Percy's Mission Chapters 25 - 29


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Chapter 25

Calvin couldn’t find anything else wrong with any of the electronics. It looked like only the one scanner and the weather radio in the living room had been damaged. And the big screen TV. The radio in the kitchen seemed to be working, and it had been connected to a small wire antenna. None of their receivers worked very well without external antennas due to the shielding effect of the earth-sheltered construction. At least they’d had EMP protection on everything, even though not all of it had worked adequately.

Nan met him in the kitchen a few minutes later and said, “It’s like we planned. The kitchen, this bathroom, and the pantry are showing no radiation at all for the moment. There aren’t any places where there isn’t some reduction, based on the CD-717 remote meter. But, like the area from the front door toward the hallway, there are a few places where the protection factor is only a hundred or so, rather than a thousand.”

“We’re in good shape then. What was the outside reading?” Calvin asked.

“Only fifty roentgens, but I swear I could see the needle creeping up as I watched it.”

“Probably is. Let’s get a few things and set up for an extended stay in here.” He hugged her and said into her hair, “We’re going to be okay. We just have to hunker down and deal with it.”

“I know,” she replied, slipping from his embrace. She gave him a quick kiss, and then hurried off to the bedroom, Calvin following quickly behind. It took only a few minutes to bring down enough clothing and toiletries to last for several days.

It was several days and more before they ventured outside. It was two days after things started before the radiation peeked. Calvin assumed it was the massive fallout from the Dakota missile sites. That was about the same time that he and Nan began to cough. Calvin suddenly looked at Nan and said, “I forgot to put the filters inline with the HVAC system!”

He ran for the garage and quickly diverted the air intake through the filter pack and hurried back to the kitchen.

An anxious look on her face, Nan asked, “Do you think it’s poison gas?” She coughed to clear the burning sensation in her nose, mouth, and throat. The smell was fading.

“No. No. Its obviously gas, but it had a sulfurous smell. I’m thinking it’s fumes from Yellowstone or some other volcano. But it could have been poison gas, or lethal fumes from the volcano. I should have switched in the filters immediately. Actually, several of the really bad volcanic fumes are odorless. I could have killed us both!”

“It’s all right, Cal,” Nan reassured him. “It worked out okay.” She added, lightly, “Just don’t do it again,” to try to make him feel a little better.

“You can count on that. I guess we should eat.”

They pretty much ate, read, and slept, with some time spent listening to the shortwave radio from time to time. They heard enough to know that the situation was essentially worldwide. There had been a nuclear war. And Yellowstone had blown. But there were plenty of survivors in some locations. Survivors like themselves.

After a week of being closed in, they began to loose power from the solar cells. It was often cloudy with volcanic ash, which continued to fall steadily. Calvin surmised that the panels were probably covered with the ash. They had several LED flashlights and lamps, with plenty of batteries for them, so they had plenty of light. The stove was propane and they also had plenty of that.

They were getting anxious to get out after the first fourteen days, but the radiation level was still too high. But it did rain and Calvin checked the battery charger the next day. They were getting current again to the batteries. Nan suggested they wait for a couple of days to let the batteries recharge before they began to draw power from them. Calvin agreed.

“I think I should come with you,” Nan insisted on the twentieth day after the attack. “It will be safer if we both go out.”

“But I don’t want you to get any more exposure than you absolutely have to.”

“Well, is this trip absolutely necessary?”

“I can’t say it’s life and death, no. But we… I need to check on some things for my own peace of mind.”

“I have that same need, Calvin.”

Calvin knew better than to press it any longer. Nan had a mind of her own, and when she was right, he had to admit it. They both put on Tyvek footed and hooded coveralls, put on respirators, gloves and boots. They taped the joints for each other, and then ventured outside. Everything had come through with flying colors. They took a little time to wash off the U500, after looking around the place. After that they opened the garage and brought out the A300 and the Toolcat. Both had buckets on them and were used to good effect to clear the parking area of its accumulation of ash.

“That’s enough for today,” Calvin said. “Let’s go in the garage and decontaminate and wash the residue back under the garage door.”

Nan had had enough. The sight of the new accumulation of ash, even after the rain had knocked much of it off the trees and down the ravines rather got to her. It was a drab, gray-brown day, even with the sun shining.

But it rained again that night. When they checked the next morning the sky was still hazy, but without falling ash, and the trees had been washed clean. They checked the survey meter. Down just a little from the day before. They could risk a quick trip to town. “We turn back at any sign of trouble,” Calvin said. “We can’t afford to be out of the shelter for more than four hours.

After checking the U500 with the survey meter, they decided to wash it down again. There wasn’t much accumulation of fallout, but there were still fine particles of fallout coming down. It was low levels of radiation, but it was better to reduce the risk as much as possible.

They didn’t get very far. And it wasn’t just the effort to clear the twotfoot accumulation of ash from the road with the loader bucked mounted on the Unimog. Only halfway down their drive and they came upon a truck they recognized. It was Herbert Anderson’s old truck. The truck was off the road. “Oh, no!” Nan said softly, seeing the two forms inside. The bed of the truck was piled high with cardboard boxes.

It was obvious the two were dead, their bodies already decomposing. “What do we do, Calvin?” asked Nan. “We can’t just leave them here.”

“No, we can’t. Let’s go back to the house and get something to wrap them in. Or wait. Let’s see what they might have in the truck. Every single manufactured item that exists is going to be precious from now until industry is back on its feet. We can’t afford to use anything we don’t have to, unless it’s for a very good reason.”

“This is a pretty good reason,” Nan replied.

“I know, honey. It is. But let’s just see what they have.” They went through the boxes in the truck. The rain had washed the fallout off the boxes. It had also ruined many of them. They contained mostly canned and packaged food, some of which was ruined from the exposure to the elements. It also looked like squirrels or birds had been into some of the packages. Most was salvageable.

One large box contained sheets, blankets, and a folded up air bed. Nan stared at the contents. “They were coming out to stay with us,” she said.

“From the looks of the ground under the truck they waited quite a while. Got caught in the worst of the fallout. I’m thinking Mr. Anderson had a heart attack on the way out and she just stayed with him until she died from the radiation.”

“You’re probably right,” replied Nan. “I guess we can use the bedding to wrap them in, can’t we?”

“Yes.” Calvin looked over at Nan. “I could use some help doing that, but I can bury them by myself.”

Even through the faceplate of the respirator, Calvin could see Nan’s face go even more pale than it already was. But she nodded and turned to get out the bedding.

It was an ordeal, but they got the bodies out and wrapped up in the sheets and blankets. Nan stayed with Calvin as he took the truck back to the house and fired up the Toolcat. A few more minutes and they had the backhoe attached, and were on they way back to the Anderson’s truck. It was the work of only a few minutes to dig a large grave for the couple.

Nan helped Calvin lower the bodies inside, but couldn’t watch when he refilled the hole. Silently they loaded the goods from the back of the pickup to the bed of the Toolcat. Nan climbed back into the passenger seat of the Toolcat and they went back home. The trip to town would have to wait a couple of days.

Chapter 26

Buddy wasn’t sure how long he held Charlene, but she finally quit crying. He held her for long moments more, and then gently disengaged himself. “We need to survey the place with the meter. Find out if we have any radiation leaks.”

Charlene rubbed her face for a moment with both hands, and then nodded. “Thanks, Buddy. I’m sorry I lost it like that.”

“Don’t worry about it. We were entitled, I think.”

“What do you want me to do?” she asked.

“Go ahead and get the things your brought up put away. I’m going to check the radiation.”

Charlene took the few things she’d brought with her and put them away in the trailer’s second bedroom where she had stored the stuff she’d already brought up. She hesitated for a few moments, and then quickly began to move everything to the other bedroom. The one Buddy was planning on using. If he argued about it, she’d just have to convince him.

With that thought, Charlene felt herself relaxing a little and she smiled. She stepped out of the rear door of the trailer and walked over to Buddy. “What’s it look like?”

“Well, the berm and steel door are keeping most of the radiation out, but we need to avoid the area in front of the big door. Everywhere else is fine.”

“What about the truck?” Charlene asked. “It’s parked right there, in front of the door.”

Buddy shook his head. “The radiation won’t hurt it. But I think I’d better get everything out of it that we may need before the radiation level gets any higher.”

He handed Charlene the survey meter and went to the truck to unload everything. When Charlene started to help he motioned her back to the safer area of the building. “I’ll take care of it. No need for you to increase your exposure any more than necessary.”

As he worked, Buddy continued to talk. “I checked the power system. The EMP protection worked, or we wouldn’t have the lights. We could have dealt with it, but having power is going to make things so much easier. We won’t have to run the genset as long as the solar power and wind systems hold up.”

Buddy frowned. “Maybe the fallout won’t build up too much. The solar panels are slanted pretty good.” Like her short crying jag had helped her, Buddy seemed to need to talk, at least for the moment.

“We should be just fine, even if the photovoltaic panels can’t get enough sun. The battery bank is charged and we do still have the wind turbine and generator. We also have alternative sources of light and heat for cooking. Warmth shouldn’t be a problem. The temperature stabilized at fifty-five degrees after I closed the place up. Need a jacket or sweater, but it shouldn’t be too bad. We can turn the heat on for a bit when we take showers and all.”

“What about nuclear winter?” Charlene quickly asked when Buddy fell silent.

“I don’t think it will happen… Well… Not nuclear winter. But I’ve been seeing things about the Gulf Stream. If it fails, we’re going to have bad weather for sure. Not like it hasn’t been strange, anyway. I’m not sure whom to believe. The global warming people or the new ice age prophets. I just hope there weren’t too many nukes used. Like I said, I don’t think that would cause nuclear winter, but I’m worried about some of the nukes setting off volcanoes or something. A big volcano or two, on top of the stuff in the air from the nukes might just cause a cooling trend. I just don’t know.”

“Well, we’ll weather whatever the weather does. You’ve got us pretty well set up here. How long could we stay in the shelter if we had to?”

“Easily two months. But the stuff I’ve read, we should be able to go out after a couple of weeks after the last nukes go off in this area. We’ll just check with the meter every so often and when the radiation is down, we go out and take a look.

“I wish now I’d put some kind of camera system in, but I was afraid the EMP would get it.” Finished with the unloading, Buddy walked over to the side of the structure, near where Charlene was standing. “We do have the periscope, such as it is.”

Reaching down, Buddy grasped the handles of the hand-built device. It was made of heavy pipe and pipe fittings, quality mirrors, and throttle control cable. It was counterbalanced with lead weights suspended by steel cable. With a grunt he lifted it to viewing level and took a look around. Other than the particulates that were the fallout, everything looked normal. It was still bright and sunny.

“Amazing,” he said, stepping away from the periscope so Charlene could take a look.

She had the same take on it as Buddy. “But it looks normal, except for the fallout!”

“That’s what I mean,” Buddy replied. “It just seems like it should be different, somehow.”

Charlene took another look. “Yeah. It is weird. I don’t know what it should be, but a bright sunny day with dust in the air isn’t it.”

“Exactly.” Buddy helped Charlene pull the periscope down and secure it. “Not much left to do, except maybe get a bite to eat, maybe read, and wait for the radiation to peak, then fall to a safe level.”

Buddy didn’t say anything when they went into the trailer and he saw that Charlene had put her things in with his in the one bedroom.

Their days were much as Buddy had said. Sleep, eat, read, watch DVDs. And check the survey meter several times every day.

It was boring, but they got through the two weeks. Buddy checked the periscope, and everything looked the same. It was a clear, sunny day. There was no ash in the air. But when they began checking with the survey meter at the door, the level was just below one roentgen. The fallout had peaked at 988 roentgens.

“We can go out for a few minutes,” Buddy said, looking at Charlene. “Just to check things. We’re going to need to stay sheltered most of the time for three months. But barring a renewed attack, we can at least get out and do some things.”

“Three months! Oh, Buddy!” Charlene went into Buddy’s arms. He held her for a while, but she calmed herself. “I’m sorry, Buddy.” She managed a small smile. “It just I’ve never been through a nuclear war before and don’t quite know how to act.”

“It’s all right,” Buddy said. “I’m not too thrilled with the situation, myself. But I plan to live to a ripe old age, and that means avoiding increasing the risk of cancer any more than I have to.”

“I’ll cope. As long as you’re willing to hold me from time to time.”

A soft look came over Buddy’s face. “You know I will.” He took her in his arms again and kissed her.

Then, stepping back, he added, “Let’s at least go take a look around. And I want you armed, just in case.”

Charlene nodded. One of the things they’d done to pass the time was firearms training for Charlene. Buddy was no great shot, but he knew the basics and taught them to Charlene over the two weeks. They were able to shoot the pellet pistol and rifle Buddy had, to familiarize her with shooting. One of the things they’d do once they were outside was get a bit of target practice, with the firearms, so Charlene would be comfortable with them.

Buddy was by no means a serious gun collector, nor had he stocked up on “survival” weapons. He had an old M1 Garand his father had picked up, along with the Colt 1911A1 .45 ACP that had belonged to his father as well.

In addition, he owned a Marlin 336 .30/30 for dear hunting; Remington 870 12 gauge pump shotgun for upland birds and waterfowl; a Ruger 10/22 .22 rifle and a Ruger Mark II .22 pistol for small game and for fun; and a Beretta Tomcat pocket pistol in .32 ACP. And because he once thought about getting into Cowboy Action Shooting, he’d bought a cowboy model Marlin 1895 .45-70, the Stoeger 12 gauge Coach gun, a Marlin 1894 in .45 Long Colt, and two Ruger New Model Blackhawk convertibles chambered for .45 LC and .45 ACP, along with an ADC .45 LC double barreled derringer.

His only real “survival” related firearms purchases were his “bug-out” rifle, a Savage 99A in .308 with Williams peep sight, a thoroughly modern Glock 21 in .45 ACP, and a ten round magazine extension for the 870 pump.

The weapons practice would have to wait. For the moment the main concern was just being outside for a few minutes. Despite the radiation exposure, Buddy and Charlene were glad to go out for a little while. They both donned Tyvek hooded coveralls with attached booties, slipped on dust masks, gloves, and rubber boots and went outside. Buddy had the tanker holster on over the coverall with the 1911 in it.

For the first few seconds they just enjoyed the sunshine. Then Buddy lifted the binoculars looped around his neck and looked toward the city. Charlene saw him blanch. She looked in that direction. Even without the binoculars she could see the smoke. Silently Buddy took the binocular strap from around his neck and handed the binoculars to Charlene.

When she used them, she could see what had affected Buddy. There were signs of numerous fires, some long burned out, but others still smoldering and smoking. A large part of the city had been destroyed by the blast and shock and the resulting fires.

Buddy walked up onto the top of the shelter and surveyed the rest of the property. He also checked the gate with the binoculars. The gate was still closed. He doubted if anyone else would be up here, but he couldn’t be sure. Many people were fleeing the city that day, and probably in the days afterward. With the radiation levels dropping, they were going to have to keep an eye out for things.

The next day they went out again for a little while. Besides checking on things, they began to decontaminate the top of the shelter and the area around it. That became the routine as they waited for the time to pass and the radiation level to fall.

Chapter 27

Charlie didn’t think about it until a couple of days later when he went to wash up. He hadn’t decontaminated when he’d come back into the drainage pipe after sealing the end of the pipe and bringing everything in. He took everything and shook it out and brushed it off in the furthest corner of the basement, then stripped and washed thoroughly at the same spot, then hurried back into the tunnel.

When he began to feel nauseous a week into his shelter stay, Charlie reread the series of articles in the paper, concentrating on the ones about radiation sickness. The best he could determine he must have got a dose somewhere between fifty and two-hundred roentgens. He would probably be sick, and might have bleeding gums and loose some hair, but it shouldn’t be fatal. According to the paper.

Though he didn’t feel like eating, he heated water at least once a day and made a meal of the food he had on hand. He had no way to purify the water seeping into the shelter, but it stayed clear and did not seem to be adding to his distress. Charlie ate when he knew he should, and slept most of the rest of the time, his body in the process of repairing the damage done by the early radiation damage.

The simple plan he came up with was to stay in the shelter until there was evidence of activity outside, or his food ran out. Already ill from the radiation sickness, he wouldn’t be able to afford to wait very long, if any, to find more food after his accumulation ran out. He’d be too weak to do anything if he waited longer.

He had a little diarrhea during the second week, but there was no way to tell if it was the radiation, the water, or just the overall situation. He had to take the bucket he was using for a toilet, adding some of the earth to cover the waste after each use, to the garage and begin using another. But that was all right. He had plenty. Charlie felt pretty good about the fact that he had enough energy to load it into the wheelbarrow and move it without collapsing.

At least he was getting some exercise moving the water buckets he kept filling from the seep. A little exercise seemed to help, though he did spend the majority of time lying down, much of that time sleeping.

Between the food the workers had left behind the day of the attack, plus the Ramen noodles and other foods he had on hand that day, Charlie was able to stay in the tunnel for twenty-seven days. He had not heard any sounds of activity outside the basement in that time.

He had his last package of Ramen noodles, and put the last energy bar in his pocket before he readied the bicycle and cart to set out to find more food, at the least. Perhaps better shelter, too. Maybe even a relief operation.

Chapter 28

When it became obvious that night that Edward and the others would not be coming, Angela thought Emily took it rather well. Angela told her that the radiation was already over two thousand roentgens. Emily seemed clueless, so Angela explained that if Edward, the Cutters, and Courtney weren’t in shelter long before now, they would die of radiation poisoning within a few hours.

Angela decided not to mention it to Emily when the day after the attack she was checking the area using the camera and saw Courtney stagger into the back yard, look around hopelessly and fall to the ground. She didn’t move again. Angela shut down the camera.

Fortunately, whoever equipped the shelter for Edward, for it certainly had not been Edward himself, Angela was sure, had included plenty of activities for the children to occupy them.

Despite the toys and games, the DVD player and movie selection, the children got restless not being allowed to go outside. Angela said a little prayer, hoping the person that had stocked the shelter had made it through. Besides the activities, and the long-term storage food, plenty of “comfort” food had been stored, too. The adults, as well as the children, were much the better for it.

Emily let Angela take charge. She took care of the kids and what little housekeeping was involved. Angela took care of the operation of the shelter, monitoring the ventilation, power, water, and sewage systems. Angela used the camera a few times a day to check on their surroundings. Several times all she could see was thick smoke. She saw a pack of dogs one day, early on, and the next time she checked, Courtney’s body was gone.

They fell into a relatively easy routine for the weeks they stayed in the shelter. For they did stay in the shelter until the radiation had dropped to under one roentgen. It took over two months.

Chapter 29

They took two of the eight people they taken to the estate with them to town when they went back. They were the two men that had been injured during the decontamination work in town. The doctors had treated them at the estate and released them. The other six were in the cottage that had not been in use. Two each in the two bedrooms and the other two in the living room on beds brought from one of the other houses. Melissa was caring for them. They all had relatively minor cases of radiation sickness.

Again Melissa stayed at the estate when the others went in to avoid exposure. This time Sara stayed with her to help, to allow Mattie to go in to see Tom and check on a few of her friends. It was raining this first day of August. A light rain, but cold. The temperature was in the mid sixties. Everyone was bundled up as if it was late fall.

It was still raining when they reached the town. There was a small crowd at Steven Gregory’s store when they arrived. Percy was glad to see that many people were carrying empty containers for water. He’d filled his second tank trailer with seven thousand gallons of water at the estate and had Andy bring it in with the Kenworth tractor. Andy began filling water bottles immediately.

They’d mounted one of the two box beds Percy had for the Unimogs on one of the trucks and brought the estate products in to town in it, with Percy driving. He was pulling a stock trailer with another calf and two pigs, plus half a dozen chickens in a transport crate.

Susie had brought the stretched van with Jock, Mattie, and the two townspeople. Susie let Mattie and Jock out at the store, and then went to drop off the other two at their homes. She pulled the small tank trailer with fuel.

Besides those waiting for food and water, there was a small group of people to see Dr. Bluhm. He’d brought what he thought he might need and began seeing people in the office of the store.

Claude was with Steven, and they helped Percy begin unloading the food from the Unimog. When the food was unloaded, Percy and Claude took the animals to his butcher shop. They unloaded the animals into the holding pens behind the shop. Claude would coordinate the butchering with Steven, to make the meat available for the orders Steven would take ahead of time.

When Susie and Percy both returned, Percy and Mattie walked down to the city hall to see Tom and the council. Percy had come prepared. Several people were waiting to see Percy there at the city hall. He asked them to wait until after he’d seen the council.

Mattie checked in with Tom, and then went off to find her friends. Percy hitched up the straps of his overalls and went into the council meeting room with Tom and the rest of the council. Several others crowded in to watch the proceedings.

“We can do this in private,” Tom said, surveying the group that wanted to watch.

“I’m okay with it,” Percy said. “In my view, this is their town and they have a right to know what decisions are being made, just like before the war.”

“That’s the way I feel, too,” Tom said. There were some murmurs from the council members, but Tom ignored them. He addressed those that had taken seats in the observers’ section of the meeting room.

“It’s okay to observe, but this is official business. Unless we open the floor for questions or comments, I expect everyone to keep it quiet while Mr. Jackson and the council discuss the matters before the council.”

Tom sat down at the head of the conference table and the members of the town council did as well. Tom motioned for Percy to take a seat. Percy took the proffered seat and opened the portfolio he’d brought with him.

“I guess we should let you know what’s happened and what we’ve come up with, before we start negotiating,” Tom said.

Abigail interrupted before Tom could continue. “We don’t have to explain anything to him. Just let him make his demands and we can do what we have to do. And I still think we should just seize the property and do what we want with it.” Her words brought some whispers from those observing.

“He’s not even close to the city limits,” Tom said, rather harshly. “We have no authority to seize anything outside the limits, and we may be on shaky ground doing what we are doing, if someone ever takes it to court, once the court system is up again. It’s just easier for everyone to know what is going on.

“Now. As I was saying, Percy, what we’ve done, based on what you indicated you’d be doing is assumed that the town owns everything in town that doesn’t have a local owner or local resident. Things like the Jiffy Quick store. It’s part of a chain and Rodney doesn’t own it. He was just manager. So it’s part of city property now. Not that there’s much use for it. It’s just an example.

“There are a lot of people that headed for the hills when this all started. We figure anything not tenanted is public property. We’ll keep track of everything, and if someone returns or has a claim, we’ll do something to correct the situation. There’s been quite a bit of scavenging already, but we’ve pretty much got that organized now, using your system of barter.

“We’re using Johnson’s warehouse to store things and Betty Lou is keeping track of where everything came from and where it goes. Most of us never realized how important some simple things are. Old newspapers have become very valuable, if you know what I mean.”

Percy smiled. “Toilet paper,” he said.

“Exactly. People are not throwing much of anything away and some are cataloging even little things that they have, with the intention of trading for things they need, just like you said. We figure to use the warehouse as a trading post for city property goods. The other businesses will do business as usual, just trading, bartering, and using gold and silver, like you said.

“Clarence, our mechanic, figured a simple way to get water, we just need more fuel. Alfred had a small deep well submersible pump in stock. We moved the generator from the phone company substation down to the maintenance building by the well and hooked it up. We can pump water and there’s enough power to use some other electrical stuff. We set up Howard’s big ham rig there and he keeps an eye on things while he monitors the radio during the day.”

Tom looked at Percy questioningly. “We’re giving him food credits, based on you saying you’d be buying some stuff the city has, to handle the well and generator.”

“It won’t be a problem,” Percy said. He pulled two plastic coin tubes from the pockets of his overalls. He removed a pad of his barter slips from the portfolio. “I’m prepared to make a few offers.” There were a couple of gasps and whistles at the glistening gold and silver.

The room was crowded with spectators by the time Percy and the council had concluded their deals. The city now had a treasury of ten one ounce gold coins, a hundred tenth ounce gold coins, a hundred twenty silver quarters and five hundred silver dimes. They also owned barter slips for a hundred gallons of gasoline, five hundred gallons of diesel, and food for two hundred individual meals.

In return, Percy now owned several items of town property, including the clinic shuttle bus, and the town’s agricultural museum and all its contents. No one seemed to understand why Percy wanted the museum, but Percy had offered what seemed a generous amount for it. Reasons why he wanted some of the other things weren’t quite clear to most, either.

He also gave the town additional gold and silver as his tax contribution for the following year. “We just figured an ounce of gold for each section, and an ounce for the improvements. I’ve got the six hundred forty at the estate, and then the other nine hundred sixty spread out,” Percy said, adding one one-ounce gold coin, five tenth ounce gold coins, a hundred silver quarters and two hundred fifty silver dimes to those already on the table. “We can adjust it next year, if that’s okay.”

“That’s fine, Tom said. “Geez,” he added staring at the gold and silver. “How we going to handle this?”

“I was figuring on opening a deposit account with Camden Dupree. I figure his bank is as safe as it ever was. You might consider doing the same.”

Tom saw a hand go up in the crowd. He smiled and acknowledged Dupree. Camden stood and said. “I’ll be glad to handle the money. For a fee.” Most of those in the room laughed.

Percy wasn’t sure what Tom intended to say, but Percy spoke first.” I’m okay with one tenth of one percent per transaction, accumulated until it is redeemable in round figures.”

It was obvious that Camden was figuring in his head. “That’s okay by me.” He looked around. “I’ll do the same with anyone. Gold, silver, and barter slips for labor, food, and fuel, like Mr. Jackson was talking about.” He looked at Percy.

“You said before the exchange rate for silver to gold is thirty-six to one. What is it for labor and food?”

Percy had figured to let that work itself out. He had a rough idea in mind. Since it had come up this early, he decided to voice his thoughts on the matter. “To keep it simple, what about a silver dime for a meal, a silver quarter for a day’s food, an hour’s labor, or a gallon of fuel. Would that work?”

Camden thought another minute. “That’ll work for me. Fuel seems high, but there is a limited amount available,” he said.

“Some will pay more, or won’t pay as much, but with a set conversion rate, at least for the meantime, people have a basis to make deals,” Percy said.

“I’ll post a chart at the bank. Mean’s I’m going to need to hire a teller and a clerk back,” Camden said, looking around for his former employees. None were there. “I’ll be down at the bank in just a little while to set up the accounts.” He left the room, a determined look on his face. He’d been wondering what he’d be able to do, with his back the way it was. Percy had just probably saved him from starvation. He wouldn’t be quite as ornery to him as he’d been in the past, he vowed to himself.

“If we’re done here,” Percy said, turning back to Tom, “I need to make arrangements for some other things.”

“We’re done. Chief, can you take this down to the bank?” Tom asked the town’s Chief of Police and town barber.

“Sure, Mayor. Me and Deputy Jones will get it there safe. Come on, Mark. You’re younger. You carry, I’ll guard.” Mark Jones gathered up the tubes of coins and the filled out barter slips and the two headed for the door.

“Well, then, I’m headed back to the Gregory’s and then the bank,” Percy said, standing up. He turned to face the now milling crowd. “I’m in the market for a few things. I’ll be ready to deal when I get to the bank. Rodney, I see you’re here. Could you meet me at the bank, in, say, half an hour?” Rodney waved an acknowledgement and agreement.

“And if anyone sees Mark’s father, let him know I need some stuff from the hardware store.”

“He died, Mr. Jackson,” someone called to him. “Mark sold the store to Mr. Gregory for the promise of food for a year.”

Percy recognized the young man as a friend of Andy’s. “Thanks. Are you staying busy or do you need some work?”

“I could use some extra food and stuff for the family. Mom’s kind of sick. This ash and stuff has her asthma kicked in really bad. The kids could use more milk.”

“Okay,” Percy replied, “I recognize you, but I don’t know your name.

“Henry Bradshaw, Mr. Jackson. I’m Henry Bradshaw. Me and Andy’s good buddies. I’m a hard worker, just like him. I know a couple other fellows need work, too, if you need some good hands.”

“I do. Come on with me. You can help Andrew with the water tanker.” Besides Henry, several others followed Percy back to Gregory’s Grocery. People were lining up to get food. Percy was a little surprised at the number that had silver coins. Most were signing barter slips for labor.

Steven had someone helping, so took a minute to talk to Percy, when Percy asked. “Things going okay?” Percy asked.

“Yeah. I’ve debated how young to let them sign up for labor. I’ve kept it at sixteen. What do you think?”

“I have things that can be done by someone as young as twelve. I don’t think I’d want the responsibility for anyone younger than that. And no more than four hours for them. Sixteen for adults sixteen and over.”

“Men and women the same?”

“Yes. I’ll put the person on a job they where they can be effective, no matter what the abilities.” Something caught his eye. “Has Jorge Ramirez bought anything?” Percy asked, nodding over to a man sitting in a wheelchair, watching the proceedings.

“No, he hasn’t,” Steven replied. “I offered him a little, even though he didn’t have anything to trade. He said he was okay, just wanted to see what was going on.”

“Make sure you make an offer for labor, like for the others. He’s as good as they come with horses, even with only one leg. His hour of labor would be just as effective for me as anyone else’s.”

The rain, which had dropped to a drizzle while they were in city hall, now stopped all together. The clouds were breaking up and the sun was peeking through. People began to shed jackets.

“Steven, I was told you bought the hardware store from Mark, after his father died.”

“Yes. I felt sorry for him. The city council wants him to stay on as deputy chief, but they can’t provide enough to take care of his family. With what I’m getting from you, I can afford to feed at least him for a year for what’s left in the store.”

“You want to sell it?”

“What are you offering?” Steven asked.

“That year of food, plus something more. What would you like, in addition to the year’s food for one person?”

“People are showing up with their coin collections. It’s easier than bartering. Some hard currency would be best for me. People are already willing to take it for things. Abigail baked some bread and will only take silver for it.”

“How about a ten rolls of silver dimes? That’s five hundred dimes, thirty-six ounces of silver. I know it’s not that much.”

“That’ll do,” Steven said. “This store is going to be all I can handle, anyway. Lot more labor intensive with the bartering and all. I’d have to pay someone to help me with the hardware store. I’d rather have the silver.”

“Okay,” Percy said, handing Steven a plastic roll of dimes. “You trust me to bring in the rest next trip?”

“Of course I do,” Steven said, pocketing the roll of coins.

Percy found Rodney waiting patiently at the bank for him. “Be right with you,” Percy told him, then went into the bank. People were standing around, but there didn’t seem to be much going on.

“Okay,” Camden said. “Mr. Jackson is here. We’re open for business.” Percy didn’t say anything about them waiting for him before they did anything. He just handed Brittney four coin tubes and three pads of barter slips. One pad was for a gallon of fuel on each of the slips, one was for one meal on each slip, and the third was slips for a day’s food.

Camden stood behind Brittney as she tallied up the deposit, wrote it on a deposit slip and handed it to Percy. Camden was beaming. He took the bank’s copy of the slip and turned, to hand it to Arthur Lang. “Set up a new account for Mr. Jackson. This is his initial deposit.”

Quite officially, his hands clasped behind his back, “We will deduct our one tenth of a percent from your account, Mr. Jackson, and credit the bank. And remember, all withdrawals must be made in person, or by your authorized agent.”

“I understand,” Percy said. “I’ll thumbprint any checks I write on the account, as well as sign.”

Camden looked a little startled, but quickly suppressed it. He’d only considered direct deposits and withdrawals. But what was in the bank was in the bank. There was no reason not to allow checks to be written on it.”

“Of course, Mr. Jackson,” Camden said quickly. “Just mark out the word dollars and write in the currency on which you’re paying the debt and initial it.”

Percy slid the thumbprint inkpad forward and pressed his thumb against it. “I’ll stamp my account sheet, if you like, for latter comparison purposes.”

Arthur quickly handed the paper to Camden, who laid it on the counter. Percy pressed his inked thumb on the top of the page, rather with a flourish. He picked up the counter pen and signed, then initialed beside the thumbprint.

“There you go, Mr. Dupree. I assume you will check each transaction against the print, signature, and initials, as appropriate, to verify authenticity.” Percy winked just slightly at Camden.

The tiniest of smiles lifted the corners of Cramden’s lips. “Of course, sir. This bank has always verified identity and authenticity. We will continue to protect our customers’ interests, just as we always have.”

“Thanks,” Percy said and stepped away from the counter. The next person stepped up, a coin collection folder in hand. “I want to go ahead and get my silver in here so I can’t lose it,” she said.

Percy went out, a smile on his face. “Randy,” he said.

Randy stood up from where he’d been sitting on the steps. “Yes, Mr. Jackson?”

“I need to use a little of that labor credit I have with you. I’ll supply the fuel, rod, and such for some items I need you to make for me.” He pulled a sheaf of papers from the portfolio in which he’d put his deposit slip.

“I need two primary stills and a secondary still to double distill alcohol. I also need another pair of methane digesters built. Here are the drawings. I’d like them twice as big as the originals. Can you figure how to do that?”

Randy studied the drawings for some time. “Yes, sir, I sure can. These are basic. Just a matter of scaling things up. The design can be the same, with some additional reinforcement elements.” Randy looked up from the drawings. “Do you have all the materials?”

“I do, but I’d like you to scrounge everything you can. Here’s a roll of dimes. Buy as much as you can. Check the rates in the bank and just ball park a price for the things you want. I want as much coin spread around the community as possible, so get a little from each person that has something that will work. Anything you can’t come up with, I can supply. I want to conserve the easy to use things as much as possible.”
“Okay. I have probably enough fuel to get out to your place, but I’ll need some to get back.”

Percy nodded. “If it is okay with your family, I’d like you to stay there overnight, every other day, to conserve fuel. I’ll provide meals while you’re there.”

“Okay, Mr. Jackson. You have a deal. I’ll still owe you after this. I appreciate you letting me pay off some of that debt.”

“Being the greedy man I am,” Percy said, “I’d like to extend the time you owe me a bit and pay for part of this with current currency. Food and fuel for you. Is that okay?”

“Well, sure! But you don’t really have to do that.”

“I want to,” Percy said. “You’re the only professional welder around. I’m going to need your services from time to time.”

“You’ve got them, guaranteed,” Randy replied.

Percy made several more deals that day on the steps of the bank. Some were executed immediately. Some were deals that would be transacted in the future. He hired six of the neediest to go to live at the estate and work full time for room and board, and some spending cash. The six included Henry Bradshaw and one of his friends. It also included Jorge Ramirez.

The fourth and fifth persons were the Jenkins. Ellen and Hank. Ellen would cook, clean, and act as bunkhouse boss. Hank would be working in the shop, mostly. They’d share the bunkhouse boss’ bedroom.

The other two were a pair of sisters, aged seventeen and eighteen. They’d be helping Mattie with the house duties, the gardens, and some work in the greenhouses. They were from a large family and were going to help provide food for them. Everyone’s belongings for a lengthy stay at the estate were loaded in the Unimog and the six rode out with Susie in the van.

Andy moved into the bunkhouse with his two friends, taking one of the four person bunkrooms. The sisters shared another. As those that were recovering became able to manage for themselves, they were taken back to town, to their homes. Three chose to stay. Two men and one woman. Still weak, Percy made a deal with them to do limited work, as they were able, for the time being, while drawing similar, but slightly less in wages than the others were. Mainly, they got plenty of good food, and the rest they needed to finish their recovery.

The trips were working out well. Percy began culling the animals he’d bought from several locals. He kept Doc and Susie busy taking care of ailing animals. Doc had a good basement and survived just fine, though Percy had to help him bury some of the animals he lost that he didn’t have adequate shelter for. They’d all been ill to start with and many didn’t survive the exposure of the radiation and the volcanic gasses that wafted through a few times with the ash.

They couldn’t save all the animals that were ailing that Percy bought. The carcasses, like those Doc lost, were buried on one of Percy’s noncontiguous fields that was close. As they decayed, they would enrich the soil.

A few of the animals that had been fed clean feed, but had been exposed to radiation and would die, were butchered for the meat. The meat wasn’t contaminated, but all the organs were processed through the methane generator, just in case. The hides were cleaned and used as rawhide.

Percy managed to be able to take in at least one good-sized animal for Clyde to cut up and Steven to distribute each week. The people that had sold Percy the animals had not been able to care for them properly. They would not even be able to transport them, except to walk them to town. Some of them were ten miles or more from town. Animals and humans alike couldn’t afford the additional dosages of radiation it would entail to travel that distance on foot.

People finally figured out why Percy had bought the town’s museum. It had an extensive collection of old farming implements. Many were horse drawn versions. Many more were early conversions of horse drawn styles to the then newfangled mechanical tractor. Percy had Randy and Hank convert them to horse drawn.

He got enough horses to have at least six teams that could work the fields, and another half dozen additional saddle horses. There were two sets of four steers each that took to harness and could do the heavy pulling like the Clydesdales. They wouldn’t be used to harvest much, but they were ready to work the ground the following spring. Percy used the mechanical equipment to harvest the failed field crops to avoid exposing the animals to the additional residual radiation.

The crops all went into the stills and methane generator, the remains buried with the animals on the other plot to enrich that soil for future use, when the radiation had finally decayed to a point where it could be used safely. The oily crops had been pressed for oil first, to feed the biodiesel conversion process, and then the cake was processed further in the still, then the methane generator.

They finally made a trip into the city. Percy had Susie go with Sara. The state government was functioning, Sara knew from the shortwave and amateur radio reports they were getting. A call had gone for former state employees that could, to report to their local offices.

Sara would eventually do her old job, but for the moment, she was census and report taker. Percy loaned her a laptop with extra batteries and a solar charger to make the work easier. She was one of the very few so blessed.

Percy made a similar arrangements with the city, county, and state government officials as he had with the town. It had taken quite a bit of negotiation, but between Sara, Tom, and Percy they avoided confiscation of Percy’s resources. That was despite Abigail’s and Jeb’s attempts to get Percy kicked off the property and it be taken over by the authorities.

It became obvious to the powers-that-be that Percy could produce far more running the place the way he had been than what the immediate confiscation and use of all his supplies would supply. They could always seize it later if Percy reneged on his agreements or made excessive demands in return for the goods and services he provided.

As a gesture of goodwill, Percy gave the county and state one percent of his diesel up front. Percy would also provide a certain amount of food and fuel to each of the governments every month at no cost. That was his cost to avoid complete confiscation. Percy considered it close to extortion, but he bit his tongue and made the arrangements. He was getting something out of the deals, anyway. The additional arrangements he’d made gave Percy a few material things he wanted, and the jurisdictions received much needed extra food and the fuel to provide for the needs of the communities.

Sara would get enough fuel to do her job in her hybrid. Despite all the electronics, it had survived just fine in the garage of one of the cottages, shielded by the earth surrounding it.

They found a computer module for Andy’s Jimmy and his friends used it on occasion, for a small fee. Andy seldom used it. He was almost always in one of the estate vehicles taking care of something for Percy.

By the time October rolled around, everything in the orchards and fields that could be harvested and used, had been. There had been some losses to the ever-bearing strawberry crop, as there had the blackberry crop. But what did survive had sold for a premium price in town, despite Percy’s intention to have it simply as the fruit portion of the food rations. After the initial purchase in the store, people began buying and selling from one another at higher prices.

The tree fruit crop suffered some, but not as much as other crops. There was quite a bit of additional handling of the fruit and the nuts. Percy insisted on double washing every single piece. Just as he did the strawberries and blackberries. Much of it was done in tanks, but the soft fruit was done by hand. The fruit and nuts, too, began to fetch premium prices in town.

Some of the fruit was far enough gone that, though edible, it wouldn’t even stand a trip into town. It was made into juice, jelly, preserves, and butters, or dried. Percy had the equipment to do it all. The sisters were kept busy helping Mattie with it. And Mattie had a pretty thriving supplemental business selling fruit pies for a while. Mattie baked them and Susie sold them in town, sharing the proceeds with Susie and the girls.

One thing that Percy worried about was his bees. He’d moved all his hives into the bee barn and closed it up right after they’d put the berms at the other barns. He’d kept the barn closed and the sugar water feeders filled until the radiation had dropped way down. Still the bees were dying in droves. He checked all the hives with the survey meter. The readings were only marginally above the background reading in the barn.

October started off cold. As cold as November usually was. Jim and Bob were bundled up to their eyeballs when they drove the Jeep onto the estate October Third. The top was ripped in several places.

“Almost didn’t get back,” Jim said, as they sat around the kitchen table in the house, hands wrapped around bowls of Mattie’s chili. Percy, Mattie, and Susie were clustered around, to hear the story.

“We got there just fine,” Bob started off.

Jim continued. “Had mom convinced to come with us. Then it happened.” Two pairs of sad eyes turned up to Percy.

“What you taught us,” Bob said, “Saved us. But it was too much for Mom. She had a heart attack. We carried her to the hospital, but it was too late.”

“Got a pretty good dose of radiation in the process,” Jim interjected.

“Yeah. Got sick as a dog. They let us stay in the shelter they’d set up in the hospital. By the time we were well enough to travel…”

Jim took up the story again. “We felt like we owed the folks that took us in something, so we worked, helping the community get going again. We were still pretty weak at that point, anyway.”

“Yeah,” added Bob. “Still are. That radiation stuff is pure poison.” The two exchanged a look. “The docs at the hospital said we’d have a much increased chance of cancer or leukemia and stuff in a few years.”

“Yeah,” Jim said. “But it was our Mom. We had to try. Anyway, we finally went back to the house and loaded up a few things we wanted to bring back. The Jeep wouldn’t start, of course.”

“The EMP thing, we figured.” Bob was telling the tale now. “So we unpacked the computer you talked us into taking with us, Boss. Cost an arm and a leg when we bought it, but it sure was worth it. Money ain’t worth nothing now.”

“We had that silver you gave us,” Jim said. “That saved our behinds a couple of times. People saw that date before 1965 and snapped ‘em up. We managed to eat and fuel all the way back on those two rolls. Had to push a few times for a few miles at a time, between stops where we could get gas. Part of what took us so long. Didn’t want to leave the Jeep, since it would run.”

Bob grinned up at them. “And I tell you, every time we pushed, it was up hill.”

“’Cept that time when the dang thing almost got away from us when we topped that little rise.”

“Yeah. Anyway, we finally made it back.”

“What happened to the Jeep?” Percy asked.

“Oh,” Jim said. “That.” Again the brothers exchanged a look.

“Yeah. Somebody tried to stop us. Fired right into the Jeep from an overpass. No warning or nothing. We floored it and made the guys jumping out from the edges of the overpass scramble to keep from getting run over.” Bob shrugged the sweater he was wearing down. “Dude clipped me with a twenty-two round before we got out of range.”

They saw the pink pucker on Bob’s shoulder. “Jim was weaving and all,” Bob continued, “but they either had somebody really good or really lucky.”

“If they were good, they’d been shooting something besides a twenty-two and you’d probably be dead. I say it was our good luck and their bad.”

“Can’t argue with that, Twin. Anyway, here we be. With one hole in me and a few rips in the Jeep top.”

“Yeah,” Jimmy said. “I see you got some new hands, by the look of things.” He was eyeing the two sisters that had come into the kitchen moments before. He looked up at Percy’s face. “We still got a job, Boss?”

“Of course you do,” Percy replied. “But not for a few days. I want one of the doctors to look you over and decide when you can go back to work and how much you can do at the moment.”

“That’s fine with me,” Bob said. “I can’t seem to ever get rested. A couple days with no responsibilities would be good.”
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