Authors: Nathan Jones
Book Two of
Best Laid Plans
Copyright © 2015 Nathan Jones
All rights reserved.
The events depicted in this novel are fictional. The characters in this story are also fictional, and any resemblance to anyone living or dead is entirely unintentional. While most locations are real some creative license has been taken in describing them, and a few locations are entirely fictional.
With the power out and batteries, lamp oil, and candles hard to come by the Larson household had taken to going to bed early. Which is why even though it was only a bit past midnight, Matt felt like it was the middle of the night when Trev came around to warn him about the tied up bandits in Aspen Hill Canyon due west of town.
Matt supposed that's what midnight was supposed to be, give or take an hour or two, but before the attack he'd often been up at that hour even on a school night. He told his sleepy family members, and a sleepy but insistent Sam who still wanted to come along, to go back to bed as he slipped on his boots and grabbed a can of bear spray before heading out the door.
Trev was already long gone, headed back to the canyon so he and his cousin could make themselves scarce before anyone from the town arrived. Matt wasn't super pleased about having this task dumped on him while his friends bailed, but he supposed he understood where they were coming from.
The rest of the town seemed to share his sleeping schedule as he hurried over to Officer Turner's apartment above his office in town hall and roused him out of bed. The policeman wasn't too happy about being woken up, especially since it was technically no longer his duty to lead the town's defenses, but once Matt explained the situation he reluctantly belted on his service pistol and grabbed his shotgun and followed Matt out into the night.
After a bit over a half hour of walking they found the camp just where Trev had said it would be, with the three robbers trussed up with zip ties like presents. Matt confirmed that the biggest of the three was one of the men who'd robbed them that morning, and on his word and Trev's passed on statement about their intentions Turner cut the ties on their legs and hauled the men to their feet, shining his heavy flashlight in front of him so they could see as he led them down the canyon. Matt paused a moment to kick dirt over the smoldering embers of the fire and then hurried to follow, walking alongside Turner at the back of the group.
“Awfully conscientious of the cousins, patrolling the canyon road behind town late at night even after Ferris told everyone protecting us was his job,” the policeman mentioned.
“Yeah well this Razor guy had them spooked,” Matt replied evasively. It was true enough, he was sure, but he wasn't about to tell Turner that his friends had only been in the canyon because they were booking it for the mountains. Not when earlier in the day Turner had been there helping Ferris take their home away from them.
When they got back to town hall with their prisoners in tow they discovered that not everyone was asleep after all. It turned out Matt's dad had gone to give Mayor Anderson a heads up about the bandits, and he and Catherine Tillman were waiting outside the town's single pair of holding cells in the town hall's basement, which usually ended up being used as drunk tanks for unruly teenagers or one of the town's few alcoholics on a bad night.
“I let Ferris know what's going on, or at least as much as I know,” Anderson said as they arrived and Turner herded the robbers into the cells.
“Good.” The policeman slammed the barred doors shut and yawned into his fist. “Do me a favor and wait around for him, all right? I'm going back to bed.”
Catherine gave him a surprised look. “You're not going to stick around to sort things out?”
Turner shrugged. “According to Ferris it's not in my job description anymore.” Matt couldn't be sure but he thought the man sounded almost pleased about that. “Night, everyone.” He made his way out of the room with his shoulders slightly hunched, as if expecting to be called back.
Anderson stared after him, shaking his head. “I'd gotten the feeling we were piling too much on his shoulders, and he was never too eager about taking on the job to begin with. Still, didn't expect him to just wash his hands of everything the moment someone else showed up to take the responsibility.” He sighed and turned to Matt. “Oh well. Anyway your dad didn't have much to tell me aside from the basic details. What's this about?”
Matt quickly explained being awakened by Trev and his friend's explanation of what had happened, confirming again that the biggest thug had been one of those with Razor that morning. Then he needed to explain the robbery when they'd arrived in town and lost all their things, including Razor assaulting Terry with the bear spray.
Catherine had been looking the three men over thoughtfully as he went over everything he knew, but once he finished she turned to look at him. “What were Trev and Lewis doing in Aspen Hill Canyon this late at night? Officer Turner shut down all the patrols, and anyway that's not even their route.”
“They had a good reason,” Matt said stoutly, but left it at that. His friends had already suffered a lot from their secrets getting out, he wasn't about to betray any more about them.
The councilwoman sighed. “They left, didn't they? I can't really blame them after being kicked out of their home and having all their things stolen.” Matt tried to keep his expression neutral and she waved at him. “You don't have to tell me one way or another. The town's going to be worse off without them, though. Such a shame.”
Anderson gave her an irritated look. “Stolen, Catherine? Ferris was operating under Federal authority.”
Her return glare was equally irritated. “Are you seriously going to tell me that anything agents of the Federal government do is all right since it's them doing it? Where's the justification for stealing from honest citizens and kicking them out of their homes? Isn't there enough suffering around here?”
The Mayor's irritation turned to unease. “I'm not sure how smart it is to be calling the FETF administrator and his people immoral.”
Matt was almost disappointed that Catherine backed down a bit at that. “Well no, I wouldn't necessarily say Ferris and his soldiers are bad people, although I certainly find the man unpleasant,” she said. “But bad or not they're following bad policies, and I think it's safe to say under the circumstances that they're using this crisis as an excuse to exceed the limits of their authority and deprive US citizens of their inalienable rights.”
“Like what?” Anderson demanded.
“Well how about the third amendment?” the councilwoman responded. “They're housing troops in my family's store!”
The Mayor scratched his cheek. “That only applies to times of peace, doesn't it?”
Catherine paused, suddenly looking a bit unsure of herself. “Well I'd say Aspen Hill was pretty peaceful before they arrived,” she rallied. “Besides, that's not the only thing they've done. How about this mandatory food for firearms program, or confiscating people's food?”
“Well you have to weigh that against the aid FETF brought us,” Anderson argued.
An uncomfortable silence settled as Matt stared between the two. It was obvious Catherine wanted to say more and was debating with herself whether to bother. He was almost surprised when she abruptly spoke up. “I wonder if you could even say FETF brought aid at all.”
“What are you talking about?” Anderson demanded. “They brought an entire truck full of food!”
“And thirteen more mouths to feed. If they plan to stay for any real amount of time they'll eat more than they brought. And as soon as they arrived they immediately took what little the town had to spare at the storehouse and “redistributing” it among the refugees, which I'd call a major net loss. At this rate we'll all run out before winter even begins and we can starve to death together.”
“We should at least look on the bright side. The “mouths” FETF brought also have guns to protect the town.”
The councilwoman shook her head irritably. “And how many guns did they take from Aspen Hill residents? We already had a decent patrol and roadblock system going, and they dismantled it and deprived us of our ability to defend ourselves. In exchange for what? Even days after his arrival Ferris still hasn't done anything about the atrocities I've reported to him that have been going on in the refugee camp, or about the bandits following this thug Razor who've surrounded the town and are attacking and robbing anyone they encounter. In fact, if what they did to the cousins at their shelter holds true then Ferris and his men are just interested in taking what little we have. Soon they'll be going door to door.”
For his part Anderson flailed around for an answer. “It's a transition period. Once things settle down they'll impose order. But I'll talk to Ferris and get him to do something about the refugee camp and this Razor fellow.”
Catherine pointed at the men in the cells. “You see that? That was the work of two residents of Aspen Hill who'd just lost everything to FETF, and probably watched the entire town help Ferris empty their shelter of all the things they needed to survive, to the point where they were literally driven out of town. And they still cared enough to stop a group of thugs right outside our borders from continuing their attacks. They also willingly gave from what they had back when we were asking for donations, while FETF gives you what they've taken from others at gunpoint and calls it helping. If you ask me I'd prefer a town full of Halssons and Smiths over a dozen Ferrises bringing “aid.”
“You think I wouldn't?” The Mayor demanded, although he looked a bit guilty. He was the one who'd organized the townspeople helping FETF empty Trev and Lewis's shelter. “Whatever we like this is how it is. We just have to make the best of it.”
Catherine looked over at Matt, who was standing uneasily over by the cells trying to pretend he wasn't there. He looked away from her questioning eyes and she sighed. “I suppose you're right. Although the cousins weren't the only ones to leave yesterday. Charles Mercer and his family vanished sometime in the afternoon while the town was so hard at work emptying cousins' shelter. Word is the Mercers kept a good bit of the stock from their store for themselves once they realized how bad it was. They probably didn't want to have it stolen from them by Ferris so I'll bet it's gone with them. And it's likely others who were similarly prepared to survive the winter will be leaving in order to keep what they have, going out into the wilds and exposing themselves to bandits and worse and depriving Aspen Hill of some of our best people and supplies we desperately need to survive. Where does that leave the town?”
“I don't know!” Anderson burst out, suddenly angry. “I'm just doing the best I can here, when I'm not getting voted down by the entire town or taking orders from FETF administrators who just walk in like they own the place. Meanwhile all the blame falls on me.”
In the face of the Mayor's obvious misery Catherine relented a bit. “You weren't the only one out there emptying Lewis's shelter,” she said with a sigh. “It's just, well . . . I almost wish it was bandits who'd taken over our town. At least we could fight back.”
“Are you threatening Federal agents, Councilwoman Tillman?” a cold voice from behind Matt asked.
Matt whirled in time to see Ferris sweep into the room, flanked by two FETF soldiers. For her part in spite of her surprise Catherine recovered quickly. “Consider it a complaint about the way you're running things, Administrator,” she said stiffly. “For you this may be just an assignment but for me this is my home. I have my friends and family to think of, as well as my duty to Aspen Hill as a member of the City Council.”
“Duly noted,” Ferris said, equally stiff. He walked over to stand beside Matt staring through the bars at the three bound men. “These are our highwaymen, patsies of this criminal “Razor?”
“That's right,” Matt said. He briefly explained Trev coming to him about the bandits they'd captured, as well as adding his own confirmation to his friend's statement about the big guy at the end being one of the ones with Razor who'd robbed them yesterday on their way into town.
The entire time he was talking Ferris frowned at the three, and when he was done the administrator spoke. “Your friends Trev and Lewis are not here to testify against these men.”
Matt shifted uncomfortably. If he didn't want Catherine knowing where the cousins had gone he doubly didn't want Ferris himself having even a hint of it. “No, they aren't.”
“Very well then.” Ferris turned to the pair of soldiers with him and pointed at the two bandits in the lefthand cell, neither of which was the big guy who'd robbed Matt and the others that morning. “Let these men go.”
Anderson stiffened. “What? They were caught robbing people just outside our town!”
“They're accused of that, an accusation made by people who refuse to personally come and testify,” Ferris answered. “This is still a nation of law and order, Mayor, and without witnesses to a crime we can't charge them.” He pointed at the one who'd robbed Matt, April and her family, and Trev, sitting alone in the other cell glowering at them. “That one, however, has a witness against him, and I'm satisfied with the testimony.”
Catherine stepped forward. “If you let these two go they're only going to rob more people!” she protested.
The administrator looked bored. “And if evidence of their crimes is found they will also be punished.” The soldiers had finished opening the barred door and were ushering the two men out of the cell. As the first one emerged Ferris caught his shoulder, pinching the cloth of his shirt between finger and thumb as if holding a dead mouse. “You. Tell this Razor that I'd like to talk to him. He has my assurance he'll be allowed to leave afterwards.”
“Yeah okay,” the guy said, fidgeting nervously.
Matt did his best not to seethe as he watched the two men practically bolt for the door, escorted by one of the soldiers. That was an obvious threat to the town Ferris was letting out, all because he didn't believe Trev and Lewis, or Matt himself for that matter. It was bad enough that Trev had woken him up after only a few hours of sleep to deal with this, but now he got to watch as his work going out to the canyon camp and bringing the criminals back to town was two-thirds of the way undone.