Friday, March 19, 2010

Chapter Eighty-Eight

Chapter 88

March 30th – The influx of northern refugees has begun to arrive. Rand is really bent out of shape. No, he is more than bent out of shape; he is absolutely furious. But the refugees only play a small part in why he is so bent.

We were working out in the yard when several families crossed into our land jumping the fence to the north of the homesite. They immediately made a beeline for our gardens. That stunt nearly got them killed. The fact that they had young children amongst them saved their bacon-- that and the fact they didn’t make it into the gardens. The fences are strong to keep animals and raiders out they are strong enough to keep out some pathetic refugees, otherwise bloodshed was imminent.

That alone was enough to be upsetting but what came next is what made Rand blow a gasket.

“Hey! What are you shooting at us?! The lady said we’d get food here. Now you give it to us like she said or we’re gonna take it! We haven't eaten in days!”

One of the men began to raise his gun at Rand and I, standing at a back window, fired off a warning shot that puffed the sand right between the blowhard’s feet.

“Throw it away or the next one is gonna turn you from a rooster into a hen!” I yelled out from my secure position.

Rand was still covering the three other men and Austin was armed as well. Finally their stupid cranked back a notch. They threw down their weapons and we were telling the women we weren’t going to shoot ‘em in the back or take their kids when horses came galloping down our lane.

Lucky for us it was just Mitch, Hoss, and Bradley. They’d been coming to discuss business with Rand when they’d heard the shooting and my yelling. At the sight of the men on horseback it was like someone had poured gasoline on an ant hill; the refuges started running in every which direction.

Henderson's men were all confirmed cowboys by this time and rounded up the people even faster than they would have the same number of cattle. They all started squawking at the same and Rand gave one of his piercing whistles to shut them up long enough for Mitch to get a word in edgewise. Additional men from the Henderson Ranch showed up as did Mr. Henderson himself.

It was a circular story that had to be repeated several times before we could make heads or tails of it. They didn’t know the name of the “lady” in question but given where they were when they received the information on Sparkleberry Ranch and the general description of the woman in question there was no doubt in our mind that SueLinda was behind this.

Rand was so angry I was nearly scared of him. It took Mitch and Mr. Henderson to keep him from taking off right then but it wasn’t until I had a little spell and had to sit down that he let go of his fury. I tried to tell him I was fine but in a sense it only deepened his anger, but it did keep it in check.

This whole time the refugees kept trying to justify their actions. Rand finally snarled, “You people ever thought of asking?! I’ve got a family to take care of too you know and my wife has a baby on the way. Had you come looking for work instead of a hand out you might have found what you were looking for. Now all you’ve done is make it less likely that I’d want to help you or anyone like you.” I put my hand on Rand’s arm, concerned because the anger I was seeing was so unlike him. “No Kiri, they can go to the blasted migrant farm and work for a living. They put you and the baby and Austin in danger and I won’t abide that, not for any reason. Henderson! Get them off my land before I do something we’ll all regret.”

Rand was snarling and spitting like a cat by that point; so unlike himself that I was at a loss as to what to do. He slammed his hat down on his head and stalked off to the wood pile and started slamming the big ax so hard into a stump that he’d been cutting up that I thought he was after making us some toothpicks.

Mitch caught me staring and said, “He’ll come around, just give him time.”

I looked at him and whispered, “I’ve … I’ve never seen him like this Mitch. I understand this could have gone badly it but didn’t . I’m usually the one that is all bent out of shape and he’s the one that is calm, cool, and collected.”

“It’s different when a man sees his home under attack. But the truth is Kiri you are getting a peek at the old Rand, the angry young man he was when he was a teenager. There were plenty of times when I pulled him and … and Chase out of stuff and Rand would be just like this. He’s done a lot of growing up Kiri and you’ve done amazing things for him but every once in a while a man’s got a reason to get angry and this is one of those times so the old Rand is coming out. Give him time to cool off. He’ll be fine.”

That wasn’t a lot of comfort but at least it was a little bit of explanation. As for “cooling off” he hasn’t done much of that. He’s trying but he is still really angry. He’s not taking it out on Austin or I – he played a round of checkers with Austin and acted like he was listening to the next chapter of Johnny Tremain that I was reading aloud. But I could tell, even Austin could tell, he was still wound tight. The only reason Rand is asleep now is because he is exhausted. He works from before sun up to after sun down and with the days growing longer that means the hours worked are growing as well.

I understand why Rand is angry I’m just not sure I understand why he is angry the way he is. I can guess and it all goes back to SueLinda. It might make some women jealous, the amount of energy he’s devoted to being angry at this woman, but not me. I’m resentful but of SueLinda, not at Rand. I’m telling you though, if he catches up with her tomorrow, I hope there is someone there to stop him. I’m a little worried that he is so angry that he really will do something he’ll regret.


March 31st – Stupid, stupid, stupid. And I was worried about Rand.


April 1st – Wish I could lay this all at the door of some bad April’s Fool joke but nope, I’ve gone and done it again. The problem is that I’m not real sure I regret it, any of it. I’m tired of being sorry for being me. And I’ll be doggone if I’ll apologize to that hellcat. I hope her face is wrecked for good … well, maybe not, but maybe a little bit I do. I don’t know. I don’t know quite how I feel about it at this point.

Missy came over early in the morning yesterday to discuss some pre-orders and to see about maybe paying me to make some general stock to keep at the Shack. It would be a little bit of speculating on her part but she thinks that she can catch a few more customers with impulse buys.

“If the women could just see what it is that they are pre-ordering that might also help encourage some sales. I can understand the not wanting to buy a pig in a poke. Oh here,” she said bringing in a satchel of material, “I brought more cotton cloth for the bras and under clothes. Some of this stuff is really light weight so maybe you can put some lace around the edges and stuff? Could be used for Sunday wear and the heavier muslin cloth can be used for every day. Hey … where’s Rand off to this time of day? Got another field to mow?”

“No,” I said, glad she had finally stopped talking long enough for me to decide whether to ask her about SueLinda. She’d also given me the perfect opening.

We’d been gossiping for over an hour while we planned out what I could trade at the Shack that would likely bring in the greatest return when I heard wagon wheels coming down our road a little fast. It’s funny, with cars gone wagon wheels are now as distinct as engine noises were. I knew right away that the wagon wasn’t ours … especially since it was sitting in the barn … and I also knew it wasn’t one that I had heard before. It was too quiet and for some reason that disturbed me.

Then I heard Austin try to get a yell out only to have it cut off … and Woofer’s snarl and then yelp. The next sound though sent ice right through me. SueLinda had a snarl to match Woofer’s. “Take it all. I want it all. What we don’t take, destroy it.”

Missy said she made a grab for me but I brushed her off and put my hands on the .357 that I kept in my kitchen. It was loaded with hollow points. It didn’t look as fancy as the one Rand had but Clyde said it was just as powerful and the hollow points are the kind of bullets that make a mess of whatever they hit. Missy grabbed my rifle.

I peeked out the window and saw Austin fighting the woman. She had him around the throat with one arm and her other hand over his mouth. As I watched she turned loose of him just long enough to grab him by the hair and slap him across the face several times before putting him back in the choke hold. I didn’t know what had happened to Woofer, if he had still been mobile he would have already ripped SueLinda’s throat out.

One of the men was heading into the barn and I couldn’t let him. I didn’t see a weapon on SueLinda but a quick thought had me pocketing the .357 into my apron and grabbing the rifle from Missy. She fought me briefly for it but she let go when she saw the look in my eyes. I went into the Great Room, cracked the door, and with a couple of shots took the back of the guy’s head off. It happened so fast. The other man turned, pulling a gun and I put three rounds in his torso. I noticed another women running away and I put a round in her big backside and she went down squalling.

I was gone away in my head. I had had all I was going to take from this woman. “Austin, kick her in the shins and bite her hand. Jam a thumb in her eye if she won’t let go.”

SueLinda was so shocked at what she’d walked into that she didn’t even think to defend herself when Austin followed my instructions to the letter.

Missy later said that I was just about the scariest thing she’s ever seen; strangely she meant it as a compliment. As soon as Austin was clear I raised the rifle and told SueLinda, “You have just used up the last of your nine lives. Isn’t it enough that you bring up bad memories for Rand every time your name is mentioned? You have been in my face and Rand’s face since you showed up around here. You’ve instigated and started rumors. You’ve done your level best to cause problems. Now you sic those poor people on us and when that doesn’t work you have the nerve to show up here, at our home, and just steal what doesn’t belong to you? Are you out of your mind or do you just have a death wish?!”

All she did was snarl at me. For a microsecond I was tempted to send her to her Maker but then I thought of Rand and knew that I had to give him time to resolve this in some other way. But I’ll be doggone if I’m going to stand there and let myself be attacked … even if I wasn’t pregnant. I switched the safety to on, switched the rifle around and swung it like a bat. As she made the move to jump me I caught her a hard crack that apparently broke her cheek bone, her jaw, broke some teeth, and cut that side of her face up pretty good. It also knocked her out cold.

I stood there heaving and then promptly threw up all over my own shoes because I couldn’t seem to move.

Austin was stumbling back under the weight of Woofer; that gave me something to focus on. He was crying … Austin, not Woofer. Woofer was out of it. “They shot him. They shot him.”

“Easy Austin, I don’t see any blood,” I tried to reassure him.

“It was some kind of dart. I pulled it out and brought Woofer home. Can you fix him Kiri?!”

“Austin, calm down. Let’s lay Woofer on the porch. Come on. Now, put your hand on his chest … feel it going up and down? Feel his heart? I think … I think it was just some kind of tranq gun, like animal control used to use … the dog catcher. Why don’t you sit with him and keep him out of the sun. He might be out for a while but I’m sure he’ll be happy to know that you are looking after him. OK?”

When I turned around there was Missy. She couldn’t decide whether to smile or look stern. In the end she just sighed and said, “I tied witchy poo up. You better come up with a good one. Rand is going to go nuclear.”

Oh, nuclear didn’t even come close. He was hollering and bellowing so loud and so fast that I couldn’t even understand half of what he was saying. I’d barely had time to clean my boots up when the thunder of a bunch of hooves came down the lane. The woman that I had shot in the rear end had escaped on us but gotten caught by some of Mr. Henderson’s men and spilled the story. She didn’t care that she was incriminating herself, she just wanted away from the crazy, fat girl that lived down the lane.

And of course Henderson’s men had radioed it in and then Rand got wind of it … and Bill did too which was fun watching Missy get basically the same treatment as I did. However Missy turned the table on Bill and said that if the men in the community wouldn’t spend so much ever loving time watching SueLinda’s girls’ nether regions we wouldn’t be in this situation. Missy is a piece of work. By the time she was through every man there felt guilty whether they had any reason to or not.

Except for Rand. He was still snorting and snarling and I was very tempted to tell him I didn’t feel well … but that would have been an out and out lie. I was feeling better than I had in a while. That doesn’t say much for my character I’m sure but nevertheless it’s true. Instead I stood there and let him wind down.

“Don’t you have anything to say for yourself?!”

“Rand, you’re right. SueLinda is a nasty person. The situation was horrible. People could have been hurt. If it hadn’t been as bad as it was I never would have done what I did.”

That shut his mouth so I continued. “I’m standing here because you’ve helped me get to the point where I’m a capable woman. This is our home. Had you been here you would have done what I did … except maybe the bang up side of SueLinda’s head. But you were off trying to prevent the situation from escalating. SueLinda however is unreasonable and chose to make the situation what it is. I knew you would be along shortly and that is what gave me the courage to do what had to be done. You’ve worked too hard, I’ve worked too hard, to get where we are. There comes a time when you have to put up or shut up. You and I have said everything we could to keep SueLinda at bay … she refused. That’s all there is to it.” Then I walked into his arms in front of everyone startling him to no end since he knows public displays make me uncomfortable. “Thank you Rand for teaching me the skills I need to survive and that I am capable of doing what has to be done.”

I got some mumbled response in return but he hugged me back, though it was a kind of sideways hug since my belly is getting in the way of just about all the fun stuff these days.

Rand is still upset. Not at me, just at the entire situation. Austin is better after Ken looked Woofer over. The drug wasn’t long lasting but we have to keep an eye on him a couple of days just to be on the safe side. The boy and dog went to bed early, both of them feeling the effects of too much excitement.

After Austin was asleep Rand worked off his fear by keeping me close and then closer still. It was good for both of us. It was comfort and being comforted, making needed connections that run deeper than words. It was accessing the intimacy that reassured both of us that we were still here, still together, still operating as a team.

Today has been a little trying. Rand has insisted that I relax and not do much. It was a swap meet day but we didn’t attend. I should have done laundry today but Rand said forget it. I had a lot of planting to do today also but Rand put a chair out in the garden and would only let me direct the work, not participate in it.

What I was allowed to do was sit in the shade and prepare the carrots and broccoli that was picked so it could go on the dehydrator. Monday I’ll be canning carrots whether Rand is ready for me to or not. I cannot get behind. In fact I need to get ahead as much as possible because everything I’m hearing about having babies – both the birth part and the raising part – says they are an awful lot of work and take a whole lot of time and attention. That means I’ll have even less time to do the necessary work. But I’m not going to think about that motherhood stuff right now. I’m wiggy enough as it is.

Mitch came by today after the swap meet. Some folks were worried that either I was sick or that we weren’t sure of our reception out in the community and he was the one that got volunteered to do the checking. Rand popped off a little bit and said, “Ask me how much I care whether anyone in the ‘community’ disapproves of the fact that SueLinda got what was coming to her.”

“Easy Rand. You’ve got it wrong. I know for a fact that there are plenty of women that are ready to defend Kiri to anyone that might be stupid enough to say she did anything other than what SueLinda forced her to do. Most of them are saying they would have simply pulled the .357 and put a period to a rabid animal.”

I thought that was taking it a little far and broke in, “Aw Mitch, that’s a bit much. Rabid animals can’t control themselves. SueLinda could have, she simply chose not to.”

“I don’t disagree with you there. I hope you know that brother of yours is three-quarters crazy too.”

“Oh no, what has Ram done now.” I looked over at Rand for support only I caught a look before he was able to hide it. “Rand! What are you and Ram up to?”

Mitch decided that he’d best make a quick exit which told me that whatever it was I wasn’t likely to be enamored of it. “Rand …”

“Easy Kiri. It isn’t that bad.”

“Uh huh.”

“Ram needed a little backing and he’s going to make a few business deals.”

“Uh huh.”

“I took some of those Sand Dollars left over from what Mr. Barnes sent. Gave them to Ram to invest.”

“Uh huh … and …”

“Look, SueLinda is able to attract the business that she does not just because of her ‘girls’ but because she runs a pretty profitable black market operation. Ram is just … instigating a bit and creating some competition.”

“He’s what? And you’re backing him?”

“We are … I know we didn’t discuss it but I had to make the decision quick.”

“Rand, you know I don’t know doodly about the money stuff. I trust you with that … no, don’t go getting all righteously indignant, I’m not in the mood for it and you sure aren’t going to use it to distract me from figuring out what you and Ram are up to.”

“Aw Babe.”

“Don’t ‘aw Babe’ me Rand Joiner. I expect this kind of craziness out of Ram but if that crazy hermano is going to start dragging you into it … all too willingly apparently … I’m gonna at least know what it is and have my say on it.”

At his continued discomfort and the fact that he was taking so long to come up with a story I figured it out for myself and I was NOT happy. “Tell me … oh tell me … that Ram hasn’t talked you into investing in some crazy scheme to take over the black market that SueLinda was operating.”

“We aren’t black marketers, we’re legitimate businessmen.”

“I am going to skin that crazy …”

“Calm down. The only part I’m involved in is as a financial backer. You said you trust me.”

“Of course I trust you so don’t do the puppy dog eyes thing. That’s not what I’m upset about. Rand you and I both know that those river smugglers are nothing to fool with. Not even the military messes with them unless they get out of hand too far inland. I can’t believe that you’d intentionally get involved with something like that! What if they take a mind to weed out of the competition and catch you … you or Ram … out someplace and … deal with you?”

“Babe, I’m not the only backer that Ram has.”

“Who else has he talked into this madness?!”

“Bill, Clyde, Mr. Henderson, Mr. Coffey.”

“What?!”

“Babe, listen to me. Something has to be done. They are beginning to blockade sections of the river making it next to impossible to get things unless you run it overland or pay them for 'protection.' We are doing fine but most people have to trade for what they need. Henderson has run into the problem several times and he’s looking at this as a nonviolent way of dealing with the problem.”

“I don’t think those river smugglers know how to be nonviolent.”

“Be that as it may, let’s give it a try. One way or the other this can’t continue and I’d rather be on the side that makes a difference … and potentially a profit … than on a side that just sits around letting those criminals just take over things.”

So. I’m not sure what to think. I guess we have to give this a try but I have a bad feeling that this is just a stopgap measure than is only going to force the violence to come to a head sooner rather than later.

2 comments:

  1. And now river pirates.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I'm rather sure that the river pirates will need to be dealt with in a rather violent and messy manner.

    ReplyDelete