Low Profile (Part 3)


Chapters 9 through 12

Low Profile – Chapter 9

With the spring planting done, John and his scavenging crew headed once more to Tulsa. Things turned out quite a bit different than they were expecting. There had been some chatter on the Amateur Bands of the Federal and State governments operating again, in some locations.

John hadn’t heard anything about Tulsa being one of the cities that had National Guard and Regular Military enforcing martial law, so it came as a great surprise when John suddenly had to stop the pickup when they went around a curve just outside of Tulsa.

The three semi trucks behind John all came to a halt as well. “Let’s take it real easy,” John quietly told Belinda. Tell the others.”

John got out of the pickup slowly, as Belinda keyed the FRS radio and told the others what John had said.

“What’s up?” John asked, carefully keeping his hands spread away from his body slightly.

The lieutenant that was walking up from behind the two vehicles blocking the road spoke. The two PFC’s, both with M4’s at the ready coming with him said nothing.

“Tulsa is now under martial law. State your business,” the lieutenant said. “And what are you carrying in the trucks?”

“We were going in to Tulsa to look for supplies,” John said, choosing his words carefully. “The trucks are empty. You’re more than free to check.”

“We will,” the lieutenant replied, motioning for the two PFC’s to do just that.

“All clear,” came the call a few minutes later when each of the three trailers had been opened and checked.

“I’m afraid that all remaining equipment and supplies in Tulsa and immediate surrounding area are delegated for the military and the residents of Tulsa. Turn around and go back the way you come,” the lieutenant said. “I would advise you to let people in your area know that the days of indiscriminate looting are over. It would be advisable that you stay within twenty-five miles of your homes.”

John nodded. “We’ll pass the word. Is this going on all over?”

“I don’t have that information,” said the lieutenant. “But the President has mandated that a recovery process will proceed, to bring the United States back to its previous status as a world power.”

John nodded again. A thought occurred to him and he asked, “Are there ways and means to get travel permits?”

The lieutenant was silent for several long moments. “It is possible, but not recommended. You can contact headquarters in Tulsa by radio for more information.” The lieutenant gave John an Amateur Radio frequency. “That frequency is monitored for contact with outlying communities. You are free to pass it along, too.”

John nodded one last time and directed the semis to get turned around and head back to the Farm. He turned the pickup around and followed the semis. As soon as they got back to the Farm, John located Adam and they sat down in the main house for John to tell Adam what had happened and discuss the matter.

“Apparently they aren’t confiscating firearms yet, since they didn’t take yours,” Adam said. “Do you think they are confiscating food?”

“They didn’t mention it,” John replied. “I think it will be a good idea to get on their good side. It was obvious that we were out to scavenge, though they used the term looting. It might be a good idea to offer them what fresh food and biodiesel we can spare and still take care of the Farm, and the groups we’re supporting.

“Just give it to them?” Adam asked. He sounded reluctant.

“If need be. There is a chance they’ll offer some type of scrip for redemption later. I doubt seriously they’ll trade for it or use gold and silver. It will be common knowledge very soon that we are doing well here. I’d rather head off attempts to take what we have, by voluntarily offering our help for the rebuilding.”

“We’d better talk this over with some of the others. They have a stake in what goes on.”

John nodded. “To my way of thinking, the final decision is yours, though.”

Adam called for the equivalent of a town meeting for the next evening. All the equipment was moved out of the equipment barn and they met there. Adam lined out the situation as he and John had discussed.

There were more than a few dissenters against the plan to volunteer supplies to the military, much to Adam’s dismay.

John, standing out in the crowd with the others, spoke up. “I think it is in our best interests to help get the country back on its feet. There haven’t been any indications yet that the military will use strong arm tactics. If that happens… that is another discussion.

“I for one intend to cooperate with the authorities until and unless they prove themselves our enemy, rather than our friend.”

There was quite a bit of angry muttering about John’s statements.

“We don’t even know who the president is!” someone protested.

Adam quickly said, “We’ll find out. We’ll find out quite a bit more before we make a decision. That’s all for tonight.”

Adam looked somber when everyone had dispersed and it was just him and John left in the barn. “John…” Adam started to say.

“I’m sorry it came out the way it did,” John said, interrupting Adam. “But it is what I feel. I’ll be the first one on the firing line if it turns out the military goes fascist on us. But cooperation that doesn’t violate my personal principals is what I intend to do. I’m just one person. It won’t affect the Farm very much, no matter what I do.”

“You’re looked up to by many of those here. And you’ve been a solid support for me,” Adam replied slowly. “I don’t want to loose that. But I have responsibilities here that I can’t shirk.”

“I know. I don’t mean to put you on a spot, but I have to go with my beliefs.”

Adam nodded. “Of course. And that is what I’ll do, too.”

“A decision, if it is to cooperate, needs to be made in a day or two. I don’t think it’ll make much difference when the decision is announced if it is to stand firm on our own.”

“Yeah. I’ll decide by day after tomorrow.”

They left it at that and split up, Adam going to the main house and John to his motorhome.

John spent the rest of the day in his storage room the next day after he’d put in his time in the greenhouses, harvesting the current crop of fresh food. He had a pretty good handle on what he had in storage, but he wanted to update his computer files.

He lost track of time and was late getting to supper at the main house. Adam and the others looked at him questioningly. “Sorry,” he said, blushing slightly. “I was doing inventory and lost track of the time.”

There was little conversation at the table that evening. Everyone seemed lost in their own thoughts. Adam looked a little pale. John could tell that the decision was weighing on him. It wasn’t as clear cut to Adam as it was to John, and John knew and understood that. John could leave whenever he wanted. Adam had responsibilities at the Farm. The decision would affect him greatly. Not so John.

The next morning Adam was knocking on John’s motorhome door at five. When John opened the door it didn’t look like Adam had been to bed the previous night.

“John. I need to talk to you.”

“Come on in,” John said. He started a pot of coffee while Adam sat down at the dinette.

“I’ve been trying to make that decision all night,” Adam said, his hands one on top of the other on the dinette table. John stayed quiet and let Adam proceed at his own pace.

“I’m inclined to agree with you we should be a force to help the country recover rather than just taking care of ourselves… That’s kind of what we have done here, you know.”

John nodded and Adam continued. “But I have to tell you, I’m not inclined to take on the responsibility of dealing with it. If you’re willing to be the Farm’s… Ambassador, I guess… to the Military, I’m prepared to follow your suggestions.”

“Representative, perhaps,” John said with a chuckle. “Ambassador is a little highfalutin. I guess, to get things set up, I could do that. You know I much prefer to keep a much lower profile that that.”

Adam was smiling in relief. “Well, I think you can handle it for a while.”

They sat and drank coffee for a little while, discussing some of the particulars that John would be talking to the military authorities about.

John made contact that afternoon and set up a meeting in Tulsa with the commander of the local military detachment for the following day. He spent most of the evening typing up a proposal based on his discussion with Adam. With five copies printed out, John headed for Tulsa the following morning.

The team at the roadblock were expecting him and one of the soldiers gave him directions into town. John had his HK-91 with him, but left it in the truck when he got to the headquarters building and exited the truck. He did have his P-14 holstered. No one said anything about it when he was shown in to the commanding officer of the Tulsa detachment.

Colonel Thaddeus Andrews looked rather grim when John was presented to him. “I don’t have much time. What exactly is it you are here to do?” He motioned to a chair in front of the colonel’s desk and John sat down.

“Colonel, I’m representing a group of farm people northwest of town. We have managed to survive and… while I won’t say we are flourishing, we have been able to contribute significantly to the survival of several other groups and individuals in the area.

“We look forward to the time when things return to a somewhat more normal status. We would like to contribute to achieving that end. Though we don’t have a great deal of excess production, we do have enough to contribute fresh foods to your command. We also produce enough biodiesel to provide a hundred gallons every two weeks. I know it isn’t much, but that is all the extra we have, even being as conservative as we are.” He handed the colonel the copies of the proposal. The Colonel didn’t look at it.

Colonel Andrews studied John for several long moments, and then finally said, “We have the authority to requisition anything we need, without explanation or compensation.”

“I thought that might be the case,” John said evenly. “And I don’t think most of those at the Farm would attempt to fight against it.”

“I take it you would.”

John smiled slightly. “Oh, I’d never do that.”

“Of course,” Colonel Andrews replied dryly. “If I was to take you up on your offer, what’s in it for your farm?”

“Actually, it is my friends’ farm. I just work there for room and board and found. His name is Adam and his wife’s name is June. Markum. June’s parents are the local medical system, along with June, who is a nurse. But they are both up there in years and we will eventually be without good medical care.

“We’re hoping we will be able to obtain such care from the military until we can find other doctors. Of course, best case, is we would get paid for what we provide, and have the medical care.”

“Not asking for a lot, are you?”

“Not really,” John said, “In my opinion.”

“I can assure you, you won’t be paid for the products. At least not in gold or silver. And I doubt you’d take the old dollars. Scrip, for future recompense is a possibility. I will send this offer of yours up the line and get back to you.”

John nodded and stood. The colonel held out his right hand and John shook it earnestly. “I think this will be a mutually beneficial arrangement.”

“Don’t count your chickens before the eggs hatch. We will always reserve the right to take what we need. For the good of the entire country.”

“Yes. Of course.” John left the office and the colonel called for the lieutenant sitting at the desk in the outer office.

When John left, he drove to his place in the gated community. The gates stood open, but when he drove around, John didn’t see anyone about. A quick look at the entry to his basement home didn’t indicate any attempts to breach it. He headed back to the Farm.

John didn’t expect any response for a few days. Therefore he was surprised when, after two days had passed, a Blackhawk helicopter showed up mid-morning and circled the Farm area several times.

After the third pass over the main Farm house, the Blackhawk began to land in the big pasture behind the animal barn, scattering the stock to the far reaches of the pasture. When John and Adam showed up a few minutes later, there where nearly a dozen people near the barn, all armed.

John went through the gate and headed for the helicopter a few yards away. He’d barely started when three men climbed out of the Blackhawk. John immediately recognized one of them as Colonel Andrews.

“Colonel Andrews,” John said, his voice raised to be heard over the sound of the helicopter. But the pilot killed the engine and things began to quieten.

“Mr. Havingsworth,” replied the Colonel, taking John’s outstretched hand. “Is there somewhere where we can talk? With you and Mr. Markum, I think it was.”

“Of course. Up at the main house. This way, please.” John guided the three officers toward the gate of the pasture.

“You seem quite prepared to handle trouble,” the colonel said conversationally as they passed the group of armed Farm personnel.

“We are. Colonel, this is Adam Markum, the owner of this ranch, with his wife.”

“Colonel,” Adam said, holding out his hand.

The colonel shook Adam’s hand, replying, “Mr. Markum.”

The other two officers remained quiet as they followed along, headed for the main house. One was a man, the other a woman. The man was a lieutenant, the woman a captain. They looked around curiously as Adam, John, and the colonel walked ahead of them.

When June had them settled in the dining room of the house, Colonel introduced the other two officers. “This is Lieutenant Harold Randolph and Captain Rebecca Hood. The lieutenant is in charge of local procurement, and Captain Hood is head of the medical detachment in Tulsa.”

After greetings all around, the three officers sat down, as did John, Adam, and June. Belinda was hovering by the door. “Would you care for coffee?” June asked the officers.

All three looked surprised. “You still have coffee?” Lieutenant Randolph asked.

“A small quantity. It’s only for special occasions, now,” June replied as Belinda scurried off to get the coffee ready for them.

The colonel didn’t wait for the coffee. He got right down to business.

“I’ve spoken to General Braddock,” Colonel Andrews said. “He is inclined to accept your offer. However, he has left it up to me to make the final decision. And submit a report on why I made the decision I intend to make today. The proposal submitted was informative. I need a few more details.”

“Anything you need,” Adam said after glancing at John, who said nothing, “you just have to ask.”

“Can you,” Colonel Andrews asked June, “or your parents, I believe, go over your medical capabilities with Captain Hood? Lt. Randolph and I would like to look over the operation a bit more closely than we could from the air.”

“Certainly,” Adam said and he and June both rose. The three officers rose as well. “Aren’t you coming?” Adam asked John.

John shook his head. “No. You can explain much better than I.” He grinned. “I just work here. But I will be around if you need me.”

The group split up, cups of coffee in hand, and John headed back to his motorhome. He enjoyed the coffee and made a mental note to remember to take the cup back. John thought about the future, and possibilities, now that things were changing.

Nearly three hours later Adam called John on his FRS radio, and John headed back up to the house. He saw the indecision on the colonel’s face when June asked them to stay for lunch. It was ready, and there was enough for all, including the helo crew.

“Very well,” Colonel Andrews replied.

The meeting was scheduled for after the meal. No discussion of it would take place during the lunch. After serving the table, Belinda and Serena carried portions out to the helicopter. The three officers didn’t seem to want to talk, anyway. They were enjoying the fresh food too much.

After the meal, with another cup of coffee each, Adam asked, “And have you made a decision, Colonel?”

“Other than some details, yes, I have. The Tulsa operation will take you up on your offer. You will get signed receipts for everything you provide to us. You will be able collect at some time in the future, when a new currency is designed and printed.”

John managed to keep his face expressionless. Adam less so. He had a slightly sick look on his face.

“I assure you,” Colonel Andrews said slowly, “That the receipts will, in time, be worth something.”

Adam nodded. “Yes, sir. We’ll hold up our end of the bargain. In the quantities we discussed.”

“That is all I ask,” replied Colonel Andrews replied, standing. Adam took his hand and shook it when the Colonel offered it.

“Thank you, Colonel, Captain, Lieutenant,” John said, shaking each one’s hand in turn. All were silent as they went back out to the helicopter. When the pilot saw them coming, she began the startup process. The rotors were whirling when they arrived. John stopped outside the rotor’s wash and watched the three officers enter the helicopter. Moments later the Blackhawk was lifting off, turning as toward Tulsa as it did so.

With Adam’s authority to negotiate for the Farm, John went to Tulsa two days later with the first bob truck load of food for the military outpost. John met with Lt. Randolph and got detailed receipts signed for everything John delivered that day. As soon as John got back to the Farm, he and Adam copied everything and put the originals in Adam’s fire resistant filing cabinet, with the copy going to John for storage in a fire resistant document case he had in the motorhome.

The first few weeks John went in with every shipment until the process was routine. He took along Adam’s long time Farm manager, Cletus Du’bois, getting him comfortable with the process, ostensibly as a back up, much to Cletus’ dismay. Cletus would be doing the work on his own, soon, though John had not said that outright. Adam had his suspicions, but said nothing until John brought up the subject.

It was July 4, during the simple celebration the Farm was holding, when John took Adam aside for a private talk. “Adam,” John said, “I’m getting ready to head out for a while. The Farm is going well, and the military has lived up to its agreement. You may or may not ever see a return on the receipts, but the chance of bandits is pretty much gone. You’re assured of decent medical care, even if Melissa and Jack do retire, the way they’ve been talking.”

“I had a feeling this was coming,” Adam admitted. “Can’t say I was looking forward to it. But I won’t try to talk you out of it. You’ve helped us get where we are, and I have to agree. We are in as good of shape as anyone could ask for after nuclear war.”

“There is one other factor,” John said. “Belinda had people in Missouri, not far from my place. She talks about trying to get back there sometime to see if they are alive. She hasn’t been able to get any word through the Amateurs. I’m going to offer to take her there, and bring her back if no one is there. You have a say in that.”

“I’m not about to tell anyone they can’t leave!” Adam replied, a bit upset at his perception of what John was saying.

“Of course you wouldn’t,” John said hastily. “The question is more if she’d be welcome back if she does leave and then finds there is no one there with whom she can stay and have a life.”

“Oh. Well, I can’t think of any reason why she wouldn’t be welcome back.”

“We’re still getting the occasional new resident,” John reminded Adam.

“That’s true,” Adam said thoughtfully. But he shook his head and said, “But that doesn’t matter. She’s been an asset. We can hold her place for up to two years. No telling how long it will take to travel there and back, things being what they are.”

“I’ll tell her,” John said. “She may not even want to go, as you said, things being what they are.”

John asked Belinda the next day if she wanted to go, making it clear that there would be no strings attached if she did, in light of the fact that they spent a lot of time together and several of the matchmakers on the Farm were trying to get them to become a couple.

“Oh, yes! I would like to go. My parents weren’t as prepared as Adam here, but I have to believe they might have made it. I would at least like to know, either way. I can’t stop thinking about them.”

“Okay, then. We’ll leave in a week. We’ll be taking a trailer, so you can bring anything you want. You might want to talk to Adam about your leaving.”

“Of course. I owe him and June so much. I just hope they’ll take me back if things don’t work out.”

“Oh, I’m sure of it,” John said, a slight smile on his face.

It took more than a week to get the travel permits in order. Colonel Andrews seemed as annoyed as John at the delays. The various jurisdictions along the route John wanted to take each had their own requirements for travel into, through, and out of their territory. Almost two weeks after John’s announcement that he was going on the trip and first requested the documents, Colonel Andrew’s aide contacted the Farm and let John know he could pick up the documents whenever he wanted.

Belinda was as ready as John to get started. Her duties had ended the first week of the wait, and she’d been at loose ends since. The truck and trailer had been packed and repacked. John and Belinda were more than ready when John got the word. They left the Farm a few minutes after Adam came down to John’s motorhome and told him.

They had to go into Tulsa to get the papers. There was an entire packet of them, divided in sections with paperclips. The Colonel’s aide gave John the papers and he and Belinda turned to leave, but the Lieutenant said, “The Colonel would like to see you before you go.”

“Of course,” John replied, maintaining his patient demeanor.

After the aide called the Colonel on the intercom, he showed the two into Colonel Andrews’ office.

“Have a seat,” Colonel Andrews. “I know you must be in something in a hurry to get going, considering the delays. I won’t take much of your time.” Despite his words, Colonel Andrews paused and didn’t say anything for several long moments.

Then the colonel opened a drawer of his desk and took out a large manila envelope. “I didn’t want you to think the travel papers were dependent on what I am about to ask you to do. That wouldn’t be right, and it wouldn’t be the truth.” Again he paused, still holding the envelope.

“I have a personal favor to ask,” he finally said.

“Of course, Colonel Andrews,” John replied.

“I have family near the route your taking. I was hoping you would deliver this to them.” The Colonel handed the envelope to John.

John was a bit surprised how heavy the envelope was. The Colonel saw the surprise in John’s eyes. “It’s best you know what is in it, I suppose,” he said. “It’s mostly just a few letters I’ve written to my family since the war. And there is some gold I’ve saved in there for them. I just have to trust you to deliver it intact, if you do agree to. The letters are more important to me than the gold, but if it is like everywhere else, they may be having a hard time and could use it.”

“It will all get there, if any of it does. I can’t guarantee it, since I can’t guarantee we’ll make it. It’s still a rough world out there.”

“I understand that. And I would like to make it worth your while trying. I have a bit more gold and some silver, but I have no idea what to offer you.”

“Post is important. I’ll know it is a real sign things are coming back when there is regular service. But it has to be practical. What would you say to a silver dime for delivery?”

Colonel Andrews looked incredulous. “Just a single dime? Are you kidding?”

John shook his head. “That is a high price to many people around here. I’m not out to gouge you.”

“Well… I don’t know what to say,” the Colonel said.

“That is in advance,” John said, smiling slightly, “success or failure.”

Colonel Andrews laughed. “Of course.” He opened a different desk drawer and took out a pre-1964 silver dime and handed it to John. It was so worn John couldn’t read the date or the mint mark, but that was all right. It was obviously a silver dime.

John and Belinda took their leave, and the trip was on.


Low Profile – Chapter 10

John had allowed plenty of time for the trip, despite how easy it should be. They would be traveling along I-44 all the way, with a couple of short side trips. Most of the travel would be in the various military jurisdictions, but the jurisdictions didn’t all meet edge to edge. There were still some areas without the benefit of military presence.

The reports were, including those passed along by the military, and others by Amateur Radio Operators, that these open zones could still be dangerous for travelers. Between that and the fact that travel restrictions were in place, there would not be many travelers on the road. John and Belinda would more or less be own their own, for much of the trip.

There weren’t going to be motels, restaurants, and filling stations open along the route. But John was confident he had enough fuel and supplies to make a round trip, with enough extra of everything for unforeseen events, and for trading along the way.

The first few miles of the trip east on I-44 from Tulsa weren’t too bad. There had been a lot of scavenging done by those survivors east and north of Tulsa. The Military had also done some salvage and clean up work up to thirty miles out from Tulsa.

John showed the sentries at the blockade at the furthest point of the Tulsa Military Administrative Zone his and Belinda’s travel documents. There was no problem with them passing.

After clearing the road block, on general principles, John stopped whenever he saw anything that might be useful, or hold something useful. There wasn’t much to be found. Only a few miles beyond the blockade, there were signs of intensive scavenging. John thought it was probably an organized group, probably from as far away as Joplin, Missouri. The Farm was in contact with an Amateur there. He had not said the city was sending teams out, but there were hints here and there of the fact.

John and Belinda fell into their standard travel routine of having a hot breakfast, cold lunch, and an early hot supper, after which they would travel a bit more before setting up camp out of sight of the Interstate. Each had their own tent and shared the privacy tents for the chemical toilet and the solar heated shower bag. Whenever they ran across a water supply, John stopped and they filled their water containers, using John’s Katadyn Expedition filter.

At each stop John got out his Brunton ADC Pro pocket weather instrument and checked current conditions. The new weather pattern, along with being cooler in general, was also highly unpredictable. Watching the clouds and tracking the winds and barometric pressure gave John enough information to have a decent idea of probable local short term conditions.

The colder climate meant drier summers, but did not mean no rain. Rain, when it came was usually in the form of a severe thunderstorm. During those, to conserve supplies, John and Belinda usually spent the daytime hours in John’s Mountain Hardwear Trango 3.1 tent. It was larger than the small Eureka two person tent John was providing Belinda.

Belinda had brought along a small library and read most of the time during those lulls. John read as well, though his reading material was on rewritable CD’s and DVD’s. He kept his lap top batteries charged using the twelve volt system of the truck. The AA and AAA batteries for other things were charged with Brunton Solarpak 4.4 solar panels with BattJack battery chargers. the few items requiring C or D batteries were supplied with battery adapters that took AA batteries.

The first three days of the trip were uneventful. They stopped in Vinita and Miami for a few minutes each. Both had roadblocks at their exits from I-44. The people weren’t aggressive, and would have let John and Belinda into their towns to do some trading if John and Belinda had been so inclined. Still having plenty of everything they needed, they passed on the opportunity and kept traveling each time.

The people manning the barricades at Vinita had good things to say about the people at Miami. They had cooperated on salvage operations until the Joplin people got involved. Those at Miami were equally appreciative of the Vinita residents. Neither had much good to say about Joplin. It hadn’t been so bad until the Military made it presence known in Joplin.

Joplin was one of the locations whose Military command was requiring special travel papers for anyone going out of or coming into, the Joplin area. There was a roadblock at the state line between Oklahoma and Missouri.

From the looks of things, the Bradley IFV parked behind the barricade wasn’t just for show. There were several vehicles along the edges of the road that showed the effects of the Bradley’s 25mm chain gun.

John approached slowly, so as not to give those manning the Bradley any reason to open fire. A sergeant stepped out from behind the blockade and approached the driver’s side of the pickup. Two other men in uniform had rifles sighted on the truck from the edges of the blockade opening.

“Papers?” asked the Sergeant after John lowered his window.

“We’re traveling through,” John said, handing the man the appropriate set of transit papers.

“We’ll be deciding that,” replied the Sergeant negligently, as he carefully studied the papers. After several agonizing minutes for John and Belinda, the Sergeant looked at John again and said, “These look to be in order. Were you aware of the fuel toll?”

“Fuel toll?” John asked. “No.”

“You either have to buy fuel or pay a tax on the fuel you have.”

“We’ll top off our tanks,” John said carefully. “How much is it?”

“Is that fuel in the drums in the trailer?” the Sergeant asked.

“Some,” John replied. “Water in some, too.”

“How much fuel do you have?”

“Four drums of fuel. One empty drum of fuel, two full drums of fresh water,” John replied, keeping his voice calm.

With a greedy smile on his face, the Sergeant then said, “Are you sure? If we find different, it all gets confiscated for attempted violation of martial law.”

“I’m sure. You’re free to check it.”

“We’d check it whether we were free to, or not,” replied the Sergeant. He went back to the trailer and stepped up on the running gear. He tapped each of the metal drums, and opened the two plastic ones.

“Well,” he said, coming up to the cab of the truck again. “Seems to be as you said. The tax is a silver dime a gallon. Four fifty-five gallon drums. Two-hundred twenty gallons. Two hundred twenty silver dimes.”

“We’ll just fill up the other drum. How much is diesel?” John asked, getting the answer he expected.

“Four dimes a gallon. Two-hundred twenty dimes, plus a dime a gallon tax. Two-hundred seventy-five silver dimes total.”

Looking eager then, the Sergeant asked, “You have gold?”

“Not much,” John immediately responded.

“Only cost you two ounces of gold.”

“I’ve only got one one-ounce Eagle and five tenth-ounce Eagles.”

“Add a roll of dimes and you’re out of here.”

Though the Sergeant didn’t notice, Belinda did, when John removed a gold one-ounce Eagle from one pocket of his shirt, the five tenth-ounce Eagles from the other pocket of his shirt, and the roll of dimes from the console of the truck.

John handed the Sergeant the precious metals. “Pull up past the Bradley. We’ll fill that drum.” When the drum was as full as it was going to get, the Sergeant said, “Stay on the Interstate. Do not go into Joplin. Understood?”

John nodded.

“The other side will be looking for you. You wind up late leaving, you could wind up dead.”

“We won’t be late,” John replied, still calm as he could be.

Belinda couldn’t believe his demeanor. He’d let them bribe him for passage past Joplin.

She couldn’t stand it any longer after they had passed through the blockade on the south-east side of Joplin. “I can’t believe you paid them a bribe!”

John smiled over at her. “I allowed for it. I have an agreement with the Colonel to report such actions to him when I get back. I’m supposed to get reimbursed.”

“Oh. I didn’t know,” replied Belinda, looking chagrinned.

“I probably would have paid it, even if I wasn’t going to get it back from the Colonel.”

Belinda was startled at the look that crossed John’s face momentarily. “I would be getting it back on my own, if not. With interest.”

“I understand,” Belinda said, feeling a shiver go down her back. John was serious.

Another day brought them near Springfield, Missouri. Like Tulsa, it had taken one of the small nukes. Also like Tulsa, it had a military presence, enforcing martial law. It was an honest command, like Tulsa, and unlike Joplin.

I-44 ran along the northern edge of Springfield. A five mile stretch of it was in the hot zone surrounding the crater. The sentries at the blockade on the west side of town gave them the option of going well around the hot zone, on side roads, or barreling through on the Interstate.

“How is the road?” John asked. “Still badly blocked?”

“You could probably make it in your rig,” the Lieutenant said. With a grimace he continued. “Too many people were out looting. They managed to clear a lane to get trucks and stuff through. Probably all died. Radiation in the hot spot is still 8r.”

John looked over at Belinda. “Could take us ten minutes or more through that zone, plus the time leading up to it when the radiation is also rising.”

“We shouldn’t pick up more than a 5 or 6r dose. I say we go the fast way,” Belinda said after a moment’s thought.

“Okay,” John replied to Belinda, and then asked the Lieutenant, “You’ll notify the blockade on the other side?”

The Lieutenant nodded.

John drove carefully, but at speed, as they passed Springfield. Belinda had been just a bit high on her calculations. They only picked up a total of 4r additional radiation on the trip around Springfield.

They stopped outside of Northview to camp that night. Another storm was brewing and they set up for at least a two day stay.

They wound up staying four days, as the weather set in and didn’t break. But break it finally did, and they set off again. For the first time on the road, John had Belinda drive for a while, as he was nursing a summer cold and was feeling lousy. Belinda had made a large pot of hot lemonade and filled one of John’s two-quart Stanley thermos’ so he could drink it on the way to help the congestion. In addition, John was sucking on peppermint candies to clear his sinuses and keep his throat moist.

As soon as he’d felt it coming on, two days before, he’d insisted on Belinda wearing a P-100 mask, and he did the same to prevent her from catching his illness. They continued to wear the masks, except when they were eating.

“Are you sure we shouldn’t just set up camp again, until you’re better,” Belinda asked John as they approached Conway, Missouri.

John shook his head. “We can camp there overnight, but I want to keep traveling.”

Though he was in the process of setting up his tent, Belinda left hers in its storage bag and helped John finish setting up his. As he stood helpless to counter her actions, she got his sleeping pad and sleeping bag arranged and ordered him to bed. He was too weak to resist.

Though they’d already stopped and eaten a hot meal of Mountain House rice and chicken, Belinda entered the tent and set up John’s MSR multi-fuel stove in the alcove to heat up water to make him more hot lemonade. He didn’t protest when Belinda insisted he take a dose of his stash of Nyquil to help him sleep after he’d downed another cup of the hot lemonade.

He was fast asleep when Belinda got her things and set them up on the other side of the tent from John. She wasn’t going to leave him alone as sick as he was. She went back out and set up the rest of the camp, including the perimeter alarms.

Belinda took off her boots, but kept most of her clothes on when she laid down on top of her sleeping bag as the light was fading. She fell asleep sometime during the night. John’s coughing woke her up the next morning. She helped him out to the privacy shelter for the chemical toilet, and then back to the tent. John was wearing a pair of boxer shorts and his back was clammy where she touched it to help him standup outside the tent.

“We’re not traveling today,” she said firmly, guiding him back to his tent. Much to her surprise, John was back in his sleeping bag when she went back in a few minutes later. She took her time preparing breakfast. She kept it simple. Oatmeal.

John ate listlessly, but he ate, knowing he needed to do so. He sat up, with the open sleeping bag around him, while he ate, and then drank half a cup of hot lemonade. He took another peppermint candy and lay back down.

When he didn’t fall asleep shortly, Belinda persuaded him to take another shot of Nyquil, since they weren’t going anywhere. He did so, grudgingly. When he was asleep, Belinda left the tent with her weapons and took another look around. They were in a good spot, and she wasn’t too worried, but she wasn’t going to take a chance.

Even she was getting antsy to change locations three days later when John insisted on it. He was past the worst of the cold, but still suffering some of the symptoms. Again Belinda drove. They didn’t go far. Just to Lebanon. On a whim, Belinda asked the sentry at the city’s blockade if the city happened to boast an open motel.

Very much to her surprise, the man said there was. Rather proudly, he added, “Got a restaurant, too. If you have precious metals, preferred, or something worthwhile to trade.”

Considering herself on a roll, Belinda then asked about diesel fuel.

“Big Mike MacDougal makes biodiesel on his farm. He’s selling it out of a tank truck at the old Chevron station.”

“Thank you,” Belinda said, thankful not only for what Lebanon had to offer, but that they were willing to offer it at all. It renewed her faith in people. Not everyone was like the military detachment at Joplin.

Belinda filled in John when she got back in the truck. He set his rifle aside and rested his head back on the headrest, his eyes closing. “I trust you. Wake me if you need me.” He took a leather bag from inside of the console and handed it to her. Belinda looked inside. It was gold and silver.

They still had plenty of fuel, but John had said he planned to pick up fuel he was sure would be good on the way if he could. He was leery of petroleum diesel this long after the war that might be salvaged from trucks. Unless it was treated with Pri-D, he didn’t want anything to do with it.

With that in mind, Belinda followed the directions the sentry had given to her to the Chevron station that was supposed to have the fuel. The sentry hadn’t lied. Big Mike himself transferred the biodiesel from his tank truck to the drums in the trailer after they had decided on a price of one one-ounce Gold Eagle for the fuel. Big Mike was happy with it. Belinda didn’t think it was unreasonable.

Next she found the motel. The restaurant was adjacent to it and operated by the same people. John was still asleep in the truck when Belinda entered the motel office. “Hi,” she said to the elderly woman sitting behind the check in counter. Belinda noted the shotgun leaning against the wall nearby.

The woman got up and stood behind the counter. Looking rather incredulous, the woman asked, “You traveling alone?”

Belinda shook her head. “No. He’s in the truck.”

“Oh. Good. It’s not safe for a woman alone out there. Looking for a room, I take it.”

Belinda nodded. “Depending on how much for the room and a couple of meals.”

“Of course we are the only game in town.” She smiled. “But I think we’re reasonable. What do you have to trade?”

“We have some diesel, some feminine products, liquor, and tobacco. Also some silver, if you prefer.”

The woman’s eyes lit up at the mention of the silver. “Meal is fifty cents silver, room five dollars in silver. Meal is mulligan stew, but the bathroom works and includes hot water for bath or shower. But the lights go out at ten.”

Belinda hesitated a moment, but decided the rates really weren’t unreasonable of travel accommodations nowadays. “Breakfast included?” Belinda asked.

This time the elderly woman hesitated. “I suppose. Be rice with honey and powdered milk.”

“Good enough,” Belinda replied. She turned away slightly as she opened the leather pouch. John kept his precious metals in plastic coin tubes. She counted out ten silver half dollars and four quarters. After a moment she took out two silver dimes as well.

Belinda handed the silver coins to the woman and said, “The extra is for breakfast. I wasn’t trying to put you on the spot.”

“Why… Thank you,” the woman said, gratefully. “Most try to knock the price down. We’re just barely making it as it is. Not many travelers. Mostly military. We did okay when they were here, but they sure cleaned us out. But we have diesel to keep the gen running for several weeks now.”

Belinda nodded and followed the woman out of the office. The woman had picked up the shotgun and carried it in one hand as she led Belinda to the nearest room. When Belinda saw the single king sized bed she paused. “Actually,” she said then, “We need two beds.”

“Oh. Okay,” came the reply. “Next room has twin queens.”

They moved to the next room down the line and the woman opened it with her pass key. “I’ll bring the room keys back in a few minutes,” she said, hurrying back to the office.

Belinda moved the truck and woke John up. He nodded in approval when he saw the room and Belinda told him there was hot water for a soaking bath. “Do you want to do that first or eat? They have a mulligan stew going.”

“Let’s get settled first, and then eat. I’ll do a soak and hot toddy and then go to bed. You okay with setting things up again?”

“Of course,” Belinda replied, headed for the door to get their packs. She met the woman coming back with the keys. Belinda took the keys and told the woman, “There’ll be an alarm system around the truck. You might warn anyone else around the place to steer clear. We’ll be in for supper in a little while.”

The woman nodded and said, “Can’t blame you for that. One of my boys takes a turn around the place from time to time during the night. Can’t be too careful.” She hurried back to the office.

They both used the bathroom and then went to the small restaurant. A young woman, obviously pregnant, met them at the door and then seated them at a table where they could see the truck when John asked.

“Mother Corrin said you’d paid for a meal. I’ll have it right out.” She came back a couple minutes later with two glasses, a pitcher of water, cloth napkins, and flatware. “The water is filtered.”

Another quick trip and she was setting two large bowls of mulligan stew, and surprisingly, a small loaf of fresh bread, on the table. “Sorry. No butter to spare.”

“This is fine,” a wan looking John said, smiling up at the woman’s face. “Thank you.”

The young woman smiled back and nodded, and then left them to their meal.

They ate slowly, savoring the thick, aromatic stew. It didn’t have an over abundance of meat, but there was some, and plenty of carrots, potatoes, and onions. When they were done, John said, “Leave a tip.” He shrugged. “Couple of dimes.”

Belinda nodded and did so. The young woman saw them rising from the table and came over. “Everything all right?”

Belinda smile and said, “It was great. Thank you.”

When they were back in the room, it was already dark. Belinda set up the MSR stove and heated water to make hot lemonade for John. She added a small dollop of Everclear to the cup of lemonade and handed it to John.

“You better take the bathroom first,” John said, taking a tiny sip of the toddy. “Between this and a hot bath, I’m going to be out of it.”

Belinda wanted to argue, but John was probably right. He could still function at the moment, but later that might be different. “Take your time,” John said as she entered the bathroom with her pack.

Taking John at his word, Belinda took a long bath, a luxury she hadn’t been able to experience in a very long time. She dried off and dressed again. When John entered the bathroom Belinda went out and set up the perimeter alarms and the truck alarm. When she reentered the room she went to the bathroom door and called out to John, “You okay in there,” afraid he might fall asleep in the tub.

“Yeah. Just a little longer.”

“Take your time. Just don’t fall asleep in there,” Belinda replied. She went to the beds and turned them both back, and then waited for John to reappear. She was about ready to call to him again, but the bathroom door opened and he walked out wearing his boxer shorts, rubbing his head vigorously with a towel. His hair was almost as long as Belinda’s. It was the first time she’d seen it down. He usually had it in a ponytail.

John fell into bed, covered up, and was asleep in moments. Belinda read until ten, when the lights went out. It took her a while to fall asleep.

When Belinda woke the next morning, John wasn’t in his bed. She used the bathroom and went looking for him. She found him in the restaurant, talking to several men. They all had cups of tea, by the lack of the smell. It wasn’t coffee.

John motioned her over, but didn’t introduce her. “Tea?” he asked and she nodded. John signaled the server, the same woman as the night before. She hurried over with another cup and saucer.

There was a plastic honey bear dispenser bottle on the table. It was nearly empty and Belinda took only one squeeze to add honey to the tea. She couldn’t identify it, but it tasted good.

The men all finished their tea and got up, leaving the table to John and Belinda. Betty, the server, came over and asked if they were ready for breakfast.

John nodded and Betty hurried away. She seemed to only have two speeds. Stopped and in a hurry. She was back a couple minutes later, with a serving tray. She set out bowls of steaming rice, a pitcher of milk, and another honey bear.

The two ate slowly, in silence, enjoying their tea and rice. When they were done Betty cleared the table. “Time to be off,” John said. “You have the pouch?”

Belinda nodded and handed it to John. “I offered to buy the tea for the morning coffee klatch this morning.” He counted out two silver halves, two silver quarters, and two silver dimes and left on the table as he rose. “Betty said the breakfast was included, but I added a bit, anyway,” John told Belinda as they headed for the front door.

Belinda saw Betty and the older woman standing in the door leading to the kitchen and called back, “Thanks for everything!” The two waved in response.

As they approached the truck, Belinda said, “You seem to be much better this morning.”

“Yeah. Feels really good to feel better, if you know what I mean.”

Belinda laughed. “I think I do. You want me to drive?”

“I’ll drive. Things should be smooth sailing for a while, according to the news I got before breakfast. Up past Ft. Leonard Wood. Rolla. I’ll want you behind the wheel when we get close to Rolla. There are rumors of trouble there.”

“Can we go around?”

“We may just do that. Depends on what the military at the Fort have to say.”

They stopped short of the Fort, pulling into one of the entrances to a section of Mark Twain National Forest. They were surprised to find the kiosk manned, though the person wasn’t wearing a Park uniform. He was armed, but was friendly.

“No room for permanent residents. We do have a couple of openings for transients. You have to pay your way. Food, medicine, or fuel.”

“How much fuel for an overnight?” John asked.

“Gallon of gas or gallon and a half of diesel,” was the reply.

“Diesel,” John replied, getting out of the truck. The man had a gallon can marked for diesel handy and John filled the can. The man emptied it into a jerry can and then John half filled the can again from one of the barrels in the trailer.

He gave John directions to the lots set aside for travelers and said, “Mind your manners and there won’t be any trouble. Any trades you do are at your own risk. We have a lot of good people here, but there are a handful of less than trustworthy. But they have kids and we won’t throw them out.

The area was filled with people. From the looks of some of the camps, people had been there since the war. There was still forest, but upon closer inspection, many trees outside of the actual campground had been cut down, presumably for firewood. Some of those open areas were also occupied with a vast variety of tents and vehicles, including several semi trailers.

John and Belinda had barely started setting up their camp when several people stopped by. It was about an equal mix of men and women, with the occasional teen. “You trading?” asked one of those in the front of the group.

“Might,” John replied. “What are you offering?”

Everyone started clamoring for attention and John held up his hands. “One at a time. Please.” Again it was pandemonium. “Hold it! Hold it!” John said. “Look. We’ll lay down a tarp with what we have to trade here in a little while. You can come by as the evening progresses and see if you want to trade anything for what we have.”

With some muttering the growing crowd broke up and people moved away. “Are you sure you want to do this?” Belinda asked as the finished setting up camp. They’d already stopped for their evening meal, so as soon as the tents were set up, John laid down a tarp and put a few things out on it. Belinda brought out some of her trade goods and added them to the tarp.

A few people had been lurking close and immediately came forward when John unfolded a director’s chair and sat down by the tarp. He had his Benelli M4 shotgun handy, as well as wearing the P-14. Belinda also had her weapons in evidence, following John’s lead.

There was immediate interest in John’s display of 200ml bottles of 190 proof Everclear, the 1.5 ounce packets of Prince Albert tobacco, the OCB rolling papers, and the small boxes of wooden matches. There was also an open box of Folgers Coffee Singles.

Belinda on the other hand had a rapidly growing group of women and girls interested in her feminine hygiene supplies, personal care items, collection of bras and panties, needles and thread, and makeup.

Of interest, though less so, were some of the basics that John set out. One pound boxes or bags of beans, rice, sugar, and salt. Cans of meat. While he had quite a bit to trade, he only put out one or two of each item. He didn’t want anyone to know how much he did have.

It didn’t take long for the crowd to swell as word went around the encampment. The trading went slowly. People didn’t have that much to trade away and everyone wanted the maximum they could get for the least they had to give.

Belinda looked up quickly when a woman offered her ‘services’ to John for one of the bottles of Everclear. Belinda noted there was a man with her. He looked as eager for the alcohol as she did. John declined and the two moved off, dejectedly.

Like John, Belinda kept scanning the area for trouble. She caught John’s eye a few minutes later and nodded toward the man and woman returning. The man had one hand in the pocket of his light jacket.

When Belinda looked over at John again she noted the empty holster for his P-14. She couldn’t see his hands, either.

When the man pulled a handgun from the jacket pocket everyone froze. Belinda glanced over at John again. She could tell from his posture now he was holding the P-14 at the ready. But the man asked, “How much for this?” and held out the revolver toward John. “A bottle?”

“Any ammo?” John asked, taking the revolver. Everyone seemed to relax.

“Just what’s in it,” replied the man.

“Please?” the woman as much as begged.

“Okay,” John said. “One bottle.” He picked up the bottle of Everclear and handed it to the man. John called after them as the pair scurried away, “Be sure and cut it with something. It’s 190 proof.”

The trading went on until dark. Quite a few people had gardens going in various parts of the Park and John and Belinda both got several items of fresh food in trade. They each picked up a weapon each, with some ammunition. John got some spare parts off vehicles that wouldn’t run that would work on his truck.

John noticed one man off to the side that had been eyeing the tarp almost from the start. He was on crutches and looked like death warmed over.

As the man started to turn away and leave, John asked, “You looking to trade for something?”

“Some of the food. But I ain’t got nothing to trade, but some gold and silver and won’t nobody take it around here.”

“Coins?” John asked.

The man nodded.

“We’ll take it,” John replied. “All you have, if you prefer to invest in some trade goods besides the food.”

The man’s eyes lit up, and he came closer. “Truly?”

John nodded.

“Ain’t got much, but I’ll trade off all I got for food and trade goods. A couple that said they would take gold wouldn’t make change and all I have is one-ounce Krugerrands and Gold Eagles and one-ounce Silver Eagles. They want a full coin for just a couple meals worth of food. No one else here will take it. Always hear ‘you can’t eat gold’.”

“Was a lot of people’s opinion before the war,” John replied. “Wouldn’t get any. Then I know one guy that decided that was the only thing he would need. Don’t know how he’s fared.”

“That’s what I did. Then got stuck here on a cross country RV trip. Me and my daughter. She died.” After a pause the man spoke again. “You seem to be making good trades. You won’t cheat me, will you?”

“Of course not,” Belinda replied.

“I’ll go get it. Could you wait a few more minutes before you put up your stuff?”

“We’ll wait,” John replied.

A few minutes later the man returned, carrying a small fire safe. “Got it in here,” he told John and handed the safe to him.

John opened the safe up with the key the man handed him, and whistled when he saw the gleam of gold even in the fading light. “When did you get this?”

“’99. Before Y2K. Nothing happened and I just put it away. Should have sold it and bought food,” the man added with a shake of his head.

“Paid around three hundred an ounce for the gold, I take it,” John said.

The man nodded.

“You have a place to keep things safe?” John asked.

Again the man nodded. “Got a big motorhome back a-ways, out of the way. Won’t run. Generator ran until I traded away all the diesel for food.”

“Okay. Here’s what I’m willing to do. I have quite a bit more to trade than I’m showing. I’ll pull around where you are and we can move stuff from the truck and trailer to your motorhome.”

“How much stuff?” the man asked, very curious.

“Enough to keep you in trade goods for a long time, if you’re careful.”

Belinda helped John loaded the things from the tarp into the back of the truck.

John asked the man. “What’s your name?”

“Alexander Levine. Everyone calls me Xander.”

John shook his hand and said, “I’m John. This is Belinda. Climb in the cab and I’ll be right there.”

When Xander was in the truck, John took Belinda aside and asked her, “How much of your trade goods you want to part with? Any amount up to all of it.”

“He’s got that much gold?”

John nodded.

“Three-quarters?” Belinda asked. “Across the board.”

“That’s good. I’ll make up the rest. Keep an eye out. I’ll be back in a little while.” John went to the truck and climbed in the driver’s side and started the truck. Xander gave him directions and they were soon at Xander’s motorhome.

John began to carry box after box of trade goods into the motorhome, as Xander watched incredulously after the first three.

“What I gave you is all I have,” Xander said when John picked up yet another box.

“I know. Gold is worth more now than the three-hundred you paid for it.”

When John had moved three-quarters of Belinda’s stuff, he moved half of his. “This going to be all right with you?” he asked, finally stopping and standing by Xander at the door of the motorhome.

“My yes! I didn’t expect a tenth of what you have given me.”

“Like I said, gold is worth more now than you paid for it. A lot more. We’re coming out of this smelling like a rose.”

“Well, if you’re happy,” Xander said, “I sure am.” He held out his hand again and John shook it.

“One more thing,” John said, getting into the back of the truck again. He came back out and handed Xander the revolver he’d traded for. “I happened to have a couple of boxes of ammunition for this. I don’t use this caliber. Just in case you need it. I wouldn’t let on I had as much as you do.”

“Like you did, huh? Thank you,” Xander replied, tears in his eyes. “I think you may have just saved my life.”

With a wave Xander probably couldn’t see in the dark, John climbed back in the truck and went back to the camp. As soon as he was parked, he helped Belinda set out the perimeter alarm system.

“I hate to say this, but with this many people here, and them knowing we have trade goods, I think we’d better keep a watch, besides just the alarms.”

“I’m not surprised. Normally you would do like we do for supper. Eat one place and camp another. You’d do the trading, but not hang around.”

“That’s right. But we’re here and I don’t want to look for a better place in the dark.”

“Can I have first watch?” Belinda asked.

John smiled at her and nodded. He showed her the open fire safe. “Fifty each one-ounce gold coins and one-ounce silver rounds. He counted out the coins in the light of the moon through the high haze. “You get 15 each one-ounce gold coins and one-ounce silver rounds. Don’t like the rounds. Prefer the US silver coins. But someone will take them somewhere.”

John stashed his gold and silver before he went to bed, using the several hiding places he had in, on, and under the truck.

There was no trouble during Belinda’s watch that night, but John spotted someone moving about outside the range of the perimeter alarms. John was using the night vision goggles. He took a small laser pointer from his breast pocket and shined it toward the person in the woods. The red dot appeared brightly on the person’s chest. Whoever it was moved away, making much more noise than he or she had done getting close.


Low Profile – Chapter 11

The next morning John woke Belinda up early and they broke camp and loaded up before first light. John left the makings for a hot breakfast out and they prepared it on the tailgate of the truck. As they finished it and Belinda was putting the rest of the hot tea in John’s thermos people began showing up, asking for additional trades.

“Sorry,” John said. “All traded out.” The crowd did not look nearly as friendly as they had the night before.

“Xander had a little gold. He bought what we had left on the tarp,” John told the group. “You might see if he’ll do some trading.” John pulled on to the Park road and headed for the entrance.

“You think Xander will be okay? Those people don’t look happy,” Belinda said.

“I think he’ll be fine. I kind of suggested he keep it low profile.”

It didn’t take long to get to the section of I-44 that Fr. Leonard Wood was controlling. The sentries at the blockade were polite and efficient when John handed one of them their traveling papers.

“It is not required, but if you can spare some fuel, it would be appreciated,” the second sentry said as the first one went over the papers.

“Five gallons of diesel?” John asked.

The sentry looked amazed. “Absolutely! I’ll get a jerry can.”

John pumped the fuel from a drum into the sentry’s can. “What can you tell me about Rolla? I’ve heard there are problems.”

“Yes. We don’t know the extent of it. We’re trying to find out more. If you have fuel and you can, I suggest you by-pass Rolla, even with these documents. We can no longer vouch for the military forces stationed there.” He looked grim.

“I understand,” John said, accepting the papers when they were handed back to him. The two sentries pushed the car in the opening of the blockade out of the way and waved John through.

After driving out of sight of the checkpoint, John stopped and took out one of his maps. After studying it for a while he pointed out the route he intended to take. “28 north through Dixon and then 68 south through Vichy to I-44 again. It’s a long ways out of the way, but we have the time and the fuel to do it. I think better safe than sorry.”

“That’s fine with me,” Belinda said. “You want me to drive part of it?”

“Sure. Doubt if there will be a problem. You might as well drive part of the time just on general principles. I kind of got used to just riding along.” John grinned over at Belinda. They switched seats and Belinda drove toward the other blockade the military from Ft. Leonard Wood controlled.

Apparently the sentries at the first blockade had radioed ahead for the blockade was already open. The sentries waved them through. Belinda had to change over to the west bound lanes once, as the east bound were blocked from the median to the side ditch. It made her uncomfortable and she switched back to the eastbound lanes as soon as she could.

The interchange with Highway 28 wasn’t far and Belinda took the exit. It was blocked. “You want to get us around this?” she asked John.

He smiled at her and said, “No. You’re doing okay.”

Belinda wended their way around, finally getting back on the interstate and crossing the median and then the other ditch. She stopped and John got out. He cut the fence with the cutters from the tool box and climbed back in the truck.

There were signs of activity in Dixon, but they didn’t stop and no one tried to interfere with them. The continued north-east until they hit Highway 68. That took them back south-east. It was going to be right at dark if they continued to Vichy so they stopped even earlier than usual.

They went through Vichy early the next morning. Like Dixon, there were no blockades or sentries. Just a few people here and there. They didn’t stop. They ran into the same situation when they got close to Sullivan. John didn’t want to arrive at dusk. They got off the Interstate and set up camp. There should be a military presence in Sullivan. A small one. And Colonel Andrew’s family lived just outside of the city. They wanted to have a full day to get done what they needed.

It took a little more than a day. It took almost the full day to get clearance to enter the city. The Lieutenant in charge of the two platoons in Sullivan was green. He tried to contact his superior, but the Captain he reported to was out in the field somewhere. Finally, after a five hour wait, the Lieutenant finally signed off on the papers and let John and Belinda enter his jurisdiction.

They went ahead and left the Interstate to go into Sullivan proper. There was quite a bit of activity. John was at the wheel and he drove around town until he found a city park that looked promising as an overnight spot.

It wasn’t long after they set up camp that people began to stop in, ostensibly to say hello. John told Belinda, “I think they want to check us out for either being a problem or a resource.”

“You think we should try to do some trading?”

“We’d better ask,” John replied, waving at a couple riding horses coming toward them. “That Lieutenant doesn’t have his act together. I don’t want to break some silly rule and get held more than we already have.”

When the couple approaching were within talking distance John said, “Hello! How are you?”

The two exchanged a glance and the man said, “Well as can be expected. You?”

“Good. We’re here delivering some mail.”

“Like in the movie ‘Postman’?” The woman asked, looking interested.

“No,” replied John. “Just some personal papers a friend asked us to drop off.”

Both looked disappointed. “It would be nice if there was postal service, at least. No phone… No mail… It’s difficult.”

“Do you have an Amateur Radio for communications?

The man shook his head. “Always planned to get one. Never did. I’m Jim Thompson, by the way. And this is my wife Helen.”

They all shook hands. “I’m John and this is Belinda. I have a question? Is it okay to barter here in Sullivan or is that restricted.”

“Well,” Jim said, “It is preferred that it be done over at the high school. Supposed to pay a fee to trade. Like the old swap meet booth rental.”

John looked over at Belinda. “I think I’d rather pass,” she said.

Looking back at Jim, John then asked, “They using precious metals much, or just straight barter?”

“Some of both,” replied Jim. “We trade honey. Prefer food and gas. Are you traders?”

“We do a little,” John said. But probably not here. We’re only stopping off to drop off those papers.”

“If you change your mind, the high school isn’t far. We’ll be there tomorrow morning.”

That was the general sentiment as several more people stopped by to check the newcomers.

“Watches again?” Belinda asked, when they were getting ready to settle in for the night.

“I don’t think it is really necessary… but, yeah. You want first watch again?”

“If you don’t mind.”

“No. Fine with me. I’ll see you at two.”

John had been right. No one approached after they turned off the lights they were using. Belinda woke up to brewing coffee and the sight of a man in a city police uniform talking to John.

“Belinda,” John said, motioning her over. “This is Officer Paul Hickman. Local constabulary. He’s been filling me in on the situation here in Sullivan.”

“Officer Hickman,” Belinda said, shaking his hand. She looked over at John. “Anything I should know about?”

John shook his head. “They do take their trading seriously. Quite a few people, according to Officer Hickman, aren’t pleased with the tax and may try to trade with us outside the regular trading area.”

Belinda looked a little concerned. Knowing John’s nature fairly well, there was a distinct possibility he might want to do something about that tax.

Seeming to read her mind, John smiled and said, “Don’t worry. I’m not about to start a tax revolt. But it is information that Colonel Andrews will want to know. Officer Hickman has agreed to keep an eye on things and report them to the Colonel by radio. He’s an Amateur himself.”

“Just a couple of basic radios,” Paul protested. “I’m not even sure my system will reach Tulsa. I’ve heard them a few times, but never tried to go back to them.”

“We’ll do it if you can,” replied John. “For our part, we need to finish up here and go find the Colonel’s family. You take care, Officer.” John shook Paul’s hand again and Paul turned back to his horse.

“Lot of horses,” Belinda commented. “What does his make? Twelve? Fourteen?”

“Something like that,” John said. “Good way of getting around locally. With the honey, and number of horses, it makes me think the area didn’t get much fallout from Whiteman. I figured the base and missile silos would get hit hard, even though the silos are supposed to be empty.”

“There are missile silos in Missouri? I didn’t know that.” Belinda looked a little pale.

“They were deactivated in the mid-‘90’s. But I always thought they might get hit, anyway, in an all out war. Apparently I was wrong. Which is good. Let’s finish up and get going.”

A little while later, with John driving, they headed toward Colonel Andrews’ family’s home. The Colonel had sketched out a map. It was easy to follow. They pulled into a long driveway well before noon. There was no gate or visible sentries, but John drove slowly and carefully up the driveway.

There seemed to be garden plots everywhere. John stopped, opened the door of the truck and stepped out with one foot. He beeped the horn and called out, “Hello the house!”

He saw the curtains move in a window and waited, somewhat anxiously, for someone to respond. Finally the front door of the house opened slightly and a woman’s voice sounded. “Who are you and what do you want?”

“We’re looking for Dania Perkins. We have a message from Colonel Thaddeus Andrews.”

The door opened wider and an elderly woman stepped out. She had long gray hair. John could just make out someone behind her. He caught the gleam of gun metal and was careful to stay motionless.

“Why should we believe you?”

“The Colonel said I should bring up June, 2001. You’d know he sent me.”

The woman hurried down the steps of the porch that surrounded the farm house.

“Is he all right? Why did he send you?”

When John stepped the rest of the way out of the truck, the woman holding a shotgun behind the gray haired woman stepped out onto the porch, holding the shotgun down to her side.

“I’m Dania,” said the gray haired woman. “That’s Thad’s wife with the shotgun. Courtney. She’s my daughter. What is it you have for me?”

Belinda handed the large manila envelope to John and he handed it to Dania. She started to open it, but suddenly looked up at John. “Oh. Pardon my manners. Please. Come into the house and have a cup of tea. Lunch will be ready shortly.”

“Mother,” Courtney said in a rather chiding voice.

“Oh, honey! I’m sure it is okay. We can afford a little food for someone bringing messages from your husband.”

Courtney stepped out of the way when Dania led John and Belinda into the house. “See to the lunch, dear,” Dania told her daughter as they all entered the large country kitchen the house boasted.

Finally, after another glance at John and Belinda, Courtney set aside the shotgun and busied herself in kitchen as Dania, John, and Belinda sat down around the kitchen table.

Dania fumbled a bit, but finally got the envelope open. When the coins slid out, making a racket on the wooden table, Courtney looked around. She saw the coins and began to smile, seemingly quite relieved about something.

“Oh, my!” Dania said and then quickly withdrew three regular #10 envelopes.

John could see Dania’s name on one, Courtney’s on another, and the third with two boys names. Dania handed Courtney’s envelope to her and tore open her own envelope. Both women began to read, suddenly oblivious to John and Belinda.

Both women shed a few tears while they read. John and Belinda sat quietly. Finally Dania wiped her eyes and looked up. “You don’t know what it means to hear from Thaddeus.”

Courtney said essentially the same, looking much happier than she had. “I’m going to take the boys’ letter out to them,” she said, scurrying out the back door of the house.

“This is the best news we’ve had in a long time,” Dania said, finally looking up from her letter. “I don’t know how to repay you for bringing this.”

“Not to worry,” John said with a smile. “Colonel Andrews paid the postage.”

“Oh. Well, I still insist you stay for lunch.”

“We will,” John said, looking at Belinda first and getting a nod. “If you insist. And if there is something you want to send back to the Colonel, I do plan on going back that way, eventually.”

“No,” Dania replied. “Thad sent instructions on how we can contact him through the military in town.”

Courtney came back inside the kitchen and quickly put together sandwiches for John and Belinda. “We don’t get much meat,” she said, setting the plate of sandwiches on the table. “It’s alfalfa sprouts and tomato on fresh bread.”

“Sounds excellent,” John said, transferring one of the sandwiches to his plate, as Belinda did the same. “Looks like you have quite the garden going,” he said after his first bite. “And this is excellent.”

“Yes,” Dania replied. “The gardens are what have kept us going. Courtney and I do quite well, but it’s really the boys that have the green thumbs. I think they were born to be farmers.”

“Very good profession in today’s world,” Belinda said.

Courtney was still making sandwiches. A few minutes later two young men, looking to be in their mid teens, entered to the standard mother’s admonish, “Get washed up for lunch.”

Both left the kitchen, to return one at a time to take seats around at the table.

“Thanks for bringing the letters,” the eldest, Thaddeus told John.

“Yes,” added the other, Joshua. “What’s it like out there?” he asked, making a vague gesture indicating the outside world.

“It can be tough,” John replied truthfully. “But people like your father are making things better. And people like you, producing food, are all helping bring thinks back to a modicum of normal.”

“More?” Courtney asked when John finished the first sandwich. Belinda was just finishing her sandwich, too. “How about you?” Belinda shook her head.

“We need to get back on our journey,” John said, rising from the table. Belinda stood as well.

“I’ll show you out,” Dania said, also rising. She stopped at the front door. “Thank you for what you have done. You’ll always be welcome here.”

“Thank you,” John and Belinda both said. Without a look back, John walked out to the truck, Belinda following.

“They seem to be doing okay,” Belinda said as John turned the truck and trailer around and headed down the driveway.

“Yeah. Must be tough. I hope the gold the Colonel sent them helps out. Those boys could use a little meat, to put some meat on their bones.”

“I noticed that, too. All of them are thin.”

They got back on I-44 and headed east again. This time there was no problem passing though the blockade east of Sullivan. Apparently the word had made it to the Lieutenant that the papers were to be honored, and honored quickly. He had left orders for the men on duty to expedite John and Belinda through the blockade.

They traveled until near dark before John stopped for them to prepare their supper. Afterwards they traveled another few miles and stopped at a place John knew where he thought they could camp. The small quarter-acre ‘ranchette’ was deserted and the house ransacked and partially burned.

“I hope they are doing okay somewhere,” John said, looking grim. “They were good people. Had decent preps. You just never know. Let’s get out of here.” John drove them a bit further and they set up camp just off the road at the junction with the Interstate.

Belinda looked distracted the next morning as they had breakfast and then broke camp. “You okay?” John asked her.

“I don’t know,” she replied softly. “I don’t know what to expect. The Colonel’s family is doing fine, but your friends are nowhere to be found. My parents…” her voice trailed away, tears glistening in her eyes.

Softly, John said, “There is still hope. You said your parents are resourceful. You have done fine through all of this. There is a good chance they will have as well. We’ll find out today.”

Belinda nodded and they got into the truck. John drove and when they got close, Belinda began to give him directions to get to her parents’ place just outside of Robertsville. John glanced over at her when she said, “Next driveway…” She looked like she would shatter if he touched her, she was so tense.

Rather like the Colonel’s family’s place and their gardens everywhere, there seemed to be clotheslines everywhere on Belinda’s family’s small property. And stacks of cut and split wood.

“Someone is here,” John said. “And taking in washing, from the looks of it.”

John had barely come to a stop when Belinda hopped out of the truck and ran toward a woman that had just come out from behind a line of wash. “Mother!” Belinda nearly screamed, running to gather the woman up in a huge hug.

John saw a man rumble from the house. He looked strong as an ox, despite his apparent age. The man gathered both the woman and Belinda in a bear hug. John got out of the truck and approached the group. He saw tears in all their eyes and had to blink back some of his own.

He stayed out of the way as they all began to cry openly when Belinda told them about what had happened during and after the war. Belinda’s father helped her mother into the house and Belinda turned to John.

“I’m sorry… Haven’t even introduced you yet.”

“Don’t worry about it. Take all the time you need. I understand.”

“At least come inside and sit down,” Belinda replied, leading John toward the sprawling ranch style house.

It was a few more minutes before Belinda began to introduce John to her parents, Betty and Richard Sharp. Suddenly John’s hand was on the butt of the P-14. He’d seen a man at one of the doors, peeking through. He had a gun.

“No! Wait!” Richard said. “That’s Allen. Allen, come on in here. Everything is all right. Look who is here.”

A slender man, about John’s age, with a decided limp, walked into the living room, holstering his pistol. John took his hand off the P-14.

“Allen?” Belinda asked, looking bewildered. “What are you doing here?”

“He’s been helping out,” Richard said.

“He’s been a godsend,” said Betty, looking over at Allen fondly.

“Allen, this is John. John, Allen.” The two men shook hands.

“If you’re responsible for getting Belinda back to her family, I thank you,” Allen said, looking John over as carefully as John was looking him over.

“And we add our heartfelt thanks to that,” Richard said as the two men stepped back from one another.

“Allen,” Belinda suddenly said, “Your wife…”

“She was in St. Louis,” Allen said.

“Oh, I’m so sorry,” Belinda replied, going over to take his hand.

“I’ll let the four of you catch up,” John said, turning toward the door.

Belinda started to stop him, but her mother, father, and Allen all started talking to her at once and John was gone before she could ask him to stay.

It was nearly an hour later when Belinda came out of the house to invite John in for lunch. She saw her belongings stacked neatly by the front door of the house. John was in the trailer, transferring fuel from one of the drums to the truck.

John nodded and finished up the fuelling before he put the pump away and hopped down out of the trailer. “Show me where to wash up.”

“Allen found some solar panels,” Belinda said. “The water pump works so the bathrooms work okay. We even have hot… rather, warm, water. Allen made some water heating panels.”

John came out of the bathroom a few minutes later and joined the four in the kitchen. They weren’t crying anymore. There was even some laughter as they reminisced about old times. John learned that Allen and Belinda had almost married at one time. From the looks of it, John thought, Allen was still carrying a torch, despite the fact that each had married someone else. And Belinda seemed to be responding to it.

He also learned how Allen had helped out the Sharps during and after the war. To get them some power and water. To help get Betty going with a clothes washing service and Richard a firewood service. The help he was to get goats, rabbits, and chickens started to supply them with meat and additional income. And all the fishing in the nearby river. The hunting and trapping. All which he shared with the Sharps.

“What about the farm, Dad? The fields look planted.”

Richard sighed. “I had to let Harry Brown take it over. Even with Allen, I couldn’t manage any more. We butchered all the stock and traded it off since we couldn’t keep it. Harry is giving us a quarter of what he makes for the use of the land.”

After the light lunch, John went out to set up his camp. The Sharps had invited him to stay for as long as he wanted. Belinda came out a few minutes later to talk to him. “John, I know I had left it open about whether or not I would be staying, even if we found my parents. I’ve already decided to stay, now that I am here. They need my help.”

John nodded. “I think you are making the right decision.”

There was a long silence as Belinda studied John’s implacable face. “Are you going to stay in the area?” she finally asked.

John shook his head. “No. I’ll be going back, eventually. I’ve some things to check on while I’m in the area, but I don’t plan to stay.”

They both felt the wall go up between them. The easy companionship was gone. They were just two acquaintances now, not the fast friends they had become. John left the next morning, leaving behind one of the Amateur radios and a broadband antenna they’d scavenged so Belinda could stay in touch. With the Farm.


Low Profile – Chapter 12

It wasn’t that far to St. Louis, he had travel permits for the city, and John still had plenty of biodiesel. He was feeling a little restless and a little reckless. John decided to head to the city and see if he could scavenge anything of value.

There was a much larger military presence around St. Louis than Tulsa. He had no trouble getting past the cordon, but was cautioned about looting. John kept an eye on the radiation survey meter on the console beside him. Also beside him was an open St. Louis yellow pages telephone directory. He headed for the nearest coin shop.

He passed the first roving patrol without problems. When he passed the second, the reading on the survey meter started climbing quickly. John came to his senses and turned around, headed out of St. Louis. Scavenging was one thing. When the powers that be declared it looting and used force to back it up, he was a fool if he tried it.

It was late afternoon when he passed the east side blockade on I-44 and left military jurisdiction. He almost decided to just head back to the Farm as quickly as possible, but as he relaxed from tension he didn’t realize he was feeling, John slowed the truck down and planned to get to his property outside Stanton the following morning.

There were more caves in Missouri than just the famous Onadoga Cave and the more infamous Merrimec Caverns that Jessie James had one used as a hide out. John owned a piece of land with a relatively small non-commercial cave. The five acres were heavily wooded and bordered on a small year round spring fed creek.

John had to maneuver the truck carefully with the trailer to get to the cave’s location. There was a gully down slope from the cave’s main entrance. John had done quite a bit of shovel work on it in the past and could park the truck in it, even with the trailer. When the truck and trailer were covered with the camouflage tarps, they were nearly invisible.

HK-91 slung over his shoulder, John hiked up to the cave entrance he normally used. It was basically a small hole in the ground at the base of a steeper rise than that below it. There were two other entrances that John had found when he’d explored the cave after he’d found it when he was looking for land in the area.

Both were similar holes in the ground, one a mile away to the north and the other just under a mile to the east. Both the other properties were vacant when John had bought his property. He promptly installed solid steel barriers inside all three entrances for liability reasons as well as security.

John slid down the short distance from the ground level to the point where the barrier was. He manipulated the hidden catch on one side of the steel grate and swung it open. He had to crouch down to fit in the passage. John turned on his five D-cell Maglite. The passage sloped slightly and though dry, the bare rock could be a bit slick. But the lugs on his Matterhorn boots gripped tightly and he had no trouble reaching the one large room he’d found in the cave.

The room was only a little over seven feet high in most places, and measured approximately twenty by thirty feet in size. There were a half a dozen openings in walls and floor. The one in the floor was just large enough to get into, but tapered like a funnel to just six inches in diameter.

Three of the passages opening into the wall were essentially dead ends, though they all had small openings leading out of them much too small for a person to travel. The other two passages were winding courses gradually leading downward to the openings on the other two properties. Each had a series of small rooms in that length that ranged in size from six by eight to ten by twelve. Only in the big room was there standup headroom for more than a few feet in any direction. All the passages, except the short one from his entrance to the large room, were rather narrow, in addition to having low overhead room.

The cave was dry, with no signs of water intrusion in even the heaviest rains that the area was occasionally prone. No stalagmites, nor stalagtites. Most importantly, no signs of bats, though there had been some signs of small animals initially. Nothing since he’d put in the barriers.

John found the windup LED flashlight and cranked it a few times. When he had light from it he turned off the Maglite. Though he had distributed some of the supplies and equipment in the other small rooms of the cave, the majority were in the large room. Most were in commercial shipping cases, despite the dryness of the cave.

There was also a row of 15-gallon drums of water lined up against one wall. Two more of the water drums were in the smaller rooms close by, along with a chemical toilet and a rolling waste tote. John’s plan was to transfer the waste from the toilet to the tote, and then take the tote outside to bury the waste.

It took a while to check the entire cavern. Everything was just as he’d left it. He’d really only intended to check the place and then leave, but John found himself settling down for the evening. He went back to the truck and brought back his main pack and the computer case after resetting the alarms on the truck and perimeter alarms around the entrance.

He set up one of the half-a-dozen cots and got out wool blankets from one of the shipping crates. John had an aluminum roll-up table as part of the equipment and set it up, too, along with a folding chair. It was absolutely silent in the cave, except for the sound of his breathing, and then the slight whirr of John’s laptop computer.

John spent the rest of the day reading, until time for supper. After he prepared and ate his supper, feeling as safe and relaxed as he had in a long time, John pulled out the stainless steel flask he kept in his pack. Though he had one for medicinal 190 proof Everclear, this flask was filled with Hennessy Paradis Extra cognac.

He took a few sips as he continued to read after his supper. John carefully recapped the flask and put it away before he went to bed.

It was storming the next morning, though John didn’t know it until he headed to the truck with the things he’d brought in the evening before. Seeing that nothing had been disturbed during the night, John decided to spend the day at the cave. He turned around and went back to the main room and made himself comfortable.

When he checked again late that afternoon, it had stopped raining. John went down to the truck and turned on the Yaesu FT-897D to see if he could raise the Farm. The Yaesu ATAS 120 broadband antenna did its job and John was soon talking to Adam. He winced a bit when Adam read him the riot act for not checking in more often.

John apologized and then filled Adam in on what had transpired the last few days. “Are you doing okay?” Adam asked, rather solicitously.

“Sure. Why wouldn’t I be?” John replied, a bit surprised at Adam’s question.

“No reason. Just asking.” After a pause Adam asked, “When you think you’ll be home?”

“A few days,” John replied. “It took us a bit longer than I anticipated getting to Belinda’s parents, what with the weather and me getting sick. I’ll be back in plenty of time to help with the harvest.”

Adam held his tongue and didn’t blast John. He decided that if John said he was all right, then he was all right. Adam signed off and John did the same. John reset the alarms and went back to the cave for the evening.

It was 3:05 AM by John’s watch when something woke him up. He started to get up from the cot, but was thrown off as the cot turned over. John grabbed the 91 when he realized the remote monitors for the perimeter alarms and the truck alarms were sounding off.

There was another sound and John slowly realized it was the rock itself making the noise. “Earthquake!” John said aloud. He scrambled for the entrance of the cave. It was a warm, still night, except the trees were shaking and the ground was, too.

John managed to stand as he felt wave after wave of movement pass beneath his bare feet. The movements died away and John hurried back into the cave to get dressed. He knew he shouldn’t be so worried about being in the cave. It had withstood the 1811-1812 earthquakes. No reason to believe it wouldn’t survive this one, bad as it appeared to be.

Leaving the cave gear where it was, John took his pack and computer back to the trailer and gathered up the perimeter alarms to put them away. John started the truck and began calling for the Farm on their nighttime frequency. Sally Ridenour answered almost immediately.

“John, are you feeling that?” she asked as soon as she recognized John’s call.

“I hope to tell you! You’re feeling it, too?”

“Things are shaking all over here!”

“Just ride it out,” John said. “That’s all we can do. As soon as you see him let Adam know I’m okay.” John jumped when a tree nearby with a damaged root structure came tumbling down, narrowly missing the hood of the truck. John wasn’t going anywhere until he cleared away that tree.

There were aftershocks off and on for over an hour. After an hour of silence and stillness, John contacted Sally again. “Seems to be over here for the moment,” John said.

“Here, too. Been over an hour since the last big shock.”

John signed off again and just sat in the truck, waiting for daylight. When it was light enough, he got out of the truck and got the chainsaw out of a toolbox. It took another hour to cut up the tree and get it out of the way so he could move the truck. He was very careful to maintain a stance so if there was another earthquake, he wouldn’t injure himself with the chainsaw.

He took the time to stack the wood for future use, but then drove the truck and trailer up out of the gully. Though toppling trees were still a possibility if there were more shakes, John felt better about having the truck where he could move it more easily.

Having hurriedly abandoned the cave, John went back inside and checked everything one last time before he locked up the entrance. He was ready to leave when another shock shook the area, for almost as long as the first, and nearly as powerful. John saw three more trees go down, but none close to him.

John worked his way back to the nearest road, once having to use the chainsaw again to clear a path, and once using the front winch to pull a tree out of the way. He made it back to the Interstate before another quake shook the truck. He stopped as quickly as he could and rode the shaking out.

The first overpass on the I-44 he came to was down. He used the entrance and exit ramps to by-pass it. It became the norm. Almost all the overpasses were down. John made it to Sullivan and checked in with the military authorities, telling them what he’d seen and experienced. They confirmed that it was a widespread earthquake due to the New Madrid Fault System.

Everywhere he went structural damage was great. Houses and barns down or partially down. Some burned.

John was glad he’d brought as much diesel with him as he had, and then refueled in Lebanon. From the looks of things it was going to be a long slow ride back to Tulsa. He was right. Downed bridges caused a lot more problems than downed overpasses. He was traveling side roads more than he was Interstate. It worked out fine, going around Rolla. He would have done that anyway.

He was running on fumes when he pulled into Big Mike’s Chevron station in Lebanon three weeks later, looking for biodiesel. Big Mike came out to meet John, when John pulled in and parked beside the fuel tank truck.

“There was a lady with you before,” Mike said as John got out of the truck.

“Yeah. I was taking her to her parents’ place to check on them. She decided to stay.”

“Too bad,” Mike replied. “She was good looking.”

“Yeah. Very capable, too. What do you have in the way of biodiesel?”

“I’ve quite a bit, but with things the way they are, I’m trying to keep it for locals.”

“I see,” John said slowly.

“That’s not to mean I won’t sell you some, but there will be a premium.”

John nodded. He’d planned on filling everything, just in case, but if Big Mike was going to gouge him, John would only take enough to get him back to the Farm. As it turned out, John was able to fill the cross bed 100-gallon tank and three of the five 55-gallon drums for five ounces of gold coins.

He skipped the motel and restaurant this time, leaving Lebanon early enough to get his supper and then set up a camp before dark. John kept to himself the rest of the trip, concentrating on the road and marking up his maps with road condition information.

The damage wasn’t limited to just overpasses and bridges down, the pavement itself was badly damaged in places. The areas where the roads were displaced horizontally weren’t too difficult to deal with. The vertical displacement was another thing. Sometimes there was a drop or a rise of as much as five feet or more in places. Most of the time it wasn’t a problem for the four-wheel-drive truck to get around them, but that wasn’t always the case.

There was less damage south-west of Springfield, but there was damage. John spent two days in the quadraplex basement on the outskirts of Tulsa so he could meet with Colonel Andrews and his aides, filling them in on what he’d found during his trip.

When John finally got back to the Farm early fall, he saw where repairs had been made on some of the buildings, especially the greenhouses. John immediately pitched in to help with the repairs, and then the harvesting. John listened to the Amateur and shortwave bands nearly every evening.

The New Madrid earthquakes were continuing, just as they had in 1811 and 1812. Some as large, or larger than the first few. Reports were coming in from all over the Mississippi River drainage area. Places that had survived all the war and the weather could throw at them were essentially destroyed by the earthquakes. The New Orleans, Mobile, and Houston areas subsided and the Gulf rushed in. Only high rise islands remained of the cities.

The winter wasn’t quite as early as the previous winter, but it was just as bad. The Farm was isolated for December and January due to the massive snowfalls. When the Farm dug out the following spring, the residents found that a good fourth of their market had disappeared or died off during the winter.

The military, at least in Tulsa, was disbanded and individual service people were left to their own devices. John talked to Colonel Andrews before he headed for his home in Missouri. “I don’t know what has happened,” the Colonel said. “We lost communication with what Federal Administration there was. I don’t know if they were destroyed, gave up, or what. The last orders I got were to disband my command and return to private life.”

“Your family will be glad to see you, Colonel.”

“I’m sure they will. But I don’t like leaving things hanging. Most of my people are good people. We were told to issue each person in our command a firearm, that didn’t already have one, and give everyone five-hundred rounds of ammunition for it, along with a hundred one-ounce silver rounds and ten one-ounce gold coins. I am afraid there is an element that may try to take advantage of the locals and set up a power base.”

“We’ll be on our guard,” John said.

A small smile crossed the Colonel’s face. “I believe you will be able to handle it, if it occurs. Now, the other equipment will be disabled and the parts cached, but left otherwise intact, for possible future use. That includes caching ammunition.

“Being the distrusting sort that I am, I was able to acquire additional ammunition over and above the revised TOE (Table of equipment) for my command. There will be some small arms ammunition left over and above what I’m supposed to have, after distributing what I’m supposed to. If a couple of trucks were to show up before the ammunition is cached, one might be able to acquire a few hundred cases of small arms ammo.”

“I will keep it in mind,” John said, also with a small smile.

“Another point. The caches we do make need to be in safe places. Don’t want just anyone digging them up and taking off in an Abrams Tank.”

“It just so happens I know a few caching spots where I don’t think you would have to worry about such things happening.”

“I thought you might.”

A larger smile appeared on John’s face as he said, “Actually, if it was within regulations, I think I could probably contract the entire operation for you.”

Colonel Andrews looked startled for a moment, and then he too grinned. “The government has been known to use contractors. I think we can work something out. Would silver and gold be all right for payment?”

“Absolutely. Where’d you get the gold and silver?”

“We received it just before we got orders to disband. The way I understand it, they started up one of the mints and produced a bunch of silver and gold coins using the old dies, to help commerce. We were supposed to start paying the troops a little, and start paying for what we’d been giving scrip.”

“But not pay off the scrip?” John asked.

Colonel Andrews shook his head. The two men shook hands. Colonel Andrews gave John several names of people in his command that might be willing to help with the caching and mothballing work. As soon as the meeting with Colonel Andrews was over, John went looking for the people.

It took a while, but when John went to the quad basement for the evening he had a work force of seven soon to be ex-military people that would move the military equipment to the Farm and disable and mothball it. Those that wanted to stay at the Farm would be allowed to. Those that didn’t, would get a tank of fuel for a vehicle if they had one, and a week’s food. If they didn’t have a vehicle, they would get a month of travel food.

He and Adam would do the actual caching of the critical parts. The process was done by July 1st. Most of the rest of the military detachment was long gone. Colonel Andrews went out to the Farm to fill the fuel wagon he was towing behind the cargo trailer that the Humvee he’d been allocated was pulling.

When he offered to pay, Adam, after seeing a small shake of the head by John, declined. “You’ve done your best to try to normalize the area. We thank you for that. You have our frequencies. Stay in contact, if you will.”

The Colonel hesitated for a long time, and then went to bed of the pickup style Humvee. “You guys take this. I’m not comfortable hanging on to it. It’s not legally mine and I feel bad about how much we got from you guys, with only the scrip in return.

There was a wooden case in the back of the Humvee much like the ammunition crates they’d moved from Tulsa. Colonel Andrews opened it slightly. It was three-quarters full of neatly rolled gold and silver coins. “Consider it payment for the scrip.”

Colonel Andrews shook hands with the two men, climbed into the Humvee and headed home to Missouri to be with his family.

The Colonel had known the people in his command well. Less than a month after the military had disbanded, a group that had come together, with a few of the local element, attacked the Farm with the intention of getting the military hardware for their own use. To set up the power base that the Colonel had mentioned.

But the Farm was well defended, with everyone of age both capable and willing to lend a hand to repel an attack. Of the twenty-seven people in the attacking force, three lived long enough to talk to John and Adam.

“We thought you were just a bunch of farmers…” was the last thing one of them said before dying of his wounds. The other two were tried and hanged two weeks later. They were the last of the trouble makers for a long time to come.

The Farm was prepared for the long haul. One hundred and three years later when the first national elections were held, the Farm had a nominee for not only Congress, but the presidency as well.



Copyright 2006    by Jerry D. Young

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