Patty was awoken by the sound a clanky engine, which startled her. An actual running vehicle? She thought she was dreaming but continued to hear it outside of the church. She got off the cot and carefully stepped around the other cots and belongings on the floor, but quickly saw there were others awake as well by the noise.
Patty had to go to the front doors of the church and look out the glass to see who or what was coming. It was still too early for the sun, but the sky light enough to see. Rolling to a stop in front of the church was an ancient Chevy step side pickup, the back loaded with what looked like old junk, but there was clearly a used bicycle in there.
Patty went back and pulled on her day clothes (and reminded herself to wash out some of things she had been wearing before leaving, they stunk) and went out front. She arrived in time to see the driver of the truck get out and greet the older man who said grace at their table last night.
The driver was middle aged, wore a straw cowboy hat and had good sized gut going over his old Wrangler jeans. He was openly carrying a cowboy style single action revolver in a worn leather gunbelt and holster. He greeted the older man warmly as they shook hands.
"Brother Stubby! Good to see you, the Lord be praised. When you didn't show up the past couple of days, I started to worry you found some trouble out there." said the older man.
"Preacher, it's good to be back. I told the missus I needed to come by here early before I got started today. I wanted to tell you what's going on and see if you needed anything, too." STubby replied.
They both turned and saw Patty standing by the door and the Preacher turned to her.
"Miss, you came in last night if I recall with a group of young people and another gentleman. I did not introduce myself then so you could eat and rest, but I am Pastor Stone, the presider of the congregation." he said.
"I am Patty Valdez, it's very nice to meet you Pastor and I wanted to thank you for your hospitality and good food." said Patty.
"Of course, child, we are happy to have your company and fellowship in these perilous times. This is Tyrell Monroe, but we all call him Stubby." said Stone directing his attention to Stubby.
"Nice to meet, um.. Stubby." said Patty.
"You too, miss," said Stubby touching the brim of his hat.
"So you got your truck running. They said they could get them going in Shreveport, but that's the first one we have seen." said Patty.
"Oh Stubby has a way with fixing things, the older the better. I am waiting for him to do something about my arthritis," laughed Stone.
"That's your line of work, Preacher, the miracle department. I just fix old bikes and mowers," said Stubby.
"So you come outta Shreveport, did ja missie? Things are bad out that way. Marshall's out of control, same with Longview. Folks are fightin' over food, water anything that runs. I only went as far as some of the suburbs and got outta there." said Stubby
"What were you doing over there, Stubby?" asked Patty.
"Went over there to see what was goin'on and try and find what the goverment was doin'. Turns out, a whole lotta nothin'. We's on our own, Preacher." said Stubby gravely.
"Lord be praised, we will have our work cut out for us." said the Preacher clasping his hands and looking to the ground.
"Stubby, I couldn't help but notice, you have a bike in the back of your truck. Does it work?" asked Patty.
"That thing? Aw no, it needs some work. Why? You need a bike? Lots of folks do these days, good way to get around with no cars or trucks." replied Stubby.
"Actually, I have one, but I have three young people with me who could use a bike each." said Patty.
"Well, you come to the right person, missie. You need to come out to my place and see what I got." he said.
"Stubby is our local fixit man, junk shop and odd jobs expert. He has plenty of bicycles and all other things at his place. He made the bar-b-que grills and smokers in fact." said Pastor Stone.
"Tell you what, missie. Let me run this stuff back to my place, unload and I can come back and get you and whoever else needs a bike. We can go back in my truck and saves everyone time. That be alright?" asked Stubby.
"That would be, thank you, but I hate for you to waste the gasoline. I can get the kids up and ready now if you'll wait?" said Patty.
"Waste gas? That's funny, missie. There's hardly a running vehicle around here anymore, so there's plenty of gas everywhere." laughed Stubby.
"Okay then, Stubby, I'll get the kids fed and ready and we will be here waiting for you." said Patty.
Patty went inside and quickly cleaned herself up in the bathroom and changed into her last set of clean clothes. She woke both girls and told them to get ready as quickly as possible as they had a big project this morning.
In the fellowship hall, Patty found Lamar snoring away, but Brad was up and ready, so she took him and left Lamar behind. Outside, Pastor Stone and a few others were outside tending the fires on the grills and putting together breakfast.
"Pastor, I don't remember meeting your wife yesterday. Is she here now?" Patty asked the minister.
"No, I am fraid Magnolia went home to the Lord three years ago. Cancer. Yes, it was trying for her and me as well, but I am glad she does not have to suffer through these perilous times indeed, praise be." he replied.
"I am sorry. Well, how can I help?" asked Patty.
"You are a visitor in my home and to my congrgation and are subject to my hospitality, young lady. You go on with those little ladies and help yourself to what's out. We got lots of eggs, home made biscuits and peaches. Good fresh peaches picked yesterday." he said.
Pastor Stone was right, the peaches were delicious and welcome, as were the eggs and biscuits.
"Where are they getting all this, Patty?" asked Katelyn.
"I don't know. I am sure some of it was from the local market, but honestly, they haven't told me" answered Patty.
"We grows it!" laughed an old man as he dropped fresh biscuits on each of their plates.
"This is farming country. The eggs and peaches we see to. The biscuit flour comes from the store, but we grows corn to replace it later in the season. Don't know how it's gonna work, no running tractors and all. 'Spose we'll have to use the old horse and plow like my daddy did." he added.
"Have many more people come through last night or today?" asked Patty.
"Nope, it's like someone turned off the tap from the interstate. You folks were some of the last to come through. Maybe its best seeing how many we got here now. You enjoy that, you here?" he said as he walked off.
"What are you talking about, Patty?" asked Cassie. "What did he mean about the interstate?"
"Nobody else is coming from the direction like we did yesterday." answered Patty. "I hope that does not mean more bad news. Okay, I want you guys to finish up, our ride with be here soon." replied Patty.
"Our ride? You mean like a car? To take us home?" exclaimed Cassie.
"No, a man is going to give us a ride to his home where he has bikes and other stuff for sale. I don't know if he'll take money, but I brought some other things to trade with him if need be." said Patty.
No sooner had Patty spoken when the distinctive sound of the ancient pickup rattled in the distance alerting them to the return of Mr. Stubby. A few moments later, he pulled into the parking lot and got out looking around for his customers.
"Mr. Stubby, over here," said Patty.
"Hey, hey little lady, and look at the group with you. Hey kids, ready to go look at bikes?" he said.
All agreed and climbed aboard the ancient pickup truck and headed north on the two lane state highway.
"Where have you been, Mr. Stubby? I heard you say you drove around to Pastor Stone this morning" asked Patty.
"I went up to Big Sandy, the cut over the back way to Longview. That place is just getting to be a mess so I came back on another back road. The closer you get to the big places, the worse it is." he said.
"Big places? Like cities?" replied Patty.
"Yep, that and the interstate. Folks attacking each other now for anything useful. Food, bottle of water, a bike. You was smart to get off that road. If you is heading west, you'd do right to stick to the side roads if you can." Stubby said.
After a few minutes, they came to a wide spot in the road and to what must have been Stubby's place. On the side of the road there was an old sign on a trailer with removable letters which said
STubBys Odd n En s
Old, NEw, Fixed like NEw
Anteeks, mowers fixn
and which was in front of an open gate to a dirt road.
Pulling in, Stubby drove a short ways and brought the truck and passengers to the front of a sprawling house and to what could only be described as a yard of treasures.
There were dozens of bikes tightly lined together in the front yard along with claw foot bathtubs, ancient farm equipment, nostalgic road signs, a full sized buck board wagon, a couple of old gasoline pumps, numerous piles of scrap iron, a Ford Edsel and an actual Model T roadter.
"Welcome to Stubby's!" said Stubby. "Hop on out and take a look around. Remember, everything is negotiable and everything is for sale!"
Patty immediately took the kids over to the bikes and started looking. Many were older Schwinns or children's bikes, complete with pink seats and frayed tassels on the grips. But there were a few decent cruisers and ten speeds in the mix.
The door to the house opened and a tall, skinny woman about Stubby's age came out holding her apron in front of her. She smiled a big toothy grin and started tossing handfuls of feed onto the ground in front of her and immediately attracted dozens of white hens around her feet.
"Hello, Mama. Got some new folks here looking for some bicycles." Stubby yelled.
Patty waved and went back to the bikes.
"Stubby, how much for this one, this one and this one?"
"Well, let's see. They in pretty good shape and I'll check out the tires and chains and what not for you, and make sure the brakes work of course." he said and paused, removing his straw cowboy hat to reveal a gleaming bald head surrounded by a fringe of close cropped graying fuzz.
"In the day, i would have asked for fifty bucks each, but folding money ain't doing much good. You got anything I could worth about that much?"
"I already sold my earrings in Shreveport, but I have this gold band and these two gold chain necklaces." offered Patty.
"Well, they look nice, but I am not sure who I can trade those things with." he said
Patty paused and then reached into the bag she brought with her.
"How about this?" and she held up the .44 magnum pistol she had taken from Chris.
"Say, that's a Ruger Redhawk. That's a nice piece you got there, and it's in .44 you say? Well, that might be worth my while." said Stubby carefully taking the gun from Patty's hand.
Noticing his interest, Patty decided to try her hand and up the ante.
"I don't really want to part with it as I promised it to one of the others back at the church. Now if you could include with the bikes some sort of trailer and some food for the trip, we might have a deal we can all live with. I mean, that gun before the Burnout was worth more than the $150.00 you want for the bikes, right?" countered Patty.
"Got a good point, little lady, yes indeedy. Well, let's see what I can put together for you, okay?"
Stubby's wife came back out in the yard and asked,
"You young people want to come inside for some coffee and cake? I just pulled it out of the oven."
Even though all four had recently eaten breakfast, the idea sounded good so they went inside leaving Stubby to rummage around the yard and property.
"Ya'll sit on down here and I'll get your cake." the pleasant woman said.
The kitchen was small, but neat and tidy, with curtains hanging around the open window, white faced cabinets, and the heavenly smell of something delicious in the air.
"Now this is an old coffee cake recipe of my mama's but it sure is good. You young people drink coffee don't you?" she asked
"I love Starbucks," said Cassie.
The older woman laughed, "We don't have none of that, honey, just good old Folgers. That be alright?"
"It will be fine, ma'am" said Patty giving Cassie the eye.
Hot cups of coffee were set down along with a bowl of sugar and a small pitcher of heavy cream.
"You just call me Evelyn, honey. Got coffee now, but that won't be the case someday. Gonna make that man of mine a bit ornery when he don't get his cup of coffee in the morning."
"Why is that?" asked Cassie. "Can't someone, like grow coffee out here?"
"I'm afraid not, baby. Coffee comes from across the world and that ain't gonna happen for a long time. The sugar comes from down in Lousiana so maybe that's not lost. But coffee and chocolate, cinnamon, nutmeg.. Lord, we gonna lose some many nice things now." remarked Evalyn.
"I hadn't thought about that," said Patty.
They all wolfed down their slices of coffee cake and coffee and with full mouths said thank you. Evalyn smiled and collected their plates and took them to the sink.
Stubby walked in and asked if everyone would come out back behind the house as he had something to show them. Everyone, Evalyn included went down the steps and into the large "yard" behind the house.
Yard was a misnomer as the back area stretched for an acre or more and was bordered by heavy trees behind a white fence. There was a sizeable pig sty populated by two fat sows and numerous piglets, two large chicken coops, a big vegetable garden and at least three small buildings dotting the back pasture.
Just down the steps was a red cedar picnic table laden with several items with the three bikes and a green wagon along side.
"Here be the bikes and this wagon for a trailer. It's a garden cart, but I put bike wheels on it and this here tongue which fits to this attachment on the bike here. You can move it to another bike if you wants too.
'Now here I gots some food good for travelling and eating, too" Stubby said with a smile.
He reached into a medium sized gunny sack and pulled out two five pound hams, the husks hard, red, gray and straight from the smoke house. He opened a smaller but similar bag and took out a flat wedge of some sort of meat and laid in on the table.
"Here are a couple of hams I smoked myself. They don't look too good on the outside, but cut into them and you gots some good eating. This is whole bacon I made from the same pig. Just a slice will do you and can season the whole pot of whatever you eating."
He took out a shoe box and wrapped in wax paper were two round wheels of cheese. Real cheese.
"I makes this from whole milk, not like that stuff you get in the store. Lawdy its good."
Next, he opened a good sized bag and took several bags of dried peaches, plums, strawberries and apricots out. Another was full of small red and russet potatoes.
Then came another bag which was hand milled wheat flour, a can of baking powder, a plastic bag with baking soda written on it, a plastic bottle of oil, and some sugar.
Finally, he set a worn, but clean cast iron dutch oven on the table along with a similar type skillet.
"You know what these are, don'tcha?" he asked.
"I do, that's a dutch oven. You can make anything with one of those and campfire." said Brad.
"Yes, indeedy, boy. You got all the makings here for camp bread, potatoes, just about anything if you put your mind to it. Good food after a long ride is dee-licious." Stubby added.
"So little lady, all this for the pistol? We got a deal?" asked Stubby.
"I think we do, sir, thank you very much" said Patty holding out her hand to shake.
The next half hour was spent loading the new bikes and cart into Stubby's truck and then the food which was tucked into several cardboard boxes for the ride. As they were saying their goodbyes, Evelyn handed Patty the rest of the coffee cake wrapped in a worn but clean linen cloth and a plastic tub full of vinegar and pickeled eggs.
"May the Lord watch over you children. You ever get back this way, you come see Stubby and men." said Evalyn.
'Thank you, ma'am for your hospitality." said Patty.
Stubby then started up the truck and they headed back for the church and to get started on the next leg of their journey.
When they pulled in the parking lot. they immediately saw Lamar standing between the food tent looking around while a woman wearing a nurse's scrub shirt stood next to him trying to talk, but who he promptly ignored.
As they climed out of the truck, Lamar ran quickly to the truck, his face white.