Friday, March 12, 2010

Remnant, Chapter 32


Tuesday evening
November Twenty-first
19:15 hours

“Pastor, would you give the blessing?” Karen asked. 

“I’d be most happy to, Mrs. Drummond,” the young pastor replied.  Peter Gottschalk, a very recent graduate of Concordia seminary, was serving as a vicar in one of the local churches before the Domino. With the loss of his senior pastor, his on-the-job training provided him more education than he might have had in ten years as an associate pastor.
We joined hands, making a large and uneven oval between the dining room and living room, across three tables. 

“Father God, we give thanks today for the food you have given us, prepared by loving hands and hearts, in a welcoming home.  We give you thanks for the lives you have given us, the freedom of this nation, and those that would defend her. As we partake of this food, we pray for health and strength for us and for those in our hearts that could not be with us this evening, to proceed through the challenges and difficult days ahead of us, and to live as you would have us live. This we ask in the name of your beloved son, Jesus Christ.  Amen.”

“Amen,” all responded.

Karen’s ‘surprise’ was carried off well, until we hit the front porch and the aroma of turkey and dressing had hit us like a two-by-four. We had a houseful, with the Martins and future daughter in law Sarah and her new roommate, the Bauers, Mike’s wife Ashley and twins Suzi and Matthew, and of course the pastor.  I’d quickly come in, with as much honest surprise as feigned, and made a quick trip upstairs change into (comfortable) civilian clothes.   My ‘departure’ bags were mostly packed, but I’d have another hour or so to get those finished. 

“Nice job carving, Ron-boy,” I said. I wasn’t kidding. There wasn’t much meat left on the carcass, just enough to toss in the pot for turkey chowder…which I’d miss.

“Thirty-eight pounds of the best turkey you’ll ever drool over,” he said. “After of course, the tax due to the chief carver.”

“He had help,” Libby said. “So don’t let him take all the credit.”


“A-yup,” Ron said.

“Hon, will you pour the wine?” Karen asked, sneaking her arms around me from behind, being careful of my left side.

“It’s what I live for,” I said.

Tonight, unlike many Thanksgiving dinners in years past, the kids were included all around the table, but close enough to each other to get into the expected mischief and associated entertainment.  Carl was busy entertaining both Suzi and Matthew, who could not quite understand the concept of ‘peek a boo’, yet followed him with full attention, until the butternut squash appeared, and the game was sacrificed in favor of food. Rounding out the dinner menu with ‘Birdzilla’ being the featured entrée, were our Yukon Gold potatoes, rutabagas, beets, beans, dinner rolls, canned pears, butternut squash, peach, pumpkin and apple pies, and ice cream.
Kelly and Marie were already engaged with Mark and Rachel, in a game that was all but indecipherable, but it had something to do with the shape of the dinner rolls, from what I gathered, the game at the dinner table was an outgrowth of crafting the rolls earlier in the afternoon.
Within a few minutes, everyone had a plateful and the adults wishing to partake, had a glass of wine. Despite the ‘poultry’ and the traditional ‘white’ wine, we weren’t standing on tradition and I had four different vintages going. Dinner chat was mostly about the food, which was spectacular.  Seconds and in my case thirds (I paced myself, small portions all around).

“Mrs. Drummond, this is quite a meal,” Pastor Gottschalk commented.  “I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen food like this.”

“There are plenty of things to be thankful for, even these days,” Karen said.  “And that bird, despite how tasty he is, will not be missed.” Karen didn’t like Earl (the kids had named him), and Earl didn’t really care for Karen, either. Never did figure out why.

“Come about Friday, I’ll be missing the leftovers,” I said.

“Any idea where you’ll be?” Alan asked.

“Not really. Depends on what we find down the line,” I said.

“How about you, Mike?”  Ron asked.  “You going to keep Rick safe and sound?”

“Rick’s brigade can more than do that. We’re headed elsewhere. Can’t talk about it. We’ll head out tomorrow too, though.”

“Ron, how’d work go next door today? You guys get things shaped up?”

“With a sizeable crew, we did. Grace should be good to move in, sometime after noon tomorrow,” he said. “I’d like to take all the credit, but your brother in law was the ramrod.”

“I’d like to see that after dinner,” I said. “Good job.”

“They did a great job, hon. I couldn’t believe it,” Karen said.

“And we did it without my little sister ordering the contractors about,” Alan said, only half kidding.

“Watch it, pal, or that peach pie goes to everyone but you,” she said, smiling, but meaning it the way that only a sibling can.

“You didn’t hear the other big news of the day,” Karen said. “Pastor will be house-sitting at the Pauliano’s for the winter.”

“Congratulations, I think,” I said. “There’s a fair amount of work to go with that place.”

“Not a problem. I grew up on a farm in Iowa,” he said. “And do please call me Pete.”

Dinner had wrapped up, except for dessert, by eight-thirty, and the kids had retreated to Carl’s room, where they’d put in a copy of The Wizard of Oz, piled on the bed and the bunk above it, and watched intently.    As many adults as possible (about four, it turned out) populated the kitchen in the big cleanup, rotating through putting away leftovers, working over the pile of dishes, and eyeing the pies.  The young pastor was banished from the kitchen, along with Corporal Burrus, Sarah and Brooke. Cory had lost enough times, badly, at a game of ‘manipulation’, a card game I’d never had much time to get good at.

Alan, Ron and I had a few minutes to sit and talk, in relative quiet, before the onslaught of dessert.

“You guys really about done with the house?”

“Cleanup, a little wiring in the basement, and some more work on what’ll be the pharmaceutical closet. Fencing will have to wait until the spring, but we’ll come up with something to create a better perimeter in the meantime,” Alan said.

“You guys gotta be thrashed,” I said. “I know how much work that place needed.”

“Twenty workers, fast work,” Ron said. “Your mom-in-law will have company. Three of the families from church have elderly parents in need of full time care. They helped out a ton.”

“Staff?” I asked.

“Rotating staff from Valley Hospital, in exchange for priority in the next round of housing rehabs. Staff of eight in the rotation,” Alan said.

“I should get drafted more often,” I said. “I think you got more done in the last couple days than I’d have been able to do in a month.”
“Providence, that’s all,” Alan said. “You doing OK? You’ve kinda gone from zero to ninety in not much time.”

“I’m handling it better than I thought I would. I’ll tell ya, guys,” I said in confidence, “I’ve seen some things done by the S.A. today that will haunt me to my grave.”

“Shortwave alluded to that, too,” Ron said. “I told Marie to not listen anymore. Pretty graphic.”

“You have no idea,” I said. “And while I’ve known you both a very long time, there are things I’ve seen, long ago, that I still can not find words for,” I said, before taking a sip of brandy, made by one of the trading store clientele.

“We’re supposed to be a support unit. We’re going to retrieve the remains of Sixth Army. Once done with that, it’s anybody’s guess. I told everyone in the Brigade that I expect Third Washington to be able to fight. Honestly, I expect them to be able to kill every God damned Statist soldier that is anywhere close to being in range.”

“It needs doing. We’d go…we will go, in a heartbeat,” Ron said.

“No, you won’t,” I said. “I saw your files. You’re hi-pri here. You can volunteer, and you’ll be denied. Your jobs are to keep things running on the commerce and civilian side of Metro.”

“Rick, you have any idea how long this’ll last?”

“Honest answer? No. From what I know that I can talk about, we have extremely diminished war-fighting capability.  We’re faced with asymmetric tactics including every conceivable option used by the enemy, virtually all of them ‘illegal’ in the classic sense. Civilians surrender after a siege. They’re rounded up, put in a building and burned to death. Civilians cooperate with the enemy, they’re exploited in ways I won’t describe, and put to death. Enemy agents infiltrate us far behind the lines and use chemical and nerve agents on civilian population centers. Ditto viable military targets, but again the agents are dressed either as friendlies, as civilians, as delivery people, whatever.  Didn’t matter. They show no mercy, they strip everything of any use from wherever they are. They burn everything they possibly can, in their wake. They kill their seriously wounded. They kill their deserters, and the families of their deserters. They contaminate the water supplies. They slaughter livestock they cannot transport…they’re just destroyers.”

“Sherman had nothing on the S.A.,” Alan said, looking over at the kitchen, where the pies were being sliced and the card game was wrapping up.

“And it’s a matter of debate on whether Sherman was on the right side of that war,” added Ron.

“Well, there’s no debate on these bastards. If I get the chance I’m going to send every single one of them to Hell to roast on a spit,” I said.

“Pie, gentlemen.  If you would be so kind to pick one, and only one slice,” Libby said.  “In other words, leave enough for the cooks. Soldiers first, Mr. Bauer and Mr. Martin.”

“The one time it pays to have a uniform,” Corporal Burrus said.

“Oh, I don’t know, Cory,” I said quietly as I lined up behind him. “That young lady over there seems to have been eyeing you most of the night.”

“She is a looker, sir,” he said as he leaned back a little to reply.

“Corporal, there are opportune moments. You might consider this one of them,” I said. “You ship out tomorrow. Time’s a wastin’. Consider that, not an order, but advice.”

“Yes, sir. Consider that done.”

“Hey, Kare? What are these other pies doing, uncut?” Alan asked.

“Two are for the men guarding our store. The other apple pie is for Elaine Cross, the other pumpkin is for Aaron and Ellen Watters.”

“How about that cobbler?” I asked.  It looked better than some of the pies.

“Anja and Randy.”

“Yikes. The oven must’ve been going all day,” I said.

“Use it or lose it,” Mary said.  “Stuff doesn’t keep forever.”

By ten, things had really wound down.  Alan and Carl carried Alan’s little ones home across the field, and Marie was spending the night with Kelly.  Libby, Mary and Karen were going over ‘move in’ details for the new convalescent home, right next door.  Pastor Gottschalk had headed home around nine, leaving Sarah, Brooke, and the young Corporal to chat, and to return to base by the witching hour with the Humvee.  Mike had taken his family home in Ashley’s personal SUV, with Mike’s ‘military’ pass in the window. The curfew in our part of the Valley was a loose thing, with searches of cars rarely completed.  Two or three miles west, and it was anything but.  
Ron and I took a tour of the day’s work next door. The transformation was pretty amazing. Even the cleanup of the construction work wouldn’t take more than an hour or two.

“Whose bright idea was this safe room?” I asked. They’d built a pharmaceutical closet within a newly framed shell. On the outside, salvaged wood paneling. The door, three layers of plywood, with three layers of quarter inch steel, and the biggest, gnarliest hinges I could imagine.  From the outside, what appeared to be a normal, lever-type door handle, and a nice oak plank pattern, appearing to be a little cheap. On the inside, sheet steel, needing some paint, and an overly complicated for me to quickly understand, latch and lock system.  The room shell would need to be paneled on the inside, as two by sixes and three-quarter inch reinforcing steel, both vertically and horizontally, were tied together with heavy duty wire.

“Guy named Darrel…last name escapes me. His mother has Alzheimer’s. He ran a contracting outfit before the War. Built foundations, so that’s where all the bar came from.”

“There’s a small fortune in steel in this shell. Still, I guess no one’s getting in here easily,” I said.

“They’re bringing in two layers of salvaged plywood tomorrow—it’s out in the shop out back now.  Overlapped and screwed together at twelve inches on center. Someone wants in here, they damned well better have the key,” Ron said.

“Where’d that door come from? I just noticed the frame. Wow,” I said. The frame extended eighteen inches on each side of the door opening, and likewise, above the door.

“Salvaged. No idea where it came from. Took six guys to move all of that in, in pieces, and bolt it all up. Came right in through the front door.  You haven’t seen it yet, but there’s a significant amount of new framing downstairs to hold all of this up.”

Moving out of the pharmacy room, and down the hallway, I noticed four hospital-type beds stored in one room, along with piles of bedding and linens. “Hospital stuff?”

“Nursing home, over on Adams. It was abandoned right after the quake. Scotty Wallace set us up with this stuff, and much more if we need it.”

“You guys really done good,” I said with a country-boy twang.

“You never know, we all may be living in a place like this some day, our kids taking care of us.”

“Should we be so lucky,” I said.

“You all packed up?”

“Mostly.  Need to get my old Springfield and a thousand rounds to go, some comfort items. Some stuff for bribes, you know, the usual,” I said. “You guys seem to have your stuff together. I’m sure things will run just fine without me.”

“You have any more thoughts on this banking idea of ours?” Ron said.

“Honest answer? Haven’t thought one iota about it. Libby and Karen are on board with it, right?”

“They are if you are.”

“The only conditions that I’d put on it are the same conditions I’d put on any business: Operate fairly and honestly. Don’t screw anybody. If you have a bad feeling about somebody, then don’t do business with them.”

“The usual,” Ron said.

“The usual. Oh yeah, try not to lose money.”  

Karen and I talked, long into the night that night, after I’d finished packing, about many things and nothing. She fell asleep snuggled into my shoulder long before I drifted off.

Morning came far too quickly.

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