I felt Brenda's hand on my arm and she slowly turned me towards her. I didn't want her to see me like this but she slowly lifted my chin with her hand. She then leaned in and kissed me.
"That's why Mom warned me about you. You keep burying that pain and you make me want to crawl in there and hug you and make it all better. Geez, why can't you be a jerk or something?" she then gave me a small smile and hit me with the towel she was holding.
"C'mon and hurry up or Delbert will peel you like a potato".
Of course, I am still standing there like a statue wondering if anyone got the license plate of the truck that hit me. "Delbert? What's a Delbert?" I said to myself.
Crane and Jimmy were looking at the mobile home park from their vantage point on the low hill. So far, they could only see a couple of guards and they were nothing more than old men.
Fact was, there was plenty of old folks in that place, all easy to roll over and pick clean. Crane was particularly interested if there were any young women but they seemed to be few and far between. Old people, some middle aged folks, some kids and not much else. Oh well, he'd just have to make do.
"So whatchoo think? Tomorrow morning? Tonight?" asked Crane.
"Tomorrow," said Jimmie. "So far we've only seen one shift and they may have somebody hiding back in them woods there. Let's sit on it and hit'em tomorrow"
They continued to watch the park waiting for anything out of the ordinary to happen all the while eager for tomorrow.
Brenda and I were taking a break from potato duty, again, when the kitchen door banged open.
"Mike, you should have seen it. The chicken ran around with his head cut off! It was so gnarly. Chuck was about to hurl and Delbert made him do the other one. Classic!" shouted Curtis.
"Shut up you dork. I think I am going to be a vegetarian. My cousin is and she seems good with it." complained Chuck.
"Hey! What have you two been up to?" blurted Curtis. "Looks like someone's been fooling around in here! Someone's in the kitchen with Mikey, someone's in the kitchen I know oh oh oh!" he warbled away.
Delbert stood at the door, shook his head and said, "Curtis come on outside. I gotta put you and that voice out of my misery."
Brenda turned red and went into the dining room. I made busy cleaning up potato peels from the floor and counter and tried to think about something other than Brenda, like the names of all the fifty states and their capitals.
Delbert told me to scat from the kitchen while he ordered Chuck and Curtis to get busy cooking chicken. Celina came in and was shocked Delbert was going to let these two simpletons (her words) ruin two good chickens and sent Delbert outside. I went into the dining room to see what Brenda was up to, but Tracy intercepted me with a "Down, Romeo!" dirty look so I went out on the porch.
Nobody was out there so I stared out at the night. The dark and dirty clouds blocked any sort of moon or stars so I could only wonder if we would ever see them again.
The next morning, Celina ordered everyone up before sunrise. She wanted to make a run by a small community nearby for some quick barter. Afterward, she announced we would go by the trailer park because of a special order she had.
I was ordered to ride up front with Celina while Brenda rode in the back of the tow truck this time. I guess Celina wanted some distance between us.
I took the time to ask Celina a few questions.
"Back at the trailer park, there is this woman named Pat. You gave her a bottle of wine or something but you wouldn't take her ring for it. How come?"
"I'm a softy for a woman who's lost her husband. Pat's husband died on The Day. No, he wasn't in a big city, he was with her. But he had a pace maker and one second he was alive, the next he was dead. That and he was on several medications that without them he would have died eventually. Since then, Pat has holed up in her camper and it just makes me sad. The drinking isn't good for her, but at this point, does it really matter?"
"What are you going to do with all that gold and jewelry you are taking for food and stuff? I mean the gasoline I get, but silver and gold? What good is it when stores are closed and money is just toilet paper?" I asked.
"First, it's real money. Like it or not, some form of commerce will be back eventually and I like being ready.
Second, I already have used it to buy stuff from other folks. Things like fertilizer and feed that I didn't have before. I went to the feed store owner and got him to open his back storage units and sell things to me, but I could only do it with real money."
Finally, like it or not, most people don't like living on charity. Whether it's through work or barter, they want to pay their own way. Taking some diamond ear rings for a basket of eggs may seem stupid after a full blown nuclear war, but it lets people feel normal all the same. As if things aren't so bad."
"Now I want to ask you some questions and I want the truth," Celina said. "What are you intentions with Brenda? If you think she is just a roll in the hay you got another thing coming, buddy."
"I don't know what to tell you, ma'am but, I really like Brenda and and hope she likes me. What we have to figure out is how we are going to see each other after I am done working for you. Maybe I can walk out to your place and find someone around there who needs a full time hand. After that, I don't know." I answered looking out the window.
"So you would be willing to walk all the way from that camp ground with no where to live or no where to work just on the chance you could see my daughter?" she said incrediously.
"Um sure, why not?"
"OK, well, maybe we can figure something out. Alright, the first place we have to stop is the Bakers and then on to your old place. Make sure your shotgun is loaded and keep an eye out at the turn off for their place. I don't like surprises." said Celina.
We rode for a few more minutes before tuning on to a dirt track surrounded by stunted mesquite that I am sure if you did not know what to look for would have missed by a mile.
Over the next rise we came to a cluster of small buildings surrounded by plastic covered raised beds, unplowed fields and a group of people watching a small herd of cattle.
We stopped at a gate and were greeted by some older man named Baker who spoke with Celina before letting her truck in. Celina traded some animal antibiotics and one of the captured rifles for two steel cans of milk and some beef.
We were only there for a few minutes before heading out once again for the camp grounds. I had to admit I was excited about seeing the "old place" and checking in with the Hartmans and Ernie. I looked back and saw Brenda riding in the tow truck behind us but could not see Delbert or Jose or the Mustang which I was sure was back there when we left the Baker place.
Fifteen minutes later, we rolled up to the gate completely unaware we were being watched.
Next up: Goodbye to an Old Friend