Percy's Mission Chapters 10 - Chapters 14


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Chapter 10

Calvin knew the proposal he’d but together for the bank was a good one. He should know. He looked at similar proposals nearly every day. It was part of his job at the bank where he worked. Of course, to avoid any chance of a conflict of interest, though he had an account at the bank where he worked, he went to the other bank he used for the loan. Knowing the banking system, he always kept two bank accounts. Each bank had to be under completely different ownership.

He definitely knew how to put things in the best light, which he did, while keeping everything very straightforward and above board. It took only three days to get the initial okay from the initial loan officer, but it would have to go up a step, since the amount was large.

Apparently his Nan’s backgrounds checked out. So did the worth of the equipment. Nan told him that the bank had called and talked to Mr. Anderson for quite some time one day. The loan was approved and the money deposited in the account he kept in that bank. A few more days and the equipment was ordered.

Since they would be using it mostly in town, and the road was marginal to their place, Calvin had it delivered to the Anderson equipment yard. The delivery driver unloaded the Bobcats, and then used the A300 to unload the attachments.

The Unimog was delivered the very next day by another truck. The same procedure was used. The lift arms were already in place on the Unimog. The driver used it to unload the attachments he’d ordered with the truck. The other attachments showed up one at a time over the next few days.

Mr. Anderson tried not to show his wonder at the equipment, but was not entirely successful as Calvin tried everything out the weekend after the major pieces had arrived. Everything worked as advertised. They used the A300 with backhoe to install a septic system for one of Mr. Anderson’s regular customers. The Toolcat was used to do the backfill work. The Unimog pulled the equipment trailer with the two Bobcats and associated equipment without a problem.

The branch of the bank where Calvin worked was closed for the scheduled rolling blackout. Calvin took advantage of the weekday and he, Nan, and Mr. Anderson made some major improvements on the road, particularly the stretch from their house to the section on which the Calhouns would provide some maintenance.

Calvin and Nan had talked it over and decided they didn’t want it too easy for people to get to their place. As long as the road was passable, that was all they wanted, at least on the county road end.

Even though he’d used it only a few times, Mr. Anderson quickly mastered the A300 and the other two pieces of equipment. Nan had picked up the nuances quickly, as well. It was early afternoon when they called it quits and drove the equipment back to the house.

“You did good, boy,” Mr. Anderson told Calvin as the parked the equipment. “You too, missy. We got more work done today… good work… than I could have done with my equipment in a week. You made a good choice.”

“Thank you, Mr. Anderson,” replied Calvin. I appreciate your help on this. Why don’t you call your wife and tell her that Nan and I are taking the two of you out for dinner in town.”

“Well, that would be nice. Diner has fried catfish and hushpuppies as the special tonight. It’s always pretty good, considering how far we are from a good catfish river.”

“That sounds just fine to us,” Nan replied. “We’ll meet you there, say about five?”

“That’ll be good. Yep. You did good, boy.”

With a wave Mr. Anderson climbed into his beat up old Dodge and headed back to town.

Nan put her arms around Calvin’s neck and leaned in against him. “Going pretty good, I’d say,” she said. “Wouldn’t you agree?”

“I certainly would. I knew intellectually how well things should work, but the last couple of weeks have been an eye opener. There is a huge amount of work available for the equipment. Things that Mr. Anderson never bothered to do since he didn’t have a good way to do them. There is going to be plenty of work to keep us busy, especially with the woodlot thinning business.”

“Why don’t you put in for shorter hours now? I know we weren’t going to do that till next spring, but with what we’ve seen, I think it will be okay.”

Calvin kissed her, his hands on her hips, before he replied. “I think you’re right. And I want to help Mr. Anderson. His health is a lot worse than I realized.”

This time Nan kissed Calvin. “Good. That’s settled. Let’s get cleaned up and get ready to go into town.

Chapter 11

Buddy was surprised when Charlene called him early Saturday morning. “I don’t have anything planned today, Buddy. I was wondering if you wanted some company when you go up to see the property.”

“I hadn’t thought about it. But sure, if you want to. I don’t mind. I’ll pick you up in a little while.”
Charlene smiled when she hung up the phone. Her part time clerk had been willing to work one Saturday. The emphasis on one. It took her only a few minutes to dress in jeans and a flannel shirt and her walking shoes. She grabbed a light jacket and hurried out when Buddy honked his horn.

She had no trouble clambering up into the truck on the passenger side. As she belted herself in Buddy said, “Have to stop at the barbershop to get the directions. I got a map from the realtor, but she wasn’t much help otherwise. I don’t think she cares if it is sold or not.”

“Who is the realtor?” Charlene asked.

When Buddy told her she frowned. “That’s who I bought my house through. They weren’t very good, in my opinion.”

“I sure wouldn’t use them,” Buddy said. When they pulled up in front of the barbershop Buddy parked the truck and said, “It’ll just be a minute. I’ll be right back.” He hopped out of the truck and went into the barbershop.

It took three minutes rather than one, but Charlene didn’t mind. Buddy had a sheath of papers in his hand when he re-entered the truck. He handed the papers to Charlene to look through as he headed out of town.

“Thirty-seven point three acres,” Charlene said. “That’s a pretty large piece of property. “You really want something that big?”

“If it’s mostly wooded, yeah, I think so. It is going to depend on exactly what the land is like. I know basically what I want. I’ll just have to see what the property looks like and if I can do what I want with it.”

They rode in silence for a while, Charlene reading the next set of directions when Buddy asked. They left the city on the state road, then another, then onto a paved county road. They had been climbing slowly as they went. When they turned onto the graveled county road the climb became steeper for the most part, though there were ups and downs.

“That must be it,” Charlene said, pointing to a rather substantial gate in the fence that paralleled the road on their left. The gate was set back somewhat from the road to allow room to pull in and stop to get out and open the gate. Charlene handed Buddy the key that had been in an envelope that was part of the packet.

He came back to the truck without opening the gate. When Charlene rolled down the window Buddy told her, “Locks rusted solid. Bobby thought it might be. It’s a cheap lock. He said to cut it and just bolt it back up. The land owner will need to put another on.”

“This isn’t where Bobby’s land starts?”

“Oh, no. Look at that next page of directions.” Buddy went to the tool box in the back of the truck and took out a pair of bolt cutters.

When he passed the window on his way back to the gate Charlene told him, “I see what you mean. We still have a ways to go.”

Buddy nodded, then went to cut the lock. When he had the gate open he looked back and motioned to Charlene. She quickly moved over to the driver’s seat and drove the truck through the gate opening. She changed back to the passenger seat as Buddy closed the gate and wrapped the chain around the post, fastening a long bolt through the end links and tightening it finger tight.

It was only a few moments more and Buddy had put the bolt cutters away and was back behind the wheel of the truck. “Okay,” he said, “Let me take a look at that last page of directions again.”

Buddy studied the handwritten directions, looking up occasionally at the heavily wooded hills before them. “Okay,” he said, “I see the first landmark.” He pointed to a dead tree leaning against another still growing tree. “We jog north just past that dead tree. When we get there, remind me again what the next landmark is.” He handed the directions back to Charlene.

There was a hint of a pair of tracks leading to that first landmark, but by the third landmark they had faded to nothing. Even with Charlene acting as navigator and helping watch for the landmarks, they had to backtrack twice before they got to the Bobby’s property line. Some of the way had been over grassy terrain, but much of it was bare earth with outcroppings of rocks. The truck had no difficulty with the terrain.

Bobby had insisted on a survey when he bought the property and one of the benchmarks was obvious when they got there. Buddy found a decent place to park and stopped the truck. The two got out and looked around. There wasn’t that much to see. They had come through a stand of trees, the path just wide enough for Buddy to navigate. All they could see was the small open area and the trees around it.

With yet another sheet of paper in hand, this one the plot of the property, Buddy pointed toward what might be another open area in the trees ahead and started in that direction, up a slight grade. Charlene quickly moved up to his side, zipping her jacket as she went. It was cool in the forest.

When they stepped into that next clearing both stopped. The clearing was large and nearly flat. They had to scramble up several feet to get on the meadow proper. Though there was a thin layer of soil that supported grass, it was obvious trees couldn’t grow. There were outcroppings of rock all over.

Though the site was relatively flat, as they journeyed across, it was quickly obvious they were on a slope. When they reached the tree line of the other side of the meadow both turned around. “Oh, my!” Charlene exclaimed softly.

“Yeah,” agreed Buddy. Almost due south of where they stood, past the drop off, the land fell away quickly. The tree tops were below their line of sight, exposing the vista of the distant river and the city build on both sides of it. A couple of distant small towns were discernable, as was a long stretch of the interstate.

“Is that… is that the gate?” Charlene asked, pointing off along the left edge of the low tops of the trees.

“I don’t know. Maybe.” Buddy took a pair of compact binoculars from his jacket pocket. “I can’t believe it! That is the gate. Man, you have good eyes.” He handed the binoculars to Charlene.

Charlene smiled as she took a look through the binoculars.

“Get a little higher and you could see the first hundred yards or so of the trail, as well as the gate and the stretch of road. Man. And look at this southern exposure. And the trees all around. Plenty of firewood for years if it’s managed well. This looks great! What do you think?”

Buddy’s enthusiasm was catching. It was beautiful up here, for sure. She didn’t realize they had climbed so high until she’d seen the vista. “It is beautiful. I’m not 100% sure exactly what you were looking for, but you sure seem like you found it.”

“Too true.” Buddy turned and went into the stand of trees to the north. There should be another boundary marker somewhere in this direction. Charlene handed Buddy the binoculars and strode beside him as he roamed over the acreage.

She was tired, but exhilarated when they got back to the truck. Buddy had exclaimed about feature after feature of the terrain. It really was pretty, but that had been the least of Buddy’s concerns it was now obvious.

Buddy turned the truck around and they headed home. “I know it wouldn’t be suitable for most people, what with the lack of good access and utilities, but it has almost everything I want. For me, it would be worth double what it’s listing for. I’ll gladly pay the asking price.”

“Good,” replied Charlene. “I’m glad is what you were looking for. I must say, I haven’t been up in the mountains for a long time. I’d forgotten how much cooler it could be up this high. And doesn’t the snow hang around well into summer up here? I’m still trying to picture what it looks like here from the city.”

“Snow does hang around longer due to the altitude, but it’s on the other side of this range that really holds it, because it’s the north side. This south facing slope gets lots of sunshine. And Bobby was right about the wind. It’ll be perfect for a wind-powered generator. Solar panels, too, eventually. Photovoltaic panels, I mean. I’d build solar panels for space heating and water heating initially.

Charlene sat quietly, responding to Buddy as needed from time to time as he explained what he wanted to do with the property. It was late in the afternoon when they got back to the city. Buddy had brought along a couple of canteens, so they’d had water, but they were both very hungry when the got to town.

Buddy dropped off the papers at the barbershop. Bobby only worked a couple hours in the morning on Saturdays so he was long gone. When Buddy got back into the truck he looked over at Charlene and said, “I’m starving. You want to stop and get something to eat at The Steakhouse?”

“Sure,” Charlene replied, content to spend the time with Buddy.

Chapter 12

Charlie took the ten dollars from the grounds man at the country club golf course. He’d helped him rebuild a storage shed on the back nine. He’d seen the ad for the job on the community bulletin board at the grocery store where he’d restocked a few food items with his small amount of cash.

There was a construction site nearby in which he’d found several large drainage pipes stacked out of the way with some pallets of stuff stacked at one end. There was a gap in the fence they didn’t seem too anxious about, so he’d started sleeping in one of the pipes. There were chemical toilet huts on site so he had a good bathroom. He was careful to only be around after hours. He left before the guys came to work and went back after they left.

The YMCA wasn’t too far away and he’d been able to get a shower and change into his good clothes before he went to the golf course. He carried one of his buckets with the few tools he had in it. It was a long shot that paid off. The grounds man had seen his professional grade hammer and hired him for the job.

“Charlie, why don’t you come back tomorrow. I’ve got a couple more projects I could use some help with until my helper gets over the flu.”

“Sure, Mr. Cunningham. I’d be proud to. Thank you.”

“Okay then. I’ll see you in the morning. I’ll let the gateman know you’re coming so there won’t be a problem at the gate. Oh. You won’t need your tools tomorrow. We’ll be using the course’s stuff.”

“Okay, Boss. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Charlie’s steps lagged when he saw the man waiting near the drainage pipes. Maybe he would at least let Charlie get some of his stuff. Charlie stopped a few feet away from the man, in case he tried something. Charlie would have a better chance of getting away with some distance between them.

The man dropped his cigarette to the ground and put it out with his boot. “You the one been staying here?”

The light was beginning to fade, but the man could see Charlie nod. “How long?” the man asked, hitching up his pants.

Charlie got ready to run. “A week. I’ll get my stuff and get out of here. I don’t want any trouble.”

“You take anything?”

Tense, still ready to drop the bucket and run, Charlie shook his head. “No sir. I’m not a thief. I’m homeless but no thief. I even worked today. Out at the golf course.”

“I see. You seen anyone else hanging around when we’re not here?”

“No sir.”

“How long you plan on being here?”

Charlie watched the man for a few moments. “If there wasn’t any trouble I was planning on moving on when they got ready to install the pipes.”

The man nodded and lit up another cigarette. “I’m not going to give you a hard time. But if anything turns up missing I’m gonna be on you like a duck on a June bug. You understand me?”

“Yes sir. Thank you. But I better just get my stuff and go. I don’t want to be in the middle of trouble if something does turn up missing. That’s not unusual in an operation like this.” Charlie began to gather the few things he left in the pipe each day.

“Wait. You’re right, I guess,” the man said. “Look. Just don’t cause any trouble and I’ll leave you alone. I can’t guarantee about anyone else, especially the cops, but nobody here will hassle you if you don’t cause the problem.”

“Wow!” Charlie said softly. “Thanks, man.” He held out his hand.

After a moment the man took it in a firm handshake. “I’m Clyde. Keep your nose clean and there won’t be any problems. Keep low profile. I can’t say my bosses would do the same.”

“You’ll barely know I’m around,” Charlie replied.

Clyde turned and headed for his pickup truck, parked just outside the gate of the security fence.

Chapter 13

Having another period of free time, Edward went to the website he’d been in before. He whistled when he saw the costs of the various shelter systems. It wasn’t like he couldn’t afford it. He could. But it was still a lot of money for something that would probably never be used. Though, with the things he’d been seeing in the news lately, that thought was changing significantly.

When he’d talked to the Tennessee banker, after finally recalling his name, the man had said he had purchased a top of the line six-person model. Edward frowned as he studied the specifications on the computer screen. The six-person would certainly work for him. It was only him, his wife, and the two kids. Even if he took in Courtney... Still… The other bankers weren’t anywhere near as well off as Edward. Edward owned two banks and was having a new branch built. The others only owned, at best, one bank. Most were actually just mangers at small independent chain banks.

Edward started to smile. His wife Emily would have a cow when Courtney showed up, if anything ever happened. But that scene would be minor when Doc Cutter and his wife showed up. He played golf with the doctor nearly every week. The last time they’d played, much of the discussion had been about the goings-on in the world.

Doc lived in a luxury apartment building downtown. Edward had been trying to get him to transfer at least a portion, if not all, of the man’s inheritance from the bank he was using to one or both of Edward’s. With the man’s concern about everything, he might just be willing to transfer some of his millions for a spot in the shelter.

Emily despised both the doctor and his wife. “She’ll just have to have two cows,” Edward thought to himself as he grinned. One for Courtney and one for the Cutters. “The ten-person, deluxe, with all the extras,” Edward said aloud. He began entering the information on the website to get an official quote.


Chapter 14

They didn’t feel the effect of storms much in the earth-sheltered buildings they lived in and worked in, but it was obvious when Percy went out the next morning that they were in the middle of a bad storm.

He ran over to the equipment barn to see if the hands were there. They were, dry and secure. Bob Hansen grinned at him. “You’re all wet, boss,” he said, stating the obvious.

“Yeah,” Bernard said. “Why didn’t you use the tunnel? We did. That rain is cold!”

“Next time,” Percy replied resettling his hat on his head. He’d had to grab it when he ran over. The wind was wicked. Looking out one of the open equipment doors, he saw Smitty Smith and John Jacobson both drive up, then into the barn.

“Mornin’ gentlemen,” Percy said when the two had exited their respective vehicles. John a diehard Ford driver, Smitty in his Chevy. Bernard stayed with Dodges. His was parked in the parking lot at the bunkhouse. And of course, Jim and Bob loved their Jeep. Mattie had her old Volvo that was a bit ugly but ran like new, and Susie a Subaru wagon.

Quite an eclectic group of vehicles, particularly when you added Percy’s Suburban and the car he very seldom drove, a mint condition 1974 Cadillac Fleetwood Talisman. And that didn’t include Percy’s other light vehicles, the Kenworths, the Unimogs, the Rokons, and the two Bobcats. Though, the last two, the Rokons and Bobcats weren’t vehicles so much as pieces of equipment, even though the Rokons were capable of traveling almost forty miles an hour, though Percy had never had one of them up to that speed.

Percy turned his attention back to the group as Susie joined them. She, like Jim, Bob, and Bernard, had used the tunnels. Susie really didn’t like using them, but she liked storms even less, and it was storming violently now.

“Considering the weather… and the hail,” Percy added as golf ball sized hail began landing on the ground outside, let’s go through all the mobile equipment and service it. Rearrange things a little in here. Oh. And exercise everything a little. We haven’t used some of the equipment in a while, especially the features of the Kenworth utility truck.”

They’d quit using the utility/service truck in the orchards when Percy bought two three-wheel, hydraulically driven cherry picker style basket lifts. They worked much better in the orchards than the big truck. They were equipped with hydraulic outlets in the baskets to power trimming saws, pruners, and similar items used in the orchard. The operator controlled everything from the basket. The machines were mobile enough to travel throughout the orchard easily and quickly using a hydraulic drive system.

The tree fruit crops were going to be large this year, despite the drought, since they’d irrigated heavily. There had been a lot of thinning to do to ensure a high quality crop. Percy had owned a similar machine previously, but it had quit on him and he’d disposed of it about the time he got the Kenworth service truck. While it worked okay in the orchards, it was overkill for the tasks required. The two lifts were much easier to use than the Kenworth, as they only required one operator. The Kenworth really needed two to be effective.

Despite the fact that the greenhouses were constructed with extruded polycarbonate panels, Percy didn’t want the hands working in them with the hail coming down the way it was. So they worked on the equipment, having a rather good time doing it. There was no need to worry about the damage the crops might suffer. They were not able to do anything about the situation now. Percy would check the fields when the weather broke.

The forecast and Percy’s own weather instruments indicated the same thing. The storm system would continue to dump rain for at least another day. When they’d finished for the day, Percy told everyone they could take the next day off, he’d tend the animals. They’d done pretty much everything that needed doing in the equipment barn.

As he and Susie walked back to the house through the tunnel, Susie asked Percy, “Mr. Jackson, could I talk to you for a few minutes when we get to the house? I need some advice.”

“Sure, Susie. Any time. You know that.”

When they were in the den, Susie started pacing when Percy sat down behind his desk. “What’s on your mind, Susie?”

“You know, you’ve been like a father to me, all these years. I kind of wanted to say thank you, besides just asking for more advice.”

“Well, thank you, Susie. I’ve never tried to substitute for your father, just be available when you needed something.”

“That’s what good fathers do,” Susie replied. She sat down on the large button tufted leather Chesterfield sofa, her hands going between her knees as she sat on the edge of the sofa. “It’s about Andy, Mr. Jackson.”

“Uh… Perhaps you should talk to your mother about this,” Percy said hesitatingly.

Susie turned red and said, “It’s not about that!” She started again. “It’s that I think Andy may ask me to marry him. What do you think I should do?”

“Susie, that is totally up to you. But if you want some advice on the subject, I suggest you make a list…”

Susie grinned. Percy was big on lists. He made lots of them.

“One side, list the positives if you decide to marry him, and on the other, the negatives. It’s a little clinical and cold, but since you know full well where your heart is, it’s about the only suggestion I can give you.”

“Would you help me?” Susie asked. She smiled again. “You’re really good with lists.”

“I suppose I could, if you want me to do so. Some of the items will be a little personal. You might want to list those after we do our list.”

“Like what?” Susie asked, sitting back on the sofa now.”

Percy turned pink. “Well, there’s sex, for one. Is that going to be a positive or negative? See why you should do this on your own?”

Susie had turned slightly red herself, again. But Percy was right, she knew. Sex was a factor. “A positive,” she said after a moment. Percy was careful not to look at her for a while as they continued with the list.

“Do you both want children, or is there a difference of opinion there?” Percy asked next.

“Well, I kind of want to have… maybe two… pretty soon. Andy is more inclined to think a couple should wait until they are well established. Is there an in-between column?”

“If you say there is, there is,” Percy replied, adding another column heading to the paper on which he was writing. “What do you really want in a husband, Susie?”

Susie sighed. “I guess what every woman wants. Faithfulness. Someone that will take care of me, but not be pushy about it. Someone that can take care of me. I mean, I plan to work and all, for a long time, but having kids, now or later, is a big financial responsibility. Raising kids is a big responsibility. All those things. Oh, and he has to love me, of course.”

“Of course,” Percy said. “Do you think he does?”

“I think so,” Susie replied. “I know I love him. He’s so much fun to be around. He treats me nice, but doesn’t insist on paying for everything every time. He lets me contribute to the things we decide to do. And we do decide. Neither one of us just says. We discuss stuff.”

“Have you discussed this with him?”

“No, not really. It’s just been some signs recently… I talked to Mother, and she said talk to you. You’re a guy. You could give me some insights.”

“Yeah. Maybe,” Percy said with a wry smile. “You do know I’ve never had much success with women.”

“Mother mentioned that things didn’t go well with you and Abigail.” Susie hurriedly added when she saw the look on Percy’s face, “She didn’t say much, just that she didn’t think it was your fault. That’s pretty much all she said.”

“Oh. Okay. Well, anyway… You say you can talk things over with him. That should go in the plus side, don’t you think?”

“Of course.”

“His responsibility. Do you think he’s personally responsible and financially responsible?”

“Personally he’s very responsible. Financially… Well, he’s saving money. I know that. But every once in a while he gets the hots for some techno thing. He gives in to it part of the time. Right now he wants a Rokon so bad he can taste it. Part of the reason he wants to borrow one of yours is to see for sure if he wants it. I think he’ll buy one if it works the way I know it will. They are very good machines. And fun. But still…”

“So personal responsibility in the positive. Financial… Negative or in between.”

“In between,” Susie said immediately.

“What about the other side of financial responsibility. There’s spending, but there’s also earning.”

“Oh, he’s really good about finding and keeping jobs. He’s had a couple, I know, but he was laid off the one for lack of work, and the other… the guy wasn’t honest. He’s had the job with Wilkins Oil now for two years. And he got the CDL. He’s worked for you a couple of times before that, and since, driving the Kenworth tractor. And he’s taking correspondence courses for a business degree. He just couldn’t afford to go to college. I mean he’s smart, but he missed so much school his senior year when he broke his leg in that football game. He would have got at least a couple of scholarships, except for that. He loves to learn, but he loves working, too.”

“I know he’s tried really hard to make up for the lack of college. I know how he feels,” Percy said. “So that part of financial responsibility in under the positive heading.”


“Now I know you love him, you said so, but he’s like me. Not the most handsome of men. What about the looks of the children. You’re a pretty girl. You want your daughter, or even son, to look like him?”

“Hey!” protested Susie. “He’s not that bad looking. He got his share of dates in high school. I don’t think our kids will be that bad looking.”

“Okay. Positive or in between.”

“Well… in between, I guess.”

“You mentioned he had lots of dates in high school. You mentioned faithfulness. Do you think he’ll be faithful?”

There was no hesitation. “He will be. He looks at other girls, just as I do guys when a good-looking one passes by, but he hasn’t dated anyone but me, since we started going out. I’m sure of it.”

“Faithfulness in the positive column,” Percy said, marking it down.

They were laughing by the time they finished, the last few items on the list rather silly.

“What should I do based on the list?” Susie asked, the laughter fading.

“That’s still up to you,” Percy said. He tossed the yellow pad to her.

“Oh my,” she said softly, seeing the list. “I may just have to marry him, if he asks,” she whispered. She looked up. “I need to go talk to Mother. Thanks, Mr. Jackson, this really helped.” She jumped up and ran around the desk to give him a hug and a quick kiss on the cheek. She headed out of the den quickly, the pad still in her hand.

“They sure grow up fast,” Percy said softly, turning on the TV. The news wasn’t good. The situation between India and Pakistan was still in limbo. China was grumbling about the situation now, too. He decided to see what he could find out on the internet, but it was down again. There’d been a report of power outages in Chicago, one of the major hubs for the internet, though there had been no mention of the internet in the report. Percy suspected that the power outage was the cause of the internet being down.

He was quiet through supper, thoughtful, letting Mattie and Susie discuss Andrew. Percy made a mental note to have Andy come out and pick up the Kenworth and the other tank trailer the next day. He’d have it filled and park it at the tank farm. Start using out of it and keep the other tanks full until the world situation became calmer.

Andy was delighted by the prospect. He was there before noon and back with the load of fuel by two that afternoon. He hung around and helped Percy connect the hoses and top off the stationary tanks from the compartments in the trailer. “I’ll let you know when I need you to come out and fill the trailer again, Andrew,” Percy said.

“You’re really worried about that thing going on in India, aren’t you, Mr. Jackson?”

“I am, Andrew, I am. I guess I’m pretty obvious about it, like with this fuel, huh?”

“Not to most. Most people think you’re a little strange, anyway.”

Percy smiled. They headed back toward Andy’s five year old GMC Jimmy. “Uh… Mr. Jackson, can I talk to you for a minute? I need some advice.”

“Sure, Andrew. What’s up?” Percy wasn’t surprised at Andy’s response.

“It’s about Susie. You know her really well. You’re almost like her father. I was wondering...” Andy looked down at the ground for a moment then looked into Percy’s eyes, a serious look in his. “What do you think Susie would say if I asked her to get engaged? And… Well… Do you think it would be all right if I did ask her?”

“Andrew, I’m not her father. If you wanted to get permission you should be asking Mrs. Simpson. As to what she would say… Andrew there’s no way of knowing until you ask. You obviously love her or you wouldn’t be asking me this. Would you say yes if she asked you?”

“I never thought about that!” Andrew replied. “I don’t think she would ask, unless I just waited way too long. I’m sure she loves me, but I don’t want to ask her if she’s going to say no.”

“Why not?” Percy asked, gently.

“Well, gee, Mr. Jackson! It’d break my heart if she said no.”

“What makes you think she’ll say no?” Percy asked then.

“I don’t think she will. But… I don’t know for sure. I think she’ll say yes.” He looked around quickly, and then pulled a ring box out of his pocket. “Susie is really practical. She’d certainly want a nice ring, but wouldn’t want me to get something I couldn’t afford. She’s good about keeping my head out of the clouds about stuff I think is neat.”

Andy showed Percy the ring, hunching over a little, to hide it from any point of view except Percy’s. “Very nice, Andrew. I’m sure she would love it. But you’re going to have to offer it to her and ask her before you know for sure. You’ve said you think she’ll say yes. Have you talked to her at all about marriage?”

“Well, kinda. We’ve commented on other people’s marriages a time or two. She seemed really non-committal.”

“In that case, next time the situation comes up, why don’t you ask her a leading question? If she seems inclined toward marriage more than before, that should tell you what you want to know.”

“Hey! That’s a great idea, Mr. Jackson! Thanks!” He put the ring box back in his pocket and climbed into the Jimmy. Through the window he asked, “Do you think you’ll ever need another hand, Mr. Jackson? Susie likes working here and I sure wouldn’t mind working for my father in law.” He was grinning when he said it, but Percy was sure there was an element of a real question there.

“You never know, Andrew. I don’t need a hand now, but I’d be willing to consider you if I did.”

Andy looked surprised. “Really?”

Percy nodded.

“I’ll keep it in mind,” said Andy. “I want to take good care of my family, and this would be a really good place to do it.” With that, Andy turned the Jimmy around and headed for the estate entrance in the now gentle rain.

The smile faded from Percy’s face when he went back inside the house. Mattie and Susie were in the house waiting for him. Both of their faces were white.

“Pakistan nuked India,” Susie told Percy, her eyes wide. “We saw it on the news over at the cottage while you were outside.”

Percy flipped on the main widescreen TV, plus the smaller monitors that flanked each side of the big screen. He’d installed the additional monitors to keep an eye on several of the news channels, the Weather Channel, the local TV station, and the networks, all at once. All of them were reporting the same thing.

Pakistan had used two nuclear devices to attack the cities of Jodhpur and Amadabad. One of the stations cut to the UN. The Chinese ambassador was speaking. The translation scrolled across the bottom of the screen.

“Oh, Lord!” Percy breathed out. “This is bad. Very bad.” The ambassador had just announced a warning to India not to retaliate against Pakistan. “China is just looking for an excuse to go into India. They want the resources to help fuel their building economy.”

“You don’t think they’ll really do anything, do you?” Mattie asked. “It’s unthinkable,” she added.

“The Pakistanis thought about it,” Percy replied. “There’s been a fanatic group trying to take control for months. I suspect they have. Holy Mackerel!” One of the news channel screens suddenly went blank, and then the main news desk set came into view. The newsreader was just taking his place behind the desk, putting in his earpiece.

“It is unconfirmed at the moment, but we have reason to believe that the capital of Pakistan was just destroyed by a nuclear detonation.” There was pandemonium in the background as the news staff tried to get addition information. Percy went to take care of the animals as Mattie and Susie continued to watch the news.

When Percy returned, they filled him in on the most recent information. “India hit back with three nukes,” Susie told him. “Islamabad, their nuclear power plant, and where the missiles were launched from, in case they have more, according to the experts.”

“Any response from China?” Percy asked.

“Nothing yet,” Mattie replied. She rarely used Percy’s first name, but she did now. “Percy, would it be all right if we stayed here tonight? I know the cottage is just as safe, but…”

“Of course you can stay here.” They heard the doorbell and Percy hurried to answer it. It was the twins.

“We just heard the news,” Jim said.

“What do you want us to do, Boss?”

“You can stay here and watch the news with us if you want, otherwise go back to the cottage and try to get plenty of rest. Tomorrow may be a busy day.”

The two exchanged a look. “We’ll go back to the house and make a couple of calls. Our mother is going to be hysterical. She was in Florida during the Cuban Missile Crisis and is terrified of stuff like this,” Bob said.

“If you want, make arrangement to bring her down here to stay with you,” Percy said.

“Thanks, boss,” Jim said. “We’ll try to talk her in to it. It might be a little difficult.” The two exchanged another look, and then Jimmy spoke again. “We might have to go get her.”

“That’s okay. Whatever you need to do. We can handle the estate if we need to,” Percy replied.

As the two hurried off, Percy held the door open. Bernard was hurrying over. “Boss, I hate to ask, but my wife is frantic. She wants me to come home.”

“Okay, Bernard. You know you’re welcome to bring her out here. The other cottage is empty.”

“Thanks, boss. I’ll try, but she’s convinced there’s no hope once it starts. And it’s definitely started now.”

Percy waited until Bernard had left the estate, and then flipped the switches that closed the two pairs of heavy entrance gates. This was the first time Percy had closed them in months, except for their weekly test.

No one was hungry, so Mattie just fixed a light snack for them, and then returned to the den with it to watch the news with Percy and Susie. They finally all went to bed just after midnight, Susie and Mattie sharing one of the guest rooms that had twin beds.

As soon as Percy got up the next morning, he checked the news. Things were getting worse. Germany was demanding the withdrawal of all US troops. France had dispatched additional troops to several of her former colonies, stating it was to maintain the peace in these times of trouble.

The main news story however, was the incursion of North Korea into South Korean territory. The United States was warning North Korea to withdraw immediately. China was warning the world to stay out of the local conflicts. The conflicts were local in nature and the locals would handle them.

The UN Security Council was in emergency session, discussing the situations. According to the reports, the Council would make no announcements until they came to a decision. Percy moved a thirteen-inch TV to the kitchen so they could watch the news while they prepared and had breakfast. The twins came over in the middle of the breakfast to talk to Percy.

“Mr. Jackson, we hate to ask, but Mom doesn’t want to come. We need to go back to Minneapolis and try to talk her in to coming. We hate to leave you in the lurch, but…” Jim’s words faded away.

“We really don’t want to leave, but it is our mother…” Bob added softly.

“You don’t need to explain,” Percy told the brothers. “Take what time you need. Try to get her to come here if you can.’

“Believe me, we will,” responded Bob. “Thanks, boss. We’ll get back as soon as we can.”

“Okay. Take care. There’s a lot of unrest and fear out there right now. Expect some delays.”

“Thanks,” Jim added as they headed out the door.

“I’d better get out to the barns,” Percy told Mattie and Susie. “I’m expecting John and Smitty to show up at their regular time, since they didn’t call.” He suddenly looked slightly alarmed. “That’s assuming the phones are working.” He went over and picked up the receiver of the phone in the kitchen.

He breathed a sigh of relief. “Phones are still working.”

“Why wouldn’t they be?” Mattie asked, clearing the table. It was obvious Percy wasn’t going to eat any more.

“Susie, you can stay in here with your mother if you want. Bring out any new information as it comes in.” Percy had stopped, his hand on the doorknob.

“I’d rather be working,” Susie responded immediately. “Mother, could you bring out any news? We won’t be able to hear a radio working in the greenhouses.”

“Of course,” Mattie replied.

“You really don’t have to come out, Susie,” Percy told her.

“I’d really rather work,” Susie replied.

“Okay. Let’s go see if the others are here.”

John and Smitty were driving up when Percy and Susie went out. They discussed the situation as they walked to the greenhouses to go to work. Mattie came out once to tell them that the UN had passed a resolution informing China not to interfere, the way China had warned the rest of the world, particularly the United States.

They worked through the day with no additional real news, just speculation and reports of the devastation caused by the five nuclear devices detonated in India and Pakistan. As they were cleaning up, Smitty Smith asked Percy, “Can I talk to you a minute, Boss?”

They stepped away from the others. “I’m sorry, Percy. I’m going to head for the hills. I have that place up by Yellowstone. Not really a real retreat, as in the Seventies survival craze, but I have a good rock cabin up there and enough supplies for a month. Plenty of game and the laws won’t matter if things get as bad as they might.”

“I agree with you on that last part,” Percy said, knowing he was talking a lost cause. “I’m not so sure that’s the best area to be. You know you and your family are welcome here, if things get bad.”

“I know, Percy. And I do appreciate it. You have the best setup of anyone around here. But I’m just more comfortable with my own preparations. I just hate to leave you short handed, especially if nothing comes of this.”

“Don’t worry about the estate, Smitty. We’ll manage with what we have. If the situation goes bad, it’s not going to matter much. We’ll just batten down and ride it out.”

“That’s my plan,” Smitty replied. After a moment’s hesitation he continued. “I’d understand if you said no, but if everything turns out okay, which I think is a good possibility, I’d like to come back to work when things settle down. If you haven’t found a permanent replacement. I really think things are going to be okay, as long as China doesn’t do something stupid. I just don’t want to take a chance.”

“I understand,” Percy said. “I feel much the same way, except I’m not as confident as you that China won’t involve itself in what’s going on. They want India’s resources. Either way, don’t worry about your job. You’ll be welcomed back.” Percy forced a grin. “You know there aren’t that many people that want to work for a crazy old man like me.”

Smitty grinned back. “It’s not that bad,” he said, “But you do have a point. I’m heading out tomorrow, but if things go the way I think they will, I’ll be back in time for fall harvest.”

The two shook hands. “Stop by in the morning. I’ll have your pay for you. In cash, just in case.”

“Don’t worry about that, Percy. Just hold it on account for me. I’ll be back to collect pretty soon. I’ll probably need it more when I get back than I do now.”

“In that case, have a safe trip and good luck. We’ll see you in a few weeks.” Percy didn’t add the “I hope,” he thought.

John came over as Smitty left. “Smitty heading for the hills?” John asked.

“Yes. I can understand. I’m worried, myself.”

“Yeah. We were talking about it the other day. He has that place up in Wyoming, by Yellowstone. Lots of water and game. His cabin has geothermal heat from a hot spring. He asked me to go with him to lend a hand, but I don’t want to leave you short handed. You said I could stay here. I hope that still goes.”

“Of course it does,” Percy said. “But if you really want to go with Smitty and think you’d be some help to him, which, of course you would, it’s not a problem for you to go.”

“I really don’t want to leave you short, Boss. I know the twins won’t be back for a few days and Bernard is gone for the duration. That leaves an awful lot for just you and Susie.”

“I’ve got a couple other options, plus Mattie can lend a hand. She has in the past,” Percy replied.

“Smitty really could use my help. You know they have that new baby and the two little ones. Charlie is a good boy, but he’s only twelve. And with me, my truck, and supplies, it would give them an extra margin of safety.”

“Sounds to me like you need to go, not just would like too. Honestly,” Percy said, earnestly, “I think you should go. We really will be able to manage. Don’t worry about your job, either. Smitty is sure this will all blow over. He just doesn’t want to take a chance. Don’t worry about your job. It’ll be here when you get back.”

“I’m not as sure of that as Smitty is. Okay. I’ll go help Smitty. I’m really sorry about this.”

“Don’t be. It’s a lot more important to take care of a family than it is our produce. I’m assuming Smitty wants to leave early so if you want to come back this evening I’ll have cash, instead of a check.”

“A check is fine. I should be able to cash it in town without a problem.”

“As long as you’re sure. Stop at the house and I’ll have it ready for you.”

“Okay. Thanks.”

As Susie and Percy walked back to the house, and John was getting into his truck, Susie said, “They heading out, too?”

“Yes. Can’t blame them, though I’m not so sure being that close to Yellowstone is that safe, under the circumstances. Got to admit, it sounds like Smitty has a nice, secure place there, and with John’s help, they should be fine as long as the volcano doesn’t blow.”

“Yellowstone doesn’t have an active volcano. I know there are hot springs and stuff, which means some activity, but not a real volcano.”

“Much of Yellowstone Park sits on the caldera of a huge past volcano. It’s been hundreds of thousands of years since it blew the last time. No reason to think it will again any time soon. There aren’t any nearby targets to draw a nuke that could set it off. I need to get that check for John. I’ll be in for supper in the dining room in a few minutes. I don’t want to get too far off our normal routine.”

“We’ll go back to the cottage tonight. There’s no real reason to stay here in the house.”

“Up to you guys,” Percy said, turning into the den. “I don’t mind if you stay here.”

It took only moments to get John his check. Percy actually had enough cash on hand, but he made it a point to keep his personal books separate from the estate business books. He paid by check the estate debts, plus the bartering when he could, but he kept the same kind of paperwork for the estate barters as he did personal barters.

After supper they adjourned to the living room to watch the news. Things were tense in the Far East, but no additional action was being taken. The confrontation in Korea was at an impasse. North Korea was entrenched seventy some odd miles into South Korea and fighting was intense, but that was the limit of it.

Mattie and Susie were preparing to go to their cottage when they felt the first tremor. The earth sheltered concrete dome home was solid. You would never know a terrible thunderstorm was raging outside it was so quiet.

When they felt the first movement and the lights went out, Percy called, “Get down next to the coffee table!” It was a heavy, rather blocky table, the legs and rails being oak four by fours, with slate tiles inlaid on three quarter inch oak plywood.

While standing in a doorway was probably better than standing in the middle of the room, the best protection was to be beside something that would support anything falling downward. Many earthquake deaths were crushing deaths. Often ceilings and upper floors would fail and fall. The wall thickness of a doorway did not provide much protection from those types of structural failure.

It was common to find survivors in the cavities next to heavy, stout furniture that supported debris and prevented it from pancaking to the floor, crushing anything between. Percy had a heavy structural element or stout furniture in nearly every room in every structure beside which a person could crouch or lay during earthquakes. It might not even be necessary in the concrete domes, they were so strong, but Percy didn’t take chances.

Nothing broke or fell as the rumbling continued for well over a minute. When the shaking stopped, it was slightly over a minute more before the automatic switching for the generator that supplied the house in emergencies started the generator and fed power to the key circuits of the house.

The three climbed to their feet and Percy said, “I’m going to check on the animals.”

“I’m going with you,” Susie said. Percy didn’t object.

“I’ll check the house for damage,” Mattie added, turning toward the kitchen first.

It took a little while to calm the animals. The other generator that was on automatic controls was the one that fed the animal barn. The lights were on when they entered. As they were going from one animal to another, issuing soothing words and dispensing extra rations of feed, Percy called over to Susie, “Dollars to donuts that was the New Madrid fault letting loose. The local quakes here are usually much shorter and feel a lot different.”

“That’s such a long ways away,” Susie replied.

“Some of the eighteen eleven, eighteen twelve quakes were felt all the way to Boston, here, and in Kansas, too. This one just doesn’t feel like our locals. We’ll find out in a little bit from the news.”

When they had the animals calmed down, especially the horses and dogs, they went back to the house. Both were concerned when they saw Mattie. She was white as a ghost. She pointed to the TV in the living room.

A newscaster looking much the same way as Mattie was saying, “The reports are confirmed. A nuclear device has detonated on the San Andreas Fault in California, one at New Madrid on the fault in Missouri, and the third at the United Nations complex in New York during another emergency session.

“These are believed to have been terrorist attacks. The devices were low yield. They were not missile or bomb attacks. The United States forces have gone to high alert, but no retaliatory attacks are being launched at this time, nor are any pending. The President is asking for calm and restraint. Aid is being dispatched to the affected areas. There is very little fallout from the San Andreas and New Madrid devices, as both were apparently deep underground detonations. It is believed the devices were dropped down irrigation wells.

“The fallout from the UN detonation is, at the moment, blowing out to sea. Warnings have gone out to the area around the UN and to ships at sea. More in a moment.” The haggard looking newscaster was removing his earpiece. He looked like he was about to be ill.

Percy switched channels, and then said, “I’m going into the den to check the other monitors. I want you both to stay here tonight. Go get anything you’ll need for a few days. But hurry.”

As the two headed for the front door, Percy headed for the den and its bank of TV monitors. Even the Weather Channel was reporting on the situation, providing prevailing wind and fallout details.

Percy was at his desk, making a list when Mattie and Susie came in. “We put our stuff in the green guest room. Percy nodded but continued working on the list of things he needed to do the next day.

They stayed in the den all night, dozing on the comfortable sofas and recliners the room boasted, watching the rescue efforts that were already ongoing. When morning came around they were still on emergency power. They showered and changed clothes in turn, and then Percy and Susie went out to tend to the animals. They’d accomplished the needed tasks in the greenhouses the day before, so went back to the house after checking the other buildings for damage.

The structures were well designed and well built. There were a few things that had fallen off shelves, but no serious damage at all. The animals were all calm. Percy debated for a bit before he turned them out, which was the normal daily routine. If things got worse, they might be in the barn for an extended period. Better, he decided, to let them have as much outside time as possible.

The dogs stayed close to Percy as Susie and he made the rounds. The horses hovered near the pasture fence, as close to the humans as they could get. None of the animals seemed to want to drift very far from the entrances to the barn, including the chickens.

When Brian Epstein failed to show up Percy debated again before he decided to take the milk and eggs in to the dairy, instead of processing the milk and candling the eggs and putting them into the household stocks.

Then, when Susie asked him, rather hesitatingly, to stop and check on Andy Buchanan, he changed his mind slightly and sent Susie in. She took the Suburban, instead of her Subaru. The power came back on just as she was driving away. Susie didn’t have to stop and open the gates manually. The remote worked when she didn’t even think about the power being off and used it to try to open the gates.

When she returned two hours latter, Percy was up the third antenna tower, removing the cameras from their mounts. He’d left one on an all axis remote control mount on this tower, but had removed all eleven of the other small cameras.

Susie watched him climb down the tower before she walked into the new shop building with him. “Why’d you take down the cameras? I thought you’d want them up for security.”

Percy shook his head. “I left the one up on number three tower on the remote control mount. I don’t have spares for these and can’t get them. They’re a discontinued model. If there is an electromagnetic pulse it will probably fry all of these. If I lose the one, I can replace it with one of the ones I took down.”

“Oh,” Susie said. “Uh… Mr. Jackson, I made Andy promise to come out here if things got any worse. I hope that’s okay.”

“Of course it is, Susie. I would have done the same thing if I’d gone in. I should have insisted that you do it when I sent you in. Also the Bluhms. I’ll go talk to them here in a little bit. Couple more things I want to make sure get done.”

“What do you want me to do, Boss?” Susie asked. “I can’t stand just sitting around.”

“Until this is over, I’d prefer you and your mother to take up residence in the main house. I’d like you and Mattie to bring over everything you might need for an extended stay. Go ahead and take two rooms so you’ll each have plenty of space.”

“Mother’s not going to want to do that,” Susie replied. It sounded like a good idea to her.

“I’ll talk to her. You might want to see if Doc needs some help.”

“I think I will. He has Stevens’ bull over there for pneumonia and it’s easier for two to medicate him. I’m surprised he hasn’t called me to come over and help.”

Percy immediately picked up the phone receiver. “Power’s on, but the phones are still out, I guess. I never even thought to check them last night.”

They both jumped when the phone suddenly rang.

“Hello?” Percy said, feeling a little foolish.

“Mr. Jackson, it’s Andy. Andrew Buchanan. I talked to Susie this morning and she somehow got me to promise to come out there if things got worse. I know you kind of said the same thing, but I wanted to check first, just to make sure.”

Percy cut his eyes to Susie. “It’s fine, Andrew. I was going to ask you again myself, but I sent Susie because I needed to get some things done here this morning. I don’t suppose you have time to do a little side work? You’re probably pretty busy with fuel deliveries now, though, aren’t you? People are going to want to stock up now, for sure.”

“They sure are, but that’s a real problem. We were expecting deliveries today, but our supplier called and said it could be as much as a month before we get another significant delivery. We’re supposed to get a couple tanker loads tomorrow or the next day, but that’s all. Mr. Wilkins thinks there’ll be some rationing going on by the time it gets here.”

“I could use some help out here, if it turns out Wilkins doesn’t need you for a while. Three of my hands are making preparations at home and can’t work for a while.”

“Yeah, I know. Mr. Jacobson stopped to fuel up and said he and Mr. Smith were headed for Wyoming and that Bernard Robert’s wife needed him at home again. I was going to see if you needed me to help when I wasn’t working here at Wilkins.”

“Thank you, Andrew. I appreciate that. I would like you to come out any time Wilkins doesn’t need you. We can discuss the pay when you come out the first time.”

“I don’t really need pay. Maybe some groceries, like you barter sometimes. I think things might get hard to get, with what’s happening in California.”

“We’ll come to some arrangement, Andrew. What about your father? Do you want to bring him out here?”

“No, Mr. Jackson. Whatever happens I couldn’t take care of him. He needs to stay in the rest home. I’ll do what I can for them there, but the daily care needs… It’s just really not possible. I was there last night when the quake hit. He’s upset that he can’t help, but knows he has to stay there. It’s all that’s keeping him alive. He doesn’t want to be a burden on me. Pop knows I don’t have the resources to take care of him.”

“Maybe out here…” Percy suggested, knowing the response he would get.

“You know Pop. He just won’t go for it. It’s okay his veteran’s pension is paying for the rest home. He wouldn’t take your help or anyone else’s.”

“I understand, Andrew. I just wish there was some way I could help.”

“I know. Thanks. Pop is where he needs to be, no matter what happens.”

“Okay, Andrew. Just come on out any time it suits you. Day or night.”

“I will, Mr. Jackson. Thanks. Say hello to Susie for me.”

“She’s right here, Andrew. You can tell her yourself.”

“Andy,” Susie said, “I’m glad you apparently agreed to come out here. Especially work for Mr. Jackson. But I don’t really appreciate you checking with him after I told you what I did.”

“I know. And I believed you. It just one of those guy things, I guess.”

“Guy thing, huh? It’s a good thing I love you or I’d hang up on you for that.”

“You love me? Really? I love you, too, Susie. I wish I’d told you sooner.”

“Oh, Andy! I do. I wish I’d told you sooner, too. Please, please, come out here if things look bad. Please.”

“I promise, Susie. I promise. I love you. Bye.”

“I love you. Bye, Andy.”

“Well. That’s nice to hear,” Percy said.

Susie threw her arms around Percy. “He loves me! He really does. He was asking these kinds of leading questions the other day. About marriage and all. But he didn’t ask me and I was afraid I gave him the wrong impression. I don’t think so now. I’ve got to go tell Mother.”

“Okay. But don’t forget about Doc and moving your stuff.”

“I won’t.”

“Tell your mother, too, that I’m headed for the Bluhms. I want to talk to them about coming here if there are more problems. That’s a nice house, but not good enough for anything as serious as what this may become.”

“Good. I really like them.”

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