Low Profile (Part 2)


Chapters 5 through 8



Low Profile – Chapter 5

Though John was anxious to get to the storage units a few miles away in Hominy, he took another day to rest up from the trip. He kept his eyes out for Belinda, but didn’t see her as Adam took him around the whole of the farm to show him what had been done since the war.

“You said the fuel situation is all right. What about transport?” John asked.

“Not bad. Besides the farm equipment and trucks, most of which came through the EMP okay, we have one car and three pickups running on biodiesel, and two cars and a pickup truck running on E85 owned by late comers. They’ve all agreed to the community use of the vehicles when required. They can buy fuel for personal use for a silver dime per gallon for diesel, and a quarter per gallon E85, since we do have a finite amount of it. Or, they can trade equivalent value of goods or labor over the basic required for subsistence.”

“That working okay?” Everyone I see seems to be happy. Or as happy as one can be under the circumstances.”

“Yeah. For the most part. We have a couple that are always grousing about this, that, or the other, but everyone else keeps it from getting out of hand. Now the outside… That’s a different story, as you well know. We’ve got that one gang really tearing up jack. Though it shouldn’t be as bad now that you’ve whittled down their numbers some.”

“Do you think that was all of them, or just part of the gang?”

“From what we’ve been able to piece out, it was probably only a group. Big part of the gang, but definitely not all of them.”

“Been any attempts to root them out? Any ideal where they’re holed up?”

“No and yes. No to an attempt to root them out, and yes, we have a pretty good idea of where they are right now. That could change now, with your attack.”

Adam’s eyes had dropped when he’d answered John’s question. “We just… We’re mostly family men, and well… Just couldn’t seem to get a group together large enough to go after them.”

John didn’t press the point. “Any place they are likely to hit that they haven’t yet?”

“Us, for sure. I think it is only a matter of time. But I don’t think they are ready to take us on yet, especially after your actions. I’m sure you noted that almost everyone is packing something on their hip. Anyone going very far a-field takes a long arm, too, along with a FRS radio. If we need to leave on farm business, a group goes, heavily armed.”

Adam shook his head then. “We’ve had a few make arrangements to use the personal vehicles for trips that went out alone, but they’ve all been lucky nothing happened.”

“What about other farms and small places at risk?” John asked.

“I figure they’ll hit the Jones’ pig farm eventually. And the MacNameras’. There are a few more people out there that we know about through hearsay, but aren’t in direct contact with. I’ve told Claude Jones and Albert MacNamera we’d sent someone to help if they were attacked and could radio us.”

“I take it is reciprocal?”

“Well… sort of. They would try, but each one of them only has three or four people in the family and would be risking everything if they sent help to us. More than one person, anyway, and you know how dangerous traveling alone is.”

“Yeah. Guess I can’t blame them,” John replied, looking thoughtful.

“We think they are holing up between Skiatook Lake and Birch Lake, mostly working the towns on Highway 11, but coming this direction when things get too hot for them there. I’m afraid they probably heard our conversations about you coming to the farm. That’s why they were waiting for you.”

“I figured they might be monitoring our radio frequencies. That’s why I was so careful about things coming here.” He looked over at Adam again. “What about law enforcement? You haven’t mentioned any at all.”

“I know for sure the Sheriff and two deputies are dead. The other deputy is at one of the other farms, still trying to recover from radiation poisoning. He got a really big dose trying to help people. Don’t know about State. Haven’t seen any troopers. We heard some radio traffic on the scanner a couple of months after the war, but nothing since then. Ditto county radio traffic. Just a little after the war. Nothing now.”

“Means we have to handle things ourselves,” John mused. “And handle it without risking too many people.”

“We do have people that want to help,” Adam quickly said. “But they just don’t quite know how to go about it. We can’t afford to have very many people away from the Farm for very long.”

“We’ll figure something out,” John said. Then, changing the subject, John asked, “Adam, can someone take me into Hominy to get the truck?”

“Sure. Belinda wants to go in and see if she can recover some of her possessions. She got here with the clothes on her back. You should get her to tell you her story. It’s amazing.

As they turned toward the house again, Adam added, “I’ll send Joe and Dale in with you. Take the diesel Mercedes.”

It took almost an hour to round everyone up and get them ready, much to John’s dismay. Not because it delayed him, per se, but because it indicated a lack of preparedness to react quickly when something came up.

Belinda was the first one ready, very shortly after Adam talked to her in the kitchen of the house. Adam sent her to look for Joe, and he went after Dale. They had to fuel up the Mercedes as it was showing just above empty. Whoever had used it last had not bothered to fill it when they were finished with it.

John had noticed Belinda had come out of the house wearing a pistol belt with what appeared to be a cut down side-by-side shotgun in a holster on her right thigh. There were two spare ammunition pouches on the belt.

She also wore, John saw, a shoulder holster with some type of semi-auto handgun, with two spare magazines carried under the opposite shoulder.

Joe and Dale too, when they came up, each had a side arm, but there were no signs of spare ammunition.

“Guys,” John said, “We’re going to Hominy. Don’t know what we may run into. I think a little more armament is called for.” Both men looked a little sheepish and hurried off to get additional weapons.

“A sawed off, huh?” John asked Belinda while they were waiting for Joe and Dale.

“Yes,” she replied. “I can’t handle a long arm.” She said it matter-of-factly, making a motion with her left arm.

“I noticed that,” John replied. “What happened?”

“I don’t really like to talk about it,” she replied, glancing at John’s face for a moment, and then away.

“I understand. No problem.”

They stood quietly, waiting for the other two to return. They did so, in short order, each carrying a rifle. Joe had a Bushmaster clone of an AR-15, and Dale sported a Winchester Model 70 in .243 Remington.

John would have preferred a bit more firepower, but said nothing as they climbed into the Mercedes. Joe only had one three magazine pouch of extra magazines, and it looked like Dale had a handful of shells for the Winchester in a shirt pocket.

Dale drove, for John wanted to be loose to return fire if they ran into any trouble, despite Joe’s assurance that they had been to Hominy before, without any problems.

John noticed Joe sitting in the back seat beside Belinda. He seemed to be nodding off. Belinda on the other hand, sitting behind Dale, was scanning the terrain on her side of the car alertly.

“We’ll pick up my truck first,” John said as they neared the town. “Then you and I can go get your stuff, Belinda.”

“Okay,” was all she replied.

They made it to the mini-warehouse Adam’s family owned without incident. Much to John’s surprise, after he, Belinda, and Joe got out of the car, Joe climbed into the front passenger seat and Dale said through the open window. “We’ll see you back at the farm.” And they were gone.

John frowned. He had intended for the two to act as security while he got the truck ready, and while Belinda and he were recovering her possessions.

His attention was diverted when a voice came out of the intercom box at the gate to the walled facility called out, “Advance and be recognized!” and then a laugh.

Not one to take unnecessary chances, despite the man’s laugh, John replied, “John Havingsworth and Belinda Carlile. We’re from Adam Markum’s farm.”

“Sure. I knew that. I just always wanted to say that, like them army guys do.” He laughed again. “Adam radioed that you would be coming in.”

John smiled back as an older man stepped out of one of the smaller storage rooms with a regular door for an entrance. It was the one nearest the gates. John could have kicked himself for not noticing the camera earlier that was mounted under the eave of the building.

He did immediately notice the MP-5SD3 and the shoulder pouch containing six spare 30-round magazines the man carried. The MP-5SD3 went from the man’s right hand to his left, as he unlocked the gate. He held out the right for a handshake. “Charlie Smithers.”

“Mister Smithers,” John replied, shaking his hand.

“Just Charlie,” Charlie said, with another laugh. “Unit 93, right?”

John nodded.

“Got your key?”

Again John nodded.

“Well, I’ll leave it to you, then.” Charlie locked the gate, turned around and went back into the small unit out of which he had come.

“Let’s go,” John said. Belinda followed along as John led the way to Unit 93. When they were there, John brought out a set of keys and unlocked the lock on the door with one of them. He lifted the door and they stepped inside. There was just room to move around the pickup truck parked inside. The rest of the space in the 12 x 30 room was stacked head high with boxes of several different sizes, and other containers, including plastic buckets.

“Holy cow!” Belinda exclaimed. “Is this all prep stuff?”

John nodded. “Yeah. The truck is mine, and about half of the boxes. The rest is Adam’s.” Using another of the keys on the key ring, John unlocked the door of the 1993 Chevy three-quarter-ton, four-wheel-drive, extended cab pickup truck. He pulled the hood release and went around in front to finish opening the hood.

Belinda watched as John reached in and turned a switch. John looked up and saw her watching. “Battery disconnect switch. Didn’t want the battery to drain.”

“Will it start after all this time?”

“Well, it started right up the last time I tried, not too long before the war. The diesel is doped with Pri-D, so the fuel should be good. It’s mainly whether or not the battery has enough juice left. They do self-discharge a little all the time, but these are heavy duty batteries and should have enough power left to start the truck.”

John went back to the cab and tried the started. He hit the glow plug switch and let them heat for a few seconds, and then turned the key. The engine grunted and groaned, trying to turn over. John released the key, turned on the glow plugs again, and then tried once more. It groaned again, but then turned over several times on the starter. John was about to release the key when the engine caught and began to run. He released the key and smiled through the windshield at Belinda.

“We’ll let it warm up a bit. I want to load a few things, anyway.” John selected several boxes from the stacks and started to load them into the pickup bed.

“I’ll help,” Belinda said.

John started to decline, but changed his mind. She only tried to move the smaller boxes, and did just fine with them. She let John get the heavy and awkward boxes. It took only a few minutes, and John and Belinda climbed into the cab of the truck. John drove it out of the room and stopped. He got out, closed and locked the storage room, and then climbed back into the cab.

“You’ll have to give me directions to your place,” he told Belinda after Charlie let them out of the compound.

It was across the small town, but didn’t take long, even with their cautious travel. John stopped the truck in front of a small house, the front door standing wide open. “It shouldn’t take long,” Belinda told John as she was opening the door of the truck.

“I’ll keep an eye out,” John replied, also exiting the Chevy. “Holler if you need help with anything.”

“Okay.” Belinda hurried to the house. True to her word, she wasn’t inside long. She was struggling with a suitcase when she came out.

John hurried over and took it from her. He hoisted it over the tailgate and set it down. Belinda was going back to the house. She took a little more time this time, before exiting with another case. She closed the door behind her and joined John at the back of the truck. She handed him the case and John put it beside the other.

“Sure didn’t take you long,” John replied. “Why haven’t you come in for your stuff earlier?”

“I had the one case packed. I was planning a trip when the war started. As far as coming before, I wasn’t in shape to. In addition, Adam really didn’t want anyone off the farm, without a group going. For safety. I guess he thinks you can take care of things alone.”

“Don’t know about that. But he is probably right. I intended for the other two to stay with us for safety.”

“Oh. I thought you sent them back.”

John shook his head.

Up to this point, other than Charlie, they had seen no one. That changed as John turned onto one of the main streets, on the way out of town. A group of seven men stood at the side of the road. All had rifles slung. One of them had his hand up, indicating for John to stop. John did so, rather quicker than the man wanted. There was still twenty feet between the men and the truck.

John’s window was already down and he leaned his head out. “What’s up?” he called.

The man with his hand up took a couple of steps toward the truck. John opened the door of the truck and stepped out, bringing the HK-91 to bear on the men. Out of the corner of his eyes John noted that Belinda had also exited the vehicle and had the sawed-off shotgun up, pointed through the open window of the door on her side.

It caught the men flat footed. Though John knew the doors of the truck weren’t much concealment, much less cover, the men were right out in the open on the side of the road. All had automatically put their hands up when John pointed the rifle at them. “Hey! We just want to talk, man!”

“Then talk,” John said, ready and willing to fire if any of the men made a move to bring a firearm into play. He took a quick second to look over at Belinda. She was looking all around. John caught her eye.

“I don’t see anyone else,” she said softly. John nodded.

Again the man that had raised his hand to stop them spoke. “We’re just out scouting for what we can find. You know. Scavenging. Like you guys, huh?”

“We’re not scavenging. Just picking up what we already owned before the war,” John told the men.

“Hey, look! Everyone has been doing it!” The man began to look a bit panicked and the other men began to shuffle uneasily.

Another of the men spoke up. “We’re not stealing from people. We only take abandoned stuff. We got families, man! We have to take care of them.” His voice trailed away.

John lifted the muzzle of the HK-91. Seeing him do so, Belinda did the same with her shotgun. “Okay. We’re just being careful,” John said. “We’ve run into some bandits recently. Can’t be too careful.”

A different man spoke then, as they all stir rather unhappily. “The gang is back in this area? We thought they were gone.”

“They aren’t,” John said, stepping around the door, slinging the rifle as he did so.

“We’d better get back home,” another of the men said. “If those guys show up while we’re gone…”

“I’ll take you back if you want,” John said.

The group conferred quietly among themselves for a few moments and then all turned and started walking toward the pickup.

“If you would, we would sure appreciate it. We’ve been gone since early morning,” said the first man.

“Get in,” John said, motioning to the back of the truck.

The men climbed into the bed of the truck and crouched down, holding onto the grating of the floored cab-over pipe rack. The first man gave directions to their compound. It was only about two miles out of town, but on the side opposite Adam’s farm.

Fifteen minutes later and the men were clambering down out of the pickup bed at the gate on a dirt road.

“Thanks mister,” said one man after the other.

“Look,” John said through the open window, “If you have trouble with the gang, call us. We’ll try to help.” He gave one of the men a frequency to contact the farm. “Same with medical emergencies. We have two doctors. Their rates are reasonable. It’s the Markum farm. You can find us over near Skiatook Lake.”

“We heard something about that. Is it true you have food to buy or trade?”

John nodded.

“Any beef or pork?” one man asked quickly, and then added, “We’ve only got rabbit, chicken, and goat.”

“Yes. Again, for reasonable trades or gold and silver.”

“We’ll be calling on the radio,” the first man said. Thanks for the ride.”

John waved and turned the truck around. He looked over at Belinda. “Sorry for the delay in getting you back.”

“No problem. We need good relations with everyone we can find.”

Belinda looked tired, John thought. “You okay?” he asked.

“Tired. This is more than I’ve done in a long time. And the stress of thinking I might have to shoot someone again.”

“Stress is tough,” John replied. “Will talking about it help?”


There was a long silence as John drove, again keeping a close eye out.

“Maybe it would…” Belinda said slowly, her voice trailing away. She closed her eyes, leaning her head back against the bucket seat headrest.

“I was headed for Tulsa to meet my husband and three year old. We were going to fly to St. Louis and drive out to Robertsville to see my parents. Tell them about the baby on the way. Stay there during the scare. They have a place much like Adam’s.”

John glanced over and saw tears slowly falling down Belinda’s cheeks. He started to tell her she didn’t need to go on, but she was talking again.

“John… My husband’s name was… is… was also John. He had Tabitha with him when he went in to take care of a couple of things at his office in Tulsa, before we flew out. She liked to go with him and pretend to be his secretary…”

There was another long pause, but Belinda began speaking again. “I had a few things left to do. I was always bad about being late. Never being ready when John was. So they were in Tulsa long before I hit the road. I was lucky… When the bomb hit Tulsa, I happened to be looking down at the radio and didn’t get flash burns.

“But it startled me and I ran off the road. The car wouldn’t restart. None of the cars on the road would. There wasn’t much traffic, anyway. People began to panic on the road. Most just started running away from Tulsa, toward Hominy.

“I was afraid to try to run. I have a problem carrying to term… I tried to stay calm and began walking back to Hominy, too. For some reason I took the suitcase and a couple two liter bottles of water we kept in the car.

“I kept thinking about John and Tabitha and crying. I almost sat down on the road side to just let myself die, but then I thought about the baby on the way and kept going.

“I didn’t see how I could make it. The house doesn’t have a basement and I figured I’d die from radiation poisoning, but I had to keep going, for the baby. I saw the county maintenance storage yard and got an idea when I saw the front end loader they used to load that salt and cinder mix for the roads in icy weather.

“There were a couple of big culverts there to. They were to replace a couple on the road, but hadn’t been installed yet. I’d driven tractors on my parents’ farm when I was a teenager, so it didn’t take long to figure out the loader.

“I used the loader to push the culverts into an ell shape and then used some odds and ends of stuff to make an elbow to connect them. Then I covered them over with the salt and cinders. Completely on one end of the longest culvert and just made a mound around the open end of the shorter culvert, leaving just enough room for me to crawl into it. I’d just parked the loader when two guys came up.

“Both of them had packs on and were carrying guns. And bottles of booze. They were laughing and talking and drinking. When one of them saw me, before I could get out of sight in the culvert, he yelled to the other one and started running. So did I, but they were too fast for me.

“When they caught me, the older ones said, ‘Lady, it is just you’re unlucky day. We’re all gonna die so the rules don’t count.’ He reached for me and I guess I went crazy. I was desperate to save the baby, so I fought as hard as I could. They were both already drunk. I managed to break away and grabbed the shotgun one of them had dropped.

“I was lifting it up when the one that still had his gun tried to hit me with the butt of the gun, but I dodged and it hit me on upper left arm. The arm went numb and I fell backward as he started to hit me again.

“My finger was on the trigger of the shotgun when I fell and it went off. The shot hit the guy right in the face and he fell on top of me. The other guy screamed something and came at me again. I don’t know how I got the shotgun up again, but I did and fired the second barrel. The shot hit the second guy in the stomach.

“I got out from under the man that had fallen on me and grabbed the other gun and backed away. I watched for a while, but the man I’d shot in the stomach passed out in a few minutes and died right after that.

“I didn’t know what else to do, so I dragged everything into the culverts, using my right hand and arm. My left just hung uselessly at my side. The pain really started a little while later and I drank the guys’ booze to numb the pain. I guess I passed out, because it was dark the next thing I knew.”

Belinda quit talking and looked out the passenger window for a long time. John held his tongue. There was more to the story.

Belinda took a deep breath and let it go in a long sigh. “Three days later I lost the baby. A miscarriage. I guess I just laid there for two or three days, not wanting to go on, but thirst got to me and I began drinking some water again.

“I finally went through the guys’ packs and found some food and more water. It kept me going. I remember seeing or reading somewhere that after two weeks you’d be safe from fallout. I’d lost track of days, so just came out when I couldn’t stand being in the culvert any more.

“I guess the coyotes had got to the bodies. They were a mess. I made myself search them for more shells for the guns. One of the guns was a pump, I think it’s called. I couldn’t work it and left it in the culvert. But the two guns used the same shells so I took them all.

“I cut up one of the packs to make a sling for the double barrel shotgun, put everything in the other pack. I reloaded the double barrel and slung it over my shoulder and picked up the suitcase and started walking. I still couldn’t use my left arm properly. Doctor Buchanan said the buttstroke he called it, had damaged the nerves in the arm. There wasn’t anything he could do. Some of the damage would heal, but it would never be the same.

“Anyway, I got back to the house that evening and just collapsed. I guess I slept for two full days. The next thing I know there are people in the house. I just gave up then, thinking I was going to die, after they’d done what they wanted to me.

“But it was a group from the farm. They were scavenging and found me. They took me to the farm and I’ve been there ever since.”

“I’m sorry,” John said gently.

“Don’t be,” Belinda replied softly. “I’ve come to terms with it.”

“I noticed your sawed off. Is that the shotgun the man had?”

Belinda managed a small smile. “What’s left of it. A while after I got to the farm, when some of the newcomers were being trained on weapons, I tried to use it, but I just can’t support a long gun with my left arm.

“One of the guys, the Farm’s armorer, Jeff Stokes, cut it down for me and made me the holster. He called it a ‘whippet.’ I do okay with it. I have enough function in my left arm to load it.”

“I’m impressed. Most people would have given up.”

“I did. Twice. But something just kept bringing me back. I guess what’s keeping me going now is the wish to get back to my parents’ place.”

“Have you contacted them on the radio?”

“No, but they’re pretty capable people. There is a good chance they survived. The house has a good basement. Always kept a good garden. The barn is new and quite large for a farm that size. There is also a good chance much of the stock survived, too.”

They were getting close to the Farm and Belinda fell silent. John called on the radio that they were approaching and the gate was manned when they pulled up to it. The man waved John through, and closed and locked the gate behind them.

“Thank you for taking me in with you,” Belinda told John when he pulled up to the Scamp trailer she pointed out. “And I’m sorry if my story upset you.”

“No, it didn’t. I feel for you, but you seem to be coping. I’m not sure I could in a similar situation.”

“A person does what one must,” replied Belinda.

“Come on,” John said, opening the truck door and stepping out. “I’ll help you carry your stuff in.”

John handed Belinda the smaller of the two cases out of the back of the truck and took the larger himself. When she went into the trailer, John set the case he was carrying in the doorway. “Here you go.”

“Thank you again,” Belinda said down to him.

“Any time,” John replied, giving her a casual wave as he walked back to the truck. He drove the truck over to the storage barn and added most of the items he’d picked up at the warehouse to the items already in his storage room.

John parked the truck near his Scamp and carried a box up to the main farm house. John took it into the kitchen when he was admitted after knocking. It was getting on toward supper and June and two other women were making preparations.

“Hi,” John said, handing the box to one of the women. “Brought the rent.”

“John,” said June, “You didn’t have to do this.”

“Sure I did,” he replied. “Gotta pay my way, just like everyone else.”

“Oh, my!” exclaimed the woman that opened the box. “The children will love this.”

“What is it?” June asked.

“Six #10 cans of brownie mix and cookie mix.”

“Oh, John! Thank you!” June said, giving him a hug. “We have all the basics, but I never realized how important comfort foods were until we were in this situation. I should have listened more closely when you were advising us.”

“You’ve done okay, I think,” John replied. “If I didn’t have a sweet tooth myself, I doubt I would have bought the extras.” He suddenly looked chagrined and added, “That’s not to mean I want some of the brownies and cookies. They’re for the children.”

“Of course,” June said with a laugh. “We weren’t thinking that.”

“Well… Good. I’ll get out of your hair. Might I ask what we’re having for supper?”

“Pork roast, corn, mashed potatoes and cornbread.”

“I’ll bring my appetite when I come back.”

“Just go on and let us get back to work,” June said with a laugh.

John laughed, too, and went back to his trailer. He plugged the twelve-volt power cord into the power jack in the wall and plugged the other end into the notebook computer. John turned on the computer and pulled up his supply log. He subtracted the items he’d used the last few days, including the case of food he’d given to June.

He took his time and reviewed all the equipment and supplies he had left here, in the rental in Hominy, his basement shelter in Tulsa, and the other various caches he had. He had the option to go pick everything up and bring it to the Farm, but the thought didn’t sit well with him. He put the idea on the back burner in his mind, and washed up before going back to the house for supper.


Low Profile – Chapter 6

John fell into the work routine of the farm quickly and did his share and more. But several things were bothering him and he finally called Adam aside to talk to him.

“Adam, I think we should do something about that gang.”

“We haven’t heard anything about them since you got here. Maybe what you did ran them out of the area.”

“I suppose it is possible, but they’ve fallen off the radar before, haven’t they? After they’ve hit a place and have supplies to keep them going for a while?”

Reluctantly, Adam nodded. “I guess that has been their MO. What do you think we should do? We have enough to provide pretty good security here at the Farm, but if we pull enough to safely go after the gang, we’d be leaving the Farm almost un-defended. There’d barely be enough to keep up with the farm chores.”

“I know,” John replied, looking off in the distance. “But I’d like to catch them in their hideout. Take them all at once. Before they hit another family or farm.”

“So would I,” Adam said. “But… I don’t know, John…”

“We need to find their hideout first. That won’t take a large force. You said you think you know the general area. I’ll go and check it out alone.”

“No! John! There’s got to be a better way.”

“You said it yourself. We can’t afford to send a large force for any length of time. And a scouting mission is better done with just a few men. Or a lone man, traveling very low profile.”

“Any moving vehicle draws attention now,” Adam protested. “Your truck will be impossible to miss.”

“You’re right about that. Did your ROKON come through the EMP okay?”

“Of course it did, but…”

“Be ideal for this trip.”

John pinched the bridge of his nose for a moment, closing his eyes, and then looked at John again. “I guess it would at that. But I’d sure hate to lose it. Or you.”

John laughed. “At least you have your priorities straight.”

“I didn’t mean…”

“I know you didn’t, buddy. I was just kidding. How about it? Be okay to use the ROKON for reconnaissance?”

Obviously not entirely comfortable with the idea, Adam said, “Yes. I suppose so. But you’re going to have to promise to check in every day so we can track you and come help if there is a problem.”


The two headed for the equipment shed and Adam rolled out the ROKON. It was used often around the Farm, but wasn’t really critical for the operation of the Farm.

Always one to be thorough when he could, John took that afternoon and the following day to check and reorganize his gear, and get the ROKON ready for an extended trip. Since the ROKON could carry more than he could pile on it, John packed heavy. He thought about taking the two wheel trailer Adam had for the ROKON, but decided against it. He would have much more maneuverability with just the bike.

The ROKON was equipped with sealed wheels designed to hold water or fuel. John filled them with fuel. He also filled two ten-liter fuel cans with gasoline. They would ride as panniers. One of John’s Kifaru large EMR packs was loaded for the extended trip, and his Kifaru Marauder was loaded with basic equipment.

If he had to ditch the ROKON and EMR, could take the Marauder and his weapons and be able to make it back to the farm. He would wear the Marauder and the EMR would ride the seat of the ROKON behind him.

After the bike was loaded, John opened up his topo map of the area and studied it for a little while. John decided that if he was leading the gang, he’d want a spot with a sure supply of water. Like Lake Skiatook. He folded the map and put it away.

With nothing keeping him, John left late in the afternoon after he had everything set up to his satisfaction. Of course he didn’t get very far, but that was all right. He stopped and ate fairly early, and then traveled until he found a good camping spot well off the road. John set up the battery operated PIR security sensors around the camp and turned in.

He was up at five and had fixed and eaten a hot breakfast by six. He climbed on the bike, and headed cross-country toward the nearest point of the lake.

He had to circle the Farm to get to the nearest point of the lake, but he had not wanted anyone to know his plan. If everyone thought he was traveling the roads, so much the better.

The bike was quiet, painted in subdued colors. John too, was wearing muted colors, the same as he’d worn on the trip from Tulsa to the Farm. It would take someone with very sharp eyes and a pair of good binoculars to spot him from any distance.

John took his time, stopping often to use the Steiner Commander V binoculars to check all around. He got to the lake that afternoon and turned northward. Again he stopped and ate early, and then moved on a-ways to set up camp.

John set up his perimeter security, but he didn’t climb into the tent. Instead he walked down to the water and stood there, letting the last of the twilight fade. He continued to stand where he was, letting his eyes adjust to the darkness, listening as the daytime sounds changed to the sounds nature produced at night.

As his eyes adjusted, he began to again make out things in the darkness that had faded from view as darkness had fallen. And then things further and further away. Finally John raised the binoculars to his eyes and began to study the shoreline to the north as he listened carefully.

For an hour he watched and listened, but neither heard nor saw anything. He was about to turn around and go back to the camp when a sudden flicker of light appeared on the north shore of the lake. Two more appeared moments later. Smiling slightly, John turned around and went back into his small camp. He was in his sleeping bag and asleep a few minutes later.

There was no way of being sure the lights had been the gang’s camp, so John maintained his vigilance as he continued northward the next day. He stopped at noon, as the shoreline turned toward the west. John found a good place to stash the ROKON and covered it with a camouflage tarp.

With the Marauder pack on his back, and the HK-91 over his shoulder, John set out on foot. He stayed in the edge of the trees and underbrush, advancing slowly to the east. Several times John heard something that had him easing out of sight in the woods. But each time either nothing appeared, or John spotted an animal moving just as cautiously as he in the woods.

John heard the camp long before he saw anything. The low drone he began to hear John put off to a generator running to provide electricity. Wary of sentries, John began a search pattern well into the woods and back to the tree line, advancing eastward on each pass. His nose picked up the acrid odor of cigarette smoke.

He took his time following the smell. It paid off when he spotted a man sitting on the ground, his back against a tree, without being detected himself. John eased down and kept checking the man for some time. He would glance at the man out of the corners of his eyes, as he didn’t want the man to get spooked by a direct look at him.

John waited long enough to be fairly certain the man was on static watch and hadn’t just paused to smoke. John eased up and moved away. He paused long enough to mark his map with the location of the sentry. That done, he continued his search. There were three more sentries, each in a static position.

In John’s opinion, they were poorly placed, but that would be good when the attack John was planning occurred. He also found the winding dirt track that led to the camp. It was a new trail. Picking a spot between two of the sentries, John made his way closer to the camp. He finally worked his way to the edge of a large clearing.

It was quite a surprise to find an even dozen large RV’s and fifth-wheel travel trailers parked randomly in the open area, amidst several vehicles, mostly older pickup trucks and SUV’s. He had his StormSaf notepad and Fisher Space pen out, sketching the layout and taking note. He discovered that only one generator was running, that one the onboard genset in the largest motorhome.

There were several tents, as well. John spotted five fire pits, which accounted for the flickering lights he’d seen the night before. He tried to get a personnel count, but found it difficult with people constantly moving around. There were several women in the camp, moving freely around. John decided they were part of the gang.

There was a group of four men and two women, however, that were kept under guard as they did various camp chores. John slipped back out of sight when the six captives and two guards moved somewhat toward him. But they entered the woods well to his right. He stayed put and kept silent as the group gathered up downed wood and then went back into the camp.

The sentries changed twice while he was observing the camp. Two of the sentries on-duty came in before their relief went out. They seemed to get a mild scolding from one of the men, but shrugged it off. The other on-duty sentries came in to the camp after they were relieved.

John eased back up to his vantage point and continued to watch the camp until the sun got close to the horizon. It was only when he was about to ease his way back that he saw the large jon boat pull up to the shore, using oars, though the boat had an outboard motor attached.. Two men got out and two more got in and pushed off.

John felt a chill go down his back. He’d almost missed the water side security. He’d moved just enough on his way away from the camp to be able to see the personnel change at the shore. He must have missed the other exchanges, if there had been any, which was most likely.
Changing positions, John checked the shoreline. Sure enough, there were two more jon boats equipped with both oars and outboards.

He eased on back and headed for the spot where he’d left the ROKON. He approached very carefully, leery of an ambush if someone had found the bike. But as full dark settled in, John moved forward and uncovered the bike. He stopped and contemplated whether or not to camp there or head back to the Farm for a while before setting up camp.

John weighed the risks of night travel versus being discovered. Taking out the night vision goggles from his pack he put them on and started the ROKON. He eased his way south-west, headed for the nearest road shown on the map. He stopped often, for sounds of pursuit, but heard only the normal night sounds.

When he reached the road, he drove along it for a ways and then pulled off into the woods. He hadn’t eaten since breakfast and so chewed some jerky while he set up the camp. With the perimeter security set out, he crawled into the tent and then the sleeping bag. It took a while to relax, but he finally did so, several ideas swirling in his mind.

The next morning, after his breakfast, John loaded up and hit the road. Though the ROKON would do about forty miles per hour, John kept his speed down to conserve fuel, and to maintain a security eye out for problems.

Even with the precautions John reached the Farm before evening. He found Adam and filled him in on what he’d found. Adam called for a meeting of heads of households for the following morning to discuss the matter.

John’s spirits lifted a little when he saw Belinda. She was helping in the kitchen again. When he smiled at her, she smiled back.

Being on her own, Belinda was one of the heads of households that grouped together in the main house’s large living room. Adam explained what John had discovered. John fidgeted uncomfortably when several of the people congratulated and thanked him for his efforts.

“So,” Adam said, “What do we do with the information?”

“Maybe give it to FEMA?” asked one of the women. There were several in the group.

“I doubt they’ll be able to help us,” John said. “What little we’ve heard about them, they are only around some of the major cities.”

“Anyone else?” Adam asked.

Carl Sutter spoke up. “The smart thing would be to go in and take them out. Do we have enough men to do that?”

“I’ll go, too,” Belinda said calmly. John started to protest, but several of the other men did first.

“Now wait a minute,” interjected Helen Allcot. “Not that all could, or would, there are several of us that are both willing and able to go on such a raid. We’d have to fight them if they came here. Better to take the war to them.”

“That’s what my wife would say,” Chester Hamilton replied. “We both won’t go, but she’s more than willing and able, as Helen said.”

The argument went back and forth, but the outcome was plain. Any women that could and wanted to, would go on the raid. The fact that there would be a raid seemed to come automatically during the conversation.

“When?” Adam asked, looking at John.

“The sooner the better, in my opinion,” John replied. “I have no way of telling when they might go on another raid, or even if there might be some of them out on a raid right now.” John looked thoughtful for a moment, and then said, “Though, it might best if we put a watch on the camp and hit them when a party goes out and they are at their weakest.”

“I don’t know,” Belinda said. “Seems better to get them all together, if we can. Take care of the problem all at once.”

“That would be ideal,” John replied. “But we don’t know if they are all there now or not.”

“I can’t believe they’d have more than the twenty-five or thirty men you saw,” Carl said.

“From the information we have, where the gang attacks failed or left survivors behind, the raiding parties seem to number between ten and fifteen,” Adam told the group.

“I think either way is okay. If we miss some, when they loose their base, they might be easier to take.” Belinda spoke quietly.

“What about those on the lake?” asked Helen.

“Good point,” John said. “Anyone have a working boat on the lake?”

A rather short man in the rear of the group raised his hand. John didn’t recognize him. “I have a boat. But it would take a bit to get it going. It’s a MacGregor twenty-six foot motor sailor. When things got bad, I stripped it and filled it with water. It won’t sink, so I had to add a bunch of weight to get it almost completely under the water.

“It would need to be raised and cleaned up a little. That shouldn’t be that hard.”

“Would a sailboat be fast enough to catch those jon boats if they run their motors?” someone asked.

The man, Edmund Whithers smiled and said, “It’s a motor sailor. I’ve got a fifty horse outboard that will push it over twenty miles an hour. It’ll tow a skier.”

“I would think that would be fast enough, if we catch them by surprise,” John said. “We could go in under sail, then switch on the motor if we needed to do so.”

There wasn’t an actual vote, but Adam read the group, after everyone had a chance to speak, and said, “Okay. If we’re going, let’s go as soon as possible. How many are willing to go?”

June was there as recording secretary. She took down the names of those that said they would go, along with the names the heads of households said that had family members of an age that would probably go.

“I’m going, too,” Adam said, “But John will be in charge of this.” June looked a bit strained, but didn’t object.

After the meeting John and Edmund took John’s truck to the east side of the lake. John, liking the way Belinda had handled herself on the other trip, asked her to go along as a lookout while he and Edmund were working. That was in addition to a volunteer that John asked for to go with them. “You know them better than I,” John told Belinda. “You pick someone to go with us out of the volunteers.”

Belinda nodded and immediately told John, “Sam Johnson is kind of young, but he’s very stable and quite capable.”

“Okay,” John said. “You go find him and the two of you get ready. You’ll be in one of the other pickups.”

It took two days to raise, clean, and equip the MacGregor. John was pleased when they took the boat out onto the lake and put it through its paces not far from the shore. “This will do,” John said. They secured the boat and went back to the farm.

John gathered everyone that was going to go in the barn after lunchtime. He had a couple bales of hay set up for a desk, with his map spread out on it. “Now, the sentries may each pick a different spot than the ones I saw, but there will be a sentry at or near each of these spots.

The hardest part of the planning for the mission was finding enough people willing to ambush one of the sentries. None of the volunteers had a problem going in shooting at the camp, but the execution of the sentries bothered most of them.

Finally Adam and two others, besides John, agreed to take out the sentries. John would help each one of the three to get into position and then they would all fire at a set time. The rest of the ground crew would begin the assault from the edge of the woods surrounding the camp at the sounds of the shots.

John stressed that they had to be careful of the gang’s prisoners, and reminded them that there were some female gang members. That didn’t set well with most of the men, but the women seemed to take the idea of killing another woman in stride.

Edmund would have two men with him to engage the sentry out on the lake, and provide some covering fire into the camp from offshore. John went over the plan again and again until everyone could explain their part of the action without a problem.

They left before dawn the next morning, going directly to the track that led from the dirt road in to the camp. Everyone disembarked the vehicles. Sam was to stay out of sight near the vehicles and radio John if anyone came up from either direction. The rest of the team set off toward the camp, following the track at first. Then John led them through the woods, carefully placing each sniper into position, and the rest in good positions around the camp.

John took up his own position to take out the sentry in the most protected position and began a countdown to 1:00 PM. Precisely at 1:00 he fired and his target slumped over with a 147 grains of copper and lead in his brain.

John heard the other shots by the snipers. They had not been able to synchronize watches since only John had a watch with a hack feature. They’d figured the offset for the others, but they were several seconds later. John heard at least five shots from the other three snipers and hoped they’d taken them out. He didn’t dwell on it, but ran to join the main assault force around the edge of the woods.

He decided to cover the track in and out of the camp himself, in case there were attempts by members of the gang to get away down the track. Sure enough, he barely made it to the track and was running toward the camp when he saw a gang member. John snapped off a shot that missed, but got stopped and had the HK-91 to his shoulder for the next shot.

The gang member was fumbling with a rifle, but didn’t get off a shot before John’s next shot took him in the chest. John ran up and snatched the man’s rifle and threw it into the forest before he continued on his way to the camp.

A quick glance and John saw at least a dozen people down in the camp, including a couple of the women. Belinda’s job had been to try to get the captives to safety. John heard her whippet sound off several times and finally spotted her guiding the crouching captives into the woods.

John saw one of the gang members aiming a rifle toward Belinda from around the edge of one of the motor homes and fire two rounds, catching him in the exposed shoulder with the second shot. The man went down and John put a bullet in his head.

He heard a scream behind him and turned to see Chester go down. Spinning back around, John spotted the man that had shot Chester lining up another shot. Firing three quick rounds, John put the man on the ground.

Like several of the others, John hesitated upon seeing the first gang woman that came into his sights, firing a pistol of some kind. But it was only a momentary hesitation. He fired and she went down with a scream much like Chester’s.

The firing went on for what seemed like forever. But finally one and then another firearm went silent. John had given orders that at the apparent end of the battle, everyone was to take a defensive position and wait until John or Chester gave the all clear.

John entered the camp and began checking each vehicle, RV, and trailer. Twice he had people pop up suddenly. One had a gun and John fired, killing the man with a head shot. The second one had his hands up, but John nearly shot him in surprise.

“Get down on the ground, your arms stretched out above your head.” He called back over his shoulder, “If this guy moves, someone shoot him.”

John continued to check the camp out. Three of the gang lay dead, half in/half out off one of the boats on shore.

Most of the downed people were dead, but there were a few wounded. John was approaching the largest of the motor homes from the driver’s side, when someone broke from the side door and ran toward the lake. He was close to the lake and fast. Several people fired at him, including John, but they all missed. He dove into the water and began to swim away.

After running up to the edge of the water, John fired several more shots, but was sure he had missed each time. He looked out further on the lake and saw Edmund motoring slowly toward the shore. John keyed his radio and said, “There is one swimming out! Try to take him alive.”

John turned around and continued his inspection of the camp. He found a woman crouching down in the bathroom of one of the fifth-wheel trailers and took her out to where he’d placed the first man and got her down in the same position.

Finally sure they had accounted for all the gang at the camp, except the swimmer, John called the others in. Helen was tending to Chester. “How is he?” John asked.

“Hit the bone in his upper right arm. It’s very painful. I think he’ll be okay if we get him back to the Farm for the doctors to take care of him.”

“Anyone else hurt?” John asked, looking around at his group of soldiers.

There were a few scrapes and minor wounds. Chester was the only serious one. Edmund came up then and John asked, “How’d it go out on the lake?”

“I think the sentries were asleep. We sailed right up on them. They never knew what hit them. They’re all still in the jon boat. We towed it in. Never did see anyone swimming, though.”

“So one got a way,” John mused. “That might actually be a plus. Maybe the word will get around that it’s not wise to mess around in this area.”

It was apparent the attackers had caught the gang totally by surprise. Many of the gang had gone down never having fired a shot. Some of the dead and wounded, and all the un-injured gang members, hadn’t even been armed. A few that were armed with automatic weapons ate through their available ammunition in seconds. Some of them died, a couple threw down their weapons and surrendered.

“What are we going to do with the gang members that survived?” Edmund asked.

“Adam will have a say, but I’m inclined to pull a jury together from around the area and have a trial.”

“Up to me, I’d just put them down like mad dogs,” Edmund replied. He glanced over at the former captives and shook his head. “Betcha they would say the same.”

“That just may be what happens to them,” John replied. “But for the moment, we keep them alive.” Seeing two of the former captives headed toward where four of the Farm personnel were holding the captured gang members, John added, “If we can…” John ran over and barely managed to stop the two men from attacking the captured gang members.

“Hold it! Hold it!” John yelled, getting between the two men and the captives.

“I’m going to kill them!” screamed one of the men.

“Get out of the way!” yelled the other. “They deserve to die!”

“They probably will,” John said. “But after a trial.

“Nuts to a trial! They should die right here like the rest!”

It took several more minutes to calm the two men down, but finally they went back to join the other former captives Belinda was tending to.

Adam came up to John. He was ashen faced. “I radioed the Farm. They know everyone is going to be okay.”

“You all right?” John asked. “You don’t look well.”

“I never killed anyone before,” Adam replied. “Much less a woman… She was going to shoot one of the guys in the back… I’ve been out in the woods, throwing up.”

“I understand,” John said softly. “Come on. We need to finish mopping up. I think you should take charge of the prisoners. There are some really hard feelings. They need as much guarding from some of our people as from keeping them from escaping.”

“Sure,” Adam replied. Anything was better than thinking about what he’d done.

John sent a couple of people back to the vehicles to shuttle them to the camp. He made sure the wounded were sent to the farm so the doctors could take care of them, including the wounded gang members. Next to go were the former captives of the gang. They needed to be seen by the doctors, too.

Belinda walked over to John as he added the last of the arms they’d found to the back of his truck.

“Quite a collection,” she said.

“Yeah. At least they’ll be on the good side now.” He looked around at the various RV’s. “I think we solved some of the housing shortage.”

Belinda smiled. “That would be nice.”

Over the next several days, everything at the camp was taken to the Farm. Word was sent out to everyone they knew about in the area that there was to be a trial for the captured gang members. The prisoners were under close guard around the clock, held in three of the rooms in the storage barn.

Life went on at the Farm, as they waited for the day of the trial. John was awarded the big motorhome, for his efforts dealing with the gang. Those living in the Scamps drew lots to see who would get the other RV’s the gang had. Belinda wound up with one of the large fifth-wheel travel trailers.

It took John two days of hard work to clean up the motorhome. The gang leader had been a slob. But he did find a few things he didn’t throw out, or give to the Farm, considering them his since the group at the Farm had given him the motorhome.

All the RV units were set near the Scamps and plumbed for water and sewer. Most of the units had gensets. Only the leader of the gang had run his, in the big motorhome, for lack of fuel. With the biodiesel they had they could run the generators with diesel engines.

John and Adam interrogated all the gang members in custody. None would say much except blame the leader of the gang for everything. All said it was he that had escaped by swimming away. And that he was the only one left of the gang.

The day finally came for the trial. All nine of the gang members, including three women, sat together. Adam acted as judge. John was the prosecutor. Twelve people at random were chosen to be jurors from the people that showed up to attend the trial.

John had talked to many of those in attendance and had a good idea of what the gang had done. He stated the facts he had for the jury, and called of the people that the gang had held captive for them to give their stories.

All of the gang members were allowed to speak on their behalf. All claimed they had been prisoners themselves and only did what they had to do to survive. All claimed to never have killed anyone and had been firing in the air during the attack so they wouldn’t be shot in the back by other gang members.

The jury didn’t buy the claims. All were sentenced to death by hanging. The sentence would be carried out as soon as arrangements could be made for a gallows. The intent had been to hang them all at once, but that would have taken too long to build the gallows and used too much of the available building materials. The convicted would each be hanged separately. It took only two days to set poles and build the small drop platform.

John gave up trying to find a hangman and took the job upon himself. As much out of tradition as anything, for almost everyone knew who it was, John wore a ski mask while he was on the gallows.

Fortunately, John checked the rope and trap door himself before the executions. He reworked the knot into a true hangman’s knot, and made sure the length was correct. He made a couple of adjustments on the trapdoor release so it would open smoothly with the weight of a person on it.

It went as well as might be expected. A few people watched and applauded as the first man went through the trapdoor, the sound of his neck breaking audible to those closest to the gallows. Some turned away sick, some began to question the need for hanging anyone. The three women were the last to be hanged. Most of the spectators had left by the time the first woman was led to the gallows crying and begging for mercy. It was only John, Adam, and Dr. Buchanan for the last woman. The two men acting as guards left as soon as they’d walked her up the stairs to the platform.

Dr. Buchanan confirmed the last woman’s death and her body was added to the others in the slit trench that would be their home for eternity.

It was somber around the Farm for several days after the hangings. All the visitors that had come in for the trial and hanging were now gone.

Something good had come of the event. Adam was able to make deals with several of the other compounds they weren’t familiar with for mutual assistance and trading. Some of the groups were poorly armed. Adam was able to trade off some of the weapons they’d captured from the gang for items of which the Farm was running low. A regular trading route would be set up to make the transfers from one compound to another.


Low Profile – Chapter 7

Winter came early, as expected, with some of the ash from the Yellowstone eruption still in the high atmosphere. Adam had planned for it and the fields were ready to absorb the moisture the winter snows would bring. John did his turns in the greenhouses, and caring for the animals that winter, but he had a great deal of idle time.

They were essentially snowed in for all of December and January. People went out on snowshoes to check on things from time to time. A couple of snowmobiles were on the wish list for the scavenging team that would go out the next spring.

John took charge of a greenhouse project. They were going through firewood as if there was an unlimited supply. There wasn’t, so John was given a portion of the growing space in one of the green houses to start trees from seed for future planting. They were going to be dependant on wood for heat for a long time to come. Ash tree seed were also high on the list of scavenge materials so they could start a coppicing grove of renewable firewood.

Talk of the scavenging operation became more prevalent as spring rolled around. Winter lasted well into when spring should have arrived and the scavenging trips were put off until the field crops could be planted. Everyone capable helped to prepare the fields and get the seed in the ground.

But the planting was finally done, and firewood collection teams were sent out to begin gathering firewood for the next winter, and plant what seedlings they had. Then the plans for the scavenging were activated. There would be three teams.

One team would drop south and pick up US 412 west of Tulsa to see what they could find. It was a major truck route and had potential. Another team would head for Ponca City and then go east to Bartlesville before turning south-west and back to the Farm.

The third team would work Tulsa. At least the parts of Tulsa that weren’t still hot. John would lead the Tulsa team. He had some difficulty finding volunteers for the trip, though there were plenty that wanted to go with the other two teams.

John finally told Belinda she could go as a sentry. She’d been pestering him since the planning stages. He got three men to go with him and Belinda. The three men would be in an International bob truck with stake bed with several drums of fuel. The truck would be used to haul things back to the farm. John and Belinda would be John’s pickup. The other groups were set up similarly, though with two transports and two small vehicles each.

All three groups left the same day in mid-March. Besides scavenging useful items, the teams were also tasked with making contact with others and setting up communications with the Farm.

The roads were already beginning to deteriorate due to the bad weather and lack of maintenance. John had been able to make fairly good time on his bicycle on the way to the Farm from Tulsa, but the group had to stop often to clear the road of stalled and wrecked vehicles. John’s pickup was well equipped to handle the task. He had hydraulic winches in both the front bumper and the rear bumper, along with a collection of other recovery gear. As often as not, John was able to push the blocking vehicle out of the way with the heavy duty front bumper.

When they did have to use the winches or other gear, Belinda picked a spot where she could see well and kept watch. John made sure the path would be adequate for a semi to get through it, in case they found a semi-truck that would run.

During the trip in to Tulsa they didn’t see anyone. But as they got into the city proper, people began to appear. John had insisted everyone wear a dosimeter to keep track of accumulated dosage of radiation. He had also had a CDV-715 with him to monitor the radiation levels still existing close to the ground zero of the Tulsa device.

If the people they were seeing were staying in the areas where John and the others saw them, they should be all right, radiation wise, for the level was quite low. But if they were venturing into Tulsa deeper, they were putting themselves at great risk. John and his people would be going into some of those same areas, but their level of exposure was quite low to start with.

John had insisted some good will supplies be brought along. Between handing them out in exchange for information, and giving them directions to the Farm so they could trade for food or whatnot, John got quite a bit of useful information.

While the survivors they saw had done quite a bit of scavenging, it had not really been organized, and for the most part they had stayed away from the crater. John had a plan, and it involved getting as close to the crater as the survey meter indicated was safe. The three men and Belinda had all agreed to work in as high as 2r of radiation for a day at a time.

Using a phone book they picked up at a payphone, John mapped out the path they would take. It would allow them to search the outer reaches of the city and make forays in toward the crater when they were close to a place John wanted to search.

Things went a bit slowly at first, the three men seeming quite reluctant to break into places that were locked up. Part of it was the finding the occasional dead body in protected places where animals couldn’t get to them. The probability of running into the dead was one reason John had insisted all the members of the team take and use protective masks and goggles. If anyone didn’t have any, it was the first thing they were to look for.

The three men were disappointed they weren’t finding much of use or value in the beginning, but their spirits picked up on the first run in toward the crater. They went to a gun store John had noted in the yellow pages. It had been hit by other scavengers. From the look of it, the scavenging had taken place right after or during the war. There were still many firearms left, but they’d obviously been picked over and the choice ones taken.

At least, the choice ones someone not knowledgeable about weapons would want. There were plenty of useable weapons and John and the men loaded them all into the International. What really amazed John was the fact that those that had taken the guns had apparently only taken a few magazines’ worth of ammunition.

There were still a good number of magazines suitable for the weapons at the Farm, and several cases of ammunition. The door to the back room of the gun shop wasn’t immediately obvious. It was still locked. When John used a sledge hammer from the truck to open it, they found more guns, accessories, and ammunition. All of it, too, went onto the International.

The agreement Adam and John had made with all those going on the scavenging expeditions would each get a portion of the take. Anything they wanted. Even though they had essentially just started, all three of the men with John immediately laid claim to a couple of weapons and ammunition for them.

The next few days netted a little food, quite a bit of liquor, some tools useful for the farm, and something John knew many of the women would appreciate. Bolts of cloth and sewing supplies. John also made notes of the location of things that the Farm could use, but he didn’t want to take up space in the International just yet.

They worked for two weeks, camping each night in low radiation locations, until the bed of the International was full to overflowing. John sent the three men back to the Farm with the load. John told Belinda she could go with them, and that he was going to continue scrounging until the pickup was full, or he ran into trouble. Belinda opted to stay with John.

John’s agreement with Adam had been different from the others. He got a share of everything that was found by his team, plus could keep anything he found on his own. Once the others were on the way back John turned the truck around and began to back track their route.

“Two reasons,” John said when Belinda asked him about it.

“One, someone has been shadowing us and I want to find them before he, she, or they, decide to do something. Plus there are a few places I want to hit on my own.” John looked over at Belinda. “We can stop anywhere you want, too, if you want to look through the yellow pages for something of interest. Just as long as we can get it into the truck.”

The thought of running into someone antagonistic didn’t seem to bother Belinda, John saw, as she looked thoughtful for a minute. “Yeah. There are a few things I’d like to find. I’ll look through the yellow pages this evening.”

With that settled, Belinda began keeping an especially good lookout. There’d been five sets of eyes before. Now there were only two, and Belinda was sure that if John thought someone was following them, it was true.

John took a fairly direct route to the first spot on his list. He had to move several vehicles using the winches before he could get to where he was going after they left the route they were back tracking.

It was the largest of the coin shops that he did business with acquiring his gold coin and silver coin holdings. John wasn’t surprised to see that it had been broken into. He parked the truck and he and Belinda got out.

“I’ll check it out while you watch, and then you can come in and get anything you want while I keep an eye out.”

“Really? Isn’t this looting, not scavenging?” Belinda asked from the perch she’d taken on the top of the overhead rack.

“It is if you think it is. I don’t.”

“Okay,” Belinda said. “I was just asking.

John grinned up at her. “No problem.”

He stepped through the broken glass of the front door and entered the shop. John shook his head. He wasn’t surprised to see that not only had the display cases been ransacked, they’d also been trashed. Turned over, the glass broken, drawers out. Just about everything but pennies and nickels had been taken from the cases.

John bypassed the showroom area and headed for the back. It too had been ransacked and there were obvious attempts to get into the vault. It was intact. John smiled and went back to the truck.

“My turn now?” Belinda asked. “Though you aren’t carrying anything.”

“No, actually. I’m just getting started,” John said, tilting his head up to see her. “Would you unfasten that bundle of pipes for me?”

Belinda did as requested and handed him two of the tubes when John asked for them. “Thanks.” John got a portable gas welding outfit out of one of the tool boxes of the truck and carried it and the tubes into the shop. Belinda went to watching around the area again.

John hooked up the second oxygen line from the tanks to one of the tubes and set it down. He lit the cutting torch with a striker and then held the flame to the open end of the tube, after turning on the oxygen to it.

With the thermal lance burning white hot, John attacked the vault locking mechanism. It didn’t take too long. When he had cut completely around it, using up one and a half of the lances, he shut the oxygen off to the lance and let it go dead. He stepped back and shot a hard kick into the locking dial. It fell through the door into the vault.

John had to manipulate the locking handle a bit to get the locking lugs to retract, but he was finally successful and opened the vault door.

“Well, nuts!” he said softly. The owner of the shop, his wife, and two children lay dead on the floor of the vault, beside a pile of supplies and another pile of trash. The smell of the improvised toilet was terrible.

John didn’t waste time. The shelves didn’t have much on them. Alfred had told John on John’s last visit, that he would be closing the shop soon and moving to Houston to open a new shop. He’d been letting his inventory go down for several months. Most of what he had left was on display.

What hadn’t been on display were the bullion metals. It wasn’t a big part of his business, but there was a small steady market for coins, rounds, and bars of gold, silver, platinum, and palladium. John quickly took the tools back to the truck and loaded them up, telling Belinda, “I won’t be much longer.”

He took a brown leather teardrop shoulder bag from behind the front seat of the truck and went back into the shop and then the vault. He took it all. There were only a few pieces of platinum and palladium, and John doubted their value in the current situation, but he took them anyway.

Mostly he was interested in the Gold Eagles and Buffalos, and pre-1964 US silver coins, with gold bars, silver rounds and bars secondary. But he took them all.

The shoulder bag though a long way from being full, was heavy. John carried it out to the truck, put it behind the seat, and told Belinda, “Your turn. Afraid I didn’t leave much.” Then more softly, “Be aware, it isn’t pleasant in the vault.”

“Is it really worth my while to go in?” Belinda asked.

“Actually, no. I cleaned out everything I think is of value. But you might find something you like, among what’s left.”

“I’ll just take your word for it. I have my own spots I want to hit.” Belinda climbed down from the truck rack and got into the passenger side of the pickup while John got in the other side.

“It’s getting late. We’d better get back to safer ground and find a place to camp.”

“The same place we camped yesterday? It’s close.”

John shook his head. “Not with just the two of us. There was some security in numbers. With just the two of us we must be more careful. It will be a meal in one place, and a camp in another.”

“Oh. Okay. I trust your instincts,” Belinda said, watching the terrain on her side of the truck.

They had been setting up tents for their camps, but John found a location he liked with a house on it. It was a lone house, off by itself. The houses around it had all burned during or after the war. John and Belinda carefully checked it out and then set out the perimeter alarm system, with the truck inside the perimeter.

“You pick a room and I’ll take one opposite you,” John told Belinda as they carried their packs into the house.

“Well, not to be a chauvinist,” Belinda said with a grin, “but I’ll take the master bedroom.”

John laughed. “That’s fine. I’ll set up in the living room.”

Belinda had started down the hallway to the master bedroom, but turned and asked, “This is a security move, isn’t it? If whoever is tracking us tries to attack they can’t catch both of us off guard.”

With a small smile, John said, “Very good, Belinda. That is why we’re here, instead of a camp.” She nodded and they each went to turn in, weapons always handy.

The next morning it was raining heavily when John woke up and took a walk around the area. He was making breakfast for them when Belinda came into the living room, dressed and ready.

“Raining,” she said, taking the cup of coffee John handed her.

“Yeah. From the looks of it, we should be able to make a short run by noon or so. Did you find some place you wanted to check out?”

“Yes. A couple.” Belinda got the phone book and showed John an address. “If this isn’t in too hot of an area?”

“Big mall, huh. I don’t know. We’ll just have to check and see.” He looked over at Belinda. “I’m willing to push the limits a little, if we need to. If you are.”

“It’s important to me,” Belinda said simply.

“Okay then.”

“I may need quite a bit of space for boxes,” Belinda said, rather tentatively.

“There is plenty of room left in the truck. And there is some space on the overhead rack. You can use it all.”

“Thank you.”

John smiled and said, “No problem. I’m going to clean my weapons, if you’ll keep an eye out.”

Belinda nodded and strapped on her holsters.

As the rain continued, each cleaned their weapons and made minor adjustments to their equipment. After a light lunch of jerky and gorp, they gathered up the perimeter warning devices, stowed them, and then headed for Belinda’s mall.

The radiation was significantly higher than the 2r they had planned on exposing themselves to. The radiation level at the mall was still 5r. “We have to limit it to five hours,” John said. “I don’t want to risk more than that.”

“That should be enough.”

“You want me to check things out first?” John asked.

Her “No” response didn’t surprise John. “I’ll be careful.”

“Okay, call me if you run into something.”

Belinda touched the Motorola FRS radio in the pouch on her belt. “I will, don’t worry.”

John wondered around the outside of the mall, checking carefully for potential surprises. They had parked in an area of the parking lot with few vehicles, for security. John checked out the vehicles nearest them. All were abandoned.

Belinda came out a few minutes later, pushing a handcart loaded with boxes. John noticed she looked a little green. “Bad?” he asked, suspecting the reason.

“Yeah. It looks like a lot of people were caught here and tried to make it through. Doesn’t look like any made it. But there are signs of scavenging. Can’t tell if it was the people left here, or scavengers like us that came in later.”

“If you want,” John said as he loaded the boxes into the truck, “you can tell me what you are picking up and I’ll do it for you.”

“No,” Belinda replied slowly, visibly tempted by the offer. “No. I need to do this myself.”

“The offer stands,” John replied, “If you change your mind.”

“Thanks,” Belinda said, heading back to the mall entrance, pulling the handcart behind her.

Belinda made dozens of trips. John could see her tiring. “You sure you don’t want me to take a turn or two for you?” John asked when Belinda sat down on the tailgate of the truck to catch her breath.

“No. The five hours are almost up. I’ll just make one more trip and we can go. The truck is almost full, anyway. I wanted to hit that big pharmacy today that we passed coming in, too.”

“Okay,” John replied. “I’ll start strapping things down.”

Belinda was struggling to keep the huge load balanced on the handcart when she returned. John smiled and ran to help her. “You made quite a haul,” John said as he attached the last hook of the spider net cargo webbing to a tie point on the bed rail of the truck.

Tiredly Belinda nodded. “Yeah. I’m beat, but it’ll be worth it to get this stuff back to the Farm.”

They climbed into the cab of the truck and John headed back the way they had come. He didn’t like to back track. It was a risk. But Belinda wanted items from the pharmacy.

The pharmacy was in a much lower radiation area. “Take your time,” John said.

Again Belinda made several trips, this time with a shopping cart. “It’s been ransacked,” she told John on her first trip. “But I’m finding the things I want.”

Belinda stood watch after she’d moved everything she wanted so John could check the place. He headed for the pharmacy proper. Belinda was right. The rest of the store was a jumble, but the pharmacy was really a mess.

John took his time and gathered up every medication left that he thought would have any use to those at the Farm. John was working from memory. The doctors had sent a list and the group had hit pharmacies earlier, gathering everything they could find. But John thought there could never be enough, so he took what he could find. He also cleaned out the first aid supplies, which had been hit, but not too badly. When he was done, there wasn’t a square inch of space left in the truck.

“Farm,” John said, “Here we come.” He and Belinda were back in the truck and John pulled out onto the street. “I know you’re tired,” John said to Belinda, “But I’d like to go ahead and go all the way back tonight. We’ve been pushing our luck.”

“You think someone is still tracking us?”

“Yes, I do. I’ve seen movement out of the corner of my eyes twice. It very well could be different individuals, but I don’t want to take a chance. I doubt anyone knows what we have, but a loaded truck like this is going to be a tempting target.”

Belinda managed a small laugh. “They’d be really disappointed in my stuff.”

John looked over questioningly.

“Women’s stuff. A lot of us are lacking in some of the niceties. We picked up a lot of necessities for women during the group work, including some of the same things I got, but not everything I know some of the other women would like to have.

“I owe several of the women on the Farm favors for small things they’ve done for me. I’ll give them some of what I picked up. Some of it is for me, so I don’t have to use up common stores. The rest I’ll use for trading. Things like bras and panties. Some make up. Condoms. Feminine hygiene supplies. Things that aren’t critical, but help women feel better about themselves.”

“That’s good,” John said. “Makes me feel bad about my rather mercenary perspective on scavenging. If I’d thought about it, I would have looked for some of the same things, just for trading.”

“I don’t believe that. You’ve been helping out more than your share. Adam and June occasionally mention things that you are responsible for the Farm having, either by providing yourself, or making it known that something is important so they could acquire it.”

“You have to remember, it was all in my self-interest.”

“Okay,” Belinda said softly. “Have it your own way. Just don’t think you can fool me.”

John had no response and they drove along carefully. When it got full dark, John didn’t turn on the headlights. He took out the night vision goggles and put them on. Belinda found it eerie to be staring out at the dark while John drove at what seemed a perilous speed.

“Won’t they see brake lights?” Belinda asked after John had to brake and maneuver around an obstacle.

John patted the console between the custom bucket seats. “I have cutouts on all the lights inside this panel. The brake lights don’t show.”

“Oh. Clever.”

“Consider me paranoid.”

“Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you,” Belinda said, quoting the old joke.

Both laughed and then fell silent as John concentrated on his driving. John called the Farm on the radio when they got close, to let them know he and Belinda would be there shortly. It was Adam at the gate when they arrived.

“You bring everything in Tulsa that was left?” Adam asked, shining the five-cell Maglight beam over the contents of the truck.

John laughed. “Not hardly. There’s plenty left for a few more runs.”

“I’ll just have to take your word for it. Come on through and I’ll lock up behind you.”

John stopped the truck in front of Belinda’s fifth-wheel trailer and let her out. “See you in the morning. I’ll park the truck in the storage barn, just in case it rains here. We can unload after breakfast.”

“Okay,” Belinda replied. “I’ll see you in the morning, not so bright and early.”

Again John laughed. “Good point. I may just sleep in myself.”

Belinda didn’t object when John began to help move her boxes from the truck to her storage room in the storage barn. “Leave that one out, please,” she said when John picked up one of the last of the boxes. “I want to take that one and this one to the trailer,” she said, hefting the last box. The two boxes had been the first ones she’d brought out of the mall.

John ran Belinda and her two boxes back to her trailer, and then drove up to the main house. June greeted him at the door. “Welcome back.”

“Hi. Got some more medications and first aid supplies for the Docs.” June helped John carry the boxes inside. John then asked, “Is Adam around?”

“He’s out and about somewhere.”

“Just tell him I was asking for him, if you see him before I do.”

“Okay. How was the trip?” June asked, halting John’s move to leave.

“It went fine,” John replied, looking slightly puzzled. “Didn’t you see the inventory sheets I sent back with the bob truck?”

“I saw it. What about after bob truck started back?”

“Fine, too. I found a few things I was looking for, and so did Belinda. She’ll probably tell you about them.” Again June stopped John from leaving with a question. “I assumed that. What about Belinda? How’d she do?”

“Great. She’s a real trooper. Held up her end and then some.”

“I see. You like her, I take it.”

John finally saw where the discussion was going and actually blushed slightly. “Uh. Yeah. I like her fine. Look, I really do need to go find Adam.”

June was grinning at John’s back when he went out the door, shaking his head as he went, muttering something June couldn’t make out.

John found Adam in the animal barn, checking on some of the livestock. The Farm didn’t have a real vet. Adam was the closest thing they had to one. He’d been going to school to get a vet degree when his parents had died in a plane crash and he came home to run the farm.

“What’s it look like?” John asked, coming up on Adam just as he slapped a hog on the rump to send her trotting out to join the others in a pasture.

“She’s fine. It was her first litter and it was a big one. She struggled some at first, but she’s doing fine now.”

Adam and John walked out of the barn and stood at the pasture fence to watch the animals.

“Got something for you,” John said after a few minutes. He took out a small, red nylon ditty bag and handed it to Adam.

Adam opened it and looked inside. He tried to hand the bag back to John, but John wouldn’t take it.

“It’s the farm’s share of the take.”

“John,” protested Adam, “what you found after the official Farm scavenging operation is yours. You don’t owe the Farm any more.”

“Sure I do. You are providing a safe home base for me.”

“And you are doing your share.”

“Just consider this part of doing my share. The Farm can’t supply everything we all need on its own. We are going to have to barter and buy some things. For those that will take it, gold and silver are the best way to do a transaction. If we do it, maybe a lot more will start.”

Adam sighed. “Okay. You win. What is in here?” he asked, opening the bag again.

“Only two each one-ounce, half-ounce, and quarter-ounce gold Eagles. four tenth-ounce, and a dozen one-ounce silver Eagles. And believe me, I kept more than I’m giving you. A lot more.”

“I’ll certainly add it to the Farm’s coffer, if you insist. Thanks. What do you have planned next?”

John looked a little taken aback. “What do you mean?”

“You’ve always got something brewing in the back of that mind of yours. I was just wondering what might be next on the agenda. No offense, John. Really.”

John smiled. “None taken, Adam. You just caught me by surprise, is all. I hadn’t really thought that far ahead, except for generalities.” John paused, and suddenly grinned. “Okay, I guess I do have some plans. But none for the near future. I’ll just be helping on the farm for a while.”

“Okay,” Adam said, slapping John on the back before he headed for the equipment barn to see what he could do to help out that day.

After supper that evening at the main house, where Belinda was once again working, John took her aside and asked her to stop at his motorhome when she was finished with the clean up.

When she knocked on the door, John let her in. She immediately saw why he’d asked her in. It wasn’t romance. It was weapons related. Laid out on the dinette table was a carbine and its accoutrements. She looked up at his face. John had a serious look on his face.

“I thought you might be able to use this,” he said, motioning toward the semi-automatic version of the Steyr AUG. “Being a bull pup, you don’t have to support a lot of weight with your left arm. Give it a try.”

John picked up the carbine and handed it to Belinda. Her eyes lit up as soon as she had it in her hands. “Oh! Wow! Yes. This is great. How much does it kick?”

“It’s .223 so it is going to kick much less than your whippet. I think you’ll like it when you shoot it. I thought you could take it with you and familiarize yourself with it tonight, and you could practice with it tomorrow sometime.”

“That would be great.” Belinda lifted her eyes up to John’s. “Thank you.”

John smiled back. “Sure thing. No problem.” He began to point out the various other items on the table. “There are twenty thirty-round magazines for it. That will let you rotate loaded and unloaded magazines to avoid stressing the springs. A couple of triple magazine pouches, cleaning kit, sling, a dump pouch for empties, a manual for the AUG.” John pointed to the floor under the table. “And a thousand rounds of ammunition.”

“What do I owe you for all of this?” Belinda asked.

John immediately shook his head. “Nothing. It’s for all your help on the scavenging run. Your whippet is great for close in, but I wanted you to have some medium range firepower, just in case.”

“Oh. Well, okay, I guess,” Belinda replied slowly. “I do prefer to pay my own way.”

“I know. And you are. You’re willingness and ability to act as sentry is payment enough.”

John put everything on the table in a box sitting on the bench seat of the dinette. Belinda slung the AUG over her shoulder and picked up the box while John picked up the crate of ammunition.

“Let’s get it over to your trailer so you can check it out.”

John was whistling when he walked back to his motorhome


Low Profile – Chapter 8

They made three more scavenging runs to Tulsa during the summer. The last two concentrated on the train yard and harbor. There they found three semi trucks that would start. It really paid off. They were able to move whole truckloads of products from the site to the Farm. There were far more items there that they had no use for, than items they could use, but John dispatched twenty-three trailer loads of usable items to the Farm.

John kicked himself mentally for not hitting the place sooner. The semis would have made the other scavenging trips much easier and productive. John and Belinda continued to scavenge for themselves. Neither told the other that they were each also filling requests from residents at the Farm for specific items.

It was on the last trip before winter when they ran into trouble. John and Belinda had been keeping careful watch, leery of being ambushed, but despite the feeling they were being watched from time to time, no one had tried to interfere with their work.

Some of the survivors in and around Tulsa began to make contact with the scavenging team. Many of them were in poor shape. But John authorized some trading, to get them some fresh food, mostly in return for information.

John felt vindicated when information started coming in that there was a bandit operating in the area. No one was certain there weren’t more than one, but most of the reports were similar and John believed it to be one, or at most, two people actively preying on others.

Mostly whoever it was struck in the middle of the night, taking primarily food and weapons. But he didn’t hesitate to kill if he was resisted. There were reports of a couple of attempted rapes at gunpoint, but in both instances the man ran off before he actually did anything.

John was especially leery when they found a boxcar full of packaged food items. Many of the canned goods were ruined because of the severe winter. The cans had frozen, burst, and then leaked when they thawed out. That ruined some of the paper packaged items, but well over half of the carload was useable.

As soon as they discovered it, John set Belinda up in a secure spot to keep a good eye on their surroundings. They only had one semi to load. The other two were already making runs back to the Farm. The truck was pulling away from the boxcar when John’s FRS radio sounded.

“I think we have a visitor. He disappeared on the other side of the string of cars you’re working.” Belinda’s voice was low coming through the radio speaker.

John squatted down and took a quick look under the railroad cars. He didn’t see anything, but he trusted Belinda. He moved the HK-91 into a ready position and began to ease beneath the boxcar to get to the other side.

He heard the three loud pops from Belinda’s AUG and flattened himself on the ties between the rails under the boxcar. He still hadn’t seen anything. But suddenly there was a burst of auto fire from somewhere close to him. John heard Belinda fire three more times, and then heard running feet, moving away from him.

John scrambled from beneath the boxcar, on the far side, and brought the 91 up. But he only caught a glimpse of a body running around the end of another string of cars some distance away. John lowered the rifle and then headed for Belinda’s position.

“You okay?” he called up to where she was perched in one of the enclosed traffic control towers that were located at various points in the yard.

Belinda began to climb down the ladder. “Yeah. I’m okay. But he sure scared five years off my life. I thought he had you.”

“He wasn’t shooting at you?” John asked. He hadn’t heard any impacts of bullets close to him when the man had fired.

“No. Fortunately he moved into the opening between two cars after the first burst and was sighting on where you were, I guess. I don’t know if I hit him or not, but he took off running.”

“Yeah. I caught a glimpse.” John looked at Belinda when she was on the ground. “Thanks. He might have got me without your help.”

“Like you said. Goes with the territory,” Belinda replied with a slight smile. The smile faded and she asked, “What do we do now?”

“Not much to do. It’s too dangerous for me to try and track him. I don’t want to give up these supplies. We just maintain a watch from a secure position. I’ll set up the perimeter alarms. You might as well climb up inside and try to get some rest. We’ll be swapping watches all night.”

Belinda got their sleeping bags from the truck and made a nest for herself in the boxcar while John set the alarms. After the alarms were set, John opened the door of the boxcar facing the one with the supplies. He climbed inside closed the door down to just a crack from which he could keep an eye on the other boxcar, using the night vision goggles.

It was nearly midnight when Belinda eased out of her comfortable position and left the boxcar. When John saw her, he opened the door of the boxcar he was in. John removed the night vision goggles and gave them to Belinda. When she was in the boxcar, set, John went to the other car and made himself comfortable. He set the alarm on his watch to 4:00 AM and went to sleep.

Nothing had happened by six when John started breakfast for them. He’d taken the last watch at four. He let Belinda sleep until she woke up on her own a little after 6:30. She took the cup of coffee from him when he held it out, and then sat down on the tailgate of the truck to drink it and eat breakfast.

John wandered around the yard after breakfast while Belinda kept watch from the second boxcar. Taking great care, John tried to find the man that had attacked them. He gave up and went to join the others when two of the semis showed up.

The remaining good items in the boxcar fit into the two semis, and John sent them on their way, with a caution to keep a sharp eye out. After the semis left, John and Belinda repacked the pickup and left the train yard. They debated on whether or not to continue scavenging on their own for a little while, or go directly back to the Farm. The final decision was to keep scavenging in a fresh area of the city. They would also try to set up an ambush if seemed that they were being followed again.

“How did the AUG handle?” John suddenly asked Belinda, as he drove toward a huge open air strip mall, this time on the east side of the city. “Great!” Belinda replied enthusiastically. “It’s the perfect weapon for me.”

John smiled over at her. “But you’ll keep your whippet and side arm, too, I take it.”

“Yes,” she replied, smiling back at him. “The proper tool for each job.”

It turned out that the radiation was almost 5r at the mall, so they would have to limit their time there. But since they were only seconds away from the truck, and could keep it in sight through the big front windows each store in the mall boasted, they could each search a store at the same time.

John gave Belinda first choice and she chose another pharmacy. Apparently because of being downwind and receiving heavy fallout, the mall showed little sign of having been scavenged. The stores did show the effects of having a horde of panic buyers inside when the war started, but other than food, water, and booze, most of the stores were still well stocked.

While Belinda gathered the items she wanted, John hit the pharmacy proper. He was able to substantially add to the Farm’s supply of medications. Next they hit a large coin shop in the mall. It was one of the stores that had been looted during the initial hours of the attack. But like the other coin shop John had found, the vault was still locked up tight. Fearing a little what he might find, he burned the locking mechanism out with a thermal lance. He sighed in relief. There were no dead bodies.

Belinda had been keeping watching outside since John had needed to concentrate on the thermal lance while he was using it. They both returned to the vault after John had taken the gas welding set back to the truck and secured it. It took only a few minutes to gather up everything of value in the vault.

They worked several more stores in the mall, including one liquor store that had shelves stripped bare. John checked it just in case something had been missed. He saw several 9mm pistol cartridge cases on the floor by a door leading to the back room. He carefully opened the door.

John theorized that that the owner or clerk on duty had managed to defend the store room from the looters, but had left when the fallout started. Whatever actually had taken place, there were several cases of alcohol left intact. Most of the beer and wine had frozen and burst during the frigid winter. But the hard stuff had fared quite well.

John loaded up all the liquor and what beer and wine was still intact. He wasn’t sure if the beer and wine would still be good, even if the containers hadn’t burst, but he would take it and test it later.

Their five hours were about up when John saw the three golden ball sign of a pawn shop. It was locked up tight, with all the security shutters intact, though the windows were broken out. “This could be a good haul,” he told Belinda. “You willing to risk a little more time here?”

“If you think it worth it,” Belinda replied.

Working quickly John fired up another thermal lance and had the door security gate out of the way in short order, and then the triple locks of the door itself. When he entered he whistled. It didn’t look like anything had been touched.

There were a few guns hanging here and there, but John checked the back room first. It was a mother lode. John and Belinda began to load up the truck, first with guns, and then tools of every type. They skipped over the electronics for the most part. Though they had taken prime pieces of jewelry from some of the other places they’d hit, John had Belinda throw everything in the display cases into boxes. They’d sort the good from the bad later.

The pickup was overflowing when they stopped, and their dosimeters were showing 28r of accumulated radiation. John wasted no time getting out of the high radiation zone. Again they headed back to the Farm without stopping to overnight in the open again.

John decided they’d been very lucky. He wouldn’t cut things so fine in the future. The snow started the morning after they got to the Farm, and didn’t stop for six days. No one left or entered the Farm for over a month. He and Belinda both showed signs of mild radioactive poisoning, but the symptoms faded. Only time would tell if their continued dosages would result in early cancers or other medical effects.

John and Belinda had plenty of free time during that winter to sort and catalog their scavenging haul. With the number of people now living at the Farm, each only worked two days a week at the jobs they normally did, though John often did roaming security patrols on his own out around the Farm.

It was the worst winter yet. The several greenhouses that the Farm boasted really proved their worth. Tulsa had a lot of businesses that supported the oil fields of Oklahoma and Texas. John had managed to find several large single-phase diesel powered generator sets, so they were able to run the grow lights in the greenhouses much more than they had the previous winters.

It was coming up on April, and the snow was beginning to melt away, when Adam went to John’s trailer to get him. “John,” Adam said, his face somber, “The Sinclairs place was hit last night. Judy was killed and Tom wounded. We don’t know how bad. We just got the radio call a few minutes ago.”

“I’ll saddle up. One of the doc’s going with me?”

“Yeah, Melissa. Jack is still down with a cold.”

“Who else?” John asked, leading the way out of the motorhome.

“Sandy Johnson and Jorge Martinez. They both have worked at the Sinclair place and know them well. Belinda is getting them started. They’ll take the Ford one ton.”

“She telling them to come armed?”


“Okay. I’ll get the truck warmed up and pick up Melissa in a few minutes.”

Adam hurried back to the main house to help his mother-in-law get her medical case ready for the trip.

It was less than two hours later that John was pulling into the front yard of Tom and Judy’s small farm house. There was an obvious set of tracks in the snow going to the house, and another leading off in another direction from the house, plus a set to and from the barn.

John had Melissa wait in the truck while he, Sandy, and Jorge checked around the place. When they couldn’t find anyone about outside, John entered the house. He came back to the door a few moments later and motioned to Melissa. Sandy ran over to John’s truck and carried her medical bag for her as she worked her way to the house through the deep snow.

While Melissa tended to Tom’s injuries, John asked him, “What happened?”

“That bucket of slime knocked on the door yesterday evening, begging for food. You know we don’t have much, but Judy, bless her soul, insisted we let him in so she could feed him. He didn’t have any obvious gun, but I still didn’t trust him. I had to argue with Judy to not let him stay in the house. Did let him stay in the barn.

“Well, this morning Judy was up getting the tea started when that low-life busted in the front door and demanded more food. He was carrying an AR-15 of some kind. You know Judy. Kindest woman you’d ever want to meet. But very protective of the place. She threw the hot water she had ready for tea in his face and he shot her.

“I heard the commotion and came out with my Colt .45 and he shot me a couple of times. I guess I went down and passed out. He was gone when I came to, and so was my Colt .45 and all the food that could be carried easily.”

Tom groaned in pain suddenly and slumped back. He managed to rise up a little and lift one hand to put on John’s chest. “You got to get him for what he done to Judy. I ain’t going to be able to do it. You find him, you can’t miss him. He totally bald headed and kinda puny looking.”

He slumped back, passing out again, and Melissa said, “That’s enough, John. Let me work on him in peace. I need to get him stabilized before we take him to the Farm.”

“Okay,” John replied. He turned to Sandy and Jorge, who were standing in the doorway. “Check the animals and take care of them. Keep an eye out.”

John helped where he could as Melissa attended to Tom. When she’d done all she could, John called Sandy and Jorge in to carry Tom out to the Ford. It was a crew cab model and had a bench type second seat. They put Tom on the seat and loosely strapped him in with the seatbelts.

Melissa rode with Sandy, to keep an eye on Tom, and Jorge rode back with John. Melissa and June went to work on Tom again as soon as they had him in the room set aside as an infirmary.

John filled Adam in on what Tom had told him. “We’re going back to get Judy’s body, and I’m going after this guy.”

“Maybe you should wait for better weather,” Adam suggested, knowing John wouldn’t.

“It’s better with the snow still on the ground. I should be able to track him easily. He must have been really desperate. He hasn’t made a mistake like this before.”

“You think it’s the leader of that gang?”

“Yes, I do. The captives said he was bald and scrawny. I think he probably got a big dose of radiation, just not enough to kill him.”

“At least take someone with you,” Adam said.

John was shaking his head. “I can travel faster and more easily by myself. I’m going to go get ready. Have Sandy and Jorge wait here for me.”

There was a small group of people waiting outside the main Farm house when John exited. John saw Belinda but didn’t stop to talk to her. She’d probably try to talk him out of going, or at least take her along.

Belinda watched John walk by without acknowledging her, and then turned to ask Adam what was going on. But Adam was already back in the house. Belinda knew she would find out what was going on, but decided not to try to find out from John. He seemed bent on a mission. Adam or June would tell her what was going on in their own time.

John climbed onto the rear seat of the Ford, when he returned wearing one of his Kifaru packs. He had the HK-91 slung over his shoulder, along with his musette bag of magazines. He also wore the Para-Ordinance P-14 on his hip.

When Sandy drove up to Tom’s house again, John got out immediately. “Take care of Judy. I’ll see you guys later.”

Both men waved acknowledgment. They didn’t really have time to say anything. John was already at the edge of the woods, striding out strongly in the tracks left by the bandit.

The man had a four hour head start on John, and John figured he would be moving as fast as he could. After an hour of trudging along, John’s heart fell slightly when he saw the new tracks in front of him. The man was on a quad of some kind. John listened, but didn’t hear anything.

He debated about going back for one of the snowmobiles they’d scavenged, but decided against it. It would be better to take longer, but maintain the quietness of foot travel. The man would hear him coming hundreds of yards away on a snowmobile.

Resolutely John headed after the quad and the man riding it. He walked all day, following the tracks. He saw where the man had stopped to urinate. It was difficult to tell how far ahead the man might be, but the tracks of the quad were fairly sharp and clear.

John traveled until almost dark. It was too dangerous to continue in the dark, even with the night vision goggles. He set up camp, had a hot supper, and went to bed, confident the perimeter alarms would warn him if the man chanced to double back in the dark.

He was up early the next morning, well before daylight. The sky was showing only a little light when he started following the tracks again. John was surprised that he didn’t find any sign of a camp after he’d traveled at least three miles. The tracks were looking different. John decided the man had continued through the night.

John decided there was nothing else to do but continue following the tracks, so he trudged onward. It was late in the afternoon when John came up on the house. At the first sight of it, he stopped and crouched down, watching the house. An attempt to hide the quad had been made. It looked like a sheet had been thrown over it. But it hadn’t been fastened well and was flapping in the slight breeze, drawing the eye.

After circling the house carefully, John decided the man was in the house. But was he alone or were there more. And if so, were they with him, or his captives.

John cached the pack, and HK-91 in hand, began to approach the side of the house in a crouch. He got to the house apparently without being seen, and began edging along the side toward the front porch.

With still no sign of having been seen, John eased up onto the porch and over to the door. He debated for a moment what to do, realizing even as he was, that he should have made the decision before he got to this point. But a plan came to him and he edged past the door. He then reached over and knocked on it with his knuckles. “Hey! Anyone in there?”

John was glad he had moved to one side of the door. A burst of automatic fire splintered it. And then another burst finished knocking a large hole in the door. John had moved further away from the door and was at the edge of the window. He chanced a quick look into the room. John found himself looking into the face of Bobby Jones.

Bobby saw the motion at the window and turned his full auto M4 clone toward it. But he’d emptied the magazine in the two long bursts he’d fired. As he was trying to change magazines, John kicked in the window and stepped inside, the HK-91 muzzle aimed at Bobby’s chest.
“Hey man! Don’t shoot! I didn’t know it was you!” He lifted his hands, but the M4 pistol grip was still in his right hand.

“Put it down, Bobby. Slow.”

Bobby did, his eyes on John. “Come on man! Put down your gun. I said I didn’t know it was you.”

“Bobby, you’ve been going around robbing and killing people ever since the war! What’s with you?”

Bobby’s look hardened. “Hey, man! A guy’s got to live. You and your survivalists buddies can’t keep everything to yourselves! It ain’t fair, man!”

“Turn around,” John said, making a small motion with the HK-91. John thought he was doing to do it, but Bobby lunged for the M4. John stepped forward and laid the butt of the rifle across the back of Bobby’s neck, knocking him cold.

John keyed his Yaesu VX-7RB Amateur handheld that he used for medium range communications with the farm and reported what had happened. He quickly ran out to retrieve his pack to get some 550 cord to tie up Bobby before he came to.

When Bobby did come to somewhat later, with a loud groan, he was sitting propped up on the sofa, his hands tied behind his back, and his feet tied together. “I’ll get you for this!” he growled at John, who was sitting in a chair facing the sofa.

“Don’t make it any worse,” John said quietly. “Tell me why you did all this.”

“Screw you!” was the only reply. At least for a little while.

“You think you had me fooled, don’t you? That I didn’t know what you were doing. Well, I’ll tell you this, when you sold your house I got a look inside. You had a fallout shelter all that time and didn’t tell me. Man, that was lame! I was your best friend! Took you shooting. Let you help me with the Jeep. And you went and held out on me.

“But I got to use that shelter. The goofs that bought the place didn’t even know what hit them.” Bobby’s face changed slightly. “But I couldn’t get in until they finally came out. Look at me! It’s all your fault I got radiation sickness! If I’d known where your new house was… Things would have been different.” He was glaring at John.

“So you decided you could just take what you wanted at the point of a gun?”

“I told you before the war that I would. It’s the only way. I ain’t going to labor on no farm for hours just for a bowl of soup. How do you think I felt when I found out you were a big cheese at that farm? Huh? You should have included me! But no, you just helped your farm friends. I had to take care of myself.”

“We helped lots of people, Bobby. I would have helped you if you’d come to me.”

“I wasn’t going to crawl on my belly to you. I told you I don’t do farm work.”

John saw a glimpse of fear in Bobby’s eyes when the sound of the Ford crew cab came through the mutilated door and window.

“What’s going on,” Bobby asked.

“We’re taking you back to the Farm to stand trial,” John replied.

“You got no right! It’s every man for himself. I only did what I had to!”

“Save it for the jury, Bobby.”

Bobby continued to protest as Sandy and Jorge carried him out to the Ford and put him on the back seat. John climbed in beside him, after putting his pack and rifle in the bed of the truck.

“What about the quad?” Jorge asked.

“We’ll come back for it. I want to get him squared away at the Farm first.”

Sandy and Jorge got back into the truck and they headed for the farm. Again one of the empty storage rooms was used as a holding cell. John untied Bobby and gave him a slight shove to get him into the room before he could try anything. Bobby was still screaming obscenities when John left the storage barn.

John saw Belinda with a group of people that had been watching what went on. He called out to her. “I need someone to go with me to bring back his stuff. You want to come?”

Belinda nodded. “Just give me a minute.” She was wearing her pistol and whippet, but Belinda ran to her trailer to retrieve the AUG and accoutrements. She met him at his truck. Jorge was there as well.

“Jorge is going to bring the quad back,” John said as Jorge climbed into the bed of the truck and made himself comfortable. Belinda climbed into the passenger seat of the truck and John got in the other side.

John and Jorge checked the fuel level in the quad. It was almost empty. They looked around and found several empty fuel cans, and one partially full of gasoline. Jorge used it to fill the quad. They put the empty cans in the back of John’s truck. Jorge headed back toward the Farm as fast as the quad would go, considering the road conditions.

Belinda kept watch while John searched the rest of the small farm. There were signs that Bobby had killed at least one person in the house some time in the past, but John found no body. The house was in poor shape, trash everywhere. He found some loaded magazines for Bobby’s M4. He gathered them up with the carbine and carried them out to the truck. He couldn’t find any other ammunition. There was no food left, either. Bobby had apparently eaten everything he’d taken from Tom’s place.

When he got to the barn, he was surprised to find Bobby’s Jeep intact. He checked it for fuel. It was full. He’d found a set of keys in the living room of the house and tried the one he thought would work. It did. The Jeep started up, but ran rather roughly. It smoothed out some after it had warmed up, but John decided the gasoline was probably well past its prime.

John opened up the barn doors and backed the Jeep out and moved it over beside the pickup. “Bobby’s pride and joy,” John told Belinda when she walked over to look at it.

“I want to look around in the barn a little more. See if it looks like he stashed anything,” John said, walking back to the barn as Belinda moved back to take a look around the place, just in case.

John couldn’t find anything else that didn’t seem to belong there, so he went back outside. “Belinda, if you’ll drive my truck, I’ll take the Jeep to the Farm.” Belinda nodded and the two set off.

With the weather still rather marginal, and supplies strained from the long harsh winter, none of the other groups around the area were willing to send representatives to the Farm for another trial.

John suspected that there was some general reluctance, as well. Trials and executions weren’t that big of a draw, once the newness was off. And it worn off in a big way during the first trial and set of executions.

Adam, June, and several of the others at the Farm that helped Adam make decisions came to the conclusion to keep Bobby prisoner until later in the spring when people would be moving about to start trading again. It was against John’s advice. He wanted the trial and sentencing done now, by those on the Farm. But he took the decision in stride.

John made sure Bobby was secure, checking the storage room every day. He would have preferred a guard be kept 24/7, but he was overruled on that issue, as well. Everyone that was suitable to be a guard was needed in the fields, barns, and greenhouses.

The snow was gone, and the date of the trial set for late June. John was anxious to get back to the railroad yard and port at Tulsa to try to recover whatever they could find. But he didn’t want to be gone during the trial. So he chaffed a bit at the waiting.

It was well he waited, for one of the former captives of the gang was a turncoat and had been giving Bobby information gleaned from the other captives while they had been with the gang. On a particularly busy day, Karen Clemson went to the storage barn and released Bobby.

She had his weapons and his keys for the Jeep with her. They were in the Jeep by the time anyone saw them and raised the alarm. They had been gone for almost ten minutes when John got to his truck.

John didn’t hesitate. He grabbed his rifle and took off after the Jeep in his truck, alone.

There weren’t many places Bobby could go. John was sure he was headed for Tulsa, to loose himself in remains of the city, so he followed the shortest route to the city himself. Sure enough, after an hour of driving as fast as he could with the conditions what they were, John caught sight of the Jeep ahead of him. It was still barreling along at the highest speed Bobby could get it to.

John didn’t think Bobby saw him slowly closing the distance for quite some time. But apparently he did. The Jeep swerved a little, and then picked up a fraction more speed. John was a half a mile behind, still barely gaining on the Jeep.

John had approached within a quarter of a mile when Bobby suddenly turned off the main road. John couldn’t feature why, at first, but then he got an idea. Bobby was heading for Crunch Hill, to get away from John. Bobby knew a truck like John’s couldn’t climb it.

“You’ve got to be kidding,” John said aloud. But that was exactly what Bobby had in mind. They were approaching the point where the rock climbers turned up the hill for their challenges. John saw the Jeep suddenly come to a sliding stop. There was the sound of a shot and Karen fell out of the passenger side of the Jeep.

Bobby headed up the slope bouncing over rocks, going faster than he probably ever had before. The pickup slid to a stop and John jumped out to check Karen. She was dead. Bobby was a hundred yards up the slope and to John’s amazement the Jeep stopped and Bobby appeared beside it, his M4 in hand. John dove for cover when Bobby dumped the rest of the thirty-round magazine at him, full auto. It was only the one long burst and Bobby was back in the Jeep, headed upward again.

John had no clue where the rounds had gone, but none had hit him, or come close. He jumped for the pickup again and tore up the road, wondering if Bobby was actually this dumb, or if he had some kind of plan John couldn’t figure out.

The rear of the truck sliding on the dirt track, John took the long way around to the top of the hill. He didn’t clear the top of the hill. He stopped, grabbed the HK-91, and ran the rest of the way.

There was Bobby, thirty yards away, still climbing the rocky hill. All of Bobby’s attention was on the path he was taking up the hill. He never even saw John until he made the top and started to look around to see if John was going to actually try to climb up behind him.

When he turned, it took a fraction of a second to realize John was standing right there, twenty feet away, the HK-91 lined up on him.

“How…” was all he had time to say before the 150-grain soft point bullet bored through his forehead and out the back of his skull.

Walking over to the body slumped in the driver’s seat of the Jeep, John whispered, “Why, Bobby? Why?” He didn’t get an answer.

It took the rest of the day to get the bodies and Jeep back to the Farm. Bobby and Karen were buried in a common grave the next day.

Click here for Chapters 9 through 12

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