Mrs. Chuckri said, “We will make Lavash … the flat bread that you liked the other night … and then we will have pots of other things to make wraps that we can make in the wagons and pass out so that we can eat on the move.”
I liked the idea. When Dad and I would hike one of our first lunches was usually something we could eat as we walked. This would be a similar type thing.
“Yes ma’am,” I told her. “What can I help with.”
“We will make the bread, it will go faster. Will you help make the beetroot hummus and falafel balls? In the morning we will make yogurt dressing, chopped some of the pickled vegetables we have, and cut some of the goat cheese. Tomorrow’s evening meal will be Red Lentil Soup as we have plenty … and we will be adding three more mouths?”
“Potentially, yes ma’am. I don’t know if Mr. Jensen has formally requested to join the caravan or not.”
The “hmmm” was a mother wondering about something but I was going to stay as far away from that situation as I could. I had enough trouble with my own romance, the idea of playing cupid in any way kind of turned my stomach.
After I joined the group I believe I figured out why I was asked … my arms. I could have laughed at the relieved look on the younger girls’ faces when I proceeded to puree the canned beets and canned chick peas by hand. I didn’t mind, Mom was the same way at the holidays. She had muscles in her hands and arms that didn’t show – baking our bread put them there among other things – but she wasn’t shy about putting me to work when she had more than one or two items to do. I enjoyed kneading the bread though occasionally she would tell me to stop beating on it, that it hadn’t ever done anything to warrant me kneading it so hard the bread would wind up like a brick.
Soon enough everything was finished and packaged for the next day and I returned to Thor. Neither one of us had guard duty that night though we’d be on call in case anything suspicious happened.
“Someone is watching us again,” I told Thor soberly.
“Yeah, if they watched any harder we’d be feeling their eyelashes on our skin.” He stretched and I heard his back pop. “I’ve spent too many nights sleeping on the ground. What are the mattresses like at this farm of yours?”
I snickered a small laugh, “Softer than this ground is and wider than this sleeping pad.”
“How much softer? How much wider?”
“You’re in a funky mood. Did Hal say something else?” I asked him noting that he wasn’t as playful as he usually was when it was bedtime for both of us.
He was rubbing his neck and rotating it like it was bothering him so I decided to give him a message to get him focused on more pleasant things.
“Oooo, now that … ahhh … yeah, right … mmmm … yeah, right … there.”
“Now are you going to tell me or am I going to have to squeeze it out of you?” I mock threatened.
He snorted, “Ulterior motives? I’m shocked. Can’t a back rub just be a back rub?”
“Hmmm, seem to recall my mother telling Dad the same thing a time or two.” I laughed quietly but kept massaging because he really was tensed up. “Seriously Thor, spill it and tell me how I can help.”
He enjoyed the massage a few more minutes before turning the tables. “Your turn.”
“Hey, this isn’t quite what I meant.”
He grinned wickedly and said, “I know.” Then he settled down and got serious again. “Rochelle, do me a favor and … and be extra careful the next few days.”
“No more specific than yours,” he muttered. “But this does have the feeling I’d get before a nasty bit of conflict. Doesn’t have to mean a firefight of course but there’s some potential there as well. Too many variables here and though we have some intel from this Jensen fellow I don’t know how much credence to give it. I have nothing to measure it against. He could just be feeding us a line.”
“So we prepare either way,” I told him.
“I’d rather be able to put all of our energy and resources into a single type of action rather than splitting our energies,” he said, still troubled.
“So, again, what can I do specifically?”
He sighed, “I hate having you be in this.”
“Oh, don’t get bent out of shape. Now that I’ve found you and admitted that I can’t live without you it would be nice if we actually got to live and grow old together.”
The brashness of that statement took my breath away.
“But on the other hand,” he stopped and I could sense he was struggling to say something. “Hon, if … if something happens to me, I don’t want you taking any risks. Just get going and don’t look back. I’ll either catch up … or I won’t. And if I don’t … if I don’t I don’t want you crawling in some hole and giving up. I watched that happen to my mother and I won’t rest easy thinking that I … I did the same thing to you.”
I wanted to punch him but for the sake of his feelings I didn’t. I turned around and said, “Thor, I’ll try … if for no other reason than your peace of mind right now … but I’m not just going to give up on you so can we change the subject before we get into an argument that neither one of us is going to win? That’s not what I want to do right now.”
His eyebrows shot up into his hairline. “Oh? And what is it you want to do?”
“Talk a little more about that living and growing old together. Gives us incentive to get through the next couple of days, don’t you think?”
So we talked the mushy talk for a while and then we both knew we needed our rest. I was briefly tempted to just say the heck with it and go with the flow but I’ll be honest and say that I was still looking for something a little more. I wondered if I was being too old-fashioned … wanting some kind of ceremony in front of other people that said, “Hey, we’ve decided to make this forever and ever amen.” Whatever was going on in my subconscious, it still hadn’t happened and so long as Thor seemed to be OK with that I wasn’t going to poke the bear too much, no sense in creating a problem where none existed.
The next morning came too early. Because we were trying to do twenty plus miles in a single day, miles that we weren’t really sure what they would bring us, we needed an early start. Everyone was quiet. Chuckri reported to Thor that he’d only been able to spot a single watcher.
“He had an old hunting rifle of some type … he was up in a tree so I didn’t get a good look at him … but he handled it like it wasn’t a normal thing for him to have one. It hung from a strap every time I checked to see if he was still there. He even looks like he fell asleep at one point. I’d have to save very little real training or too many hours … either way he didn’t pose a serious threat last night.”
Barkley walked up, “The one that just took his place does.”
I kept my ear turned to them but didn’t interrupt. Thor asked, “How so?”
“Kalishnikov rifle, more obvious training … it sounded like he laid into the guy he was replace and the one from last night seemed a little scared of this guy … plus, and worst of all, he seemed to have a working handheld radio. Looks like a AN/PRC-6809. They could have swiped them off of a SWAT team or something like that but I would have thought that the EMP would have gotten all of them.”
Thor was obviously thinking and Chuckri said, “If they really are part of a terrorist organization, they could have acquired them pre-EMP and had them in a hardened location. Not good. Thor?”
“Or they could have gotten lucky with an accidental Faraday cage. Either way we have to get on the road. The radio does make a difference, but it doesn’t change that particular fact. The longer we sit in one place the more time they have to surround us. Let’s head out … and keep an eye on the boys and those @#$% animals.”
We were making good time until the Broadway exit where we found a road block. Thor was not happy I am sure but it was my shift to be on point. I was looking for a way around the intentional mess that had been piled on either side of the route when a shot rang out. It didn’t come anywhere near me but from the corner of my eye I saw Thor reel in his saddle.
“Oh no you did not just do what I think you did!” I growled under my breath looking for the shooter. That’s when I saw them. They were inside of the piles of cars using them as cover. Being on foot I was a smaller target. I briefly wanted to smile at the irony of that but I was too angry. I started shooting into the cars and trucks that made up the roadblock when Montgomery ran up to me.
“Where are they?” he asked urgently.
“Inside the blasted piles. See ‘em?” I snarled.
“Well now … let’s just give ‘em a reason to be sorry they picked that particular spot. I been saving these babies since I found ‘em at the farm. I’ll give them greenies credit for having some pretty toys to play with. How’s your aim Kid?”
“You want aim you should get Pilbos up here. He was the quarterback,” I reminded him.
“Naw, Thor has him covering the younglings. Here, toss it and try and get it in rather than on the pile but duck after you do. Shrapnel is gonna fly.”
Montgomery told us after finding them that the little golf ball sized things were a type of V40 mini grenade primarily designed to be a frag type weapon. It felt like a skipping rock in my hand and that is how I threw it. I skimmed it right into the windshield of one of the piles behind the first one. For such a small device it packed a wallop; about like when Jeter McGree used some dynamite he’d swiped from the quarry where he worked to take out some stumps on his back forty.
All went quiet and Montgomery and I went running through the resulting mess looking for survivors. There weren’t any. I ran back to the caravan to relay the info while Montgomery continued on point. I found Richards finishing a bandage on Thor’s arm.
“Don’t Rochelle, there isn’t time. I want to get through before the hole we’ve opened closes back up. Is the road clear?” he asked sticking with his most professional tone that told me he was in pain.
“There’s one place that is a little narrow but it’s passable.”
“Continue on,” he ordered with a grimace.