Authors: e a lake
Lost in my thoughts, the voice from the north side of my open yard froze me dead in my tracks and made me drop my water.
“Hello there,” the voice called out.
I spun and drew my 45 on a younger man with long hair and a longer beard. His dark eyes focused tightly on me. Both hands raised, as if that fooled me. In his right hand he carried a stick with a white rag tied to the end.
“I just want to talk,” he continued calmly. “I don’t want trouble.”
That’s what they all said.
Day 1,030 - continued
Since he didn’t appear to have a weapon on him, I let my gun hang by my side. That didn’t mean he didn’t have two or three friends hiding somewhere close. No, that most likely was the case. I chose to focus my attention on the immediate threat standing in front of me.
“Didn’t mean to scare you, man,” he said, smiling seemingly sincerely. “I know you’re working hard, so I won’t keep you long.”
Remaining silent, I cast a glance over the road again to the spot where I’d seen movement earlier. Again, nothing. I quickly peeked behind me. Nothing. I turned back to my visitor. He wasn’t alone, and he certainly wasn’t fooling me.
“Can we talk?” he asked, not smiling as much anymore. “Like reasonable people?”
I doubted his sincerity. Like everyone else from the road, he wanted something. Regardless of what that something was, it was mine and he wasn’t getting it.
Taking two steps toward the man, I raised my weapon. Leveling it on his chest, his smile faded slightly.
“I’m not in a very talkative mood,” I replied, circling him for a weapon check. “Pull your shirt up so I can see what you have tucked in your waistband.”
With his left hand, he obliged my request. He appeared unarmed, but that didn’t mean anything.
“I’m not carrying, man,” he said. “I don’t need to.”
I felt his back and chest in one last search. “Everyone needs to these days, pal. Everyone.”
Back in front of him, I noticed his smile again. No, it was more of a grin. Like he knew something I didn’t. Yeah, I bet he did.
“So, what do you want to talk about?” I demanded, lowering my gun again. “Make it fast; I’ve got a lot to accomplish today.”
He nodded, still grinning. “A man with a plan, I like that. I think I like you. It’s Bob, right?”
Damn it. Either he was from Covington, or someone up the road had told him my name.
“You see,” he continued, his hands now hanging by his sides, “we’ve been watching you for a couple days. Watching and waiting.”
His hand rose to his chin as he stared off into the blue sky. “Let’s see. We’ve got Bob, and Daisy, and Lettie, and Violet, and Libby.” He snapped his fingers. “I’m sorry; I don’t think I know the baby’s name…yet.”
He knew way too much for my comfort. While I didn’t doubt he and his friends, hiding somewhere nearby, hadn’t heard our sometimes loud conversations, there was no reason to rule out that he was part of the trouble in Covington. Maybe Susan Weston had sent him, a kind of pre-attack attack.
“You’re not going to be around long enough to find out her name,” I replied, fingering my gun as I watched behind him for any movement. “And what’s your name, if I dare ask?”
Opening his arms, he bowed slightly. “I am your humble servant. You can call me Carmen.”
I inched closer. “You want to live to see tomorrow, Carmen?”
His eyebrows flashed for a split second, and then his grin broadened. “Kill me and my crew kills all of you.
Don’t worry; they’ll keep you alive long enough to watch the rest of your cute little group die first. Among other things.”
Yeah, he meant trouble. And in a big way.
“So what do you want from us, Carmen?”
He tapped my chest once. “Here’s what I need, Bob. I need you, the old woman, and the little blonde girl to pack up and get out of here. Get out and never come back, Bob. We’ll take care of everything else for you. Don’t you worry about that.”
His words shot a bolt of adrenaline through my chest and out to my extremities.
I wasn’t about to show him any fear. No, that’s what he wanted.
I let out a small amused huff. “I don’t think so, Carmen. I’ve battled plenty to keep my place. You’re just a number to me. And to be honest…” I paused to let my words sink in, “I’ve lost count long ago of those who’ve lost.”
He nodded like he understood, but I didn’t think he’d been swayed. “There’s no reason to start a war here, man. I don’t want to kill you, Bob. I sure as hell don’t want to kill that old woman or that little girl. Nevertheless, I want your place, your women and your supplies.
“You see, I’ve been living off the land long enough, I figure.” He looked away towards the road, then slowly back at me. “I deserve a break. My crew deserves one, too. There were eight of us not long ago. Now we’re down to three. We learned a lot in our last battle. We didn’t win, but we gained valuable knowledge. And we’re not leaving, just so you know.”
These had to be the clowns who tried to take Covington. Though I wasn’t sure which direction this one had come, he was on the north side of my property. If he came from the north, that meant he’d battled the Weston’s…and lost.
I moved so close our noses nearly touched. “If you and what’s left of your gang want to see tomorrow, I’d suggest you move on. Because that’s your only choice if you want to live. You don’t know what we have for firepower inside. You got no clue what you’re up against. So why don’t you move along.”
He stared at me, his lip sliding back and forth. I knew he wasn’t part of Barster’s bunch. There were no horses. None that I could see at least. I also didn’t think Clyde Barster was the kind of fellow that would let a sleazy man like this do his talking.
He poked my chest. “You’ve been warned,” he said, none too pleased. He actually sounded angry. It made me wonder if he really wanted a fight. He was probably just trying to scare me off.
“Get ready for a battle,” he whispered just before turning around.
Day 1,030 - continued
The first shot rang out from the brush across the road. Carmen was still walking away, still on my property. But the hail of gunfire didn’t allow me to draw and get a bead on him.
I dove inside just as an explosion came out of the south woods. It had to have been a shotgun because I heard multiple shots hit the screen door as I jerked it shut behind me. Two holes in the aluminum confirmed my belief. Someone had a shotgun with buckshot.
Looking around from the floor, I noticed Lettie kneeling close to me with her 30-30 in hand.
“Saw that bastard come off the road,” she said in a hushed tone, peeking out the front window. “Heard everything he said. I had Violet take Libby and Hope into the bedroom and get on the far side of the bed. I told her to pull the mattress over them. They should be safe.”
I got to my feet, kneeling by the wall between the front window and the screen door. The bedroom door was shut. Good. One way or another, three of us were going to be safe. But we were missing someone.
I was about to ask Lettie when I heard movement to my left. Glancing over, I saw Daisy. Crouching by the cupboards, she was busy loading shells into Dizzy’s 20-gauge.
“You okay?” I asked Daisy. Her only response was a nervous look and a quick nod. She was all right, and ready for the fight.
Lettie inched closer to me. “Think there’s really three of them?” she asked.
“Maybe, maybe not.” I peeked out through the damaged screen, trying to pick up movement. Nothing. That was good enough for now.
Studying the rest of the room, I discovered places we were vulnerable. The rear window wasn’t large, but still, someone could easily pop up and fire inside through that access.
“Daisy,” I whispered, “crawl over and draw the blinds on the back window.” It wasn’t perfect, but it prevented an unfettered look through the window.
The front window was mostly glass; two small side windows had screens and both were open. We could use those for firing positions. I wanted the front door open for a while yet. It gave us more firing access and I could peek over the frame and see what was going on outside.
The only window that truly worried me was the one in the bedroom. I had no way of knowing whether it was open or closed. Since it faced the road, I figured I’d be able to see anyone approaching it.
We were set up as best as we could be. And that would have to do.
Two men dashed along the north tree line, just inside the brush. They were trying to flank us and get at our rear. I pushed the door open and clicked the safety off on the 45. Pulling the trigger, the gun jerked six or seven times in my hand. Their movements halted, followed by moaning from the brush. At least one was down.
Looking back, I saw the scared looks on both Lettie’s and Daisy’s faces. That and Daisy covering her ears. The echo of the gunfire from the home had been loud, so I couldn’t blame her.
Crying started in the bedroom. Probably from the shots. I motioned to Daisy with my head.
“Check on them,” I instructed. “Be sure they’re all right.” She crept and pushed the door open, disappearing from my view.
I focused back where I’d seen the men. Something was going on in the brush. One of them, if not both, had to be writhing on the ground.
“I just need a peek at them to know what happened,” I whispered back to Lettie. “You cover me. I’m just going to push this screen door open a little so I can get a better view.”
Lettie took position on the far side of the front window, her gun pointed outward.
I opened it a crack at first. I figured any movement of the door would bring a hail of gunfire, but none came. So I opened it a little more.
Because I was so low to the ground, I couldn’t see much. With no shots to warn me otherwise, I inched a little higher, then a little more.
Standing bent at the waist, I could see two sets of feet kicking about in the brush. That meant two down, one to go. And he had to be the fellow with the scattergun behind me.
I knelt again and checked to the south. Using the door as cover, I peered into the lush green brush, searching for something out of place. If he had a shotgun, he couldn’t be too deep in. But as best as I could tell, there was no one out there.
Seeing his two comrades fall may have motivated the third assailant to hightail it for the next county. I kept looking, searching, probing each hole in the dense canopy for any sign of life.
Maybe the war was already over
, I thought.
Would’ve been nice if the remaining fellow at least said goodbye.
I turned again to get a better look at the wounded. Checking my rear one last time, I dared a step away from the cover of the door. Still nothing. This was over. We had won.
Three steps towards the injured men, I heard a twig snap behind me.
Shit, it wasn’t over.
Day 1,030 - continued
The shotgun blast shattered the otherwise calm woodlands. I felt two burning spots in my back as I tumbled to the ground, spinning to point my weapon at the shooter. He wasn’t there; I couldn’t find him anywhere.
“Why don’t you drop your gun, Bob,” a voice called out from behind. It was not just any voice, it was Carmen’s voice.
“And why don’t you have anyone else with a gun toss them outside,” he continued, sounding joyful for the situation. But why shouldn’t he have felt that way? He was winning.
Someone laid the 30-30 beside me. Looking back, I saw Lettie. Lettie and a half-blasted away screen door. That explained why the blast hadn’t ripped me in two.
“Any more?” Carmen called out.
Lettie gave me a defeated look. “No, that’s all. Just the two we have.”
“John’s gonna come from the south, and I’m going to approach from the north,” Carmen stated. I could hear him moving through the brush. “If either of you does anything stupid, you both die.”
My back burned worse than I thought it could. I’d fallen in the dirt and could feel grit grinding against the wounds like sandpaper. I heard men approach from both sides.
“Guess I didn’t get you both in the brush over there,” I said, wincing. “Too bad.”
“Oh you got both of them,” Carmen replied, sounding disappointed. “There were four of us though. I was kind of counting on you buying into that.”
Sure, play to the stupid man. The guy in the dirt without a gun.
“And I think you made mortal shots on both of them,” he continued. “They’re not even kicking anymore.”
“Too bad I don’t get a bead on you,” I shouted. “John and I could have made a deal.”
Carmen cut off the sun with his shadow. “I got a deal for you, Bob. I’m going to kill you right in front of your friends. Then they’ll know who they’re
His friend pointed the long shotgun at my head. “Now okay, boss?”
I saw both of them laugh. That wasn’t good. None of it was.
“Let’s haul everyone outside so they can see the end of Bob Reiniger, John.” Carmen answered with a grin. “Wouldn’t want anyone to miss this.”
“I got a question for you before you kill me. Who sent you here?” I wasn’t trying to stall. I just needed to know before I died.
Carmen knelt next to me and pulled my hair, forcing my face to look at him. “Friend of yours— Susan Weston. She said you’d be excited to have company. Claimed you’d want to share your food and such.” He peeked at his shotgun-toting ghoul and chuckled. “Once you were dead, that is.”
Both men laughed. I got it. I lose, they win. Shit.
Carmen did a quick lap inside the cabin and brought all the occupants outside to line up. I suppose it was to watch my execution, not that I’d see much of it once his henchman pulled the trigger.
Across from me the group stood, all but Lettie crying. Hope was in full scream mode, mostly because Violet was shaking from her sobs. Daisy held Libby in front of her, face inward towards her shirt. Her eyes squeezed shut, then open again, both wanting to be there for me and not wanting to watch the end.
Carmen paced before them. “Now, I don’t have anything against you all. And I sure don’t have anything against Bob here.” He smiled at me as if we were pals or something.