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Sorry Your're on Your Own part 3

Jerry D. Young Library

Home | The Keys to the Kingdom | What is the Password

Part 3:

Chapter 1: Christmas:

The few days between the return from Stagford and Christmas morning went swiftly for the Adams. Without Mandy’s trauma touched presence, the mood in the cabin returned to light hearted happiness. Amid so much deprivation and misery, Bob was profoundly grateful for the multitude of blessings that they enjoyed.

Christmas was always a time of celebration and thanksgiving. Gifts were given to celebrate the gift of salvation offered by God to the world through the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Unable to shop for material gifts to express their love for one another, the family found that this Christmas was somehow more meaningful than all the others before.

They spent the morning first in worship, then shared a brunch of pancakes with maple syrup, honey, and lots of the newly purchased butter. Bob gave Nancy a poem based on the 12 days of Christmas recounting twelve reasons that he loved her and promising a dozen dozen ways to show it (a 12 minute backrubs, a 12 minute foot massage, 12 pails of water hauled and heated for a long hot bath, etc.) Bob received certificates to redeem from Rob for one full wood box and a day off from chores from Nancy, lovely home made cards from both and a can of dark roast coffee from the pantry that Nancy said that she “had been saving” for him. Rob was given “new” books that he had not been interested before, but that his reading level had now reached. The gift included read aloud time from each parent as well. He was also given permission to use a full 50 rd box of subsonic 22 cartridges to target shoot whenever he wanted and his own set of snares so he could set up his own trap line. He also received the one thing that he had said that he wanted the most: his very own jumbo pack of toilet paper! He had been dreading the day when the reserves of TP ran out. In fact, the last case was already open, but his mind was now at ease after calculating that he had at least a six month personal supply.

They spent the afternoon in Haven enjoying more roast pork than anyone could hold. With Virgil’s help Bob had returned to the feral pig carcass and brought the entire hog (less hooves and head) back to the hamlet. There it had been skinned and washed, then spitted and slow roasted all day from dawn until Christmas dinner. Willing hands turned the spit almost continuously. The huge feral sow provided more meat than the community had seen in one time for quite awhile.

The roast pork was served with the remaining potatoes from a fifty pound bag that the Abbott’s had bought for a few dollars at a potato farm on the far side of Millersville in the fall. The peelings were saved to plant in the spring because only the intact eyes in the skin were needed to sprout new plants. Bob and Nancy provided applesauce for all and the coffee and sugar for after dinner drinks. There was plenty of goat milk on hand and a good time was had by all.

After the meal, followed by hours of conversation and games, the party broke up just as it began to snow. It was the white Christmas Nancy had hoped for after all. By the time the family walked the four miles home, their coats and hats were covered in white.

It kept snowing all of Christmas night and most of the next day. Fat flakes weighed down tree limbs and lay like a thick fleece over the entire world. The family slept peacefully in their beds as the fire burned in their warm stove. All was well.

The next day, Bob began to feel ill. He didn’t exactly hurt. He just didn’t feel good. On the 27th he ran a fever and his joints ached. At this point he closeted himself in the bedroom and redeemed the chore free day coupon. He surmised that he had picked up an infection in Stagford. He hoped and prayed that he had not brought whooping cough back to Haven and his own family. He spent much of the afternoon sleeping and declined food. Nancy insisted that he drink and take the Tamiflu that they had stockpiled against just such an occurrence. He did, more to keep her out of the room than to relieve his own symptoms. The precious antibiotics had been saved from previous prescriptions and preserved against this time of need. He reasoned that isolation from him was the best thing his family could do to preserve their health. So he shut himself in the bedroom for three days taking nothing but soup and encouraging Nancy to sleep in the guest bedroom recently vacated by Amanda. Alone in the dark and unable to sleep from an increasingly persistent cough, Bob looked out over the moonlit yard under its shroud of white. He was grateful for both the antibiotics and for the over the counter cough relief and fever reducer on hand. It was only when the medicine was in effect that he was able to sleep soundly. As each dose wore off he would awake coughing but he dare not take more of the medicine than he absolutely needed. He needed to save some in case his family developed the same symptoms.

As he watched the clock willing the minutes to go by until he would take the next dose he viewed the stark moonlight and shadow balance of bright white and blue blackness, he had an overwhelming feeling not of his own mortality, but of some other impending doom. Something was coming. Something that he knew he could do nothing more to ready himself for, yet he could not rest. When he could not sleep, he prayed. God heard him, and gave him peace from the fever dreams. The fever broke and the cough decreased. He spent a fourth day in isolation, then washed the blankets and clothes himself in hot water with a generous amount of bleach. Then he washed the floor and wiped down the furniture with a solution of the same. Finally he bathed in hot water with strong soap. When he felt that he had done all that he could to disinfect himself and the room. He emerged from the cocoon to do his share of chores with the goat herd. Although he was not 100% over the illness, he did not think that he would be contagious anymore. The rare times that he used some of the remaining tissues, they immediately went into the blazing woodstove.

The isolation and disinfecting tactic seemed to work as no one else in the house, or Haven came down sick. Some thought that Bob’s long walk in the cold to Stagford and back must have weakened his immune system enough for a virus to take hold. Bob figured that he had been exposed to something in the village that the others had not been exposed to. Either he was not yet contagious when he associated with them, or they had been spared from exposure because he had immediately changed out of his bloody clothes and bathed after returning home covered in pig blood. No matter what the reason was, he was grateful that God had spared the others from the days of cough, aches, and chills.

Although he and Nancy kept their own medicine chest well stocked with relief from most flu-like symptoms, they did not have enough to share with even the small community at Haven. He doubted that the oldest and the youngest there could survive a battle with the virus without those symptom relievers.

After the flu passed, the family settled into a comfortable routine of patrolling the surrounding hills while maintaining their trap lines. It was a full two weeks before a fresh dog track was spotted and that belonged only to a single animal. Every few days, the snares, shotgun, or rifles brought in small game or birds. It snowed several more times and in early February, the snow was still deep when Bob and Rob were stalking red squirrels. The little animals provided only enough meat to flavor a decent pot of soup, let alone make a meal, but Bob was inclined to let Rob harvest them anyway. It gave the boy a chance to practice his rapidly developing hunting skills and extended their larder. Besides, Bob liked the fat grey squirrels better. They reminded him of playful cats and any red squirrel in the pot meant more feed for the grey squirrels still alive.

They were waiting for one of the noisy little animals to come back around the tree it had chattered at them from, when they paused and looked at one another with curious faces. Something unusual was in the air. Something they were unaccustomed to. Something they had trouble identifying immediately. The distant sound of an engine was winding closer.

Chapter 2: Contact

Zack Frye led the way. His Arctic Cat snow machine throbbed beneath him with exhilarating power. He felt like he was flying. The helmet’s facemask protected him from the stinging wind and blowing ice crystals. Behind him, Mike Unser and Nathan Zweits followed. This was cool. Life had never been better for any of them.

Life had been at a low point when the lights went out four months ago. But Mike and Nate had the right answers when Bill Munger had come calling to recruit his band of cutthroats. They had indulged every vice that had ever been held in check over the weeks that followed. When Munger and the rest of his band had run into trouble in the form of armed resistance, they quietly exited the rear of the stage without a scratch. They had covered a dozen miles or so before holing up in a farmhouse with a middle aged couple. He never came in from fetching firewood. Then the pair had moved in. The silly woman had been near starvation while two horses ate hay all day in the barnyard outside her window. When the horse flesh was gone a month later, the killers had left her corpse behind.

Another dozen miles had brought them to the city of Millersville where things were more organized than anywhere they had encountered in the past few months. The police actually patrolled the streets, and everyone seemed to have enough to eat. They thought that the later was worth putting up with the former. Anyone new in town needed to pass a review board to get their ration cards for food. It was then that they had met the newly appointed County Administrator. It didn’t take long for Mr. Hinckley to recognize their special talents. Their cover story of being ex-police officers fit in well with the equipment they carried and clothing they wore. Now, Mike and Nate were wearing badges too. Today, they were riding snowmobiles at top speed over the same ground it had taken them days to cover on foot. Life was good indeed.

Zack brought the heavy machine to a halt in front of his own home. His security escorts pulled in behind him and took up positions with their backs to the wall and the muzzles of their rifles pointed to the left and right as they scanned the approaching crowd. Munger had made the right call bypassing this place. He had said that with this many people clustered together, they would have eaten up all their food already. The houses showed they were dirt poor before the lights went out, so they wouldn’t even have cash to loot. Nobody who could afford better would be living in this little dump village. Larry had been right when he scouted the place with a walk through too. “Old people, skinny kids, a shotgun and at least two rifles.”

None of the rifles were pointed at them today, but Mike and Nate still didn’t care for the sight of armed villagers. Their guide was totally at ease though. He was smiling and laughing with his former neighbors. The kids were oohing and ahhing over the snow-machines. Zack dropped a few things off at his house and quickly gathered up a duffle bag of clothes and other items that he had missed having.

His former neighbors were plying him with questions about the snowmobiles, his rifle toting companions in state police issue snowmobile coveralls (that he wore too), the gasoline in the tanks, and events in Stagford and beyond. He told them with a smile that things were getting better. The Governor had organized county and regional reconstruction teams who were restoring order and distributing food to help people to get through the rest of the winter. He had been sent to spread the word that trucks would be coming through with supplies when the snow melted and organizing the relief effort.

He said to expect a food distribution from Stagford “real soon.”

Then the trio loaded up their sleds and headed up the lane toward the Adam’s cabin.

Zack pointed out the goat herd as the sleds cruised past the barn. Nate and Mike passed a knowing look to one another. They slowed as they went by the Fleisher’s burned foundation and the fresh graves in the yard.

None of the riders had ever been farther up the lane than that, so the view that greeted them was equally new to all as their sleds carried them over the footprints in the center of the road and up the hill. Rounding a wide bend in the road, the tree cover opened on the hillside above and they could see a log cabin looking down on the road from 500+ yards away. This straight quarter mile of road was open to view from the cabin even though a thick stand of bare hardwood trees separated the home from the road. After the straightaway up the slope the road wound around the gently curving hill in a graceful curve around the ridge. A final stretch ran almost straight for 175 yards to climb to the level of the home before ending in a wide circular driveway in front of a solidly built log home. The poured concrete foundation was hidden from view by a wall of field stone surrounding the base of the house to a height of two feet, about a foot away from the walls. In warm weather the area between the low wall and the logs was a well tended and decorative planter.

Vehicles were tucked into an open storage shed on one side of the home. A closed shed that had formerly served as a chicken coop stood 50 yards away on the far side of a garden with permanent raised beds. The otherwise well tended lawn and grounds surrounding the house had a conspicuous number of downed trees throughout the woods bordering the road and yard. One large beech trunk had come to rest solidly across the driveway 80 yards from the house. Although some of the upper limbs had been sawn off. The majority of the heavy trunk had not been converted to firewood. Limbs on the underside held it a few feet off the ground, and several stubs of limbs stuck up from it several feet above the main trunk. Up until now, the trio had been able to just guide their sleds around the base or top of fallen trees. But here it seemed almost deliberate, that the top branches were interlaced with those of another tree which had fallen from the opposite direction. The base of the tree lay across the roots of a similar blow-down tipped in the opposite direction. In addition, walls of thick thorny blackberry briars lined the driveway on both sides.

As the sleds came to a halt with engines idling, a voice called out. “Stay where you are or you’ll be dead before you can turn around.”

The family had heard the sleds coming. It had been so long since they had heard an engine that the sound was like a fire alarm going off in their heads. Their bug-out gear was already stashed on the ridge above their home. The rifles were loaded. The had examined the riders when they came up the road 500 yards below, but could not justify shooting them without knowing who they were or what they wanted. There was nothing they could do but get into good cover and await their arrival.

The three riders looked around but were unable to see speaker. Yet the voice had come from close by and had been loud enough to carry over the sound of their engines. Zack turned off his machine and stood up. The tall man removed his helmet revealing close cropped blond hair and called out “Bob, don’t shoot. It’s Zack. I’ve brought two men from Stagford to talk to you.”

Bob said “Keep your hands off your rifles.” As he stepped from around the corner of the garage/shed with the muzzle of his rifle firmly pointed at the strangers.

“So this is the guy.” thought Mike. He didn’t like the way Bob looked at him. Even though they had never seen each other before, each took an instant dislike to the other. Nate was more forgiving. Sure this guy had killed his friends. But heck, they had probably killed his too. He figured that was no reason they couldn’t at least work together. He flipped up the face shield of his helmet and smiled a toothy smile. “No need for the rifle, Mr. Adams. We’re from the government. We’re here to help.”

Chapter 3: The Offer:

Zack went on to explain that a group had come out to Stagford from Millersville and begun to establish relief efforts including food distribution. The visit was in part to inform the residents of Haven and the surrounding areas that order was being re-established on a county level and that relief supplies were available.

The real reason that the men had come all the way up the mountain was because the authorities had heard of Bob’s run in with the looters. Zack assured him that there was no danger of prosecution - just the formality of filing a report with the County Representative. Bob could see the badges on all three men. With that sort of summons he had little choice but to accept Zack’s invitation to ride back to Stagford. He called his family inside and after a quick conference took his daypack and rifle and joined Zack on the sled.

In a little more than a chilly hour later they crossed the bridge and were pulling up in front of Dick Hinkley’s house on the north edge of Stagford. The house might be called a mansion in other times. At the moment a sign at the end of the driveway declared it “Administrative Headquarters – Stagford.” The yard was filled with vehicles, but dominated by a huge gasoline tanker truck.

No one questioned them as they parked their snowmobiles next to the tanker. Mike began refilling the sleds’ tanks directly from the truck. Nate trotted ahead of them up the steps and inside. Zack motioned for Bob to follow him. There were a half dozen armed men in the yard and on the porch. Some wore state police overcoats. Others were in civilian clothes. Bob felt a little out of place in his flectar BDUs and parka. A few of the men nodded to Zack, and Bob couldn’t believe no one questioned his carrying his rifle inside.

Nate met them in the entryway and let them know that it would be just a few minutes before Mr. Hinkley would be ready for them. They waited in what had been called a parlor, or sitting room off the main dining room. It served well as a reception area. Bob paced nervously wondering if he was enjoying his last moments of freedom. Incarceration in the best of times would not have been pleasant. The thought of jail in a world without electricity was down right scary.

“Relax Bob, it’s just a formality” Zack sounded confident. But why did he have to come all the way to Stagford? Why couldn’t Zack have taken his statement at home? It didn’t make sense.

Nate stuck his head through the door and motioned them into the dining room. Dick Hinkley hadn’t changed a bit. Except he was even more full of himself than he ever had been. He sat behind the big oak dining room table with neat piles of papers in front of him. As Bob walked in, he saw several other men exit through a door on the far side of the room.

“Mr. Adams, come in. It’s good of you to come.” The slender silver haired millionaire waved Bob forward without getting up.

“Ah yes, well I was told that I need to file a report - about defending myself.”

“So it was a case of self defense?”

“Yes. Yes it was.”

Good then.” Mr. Hinkley smiled. “That settles that.”

“Bob, I’ve asked you to come for another reason. Related to the first, it’s true, but another reason all the same. As you know the situation in Stagford is not ideal. The utilities are still not functioning and more importantly, people are short of food.”

Bob nodded.

“Things are even worse in Millersville. After the Governor appointed me Regional Coordinator I set up a community resource pool to feed the hungry and restore order. Everyone contributed, and combined with what remained in the grocery stores, restaurants, and farms - everyone had plenty to eat. Everything was split evenly based on the number of people in the household. But now food is getting short again so we initiated the countywide plan to expand the cooperative initiative. We’re offering vouchers for the full pre-crisis value of the donated assets so that everyone will be fairly compensated by the county government. The vouchers can even count toward your county tax bill.”

Bob nodded again, unsure of what any of this had to do with him.

“Some people are less than cooperative. Some greedy unlawful men are hoarding their resources. Hoarding food while people starve is evil Mr. Adams. And evil must be confronted. Besides being wrong, it’s against the law.”

Clearly warming to the use of a comfortable and often used speech – the wealthy man stood and gestured to Bob with outstretched palm as if begging his aid.

“The pastor suggested I come to you. Amanda Fleisher has been visiting him regularly to work through the difficult transition that we all face. And she told him that you have some experience dealing with the kind of dangerous men like the renegade deputies that Durkee has doing his dirty work on the south end of town. Mr. Frye here tells me that you possess skills that are valuable in this situation. Skills that would allow you to help those in desperate need.”

Bob was uneasy with the idea that Amanda and Zack had been telling anyone that he was some sort of trigger happy gunman. But it was true that he was one of the few people in town who had actually been under fire. Most of the others were either the deputies working for Durkee, or elderly vets in the shadow of their lives. Anyone from more recent military service was probably either still overseas, or had been called up to active duty before the crunch.

“Good. Good. We need someone like you Bob. The town needs you. Your Governor needs you. And we need to know that we can count on you. Durkee can be violent. He assaulted me when I made him a generous business offer right after the lights went out. He’s had tax disputes with the village and resents anyone who is an authority figure. But I have a feeling that he will respect a group of his fellow citizens who go talk to him about the needs of the greater good.”

He paused and offered Bob a drink as he poured a pair of crystal tumblers full of bottled orange juice. Bob accepted the sweet luxury. It tasted like liquid sunshine.

“I’ve asked what’s left of the town board to put together a delegation to go and try to reason with Durkee. They’ve nominated you and Deputy Terry. Everyone else is either afraid to go up there, or already on Durkee’s payroll.”

Looking sage and fatherly with his white hair and game show smile, the County Administrator smiled. “Will you go Bob? Will you try one last time for a peaceful resolution to help hungry people?”

Zack was nodding his head in agreement behind Mr. Hinkley. Bob found himself nodding too. How could he refuse?

Chapter 4: Negotiations

Almost before he knew it, Bob and Bill Terry were being ferried outside village limits by Nate and Mike on the snow machines. A third sled carrying Zack and a man named Ed that Bob hadn’t met before lead the way. The sleds climbed the slope from the village to the farm gate effortlessly. The track was already worn by countless steps where people from the village had hiked through the snow to the farm gate to barter for the meat and milk that kept them alive.

The tracks made Bob wonder about Mr. Hinkley’s comment that the village supervisors were afraid to approach the farm. It sure didn’t look like anybody was afraid to approach the farm.

As the sleds approached the gate, two deputies in their county uniform including hats, overcoats and riot guns stood inside the closed gate between the road and the farm’s long driveway. A three strand barbed wire fence stretched away in both directions to the left and right of the gate. The plan was for Bill to talk to his former co-workers and try to get them to see reason and stop defending the herd before lawmen started shooting fellow officers. Bob, Zack, and Ed would plead the case for the hungry people of Stagford, Haven, and Millersville (where Ed was from). They were also to assess the defensive capabilities of the farm, observe where sentries were posted, and what defenses had been arranged inside the house, and barn if possible with a special eye toward looking out for booby-traps. Mike and Nate were to stay with the sleds and come in for back up if needed.

The deputies waited for the sleds to shut down their engines. The riot guns were ready in their hands, but not pointed at the visitors. “Well Billy, what do you want? Come to your senses and looking for a job?”

Bill Terry explained what they were there for. The deputies made no comment but to radio to the house with walky-talkies they carried and received permission for two men to come to the house without weapons.

Ed volunteered to stay behind and chat with Bill and the others while Bob and Zack went to the house to meet with the infamous Mr. Durkee.

The deputies had patted them down and done a good job, taking even Bob’s pocketknife. He felt absolutely naked walking the 200 yards of snow swept roadway. There wasn’t a bit of cover until they reached the yard itself. Here immense maple trees bordered the lane. A tire swing hung from a low limb, lazily spinning in the wind.

Suddenly the front door opened and a grizzled man with unkempt hair thrust a M1 carbine at them muzzle first. He pointed it with one gnarled hand like an extension of his index finger – except his finger was on the trigger.

“Get in here. It’s cold outside!”

The head and the muzzle disappeared and the door banged shut.

“Good old charming Carl?” Zack grinned at Bob.

Bob shook his head indicating that he didn’t think he wanted to answer right then and walked up to heavily painted door. He hesitantly knocked and it swung open. It had been closed but unlatched.

Carl Durkee stood just inside with his carbine still in his right hand. It now pointed at the floor. “Well?”

“Mr. Durkee – “ Zack began “The town asked us to come talk to you.”

Bob nodded. But the old farmer just stood impassively waiting for more.
“Mr. Durkee – there’s a lot of people going hungry – in the whole county. The County has sent us to ask you if you would consider selling your herd. And they are willing to compensate you fairly by….”

The farmer raised his carbine slightly and pointed at Zack’s middle with the muzzle – using it like an accusing finger.

“Baloney. I already told Hinkley, and Smith, and Barnes that my herd aint for sale. Two cows a week is all I’m selling.”

Bob began to speak but the carbine shifted to point to him and the farmer continued.

“I know you think you got a right to what’s mine, but this aint gonna last forever. Sooner or later somebody’ll flip a switch and the lights will come back on. Then where will I be if I give my whole herd away? I’ll have no business to go back to.”

The old man’s face was getting red and his voice was rising.

“Now you two listen to me and listen good. I’m only gonna say this once, and then I’m going to ask you to leave.

I haven’t let a single person in that village starve even though they looked down on me my whole life. Snotty little kids making faces when I walk in the corner store to pay for a sandwich because I smell like cowshit. Well you know what? They’re there buying the milk that comes from the same place. Hinckley come into my home and tried to tell me what I could and couldn’t do. Said I HAD to sell my herd to him. He’s pushed me and this whole town around my whole life from the time we were little and I wasn’t gonna take no more of it. So I sent him packing and told him I’d damn well do what I wanted and wasn’t nobody gonna make me.

But as much as I hate to admit it, he did me a favor. He made me start thinking about what was going to happen when people got hungry. I mean REALLY hungry.

So I started looking out for me and mine in advance. I started charging what my milk and beef was worth. When all this goes away, I might not have a cow left, but I’ll have some cash tucked away to buy another herd.

I had 212 Holsteins when the lights went out. I put the heifers in the freezer right then soon as the weather was cold enough. No need to feed them a day longer than I had to. Then I started selling the least productive milkers. I’ve fed near three dozen of my cows to those ungrateful sumbiches in the village during the last four months. Now I don’t even get a “thank you” when I slaughter. They come to me with threats instead. I haven’t let a single ungrateful bastard starve. But they started getting ugly at me.

I could see the handwriting on the wall. So I did what I could to keep law and order. I put the sheriff on the payroll out of my own pocket. There wouldn’t be no law in Stagford if it weren’t for me. I put those four men on my payroll and kept them at their work. People in town had no work either. So I went in and offered jobs to them. Now I’ve heard it said that I’m a dirty old man for hiring those girls. Maybe I am, but the way I figured it, I need strong young bodies to milk those cows, move feed, and clean gutters. A boy that age might take it in his head to kill an old man. Especially an old man with a lot of money laid aside. So I hired girls old enough to work, but young enough not to have kids of their own. When they are working here, the law is here to protect them so the punks hanging out on the corners don’t start raping them just for fun. Me hiring them puts milk and beef in a dozen houses. I’m the biggest employer in town! But do I get thanked? No I don’t. I get called a dirty old man!

When they ran out of money, I didn’t turn nobody away. I took gas in trade. When they ran out of gas I told them I’d take guns and ammo. I figured every bullet I get hold of is one less that could come at me. Every gun I trade is one less to shoot down those deputies keeping that mob outside my fence.

Now you come here as Dickies’ lap dogs and demand that I give away what is rightfully mine for nothing but a promise to pay later. Well you can go to hell! You tell them if they want beef, it will cost them cash on the barrel head, not an IOU that will never be paid.

When the lights come back on, Carl Durkee isn’t going to be a beggar. If they want my herd they can pay double what I’ve been asking. The price of beef is $100 a pound or the lawful transfer of the deed to a property for each cow!”

The old man was livid. His face was red, spittle had accumulated at the corners of his mouth and his veins stood out pulsing on his forehead.

Before Zack or Bob could say a word he spun on his heel and left the room.

Outside the door they heard him shout “Richard, show these men to the gate. They’re now trespassing!”

Sheriff Richard Jones stepped from where he had been just out of sight in the next room, with a short barreled shotgun held horizontal to the floor at waist height.

“Gentlemen, please go.”

Back outside the gate Bob and Bill retrieved their weapons from the deputies in the long shadows of the early winter sunset. Mike, Nate, and Ed looked expectantly at the returning delegation. Billy shook his head grimly and said “It aint right.”

He thought of his wife scrubbing her hands raw on other people’s washing. He thought of his kids not knowing whether they’d eat next week. “It aint right.”

A chill wind blew over them as Bob thought of his family. Nancy was probably cooking a meal right now with the supplies they had carefully stored up against time of need. He thought about the possibility of doing without those reserves. He remembered burying the men he had shot in Fleishers’ yard who had murdered that family for their food supply. He remembered Dick Hinkley saying that food in Millersville had been gathered up from farms and stores and distributed on an equal per person basis no matter how much or how little each had saved for themselves.

“No, it aint right Bill. It aint right at all.”

Chapter 5: A rose by any other name

The group of men rode the short mile from the farm to the village, and added their snowmobiles to the growing number of them parked in Dick Hinkley’s wide circular driveway. There were a dozen sleds plus a tanker truck with gasoline for them and an olive drab generator roaring near the porch. Thick cables ran toward the back of the house and lights shone inside. The electric light seemed very bright after months without it, even in the half light of sunset. There were a half dozen men in state police parkas carrying rifles on the mansion-like home’s wrap-around deck.

Dick Hinkley was holding court at his dining room table. There were aerial photographs of the village and the surrounding area spread over the table with a multitude of other papers. A dozen men and several women milled around inside the home. Some were from Stagford, others were strangers to Bob. Trays of food flowed from the kitchen to the “war room.” A bottle of wine had been opened. Several men smoked fragrant cigars as the negotiating party reported the results of their encounter with the farmer.

“Good, it’s decided then.” Dick Hinkley positively beamed. He literally rubbed his hands together in satisfaction as heads nodded around the room. “Tompkins, tell the troopers to assemble the volunteers here at dawn for final briefing and weapons distribution. We’ll take the farm at noon. Have the butchers’ trucks come about 2 PM.”

Bob couldn’t believe what he was hearing.

“Mr. Hinkley, we’ve got no right to take that herd! If he doesn’t want to sell, that’s his privilege. Nobody is starving. In fact, it seems to me that this town owes Carl Durkee a debt.”

Dick Hinkley’s face drained and his knuckles turned white gripping the arms of his chair. But he smiled a politician’s smile and replied with a steady voice as if explaining to a child “I offered to buy that herd months ago. You offered again today on behalf of the County. Carl had his chance. Now he is losing his herd and he’ll be lucky if he lives.”

The light was fading fast outside and Bob could see that hope for logic was fading just as swiftly, but he had to try.

“Mr. Hinkley, if we take it, how would that be different than taking food out of this kitchen?”

Dick banged the table with satisfaction and smiled a genuine smile. The idiot was finally catching on. “Now you understand my boy! This kitchen’s food is from the county reserve. It is no difference at all. Share and share alike. Nobody has a right to hide resources for their own selfishness. That’s called ‘hoarding’ and it’s prohibited by my ordinance. You all need to contribute to the common good, for the good of all. Everyone who helps me will be rewarded with a share of the resources and what remains will be distributed to those who recognize authority.”

Bob saw heads nodding around the room. Billy Terry was nodding too.

Bob felt his own face reddening “That’s called stealing. And if you kill a man to steal his food, its murder. I won’t be a part of it.”

There was shouting behind him as Bob walked out of the Hinkleys’ house. He thought it was entirely possible that he might catch a bullet in the back, so he took the steps three at a time and immediately took to the shadows between the houses. Without any premeditation he found himself circling the house and was just outside the light from the windows of the room he had just left as he made his way toward the rear of the church. Bob caught movement above him and realized that he was under the watchful eye of a machine gunner in the bell tower. It was a good thing that the man behind the M60 was not as close to the window as Bob was, because as he slipped along the side of the house Bob heard Dick Hinkley’s voice clearly through the glass.

“Kill that son of a b-tch the first time he gets in the way.”

Dick Hinkley’s house was now an armed camp practically overrun with former troopers, and various other recruits from Millersville and beyond. Now Bob understood why he had been brought to town. Hinkley had tried to recruit him into his private army. Chances were good that everyone else on Hinkley’s payroll had been recruited in similar fashion and for similar reasons. Bob wondered if Hinkley actually had clearance from the Governor or had simply declared himself County Administrator. With communications down, who could tell?

Bob found himself approaching Fish Creek. Looking upstream he could see that the bridge was blocked by a 4x4 occupied by two men. He turned downstream and worked his way through the dark outskirts of the village. He thought about warning Tom and Joanne Carter of what was happening but he wasn’t sure what their reaction would be. Zack Frye and Bill Terry were already allied with Dick Hinkley and his private army. His only other friend in the village was George Rogers, but the pharmacist had probably already left town. Bob decided that he was once again on his own.

Chapter 6: Not alone

Bob worked his way through the darkness taking stock of his situation. He was on his own in a village for all intents and purposes occupied by an enemy army. He had a only his rifle, 100 rounds of ammunition in five magazines and the small day pack with minimal equipment. He had left both his 45 and body armor at home. His first thought was to get out of town and back home as fast as possible.

But what then? He could slip across the river and walk home. But that would only stave off the inevitable. The farm would be raided and the herd butchered to feed Hinkley and his tag alongs. But when the beef ran out, they would be searching for more and there would be nothing that an isolated homestead could do. There wasn’t even anywhere to run for help.

High above the town Carl Durkee’s generator kicked on for 5 PM milking. The lights from the milking parlor shone out in the blackness of the dark pastures surrounding the valley’s south side. It was like a beacon calling Bob. The farm was the only place he might be able to find help.

He worked his way along the creek staying in the shadow of the saplings that had grown up along the edge of the water. He was nearly to the south end of the village when he saw the second vehicle parked on the road with men inside. They were parked in the center of the road facing the lane leading up to the farm gate. With the aide of his scope, Bob could just make out a dim slow moving figure at the gate. At least one guard was on post at the far end of the farm lane.

He worked his way in a wide arc around the parked vehicle and up the slope more than a mile from the gate. When he hit the barbed wire fence, he carefully crawled under it and made his way toward the sound of the generator through the darkness.

Sheriff Richard Jones watched the monitors in his makeshift security office. He only had electricity for a few of each 12 hours. It was during that time that the electronics took the place of the roving sentries. Between 5 and 7 his deputies were free to eat breakfast and dinner at a leisurely pace. The security cameras and motion sensing floodlights mounted on the exterior of each building on the farm could pick up any movement within 50 yards of the house or barns. This was why when Bob crossed the darkened pasture he had no danger of encountering the mounted deputies, but also why as he approached the homestead a blinding floodlight clicked on audibly and illuminated the entire barnyard he was approaching.

Sheriff Jones had radioed his men who raced to predetermined defensive positions. One of those positions overlooked the barnyard. Deputy Matt Lawrence had been in this position countless times before since he had accepted employment from Carl Durkee. He had long since memorized every shadow in his field of fire. Now there was a shadow that did not belong.


Bob could feel the rifle pointed at him. “Don’t Shoot!”

He held his ground and very, very slowly raised both hands over his head holding the rifle’s neck in his right hand and the fore-stock in his left.

He heard a radio crackle and within what seemed like seconds he was searched and disarmed in a thorough and professional manner this time by the Sheriff himself while Deputy Lawrence covered them.

The Sheriff did not cuff Bob as he had expected instead he relied on his deputy’s rifle for security and said “I asked you to leave politely. Why are you here?”

“I’ve come to warn you.”

“Of what?”

“Hinkley plans to take the herd by force at noon tomorrow. He has at least a dozen men on snowmobiles plus at least one machine gun. A real one, not a semi auto civi version. ”

Sheriff Jones nodded. He had suspected that something like this was coming.
“Why are you here?”

“It’s just not right. And if this farm goes, then mine is probably next.”

The Sheriff turned to the Deputy Lawrence. “Matt I want you to let everyone know what is going on. It’s time for us to get out of here.”

“What do you mean? You’re LEAVING?” Bob couldn’t believe his ears. Carl Durkee joined them in the barn yard.

The Sheriff stepped closer to Bob. “Every man’s gotta make his own choice. You gotta do what you gotta do.” He loosened his revolver in its old fashioned leather holster.

When the Sheriff repeated Bob’s warning to Durkee the old man said “Well go if you think you have to, but if we have until noon, I need to get these girls to finish the milking before anything else.”

Sheriff Jones just walked away into the darkness.

Bob was at a loss. He couldn’t believe that the sheriff was taking his deputies off the farm, just when they were needed most. He couldn’t believe that the old man was concerned about mastitis instead of an M60. The sheriff and all four deputies with their guns and gear appeared in the barnyard on horseback. They simply rode into the darkness without a word.

Bob found himself just standing at the door to the milk house unsure of what to do next until a small hand gently touched his shoulder. “Mr. Adams?” Brenda Carter looked concerned. “Mr. Adams, everything is going to be ok.”

Sheriff Jones and his deputies left the lights of the farm far behind. They avoided the road entirely by cutting cross lots through back gates then travelling behind the ridge that paralleled the creek until they left the horses in the last group of trees on the north edge of the village. From here they made their way on foot along a trail that they had all travelled in the dark before. Sheriff Jones led the way pausing occasionally to use an outdated night vision monocular to scan the ground ahead. They crossed a fence and when the trail reached Fish creek they dropped into the gully it had washed from the graveled banks and walked on ice and rocks until the last curve before they would come into sight of the bridge. They keyed their radio twice without speaking and the signal was answered in kind. Given that all clear they advanced to where Deputy Bill Terry lay on the river bank in earth colored coveralls. A long Mosin Nagant Rifle and a pair of binoculars were nestled into a comfortable rest in front of his carefully screened observation post.

Deputy Terry had kept an eye on the far side of town for Sheriff Jones for the past several months. Both of them had felt it was wise to keep the fact that they were working together close to the vest. The Sheriff figured that having a man available in town that no one knew was working with him would keep him better informed of what was happening in town. And should Mr. Durkee get out of hand, it didn’t hurt to have an ace in the hole that the old farmer didn’t know about either. He had told the farmer that he had a plan for dealing with Hinkley, but even now he hadn’t mentioned that Bill Terry was part of it. From the hills north of town Bill had watched the only road into the village that couldn’t be seen from Durkee’s farm. It happened to be the road that led to Millersville.

After leaving Hinkley’s Bill had broken his long radio silence to alert the Sheriff to the same news that Bob had brought. Then he had resumed his watch on the traffic in and out of the village. By his count Hinkley had 22 men already in town. Half had come with Hinkley and half on snow machines which were now gassed up and parked at the Hinkley mansion. Trucks from Millersville were expected to arrive in the morning with several dozen more men to help overwhelm the farm and then truck beef back to Millersville. No one wanted to travel the snow covered and unmaintained roads in the dark, so the trucks probably had not yet even started the drive.

One of the guards in the vehicle parked on the bridge was already asleep. When the other looked away Deputy Lawrence began his approach. Aided by warnings on the radio every time the guard looked his way, Matt was within yards of the truck when the man picked up his binoculars to scan the distant moonlit roadway. When he heard movement and lowered the binoculars he was looking down the muzzle of a 12 gauge riot gun just feet outside the window. The 69 caliber tube looked six inches wide to the man staring down the barrel. The sentry realized that the deputy was just far enough away to avoid any suddenly opened car door, yet plenty close enough to send death with a squeeze of the trigger.

In a moment Hinkley’s force was down to twenty as the two sentries were stripped of their overcoats, cuffed and blindfolded. The vehicle’s radio was disabled and once they were searched and disarmed they were warned that they would be under observation should they attempt to escape and locked in to the back seat of the 4x4. The vehicle would protect them from the worst of the weather as well as detain them. Deputy Terry would continue to maintain his observation of the road from Millersville and radio the Sheriff if anyone approached.

Back on the hill above town Carl Durkee sat across an ancient Formica kitchen table from Bob Adams. With the milking done, the cattle had been fed and water pumped to them before the generator was shut down. Without the noise of the engine and milkers the farm seemed quiet despite the sounds of over a hundred large animals quietly settling down for the night. The eight teenage girls sat around the room or leaned against the faded counter tops.

“You all know what is going on.” The old man’s voice growled as he began.
“It might get ugly before this is over. I want you to know that none of you have to come back in the morning if you don’t want to. Sheriff Jones and the deputies have left the property so I don’t know how safe it will be here. When you leave the farm, I suggest that you stay together and go across the side pasture to go into town behind the hardware. That will keep you off the roads. Either way I want to thank you for your hard work and give you something before you go home tonight. Call it a New Year’s bonus!”

Bob realized that he didn’t have any idea what day of the week it was let alone where they were on the calendar. Mr. Durkee pulled himself to a standing position with a scarred and gnarled hand on the edge of the table. He opened a door leading off the kitchen. The room had once been a formal parlor. His wife had displayed her fine china on the mahogany sideboard that matched the uncomfortable and somewhat fragile chairs still in place but now covered with a thin film of dust. On top of the dust the eight chairs held eight nearly identical piles. “There’s one for each of you. I’ve shown each of you how to shoot when you started working here just in case we ever needed to defend the place. Now these are for you to take home and defend yourselves.”

Across each chair seat lay an SKS carbine, user’s manual, and cotton chest bandoleer with a single ten round stripper clip of 7.62x39 ammunition in each of the bandoleer’s ten pockets. The small rifles were incredibly sturdy and simple to operate, yet light and short enough to be operated by small framed shooters. The girls all started to talk at once. But it seemed that the old man had suddenly gone deaf. He turned to Bob. “Follow me.”

Chapter 7:

In his barrowed overcoat from one of the bridge sentries Sheriff Jones led his four man team into town using every inch of shadow cover that 20 years of patrolling the streets in the same village had given him knowledge of. He figured that if someone caught a glimpse of him or deputy Lawrence in the other overcoat they might be able to bluff their way past if need be. Hopefully they could avoid detection. The moon was still rising but people had become accustomed to going to bed early without the aid of electric lighting or entertainment.

They made their way slowly through the silent town until they came to the very edge of the property next to Hinkley’s. The generator still hummed and the sound of laughter came from inside the lighted rooms. There were two men on the wrap around porch who showed no inclination of going inside. There were others moving about inside but near windows who might possibly detect their approach. The sheriff’s decade old night vision monocular showed no one in the darkness beyond the lights except the sentry in the church tower that he had been warned of. The five lawmen worked their way toward the church. Bill had told them about the machine gun nest and Bob had confirmed it. Bill had been unable to determine the guard rotation schedule but it stood to reason that someone would relieve the man in the bell tower before dawn. That was the opportunity that Sheriff Jones was waiting for.

He positioned his team between Hinkley’s home and the church doors. He had a man watching the front and back of each building while he crept close to the church and silently removed the caulking from a basement window. Once he was against the church wall and on the far side of the building from Hinkley’s he was safe from detection from the tower or the house. He took his time working the old caulking loose until he could bend the metal brads holding the glass in place away. Then digging his knife into the wood at the edge of the glass he began to gently work it forward until the top edge leaned out past the frame. He silently tugged it out and propped it against the old stone foundation. Four months ago, he might not have been able to fit through the ground level window, but he managed to work his way inside without falling on his head. He relied on the noise to be covered by distance and the intervening floors between his entry and the top of the tower far above. As long as there was no one inside the church except the tower sentry, his plan would work. He brought his gear through the window after him and with the aid of the monocular made his way toward the stairs out of the pitch black basement.


Back at the farm, Carl led Bob up the century old stairs of the farm house. The kerosene lantern cast shifting shadows over the faded wallpaper as they reached the landing.

“You don’t have to stay, but since I need help and your still here I’ll make you an offer.”

At the head of the stairs the farmer unlocked the old fashioned lock of the first door. The spare bedroom had been converted into what could only be called an armory. The six foot long bed was stacked 3 deep in rifles and shotguns laid across the faded quilt. There were dozens of them in a variety of makes, models, and conditions. The majority of the floor space in the room was occupied by 5 gallon buckets. Each bucket was labeled with a cartridge designation starting with “.22” and progressing up to “10 gauge”

Carl set the lamp on the single dresser and opened the top drawer. It was nearly filled with pistols.

“Take what you want if you stick around here tomorrow. Keep it, whether we need them or not.”

Bob was speechless. He went to the bucket labeled “308” and added five full boxes of ammunition to his pockets. He looked for a well cared for rifle chambered in 308 or 7.62x51 like his own. He selected a Remington 700 with iron sites since he couldn’t be sure that any untested scope would be true. He pulled a pair of 1911 style side-arms from the dresser. The barrels on all three weapons were free of obstruction and un-bulged or bent. The muzzle crowns were smooth and undamaged. Each was rust free and the actions manually cycled smoothly. That’s about all the quality control he could do without test firing. He took every spare pistol magazine he could find that fit, ending up with 7. He took four 50 round boxes of 45 ACP which significantly weighed down his day pack but he figured that he might never get another chance to resupply.

When he had made his selections his guide took the lamp and lead the heavily burdened Bob back downstairs and outside toward the dark barns. The farmer produced another key and opened the locked door to a poured concrete building. The control room to the manure slurry had been converted into Sheriff Jones' surveillance center. A half dozen monitors and a control board were hardwired to the generator outside. A bank of police radios sat in chargers next to a scanner.

“You can see anything that comes at us from these cameras when the generator is on. It’s remote start.”

Carl pushed a button and Bob heard the generator come on. After a few seconds the monitor screens came up showing a half dozen views around the farm including the empty lane from the road and the unmanned gate. Bob thought that he could just make out the vehicle on the far side against the background of snow.

“Coffee pot is in the corner.” Bob heard it start brewing now that the power was on. The farmer pointed to another building through the single small window in the concrete.

“Outhouse over there. Don’t take long if you use it. Use the radio on channel one to let me know if you see anybody coming. I’m gonna get some sleep.”

Bob nodded and was left alone in the cold electric glow of the surveillance screens.

Sheriff Jones crept from the basement to the darkened first floor. He knew from experience that the century old wooden stairs to the bell tower creaked and squealed like a stepped on rodent. There was no way a man could make it to the top of the tower without alerting anyone at the top of the stairs. He didn’t even try. Instead. He waited in the darkness at the foot of the stairs. No matter which door the relief sentry came in, he would need to use the stairs to reach the top of the tower. At 9 PM on the dot, Sheriff Jones heard his radio click three times. He keyed back the single click to ‘roger’ receipt and flexed his tired legs. He heard the back door to the church open and saw the flashlight beam cut through the darkness inside the church. All the better he thought. The relief sentry would be coming from the lit house using a light and be more blind in the dark than if he had let his eyes adjust without it. The man came forward unconcerned with his rifle slung and the flashlight in his hand. As he reached for the railing at the foot of the stairs he heard the click of the single action revolver’s hammer cold in the darkness and a steely voice telling him not to move or speak.

He didn’t. In minutes he was disarmed, cuffed, and gagged. With the cold ring of a pistol muzzle pressed into his forehead he heard his unknown captor hiss:

“We got no beef with you. Lay here quiet and we’ll let you go. Try to get loose or make noise and my partner here will stick his knife between yer ribs. Kapeesh?”

The wide eyed man nodded vigorously but silently. Richard Jones threw the overcoat over the man’s head to ensure that the bound man didn’t see that he was alone in the darkness. There was no knife wielding partner left behind to guard the prisoner, but the bound man didn’t know that.

The Sheriff started up the stairs. There were 19 men left in Hinkley’s force if Billy’s count was right. The Sheriff carried the relief sentry’s rifle with him up the creaking stairs at a leisurely pace.

“Yer late.” said voice from above. “I’ve had to whizz for the last hour.”

“Sorry!” Jones said and began to hurry up the last few steps, when he reached the top he was nearly running. He made no move to slow his momentum as he cleared the doorway and plowed toward the man waiting for relief. Instead, he converted the momentum into impact using the rifle butt just the way he had been trained to use a night stick - snapping it into the sentry’s head with all the speed and leverage he could put into it. The man was lifted completely off his feet and thrown into one of the four brick pillar’s supporting the roof. He bounced back trying to regain his feet.

“Give up!” Jones growled. The ex-soldier tried to unsling his rifle instead. That just couldn’t be allowed. Jones drove his butt-stock straight into the man’s face, smashing his nose and snapping his head back. The sentry’s feet peddled backward and he bounced off the tower’s iron safety rail into a heap on the floor. This time the butt-stock slammed into the side of his head. He might have already been unconscious, but with no give in the floor to absorb the impact, he was definitely out of commission now. As soon as he was sure that the man was out of the fight, Jones looked at the house for any sign that the struggle had been seen or heard. There wasn’t any. He checked the unconscious man and was relieved to hear that he was still breathing but disgusted to smell that his bladder had released.

“18 left”

Chapter 8

The Sheriff used his radio to call his team into the church through the basement window and swapped places with one of his younger deputies who was given a crash course on how to fire the M60. He would at least be able to fire the first belt and God willing they wouldn’t need any more than that! The machine gun now in their hands was the last ace in the hole. If shooting started they could mow down the men coming out of the house, perhaps even use it to ignite the tanker truck into a giant fire bomb as a last resort if there were tracers or incendiary ammo in the belt. But only as a VERY last resort.

The two prisoners in the church were relocated to the church basement and cuffed around a support pillar in the boiler room.

Shortly after 9 PM the two porch sentries were relieved and went inside and four men came out of the house and walked toward the snowmobiles. A terse radio call warned Deputy Terry that he probably had sleds coming his way. He had just minutes to come up with a plan to conceal that the sentries on duty sat cuffed in their own back seat.

He couldn’t risk the sound of rifle shots at this time of night. At the same time he couldn’t allow the relief sentries to find the prisoners. Either one would compromise the whole operation and the security of the entire town with it. This called for fast, desperate action.

Not far from the bridge an electric wire fence ran on plastic insulators tacked to fence posts set in the frozen ground. In warm weather the strands of thin silver wire kept pastured cattle from wandering into the road. Holding is rifle tightly with both hands upright in front of him; Bill sprinted at the fence. He took the impact of the wire on the rifle. Running through the fence he tore it from insulators and insulators from posts until finally some weak point in the wire snapped. He ran across the pavement letting the loose wire snake between his rifle and his gloved hands. When he saw the broken end approaching him as he trotted away from the road, he grabbed it. The wire was now attached to fence posts on the far side of the road, lay in the snow on the pavement and ended in his hands. He stepped quickly to the nearest electrical pole and wrapped the wire twice around it three feet high twisting it around itself. Then trotting back to the fence side of the road he double wrapped the first fence post with wire. The sound of the snowmobiles was rapidly approaching as he sat at the base of the fence post, grabbed it with both hands, and leaned back.

The first rider hit the wire with the face shield of his helmet at 30 MPH. The helmet saved his life. But the wire shattered the face shield and swept him backward off the sled bouncing the back of his helmet on the snow covered pavement. The second man swerved violently to avoid the flailing body sprawled in the road. Rather than run into the stream bed on the left, the rider veered right and took the still standing portion of the fence at 30 MPH. He kept his seat but the wire tangled with the sled and dragged the machine to a stop. Bill had managed to avoid getting tangled in either the wire or the fence and now covered the second rider with his Mosin. He ordered him off the sled, then to check on the downed man struggling to get up in the road. He had him bind the man with the smooth fence wire. Bill then had his unbound prisoner lay facedown on the snow and lock his fingers behind his head. This gave Bill a reasonable edge so that he felt comfortable binding the man’s wrists and ankles. He searched both men and double checked their bonds before helping them into the now crowded backseat of the vehicle on the bridge.


Back at Hinkley’s house Sheriff Jones had came out of the church. He moved openly across the lawn and up the wide steps where the two fresh sentries guarded the house. He turned his back and lit a cigarette from a pack in the coat’s pocket as if shielding the flame from the wind. Then with his back toward the slowly pacing sentry the Sheriff strolled along the porch toward the back of the house as the sounds of the snowmobiles returning from the farm lane’s road block returned to the house. The sleds swept into the yard drawing the attention of the guards on the porch. When the man patrolling the back porch looked toward the sleds at the front of the house, the Sheriff put the muzzle of his revolver into the man’s back and whispered

“Move around the back, real slow.” A few steps put them out of sight of the men in the front yard. When they reached the steps the Sheriff guided him across the yard and into the side door of the church where his deputy took custody. As Hinkley’s men returning from their posts at the farm lane left their snowmobiles and went into the front of the house, the Sheriff took the place of the back porch sentry.

Inside the church Deputy Lawrence received the radio report from Bill Terry at the bridge. In the past three hours Hinkley’s force had dwindled from 22 to 15.

Shortly before 10 PM, the lights began to go out inside the house. A number of people living in the village left the house with Dick Hinkley as the gracious host bidding them goodbye at the front door. This provided a completely unplanned opportunity for Sheriff Jones to let his nearest two deputies into the house through the back door.

His master plan had been to gain control of the machine gun and move it back to the farm so that it could be used for defense instead of against them. But the isolated sentries at the road block and tower had allowed him to disable much more of Hinkley’s force than he anticipated. If he retreated to the farm now they would have to haul prisoners with them or leave them behind to rejoin Hinkley’s assault force. Hinkley’s forces were also expected to more than double near dawn. As an alternative, if he pulled in his deputies from the bridge and the tower it would boost his team to a total of 6 men. By Bill’s count Hinkley had just 15 men still in action and two were at the farm lane road block. That made the odds 6 with the Sheriff to 13 in the house. Those were just over 2 to 1 odds. If they kept the element of surprise. They just might pull it off.

Chapter 9: End of an empire

Back at the farm Bob’s radios were tuned to a variety of channels. He occupied his time filling all of his magazines for the pistols and distributing them among his pockets and day pack. Without a holster he put one pistol through his belt and the other in his day pack. He had a cup of coffee and some of the field rations that he kept in his pack. Caffeine and calories could substitute for sleep in the short term.

About 9 PM he had heard Deputy Lawrence on the radio warning that snowmobiles were en route. Bob didn’t know that the warning had been meant for Bill Terry on the far side of the village. Minutes later Bob’s monitors showed two snowmobiles arrive at the road block near the farm’s gate. Bob made the natural assumption that the warning had been meant for him as he watched the men in the vehicle trade places with those on the snowmobiles and ride back toward town. Later he heard Deputy Terry’s voice reporting “Four in custody.” Bob thought that had to be good news but he had no idea what else was going on until he heard Deputy Lawrence put out a call for all of the Sheriff’s team members to meet at the church. Because Bob had assumed that the warning of sleds en route was meant for him and seen sleds immediately after, when he heard the call for the sheriff’s team to assemble at the church he assumed that the message was meant for him as well.

He woke Carl Durkee with a radio call and explained that the Sheriff was calling for reinforcements. The old man was clearly undecided about whether to answer the summons himself or stay with his otherwise unguarded herd. Instead of leaving the farm, he encouraged Bob to go and took over his place at the monitors. Carl didn’t know Bob well enough to trust him alone at the farm, but he had trusted the Sheriff and his men with his life for months. He was torn between losing the only help he had still on site and sending Bob to help men who had become his friends. He couldn’t bring himself to leave the farm unguarded even though he knew it was hopeless to try to hold it alone. He sent Bob off to offer what support he might while at the same time resolving to do all that he could to defend the farm. He had lived all his life here. He planned to die here too. It might as well be today.

Bob left the 2nd rifle and the boxed ammunition behind. He figured that he could come back for them later. He left the farm on the far side of the buildings from the road and then made his way toward town.


In the church Deputy Matt Lawrence briefed Bill Terry and the deputy who had been on the M60 once they arrived. When the Sheriff signaled them, all three crossed the open lawn and quickly joined the two men already waiting just inside the back door. By best estimate there were just over a dozen of Hinkley’s men inside the house. Most had already gone upstairs to some of the three story mansion’s spare bedrooms. If they could locate Hinkley and take him into custody, the Sheriff thought that they might be able to get out of this without anyone getting shot. But it was not to be.

As the six law enforcement officers made their way up the stairs Nathan Zweits heard their muffled steps. He slipped out of bed and pulled the CAR15 from beneath it, quietly switching off the safety. Long years of self preservation as a gang member, prison convict, and member of Bill “badger” Munger’s murdering looters after the lights went out had made Nate a light sleeper and taught him never to be unarmed. He had chosen the bedroom at the far end of the hall because enemies could only come at him from one direction. Looking out his bedroom door he saw a group of armed men sneaking onto the landing and making their way toward the bedrooms. He instantly recognized that they did not belong in the house.

He woke Mike Unser in the next bed. When the pair opened the bedroom door again, Sheriff Jones and his party were peering into a bedroom halfway down the 40 foot long, oak paneled hallway. Nate knelt carefully rested his left hand against the door frame, steadying the rifle as his partner took a position standing behind and aiming his carbine over him. Since it was too dark to see the sites, he sighted down the barrel at the cluster of men crowded in the hallway in front of him and began to fire three round burst. Mike joined in as soon as he heard the first shot.

The noise exploded in the confined space. Muzzle flashes blinded the shooters and their victims. Dozens of 5.56 mm projectiles slammed into the backs of the deputies crouching in the hallway trying to sneak through the darkened house to locate the master bedroom. The deputies closest to the shooters never stood a chance. They were torn apart by the vicious high velocity bullets needling through flesh and splintering bones which only added to the shrapnel going through lungs and organs and on to the next man. In seconds the three men closest to the shooters lay dying without a shot fired in their defense.

Sheriff Richard Jones heard the shots and leapt through the door in front of him. Deputy Bill Terry was pushed forward half into the room by the impact of falling bodies behind him. Sheriff Jones was a law abiding man. He had done everything in his power to avoid bloodshed in the past four months. But he was also a practical man. Out numbered more than two to one with an ambush opening fire to his rear, he did the practical thing and put two 38 slugs into each of waking men in the room in front of him before they could reach for their weapons.

Deputy Matt Lawrence was deafened and blinded by the noise and muzzle flashes. He felt the weight of his dying friends pushing him to the right and down. He fell on his right side with his head raised. Over the still flailing bodies of his fallen comrades he could see muzzle flashes coming from the doorway at the end of the hall. He pointed the 12 gauge riot gun toward the flashes spitting death and pulled the trigger. Eight 32 caliber pellets of OO buckshot spread into a three foot wide pattern. Each pellet was 12 inches from the next. The pattern slammed into the shooters just as deputy Lawrence worked the pump, holding the trigger down and sending eight additional pellets after the first. The uppermost pellet took Mike Unser squarely through the forehead as he stood in the center of the doorway. One harmlessly struck his carbine. Six struck the oak paneling on either side of the door. The remaining nine pellets shredded Nathan Zweits' upper body slamming his mangled corpse backward and knocking the deadman behind him off his feet. By the time the third shotgun blast hit the dark doorway there was no one in it.

On the third floor Dick Hinkley scooped the nickel plated .32 ACP pocket pistol from beneath his pillow and began to scream orders at anyone who would listen. Men tumbled out of bed on the second and third floors. Hinkley organized a defense of the third floor landing. The first thing was to establish a defensive position and then figure out what the h-ll was going on.

Regaining his knees Deputy Terry was deaf from the Sheriff’s shots in front of him and the shots in the hallway behind. Even in the brief light of muzzle flashes he saw Matt Lawrence was covered with blood. Reaching through the doorway he grabbed Matt’s rain coat and pulled him through the doorway into the bedroom while the Sheriff cleared the room and the attached lavatory before reloading. The men in the beds were dead. Looking into the hallway, Bill saw that the rest of the deputies were dead. He caught movement coming up the stairwell and had just time enough to point the long Mosin Nagant and fire before the sentry racing up the stairs could assess the situation. The heavy Russian made bullet punched cleanly through him before the guard even cleared the stairs. His momentum carried him forward and he fell sprawling at the head of the stairs. Other bedroom doors began to open. Bill pulled the long rifle back through the doorway and slammed the door.

Inside the house everyone was shouting. No one knew what was going on. But everyone knew that it was deadly serious and going downhill fast.

Outside the house, Bob was making his way through the village when the sounds of the firefight reached him. The shouting reached him faintly and he knew that all over the village people would be awakening from sleep and wondering what was going on. With almost no firearms left in the village most people would be helpless to any armed man who decided to use their home as a refuge or fortification.

Inside the mansion it took Hinkley only a few minutes to establish that most of the house was clear and that the intruders had barricaded themselves on the second floor. He sent men outside to make sure that they didn’t escape out the bedroom window while he directed the men inside the house to pin them down inside. If they ventured into the blood soaked hallway, they would join the dead.

Inside the bedroom, the Sheriff knew that his gamble had gone horribly wrong. He had lost 50% of his men. Good men who had served with him for years while Hinkley had nearly his whole force left. They needed to get out and get out fast. The hallway was a deathtrap, so that left the window. He raised the window to see how far down the drop was. That was the opportunity that the two men outside had been waiting for. Shots rang out of the darkness striking the lawman in his exposed left arm as he raised the window. It was as close to self defense as Bob needed. He had come on the scene and checked the church tower to see if he could gain the house without being shot down by the M60. Seeing no one there, Bob had stormed the church and taken possession of the vacant machine gun nest. Seeing the Sheriff being fired on, Bob felt no guilt mowing down the men doing the shooting. He called an all clear to the pinned down lawmen and the three stumbled onto the porch roof, jumped to the ground and ran to the safety of the church. Whenever anyone showed at either door of Hinkley’s house to pursue, Bob peppered the porch with streams of 7.62 fire.

It was a Mexican stand off. The men in the church didn’t have enough men to storm the house and the men in the house didn’t have any desire to cross the field of fire of the M60 which included the moonlit lawn on both sides of the house and beyond.

As the sun cleared the rim of the valley, both sides were exhausted but Hinkley smiled. He knew that daylight would bring truckloads of heavily armed men from his fiefdom in the next town. He hadn’t come this far for nothing.

After realizing that food was growing short in Stagford soon after the lights went out and failing in his attempt to force Carl Durkee to sell him his herd, Hinkley had gone to the next sizeable town. His intention had been to secure the force of law from the state police barracks there, but when he arrived he found that even the few troopers who lived locally had quit reporting for duty. When he questioned them, the story was consistently that they had lost communication with everyone outside of the town. When one of the men told him that he was the first person who had brought any news from outside of Millersville, a plan had begun to grow in Hinkley’s power hungry mind. Why wait for an election? Arriving with a lot of cash and the credentials of having been a known part of county government for decades, no one questioned when he announced that the Governor had appointed him County Administrator. It had been the work of just a few days to locate and employ those in town who were happy to convert the strong arm tactics of bureaucracy into physical threats to commandeer food and fuel.

Every seizure strengthened Hinkley's hand and took resources from his weak competition. A month after his arrival, he ruled the town. When food there had begun to run out, he planned his revenge on the one man who had the audacity to challenge him.

Hinkley watched the sunlight slide down the church tower. The rest of his men would arrive any minute and they would shoot down this hick Sheriff and his Barney Fife accomplices. By the time the sun set today, his kingdom would be double the size it had been yesterday. There were 14 towns and villages in the county. By spring he would have control of every one of them despite this little set back.

Bob’s heart sank. The floor of the valley was still in shadow but at the crest of the ridge he saw something that drained the fight from him. A large military truck with canvas sides topped the rise and began to descend into the valley. Even with the machine gun to hold the men in the house in place, the farm and herd were completely open to attack. There was just no way the lone old farmer could defend the place against overwhelming odds.

The Big truck ground its way down the pavement toward the bridge where Hinkley’s reinforcements would doubtlessly liberate the unguarded prisoners in the vehicle at the bridge, then it would be over for Bob and his allies. He began to wonder if he could get out of town before being caught by Hinkley and his men.


Bob had been so focused on watching the exits from Hinkley’s house that he hadn’t seen Amanda Fleisher and Brenda Carter leading the girls who worked for Carl Durkee and their families out of the village from behind the hardware store and cut cross-lots through the still shadowed woods and pastures to the farm in the predawn darkness. He hadn’t noticed when Carl Durkee had led the more than two dozen villagers back down the hill toward the vehicle parked at the end of the farm lane, but he heard and saw that vehicle pulling away and driving out of the south end of town. He could hardly believe what he saw when the old farmer led the girls and their gun wielding families right out of the farm gate and toward the village.

Now out of sight at the bridge on the north end of town, the military truck must have reached the bridge. Bob heard the diesel restart and the truck approach the village limits. Good Lord, it would be a bloodbath. The old man was leading girls and their families who barely knew how to shoot to a street fight against dozens of trained men. They would be shot down in minutes and there was nothing that Bob could do about it. Bob could see the group and the truck converging on the main street.

The big truck nosed into the center of the village just as the group of local defenders poured into the street in front of it and pointed more than a dozen rifles at the cab. Amanda and Brenda were at the forefront with Tom Carter and Carl Durkee. The truck slowed to a halt and the cab door opened as a very confused pharmacist George Rogers stepped out with his hands held high. The old diesel truck he drove carried a full load of medical supplies assembled from everywhere from manufacturers’ warehouses to veterinarian’s offices. The 2 ton truck’s canvas sides kept the snow off cardboard boxes of bandages, splints, pain relievers, fever reducers, and most important of all antibiotics.

As soon as the defense force realized that George and his truck were no danger to the town, Deputy Bill Terry led half the force to the bridge on the north edge of town. Deputy Lawrence and Sheriff Jones with his single working arm volunteered to keep Hinkley and his ten men bottled up in the bullet riddled mansion while Tom Carter led a defense force to the road leading south out of the village just in case the two fleeing sentries or anyone else should approach from that direction. George began to treat the wounded with his newly delivered medical supplies.

Arriving at the bridge on the north side of the village, Bill found that George had merely kicked the vehicle with its four bound prisoners into neutral and moved it off the bridge to get his truck by. He had wisely decided not to release the prisoners until he gathered more information as to why they were bound. Bill moved the vehicle back onto the bridge and let the air out of all four tires to make it a better road block. He then distributed the defense force on the high ground overlooking the bridge. When Hinkley’s force from Millersville did arrive several hours later, they were easily turned back by the sight of the blocked bridge with a deep stream on both sides and several dozen armed defenders on the high ground overlooking the entire area. Stagford was a far cry from the unarmed easy pickings that Hinkley’s message had told them they should expect. A few shots sent the truck back the way that it had come.

By the end of the day Hinkley and his surviving men had surrendered and been taken into custody by Sheriff Jones. Back on his farm Carl Durkee realized that strength in numbers comes from the bond of friendship and a willingness to help one another.

In exchange for their help saving the farm Carl returned the arms and ammunition to the people of the village so that they would be better able to defend themselves and their community. He also began a policy of swapping the farm products directly for work. He had nearly lost the farm trying to save it alone. He realized now that the help of others was the key to making it through times of hardship. Working together Carl, Bob, and the other residents of both Stagford and Haven would all be better prepared to face whatever the future held, because now none of them would ever have to face the dangers of the future on their own.