Authors: e a lake
Violet shook as she met her father-in-law, per se. In all actuality, Wilson was just Hope’s grandfather, but the teen, who had no intensions of marrying Jimmy Wilson, still put on all the faces of a girl at her first dance.
Tears formed in the man’s eyes as he peered at the child, sleeping in her mother’s arms. When asked if he wanted to hold her, he shook his head.
“Never held a little girl before,” he said in a quiet, almost embarrassed tone. “Wouldn’t want to break her.”
Daisy stepped forward and took Hope in her arms. “Just put your arms out. I’ll help you,” she said, her loving voice causing the man to nod slightly. “I’m sure Vi would love to have you hold her.”
Holding the baby stiff-armed, he tipped his head forward and kissed her forehead. Almost as quickly as she was nestled in his thin arms, he handed her back to Daisy.
“Better take her,” he said, sniffing back tears. “I’m about to explode with joy, and I don’t want to blubber all over this precious gift.”
I didn’t know what I had expected, but this wasn’t it. For all appearances, Thaddeus Wilson was perhaps the most stoic man I’d ever met. Watching him take a handkerchief from his back pocket and blow his nose, then dry his eyes, I too was moved with emotion.
“We have some needs we should talk about,” he continued, turning to Lettie and me.
Yes, yes we did. My revenge for Dizzy’s death was still my main priority. Luck would have it that this man held the information I so desperately wanted to hear.
Day 1,006 - continued
Outside in the shade, Wilson, Lettie, Marge and I took spots on the bench and chairs. Wilson’s face had returned to its normal state, tight and dour. He nodded to the women.
“First thing we need to obtain are some staples,” he began in his baritone voice. “I don’t know how you are on flour and salt, but I’m damn near out.”
“Same here,” Lettie answered, nodding as she spoke. “Little sugar wouldn’t hurt either.”
“There’s a fish camp up in Ontonagon that is supposed to have plenty of dry goods like we’re looking for,” Wilson reported, twirling his hat in his hands. “I’ve got some dried meat I can send, but rumor has it what they really need is people.” He glanced up at us all.
I peeked at Lettie while she stared at Marge. Marge’s blue eyes were fixed on Wilson.
“Got a body you can spare for six months?” Wilson asked. “They’ll pay that person’s body weight in supplies. I’ll have Johnny go up with a cart full of my stuff. Whoever can walk with him. It’s about 75 miles. Three days up and three days back. What do you think, Bob?”
I thought. I didn’t want to waste another day, much less a week, in going after Dizzy’s murderers. However, I noticed all eyes were focused my direction.
“He can’t go,” Lettie stated plainly. “He’s our protection. What about your boy, Marge?”
She shook her head violently like it was the worst idea she’d ever heard.
“Someone needs to go,” Wilson continued. “It’s only six months. Be over quicker than you think. And you’d be back by the time the snows got real bad.”
Our group sat silent for several minutes, each of us contemplating new supplies and what that would mean for the others…and six months away from home.
“I’ll go,” Marge replied, barely above a whisper.
That set me sideways for a moment. “Are you sure, Marge?”
She nodded. “I’m healthy; Daisy can help take care of Violet and the baby. She has more recent firsthand experience than I do. Nate can get along without me for that long, I’m sure.”
Wilson cleared his throat. “Speaking of your boy, I was wondering if he’d maybe come and live with me and mine for the summer. We can really use the extra help now that we’re planting and tending to crops. Probably do him some good as far as growing up concerns.”
Against what I believed to be astronomical odds, I saw Marge peek at Lettie and nod.
“Yes,” Marge replied. “That would be good for him I believe.”
I slid forward on the bench, reaching for her hands and attention. “Are you sure about this, Marge? Not just Nate, but yourself as well?”
She looked at me, fierce determination flashing in her eyes. “We all have to do whatever it takes to survive, Bob. So yes, I’m sure of everything.”
She may have been certain, but I wondered how Violet would take the news, giving up her mother and her brother for the upcoming summer.
Marge left with Johnny Wilson, disappearing in a thick shroud of fog. They strolled north on the blacktop, heading for Covington. From there, they would turn northwest towards Ontonagon, another 65 miles plus.
To the south, we watched as Nate and Wilson vanished. He had some sort of secret route he took to his place. I always headed down Dizzy Drive to get back there. Lettie tried to explain it to me, but it was confusing. I just accepted the fact that a man who had lived in No Where all of his life knew his way around.
Daisy stood next to me, rocking little Hope back to sleep after one of her two morning bottles. Tears streaked her pale cheeks, dripping freely to the floor.
“How’s Violet taking all of this, now that D-Day is here?” I asked in a hushed tone.
Daisy shrugged, readjusting the squirming child in her arms.
“She and Marge aren’t really all that close,” she replied, turning to check the room. I did the same. Only Lettie was there, snoozing in her typical spot. Violet was absent, most likely changing in the bedroom since the door was closed.
“And Marge has always been closer to Nate,” Daisy continued. “I don’t think Vi is going to miss them half as much as if you had left.”
I rolled my eyes and headed outside to cut some wood. Daisy had a theory, and a stupid one at that. Secretly, she felt Violet adored me. That went against our entire relationship in my mind.
Whenever the teen spoke to me, a fair amount of disdain colored her tone. Sure, she stayed with me both times after I was shot, but her ‘oh-look-what-you’ve-done-to-yourself-now’ attitude made any sort of covert infatuation sound crazy to me. Holding the ax in my hands, I pondered the next few months. Wilson gave me directions to three probable locations for the Barster gang. According to recent reports, they were down to three people, though they were still on the attack. The two men he knew who were still living possessed alleged nasty dispositions, according to Wilson. And that was before the end of the world as we knew it.
By verbal agreement and a firm handshake, I promised Wilson I wouldn’t attack until the supplies were back and delivered by him. Only then would I leave and he would take my place on guard, watching over my family.
“Reduced family,” I said aloud, staring at the ax blade.
“What’s a reduced family?” A small voice asked from behind me, which made me nearly crap my pants. Turning, I spied Libby on a stump by the south end of the cabin. Her bare feet swung back and forth in a childish motion. Ants in her pants, Lettie claimed.
“We just have less, that’s all,” I replied, trying to gauge her mood. Normally she was a happy child. Now, I could tell by her frown she wasn’t feeling the same. “”What’s wrong, Libby?”
“I didn’t want Nate to go,” she whined softly. “He played with me a lot. Who’s going to play with me now?”
“I will,” a new voice answered. I looked up to see Violet coming through the door. If she were trying to cheer the little girl’s spirit, perhaps a smile would have helped.
“Lettie says we need to turn that dirt again in the garden,” Violet said to me, pointing just short of the road. “Since Daisy helped you last week, I figured I’d give her a break and help out today.”
I grabbed the shovels while Violet and Libby played a quick game of tag. Standing in the spayed dirt, I watched Violet grab her shovel and start to turn in the far corner. Libby mimicked her with a stick.
“Can I ask you a question?” I asked, thinking she might turn when I spoke, but she didn’t. “Violet, can I ask you a question?”
She spun and scowled at me. “No, I won’t miss her, or either of them,” she spewed. “My mother told me she hated me when she found out I was pregnant. She turned Nate against me too. If Daisy hadn’t shown up, I don’t know how I’d still be alive.” She went back to her shoveling. “So quit being so damn nosey and sentimental and dig. I don’t want to be out here all day.”
Chuckling to myself, I put my back into the work. So much for Daisy and her wild theories.
The two-day rain finally abated with a warm, late spring morning. It was a good thing the skies turned off the spigot. Lettie was all over me about planting, something I knew absolutely nothing about.
We spent the morning and well into the afternoon in the garden, “we” being Violet, Daisy and I. The other “we’s”, Lettie and Libby, sat on an old lawn chair in the shade some 20 yards away. The old woman went between helping Libby with her spelling and barking orders at her manual labor crew.
My lack of experience tripled when it came to my crew. Daisy knew less than I did about gardens, Violet a little more than that. If you can count picking beans and other vegetables for two years at Lettie’s, we all had some experience. I wanted to appoint Violet as foreperson, but Daisy warned me her mood was no better than it had been for the past few days sans mother.
“I think the baby’s crying again,” Libby reported, strolling towards the cabin door. “I’ll get her and bring her out.”
“No,” instantly shot from my lips. No way could a five-year-old handle a squirming infant in my mind.
“Just be careful, sweetie,” Daisy called out, looking up at me with her hands placed solidly on her hips. “She can do it just fine.”
I raised my hands in mock surrender with a smile. “Hey, if it’s okay with Violet, it’s fine with me. All I was saying—”
“You know,” Violet snarled, removing her gloves and tossing them in the sandy dirt, “you’re about the only one who doesn’t pick the baby up, Bob.” Her glare intensified as she drew nearer. “You got something against babies?”
Three sets of eyes zeroed in on me. For a moment, I felt like a condemned person.
“It’s just with all you women here—”
Violet stepped closer. “Oh, so babies are women’s work only?”
Lettie was laughing, Daisy grinning.
Thanks for the help ladies,
I thought bitterly.
“It’s not my child, Violet,” I answered, going back to planting golden sweet corn seeds.
Now she stood above me, her shadow covering my sun. “You’re really an asshole, you know that, Bob?”
I looked up at her. “I got things I gotta do, little girl. Adult things. You take care of your child and I’ll take care of the more dangerous stuff.”
I noticed Daisy next to her, stroking her arm.
“Are you going to try and come back in one piece this time?” Violet vented. “Or are you going to do something stupid and get killed?”
“Vi, that’s enough,” Daisy said in a soft but firm tone. “Leave it be.”
She turned on her friend hastily. “You’ve never had to fix him up,” Violet ranted. “You’ve never seen the blood pouring out of his body. You’ve never been so scared in all your life that someone was gonna die right in front of you.”
She glared down at me again, tears welling in her eyes. “You don’t need to do this, Bob,” Violet added. “You can wait for them. Kill them when they show up here. You don’t need to avenge Dizzy — not if it means getting yourself killed. He wouldn’t want it that way!”
I rose, towering over the pair. Both wept openly. “I can’t risk them coming and hurting any of you. Not here. I couldn’t live with myself.”
Violet lashed at my chest with her bare hands. “If you don’t live, I don’t want to live,” she cried. Turning, she noticed Libby approaching with Hope in her arms. “It’s not fair to her; it’s not fair to me, to Daisy, to Libby, or even to Lettie. We need you alive.”
She took one last swing and I grabbed her arm. “Well, you’d all better pray I get the job done then. Because I’m not backing down from it, not this time. It ends when Wilson comes back.”
She pushed away. “You make me so mad, Bob Reiniger!” she shrieked. “So damn mad!”
I watched as Violet turned Libby back towards the house. Daisy chased after them as Lettie laughed at the circus from her chair.
“Guess it’s just you and me, young man.” I heard Lettie rise from the chair. “Come on, I’ll help.”
I watched the quartet disappear into the cabin. “What was all that about?” I asked, opening a new bag of seeds.
“Just people who care, that’s all,” she answered. “We know you got to take care of it. Just don’t expect any of us to send you off to war with our blessings.”
“Tough shit,” I whispered. I was going, and if I had to die trying to exact revenge, then so be it. They’d all be fine without me.
I crept through the woods, stopping and kneeling often. Stealthily, I checked my target. Damn it, her hand was up again.
“I heard you again,” Libby called out, turning the page of the book on her lap. “You aren’t very good at this.” Dressed down by a child. That hurt.
My shoulders slumped as I let out a long sigh. “I’m going back a couple more yards to start again,” I replied from the edge of the woods. She nodded while I turned and started back.
“Try being quieter,” she yelled. “Like a mouse,
a moose.” I heard her laugh to herself as I tromped deeper into the budding foliage. Another few weeks and everything would be in near summer splendor.
I didn’t have two weeks. In my mind, I didn’t want to wait another two
for the goods to be delivered. I was anxious to get at the deed while my heart was still in it.
“I’ll show her a mouse,” I muttered, dodging bare tree branches.
Stopping, I turned back towards the cabin. “Call out the minute you hear me this time, Libby. Don’t just raise your hand...yell it out. Okay?”
“Okay,” she sassed back. Good, I’d show her this time.
The entire purpose of this exercise was to get me close to my targets without the chance of them hearing me. I’d assumed the damp spring brush and carpet of leaves would hide my movements. Lettie suggested a trial run, using someone with good ears and not someone who doted on a screaming baby all of the time.