“I think we’re stopping for the night,” Sam said, his feet and back aching. They were approaching a meadow area between two small ridges, with a sandy surface that was almost smooth. The shadows were getting long, the sun close to the western horizon.
“Looks like you’re right,” Erica said. “We’ve stopped here before. Not sheltered enough for a long stay, but there is a spring nearby.”
“Oh, and a pool for skinny dipping?”
She chuckled. “No such luck there. Don’t think you’d be up to it anyway.”
“Where are we sleeping?”
“Plenty of tents to go around,” Erica said. “You can even have one to yourself, but I’d advise against that.”
“We’ll end up in the same one anyway,” she said, glancing at him.
“Really,” she said. “You don’t want me out of your sight.”
Sam chuckled. “Okay, whatever you say, mam.”
People were gathering around an area in the center, picking through tents that were carried on the backs of many of the young men there. Ed drove the hovercraft up in a cloud of dust, smiling when he saw Erica and Sam. He shut down the engine, and the craft sank onto the sand.
“Still together, huh?” Ed asked as he walked over.
“So far,” Erica said.
“How does it look up ahead?” Sam asked.
“Clear. Some rough terrain coming tomorrow morning, though.”
“Wonder if the enemy is following us?” Erica asked.
“I’m going back to wipe out some of our tracks,” Ed said. “At least to the second fork. I’d better take off, before it gets too dark. You want to go along, Sam?”
“Sure,” he said.
“Good, let’s go, then. I’m sure Erica won’t mind setting up the tent for the two of you.”
“No problem at all,” she said, smiling.
“You think we’re spending the night together?” Sam asked as they walked away.
“Don’t you?” Ed said, shooting him a grin. “Sometimes it’s just best to accept things. Climb aboard. Bring your rifle.”
Sam sat in the passenger seat, setting his M-16 down in the back. Ed got into the driver’s seat and fired up the engine, lifting the vehicle. Then he put his foot on the clutch and engaged the rear propeller, and they were off.
“Wow, this thing is great,” Sam said.
“One of my favorite toys,” Ed said, grinning. “Small engine, too, so it sips gasoline. Speak loudly, though. I don’t hear so well anymore, and this thing does make a lot of noise.” Sam nodded in agreement.
“My hearing isn’t so great anymore either,” Sam said. “Old age setting in I guess. Where are you getting the fuel?”
“The Jeeps left cans along the way,” he said.
“Ah, Sid, Tyler, and those guys?”
“Yep,” Ed said. “They wanted to return, but I told them to hold off until we’re a lot closer. I don’t think we’ll need them.”
They cruised along the path, the bottom rotor blowing the sand below them. Sam looked behind. “That does get rid of the footprints, doesn’t it?”
“Good enough for an Indian tracker, or even a good paleface tracker? Not really. Good enough for these peasants from the Middle East? Yep.”
Sam chuckled. “Well, tracking was never my forte.”
“But you know how,” Ed said. “I’ve seen how you look at the ground.”
“Okay, you found me out,” Sam said. “Hunting, and Special Forces too.”
“Yeah, I figured.”
“Did you bring me along for protection? Do you think we’re being followed?”
“Maybe,” Ed said. “This is hard country, though. My expectation is that they gave up.”
“How accurate are your expectations, usually?”
“How widely do they vary?”
“Widely enough for me to bring you along,” Ed said. “You mind?”
“Not at all,” Sam said.
“Tell me about your group,” Ed said. “Honestly.”
“You mean Ivan’s group, or the group I started with?”
“Both,” he said. “We’ve got time.”
“Okay,” Sam said. “I didn’t really start with a fighting force. I was running the RV Park in Dulzura. We heard of attacks happening along Highway 94 and started watching. They eventually sent a scouting party to our park, intending to kill us and steal our supplies. We got the drop on them and killed them. After that they were constantly trying to attack us.”
“You blocked up the highway,” Ed said. “That was a military operation, was it not?”
“Well, yes, by that time we were in it pretty deep. We’d decided to be partisans at that point, and some of us left the RV Park to help your tribe attack that supply depot.”
“Yes, where One Eye was killed.”
“And my wife,” Sam said. “The enemy went to the RV Park and slaughtered everybody there, too.”
“I heard about this. It was hard on you. Your wife and your friends.”
“It was,” Sam said, trying to push the feelings back. “How much further are we going?”
“Another few miles. We want to be back before it gets dark. There’s no lights on this thing. It’s pretty fragile. You have to be careful what you drive over.”
“I could imagine,” Sam said. “What else do you want to know?”
“How close are you to Ivan the Butcher?”
“Not very,” Sam said. “I know him through a mutual friend. Ji-Ho.”
“I heard about him from Tyler,” Ed said. “He said Ji-Ho is a Korean millionaire with a questionable past, brave to a fault, and loyal to Ivan.”
“That’s accurate,” Sam said.
“What kind of questionable past does he have?”
“He was a weapons dealer,” Sam said. “The US Government didn’t like his dealings very much, but they’ve never been able to nail him.”
“Why is he involved here?”
“He has family in North Korea,” Sam said. “He knows what a police state is like. He doesn’t want that here.”
“How does he know Ivan?”
“Arms deals,” Sam said, “among other things.”
“You trust this man?”
“I’ve fought with him before,” Sam said. “I’d trust him with my life, and he’d trust me with his.”
“Friends like that are good to have.”
“I think so,” Sam said. “What are your plans after the war?”
“We’ll go back to our land, and get the Casino running again,” Ed said. “This has been very bad for us. We’ve lost many people. It’ll be hard to recover.”
“That’s why you welcome the pairing of Kaitlyn and Megan,” Sam said.
“Well yes, basically,” Ed said, “although I don’t have any illusions about that, and watering down the blood of the tribe isn’t my first choice. It’s just that we’re getting too small to sustain ourselves. We were never a huge tribe to begin with. Now we’re down to about a hundred couples of child-bearing age.”
“It’s starting to get a little dark,” Sam said.
Ed smiled. “Yes, I’m forgetting myself in the conversation.” He made a sweeping turn and headed back.
“You don’t know that Kaitlyn and Megan will stay with the tribe,” Sam said.
“You are correct,” Ed said. “I don’t know that you and Erica will either.”
Sam chuckled and shook his head. “Hey, I like her, and she is downright gorgeous, but I’m not going to rush into anything with her.”
“Oh, I’m kinda teasing you about that a little bit,” Ed said, “but I’d be proud to have you in the tribe, even if you didn’t live with us.”
“I’m very impressed with your tribe,” Sam said, “and your culture. I hope you can keep it going.”
“We will, in some form,” he said. “We’re just barely going to make it back before sunset. How’s your night vision?”
Sam chuckled. “I’m not a youngster. Maybe it’s a little better than yours.”
“Okay, if you see anything in the road that sticks up, like tree branches or rocks over about a foot tall, mention it just in case I don’t see it.”
“Will do,” Sam said. “At least we didn’t see any enemy fighters.”
“I didn’t really expect any, but you can’t be too careful.”
“I think you wanted to pick my brain,” Sam said, smiling at him. “Not that I minded.”
He glanced over and grinned. “Sure, that was part of it. Hope you don’t mind.”
“You’re moving your people into our group,” Sam said. “Any good leader would ask questions about that.”
“Are there any plans beyond what you and Sid mentioned already?”
“Not for me,” Sam said. “My core group of people would like to get the bad guys out of our area and then settle back into a normal, peaceful life.”
“Your core group of people?”
“Yes, and that’s not many people. Myself, Sid and Yvonne, John and Sarah, and Clem.”
“The others came along afterwards, I assume?”
“Yes, we merged with Ji-Ho’s group.”
“That’s where Kaitlyn and Megan’s men came from, correct?” Ed asked.
“Yes. I can’t tell you what they are planning to do after we clean up eastern San Diego County and Imperial County. I said I’d stick with them until that job is done.”
“You won’t continue on with Ji-Ho after your goals are complete?”
“Not unless I see a really good reason to do so,” Sam said.
“And you don’t know about Kaitlyn and Megan’s men?”
Sam chuckled. “When they got separated from the main group, after that bad battle near Julian, both said they’d be okay with disappearing into the woodwork with Kaitlyn and Megan.”
Ed smiled. “They want to go live happily ever after.”
“You know how young love is,” Sam said.
“They didn’t, though, did they?”
“Nope,” Sam said. “Part of that is probably due to Trevor and Kaylee. They were all from the same circle of friends in Torrance when all of this mess started.”
“Kaylee is Ji-Ho’s niece, correct? That might lead the group to stay together longer.”
“Maybe,” Sam said. “Again, I really don’t know. We don’t have a hierarchal structure, and I’m not a leader, except sometimes in battle. Watch that branch on your right.”
“I see it, thanks,” Ed said, swerving the hovercraft.
“You’re speeding up a little.”
“The sun always goes down faster than I expect, and there’s not much moon tonight,” he said. “What about Garrett’s people?”
“We didn’t join with them until recently,” Sam said.
“How did that happen?”
“We went to see if we could recover some rigs from my RV Park, since we were close to Dulzura again at the time. We found that Garrett and his men were using the RV Park as a kill zone.”
“Yeah, they were luring enemy fighters there, ambushing them, then storing the bodies in my clubhouse, covered with pig’s blood and carcasses.”
Ed chuckled. “That’s pretty bloodthirsty.”
“War is war,” Sam said. “We joined up after that, as much out of necessity as anything. Fought a couple of battles with them. We’d probably be dead now if not for them.”
“What they’re doing ruins your park, doesn’t it?”
“Oh, I’ll have to tear down the clubhouse and rebuild, I suspect, but that’s about it. I’ve got the resources to do that if I choose.”
“You aren’t sure you want to go back there, are you?” Ed asked.
“That place is full of memories of Connie,” Sam said. “I don’t know if I can live there anymore. I might just do a quick renovation and sell the place. Maybe open up something elsewhere.”
“Closer to us, I hope,” Ed said. “Look, we’re almost home. See the smoke?”
Sam got a nervous look on his face. “I hope that’s just a campfire.”
“It is,” Ed said. “I can tell by the smell. We know which kind of wood to use.”
Sam chuckled. “So, your sense of smell is still sharp, eh?”
“Oh yeah,” he said. “We’re just around the bend. Sorry to have taken you away from Erica for so long.”
Sam shook his head and chuckled. “How do you know she’s really interested in me, anyway?”
“I know both of you,” Ed said, “but don’t worry, I won’t bug you. The choices you each make for your lives are your own.”
The hovercraft rounded the bend, in sight of the tribe, and slowed. Ed shut down the engine, and it settled into the sand.
“That was interesting,” Sam said.
“You find out everything you need to know?” Sam asked with a twinkle in his eye.
“No,” Ed said, “but I got a good start, and I know who else I need to talk to when we get to the Williams place. Thanks.”
“Good,” Sam said. He walked towards the fire. An arm went around his waist as he walked, and he looked to his right and saw Erica’s smiling face looking up at him.
“How was your ride?” she asked.
“Interesting,” Sam said. “No sign of bad guys.”
“We’ve got sentries on both ridges,” Erica said, “but we’re probably safe here.”
“Think this is the last night on the road?”
“Before we get to the William’s place? No, we’ll probably have to camp tomorrow night too, unless we have help getting home.”
“It would take a lot of vehicles to move all of us,” Sam said.
“True,” she said. “Hungry?”
“Yeah,” he said.
“Good. There’s some chili in the big pot. We need to eat it tonight. No way to keep it good for another night.”
“What do we eat tomorrow night?”
She snickered. “Granola bars, nuts, candy, crackers.”
Sam chuckled. “Hey, no problem. We’re on a hike.”
“That we are. Let’s get some of that chili. We’ll have to eat it out of paper coffee cups.”
“You haven’t eaten yet?”
“No, I waited for you, silly,” she said. They got cupfuls out of the pot, sitting on a rusty grate over the fire pit, and took them a few yards away, sitting on some small boulders that ringed the fire pit.
“You guys put this here?” Sam asked, taking his first bite of chili with a plastic spoon.
“Yes, we come here from time to time,” Erica said. “This isn’t bad chili.”
“Hits the spot for me,” Sam said, taking a second spoonful.”
“Well, get seconds if you’re hungry.”
“I probably will,” he said.
“What did you two talk about?”
Sam chuckled. “History of my group. What you’re plans are for the rest of the war and afterward.”
“Do you think he liked what he heard?”
“Basically, yes,” Sam said. “He talked you up some.”
She looked at him and giggled. “Sorry. He’s kind of a matchmaker. If I didn’t know differently, I’d suspect that he had something to do with Kaitlyn and Megan.”
“Those girls were definitely the aggressors in that situation,” Sam said. “Seth and Angel didn’t know what hit them.”
Erica laughed. “Yeah, I’ll bet. They both were having trouble finding somebody in the tribe that they liked, but weren’t too closely related to.”
“I got that impression,” Sam said. “Did you set up the tent already, or do you need a hand?”
“Oh, you’re okay with that now, are you?”
He got a sheepish grin on his face, nodding yes. “Why fight it?”
“Oh, good, that gives me a lot of license.”
Sam shot her an embarrassed glance. “I wasn’t meaning that way.”
“Uh huh,” she said. “We’re going to need to hit the sack pretty soon. Long day tomorrow.”
“I know,” Sam said. “You might regret this. I just ate chili.”
“So did I,” she said. “Want more?”
“No, I think I’ll stop at this.”
“Good, then let’s go,” she said, getting up. “Throw your cup into the fire, and toss the plastic spoon into the pan of water.”
“Re-using the spoons, huh?”
“Sure,” she said. “They wash up fine, and they’re light as a feather on the trail. We’ve washed and re-used plastic plates and bowls too. Same reason.”
“Good idea,” he said, following her to the fire, then on to the sea of tents beyond.
“So many,” Sam said. “I feel guilty for not carrying one of them.”
“Everybody has their job. Just be thankful and don’t worry about it. You did a job tonight, remember?”
“What?” he asked.
“You protected Ed and gave him information. You also kept him company. I can see how much he likes you.”
“The feeling is mutual there. He’s a wise man.”
“He is,” she said, kneeling in front of a tent, pulling the zipper up. She crawled in and switched on a small light. Sam followed her, looking around.
“Not much, but we don’t need much,” she said. “There’s a bottle of water up by the back there.”
“Space blanket?” Sam said, looking at the silver Mylar over a woven pad.
“We probably won’t even pull it over ourselves until very early morning,” she said.
“We sleeping with our clothes on?”
“You do what you feel comfortable with,” Erica said. She pulled her top off over her head and glanced at him. “Put your eyes back in your head.”
“Sorry,” he said as he unbuttoned his shirt.
“I’d be upset if you didn’t look at me like that,” she said. Her pants were off by the time he finished with his shirt, and she laid down on the pad, turning on her side, facing him. “Please continue.”
“You saw me at the pool already,” he said.
She giggled. “And you saw me, but you still got hit pretty hard by it just now.”
“You’re beautiful, and we’re alone this time,” Sam said, feeling himself getting excited. He felt a twinge of embarrassment as he finished getting undressed.
“My, you look different than you did before,” she said.
“Like I was saying, we’re alone now.” He laid on his back. “Don’t worry, it’ll settle down in a second.”
“No it won’t,” she said, moving closer to him, her leg going over his torso. “I’ll make sure of that.”
Sam groaned as she moved against him, and he pulled her closer, kissing her deeply.
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