Percy's Mission Chapters 5 - 9


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Chapter 5

Buddy Henderson wrote down the deposit in his checkbook. “Yes!” he said quietly to himself. He finally hit the goal he’d been shooting for. He now had ten thousand dollars in his savings account and five thousand in the checking account. The vendors were all paid off for the job just finished. So were the two apprentice plumbers he’d hired to help. The three thousand dollar final payment had been all profit.

He was going to have to take Charlene out to dinner to thank her for her help with the special orders. She’d done the orders for him and kept on top of deliveries and such while he’d concentrated on getting the job done. It was his biggest contract job to date.

The bank account contents were only one part of the plan he’d been working on for several years. He had paid off the plumbing truck, a large step van, the year before. Buddy owned free and clear the extensive stock the truck held, as well as the contents of the storage building behind the house, and the pipe rack beside it.

The house was free and clear. It was the first thing he paid off. It was a small two-bedroom tract house with a small den. But it served his needs nicely. He used the master bedroom and kept the second bedroom for personal storage.

The only thing left to pay off was his personal transportation. That consisted of a lovingly restored and customized 1977 Chevy three-quarter ton crew cab four-wheel-drive pickup truck. It had taken hours of work, some expert help, and quite a few dollars, to get it the way Buddy wanted it. But it had been worth it. He knew it was 100% reliable, and would go anywhere a wheeled vehicle had any business going.

Only one payment left on the engine work for the truck and he’d get the title. And the money was in the payment file already. He just needed to take it down to Hooper’s and give it to them. He just hadn’t had a chance this past week. It wasn’t even due for another week, but Buddy wanted it paid off.

Most of his emergency preparations were well along. But now he had the opportunity to get a few things he’d been holding off from buying. Instead he’d accumulated some expedient gear. He’d keep it, of course, but it would be regulated to back up status.

Buddy stopped at the house and changed clothes. He started a small load of laundry, and then went to the fire resistant, locking file cabinet in the den. Opening the top drawer, he removed the money from his haircut folder. It was about time for another haircut, anyway, and if he was going to take Charlene out, he wanted to look his best.

Another drawer held last years tax information. He took it out and put it in a manila envelope. He’d drop it off at his tax person’s place on the way to the barbershop. He’d run rough numbers himself and thought he’d get a substantial refund. The jobs had looked pretty good, so he’d paid more each quarter on his taxes than he thought he might need. Let the government use the money for a while and then get it back in a lump sum.

Some of his friends made fun of him for letting the government use the money, but Buddy liked not having to worry about coming up with a large sum to pay his taxes if he shorted the quarterly payments. And getting the refund was nice. He’d always saved money, but this was just one more way of forced savings.

Buddy grabbed his hard hat out of habit, then smiled and hung it back up and picked up his Ditch Witch cap. He’d rented the one machine enough lately that the rental place had given him the cap and a pair of work gloves in appreciation. Though he owned the plumbing truck, rental rates were low enough compared to maintenance rates that he was better off renting some of the necessary equipment as he needed it than he was buying it.

After checking the fuel gauges in the Chevy, Buddy decided to top off the fuel tanks on the way to the barbershop. He dropped off the tax documents first, then drove down the street to the station he used. He rotated use of all three fuel tanks in the truck to keep the gasoline fresh.

The rear tank, where the spare tire originally went, was almost empty. It held thirty-six gallons. He put twenty-one in it to fill it. The other two tanks, a pair of twenty-gallon tanks, one on each side of the frame, were full. Buddy flipped the auxiliary/main switch to main, then the right/left switch to left. He’d run on the left tank until it was about empty, then fill it and switch to the right tank.

Buddy was whistling softly as he entered the barbershop. He grabbed the paper and took a seat. There would be a wait. The shop was full. His good mood moderated a bit when he saw the headlines. The Department of Homeland Security had shut down the airport again. And gasoline prices were still going up. The two fuel cans on the rack on the back of the truck were full, but it had been a while since he’d emptied and refilled them.

He’d do that while he was running on the left tank. It was time to check with the surplus place and see if they had any more of the cans in stock. There were two more at the house, in the shed, but he’d like to get a few more. But he wanted the good ones. Maybe another water can or two, as well, for the truck.

The barber had to call his name twice before Buddy looked up from the paper, then rose to go to the chair. “Sorry, Bobby. Got caught up in the paper.”

“It’s a mess, isn’t it?” Bobby, eighty, replied as he put the cloth around Buddy’s neck. “Gonna be worse than the depression and the big war combined, I’m a’thinkin’, when it happens this time.”

“You really think so?” Buddy asked. He respected Bobby. Bobby had gone through the depression, then served in both World War Two and Korea. Lost a finger to frostbite in Korea, but it didn’t slow him down any as a barber. Buddy wondered sometimes why Bobby still worked. He knew he didn’t have to.

“Do for a fact. Do for a fact. Won’t live through this one, I’m a’thinkin’. Was a hellion in my day, but my day is over. First cold night we have without heat and I’m a goner. Yes sir’ee. A goner.”

You’re tough as nails,” protested Buddy.

“Not any more. Doc said it’s just a matter of time.”

One of the other barbers called over. “We’ve been trying to get him to retire and take it easy. He’s got that property up in the hills just waiting for him. Put in a manufactured home, and he’s set.”

“Not likely,” was Bobby’s reply. “With the interstate going the way it did, that place isn’t going to get any utilities for years. I bought it more for the investment than to ever use. Ain’t no way I’m going be up there with no utilities. I lived enough days in the field when I was in the service. It’ll be a nice rest home for me till the end comes.

“I’ll find some sucker that’ll give me what I paid for it and it’ll be someone else’s headache. Without the utilities going in and the limited access, no one in their right mind is going to develop that area. I just made a bad call on that place. ‘Bout the only one I ever did, I’m a’thinkin’. Yes sir’ee. ‘Bout the only one. So I got no regrets. One of these young’uns will want one of them off-grid lock things I hear about. I’ll sell it or let the estate sell it if I die first. My kids sure don’t want it.”

“You really serious about selling it, Bobby?” Buddy asked thoughtfully.

“Sure am. Had it listed now for a year. Nary a nibble. People just don’t want in the sticks any more. Take a jeep to get to it, the way it is. Went up there when I bought it. Found the best parcel, in my opinion, they had up there. View for miles, but still lots of trees. Good flat spot for a house. Small one, anyway. Wind blows like the dickens, though. Don’t like the wind much. Can’t hear enough around you when the wind blows. Wind almost got me killed three times. Once in Germany and twice in Korea. Don’t like the wind much.”

“I might just be interested in it. Would it be okay to go up and take a look at it this weekend?”

Bobby was putting the final touches on Buddy’s flattop. “I’ll cut you a deal, I will. I don’t aim to go up there, but I got all the particulars and I can let the real estate lady know. She might go up there with you, though I doubt it. I think she just took it ‘cause she felt sorry for me.” Bobby laughed. “Real politically correct gal, that one. Me being a disabled vet and all. And old.” Bobby waggled his fingers, the one obviously missing, and laughed.

“Long as I’ve got good directions and a map, I can find it,” Buddy replied.

“Well, sure thing,” said Bobby, brushing the loose hairs carefully from Buddy’s face and neck. “Stop by Saturday morn and I’ll have those directions for you.” He removed the cape and shook it free of hair as Buddy got out of the chair.

“I will, Bobby. Here you go.” Buddy handed Bobby the money and waved away the change, as always.

“Stop by the realtors, if you want and ask about the property. They can give you their version of the details.” He laughed. “Then me and thee can sit down and discuss it after you’ve looked at it.”

Buddy nodded. “That sounds good, Bobby. Thanks.”

One of the things he’d planned on doing when he’d met his financial goals was to obtain a piece of rural property. Like Bobby, he considered it an investment, but more importantly, a place to go if things really got bad. A retreat, so to speak.

Maybe a place to retire. But mostly just a place to get away for the next few years. He’d done a lot of camping when he was younger and he missed it. Hadn’t had much chance the last few years, with staying as busy as he could with the business, and saving money, and getting the things he’d wanted. Not much time for leisure. Nor much of a social life.

Buddy thought of Charlene. They were friends. Good friends. Had been since high school. He’d dated her off and on even then. She was a good woman. Straightforward, intelligent. Kind of pretty, though not a flashing beauty. That was partly why he was comfortable with her. They were pretty similar in a lot of ways. He had his plumbing business and she had that little curio shop. She did all right for herself.

Checking the traffic behind him, Buddy quickly turned into the first parking lot he came to. He wasn’t about to get a ticket, much less the hassles now attendant with using a cellular phone while you were driving. He called up Charlene. It took only a few moments to arrange to pick her up that evening for dinner.

Chapter 6

Buddy was showered and dressed in plenty of time to pick up Charlene. He was glad he’d started early, for he decided to change into a suit, rather than the sport shirt and slacks he’d initially put on.

Having learned the hard way about suits, Buddy always got shirts and suits that fit properly. No need to suffer with a tight collar when there was no need. He adjusted the tie and flexed his arms in the suit jacket. He was quite comfortable.

Having worn a flattop hair cut for almost all of his life, and having experienced a sunburned scalp at one time, Buddy always wore a cap or a hat. When he wore what he considered to be his bank suit, he usually wore the snappy grey fedora with it. Unaware that he was whistling softly again, Buddy went out to the truck.

He usually preferred to drive, but when he got to Charlene’s and saw the nice dress she was wearing, he was both glad he’d worn the suit, and a bit concerned about needing to help Charlene in and out of the truck. The Chevy wasn’t like some of the trucks around where you needed a ladder to get in, but it did sport a two inch lift kit and had tires two sizes larger than stock.

“Uh… Charlene…” Buddy said a bit hesitatingly. “Would you mind if we took your car? I’m not sure I want to be helping you in and out of the truck with you in that skirt.”

Charlene just chuckled and said, “Why, thank you, Buddy. And we may certainly take my car. You can even drive if you want.”

“No. That’s okay. It’s your car. You should probably drive. And why did you thank me just now?”

Her dimples showing, Charlene smiled over at Buddy and said, “It was maybe a bit left handed, but I took it as a compliment. You didn’t want to embarrass me by seeing too much when I climbed in and out of the truck. Right?”

“Well… yeah… I guess so,” Buddy slowly admitted.

“Then two reasons. I’m flattered you think I’m attractive enough to want to look, and pleased that you don’t want to embarrass me.” The smile was now a grin. “Or embarrass yourself.”

A sheepish smile curved Buddy’s lips. “I guess you know me a bit too well.”

“Not too well,” Charlene replied, still smiling. “Where did you want to go?”

“I know you like Red Lobster. Let’s go there. I’m celebrating, and this is for you for helping me with the Barbarosa job.”

“You already thanked me. Lots of times,” replied Charlene. “You didn’t have to take me out to dinner, too.”

“I wanted to. You were a big help. Besides, we haven’t done anything in a long time, except for getting together for the job. I need to get out more. You should too, you know. You need to find someone. Start a relationship.”

“I’m working on it,” said Charlene, without looking over at Buddy.

“Oh. Really?” Buddy looked at her a bit uncertainly. “I… didn’t know you were seeing some one.”

“It’s just casual right now. But I have hopes.” Again she was careful not to look at him. She knew the sparkle in her eyes would probably give her away. He knew her pretty well, too.

As much as he wanted to, he didn’t ask any more questions. He certainly wanted to know more, but was afraid of the answers. He wanted the best for her, was having a bit of difficulty dealing with the fact that she had someone in her life. He was silent the rest of the way to the restaurant.

Seeing a birthday party group when they walked up to the door cheered him up. He couldn’t help but laugh at the antics of the children, waiting anxiously for a table to open. Apparently it was a very special treat for them to come here.

Besides, it was nice to have Charlene’s arm curled around his as they stood near the door waiting to be called. Buddy looked over at Charlene after a moment and asked, “You want something from the bar? No place to sit, but…”

“That would be nice. A glass of Chardonnay. I think I’ll wait here.”

“Smart woman,” Buddy responded with a grin. He had to work his way to the bar through the crowd. He was trying to remember when he’d been in and it wasn’t crowded. He couldn’t think of a time. But it was always worth it.

He wasn’t much of a drinker, but wine with dinner was nice, so he ordered the Chardonnay for himself, as well. He got all of it back to Charlene, though it had been a near thing.

They stood companionably, saying little, sipping the wine while they waited. It wasn’t all that long and they were escorted back to their booth. “We’re splurging tonight, so get whatever you want. I deposited the final check to day. I plan on having lobster.”

“It is Red Lobster, after all,” Charlene said, perusing the menu. “I think I’ll have the same, since you offered.” She closed the menu and set it aside. “Something is on your mind. I can tell. What’s going on?”

Buddy set his menu aside as well, then arranged his napkin and flatware. “You know I’ve been thinking about buying a piece of undeveloped property…”

Charlene nodded, and then took a sip of wine.

“Bobby, down at the barbershop, has some he wants to sell. I’m seriously considering it. Oh. After I take a look at it, of course. But getting something.”

“Going to sell the house and move?” Charlene asked, slightly dreading the answer.

“Not right away.” Buddy looked up as their server arrived. He didn’t see Charlene’s sigh of relief.

They were occupied for a few moments with the server, then when she left, Charlene asked. “Just investment property, or something you want to develop eventually.”

“Partly for investment, but primarily to have a place outside the city and suburbs. I miss camping. I’m ready to get away from the hustle and bustle from time to time, now. I’m financially secure enough to do it. Though there are a couple more large expenditures I plan to make right away. But those two apprentice plumbers I hired have a lot of potential. I’ve got two more large jobs lined up that will give me a similar payoff to the one I just finished.

“I’m more comfortable now handling the purchases of some of the esoteric items people tend to want now, since you helped me recently.”

Quickly Charlene cut in. “You know I don’t mind helping, any time.”

“I know, and I appreciate it, Char. You didn’t just help me get what I needed, but taught me how to do it myself.”

Charlene nodded.

“If I get just a few more jobs like the last one, over the next couple of years, I will be able to get another truck and put a couple of guys to work, full time.”

“That’s wonderful, Buddy!” Charlene laid her hand on Buddy’s. He didn’t pull away.

“That’s what I plan on doing, but in the meantime, I don’t want to get myself in a bind, with the way things are going in the world now.”

The conversation was interrupted for a moment when their appetizer arrived. But Charlene picked up the thread as they began to eat. “I know what you mean, Buddy. I’m worried about things, too. I got hit with the rolling blackout just the other day. I’m glad you suggested storing water. I have some at the house and the shop. And I’m keeping at least two weeks of packaged food all the time now. That was good advice. It didn’t happen, but I thought about what could have when they shut down trucking for a day for security reasons. It was only one day, but when I went into the store that evening, the shelves were half empty.”

“I know,” replied Buddy. “The rolling blackouts haven’t affected me much. I’m usually not home when the residential ones happen in my neighborhood. But I went into the store that day, too. There was fighting over canned goods when the store, not knowing when they’d get another delivery, put limits on how much could be bought by one person at one time.”

“I think it will get worse,” Charlene said, watching Buddy carefully.

“So do I,” he said softly, his eyes on his plate for a moment. He lifted them and met Charlene’s rather intense gaze.

“That’s part of the reason I want to get the property. Have a place to go to if things get too crazy in the city.”

Charlene nodded. “I’ve thought about it some. I don’t know what I would do. Since my sister died, I don’t have any place to run to if things get that bad. I think I should make more preparations, but the FEMA stuff on line really doesn’t get into it all that deep. Would you be willing to help me get better prepared?”

Buddy didn’t hesitate. “Certainly. And don’t worry about a place to go. If I get the property, you’ll be welcome. I’ve always planned to have enough to take care of my family’s needs. There would be plenty for you, too.”

“Your brother isn’t making preparations?”

“No. I’ve tried. Betty is inclined, but he refuses to acknowledge the fact that the government might not be able to help everyone if things really do get bad. You know him. He’s a horse’s behind of the first order. But he is my brother, and Betty and the kids are good people. I still plan on having room for them, no matter what happens.”

Again Charlene’s hand went to his where it rested beside his plate. “You’re a good man, Buddy. I’m glad I know you and that we’re friends.”

This time he squeezed back, at least a little. “So am I, Charlene. And don’t worry too much about things. I’m planning on doing quite a bit more to be prepared. I’ll be glad to help you get ready, too.”

The rest of the meal was spent in lighter conversation as they enjoyed the food and service. When they got back to Charlene’s house, she asked Buddy, “Do you want to come in for a drink before you go?”

Buddy shook his head. “No. The wine was enough. I still have to drive home.”

“Coffee, then?”

“I have to be up early in the morning. I’m giving my proposal on the next project after the one I’m starting next week.” On impulse, he leaned forward and kissed Charlene on the cheek. “Thanks for going with me tonight. I had a nice time. You’re great company. And just figure out a good evening for you and I’ll come over and we can start planning on how to get you more ready for the future.”

“Okay, Buddy. I’ll do that. Good night.”

“Good night.”

Chapter 7

Charlie groaned and rolled over, and then gathered the newspapers on which, and under which, he’d slept, back around him. He was cold. He’d lost his long wool overcoat two days previously when two other homeless men and a homeless woman had taken over the drain culvert he’d been using to sleep in for the most part of the winter. He’d been able to sneak back and get both of his stashes, but the woman had glommed the coat. It would have been a fight to get it back. One he knew he’d lose anyway.

At least spring was here, though it was hard to tell sometimes. The weather the last few years had been more unpredictable than usual. Maybe it was time for him to head somewhere down south. Though he really couldn’t tolerate high heat and humidity. Maybe in a year or two, if he didn’t find something soon.

Of course, he knew he wouldn’t. He really wasn’t even trying anymore. He’d cut back the drinking, but he hadn’t stopped. A good part of the money he made from odd jobs went for cheap booze. But he had been hanging on to some of it for emergencies. That’s why getting his stashes back had been so important.

He was always careful not to have all of his money, little as it was, in only one place, whether on him, or stashed.

“Might as well get up,” he thought. He wouldn’t go back to sleep now, anyway. The sun was up. At least it hadn’t rained. He would have had to leave the culvert if it had rained during the night, or drown.

Bones aching and ligaments and tendons popping, Charlie crawled out of the culvert and looked carefully around. Nothing stirring, except some birds. He put out two rat traps the evening before and he decided to check them. Nothing in one, but the other had killed a pigeon. Breakfast.

It didn’t take long to set up his tin can stove and start a few sticks burning using newspaper as tinder. He contemplated his future as he grilled the pigeon breast. He took a drink from one of his two bottles of water. He’d been able to keep them filled from partially full ones he often found in trash bins.

Things were getting bad in the city. More homeless than ever, and they were getting meaner. So were the cops. Not much tolerance anymore. The shelters were full, and he’d had to shave his head and privates after the last time. He’d wound up with lice from the blanket in the shelter. He’d borrowed a pair of scissors, and used his last disposable razor to do it. At least he’d been able to take a shower afterwards, but he’d immediately left the shelter afterward and hadn’t been back.

Maybe along the border between the city proper and the ‘burbs. Enough city stuff to keep him fed and housed, but close to good handyman work. He checked his cash. The stash in the hidden pocket inside the sleeve of his jacket, above the elbow, held a twenty in a zip-lock sandwich bag.

He had three dollars in his wallet in his left hip pocket. He never kept much in his wallet in case he got rolled. But he always kept a little in the hope that they would take it and not search much more. There was a five in the bottom of his left shoe.

Two fives were wrapped around his hickory walking staff, hidden under the leather handgrip. A ten was folded and in the palm of his left hand, under the fingerless, skin tight, leather glove he wore to hide the burn scars on the back of that hand.

Not much, but more than what many had. He still had a half of a pint of whiskey in the pocket of his jacket and the water, but no other food left. The others had got what little he’d had when they chased him from his other spot. At least he’d had his bottle of vitamins in one of the stashes.

His kit was divided between two 5-gallon buckets that had once held drywall paste. He’d made a couple of bucks helping clean up that construction job, got the buckets with lids, and a perfectly good closet rod they were going to just throw away. One of the carpenters had drilled quarter-inch holes an inch from each end for him. He bought two quarter-inch J-bolts from a discount store, two extra nuts, four washers, four feet of light chain, and two S-hooks. With the J-bolts mounted and the middle of the rod wrapped with cloth padding and duct tape, he had an over the shoulder carrier for the two buckets. Had to be a bit careful with his pace to keep the buckets from swinging on the chains and throwing him off balance, but it let him carry and use them easily.

There was a pretty decent set of Dickies tan work clothes in one bucket. It also contained an extra pair of underwear and a tee-shirt, and two pair of socks in a gallon zip-lock bag. That bucket also held his tin can stove when he wasn’t using it like now, a lidded pot, steak knife, spoon, a zip-lock with his small stash of toiletries, the bottle of vitamins, and one water bottle.

The other bucket contained the two rat traps, a small roll of duct tape, the other drinking water bottle, another pot, several pads of toilet paper in a zip-lock bag, a small box of zip-lock bags, coil of mechanic’s wire, multi-tip screwdriver, pair of water pump pliers, a very good carpenter’s hammer, and a hacksaw blade. There were a few odds and ends of screws, nails, and bolts. Another one-gallon zip-lock bag held his other change of underwear and socks, two bandanas, and a half roll of quarters for the Laundromat.

Along with the clothes he was wearing, a-bit-worse-for-wear set of Dickies work clothes, tee-shirt, insulated shirt, boxer shorts, insulated long handles, three pairs of socks, insulated gloves, stocking cap, heavy jacket, and boots, with a bandana around his neck and another one in his left hip pocket, and the contents of the buckets were the sum of his worldly goods.

Fed, morning ablutions taken care of, and buckets repacked, destination in mind, Charlie headed out.

Chapter 8

Edward Baumgartner had it made. A luxury SUV, a Mercedes sedan, and a Corvette. Paid off house with a pool. Money in the bank. In two banks. Both of which he owned. Of course, he did have a wife and two bratty kids. He grinned as he drove the SUV toward the bank that he considered his base of operations. There were other positives, though. His secretary was ambitious and beautiful. More importantly, she was willing to bargain her way up the ladder. He had a standing arrangement with her for a weekly frolic at an out of the way hotel.

His grin faded as he listened to the news. Things were getting bad. Maybe he should get out of some of his growth stocks and put the money in blue chips. T-bills, too. And that one teller, Angela, was always talking about being prepared. Like she was a boy scout or something. But still… He’d do a search on the internet and see what he could find.

When he saw the hobo walking along, looking like a coolie without the hat, checking trash receptacles as he went, Edward frowned. This was a decent part of town. They didn’t need his kind around. Along with the other things he planned for the day, he would write a letter-to-the-editor of the paper and give his opinion on the situation. It was important for people like him to help keep a handle on the goings-on in the area.

He winked at Courtney as he went past, and then frowned at Angela. There were two people standing with her and they were looking at some kind of catalog. Probably one of her survival equipment catalogs.

Edward changed course and headed for the three. Things were set up for opening time, but he couldn’t let them just stand around like slackers. “I’ll take that. You can have it back after work. All of you find something to do until opening.”

Angela didn’t protest. She knew it wouldn’t do any good. She was looking for work at another bank, but things were pretty tight. The pay was decent here, the working conditions were good, and her workmates were great, except for Mr. Baumgartner and Courtney. She sighed and went to count the money, again, in the till at her teller station.

Dropping the catalog on his desk, Edward went around the desk and sat down. In moments his computer monitor was up. He checked the banks accounts for the night’s transfers. Everything was fine. After a look at the clock on the wall, he got up again and made his usual inspection of the bank just before opening.

By ten he’d taken care of all the routine business and nothing special had come up. He picked up the catalog he’d put on his credenza when he was working on bank business. It was a survival equipment catalog. Edward noted that it was listed as preparedness items, but he knew they really meant that survivalist nonsense.

He thumbed through it, stopping here and there as particular items caught his eye. Edward noted a year supply of food for a family of four and whistled. But he thought about it for a moment, mentally calculating how much they spent in a year on food. Not that much difference, he decided. Something to think about. It was getting hard to find some items when he wanted them. He’d had to get on to his wife more than once for not bringing home the foods he liked on what was now a regular basis.

Of course he knew he was too smart to fall for the adds. No way it would be as good as the pictures looked. But still… He tossed the catalog aside and turned to the computer. He pulled up the internet search engine he used and typed survival and shelter into the search bar.

He was amazed at the number of entries that came back. Pages of them. Suddenly one particular one caught his eye and he clicked on the link. This had to be what that banker from Tennessee had been talking about at the last convention to which he’d gone. Edward had forgotten about that until he saw the company name.

The man said he’d bought one of the pre-packaged shelter deals. If he remembered correctly, several of the other bankers had expressed an interest. Maybe this might be the thing to do. If other bankers were doing it, there had to be some merit in it. He’d hate to go to a conference and have to admit he’d prepared for a financial emergency, but not a physical one. “Hum…”

Courtney buzzed him and Edward went back to the bank’s business.

Chapter 9

The three weeks went quickly for Percy. Aside from helping get the Bluhms settled, and working on the grant paperwork, Percy also kept busy working in the greenhouses on spring harvest. Two of the roadside trailer stands were set up on the weekends and Percy hired four high school kids to staff them. Many locals looked forward to Percy’s early produce every spring.

Percy was tired that Monday evening in late April. He had worked the day as usual, giving the others the extra day off after all the hard work they’d all been doing. Everything was going well, but even with the automated systems, caring for all the animals for two days was still a strain.

He ate a small potpie that Mattie had left prepared for him. Percy ate in the den, watching the news channels. Halfway through the chicken potpie, Percy quit eating, his attention taken by the news report from the disputed border area between India and Pakistan.

The conflict was worsening. There were exchanges between ground troops now, in addition to the artillery exchanges. As yet, no air strikes, but Percy figured that was just a matter of time.

Reports from Germany were continuing to show strong nationalistic bent. The talk of withdrawing from the European Union was stronger than ever. It seemed the talks of individual treaties with Poland and Czechoslovakia were coming to fruition. New talks were beginning with Hungary. US forces were being isolated from the German population, with new restrictions on fraternization being imposed.

France seemed to be going back to the imperialistic expansion ideal from the turn of the previous century. Many of the former French colonies were having troubles. France was sending troops to many of them, apparently not just to assist in keeping the peace. They were not requesting UN help for the efforts and were taking steps to emplace French rule it seemed to many in the international community.

There were talks in the UN about both situations. Great Britain played only a small role. With their new energy independence because of the oil fields in the North Sea, they were becoming somewhat isolationist. There was a move to bring as many of her subjects back to the islands as they could persuade.

The British Navy was in a building phase, with many of the current vessels being used as convoy escorts as the trade between Great Britain and other nations was more and more being conducted with British merchant marine vessels only. With the problems of piracy and terrorism, the ships needed protection.

There had been several confirmed reports of a rogue submarine preying on shipping in the South Pacific. It was still not know from which country the submarine originated. No country admitted to the defection of any submarine crews. The rogue was stopping lone ships on the high seas. They were taking over the ship and selling the cargos in the small ports of the Pacific. So far, no ships had been sunk, but a few crews had been massacred when they tried to resist.

When the news was over, Percy turned on the computer in the den and pulled up the lists of emergency supplies he had on hand. All the items were up to the levels he had kept for years. The items were all used in rotation, the oldest being used as new stocks were added to the stores. For essentially everything they used that they didn’t produce themselves Percy maintained a minimum of a six month supply. He decided to extend that time to a year, minimum.

By the time he went to bed that evening, Percy had a long shopping list. The next morning he went to see the Bluhms. They were doing some minor medical work at the old clinic, but the facilities weren’t the best. They were seeing people in the old clinic three days a week, and then working at the county hospital in the city two days a week taking care of patients they couldn’t treat in the clinic, which were many.

Percy talked to the couple for a long time. By the time he left and headed for the city, he’d arranged with them to allow him to stock an extensive line of medications, almost a small pharmacy, at the estate. In addition to the medications, they were willing to have him stock some tools and equipment for their use, in case of emergencies. Percy gave them permission to check on the status of all of it at any time, so they would know he wasn’t using any of the items. They were strictly for the doctors’ use in emergencies.

He’d done something similar with his regular doctor in the city, but to a much lesser extent. The pharmacist wasn’t that surprised when Percy took in the prescriptions to have them filled. While that was being done, Percy filled a cart with the over-the-counter items the two doctors had recommended.

Percy added a few choices of his own, plus plenty of standard first aid supplies. He already had an extensive first aid kit, trauma kit, and what he called his Only-Aid aid kit, at the estate. Each licensed vehicle had extensive first aid and trauma kits as well as a pair of ten-pound fire extinguishers. Bernard was a trained extinguisher service technician. There were supplies and equipment in the equipment barn to refill the extinguishers in the vehicles, and the others placed around the estate.

When he stopped at the medical supply shop, they wouldn’t fill the prescriptions for the dozen bottles of medical oxygen, two sets of regulators and masks, and two oxygen concentrators. It took a few calls, but when Jock had called the hospital and the hospital administrator had called the supply house, Percy was finally able to pay for the items and arrange for delivery to the estate.

Percy included a few items that didn’t require prescriptions, which the shop was happy to sell him when they saw that it was a legitimate sale for the oxygen supplies. Very happy. Percy dropped a bundle on medical equipment. If things went well, he’d just donate it to the clinic when it was finished and write the expense off on his taxes.

Feeling a bit better, Percy headed for one of the big discount stores, saw the nearly full parking lot and changed his mind. “This would be a good job for Mattie, Susie, and the twins,” Percy muttered to himself. Having decided to let the others do some of the shopping, Percy impulsively went by the state building to see Sara. She was delighted to go to lunch with him and insisted on paying, despite his strong protest.

Mattie looked at him strangely when he entered the house that evening, whistling cheerfully. “You sound cheerful, boss. What’s going on?”

“Hey,” protested Percy. “I’m cheerful a lot. You make it sound like it’s a rare occasion.”

“You’re avoiding the issue.”

“Well, if you must know, I accomplished a few things in the city and had lunch with Mrs. McLain.”

Mattie smiled. “Well good for you. What should I expect to be getting delivered?”

“How do you know I ordered anything for delivery?” Percy asked.

“You’re on another buying jag. Because of the news. I remember what happened when the first Gulf War started. You did the same thing.”

Percy had to acknowledge the truth of the statement. He’d had similar feelings of possible trouble at the time and nothing had come of it. They’d just rotated the extra supplies through the normal course of consumption until the stocks were back to the normal six-month supply. He’d started the bee barn and orchard barn at that time, come to think of it, Percy thought.

“I guess you’re right,” he said. “You know me too well, Mattie. Uh… Try not to give all my secrets away to Sara, okay?”

Mattie’s mouth dropped open in surprise. That sounded like Percy was actually getting serious about Sara McLain. He was out the door before she could think of anything to say.

Percy went out and looked around the property. He’d always meant to have another barn and shop. The equipment barn was relatively full now and it’d be nice to have a larger shop area. There was space between the product barn and the equipment barn. Also over by the animal barn. “It wouldn’t hurt to have a utility barn to use for whatever,” Percy said aloud.

Percy went back to the house and into the den. It took only a single call to order the two reinforced concrete dome structures. Another call got a promise from David Reynolds to start moving sand, gravel, and dirt from his pit to the estate. It would be used to build up the areas slightly, then mound over the dome structures when they were completed. Like the other structures on the estate, a large walled patio would be built atop the mounded over buildings to provide additional useable space.

Percy made another call, this one to a concrete supplier in the city. He ordered enough sections of pedestrian underpass to connect the new buildings to the existing tunnels that ran between all the buildings. He’d get the trenches dug and the tunnels installed before work began on the domes. It wouldn’t take long, or much in materials. One tunnel would tee off the tunnel to the equipment barn and the other would tee off the tunnel between the animal barn and the bulk storage barn.

There was no problem getting the financing for the estate additions. Percy had great credit and he was only financing half the cost, as he usually did, for this type of major project. Just a call to the bank whose turn it was this time to get the business and the papers were going to be prepared for his signature the next day.

Percy began the site preparation that day. He attached the big backhoe to one of the Unimogs and had Bernard attach the hoe for the Bobcat. Between them, they had the trenches for the tunnels dug by that evening. There was still a small stockpile of sand from the last project and he and Bernard dismounted the backhoes and attached buckets to the machines. The next morning they had a bed of sand in place when the first sections of the pedestrian underpass arrived.

Jim Hanson had taken one of the Unimogs with the stake bed on it to pick up drainpipe and several bags of Quick Crete. They installed it along each side of the tunnel sections and tied it into the existing pipe system that drained off any water from around the tunnels to minimize the chance of leaks. The joints of the sections of tunnel were sealed with bitumen, but Percy wanted them as dry as possible.

The tunnels, besides being access from one structure to another during severe weather, was a conduit for the cabling that linked them with power, phone, computer, intercom, and video. Each structure has its own set of environmental sensors for temperature, humidity, and such. The information was available at any of the networked computers the estate boasted.

Sensors mounted on one of the antenna towers sent data to a central weather station, also tied into the computer, to collect site weather information. The towers also carried, besides the television, business band, shortwave, and amateur radio antennas, four cameras mounted to give three hundred sixty degree views of the estate from each of the three sixty foot tall freestanding towers. Those images, like the environmental data, were viewable on any of the estate’s computers.

Bernard and Percy back filled the trenches around the tunnel sections as they were installed, using sand against the tunnels for the drainage and with the rest of each lift of fill the dirt that had been excavated from the trench. Percy had Bernard using the 5600T with a bucket for backfilling while he used a Unimog. Jim used the A300 Bobcat with a sheep’s foot roller to compact the backfill.

It didn’t take long to build the forms around the ends of the tunnels to form the entrances into the new buildings and the joints to the existing pipe. They had the old forms from previous building projects.

Using the concrete mixer attachment mounted to the A300, they mixed the Quick Crete with water and poured it in the prepared forms at the tunnel junctions. They would be allowed to set for two days before the forms were removed and that section of the trench backfilled. The entrance sections would be poured when the small partial basements and the floors were poured for the domes.

The next day they stripped the topsoil from the areas the new structures would occupy and stockpiled it nearby. They used the material that David Reynolds began delivering to build up the areas to two feet higher than the natural ground level. A little water was sprayed onto the fill and Jim ran the A300 with the compactor over and over each four-inch layer that was laid down.

By the time the dome builders arrived a week later, the sites were ready for their forms for the perimeter ring and floor. Percy had a carpenter come out and install the forms for the small basement rooms that connected with the tunnels.

The ready mix company delivered and poured the necessary concrete. It would be another week before the dome bladder could be attached to the perimeter ring and inflated, in preparation for blowing on the foam insulation. Rebar would be attached to the foam, and then shotcrete would be blown onto the rebar until the dome was complete. The dome builders would leave and Percy would have crews come in to finish the interiors while he and his hands mounded the dome with earth.

Another crew would install the four-foot high patio walls and the slab when the dome was covered, then Percy would add more earth up to the tops of the top patio walls. It went pretty much as planned, except Percy had David Reynolds do quite a bit of the earthwork. He and the hands were too busy with truck farm business to finish the project as quickly as Percy wanted it done.

By the end of May, the basic structures were finished. Percy found himself at a slight loss as to how to finish them out. He did decide to move the shop from the Equipment Barn to the one dome, expanding its scope in the process. The other structure, with things a bit more stable on the world political scene and the weather behaving more or less normally, Percy decided to simply paint the interior and leave it as it was for the moment. The fixtures for the large bathroom were installed and electrical outlets and lights were added near the entrance panel, but that was the limit to the additions.

Construction was well under way on the new clinic and the Bluhms new house. Percy checked on them from time to time and had the Bluhms over at least once every two weeks to get an update on things.

He was beginning to feel a little foolish by the middle of June. Nothing out of the ordinary had happened and he had huge stocks of pretty much everything, a new empty barn, and a fantastic new shop, with more room in the equipment barn than the vehicles required.

Percy was being both lauded and joked about. He was accustomed to the joking. The praise about his contribution to the clinic was not so familiar. The Bluhms made no bones about the fact that they and the clinic wouldn’t be, if it hadn’t been for Percy.

Despite all that, Percy didn’t allow his level of preparation to go back to where it had been. He kept buying at the same levels as he had before, including fuel, keeping the diesel tanks topped off at almost ten thousand gallons of red, untaxed diesel, and a thousand gallons of clear, taxed diesel, in each of the tank farms. They continued to buy household and estate goods at the usage levels, keeping the level of the stocks where they were.

The tank semi trailers were finally delivered, after a delay due to material shortages. As summer came and the droughts started, Percy hired Andrew Buchanan to take one of the trailers to a town across the state with a load of potable water for the residents when their well gave out. Andy stayed in the area and shuttled water for two weeks until a new well, already under construction, was finished. Andy made it back in time for the Fourth of July ribbon cutting dedication ceremony and open house for the clinic.

With the help of Sara, Jock, and, Melissa, Tom finally convinced Percy to make a short speech at the dedication. It was a very short speech. It surprised a few people, not for its shortness, which was expected, but for its eloquence. The main reason Percy had done what he had wasn’t mentioned at all, preparedness in terms of the global situation. Instead, he spoke of small town cohesiveness, family values, and the pleasantness of small town life.

Good a speech as it was, it probably wouldn’t have been a standing ovation, except everyone was standing outside the entrance to the clinic, anyway. The clinic wasn’t finished, but the building was. Some additional equipment required installation, but that was all for the clinic to be ready. There had been a concerted effort to get the clinic finished in time for the Fourth of July Celebration. A brand new big-city-style shuttle van with a wheelchair lift was parked in front of the clinic.

Percy had been instrumental in getting the grant that paid for it, as well as one that helped finance the clinic. He might still be able to retire in another year or so. The trust could be dissolved in a year.

Susie brought up the team of Clydesdales, hooked to the decked out farm wagon, and Tom, the doctors, Percy, Sara, and a handful of the city council and clinic committee members rode back to town in it, with Susie driving. When they arrived back in town, the wagon led the Fourth of July parade from that side of town to the town’s park.

Percy took the team and wagon back to the estate rather early. He wanted to see the news. A report he’d heard when he was getting ready for the dedication had him worried again. There’d been nothing on the satellite radio news station, but it had sounded serious.

It was. When the wagon and horses were put away, Percy hurried into the house to check the news. It was India and Pakistan again. The skirmishes had not been going well for Pakistan. They had issued an ultimatum for India to withdraw from the border area and resume talks to resolve the issue. So far, India had not responded to the implied threat of the use of nuclear weapons in the conflict.

Mattie, Susie, and Sara showed up a few minutes later. Percy was already back outside, checking the estate’s state of preparation. The city TV station was forecasting severe thunderstorms for that evening and night. This was the first chance of heavy rains since early spring and Percy wanted the gates open on the irrigation canals to collect all the rainwater in the system that he could. The pond was almost empty. They’d used the wells the last time the fields needed irrigation.

“Are you all right?” Sara asked Percy when he came back into the house, her hand going to his upper arm, her eyes searching his face.

He forced a smile. “You know I don’t like giving speeches like that. Come on, let’s cut that watermelon I’ve had on ice for two days. It should be a prizewinner. The crops are doing well this year, despite the drought conditions.”

Sara could tell he wasn’t being completely open with her, but she let it pass. They’d become closer over the past few months. He’d open up to her fully one of these days.

Concerned about the weather, Percy rushed Sara off back to the city early that afternoon. She had to work the next day. As always, now, he topped off the fuel tank of her car. Mattie and Susie drifted over to their cottage a bit earlier than planned when Percy went out to take care of the animals for the night after Sara left.

“He’s worried about something, isn’t he?” Susie asked her mother as they entered the two-bedroom earth sheltered dome home they’d lived in since Susie was a baby.

“Yes. Did you see anyone say anything to him at the dedication or the park?”

Susie shook her head. “He seemed to be having a good time. I was a little surprised he came back as early as he did. He was having a good time giving rides to the kids with the team and wagon. Everybody loves those Clydesdales.”

Mattie had turned the TV on when they entered the house. “Uh-oh,” she said softly. “I think I know what has him upset.” She motioned to the TV and turned up the sound with the remote.

The two watched a similar report to that Percy had seen. They exchanged a look after the report was over. “I’m glad we live here on the estate, Mother,” Susie said. “I feel safe here. I never thought about it much those other times.”

“Yeah,” Mattie said, pulling her daughter in for a hug like they hadn’t shared for a long time. “Me, too.”

Before Percy turned in that evening, he checked the news channels again. Things didn’t look any better. He wracked his brain for additional preparations he could make. He couldn’t think of any. He was as prepared as he knew how, for whatever might come. “Natural or manmade,” he said aloud as he climbed into bed.

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