Cooper; new stuff added 12/24/2018

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Re: Cooper; new stuff added.

Post by bodyparts » Fri Jul 03, 2015 9:35 pm

thanks doc !!

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Re: Cooper; new stuff added.

Post by doc66 » Sat Jul 04, 2015 8:05 am

Here we go again. This one takes place before the last story I put up. I decided to not try and do this in chronological order and write the story as they came to me, which has been crazy fast for Cooper and company.

BANDSTAND



The band was a five piece ensemble of pretty talented musicians as far as Cooper could tell. Playing a passable guitar himself, Cooper could tell when people faked their way through and when they actually knew what they were about. The drummer was playing something that looked like two wok’s wielded together, and the tones that it made were both earthy and ethereal. It reminded Cooper somewhat of a Caribbean steel drum, but smoother and more melodic. When they had finished playing, Cooper wandered over to where they had set up the donation box and used the opportunity of putting the canned corn and black bean salsa and the pickled eggs they had put up into the box as a way of striking a conversation up with the musicians.

“What is that drum that you are playing?” he asked.

The drummer, a man who looked to be Middle Eastern, picked up the instrument he was packing away and brought it over to Cooper. The steel, UFO-shaped drum had indentations all around the curve of the bell. He set it down so that Cooper could see it.

“It’s a Hang,” said the man. “It’s like a steel pan, the Caribbean drums, but different.” The man laughed. “It’s Swedish, so, this might be the only one you ever get to see.”

“Does it come in different keys?”

“Kinda. This one is a D3, each circle is a different note in a scale, so like this one has different notes in the D3 scale. I have a D4, a C4 and an A3.” He flipped the Hang over. “The hole helps with the resonance and amplify the sound. You want to try it?”

Cooper laughed. “I play guitar.”

“Just use your fingertips, and play it like a conga, think Jazz shuffle, a little,” coached the man.

Cooper sat down and took the instrument on his lap. It was as heavy as it looked, and he made sure that he was not in any way going to drop the instrument. A couple other people came over to watch, and the band was paying attention as well. Giving it a couple experimental taps, Cooper got the feel for the way to strike the bowl and began to find a rhythm that he liked. The man smiled and was nodding with Cooper’s time. Grabbing a small set of conga’s the man added a beat to what Cooper was trying to do. They played together for a few minutes until Cooper ran out of ideas in his tapping. He stopped with a little shuffle and flourish. When the man set the conga’s down, Cooper carefully handed the Hand back to him.

“That’s awesome,” said Cooper.

“You’ve got a little rhythm, for a guitarist,” joked the man. He set the instrument in its case. “I’m Sadiq, formerly of San Joaquin Valley.”

“Cooper,” he returned, shaking the man’s hand. “From right up the road.”

“Good to meet you. Are you staying for the big show tonight?” asked Sadiq. “We’re doing a hoedown, I’m told.”

“That’s our plan,” admitted Cooper.

Other musicians gathered around as Cooper stood from his place on the ground.

“You sounded like you knew what you were doing,” said one of them—a hippie looking man with flowers braided into his hair and beads in his beard. He had the look of someone to whom the end of everything had been one of the best things to ever happen to him. Society falling apart, the sickness, it had all just freed him to be exactly what he was. He had been the one leading the band’s performance, playing the accordion, a guitar, a trumpet, and even a mandolin. “You play Before?”

Before in this case meant before humanity did its die off and left the rest just alive enough to exist however they could.

“I did some.”

“Sounds like it, man,” said the hippie. “I’m Steffan, man, kinda the leader of this troupe of misfits. Thanks for the donation, mostly we get like odds and ends that we can’t really do much with, you know?”

“No problem,” said Cooper, seeing this as his opening. “Hey, you wouldn’t happen to have a set of guitar strings or a source for them? I can pay with whatever you need; rice, beans, greens, beets—.”

“Oh, groovy.” Steffan shrugged and nodded. “Yeah, man, we might be able to work something out. Come by later, before the show. What gauge?” Cooper told him his preference. Steffan repeated it as if to cement the request in his mind. He motioned to a minivan that had been stripped out and turned into a wagon drawn by a team of draft horses. True to the vagabond wagons of the past, it had been decorated with bells and colorful drapery and painted all colors. “Stop by.”

Cooper agreed he would do so and said goodbye to the musicians, stepping back to mill with the crowd in the marketplace in town.

Washington. The name of the town made it sound big, but it was really little more than a main street four crossing streets and about the same number of side streets off both sides of Main. When there was still electricity there had been a stop light and two caution lights, with talk of turning one of the caution lights into a stop light, but the power had gone out and then there were no more vehicles on the road, so the idea had been shelved. And then there was the sickness and there weren’t enough people in town to worry about a stop light. The tallest building was the Episcopal Church—Saint Perpetua—with its three story steeple. Most of the buildings along the main street were two stories with facades which reminded one of an old western town. The height and number of buildings fell off as one moved away from the small downtown; even the old granary out by the creek was only two stories. The one strip mall had contained the small grocery store, the pharmacy, the auto parts store, and a hair dresser. None of those even existed any longer and the broken, overgrown parking lot was now the place where everyone went to trade what they had for things they needed; a flea market with produce was how David has once described it.

Cooper had come with Jessica because he had promised her he would. There were a million and a half things that needed to be done around the cabin, not the least of which was to finish David’s own log hut before the season changed so he would not have to spend another winter in the small camper or in their spare bedroom when things got really cold. Besides, Leticia wanted to start living in the camper. There was enough work around the cabin with the extended garden and the addition of the goat kids for a fourth person to join them at the cabin. Plus, when Jessica started getting further into her pregnancy they would need an extra set of hands.

They had packed the cart up with the overflow from the garden, a few things they had from their stock of supplies which through the couple month of having the extra items, they had decided that they could do without them, like cans of greens—they grew plenty in the garden—and beets, because no one around the homestead really like beets unless they were pickled. These items, along with other things that they had not used in sometime, were now displayed under the pop up awning where Jessica was sitting in a lawn chair and keeping an eye on their goods. When Cooper walked up, she stopped fanning herself and smiled up at him.

“You have a good time?”

“I did, I might have found some guitar strings.”

“Good for you,” she told him. “What will it cost us?”

“Don’t know yet,” admitted Cooper.

He pulled out his own lawn chair and sat next to her in the shade. “How are you doing?”

“Okay. It’s hot.” She motioned to the greens they had brought from the garden. “I was hoping those would be gone before now. They are starting to wilt in this heat. The canned goods went fast. It’s like everyone wanted a taste of before. I guess that everyone is getting an overabundance of greens right now. I took a couple orders for potatoes when they come in.”

“What kind of trade have you taken?”

“This and that.” Jessica leaned forward to dig around in the plastic tote beside her chair. “I got some needles for sewing, I got a bag of all kinds of thread. There’s a flat of canning jars in the cart and lids. Some guy wants to know if you’ll trade a box of ammunition for that axe head and file.”

“What caliber?”

Jessica looked chagrined. “Sorry, baby brain. I can’t remember. I told him to come back and talk to you though.”

“Probably should have just traded it,” mused Cooper. “If I can’t use it, chances are someone on the mountain can.”

“I thought it was better to be safe and let you look at them first.”

Cooper agreed. The axe head was one that was nearly ground down to uselessness, but if one needed an axe and did not have one, it was better than not having one. It would make a good wedge for splitting larger logs, and that was more than likely what the man wanted it for; it was hard to imagine that in this day and age there were people without a means to cut firewood. The file was a rusty and dull steel file Cooper had found in a tool box. It had a broken tip from having been used to pry at something. He wasn’t sure what that could be used for.

“Can you blow up the air mattress?” asked Jessica. “I need a nap.”

“Where do you want me to put it?” asked Cooper.

“Under the cart is fine,” said Jessica. “I’ll be in the shade and out of the way.”

“As you wish.”

Cooper began to hum one of the songs he had heard that afternoon as he dug around in the cart for the mattress. The llama—they had yet to name the animal—was tied close enough that it belted at Cooper when he began to rummage around. Checking to be sure the animal had enough water in the large pail and that the leads were secure, Cooper pulled out the big air mattress and the foot pump for it. He put down a tarp under the cart and then spread the mattress on top of that. Connecting the hose for the pump to the mattress, Cooper began to pump up the mattress. When it was finished, he put the air pump away and then fluffed Jessica’s sleeping bag in case she wanted to cover herself.

“All set,” Cooper told her. Jessica nodded and put her hand out for Cooper to help her.

“I’ve been sitting too long,” she told him.

She kissed him when she got to her feet. “Don’t let me sleep too long.”

“I won’t,” he told her. “Hey, the good thing is that we might not have to cook; one of the other vendors told me that there’s going to be a goat roast and they are making gyros.”

“Oooh,” said Jessica. “Real Greek gyros?”

“That’s the rumor.”

“Tzatziki sauce?”

“Woman,” teased Cooper with an exasperated tone. “We shall have to find out.”

“Well, think about what we can trade; but don’t make it too extravagant; we don’t want them to get rich off us because we crave something other than chili and burritos.”

“We eat more than that.”

“We do,” she said. “But wouldn’t a gyro be nice? Some hummus, olives and feta cheese?”

“Yes,” agreed Cooper. He smiled at her. “Shall we trade a couple bottles of corn beer?”

Jessica nodded happily. “God knows we have enough of that to go around.”

They kissed again. “I’m taking a nap.”

“I’m sitting in that chair.”

The rest of the afternoon passed by fairly quickly. The goat could be smelled cooking all through the parking area. The air was heavy with the smell of spices and garlic and onions. While his stomach growled, Cooper made a few more trades, managed to get rid of most of the greens, albeit to other people who were going to be spending the night to eat while they were camped and traded for the box of rifle ammo—actually just ten rounds of .22-250 left in a box of 20 count—for the axe head and the file.

The man—a husky guy who looked a little like a Viking if the Norse raiders had worn bowler hats and leather biker vests—was excited for the trade. He explained to Cooper, once the trade was made, that he had gotten an old grind stone rigged up to a water wheel and planned on making a knife out of the file blade and reshaping the axe into a woods axe, one meant more for chopping at limbs than splitting logs. Cooper wished him luck with the project and was taken aback for a second when the man pulled a heavy headed short axe from behind him where it had been stuck behind his belt. Handing the axe to Cooper, the man began to point out the high points of the axe. While he talked, Cooper admired the rough version of the chopper that the man had already made. The man had ground the blade so there was a deep notch from the lower edge of the blade back to the shaft. The man explained with this notch, the chopper could grab at the limbs to move them. Pointing to the thick cheeks of the axe, the man went on to tell Cooper that he was probably going to thin out the blade a little toward the shaft to lighten it up for the limb work. Nodding like he understood what the man was talking about, Cooper smiled and said if the man had it finished the next time he was in town, to bring it by. Introducing himself as Jake, he promised that if he still had the axe, he would do so and left whistling. Jake loved his axes, thought Cooper putting the ammunition in the plastic tote. Although he could not use the ammunition, he was sure he could find someone to trade with either on the mountain or even keep it for the next time they came to town and trade it then; eventually, someone always needed ammunition.

He checked on Jessica and saw that she was sleeping soundly, for which he was thankful. He hoped that if she slept the afternoon, she would feel refreshed enough to perhaps stay up later to socialize with the other vendors as the evening progressed. They had expanded the number of people they knew on the mountain road where their home stood, mostly because they now had the help of Leticia which freed them to take a morning or an afternoon off occasionally to visit along the road. They would attach the cart to the llama and after choosing a few of the things they had more than they could eat or simply did not have time to put up for storage, they would wander to neighbors and see if they could trade for food stuffs they did not have and sometimes simply give away if the mood struck them. That simply kindness had earned them more than a few friends on the road, and it had also enabled them to ask for favors occasionally when clearing a couple of tress, cutting the wood, building David’s cabin, and a dozen other tasks which would have taken so much longer or even not gotten done.

Cooper saw the swap was winding down and decided that he should wake Jessica, but not before he got her fresh water to wash up in. He knew she would wake feeling sticky from sweat and grimy. Taking the wash basin out of the cart, he set it on the gate of the cart and got the water jug they brought with them. With the jug in hand, Cooper went to the water pump which had been installed by the town. Several other people were near the pump, all of them with some sort of water container. The excited talk was about the goat dinner being prepared; many people were likening it to going out to eat in the days of old. Cooper joined in the conversations while he waited, all of them playing the game Remember When, talking about favorite restaurants, foods they missed, and meals they might never have again. Cooper missed bagels and cream cheese. Someone else added lox to the bagel and Cooper smiled at the memory of having lox and bagels with an Amstel Light at a street café in San Francisco, simply because he could have a beer with breakfast.

While they spoke the sound of horses hooves sounded over the chatter of conversation. Everyone turned to look since horses were pretty scarce in the area. Most of the horses in the area were owned by el Jefe at the El Rancho de Montaña up on the mountain where Cooper and Jessica lived. There were a scattering of other draft animals, a few donkeys and mules, but for the most part, people walked everywhere.

The horse was nothing much to look at, it was a Paint, an Overo of that breed, dark with white splotches across its body. The animal looked as if it had been rode far and was ready to call it a day. Its rider’s expression matched the look of the horse. The rider himself was dressed in mismatched clothing; chocolate chip camouflage pants over worn at the heel cowboy boots, a yellow Willie Nelson t shirt proclaimed that they should smoke him when he died, and over that a brown leather vest that might have cost as much as the horse Before. High on his hip he wore a 1911 in a modern holster and behind the pistol was a thick bladed work knife. Of course he wore a cowboy hat. The hat was battered and sweat stained in all the right places; a work hat. From the western saddle hung a short barreled AR15, across the horn was an old pump shotgun which had been cut down to the magazine lug and the stock cut to the grip. The saddle bags looked heavy with gear and lashed to the top of it all was a sleeping bag wrapped in a tarp and a technical jacket for inclement weather. The man—Cooper could only say that he might have been biracial—leaned on the saddle horn and took off his hat, wiping his shaved head with the palm of the other hand.

“Can anybody get that water?” asked the man in a friendly voice.

For a moment no one spoke. The appearance of the man was not unusual in these times as strangers tended to wander through town on a regular basis. His clothing was worn and faded, but most people dressed in clothing that fit, rather than what matched, it was the undercurrent of energy which belayed the man’s tired look. Cooper finally waved a hand at the water pump.

“It’s for anybody,” he agreed.

“Thanks,” said the man. He swung off the horse, looping the shotgun over the saddle horn by a strap and led the animal to the pump. When he swung off, Cooper was surprised to see a Glock in a shoulder holster flash under the vest. The man was armed better than most three people in the town combined. People stepped aside as he brought the horse up and dropped the reins on the ground. The horse stood still as the man dug a collapsible bucket out of the saddle bags. He carried the bucket to the pump and fiddle with both, trying to pump the water and hold the bucket.

“I’ll pump,” said Cooper.

“Thanks.”

Cooper began the stream of water.

“Where you from?” asked someone.

The man smiled and waved a hand to the south. “I was travelling from that way. I’m not really from anywhere right now. I once claimed Scottsdale Arizona home. Me and Fickle here, we smelled the cooking from about five miles out and knew this might be a place to be tonight.”

“Five miles?”

Grinning, the man shrugged and nodded for Cooper to stop pumping the water. “I might be fooling you. But I did smell the food cooking.”

“We’re having a hoedown tonight. You’re more than welcome to stay and eat and have some fun.”

“I could use some fun,” he said. He took the bucket over to the horse who began to suck the water out of the bucket as soon as it was held in front of its head.

“What’s your name?”

“Isaac.”

“Well, Isaac, you can bed down pretty much anywhere here in the market you want.”

“I’ll look for a good spot, thanks.”

Cooper pumped water for his own bucket while the others quizzed and spoke to Isaac.

“What’s going on South?” asked someone. “We’ve not heard much from that way. How far you been south?”

“I cut across the valley from the east, followed 211 for a ways and then came up this way when I hit Shepherdsville,” said Isaac. “Shepherdsville caught on fire a while back. There’s not much left of it. A few people are trying to hang on in town, but it seemed most folks just gave up and scattered.” The crowd sighed sadly at the news. Shepherdsville was too far away for them to really know anyone since the world had fallen apart, but it was sad to hear that yet another town had succumbed to the lack of facilities and ability to tame the elements. I came through Conley too. They seem to be doing okay. There was a murder there a while back. They’ve not caught the man that did it.”

“Who got murdered?”

“Local man, a trader, he had a store set up and the killer and him got into a fight over the price of some things. The store owner got shot and the man ran.”

Everyone agreed that was too bad. Isaac pulled out a pack of cigarettes and there were people in the crowd who looked at the tobacco eagerly. Isaac saw the looks and grinned, holding out the pack for people to take one if the wanted. Several people did. With a zippo pulled from the pocket of the vest, Isaac lit the smokes all around. Cooper could smell the raw alcohol of the fuel when the zippo was opened and the flame burst high and bright. The tobacco smelled old, but the people inhaled as if it were fresh air.

“I take it everyone is trading?” said Isaac.

“That’s what we’re here for.”

“I got things to trade.”

“You got smokes?” asked someone.

“Depends—,” Isaac answered cryptically with a tinge of humor in his voice.

Everyone laughed.

Cooper wondered what the man had to trade; more cigarettes, booze, soap? Whatever it was, it had to be small, portable, and valuable, since there was not much that would fit into the saddle bags of the horse, even though they were massive bags. He wanted to stay around and see, but he had to get back to Jessica. Nodding to the cowboy, Cooper carried the water back to where Jessica was stirring at their camp.

“I thought you’d forgotten me,” she teased him as he set the water container down on the cart.

“I got to talking with the other folks,” he told her. “Also, a stranger rode up on a horse.”

“Sounds like a Western plot,” commented Jessica, taking out a wash cloth and towel from the back of the cart where they had stored their belongings.

Cooper began to pull out his own hygiene accoutrements. “Wait until you see this guy; he’s like Vin Diesel and Clint Eastwood and Mad Max, all rolled into one.”

“Vin Diesel?” noted Jessica. “So he’s pretty?”

“I wouldn’t call Vin Diesel pretty.”

“Because you’re hetero.”

He had no come back for that.

“How’s the horse look?”

“Pretty,” said Cooper.

“You know what I mean, shithead,” she said, attempting to sound stern. He did know; if the animal was well taken care of, it spoke volumes about the owner in these times. With the new world, so many of the survivors had no clue how to care for their newly acquired stock, that there seemed to be a lot of run down, unhealthy animals. At the homestead they were lucky to have el Jefe down the road; the old Mexican had been taking care of farm stock since before there were cars, it seemed, and now that there were no more cars, his knowledge was a fount they relied upon weekly.

“Tired,” said Cooper. “They both looked tired. But in good shape, not at all unkempt or injured.” Cooper thought about it for a moment. “It was kind of strange, though. He was armed to the teeth.”

“Everyone had a gun or two now days,” noted Jessica. She nodded to the revolver at his side. “Even you carry everywhere, hippie.”

Cooper agreed, but shook his head. “Not like this guy. Just from what I saw, he had two pistols, a rifle, and a sawed off shotgun.”

“So he looked like a bandido.”

“If bandidos carry AR15s and Glocks, I suppose so.”

“New world baby,” reminded Jessica, as if Cooper were going to forget. She changed the subject. “What time is dinner?”

“Most folks are going to show up here soon, bring drinks and chairs, sit around and gossip, I suppose.”

“So now?”

“So now,” agreed Cooper. Jessica finished washing up and decided that her clothing would be passable for the gathering, but her hair was going to need attention. Cooper washed up while she fussed with her long hair and arranged it several times, each time asking him if she looked all right. Cooper thought the efforts all looked good, and told her so. She responded each time by changing what she had done.

“I wish we had a mirror handy.” Cooper dig around and handed her the sideview mirror off a pickup truck he had found lying around. She thanked him and continued to fuss—in Cooper’s eyes—until people began to walk past them to the dinner. Finally she decided she had done enough. Folding up their chairs, Cooper grabbed up several bottles of the corn beer for trade, and they walked with the rest toward the smoke pits.

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Re: Cooper; new stuff added.

Post by doc66 » Sat Jul 04, 2015 8:07 am

The band was tuning up for the evening show. Tables had been cobbled together and townspeople and those who had come to trade gathered at the makeshift tabletops, setting their trade goods for the food and the things they wanted to share with others out. There were a lot of Before bottles of wine, jars of moonshine, and someone even set out a 30 pack of Miller Lite to be passed around. Many of the townsfolk had prepared casserole dishes and there was a table set aside for just that food. Jessica saw this and sent Cooper back to the cart for the bushel of ears of corn they had brought to trade. She instructed him to give the corn to the men at the barbeque pits to be roasted and shared.

“Have them cut it in half or something so there’s enough to go around,” she instructed. He left her sipping on one of the cans of Miller Lite.

Lugging the bushel of corn in a cloth bag to the pits, Cooper nearly swooned at the sight and smells. There were pans of onions simmering, potatoes frying, women making fresh flat breads and whole goats roasting, quarters on grills, squash roasting, beans simmering—food and food and more food. Cooper knew that much of the food was the root cellar storage being used up to make room for the next crop coming in, but it was still an abundance of fare unlike most had seen in a while. The men were happy to include his corn to the feast, telling him not to worry about his payment for the food since in their opinion he had already paid for it with his donation. They pointed to a woman who was running around with a checklist in her hand and Cooper gave her his name and Jessica’s. She marked their name down and a notation that they were paid, then sent him on his way saying, “I’ve got too many people in the way as it is.”

As he was making his way back to the table, the band started up with their rendition of Whiskey River. The sound of the song made Cooper wonder if Willie was still kicking it somewhere in Texas—preserved and too stoned to know the world had ended. Everyone cheered at the start of the song and people gravitated toward the hay wagon which was being used as a stage. The band was using a couple solar panels to electrify the guitar and a mic. Cooper wondered how long the charges would last in the batteries even just using those two things. Steffen and Sadiq nodded as he walked by, deep into their music as they switched from the Willie to the Rolling Stones It’s All Over Now. Somewhere they had found am upright piano that was almost in tune and the girl who was banging away on the keys looked to be about fourteen, but knew her way up and down the ivories, barely looking at the sheet music before her.

As he made his way back to where Jessica sat, Cooper saw that Jessica had gathered around her a group of women young and old—and Isaac was in attendance. Sighing, Cooper came up to the table and drew the glances of the women. Isaac, who was sitting in Cooper’s lawn chair, started to stand.

“Hey, man, so this is your lady?” he said as he stood. Cooper waved him back down.

“I think it’s the other way around,” said Cooper.

The women agreed with Cooper’s assessment, causing an outburst of raucous comments that made Cooper shake his head and sigh. Isaac remained standing and motioned to the crowd. “Good crowd. Lots of people.”

“There is.”

Isaac smiled at Cooper’s brevity. Isaac pulled free a flask. “You wanna walk?”

“Depends, what’s in the flask?”

“Just some Blanton’s I found around.”

Cooper looked at Jessica who nodded her consent. “Be back in time to take me to dinner.”

“We’ll go once around the block,” assured Isaac.

“Honey, I’d watch you coming and going,” said one of the woman. The others laughed. Cooper didn’t know if he should walk or run away. Isaac laughed with the women and nodded to all of them.

“Ladies, I expect that I shall see each of you on the dance floor at some point.”

“Make sure you save some of that juice for me,” called another as Isaac and Cooper began to move away. Isaac responded by lifting the flask and toasting the woman. She pretended to swoon, causing another round of merriment to erupt from the gathered.

As they walked away, Isaac handed the flask to Cooper. “Amazing how society loses its constraints when things are uncertain. It was the same on the American frontier when they started pushing past the Appalachian Mountains, according to the good Reverend Jacob Bailey, I think it was. He complained a lot about the decay of the proper society and the wantonness of the frontier women. Personally, I think he was gay. He wrote a lot about his fear of women.”

Isaac saw Cooper’s confused look. “I majored in history and taught early American history and 20th century studies.” The man grinned. “Didn’t expect that did you?”

“I rarely know what to expect from people anymore.” They passed the flask. “What are you doing here?”

Isaac looked over at Cooper. “Passing through?”

“In addition to that.”

Isaac sighed. “You seem pretty straight forward. I mean, there’s not a whole lot else to go on other than you stepped up and offered to help me when I got here, so I’ll be frank with you. I’m looking for a man.”

Cooper mulled this over for a second. “The man who shot the store owner.”

“The same.” Isaac pulled a picture from the inner pocket of his vest. He handed it to Cooper. “Seen him? I know it’s from like ninety years ago, but you can at least get an idea. Add a beard, longer hair….”

“Makes you miss selfies,” said Cooper. He studied the picture. He hadn’t seen anyone looking like that. He handed the picture back. “Nope. But I’ve been in town for a day and a half; I live up on the mountain. What’s your part in this? He your father, the store owner?”

Isaac shook his head. “No. My part in this is a nice cabin in the woods and forty acres. I already have the mule.”

The band was playing Tom Petty. Around them, people talked and laughed and some even danced to the music in the cooling evening. It was a pleasant way to spend time away from home; with people who were happy to be alive and sharing the experience with each other. Pleasant other than talking about the death of a man Cooper had never met in a place he more than likely had never been.

“What’s his name?”

“Lewis, Tim Lewis,” Isaac gave Cooper a sideways look. “Why, you going to warn him?”

Cooper shook his head. “You’re getting paid to kill the guy?”

Isaac shrugged. “Kill him, bring him back, the family wasn’t very specific. I just have to have proof that’s he’s dead if I kill him.”

“In the form of what?” Cooper was surprised at how matter of fact they were being about Isaac’s hunting the man basically for revenge on the family’s part.

“Him or his body, I guess.” Isaac thought about it. “Maybe his driver’s license if he still has it on him. It’s pretty amazing how many people still carry ID.”

“What will they do if you bring him back?”

“Hang him?” Isaac shrugged. “I didn’t ask; it’s not my business. I just know they offered a bounty of their summer lake home in the woods. I’m not the only one looking for this guy, there’s probably a half dozen guys out there searching for him. I got on his trial back in Conley and according to people I’ve seen along the road, he’s this way.”

“How did a history teacher become a bounty hunter?”

“How did any of this happen? The fucking world ended,” said Isaac bitterly.

Cooper did not have any kind of a response to that. He himself never wanted to be a farmer, a logger, have a llama or a herd of goats, or shit in a bucket every night to avoid going to the outhouse. He never wanted his baby to be born in his house with only a midwife in attendance. Or to decide if a man’s life was worth the price of a trailer full of dry goods and food, or a cabin in the woods.

The musing was interrupted by the clanging of a triangle to announce that the food was ready. Cooper and Isaac had made it back to the table where Jessica and the rest were sitting and laughing. The band took up the Hank Senior song, Hey Good Lookin’. Probably because the song asked about cooking.

“There you are,” said Jessica. “How was the booze?”

Cooper realized he had taken only a single sip. “Good, but I’m hungry now.”

“So am I,” said one of the woman, standing and looking at Isaac. She was an older woman, and the last couple years had taken a toll, but Isaac seemed not to notice as she flirted. “You gonna come with me?”

Isaac grinned at her and held out his arm for her to take. “Sure thing, pretty lady.”

She laughed and put her arm through his, winking at everyone as he lead her away.

Jessica looked at Cooper. “Well?”

“Let’s go, pretty lady,” he said, putting out his own arm. She slipped her arm in his and they made their way to the line.







The night grew long. Tiki torches were set up around the perimeter of the dance area and the tables, kerosene lamps and candle lamps had been set on tables. The air smelled heavily of animal fat, kerosene—citronella, perfumed house oils—anything that would catch fire and burn. Cooper had to marvel at the amount of the precious fuels which were being wasted, but he supposed that for one night, everyone wanted to feel normal, or what had passed for normal in the Before. The band was still running off the batteries from the solar panels that day, and he was surprised that even just running the mic and the guitar, there was still enough power to crank the system. They must have had a phenomenal set up for the solar, and he was going to have to take a look at it in the daylight and see if there were a way to help his own system last longer; not that he had problems, but this winter, it might behoove him to squeeze a little more wattage out of what he had.

There were many bottles of liquor from Before appearing as the night progressed. Cooper found himself taking shots every now and then with people he did not know, and was sharing his own bottles of corn beer to anyone with an empty cup. Jessica even had a couple glasses of homemade wine. It seemed everyone was smoking something, mixed in the air with the scent of the crowd of people, the smoke from the BBQ, the oils being burned, tobacco and marijuana smoke was thick in the air. Cooper imagined that this was probably the biggest party the town had ever seen, he knew it was the largest gathering of people he had seen since Before. Children ran among the adults, laughing and experiencing something most of them had never know about; a party like the old days.

Jessica danced a few with Cooper, but she was so big, she could not be on her feet more than a few dances before she gave up and went back to her chair. There were always people sitting down and the conversations were easy to come by. The band began to play Lynyrd Skynyrd, Gimme Three Steps and a cute little thing in her early-twenties came over and coaxed Cooper to a dance. He gave Jessica a glance and she shrugged.

“You know where the bed is made,” she told him.

Cooper laughed and kissed her and then went out to dance.

It was nice to dance with the supple form of the twenty something. She could reel and spin, and made it easy for Cooper to keep in step with her. He had not been this close to another women since Jessica and he started dating, and frankly, it was fun and exciting. When the song was over they launched into their own arrangement of Conga, complete with two horns, a banging piano, thumping bass and lots of drums. It seem to get everyone on their feet. Cooper laughed as the girl he was dancing with forced him to stay out with her, happily swaying and trying to follow while she did a passable bachata. He found himself whirling among the numerous people, laughing, and letting himself wrap his arms around the taut body of the woman whose hair flew around her shoulders and eyes were bright in the firelight.

Then he saw Isaac.

Isaac was staring across the dance floor—if the concrete pad they were dancing on could be called the dance floor—at a man sitting with several others. He was smoking a cigarette—probably one Isaac had brought to the party—drinking a can of beer which had been cooled in the stream all day, and laughing. The man wore a ragged beard, had hair just long enough to be pulled back in a ponytail, and wore thread bare clothing and worn down boots. Cooper had seen the man only one other time; in the faded picture Isaac had shown him. He instantly regretted seeing all of this. He wanted to continue to feel the grind of the woman’s hips against his, he wanted to keep the sensation of her high breasts against his chest, smell her scent and live for just a moment like he did not have to worry about a baby on the way, a farm that needed tending, and how they were going to make it through the winter.

“Fuck,” he said when Isaac began to move, the man’s hand on the 1911 he carried at his side.

The woman looked up at him in surprise and perhaps a bit of expectation in her eyes. “What did you say?”

Cooper sighed. “I’m sorry, I really am, I want to keep doing this, I really want to, but I have to go.”

He stopped dancing.

“Is something wrong?” she asked, probably thinking it was her.

“It’s not you—,“ he told her, stepping away. He saw Isaac fighting through the dancers. “Do me a favor and go over where you picked me up.”

“What?”

He did not have more time to explain. He began to elbow his way through the dancers as well, trying to be polite, yet move as quickly as he could toward Isaac. Isaac stopped several feet away from the man and the 1911 was leveled at Tim Lewis. For a long moment no one noticed. Then someone did, and they yelled. Then a woman screeched, and the people began to shout and the band faltered until it stopped playing.

“Tim Lewis,” announced Isaac. “I am here to take you back to stand for your crime.”

Tim Lewis looked around in confusion for the briefest moment and then realized that the command was directed at him. When the men around him also realized the pistol was pointed at Tim, they scattered, darting off into the darkness and the crowd, leaving Tim sitting on the table with a smoldering cigarette in one hand and the can of beer in the other. He stared across the now cleared space at Isaac.

“What?”

“You can come peaceably or I can shoot you dead. The choice is yours.”

There was a sudden, collective intake of breath as the crowd hung on every word and watched the scene play out.

“Whoa,” came the amplified voice of Steffen. “Hold on there, mister. This is a party.”

Everyone turned to look at the hippie on stage, a trumpet in one hand and the mic in the other, the feathers in his hair, the beads in his beard, looking like some kind of ancient woodland king. He smiled to show that everything was alright. The crowd smiled back, knowing that if Steffen thought things were okay, they must be. Everyone but Tim and Isaac. Those two kept their eyes locked on one another as the flames cast shadows around them.

“Let’s talk about this,” continued Steffen, stepping off the low stage and beginning to walk to them. Steffen handed his trumpet to one of his band mates still on stage before he was too far away. The crowd parted for the long haired man. Cooper himself managed to get next to Isaac.

“Nothing to talk about,” said Isaac, his voice steady and the pistol unwavering. “He can come with me walking, or he can get shot and come with me.”

“What’s the charge, officer?” asked Steffen. His query elicited a laugh from the crowd.

“Murder.”

Suddenly, everyone was looking at Tim. Cooper could feel the gathered suddenly shift their collective sentiment from curious to borderline hostile. Death was a common factor in life, here and now, but taking a life outright with no cause or justification; that was still what many might call a mortal sin.

“He killed a shop owner in cold blood and then ran,” said Isaac. “I’m here to take him back to the family and let justice be done.”

“I didn’t murder no one,” said Tim emphatically.

“You shot Gary Mullens dead,” said Isaac.

“I did,” agreed Tim. He looked at the unsympathetic eyes of those around him. They were waiting to hear his reasoning. He searched for a friendly face and finding none, he took a heavy drag on the cigarette and blew out the smoke after a swallow of beer.

“I think we’re waiting to hear your side,” said Steffen, voicing the opinion of the crowd.

“I’m working up to it,” said Tim.

“Working up the lie?” asked someone.

Cooper could tell this might not go well for Tim.

“I done said I shot him,” protested Tim. “I just didn’t murder the man.”

“So—?” coaxed Steffen, walking up to the man. Steffen still held the cordless mike and he motioned to the people around them. “Here’s your chance to tell your side. This is your jury, right here, right now. Tell us what happened.”

Steffen held out the mic for Tim to speak. Tim eyed the mic, sized up Steffen to see how serious he might be, glanced at Isaac who was still holding the pistol, and then at the gathered people who were leaning in to watch in curiosity. He made his decision and with a final puff on the cigarette and draining the beer, he tossed both onto the ground and grabbed the mic. A woman cried out his name and Tim gave her a hard look. Cooper saw that she was thin and tired looking, dressed in ill-fitting men’s clothes, and clutching the shoulders of a young boy who appeared to be about to cry. Cooper could only assume this was Tim’s family.

“Well,” his voice boomed out, making everyone wince. Steffen leaned in and gave a few pointers about mic use and Tim nodded. “Well, I went to his place to get some things to tide us over, it’d been a tough year, and there wasn’t much food left to make it through.” He looked at the crowd. “I got a family, I got kids, we had to eat.” There was a murmur of agreement. “I don’t have much. I didn’t have much before all this happened. There was a job, but it made it week to week. We never had much to put back. I got by After doing odd jobs and kept food on the table, but things fall off, and then there was nothing. Just nothing.” The crowd was quiet in the space where Tim paused. He heaved out a sigh and began to speak again. “I went to Mullens and told him I was broke, told him I had nothing to trade, but I would work off what I could and get the difference somehow. He called me a lay about and told me to get. I told him I had a family. I told him that I needed to feed them. I told him I’d do anything.”

Tim paused again. “He told me I should kill myself and my family could eat the dogs that come to feed on my body.” People gasped, and Tim kept talking. “I got angry, I admit it. I called him a fucking piece of shit. I told him his family was all fucking rich assed scumbags, and they were that way Before and they would always be that way until they were taken down a notch in the world. He asked me if I thought I could take him down. I told him I could. He stepped around the counter and I hit the bastard. I hit him with everything I had. Knocked that bastard right down.” Tim looked satisfied at the memory of punching Mullens.

“Anyway, I was going to leave it at that. I turned to walk away and next thing I know, he’s all cussing and dragging his fat ass up off the ground. He runs around the counter and pulls out a pistol and yells that he’s going to kill me,” Tim explained. “I couldn’t let him kill me, I’ve got a family. I ducked down when he got off his first shot and I came back up with a can of food. I threw it at him, hit him and made him fall again, this time screaming. I ran up to him as he was getting that pistol up again. He points it at me and I’m right on top of him. I grab it and we fight, knocking shit everywhere and punching and trying to get the pistol where one of us can finish this thing and then, BOOM,” the amplified voice made the crowd jump, “he pulls the trigger and it goes off next to my head and I’m all deaf and mad and I get the thing away from him and I just shot him. I shot him three or four times. And then I’m standing there with the pistol and he’s dead, and his son is running in and telling everyone I murdered his father.”

Tim looked at the crowd. “I killed him. I admit that. I didn’t murder him. I was defending myself and we were fighting and I won.

“I didn’t murder no one.”

Steffen took the mic from Tim. The crowd was silent, but the tide had changed. Cooper could feel the emotions switch from thinly veiled suspicion to support. People were beginning to voice that “it was a fair fight,” and nodding as if they would have done the same thing. Steffen turned to Isaac. “There you go, sounds like a fair fight to me,” he motioned to the crowd. “Right? A fair fight?”

Isaac could tell the mood of the crowd had shifted with the pronouncement of Steffen. There was a lakeside cabin in the woods on the line for Isaac, however. He remained with the pistol pointed at Tim.

“He can tell that to the people back in Pearson. I got a job to do.”

“You think I’ll get a fair shake back there?” demanded Tim. “Why do you think I ran? Mullens still own half the town.”

“I can only do my part,” said Isaac, stepping forward. Tim crouched down and while Cooper did not see a weapon, he was sure that the man was willing to do what he must to survive. There were many innocent people who could get hurt if they two started shooting at each other. Isaac motioned Steffen aside with a wave of the 1911. The crowd growled and Cooper could tell that people were going to be shot if something was not done. Without thinking about his actions, Cooper stepped between the two men, holding out his hands to stop the two of them from taking it all to the next step.

“Wait,” said Cooper. “Just hold on.”

The two stopped.

“Tim, do you have your driver’s license on you?” asked Cooper.

Tim straightened. “What?”

“Your driver’s license, do you have it?”

“Yes, but—.”

“Shut up and give it to me.”

Curiosity at the request won out over his fear and anger. Tim slowly freed a battered wallet from his back pocket and flipped it open. Old papers fluttered to the ground as he dug out his license. He watched the paper fall and then glanced around him. “I’ve been meaning to clean to clean it out….”

People laughed at that, and it helped relieve some of the tension. Tim held out the license but he was too far away from Cooper for him to take it, and was unwilling to step closer. Cooper himself did not want to collapse the buffer he had created by stepping between the two. Steffen solved the problem by taking the license and walking it over to Cooper. Everyone watched to see just how the license would solve the problem.

Turning to Isaac, Cooper held out the license to the man.

“What the hell am I supposed to do with this?” asked Isaac.

“You got your man.”

Isaac stared at him as if he had lost his mind.

“You got your man,” repeated Cooper. “You found him. You have proof.”

Realization of what Cooper was driving at spread across Isaac’s face. “I guess I did.”

“You don’t have to kill him, not really. You found him. You got your man.”

Isaac looked relieved. “Tim Lewis is dead.”

“He’s dead,” agreed Cooper. Cooper turned back to Tim. “Who are you?”

“I’m not Tim fucking Lewis, if that’s what it takes,” said the man who was once known as Tim.

Cooper looked at the people who were his neighbors. “Anybody here know a Tim Lewis?”

The negative response was loud and clear.

“He’s dead,” someone shouted.

Isaac holstered the 1911 and took the plastic square of the past and held it for a moment. He slipped it into the pocket of his vest. Cooper let out a pent up breath.

“What now?” asked not-Tim.

Steffen laughed. “Now, we shake hands and have a drink.”

There was noticeable hesitation on both men’s part. Cooper grabbed Isaac and Steffen laid hold of not-Tim and they pulled the two together.

“Gimme your flask,” said Cooper.

Isaac shook his head and freed the flask, unstopping it and took a swing. He handed it to not-Tim who also took a swig. The two men nodded and shook hands. Isaac laughed and raised the flask again. The woman and the boy ran to not-Tim and she threw her arms around him and began to cry. Not-Tim lead them away into the crowd who began to breathe and laugh and smile again. The band took up High Time, by Waylon Jennings, and the little thing that had been dancing with Cooper ran up and grabbed him around the waist and managed to kiss him on the mouth.

“That was impressive,” she breathed. Cooper felt more than a little stir.

“Yes it was,” came Jessica’s voice. The woman let go of Cooper. “It’s just dancing, girl, he’s coming to bed with me.”

Cooper gave the girl a shrug. She returned it and moved off with her hips swinging. Jessica stood beside him and put an arm around him. “You can watch.”

So he did.

Isaac passed the flask to Cooper. He drank it and let the night do what the night did.

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Re: Cooper; new stuff added.

Post by doc66 » Sat Jul 04, 2015 8:10 am

He was hung over.

Cooper sat on the edge of the cart and drank the white pine tea and wished that he had a cup of coffee. They had coffee—up at the cabin—but in the planning and packing to come down to the market to get away, the coffee had not made it into the mix. It was probably just as well, coffee was something that would have had dozens of people coming to the cart and wondering just how much Cooper had to trade. He was in no mood to tell people he wasn’t trading his coffee. He blearily cast around the cart, trying to judge the damage from the party. There were people sleeping on the ground. There were bottles laying around, and there was still smoke in the air from last night’s fires. He saw Steffen picking his way over to the cart, carrying a mug of his own and nodding to those who were stirring. Cooper gave Steffen a greeting while Jessica busied with the oatmeal for breakfast, even though it was closer to noon. Cooper doubted that he could eat.

“Hey, Steffen,” said Jessica. “You hungry?”

“Nooo,” said Steffen. The power had run out soon after the confrontation mediated by Cooper and Steffen, but that hadn’t stopped the band, or the town, from carrying on into the wee hours of the morning. It seemed that the booze had just never run out.

Jessica laughed. Other than the children who had not managed to drink from someone’s cup while they were not looking, Jessica might have been the only person not nursing a hangover. Steffen sat down on the cart with Cooper. He tossed a couple packets into Cooper’s lap.

“Here you go.”

Cooper cast a bleary eye at the packages. They were guitar strings.

“Ah. What do you want for them?”

“I figure you earned them last night when you kept not-Tim from being killed.”

He was not-Tim all over town now. It wasn’t the best alias, but it would work for the time being.

“Thanks, but—.”

“Nothing,” reiterated Steffen. Cooper said thanks again. “You sure this el Jefe can use more help on his ranch? Not-Tim and his wife are pretty excited.”

“There’s always something to do up there,” assured Cooper, knowing that once el Jefe heard the tale, he would find something for Not-Tim, even if it was to send him to the next farm and working out a deal with that landowner. As long as the man worked hard for el Jefe, there would be a place for him.

They both looked up at the sound of a horse. Two horses. Isaac was riding up and there was another horse following, a tan Palomino with white stockings and a black nose. Seated on that horse was the girl who had been dancing with Cooper. There were bulging saddle bags and sacks lashed to the saddle. For a moment, he felt a pang of jealousy; she looked as good in the morning as she had the night before. Isaac leaned over in the saddle and smiled at them.

“Gentlemen,” he said, and looked back at the woman on the horse. She smiled and nodded to them as well. She was dressed in tight jeans and boots and a men’s shirt and her hair was pulled back under a ball cap. “You all know Dixie.”

“Hey,” she said, looking content.

“Not as well as I could have,” muttered Cooper. Jessica shot him a look, but simply shook her head. Steffen laughed.

“I’m off,” said Isaac. He patted the pocket of his vest. “I’ve got a lakeside cabin in the woods to claim. You all ever to toward Pearson, you look me up. You’ve got a place to stay with us.”

“Sure thing,” assured Cooper. “If you get this way, come up the mountain next time.”

He nodded and said goodbye to Jessica and Steffen. Cooper waved and Dixie blew him a kiss. The two rode off through the scattered mess that had been a party and disappeared down the road. Steffen stood to go.

“It was a pleasure, Cooper,” he said. “You keep up the good work as playing peace keeper; you’re good at it.”

“I’m done for a while,” said Cooper. “I’m going to go hide on my mountain.”

“I hope we get through here again,” said Steffen, looking out over the mountain valley and the small town it contained. “If we do, we’ll have to strum the guitar together.”

“I have strings now,” smiled Cooper, holding up the packages.

Steffen bade Jessica goodbye and was gone. Cooper stood up and walked over to Jessica.

‘You ready to blow this place?”

“Don’t you want breakfast?”

Cooper indicated the family of Not-Tim walking toward them carrying the few possessions they had in a old backpacks and cloth bags. Refuges no longer. They looked excited and scared and ready. “Feed it to them.”

She smiled. “I love you.”

“I love you,” he said. He went out to greet Not-Tim.
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Re: Cooper; new stuff added.

Post by idahobob » Sat Jul 04, 2015 9:42 am

Nice, very nice. :clap: :clap:

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Re: Cooper; new stuff added.

Post by bodyparts » Sat Jul 04, 2015 3:57 pm

thanks for the moar doc !! great stuff as always !!

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Re: Cooper; new stuff added.

Post by 91Eunozs » Sun Jul 05, 2015 1:46 pm

:clap:

Great addition to this worthy tale. Thanks!
Molon Latte...come & take our coffee order
Doctorr Fabulous wrote:... It's fun to play pretend, but this is the internet, and it's time to be serious.
zengunfighter wrote:... you don't want to blow a tranny in the middle of a pursuit...
woodsghost wrote:... A defensive gun without training is basically a talisman. It might ward off evil, but I wouldn't count on it.

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Re: Cooper; new stuff added.

Post by jackorchuck » Mon Jul 06, 2015 2:37 am

Enjoyed the story Doc, great writing, thank you.

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Re: Cooper; new stuff added.

Post by naanders94gt » Wed Jul 08, 2015 2:33 pm

Very much enjoyed this story. Still very curious about the cause of the paw, but I will patiently cross my fingers in hopes of seeing another installment. Thanks for posting.

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Re: Cooper; new stuff added.

Post by doc66 » Wed Jul 08, 2015 11:12 pm

naanders94gt wrote:Very much enjoyed this story. Still very curious about the cause of the paw, but I will patiently cross my fingers in hopes of seeing another installment. Thanks for posting.
You and me both. :crazy:

This story might not have an answer that I can give you. It's like Jack Roy in that the cause isn't as important as the survival--to the characters. With Jack Roy you get the feeling that the cause was an epidemic, and everything just stopped when more people were sick than were left to run things. Then those who were sick, but not dying became something other than human. With Cooper, I've not been able to come up with a definable reason in the writing, other than things just ground to a halt, but it's not clear to me yet as the writer, so I''m defining it as I write these for you all.

One of my favorite movies about the End is Goodbye World. I like the simple collapse of everything idea We still exist, but not the way we used to. I might write something that explores what happened, but it will really depend on the characters telling me the story that way. I don't know that Cooper, David, Jennifer and Leticia and Sanjana can tell us what really happened, so they don't worry about it, thus neither do I as their story teller.

I realize that it sounds like a cop out, and I don't mean it too, I just haven't been living in this world long enough to find out that answer. It may happen, it may not, but if it does, you'll know about it with me.

Thanks for reading, I'm really enjoying this writing, I realize I have other things hanging out there, but Cooper and Jennifer have been half-assed on (real) paper for a while and one day a couple weeks ago they just took over and I wrote most of this stuff in a few days and have been fleshing it all out since. I've still got at least three other sections to write, there's no discernible End for the stories, they just keep happening. We'll see how long this goes.

Thanks again for staying patience with the other stories.
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Re: Cooper; new stuff added.

Post by complex57 » Sun Jul 12, 2015 3:17 pm

This story continues to impress.

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Re: Cooper; new stuff added.

Post by naanders94gt » Tue Jul 14, 2015 12:18 pm

I dont think it sounds like a cop out. Ik glad you took the time to think it through. Just blaming it on zombies sometimes feels like a cop out. Thanks again!

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Re: Cooper; new stuff added.

Post by doc66 » Tue Jul 14, 2015 9:11 pm

Another short. I listed a bunch of items in this one, more for my own edification, than to advance the story, I included the list in story form because some folks like it, others don't. If I were to rewrite it I'd probably skip over all of that. I also am trying to work into developing glimpses of other communities and what Cooper and Company might encounter. I don't know that this is a part that will thrill, but it does help develop more story line for the future...

HOUSE



They had been on the road for a total of three days, something that neither of them had anticipated, but there had been a bridge out, and then the road had been washed away by a mudslide sometime in the past, then after that, they had taken a couple wrong turns and almost thought they were going to have to shoot their way out of a cul-de-sac. Thankfully, the only thing they did was hang the barrels of their rifles out the windows and backed out of the bunkered neighborhood while being carefully watched by the residents who stared at them with narrowed eyes and tight mouths from behind bushy beards and long hair. They reminded Cooper of the Hollywood depiction of hill people—so in this case, the movies had gotten something right. Once out of danger, David had looked at Cooper and said, “We either need a third person riding with us on these little adventures, or we need better, faster shooting rifles, preferably both.”

The rifles they carried were a bolt action hunting rifle that Cooper used to harvest deer back before everything just stopped working, and David’s Mini-14 which he had acquired recently. The .30-30 which he had picked up on his escape from the city where he had lived until it just got so bad he felt he had to get out and to Cooper cabin—a two week bicycle ride through treacherous territory controlled by street gangs in some places, community strongholds in others, and a mishmash of pseudo governments in the rest—was now in the hands of Sanjana, the young woman who had been rescued from the same place. There were a lot of strange happenings now that there was nothing to stop people from being stupid; the pseudo government of the valley was what Cooper and David had dealt with on their trip to try and find a market for El Jefe’s bumper crop of corn. The old man had put the word out through the Tinkers—people who roamed the struggling communities with trade goods and news—and the response had come back that a town on the other side of the mountain wanted to talk trade. El Jefe had asked them to run over to the town as a favor—providing them with full tanks of fuel; enough to get there and back and more when the job was done, he promised—since he believed that their white faces might go over better than his or a family members Hispanic features.

He probably could have save all of them the trip by just keeping the corn.

The mayor—a woman in her forties who at one time in her life had brokered multi-million dollar sales—had driven a hard bargain on what she wanted to buy the corn with, but they had all settled on trade that would satisfy the old Mexican and the woman who still lived in her fifteen room country house with the remnants of her office employees. The thirty people living there all worked the property, harvesting the once-hobby vineyard and growing what they could with the limited skills they possessed. Cooper and David were surprised that the little community had made it as long as they had. She was also now the mayor of the town at the end of her once perfectly paved driveway. Those left in the town had elected her more out of desperation than any real faith in her abilities. She quickly positioned several yes-men into the town council and proceeded to make her own little fiefdom in the mountain valley. At the moment she was struggling with the police chief and his four officers and the town’s volunteer fire chief. The influx of the corn in the form of grain, flour, meal, and seed she hoped would stay a coup attempt and keep the wolves in her own government at bay until she could solidify her position. Things were nasty and Cooper and David woke the next morning to find a note thrown into the bed of the truck where they were sleeping under the tarp they kept there. They found the note easily as it had been lobbed stuffed inside one of the holes in a brick. The threat it contained was graphic and to the point.

Cooper and David had gotten out of town as soon as they possibly could. They left the deal for the bumper crop and the grain on the table where it had been set before them. They told the mayor to send word through the Tinkers when she got things ironed out.

They now believed that they were being followed by the gasified flatbed truck the police used. They probably wanted to be sure that Cooper and David were well on the way, but just in case they had decided to pull off in a secluded place to wait out the afternoon and night to give the police time to lose interest in them. To that end they took a couple side roads and when they no longer could see the police behind them and spotted an overgrown entrance to what looked like a large house set back in the woods. Cooper and David eased the old Dodge up to the gated entrance. Looking at the overgrown pillars, the vines entwining into the fence and the rust on the hinges, Cooper sighed and cast a glance at David.

“What do you think?”

“I think that it’s going to get dark, that we’ve been stressed from watching our backs too long, and that there’s nothing beyond that gate.”

“I agree.” Cooper returned his gaze to the gate. “That would mean that it might be a place we can hole up until the morning.”

“A gate protecting what?”

“A mansion. A big house with a four car garage and a wine cellar.”

“Around here, everyone has a wine cellar. I have a wine cellar.”

“Do you have wine in it?”

The question made Cooper pause. He had maybe four or five bottles left of Before wine. They liked to drink wine, pre-stupidity, and had even managed to stock a small but decent selection by buying here than there when they could. But now, he and Jessica had simply not felt that wine was worth the cost of trade. El Jefe made corn beer, and Cooper hated to admit that he was getting used to it. Free wine, on the other hand—. “Open the gate.”

“That’s what I’m talking about.” David eased open the door of the idling Dodge and after a moment of checking the tree line from behind the sight picture of the rifle, he walked to the gate and gave it an experimental push. Feeling the gate give and then hesitate, David pushed harder on the wrought iron. The sound of the rusty hinges cut above the deep thump of the diesel and made the birds nearby chatter and take flight. Cooper watched them lift into the air and hoped that no one was watching the skies at that moment. Or within hearing distance.

David pushed the protesting barrier wide enough for Cooper to drive the truck through and then closed it once the tail gate cleared. After a moment of standing at the gate and listening while looking to be sure that to the casual observer the gate did not look disturbed, David returned to the truck and climbed in.

“Shall we?”

“Indeed.”

Branches of once well-tended bushes scraped against the side of the truck. David and Cooper leaned away from the open windows and flinched away from the slapping and scraping, the path before them cast in the shadows of the old trees whose branches blocked the sunlight, giving the drive a green glow. The pathway appeared to get narrower, closing in on the truck with the trees seeming to reach into the cab. David pushed at the masses of leaves and grumbled that they should have rolled up the windows before venturing down the driveway. Cooper bit back his retort because they were suddenly clear of the tunnel and looking out over a large expanse of lawn. The grass had gone to seed several times over, growing long and lush with saplings sprouting tall among the wild flowers. Beyond the lawn, a large house rose among bushes grown out of control around windows and vines ran up the stone walls.

“Looks promising,” said Cooper instead of the retort had had been about to say.

“Looks like a nice little country cabin for the rich and famous,” agreed David. “I wonder when the last time anyone was home?”

“Hard to tell.” Cooper let the truck pull itself down the drive. “Do we have a plan?”

“Let’s find the garage and see if there’s an open door, or look for a key under the mat.”

“As good a plan as any I can think of.”

“It’s not a good plan,” said David.

“I know.” Cooper kept the truck headed to the house.

There was no reason to try and be stealthy or practice any form of tactical approach; if the noise of the truck had not alerted anyone, or the sound of the truck crashing through the over grown trees, than the possible occupants of the building deserved whatever might befall them. Cooper stopped at the front of the building and both men took in the wide, covered porch surrounding three sides of the house. Ivy had taken over much of the railing and used the roof columns as trellis to start its path over the roof. Bushes grew out of control along the base of the porch. Cooper imagined that at one time, the shaggy branches had been manicured and the knee high grass had been golf course trim. While the truck sat cooling and the engine ticked away the heat, the two stepped out of the cab and dragged their respective rifles with them.

“What do you think?” asked Cooper.

“As your attorney, I think you should walk up to the front door and see if it’s open.”

Cooper gave the other man a snorting laugh as he flashed momentarily to the movie referenced. “I think we should both go up to the door.”

“Fair enough.”

Together they walked up to the front door. Of course the way they did so was more akin to a raid people who had only seen assaults on front door on TV, but the intervening couple of years since there had been a TV to watch and the following of actually doing it had honed their weird approach to the front door. Cooper used his .38 revolver instead of the rifle—although he took his rifle with him, sling over his back—because at least he had six rounds on hand instead of having to work the bolt for each of the five rounds in the rifle. David used his lever action.

They stopped at the door, both on the same side of the door and took a moment to assess the barrier. It was difficult to know if the locks on the door were engaged. There was a dead bolt, and the lock on the door, there could also possibly be some kind of chain or even a stop bar. After a moment of peering at the glass on either side, the two men nodded to each other they had seen nothing but dark walls and shadowy furniture. Cooper took a deep breath and tried the door knob.

It did not move.

They both stood up, realizing that they were in a crouch.

“Back door?” asked David.

“We drove back here, might as well.”

“Wait,” David stopped and bent down to lift the rotting welcome mat up. He dropped it back down and shook his head.

Cooper followed his lead and began to look in the obvious spots for a key. Under the planters. On top of the door sill. They joked about and looked for a fake rock or a stone gnome or animal that might have a key box in it. They found none of those things.

Stepping off the porch into the tall grass, Cooper and David walked around the house to where the four car garage and breeze way attached the garage to the house. They tried to peer in windows as they walked around, and it appeared that the house—while well appointed—was empty, from the amount of dust that could be seen on everything within sight. When they reached the breezeway, they could see through the screen walls that beyond the house was a large pond or small lake—depending on how one defined each—edged by a tall, dark forest. The sunlight reflected off the water making them squint against the mirrored light. David pushed on the screen door and it creaked open.

“Ready for the second pitch?” he asked.

“What?”

“Baseball, man, the first pitch was the front door, we struck out, this is the second pitch; do we strike or get a base hit?”

“Oh,” nodded Cooper following him. “Now, is this the start of a game, or did the game actually start when we left home? We’ve had a lot of strike outs and no runs.”

“This is an inning,” said David. “We need to get a hit in this inning to stay alive.” He thought about it for a second as Cooper gave him an out of character look. “Bad choice of words. We need a hit to make this game worthwhile. I’d hate to go home with a total loss in this series.”

Cooper agreed. “What are you hoping to find?”

David shrugged as they reached the back door. “I don’t know. From the looks of this place? Enameled cast iron cookware, that expensive stuff—“

“—LeCruset—“

“Yeah. Good knives, socks. Who knows?”

Cooper reached for the door as he began to answer David, and was surprised to find that the door was unlocked. “Well, I think that we just had a base hit.”

He pushed the door open and brought up the revolver. David shouldered the Mini and thanked the fates the rifle was short in length since he seemed to use it frequently to clear empty buildings these days. David went first since the longer barrel of the carbine was hard to move around Cooper, but the four inch Taurus easily swing around David. David had a Smith and Wesson M&P 9mm on his side as well, but he liked the carbine better. The door opened into a mudroom with a laundry. Coats and suspender wading boots and Carhart overalls and rain gear hung from the hooks on the wall. Boots and shoes lined the floor on a rubber mat. A bookshelf with cleaning supplies and detergents was near the washer and drier. David and Cooper paused to inspect a couple of the coats.

“These are coming along,” informed Cooper. “These are Duluth coats. And this one is in Jessica’s size.”

“No shit?” said David. “I’ll bet those Red Wing boots will fit me, too.”

“This is better than a base hit,” Cooper grinned at David.

“Let’s see if we can find my cast iron.”

Going to the door way, Cooper peeked around both corners. “Short hallway, room at the left, kitchen at the right. Kitchen first?”

“Sounds good.”

David stood post at the doorway with the rifle pointed at the back room while Cooper slipped up to the kitchen. He cleared it quickly since it could be seen from the dust layering the counters that the house had been empty for some time. He called the all clear to David who sauntered into the kitchen with the rifle held in one hand.

“Dude, this place is empty.”

“I know. But let’s clear it anyway.” Cooper made a motion at the rest of the house. “We can do a quick walk through. It can’t hurt to know what else is here.”

David agreed and they started through the house, stepping into rooms and looking in closets and calling out finds to each other. The house was probably a summer and weekend home for a wealthy family. The clothing that they found appeared to be simply odds and ends left behind during various stays from the range of sizes and styles. In one of the rooms, Cooper found a pistol safe attached to the underside of a bedside table. In the drawer were loaded magazines for a .40 caliber Glock. Cooper and David turned the table over and inspected the safe.

“It’s one of those touch combination safes,” observed Cooper. “The combination could be anything.”

David pointed to a traditional lock. “It’s got a key, I’ll bet that here in the drawer too or on the dresser.”

Cooper dumped the drawer on the bed. They pawed through the clutter until David held up a key. Both men bent over the safe as David put the key in and lifted the lid. Inside was a Glock pistol. David pulled it out and freed the magazine from the pistol, clearing the chamber with a hard rack on the slide as well. A round flipped out of the pistol and Cooper managed to catch it before it hit the ground. David read the stamping on the side of the slide.

“Glock 23,” he said.

Cooper handed his friend the magazines and the round that had ejected from the chamber. “Home run, buddy.”

“You don’t want it? You found the safe.”

“I need a real easy loading pistol,” decided Cooper. “So yeah. But who knows? We might find more guns. This is America; where there’s one, there’s probably five.”

Both men laughed. David reloaded the pistol and gave it to Cooper. After a second of trying to decide where to carry the pistol, put it in his back pocket for the moment as an impromptu holster. He pocketed the magazines that he had found. As much as he wanted to use the Glock right away, he also wanted to shoot it first to get used to the thing. He then stripped off a pillow case from the king sized bed.

“Let’s just grab stuff in these. I don’t know about you, but I’m not going to take the time to go through everything, even if we’re staying here tonight.”

David got his own pillow case and they continued the search, stuffing the pillow cases with socks, shirts—any clothing that might fit them or someone they knew—filling several cases and dropping them over the bannister to the main floor where the kitchen was. They grabbed up soap and toiletries when they found them until David found a linen closet stocked with everything. After much debate, they decided to go ahead and empty the closet of everything. Taking a sheets off one of the beds, they started to fill the center of the doubled sheets with toiletries tying the ends together and dropping them over the rail as well. By the time they were done upstairs, they had a large pile on the floor below. Cooper and David leaned on the rail and stared at the lumps below.

“I thought we weren’t going to loot.”

“I guess we changed our minds.”

“Let’s check the rest of the house before we fill the bed of the truck with laundry.”

They headed down the stairs. The piled booty from the second floor was left where it had fallen as they gave up all pretense of clearing the house and instead went to the kitchen and began to explore the cupboards. There was not much in the way of food, and that lead credence to the summation that the house was a part time residence. The few things there were they pulled from the shelves and left on the counter to be taken with them. If they themselves did not want it, it could always be traded down the road. They knives were expensive and the cookware—while not LeCruset—were enameled cast iron as well as a set of Calphalon. They took them all with some other odds and ends of items which were getting hard to find; grater, can openers, measuring cups, pastry cutter, all things that once could be bought at the corner store and now seemed to have disappeared from the face of the earth. David would be the recipient of most of that since he had finished his A frame loft cabin and needed some basic things to make it livable.

Finally, they went into the last room.

On opening the door, it was dark in the room, with shafts of light seeping through heavy curtains. The entire downstairs had been like this, causing Cooper and David to head straight to the windows to throw open the drapes. Cooper had commented they should take a few of the heavy drapes for their own homes to aid in winter insulation. David had already selected a set of heavy oriental looking drapes to adorn the walls of his cabin so he could break up the dull, log interior. He was even considering adding several of the rugs to the pile. Cooper even found one that would make Jessica happy and mused that they were going to look like the Beverly Hillbillies if they continued to gather furnishings. David had replied if they were going to go that route, there was a couch and a chair he wanted to lay claim to. And one of the beds; he was tired of sleeping on a foam mat on the floor.

When they threw open the curtains to let the light stream in, they were pleasantly astonished to find that the view through the windows was of the small lake, looking blue and gold in the evening sun. Both men stood at the windows for a long moment, admiring the view of nature beyond the windows.

“We forget to look, sometimes,” said Cooper.

After another long moment gazing at the lake, they turned to find themselves in what could only be called a Man Cave.

Heads were mounted on the walls, full body mounts lines shelf around the top of the wall; birds, fox, raccoons, a lynx, all peered down or across the room, depending on the pose. Heavily antlered deer, big racked elk, pointed antelope, fish, all hung on the wall. A full body mount of a cougar stood over the skin of a bear on the floor. The rustic couch and chairs were all leather and dark wood and racked along one wall behind glass that had worthless alarm tape around the edges were firearms. Below the glassed wall were rows of drawers. Cooper and David walked over to the wall and stared at the weapons.

“We just won the series,” said David.

Cooper laughed. “Only if there’s ammo for these things.”

They perused the wall and compared their finds on the types of rifles. Most were sporting rifles of bolt action lineage and shotguns there was a section holding a few pistols as well.

“Hard core hunter,” noted David. He pointed to one of the rifles. “That’s a muzzle loader.” He whistled. “Look at this AK. We could use this for sure. You need this.”

“And if they have no ammo, they’re all worthless.”

David tried a drawer. It was locked. He cast about for something like a key, or perhaps to pry with. He found a fireplace poker and pried open the drawer. “Ammo. Magazines.”

Cooper told David to wait there and went back out to the truck. He did a quick scan of the area to be sure that no one had come down the drive while they had been exploring the interior of the house, listening for sounds which did not seem to belong in with the nature noises. He heard nothing he imagined sounded out of place and then jumped into the cab. The engine was loud after the silence of the house. Cooper let the diesel rattle a moment then drove it around closer to the door they had found open. It would be easier to load the bed up if they did not have to walk so far. He grabbed a crow bar and a flat bar from the tool box in the bed of the truck. He went back inside and he and David began to pry open the glass doors and drawers beneath them. When they were finished, they looked at the haul.



Lined up on the floor with the ammo and magazines—if the weapon took them—was the muzzleloader; a Thompson Center with a camo stock. There was a plastic bottle of Triple Seven pellets and .50 caliber sabots for the thing. After that was a Remington Model 700ADL in .30-06; five ammo boxes were found but only a total of 56 round total. Next up was Remington Model 788 in .22-250; that one had only 22 rounds in three boxes, but Cooper had ten more for a .22-250 at home. There was a Remington M700SPS stainless with a camo stock in .308; there were close to 100 rounds of .308, which made Cooper giddy since he also had the .308 rifle he was carrying and he had shot most of his ammo for it a while ago without being able to resupply. Of the shotguns was a basic 12 gauge Maverick 88—a strange choice since the other shotguns were much higher in price range, but David pointed out that it could have just been a beater—a Ruger Red Label in 12 gauge, a Remington SPR side by side in 12 gauge, and last a Remington 1100 in 12 gauge—and over 500 rounds of field loads for the shotguns. They had to laugh at the two boxes of 00 buckshot; the owner must have believed that having shotguns without some buckshot lying around was sacrilege. Of the handguns there was a Ruger New Model Single Six .22; with it came an unopened box of 500 round count Stingers, a couple boxes of Winchester White Box, and a plastic sleeve of 100 Remington Hollow points. The strange pistol was a FEG MOD GKK .45. Neither of them had seen one of these before and with it came two magazines. It was in a generic Uncle Mikes nylon holster, heavy and rough looking there were two boxes of .45 hardball for the thing. Beside the .45 was a Beretta M92 stainless. Four magazines were laid out with the Beretta, and three boxes of Winchester White Box along with enough Speer Gold Dots to fill the magazines. Looking huge and beefy and mean was Ruger Super Redhawk in .44 magnum with a Leupold 1-4 HOG scope. Two boxes of heavy hunting loads were laid out beside the behemoth—probably all anyone would ever need with a .44 magnum. There was a Glock box with the two 13 round magazines in it—the three upstairs with the pistol had been full sized 15 round magazines—and five boxes of FMJ ammo with five more boxes of Gold Dot. Cooper picked up the Blackhawk paddle holster and gave the Glock a home right away at his side, shifting his western gunbelt around so that the .38 was crossdraw and the Glock was at his side. Finally there was a Yugo M59/66 SK and an Arsenal AK. The Yugo was in 7.62x39 and beside it was an unopened SPAM can with 700 rounds. There was a big bag of stripper clips with it as well. The AK was very nice; it had four magazines in a rubberized pouch—plus the one in the rifle—a fancy sling, and the bayonet, which they would never use. The odd thing was the two ammo cans of 5.56 ammo, one had been opened; the other was still plastic sealed inside the can. They guessed there were still close to 700 or more rounds total. There was no rifle that fit the rounds they could find anywhere in the house; but David could use the rounds in his Mini. He had empty magazines for the rifle at home, waiting to be filled.

“This is a fucking haul,” breathed David. “We need to find cases for these, or wrap them in something.”

“So we’re taking them all?” laughed Cooper.

“Damn straight.” He looked at the fading sun out the window. “Another night away from home. I say we bring all the crap out onto the screened porch since it’s freaking hot in here and I don’t want to sleep inside this house, but I want to be out of the bugs.”

“We can spend the evening going through what we will really use,” suggested Cooper.

“Other than all of it?”

Cooper laughed. “Yes. But I am going to load up that AK right now; if you don’t care, I’m laying claim to that thing.”

“Have at it,” said David. “I like my Mini. Claim that SKS too, you can give it to Jessica.”

“What about the other rifles and stuff?”

David began to dig in the closet in the man cave and pulled out hard rifle cases from the interior of the crowded space. “We can give Leticia and Sanjana first pick, trade the others we don’t want to el Jefe or other people on our road.”

Taking the cases to the guns, Cooper began to pack them. “I guess we should grab a shotgun or two out of all this. We’re really limited on our small game hunting resources.”

“When would we have time to hunt small game?” asked David. “Besides, Johnson from down the road raises rabbits; el Jefe has the meat hens, and the only thing we even pretend to hunt in the small game department is turkey, wild boar, coyotes and feral cats and dogs and the occasional raccoon or possum. While I’ll eat the first two, the others are on my not-so-likely list. Besides you have a shotgun.”

“A single barrel 20 gauge I bought for $40.”

“It’s a shotgun,” said David.

Cooper closed the case he had packed and picked up the next one. “I want one of the doubles.”

“If you want it, take it.”

“Maybe we should keep our options open and keep all of the guns?”

David stopped digging in the closet. “If you want, I don’t care.”

“Let’s cross that bridge when we get there,” decided Cooper, closing the case on the SPS. David dragged over the last of the hard cases and the soft cases he found.

“Sounds good; we’ve got to get him first.”

Cooper grabbed up the AK magazines and began to load them up. While he was at it, he loaded the other two Glock magazines as well; there was a double magpouch with the mess and Cooper attached those to the gunbelt as well, sticking the 15 round magazines in the pouches. David smiled at his friend.

“You look like a post-apocalyptic bandit with all those guns and that beard,” he mused. “Too bad we don’t have camera’s any more, I’d take a picture for posterities sake and show it to your kids when the world is back to some semblance of normal.”

“You think that will happen?”

“No,” responded David honestly. “Not in our lifetime.”

They stared at the pile of gun stuff.

“Let’s load up the truck while we have light” said Cooper.

David grabbed an armful of guns and gear as well and they carried everything to the truck.
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Re: Cooper; new stuff added.

Post by doc66 » Tue Jul 14, 2015 9:14 pm

Cooper and David woke the next morning on the screened porch to the sounds of the birds chirping, the chittering of some other animal and the sound of a gasified engine working along the road outside of the lane to the house where they had been sleeping. It took a long moment for Cooper to decide what the sound was, but when the noise registered, he reached out and shook David awake as well.

“They didn’t give up, apparently,” said Cooper.

“Who?”

“The police and firemen,” said Cooper, kicking off the sheet he had used to cover himself while he had slept. He needed to pee, but that might have to wait. He stomped into his boots then slipped the paddle holstered Glock and the double mag pouch into the waist band of his jeans. The .38 was packed with the rest of the firearms in the truck. They had fired a couple rounds through the .40 and the AK last night, just a few rounds so that Cooper had a feel for the weapons. He could easily hit a milk jug with either at 25 yards, and the AK they shot out to more than 100 yards before the sun was completely gone. They had thought there was no one else around to hear them; but that might have been premature with the sound of the truck now on the road. The AK was leaned against the porch couch he had been sleeping on, and Cooper picked it up and slung it over his shoulder before grabbing his backpack and shoving his few possessions he had brought into the pack.

“Damn it, I wanted that couch and chair,” expressed David, the disappointment evident in his voice as he struggled into his own boots. “And the goddamn bed.”

They had gone through everything they had looted out of the house during their evening and packed what they wanted in the truck, leaving a pile of nonessential items aside. Everything else was in the truck, packed in boxes and cloth bags and whatever else they could find. Those things which had been picked through and decided to keep, they had managed to load the night before. Cooper had humored his friend by agreeing that they could take the couch and chair—and the bed, providing they had room to lash it down—if they could load it in the morning, to which David had agreed.

“I know.”

Cooper and David stood and listened to the sound of the engine fade.

“Maybe we have time?” pondered David hopefully.

Sighing, Cooper agreed. “If we don’t fuck around.”

They headed inside to where the couch—an expensive futon—and the leather recliner, were already sitting in the small den on the ground floor. With a nod, they picked up the chair and practically ran through the house with the thing, banging into walls and corners without regard to the damage they were doing to the surfaces. The chair was unceremoniously dropped over the side of the bed barely in the back before they ran back into the house. They struggled for a moment with the mattress and managed to get it through the house and tossed on the piles of stuff they had taken from the interior before they ran back inside to get the frame of the futon. If they had time, they would have disassembled the frame, but with the police and fire wandering the road, they banged it through the house and tossed it on the mattress. Cooper grabbed some line and began to tie the furniture down.

“How about the mattress and box spring at least, we don’t have to take the bedframe?” begged David.

“Damn it,” Cooper said to him as he edged back to the house.

“It’s a memory foam—.”

“Fine.”

Another run into the house. They wrestled with the queen sized mattress down the stairs, and through the house. So far, they had knocked over every end table, every lamp near the doors, torn pictures off the walls on their way through, and shattered two vases which were probably worth more than the truck they were driving in Before dollars. Sheets and all, the mattress was tossed on top of everything already crammed into the bed and then they began to tie down the mattress over everything after draping the ragged and stained tarp over the whole pile. While they were tying the lines, they heard the pop pop of the gasified motor. Both men stopped what they were doing to listen.

It was getting close again.

They finished the tying and jumped toward the cab and yanked open the doors. Cooper put his hand up for David to stop and they both cocked their heads to listen again.

“They’re coming down the lane,” said Cooper.

David climbed into the driver’s seat and started to turn the ignition. Cooper stopped him from turning it all the way on.

“Just let the plugs warm up.”

“This thing isn’t a race car, Cooper,” protested David. “We got to let it idle or we’re as good as dead in the road.”

“I know, but let’s wait until the last minute,” urged Cooper.

“Why?”

“So we don’t have them charging in here right away. If we wait, maybe they won’t hear us over the sound of their own motor and that steam engine they have rigged up.”

“It’s not a steam engine.”

“You know what I mean.”

From the lane came the sound that was a cross between the roar of a jet and the rattle of a diesel engine.

“Start the truck,” said Cooper. David twisted the ignition and the diesel rattled and roared to life. It puffed black smoke and chugged through the exhaust until it was as close to purring as the old engine would get. “When you see the front of their truck, drive. Get around them and go as fast as you can. We can out run that thing.”

David gripped the steering wheel and they waited. Cooper made sure that the AK was ready to fire if needed. The noise of the gasified engine reverberated to them as the truck cleared the lane and sounded like it came to a stop. David eased their own truck out until he could see the flatbed stopped just at the front door. There were two men carrying rifles slowly walking toward the large porch. Another man was in the bed where a tower burner and a compression tank were bolted. From the tower came a small cloud of smoke. Cooper could not see into the cab, but had to assume that there was at least the driver there and perhaps another riding shotgun. David punched the gas and the diesel growled and coughed, lurching forward in the grass to gain the driveway. The two men looked over to where they truck was rolling passed the corner of the house and one of them raised his rifle. There was a thunk as the round hit the hood of the truck and creased the metal there. The bullet whined somewhere over the cab as the burned powder puffed from the end of the barrel. The man in the back of the truck seemed to be torn as to the action he was going to take and Cooper saw him begin to dump what looked to be a shovel full of wood chips into the tower. Getting up their head of steam, he surmised. He heard another gunshot and they were past the gasified flatbed.

“You hit?” he heard David ask. “Am I?”

Cooper did a quick survey of his exterior and noticed that nothing seemed hurt or bloody. Another visual inspection of David showed he was still apparently whole as well. “No.”

They bounced onto the lane, their cargo still lashed under the tarp, and winced as the limbs and leaves whipped by the windows and against the metal parts of the cab. It was all a green and brown blur and flickered as if in a stereoscope with the sunlight filtering through the branches. Cooper told David to slow down.

“I might have to jump out and open the gate.”

David slowed just enough for a reaction when the gate came into view. Thankfully, the intruders had left it open. The truck growled and swayed when David braked to turn out of the drive on the road. He straightened and the comforting sound of the diesel clattered when they made the open road. A glance behind then showed that the flatbed was just making the same turn as they rolled down the tarred lane.

“We’re going to beat them,” said David.

“How fast can that things go?” wondered Cooper as he twisted around to peer over the mattress nearly covering the back window.

“No clue. But we can beat them.”

Cooper turned back in his seat and searched the road ahead. “Do you remember how to get out of here?”

Just as he said this another vehicle bounced out onto the road in front of them. This one was a standard SUV, a Chevrolet Suburban with a light bar and racing stripes and the word POLICE down the side on the doors. Smoke spewed from the tail pipe as it gunned out in front of the truck. Cooper pointed out the noxious fumes to David.

“They’re using old gas, it’s got to be killing that engine.”

“Well, even so, I’m not sure we can out run them,” muttered David. “This old diesel just won’t speed enough.”

The emergency lights came on, the light bar exploding with LED strobes and flashing red and blue lights. The SUV stayed in the middle of the roadway, taking up as much of it as the vehicle could while slowing down in front of them. The gasified flatbed came rattling and roaring up behind them.

“They’re trying to box us in.”

“They’re going to,” informed David.

“We can’t shoot it out and win.”

“I hope that’s not their plan,” David said as he eased the truck’s speed down. “Get ready to bail if we need to—.”

Cooper gathered up their backpacks. Each one had enough food and water and basic supplies to exist for a few days if needed. In addition to their backpacks, he pulled David’s Mini 14 closer to his friend and readied the AK. The Chevy came to a gentle stop and the doors flew open in the front. Two men, dressed somewhat like police officers in that they wore shirts with badges on them and had gunbelts on, were out of the car before David could bring the truck fully to a stop. They both held M16 rifles and held them in the direction of the truck, but not fully on them.

“You should ram them,” thought Cooper aloud as the truck came to a stop.

“Not enough speed for it now.”

The gasified flatbed rolled up to the bumper of the truck and the men jumped out of the bed.

“We’re so fucked.”

“I’m going to kill the guy that shot the truck.”

Cooper and David pulled the door latches and readied themselves to bail out running and shooting.

“You in the truck,” came the commanding voice of one of the police officers. “Turn off your vehicle and stop out. We’re not here to hurt you.”

“What the fuck?” asked David to Cooper. “Weren’t they just shooting at us?”

Cooper leaned out the window and yelled this at the men.

There was a moment of silence form the officer’s end. “Who the fuck was shooting at you?”

“You fuckers,” said Cooper and then jabbed a thumb out the window at the flatbed. “Those fuckers.”

The officers seemed be talking to each other through the open doors of the Chevy. One of them threw out a curse. The officers stood and cradled the rifles they held.

“You dumb sons-a-bitches,” yelled the officer. “We told you no fucking shooting.”

“They tried to run us down,” came the response from behind them.

“Fucking firemen,” said the other officer.

“Fuck you guys,” shouted another voice. “We fucking found them.”

“You damn near got us in a gunfight,” corrected the first officer.

“Can we get out without getting shot?” asked Cooper.

“Sure, get out.” The officers walked over to the truck, still wary, still with the rifles ready, but less intent on killing than it had seemed to Cooper and David. “Sorry about the felony stop, but we heard the shots from those dumb fucks apparently, and thought you might not want to talk. We tried to catch up with you when you took off out of town, but that steam engine piece of shit wouldn’t go fast enough and that thing—“ he pointed at the Chevy, “—wouldn’t start yesterday. So the firemen kept you in sight and then lost you while we tried to get that piece of shit running.”

“Hold on,” said Cooper. “What is going on?”

“There’s been a coup,” said the police officer. “Last night. The mayor ain’t the mayor no more.”

“She dead?”

“Naw, removed from office.”

“What about the threatening note we got telling us to get out of town?”

The officers looked at each other and then back at Cooper and David. “What note?”

“We don’t know anything about that,” agreed the other officer. “But if you still have it, we can look into it. If we find who did it, we can tune his ass up.”

It was Cooper and David’s turn to look at each other. “It’s on the dash, I think.”

David reached in a dug through some of the old paper there until he found the crumpled up note. He pulled it out and handed it to the officers. One took it and pursued the note before handing it to his partner. The man read it, nodded and folded it into his pocket.

“We’ll take care of this.”

Cooper looked around and saw that the firemen had wandered up to them and were standing listening to the conversation. Cooper saw the man who had shot at them. He spun on his heel and walked over to the man so fast that no one seemed to process what was happening. Cooper slung his rifle while he moved, and with his arms stiff, slammed into the man who had shot at them, knocking him to the ground. While the man was still down, Cooper kicked him squarely between the legs, connecting with the soft tissue there and making the man scream in pain. He doubled over and whimpered, clutching at himself and moaning. The other firemen rushed at Cooper but he had the AK spun back around at the end of the sling and shoved it at them, stopping them just feet away.

“Whoa, whoa, killer,” said the cop firmly as he stepped up to keep Cooper from having to shoot. “Drop that down.”

“Tell these fucks to back off.”

“Back off, gents,” suggested the officer. “After all, it seems this was a little personal.”

“Bastard almost killed us, blew a hole in the hood,” said David as he eased to Coopers side, his own rifle ready.

Unpassionately, the officer looked down at the man. “Kicking him in the balls is a pretty well met out punishment. I’d kick him in the balls if he shot at me and missed.”

“Truth,” agreed the other officer.

“You fucking cops—,” started one of the firemen.

“You telling me you wouldn’t kick him in the balls?”

The firemen shrugged. There was no real defense for the man’s actions, here and now. He had shot at the truck containing Cooper and David. Since he had been told not to shoot at them, getting knocked down and kicked seemed to be a light punishment considering that he could have very easily been himself shot instead. They bent down and pulled the man up, forcing him to walk.

“What the hell do you want?” asked Cooper, watching as they led the man to the flatbed.

“That deal you left on the table,” said one officer. “That still good?”

“No,” said Cooper, making it up as he went. “It’s not. Our price has gone up. We want you to build us one of those gasified trucks as well.”

The men shared another look. “It’s not up to us to agree on that, but our chief, he might be willing to agree to that.”

“What do we have to do to get that agreement?”

“You willing to come back to town and talk it over?”

“Shit.” The two friends asked if they could talk. The officers waved for them to do what they needed and began inspecting the mattress tied down on the bed of the truck.

“What do you think?” asked Cooper.

“I think we need to get the hell out of here,” said David. “And what was up with that whole make us a truck thing?”

“Listen, el Jefe gets what he gets, we get our cut,” outlined Cooper. “But this diesel won’t last forever. The fuel will be gone and we’ll be out of a vehicle. They make us a gasified truck, we can see how they did it, reverse engineer it and make more. Make this one a steam burner.” Cooper scanned the cops and the firemen. “New regime, new deal. They need the corn, we don’t need their stuff.”

“El Jefe might.”

“Then let him come down here and get shot at.”

“We end up getting shot at a lot, lately.” David observed. “Mostly for other people.”

“For other people’s money,” grumbled Cooper. “So we take the truck as our payment for getting shot at?”

“Agreed.”

They walked back to the officers.

“Sure, we’ll head back to town to talk to the new boss.”

“He’ll be glad to see you.” The officer patted the mattress. “You boys out shopping?”

“Furniture,” said Cooper. “Not a problem?”

The officer looked over at the firemen. “As long as there was no one at home…”

Cooper saw the fireman shake his head. The officer smiled.

“It’s out in the county any way, not my jurisdiction.” He stepped back and motioned to the truck. “Hop in, we’ll lead you back to town so we can all put this behind us and be friends.”

Cooper and David went back to the cab and waited until the officers were back in the fume belching Chevy. When they stepped on the gas it rattled and popped and then blew more smoke before lurching forward. David took the driver’s seat and Cooper slid in on his own side. They leaned their rifles on their legs, just in case. As their escorts struggled to pick up speed David looked over at Cooper.

“I could have beat them too,” he grinned. “I always wanted to out run the cops.”

“Next time,” said Cooper, “I won’t argue with you.”

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Re: Cooper; new stuff added.

Post by doc66 » Tue Jul 14, 2015 9:16 pm

Cooper lifted the lid on the grill and checked the steaks. El Jefe had to put down a cow, and with preservation of foods what it was, he basically gave away beef to all the neighbors with the promise that he would have a big barbeque at the Rancho with the meat he did not give away. Cooper was looking forward to the dry rubbed slow cooked brisket and ribs the old Mexican was going to be cooking. Everyone on the mountain road had been happy to get the beef donations; most of the neighbors hadn’t had a good chunk of beef in a long time. The main source of protein was venison, rabbit—when they could be found; they were competing with the wild dogs and coyotes for those—and the odd chicken needing culled from flocks. Wild pigs were another staple, but there was nothing like a good steak. They had gotten a combination of ribeye and T-bone steaks, and the smell of the meat cooking over the apple wood smoke and scent baked potatoes and roasted corn was enough drive to away the reality of being in a time when you had to eat something at that moment or it would spoil. There was a sense of a time when a day off meant all you had to do was mow the lawn and drink a beer. Cooper let that feeling prevail even though in the back of his mind he knew there were a dozen things needing tending to. David opened a bottle of wine from Before and poured out five glasses. After their time on the road, it was necessary to open one of the old bottles and celebrate being alive and coming out ahead.

“How did they find you?” asked Sanjana reaching for her wine across the picnic table on the deck. Leticia came out from the house with a bowl of berries and set it on the table. She took a handful of berries and her glass of wine and sat in one of the lounge chairs.

“Who, the cops and firemen?” asked David, handing a glass to Cooper. Sanjana nodded. David leaned on the rail. “They heard us shooting the AK. We were stupid enough to shoot enough that they narrowed down the area and began a door to door.”

Jessica eased out of the house leading with her belly and looking miserable. She stopped in the door to catch her breath for a moment and looked at all of them. “What are we talking about?”

“How they got caught,” said Leticia.

“Oh, the AK shooting,” said Jessica. “Cooper told me.”

She sat down in a chair and motioned for her wine. Sanjana handed it to her; there was no use in arguing and Jessica claimed it settled her stomach.

“Keep going,” said Sanjana.

“So they just went door to door and managed to find us before we could vacate the premise,” answered David. “We thought they were there to kill us—“

“—which they tried to—“

“—nearly, but that was the firemen, and we ran until the cops blocked the road and talked us out of the truck instead of shooting at us.”

“So who is in charge?” asked Sanjana, clarifying with; “Of that town.”

Since David was telling the story, Cooper just sipped his wine and sat down near Jessica. They held hands as David shrugged and tried to explain what was going on in the town. “Well, it’s a rough alliance between the police and fire. Neither one of them was big enough to kick the old mayor out, so they banded together to get the job done. But they really don’t want to work together either, even though it would probably be best for the town. So I guess right now they are trying to out maneuver each other for control. The old mayor, she was holed up in her house—under house arrest, they told us—and her supporters had all been rounded up and were being held as well, to make sure that she didn’t try a counter strike of some kind. To tell the truth, I doubt the entire place will be there next year. I’ll bet they start to find reasons to not support whoever is in charge next, and then there’ll be a crisis that taxes the resources, and next the people who make things work will give up or bug out and the rest just blows away.”

“That’s a horrible way to see things,” said Sanjana.

“That’s what happens,” said David.

“Look at Washington,” said Cooper. “Until we went down there to trade stuff, it was a ghost town, just a few people left. Now, they’ve got a hundred people who’ve drifted in because of the market place, rescuing the old buildings and making it work. There’s a government of sorts in that little community assembly, and they’ve started out with some pretty common sense rules, like don’t throw your shit near the water, dig a latrine, easy stuff, but important.”

“Why won’t this other town make it if they have a government, too?”

“Just a feeling,” answered David vaguely.

“They’ll be there,” corrected Cooper getting up to check the grill. “They just will be in the same miserable place—or worse—with different people.”

“They need a good jefe,” decided Leticia. “So what’s with the steam engine?”

“Gasifier,” said David and Cooper together. David waved it off to Cooper.

“It’s like a steam engine in that it uses coal or wood to make energy, but it does it without needing something like water to make the energy for the engine,” said Cooper trying to decide just how to explain a process he only kind of understood. “You heat up the wood and capture the gasses that come off the wood by controlling the amount of oxygen that goes in to the capture tank. Then those gases are cooled and run to the engine, and that makes the fuel for the engine to run.”

“Clueless.”

Cooper grinned. “It’s like a liquor still, with the wood as the mash, I guess. Fire goes in one side, the wood chips for the gasification go in another and you bake the gases out of the wood chips until they are ash and with the gas that comes from the wood chips, get a truck that goes about 40 miles an hour.”

“Faster than the llama,” joked Jessica.

“Much.”

“Plus, we can use the one they make for us as a template for building our own,” said Cooper. “We can make a tractor run on it, a bigger garden plowed, all kinds of things.”

“What did el Jefe say when you him about the deal?” asked Leticia.

“What could he say?” asked Cooper. “Not a whole lot. We were the ones getting shot at for this.”

“So what happened to the woman who was the mayor?” Sanjana wanted to know.

“She was brought in to clarify a couple points in the deal.” Cooper looked a David for support about the next part. “She looked relieved that she wasn’t in charge any longer.” David nodded. “They had her under house arrest, according to the chief of police, but I’ll be it was more of a stay out of the way while we take over.”

“It can’t be easy to have a bunch of people looking to you for leadership.”

“In two weeks when we take the grain to them, we’ll see how much better or worse things are,” said Cooper. “We’ll have to draw straws to see who goes, el Jefe’ll need at least four people, and some of us have to stay here to keep this place running.”

“You’re staying,” said Jessica to Cooper. She patted her belly. “I’m coming do, and I’ll not have you driving off to the other side of the mountain to pick up a new car.”

“Fair enough,” laughed Cooper.

“I’m going,” said Leticia. “I’ve stayed around here long enough. I need some time away. All you los blancos locos. Usted me hace una locura.”

“Le pedirá que permanezca,” reminded Jessica with a pretend sternness in her voice.

“Oh mama,” said Leticia. “If you only knew how loco Latinos get.”

“Discuss it over steak,” said Cooper. “I’ve heated these enough.”

“Whoo, beef,” said David.

They all gathered around the picnic table where Cooper was setting the steaks out for everyone. As everyone sat down, Cooper eased into his place and settled back to look out over the view of the valley below. The expanse of the valley showing through the trees was one of the reasons they put their house there; to be able to enjoy the land stretch for the two or three miles they could see and watch the seasons change and the sun rise and set. He pulled his eyes away from the green valley, the trees, and the rolling land back to those on the deck. At his suggestion, they opened another bottle of wine to go with the steaks and to celebrate simply being alive.
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Re: Cooper; new stuff added.

Post by 91Eunozs » Tue Jul 14, 2015 11:18 pm

Nice!

Those boys are gettin' rich! Maybe start a logistics company with the gasifiers...
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Re: Cooper; new stuff added.

Post by idahobob » Wed Jul 15, 2015 8:15 am

Good uns! :clap: :clap:

Thanks.

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Re: Cooper; new stuff added.

Post by bodyparts » Sat Jul 18, 2015 6:09 pm

thats good stuff Doc thanks

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Re: Cooper; new stuff added.

Post by Nature_Lover » Wed Jul 22, 2015 9:23 pm

Thank you Doc, this is good. :)

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Re: Cooper; new stuff added.

Post by doc66 » Tue Aug 04, 2015 3:30 pm

This one was written in the midst of moving to a new state and all that entails, so parts of it might seem choppy due to the length of time between sittings. It's a little dark in places, I think. And you might have to pass judgement on characters as to their actions, which some might find extreme. I hope I wrote the decisions made in a manner which will be understood by our civilized mores.


HUNTING PARTY



They were out on the front balcony deck of the homestead hanging out with David and Leticia and Sanjana, hoping to catch the evening breezes. It was so hot, no one was saying much to anyone; they were all just sitting around on the deck and suffering when they saw the smoke. It was coming from the Barstow house, or what was left of the Barstow house, since the place had been mostly burned down over a year ago. Almost two years ago, now that Cooper thought about it. Jessica had called Coopers attention to the smoke. He looked up from where he was playing with the baby and peered at the slowly dissipating white smoke for a long moment. If it had been windy, they might not have seen the tendrils at all, but with the still air, everything seemed to be suspended in a thick haze. The air was humid and close and the baby was fussy with the oppressive heat of the summer. Cooper had to admit that he did not feel much happier than the baby in the weather.

Cooper slowly stood, feeling the sweat start to run down his back with the effort as he did so, leaving the baby to fuss and fret on his own and bang the wooden spoon on the blanket they had laid out for him. This must have been what they meant when they talked about global warming, he told himself as he stretched and walked to the rail to lean on it and study the smoke. David and Leticia—thick as thieves since they had gone off adventuring together and made it back safely—joined him at the rail to look at the column of white smoke.

“Campfire?” guessed David.

“Looks like it,” agreed Cooper. “Not black enough for the house to have caught fire again.”

“Caught fire?” said Leticia. “Con este calor, I wouldn’t be surprised if we all didn’t estallo en llamas.”

Cooper stared at her. She shrugged at his lack of Spanish. “It’s fucking hot. How can you not habla espanol when you live with me fucking over a year? Simplon, you know?”

“Did you just call me stupid?”

“Shit, ese, I called you simplon, no estupido,” she corrected him with a dismissive complaint. “See the difference? Learn the fucking lingo, blanco.”

Rather than subject himself to her derision any longer than he had too, Cooper turned back to the smoke. “Who the hell would start a fire in this heat?”

“Somebody cooking something,” said David. “We just got done grilling ourselves. I mean, that’s what it has to be.”

“Who’s el Jefe got at the Barstow place?” asked Cooper.

Leticia and David shared a puzzled look before Leticia spoke. “I didn’t think anyone was down there right now. Hector was, but el Jefe had him go back up to the rancho to help with moving the sheep to better pasture. I talked to him when he was going up there.”

“So who is coming up the road?” wondered Cooper. He looked back at Jessica and Sanjana. They had just been up to el Rancho de Montaña earlier in the day to help with something or other that Cooper had forgotten about. He himself had spent the sweaty day weeding the garden, watering the garden, moving the goats to new pasture, fixing the chicken coop, and shearing the llama in an effort to relieve some of the stress it must have been feeling in the heat. “Did el Jefe say anything about people coming up to see him?”

Jessica shook her head. “Nothing to us; he usually does when there’s company coming. I don’t think anyone else up here is expecting anyone either.”

“Well, they could be,” decided Cooper. “And just have forgotten to let us know.”

“If you’re going visiting up here, why would you stop right before you got where you’re going?” asked David.

“You wouldn’t,” said Leticia. “There’s shit going on. We need to check it.”

“Do you have to tonight, this evening?” asked Jessica. Cooper, David, and Leticia all shared a look. Jessica gave a sigh of her own when she saw their furtive glances. “Fine, go, hurry up before it gets dark.”

Sanjana stood up from the chair. She gathered her long, dark hair up, twisting it to one side as she stood. Sanjana was wearing a tank top and shorts, and her golden skin shone in the evening light. Cooper saw David watch the woman as she gracefully uncoiled from the chair. He didn’t blame his friend; he often found himself staring at her as well. She was exotic and beautiful and unapproachable. “What do you want me to do?”

“Stay here with Jessica,” said Cooper. “I think that the three of us can walk down there and handle this.”

The woman nodded and went inside the house, coming back moments later with the SKS she had inherited from Cooper and David after one of their forays to the other side of the mountain. She set the rifle down near her chair along with a handful of stripper clips containing the fat 7.62x39 rounds the rifle took. “What do you want me to do if shooting starts?”

Sanjana was a practical person. She had spent several months in captivity, being systematically raped, forced into hard labor, and degraded by a cultish group from the valley on the far side of the mountain. Sanjana had been trying to make it back home to her parents when everything had reached the apex of the collapse. The Indian woman was captured by the cult under the pretense of them wanting to help her since she had been too sick to travel any further. David and Leticia had rescued her when they had gone to the cult’s compound on a mission to trade goods with the group. Before, the cult had been considered a strange, but fairly respectable church. However, the rapid descent into near anarchy during the end of normal times had opened the gates for all sorts of chaos. The parishioners had fallen with all of it and David and Leticia had put an end to them. A year later, the world as they knew it was just reaching the point where the remnants of the population might claw themselves out of the hole created by society’s breakdown. As for Sanjana, she stayed on at the homestead when she came to the conclusion that things in the world were too far gone in the world for her to reunite with her family. Cooper often wondered how many others like Sanjana there were out there.

“Protect the baby,” said Cooper simply, as David and Leticia filed past her to get their own rifles. Sanjana nodded to him, knowing that she was his line of defense if something should happen to him. Cooper bent and kissed the baby and took Jessica’s hand in his own, helping her to her feet.

“Don’t be stupid,” said Jessica as she leaned against him and hugged him tightly.

“I won’t.”

Jessica laughed against his chest. It held no humor.

“I won’t,” he said again, and kissed her. She returned the kiss and walked with him into the house, following him up the stairs to their bedroom loft. With the heat and the lack of wind, it was stuffy even in the open floor paln of the cabin they had built. Since he was only wearing a pair of shorts, Cooper stripped those off and slid into his work jeans and a Phish concert t shirt. The old T was worn soft and faded, and when he wore it, Cooper remembered days gone by when he and Jessica would simply pack up and go, be it for a concert or a restaurant they had heard about, or even just an adventure to where ever the road took them. He hoped one day the world would be healed enough for them to do those spontaneous things again. Cooper pulled the AK from the side of the bed where he kept it—he should actually have kept the rifle closer at all times, but instead relied on the pistol he usually kept at his side. The pistol lay on the bed where he had tossed it after he was finished working for the day. He chided himself for at least not keeping the Glock close at hand, and vowed to do better. Slipping the paddle holster into his waist band, he did the same with the magazine pouches, and then clipped the heavy pouch holding the AK mags at the small of his back. By the time he was finished his shirt was sticking to his body from the sweat. While he prepared himself, Jessica grabbed up his old .38 which she had adopted and slung the western style gunbelt for it around her own hips.

“If there’s shooting, what do you want us to do?” she asked seriously.

Cooper thought about it for a moment. “Take the baby and head up to el Jefe’s. Don’t wait to see if we head this way, just go.”

She nodded and grabbed the backpack they kept stocked with baby items. “Should Sanjana and I just go up there now?”

“It’s a little premature for that.”

“Strangers on the road that leads to nowhere,” reminded Jessica. “We both know that even Before, that meant trouble for the most part. That’s the reason we bought the property; it’s a dead end off a gravel road and no one but people who live here come up. These days it’s doubly so.”

“I know,” agreed Cooper. “But it might just be people heading to the other side of the mountain and stopping there to get off the main road.”

“Okay.”

“I love you,” said Cooper.

“I love you.”

They kissed again and with their gear in hand, headed back down the stairs.

After pulling on his boots, Cooper went out the mudroom door and met Leticia in the yard. She had put on her leather vest, wrapped a bandanna around her head, and slung the shoulder bag with her spare magazines in it around her shoulders. In her hands was her Hi Point carbine and Cooper knew at the small of her back, under the vest, was the Smith and Wesson 5903 she carried. She looked like the Chola she was, with her shorts and black boots, t shirt and vest. Leticia nodded to Cooper as if she approved of his toting the AK.

“No sense in not being ready, eh vato?”

“Nope.”

David appeared with his own rifle and pistol—a Mini 14 and a Smith and Wesson 5903 like the one Leticia carried—pockets bulging with magazines as well. “I guess we all had the same idea.”

“No sense in being estupido and walking en peligro,” pointed out Leticia. “If they’re maravilloso, we can always act like we carry this shit around all the time, you know? If they’re cabrons, we can take care of business the 4-1-5 way, you know? Fuck them up good.”

She and David gave each other a high five. Cooper stared at them as if they were slightly crazed.

“What, tonto? You not down with getting real?” asked Leticia. “You better get your game face on, shits about to happen.”

“Jesus, Leticia,” said Cooper. “Not everything is the barrio.”

“Hey, Cooper, you know how I got to be such a macarra?” Cooper gave her a puzzled look. She went on as if he knew what she was talking about. “I never fucking let my guard down.”

“You were, like, fourteen when this all went down,” scoffed Cooper with a wave at the world to indicate the situation they found themselves living.

“Sixteen, perra,” she amended. “I was already hecho.”

“You two can hash this out on the walk down,” directed David starting down the driveway. Cooper and Leticia fell in step beside him.

“Let’s see how fucking callejero you are, Cooper,” continued Leticia, warming up to her subject matter with an impish grin. “What do you do if you drop you keys on Castro, blanco?”

Cooper remembered the predominantly gay neighborhood of Castro as being a safe neighborhood on his visits to San Francisco. It was probably the only place still functioning in the City because of how organized the neighborhood had been Before, so her boasts of having to be hardass there didn’t jive with the question. He tried to find the angle in her query but failed.

“What?”

“Kick them to Market,” she told him, her grin widening. Cooper looked confused for a long moment until the punch line sank in. He then groaned and shook his head.

“That’s not even funny.”

David and Leticia both began laughing. David gave her a fist bump and said, “Niza, nina.”

Leticia punched Cooper on the arm. “See, you’re not so smart about the streets. You gotta let me take the lead on this one, amigo, I’ll make sure you come out safe.”

“Fuck you, Leticia,” grumbled Cooper.

“Aww, don’t get butt hurt,” she said. Then added; “And now you know how not too in the Castro.”

“Fuckers,” said Cooper again as Leticia and David laughed again.

At first the three of them walked down the road as if it were a normal day on the mountain. Soon, nevertheless, they were all sweating as if they were running the distance rather than taking a somewhere leisurely, though purposeful pace. Even under the shade of the trees lining the road, the heat was oppressive and hung about them as a tangible pall, clinging to their skin. Dust puffed up from each foot step and the fine earth floated around their ankles, coating their legs and shoes before settling back down to the road. The mile plus to the Barstow house was one they traveled occasionally and being familiar with the road, the distance and time passed quickly for them. However, the closer they got to the Barstow place, the more apprehensive they all became. Finally, Cooper motioned them to a stop. Leticia and David looked grateful for the pause. Sweat was trickling down their faces and making streaks in the grim which had collected and mixed with the sticky perspiration.

“It’s too hot,” muttered David.

“It is,” agreed Cooper. “But Leticia had it right; we have to at least check it out.”

“I know,” said David. “What’s the plan?”

Cooper squatted down and picked up a stick with it he began to rough out the property as he remembered it. Leticia and David added their own remembrances until they had what they thought was a fair representation of the Barstow place. They had the house, the small storage barn, and the trailer el Jefe had put at the house to serve as his outpost, which was meant to keep an eye on traffic moving on the road. Cooper drew a line representing the road.

“So I think we need to go up to here,” he pointed with the stick at a place on the rough map, “and then duck along the tree line until we can see the house and the trailer.”

David shook his head. “No, there’s too much underbrush there. If we go a little further on, we can hit the fence line here and move across to the back corner of the property to there.” He pointed at the barn.

“I thought the fence was open all along there, I think you can see everything from the house and the yard,” said Cooper, indicating a section of the drawing. “We don’t want to risk being seen.”

Leticia added her own thoughts. “There’s a game trail somewhere along the ditch before de entrada. We could use the game trail, you know? I think it dumps out over behind the trailer, maybe. Hector told me once that they were working on clearing it a little as an escape route if they needed to get away. A pista.”

“How close to the driveway?” asked Cooper.

“I don’t know, ese, I just know what Hector told me.”

It was Cooper and David’s turn to share a look.

“Why not?” said David. “Worse comes to worse, we backtrack and find another way to scope it out.”

With a plan in place, they worked their way along the ditch line where the trees had been allowed to grow as a natural wind break and privacy screen. As they drew closer to the place where Leticia thought the escape route might be, they could just hear the sound of voices in the still air. The sound of the voices was flat and gruff, and though they could not understand the words that were being said, they could understand the tone, which was commanding and sharp. Easing carefully along the gravel shoulder, they made little sound themselves, relying on months of working together to coordinate their moves with only glances and hand motions exchanged to convey direction and meaning. Leticia finally held up a hand for them to stop and pointed to a space between the trees that, at first glance, look to be little more than a gap in the way the trees grew. On looking closer, one could make out the gap in the weeds, and the fact that the space between the trunks of the trees might have been unnaturally placed.

Leticia stepped off the shoulder of the road and carefully made her way to the gap and slowly hiked up the bank to step into the space in the trees. Squatting down, Leticia used her off hand to move the tall grasses around and investigated the ground around the gap. She turned to David and Cooper after a moment of inspection and nodded to them. Cooper and David scrambled over the ditch and up the embankment themselves to where Leticia stood. She pointed down at the ground.

Cooper looked and saw only the ground; dirt, grass, sticks, rocks, things one would see on the floor of the forest in the area. He gave her a curious look. She pointed again, and bent down to where she pointed. It was then he saw the thin filament between the trees. She pointed at where the line ended. Cooper saw a collection of old cans in what appeared to be a haphazard pile. He knew then that it was an early warning system set up by someone who did not want any surprises coming from directions they could not watch all the time. He mouthed “Hector?” to her. She shook her head. Cooper felt his stomach drop. Whoever was beyond the tree line was someone who wanted to make sure they had the upper hand; they had checked the area before stopping, they had scouted out the trail Hector had been building and that might mean they also knew about the homestead; Coopers home, David’s A frame cabin, and even Leticia’s old camper. His mind raced on that they might even know about el Rancho de Montaña.

While this exchange was going on, David was scanning the wood. He suddenly pointed up the road and motioned for them to get into the trees. Leticia made sure that David knew about the trip line and the three of them faded into the darker shadows of the bushes and tall grass just under the limbs of the trees on the embankment, crouching down to lessen their silhouettes. Because they were higher than the road, they had an advantage of being able to see down onto the tar and chip path without straining.

Four men were coming up the road on foot. They were all dressed similarly, and Cooper recognized the vest they wore as being a part of the bikers from Hartsville. He tensed his hand on the grip of the AK as the men drew closer. His breath was coming in short gasps and he forced himself to take a long breath and hold his several times to release some of the tension he was feeling. The men carried rifles—at least two military style M16s or the civilian equivalent from the look of a couple of them—and a shotgun and another magazine fed rifle that Cooper did not recognize. All of them also had knives and pistols and all manner of sawn off weapons affixed to their body in some way. They were also complaining.

“Why couldn’t we ride the horses?”

“’Cause we didn’t want to draw attention to ourselves.”

“What the fuck’s it matter?”

“Christ, Boone, it matter’s cause we don’t want our target to fucking figure out we’re here.”

There was laughter, harsh and mean and without humor. “Like that column of smoke we were putting up wasn’t a fucking sign.”

“Shut up, Boone.”

The four men stopped nearly under where the three of them hide. Cooper tried to identify Boone as the men spoke.

“Listen, fuckhead,” said one. “We got job to do, we do it, don’t fucking complain because you have to walk around for a while.”

“I don’t get why we hunted these people down anyway; it was over a year ago they got that trailer out from under you. It’s your fucking fault for not finding it first.” That must have been Boone. He certainly did not have the same demeanor as the others; He seemed more laid back and less road worn. Boone seemed to be younger than the rest, perhaps someone who was beginning to see his life differently from the older, more indoctrinated bikers. The world ending would make one reexamine their lives. Cooper knew he had done so more than once. Cooper noticed that he did not lump himself in with the rest as well; he must have just joined up with the bikers, perhaps as a means for protection?

“You high?” asked the one. “It’s about them coming into our territory and taking shit there that we claimed. We can’t let people think they can get away with stealing from us.” The one moved up on Boone and stared at him long and hard. “You having second thoughts about your pledge?”

Boone said nothing in return. He simply stared back until the other one stepped back. “We find these fucks, we make an example of them and we get the fuck back to Hartsville, got it?”

“Yeah,” said Boone.

“Let’s finish off the circuit, make sure that the roads clear and tomorrow we go up and start asking questions, with a hammer if needed.” The one turned away and stared walking again. The two nonspeakers followed and after a second of staring at them, Boone started walking after.

Cooper sat in stunned silence at what he had just heard. The bikers had come up the mountain after him. After David.

After Jessica.

He stood quickly.

Leticia grabbed his arm and tried to pull him back down. Cooper resisted until she hissed at him not to be stupid. He crouched back down and heard David duck walk over to them.

“Did you hear that?” whispered David.

“I did.”

“How the fuck did they find us?” demanded David.

“Tinker Bob might have gotten caught, spilled on us after they tortured him?” guessed Cooper. “I’ve got no clue. But we’ve got to save Jessica and Sanjana from those guys.”

Leticia became the voice of reason. “No, Cooper, you’re not.” She hissed at him. “No seas estupido. They’re not going to do anything to them; they are just making sure no one is checking out the smoke. You’re going to do what we came here to do; find out how many there are, and then when those guys come back from their little scouting mission, we’re going to carrera el culo up to el Jefe and let him in on what is going on here. Remember; that fucking remolque is parked at his ranch.”

She gave Cooper and David hard, barrio pandilla stares until they both nodded. She nodded with them. “We’re going to see just how many there are, right? How they are camped and then get the fuck out. Rapido. Si?”

“Si,” both men agreed.

Chastened, the two men followed Leticia along the trail to a spot where they could see the shell of the house that had once been the Barstow home. Almost two years before, the house had been burned out when there had been an attack on the family by bandits moving through the area after the world had started to fall apart. The remnants of the family had gone up to the Rancho to live with el Jefe and his clan. Since then, el Jefe had moved a small trailer to the property and it was occasionally manned by one or more of the extended family members to keep an eye on the comings and goings on the more travelled road below the house from which their own road intersected. They had done some things to the intersection to make the road leading up to Cooper’s homestead, the Rancho, and the other homes on the narrow lane less noticeable and inviting, but occasionally they did get people wandering up the path.

The house had been stripped over the intervening two years of the things that others in the neighborhood needed to repair their own homes; doors had been removed, windows taken out to replace broken panes, counter tops, and wood work all had been stripped out until there was not much left of the structure but a shell left to the weather and time. David and Cooper had taken much of the materials to complete David’s A-framed cabin from the house and since they had, they were familiar with the layout of the property. It took them just a moment to orient themselves to where their little vantage point was before they could begin to take stock of the camp below them.

The old garage was apparently being used as stall. From their hiding place, it could be seen that the horses the bikers had ridden from Hartsville were being kept in the building. A section of old wooden fencing that the bikers had torn from somewhere—perhaps from behind the house—had been propped in the two car opening and stacked in place to keep the animals from wandering off. Cooper absently wondered if they were feeding the animals grain, or picketing them out to graze when they felt that they were in a safe place to do so. It was difficult to tell how many horses there were in the garage, but from the odor drifting from the interior and the soft horse sounds emanating, there were quite a few crammed into the space. There was a wagon parked next to the garage. It appeared that the body of the wagon had once been a small pickup truck. The bed still existed, but the cab and engine bay had been stripped down to the frame work. Cooper assumed that the wagon was the Now equivalent of a crash van and what they carried supplies in rather than loading down their riding horses with unnecessary gear.

Men walked around the property, or lounged in the shade of the trees and the buildings, all of them wore the vest with the colors and logo of the gang on the back, all of them seemed to be armed to the teeth in one fashion or another. Cooper noted that some of them even had crossbows and bows; ammo was getting scarce, and he supposed that one day soon, even he and David and the rest up on the mountain would have to resort to such weapons when the ammo ran out, or they decided that the rifle ammo was better used as defensive tools rather than hunting and everyday pieces as they were now. The bikers wandered in and out of the house, apparently they had set up the house as their camp rather than spending a lot of time pitching tents or whatever the bikers did on the road. Cooper attempted to count the number of men he saw, but with all of them moving around and in and out of the house, he could not decide if he counted seven or ten. With the four on the road, he was going to assume that there were at least fifteen of the bikers at the camp. The four they had seen on the road came back into camp and several of the bikers gathered around them instigating a lengthy conversation among them. Cooper was interested to see the one called Boone stay back away from the rest and that the man looked angry and disgusted. He hoped that it was the conversation that was making the man annoyed and not something that had happened on their scouting mission.

Leticia and David finally made a motion to Cooper that they had seen enough and one by one they made their way back to the road. Once on the road they set a fast pace back to the homestead with frequent glances behind them. While they walked, nearly ran, they discussed their plan of action, which amounted to getting Jessica, the baby, and Sanjana up to el Jefe’s ranch and then letting the old Mexican know the predicament they were all in. Cooper’s heart was in his throat and he found himself getting more and more anxious the closer they got to the homestead. He was having difficulty not simply making a mad dash for the house when they turned in to the driveway, and the relief washed over him when he saw Sanjana standing on the balcony deck with the rifle in her hands. She waved at them when she saw them.

When they got up to the house, Sanjana met them at the door.

“Were you looking around earlier?” she asked without preamble.

Cooper looked at her with a frightened gaze and she correctly read the look.

“There was someone snooping around here,” she said. “I saw them, or thought I saw them, but I didn’t want to shoot at them in case it was you.”

“Did you say anything to Jessica?” asked Cooper, looking passed the Indian woman into the house.

“No,” assured Sanjana. “Jessica was inside putting the baby down. She is with the baby now.”

Cooper nodded his thanks to her and went into the house without another word to Sanjana. Sanjana gave David and Leticia a hard look as he rushed past her. “What is going on?”

“Bad stuff,” said David. “We’ll explain as we go. You need to get as much of your stuff as you can carry and then help Jessica with the baby stuff. We’re going up to el Jefe’s place right now.”

Sanjana studied David’s face and then looked to Leticia and saw that the Chola was impatient to go, and worried. Sanjana said nothing else and simply slung her SKS over her shoulder and went into the house to prepare for the evacuation. Leticia watched her for a moment and then turned to David.

“Too bad she don’t like you, culata,” said Leticia. “She’s one perra dura.”

“Yeah, yeah,” answered David. “My luck with las mejeres sucks.” He sighed and turned away from the house. “I’m going to get some of my shit together and then we’ll put the cart on the llama. Meet you back here, chica?”

“Si, ese,” she told him. “Then it’s all Dios va con nosotros.”

“Yeah, vas con Dios,” said David. “Me estoy poniendo más munición.”

“You’re learning, culata,” laughed Leticia. They headed to their respective abodes to pack the few items they might need and all the ammo they could carry.
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Re: Cooper; new stuff added.

Post by doc66 » Tue Aug 04, 2015 3:32 pm

El Jefe was what everyone called him. His given name Cooper had never known. When he and Jessica began looking for property, el Jefe had met them in the now defunct grocery store down in the valley town of Washington. Cooper and Jessica were buying food for a picnic lunch and the old man had struck up a conversation with him. They thought that he was just a regular Mexican import of the variety that could be found all over the state; a man who work the odd jobs he could get, went out dancing on Saturday nights and then Mass on Sunday. They were partially correct about el Jefe; he had come up from Mexico many years previous but he was not just another field hand. But they found that out later. It had helped that Jessica spoke passable Spanish, and that they were able to describe the type of land they had been looking for. El Jefe had listened and politely asked them to follow him up to “a place he knew in the mountains nearby.” At first they were hesitant, but the store owner had laughed at their concern and told them that if el Jefe had a place for them to look at, they should take the drive. After all, the man assured them, the only thing they would lose was an afternoon riding up in the mountains.

Packing their lunch into the Ford Escape they followed el Jefe in his old Chevy farm truck, laughing at themselves and wondering just what kind of place such a man could know about. His beat up cattlemen’s hat, his sagging jeans, the faded flannel shirt—all of this made the bent old man seem to be just another farm hand passing the afternoon. When he pulled up to the gate at the property and yanked the thing open, gesturing for them to drive through, Jessica and made Cooper take the old .38 out of the glove box and put in under his leg where he could reach it quickly. El Jefe came up to the truck and pointed up the lane that was now their driveway.

“Go there until you see the valley,” said el Jefe. “Tener su fiesta.” He winked at Jessica. “Voy a esperar aqui.”

He had then walked away and leaned on the side of his truck while Cooper debated the wisdom of following the instructions. He finally put the little SUV into gear and drove until they saw the valley.

They bought the land from el Jefe a month later. The mobilization of El Rancho de Montaña happened in much the same way. El Jefe had listened to what Leticia and Cooper and David had to say and then called for one of his nephews, or grandchildren, or relations, spoke rapid Spanish to the child then reached out and patted Jessica’s hand.

“No te preocupes, belleza,” said el Jefe. “We shall take care of this.”

The old man then sent Jessica and the baby off with Cassie Barstow and some of the other people at the ranch where the baby would get all the attention and be spoiled beyond belief. When they were gone, el Jefe turned to Cooper and David and Leticia and Sanjana, nodded to them from his rocking chair than spoke in measured tones.

“So this little thing has come back to us, si?” El Jefe. “I warned Tinker Bob about this; those pandillero they don’t like to have people messing with what they claim as theirs. No importa; now they bring this para nosotros, now we terminarlo para ellos. Si?”

“Sure,” agreed Cooper.

El Jefe took his cattlemen’s hat off his knee and stood from his rocking chair. “Bueno. Now we go get the bastardos.”

They stepped off the porch and in moments a nephew brought el Jefe a gunbelt and a rifle. El Jefe strapped the belt around his waist and freed the pistol from the western style holster. Cooper was fascinated to see that the pistol was a highly ornate 1911 with gold filigree and floral patterning on the slide and frame. The grips had been carved into depictions of Mexican eagles with snakes in their beaks, wings outspread and talons open fiercely. The deep bluing of the metal looked almost sliver-black against the bright highlights and the worn ivory grips had aged to a pale caramel. It was a beautiful piece of work. El Jefe saw Cooper looking and smiled.

“You like Obregon?”

“Obregon?” repeated Cooper.

El Jefe laughed. “It is my nombre for this pistola, si. Obregon was a man who made such a pistol once, en Mexico, so I name mine for it. I bought this pistola many years ago, back before you were a centelleo en su ojo padres. You get?” The old man chuckled and held the Colt for Cooper to observe. “Over many years, I have it made and now I have a pistola worthy of El Jefe, no? One day, you will have such a arma de fuego, you will be el jefe in your own right. You have pequeno bebe, una mujer hermosa, it is good.”

El Jefe chamber checked the lavish pistols chamber to be sure it was loaded and then put the weapon back into the worn holster. He took the rifle—a rather plain looking FN/FAL when compared to the 1911 at his side—from the nephew and once more checked the chamber. The nephew was strapped with a bandolier of magazines and an AR15. He looked bored at el Jefe’s little speech, as if he had heard it all before from the old man.

“Tio,” commanded el Jefe. “Go tell them we are coming.”

He might have been bored with the old man’s story, but when El Jefe spoke, Tio nodded and ran on ahead as el Jefe and the other three walked to the barns. There they found the full complement of el Jefe’s forces mustered and ready to roll. All of the people—men and women it turned out—were armed with rifles of some kind; el Jefe’s family seemed to all have some variant of a military rifle with ARs, AKs and FN/FALs slung, strapped and carried by them. It seemed that el Jefe had gathered all the neighbors in addition to his own complement of extended family; Not-Tim was there as well and when the man saw Cooper he came up and shook Cooper’s hand, looking grim and ready for battle.

“Cooper, good to see you,” he told the man who had once saved his life. “I wish it could have been under different circumstances, though.”

“Same here,” said Cooper. “How have you been? I haven’t seen you in a couple months, it seems.”

“Busy,” admitted the other man. “When you work for el Jefe, you work your ass off.”

Cooper knew that was true; he had spent time working with the old Mexican on occasion himself and always been exhausted at the end of the day.

“You really being hunted by bikers?” asked Not-Tim.

“I am,” was all Cooper could say before el Jefe began to marshal everyone into groups and explain their job in the coming encounter. There was nothing left to say while this happened as everyone was shuffled and placed to the old man’s satisfaction. Cooper was glad to see the he and David and Leticia and Sanjana were picked to be with the old man along with Tio and Hector—both of which Cooper knew more than in passing. It seemed appropriate that they all stay together since they had been living and working in close proximity. Sanjana smiled grimly at Cooper when his gaze rested on her; the Indian woman wore an orange t shirt under and jeans, and her hair was bound back by a turban-looking length of cloth. Over her shoulder was an old messenger bag containing the stripper clips for the SKS and on her hip rode a Smith and Wesson M&P 9mm and a big bowie knife she had traded for down at the market in Washington.

“That shirt is awful orange,” said Cooper. He never quite knew what to say to Sanjana. She was beautiful and angry and kind all at the same time. Jessica accused him—teasingly, thankfully—of having a crush on Sanjana. It was something he uncomfortably denied.

Sanjana’s smile changed from grim to kind. “It is the color of a warrior among my people. Some say that the goddess Durga Shakti wore orange when she defeated the buffalo demon Mahisasura. She combined the energies of the other gods, embodied male and female, and had victory of good over evil.”

“I thought you were Muslim,” blurted Cooper. Sanjana stifled a laugh.

“I am, but I know the history of my people, Cooper,” she told him. “Besides, I’m a progressive Muslim; I like wine, and hot dogs and American apple pie.”

Cooper glanced over to where el Jefe was talking to a group of people. “I never know what to say to you…”

“In this case you say, ‘Sanjana, keep your head down, don’t try and be like Durga and win this all by yourself.’” She touched Cooper on the arm with a gesture of friendship. “That’s all you need to say.”

“Sanjana, keep your head down, and don’t be stupid.”

“There you go,” said Sanjana. She looked over to where el Jefe was finally looking over the twenty plus people and seemed satisfied that they were as organized as they were going to be. With a grim nod, el Jefe gave the order for them to move out. They did so en mass, kicking up dust on the sides of the road since el Jefe had then travelling in two columns to each side. He had ordered them not to speak, and the group followed the old man’s directions.

It was nearing evening. The sun was dipping down in the sky and the heat, while not as oppressive as it had been was still hanging about them with a closeness that made the dust seem to stick to their skin in a thin layer that caused the slings to rub against skin, settled in boot tops, and create a film on faces where the sweat ran through making streaks like an organic camouflage. When the gathered company reached Coopers homestead, el Jefe called a halt and had everyone crouch down for a rest while he and Tio went to the groups and gave final orders. Two of the groups jogged past where Cooper and David sat.

“I wonder what’s up?” said Cooper.

Leticia leaned in. “They are going to go through the woods and come up behind. We don’t want any of those puta’s getting away.”

“How do you know?”

Leticia looked at Cooper like he was stupid. “How would you do it? Send every mother fucker in the front door? This is war, tonto, you gotta plan it like one. Tell him cabeza.”

Cooper caught David’s eye. His friend nodded. Cooper took a deep breath as the realization that they were about to slaughter fifteen men to protect their own. He felt sick for a moment. Leticia saw his expression and her own softened.

“Hey, vato, you know this has got to be done like this, yeah? We can’t fucking let them escape to get back to Hartsville, you get that, right? Those cabron are here to fuck you up.” Leticia reached over and squeezed Cooper’s hand. “Usted va a estar bien. You’ll see. When this is over, esta todo bien.”

Nodding to her that he understood, Cooper wondered how many times in a day he could be chastised by women. However, he found that he did feel a little better. He knew that they were there to probably kill him, and David, and by extension, Jessica and his baby as well. He remembered the fear for them he had felt and the anger he had when he thought that the four bikers had been headed up to his house and that Jessica was alone there with his baby and Sanjana. He focused on those thoughts and found that his anger was returning; he knew that they were doing what had to be done. El Jefe returned.

“We give them a few minutes to get into place; we have the advantage amigo, we know this place. They are strangers, stumbling around through the woods.” El Jefe chuckled. “El dia es nuestro, poco jefe, I feel it.”

Cooper had no idea what the man had said, but he nodded any way. They settled down to wait, squatting or simply sitting down on the roads surface. Some people picked up little rocks and played with them, others found sticks to scratch out figures on the road surface, and most simply sat and stared down the road as if the sheer force of their will could make the time pass faster than it seemed. The movement of the interval between stopping and actually undertaking the final mile hung for those final moments on the precipice of eternity.

The lazy buzz of flies and the call of birds were the only sounds while they sat. Someone coughed, but it was a muted clearing of the throat. Cooper wished they had thought to bring a bottle of water; waiting was thirsty business and he found himself trying to muster enough saliva to swallow and relieve the parched feeling in his throat. When it seemed that he could wait no longer, that he might go crazy from the anticipation of what might lie ahead, el Jefe stood and everyone followed his lead. He motioned for the remaining posse to begin their last few steps to the Barstow house and the bandits it contained.

El Jefe and Tio and Hector took the lead with Cooper, David, Leticia and Sanjana following. El Jefe fell back to the four of them and spoke in low tones as they moved.

“I explained this to the others,” he told them. “We go and give them one chance to move on, I go with Hector and Tio, you four will stay at the mouth of the drive. They don’t move on, when I take off my hat and put it back on, you shoot at them. You shoot at them until they are not standing. Entender?”

“Si,” answered Leticia for them. El Jefe and Cooper and his friends all walked boldly to the remains of the house and as they did so, the members of the band who had come with them—the neighbors, Not-Tim, el Jefe’s nephews and nieces and cousins and grandchildren—they began to fade into the tree line along the road until it was just the seven of them, walking like something out of a movie toward the villains for the final standoff. Cooper wondered just how sane the scene they were playing out might be over and over until it did not matter.

Because then they were at the driveway.

There was a sentry posted there. When he saw them coming down the road, he quickly raised the alarm, shouting for the others to get ready. In a moment, there were five of the bikers walking down the driveway toward them, all armed and all looking fierce. Cooper and his friends did as they were told and stopped at the mouth of the driveway. Cooper looked for a place where he could dive and take cover to begin shooting at the men who had come to kill him. He picked his spot and waited. Again. Searching the yard, Cooper saw the one he knew as Boone. Boone assessed the situation and he shook his head before simply turning away from the rest of the bikers and walking into the garage. The others did not seem to notice as they were gathering around the yard preparing to back up the five who had stepped to the fore to confront el Jefe. From their vantage point Cooper could hear the exchange as the old Mexican and his nephews confronted the bikers.

“Hola,” started el Jefe in his not so concerned voice. “You are trespassing on property I have agreed to protect.”

The bikers swapped grins. One stepped forward. “Yeah? Well shit, we just need a place to crash for the night, then we’ll take care of our business.”

“You have no business here,” assured el Jefe. “You should go.”

“We should go?” repeated the man. He laughed. “Do you know who we are?” He peered past el Jefe at where Cooper and the rest stood, took in Hector and Tio, and then shook his head. “I think we have you out numbered, amigo, I think you need to trot on up to your casa and let the big boys take care of business.”

“You have no business here,” repeated el Jefe. “You should go.”

Anger darkened the man’s face. “Listen, old man, we’re here on business that doesn’t concern you. We’ll be here a day or two and when our shits taken care of, we’ll move on and you can go back to bean farming or whatever the hell you do. So, we’ll stay here, we’ll do our thing and you’ll move on back to the barro you call home.”

“That is what you say?” asked el Jefe, reaching up and taking off his hat.

“That’s what I say,” established the man.

Tio shot the man directly across from him in the face before el Jefe could settle his cattleman’s hat. The AR cracked and the bikers head seemed to expand to the point where it could no longer contain the contents and the bullet travelling through it. Blood and brain exited the skull, misting the air for a moment and then the body fell. Hector blasted the one next to him, cutting the man’s midsection apart with the short shotgun he held, pumping two loads of buckshot into the man at a range so close the blast caught the man’s shirt on fire. El Jefe ignored the FN/FAL he had slung over his shoulder, instead, as he put his hat back on his head, he drew the 1911, the gold filigree catching the evening sun and hammered out half the magazine at the leader of the five, punching big holes in the man’s chest even as the man started to swing his own rifle up at the old Mexican. El Jefe did not even watch the man fall, he simply turned and shot the man next to the leader, emptying the final rounds into the man before dropping the ornate pistol into the dirt of the drive and swinging the FAL up. Tio had already shot the fifth man who managed to get a round off at Hector, making the Spanish man fall to the ground.

Cooper brought the AK and picked a biker and began to fire. The front blade of the AK fell on the man’s chest, the patches on the vest were fuzzy but bright enough to offer a reference for the muzzle to fall. Cooper felt the short .30 caliber rounds begin to push at his shoulder, making the front post of the sight dance around the patches until they suddenly were no long in view. Swinging the rifle right and left, Cooper looked over the barrel until he saw another shape and fired at that one. He was unaware of how many times he pulled the trigger, only that the rifle kept belching flame and smoke and the action clacked back and forth, chiming out dull steel cases into the air.

Beside him, David and Sanjana were also shooting and moving to places of cover even as Cooper himself was shooting and moving, crouched toward the thick stand of trees he had picked for his cover. Leticia simply stood her ground and hammered out the magazine of the Hi Point while the trees surrounding the house erupted with flame and smoke and noise, cutting down bikers as they scrambled to find cover of their own. A few of them made it to the house where the return fire cut limbs off trees and cut down saplings as they attempted to reach those firing at them from the woods. In the garage, the horses were kicking and screaming while stray rounds punched through the thin walls and found the big bodies of the horses therein. El Jefe was yelling for people to not shoot the horses—alternately in English and Spanish—all the while shooting his big FN and scrambling in his old man run to the cover of the Barstow’s SUV, sitting where it had run out of gas more than a year before. Hector was shooting from the ground where he had fallen, using the body of one of the bikers as cover. Tio was providing cover fire for el Jefe and suddenly there was a lull in the shooting.

Cooper reloaded the AK, unsure if he had hit anyone of if the shapes he saw fall were simply escaping the bullets he was letting loose into the air. In the garage, a horse screamed and kicked. On the ground outside the house, a half dozen or more of the bikers were laying in pools of their own blood. Several were trying to crawl to cover, others were simply moaning in pain. A man screamed, and the shooting started again. The men crawling to cover were shot where they lay, holes appeared in the walls of the house around the window openings and doorways where bikers attempted to return fire at the neighbors who had joined together to run them off the mountain. Cooper dumped his own fair share of lead into the house until he had to reload once again. He looked around while he reloaded, trying to find David or Sanjana, but seeing only Leticia where she had run up to one of the downed bikers and grabbed up his AR and was kneeling beside Hector, shooting and trying to assist the fallen man. Cooper knew she could not move him by herself and he found himself jumping up from his place of relative safety and running crouched over to the two. He slung the AK over his back and grabbed Hector under the arm pits, pulling the man away from the open area while Leticia pulled the trigger of the AR and backed away.

There was a blood stained white shirt suddenly thrust out of a doorway.

“We’re comin out,” called a voice from the house.

“Hands up,” called someone who was not el Jefe. “Get your hands up.”

Cooper realize that it was him shouting the commands. He was standing over the bleeding form of Hector while Leticia put pressure on the man’s wound, holding the AK ready and shouting for them to come out with their hands up. Sanjana appeared with the SKS in hand, the barrel giving off a shimmer of heat in the afternoon sun and bent over to help Leticia staunch Hectors wounds.

Four of the bikers were able to walk out under their own power. Their eyes were wide and scared and confused at the sudden turn of events. All of them seemed to be spattered with blood or bleeding in some way. The weapons they held were dropped to the narrow porch of the Barstow house, clattering loudly in the sudden silence left by the reports of the rifles. The men thrust their hands into the air and when they reached the yard, automatically dropped to their knees. Cooper and his neighbors emerged from their places of cover and concealment, weapons trained on the remnants of the outlaws who had come up the mountain. El Jefe appeared as well, limping and leaning on Tio. Cooper paused long enough in his steps to scoop up the fancy pistol the old man called Obregon and shoved it into his waistband.

“How many are inside?” asked Cooper when he got to the bikers.

“Alive?” asked one, who was bleeding from a head wound, apparently where a bullet had creased his skull or a piece of shrapnel had cut him. He kept blinking as the blood flowed down his face and dripped off his chin. “None.”

Cooper nodded for Not-Tim and a few of the others to check and make sure. They flowed into the house with weapons ready and came out a few moments later shaking their heads. While they were inside, Cooper did a quick mental head count matching faces with names and was surprised to see that everyone seemed to be accounted for. Some had been bloodied, but the wounds appeared to be scratches and near misses. But for the Hector getting shot, they had all survived.

El Jefe limped up to Cooper and dropped his rifle butt on the ground, leaning heavily on the barrel. Tio kept the Bikers covered, but stood near the old man in case he needed help. The neighbors began to gather around them and inside the garage a horse still moaning and gave half heart screams.

“You okay?” asked Cooper.

“Si; no tuve cuidado,” affirmed the old man. “I twisted my tobillo running from their mala punteria.”

Cooper held the AK by the pistol grip, still pointed at the bikers and pulled Obregon from his waist band. He handed the pistol over to el Jefe. The Mexican took the weapon with a laugh and shook the dirt off the frame and slide, wiping the metal off on his pants. He dropped the magazine out of the pistol, put the empty onto his pocket and replaced it with one from the belt. Shoving it into the holster he sighed and limped forward to the bikers.

“Atarlos,” el Jefe said to Tio and a couple other of his people. To Cooper he said; “We have to decide what to do with them.”

As the men were roughly grabbed and unarmed, their hands were bound with zip ties. The horse’s pain cut through the air. Cooper pointed to a couple of el Jefe’s people. “Take care of that.”

They headed for the garage.

“No deje que los caballos van,” called el Jefe. He regarded Cooper with a wane smile. “We’ll need those horses when the diesel is all gone.”

There were shouts from the garage. Everyone turned to see a man being led out of the garage at gunpoint. Cooper recognized him as Boone.

“It’s cool, it’s cool,” Boone was saying over and over.

“Found this one hiding in there.”

Boone looked peeved. “I wasn’t hiding, I was just sitting out the stupidity.”

There was a shot from the barn as the horse was put down. Everyone jumped at the sudden echo from the garage. Manolo eased out of the garage, making sure that the horses, who were crowding to escape the smell of death in the closed space, did not manage to push open the rough closure that the bikers had contained them in. Roman pushed Boone over with the bikers. A neighbor—Mark, something, Cooper could not remember his last name, only that he brewed beer and made wine—zip tied the man’s hands behind him after stripping him of his pistol.

“I’m not fucking with them,” protested Boone.

“What the fuck?’ asked the biker with the head wound.

“You got here somehow,” snapped Mark, pushing Boone at the bikers.

Boone made a defeated face. “Yeah, I pledged, but after this shit, I’m not with them. Screw this shit.”

“Why? Cause you lost?” asked Mark.

“Because this whole thing was stupid,” objected the man, refusing to be collected with the others. “I told them that a couple of time; that’s why I went into the barn when you all showed up. I wanted nothing to do with all this.”

“Right—,” began Mark.

“He’s telling the truth.” Cooper stepped forward and looked Boone over. “Right, Leticia, David? He’s the one who kept telling them they needed to get off the mountain.” Cooper looked for David and Leticia’s support. David and Leticia looked confused. Sanjana’s bright, dark eyes watched Cooper, trying to decide just what he was doing, and on realizing that he was trying to save Boone’s life, gave him a nod of encouragement. The other neighbors were watching the exchange closely, waiting for the drama to play out and see which way the other two went before taking any action. El Jefe’s eyes were guarded as he listened and watched Cooper make his plea, he said nothing and his familia studied the old man as if his silence held the final say. Cooper looked at the dead laying around in the yard. He pointed at one. “That one told him told him to basically fuck off, remember? Out there on the road?”

Leticia’s face cleared. “Fuck yeah, that one,” she pointed to Boone. “He did try to get them to leave us alone.” She looked at David who was staring at Boone, trying to place the biker. “Cabeza, you remember; he fucking told them they were stupid. Out there on the road. Recuerdas? Había cuatro de ellos. We were hiding in the bushes.”

“Oh, shit,” said David. “Yeah. That dude got told off.”

Cooper looked at Boone and then at Mark. “Put him over there,” said Cooper, pointing to a spot away from the bikers. “Stay with him until we figure out what we’re doing with these ones.”

“You mother fucker,” spat the bleeding biker. “We get back, your buddy? He’s fucking dead. I’ll skin him myself.”

Cooper stepped up to the man and leaned down to his level, speaking coldly as he caught the man’s gaze. “Don’t be so sure you are going to get back.”

Standing, Cooper moved away from the man and he and el Jefe nodded to each other as if a decision had been reached. El Jefe began to bark out orders; people scrambled to gather up the weapons that had been dropped, strip the dead of useful items and pile them to one side. The bodies were lined up in the shade of the house. Their compatriots were place near the dead, tied to one another with a length of rope which was then tied off to the porch railing. The survivors had fallen silent during the proceedings, the realization that they might not live to make it down the mountain suddenly very real when they were herded next to the corpses. They watched with wide, and angry, frightened eyes as the possessions they had brought with them were piled into the wagon, or choice pieces of gear were claimed by the people of the mountain. Cooper looked away as several of his neighbors stripped the dead of boots that were in better shape than the ones they themselves wore. He was suddenly sick of the entire episode.

El Jefe limped up to him, pulling him aside.

“You cannot lose your resolve,” said the old man. Cooper nodded that he understood. El Jefe grabbed Cooper’s arm and forced him to look into the depths of the old man’s dark eyes. “You understand? You cannot lose your resolve. Esto debe hacerse. If you are to become la Poderosa, you cannot stop. Comprende? Si?”

“Si,” agreed Cooper. He steeled himself and nodded. “Comprende.”

El Jefe kept his eyes locked on Coopers for a long moment before nodding himself. “You are to become the law here, you must present yourself as Poderosa in all things. Even when you odiar a ti mismo en el interior—,“ here the old man punched Cooper lightly over his heart, “—you must externamente be Poderosa.”

El Jefe unholstered Obregon and handed it to Cooper. He grabbed Cooper by the back of the head and squeezed the younger man at the point where the head and neck connected. “You shoot here. Entender? Do it now, do it with everyone here, while they remember the blood and the dead and the shooting. While they remember that these putas came here to kill you. Tell them. Remind them.”

Cooper grabbed Obregon from the old man and felt the heavy weight and the cold steel and the carved grips that were smooth in his hand and marched over to the bikers, not looking at anything but the men who had come to kill him. Come to kill David. Come to kill Jessica and his baby.

Everything was suddenly quiet as the people he lived near, his neighbors whom he had shared corn beer with, and barbequed with and given food to when he had more than he could keep and eat, people he had helped to build storage sheds and repair homes and construct outdoor ovens with, they all stopped and watched him walk the distance to the four bikers. The bikers sensed the change in the mood and looked at Cooper as he marched to them with Obregon in his hand.

“You came here to kill me, to kill my friends, to kill my wife and baby,” announced Cooper loudly when we was just feet away from them. The bikers shifted where they sat, raising themselves up as if they were going to give retorts to Cooper in their defense.

Cooper stopped in front of the biker with the head wound the man stared to sneer at him. Cooper did not follow el Jefe’s instructions. Cooper simply raised the .45 to the man’s face and pulled the trigger.

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Re: Cooper; new stuff added.

Post by doc66 » Tue Aug 04, 2015 3:33 pm

David and Leticia checked the packs on the horses a final time while Cooper and Boone looked on. Jessica—with the baby in her arms—and Sanjana stood to one side in the shade of a big pine. It was still hot. The sun beat mercilessly down on them even in the midmorning hours. Cooper was armed, Boone was not, although the last week had made them all trust him probably more than they should considering he had come with the bikers to kill them all.

Boone had told his story to them that first night as he was sitting locked up in a shed with a pail to shit in and a bottle of water to drink from. He and his friend, Josh, had wandered into Hartsville on their motorcycles using the last of the gas they had scrounged and immediately been approached by the bikers controlling the town to join. Boone surmised that having working motorcycles and looking like Mad Max refugees had helped their instant acceptance, and also being in possession of several pounds of marijuana the two had acquired along the way. They had accepted; probably too soon for their own good, but they had feared having their lives taken along with their gear. The next year was mostly wandering around the town acting as security for the numerous enterprises the bikers had undertaken, and on the surface it had seemed that the bikers had simply been trying to maintain some semblance of order—albeit after their own fashion. But after a while of working with them, Boone and Josh had discovered that the protection was in the form of strong arming payments from people, controlling the drug trade—what was left of it—the alcohol, the prostitution, the food supplies coming into the town, and all manner of other thievery and extortion the bikers could think of. Boone and Josh were trying to find a way to sneak out of the town when he had been ordered to join the expedition to find those responsible for shooting up several of the bikers on patrol and taking a working tractor trailer rig that the bikers had not known existed until it was taken from under their noses.

When asked how they had found out about the location of the trailer, Boone told them the bikers had a fairly good information network and that Tinker Bob’s trading in foodstuffs and Before goods drew attention to himself. When the trader had been approached and questioned, he did manage to avoid capture and more intense questioning, but his route was known to the bikers and the deduction was made once they had sent out spies to ask questions along the older man’s route. The goods the Tinker Bob and Cooper and company had taken were about gone, but that had not stopped the bikers in their quest to save face. Cooper had to wonder just what the gang would come up with next, once they discovered their retribution force had been wiped out to a man. He knew that soon they would have to start organizing some kind of defense force.

David patted the big sorrel he was riding and stuck out a hand to Cooper, who slapped it aside and hug his friend.

“We’ll be back in a week,” said David.

“You better be,” answered Cooper. “I don’t want to have to come after you.”

David laughed and looked at Boone. “We’ll have your friend with us.”

“Yeah, tell that four-eyed nerd that I said to not give you too much shit,” said David.

Leticia mounted her own horse, a spotted saddle horse with as much temperament and attitude as the rider, and gave Cooper a Chola nod. “You take care of the mujer, Poderoso, we’ll be back before you can fuck things up too much.”

Cooper laughed at her and watched as they mounted and rode down the driveway. Cooper watched them until they disappeared behind the trees and then turned to Boone.

“We’ve got a field to fertilize and plow under today,” he told the man. “And we’re burning daylight. Then we have to take the plow horses over to Mark’s for his new field.”

“Maybe he’ll have some of that IPA to share,” Boone sighed and headed for the field where the two plow horses were standing patiently to be hooked into the harnesses of the wagon so that the manure could be forked out into the rows.

Jessica came over from the shade after handing the baby off to Sanjana.

“You okay?” she asked.

“Lots of work to do.”

“You’re not tired?”

“I’m always tired,” he told her. “There’s just too much shit to get done before the seasons change. Why?”

“You’ve been tossing and turning at night.”

“It’s hot,” he told her as they walked toward the field.

“And talking in your sleep.”

He said nothing.

“Sanjana said it had to be done.”

“It did.”

The stopped walking and she hugged him tightly. “Is Boone going to work out?”

“He’s got no choice,” said Cooper. “Its work out or leave. If he leaves, he’ll do it with less than he came here with.”

“Usted es el Poderoso,” said Jessica softly.

Cooper kissed the top of her head and then after a hard hug, walked out to the field to help Boone.
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Re: Cooper; new stuff added.

Post by FranktheTank » Tue Aug 04, 2015 5:22 pm

Thanks for the new installment Doc. It was good reading.

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Re: Cooper; new stuff added.

Post by 91Eunozs » Wed Aug 05, 2015 6:18 am

Good? It was great!

Thanks Doc... Looking forward to the adventures of David & Leticia!
Molon Latte...come & take our coffee order
Doctorr Fabulous wrote:... It's fun to play pretend, but this is the internet, and it's time to be serious.
zengunfighter wrote:... you don't want to blow a tranny in the middle of a pursuit...
woodsghost wrote:... A defensive gun without training is basically a talisman. It might ward off evil, but I wouldn't count on it.

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