Authors: e a lake
Daisy smiled at me, scooping Libby another small portion of diced carrots. “That’s fine, sweetie. We believe you. There’s just nothing you can do about it right now.”
Violet glared at me from across the table. What did she want?
“This means we know they’re around still,” I added, checking to see if Lettie seemed any more interested than the others did. She didn’t. “Maybe they’ll be back somewhere reachable in the next few weeks.”
Slamming her fork on the table, Violet let loose. “Next few weeks?!” she shrieked. “You can’t hardly walk to the road and back without sitting down for a rest. You’ve got a lot more than three weeks before you can do anything. If ever!”
I realized I needed a new approach.
I had withheld some of the juicy information from Wilson’s earlier report. Now was the time to let it fly.
“They killed the whole family,” I said, meeting each of their gazes. “Father, Mother, Grandma and three kids.”
Daisy stroked my arm. “This isn’t really talk I think Libby should be hearing. Maybe later we can discuss this. After she’s in bed.”
I had their attention now. Even little miss teen sassy pants hadn’t responded to the latest news. No, she just sat there playing with her food, her eyes fixated on her plate.
Lettie nodded at Daisy’s suggestion. Good, we finally had a late night topic everyone would be interested in.
“Just don’t get any strange ideas that you’re going to run off after these creeps,” Violet spoke first, as usual. That was fine, got the worst exaggerator over with right away.
Time for a little adult reasoning. “I can’t blindly go after anyone, Violet,” I countered. “I have to wait to be sure they’re in one place for a while. Somewhere within a day’s walk.”
Lettie listened from the couch as if she didn’t have any input. While I wanted to know what was on her mind, I figured not asking was one less person for me to argue with.
Next to her sat Daisy, her hand covering her mouth. Again, like too many times lately when the subject came up, her eyes were misty.
Violet approached and bumped my chest. “You’re an idiot.” She was always good for a couple of those every fight.
“Do we know if they’ve grown in numbers?” Daisy asked. “I think that’s important to know.”
“I agree with Daisy,” Lettie added quickly. “This is already too dangerous of a situation. You need good recon before you go charging off and getting yourself killed.”
Their joint confidence in me was overwhelming. I wasn’t sure my ego could handle much more padding like that.
I knelt in front of Daisy and Lettie. Behind, I heard Violet pacing. “Okay, let’s remember who’s the threat here. The only reason I’m going after them is because I don’t want to fight them on our turf. That leaves too much risk for one of you getting hurt. And that’s unacceptable to me.”
Daisy’s eyes rose. “But what about you? It’ll be three on one, or worse. What about your safety, Bob?”
Gently taking her hands, I smiled. “Sneak attack. I’ll have everything planned, down to the last teeny-tiny detail. They’ll never know what did them in.”
“And you’re only doing this for our continued safety,” Violet snarked over my shoulder. “This has nothing to do with them killing Dizzy last winter?”
Well, if I were honest with them, the Dizzy card was always in play. But that’s not what they needed to hear.
“I just want this over with so we can live in peace,” I replied, watching Violet take a place on Daisy’s left. “Once I’m healed, they need to be dealt with. They killed Dizzy, and now they’ve killed a family. We can’t be next, right?”
Lettie sighed and nodded once. Daisy and Violet shared a glance. Finally, they nodded in agreement.
“You’re still an idiot,” Violet replied. “Just so you know.”
Sure, Violet. As long as she agreed and didn’t turn Daisy against me, I didn’t care what she called me.
If Nate’s calendar was anywhere near accurate, I calculated it was mid- to late-July. And that made the never-ending thunderstorms out of place.
Most summers here (three thus far) had been dry. The first one, granted I was only here for August, brought more moisture than the second or third did, but nothing like this. Years two and three had been dry, bone dry as the saying goes. If Lettie had any cigarettes left, smoking outdoors would have been banned from mid-June on.
The past six days had been nothing but rain. So much rain that we had stopped joking about it on day three. Though Violet did think her ‘let’s build an ark’ twice-daily comment was hilarious.
“I’m starting to worry about the garden,” Lettie mentioned to me as I leaned against the front window, watching the rain slide off the roof.
I glanced at her causally. “I’m starting to worry we may need to move to higher ground.” My joke didn’t receive so much as a disgusted smirk.
Behind us, Libby broke into one of her screaming fits.
I thought. “I want to go outside!” she shrieked. “I don’t care about the rain. I love the rain. I won’t melt, I promise.”
It would have been cute if it weren’t the tenth or eleventh time we’d heard it. At that point, I was over the child, the crying baby and my housemates. Maybe even myself.
“Come on,” Violet said, taking the child by the arm, “let’s work on your letters.” Pencil and paper sat on the table, waiting her arrival. But our little darling five-year-old had other plans.
Planting her heels, she crossed her tiny arms. “I hate school. I hate letters. I hate math. And I hate rain!”
I chuckled at her frustrated mother. “And I’m not real keen on a certain child right now myself.” At least that got a smile.
We needed a break in the weather, badly.
During the night, the thunder and wind returned after a late afternoon lull. We were going to die, I feared. Either by drowning or by tornado. At least we would be done with the rain.
Resting, not sleeping, next to Daisy, I listened to an odd sound. It was hard to pick up through the wind at first, but the more I strained to listen, the clearer it became.
“What is that tapping on the roof?” Daisy asked, sitting up on an elbow.
“Hail,” I moaned. Weren’t the wind and rain bad enough? Did we really need this plague too?
“What’s this going to do to the garden?” Daisy gasped. “I mean, this can’t be good, can it?”
I lay back down and invited Daisy to do the same by patting her pillow. “There’s nothing we can do. We’ll just have to wait until morning and see what the damage is.”
She snuggled in close. I wrapped my free arm around her. “Okay, I guess we can wait until morning. I suppose we should get some sleep,” she finally relented.
A bright flash lit the night sky, followed by a rolling drum of thunder.
Good luck with that,
I thought as I drifted to sleep.
One more day of rain and the skies finally cleared. That was good; with any luck, we’d be able to walk out to the garden within a week and not sink to our knees in mud. The chances of Libby playing in the yard in the next few days weren’t good. Since I’d grown used to her whine, that wasn’t such a big deal anymore.
After lunch, Lettie and I meandered out the door and made our way over the soggy yard to the garden.
“Well this sucks,” I said, shaking my head at the dirt. The few plants that the storm didn’t destroy showed no signs of life. What the hail hadn’t pummeled to lifeless stalks, the water had swept away.
Rubbing her chin, Lettie sighed. “This has happened before. Maybe not at such a precarious time, but I’ve seen it this bad in the past.”
“Is it salvageable?” I asked, silently saying a prayer that it might be.
Lettie grinned. “Not a snowball’s chance in hell.”
Well, that settled that.
Violet and Daisy saved their judgment until sunset when they finally dared to peek at the disaster. In deep purple rain boots, Libby sledged through the rows of the former garden, her steps making a sucking sound. It was perhaps the most depressing sound I’d ever heard. Well, short of gunfire pointed in my direction.
Daisy sniffed back her emotions. “Well, this is kinda hard to swallow.” Another sniff and she quickly wiped away a rogue tear. “Maybe if we replant right away, once this dies out, we could still salvage something.”
I circled the plot, reaching for Libby so she wouldn’t trample the few peas, or beans, or whatever they were. Violet’s stance, upright with arms crossed tightly over her chest, were all I needed to see.
Why even look at her face,
She’s not going to be happy.
“We’re going to starve to death,” Violet stated in a spiteful tone. “We’ll never make it through next winter. We’re screwed.”
She stomped away, ripping the front door open, making sure it slammed as loudly as possible. I rolled my eyes and glanced at Daisy. For her part, she seemed unaffected by Violet’s tantrum.
“We’ll figure this out,” Daisy replied, nodding at the garden. “We’ll get through this.” She looked up at me. “Let’s see what Mr. Wilson has to say before we overreact.”
Yeah, let’s not overreact, Violet,
Wilson inspected the garden with the focus of a master gardener. And as far as I knew, he was. That or a farmer extraordinaire.
Wiping his hands on his dirty jeans, he rose and approached us. The moment of truth was here.
“Deader than anything I’ve ever seen in my life,” he said, shrugging my direction. “But I’m sure Lettie already told you that.”
“Damn straight,” Lettie boasted. “And this fool thinks we can try to plant again and still harvest something this fall. Talk some sense into him, Thaddeus.”
Talk about being thrown under the bus. Thanks, Lettie.
His head shook. “Not enough time left to the growing season.” He raised an eyebrow. “Not up here at least. Maybe 200 miles south of here you could get away with it. But here in the UP—”
I raised a hand. “I get it, Wilson. We’re screwed.” He nodded, Lettie nodded, and I dropped into a further state of frustration. “So what’s your advice?”
He rubbed his chin for a while before taking a seat on a nearby stump. Lettie and I strolled over to be closer to him.
“The way I see it,” he drawled, “you need some help here, which is good.”
I glanced at Lettie, hoping she understood what was possibly good about losing your garden for the year. Dandelion season, after all, had come and gone.
“I need help over at my place,” Wilson added. “I need some expertise with my crops so we get a full harvest. I didn’t get the hail, and my drainage is set up better than yours is. But I do need some expert advice to get the most out of everything.”
He wanted Lettie. She was probably the best known gardener in the area. At least the best known still alive. Here she had made things grow in dirt where the grass wouldn’t even take hold. Now with our garden gone, her expertise was needed elsewhere.
“What’s in it for us?” I asked solemnly.
“He’ll share,” Lettie firmly stated. “With me there, he’ll get a good harvest. A harvest that we can split between our groups, right Thaddeus?”
After a short pause, he nodded. “I mean you don’t have anything else to trade me, Bob. And while I don’t mind helping out, I’m not gonna feed you all winter for free.”
His words were sobering. They reminded me how one wrong move could wipe out an entire family. And not just gardening.
“I’ll have to tell the girls,” Lettie said. “Give us a couple days and then one of your boys can haul me back to your place in a cart. I’m not walking all that ways.”
Rising from the stump, I noticed his grin. “I wouldn’t expect you to, Lettie. Johnny will be happy to bring you back by us.” He chuckled, something he didn’t do often. “Well, maybe not happy, but he’ll do as I tell him to.”
Lettie hobbled back to the house. Good, I needed to talk with Wilson alone. I turned to face him.
“Still no sign of the Barster bunch,” he said, anticipating my question. “All is quiet in the area, except for a few stragglers here and there from Covington.”
His answer seemed a little quick to me. “You’d tell me if you had news, right?” He gave me a non-committal look. “I mean, you don’t have to protect me. I’ve got three women in that cabin trying to stop me.”
“You need to do what you need to do, Bob. I can’t stop you from going after them. Hell, I get it. It’s just that…” His pause made me cringe.
“You can be honest with me, Wilson.”
Placing a hand on my shoulder, his tired eyes narrowed. “You gotta think this through all the way. You gotta see things from the other end. They’re a band of ruthless outlaws, killers. You ain’t them. You got it good here.”
In the middle of No Where, at the worst time in the history of the world, this lanky bald farmer thought I had it good.
“You got a woman who cares for you,” he went on. “Her child adores you. Probably a better dad to her than anyone else has ever been. The girl needs you with the baby and all.” He grinned. “My granddaughter that is. You go running off seeking revenge…well, the outcome is yet to be determined.”
His plain honest talk made me upset. Was everyone against me?
“You wouldn’t do the same?” I asked. “You wouldn’t avenge your friend and protect what’s yours? Your loved ones, your family?”
“First off, Dizzy was my friend. So don’t go thinking you got a corner on the market for dead friends. That last attack was near me and mine. But I’m not gonna go chasing around, picking a fight on their terms.”
“So you’ll wait for them to attack?” He shrugged, but I continued. “You know they will eventually. They’ll come after your farm.”
He leaned close to me. “Then I’ll kill them,” he whispered, “but not a minute before. And I think that’s good advice. Something for you to heed maybe.”
I raised my hand and could feel my face softening. I got it, loud and clear. If I chose to go after the murdering bunch of thieves, I was going to be on my own. So be it.
Lettie had been gone for almost an hour. Still the tears continued. Not that I hadn’t expected them from Daisy. No, her soft heart and warm feelings made her friend’s leaving difficult. She understood that it had to happen; she just couldn’t hide her sadness.