Sam was asleep in his tent, the breeze slowly swaying it. He could hear others around him, breathing, some snoring. Footsteps approached in the sand.
“You awake?” a woman’s voice whispered.
“Yeah,” Sam said. “Erica?”
“Yep,” she whispered. “Want to take a walk with me? I can’t sleep. You can’t either.”
“How did you know that?” Sam asked, unzipping his tent. He stuck his head out.
“You were breathing normally,” she said. “I’ll leave if you don’t want to come.”
“No, it’s fine,” Sam said. “Got to put my pants and shirt on, though.”
“I’ll wait, unless you need help.”
Sam chuckled. “No, I think I can handle it”
He emerged from the tent in the dim moonlight. She was standing, her long black hair blowing in the breeze.
“Hi,” she said, smiling at him.
“Didn’t expect to see you until tomorrow morning,” he said as he stood next to her.
“You expected to see me tomorrow?”
“You asked me not to leave without saying goodbye, remember?”
“Oh, yeah,” she said. “I didn’t think you’d take that seriously. Glad you did.”
“There’s a water fall about a thousand yards down that path,” Erica said. “Nice place to sit and chat.”
“Lead the way,” he said.
They walked away from the tent area quietly, single file at the beginning of the path. It widened after a while, and Erica waited for Sam to get next to her.
“Why me?” Sam asked.
“What do you mean?”
“Ed said you’d want to meet me. So did Tyler.”
She giggled. “Yeah, I’ll bet. I don’t care what they think.”
“But you aren’t answering my question.”
“I was getting there,” she said, her eyes dancing with his.
“Don’t be silly,” she said. “We both lost our spouses suddenly. I don’t have anybody to talk to about that.”
“Oh, so that’s all it is?” Sam asked, sounding a little bit disappointed.
“I’m lonely, and I’ve heard you’re a very impressive man,” she said, “so don’t be disappointed.”
“As long as you don’t expect too much,” Sam said. “I don’t have that much to give right now. Not until this fight is over.”
“Fight? Oh, you mean this damn war.”
“Yeah,” Sam said.
“You in it for the duration?”
“I’m in it until Imperial County and eastern San Diego County are free of the UN and the Islamists,” Sam said. “I owe my fellow citizens that much.”
“How long do you think that will take?”
Sam glanced at her, then back ahead at the trail. “Hopefully not very long at all. I’m not enjoying this.”
“Good,” Erica said. “There’s a little bit of a grade here. We’ll have to walk single file for the rest of the way.”
Sam followed her down through some bushes, single file again, and the terrain started downhill quickly.
“Be careful here,” Erica said. “Loose rocks.”
Sam started to slip, stopping himself by grabbing a branch. “Yep, you’re not kidding.”
As they followed the trail, they could hear the water fall, very soft, but getting louder and louder.
“It’s pretty down here,” Sam said. “Even in the dark.”
“Wait until you see the pool,” she said. “It’s beautiful. I like to swim there.”
“It’s pretty cold, though, isn’t it?”
“Not this time of year,” she said. “We’re not in the mountains.”
“Where does the stream come from?”
“It’s spring-fed,” she said. “I can see it now. Look past me.”
“Oh, yeah, there it is,” Sam said, looking at it, a rough oval shape, bordered on one side by big rocks, with the water fall flowing over one of them. The side they were approaching was a small sandy bank. The sound of the rushing water was loud now.
“We’ll have to climb down here one at a time,” she said. “There’s another way up, so don’t worry about that. Wait until I tell you I’m down.”
She got on her butt and slid down, getting out of his sight. He waited. Nothing. A cold sweat broke out. Something’s wrong. He slid down slowly, trying to be silent. Erica was there, facing towards him, an Islamist pointing a rifle at her head. Before even thinking, he leapt onto the man’s back, grabbing his head and twisting it, a sickening crack sounding louder than the waterfall.
“Hey, what you do?” shouted another Islamist, who was next to a third. Sam grabbed the AK-47 out of the dead man’s hands and fired, killing both before they could react.
“Get down, and head into the bushes,” Sam said.
She grabbed one of the AK-47s from the other men and rushed away, Sam scanning the area before following her.
“Dammit,” Erica whispered as he got next to her. “Wonder how many others are around?”
“Good question,” Sam whispered back. “Didn’t see anybody else. We need to follow their tracks.” He pulled out his phone and sent a quick text.
“Who are you sending that too?” she whispered.
“Sid, Tyler, Ryan, and James. We’ve got M60s and a BAR in our Jeeps.”
“Hope they’re still there,” she whispered, scanning with him. “Where did you learn how to do that?”
“Special forces,” Sam said. “You know how to shoot the AK-47?”
“Yep,” she said. “I trained Kaitlyn.”
“Oh, really now?”
“Yeah,” she said. “Good, isn’t she?”
Sam’s phone buzzed him. He looked at it, trying to hide the shine of the screen with his hand. “They’re up, getting the weapons now, including the mortar we brought.”
“You guys have a mortar?” she asked. “Geez.”
“Wait till you see the battle wagons.”
“Later,” he said. “C’mon, let’s see if we can find some tracks. I want to see how many enemy fighters there are.”
She nodded, then stopped for a second and put her arm around his neck, pulling him in, kissing him tenderly.
“Wow, what was that for?” he asked.
“Saving my life,” she said. “Consider that a down payment.”
“You’re something,” he whispered. “Let’s go. Stay sharp.”
They got back onto the sandy bank. There were footsteps in the sand, leading off towards the north.
“They came in from the road to Barrett Lake,” Erica whispered. She noticed Sam wasn’t next to her anymore and looked back to see him taking ammo and grenades off the enemy fighters. “Oh, good idea.”
He caught up with her, and they followed the tracks, which led around the side of the rocks near the waterfall and over. Suddenly a shot rang out, hitting the rocks to their right.
“Hit the dirt,” Sam said. Erica already had, and was crawling up, AK in front of her, eye already on the sight.
“Looks like about ten,” she whispered. “Two trucks. Let’s nail the tires.”
“Yeah,” Sam said, crawling next to her. They opened fire, the trucks sagging downward as their tires exploded. There was yelling in Arabic below them, and a few more shots hit the ridge they were on. Erica opened fire, hitting several of them, Sam joining in. Then there was a much louder gun, full automatic fire.
“M60s,” Sam said, smiling at Erica.
After a few seconds there was silence.
“Let’s go down and check it out,” Erica said.
“Yeah, but be careful,” Sam said. They got up and headed over the ridge. Another shot rang out. Erica rolled onto the ground and fired from prone position, missing with the first shot, then hitting the enemy fighter square in the chest.
“I’m a little out of practice,” she said.
“Oh, please,” Sam said. They continued on. Tyler and Sid emerged from the cover to their left.
“How many?” Tyler asked.
“Three down by the pool,” Sam said. Looks like another nine here.”
“Twelve total,” Sid said. “Wonder if that’s all of them?”
“Let’s follow the tracks of that truck,” Erica said.
“Yeah,” Tyler said. “Nice shooting. I see you haven’t lost your stuff.”
“Seriously,” Sid said. “That drop and roll was nicely executed.”
“She trained Kaitlyn,” Sam said.
“And by the way, what were you doing by the pool?” Tyler asked. Sid snickered.
“Maybe they were gonna go skinny dipping,” he said.
“All right, knock it off,” Sam said. “We were gonna talk.”
“Uh huh,” Tyler said as they followed the tracks.
“How far is the highway from here?” Sam asked.
“Several miles,” Erica said. “Good dirt roads. Might be hard to find tracks as we get further. The surface gets harder.”
“You tell the tribe to pack up?” Sam asked.
“They’re working on it now,” Tyler said. “Those rifle shots were loud. Everybody woke up. We were on our way to the Jeeps already when we got your text.”
“Good,” Sam said. “We’re going to have to go back the way we came, or we’ll get killed on the highway. You guys know that, right?”
“Yeah,” Erica said. “It’s the way we came, you know.”
“I know you’re thrilled about that,” Sid said. He and Tyler chuckled.
“What?” Erica asked.
“I’m not into the whole rock climbing thing. Too much of a white-knuckle ride for me.”
“Then you can walk with me,” Erica said.
“It’s gonna take a few days to get back to the other location,” Tyler said. “And we still have the water problem.”
“Come back to Dulzura with us,” Sid said. “We’ve got room. It’s safer than here.”
“Where are you guys?” Erica asked.
“You know that estate on Dutchman Canyon road, off Highway 94?”
“The Williams place?” Erica asked. “How does old man Williams feel about that?”
“He’s dead, I’m afraid,” Sam said. “Killed by Islamists early on. We’ve taken the place over with some help from Garrett and his men.”
“Garrett,” Erica said. “Now there’s an interesting character.”
“I’m surprised we never met,” Sam said. “We know a lot of the same people.”
“Yeah, it’s weird,” she said. “Can’t see the tracks anymore.”
“Me neither,” Tyler said. “Maybe we ought to turn back.”
“Yeah, we need to get your people moving,” Sam said.
“The walkers are already moving,” Tyler said. “We told them to pack up and leave.”
“At least the enemy won’t be able to follow us in vehicles,” Sam said. “At least not in these trucks they have.”
“Hope they don’t have any Gaz Tigrs,” Sid said.
“Me too, but if they did, they would’ve been at the front of the line, not the back,” Sam said.
“Good point,” Tyler said.
“Okay, let’s go load up,” Sid said.
They walked back to camp.
“Do you really want to walk with me?” Erica said. “You don’t have to.”
“I’d like to,” he said. “You mind, Sid?”
“No, not at all. We can take three others in the Jeep then.”
“Hope we aren’t followed too quickly,” Tyler said. “The only way the enemy can follow us is on foot, if they’re in these kinds of trucks. Helps to have a head start.”
“How many of your people are armed?” Sam asked.
“All of them,” Tyler said.
“Good,” Sam said as they got back into the ghost town. The sea of tents was gone, and there was a stream of people walking south, past the open mine shaft. Ed saw them and rushed over.
“Don’t know what you two were doing at the pool,” he said with a twinkle in his eye, “but I’m glad you were there.”
“You would’ve taken them anyway,” Sam said. “There was only twelve.”
“We’ve been invited to their place in Dulzura,” Tyler said.
“It’s as much your place as it is ours,” Sid said. “Don’t forget that.”
“Think it will accommodate everybody?” Ed asked.
“It’s the old Williams ranch,” Tyler said. “It’ll take all of our people and then some.”
“Might eventually want to go to Dodge City, I suppose,” Sid said. “It’s a little less exposed.”
“What’s Dodge City?” Ed asked.
“Garrett’s place,” Sid said.
“Oh, yeah, heard about that,” Ed said. “That’s the place where they built a western town not to code, and the country made them pull it all down and rebuild it.”
Sid cracked up. “Yep. Heard that story.”
“I want to know how the hell the enemy found us,” Tyler said.
“You and me both,” Sam said. “We’re always thinking we’ve got these guys on the run, and then they do something we don’t expect them to be capable of.”
“That’s not very encouraging,” Erica said.
“It is what it is,” Ed said. “Guess we’re still in this fight.”
“Yep,” Tyler said. They prepared to leave.
Jules backed the big coach into the first spot, next to the huge warehouse. The other coaches followed suit. There were long, thick electrical cords on the ground behind the parking spots.
“Hookups for everybody, I see,” Shelly said, checking them out in her mirror.
“Yes,” he said. “All planned out. We all go into siege mode.”
“No, but why take chance? We don’t need to, no?”
Shelly smiled. “You’re right, of course. Tex’s rig is getting the retrofit first?”
“Yes, he pull into warehouse. Huge shop. They work round clock. Ted’s coach also in first pair.”
“Where are they gonna sleep?” Shelly asked.
“Main house,” Jules said.
“Where are we gonna sleep?”
“In coach,” Jules said. “To man weapons in hurry if needed. Okay?”
She sighed at him. “Oh, I suppose. Can I trust you to behave?”
“Yes, you know. I did before.”
“Except sealing your body against mine naked, that is,” she said, smiling at him.
“Just cuddle,” he said. “That okay, no?”
“I need to get some pajamas.”
Jules chuckled, then hit the button to set the coach up into siege mode. “Don’t worry, I fall asleep fast tonight. It late. Both tired, no?”
“Yes, we’re both tired,” Shelly said. “Shall we go talk to the others?”
“Yes, ready,” Jules said, getting up. They left the coach together. “Let’s check warehouse.”
They walked over, waving to the others, some of them still backing in, others setting up siege mode. Light flooded out of the huge doors of the warehouse. Ted had just finished backing in. Tex was already outside his coach, standing next to Karen. Techs were working on their coach, pulling off the rear cover of the engine compartment.
“How drive?” Jules asked.
“Not bad, partner,” Tex said, walking up with Karen. “You?”
“Nice,” he said. “Right, Shelly?”
“Yes, it was fine,” she said. “I thought this place was further past the crash site. Almost seems like a shame that we waited.”
“No way,” Tex said. “We had to wait.”
“Why?” Karen asked.
Jules chuckled. “Some would see where we turn off.”
“Oh, crap, you’re right,” Karen said. “Sorry.”
“So, you guys are sleeping in the big house, huh?” Shelly asked. “Where is it?”
“Behind warehouse,” Jules said. “Not as big as last place.”
“Well, I’m beat,” Karen said. “I’m going there now, if that’s okay.”
“You go ahead,” Tex said. “I’ll catch up in a few minutes.”
“Don’t care,” she said, walking away.
“She still give you hard time, no?” Jules asked.
“What’s so funny?” Tex asked her. “You and Jules together yet?”
Shelly’s face turned red, but she smiled. “I guess I deserved that.”
“I’m just messing with you,” Tex said. “You do what you want to do, little lady. I know I’ve got a challenge with Karen, but I’m working it. Might just surprise you.”
“Oh, I expect you to get her eventually,” Shelly said. “Enjoy the beef jerky?” She turned and went back into the coach. Jules snickered.
“Wonder if she had something to do with that?” Tex asked.
Jules laughed. “These women outsmart us, no?”
“You might have a point there, partner,” Tex said. “When are you gonna tell her the truth?”
“What you mean?”
“Never mind. Already said too much.” He turned and started to head to the house.
“Wait!” Jules said. “What?”
He turned back to him. “I’ll give you a hint. Your occupation is important. Good night. Wish me luck.”
Jules smiled. Not ready yet. He shook his head and went into the coach.
“Sleepy?” he asked.
“I’m already in bed,” Shelly said from the bedroom.
“Okay, mind if I join?”
“It’s your bed,” she said.
“Yes, but I sleep out here if you want.”
She was silent for a moment.
“I sleep out here,” Jules said.
“No, it’s fine,” she said. “Just remember to be a gentleman, like before, okay?”
“Yes,” Jules said. He switched off the lights in the front of the coach and locked the door, then came in the bedroom. “Turn back unless you want to see.”
Shelly giggled. “Geez, look at us.” She turned on her side, facing away from him. He stripped off his clothes, turned out the lights, and slipped under the covers.
“You missed your chance,” she said.
“The lights? I be polite. You want that, no?”
“Yes, I want that,” she said. “What do you want?”
“You, but I understand.”
“Thank you,” she said. “What are you going to do after the war?”
“I don’t know,” Jules said. “You?”
“Same. I’ll have to start over. Had a decent career, but I’ve been gone so long. I don’t know if the team is still together.”
“They remember you,” Jules said. “They still want. Wait and see.”
“How could you know that?”
“I see your work. I’ll hire if they don’t.”
“Work for Ivan’s mob? You really think I’d do that?”
“You might be surprised what I do,” Jules said.
“I’d rather not find out,” she said. “This is fine. It’s war. I want to go back to a normal life after. A peaceful life.”
“You think I don’t want that?”
“You’ll still be in it,” she said. “The risky life. Don’t you get tired of that?”
“Yes, I work in cut throat business. Need best staff and best product. I like the competition. The striving for growth, for development of my team. What’s so bad?”
“You don’t see anything morally wrong with what you do?”
“No,” Jules said. “Can I cuddle? Cold.”
“Uh huh,” she said. “No hanky panky.”
“What’s hanky panky?”
She giggled. “You’re so European.”
“This bad?” he asked.
“Why do you want to cuddle?”
“I’m cold, and I like closeness to you,” Jules said. “I behave, remember?”
“Okay, Jules, you can lay against me,” she said softly, “just watch where you put your hands? Can you do that?”
“Yes, I do,” Jules said, moving over against her back, settling in. He moaned. “This nice.” His hand went to her hip. She grabbed it, pulling it against her belly. “Here okay. Not my butt. Or the other private spots. Understand?”
“Yes,” he said. “You like.”
“It is nice to be held,” she said, pushing back against him slightly. Her breath slowed, but she started to tremble a little.
“You cry?” Jules asked softly.
“Don’t worry about it. It’s the damn dreams. Every night. It helped being with you last night. Maybe it will help again, but I’m scared.”
“I’m here,” he said softly, turning her head to him. He kissed her lightly on the cheek. “You are a beautiful person. Good night. I be here. I protect you. Always.”
She drifted off, trying to believe him.
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 2017