Tex was at the wheel of the yellow coach. He’d just gotten a text from Jules about the attack outside of Buttonwillow. He was just heading into that area now. Karen had gotten angry with his advances and left for the bedroom. Alexis and Lily were sitting at the dinette, tired of talking. Lily noticed the text sound, and came up to the front. One look at Tex’s face told her it was something scary.
“Something happened,” she said, sitting down in the passenger seat, her blonde hair shimmering in the dim light.
“Yep, something happened, but don’t worry about it.”
“What’s going on?” asked Alexis as she walked to the front. She moved like a model, tall, lanky, and confident, her longish brunette hair swaying as she crouched.
“He got a text,” Lily said. “Something scary. Look at his face. Look how he’s watching the mirrors.”
Tex chuckled. “I’ve been watching the mirrors since we left. We’re being hunted. You guys know that.”
“What happened?” Alexis asked. “No BS.”
“Jules and Sparky’s rig got attacked from the rear by a vehicle full of Islamists.”
“Where?” Lily asked.
“Coming up in a few miles. Just happened, so we’ll probably see the wreckage.”
“The rear machine guns saved them, I’ll bet,” Alexis said.
“You got it,” Tex said.
“What happened to the ice princess?” Alexis asked. “I could hear her crying in the back.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Tex said. “She’ll be all right.”
“Were you messing with her?” Lily asked.
Tex chuckled. “I told her I was interested in her.”
“That’s why she’s crying?” Alexis asked. “Hell, if I were sticking around I’d go after you.”
“Oh, really?” Tex asked, glancing back at her.
“You’re strong and you’ve got a sense of humor,” Alexis said. “You wouldn’t pick me over Karen, though, would you?”
Tex chuckled. “No comment.”
“He likes a challenge,” Lily said. “He likes her, too. You see his face light up when he’s talking about her?”
“I think she’s a bitch, but to each his own,” Alexis said.
“Oh, she is a bitch,” Tex said. “Make no mistake about that. It just eggs me on even more.”
“Well, from what I can tell, she’s more than a little bit interested,” Alexis said.
“I’ll say,” Lily said. “That other guy is too blue-collar for her. You’re not. You’re rich.”
Tex laughed. “Now where’d you ever get that idea?”
“I come from a rich family,” Lily said. “We know our own. What was it? Cattle or oil?”
“No comment,” Tex said.
“He hangs around with Jules,” Alexis said. “He’s shady as hell. All the more exciting.”
Tex snickered. “I kinda wish you were sticking around.”
“I couldn’t get you away from ice princess. You enjoy the hunt too much. You wouldn’t have to hunt me, unless I faked it, and you’d know, wouldn’t you?”
“Probably,” Tex said. “You are a beautiful woman, though. Both of you are.”
“That was our undoing,” Lily said, eyes tearing up. “They were harder on me than most of the others.”
“They couldn’t get enough of your innocence,” Tex said softly. “I’m so sorry that happened to you.”
“It was more than that,” Lily said. “I’m sorry.” She rushed back to the dinette and buried her face against the wall.
“I shouldn’t have said anything,” Tex said.
Alexis glanced back at her, then at Tex. “It wasn’t what you said.”
“It’s not up to me to say anything. I’ll make apologies to her later.”
“Let it lie, Tex,” Alexis whispered. “She can’t control her emotions. Those bastards loved it. Now she feels like it’s all her fault. I’m really worried about her. I think she’s suicidal.”
“Oh, God,” Tex said, eyes welling with tears. Alexis noticed.
“Karen’s a lucky woman. Hope she doesn’t blow it.”
“Don’t say anything,” Tex said. “Please?”
“I won’t,” Alexis said. “Here comes your woman. I’ll go sit with Lily.”
Tex nodded, glancing back as she left. Karen sat in the passenger seat. “It’s warm. You making a play for Alexis, or Lily?”
Tex looked at her, then back at the road. “Get any sleep?”
“Screw you,” she said. “Which one?”
“We got a text a few minutes ago. Jules and Sparky got attacked on the road.”
“Oh, crap,” Karen said. “Where?”
“Coming up in about half a mile,” Tex said. Karen flashed him a terrified look. “Don’t worry, they won. We’ll see the wreckage in a few minutes.”
“What if there’s more enemy fighters there, and they see us?” Karen asked.
“We’ll have more dead enemy fighters,” Tex said. “Don’t worry about it. Remember how to work the rear guns?”
“The tray, right there,” she said, pointing to the dash in front of her.
“That’s right, little lady,” Tex said. “I doubt we’ll have to use it, but it’s there if we need it.”
“Pew, smells like burning rubber,” Karen said, looking forward into the darkness. There were lights on the side of the road. “Highway Patrol, look.”
A burned out vehicle sat upside down on the side of the road, officers picking through it.
“That doesn’t look like a UN van,” Karen said, staring out the window at it as they flew by.
“It wasn’t the UN, according to Sparky. It was Islamists.”
“Dammit,” Karen said. “They’re even more dangerous, aren’t they?”
“Only in their own minds,” Tex said.
“Shoot, this means the Islamists are working with the UN.”
Tex laughed. “We’ve known that for a while now.”
“I don’t understand,” Karen said.
“Maybe we shouldn’t talk about it now. Why were you crying back there?”
“Stop,” she said. “That’s none of your business, and I’m not getting into another one of your seduction conversations. Forget it.”
“Seduction conversations?” Tex asked, glancing at her.
“That’s what I said. I know your game. It’s not going to work.”
“Okay,” Tex said, not looking at her, eyes glued to the road.
“Something wrong up there?”
“No, just trying not to bother you,” Tex said. “It’s not easy.”
“What’s not easy?”
“Not looking at you,” he said.
“I said enough with the seduction routine.”
“I’m not doing that,” Tex said.
Lily cried while trying to talk to Alexis.
“What’s wrong with Lily?”
“Good, you realize I wasn’t messing with her.”
“I didn’t say that,” Karen said. “What’s wrong?”
“She feels guilty about what happened at the jail,” Tex whispered.
“Oh,” Karen said. “She got used more than the other girls. A couple of those thugs were talking about her when they took me down the hall. One of them said he wanted to keep her.”
“I hope none of the girls bothered her about it,” Tex whispered.
“Are you kidding? We only cared about how badly we were getting abused. Still, we did wonder about it. Some of us, anyway.”
“You haven’t known people with mental illness before, have you?”
“No, not really,” Karen said. “Why?”
“She can’t control her emotions,” Tex whispered.
“So what, she screamed and carried on more, and that’s what the thugs liked about her?”
Tex shot her a sharp glance. “Quiet.”
“Sorry,” she whispered, “but I don’t get it. I don’t see the attraction in that, even with these thugs.”
Tex stared at her for a moment, then shook his head no.
“Then wha…oh God, she was responding, wasn’t she?”
Tex looked at her again, eyes welling with tears.
“Why are you crying?” she whispered.
He looked back at the road, trying to compose himself.
“What is she to you?” Karen whispered.
“A young woman,” Tex muttered under his breath, grinding his teeth as he started to get angry.
“Oh,” she said, looking out the window. She was silent for a long while, as the dark highway flew by them. Highway 58 was deserted, but Tex continued looking in the rear-view mirrors every couple of minutes, the stress and lack of sleep getting to him.
“Hey,” Alexis said, walking up. “How much further until we get to Paso Robles?”
“You want to sit?” Karen asked. “I’ll go back there.”
“No, that’s your spot,” Alexis said, flashing her a disgusted look. “How long?”
“We’re just about to McKittrick,” Tex said. “We’ll take Highway 33 from there. Should be roughly an hour to Paso after that.”
“Good,” Alexis said. “Mind if I take Lily in the back and try to get her to sleep?”
“Sure, be my guest,” Tex said.
“I know where the blankets are,” Karen said, getting up. “I’ll show you. The bed isn’t made yet. It’s just a mattress covered with a bedspread.”
“Thanks,” Alexis said. She followed Karen into the bedroom.
“So, what was with the look?” Karen asked after she slid the door shut.
“Nothing,” Alexis said. “Maybe envy.”
“You’ve got one of the best men in this outfit wrapped around your little finger, and you have no idea,” Alexis whispered. “If I were sticking around, I’d be your competition.”
Karen silently took the blankets out of the closet by the end of the bed and set them down. “Here. She gonna be okay?”
“I hope so,” Alexis said. “She’ll need years of therapy to get past this.”
“I didn’t understand,” Karen said.
“Tex told you?”
Karen sighed. “He didn’t come right out and say it, but he got his point across. He’s mad at me, I think.”
“He’ll get over it,” Alexis said. “Sorry about my reaction.”
“He was crying about it up there,” Karen said. “Don’t tell him I told you.”
“I know, that really bothered him when I made him understand,” Alexis said. “He’s got a good heart, and he’s protective of women to a fault. Don’t mistake that for him not being faithful.”
“I doubt if we’ll be together. Pretty sure I blew it with him. I always do that.”
“No, you didn’t,” Alexis said as she spread the blankets out. “He’s a big boy. Don’t give up on him so easily.” She paused. “Sorry, it’s none of my business. I should shut up.”
“No, I’m sorry. I can be such a bitch.”
“We all have that problem, honey,” Alexis said. “I’m going to miss being with this group. Wish I could stay.”
“Me too,” Karen said. “Want help with Lily?”
“No, I can handle it,” Alexis said. “Go back up front. He’s having a hard time with this. You can help with that. He’s not as strong emotionally as he puts on.”
“Thank you,” Karen said. She opened the sliding door and went back to the front.
“She okay?” Tex asked, glancing at her.
“No, but Alexis will help.”
“Good,” Tex said.
“I’m sorry,” Karen said, looking at him. “I didn’t know. Really.”
“You don’t have anything to be sorry about,” he said. “You’ve all been through hell. It wasn’t just Lily.”
“And you want to ride to the rescue of all of us, don’t you?”
Tex focused back out the windshield, not knowing what to say.
“I didn’t say that to give you a hard time,” Karen said softly. “It’s actually the ultimate compliment. Please take it that way.”
“I don’t know how you women did it,” Tex said.
“Survive like you did,” Tex said. “I probably wouldn’t have. I just can’t imagine what it was like.”
Karen was silent for a moment.
“Are you going to be okay?” Tex asked.
She looked at him, seeing the compassion. “I don’t know. I think so, but stuff like this can lay dormant and then whack you good later.”
“Do you think about it all the time?”
“No,” she said. “I push it back, but it pops into my head. It’s only been a couple days. Hopefully as time goes on it’ll get better.”
“You’re strong,” Tex said. “Lily’s not. I’m really worried about her.”
“I know, I can tell. Sorry I was such a stupid bitch.”
“Stop,” Tex said. His phone dinged. “Text message.”
“Uh oh,” Karen said, watching him pull his phone out of his pocket. “Bad?”
“No, good,” Tex said. “Jules and Sparky made it to the ranch.”
“Good,” Karen said. The phone dinged again. He looked. “Yes. Morgan and Robbie just pulled in too.”
“You know her better than the rest of us, don’t you?”
Tex smiled. “You know, I’ve only known her for a little while longer than the rest of you. Seems like we go way back. Strange how times like these register in your brain.”
“How do you know her?”
“She was working for Sparky at the card club in Gardena,” Tex said. “I was in town when all of this garbage started. I’ve known Sparky for years.”
“How did you know him?”
Tex chuckled. “You don’t want to know.”
“Maybe I do.”
“Let’s just say we’ve done more than one nasty operation together,” Tex said. “With Ted, and George.”
“He’s not with us,” Tex said, “but since Saladin is involved, you can bet he’s in the middle of it. Probably with that crazy partner of his.”
“Crazy partner? You guys all seem pretty crazy to me. Especially Jules.”
“Ever heard of Malcom Davis?” Tex asked.
“Oh, crap,” Karen said, eyes wide. “You’re connected to him?”
“I don’t know him very well, but George is like a brother. Wish he was with us now.”
Tex’s phone dinged again.
“Why don’t you let me hold that?” Karen asked.
“Sure,” he said, handing it over. “Pin is 4487.”
“Okay,” she said, unlocking the phone. “Katie and Justin arrived safely, and Cody and Allison.”
“Good,” Tex said. “I was afraid we were going to lose a coach or two. We’re doing pretty well so far.”
They rode silently for a while. The back door slid open, and Alexis snuck out, closing it quietly behind her. She went to the front.
“She asleep?” Karen asked.
“Yeah,” Alexis said. “I’m so worried about her.”
“You know anything about her brother?” Tex asked.
“Nope. Wonder if she was diagnosed as a child?”
“I can’t imagine she wasn’t,” Karen said. “Not in our generation.”
“How about her parents?” Tex asked.
“Mother passed,” Alexis said. “None of them know where daddy is. He sounds like a real winner.”
“Great,” Tex said, shaking his head.
“Any news?” Alexis asked.
“Yeah, we’ve gotten a few texts about people making it to the ranch,” Karen said.
“Good,” Alexis said. “I’ll be glad when we get off the road.”
“Where’s your sister?” Tex asked.
“Ventura county,” Alexis said. “With my folks.”
“You could call them,” Karen said.
“Tried, on the land line at the Volvo dealership. No answer. I’m pretty worried. Haven’t gotten ahold of them for a while.”
“What part of Ventura county?” Tex asked, concern on his face.
“Oh, geez, that’s where the nuke went off,” Karen said. “Forgot about that.”
“They weren’t near the harbor,” Alexis said. “They were in Moorpark.”
Tex shot her a worried look. Karen saw it.
“What?” Karen asked.
“You know they evacuated people from that area, right?” Tex asked.
“Why?” Alexis asked.
“Fallout,” Tex said. “The wind blows that direction. They evacuated most of western Simi Valley too.”
“They talked to me after the blast,” she said. “My mom and my sister, anyway. Two days after, when the phone service came back up.”
“Not your father?” Karen asked.
“He got stuck away from the family,” Alexis said. “He was working in Camarillo.”
Tex looked at Karen. She nodded.
“What?” Alexis asked.
“Most of the people in Camarillo died,” Karen said softly.
“No!” Alexis said. “That’s not true. My mom said he was due home any time. She was talking to the county office.”
“When was that?” Tex asked.
“The last time I talked to her.”
“How recently?” Tex asked.
“The same call, two days after the bomb,” she said. “I was taken to the police station before I made another call.”
“You might have to consider that your family didn’t make it,” Karen said.
“No, that can’t be,” Alexis said, face turning red. Tears ran down her cheeks.
“Alexis,” Karen said, getting up to hug her. She pushed her away.
“No,” she said. “I don’t believe that. I can’t believe that. They’re all I had left.” She got up and ran back to the dinette. Tex and Karen looked at each other helplessly.
“Is there a way we can find out?” Karen asked.
“I don’t know,” Tex said. “I might have to drive her there.”
“You’d do that? Wouldn’t it be dangerous?”
“You wouldn’t do that?” Tex asked.
She sighed. “Yes, I would do that. I’ll go too, if it comes to that.”
“McKittrick is coming up,” Tex said, slowing.
“Do we have to ride through town?”
“Just barely,” Tex said. “We’ll get on Highway 33 before we hit the main drag.” He slowed down. “There’s the elementary school, see?”
“Yeah,” Karen said.
“We’re in that next town,” Alexis said, coming up to the front. Let me out here.”
“No, you don’t want to do that,” Tex said. “Jules has the money he’s going to give you. You’ll need that.”
“I don’t care,” she said. “I don’t want to move further away.”
“We’re only going an hour further,” Karen said. “Please, you don’t want to do this.”
Tex saw the transition to Highway 33 and took it.
“What are you doing?” Alexis said. “Stop!”
“I’ve got orders,” Tex said. “Ivan will have me gutted if I don’t follow them. Remember what I told you all about this organization.”
“This isn’t fair,” Alexis said. “It’s kidnapping.”
“No it’s not,” Karen said. “We can’t let you go to your death.”
“Dammit, stop,” Alexis said, breaking into sobs.
Tex and Karen looked at each other, both crying now.
“Maybe we should let her,” Karen said.
Tex started to say something, but was stopped by a pistol shot in the back of the coach.
“Oh, God no!” Alexis cried, rushing into the bedroom. She screamed.
“Go back there,” Tex said. “Think you can handle it?”
Karen nodded yes and rushed back. “Oh no,” she shouted.
Lily was on the floor, gun in her hand, blood flowing from the side of her head. Alexis stood looking at her, too numb to move.
To be continued…
Bug Out! Texas has just been published in the Kindle Store! This is the story of Texas Patriots and their struggle against enemies, foreign and domestic, during the Bug Out! War. Chock full of action, adventure, suspense, and romance. Pick up your copy of Bug Out! Texas Book 1 today!
The first of my full length novels has been published in the Amazon Kindle store, available now. For those of you have have been readying the Bugout! series, the story involves George and Malcolm, and is set about seven years earlier. This book R rated, instead of the PG-13 of the Bugout! Series, so be warned. Here’s the link to “Never A Loose End”
Copyright Robert Boren 2016