Cowboy (Chapter 2)


Cowboy - Chapter 2

Jenny was glad that the founders of the MAG knew as much as they did. She wasn’t sure how she would have handled the problems that came up during the shelter stay. There were myriads of situations, including three people that wanted to leave the shelter immediately. They were allowed to go, with what they’d brought with them, and instructions not to come back.

Others had a hard time mentally dealing with the fact that the world was now a different place. Fortunately there were several health care workers in residence that were able to isolate them and treat them, without the unreasonable fears from affecting anyone else.

Five people died during the shelter stay. Two from heart attacks and three from illnesses that could no longer be treated when their rare medications ran out. One person was in custody in the shelter’s small brig. She was the girlfriend of one of the members, and a drug addict. She’d tried to get into the medical section and steal narcotics.

Two babies were born, with no problems.

Eleven MAG members showed up the day after the shelter was locked down. All were allowed in after decontamination. All had severe radiation poisoning. Only one of them survived, and it took months before she could do anything but go to and from the bathroom.

Either through chance, or by having followed the MAG members that came too late, several armed people tried to get into the shelter, but armed teams drove them off, going out one of the escape tunnels to go around and attack them from the rear.

Some damage was done to the community building, but the people had been more intent in getting into the shelter than doing damage. Either that, or the security teams worked fast enough to prevent them from having time to do anything.

The group spent Thanksgiving buttoned up in the shelter. The oldest, physically fit people took turns suiting up and checking out things outside the shelter when the radiation level dropped below 0.5 r/h. The oldest had the least chance to live to an age where the higher doses of radiation they received would be a factor in getting cancer.

The MAG celebrated Christmas outside the shelter, mostly in the community building, but everyone was continuing to sleep in the shelter. People took the opportunity to check on their personal belongings. Some of the few tents were showing some damage from the weather. Two motor homes had been vandalized, apparently by people trying to steal them, doing the damage when they wouldn’t start.

Several of the homes on site had similar vandalism, but only one had actually been broken into and anything taken. Unlike those that had tried to enter the shelter, the others had been more careful not to announce their presence. Several paid the ultimate price for their actions, as the initial inspection teams found several dead bodies in the main compound. Some had been shot by others on the lookout for loot, and some had died from radiation poisoning.

Everything was cleaned up and decontaminated before the children were let outside, much to their disgust. And even then, they were required to stay in the area right around the community building, unless they lived in one of the dome homes.

Jenny got permission to check her Subaru and camp not long after people were able to spend a couple of hours outside. The tent was a bit the worse for wear, from the weather, and the wind had knocked over the privacy shelter for the chemical toilet, but everything was still there. Angela helped her decontaminate everything in the camp, and then dismantle it and put the things in the Subaru for future use. They were going to need to use the community facilities for some time to come.

The Subaru wasn’t going anywhere. The electronics had been fried by EMP and Jenny had never been able to afford a second set to keep in a faraday cage. Jenny decided better to use it as temporary storage than take up any more room in the community storage area. It was towed to the parking lot that had been set aside for vehicles that wouldn’t run after a disaster. There were far more vehicles in it than in the lot for those still running.

Jenny had started school classes while everyone was still in the shelter fulltime. The MAG had purchased a comprehensive set of home-schooling materials and Jenny was one of half a dozen men and women with the skills to use them to their utmost effectiveness.

But she also took her rotations of security duty, and volunteered for kitchen duty and for greenhouse duty. She had the kitchen duties down pat, but she was more in training than anything else in the greenhouse. Jenny wanted to learn how to garden.

Though there would be a huge community garden, MAG members were expected to contribute as much fresh food as they could for themselves, with a portion going to the MAG. Hopefully she would have learned enough to plant a garden for her family and herself by the time spring came around. She had plenty of open-pollinated seeds in storage.

Her children seemed to have adjusted to the situation with few, if any, problems. Julie was a bit more clingy than usual, but that soon faded. Jenny constantly sent silent thanks to whoever had decided to have specific personnel to help with the children, and provide for the means to keep the children not only safe, but happy, and out of the way of the daily duties every adult and older teens had nearly every day after they were able to stay out of the shelter for eight hours or more.

Harvey kept everyone informed of what was happening, out in the rest of the world. It was mostly bad news, and much of it came from a network of amateur radio operators with a similar mind set as those in the MAG. Many of them were in MAG’s of their own.

Apparently no area on earth had escaped what turned into a full blown, world-wide, nuclear holocaust. No one seemed to have the complete answer of who fired at whom, but it was obvious that everyone with a nuke fired it at somebody.

Someone on Harvey’s EOC team was keeping a tally of sorts, based on confirmed targets. The loss of life was staggering and going up quickly as the winter wore on. More of the weapons had worked than some experts thought would prior to the war. And they were more accurate. Precise targets were hit, but that included population centers. Something else the experts had been wrong about. Many had said that neither the Russian’s nor the Chinese would hit population centers. They both did. And all their targets hadn’t been in the US, it seemed.

But enough were used to reduce the population by an estimated eighty percent, including those that died of radiation poisoning after the attack, and including those that died of dehydration or starvation in the months following the attack. No small number of deaths were from armed conflicts between survivors competing for the resources left by the dead.

The death rate would be much higher than the birthrate for years. The population was likely to continue to decline for a long time.

“Jenny,” Harvey said, “Are you sure you want to do this?”

Jenny nodded. “I think I should participate just like the others that need additional equipment and supplies. I’ve got a limited amount of trade goods and I want to get as much salvage as I can. Plus if there is a problem with it in the future, we’ll all be in it together, not just a few that did it for everyone else.”

“Okay,” Harvey said, finally relenting and giving Jenny permission to join one of the salvage teams just about to head out.

Team members got a small equivalent share of what they found, while looking for things for the MAG, since there was much work, and no little danger in doing so. They were also allowed a certain amount of time to salvage things directly for themselves.

Jenny carried one of the PPK .380’s in her ankle holster, but drew an SKS, a Glock 21SF, ammunition for both, and an ALICE style LBE harness to carry the ammunition, pistol, and accoutrements.

The MAG preferred that everyone have their own weapons, but did have loaners for those that didn’t and needed to use one from time to time. The group had decided on Ruger 10/22’s for those that needed something but couldn’t handle stronger recoil.

SKS carbines for the short range role.

One small lot of M1 Garands one of the members of the MAG had stumbled onto at an estate auction for the long range needs.

A large lot of used Remington 870 pump guns set up as riot guns obtained from a dealer that had taken them in on trade from a police department.

The handgun choices were a small selection of Glock 21SF’s in .45ACP one of the members that was a gun dealer had contributed as part of his buy-in, Glock 17’s in 9mm, again a group of police turn in’s, and Ruger SP101 5-shot .357 magnum revolvers.

There weren’t many of the loaners, except for the SKS carbines and 870 pumps.

The ALICE harnesses, pouches, and handgun holsters were mostly FMCO brand equipment that the MAG had made a group purchase from, for individuals and for group use needs. It was the only place they’d found pouches specifically made to carry 7.62mm x 39mm 10-round stripper clips (12 clips) and Garand .30-’06 8-round en-bloc clips (6 clips). The pistol belt part of the harnesses came from Brigade Quartermasters. The other web gear came from a variety of sources.

Jenny was equipped with one of the SKS stripper clip pouches, carrying 120-rounds of spare ammunition plus the ten in the weapon. There were four single pouches for the 13-round magazines for the Glock 21SF. Jenny had two canteen pouches with canteens and a cup; and two utility pouches, one for a personal first-aid kit, and the second for miscellaneous items.

Very glad she had taken all the totes from the house when she came, instead of just a token amount as if it was a drill, since one of them contained winter clothing for her and the children, Jenny was comfortable in the cold weather that still persisted well into spring. Perhaps there was such a thing as Nuclear Winter, after all. For whatever the cause, natural or human-made, it was snowing that April when the salvage team left, adding to the three inches of snow still on the ground.

Jenny shifted the canteen a bit, so she could sit more comfortably in the rear seat of one of the MAG’s diesel powered Suburbans. The compound had four of them and four similar crew cab pickup trucks. All were old models that the mechanics in the MAG had restored and modified for use after a nuclear attack. Each was well equipped.

One of the pickups was in the lead, one at the tail of the convoy, with two Suburbans behind the lead pickup, carrying the bulk of the salvage team. Between the Suburbans and the trailing pickup were four semi tractor-trailer rigs. Two pulled two box trailers each, the third a pair of gooseneck open trailers, and the fourth had two full size fuel tank trailers. There was a tow behind diesel forklift being towed by the gooseneck rig.

After they left the compound, with Julie and Craig looking on and waving good-bye, under the watchful eyes of Angela, the lead pickup headed for the entrance to I-44. It had been decided to not salvage too close to the retreat. The decision was partly because there were other survivors in the area unable to range very far afield that would need the materials close at hand.

The MAG wanted good relations with the other locals, for obvious reasons. Another reason to range further afield was to limit the chances of someone following them back to the retreat. The two motorcyclists, both ex-military, that had left the day before to scout the route going, would follow them back, keeping an eye out for anyone following.

Like the pickups and Suburbans the MAG had acquired, the two motorcycles, again, of four near identical ones, were modified for use in the post nuclear world. The mechanics had taken four used Kawasaki KLR 650 dual purpose bikes and pulled the engines. They put in Hatz diesels so the bikes could use the same fuel as the other vehicles at the retreat. One of the modifications was extra quiet mufflers, to reduce the sound signature when they were in a position where strict sound discipline was in order.

Though the route had been checked by the bikers, everyone in the convoy kept a lookout for trouble. That evening, after the convoy had made camp, Jenny sharing a tent with the other female on the trip, they all waited for the radio report from the scouts. It was encoded, so as to not give away positions, but to also give a false impression of what was going on.

Everything was all right for the convoy to continue the next morning, with the only warning being that those in the convoy were going to have to do some maneuvering to get around blockages on the interstate.

“You heard him,” Glen Radcliffe, the leader of the mission, said. “Hit the hay. Going to be a tiresome day tomorrow.”

Jenny had been assigned as member of the first watch so she met up with the other person on watch and laid out their plans for their two hours. Nothing untoward happened on her watch and she eased into the tent as quietly as she could to avoid waking Cassie.

They were all up before daylight the next day, shaking the light dusting of snow off the tents before they were rolled up and stowed. After a hot breakfast, they set off again, after the scouts gave a coded signal that nothing had changed.

It took three days to reach the outer area of St. Louis they planned to work over. Despite St. Louis getting hit, most of the fallout that the area had received had come from Whiteman Air Force Base, Kansas City, and Jefferson City, Missouri. Glen kept a regular check on radiation levels, and each team member was wearing a dosimeter to keep track of long term exposure to radiation.

The team would not go into a ‘hot’ area, considering the risks far too high for the rewards. They met up with the scouts at the appointed place and time. The scouts had already picked up a couple of telephone yellow page books and marked a few places that should have things the group wanted. After a few minutes discussion, the scouts left, to take up positions of high cover, so the group could get started going through the Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club they were going to enter first.

“Cassie, Jenny,” Glen said, “Start patrolling. Anything at all, and I mean anything, sing out on the radio, take cover, and wait for back up before you try to deal with it. Do a routine check in every ten minutes.” Lowering his voice he was almost whispering when he added, “Code word is ‘Applejacks.’

Both women nodded, checked their weapons, consulted for a moment, and then went off in opposite directions.

Neither of the two stores had been looted. The attack had come too quick. It took most of the day to take what they wanted and load it into the trucks. Jenny and Cassie got their turns handling the goods as they rotated the work and security.

Each of the members took some of their personal time to pick up the items they wanted to keep for themselves. Jenny was careful with her time. She had several things in mind and didn’t want to waste the time for ‘nice-to-have’ things. She was looking for items to help her in the long run. Almost anyone could use the home-school materials to teach the children. Being a school teacher at the retreat wasn’t necessarily a highly secure job.

What she wanted were the things to allow her to do something all year round, not necessarily the same thing. She had a list of items she wanted to find. She wanted the tools, equipment, and at least an initial amount of supplies to get started in a variety of trades.

The trades she was interested in doing included barbering, making charcoal, making soap, making paper, making candles, and sharpening knives and other edged tools. And lastly, after thinking about it for a long time and reading up on it in the MAG library, Jenny wanted to find the items required to produce black powder safely. Since she needed lead balls for the ball mill, she accumulated lead casting equipment to make the balls for the ball mill, plus a wide variety of other lead objects, primarily bullets and sinkers.

Of course she needed additional clothes for the children, since they were growing, and more work clothes for herself, as she would be doing physical work for the rest of her life. She was on the list of people that were going to stay on at the retreat, but didn’t have housing. A program of locating and placing suitable housing was one of the first salvage operations started. Since she had children, Jenny was one of the first to get one of the fifth-wheel travel trailers brought to the retreat and set up.

Jenny didn’t get everything she wanted on that first trip, but as things accumulated after more trips and trading others for them to look for specific things for her, she was finally able to equip herself with everything needed to do work of the tradesmen of old.

For safety reasons, Jenny did all the black powder production well outside the retreat inner compound. When she’d found the small ball mills at a scientific laboratory supply business she took all of them, knowing there was a high likelihood of losing one or more in accidents.

She traded out the work she couldn’t do to convert the ball mills to twelve volt, with a deep cycle battery and solar panel on a tall pole to drive it. The work also included a remote on off switch so she never had to be close to the mill when it was operating. But that was a couple of years in the process to get it ready and test it out.

Though she found plenty of the chemicals she needed to get started, as trade was set up in the area, she began trading for the potassium nitrate and sulfur. The charcoal she made herself. She made willow charcoal for the black powder, and used other woods for charcoal meant for open fire use.

One of the first things she started doing was cutting hair. Primarily men’s hair. There were a couple of experienced hairdressers in residence but Jenny was the one with the specialized barbering equipment. She charged a small fee for the others to use the equipment to work on the women’s hair.

Making soap and candles were the next two trades she was able to master, again with knowledge she gained from the retreat library. Like the black powder, the initial batches of ingredients she obtained on the salvaging runs. Later on she traded finished goods for raw materials. Going so far as to get several dozen wax myrtle saplings and transplanting them on the property.

Learning to make basic paper took almost as long as making the black powder safely, but she managed to make a useable form of paper. It wasn’t too popular until a few years after the attack, when it became about the only game in town.

When she learned to make a paper thin enough, and still absorbent enough, to use for toilet paper, her fortune was made. Despite being in individual sheets, it went like hotcakes.

In the interim Jenny traded sharpening of knives and other edged tools for small needs. Quite a few of the men had some sharpening tools and skills, but they were often busy doing the myriad of jobs required in the post apocalyptic world, so Jenny had plenty of sharpening to do starting about a year after the attack, as knives began to dull to a dangerous point. The axes and saws so needed for firewood cutting needed constant attention.

But Jenny didn’t rest on her laurels. She continued to go on the occasional salvage expedition, preferring to find things on her own than trade for them whenever she could. On the last trip she made, she made a tactical mistake and it nearly cost her her life. It convinced her to leave the adventures to the younger set.

She was after material so she could have some new clothes made for her and the children and she went into a fabric shop in a strip mall that the team had been to several times already. Jenny wasn’t expecting anything. The attack came without warning. The estimates varied between twelve and twenty attackers. There were only six in the salvage team, with Jenny the only woman.

She heard the firing start outside and went to the door to add her SKS to the return fire. Jenny found a target, and fired twice, but she was tackled from behind and dragged back into the shop, the SKS falling from her hands.

The man had his left arm around Jenny’s neck and she was trying to get free with her left hand, pulling on the arm nearly strangling her. When she tried to draw the Glock with her free hand the man was able to knock it free.

Jenny stumbled and went down hard on her back. Close to passing out from the choke hold she’d been in, Jenny tried to scream, but the man had his left hand on her mouth. He was sitting astride her waist, and as he kept her from screaming, the other hand went to the buttons of her shirt.

Barely able to think, she almost didn’t remember the PPK in its ankle holster. With the last of her strength, Jenny brought her knees up to man’s back as hard as she could, hoping to knock him over her head, but she just wasn’t strong enough. The man just pressed on her mouth and nose, completely cutting off her supply.

But the movement had brought her right ankle up within reach of her right hand. She fumbled the PPK out. The man was too intent on his actions to realize what Jenny had done. He only found out when Jenny pressed the barrel of the PPK against his side and emptied the magazine into him as quickly as she could pull the trigger.

He fell off her and Jenny scrambled away, grabbing the Glock where it lay on the floor of the shop and turned the gun on him. The man was as good as dead, with seven .380 ACP slugs having ripped his insides to a bloody mass, but Jenny, without a second thought put a .45 slug into his forehead just to make sure.

Taking only a moment to refasten her shirt, she hurried back to the door of the shop and picked up the SKS. She helped turn the tide of the battle with her furious attack, and the team managed to kill eight of the attackers, including the man in the fabric shop. The rest finally broke off and disappeared, several of them injured, from the blood trail they left.

The team didn’t follow them. With four standing alert guard, two gathered up their needs and they headed back to the Retreat. Jenny had her fabric, and she left it at that. She would trade with others for what she needed, just as others had traded with her.

And so the years passed. Jenny aged slowly, and contemplated marriage several times. She was considered quite a catch with her many successful businesses. But she declined them all, determined to leave to her children everything she had to help make their life easier.

Julie grew up, too, finally, but was killed during one of the raider attacks that became commonplace some fifteen years into the recovery that was very slowly taking place, not long after Jenny passed away from a new strain of flu that was too virulent for the level of medical technology that remained. There were many herbalists practicing, and they prevented much suffering, but in the case of the new flu, only a natural resistance seemed to be the way to avoid dying.

Craig had started helping his mother as soon as he was old enough. She even, reluctantly, let him begin helping with the black powder production when he was fifteen. He was a studious and cautious young man, well liked at the retreat. He did more than his fair share from the very beginning. That did stop when he reached manhood.

He’d been wounded three times driving off attacks on the retreat over the years, including the wound he’d received in the attack in which Julie had died. Craig became even more of a reclusive loaner than he’d been before his mother’s and sister’s deaths.

Other than the barbering and tool sharpening his mother had done, Craig kept up all the other production businesses going, doing most of the black powder production himself. He did hire a man he thought had the patience and was reliable enough to make the black powder. Craig hired him and started his training. He was able to hire employees for the other work.

Due to his relative wealth and capability in handling PAW situations, he was considered the most eligible bachelor in the area and had young women, and some not so young, interested in him as a husband. He let their approaches slide off him like water off a duck’s back, except for one. And that was primarily because she wasn’t chasing after him.

Sally Chambers, Harvey’s daughter, was a couple of years younger than Craig, but had yet to declare any romantic intentions that anyone knew about. She and Craig had become good friends over the years that Sally had been Julie’s best friend. She worked for him but showed no more interest in him than in any of the men that actively courted her.

Harvey’s oldest son had inherited the responsibility of the retreat when his father retired from the active, day-to-day running of the place. Quentin was much like his father. Thoughtful, slow to anger, fair, and understanding.

When Craig went to him to explain his plan, Quentin listened quietly and then tried to dissuade Craig.

“Craig, you are a major asset to the retreat. You’ve done well for yourself, since your mother passed on. You’ve continued her dreams and are making them come to fruition. So much so that, now, you don’t have to keep working physically. Your businesses are supplying your needs and then some. I know that the loss of Julie has hit you hard, but leaving the retreat, to just go adventuring? That I don’t understand.”

Craig wasn’t there to argue. Just to inform. “They were my Mother’s businesses. Meant for Julie and me. I’m not going to give them up, but I intend to make my own way in the world, not live off my Mother’s foresight.

“Mathew and Mitch Armstrong are good young men,” he said. “They are more than capable of picking up the slack in the defenses when I leave. And I don’t plan to be gone forever. Just a year or two, to see how things are done in other parts of the country. Maybe set up some trade deals for some of the people here in the retreat and around it.”

Quentin sighed and nodded. “I agree with you about Mathew and Mitch. I had hoped that they would give us that edge, with you still here, to go out and maybe prevent some of the attacks before they happen.”

Craig stayed silent. After several moments Quentin continued. “No one thinks any less of you for continuing your Mother’s businesses as your own. And the opening of more distant trade routes is something the group has been discussing, as you well know. You’ve sponsored the idea a couple of times. But it doesn’t have to be now. It’s too dangerous for the traveling parties.”

“I might be able to do something about that, and the local attacks,” Craig said softly.

Quentin’s eyes widened. “You’re on a vendetta! Because of your sister! Man! You can’t go after those gangs single handedly. You don’t have any idea which person in which gang killed your sister!”

“Not a vendetta,” Craig said slowly. “And I’m not out hunting anyone in particular. But if I happen to run into someone I know is a raider… Well, I’ll take appropriate action.”

“I’m not going to be able to talk you out of this, am I?” Quentin asked.

Craig shook his head and stood. “I just thought it proper to tell you, in person, ahead of time, what my plans are, since I do know they might affect the retreat.”

“In that case, good luck, Craig.” Quentin held out his hand and Craig shook it.

A day later Craig had a long talk with Sally. About business. “Sally, I need a business manager and I’d like you to take on the responsibility. I’ll be leaving in a few days. For a good while.”

Sally looked at him calmly for a few moments and then nodded.

“I’d like you to keep your regular job with me and take on this new one in addition. I’ll double your salary and give you a percentage of everything.”

Again Sally nodded and Craig began to feel a bit uneasy. “And… well… you know how it is outside the retreat. If I don’t come back, or you don’t hear from me, in… five years, everything is yours.”

“Sounds like too good of a deal to pass up,” Sally said quietly. “Considering the dangers there area in the world outside. What’s in it for you?”

Sally was very perceptive, Craig realized. More so than he had given her credit for. “I just want my mother’s foresight to continue to help people, the way she wanted. And I get to get away from my responsibilities here. I’m not a businessman. I like to do things.”

“That’s all?” Sally said. Craig barely heard her.

He had to clear his throat before he could respond. “And I’d like to have something to come back to, if I make it.”

“Something… and someone?”

“Yes.” Craig’s voice was as soft as hers.

Someone knocked on the door of Craig’s trailer and the mood was broken. It was someone wanting to buy candles and there’d been no one at the little shop that housed most of Craig’s businesses.

Neither said a word about the conversation in the trailer during the next few days as Craig got ready. With the limited amounts of fuel available, except right around someone producing biodiesel, transportation had reverted primarily to horses for trips of any distance. There was just no way of being sure you could get fuel away from your home base. It was the same at the retreat. They made plenty of biodiesel for internal use, with a bit set aside for trades important to the MAG.

Three of the MAG member families had horses at the retreat when the war started, and two more brought theirs with them when the alert was sounded. With those, plus all that could be rounded up from dead owner’s places, horses became available for sale or trade. As more and more people bred them, the price came down.

Julie had loved horses and got one of the early ones available. Jenny had paid dearly for it, but at thirteen, it was the whole world to Julie. Julie had bred the mare when she could and had been able to develop a small herd of her own. Craig had farmed out the care, feeding, and breeding the horses after Julie’s death to one of the other horse owners for one of colts. The horses were available to Craig whenever he needed them, but didn’t have the responsibility of caring for them on a daily basis.

Since they were such a valuable commodity, Craig kept them close to home, primarily as a breeding herd, trading off the occasional stallion to someone wanting fresh breeding blood. The rest of the males were gelded and traded. Part of the deal with Elmer, the one taking care of the horses for Craig, was to provide stud service to Craig’s mares to keep the herds genetically diverse.

Other than the original horse owners, Craig had the largest herd of horses, and had the most productive breeding program of anyone in the area. So when he was ready to leave on his trip he had two saddle horses that would take packs, and four pack animals, two of which were also broken to ride. All were geldings. Craig wouldn’t take any of the brood mares from the breeding program.

He loaded the pack horses lightly, so he could travel at a fast pace, without wearing them out. And being the big, tall, strapping man he was, he had the second riding horse with its own set of tack, to switch off to so he didn’t wear one down riding it constantly

Elmer was an excellent horseman and trainer, so the horses were some of the best trained one could ask for. Astride his favorite saddle horse, Clyde, a beautiful Barb gelding, the other horses strung out behind him, Craig left at dawn on a cool May day, with a nod to the guards at the gate to the compound.

If he had looked back he would have seen Sally watching from the porch of her father’s home. But he didn’t. His eye was on the immediate future. He had traveled the area on salvage jaunts after he became old enough, and had learned part of it the hard way, chasing down retreating gangs that had attacked the retreat. So he knew the best paths to get out of the immediate area without getting spotted.

The first few days he circled around quite a bit, to check his back trail for followers. Not too many people knew of his journey, but it would only take one to slip and let it be known that he was going, with a fortune in horseflesh, not to mention personal goods.

He kept his weapons handy at all times, with at least a pistol on him, no matter what. Since they could be reloaded easily with black powder, since that was the initial loading for both the .45-70 and .45 Colt, he had one each of them, and a pocket reloader for each, and plenty of primers. They were a Marlin 1895 Cowboy .45-70, and a Ruger New Model Blackhawk in .45 Colt. They and their accoutrements were carried on the pack horses.

For immediate reaction he carried a Glock 21 .45 ACP, on his belt, with one of his Mother’s PPK .380’s in the same ankle holster she had worn. There was also a cut down Stoeger 12 gauge coach gun, referred to as a Whippet, in a hand made holster on the opposite side from the Glock.

His main fire power was a scruffy M1A taken as the spoils of war form a dead raider that had been too slow to fire on Craig. He only had eleven magazines for it, but had plenty of extra ammunition in stripper clips and a handful stripper clip guides so he could load the rifle while in use, or load magazines at his leisure. The M1A was carried in a saddle scabbard on whichever riding horse he was on.

Much as Jenny had gone more than out of her way to get Julie her first horse, she had made a significant trade to get Craig something warm to wear when he was on night guard duty. He preferred the night duty, and stood it often. Jenny had found someone with an oilskin Drover’s coat with lamb’s wool lining and a hood. It was much too big for Craig when she got it, but he soon grew into it. Just as he did the Orvis Rogue River wide brimmed hat the man threw in with the coat. He’d been a Cowboy Action Shooter and needed things for his family more than he needed the western style accoutrements.

For hunting small game he had traded for a Savage 24 over and under combo gun in 20 gauge and .22 Hornet. It rode in the second scabbard each horse carried. It would take rabbits and squirrels and sitting birds, as well as birds on the wing.

Finally sure no one from the local area was following him, Craig set out on course that would take him across Missouri to Oklahoma. He traveled parallel to I-44, setting up camp well away from it each night. When he passed the point where the retreat had done some salvage work, Craig began hobbling all the horses but the one he was riding and checking the vehicles left on the road.

He was cautious, but wasn’t bothered as he checked out each of the vehicles. He had a notebook with him and noted everything that the Retreat might be interested in. There were some signs of salvage work, but it looked more like raiders’ work than careful salvage work. He occasionally found an item worth taking for trade purposes and Craig didn’t hesitate to do so.

He approached the small towns along the route the same way, caching the more important items the horses carried, and leaving the rest of the packing tack hidden nearby, he’d hobble the horses and go in with just a saddle bag’s worth of trade goods.

The activity had two results. One was that it allowed the horses to get plenty of graze, since he wasn’t able to carry grain with him. The other was that he didn’t look like the target that he would be if it became known he was traveling with a pack train.

Craig mostly got information from the stops. The occasional trade, to show good faith, and keep up the illusion of traveling light, kept him a much lower profile than he might have been. Though seeing a traveler for any distance than locally was more than a high enough profile for Craig.

There were the occasional armed roadblocks to some of the towns. Almost all required the relinquishing of firearms while in the town. It was too much risk for too little possible gain, Craig decided, and turned around and left the area each time. Sometimes he didn’t even go up to the roadblocks, but made the decision while glassing it with binoculars, which he always did before approaching one.

He was on the outskirts of Springfield, Missouri when he ran across what turned out to be a treasure trove for him. The surrounding area had been well worked over for salvageable materials, but Craig found himself studying one of the remote homes back up in a section of the many forested areas in the region.

Craig had stopped there for the night, able to stable the horses in a stripped, but still useable barn. There was even a bait of grain for each of the horses in the feed bins, though it was obvious that the majority had been salvaged.

After checking the entire place over carefully, Craig did what he seldom did on the trip. He took up residence for a few days in an abandoned home. There was significant damage to the house and outbuildings, but the decorative hand pump in the front yard wasn’t just decorative. It pumped up some sweet tasting water. Craig filtered it anyway, but it was very good tasting even after the filtering.

Craig noted the tall flagpole standing in the front yard with a ragged US flag hanging limp in the still air. It didn’t set well with him, so he pulled down the flag, and destroyed it by fire reverently.

Little elements of the things he saw nagging at him, Craig continued to look over the house. It had a big pantry, which was bare to the wood. A gun safe stood open in what had been a very nice study. There was blood on the overturned office desk chair and Craig openly sighed. It was shaping up to the fact that someone had survived here and been attacked. What the attackers could take, they did. Only later did organized salvagers find the place and finish the job.

Moving cautiously, as always, Craig went downstairs to the basement. It too had been ransacked, both the finished portion that seemed to have been a family room, and the unfinished area that was mostly storeroom. There were a few broken jars of home canned food, but no intact ones. Again Craig felt the nagging feeling.

There didn’t seem to be anything left of value, so Craig cleaned up the master bedroom and made up the bed with sheets still in an overturned drawer from the wrecked dresser. After caring for the horses, Craig turned in, weapons ready. He spent a couple of days at the place, just studying it for the same nagging reasons that there was something he wasn’t seeing.

There was a pickup truck and a Cadillac car in the garage. Neither ran. Craig looked over the garage again, planning to leave the next day. That was when he noticed the pipe running up the inside wall of the garage, into the garage roof.

Craig looked around a bit closer and found three more of the pipes. There was no logical reason for them to be there. He pulled down the attic access stairs that were in the ceiling of the garage and went up, a windup flashlight in hand. All four pipes were capped with screened hoods, obviously to keep out pests. The pipes were part of a ventilation system.

Going back downstairs, Craig opened the garage door manually, and, with much effort, rolled both the truck and the car out onto the driveway. He looked down at the large concrete surfaced parking area and driveway. Craig went around to the back of the house. Sure enough, the back door patio was in line with the garage and the driveway.

Craig moved everything out of the garage that wasn’t bolted down. He couldn’t find any access point of any kind to what he was sure was a shelter of some kind under the garage floor, driveway and parking area, or patio.

He found a thin steel rod in the miscellanea in the barn and returned to the house with it. He probed thoroughly around the exposed areas edging the concrete patio and driveway. Nothing. Finally Craig decided he must have missed something in the basement, despite the thorough inspection he’d done the first day.

It took him all of that day and most of the next before he found the secret door hidden in the unfinished part of the basement. One of the heavy cabinets that looked so solid would roll to the left, exposing a vault door. The empty space to the left of the shelving unit, Craig had finally noticed was out of place, considering the shelving that covered the rest of the walls of the little alcove.

Craig played with the dial of the vault door, not wanting to do what he was pretty sure he would have to do to get into the hidden room. Finally he went out to the barn and opened one of the panniers the pack horses carried. He took out one of the small bags of black powder the pannier contained.

He went back inside, fashioned a holder for the bag and used a piece of plywood and a two by four to hold it against the door. He laid down a fuse, and then lit it. Craig moved quickly away from the direct line to the vault door and covered his ears. A few seconds later there was a very loud explosion, with a resulting cloud of white smoke billowing out from the area.

Craig waited a safe amount of time and then checked the damage to the door. The black powder had enough force to punch the lock. After waiting for it to cool, Craig pulled the remains of the locking mechanism out of the way. It took quite a bit of manipulation to get the locking bolts retracted, but Craig finally managed it and opened the door.

What he saw was worth the effort expended. The man had been a collector. A gun collector. This was his storage vault, for the good stuff, apparently. “He must have just kept a couple of token items upstairs,” Craig thought to himself.

Craig drew up short when he took another step into the room and saw the head resting against the back of a chair. “Hey! Anyone here?” he asked softly, knowing better. The person would not still be sitting in that chair after the blast. Moving around, Craig finally saw a dead woman sitting in the chair.

What was left was all dried up. Apparently the vault hadn’t been totally rodent proof. There were signs of rats and bugs everywhere. Craig swung the flashlight and looked around the area he could see. Nothing seemed to have been touched.

Craig thought about it for a little while and concluded, rightly or wrongly, that the husband had sent the wife down into the vault when trouble appeared. He’d stayed upstairs and become a victim of the violence of the early hordes. Craig checked the door to the left. It was a bathroom. The door on the right was as much storeroom as kitchen. It still held plenty of food and water for two people for at least a month. A third door opened onto a tiny bedroom.

“She must have checked her husband when he didn’t return and came down here to just die.” It was the only thing Craig could think of that fit the facts. He took the time to wrap the body and take it outside. He’d found what had to be the grave of the husband near the fence behind the barn.

Craig was sure it was the salvage team that came later that had buried the man, and not the original looters. It took most of the rest of the afternoon to dig a grave and bury the woman. Craig said a few words of prayer over both graves and then tended the horses.

Breathing a bit easier, Craig went back down into the vault. He cleaned up the mess from the rodents and bugs, not wanting to spend any time in the filth, thinking all the while. He’d come up with a plan by the time he finished the clean up.

Having only glanced at the collection of firearms in cabinets and on wall racks, Craig left them for a while longer and began sorting the food stored in the other room. It was mostly high quality freeze-dried and dehydrated foods in #10 cans. With what he was planning, Craig decided it was best to leave it where it was.

Finally he began inspecting the guns. There were literally dozens of them. His eye was drawn to one display case and he suddenly wished his Mother was still around. He would love to give her the Luger carbine with attached wooden butt stock that had a leather holster attached. There were five Luger snail drum magazines laid out in front of the carbine.

The case also contained six other Lugers. Each one was a different configuration, which was listed on a display card. He read the labels. All the pistols were originals. The carbine was a reproduction.

Craig continued to look around, noting the various military bolt action rifles. Then something in one of the glass front cabinets caught his eye. He took the rifle out of the case, holding it reverently. It was a pristine M14E2, the select fire version with pistol grip stock, with original sling and bipod. He checked the serial number. It was apparently early production. The selector switch was there and when Craig tried it, the switch moved from safe to semi-auto to full-auto.

Setting it down, Craig took out the carbine that was hanging below where the M14E2 had been. He’d never seen anything like it. It was futuristic looking, with a large hump extending back over the extendable stock. He looked in the cabinet again and saw the label for the display.

He was holding a very rare, possibly the only one in existence, proto-type Calico submachine gun similar to the Calico M960. But instead of 100-rounds of 9mm in the helical magazine, the gun carried 85-rounds of .45 ACP. And barrel was made with an integral suppressor.

Checking quickly in the closed cabinet under the glass display case, Craig found a dozen of the 85-round magazines. There were some M14 magazines, too, but only six. At least they were 30-ronders. There were several cloth bandoleers, that when Craig checked them, proved to be 60-round bandoleers of 7.62mm x 51mm NATO in stripper clips, with a stripper clip guide in each bandoleer.

Digging deeper in the cabinet, Craig found the GI manual for the M14E2, and a handwritten booklet about the Calico prototype and its low maintenance suppressor. Craig started to stand up, but there was something in the back of the cabinet. He pulled the boxes forward and looked at them in amazement. This man was some collector.

There were five 100-round Beta C-Mag dual drum magazines for the M14. Craig had no way of knowing that the C-Mags for 7.62mm x 51mm had become available just before the war. If Stephan Hicks hadn’t preordered he never would have received them from his dealer.

There were a couple of sealed cans of military surplus 7.62mm x 51mm NATO and .45 ACP ammunition each. Opening the other side of the cabinet Craig found several unmarked cardboard boxes. He opened one up and found a packing slip. His eyes widened. This guy had some real connections, back in the day.

Craig stood up and looked at the other two guns the display cabinet held. The top one had to be the weapon the ammunition in the unmarked boxes was for. He took it down. Like the Calico, it was something he’d never seen before. He looked at the display card for it.

The weapon was a Hawk MM-1 close support weapon firing 25mm grenades of various types. That was what was in the boxes. 25mm grenades for the MM-1. It was basically a gigantic revolver with a butt stock and vertical fore grip. The revolving drum held eighteen of the 25mm grenades. This was definitely going in the cache to take back to the Retreat.

He suddenly noticed that two of the boxes were different from the others. He opened both of them. The contents were identical. While there were six boxes of the loaded grenades, ready to go, the other two boxes contained extra projectiles, boxes of primers, and canisters of powder. Apparently the cases could be reloaded after firing. There were enough components to reload all the rounds in the six boxes three times. The tools to do the reloading were in one of the boxes.

Checking the last box in the cabinet, Craig found it filled with large drum magazines, loaded with 20-rounds each of 12-gauge shotgun shells. He finally looked at the other weapon in the display. The information card said it was an AA-12 full auto shotgun. It was fitted with another of the 20-round drums. Another cache item.

Craig kept looking, the light from his windup flashlight glaring eerily on more of the glass fronted cases. One glass case contained nineteen versions of the Colt 1911 pattern semi-auto pistol. Another, very large wall display covered by curtains, not glass, contained the primary individual infantry arms for the US Army during WW II. They included a Colt 1911A1 pistol, Garand M1 standard rifle, Garand M1 sniper rifle, M1 Carbine, M3A1 “Greasegun” submachine gun, Thompson M1A1 submachine gun, a Springfield 1903A4 sniper rifle, M2A1-7 backpack flamethrower, M-1897 pump shotgun with heat shield and bayonet lug, a BAR, and a pair of M2A1 “Pineapple” hand grenades.

Looking the hand grenades over carefully, Craig was able to determine that they were inert. So was the flamethrower. Checking the submachine guns and BAR, he found that they, like the M14E2 and the Calico, were operating full-auto capable weapons.

Cabinets flanking and below the display held bayonets, clips and magazines, ammunition, and accoutrements for all the working weapons.

Craig whistled. This man had money before the war and liked to spend it. “And had good tastes,” he whispered to himself as he continued his perusal of the contents of the vault. There was a display case of Winchester Lever action rifles and carbines, another case holding various Colt Single Action Army revolvers.

One relatively small glass front case held four additional Thompson’s, in addition to the one in the WW II display, each a slightly different version. Two had 100-round drums in them, the other two 30-round stick magazines. The base cabinet contained two more 100-round drums, ten 50-round drums, and whole boxfuls of 20-round and 30-round stick magazines. There were four of the large sealed tins of .45 ACP ammunition, and a variety of magazine pouches.

He didn’t know if the man actually competed in Cowboy Action Shooting, but he had a case full of the proper guns and accoutrements. The fancy hat he didn’t care for. Craig liked the Rouge River hat his Mother gave him. The cuff guards also held no interest for Craig. Neither did the fancy spur straps. However the cavalry gauntlets would come in handy. He took them out of the case and set them aside. Also added to the pile was a well worn railroad chronometer pocket watch on a gold chain with a pen knife fob. He didn’t have a good watch. All the cheap battery operated ones had long gone dead.

The suspenders he would take, too, he decided, since they had a derringer holster on each side, and were all leather. He wouldn’t have considered them, except for the collection of derringers that was on display. The old ones, percussion and rim fire, he passed on. The modern ones were a different story. Between the American Derringer Corporation models and the Bond Arms derringers, Craig found several that he would take with him, in various calibers.

Craig wasn’t much of a pump shotgun user, but he saw, and had only passing interest in, the civilian version of the Winchester 1897 pump shotgun similar to the military one in the WW II display. But he saw the IAC replica of a Winchester 1887 lever action 12 gauge shotgun and decided it would be going with him, too.

The Marlin 1894 lever action in .45 Colt was tempting, but he decided it would go in the cache he was going to make. So would the beautifully set up Remington Rolling Block .50-140 Sharps target rifle. It had a period looking scope with modern glass.

The Ruger New Model Blackhawk .45 Colt revolver was identical to the one he already had, except it was a 7 inch model. It he would also take. There was a pair of other Ruger single action revolvers. New Model Blackhawks, in .45 Colt, with 5 ” barrels, nearly identical to his.

There were three coach guns in the display, one a custom modern Greener 10-gauge hammer style. The other two were modern Stoger side-by-sides, both 12-gauge. They would go in the cache.

He took out the Buscadero style wide leather gun belt with the drop holster on the right side. It was plain, unadorned leather, with oil finish. And unlike most of the belts in that style that had twenty to thirty cartridge loops in a single row, this one had two rows, one above the other, for a total of forty-eight loops for .45 Colt cartridges, shifted slightly to the right side.

That left enough room for six loops for 12 gauge shot shells and six for .45-70 cartridges on the left. It went into the to-take pile that was growing, as much for the Cold Steel Laredo bowie knife in a scabbard on the left side of the belt and the derringer buckle. It held an American Derringer Corporation .45 Colt two-barrel derringer.

It took Craig a moment to figure out what one leather assembly was. Finally he realized it was a pair of pommel bags, with a revolver holster on each one, obviously for the pair of 5 ” Ruger. It and the two Ruger pistols for it went on the keeper pile.

And the western boot knife would go nicely on his left leg, under the two-magazine carrier for the PPK. Another gun he found was identical to one he already had. A Marlin 1895 Cowboy .45-70 lever action. In the cache it would go.

In the display was a loaded bandoleer for the .45-70 cartridges. He added the bandoleer to the take stack since he could use it with his current Marlin. Craig also added the 12 gauge shotgun bandoleer to the stack. The shotgun bandoleer was loaded with gleaming all brass 12 gauge shells. There was a second shotgun shell bandoleer, obviously for the Greener 10-gauge. It too was filled with all brass shot shells. A fourth bandoleer was set up for a combination of 12 gauge, .45-70, and .45 Colt , having loops for several of each caliber and gauge.

Next Craig took out a nice looking tomahawk and wondered idly if the man had used it in throwing competitions he’d heard about from some of those in the MAG that had been into Cowboy Action Shooting before the war.

He didn’t have one, so he added it to the keeper pile. On the pile too went a tan colored duster of light cotton. Craig tried it on. It was a bit big on him, the guy must have been huge, but it would do for weather too mild for the Drover’s coat, and act to keep his weapons concealed, the way the Drover’s coat did.

All the various knives went onto the pile, except for one. The yellow handled Barlow he slipped in his pants pocket.

Craig checked the cabinet beneath the display. Case after case of ammunition, and more accoutrements for Cowboy Action shooting. It would all go in one of the several caches he was planning to make, now that he was finding more things that he wanted to take back to the Retreat. At some point in time.

Craig kept looking and almost fell over when he found the working .22 long rifle scale Gatling gun in a wooden case. It held the gun on a carriage, a limber with ammunition drums, and several cases of .22 Long Rifle ammunition. It would be fun to play with, except ammunition was much too precious to waste on such a toy.

The next display case was filled with muzzle loading weapons, mostly modern replicas, much to Craig’s joy. Flintlocks, percussion, and even one wheel lock long arm. Flintlock and percussion handguns. Craig took particular note of a reproduction double barrel 10-gauge flintlock fowling piece. Again, there were all the accessories and accoutrements for the weapons. There were flints aplenty, also several thousand caps for the percussion arms, with patch material and patch punches, as well as pouch lube.

Craig had to smile when he saw the cans of black powder substitute. The man had far more than had been legal before the war. The same with the cartridge reloading components in another cabinet. The small reloading bench beside the cabinet was well laid out, but the Retreat had quite a bit of reloading equipment. They were just running low on supplies. The equipment would stay.

The only reloading equipment Craig pulled to take with him were some primers of various sizes for trading purposes. But he did carefully box up and cache the smokeless powder canisters and thousands of assorted primers. The man could have opened a retail reloading shop and kept it going for months with what he had in stock.

There was one more large, tall, glass front cabinet. When he saw what it contained he wondered if the cabinets contents might be worth, before the war, collectively, what the entire rest of the vault held. Each gun in the cabinet was a one of a kind, like the Calico. There were no less than four richly engraved four barrel vierlings, several engraved double barrel shotguns and double rifles, and half a dozen combo guns and drillings, one of which was identical to Craig’s own Savage 24 20 gauge/.22 Hornet combo, except for the fine bluing and custom stock it had, designed to carry spare ammunition.

The Savage 24 would go in a cache, the other nice guns would stay in the vault, except for the one vierling that Craig realized the utility of. It was a Heym vierling with side-by-side 3” magnum 12 gauge chambers, with a .22 Hornet rifle barrel below them, and a .30-’06 below that. With the one gun he could hunt any game animal in America.

The double barrel .460 Weatherby over 10 gauge 3 inch magnum shotgun barrel Craig decided to take, too, just on a whim. “What if I run into an elephant or something,” he said, chuckling. If he’d only known how prophetic that statement was, he would have turned brick red from embarrassment.

In a glass top base cabinet under the long gun case were several equally finely engraved and plated handguns, including factory engraved and inlaid Walther, Browning, and Berreta pistols. The only one he took from the collection was a gun he was very familiar with. A Walther PPK in .380 ACP, like his Mother’s guns, only deeply blued with etching inlaid with gold.

In the cabinets below, just as he expected, were fancy wooden boxes of ammunition for both the rare cartridges that some of the fancy guns were chambered for, plus the more modern ones. He took out what he wanted and left the rest.

There was a crate, or that’s what Craig had assumed while he was looking over the vault, that he finally decided to check. It wasn’t a crate. It was a wooden carry case. Holding a rifle like one of the men at the Retreat had. One that had helped them drive off marauders before. It was a Barrett M82A1 .50 BMG anti-material rifle with all the accessories.

The .50 caliber cartridge cans stacked near it Craig had assumed held other ammunition or miscellaneous items. It hadn’t occurred to him at all that they might actually contain .50 BMG ammunition. They did. All twelve of them. There were handwritten markings on each of the ammo cans. Raufoss. Craig wasn’t sure what it meant. The guy with the Barrett at the Retreat would know. The gun and ammunition for it would definitely go into the cache for recovery.

Not knowing what to expect, Craig opened one of three identical wooden cases stacked with the ammunition cans. Like the reloading components in the extra boxes for the Hawk MM-1, there were reloading components for the .50 BMG. Raufoss projectiles, primers, and canisters of powder. Again, three reloads for the factory loaded ammunition. Craig thought he should have guessed, having seen the .50 BMG reloading tools. But the man at the Retreat with an M82A1 already had loading tools. He’d leave the ones in the vault in the vault.

Craig had kept an eye out for a key to the small safe off in one corner of the vault. Considering what else was in the vault, whatever was in the safe could be anything. Going through the heavy desk in the center of the vault room again, Craig finally found the key. He was surprised he’d missed the hidden compartment in the right hand middle drawer of the desk. It wasn’t that well done. The difference in thickness of the overall drawer and the inside of it was obvious if one just looked.

Nervous for no good reason that he could think of, Craig went over to the small safe, squatted down and opened it. “I knew it,” he muttered. The man did nothing in a small way. There was a plain Jane Colt 1911A1 inside, beside many large stacks of gold and silver coins. These weren’t the new Gold Eagles and though the silver coins were pre-1965, they weren’t the common bullion coins that his mother had collected before the war.

These were old US Gold Eagles, Double Eagles, Half Eagles, Quarter Eagles and pristine Morgan silver dollars. Craig was sorry he’d never have the chance to see the man who had once owned all this in all his glory at a Cowboy Action Shooting competition.

It took Craig another week of twelve hour days to dig caches and bury the many items he would take back to the Retreat. He went through the vault rooms carefully again, after he had everything he thought he wanted. He took a couple more items and set them aside, and then set the black powder charges that would bring the already heavily damaged house down on the basement, sealing it, hopefully, for long enough for him to put together a recovery team to get the rest of the weapons and supplies and take them to the Retreat.

As much to honor Stephan Hicks, as to take on some role camouflage, Craig moved the Glock 21 to the small of his back and wore the Buscadero belt with the Ruger 7 inch barreled New Model Blackhawk in it, and the suspenders with twin Bond Derringer .45 Colt derringers in the holsters. The Laredo and the Whippet shotgun hung down on the off side of the gun belt. All the shell loops were filled.

What no one could see was the Calico submachine gun hanging on a sling down his back, under the Drover’s coat. He’d intended to carry the M14E2 in the scabbard on the right side of the saddle, but it just wouldn’t fit. He didn’t think he could make good use of it mounted, anyway. The Marlin .45-70 took its place.

The M14E2 was packed on the very top of one of the pack horses, where it and the ammunition would be easy to get to, if needed.

He’d switched the Savage 24 to one of the pack animals and carried the 1887 lever action twelve gauge in the left hand scabbard of the horse he was riding. Craig felt a bit embarrassed at looking like a character out of a 1950’s western, but so be it. Looking the way he did and openly carrying the weapons he was, should give him an edge if he got into trouble.

Having thought about it much over the days he was at the Hicks’ house, Craig changed his plans. He still intended to do some traveling, but he felt an obligation to the Retreat. He was beyond wealthy now, thanks to Stephan Hicks, but he wanted to do something to feel like he’d earned it, rather than just lucked onto it. He turned Clyde toward the northeast, this time traveling on the north side of I-44.

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