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Planning Pays off chapters 5 thur 7

Jerry D. Young Library

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Planning Pays Off - Chapter 5

Sven circled north through Greenville to pick up US 67 to go south rather than through Wappapello. With the decision made to go to Little Rock, Sven pulled off 67 and bypassed Poplar Bluff, not willing to risk meeting any hostile elements, if there was anyone there at all.

There were several small towns along US 67 which they passed through with no trouble. There were some signs of life, but Sven didn’t stop to investigate. After they passed through Hoxie, Arkansas, Sven left 67 and they found a place to camp in a nearby State Park.

Sven drove around the park before picking a place to set up their camp. There were signs that the park had seen heavy use before and after the attack, but there were no signs of recent activity. There were abandoned RV’s, tents, and other equipment. There were also some human remains.

Sven made sure they were well away from the remains when he selected the camp spot. It was near one of the comfort stations. Sven supervised setting up the tents, and he and Traven gathered up plenty of wood for a fire during the night. Then, despite Belinda’s and Elaine’s objections, Sven and Traven got back in the Suburban and left the camp to salvage what they could from the abandoned equipment.

Traven looked a bit ill when they returned, but cheered up immediately when Elaine asked if he’d found anything useful, he eagerly described several of the articles they’d salvaged. Nothing of real importance, but things that could be traded away for things more useful for brother and sister.

Sven was pretty sure the place had been gone through before, for there simply weren’t that many things that he and Sven found. Sven let Traven claim it all.

A watch schedule was set up for the night and everyone but Pru, who had the first watch, went to bed shortly after the supper Belinda, Pru, and Elaine had prepared.

Nothing untoward happened during the night, and the group was up, breakfasted, and loaded up ready to go at eight the next morning. Back on 67, they continued south without incident until they passed the BeeBe exit off US 67. They came up on a small convoy of people mounted on horses with three horse drawn farm wagons.

Sven slowed down and paced the convoy for a while. They must have been seen, for one of the men on horse back turned around and walked his horse back toward them. Sven stopped and let the man approach.

“This is probably fine,” Sven said. “But everyone stay in the Suburban and keep a weapon at hand.” He turned off the engine of the Suburban and stepped out of the truck. He brought the PTR out, but slung it over his shoulder, as the man approaching carried a long arm of some type in a saddle scabbard and made no move to take it out.

“How do,” said the man when he rode up and stopped his horse a few feet from Sven.

“Hi,” replied Sven. “Everything okay?”

“That’s what I was going to ask. Saw you come up, but you didn’t make no move to go around us.”

“Didn’t want to spook the horses,” Sven said easily.

“Well, just ease past. It won’t be a problem. You going into Little Rock for the trading?” He looked at the second trailer with its load of a PWC, quad, snowmobile, and two mountain bikes. “The bikes will be good trading, but I doubt you’ll have little luck with the toys.”

“They aren’t necessarily for trade,” replied Sven. “But we are looking to do some trading with other things. Two of my people have contacts in Little Rock they’re hoping to find. We’ve been up in the Ozarks since a week after the attack. Haven’t found anyone on the radio closer than Memphis. Just took a chance that Little Rock was still a going concern.”

“Sure is. About the only place around this area. Rest of us are spread out around, growing food for those in the city. We get a little fuel, and some manufactured items. The people there pretty much sewed up the city right after everyone lived came out from wherever they managed to survive the fallout. Maintain they had exclusive salvage rights to everything in the city. Wouldn’t try to do any, if I was you. They’re pretty hard on anyone they catch ‘looting’ their resources.”

“Understood. Thanks. What’s the procedure for going in to the city? We’d like to find some specific people, if we can.”

“You’ll have to pay a tax to get into the city. Then you’ll have to go to the city hall and register. They’ve been trying to identify survivors in the city and the surrounding area, in case the feds ever get their act together.”

“I see. What’s the tax? And, I’m Sven Denali, by the way.”

“Brook Nating,” said the man. He leaned down and the two men shook hands. “Pretty much anything useful. They aren’t out to keep people out, or make much that way. Just want people with a real want to go in to do so. Things are tough.”

Sven nodded. “We know that for a fact.”

“I need to get back to the convoy. There’s some bandits about. I’d keep an eye open for them if I was you. A running vehicle, with fuel, is a real find. Go ahead and come around us. Maybe we’ll see you at the trade fair.”

“Understood. Thanks for the warning. Maybe we will see you at the trade fair.”

Brook turned his horse and went into a trot to join his convoy. Sven got back into the Suburban and explained the situation to the others. When they got to the roadblock keeping anyone on US 67 from entering the city that way, Sven stopped and stepped out again. A man in fatigues, carrying a clipboard, met him halfway.

“Name?” asked the guy.

“Sven Denali.”

“How many entering?”

“Five. Three adults, two teens.”

“What do you have for entry tax?”

“I don’t have a clue what you’re taking. We just came into this area.”

“Can of food each, Silver dime each, 50-rounds of .22 each, 10 rounds 5.56, .308, .30-30, 12-gauge or 20-gauge.”

“Two silver quarters okay, then?” Sven asked.

“That’ll do it,” the man said, looking a bit surprised there was no complaining or haggling over the tax.

“I’ll get it,” Sven said, turning to go back to the Suburban.

The guard tensed slightly as Sven reached into the driver’s side of the Suburban and pulled out a single shoulder pack, and took something out of it. Walking back to him, Sven held out the two worn silver quarters.

“Okay,” said the guard. “You need to go to city hall and sign in. You’ll need city ID’s to leave.”

Brook hadn’t mentioned that part. Sven wasn’t too happy, but there wasn’t much choice. He nodded. The guard handed Sven a simple map with the roadblock and city hall marked on it.

A barricade was moved and Sven drove the Suburban, with its two trailers, through. Belinda took the map when Sven handed it to her. “I know the city fairly well. We’ll go see if we can find anyone at McNally and McCoombs.”

Sven shrugged. It was as good of a plan as any. It took much longer at city hall than any of them expected. The registration process included a doctor’s exam, and a dozen forms to fill out. One was basically a listing of everyone they knew for sure was dead, and who was alive, and the whereabouts each was last seen.

It was getting late when they came out of the city hall, with a map and directions where they could camp in the city without getting into trouble. There was a faucet to get water, and a row of chemical toilet stalls at the park where visitors to the city that didn’t have relatives to stay with stayed.

The group was immediately surrounded by the curious and those looking to do some trading. “I’d lay off the trading until we get a feel for what is going for what at the trade fair,” Sven told Traven and Pru when both looked like they were going to start doing some trading with those in the camp.

Sven insisted on a watch during the night, too, despite the overall security of the place. “I don’t want someone trying to go through our stuff.”

Belinda was resistant to the idea and Sven told her she wouldn’t have to pull the duty. But since the others were, Belinda said she would do it. As it was, they stayed up late, exchanging stories with many of the others in the camp. The stories were all different, except for one thing. All were from areas that had received very little fallout, and all had suffered through the severe winter.

Elaine and Traven exchanged glances several times. There were several others like them. Youngsters that lost their parents to the attack, or aftermath. All had been adopted into a family willing, and mostly able, to take care of them. Once, when they had a quiet moment, Traven told Elaine, “I guess we had it pretty good, considering, huh?”

“It seemed so terrible when we were going through it, but I think you’re right. If it hadn’t been for Sven and his plans and the retreat, we’d probably be dead now, even without those two goons that killed Mom and Dad and took us.”

“Yeah,” Traven. “I’m not sure Dad could have kept us alive, out there on the road. Things work out for the best, sometimes, I guess.”

“When someone knows how to make it happen,” Elaine said softly.

The next morning the group was up and getting ready to head for the trade fair grounds, as several more people came by to see the newcomers. It cost them an extra thirty minutes getting ready.

But finally they were on the way, following several other late starters. Once Sven knew where to go, he followed Belinda’s directions to the offices of McNally and McCoombs, a decorating warehouse firm. It was locked up tight.

“We’ll have to try their homes,” Belinda said, her disappointment obvious.

She took a wallet out of the backpack Sven had provided for her and found her address book. Belinda told Sven the address and they headed for the home of Melissa McNally. They were stopped two streets from the one McNally lived on. It was obvious why the street was blocked. The entire development had burned to the ground.

Sven turned them around and headed for Patricia McCoombs’. Belinda was looking worried. But she cheered up when they reached the house in question and not only found McCoombs, but McNally, too, along with six other family members of the two. It was a tearful reunion. Sven learned that Belinda and the two women had gone to college together, majoring in interior design. That’s what Belinda and Pru did in St. Louis. Interior design. They bought much of their goods from the warehouse Melissa and Patricia owned together.

“Can you take us in?” Belinda asked after the reunion and introductions were made. “Not Sven, just us four,” she said, indicating herself, Pru, Elaine, and Traven.”

“Elaine,” Traven said, moving over beside his sister, “I think we should go with Sven. I don’t have enough yet to take care of us here.”

“You’ll be taken care of,” Belinda replied, her disappointment obvious. “You don’t have to stay with him anymore.” She gave Sven a hard look and told him, “And you can have your stuff back. I don’t need or want a gun here.”

“If you wish,” Sven said with a shrug. He looked at Elaine. “You’re welcome to come with me, or stay. No hard feelings on my part either way.”

Elaine finally looked at Belinda. “I want to stay with Traven, and he wants to go with Sven. Sven’s taken care of us well. I don’t want to start over.”

“Traven,” Belinda said. “Think about it. She’s your sister. You really want her out there in all that? You’ll be safe here. You won’t have to work as hard. You can give up your guns. You’ll never have to shoot anyone over anything.”

Pru had been silent during the entire short debate, standing over with the other women. She walked slowly over to Sven and turned around, to speak to Belinda. “Not that it makes any difference to Traven and Elaine, I’m going with Sven.”

“Pru! Don’t be ridiculous! You are staying here. I won’t have it any other way.”

“Sis, you’ve been a good sister, I guess, as those things go. But I’m out to continue my life the best I can. I believe I have better opportunities with Sven than I do here. I don’t need you to make my decisions for me.”

Sven and Traven both looked at Elaine. Pru’s announcement was enough to tip the scales. “I want to go with Sven and Traven, and Pru,” she said, not looking at Belinda.

“I think it might be better, Belinda,” said Melissa, as she stepped up to her friend. “I’m not sure we could accommodate more than one more. Two under hardship conditions.”

Belinda was disappointed and angry. “Very well,” she said, looking at Traven. “Be off and don’t come back here begging. Any of you.” She turned around and walked up to the house, Patricia going with her.

“Melissa,” Pru said, “I didn’t want things to end like this. But you obviously will be better off without the rest of us. Take care of Belinda, won’t you?”

Melissa nodded and hugged. Pru went back to the Suburban, and at Sven’s nod of his head, helped him unload the things that Belinda had packed to bring with her. When the others didn’t notice, Sven transferred a small fabric bag to one of Belinda’s bundles he knew she would be into fairly soon. Trusting her to her word, the weapons she’d been using were left in the Suburban.

The others started to carry the boxes and bundles to the house and Sven, Pru, Traven, and Elaine got back into the Suburban and they left, headed for the trade fair.

“I’m sorry it turned out this way,” Sven said, looking over at Pru, in the passenger seat beside him.

Pru looked sad, but lifted her eyes to meet Sven’s. “It’s for the best. I’ve been a dependant for Belinda for my entire life. I need to be on my own and make my own decisions. I have no doubt there are young people there that will be better off with her mentoring.”

Sven just nodded. It was between Pru and Belinda. Forty-five minutes later Sven pulled the Suburban in with the others with operating vehicles at the trade fair location. There was a place for those using horses for transport, and another for those on foot or with un-powered means of transport.

“I want to do a walk through to see what’s what,” Sven said. “I need someone to stay here with the gear.” He was proud of the fact that all three said they’d stay, but especially of Traven, as he would much prefer to go with Sven, and Sven knew it.

“How about if Pru and you, Elaine, stay while Traven and I look around, and then we’ll watch the Suburban while you two look for things you need.”

All three agreed quickly and Sven and Traven set out, each carrying only their handgun, according to the posted rules they read when they pulled in. Traven had a small pad and a pencil and took down notes of goods and what was being asked for the item. It was both for himself and for Elaine, so she could check the things out he thought she might want.

An hour later a disappointed Traven, and a silent Sven went back to join Pru and Elaine. They had prepared a quick noon meal and all four ate and used the chemical toilet stalls set up for the traders.

Traven gave Elaine the list he’d made for her and then went to sit down in the open passenger door of the Suburban to get out of the sun. “Boy, people want a lot for their stuff, don’t they?” he said, as Sven sat down in the seat beside him.

“Everyone wants the most that they can get. A few people will be firm on the trade. Others price things high intentionally, to be able to drop the price some so the buyer thinks they’re getting a real deal. And there is another thing…” Sven reached up between the front seats to get the single shoulder bag.

Opening it, Sven took out a small cloth sack made from the leg of a pair of worn out jeans. He tossed it up and down a couple of times in his hand. Traven looked over at the jingle sound.

“Since there wasn’t anything to spend it on, I’ve been saving up your pay and Elaine’s for all the work the two of you did at the retreat.” He handed the bag to Traven and Traven opened it. He saw the gleam of both gold coins and silver coins.

“But we were just doing our share! And you said the stuff we brought was ours.” Traven said and tried to give Sven back the sack.

“I know. The stuff is yours and Elaine’s. And I know you gathered up some things to trade with. But having cold, hard, cash can turn a deal around. Not everyone here is willing to take precious metals, but many are. It should make your shopping easier.”

“I don’t know what to say, Sven. Thanks.”

“It’s okay. Better count it, here where you can’t be seen, so you know what you have. And I suggest you divvy it up into several pockets so you never bring out more than a fraction of what you have.”

“I understand. Like keeping your wallet in your front pocket so it can’t be stolen.”

“Same principle,” Sven said.

Traven fell silent as he counted out and stacked the different coins on one leg. There were only a couple of one-ounce Gold Eagles, and three one-half-ounce Gold Eagles, but there were several quarter-ounce and one-tenth-ounce gold coins, along with four rolls of silver dimes and quarters.

Sven smiled when Traven put various amounts of different coins into his pockets, putting the majority of the coins back into the cloth bag. He took two more bags out of the pack and handed one of them to Traven. “For Elaine.”

Pru and Elaine didn’t take as long looking as Sven and Traven had. As soon as they got back, Traven took his sister to the Suburban and gave her the coins Sven had given him to give to her.

Sven was in the process of giving Pru a similar amount when Elaine ran up and gave him a big hug and kiss on the cheek, turning bright red when she stepped back and Pru laughed. “You too, huh?” Pru asked, showing Elaine the sack Sven had given her.

Elaine nodded. She looked at Sven. “Can we go back now to get the things we saw we wanted?”

Sven nodded. “You and Pru go on back first. Traven and I will hold down the fort.” When Traven and Elaine weren’t looking, Sven lifted his eyebrows and nodded at Elaine.

Pru gave a short nod in recognition of his unvoiced request for her not to let Elaine go overboard.

The sun was getting low in the sky when Pru and Elaine returned. Sven was glad to see that both had been rather conservative in their dealings, including using some of their trade goods as well as the coins.

After a quick exchange of notes, Traven and Sven headed back into the trading area. A bit uneasy about doing so, Sven encouraged Traven to go off on his own. When the two met up again, Traven was empty handed.

“I don’t know,” he said when Sven asked him about it. “It just seemed, that when I could get it, I didn’t seem to want it so much. I’d rather save up for something really important.”

“Good thinking, Traven. I’m proud of you.”

Traven flushed, but managed a smile as he walked back to the Suburban beside Sven. “You didn’t get much either, that I can see,” Traven said after a few moments of silence.

“Same thoughts as you,” Sven replied. “I’m pretty well set for the moment and didn’t see anything I needed long term that might be hard to find in the future. Just picked up these few items.”

Pru and Elaine had everything closed up, ready to go when Traven and Sven rejoined them at the Suburban. Sven got in and they headed back to their camping spot at the park, satisfied with the way the day had gone, despite the scene with Belinda.

Sven heard Elaine and Traven both laugh in the seat behind him. He glanced back and asked, “What’s so funny?”

“We both got a little bag of candy for the other,” Traven said. “And one for you and Pru,” he added, passing the small paper bags forward, two for each of them.

“Well, that was sweet,” Pru said with a throaty laugh that Sven had never noticed before. “Great minds think alike, I guess.” She passed back similar sacks of goodies for Elaine and Traven, and put one on the console between her and Sven.

“Okay. Okay,” Sven said, with his own laugh. “I was going to wait until after supper, but open up the single shoulder pack. There’s a sack of healthy nuts in it for each of you, as opposed to unhealthy candy which I will eat with relish, anyway.”

They all shared a laugh and then fell to setting up camp for the night as soon as Sven parked the Suburban.

There was no reason to stay in Little Rock. They had done what trading they wanted. Sven was itching to find out about his family, especially after seeing how well Little Rock was doing.

So, packed up and ready to go early the next morning, Sven drove them out of the park and headed for the closest access to Interstate 40 West. Pru, while not as familiar with Little Rock as her sister, was able to navigate them to the junction. They had to sign out, so the administration could keep a handle on how many people were in Little Rock at any one time.

They weren’t alone in their exit. Apparently they had arrived just on the right day to be there for a much larger trade fair than the usual local only affair. Quite a few people had come into the city for it and were headed back to their homes, hopefully after trades, sales, or purchases that suited them.

While Pru, Elaine, and Traven had picked up a few personal items at the trade fair, only Sven had done any significant bartering, trading off several of the weapons he’d acquired by right of spoils of war, and by salvage, since they weren’t likely to be used against him. In return for them, and a bit of coin, Sven got his fuel tanks refilled with biodiesel, and some gasoline he got for a song as it was very old and caused more problems in engines than it was worth. With the Pri-G Sven had in stock, he didn’t mind.

There was only one other group that had motorized transport and they were traveling at a pace close enough to the speed Sven wanted to go that he brought the Suburban to a steady speed behind them.

They passed a dozen other groups, on foot, horseback, in horse or oxen drawn wagons and carts, and several on bicycles. Then it was just the two motorized groups. When they turned off at the Conway exit, Sven found himself picking up the pace a bit. They still had to weave their way around vehicles abandoned since the EMP burst had fried their electronics.

“Should we be checking some of these vehicles for salvage?” asked Traven as they passed a Cadillac SUV parked neatly on the shoulder.

“I’ve got a feeling that they’ve been picked over pretty good by now, Traven, this close to the city,” Sven replied. “We get out a bit further out in the boonies and we may.”

Traven nodded and eased back in the passenger seat. He was riding shotgun while Pru took a nap in the rear seat after pulling the early morning watch. There was silence for a long time as they watched the scenery pass by, seeing no one else after the other convoy had left the interstate.

They took three days to get to the outskirts of Tulsa, even not finding anything worthy of salvage. Sven had kept the speed down to the Suburban’s most fuel-efficient speed. Though Elaine and Traven didn’t notice, Pru was sure that Sven went a little out of the way getting them into the city.

Tulsa was being run much as Little Rock was, the city being mined for useable items needed or wanted by those that survived in the surrounding area. Food was the primary product the rural areas had for trade for those things the city had.

Sven wondered if Tulsa was in regular contact with Little Rock. Things were so similar, down to the entry tax and registration. But Sven paid and they registered, and then Sven headed directly to his brother’s house on the west side of the city.

It, and the others on that side of the street, was burned to the ground. Like so many other places, without fire department personnel, usable equipment, and water pressure in the hydrants, minor fires turned into major fires, until they just burned themselves out.

Sven had to check. He wouldn’t let any of the others go over to what was left of the house. All it took was ten minutes. The whole family had been home, in the basement, when the fire broke out. Sven decided that they had died of asphyxiation before the fire got to them. That was better than believing otherwise.

When he got back into the Suburban, Pru reached over and put her hand on his shoulder. “I’m sorry,” she said. Like Traven and Elaine, the look on Sven’s face when he walked out of the remains of the house had told Pru the story.

“Let’s find that designated transient camping spot and set up camp. Nothing for us to do here, now.” Sven started up the Suburban and pulled away from the curb.

“Your sister and the others,” Traven said from the rear seat, “We’ll go look for them, now, right?”

Sven shook his head. “No. They were all there together. In an improvised shelter. I’ve got nobody left.”

“You’ve got us,” Pru said softly, squeezing his shoulder just slightly.

Elaine was crying, and Traven trying not to. “Shouldn’t we bury them?” he asked.

“No. Not much left and it’s too dangerous to try to get them out. They’re okay where they are,” Sven replied, his voice choking slightly as his words trailed off.

They were silent the rest of the way to the camp, and during what was now a well a practiced routine. It was a quiet evening, with Sven going to bed without eating. The other three talked for a while, but went to bed shortly after Sven did, Elaine taking her preferred watch, the first one, so she could sleep through the night.

Much to their surprise, when they loaded up and left the camp the next morning, Sven didn’t turn toward the way out of town. He went back to his brother’s house.

“Sven?” Pru asked, “Have you changed your mind about burying them?”

Sven stopped in front of the house, killed the Suburban’s engine, and turned in his seat to address Elaine and Traven in the rear seat, as well as Pru. “No. But I can’t just walk away from what is here. I set up caches here, for them to use if they couldn’t make it to the retreat. There is no reason to lose that equipment and those supplies. Traven, get the shovels.”

Sven turned around and got out of the Suburban. Traven exited on the other side and climbed up the ladder to the roof rack to get the tools. He dropped them down to Sven and came down to help with the digging.

It didn’t take long. It was another water tank buried so the access hatch was a foot under the surface of the ground. Unasked, Pru and Elaine began carrying the totes, boxes, bags, and individual items from the cache location when Traven handed them up to Sven and Sven set them aside to reach down to help lift the next.

None of them asked what the containers held. The individual items were obvious. Sven checked the load out and had to smile. Even Pru and Elaine had become quite adept at packing and loading the Suburban and the trailers for proper distribution of weight and still have accessibility to anything needed.

The other three stood and watched, as Sven, the loading done, walked over to the edge of the basement and bowed his head. He stood there silently for long moments, but turned and joined the others at the Suburban, saying, “Let’s go somewhere and decide what to do now.”

Sven took them back the camp, though they didn’t get out to set up camp again. Instead, Sven turned to look at the others as he had earlier. “Okay. I no longer have people here. If any of you have some place you think you will be safe and can make a go of it, I’ll take you there, if it is at all possible.”

There was silence for a few moments. Traven was the first to speak. “Sven, me and Elaine have talked about it a couple of times since Little Rock. We want to stay with you. Wherever you want to go, it’s all right with us. Right, Elaine?”

“He’s right, Sven. I’d rather stay with you, no matter where we go. I feel safe with you and Traven watching out for me.”

All eyes turned to Pru. Her eyes were on Sven. “I go where you go.”

Sven rubbed both hands over his face for a moment, and then looked each of them in turn. “I can’t promise anything. My supplies won’t last forever. We need to find a place to settle where we can grow some food, or do something so we can trade for food. I have some ideas, but there are no guarantees.”

“You lead, I follow,” Pru replied.

Sven’s eyes were still on her. “By my side?”

“I’m agreeable,” Pru said, her eyes sparkling.

“What’s that mean?” Traven asked.

Elaine leaned over and whispered, “I’ll tell you later. But for now, it means we’re all going. Like a family.”

Traven grinned. “Well good. That’s settled, where do we go from here?” Again all looked at Sven.

“No doubt it’ll mean a lot of manual labor.” None of the three responded.

“Okay, Okay, Okay. We’re a group. But I really don’t know where the best place is to go. I’m open to ideas.”

“Who on the radio sounded like they needed some useful people?” Traven asked. “What about back in the Ozarks? In the Branson area? There are some farms there, right? We talked to them sometimes on the radio.”

“That’s true,” Sven said. But I have some doubts about them. You know what the winter was like. The ones we talked to barely made it. They’re talking about going south to warmer parts.”

“Oh,” Traven said. “I didn’t hear that part of it.”

“So it should be south, somewhere, then.” Pru looked thoughtful. “What about that town outside of San Antonio? Elaine? The one where that boy is you talk to sometimes?”

All eyes swiveled to Elaine. She colored slightly. “Hondo. He’s outside of Hondo. His folks have a ranch there.”

“You think they need any help?” Sven asked.

“Not really… I don’t know… We didn’t really talk about the ranch very much.”

“I have enough fuel to get there and back to the retreat without refueling. If the three of you want to chance the dangers on the road, we can go check it out. If it doesn’t pan out, we’ll have to hurry to get back to the retreat before winter sets in, if it comes early and hard like it did last winter.

“I’m willing,” Traven said immediately.

“I’d like to go, too,” Elaine said, turning red again.

“I guess that leads it up to you, Pru,” Sven said as the other three looked at her.

“I say we try. It’s the best option we have, in my opinion. I don’t relish another winter snowed in, no matter how comfortable it might be.”

Sven responded by putting the Suburban in gear and they headed west.

Planning Pays Off - Chapter 6

Sven took a route well west of Oklahoma City, as it had taken a couple of nukes because of Tinker AFB. Lawton and Fort Sill had also been targeted so Sven stayed west of them, too. Twice his keychain alarm sounded and they were ready to turn back, but the sound faded before they made the decision.

Since the interstates mainly linked those major cities Sven kept to the back roads since it was easier to just stay on them than to cut back and forth to the interstates between the destroyed cities.

They saw very few people, and those they did meet were friendly for the most part. Some looked covetously at the rig, Pru, and Elaine. Sven insisted everyone stay armed, not wander off from the campsites, and maintain a watch every time they camped.

There were a few places where locals extracted a toll, but that wasn’t that much different from before the war. Sven made sure to have some trade items for the tolls. He didn’t want to get the reputation of having lots of gold and silver. Word was being passed by radio of them being on the move.

One good thing about it becoming known that they were headed for Hondo, was that Ben Limon finally heard about it and contacted them on the accepted US call frequency on the twenty-meter Amateur band.

They were traveling south now, making their way around Amarillo, when Sven and Pru heard Elaine’s name on the Yaesu FT-897D. Pru quickly reached for the mike and acknowledged the call.

Traven shook his sister awake next to him on the back seat. Groggily she took the microphone. She snapped to attention when Pru told her it was Ben.

“This is Elaine. Ben?”

“Hi Elaine. We got word you were coming this way. Any chance you can stop here for a few days?”

“Would that be all right?” Elaine asked in return.

“Sure! We’re okay here. Can put you up for a couple of days without problem.” His voice lost a bit of it excitement. “But I can’t promise more than that. Things are kind of tough.”

“We understand,” Elaine said. Sven had pulled over and parked and he was nodding to acknowledge Ben’s words.

“Be really careful, especially as you get further south. There are some really bad dudes raiding places. If they see you they’ll probably attack. Don’t take any chances.”

“Okay, Ben,” Elaine said. “We’ll be careful.” She looked at Sven and asked, “When should I tell him we’ll be there?”

“Don’t want to give too much away. Between four days and a week.”

“Ben, Sven says we can be there in between four days and a week. Is that okay?”

“Uh… Yeah... That’ll be fine. My dad says I have to get off the radio now and get back to work. I’ll see you in a few days.”

Elaine handed the microphone back to Pru and Pru hung it up. Elaine looked excited. “I can’t believe we’re really going to see Ben!”

“Let’s just hope everything is as it appears to be. And keep an eye out for trouble,” Sven said. “With things going this good, there is bound to be some trouble ahead.” Sven’s words were prophetic.

They were just south of Mason when Traven spotted at least one vehicle behind them, keeping pace. A minute or so later Sven spotted the roadblock ahead. “Okay people,” he said, bringing the Suburban to a stop in the middle of the road. “We’ve got trouble. They’ve got us pinned between them. We can drop the trailers and make a run for it across country. Or we can stay and fight.”

“They’ll take everything,” Traven said. “We can’t just give it up like that. I say we fight.”

Elaine looked scared, but held her composure. “I’ll do whatever you three decide.”

“It’s just material things,” Pru said. “Let’s leave it and go. Maybe we can get it back, later.”

“That gives me an idea,” Sven said. “Traven, unhook the lead trailer and get back inside.”

Traven wanted to argue but knew there wasn’t time. He opened the door and hurriedly ran to the back Suburban. It took only a few seconds to get the trailer disconnected. He was breathing hard when he got back inside the Suburban.

“Hang on,” Sven said. He turned the wheel and went off the road as the following vehicle speeded up. And, Sven was glad to note, there was only one. They were a half a mile off the road when the chase vehicle got to the trailers and stopped.

Sven had stopped and turned the Suburban back to face the way they had come. “You three get out and spread out and keep watch. I’m going to see if I can convince the bandits to leave.”

As the others did as requested, Sven climbed onto the roof of the Suburban and opened up one of the Thule baggage transporters. Leaving the aluminum case inside the Thule case, Sven opened it up and took out the Barrett Model 82A1 sniper rifle. He spread the bipod open, attached the scope to the QD scope base, seated a magazine into the rifle, and settled in behind it, still on top of the Suburban, laying in the V of the side-by-side Thules.

Traven, Elaine, and Pru had spread out and were also prone. They could see the old white Ford pickup with at least two men in the cab and four in back. The men all got out and looked first at the Suburban, and then began to go over the trailers.

One man lifted a walky-talky to his lips and was speaking into it when Sven fired the Barrett. Pru, Traven, and Elaine all jumped. The sound was tremendous. So was the effect of the .50 Browning Machine Gun bullet when it hit the man with the walky-talky square in the chest.

He went down hard. Sven fired three more times in rapid succession, taking down two more men before they could react. When the other men took cover and began to fire back, ineffectively with the weapons they had at the distance they were shooting, Sven put a couple more rounds close enough to them to scramble for better cover behind the trailers. Both continued to fire at the Suburban, without effect.

Sven turned the Barrett toward those at the roadblock. He knew he managed to hit at least three people before all had dropped out of sight. Sven turned back to the four men around the trailers.

With the scope on its highest power, Sven sighted on the pavement under the lead trailer, knowing he was taking a chance of hitting one of the fuel tanks built into the trailer. Ricocheting three rounds under the trailer, he wasn’t sure he’d hit anything until one man got up and ran for the Ford. Sven put him down with a quick shot. There was silence then.

“Kids, you stay here,” Sven called down to them. “Pru. You drive me up closer. Stay low, have your head up just enough to see.

Traven protested, but obeyed. Pru got behind the wheel of the Suburban and eased it forward slowly. After advancing a hundred meters, Sven told her to stop and put her fingers in her ears. She did so and Sven fired the Barrett again. This time he heard a scream, faint at the distance, but recognizable.

Turning his attention to the roadblock again, he emptied a full ten-round magazine into it, again ricocheting a few rounds under the vehicles that made up the block. When a car began to speed away from the roadblock, Sven hastily changed magazine and put five rounds into the old car. It swerved a couple of times, but kept going.

“Sven!” yelled Pru. “The pickup!”

While his attention was on the roadblock one or more of those with the blocking party had made it to the Ford and it was backing at a fast pace away from the trailers. Sven emptied the magazine through the windshield and the driver lost control. The truck skidded sideways and then rolled over three times before coming to a rest upside down in the ditch.

Sven waited for over half an hour, watching through the scope on the Barrett for movement.

“You want me to go check while you cover me?” Traven called up to Sven.

Sven hesitated, but it needed to be done.

“Go slow, and be ready. They may be playing possible. If you see anything before you get there, drop to the ground and I’ll take it from there.”

“Yes, sir!” Traven replied and hurried forward. He stopped at the Suburban and took out his Remington 11-87 20-gauge shotgun and carried it ready in his hands as he made his way forward.

“Ease me up every so often,” Sven told Pru. She did so, going only a short distance and stopping again so Sven could shoot if he needed to without the movement of the truck interfering.

Sven made himself relax from the tension that had built as Traven had advanced slowly and carefully on the trailers. When Traven reached the lead trailer he stopped and waved at Sven.

“Pull up some more,” Sven said when Traven seemed to be waiting.

It must have been what he wanted, for Traven began to edge around the back of the trailer when Pru stopped and Sven waved.

Sven wanted to scream when Traven disappeared from sight and two shots rang out. One was a rifle and the other Sven was sure was Traven’s 20-gauge. Two more shots and Sven yelled at Pru. “Get me up there!”

Pru gunned the Suburban and Sven held on until Pru came to a stop at the borrow ditch. Sven jumped off the top of the Suburban, grabbed the PTR, and ran around behind the trailer. He saw Traven spin around, bringing the shotgun up and slid to a stop, his hands up. “Easy, Traven! It’s me.”

“Don’t come up on me like that!” Traven said. “I almost shot you!”

“Yeah. Sorry. Won’t happen again,” Sven said. “What happened?”

“You were right. One of them was playing possum and tried to shoot me, so I shot him. And there was one over there that shot, too. I tried for him, but he ran away and was out of range for the shotgun. See? There!”

Traven pointed to the figure that had just jumped up from the brush a hundred meters from the highway. Sven tried a snap shot with the PTR and missed. Bringing the rifle up to his shoulder, he sighted carefully and put a .308 slug in the man’s back.

Sven then checked each of the bodies at the trailers, just to make sure, while Traven kept watch. They both walked the distance to the Ford. One front wheel was still spinning slowly. There were two dead men inside, one probably dead from one of Sven’s shots, the other, from the look of his head down on his shoulder, from a broken neck during the rollover.

Traven seemed fine as they turned around and walked toward the roadblock, each of them moving to opposite sides of the pavement. When they reached the roadblock and looked around they saw three additional dead men. That’s when Traven’s adrenaline ran out and he sagged to the ground and began to shake uncontrollably and throw up.

Sven just stood there with one hand on the young man’s shoulder until Traven finally stood up. Traven pulled a bandana from his right hip pocket and wiped his face. He couldn’t quite meet Sven’s eyes. “I’m sorry. I just…”

“It’s all right, Traven,” Sven said. “It’s a natural reaction. Killing a person, even as deserving as these were, is hard. Someone as young as you shouldn’t have to be doing it.”

“I have to do what I can to protect Elaine,” Traven replied, a bit of color coming back into his face. “And you and Pru. We’re all together now. I have to do my part.”

“You have. Why don’t you go and get Elaine and Pru. Get the Suburban hooked back up to the trailers. I’ll search these guys and then…”

“That’s okay,” Traven quickly said. “I can help.” To prove it, he set the shotgun down and began to go through the nearest man’s pockets. “Should we strip them? Take their clothes, too?” he asked after a moment.

“They aren’t worth taking,” Sven said, searching another of the bodies.

Pretty much only their weapons and ammunition was of enough value to take. That and a rather nice stainless steel Coleman cooler with the remains of the men’s lunch. There were also three Stanley Aladdin stainless steel vacuum bottles. Two classic 1.1 quart and one 2.0 quart versions.

The two saw Elaine walking toward them as they got back to the Suburban to deposit their finds. Pru was standing beside the vehicle, her Ruger Ranch Rifle in hand. “Is everything okay?” Pru asked.

Sven nodded. “Let us get the bodies out of the way and then you and Elaine hook us back up.”

“You okay, Traven?” asked Elaine. “That was so brave, helping like that.”

“Aw, cut it out, Sis! I was just something that had to be done.”

“And it was done well,” Sven said. Traven went with Sven to the other side of the trailer to search those bodies and drag them off the road. Traven checked the man Sven had shot out in the open. He hurried back to show Sven what he’d found.

“I think he must have been one of the leaders,” Traven said. “Look. He had gold and silver, two radios, a couple of knives, and these…” He handed Sven the decked out Springfield Armory M1A semi-auto rifle. “But I only found one other magazine. But look at these!”

Traven took down the fancy leather gun belt he was carrying over his shoulder. “They’re Springfield Armory XD .45’s. Two of them.” Indeed there were two of the thirteen round magazine capacity polymer pistols. One in a hip draw holster and one in a cross draw on the same belt. There were three double magazine pouches on the belt as well, and a scabbard with a Cold Steel Laredo Bowie knife.

“We’re lucky he didn’t have a scope on the M1A. He might have turned the tide if he’d nailed one of us,” Sven said, sending a shiver down the backs of the other three.

“You think you might grow into those?” Sven asked suddenly.

Traven looked up, his eyes shining. “You betcha! I can have them?”

“Add this to the package,” Sven said, handing Traven the heavy combat harness that he’d found half under the trailer. “I think he dumped this so he could run faster. It’s got another eight mags for the M1A and four for the XD’s.”

Traven staggered under the weight. “I think you’re right, Sven,” Traven said with a groan. “This is too much for me right now. I’m going to put this stuff in the truck.”

Pru was ready to move the Suburban, with Elaine guiding her. Sven went to gather up everything at the overturned pickup. There were three jerry cans of diesel fuel, two of them full. Some wrecking tools, Sven assumed to get into vehicles that were locked, several more guns and knives. And to add to Traven’s loot, a musette bag with additional magazines for the M1A. Six thirty-rounders in one side of the double bag, and three Beta-C 100-round dual drum magazines in the other side.

With everything loaded, Sven got behind the steering wheel again and drove forward. They didn’t bother opening up the barricade. Sven just went down into the borrow ditch in four-wheel-drive to get around it and then got back on the pavement.

Sven got on the radio, informing anyone listening on the different frequencies on different bands, of the battle outside of Mason. There wasn’t much response to the announcements, although a couple of people essentially said ‘good riddance to bad garbage.’

An excited sounding Ben was on a couple of hours later, asking about Elaine. “I’m fine, Ben,” she told him. “I didn’t really have to do anything. The others took care of it.”

“Well good. I don’t want anything to happen to you.”

Two more days and they were camping out just outside of Hondo. It had been too late the previous day to try and find the ranch. Ben said his father was security conscious and would prefer to meet the Suburban in Hondo and take them to the ranch rather than giving out precise directions. Sven understood that and readily agreed.

At a little after nine the next morning, a group of six riders met Sven and the others at the edge of Hondo and guided them to the ranch. The only contact was Elaine and Ben waving at each other, and Ben’s father leaning down to ask Sven through the open window of the Suburban to follow them.

When they arrived at the ranch, Ben and Elaine disappeared. Pru, Sven, and Traven were asked to go inside for something cold to drink and a visit. Big Ben, Ben’s father, shook hands with Sven on the front porch of the sprawling ranch house and introduced himself and his wife, Melinda, standing just inside the screen door of the house until everyone came in.

“Park you’re artillery there on the sideboard,” Big Ben said, doing exactly that. He unbuckled a western style gun belt and hung it on a peg in the back board of the side board. Traven, Sven, and Pru had left their long guns in the Suburban, comfortable enough with the situation to do so. Sven and Traven set their handguns on the top of the sideboard and followed Big Ben the rest of the way into the living room.

A few moments later Melinda was serving tall glasses of ice cold lemonade to Big Ben and the guests. “Don’t get many guests,” Melinda said, taking a seat on the arm of Big Ben’s chair.

“Won’t have too much time to socialize,” Big Ben said, after taking a long drink of the lemonade. “Harvest is on us and it takes everyone to lend a hand.”

“We’ll be glad to,” Sven said.

“Now, son,” Big Ben said, “I wasn’t asking you to do that.”

“We like to earn our keep,” Traven said solemnly.

“How old are you, boy?” Big Ben asked, his eyes studying Traven.

“Fourteen, Sir. Soon fifteen.”

“I saw you were packing. You any good?”

“Pretty fair with a pistol target shooting. Really good with a shotgun and twenty-two. I’m still a little light to handle full power cartridges, but I’ve got a good rifle and pair of pistols I plan to be using pretty soon.”

“I see. Target shooting is good, but a man must be ready to protect what’s his.”

“Yes, Sir,” Traven said.

“He can handle himself,” Sven said. “Helped take out the bandits up by Mason.”

“Heard a little about that. That was you people, then.”

Sven nodded. “Nearly got caught in an ambush. Had to fight our way out. Traven was a big help, just as Pru and Elaine did their parts.”

“Well that’s good, then. But about working here, I wasn’t saying you needed to do that.”

“We’d like to, Ben,” Sven said. “Like Traven said, earn our keep while we’re here. Maybe do some trading. We’re looking for a piece of land around here to set up shop ourselves. Depending on the weather. We were snowed in for several months last winter where we were.”

“Yeah, the boy said something about that. Been talking to your girl even back then.”

“Actually,” Sven replied, “She our ward. Not our daughter. Elaine is Traven’s sister. We wound up together after the attack. Same with Pru.”

“She’s not your wife?”

Pru answered before Sven could. “Not yet. We haven’t found a legal authority or preacher to take care of the ceremony.”

Traven noticed the tiny flash of shock on Sven’s face and smiled. What Pru had said was as much news to Sven as it was to Big Ben.

“That’s good. Don’t hold with people together without wedlock,” Big Ben said. “Right, honey?”

“To many problems without the ring that binds you together,” Melinda said in reply to her husband’s question.

“We got off track there,” Big Ben said. “About our weather here, now. It’s more like when we had a bad winter in the old days. Last winter was like one of them. You thinking they might all be like that now?”

“For the foreseeable future, Ben,” replied Sven. I think there is going to be a major migration south in the next couple of years. Those that don’t make it by then either aren’t going to and have the means to stay where they are, or they’re dead.”

Big Ben stroked his full white beard, as Sven continued. “I’d like to get settled somewhere… It doesn’t have to be around here… Somewhere there wasn’t much radiation so crops will grow without too much problem. At least a garden and some small stock to keep us going with a little trading thrown in for the items we can’t produce on our own.”

“That sounds good. I don’t know if you could make it around here,” Big Ben said, setting up a little straighter in his chair. “We’re pretty much taking care of the locals like us. What one of us don’t grow another does. Even have one guy pretty much doing biodiesel only. We don’t use much here, but some of the places still use diesel equipment since the biodiesel is available. Not sure we could do with the competition.”

“I wouldn’t want to be a major competitor with anyone around here. I think I could find a niche that would add value to the economy, without taking any food out of anyone’s mouth.”

“What’d you do, before?” Big Ben asked. Before what didn’t need to be stated.

“I was a cat skinner. Mostly the initial dirt work on new highways. Did some cartoon illustrating on the side.”

“Not going to be many cartoons drawn now,” Big Ben said, a bit of disapproval in his voice.

“Certainly not. That isn’t what I plan to do.”

“What then?”

“Just depends on what turns out to be a needed service or project. I have an information base and tools to do quite a number of things.”

“But no hands on for any of them?”

“Very little. But, like Traven here, I’m a quick study and good with my hands. I can do most anything I set my mind to.”

“Well, I’d have to see that to believe it,” Big Ben said with a laugh. “So, sure, if you want to work for your keep while you’re here, we need a couple of hands.”

“What about me?” Traven asked.

“You was one of the couple of. You and Sven here. Don’t have no work suited a woman.”

“I do,” Melinda said, standing up. “Come along, dear. We have supper to prepare.”

Pru looked over at Sven. He shrugged ever so lightly. Pru smiled and followed Melinda.

“That sister of yours…” Big Ben said, also getting up, “She do much of anything?”

Sven could tell the question annoyed Traven, and put a hand on his shoulder, but Traven simply said, “Yes, Sir, she can. She’s learned to sew, and cook, and clean, haul wood, fish…”

“Whoa, boy! That’s enough. Melinda’ll find her something to do, I’m sure, if she can do all that.”

“She can. You have my word,” Traven said solemnly again.

“Man’s word is an important thing. Might want to watch where you give it. Wouldn’t do to get a rep that your word isn’t worth much.”

“His is, Ben. Now, if you’ll show us what you need us to do, we’ll get right on it.”

“Well come right along! The barn hasn’t had a good mucking out since before the war.”

Sven saw Traven’s shoulders slump, but suddenly he was standing tall when Big Ben looked around. “You ever mucked out a barn before, boy?”

Traven shook his head. “No, Sir. But it sounds like a good place to start. I think I’d like to own some horses some day. Even with biodiesel, horses and oxen are going to be very important for farming and transportation.”

Again Big Ben laughed. “Well, you sure got aspirations. I’ll give you that. Let’s see how well you can work toward achieving them.” Pointing out a dozen pairs of rubber boots off to one side of the horse barn, Big Ben said, “Grab a pair that fits you. No need to ruin good boots.”

With rubber boots on their feet, gloves on their hands, each one picked up a shovel and began the arduous task of cleaning the horse barn. “I got my own duties to attend to, boys. See you at supper time.” With that Big Ben left them to the work.

Traven looked over at Sven and mouthed the words, “supper time?” Sven just grinned and ran the shovel deeply into the accumulation of straw, dirt, and horse manure. Traven did the same, dumping the shovel of muck into the manure spreader sitting in the middle of the barn.

They hadn’t worked long when Elaine came to get them. “Melinda says for you to clean up and come to the cookhouse for lunch.”

They didn’t waste any time doing so. And they were still the last ones in the chow line to get a plate and have it filled in turn by Elaine adding mashed potatoes to the plate; Pru, slaw; a girl about Elaine’s age, gravy; and Melinda herself adding what she considered an appropriate number of pieces of fried chicken. Traven grinned when he got an extra chicken leg over the identical amounts he and Sven had received.

“Boy’s growing. Needs good nutrition,” Melinda said, with a small smile at Sven’s slightly disgruntled look.

There was no coffee or tea, but there was copious amounts of lemonade, plus lemon pie for dessert. The meal done, after a bathroom break, Sven and Traven went back to the horse barn and Elaine and Pru helped clean up the cook house and get it ready to start the evening meal.

Supper was much the same, except there were steaks, potatoes, salad and vanilla ice cream for the meal. That was when they saw Big Ben again. He stopped Traven and Sven as they were leaving the cookhouse. “Come on up to the house with your ladies when they’re done for a chat.”

Sven and Traven exchanged glances, but went over to where the Suburban was parked. “Maybe we better wait and see what he has to say before we set up camp,” Sven said. “He may want us somewhere else.”

That was essentially what Big Ben wanted to tell them. Where to park the Suburban and trailers long term, and where everyone would be sleeping. Pru and Elaine would share a bedroom in the house with twin beds, and Sven and Traven would have bunks in the ranch’s big bunkhouse.

Sven and Traven wasted no time getting showers and getting to their respective bunks. While both were normally hard workers, it had been a while since they’d put in a day like this one.

Or the ones that came after, for three weeks while the round up took place, and the fields were harvested. The only days they didn’t put in full days were Sunday’s. Only the animals were looked after. Other than that Sven, Traven, Pru, and Elaine were at liberty to do about what they wanted to on the ranch.

Elaine, quite naturally, spent every spare minute with Ben. Traven was much the same with the horses, except for one Sunday when he went with the other hands on the ranch for some marksmanship practice. He was really tempted to take the M1A and XD .45’s with him, but decided immediately he would only embarrass himself now, so he stayed with the lighter arms, with which he was proficient.

Sven kept the Barrett locked up, too. He wasn’t afraid of embarrassing himself. He just didn’t want to waste the ammunition. Pru found some time to spend quietly with Sven on those Sundays, discussing their future, and the futures of Traven and Elaine. The four of them had become a family.

“I don’t think Elaine could do any better than marrying young Ben,” Pru was saying on the third Sunday they were there, with no major work scheduled the next day.

“I know,” Sven replied. “He has most of the good traits of his parents, and few of the less than likeable traits.”

Pru laughed softly. Sven really hadn’t taken to Big Ben. Big Ben was a bit too pedantic, and more than a little bigoted, both qualities that Sven didn’t care for. He was a bit tight fisted, too. Everyone on the ranch was well protected and eating well, but there was little more than that. If anyone wanted anything special, they pretty much had to make arrangements through Big Ben.

Despite the early indication of reluctance to have them work, once he decided they could, he kept them as busy as any of the other hands. Only on those Sundays could Sven go out scouting for a piece of property.

Pru went with him both Sundays he went out, to check out places that people at the ranch told him about. One of the hands claimed ownership of a large piece of land on one of the many creeks in the area slightly northwest of the ranch. He went with Sven and Pru to look at the property. That’s what it was. Property. Bare ground, scrub brush, and grass. But it had a well. That was key.

Sven was sure he could take care of anything else needed, except getting a well drilled. That was a bit beyond his ken. Sven and Pru walked over the property. It was on a slight slope, toward the dirt access road, with the well on the highest point in one corner.

“What do you think, Pru?” Sven asked as they walked back to the Suburban, where Mel was waiting.

“I don’t know, Sven. It seems to me that there is so much property around with no one to claim it, that you could just set up housekeeping without having to pay anything for the land.”

“I know. But I like the idea of have a good deed on the property. Things will come back. It’s possible that the land will revert to the government if there isn’t clear line of ownership. Or the squatter may be able to keep the land, by paying the government for it. I’d just rather have that ownership paper handy when there is a government again.”

“I see. Logical. So, how much do we offer Mel?”

“I think I’d rather see what he wants, and go from there,” Sven replied.

When they reached the Suburban an anxious Mel asked, “Well, what do you think? You want it?”

“You’ve got a good deed on it?” Sven asked.

“Right here. I brought it with me.” Mel handed the paper, protected in a Zip-lock bag, to Sven.

Sven looked it over. “Looks like you paid it off and got the deed just before the attack. Are you sure you want to get rid of it?”

“I’ve got to have food, or means to get it, for my family. I’ve got three young kids and a wife pregnant with another. I’m just making enough at the ranch to get by. I don’t want my wife and kids just getting by. I want them to have more.”

“You rather have food, trade goods, gold, or a promise of a job?”

“I’ve got a good job,” Mel replied. He seemed a bit affronted that Sven would try to hire him away from Big Ben. “The other three, in combination. Heavy on the food and trade goods, and light on gold. It’s not going over very well around here.”

“I can let you have two weeks worth of food, for the family, every month, for three years, trade goods that would get you two more weeks worth of food the way things are right now, and twelve ounces of gold, mostly in one-tenth-ounce and one-quarter-ounce gold eagles.”

“What if you don’t pay me every month? That sounds like a hard thing to pull off,” Mel said.

“Same as used to. Land goes back to you. I’d like at least two months grace on the payments before you consider taking back the land, if I miss a payment. And I’d like a discount if I can pay it off early.”

“How much discount?”

“Whatever gold hasn’t been paid, based on paying it four ounces a year for the three years.

“Let me talk it over with my wife. We bought the land from her parents. See if she’s agreeable.”

Sven nodded and the three of them got back into the Suburban. Sven dropped Mel off at his small place a mile from the ranch. Sven and Pru went back to the ranch. Sven parked by his trailers.

Pru went to the main house and Sven went looking for Traven. He found him the first place he looked. The horse corral. Traven was grooming one of the colts. He seemed to have a knack with horses, and Big Ben had him working with his trainer during the week.

Traven saw Sven and finished up the grooming, and released the colt. It followed Traven over to the corral fence where he went to join Sven.

“I think you have a shadow,” Sven said with a smile.

“Yeah. Lil’ Crunch here is a pest.” Belying his words, Traven rubbed the colt’s head fondly.

“I need to talk to you. Serious stuff.”

Traven nodded and climbed over the corral fence. “Problems?” he asked as the two walked toward the ranch parking lot where the Suburban and the two trailers were parked.

“Not problems. Opportunities, I hope. I found some land I want to buy. I need to cut a deal with you for some of your stuff, to use in trade to get some of what I need to get the land.”

“Sounds complicated. But you know you can have anything of mine you want,” Traven said. He put one booted foot up on the bumper of the toy hauler trailer.

“It is a little, and I’m not sure it would work. Big Ben has been making some noises about maybe getting the quad and personal water craft. He doesn’t seem interested in the snowmobile, though I’m not sure why. Seems to me it would be the most useful, the way the winters are. Anyway, they’re yours and Elaine’s. What would you take for them?”

“Gee, Sven! I have pretty much everything I need on a day-to-day basis. You’ve seen to that. Why don’t you just use them if you can and you can owe me.”

“I was thinking you might like one of the horses here,” Sven said, watching Traven carefully.

Traven’s eyes lit up immediately. “Well, Gee! Yeah! But I sort of hinted at it to Ben to see what his father would say. Big Ben, according to Ben, wasn’t interested.”

Sven kept his voice low when he replied. “I have to tell you, Traven, Big Ben has some prejudices. I don’t think he likes the idea of trading with someone your age.”

Traven frowned. “What difference does that make?”

“To me, none. Not everyone feels the same way.”

“Well, I’m fifteen next week. I think that’s old enough to make deals on my own!”

“So do I. I think you’re old enough now. That’s why I’m talking to you.”

“Oh. Yeah. So what would the trade be?”

“You said something about wanting to have horses some day. Would one of Big Ben’s horses now, and a colt or filly next year be acceptable for the two toys?”

“Shoot, yeah! Without much gas I can’t use them much, anyway.”

“I was thinking that, too. You’ve been really good about not asking for any. Let me see what I can do. It’ll have to be tomorrow. Big Ben won’t dicker on a Sunday.”

“Yeah. I know. Sven, what about Elaine? She’s half owner.”

Sven grinned at Traven. “That’s your own deal, there. It’s up to you how you handle it.”

Traven sighed. “Yeah. It is. Okay. I’ll let you know tomorrow.”

Sven waited another day. Big Ben wasn’t very happy the Monday following Sven’s conversations with Mel, Pru, and Traven. But on Tuesday, Big Ben was his usual self and took Sven to the den in the house when Sven asked to talk to him.

“What’s up? Not wanting a job over the winter, I hope. Don’t really need any more than the permanent hands I have.”

“It’s not that,” Sven replied. “I wouldn’t impose on you generosity like that.”

Big Ben grunted in acknowledgement, but didn’t say anything.

“I was hoping to work a deal or two before I go north again.”

“I’m listening.”

“You said something about the quad and PWC here while back. If you’re still interested, they’re up for trade.”

“You working this for your boy?”

“Nope. I’m trading Traven for them.”

“So they are his?”

“His and Elaine’s,” replied Sven. “Like I said, I’m getting the units from them.”

“What’cha asking?” Big Ben asked. He was always up for a deal. And he usually came out on his deals smelling like a rose.

“I’d need two horses, two steers, and two grown pigs.”

Big Ben barked out a laugh. “You’ve got to be kidding me! Barely be able to use them. Don’t have much gas.”

“I’ll throw in some gasoline. Been treated for storage so it’s good.”

The look in Big Ben’s eyes changed slightly. “Can’t do it. I need to build the herds. How much gasoline?”

“Hundred gallons.”

Big Ben looked impressed. Even here in Texas, gasoline was hard to get. But he shook his head. “I’m trying to build herds. I need to keep as much of my stock as I can, butchering just enough to meet needs. And the horses… where, they’re valuable.”

“The horses next spring, say, a colt and a filly. One pig now, and one pig next fall, one steer next summer, and one the summer after.”

Big Ben was showing some real interest. “Well now. You have made it interesting.” Then he smiled. “But I don’t think so. I’m having a hard time on a horse now. Be nice to have that quad to get around on. Used one for a while but Ben busted it up. But I can still ride my horse.”

“That first one hundred gallons of gasoline now and a hundred next spring. And I’ll kick in a couple ounces of gold, to boot.”

“You talk a good deal. You actually have that gas and gold?”

Sven nodded.

“Let’s go take a look at them,” Big Ben said, standing up and moving around the desk he’d been sitting behind.

Sven started up the quad and backed it off the trailer. He let Big Ben get on it and Ben took off with a whoop and a holler. He disappeared for almost ten minutes. When he got back, he shut off the quad, but didn’t get off. “You’ve got a deal!”

“I have to ask,” Sven said. “Why do you want the PWC?”

“I’ll use it on the lake to fish from.”

“What lake?” Sven asked.

“You haven’t been out on that way. Got an irrigation lake on the back side of the property. It’s loaded with fish, but they hang out in the deeper middle part. I’m not about to row a boat, with my back, nor ask one of the hands. With the PWC, I can get right out there.”

Sven nodded. “You want to take it out there now?”

“Absolutely. But let’s have that gas, first.”

Sven hid his smile and hooked up the custom trailer to the Suburban and moved it to the Ranch’s small tank farm. He pumped one hundred gallons into Big Ben’s gasoline tank and then re-parked that trailer. With the toy hauler attached, Traven in the passenger seat of the Suburban, and Big Ben on the Quad, Ben led them to the lake.

Sven backed the trailer down the slope of the bank of the lake and he and Traven horsed the PWC into the water.

“Ready to go,” Traven said, holding the craft against the bank.

Big Ben hopped off the Quad and onto the PWC. A few seconds later and he was leaving a rooster tail of water behind him as he circled the large lake.

“I’ve got a feeling he’s not going to just fish from that thing,” Sven said.

Traven grinned. “I don’t think so.”

Sven motioned to Big Ben as he passed by that he and Traven were going back to the ranch building compound. Big Ben waved them on, and turned back to the center of the lake.

As casually as he could, Traven finally asked Sven, “I know you made a trade. Was it a good one?”

“Oh, yes,” Sven said. “Got a pig for right now; a colt and a filly next spring; a steer next summer; another pig next fall, and a steer the summer after. I had to throw in some gasoline and just a little gold to close the deal.”

“Really? You got two horses?”

“Sure did. Both of them yours. Is that okay?”

“You betcha!”

“What about Elaine?” Sven asked.

“I offered her some of my trade goods of her choice, and a little bit of gold and silver. She let me have the trailer and all of the toys. She was happy. I think her and Ben are getting pretty serious. She might not want to go back with us.”

“How do you feel about that?”

“I don’t know,” Traven said slowly. “She’d be better off here. She’s been doing her part with us, but it’s just not the kind of life she should have. I think if she marries Ben, it would be good for her. And me, too.”

Traven was right. Elaine’s sixteenth birthday was two days after Traven’s fifteenth. Ben asked her to stay, and Big Ben and Melinda both agreed if Traven agreed to stay and be her chaperone until Ben got around to asking Elaine to marry him.

Two days after Elaine’s birthday Pru and Sven were headed back to the retreat with the Suburban and the custom trailer. The toy hauler with Traven’s snowmobile, two mountain bikes, and fifty gallons of gasoline in jerry cans was left behind.

Mel had his first payment of the land, to seal the deal. Mel made his own arrangements to get the first pig butchered and put up as the major portion of the first year’s food payment. Another fifty gallons of gasoline in jerry cans was the year’s trade goods payment, and Sven handed over four ounces of gold in one-tenth-ounce and one-quarter-ounce gold coins.

Sven had to drive through the winter’s first big snowfall to get to the retreat. He and Pru settled down for the winter, to get to know one another, and make a few plans for the property in Texas.

Planning Pays Off - Chapter 7

One of the things Pru learned about Sven that winter was he was the inveterate planner, from a long time past. Sven was on the radio almost every day that winter, cultivating existing contacts, and making more. He was going to need at least some help to do what he and Pru had decided to do with the land in Texas, based on Sven’s planning from long before the attack.

The basic overall plan was to do what Sven had planned to do after retirement, for something to do to keep him busy. He’d been buying things while he had the good paying jobs, planning for his retirement and for what had come.

The first part of the plan was to recover and assemble his prefab retirement home. A custom manufactured log home and out buildings he’d bought and paid for while working in Montana on a road project that was near a prefab log home manufacturer. Everything for the off grid home complex was loaded on four flat beds and in two box/reefer semi trailers stored at one of his friends’ place near Tulsa. That friend was one of those that had died at his brother’s house.

Sven made arrangements to get six former independent truckers in the Tulsa area with their own trucks that were running to pick up the trailers and take them to Hondo. Sven and Pru would meet them at their homes and provide fuel for the trucks for the trip.

Sven and Pru set out as soon as they thought the worst of the winter weather was over. They made a direct run to Tulsa, being very careful. They had no trouble at all, seeing very few people. The second post attack winter had been as bad as the first. It had finished many of those that had eked out an existence after the attack and the first winter.

Sven stopped at each of the truckers’ homes, three of which were staying together in a ranch house not too far from Jack’s place, putting enough of the treated diesel from the Suburban’s custom trailer tank to get them to Jack’s. Sven told them there would be more there. He saw the doubt in all three of the men’s faces.

In convoy, the group stopped at the gate of the wrecking yard that had been Jack’s livelihood. He’d had a decent business salvaging parts from wrecked cars to repair other wrecked vehicles. There was a section in the yard where thirty or so semi trailers were all lined up, some stripped down to almost nothing. Others still complete.

The ones Sven was interested in were some of the complete ones. Much to the drivers’ amazement, Sven pointed out the trailers he wanted them to take to Texas.

“Those old junkers?” asked one of the three drivers that lived not to far away. “They’re here for scarp. Liable to fall apart on the way!”

“Not these,” Sven replied. “Take a look at the tires, king pins, and running gear.”

The drivers took Sven at his word and did a thorough inspection of all the trailers Sven indicated. One of the drivers walked over to the Suburban, where Sven and Pru were waiting, and said. “Okay. Except for some tires with some weather checking, and being low, those all look like they’ll make the trip.”

Sven looked at the other drivers as they walked up. It was a consensus. Then, again to their surprise, Sven took a portable fuel pump from one of the toolboxes of the Suburban’s trailer, got up on a seven-thousand-gallon tank trailer and lowered it into a hatch, after unlocking the weather resistant combination lock.

“You telling me you got fuel in that truck?” yelled up the man that had called the trailers junkers.

Sven smiled down at them as Pru started the generator on the trailer and plugged in the pump. “Probably a good thing you guys didn’t know, huh?”

There was some good natured joking that Sven was right. Had they known, the fuel probably wouldn’t still be there.

Sven filled the trucks’ diesel tanks in turn, giving them full loads of fuel. “It’s all treated with Pri-D,” Sven told them when there was some suggestion that it might not be good fuel.

The trucks all fueled, and the pump put away, Sven and Pru stayed out of the way as the truckers got the trailers all connected, tires aired up, and air pressure built up to test the trailer brakes. When all seemed in order, Sven let the convoy out of the salvage yard and closed the gates behind them.

After a check run of a couple of miles, Sven led the convoy away from Tulsa and toward Hondo, Texas. It was some convoy, especially for the day. Six semi trucks of various makes, pulling two trailers each. A total of four loaded flatbeds, two loaded box/reefers, two loaded tank trailers, one empty tanker, and three empty box/reefers. The Suburban was pulling its custom tandem wheel support trailer and the last two toy haulers with all the remaining toys.

It took a week to get to the property, and a day to get the trailers set where Sven wanted them on the property. Sven paid off four of the drivers, and they left, with full fuel tanks again, a month’s worth of food for four, each, and a bit of gold and silver, traveling paired up in two of the trucks. Sven had managed to buy two of the trucks.

The other two drivers were also paid, but Sven had made arrangements with them to stay and do some additional work locally. That work included bringing several pieces of construction equipment to the property from where they were scattered here and there in the area. Sven bought a few of them, but most were clearly abandoned, and he took them without compunction.

The local work done, and without the toy haulers, Sven led the way back to Oklahoma to pick up four more empty trailers. A flatbed, an equipment trailer, and two box/reefers. The box/reefers were filled from the various caches Sven had around the retreat and at Jack’s.

The flatbed and most of the equipment trailer were loaded up with all the healthy fruit and nut trees, and grape vines they could find that weren’t tied down, so to speak. Mostly from nurseries along the route, but some from Jack’s place, and from a couple of abandoned orchards. A Bobcat A300 utility loader with a tree spade did the digging and placing the trees on the trailers, and then rode the tail end of the equipment trailer when on the road.

After paying off the drivers for the additional work, Sven and Pru, with Traven’s help on Sundays, began putting in long hours getting the trees and grape vines planted, and large areas of berry patches put in. A solar pump with solar panel did simple duty to irrigate the plantings and provide water for the tent camp Pru and Sven were living in on the property.

Following the plans of the prefab log house, Sven used a backhoe he’d found to dig the basement, and ready the garage and parking pads, and a length of driveway. A second basement was dug, for the detached workshop, and a hole for a swimming pool, with pad for pool house. Another area was prepped for a concrete floored pole barn to go in. There were two more building footings and floors prepared for smaller buildings. Plastic sheet and rebar were put down. July 4th was two weeks away.

It took a week working at the abandoned concrete plant to get four concrete trucks running, and everything set up to start mixing, moving, and pouring concrete. He hired several locals that knew a thing or two about concrete and with their help the basement floors, the pool, and the pads were poured and finished.

While waiting for the concrete to cure enough to form the basement walls, Sven and Pru were unloading the flatbed trailers and getting everything ready for a house raising. Finally they were able to start the forming of the basement walls. It took a hard week to get them done. The small crew Sven had put together earlier were eager for more of the food paying work and helped pour the basement walls.

Another wait for the concrete basement walls to cure found Sven and Pru in the process of putting in the septic system for the house and outbuildings. Sven had most of the materials needed in with the package, but they had to find some additional items, but had no problem doing so.

Sven and Pru hosted a big barbeque on the property for everyone willing to help raise the major portions of the house and shop. He and Pru provided foods from Sven’s stores that people had been without since the attack, in addition to a roast pig and half a beef they bought from Big Ben for the event.

It took two and a half days to get the work done. Sven sent the remains of the barbeque home with all those that had helped, plus a little bit of silver coin each, in appreciation. One man in particular had impressed Sven with his hard, expert work and asked him to work on a regular basis.

“Sure ‘ting, Boss. Just tell me when you need me, and I’ll be here.”

“Well, Harlen, tomorrow for sure. We’ll just have to decide on a day to day basis, but I’ll guarantee you at least a month’s food each month, until winter, no matter how much you work.”

“Fine wit’ me, Boss. I’ll be here first light.” Harlen got on his old Harely-Davidson motorcycle and took off, the throaty rumble of the Harley shaking the ground slightly.

It took the rest of the summer to finish the house and shop, but when it was done, the place was a sight to behold. The place was totally off the now non-existent grid, but had all the necessities, plus a few luxuries.

Elaine took Pru aside after visiting for the first time since the house had been half completed. “Pru! This place is wonderful! Would it be… Would it be okay if I got married here?”

Pru hugged Elaine. “So he asked, huh?”

“Just last week. There’s a traveling preacher now and we can have a real service.”

“Of course you can get married here!”

After Elaine and Pru told Sven he insisted on it.

Two weeks before Thanksgiving Elaine married Ben at the new house and the two moved into one of the several houses on the ranch property as husband and wife. Traven, grown amazingly over the past year, had given the bride away, and Pru had been Maid of Honor. The reception was at the Ranch. Again Sven and Pru provided some foods from Sven’s storage that were nearly impossible to get now.

It was only several weeks later that everyone found out that Pru and Sven had gone before the preacher and said their vows, with only Traven and Harlen present as witnesses. They hadn’t wanted to take anything away from Elaine’s wedding, but wanted to tie the knot while the preacher was there on his last visit for the summer.

With the alternative Sven and Pru offered Traven, Traven moved to the property. Working quickly Traven helped put in a pole corral for his two horses, and move a small prefab yard barn from an abandoned property nearby. The little barn would be a stop gap measure until Traven could make arrangements to build a larger barn on the property for his intended business of horse breeder and trainer.

With two loads of hay on trailers, and a tarped load of corn on another flatbed with short sideboards added, the feed for the horses was taken care of for the winter. Traven and Harlen helped Sven get the shop set up the way he wanted.

Sven went over to see Big Ben to let him know about his new business.

“Doing what? You’re a cat skinner you said. I don’t need a cat skinner.”

“Well, you see, I grew up around heavy equipment, and became a professional after I got out of the Navy. In the Navy I became a machinist. When I was in high school a friend of my dad was an old time blacksmith and he taught me some things when I asked him to help me make a knife out of a file. So I can do blacksmith work and machining with the equipment at my shop. Worked on a house construction crew while I was going to college. Got the tools and such for carpentry. Fix up just about anything fixable, if I do say so myself. I can also grind wheat into flour on a small scale. Make soap. Sharpen knives as well as making them. Few other things. And more to come as I expand.”

“I see. Well… Hum… If I have anything needs fixing I might just call you on the radio.”

“That’s all I ask, Ben. Thanks.”

Big Ben watched Sven go back to the Suburban, shaking his head. “Was purely wrong about that family,” he told Melinda when he went inside. “That Elaine is going to be a good one for Ben. And Traven… He’s going to be competition one of these days. He’s got a knack for horses and works as much as most men.”

Sven made the rounds in the area, including going into San Antonio to advertise his repair business, and Pru’s sewing service. He would wait to announce some of his other offerings until they were ready.

Harlen moved his old trailer to the property and hooked up to Sven’s solar electrical system. It was easier for him to live there than travel back and forth even the short distance away he lived every day.

Sven, Harlen, Traven, and Pru continued building projects as fall came and went, with winter right behind. The large icehouse was ready when the weather turned. Sven, Harlen, and Traven filled all the rubber ice block molds Sven had each night to freeze, and then stored the blocks of ice in the icehouse the following morning. By spring the icehouse was full to the gills with precious ice.

Pru was pregnant and unable to do any labor, except for her sewing. Sven and Traven took care of everything else.

As soon as they could that spring the large commercial greenhouse was installed on the foundation laid the previous summer and a greenhouse garden started, using non-hybrid seeds. Sven had ordered the greenhouse with some special features.

There was room on the southern end for several rabbit hutches built over raised worm beds. The rabbits’ droppings would provide the food needed by the worms. Fish tanks were partially buried under the worm beds so the fish could be fed easily. The arrangement gave much additional protein to the group, with enough to trade once the operation reached full scale.

A much smaller, but similar greenhouse was erected over the swimming pool. An outside garden was tilled and planted with more of the non-hybrid seeds Sven had stored in abundance. A chicken tractor was build and Sven obtained a rooster and several hens.

Sven had kept his eye on a large pole barn in the area. The owner had been reluctant to sell it, but that spring Sven contacted him again. The man was more than willing to let the building go for a generous payment of food. The man and his family had nearly starved that winter.

Two weeks after the deal was cut, the building was torn down and re-erected on Sven and Pru’s property. They didn’t even loose any height, as the poles of the barn were actually treated 8 x 8’s, sitting on galvanized brackets in the foundation. Sven made identical brackets and installed them in his foundation. It wasn’t sheer luck that the building fit the foundation. Sven had designed it that way with that exact pole barn in mind.

With Pru due any day, Elaine came over to the property to stay with her. Sven made arrangements for a doctor to come out and stay for a few days, to be there when Pru gave birth. Everything was ready, with the doctor in a travel trailer Sven had acquired for the purpose. Pru had good timing. The doctor from San Antonio had been there only a day and a half when she went into labor.

Fortunately Sven had everything needed, as the doctor had run out of supplies the first winter. There was only one small problem and the doctor was able to deal with it. Sven and Pru were the proud parents of a healthy son, Shawn.

Sven took the doctor home two days later, well paid. Elaine stayed another two weeks to help Pru, who needed to take it easy for at least that long.

Sven got a major job a few days later. A local farmer needed a cultivator completely rebuilt. It was the first of many such jobs as equipment broke or wore out. By fall the rabbits and fish produced enough to begin selling a few. The chickens were laying, with a few brooding hens taking care of chicks.

And the greenhouse was going great guns. The outside garden produced enough to be preserved by the family for future use. The fruit, nut, and grape orchards were taking hold. They lost less than fifteen percent of the trees they had transplanted. It would be another year before there was any major production.

The ice had not moved as well as Sven thought it would. But he didn’t give up and filled two of the box/reefers with ice when the icehouse filled early in the winter. It was another harsh winter, the worse so far since the attack. There was snow at the property up to four feet deep at times. From the radio reports he was getting, and those regular contacts missing, Sven wondered just how bad it was getting in the northern latitudes.

A contact in eastern Nevada informed Sven the Ruby Mountains near him had not been snow free since the first winter. The snow was estimated to be forty feet deep at the melt line. No one would venture a guess how deep it was higher.

A couple of people around Branson indicated they were at seven feet of snow accumulation by Christmas and still growing.

Sven, Traven, Pru, with Shawn in her arms, were sitting in the nice warm living room in early March the next spring. “I don’t think we would have made it, even with your prior planning, further north,” Pru told Sven.

“Good planning,” Traven said, smiling. He was seventeen now, a man in all ways. His skill with horses was extraordinary, and he was busy the summer months breaking the many horses being raised in the area, when he wasn’t helping Sven. Besides the colt and filly he’d taken in the first trade, he had one more owed him by Big Ben for working the horses at his ranch, and four more from other people for whom he’d provided the same service the previous year. The only thing holding him back was a good barn to shelter them during the winter.

He and Sven had been working on that and a barn would be raised that spring, barring any major trouble. It would be the used portions of several barns in the area that were in various states of decay. Only the best materials out of each of them would be used to get what Traven wanted. Three of the farms from which the barn parts were coming had grain silos. Those silos would be moved and erected, too.

When the work was done, and the horses promised Traven delivered afterward the next spring, Traven had a small, but full scale horse raising operation. It would be three years before he had any to sell, but that time would come.

With a going business, a secure place to live, the means and willingness to defend it, and some jingling money in his pocket, being almost twenty-one, six feet two inches tall, long brown hair, and dancing brown eyes, it was a toss up which of the available young ladies in that part of Texas would wind up marrying him.

When Sven took him aside one day and asked him about his future he replied, “I’ve got a plan, Sven. Planning pays off, you know.” Both men laughed.

Copyright 2008



By Jerry D. Young