Sunday, February 20, 2011

For The Greater Good 13


CHAPTER THIRTEEN


    They hugged like any normal family before heading off on a long trip. Emmy was excited being in the child carrier, and sat quietly behind Brenda.

    The group pedaled along the bumpy, muddy trail, pausing briefly, pointing out to Rick where the dead rapist lay.

    Rick was second in line behind Lisa. Irene told him what to look for in identifying Peppers property. By mid-afternoon, they rounded a curve in the trail and Rick stopped the group. On the river side, a very large and majestic Willow tree, its thin branches drooping and almost touching the ground. Directly across from the tree, on the farmland side, was a park bench.

    Rick got off his bike and stopped dead in his tracks. His déjà vu feeling was extremely powerful as he sat on the bench. It then dawned on him that he was in the same spot of his dream. Looking to his left he pictured Jake and Laci, and in his mind, heard his son’s voice. Ricks heart was heavy with the memories.

    “Are you alright?” Paul asked.

    “Yeah I’m fine…just thinking that’s all.” He replied. Taking a deep breath, he went through the wire-fenced gate and started up the scarcely used wide trail to where he thought Peppers house might be. He had gone about fifty feet towards the farmhouse. “Hold it right there.” The voice commanded him from inside the head tall corn. The man stepped out with a shotgun pointed at Ricks face. “Step inside this row.” He said and slowly stepped backwards, as Rick followed him into the corn.

    Rick raised his hands, “Are you Pepper?”

    Slightly lowering the weapon, “Do I know you?” He questioned.

    “No…but Irene Biggs asked me to find you.” Rick said.

    Pepper fully lowered the shotgun, “Irene…Irene is alive?” He said genuinely surprised.

    “She sure is, and would like for you to get in touch with her.” And then added, “My name is Rick…Rick Martin.”

    “Cecil Wayne…they call me Pepper. Nice to meet you too.” The thin, balding man, removed his thick eyeglasses, wiping them on his shirt, and then replaced them. “I’d like to see her again, and if I live through tonight, I will.” He said, softly.

    “What do you mean by that?” Rick questioned, wondering if Pepper was sick. 

    Pepper took a deep breath, “We’re being watched…and I think that they are going to come after me tonight.” He said. “They got the Johnson’s last night, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to cut and run from them.” He rambled on, his anger rising, turning the farmer’s suntanned face, red. 

    Rick heard a slight rustling of the corn plants, behind Pepper, a dog stepped out, and lifted his nose to smell the new person. Rick smiled at the gray and tan dog, kneeling down he held his hand out. “Hi there, what’s your name?”

    “That’s Dojo. She’s an Australian Sheep Dog, and probably the smartest dog I’ve ever had.” Pepper said, his anger slowly subsiding.

    Rick scratched the dog’s ears to Dojos delight, noticing one eye that was blue and the other brown. “Those are some cool eyes you’ve got there Dojo.” Rick shifted his attention from the dog, and said to the farmer, “Who is watching you, Pepper?”

    “I don’t know who they are. Last night I heard some shooting through the woods, which would be over at the Johnson’s place.”

    “You’re sure it wasn’t the Johnson’s that were shooting?”

    “Those were machine guns that I heard. In these parts, we just have shotguns and .22’s. Ike Johnson knows how to use guns, but from the amount of gunfire I heard…I don’t know if he or Elaine would have survived.”

    “Machine guns, huh. Did you see any of them Pepper?”

    “No…Dojo let’s me know when they are around. Whoever it was, watched me from across the road.” He paused and added, “I don’t see that well...Dojo is like a second set of eyes.”

    “Do you know that area?” He asked, referring to the woods across the street.

    “Like the back of my hand. I’ve hunted those woods and most of all these parts for over forty years.”

    “OK, let me talk with my guys for a minute, ok?”

    “Sure.” He said and began to walk through the corn towards his house, he turned back, “Keep out of sight, will ya?”  

    Rick nodded and walked out to the trail where everyone stood around waiting. “Well, I met Pepper. Seems like a nice enough guy…he thinks that someone is out to kill him.”

    “What do you mean by that?” Paul asked.

    Rick told the team what he knew so far.

    Pepper returned, his well-used and worn shotgun in hand like any other farm tool, and motioned to the group. “You should get those bikes off the trail, and out of sight.” He said. “Let’s move them into the field here.”

    One at a time they walked the bike rigs onto the tractor road, which surrounded his corn, hidden from the house. Rick introduced the group to Pepper. Emmy and Dojo struck an instant friendship, the dog licked her on the face as she giggled and hugged her.

    Standing on the dirt road, Rick faced his team. “Any thoughts?”

    “We could set up a defense, and that would give whoever’s coming a nasty surprise.” Lisa replied.

    “I agree.” Paul stated, as did the others.

    Rick rubbed his face in thought. “Pepper, you say that you know this area well, right?”

    “Like the back of my hand.”

    “Ok…draw me a map.” Rick said.

    Pepper picked up a twig off the ground, and began to draw a dirt map. “Here is where we are, and here are the woods.”

    “How large are those woods?”

    “Maybe thirty to thirty five acres, mostly hardwoods…oaks, hickories with some pines. The deer browse in there so it’s pretty open area beneath and not too hard to see through, understand?”

    Rick nodded.

    “Ok, here is the road in front of my place.” He drew the road, which separated his property from the woods. “Now the path that you were just on, crosses the road and goes through those woods to the Johnson house.” He paused and added more features, “On our left side, the woods end about fifty yards away and is joined by the Johnson’s corn patch. They have about fifty acres of corn and above that is about fifty acres of beans.”

    The group hovered over the drawing, learning the layout.

    “Now about three quarters through those woods is a spring, it’s kinda muddy there, but it drains into the small stream that crossed the road and goes to the river.” He added the tiny line of water. “Here is the Johnson’s place, they have a good sized back yard, but they are surrounded by the woods and have an asphalt road on their front.”

    Rick understood the map. He turned and went to his bike and backpack. Opening the pack, he dug out his camouflage long pants and a well-used paint spattered olive green t-shirt.

    “What are you doing?” Brenda came over and asked. The others followed, along with Pepper.

    “Pepper, you’re surrounded by woods and corn fields, and that gives you no real field of fire. It’s just a matter of time before they pick you off.” He paused, stripping off his shorts, and putting on the long pants, “I figure that if I can get into those woods unseen, then maybe I can get a few of them. It might slow them down a bit.”

    “I’m going too.” Brenda announced.

    “No you’re not.” Rick replied.

    “Yes I am.”

    No…you’re not.”

    Yes…I…am.” She said adamantly.

    Rick stood, pants unbuttoned, face reddened.

    “I’ve heard that before. Son, you’ve lost this argument.” Pepper said.

    Rick shook his head, “Why?” He asked her.

    “Because if you get hurt, no one will be there to take care of you.”

    Rick grimaced and exhaled, “Ok, camo pants and shirt.” He stated to her, and then turned to Paul, “Have Pepper show you the house, and you guys get a defense figured out.”

    They left Rick, Brenda and Emmy alone. Brenda stripped off her shorts, her back to Rick showing her shapely legs and bottom, and dressed in the camo clothes. Rick turned, trying not to think about Brenda’s attractiveness, kneeling down to Emmy, “Look sweetie, Mommy and I are going into the woods after some bad men. You are going to stay here with Paul and Christine. I don’t want you wandering off, ok? You do what they tell you.”

    She understood and nodded. He hugged the cutie, as Brenda realized what he called her. Rick and Brenda sat on the ground, applying the face paint, making sure their arms were also covered with the green and brown paste.

    The others came back, “We’ve got it figured out.” Paul said.

    “Does anybody have a small day pack?” Rick asked. Paul had one and Rick placed his and Brenda’s water bottle’s inside. Paul handed him two MRE’s, which also went inside. Rick again dug through his pack and found one of the marked ammunition bandoleers. Taking three of the black tipped clips out of the old green canvas, he emptied his Garand and loaded it with the special ammo. One of the other clips he attached to his rifle sling, ready for instant use. The other went into one of the two bandoleers which he wore daily.

    “Black tips? Are they armor piercing?” Paul asked.

    “Yeah…you never know, they might be military and have armored vests on.” He replied. Opening the trap door butt plate, Rick pulled out a rolled piece of paper. Reading the notes he made on the armor piercing ammunition, he rotated the elevation knob on the Garand to its ‘zero’, and then slowly clicked the knob up eight clicks. The sights were now set for one hundred yards. The AP ammo wasn’t as accurate as his normal ammo, but its penetrating power was second to none. Replacing the paper, he checked his pistol, closing the slide with a metallic click and inserting it back into the holster.

    Brenda got into Ricks bag and took the first aid kit. ”Need anything else?” She asked.

    “Yeah, get the flashlight.”

    Pepper came back, Dojo in tow. “I drew a map of this area for you.” He said handing Rick a paper hand-drawn map. He then said, “You know, I should be the one going into those woods with you.”

    “Yeah well maybe twenty years ago you would, but going up against machine guns with a shotgun and your eyesight as it is, wouldn’t be a good idea…besides, I need you all to look after my girl.” He replied and smiled. Looking down at the dog, “Dojo, take care of Emmy for me, ok?”

    The dog went to Emmy side and sat.

    “I told you she was a smart dog.” Pepper replied.

    “Ok, so…we need to get into those woods. Now, Pepper, what I want you to do is this, when Dojo lets you know that they are back, I want you to go to the right side of the house and with a hammer, bang on something that will make a loud racket.”

    Pepper nodded, not fully understanding.

    “Hopefully this will draw their attention away from the road. Brenda and I are going to go through the corn on the left and wait until we hear the banging. When you start that noise, we’ll cross the road and go into the Johnson’s corn. You’ll need to give it a rest for a few minutes to give us a chance to get through their corn and into the woods. Once we are in the woods, then you’ll go to the left side of the house and start banging again, understand?”

    “I get it now. You want to see if they’ll move and try to see what’s happening on the other side of the house.”

    “Exactly…and maybe we can get off a shot.” He paused giving anyone a chance to add or comment, no one said anything. “Now, if you hear any shooting…do not come into those woods. Anyone in there is a target, understand?” They nodded. “It’s going to be dark soon, so don’t look for us to come out until morning ok?”

    “You’re going to need something if plan to get into those woods quick.” Pepper said and added, “I’ll be right back.” He returned in a few minutes and handed Rick a red handled pair of wire cutters. “Their field is fenced; use this to cut through it.”

    Rick pocketed the pliers, nodded goodbye to the group, and turned to Brenda, “Let’s go.” They stalked through the corn rows until he felt they were in a good position to cross the road. Quietly they spread the corn stalks and crossed the rows. Approaching the road, they slowed further, barely moving the stalks. Seeing that they were closer than what he would have liked, the pair moved farther from the house, kneeled and waited.

    The rest of the group moved to the farm house, setting up outside the back yard and hidden behind Peppers workshop. Emmy sat next to Dojo, her arm draped around her protector. Dojo stood, looking intently towards the woods across the road, the hair on the back of her neck raised, as she issued a low growl. Unseen and silent to the group, but not Dojo, someone was there, and watching.

    Pepper, screened from any view of the woods, took a hammer and started pounding a large rusted section of irrigation pipe, creating an extremely loud and obnoxious noise.

    Rick and Brenda sat silently, hearing the noise, they knew it was their time to go. He turned to her, “You go first, cut the fence and roll into the corn quickly.” Handing Brenda the pliers, knowing that the first person to cross would be least likely to get shot…it was the second one, which would attract bullets.

    Taking her AR-15 and a deep breath, Brenda sprinted across the road, jumping into the ditch, and then crawling to the three strand barbed wire fence on her stomach. Exposed to Ricks view, she would at this point be masked from the sight of anyone on her side of the road. Brenda, using both hands, snipped the bottom two sections of wire, and then belly crawled into the corn. Getting up on her knees, she motioned to Rick.

    Rick jumped out of the field and crossed the dirt road in a couple of steps, fully expecting to be hammered from bullets, none came. Reaching the ditch, he jumped it and rolled through the cut fence. The Johnson’s corn was planted in a different direction than Peppers. Theirs went perpendicular to the road, as Peppers was horizontal. Rick took the lead and quickly and silently walked about fifty yards away from the road. Reaching a place where he felt was behind the unseen enemy, they stealthily crossed the rows until reaching the outer tractor-path which encircled the field. Looking along the wood-line, Rick spotted something he had hoped would be there…a deer path. Moving up another thirty feet, they entered the woods at a low crouch.

    It took a few minutes for their eyes to become adjusted to the darkened woods. The pair had moved to a low branched evergreen and sat beneath it. Rick silently cautioned Brenda to be as quiet as possible; he scanned the area for better cover. A large oak about fifty feet away would be their ambush spot. Using the squirrel hunting skills his grandfather taught him forty years ago, Rick slipped along the damp forested ground. Brenda followed, an occasional twig snapped under her feet, causing Rick to wince and give her a cautionary glance.

    Taking their time to reach the oak, with eyes wide open from the adrenalin rush and weapons at the ready, both made the oak, and sat with their backs against the old tree. The tranquility of the small forest was broken by the distant thumping of Peppers hammering. Rick spotted a human in the distance through the brush, the stalker moved towards the noise which Pepper was making. It was extremely hard to tell from this distance who the individual was, although by his movements Rick could tell that this person had stalking skills.

    They had no clear shot, as the man would disappear behind brush or trees and then reappear briefly. Without warning, the man changed direction and went back to his original position, and then continued past.

    “I think he’s going to the old road.” Rick whispered into Brenda’s ear.

    Brenda’s green eyes scanned the forest, her face a study in concentration.

    Glimpsing the man walking towards the Johnson’s house, Rick slowly rose to his feet, Brenda mirrored his movements. Facing her, he pulled her close and whispered into her ear, “Let’s cut through the woods and see what’s at the Johnson’s house.” He didn’t need to say to be quiet, it was understood that noise was an enemy.

    The pair gently moved through the brush, bisecting the woods towards the Johnson place. Keeping close to the shadows and avoiding the brief openings of fading light in the forest, they reached the spring which Pepper told them about. Stepping into the cool black mud surrounding the spring, their feet made sucking sounds as they pulled out of its entrapment and reached the other side.

    Stalking through the brush, Rick heard, “Psst.” Turing, he saw Brenda snared by a thorn bush, she was snagged in a half dozen places. Moving back and pulling the briars off of her clothing and out of her skin, she winced and nodded that she was good to go. They could tell by the thinning woods ahead that they were coming to the edge of the forest. It was dusk now and what light they had would soon be gone.

    Approaching cautiously, they took cover behind the base of a tree. Rick made a mental note of the Johnson’s back yard, there were three men standing around a picnic table, with their weapons lying on its top. A slim black man dressed in military fatigues, seemed to be their leader. This man was the only one who held his weapon, a black military short stocked M-16. The others, both white and wearing jeans, with pistols in holsters hanging on their belts, sat and coarsely joked with one another, their voices loud enough so that Rick and Brenda could hear their conversations.

    Rick pulled Brenda close and whispered, “You move over to that tree…“ He pointed to a larger tree about fifteen feet away. “…When I signal, open fire on the one to the far right and work towards the center, understand?”

    She nodded, staring straight ahead.

    “I’ll start with the one on the left and work to the center…we’ll try to box them in, ok?”

    A female voice pleaded through the inside of the house. “No…please don’t.” Then silence.

    The three guys outside, laughed loudly. “Dude, T-Bone got him some old woman pussy.” One of the white guys commented.

    Two other guys exited the farmhouse, one black and one white, their AK-47’s slung across their backs. “Hey Niggah, Bone done did her good.” One of the black guys who entered into the picture said to the leader.

    “Bone, come on out…let’s get moving.” The leader commanded. Turning to the four standing at the table, “Now we’ll do the same with that old man through the woods, that we did with these people. Rabbit, you’ll ask for some food and when he comes out, we’ll take him, understand?” The four nodded, when the one they called ‘Bone’ came out of the house, his hands bloody, wiping them on his pants leg.

    Brenda had almost made the tree as their targets grouped together. Rick snapped his fingers, Brenda looked at him, “Now” he mouthed.

    One of the group heard Ricks finger snap, he turned as Rick stood and placed his front sight squarely on his chest, then squeezed the trigger. The forest erupted into a huge fire-fight as Rick aimed and fired as fast as he could, the empty clip popping out of the Garand, quickly he reloaded. Brenda focused and fired, sending the high velocity rounds into her targets.

    The wounded flung up the picnic table as a shield, and began to return fire, their automatic weapons sending inaccurate bullets buzzing into the tree overhead, showering leaves and bits of wood below. Rick wasn’t fazed; he stood his ground and emptied another clip into the upended table, then reloaded again. The leader, wounded and wearing an armor plated vest, raised his arm and began to toss a hand-grenade at the pair. Rick fired into his chest, the grenade dislodged from his hand at the bullets impact and seconds later exploded behind the table, blowing it to bits in an angry cloud of black smoke and buzzing shrapnel. The firing stopped.

    Rick and Brenda reloaded, she moved over to him. “You ok?” She asked.

    He nodded, not taking his eyes off their downed targets. “Fine, and you?”

    “I’m good.” She replied, they both stayed still and listened for any indication of life from the yard. They heard no sound. Standing, they both moved forward, weapons raised and ready to fire instantly. Working their way around the remains of the table, the scene before them was one of body parts and blood. Rick slung his Garand and pulled the pistol out. Using his left hand he felt the necks of the downed cockroaches for any pulse. The leader had a slight pulse; his vest, shredded from multiple rounds, had protected his vital parts. Rick shot him in the head.

    “Let’s check out the house.” He said to Brenda. Removing the day pack, he set it down after taking out the flashlight. Rick went in first, pistol and flashlight together in hand, pointing and illuminating the area ahead.

    The house was totally dark, as Rick worked the light methodically across the kitchen. Elaine Johnson lay on the blood covered kitchen table, her throat sliced and her legs splayed apart in a grisly post-rape death pose. Moving in to the rest of the home, Rick found Mr. Johnson dead by the front door, multiple blood stains from bullet holes in his chest and torso.

    Rick turned to Brenda, who was shocked at the senseless death of the Johnson’s. “Are you alright?”

    She nodded, not saying anything.

    “Let’s get out of here.” They left the house and stopped at the dead murderers outside. Rick went through their pockets, finding four fragmentation grenades, two of which were broken from the explosion. Tossing those two into the woods behind them and pocketing the other two, he checked their weapons. The fully automatic short M-16 was also damaged beyond use, as one of Ricks Armor Piercing rounds tore through the receiver. He handed Brenda two full magazines of ammunition, which would fit in her AR-15. The AK’s seemed alright, he left those and would let Pepper know about them, and also about the Johnson’s…if he wanted to come and bury his friends.

    It was now dark as they left the Johnson’s back yard and entered the woods. By flashlight the pair went past the spring and found a low evergreen tree, and then crawled beneath it. Turning off the light, it took a while for their eyes to adjust to the darkness.

    “Are you hungry?” Rick asked, opening up the day pack and setting out the two MRE’s.

    “I could eat.” Brenda replied, still overwhelmed by the ferocity and violence of the gun fight.

    Rick handed her one of the meals, he tore his open and flicked on the light to see what it was he was going to eat. “Hmmm, chicken and rice. What did you get?”

    Brenda looked at the meal. “The same as you.” Her appetite started coming back as they relaxed, glad to be alive and in one piece.

    They ate their meal and drank water, their minds and bodies relaxing. Rick lay on his side, taking his shoes off. Brenda did the same as they settled on the soft bed of pine needles.

    “You did an excellent job. I’m proud of you.”

    “Really? Thanks.”

    “Yeah I knew they were in trouble when I saw your eyes.”

    “What about them?” She asked, moving closer to him.

    “Well…you were focused.” He moved closer to her, their bodies barely touching, “Those green eyes, and your green and brown skin.” He smiled, took a deep breath, “And that olive drab lip gloss, with the Hoppes Number 9 cologne…deadly stuff.”

    Brenda leaned over and kissed Rick, gently at first, their lips tasting of camouflage paste. Passions ignited into an explosive frenzy of hugging, kissing, ripping off clothes and making love. Laying next to one another, deliciously nude under the trees and stars in the humid warm night, neither felt a chill, just deep satisfaction. Rick held Brenda, pulling her close to him, smelling and tasting the camo paint, sweat and grime on her beautiful smooth skin.

    “So what do we do now?” Brenda asked.

    “I don’t know.” He said quietly, feeling slightly guilty about their sexual encounter. Brenda, I know that you love me, but I don’t think that I’m the man you think that I am.”

    “What do you mean?”

    He sighed deeply, head in his hands, trying to come to grips with his emotions. “I’ve had too many emotional roller coaster rides this past couple of months….Linda and the kids…Melissa.” He said.

    “Are you saying that because you loved them or because they are…?” Not wanting to say ‘dead.’”

    Rick looked up and nodded, he understood what she was getting at. “I want to tell you something that I haven’t told any of you all before.” He paused, and went on, “I tried to kill myself after Melissa died.”

    Brenda surprised at the admission, silently moved closer, allowing Rick to talk.

    Rick told her what happened with the pills, and his neighbor and then the dream.

    “So, you saw Melissa and Linda in this dream, and they were alright?”

    “Oh yeah.”

    She thought for a moment, “Is that why you were acting weird when we got to Peppers place?”

    He nodded.

    “I know there is something special about you Rick, I couldn’t put my finger on it…but now it makes sense.” She smiled and added, “You’re not weird, and you’re not a cold hearted person….maybe Jake’s right, it’s all part of the plan.”

    Rick nodded.

    “You know, this time that we’re living in now, is…” She paused searching for the right words, “…it’s so brutal. Who’s to say that we won’t be like those guys we killed tonight. It could have gone the other way, you know?” Brenda touched the green bracelet on his wrist. “Maybe Melissa was right…eat, drink and be merry…for tomorrow you could die.”

    Rick chuckled at the memory and sat straight thinking about the plan, and all of the other seemingly insignificant incidences, small parts now coming together as a whole. “Emmy.” He said, thinking that maybe she was also not a coincidence.       

    “So, what do you want to do with Emmy?” She asked, kissing him gently on the neck.

    “I suppose we could sell her.” He said jokingly.

    She sat up abruptly. “Rick Martin!” She said, slugging him hard on the chest.

    “Oww.” He laughed, took a deep breath. “Dang you hit hard…I would like to adopt her…if she would want that.”

    “You know she would. Emmy needs…” Brenda said quietly, moving to his chest again, but was cut off.

    “I know, she needs a mother and a father…any suggestions?” He asked smiling at the expected answer.

    “Are you asking me to marry you?” Brenda countered. “I don’t know where your heart and mind is with Melissa and Linda.”

    He pulled her closer and kissed her gently, she responded, tenderly. “I’ll be alright with that…I know they are both gone…and I have to move on as well.” He paused, running his finger down her forehead to her nose, smearing the green paste, “So…”

    “Yes I’ll marry you…and I’ll be the best and hopefully the last wife you’ll ever have Rick Martin.” She kissed him, holding on tight to his sweaty body.

    Pulling back slightly, “Then lets make it official, Brenda will you marry me? And since you’ve already said yes, let’s adopt Emmy and raise a daughter.”

    The mood was broken by a noise in the bushes nearby. Rick reached to his pants and extracted his pistol. Brenda lifted her rifle and pointed it towards the sound. The sniffing dog, her tail wagging, found the pair.

    “Dojo…what are you doing here?” Rick said, excited over the guest.

    Dojo came between the two and sat, Rick and Brenda scratched her ears and rubbed her head vigorously. She responded by licking the faces of both.

    “Did you come to see if we were alright?” Brenda said to her. Dojo replied with an excited tail wag. 

    “Let’s give them a message that we are ok.” Rick said, finding his pants and taking out the red bandana in his back pocket. Making as neckerchief and tying it around Dojos neck, the dog seemed to like her new clothing. “Go tell everyone we’re ok girl.”

    Dojo left, walking into the dark of the forest, knowing exactly how to get home.

    “Now, where were we?” Brenda quipped. They moved their weapons aside and nestled close again. “Christine and Paul are trying to have a baby.” She said.

    “Really?”

    “Yeah…Paul doesn’t know yet though.”

    Rick laughed. “Just like you women…‘we’re having a baby, and I forgot to tell you.’”

    Brenda chuckled, and then asked, “So, what about you?”

    “Yeah…I definitely want kids, and you?”

    “Lots of them.” She said, subject closed as their sensual and slow love carried them throughout the remaining night.  The violence of the evening was swept away by their confessions of love and commitment to one another. Sleeping only briefly, and snacking on the remaining food, they watched their first dawn approach.  

    Walking out of the woods together, as the sun crested the horizon; they were met by the excited Dojo and Emmy. Emmy ran to Rick and Brenda, hugging them both with equal eagerness. Brenda took her to the house, meeting Christine on the way, as Rick went to the stream to clean up. Stripping down to his boxer shorts, he stood at the edge of the stream, not quite willing to work the chilling water over his body.

    Paul and Pepper came over, “Hey.” Paul said in greeting. “How did it go?”

    “Good for us…not so good for them.” Rick said smiling grimly.

    “We heard…sounded like quite a fight. Was there a grenade?”

    “Oh yeah, I got us a couple too.” He paused and said to Pepper, “I afraid your friends didn’t make it Pepper. They killed Mr. Johnson at the front door...Mrs. Johnson was raped and killed.” He paused as Pepper shook his head at the senselessness of it all. “I left the bodies alone. I thought you might want to give them a proper burial. There’s also some weapons…you’re going to need them in the future.”

    Paul looked at the camouflage paint smears on Rick’s chest and stomach. “We’re in trouble.”

    “Why? Because of Brenda and myself?”

    “What?”

    “What are you talking about?”

    “Knife and Glen left.”

    “What do you mean they left?”

    “That’s what I said, they left this morning, right before you all came out of the woods.” He paused, “They’re going back to Irene’s place.”

    “You’re shitting me, right?”

    “No…she said that she was making a commitment about her life together with Glen, and that she talked to you about it…she said you’d understand.”

    “Aw man.” He said exasperatedly and shook his head, “Damn it! Now we’re down a third…and with a little girl.” He kicked a rock and settled down, “Lisa and I talked…she said she was going through a change and wanted to be called Lisa again, and not Knife. She wants to find love.” He shook his head again. “Well, nothings been easy so far…so why start now.”

    “Yeah.” Paul said, “We’ll make it.”

    Rick nodded in agreement. “Yeah, lets get some food and head out…I want to get off this trail.” He paused in thought. “I suppose that Glen left us some maps?”

    Paul shook his head no.

    “I’ve got some you can have.” Pepper replied as he and Paul left Rick to clean up.

    Rick finished washing and as he headed towards the house, he met Christine. “Well, it took you long enough.”

    “I told you that we were going to be in the woods all night.”

    “That’s not what I meant Rick.” She quipped, “You and Brenda.”

    “Ah…” He smiled and nodded at the recent memory, “…I think it will work out just fine.”

    “I’m sure it will. Congratulations, you’re a lucky man, Brenda is a wonderful woman.” She said then walked back to her friend and Emmy.

    The group ate and then loaded their bikes. Rick and Brenda took some extra time, cleaning their weapons. Sitting side by side on the ground by their pile of gun parts, they occasionally nudged one another, reveling in their newfound relationship.

    Pepper came over with some old road maps. “I’ve been thinking about this, if I were you, I’d head to Harpers Ferry and cross.” He spread the map out, “You’ll pass by bridges at Point of Rocks, and then Brunswick. After those two, you’ll come to Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, but you’ll cross on the Virginia side…that’s where I’d go.”

    “Why Harpers Ferry and not the other two?” Rick asked.

    “I don’t know…it just feels right to me. Besides, West Virginia is God’s country.” Pepper replied.   

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