Thursday, February 24, 2011

For The Greater Good 22


CHAPTER TWENTY TWO



Standing beside the single lane asphalt runway, and steadied with his cane and clutching the note pad and extra bandages that Mike had given him, Rick closed his eyes against the swirling dust and debris kicked up by the Osprey’s powerful engines. The craft lifted off, and headed towards Raven Rock with General Barker and Commander Nash still onboard.

The Osprey quickly disappeared from view. Rick stood savoring the quiet of the Executive Airport. For the first time in two weeks his feet were on solid ground. The constant hum and noise from the ship, along with its distinct smells, now just a memory. The heat of mid-morning was already oppressive, and would continue to rise along with the humidity. Beads of sweat trickled down his face and underarms, marking his green surgical scrubs. 

Glancing around the abandoned airport, the lifeless private propeller powered airplanes, sat silently, their wings firmly tied down on the ground. A silver late model pick up truck approached from the small main terminal, stopping beside him.

Maggie Mueller exited the brand new truck, her red hair shining brightly in the late summer sun. Smiling, she quickly came over to Rick and hugged him. “It’s really good to see you again Rick.” She hugged him again, her dark sunglasses skewing crookedly on her face, “Everyone is so excited to have you back.”

“It’s really good to be back Maggie.” Rick said, looking around to see if anyone else was there to greet him. They were alone. “Where’s Brenda?” He asked, somewhat disappointedly.

“They are all working.” She replied.

“Ah,” he replied, and looked at the truck, “Nice truck.”

“I hope you like it…it’s yours.” She said with a smile.

“Get out of here. Yeah it’s really nice, but where is my other truck?”

“Come on lets get out of the heat, “Maggie said, and opened the passenger door for Rick. The interior was a good twenty degrees cooler with the air conditioner running. Maggie handed Rick a bottle of cool water. “Your other truck was destroyed in the attack.”

“Damn, I liked that truck.” He said, sipping his water.

Maggie grew sullen quickly, “That’s not all Rick…we lost some guys in the attack too.”

He looked at her, “Who?”

“David Burns, Richard Locke and Elio Vasquez.” She said and added, “David and the two Marines, Locke and Vasquez were killed by a grenade.” She replied quietly.

“Oh damn…David wanted to be on the anvil with his two Marine buddies.” Rick said shaking his head.

“They fought very hard, but one of those cockroaches got lucky with a grenade. We buried them…the entire town came for the service.”

“I don’t know what to say.” Rick commented softly, his heart heavy over the loss of three good men. “How are the wounded Marines?”

“They are all doing fine, and General Perry has brought in some more Marines to help Kyle and the others out.” 

Rick nodded at the news. “Excellent.” Rick twisted in his seat to look at Maggie. On the center console between the seats lay a yellow legal pad with a full page of notes. The top header read ‘Ask Rick.’ Picking up the pad, Rick glanced at the notes. “What’s this?” He commented.

“Um, just some things I wanted to get your…um, comments on.” Maggie replied, her face flushing bright red.

Rick chuckled, “You’re not too good about keeping a poker face are you?”

“Who told you?” She asked.

“General Barker.”

“Darn…and we wanted it to be a surprise.” She quipped, knowing their planned secret announcement of making Rick their leader was spoiled. “He promised that he would keep it a secret.”

“Well…did you threaten to kick his ass if he said anything?” Rick asked with a smile.

“No! Why would I do that?”

Rick laughed, “To let him know you were serious about the secret.”

“Brenda’s right…you can be a blockhead.” She said and added, “Do me a favor…everyone is really excited about this…try not to spoil it for them, ok?”

Rick now realized what was coming. “No problem, I’ll act surprised.” He said and then asked, “So, what’s this about Gunnery Sergeant Winters?” He said looking at Maggie and seeing her face flush again. “You like him don’t you?”

Maggie nodded sheepishly.

“Does he know this?”

Maggie shook her head no.

“Well…I should tell him.”

“Rick Martin, don’t you dare!” She shot back, obviously embarrassed about Rick knowing her feelings for the Gunny.

Rick laughed.

“If you say anything…I will kick your ass.” Maggie commanded, glaring at Rick.

“Ok, your secret’s safe with me.” Rick said laughing so hard that it brought tears.

“It’s so dumb, I mean I feel like a school girl around him.” Maggie said laughing, and then put the truck in drive and began to head the short distance to town.

Rick focused on the scenes outside the truck. The town looked remarkably different than from what he remembered. “The town looks great, what happened to all the junked cars?”

“It does look good doesn’t it? The Transportation Committee removed all of them. They have set up shop in a garage on the south end of town. Everything that can be stripped and used is saved, everything else is being set aside.”

“You all have done a very good job…I’m impressed.”

“Thanks!” Maggie replied.

Pulling into the parking lot of the elementary school, Rick saw about a dozen trucks and some military vehicles. Maggie led Rick into the school cafeteria. It took a moment for Ricks eyes to adjust to the darkened room. The moment his eyes adjusted, the overhead lights were turned on, “Welcome Back Rick!” The hidden crowd exposed themselves and exclaimed loudly.

Rick stood in their midst, smiling and overwhelmed at the reception. Brenda and the girl’s swarmed him. Emmy and Rosa hugged his torso tightly as Brenda reached over and gave him a long welcoming kiss. Everyone applauded. The crowd pressed in, shaking his hand, hugging him and slapping his back.

“Wow…I really don’t deserve this!” Rick exclaimed, his emotions were running high at their feelings for him.

“Well Rick, how does it feel to be back?” Hal asked.

“It’s awesome, it really is.” He said and then added, “The town looks great! You all have been working hard…good job!”

Juan stepped over to Rick and held out his rifle. “Mister Rick, I saved your rifle for you.”

Rick hugged his young friend and slung the Garand over his shoulder. “Thanks Juan.”

Juan then held out a small day pack, “Here is your pistol and stuff from your pockets.”

Rick took his possessions which were removed before his flight to the carrier Bush. “Thank you.”

Juan smiled at Rick and then smiled at Rosa. His daughter blushed and smiled back at the young man.

“Thanks everyone…now I guess I need to get back to West Virginia and back to the line.” He said.

“Rick…” Hal said, “There have been some changes. You’ve been fired.”

Rick looked at Hal, playing the game, “Fired?”

Hal exhaled loudly, “Oh hells bells…Rick, we all voted when you were on the Bush.” Hal said, pausing, “We want you to be our leader.”

Rick didn’t say a word. Looking at the entire crowd, and making eye contact with each person.

“Rick it was unanimous.” Brenda said.

“Unanimous?” He replied. Looking over and finding the one person who he felt would object, Rick stepped through the crowd to Candace. “Unanimous?” He asked her.

She nodded and with a smile said, “Yeah…unanimous Rick.”

Rick hugged her and said loudly, “My Mother used to tell me ‘To be careful what you ask for, because you just might get it’.” He said smiling, “I don’t deserve it, but I accept.”

Everyone chuckled and applauded.

“What’s today?” Rick asked Brenda.

“Wednesday”

Turning to the crowd, “I would like to take a day or so and get my feet back on the ground, if you all don’t mind.” He asked them, and added, “Why don’t I meet up with you at the Friday Committee meeting. Then you can bring me up to speed on what’s going on, ok?”

The crowd agreed and then broke up, heading back to their jobs. Rick noticed a tall balding man standing at the back of the crowd. The man smiled at him, Rick smiled back and turned to Brenda and another woman standing next to her. “Brenda, are we still living in West Virginia?” He asked.

“No we’re living here now.” She said and then placed her arm through his, leading him out to the parking lot. Maggie, the girls and the other woman followed…as did the tall bald man.

“Rick this is Karen,” Brenda introduced him to the woman, “she heads up the Housing and Relocation Committee.”

Rick shook her hand.

“We’ve got a real nice place for you Rick.” She said, climbing into the truck with the girls. Brenda slid behind the wheel. Before Rick could climb into the truck, the man who followed them outside stepped forward.

“Rick?” The man said and quickly added, “I don’t mean to interrupt, but…”

Rick turned to the man.

“My name is Alan Weber and…I am the pastor at a church here in town. I know that you’re just getting back and haven’t really settled in yet, but I would really like to talk with you.”

Rick eyed the man, and extended his hand. The two shook hands. “I’d like to talk with you too Alan. Why don’t you come over to our house tomorrow?”

“I’d like that.” Alan said.

“By the way…do you know where we live?

“Sure, everybody does.”

“Good, because I don’t.” He said and laughed as he climbed into the truck.

Brenda drove them out of town and turned on one of the glass smooth asphalt roads. They passed three moderate, yet pin neat homes with large yards separated by split rail fencing, and continued on. Karen in her previous life was one of the areas top realtors. It seemed that she had every home memorized as to their bedrooms, number of baths and square footage. The main road came to an end with a small rectangular sign which announced ‘Private Drive.” They continued along a tree shaded drive to a mansion. Rick looked at the huge Civil War era historic home. The front porch with four tall white colonnades, spoke of wealth and status.

“This is the Chase Mansion.” Karen said.

Rick felt uncomfortable, “Karen, I can’t live here. It’s too…too much.”

The girls, Brenda and Karen laughed.

“What?” Rick asked.

“This isn’t where we live Rick. I just wanted to drive you here and mess with you.” Brenda said with a smile. Driving around the circular drive and heading back out onto the main road, they pulled into the drive of one of the homes outside the mansions drive. The middle house was theirs. This place was two a story colonial with a wrap around porch and a stand alone two car garage.

“This is more like it.” Rick said.

“That’s what Brenda said.” Karen replied and continued, “Your home has almost three thousand square feet and four large bedrooms. The garage has a small apartment on the top floor. Behind the garage is a small horse stall. The folks who lived here previously had two horses.”

Everyone piled out of the car, as the girls ran up onto the porch and then and inside the home. With his rifle slung over one shoulder and the small daypack over the other, he stood outside the truck, surveying the front yard with its shin high un-mowed grass. Brenda came over and led him into the house. Rick was impressed. The entryway led into the living room. Although the personal effects from the former owners had been removed, it was still luxurious and inviting. The kitchen was huge with a center island and gas stove.

“Hal has the electricity turned on and we have gas.” Brenda commented, and then asked, “Do you like it?”

“Like it? I love it.” He said hugging her.

Brenda smiled…they were home. “There’s also five acres of land out back. George hasn’t turned the soil for our garden yet, he said he would do that whenever we made our decision on the house.” She said leading him out to the natural stone patio. “Go ahead and check the place out, I’m going to take Karen back to town.”

Rick walked outside, laying his rifle and pack on the white wrought iron patio table. He was speechless at the beauty of their home and land. Stepping inside the now empty garage, he saw their bikes and trailers. Running his hand along the handle bars of their bike rigs, brought tears to his eyes. It was the commotion inside their home that brought him back to the present. Emmy and Rosa were yelling at each other.

“Girls…what’s going on?” Rick asked.

“Poppa, Emmy wants to make you dinner.” Rosa exclaimed, and continued, “I told her that she doesn’t know how.”

“I do know how too Rosie!” Emmy countered.

Rick looked at his daughters. “You know, when I was gone, I really missed both of you. I said to myself on that ship, ‘I can’t wait to get home and have both of my daughters make me dinner.’”

The girls got over their fight, and hugged their Dad and decided to work together on dinner.

Rick walked through the house, pausing in the large library. This room had shelves and books from floor to ceiling. A leather wing backed chair and goose necked reading lamp was all of the furniture and as libraries went, this one was complete. Rick pulled a book off the shelf, a hardbound Steinbeck ‘Of Mice and Men.’ “Classic.” He said out loud and then looked at the other literary classics.

Walking up the stairs to the second floor, he opened doors and then closed them after figuring out what the room was and who it belonged to. He saw Emmy and Rosa had their own rooms now. The spare bedroom had both of their backpacks laid on the bed. Rick went to his and rummaged around. Finding a pack of cigarettes, he went downstairs and out to the patio to have a smoke. Sitting in a fairly uncomfortable chair, Rick thought about Paul and Christine, and the Gunny. He missed his friends.

Brenda had returned, and walked out to the patio carrying Ricks yellow legal pad and the bag of medical dressings he brought back from the carrier Bush. “I need to check your dressing.” She said and led him upstairs to their bedroom.

Rick lay on the bed as Brenda removed the old bandages and poked and prodded the sutures, making sure there wasn’t any infection. Redressing his wounds, they made cautious love. Rick lay on the bed in a foggy glow of satisfaction. The room was stifling hot. Electricity was at a premium so the air conditioning was left off. Rick dozed with a fan circulating the hot upstairs air over his body.

Dinner was simple and delicious. Emmy and Rosa had made spaghetti with fresh tortillas. They ate their meal out on the patio, and enjoyed their time together and the setting sun. The girls brought Rick up to date on their schooling and their new friends. Brenda talked about her new job at the hospital in Winchester, and the issues they were facing. Brenda brought the girls into the house and ran a bath for them both, then tucked them in for the night.

Rick brought his weapons and note pad into the library. Gathering his cleaning materials, Rick cleaned both the rifle and pistol, and then realized that Brenda had gone to bed. Sitting in the ultra comfortable chair, Rick began to make notes about what he felt they would need to do as a community. It made no sense to him at this point, as he hadn’t met with the various committees and really didn’t know exactly what was needed, or the areas they should focus on. Rick set the pad down, and then went to the bookshelves. There wasn’t anything that jumped out at him demanding to be read. That is until his eyes stopped on a well worn and evidently well read Bible.

Rick sat back into the chair and opened the Book. He hadn’t read the Bible in many years, and really didn’t know where to start. Thumbing through the pages, he focused on a story from the Old Testament. This story was about a small boy named David who took on and defeated a giant named Goliath. Rick read the story and then followed David’s life through the pages of Scripture. The story seemed so real, he could almost feel the heat of the desert and smell the scent of Bathsheba’s perfume. Ricks heart ached at David’s downfall and eventual death.

Closing the Book, Rick realized it was almost 3am. His sense of time completely went out the window. For the first time in almost a week, Rick’s back and legs ached painfully. The moment he felt the pain, the curtains blew inward as the evening rain showers started. For the remainder of Rick’s life he would feel pain when the air pressure changed from an approaching storm. Once the storm passed, his pain subsided.

Rick closed his eyes and slept in the chair, as the cool early morning air filtered through the house.

Waking a couple of hours after sunrise, Rick stood and followed his nose to the kitchen where Brenda had coffee brewing. Walking quietly up to her and wrapping his arms around her waist, “Good morning.” He whispered into her ear. “It really feels good to be back. I missed you all so much.” He said, stretching his aching muscles.

Brenda and the girls made pancakes for breakfast, and they all ate together in the dining room. Their conversations were interrupted by the noise of a diesel engine. Walking to the front door, Rick opened it just as George knocked.

“Good morning Rick, hope I didn’t wake you.” The farmer said.

“No we’ve been up for a while.”

“So, if you’re going to make this your home, I’d like to get started turning your soil.”

“Go right ahead George.” Rick said, and invited him inside for a cup of coffee.

It didn’t take George very long to till three acres of land for next years planting. As he was driving away from the Martin home, Pastor Alan rode up the road on his bicycle.

“Hi Alan.” Rick said to the trim and fit Pastor.

“Hi Rick, are we ok to talk?” He replied, parking the bike in the driveway and taking a small day pack with him into the house.

Rick and Alan sat in the kitchen. Brenda joined them and poured some ice water.

“Ice water,” Rick commented and added, “I will never ever take that for granted again.” Pausing for a brief moment, “So, what’s up Alan?”

Alan ran his hand over his smooth head and scratched the back of his neck, “I don’t really know how to start…I’m just going to come right out. Rick, do you believe in dreams?”

The comment caught Rick by surprise. “Yeah I do.” He replied.

“A couple of weeks ago, before you and your men came into town; I was with a large group of people in the woods outside of town, and I had a dream about you.”

Rick eyed the man cautiously, “Go ahead.”

Opening the small day pack he dug around in the bottom of the bag and held out his hand. The green hemp bracelet Melissa had given him and his gold wedding band from Linda lay in his opened palm. “Does this mean anything to you?” He asked.

Rick was stunned. Brenda gasped, taken aback by the revelation. “Where did you get those?” Rick stammered.

Pastor Alan exhaled loudly, “Your daughter Lacy gave them to me.”

He was completely at a loss for words and stared at the pastor with his mouth gaping open. Rick wanted to speak, but the words wouldn’t form. Finally, he was able to utter, “I don’t know what to say…”

Brenda started crying, her head buried in her hands.

“Why are you crying?” Rick asked.

After a few moments, Brenda caught her emotions, “Rick I threw those away.” She said with a tear choked voice.

“You did what?”

Brenda paused, and then wiped her eyes on a towel, “When we first came to Davis and were staying in those cabins at that resort, you took the ring and bracelet off and said, ‘I want to be with you from now on.’” She said, and continued, “Well, I know it sounds childish, but I picked them up off of the floor of the bathroom and the next day when Christina and I went out on the bikes, I threw them in the woods.” She looked at Rick, her eyes growing puffy from crying. “I felt jealous Rick. I’m so sorry.”

Rick reached over and held her. “It’s alright.” He looked at Alan, “So tell me about the dream.”

Alan nodded. “Well, it started off unlike any other dream, I mean it was all too real. I guess you could say it was a vision. I was walking along a road and this young girl came up to me and introduced herself as your daughter. She said that you and I would meet and that you would come to help everyone out.” Alan said with a smile, and then continued. “Lacy then told me that God has a plan for us and our country and that He isn’t finished with us. Lacy then said that we would start seeing a lot of folks coming to us, and to get ready for that.”

Rick nodded as he got the same impression about growth.

“Lacy then said something curious. She said that you have found favor with God, and that it would rain wherever you wanted.” Alan said, and then pausing he took a deep breath. “That’s an awesome responsibility Rick.” 

Rick said nothing, he listened and tried to process Alan’s message as best as he could.

“Lacy then said that the ring and bracelet would be found in my Bible. When I woke up, I went to it immediately and sure enough, there they were.”

“So what does God want with me? I mean, I’m nobody…just a regular guy, and not a very good one at that.” Rick said.

Alan smiled and then opened his Bible. For the next three hours he explained what God wants from His people.

“Alan, I would like you to do us a favor.” Rick asked.

“Sure, what would you like?”

“I’d like for you to marry me and Brenda…you know, officially.”

Brenda smiled at the request, hugging Rick hard.

Alan opened his appointment book, “This week and the next are out. How about three weeks from Sunday? Say 2pm?”

Rick and Brenda nodded together, “Perfect.”


The next day, Friday, Rick dropped off the girls at school and then Brenda at the hospital. Driving the half mile back to the High School, he parked the truck and walked into town. Walking around town, meeting and greeting people going about their day was a pleasure for him. The day wore down to afternoon as Rick walked back to the High School for the Weekly Committee meeting. Stopping by his truck and gathering the notes he had made previously, he started towards the front door.

Maggie Mueller stood outside with her ever-present yellow legal pad in hand. “Hi Rick!” She said, walking briskly over to him.

“Good afternoon Maggie, how are you doing today?”

“Great. We’re all excited to have you back Rick.” She replied, giving him a hug.

“Am I on time?”

Maggie smiled, “You’re fashionably late.” She said and then took him by the arm and led him into one of the schools unused classrooms. The Committees represented in the room had arranged the desks into a large rectangle, everyone stood as Rick went to each person, shaking their hand. Some of the group he didn’t recognize, some he did and some he counted as close friends.

“How are you feeling?” Gunny Winters, eschewing a handshake and bear hugged Rick.

“I’m alright, a little banged up, but I’ll do fine.” Rick said, pausing and added, “Damn it’s good to see you again Gunny. There’s a lot I’ve got to talk with you about.”

General Perry stood next to Gunny as Rick moved to him and bear hugged him also. Hal and Christine were also there and greeted him with hugs. 

“Well, I guess we should get started, ok?” Rick said to the group. The meeting was officially on.

All eyes were on him.

“Ok well I guess I should start. “He said with a chuckle. “First of all, I know you all want to know about my couple of weeks onboard the carrier Bush; and I’ll be more than happy to go over all of that with you later.” He said pausing and then continued, “What I would like to do is to hear from you about what’s going on in your particular area.” He said and then turned to Maggie, “I would like for you to be my Personal Assistant…is that ok with you?”

Maggie nodded excitedly.

“I would like for you to take notes of this meeting and all others that follow. After the meeting is over, then I’d like for you to put these notes in a public place so that everyone can see what’s going on.” He said and then added, “I want what we do to be transparent…nothing hidden, ok?”

Maggie and the entire group nodded their acceptance.

Rick turned to the group, “We’ll go around the table, give your name and group, and then your report.”

“Hi Rick, my name is Karen Simpson. As you know I am Director of Housing. Right now we have everyone settled in homes.”

The group as a whole murmured their approval.

“We also have some extras, for future growth.”

“Good job Karen. Now, what is your long term project?” Rick asked, taking her by surprise at the question. He elaborated, “By long term project, I mean, what future project are you working on.”

“Oh…ok, I understand. I actually have two projects that we are working on. First of all we have some apartment complexes which we’d like to prepare for incoming people. This would be transitional, until we got them settled into their permanent homes. Secondly, I…” she paused and added, “would like to find another building for our meetings.”

“Another building?” Rick commented.

“Yes. You’ll see soon enough that this school fills up quickly around supper time. Eventually the classrooms will all be used…and we need our own space.”

“So what are you suggesting?”

“I was thinking about the Chase House.”

Ricks eyes grew wide at her comment. “Do you mean the mansion down the road from my house?”

She nodded yes.

That idea didn’t sit too well with Rick; however he didn’t want to start the meeting off on a negative note. “Alright, let’s talk about this later, ok?” He said, making a note on his legal pad.

“Rick, I don’t know if you’re aware of this but I also handle the personal effects and clothing from the vacant houses.”

“No I wasn’t aware of that…can you handle both jobs?”

“At first I was overwhelmed, but as time wore on it became easier. We’ve taken all of the clothing and have teams sorting it out at the Wal Mart. The Wal Mart is our clothing and dry goods distribution center.”

“What about the personal effects from the homes? You know, jewelry and stuff like that.”

“We’ve opened the local bank in town and have it secured there.” Karen said proudly.

“Karen, you and your people are doing a great job…keep it up.” Rick said with a broad smile.

“My name is George McLeod and I head up the Agriculture Committee.”

“I know you George, and I  want to thank you for coming over to our house and getting the ground turned.” Rick said.

 “You’re welcome.” He said and then continued, “First of all, we are working with Karen and the Housing Committee. We’ve set aside the lands for plowing and planting. I would say that we are more than half-way there in terms of turning the soil for next year’s crops.”

Rick nodded and motioned for him to continue.

“We haven’t cut this years corn or beans yet. With the weather being as perfect as it has, we are getting a decent late crop. I say decent…what I really mean is that it’s awesome! The nightly rains and the way the ground has changed...” George said his words trailing off as he was still overwhelmed with the crops.

“What do you mean that the soil has changed?” Rick asked.

“You don’t know do you?”

Rick shook his head.

“When the rains started, the soil changed. I can’t explain it, except to say that it’s a miracle. The dirt went from a hard silt clay soil to a rich dark black loam.”

“Really?”

“Oh yeah, and it’s richer than anything I’ve ever seen.” George replied and added, “I was in Alaska a few years back. Up there they have a place called the Matanuska Valley. The soil is as black as tar. With the summer sunlight they get, those folks grow cabbages that will go close to fifty pounds…I kid you not. Well, our soil here is just as rich.” He said with a wry grin. “I can’t tell you how excited I am to get some seeds into the ground come next spring.”

Rick smiled, knowing where the soil changes came from.

“I also want to say that Wilkes and Jimmy have done marvelous work in getting our tractors and combines running, and I thank you and your crews for that.” He said turning to the two mechanics. “Now as far as long term project…I would have to say that food storage and processing will be this winter’s main project.”

Rick nodded, “You’re doing an excellent job George.”

“There’s something else that I need to say, “George interjected and continued, “I’ve been a farmer my whole life…I don’t think I’ve ever seen as much cooperation and production than what we’ve seen these past couple of weeks.” He said, as Karen put her arm alongside his and gently touched his hand.

“Please explain.” Rick said.

“I’ll give you an example. When we plow fresh lands for next years crops, those disc go through that soil like a hot knife through butter. We’ve been able to get two months work done in two weeks. Maybe I’m exaggerating some but not much, and that’s the truth. Also, I haven’t heard any arguments or fussing about work. Everyone works together, it’s almost supernatural.”

Rick laughed and nodded. “Amazing.”

“Hi Rick, I’m Millicent Collins and I head up the Foods Committee.” The slim brunette said as her introduction with a smile. “Our team is responsible for the daily meals here at the high school and the elementary school. We also distribute foods to those who have the ability to cook for themselves.”

“That’s a big job Millicent, do you have enough people?” Rick asked.

“Right now we do, and there are always folks who volunteer to help out in the kitchen’s.” She replied and reading from her notes continued, “We are experiencing some shortages with all paper products. Things like toilet paper, tampons and diapers.”

“Diapers?” Rick asked.

“Yeah, it seems that some of the women in town are pregnant, and looking forward we’re going to face shortages in fairly short order.”

Rick thought for a moment, “It seems to me that toilet paper, tampons and diapers etcetera, would fall under ‘dry goods.’ Am I correct in that?”

“You’re correct, and it takes my people time to manage those products instead of foods.” Millicent replied.

Rick looked over at Karen, “Can you take this from Millicent, and let her focus solely on foods?”

“Absolutely Rick.” Karen said confidently.

“Thanks. Ok, so our projected food shortfalls are flour, rice sugar and coffee. We’ve given all of our potatoes to George’s team. They are storing them, and will be used as seed for next year’s plantings.” She commented and then continued, “All of our onions, peppers, broccoli and any other fresh produce and fruits that we use are being dehydrated for storage. If we have enough, then we’ll use it in our daily menus, but most of it is going for storage for the winter.”

Rick nodded and motioned for her to continue.

“You might have noticed that in this area are a lot of orchards. We grow apples, peaches and the like…well some of those farms are set up to process their fruits for jams, apple butter or cider. We can use those kitchens to process other things, like tomatoes. We just need someway to can or freeze dry our foods. That would be ideal.”

“Ok, how about our overall foods…will we have enough to get us through the winter?”

“Absolutely.” She replied confidently and added, “Not to say that we won’t be eating a lot of chili or spaghetti, but we won’t starve. It would be marvelous if we had more meat.” She said and added, “So, if you run into any chickens or cattle.” Her statement trailed off with a smile.

Rick smiled at her last comment, “Fried chicken does sound good, doesn’t it? What about our growth?” Rick asked.

“We have plenty for the people here including the Marines. We could probably add more people, but without our first crops being planted, I’d get nervous about that one.”

“Ok.” Rick replied. “What about long term projects?”

Millicent exhaled audibly, “Number one is the processing and storage of foods. Now, whether we build a cannery or a freeze drying facility is something that needs to be decided on. I would have to say that would be my number one concern.”

“Very good Millicent. You’re dong a good job. If you need anything, you let Maggie know, ok?”

“Hi Rick, I’m J.T. Travers. I head up the Construction and Infrastructure group. Before that day, I owned a large construction company. We did major projects, like shopping malls and bridges and the like.”

“Good to meet you J.T.” Rick said and the rubbed his chin. “What are your thoughts on this food processing problem we have?”

J.T. ran his hand over his slightly balding head as he thought about Rick’s question, “Well, I’ve given it some thought Rick.” He said shaking his head and continued, “Whether we go with a glass cannery or a metal cannery, it’s going to take more that what we can effective build to the scale we need right now. Let’s say that we decide on a glass cannery. Well we’ll need to manufacture the glass, which means a foundry and all the glass forming equipment, plus the raw materials to make glass.” He said.

Rick thought about his assessment, and nodded for him to continue.

“It’s the same thing with a metal cannery. We’ll need to be able to manufacture metals and make the cans.” He said and added, “Now, we are going to need to use both methods eventually, but in the meantime, we might want to think about freeze drying.”

“Go on.” Rick said.

“Freeze drying will preserve food and it’s pretty tasty too.”

“I agree with the tasty part, some that I’ve had has been pretty doggone good. But…”
 Rick said pausing and emphasizing, “can it be done?”   

“Oh yeah. I’ve got mechanical engineers, machinists, HVAC guys and a lot of other talent that we can bring into the project.” He said with an air of confidence.

“Ok, so you get together with Millicent, George and…” Rick paused looking over at his friend Hal, “I guess that you are heading up the Power group?”

Hal nodded.

Looking back at J.T., “And Hal. I don’t care which method you choose, let’s just get started. Now, I know that you’re going to need some things that we might not have access to here in Virginia. Whatever you need, you get with Maggie and let her know.” Rick said and then added, “I guess that everything with your crew is a long term project?”

J.T. smiled and nodded and then looked at Maggie, “I’ll have some of the carpenters build you a few bulletin boards for our ‘minutes’ and general notices.  How about we put one in the town square, one at the elementary school and one here at the high school?”

“Oh that would be great J.T.” Maggie said excitedly.

Rick looked at General Perry.

I’m Brigadier General Robert Perry.” He said and then exhaled loudly, “I have to say that I am so impressed with this entire group. You know, I’ve spent my entire life in the Marine Corps. I don’t think that I have ever seen a level of commitment or a spirit of cooperation, like I have here.” He said, his voice faltering as his emotions charged forth.

“Thank you General.” Rick said, the entire group nodded and joined in their personal thanks.

“Ok, we’ve got almost thirteen hundred Marines here. We’ve brought in some armor and a few artillery pieces, which we have at the north, eastern and southern fronts. We also have plenty of heavy weapons and anti-tank missiles. I also have three Osprey’s tasked for us…your front lines are secure.”

The group applauded and relaxed.

“Now, for our long range goals, “He paused and continued, “We need to become more mobile, and develop a faster response to project our forces. One thing, Raven One has identified numerous locations of semi trailer depots. They don’t know whether there’s food in them or if they are empty. You give the word and we’ll go check them out.”

Rick smiled and looked at the General, “Good job General. Let’s talk about those trailers later, ok?”

“Fair enough, Sir.”

Rick looked at the person next in line, and nodded. “My name is Marilyn Rome and I am the Charge Nurse at the hospital.” Marilyn looked to be in her late fifties and had an air of total professionalism about her. “We are mainly an outpatient facility right now. We have a definite need for any surgical staff, OB/GYN and Pediatricians. Our supplies are slim. We need antibiotics, and some of our equipment repaired…especially our refrigeration units.” She said.

Rick looked over at J.T. “I’ll get someone over there as soon as possible. “J.T. said, making a note on his pad.

“Thank you.” The charge nurse replied with a smile, “After we get our refrigeration units fixed, then we’ll ask the community for blood donations.” She said, pausing and then continuing, “We have some of our Pharmacy Techs going to the local pharmacies gathering all of the available medicines. They are also sorting through the meds that were gathered from the vacant homes. We’ll dispense all of the medicines from the hospital. It looks like we have adequate supplies for the time being.”

“Long term project?” Rick asked her.

“To get everything up and running so we can be a full service facility again.”

“Good job Marilyn.” Rick replied.

“Well Rick you know me, “Christine said and turned to the group, “I’m Christine Kael, and this is Amelia Livingston. We run the Education group. Right now we have school set up for the youngsters. We are going through the curriculum for the older kids and are setting up classes for adults.”

“Classes for adults?” Rick asked.

“Oh yeah. We’re setting up classes on gardening, basic home repairs, soap making and that kind of thing.” Christine said.

“That’s awesome Christine. You know I am a firm believer in continuing our education. I think it’s a great idea and you should put some notices on the bulletin boards that J.T. is building. I’ll be more than happy to sign up for some classes myself.” Rick said.

“I’ll help with a mid-wife and Lamaze class.” Marilyn said to Christine.

“I’ll help with cooking classes.” Millicent added.

“I could have some of my guys teach plumbing and carpentry classes.” J.T. added.

“You better have someone teach a class on how to raise chickens.” Hal said. The room grew silent at his comment.

“Is there something you know that we don’t Hal?” Rick questioned.

“Oh hells bells, I was going to wait until it was my turn, but…we’ve got some chickens!” Hal exclaimed.

The room stirred excitedly.

“Go ahead.” Rick gave the floor to Hal.

Hal smiled broadly, his full cheeks lifting the gold rimmed glasses, “Well, about fifty miles from Davis, there’s a fellow, Mark Winslow. Mark breeds and raises chickens, turkeys and ducks. Mark had about ten thousand chickens, two thousand turkeys and four hundred ducks. He processes them on site and distributes to local grocery stores. Right now he only has about three hundred chickens, a hundred or so turkeys and about the same amount of ducks.”

The room was silent hanging on Hal’s every word.

“The problem is, he can’t feed them all with the food he has remaining. So, we worked out a deal with him. We are planting a hundred acres of corn and millet in return for one hundred and fifty chickens, forty turkeys and forty ducks.”

“Excellent news Hal.” Rick exclaimed. “So, how should we work this out?”

“Let’s do a fifty-fifty split between West Virginia and us. I don’t know how you want to divvy up your share. In West Virginia we are taking one rooster with five hens and dividing them up that way.”

Rick turned to the group, “Any ideas on this?”

“We could have a lottery.” Maggie said and added, “That way everyone gets a chance to have some, without creating hard feelings.”

“I like the idea of a lottery.” Amelia Livingston added and continued, “What we could do is put every family that wants to join in on a list. The original group, when their birds hatched their broods, those chicks would go to the people next on the list…and so on.”

“I like the idea that everyone could have their own chickens.” Rick said and continued, “Does anyone here have any hands-on experience in raising chickens?”

No one said anything; they all shook their heads no.

“Ok, I don’t either. I’d like to find someone that has done this before. There might be a better way to do this.” He said and then added, “Let’s do the lottery, but not say anything about dividing them up until we know all the facts, ok?” He said to the group, and then turned to George. “I guess this would fall under your group, can you handle it?”

“Oh yeah. We’ve got plenty of chicken food from some of the local feed stores, and I’ll make sure to set some land aside for their future feeds.”

“I want you to detail someone to handle this personally. Talk it through and write down your process.” Rick said to him.

George blinked, not really understanding what Rick was saying.

“Ok, I’ll have Maggie get with the person you choose to head this up. What she’ll do is to put down on paper exactly how he wants this to be handled…understand?”

George nodded, “I do now.”

Rick turned to J.T. “This would be a good time to have some of your carpenters teach a class on building chicken coops.”

“I agree.” J.T. replied.

“Maggie, would you set up the lottery?” Rick asked her.

“You bet…why don’t we have it tomorrow night at the pot luck?” She replied, making notes on her legal pad.

“Anything else regarding chickens?” Rick asked the group.

No one said anything. They all knew that they would work it out as a group.

“Good. Now while we’re on the subject of poultry and a lottery. Let’s add to that mix, sheep, goats, cows and cattle and any other animals we might come across.”

Hal looked at Rick, “Do you know something that we don’t?” Hal quipped with a questioning smile.

“All I know is this; we’ve been blest with our lives, food and the chance to have a fresh start. If chickens come our way now, then it’s just a matter of time before we get other animals.” Rick commented confidently and then added, “We’ll have one lottery. The folks on top for chickens will be on the bottom for sheep…and so on. Everyone will have their fair shot at this.”

The group nodded their acceptance.

Rick turned to the man next to Hal, “Go ahead.”

“I’m Fred Wilkes, and I run the Transportation group.” He said with a slow southern drawl, “Ya’ll can just call me Wilkes.” He said and then continued, “We’ve got a dozen long haul diesel trucks running, and about twice that number in short haul diesel trucks. We’ve been working on all the generators, large farm equipment and small garden equipment we can find. Our diesel and gasoline supplies are adequate right now, although, we’ll need to locate more by spring.”

“How are you doing with people? Do you have enough?” Rick asked.

“Oh yeah,” He said slowly, and added, “Jimmy and his guys have been down here helping us. We appreciate that.” Wilkes said to his wrench turning buddy.

“What about long term?”

“Fuel…that’s our long term focus and is a constant concern. We are always on the lookout for more.” Wilkes replied.

“Good job Wilkes, we’ll also keep our eyes open for fuel stocks.” Rick said and turned to Hal.

“My name is Hal Stevens. Most of you all know me. I run the Power group for West Virginia and Virginia.” He said and continued on, “We are at about fifty percent capacity with the wind generators. Now we’ve got the power for here and West Virginia, it’s getting all of the burned out switches, shunts and computer systems repaired.”

“How are you doing that now?” Rick asked.

“We have a bunch of high school kids that our engineers have taught how to make repairs. These boys and girls are working on repairing the computers and switches. We’re grabbing everything we can, parts wise and putting them to use.”

Rick nodded, “Long term?”

“I’d like to get my hands on the North Anna Power plant.”

“What is that?” Rick asked.

“North Anna is a nuclear plant about seventy miles from here.”

“Do you know anything about nuclear?” Rick asked.

“No, but I didn’t know anything about wind power either until we started building our windmills.” Hal said and than added, “Electricity is electricity, it’s how that it’s generated which makes it different. I’ve been doing some reading about nuclear and if I could get some of my guys there, we might be able to figure it out.” He said. “Maybe some of North Anna’s engineer’s have survived.”

The room was silent as Rick mentally weighed the risks versus rewards of tackling something as unknown to them as nuclear power. “So how much power can this plant generate?”

“Shoot, “Hal said with a pronounced southern drawl, “We make about sixty six megawatts with the wind…North Anna makes over one and a half gigawatts. That’s enough power for about a half million homes.”

Ricks eyes opened wide at his comment.

“Now the hard part is transmitting that power. We’ll run into the same issues that we’re running into here with burned out switches and the like.” He said and paused, “But…”

“But what?” Rick quickly interjected.

“With a plant that size, there’s bound to be a lot of support and repair equipment nearby.”

Rick looked at Hal, not as a leader but as a friend with a history between them, “What’s your gut feeling Hal?”

Hal nodded, “We need it. If we are going to do some of the things that I know you’d like to, we are going to need huge amounts of power.” He said pausing momentarily and continued, “For example, I’ve seen some of those food processing plants in the mid-west. I was at one which canned corn. This plant could take truck loads of fresh picked corn, shuck it, clean it, cut the kernels and can it…all to the tune of a couple hundred cans per minute.” He said and added, “That takes power.”

Rick looked at General Perry, “General, I’d like for you to send some Marines over to North Anna and secure the power plant. Take Hal and some of the engineers to check the place out.” He ordered.

“Yes Sir.” General Perry replied with an excited confidence.

Standing in the back of the room, Gunnery Sergeant Winters started to leave.

“Where are you going?” Rick asked the Gunny.

GySgt Winters paused before exiting the room, “To get my squad together to go to North Anna, Sir.”

“No you’re not.” Rick said abruptly, “I have something else in mind for you.”

The Gunny stood with his hand on the door knob. Slowly releasing the handle, he backed away and stood quiet.

“I’m not finished.” Hal said, getting the groups attention again, “Over near Elkins, there’s a fellow that is setting up his old Ham radio station. This man has been a Ham operator for many years and the EMP took out his computerized system, so he’s working on his old tube set.” Hal said and added, “He should be up and running within the week.”

Rick thought for a moment. The implication of reaching out to civilians in an area greater than Virginia was exciting. “You know, I don’t think I’ve heard any message other than what Engstrom and his group are sending out. This goes hand in hand with what I want to talk with you all about.”

“Rick hold on for a moment. There’s one other item I want to bring up.” Hal said and added, “This has to do with our government.”

Rick nodded and continued to give the floor to Hal.

“I think we all agree that what we’re doing is a bit different. What I mean is that we are building a new country and a new government, and not just trying to restore the old ways.” He said and paused before asking, “Am I right?”

Everyone nodded their agreement.

“Well, personally I’d like to see our government housed in a place where the people can be proud of.”

“Are you saying the Chase House?” Rick asked.

Hal nodded yes. “Rick, this thing that we’re doing is bigger than you or me. Hells bells we’re setting up the foundation for future generations…right?”

Rick nodded.

“Well, we need a place not only for us but also for the people. The Chase House will be the people’s house…just like the White House was.”

Rick nodded as did everyone else in the room. “Alright Hal,” Rick said and added, “Let’s take a vote on it.”

All hands were raised in agreement to Hal’s recommendation.

“Ok, so if this is going to be the ‘Peoples House’…we’ll ask the people to vote on it.” He said, turning to Maggie, “Saturday night we’ll call a vote when we do our lottery, ok?” He said and then turned to Karen, “If they vote ‘yes’, then I’d like for you to detail some people and get the Chase House set up for us.”

Karen and Maggie nodded and making notes on their legal pads.

“I’d like the floor for a moment, if I may.” Rick said. He stood up and stretched his legs. “Words cannot describe how proud I am with each and every one of you, and with everyone in town. The jobs that you all are doing are crucial and difficult.” He said, pausing momentarily. “However, after hearing your reports, I can honestly say that I feel we are over the hump. We are starting to feel comfortable, aren’t we?” Rick smiled and made direct eye contact with every person sitting at the table. “We have security…we know we’re not going to starve this winter. Our people have homes…and we have a camaraderie that I’ve never seen before.”

They all smiled proudly and nodded.

“Well, I’ve come to realize that this isn’t all about us.” He said, changing the tone of the conversation. “General Barker said that they figure there were one hundred and fifty million people who were killed in the nuclear attacks. Now, let’s say another twenty five million have since died, due to disease, starvation or…the cockroaches.” He said, allowing the group to process those numbers, “We had three hundred million people…that leaves one hundred and twenty five million...give or take.”

The group as a whole looked at him with questioning eyes.

“What if just one percent decided to come here?” He said, opening his eyes wide to emphasize his question, and let it go unanswered. “When I was on the carrier Bush, I saw first hand thousands of sailors who are desperate for our help. These sailors haven’t set foot on dry ground in months; they don’t have a port, or any reliable source for food or fuel. Yet, they have pledged their full support for us…and are protecting us 24/7.” Rick said, he paused and then added, “Folks, the ‘world ‘is still out there.”

The room was stone cold silent. All eyes were on Rick as he slowly walked around the table, placing his hand on every persons shoulder.

“We have a couple of choices. We can build up our walls on the front lines and keep everybody out…or, we can open our arms and grow.” Rick paused and quickly added, “I know we’ve really been blest here…and I think that God wants us to grow.”

The committee heads all nodded their agreement to Rick’s assessment.

“So, we’re going to open our arms and hearts and we’re going to grow. However, we’re going to do it in a planned and calculated manner.” Rick said pausing, “Here’s how it’s going to go down.” He said and held up his index finger, “First, we’re going to create a couple of teams. One team will head south and the other will head east. They are going to spread the word. They’ll tell the towns and areas what we’re doing, and if they want to join up…all they have to do is ask.” Rick paused and added, “We are not going to force ourselves on anyone.”

The group nodded their agreement.

“When a town wants to join with us, then General Perry will take his Marines and secure the area.” He said with another finger extended, “Third, after the area is secured, then our core team will go in and teach these folks how to do what we do.” He said with a nod. “Now, that area will become the new front, and when the next town wants to join, then we’ll repeat the process…except that the town we just set up will send their core group to teach those in the new area.” Rick said and paused, “Do you all understand?”

Everyone nodded.

“Our growth will be viral and exponential.” Rick said and then turned to Gunnery Sergeant Winters. “Now, at some point, General Perry’s Marines will be spread thin.” He said, and then glanced back at the General who nodded at his assessment. “So, here is where you come in Gunny.”

Gunnery Sergeant Winters blinked, clearly caught by surprise.

“What? Did you think I’d forget about you Gunny?” Rick said with a smile and a chuckle.

The folks at the table also chuckled at the stunned look from Gunny Winters.

“Gunny I want you to be my Secretary of Defense.”

Gunny Winters eyes grew wide at the comment.

“Here is what I want,” He said pausing and then continued, “I want you to select a group of Marines to teach and train the civilians how to become marksmen. You and your group will be separate from General Perry’s men…yet you will be equal in rank and stature.” He paused momentarily, “I want our people to be trained on all weapons, rifles, pistols, heavy machine guns, mortars…everything. Switzerland does it and it works for them, so there’s no reason why we can’t do it.”

Gunny Winters looked at Rick, his eyes focused on his leader. He nodded his agreement.

“If someone at some point decides that they would like to bust through the lines and attack us, I want them met with a hornet’s nest of hell.” Rick said as he looked across the room at the committee leaders, who nodded their agreement. “From here on out we are an open carry society. Everyone is to be trained on how to use their weapons and to use them effectively.”

Gunny Winters nodded.

Rick looked at the Gunny, their eyes locked. “What do you say?”

“I’ll do it…damn straight I’ll do it.”

“Good.” Rick replied and then turned to the group, “Now, I know that everyone here has their long term projects…and I also have a long term project.” He said, bringing the groups focus to his comment, “What? Did you think that I wouldn’t have one too?” He said with a smile. “As a matter of fact, I would like to show you all my project.”

The group shifted in their seats, looking at Rick and wondering what he was talking about.

“If you all have an hour or so, I’d like for you to follow me.” He said and then added, “Maggie, General Perry, Gunny Winters…I’d like for you three to ride with me.”

“Where are we going Rick?” Hal asked.

“Martinsburg.” Rick replied as he walked out the door and headed towards his pick up truck.

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