Bugout! California Part 103 – Hit the Trail

Jules and Tex messed with the laptop, getting ready for their conference call with Ivan.

“You hear back from him yet, partner?” Tex asked.

“No, but will soon,” Jules said.

Stacey came up to them. “Want to feed that into the TV? I know how.”

“Yes, that good,” Jules said. “Be my guest.”

Stacey smiled proudly and got to work on that, Jules and Tex standing back to watch. Jules felt his phone buzz and pulled it out of his pocket.

“He’s good,” Jules said. “Will be on.”

“Great,” Tex said. “How do you think he’ll react?”

“He won’t tell answer tonight, but he’ll think about and let us know soon.”

“Hope you’re right,” Tex said.

“Okay, this is set up, but we’ll still have to use the camera in the laptop for Ivan to see us,” Stacey said.

“Great, thank much,” Jules said. “I grab barstool and bring out. Higher, give better look to Ivan.”

“I’ve got it,” Stacey said, rushing into the other room.

“That kid’s trying to make points,” Tex said.

“He solid,” Jules said. “I know. Watching.”

Ted walked over. “Looks like we’re almost ready.”

“Yes,” Jules said.

“Everything okay, partner?” Tex asked.

Ted looked at him and shrugged.

“What?” Jules said.

“I’ll tell you later, boss,” Ted said.

Jules chuckled. “Woman problem.”

“Later,” Ted said, glancing around to see where Haley was.

“Don’t worry, I zip it,” Jules said. His phone buzzed again. “Ivan ready.”

Stacey was back with the bar stool, which he placed next to the TV and put the laptop onto.

“Shelly, ready,” Jules said. She rushed over and got onto the laptop, loading the video conference software and then sending request to Ivan’s number. His face showed up on the screen, smiling under his fedora, a flashy tie with a diamond stick-pin on his chest.

“Milk maid?” he asked. “I see why Jules is smitten.”

“Thanks, I think,” Shelly said, smiling. She backed away from the laptop so he could see the whole room. “Sorry we don’t have a better camera.”

Ivan laughed. “It’s better than mine. Good evening to all. Pleasure to see you. My, so many beautiful women.”

Jules chuckled. “No flirting.”

“Don’t worry,” Ivan said. “What’s on your mind?”

“Morgan, would you explain?” Jules asked.

She flashed him a nervous smile and nodded, then approached the front of the room. Robbie came up with her, and sat as she stood.

“Don’t be nervous,” Ivan said. “Take your time.”

“I’m okay,” Morgan said.

“Is that Robbie next to you?” he asked.

“Yes,” she said proudly.

“Your father,” Ivan said, starting to choke up.

“Oh, no, did something bad happen to him?” Robbie asked.

“No, no, I’m just emotional,” Ivan said. “He’s an inspiration. A great man, who will be remembered for years.”

“Thank you,” Robbie said, feeling himself tear up.

“Go ahead, Morgan,” Ivan said. “Sorry.”

“Okay,” Morgan said, taking a deep breath. “We have two proposals for you, which go together.”

“I’m all ears,” he said.

“Good,” Morgan said, fidgeting. Robbie put his hand on her back, encouraging her. She looked at him and smiled, then looked back at the laptop. “After we do the rescues, we’d like to come on the air with you and tell our story.”

“Your story? Of the captivity? Won’t that be very difficult?”

“Of course it will be, but people need to know what the UN is doing. It should help us win the war.”

Ivan was silent for a moment, thinking, wiping his eyes. “Your bravery. All of you. Wow. Yes, I’ll do that with you.”

“Thank you,” Morgan said.

“What’s the second part?”

“We’d like to hit all three locations at once,” Morgan said.

Ivan was quiet for moment, his eyes reading the room. “You think after the first rescue is done, the enemy will kill the women in the other two locations, or move them somewhere else,” Ivan muttered.

“Or fortify their other locations,” Morgan said. “Make a play for killing us all.”

“This will be difficult,” Ivan said, looking down, the top of his fedora hiding his face for a moment. He looked back up. “Difficult, but not impossible, and it might win the war for us. It should at least shorten it.”

“Then you’ll help us?” Morgan asked.

“I’ll confer with my team,” Ivan said. “It’ll take a few days to work out the details and the logistics. Fair enough?”

“Yes,” Morgan said. “Thank you.”

“Did you lead this effort?” Ivan asked.

“I pushed the idea, and brought it to the other women,” Morgan said. “I got the idea from a comment that Justin made, about using the rescues for recruitment of citizens.”

“Where’s Justin?” Ivan asked.

“Right here,” Justin said, standing up.

“Kudos to you,” Ivan said. “Must have taken a lot of courage to bring that up.”

“I blurted it out, then wished I could take it back right away,” Justin said with a sheepish grin.

Ivan chuckled. “You sound like me. You can’t make that choice for the victims at these three locations…although I suspect some of them might want to join in with their comments.”

“That thought crossed mind,” Jules said. “Would not pressure them, but perhaps they pressure us.”

“Okay, I understand what you want and agree with you in principal,” Ivan said. “I’ll get back to you. Thanks very much for bringing these proposals to me. I’m impressed, and proud to have people with so much courage on our side.”

“Thank you, boss,” Jules said.

“Talk to you soon,” Ivan said. His video stopped.

“Wow,” Robbie said. “He’s so personable. Not at all what I expected.”

Well, he is that, but he’s also a dangerous person,” Ted said. “Good to remember that.”

“Yes, Ted, he dangerous, but war affect him,” Jules said. “I see change. Slowly at first. He great General now. Probably never mobster again.”

“I still wouldn’t want to work for him,” Morgan said.

Sparky and Tex laughed.

“What’s so funny?” Morgan asked.

“He’s your senior management,” Sparky said. “The card club. That’s his operation. You know that, right?”

She looked shocked for a moment. “I thought he was just using it to help with money laundering. You know, as a third party.”

“He owns it,” Sparky said. “Yeah, he’s used it to launder money, but he owns it because he likes poker, and he’s making a tidy profit beyond the other benefits.”

“Oh my God, you’ve been working for the mob,” Robbie said, laughing.

Morgan punched him in the arm, laughing. “Be nice.”

“I think we should get shut eye now,” Jules said. “Late. It’s possible Mertins attack happen tomorrow.”

Morgan nodded, and stood, facing the others. “Thanks for this.”

The crowd gave her a round of applause, turning her face red.


Sparky watched as the crowd dispersed, looking for Dana. She was chatting with Karen and Allison.

“Hey, Sparky,” Dana said as he walked up. “What do you think?”

“I think it’s noble and brave,” Sparky said. “Want to take a walk?”

She looked him up and down, brow furrowed.

“Go ahead,” Karen said. “Be with your man. We’ll chat later.”

She shrugged, her face showing hurt for a split second, then forming a smile. “Yes, we’ll talk more tomorrow.”

Sparky started walking toward the door, Dana following behind. He looked back, stopping until she caught up.

“We can just go into the bedroom, you know,” she said. “I’ll treat you right.”

“We need to talk,” Sparky said, not looking at her when he said it. They went out the door and walked silently to the path, near the border of the property.

“It’s okay,” Dana said, hurrying to catch up. “Can we slow down a little?”

“Oh, sorry. I tend to walk fast when I’m nervous.”

They went a little further away from the house, the conversation of the crowd fading into the background.

“It’s okay,” she said. “I understand. I can probably bunk with Cody and Allison.”

Sparky stopped. She kept walking a few steps, and then stopped, turning back to him.

“You’ve got the wrong idea,” Sparky said softly. “Hell, it’s probably my fault, and for that I’m sorry.”

“I have those episodes. I might have them forever. People get tired. People leave. There’s no shame in it. We aren’t married.”

“How do you feel about me?” Sparky asked, trying to read her eyes. “Really?”

“It doesn’t matter,” she said. “Why prolong this? I’ll get my stuff.” She started walking back towards the house, Sparky grabbing her hand and pulling her back.

“Where are you going?” he asked.

“Let go.”

“No, we need to talk. Now. I’ve put it off for far too long.”

She sighed, looking at him, tears running down her cheeks. “So talk.”

Sparky looked at her, his heart speeding up as her soft eyes studied him.

“You look like a schoolboy who is about to get a whipping,” she said softly. “I told you that I understand. I won’t make a fuss. Really.”

“Will you stop that,” Sparky said. “I’m in love with you.”

She froze, staring at him in shock. “That’s what you wanted to say?”

“How can you be surprised?”

“You’ve never said it,” she said.

“Neither have you,” he said softly, approaching her.

“Oh, God,” she said, starting to tremble. “Really? Are you sure?”

“Oh, yeah, I’m sure,” Sparky said, moving closer to her. “If you don’t feel like that about me, I need to know.”

“Yes,” she said quickly, staring into his eyes as she moved into his arms. “Yes, I love you. So much that I can hardly stand it.”

“Good,” he said, hugging her tight. “I was afraid you didn’t.”

“Neither one of us are very good at non-verbal communication, I guess,” she said, a soft smile on her face. “Is this going to change anything?”

His face got serious again. “Only one thing. Don’t feel like you have to please me to keep me around. I’m not going anywhere. We’ll deal with your problems when things get a little back to normal.” They started walking again.

“You think I was making love with you to hold onto you?”

“No, not totally,” he said. “That probably sounded terrible, but I’ve got to muddle through this conversation, so hear me out, okay?”

“Okay,” she said.

“I know we enjoy each other,” he said, “and it’s heaven when it goes well. I don’t want it to end, but I want you to understand that I’ll love you even if we back off for now. Do you understand me?”

“Do you feel the urge to leave me when I have an episode?” she asked.

“No, never,” he said. “I feel guilty. Ashamed, even.”

“Why would you feel that way?”

“You’re doing it to make me happy, and it can be so hard on you.”

Dana stopped walking. Sparky stopped after a couple steps and turned back towards her.

“Sweetie, you don’t understand this,” Dana said. “I’m making love with you because I want to. I need it, just like you do.”

“And yet you thought I didn’t love you, and was ready to leave you,” Sparky said.

“Men are different about sex than women are sometimes,” Dana said. “It doesn’t always mean the same thing.”

“That’s never been true for me,” Sparky said.

“So, you’ve been in love with me all along?” she asked.

“Well, almost,” he said.

“You’ve been standoffish sometimes. I picked up on that.”

“I didn’t want to take advantage after what you’ve been through,” Sparky said. “Sorry. Seems pretty stupid now.”

“I wouldn’t use the word stupid,” she said. “We just didn’t understand each other. Like I said, we’ve got bad non-verbal communication.”

“I’m sorry.”

“So where do we go from here?” she asked.

“We don’t have to change anything unless you want to,” Sparky said. “Just know this. I’ll never leave you, unless you want me to. Do you understand?”

“What happens after the war?” she asked.

“Hopefully we get married and make babies together,” he said. “What do you want?”

“That,” she said. “I won’t leave you either. If I have an episode, it’s because of what was done to me, not because of what we’re doing. Having you there afterwards is crucial, though. You’ve been very good about that. Makes me love you even more.”

“Want to go back?” he asked.

“In a minute.” She got back into his arms, getting on her tiptoes to kiss him. It was passionate, both breathing hard when it was finally over.

“Geez,” Sparky said. “I’m so much in love with you.”

“I love you too, honey,” she said. “Thank you.”

“For loving you?”

She smiled at him. “For bringing this out in the open. I was afraid it would be the end if I brought it up.”

“Oh,” Sparky said. “Sorry I was such a bonehead.”

She giggled. “Let’s go to our room.”

They hurried back to the house.


Sam got a text back from Garrett, while sitting in Trevor and Kaylee’s rig, looking at the apps.

“Garrett wants to get together. He’s coming over to the house. We should round up the others and meet him there.”

“What others?” Trevor asked.

“Ryan, Zac, and Ji-Ho, for starters,” Sam said.

“I agree,” Sid said. “I want Yvonne there too.”

“Yeah, and I’ll call Erica,” Sam said. “But really, I think anybody interested should be able to come.”

“I’m gonna text Seth and Angel,” Trevor said. “I’ll tell them to bring Kaitlyn and Megan too.”

“All right,” Tyler said. “Meet you guys there.” He left with James.

Trevor unplugged his phone. “Got enough of a charge for now.” He slipped it into his pocket as the rest of the folks left the coach. He looked over at Kaylee. “You okay?”

“No,” Kaylee said. “They know we can see them, I suspect.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Black Crow probably told them. At the very least, they know we know about the chips, since we removed the one from Hasan.”

“Maybe, maybe not,” Trevor said. “Hasan told us to remove it. They probably figured that out. They have no idea how much Hasan told us about them.”

“We’d better give them more credit than that, or we’ll get caught with our pants down,” Kaylee said, picking up her phone. “Let’s go.”

They left their coach, walking towards the house. Trevor texted Seth and Angel on the way.

“There’s my uncle,” Kaylee said, pointing.

“Hi,” Ji-Ho said. “Notice trickle of enemy fighters?”

“Well, I saw a group of four heading south from Lake Barrett.”

“More coming down from Descanso. Not bunching up. Staying under cover.”

“Uh oh,” Kaylee said.

“You don’t think they know we can see their RFID chips, do you?” Trevor asked.

“No,” Ji-Ho said. “They act like they are seen from above. Maybe drone or satellite. Go out of way to stay in areas with trees, except for the four that are the furthest out.”

They climbed the steps of the veranda and went into the living room. Quite a few people were already there. Seth and Angel rushed over, Kaitlyn and Megan with them.

“You think they really have Ed?” Angel asked.

“We have to allow for that possibility,” Trevor said.

Garrett strode inside, his cowboy boots clopping on the hardwood floor. Anna rushed down the stairs and straight to him, hugging him.

“Wow, look at that,” Megan whispered to Kaitlyn, who shot her a worried glance.

“Here comes Sam with Erica,” Seth said.

Ji-Ho walked over to Trevor and held out his phone. “Look. Building up by highway entrance to trail area. They think they ambush us.” He grinned. “Maybe we ought to turn tables.”

“Crap, you’re right,” Trevor said. “Look at this, honey.”

Kaylee looked at it. “I think you’re right. They’re setting up for our arrival.”

“Let’s get this show on the road,” Garrett said. “We’ve been watching the apps too. Large concentration in Descanso, but not large enough to survive an assault from us. You guys see that?”

“Yes, do,” Ji-Ho said. “You see group staying under cover, gathering around highway entrance to trail?”

“No,” Garrett said, eyes wider. “Show me.” He walked over and looked at Ji-Ho’s phone, a smile washing over his face. “They think they’re going to ambush us, don’t they?”

“Looks like to me,” Ji-Ho said.

“Let’s see that,” Sam said, walking over. “Yep. They don’t know we can see their chips, but they obviously think we can see them from above. Otherwise they wouldn’t go out of their way to stay in these trees, here, and here.” His finger pointed to clumps on both sides of the trail, near the highway.

“What about Ed?” Anna asked, brow furrowed. “What if they have him?”

“If they do, there’s not a lot we can do about it directly,” Seth said.

“He’s probably being held by Black Crow,” Tyler said. “Somebody we could take down easy, but we’d need to get to him before those four marks make it there.”

“We’re all over the place here,” Sam said. “We need to focus on what we know for sure and plan by that.”

“We’re listening,” Garrett said.

“We have to assume that Black Crow has Ed,” Sam said.

“Why?” Tyler asked.

“Because they’re setting up this ambush. They know we’ll try to get him back.”

“Hey, Garrett, you think you could beat those four icons to the trail on horseback?” Trevor asked.

“Nope, but I could beat that larger group there, by the highway, assuming they’re coming that way.”

“They won’t,” Sid said. “The four will bring Black Crow and Ed to them, I suspect.”

“This isn’t going to be as hard as you guys think,” Garrett said. “When those four icons start heading north again, it’s better than an even shot that they’ve nabbed Ed and are heading back. We can intercept them before they get there if we leave in a hurry.”

Ji-Ho was silently manipulating his phone, not interacting with the conversation. Trevor noticed it. “Ji-Ho, you’re seeing something, aren’t you?”

“I see same thing as you,” Ji-Ho said, looking up. “I’m planning what to do about it. I have suggestion.”

“Let’s have it,” Garrett said, “but make it quick. I’ve got to get my men on the trail with our horses right away.”

“Yes, agree,” Ji-Ho said. “In fact, you should text and get first group on way now.”

“Good idea,” Garrett said, pulling his phone out. He took a couple minutes to send the text. “Okay, go ahead.”

“I suggest we screw them good. Send battle wagons and several hundred fighters to Descanso. Wipe them out. At same time, send large group of cowboys into wilderness to intercept the four with Black Crow and Ed.”

“We don’t need a large group to do that,” Garrett said. “I could send a small group for the interception.”

“You need large group to attack enemy by highway while we kill force in Descanso,” Ji-Ho said.

Garrett was silent for a moment, thinking. Sam chuckled. Garrett flashed him a look. “What?”

“This is beautiful. Your group gets to the four bad guys. If they’re careful about it, they can take them out before they can warn the enemy fighters along the highway. We drag the bodies towards them. They think it’s their folks…but it’s really their dead folks and several hundred well-armed cowboys on horseback.”

Garrett laughed. “I like it. Need to send another text. Got to get on the trail right away if this is gonna work. Talk to you guys later. We can keep in touch via texts.”

He left, Anna rushing after him, kissing him as they stood on the veranda. Then Anna came back in.

“Mom, you okay?” Kaitlyn asked, seeing the tears in her eyes.

“My warrior is going into battle,” she said.

“Oh, he’s your warrior now, huh?” Kaitlyn asked softly. “So quickly?”

“How long did you know Seth before you felt that way.”

She looked at her for a moment. “Okay, forget I said anything.”

Anna smiled at her, then gave her a hug. “You’d best saddle up with your man. He’s going to need you. We’re all going to need you.”

“Let’s get into battle wagons and head out now,” Ji-Ho shouted. “We on strict timetable. Long drive.”

“All of them?” Seth asked.

“Two thirds,” Ji-Ho said. “Ought to be enough to protect here. Garrett just texted. Two thousand cowboys will meet us at Descanso.”

“Let’s go,” Sam said.

Everybody left the house except Anna, who sat down on the stairs and wept.

To be continued…


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