Bugout! California Part 85 – Pepperment Schnapps

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Karen walked past the huge warehouse, feeling a little guilty about her comment to Tex. Why do I get like that? The voices of the group got softer as she neared the back end of the warehouse. Beyond it was a formal garden, beautifully maintained, with strings of lights crisscrossing it above. The house was not a mansion like the last place. It looked more like a large ground-keeper’s house. The lights were on, the front door open, screen door closed. A matronly woman in a maid’s uniform saw her coming up the pathway and held the screen door open for her.

“Welcome,” she said. “Are you hungry, or will you be spending the night here?”

“Sleeping,” Karen said, trying to force a smile. “I’m tired. Could you point me to the bedroom I’m supposed to use?”

“They’re in the back section of the house, through the foyer and the living room,” the woman said. “Take your pick.” She spoke with a slight accent which Karen couldn’t quite place. Eastern European, or Russian.

“This place doesn’t look big enough for a maid,” Karen said.

The woman chuckled. “I work in the public part of the winery. The big house is used as a Bed and Breakfast. Over the hill and down about half a mile. I’m Anna.”

“Karen,” she said, heading to the bedrooms. She went down a small hallway, two doors along the right side, one on the other. She opened the door on the left side. Figures. The room was beautifully furnished, but had a single king-sized bed, on the middle of the back wall. At least it’s a king.

“Does this work for you?” Anna asked, startling Karen from behind.

“They all have just one bed?”

“Yes, I’m afraid so. If there weren’t two other couples coming in, you could have one to yourself. I’m sorry.”

Karen sighed. “No problem. It’s only for one night.” She went through the door and shut it. Dammit. He’s going to win. She smiled to herself, then shook her head and turned back the covers on the left side. Suddenly she was so tired that she could barely stand. She laid down, clothes still on, and drifted off to sleep.

She was led down the stark hallway, florescent lights above, papers and trash littering the floor, her bare feet filthy under her. The hand was on her upper arm from behind, pushing her along.

“Hurry or we hit you,” the German-accented voice said behind her, gruff and wicked.

“You’ll hit me anyway,” she said, so soft that the guard couldn’t hear her.

“What did you say?” the guard asked, his hand tightening on her arm, hurting her.

“I said yes sir,” she whispered.

The man slapped her cheek from behind, the pain radiating through her jaw and neck. “I didn’t hear you.”

“I said yes sir,” she said louder, forcing back the urge to say more.

They got to the door of the interrogation room. The guard opened it and pushed her inside. The room was filthy, with several cheap plastic chairs around a mattress on the floor. Three men were sitting in the room, drinking and smiling. The smell of peppermint Schnapps wafted towards her. “Damn Germans,” she thought to herself.

“This one again?” one of the men asked. He was small and frail-looking with thick glasses. “She just checks out. Never engages.”

“We’ll fix that,” a larger man said, walking towards her with the bottle of Schnapps. “Hold her.” The small man and a third man grabbed her arms. She didn’t struggle. That was a lesson she learned fast.

“Wait, let’s get her robe off first,” the small man said. “Her body is her best feature.” They pulled the robe off her shoulders and tossed it aside. Karen didn’t even try to cover herself anymore.

The guard shook his head and chuckled. “Have fun.” He left, closing the metal door behind him.

“You got her?” asked the man with the bottle.

“Yes, but she knows better than to fight us,” the small man said.

The men snickered. The man with the bottle grabbed her nose, forcing her mouth open. Then he poured the Schnapps into her mouth, gagging her as she tried to breathe, the intense peppermint making her feel queasy and faint.

“Swallow,” the small man said, smacking her butt hard. She was so numb she could hardly feel it. He hit her again and she swallowed the awful thick liquid, bending her head down and coughing hard.

“More,” the man with the bottle said, wrenching her head back up, putting the bottle back to her lips. She forced her mind elsewhere as she felt her mouth filling with peppermint again.

Karen woke up in a start, her body hot and sweaty.

“Are you okay?” Tex asked as he slipped under the covers.

“Oh, Tex,” she sobbed, moving against him, crying hard as he held her.

“It’s okay, little lady,” he whispered, holding her tight. “You’re safe. I won’t let them hurt you ever again. I promise.” He kissed her forehead tenderly. She drifted back to sleep in his arms.

Morning came too fast. Karen woke up, still close to Tex, still in her clothes, hot and sweaty. The dream came crashing back into her head and she cried softly, shaking just enough to wake Tex.

“Oh, darling, you’re having such a hard time, aren’t you?” he asked, his eyes still heavy from sleep. He touched her hair, moving closer to her face, wiping the tears away. They locked eyes for what seemed like forever. She didn’t want to look away. Not now. She cuddled up against him.

“Thank you,” she whispered. “I’m sorry.”

“No, don’t say that,” Tex said softly. “You’re having a harder time with this than I thought. Don’t worry. You’re safe with me, and I won’t push you anymore. Okay?”

She nodded her head yes and settled against him, drifting off to sleep again. When she woke, he was gone. She felt next to her with her hand, not finding him, and then opened her eyes. He was sitting in a chair next to the window to the left of the bed, reading a book.

“You’re awake,” he said, setting the book down on the table next to the chair.

“What time is it?”

“Almost noon,” Tex said.

“Crap,” she said, sitting up.

“Hey, what’s the problem? You didn’t get to bed until nearly three, and you didn’t have an easy time. I came in at nearly four.”

“Oh,” she said, sitting up. “I feel grimy. Wonder if there’s a shower behind that door there?” She pointed to the door on the right side of the bed.

“Yep, bathroom and shower. No tub. There’s soap and shampoo in there.”

“Thank God,” she said, getting out of bed, starting to stumble.

“You okay?” he asked, bounding towards her, catching her before she fell.

“Too much sleep after days of not enough,” she said. “My body doesn’t want to wake yet, I guess.”

Tex chuckled. “Understandable.”

“I suppose,” she said, moving away from his embrace.

“Sorry,” he said.

She looked at him, then moved closer and kissed him on the cheek. “Thank you for last night. Really.”

“Thank you,” he said.

“For what?”

“Being you,” he said, eyes misting.

She felt the dizziness coming back and steadied herself against him for a moment. “Whoa.”

“Take your time,” he said. “Maybe you should sit for a few minutes before trying to take a shower.”

“Maybe so,” she said, taking the chair next to the one he was reading in. He sat back down and studied her for a moment.

“Don’t worry about me,” she said. “I’ll be okay.”

“What was the dream about?”

“Guess,” she said, looking down. “It didn’t come back, though, after I woke up. I think you might have helped. I’m sorry I’ve been such a bitch. You don’t deserve it.”

“Don’t worry about that,” Tex said. “Just get better. You’re away from them now, and we’re fighting them. You have your power back.”

“It doesn’t feel like that,” she said softly.

“Don’t worry, it will,” he said.

“How do you know?”

“You’re strong,” he said. “You’ll overcome this.”

“Hope you’re right,” she said. “I think I can get up now. I’ll feel better after a shower. Being filthy isn’t helping.”

“Oh, that reminds me. Here.” He picked up a bag and handed it to her.

“What’s this?” she asked.

“Clean clothes,” Tex said. “Nothing fabulous, but it’s better than putting the dirty stuff back on.”

“Where did you get them?”

“Jules ordered them when we were on the way. For us men too. Things were getting a little ripe.”

She looked in the bag. “These will be fine. Jules is a nice man, isn’t he?”

“He is,” Tex said.

“Think he told Shelly what he does yet?”

“I don’t know, but don’t you tell her, okay? I slipped him a hint last night. He might not be ready for her to know that yet.”

“Why?”

“There’s a lot of good things about being wealthy, but relationships with women can be tough. If you want them for a long-term relationship, that is.”

“He wants that with Shelly, doesn’t he?”

“I’ve never seen him so infatuated with a woman before, so I think the answer is yes.”

“Then maybe he should just be honest.”

“Don’t worry, little lady, he’ll get around to that when he feels comfortable enough.”

She nodded, then turned and went into the bathroom with her bag of clothes, setting them down on the granite sink counter. The lights were already on, and the room steamy from Tex’s shower. The stall was nice, travertine with high-end fixtures. She turned on the hot water, then closed the shower door and undressed, watching herself in the big mirror over the sink. How could he want this? Bruises, some very large and still almost black, and cigarette burns on her thighs, hips, and breasts. Shame filled her head, and she cried, turning from the mirror.

“You okay in there, little lady?” Tex asked from outside the door.

“I’m fine,” she said. “I’ll be out in a few minutes.”

The shower water was warm enough. She adjusted it slightly and got in, the hard stream washing away some of her tension. The bruised parts still hurt when she scrubbed, but not as bad as they did last time she had a shower. After she shampooed and soaped off, she stood under the warm running water and cried again. Pull yourself together.

Tex was still sitting in his reading chair when she came out, brushing her hair, wearing the trim t-shirt and white pants.

“Feel human again, little lady?”

She nodded yes, eyes tearing up again.

“Oh, honey,” Tex said, rushing to her side, taking her into his arms. She stiffened, but then settled into him, sobbing on his shoulder as he patted her on the back. “It’s okay.”

She backed up. “It’s not okay. You should see me. I’m all bruised and battered. Some of it may never go away.”

“They were really rough on you, weren’t they?”

“I wouldn’t give in until they started forcing booze down my throat. Then I was so numb that I didn’t care anymore, but I still wouldn’t give them what they wanted. They hit me for it, and cut me, and burned me with cigarettes. I look just awful.”

“You were strong,” he said. “You fought them. That’s something to be proud of.”

“I hope I feel that way about it someday,” she whispered, breaking the embrace. “Are you hungry?”

“Famished,” he said. “Ready to go eat?”

“You could’ve already.”

“I was waiting for you,” he said.

“Why?”

“Because that’s how civilized people act,” Tex said. “C’mon.”

They left the bedroom.

***

They’d been walking for several hours. Sam felt it in his thighs and calves. His hand was sore from carrying his M-16. He felt plodding and clumsy next to the graceful Erica. They made small talk on the first part of the walk, but the grade got tough, and the climbing over rocks. Shortness of breath made talking harder, so they stopped chatting for a while. The people walking in front of them were slowing down.

“Time for a rest?” Sam asked.

Erica turned to him and smiled. “There’s a creek ahead with a pool, like the one by the ghost town. No waterfall, though.”

“And hopefully no enemy fighters,” Sam said. “I’m so out of shape.”

She chuckled. “You won’t be by the time we’re done with this trek.”

“Hopefully we can get picked up for the last part of the journey,” Sam said. “The Jeeps and that crazy contraption that Ed’s in ought to be almost to the highway.”

“Ed will be back here,” Erica said. “He goes ahead in the hovercraft to scout. Then he gets behind us and uses it to blow away our footprints in the dirt. He won’t go to town before we can get there.”

“That’s why there were no tracks leading away from that other location.”

“Yes,” she said.

“Those things aren’t that good on a highway. Probably not even street legal. We might have to load it into a truck or something when we get to highway 94.”

She chuckled. “As if anybody would care in this world. Don’t worry. He’ll probably follow a route alongside the road. That’s what he did coming down from Barrett Lake.”

“Makes sense,” he said as they neared the water.

“Fair warning – there will be some skinny dipping at the pool,” Erica said. “Hope that doesn’t embarrass you too much.”

“Skinny-dipping?”

“When we’re on the trail we bathe this way,” she said. “There’s nothing sexual about it, but outsiders get a little taken aback. It feels so good to cool down and get some of the trail dust off.”

“Hey, I’m pretty easy going about that kinda stuff.”

“Uh huh,” she said, grinning at him as they got to the water’s edge. There were a lot of people in the water before them, obviously naked but not seeming to notice amongst themselves. Sam looked at them.

“See, it’s not bothering me,” he said, turning back to her. She already had her top off, and was taking off her pants. “Coming? Sorry to take the mystique away, but I’m hot.”

Sam chuckled and shrugged, then undressed and followed her into the water. “Okay, this feels good.”

“Told you.” She dunked her head under the water, coming back up with her shiny black hair wet. Sam did the same, shaking when he came back up, the cool water taking a lot of the soreness and tension away in seconds.

“So, were we gonna skinny dip at the pool last night?” Sam asked

“Wouldn’t you like to know,” she said. “If we did, it might have turned into more than skinny dipping.”

“I told you I’m not quite ready for that yet.”

“I saw how you looked at me just now,” she said softly. “I like the way you look too.”

People were starting to leave the pool.

“Appears to be time to go,” Sam said.

“Yes,” she said. “Look the other way. That’s not considered polite.”

“They show when they’re getting in,” Sam said.

“Yes, but that’s when they’re getting in.” She giggled at him. “You can look at me when we’re getting out. Just not at everybody else. Avert your eyes from them and you’ll be considered polite.”

“Okay,” he said. They waded for the beach. “Wish we could stay in here longer.”

“Me too,” she said, walking out of the water. Sam took in her naked back, trying not to let it affect him. She turned and looked him up and down. “I’m impressed.”

“Impressed?”

“Self-control…you know what I mean,” she said, bending down to pick up her clothes. They got dressed quickly, and were back on the trail again.

“Nobody complains about this,” Sam said.

“To the young it’s an adventure,” Erica said. “Luckily they don’t really understand how much danger we’re in. The old won’t ruin it for the young by complaining about it.”

“You have a nice culture,” Sam said.

“I think so,” she said. “That’s why I haven’t left the reservation. It’s a comfortable way to live.”

“Smell that?” Sam asked, freezing and looking around.

“Yes,” she said. “Fire.”

“You think some of the people are setting up camp already?”

“No,” Erica said. “It’s coming from the north.”

Sam whirled his head around. “Crap, they lit the ghost town on fire. Look at the smoke.”

“Bastards,” Erica said, turning around. “They have to erase everything that came before them. I remember what they did in Afghanistan.”

“The Buddhist monuments,” Sam said. “I remember. I saw what they did.”

“You were over there?”

“Yes,” Sam said.

“What was it like?”

“I’d rather not talk about it,” he said. “At least not yet.”

“Don’t know me well enough?”

“No offence, but yes, that’s why,” he said. “I get too emotional. Sometimes I even break down crying. I’m not ready for you to see that yet. Maybe I’ll never be ready for that.”

She put her hand on his shoulder. “I like men who can show emotion.”

He nodded, not wanting to go further with it. They climbed up to another ridge, and then the rock field was before them.

“Oh, yeah, this place,” Sam said.

“This was the part you didn’t like in the Jeep?”

“Yeah,” he said. “Stupid, I know.”

“You like to be in control,” she said. “Noticed that about you pretty quick. If you were used to driving Jeeps in that terrain, it would have been easier for you to traverse.”

Sam laughed. “You’re right about that. Sometimes I get a tad car-sick when I’m not driving on normal roads.”

“I have the same problem,” she said. “We’ll have to compromise on that a little, I think.”

He chuckled and shook his head. “You think we’re going to be together, don’t you?”

“No,” she said, stopping, looking into his eyes. “I know. I’ve already seen it.”

To be continued…

 

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