Authors: N.C. Reed
“No, just a whole bunch o' new ones,” he muttered to himself as he got out of the truck. There were no rats in the immediate area, so Billy motioned for Rommel to follow. The dog leapt out, looking around. He woofed lightly at a gaggle of rats across the street, but Billy stopped him with a motion. Rommel still wanted to go, but followed orders.
The steel cage that usually blocked the door when the shop was closed was quick work for a crow bar and a strong back. Billy had both and was soon standing in front of the more traditional glass door of a storefront. He gently rapped on the door with a hammer, and knocked enough glass loose to get his hand inside and open the door. He reached inside, careful not to cut himself, and unlocked the door. He eased inside, Rommel following, and closed the door.
Casting the light around the shop, Billy saw that the place was largely undisturbed. It did look as if some things had been taken in a great hurry, but for the most part, the store was still like it normally was. There was a large rack on the floor, holding shotguns and rifles, while another large rack adorned the wall behind the counter with more expensive weaponry.
Glass cases that made the counter were filled with handguns and some accessory items. Shelves behind that counter held countless boxes of ammunition, while others, in cases, were stacked neatly about the floor. Billy expected to find more such cases in the storeroom behind the counter.
“Well, at least I remembered the two-wheeler,” Billy shook his head. The dolly would at least make loading the heavier pieces easier. “Let’s get started, boy. We got a lot o' work to do before. . . .”
Rommel suddenly tensed, growling deep in his chest. Billy shut his head lamp off at once, having come to trust Rommel’s instincts. He took two steps to the left just as he heard a pump shotgun rack a shell into it’s chamber.
“Whatever you got in mind, it had better be peaceable,” the female voice warned. “Else you ain’t long for this world. ‘Least what’s left of it.”
Billy was dumbfounded. There was someone still alive in town!
“Uh, ma’am, I. . .that is, I’m, uh. . . .”
“I ain’t got all night,” the voice told him flatly. “And tell that dog to stop movin’, you want to keep him alive.” Rommel was following the voice as it moved.
“Rommel, come,” Billy ordered. Rommel looked at him, then back to the dark.
“Now, Rommel,” Billy snapped. Rommel walked slowly to Billy’s side, and placed himself between Billy and the unseen speaker.
“Now, why are you breaking’ into my place?” the speaker demanded.
“Well, I didn’t think no one was still alive,” Billy replied honestly. “There’s been some trouble out and about, and I didn’t want to leave all this stuff to the raiders that are poppin’ up all over. I thought to take it and hide it somewhere, so they couldn’t use it against the rest of us.”
“Not takin’ it for yourself, then,” the mocking voice floated through the dark.
“Well, no,” Billy answered. “Don’t rightly need it, I reckon. I got plenty for me. But I surely don’t wanna be facin’ a bunch o' criminals and such after they clear this place out. They’d be right well-armed.”
“Billy Todd, is that you?” the woman surprised him suddenly.
“Uh, yes’m, it is,” he didn’t even think of lying. Billy wasn’t much on lying anyway.
“Why in hell didn’t ya say so, ya idiot!” a lantern flared to life, and Billy shielded his eyes in the glare, seeing Rhonda Higgins standing in the light, now holding her shotgun up and away from him.
“Rhonda?” Billy blinked. “What are you doing here?”
“My daddy owns this place, I’ll thank you to remember,” she shot back, laughing just a little. She placed her shotgun on the counter. “So why are you really here?”
“Told ya,” Billy shrugged. “Read one o’ daddy’s books about this kinda stuff. Says to make sure not to leave anything laying around that can be used against you. I hadn’t thought about that. So, here I am.”
“Where you aim to take all this stuff?” Rhonda demanded.
“Out to the farm, I guess,” Billy shrugged. “Ain’t got nowhere else any safer to hide it. I don’t want nobody getting hold to it, then using against other folks.”
“And you know that folks is doing just that?” she asked.
“Heard tell of it on the shortwave,” Billy nodded. “Just this afternoon, in fact. Group of ‘bout thirty or so, sounded like. Killed two folk right in the street somewhere.”
“Couldn’t rightly get the where,” Billy admitted. “Was havin’ a hard time holding’ the signal. Ain’t right as good at it as my daddy was.”
“You don’t need that ‘dumb’ act with me, Billy,” Rhonda giggled slightly. “I been knowin’ you all my life. I know you ain’t maybe smart as some, but I also know you ain’t all that dumb, neither.” Billy didn’t know what to say to that, exactly.
Rhonda Higgins was two years younger than he was, about. He didn’t know exactly, but he knew she was two grades behind him in school. She was pretty, but a tomboy from head to heel. Her father had raised her since she’d been three, when her mother had died in a car wreck. Billy had heard his father say more than once that Rhonda probably knew more about guns than Lem did.
“Well, I ain’t much on acting’,” Billy finally replied. “But I can follow directions. What are you doin’ still here, anyways? How come you didn't leave?”
“And go where?” Rhonda snorted. “This is my home, Billy, remember? We live upstairs, or I do, anyway…Daddy, he didn’t… daddy. . .didn’t make it.” He could hear the pain in her voice, but there was strength there, too.
“I’m sorry, Rhonda,” Billy said, and meant it. “If I’d known you was here, alone, I’d have helped you any way I could.” Rhonda smiled at him.
“I know that. I seen you taking stuff from town. Started to call out a time or two, but. . . .” She trailed off with a shrug.
“Well, why don’t you come out to the farm with me?” Billy blurted. “I mean I got a big house, plenty o’ room, and plenty to eat. Got horses and the like. Plenty o’ room. Got electricity and hot water too,” he added, and saw her eyes shine at that.
“Really? Flush toilets, and showers and such?” her voice was sounding like a little girl’s, now.
“And such,” he nodded. “You know you’re welcome. You family and mine been friends for a hundred years or so, at least,” he laughed, causing her to giggle again.
“I have to admit, it sounds like heaven, after all this time living here without,” she agreed, her voice taking on a dreamy quality. “But would folks think?” she added, giggling.
“Well, there ain’t no one else I know of around, save for Mister Silvers and his family.”
“Shelly made it huh?” Rhonda almost growled.
Guess she don’t think no more o’ ‘Shelly’ than I do, Billy grinned to himself.
“‘Fraid so,” he nodded. “But we don’t see her much. Once in the last two months. Today, in fact, when she came to tell me about Mister Silvers hearing folks on the radio. What got me to listenin’.”
“Billy are you sure it’s okay?” Rhonda asked, her voice very serious now. “I mean, I’d love to not be alone, and be somewhere safe, and with some modern conveniences, but I don’t want to put you out.” Her voice was sincere. And worried.
“You won’t be puttin’ us out,” he promised. “We’d be glad for the company.”
“We?” Rhonda’s voice was wary now. “There’s more than you?”
“Sure,” Billy grinned, and looked down. “Rommel, this here is Rhonda Higgins. Friend,” he added, pointing to her. “Rhonda, this here is Rommel. Done saved me more than once.”
“So it’s just you and the dog?” she brightened again.
“Well, and the horses, cows and chickens,” Billy added. “But yeah, just me and Rommel in the house. Course you’ll have to work your way onto Rommel’s good side. I’d go with food. It’s his weakness,” Billy whispered conspiratorially.
“Oh, I have an idea that I got something that will make me Rommel’s new best friend,” Rhonda smiled mischievously. “Okay, I’m sold. You start loading. I’ll get my things, and then I’ll help you when they’re loaded. Deal?”
Billy was huffing slightly as he maneuvered another dolly full of ammunition up the ramp and into the trailer. He’d loaded the weapons first, using every gun case in the store, and then falling back on the manufacturer’s boxes when they ran out. He’d loaded the handguns and magazines into plastic totes, which stacked nicely inside the trailer. He’d then started packing reloading supplies, including all the presses and dies Lem had kept in inventory. He grabbed some of the packs, and gun socks as well, adding them to the padding around the guns.
He looked up at Rommel’s woof and saw Rhonda coming from the store, backpack and two suitcases in hand, her shotgun over her shoulder, and a pistol on her belt. Rommel went straight for her, and Billy panicked.
“Rommel, no!” he shouted, almost tripping in his haste to get out of the trailer and stop Rommel from attacking Rhonda. Rhonda’s laughing brought him up short.
Rommel hadn’t given Rhonda Higgins a second thought. At her feet was another Rottie, a female Rottie, about two-thirds Rommel’s size. The female was hesitant as Rommel sniffed at her, but then the two began to make introductions to each other as dogs are known to do. Rhonda laughed.
“I told you I had something that would make me and old Rommel friends right off. Rommel, this here is Dottie.”
With Rhonda helping, the loading went much faster. She also knew where some of her father’s more interesting ‘goodies’ were hidden, and brought them out to the trailer as well. Billy didn’t ask what they were, deciding that if Rhonda wanted him to know, she’d tell him.
Rhonda also took the clothing that Lem had in stock. Most of it was camouflage hunting clothes. Even if they couldn’t wear it, they could trade it to those who could. Billy had told her about the trading going on in Franklin.
“We can do pretty well at that, at least for a while,” she told him. “There’s all sorts of things still here that we can take and use for trade items, and I can trade for empty casings, and reload them. Daddy had a lot of powder. It won’t last forever, of course, but it will last a while. And there’s the black powder, and the Pyrodex, and . . . .” She stopped, blushing a bit.
“Sorry,” she apologized. “I do rattle on sometimes.”
“Ain’t botherin’ me,” Billy shook his head. “I ain’t thought o’ none o’ that myself. I had decided I was just gonna stick to the farm and never come out no more. You done got me wanting’ to see the trade day, now,” he laughed.
“Well, your trailer’s almost full, now,” she frowned. “We can empty it, and come back.”
“I still need to check Ralph’s Trading Post,” Billy told her. “Then we can go.”
“Okay,” Rhonda deflated a bit. “But after that, I’m gonna want to see that shower you promised me!”
Emptying the Trading Post wasn’t as much work as the Higgins’ place had been. Billy did find some very interesting items hidden in the storeroom there though.
“Daddy always thought old Ralph was dealing’ dirty,” Rhonda said musingly as Billy showed her what he’d found. “That’s Class Three stuff. And he ain’t a Class Three dealer.”
“Ain’t no kinda dealer, no more,” Billy reminded her. “This look familiar to you?”
“They’re H&K MP5's,” Rhonda said at once. “Nice weapons, but strictly illegal without the Class Three stamp. Not that I think anyone’s checking’ on that stuff nowadays,” she added with snort. “Looks like a dozen of’em, with mags.”
“Well, we ain’t leavin’em to be used against us,” Billy declared. He loaded them with the rest. Rhonda continued to snoop and found a half dozen M-4's hidden in a crate as well.
“Select fire,” she told Billy. “I’d say these were stolen from some armory, somewhere. See here? They still got military markings on them.” She moved to another box, and let out a gasp.
“Hand grenades,” she almost whispered. “Where did that old’ crook get hold o’ grenades?” Billy looked to see two small cases of cylindrical devices. “He ain’t allow. . .son-of-a-bitch, this is C-4!” She dropped to her knees in front of a small box and held up something. To Billy it looked like a gray stick of butter. “And all the trimmings,” she added.
“I’ll take your word for it,” Billy grunted as he heaved another box onto the dolly. “I think this is it. Make another round and make sure. I’ll be back with the dolly and get them,” he nodded his head at the newly discovered hardware.
Their last look revealed that they had taken it all. Billy took the time to grab whatever chips and food stuffs hadn’t gone bad, including some soda. He hadn’t had any soda in a while. Once this was gone, it would be a lot longer, he figured. Rhonda took the time to get some beer. Billy shook his head in amusement at her look.
“What? It’ll all be gone bad by the time I can legally drink. I think I’m entitled.”
“Get all you want,” Billy told her. “It’ll keep pretty well in the basement, or the refrigerator.” Rhonda goggled a minute.
“I forgot you have power!” she squealed, and went on a shopping spree. Billy just laughed again, and hauled the last dolly load to the truck.
By the time they had gotten back to the house, Billy was tired. He backed the trailer into the barn, explaining that the barn could be locked.
“We’ll unload tomorrow,” he told her. “Or the day after,” he groaned, getting out of the truck.
“Tomorrow,” Rhonda told him firmly. “We need to get back to town as soon as we can. There’s a treasure trove there for trading. We need to get as much as we can save right now. Cloth, thread, needles, shoes and boots. Those are all things that aren’t being made anymore, Billy. We need them for ourselves, and for trading.”
“All right, all right,” Billy raised his hands in surrender. “Tomorrow.”
Despite his groaning, Billy couldn’t help but smile as he made his way tiredly to the house. He liked Rhonda. She was smart, and thought of things he didn’t.
Together, they’d get by pretty good, he figured.
He laughed once more at the squeal from the bathroom when Rhonda Higgins got her first hot shower in months.
Billy had never thought of himself as lazy. He was a hard worker, or had always thought so. Sure, he had time when he sloughed off, like when his work at the shop was slow. Didn’t everybody?
Everybody except Rhonda Higgins he had learned. That woman was on go every minute of the day.
In the week since Billy had ‘found’ her, the two had made a trip into town every day. Things that Billy would have left behind or looked over, she took. Bolts of cloth, rolls of thread, sewing needles, every new pair of boots and shoes in town, the list was never ending.
And Billy had never seen a list. It was like Rhonda had the list in her head, and never forgot what was on it. She also never ran out of things for him to do.