Bug Out! California Part 147 – Pool Pickup

Ben ran out of the dark industrial area, heart pounding. His whole team, gone in an instant. He had to contact Ivan, but was afraid to stop. Sirens approached, probably coming to check out the gunfire and the burning truck. He ran towards the opening in back, which went into a vacant lot, hiding in trees about fifty yards out, then hit Ivan’s contact on his phone and put it to his hear.

“Ben, you left yet?” Ivan asked.

“They’re gone,” he said, trying to catch his breath. “All of them.”

“What happened?” Ivan asked.

“One of our new recruits was a plant,” he said. “I figured that out. Was questioning him in the office when UN commandos attacked the group outside.”

“Did they get the computers?” Ivan asked.

“I used the self-destruct. I’ll never doubt you again about that kind of thing. Sorry.”

“Don’t,” Ivan said. “You’re learning faster than anyone I’ve ever had on my team. You sure everybody’s dead?”

“Pretty sure. Nobody was returning fire before I blew the truck. Somebody might have survived, but now I hear sirens approaching. Want me to go back and check?”

“NO!” Ivan said. “Get away from there, find a good place to get picked up, and I’ll send Mr. White and Mr. Black. They’re nearby. Got it?”

“Yeah,” Ben said. “Sorry.”

“How’d you figure out the guy was a plant?”

“He was asking too many questions, and then said he knew somebody who knew you from school in Russia,”

“Morons,” Ivan said. “Protect yourself. We need you to rebuild the team. That recruitment is essential, with the forces we’ve got coming at us now.”

“I’ve got my phone, and we’re rolling big time with the recruitment. I think we did enough before we started packing up. These campaigns develop a life of their own once they really start going.”

“Good,” Ivan said. “We’ll get you on a plane to the south. I’ll have new facilities ready to go. Don’t get killed. Call me when you’re in a place you can be picked up.”

“I’ll do my best,” Ben said. He ended the call and crept further back in the vacant lot, heading for a housing tract that backed up to it, climbing a fence into a back yard and rushing for the front gate, the dog next door barking. He burst out of it just as lights came on in the house, his heart hammering in his chest, running full speed down the sidewalk towards a park at the end, getting into the shadows before anybody got outside. There was play equipment there, in an area with a rubber floor. He slipped into a play fort, hidden from the outside, and watched for a few minutes. The only sound was the sirens, and then the thumping of a chopper. Dammit.

The chopper came into view over the industrial area, circling, it’s spotlight shining, making a beam in the damp night air. The lights in the house he just ran past were on now, a man standing on the front lawn looking around, his cellphone to his ear. “He’s calling the police,” Ben whispered to himself, looking around for a better hiding place. The community pool was sixty yards away, with a club house and cabanas, sitting dark and un-occupied. Run.

He slipped away from the play equipment slowly, not getting up to run until he was out of sight of the man, who was still looking around, phone still to his ear. The ground between him and the pool complex seemed like a mile, but he crossed it in seconds, hopping the fence and getting into the shadows, under a patio roof with a towel cabinet and a row of lounge chairs. The pool was dark, wind putting gentle ripples on the surface, the large round spa also dark. Chlorine smell. There was a click, and the pump started, the flow of water in the pool barely audible.

The sound of a car approached, and a K-9 unit drove slowly up the street towards the house. He could hear car doors opening and closing, the police chopper going in wider circles now. On the edge of panic, he texted Ivan.

“I’m hiding at pool, in the housing track past lot behind office. K-9 unit and choppers approaching.”

An officer was walking towards the park, holding the leash of a big dog. The text ding startled him, and he frantically shut the ringer off and read, trying to block the light of the screen with his hands.

“In area, diversion in seconds, be ready, black sedan.”

Suddenly there was a huge explosion at their former office, a massive fireball rising. The officer ran back to his vehicle, pulling the dog, who was looking back at Ben most of the way. The chopper moved towards the blast, the police cruiser racing out of the tract, siren going on as they got to the main street. A few seconds later the black sedan pulled up. Ben got up, jumped the fence, and ran, getting into the back seat.

“Put on seat belt,” Mr. Black said, smiling back at him from the driver’s seat.

“Ben Dover, good to see,” Mr. White said as the car peeled out, heading out of the tract, going the opposite direction of the melee.

“How’d you guys get here so fast?” Ben asked, trying to catch his breath.

“Boss dispatched right away,” Mr. White said. “He know where office is, you know.”

“Oh, yeah,” Ben said. “Where are we going?”

“Franklin Field,” Mr. Black said as he turned onto the southbound I-5 onramp.

“Laptop on seat for you,” Mr. White said. “Work recruitment. Time short. Chartered plane pick up.”

“You guys going too?” Ben asked.

“No, boss leave us here to watch state government, make sure no slippage,” Mr. Black said.


Sarah slowed as she approached the saloon, heart beating a little faster than she liked. There was laughter coming from inside. The doors swung open, one almost smacking her as two people came out.

“Oh, sorry,” said one of them, tipping his cowboy hat.

“It’s okay,” Sarah said, feeling her face flush. She pushed through the swinging doors. The room was empty except for the bar. Willard saw her come in and smiled broadly.

“Howdy,” he said. “Want a drink? I’m buying.”

“Sarah,” Sam said, seeing her walk in. Ed and Garrett turned, nodding a greeting, Clem seeing her and smiling.

“This taken?” she asked, standing by the stool next to Clem.

“It is now,” Clem said, eyes light with booze, voice still clear as a bell.

“Want some of the good stuff?” Willard asked.

“What’s the good stuff?” she asked.

“Whiskey from the folks who mined here,” Garrett said. “It’s probably about a hundred years old.”

“Really?” she asked, settling onto the stool, her elbows going onto the bar. “This place isn’t that old, is it?”

“The saloon?” Willard asked. “Nah, we built this about eight years ago. The mine is another story, and there was a basement under this. Original bar sat here, I reckon.”

“We know it did,” Garrett said. “Surprised the place ain’t haunted.”

“Maybe it is,” Ed said, grinning at the others. “This is damn fine whiskey, but I think I’d better slow down.”

“You got to drive anyplace?” Clem asked.

Ed chuckled. “No, I guess not.”

“I’ll try some of the good stuff,” Sarah said demurely.

“On the rocks, or mixed with soda, or a shot?” Willard asked.

“Give me a shot,” she said. The others chuckled as Willard grabbed a shot glass from under the bar and picked up the ancient unlabeled bottle. He poured carefully and slid it over to her.

“It might be a little harsh,” Clem said, watching as she picked it up.

She smiled at him and then tossed it back, her body shuddering as it burned its way down. “Wow.”

“Told you,” Clem said. “I like it on the rocks. That way I can sip and enjoy the flavor.”

“I never liked the taste much,” she said, setting the shot glass down. “Wow, you feel this fast, right behind the forehead.”

“Another?” Willard asked.

“Oh, what the hell,” she said. He refilled her glass, the others watching.

“You drink much?” Garrett asked.

“Rarely,” she said, looking down at the shot glass. “John had a problem, and I didn’t want to encourage it, so I drank a lot less in the last fifteen years than I did in my youth.” She tossed the drink down, shuddering a little less than the first time, the light feeling in her head growing. “This is nice. I do like to drink. Usually something a little weaker, though.”

“We’ve got a full bar,” Willard said, “I don’t know much about those sweet drinks that women like, though. I’m more of a pourer than a mixer. We’ve got some white wine if you’re interested.”

“Never mix the grain with the grapes,” Sam quipped.

“I think that comment was meant for beer, not whiskey,” Garrett said.

“What’s whiskey made of?” Sarah asked, pushing her shot glass towards Willard.

“You sure, honey?” Willard asked.

She nodded yes, so he poured.

“Whiskey is made from corn,” Sam said. “That’s a grain, isn’t it?”

“Kinda sorta,” Ed said. “Corn squeezens.”

Garrett laughed. “Isn’t that what Granny Clampett called it?”

Sarah giggled. “Rheumatiz medicine.”

“Oh, yeah,” Clem said. “Loved that show.”

“Grits and gopher jowls,” Ed said, laughing. “Hell, I need another drink.”

“I’d better get back,” Sam said. “Erica’s gonna wonder what happened to me.”

“Text her,” Garrett said.

“Yeah, she’ll understand,” Ed said. “Have some fun with the boys.”

“Hey,” Sarah said. She laughed, then drank the next shot, not shuddering at all this time, savoring the warm feeling as it went down her throat. “I’m kinda liking this.”

“You’re gonna start slurring in a second, if you’re not careful,” Clem said. “This stuff hits women harder than it hits men.”

“That’s a fact,” Willard said.

“I’ve only had three,” she said.

“Well, I’ve had five, and I’m pretty tight,” Willard said. “Probably have more, though.”

There was yelling across the street. Willard and Garrett looked at each other and cracked up.

“What’s going on?” Sam asked.

“Elmer and Susanne again,” Willard said.

“He’s going to end up here, I suspect,” Clem said.

“Nah, they’ll just stay there and fight for a while,” Garrett said.

“Nothing violent, I hope,” Sarah said.

“Never,” Garrett said. “That’s why I told Clem to stay at the hotel instead of her boarding house.”

“Maybe you should’ve warned me too,” Sarah quipped.

“You already moved in before I had the chance,” Garrett said. “Don’t worry, they don’t do it every night.”

“It’s been fine until now,” Sarah said, sliding her shot glass back to Willard.

“You’re gonna be feeling no pain, you know,” Willard said as he poured.

“Good,” she said. “I could use a break. Letting loose a little isn’t bad every once in a while. It’s good for you, actually.” The last of the sentence was a little slurred. Willard eyed Clem, smiling. He shook his head.

“What?” Sarah asked.

“Nothing,” Willard said. “Bar etiquette.”

“What’s bar etiquette?” she asked.

“It’s where the bartender makes sure there’s somebody with a person to help them home.”

“Message received,” Clem said, “but who’s gonna help me home?”

Everybody laughed.

“I’m okay,” Sarah said. “Not like I have to get into the car and drive.”

“Yeah, you only have to cross a muddy, rutted street and brave three flights of stairs,” Garrett said.

“It’s not muddy,” Clem said.

“Just trying to be colorful,” Garrett said, smiling at him.

“How are you getting home, Garrett?” Sam asked. “Your place is a lot further.”

Garrett smiled. “Anna. She’ll come get me in the wagon.”

“She knows how to drive a team of horses?” Sarah asked.

Ed laughed. “Oh, yeah, she’s got that down.”

“She does,” Garrett said, “but this is just a carriage with one horse. She’ll probably be here soon. Maybe I can talk her into a drink or two.”

“That won’t be too difficult,” Ed said. “Trust me on that.”

More shouting drifted across the street.

“Geez,” Sarah said.

“Decent squall,” Willard said.

“Yeah, I was gonna say,” Sam said. “Hit me again.” He pushed his glass to Willard, who filled it with ice and whiskey.

“Maybe I ought to do it that way,” Sarah said.

“It’ll slow you down a tad,” Clem said. “Not a bad thing. I’m enjoying the company.”

She touched his arm, looking into his eyes for a long moment. “You’re so nice to me.”

“Oh, you know,” he said. “Old friends.”

“Yes, old friends,” she said. “Can I have one on the rocks, Willard?”

“Of course,” he said, fixing her one.

She took a sip of the cold whiskey, savoring it for a moment. “You know, this isn’t bad.”

“I’ll take another of those,” Clem said.

“Me too, Willard said, filling both glasses with ice and pouring.

“There they go again,” Sarah said as the voices drifted across the street. She looked at Clem and laughed. “Hope it’s worth it to them.”

“If they stop and Elmer doesn’t end up over here, it’s worth it,” Willard said.

Garrett laughed. “Hey, that’s my sister you’re talking about.”

“Elmer needs more protection than she does,” Willard said.

“That sounded kinda naughty,” Sarah said, slurring a little more.

Willard chuckled. “Actually, I’m kinda envious. Not of Susanne, mind you, but of the situation.”

Sam’s phone rang. “Uh oh, maybe I stayed too late.” He looked at it. “Ji-Ho.” He got off his stool and walked away, having a hushed conversation.

“Crap, I hope the party isn’t over,” Clem said. “I’m enjoying this.”

“Me too,” Sarah said.

Sam came back with a wide grin on his face. “We’re about to have company.”

“They’re here?” Garrett asked.

“Yep, just pulling in now,” Sam said. He typed out a text and sent it.

“What now?” Ed asked him.

“I just let Erica know not to wait up,” he said. “I haven’t seen these guys for a while.”

“Maybe I’d better go into the basement and grab a few more bottles of the good stuff,” Willard said.

“Yeah, do that,” Garrett said.

“How are you doing?” Clem asked Sarah.

“Fine. Glad I slowed down a little. I was on the edge of control there for a while. Feeling better now.”

“Good,” Clem said.

The swinging doors creaked, everybody turning to see Ji-Ho coming in, followed by Ted, Jules, Tex, and Sparky.

“Why are you always in a saloon, you old son of a bitch?” Ted asked, walking up to Sam. They embraced.

“Been way too long,” Sam said. “Tex, how the hell are you?”

“Never been better, partner,” he said. “This looks like my kind of place.”

“Hey, Sam,” Sparky said. “Long time no see. You remember Jules?”

“Sure,” Sam said. “How’s it going, Jules?”

“Very good, old friend. Great to finally be with you.”

Sam and Ji-Ho introduced everybody, while Willard lined up drinks for all.

“You okay, Ji-Ho?” Sam asked, eyeing him.

“Tired,” he said softly. “Illness is progressing a little, but I’ll be okay tomorrow if I get enough sleep. I leave soon.”

“We have development tonight, need to discuss for minute,” Jules said. “Mind?”

“No problem here,” Garrett said. “Maybe we ought to go sit at the round table over there. Easier to chat.”

“Yeah, do that, and I’ll bring a bottle over,” Willard said.

“That stuff is insane,” Tex said. “What kind is it?”

Willard told him as they walked over, holding the bottle up in front of him.

“Damn, this stuff is over a hundred years old?” Tex asked. “No wonder it’s so good.”

“You need me?” Clem asked.

“Not unless you’re interested,” Sam said. “I’ll fill you in later.”

“Great, thanks,” Clem said. Sarah looked at him and mouthed thank you.

“I hear from Ivan little while ago,” Jules said. “Ben Dover’s recruitment team got attacked when they were moving out of their offices in Sacramento.”

“No,” Ji-Ho said. “Did anybody survive?”

“Ben only,” Jules said. “He already picked up, getting on plane tonight. He come here, set up, if that okay.”

“Fine by me,” Garrett said, “but what about our situation? Wasn’t he the key to fielding a million citizens?”

“Yes,” Jules said, “luckily they got beyond hump, recruitment snowballing. We should be good, but he need to develop new team. Maybe you have people who can help. Your data man, no?”

“Seth,” Sam said. “Yeah, he’d be helpful, I’m sure, and his history program is running now. He’s got his woman helping him, and she’s very sharp. She can keep that going by herself while he works with Ben Dover.”

“Anything more?” Ji-Ho asked.

“That was the main thing,” Ted said. “You look way too tired. Go to bed. We’ll catch up in the morning.”

“Thanks,” Ji-Ho said. “Glad you all here. Great to see. Good night.” He got up and walked out the door.

“He’s in bad shape, partner,” Tex said.

“I’m with him every day, so I’m not seeing it as sharply as you are,” Sam said. “Hope he can hold it together.”

“Does the team know about his cancer?” Ted asked.

“Only a few of us,” Sam said. “He doesn’t want his niece to know, but it’s gonna come to a head pretty soon, I’m afraid.”

“Is Ivan really coming here?” Garrett asked.

Jules chuckled. “He’ll make an appearance, I’m sure, but he like ghost. All over the place. Hard to pin down. Hard to keep track.”

“I’d like to meet him,” Ed said. “Love his style.”

“He does have that,” Ted said. “He’s a little more docile than he used to be, from what I can tell.”

“Oh, I don’t know, partner,” Tex said. “The enemy might not agree.”

“That good point,” Jules said, a wicked grin on his face. “Well, I go. Have lovely woman waiting. See in morning.”

“Same here,” Tex said. “I’ll walk with you. Thanks for the fine whiskey, Willard.”

“It’s an honor to serve,” Willard said. “I’m sure we’ll toss a few back in the coming days.’

“I’ll stick around for a little while, I think,” Sparky said.

“Me too, if you don’t mind,” Ted said.

“Okay, guys, have fun,” Tex said, walking out with Jules.

“Another drink?” Willard asked the remaining men.

“I’m game,” Ted said.

The others nodded in agreement, so Willard poured.

To be continued…


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