Tuesday, February 22, 2011

For The Greater Good 16


    Turning onto the graveled drive, Rick and Paul were dead tired, not only from the drive, but the stress of the inadequate security on the front lines and ultimately of the community itself. Rick and Paul silently went their way to their homes. They had enough confidence with each other to know that they would deal with the situation, after some rest.

    Rick walked up the front steps and was met by Emmy and Rosa. “Poppa!” The girl’s exclaimed.

    “Hi sweetie, how are you two?” He said, his voice not as tired as his body. He hugged both daughters simultaneously, their small bodies infusing love and strength for their Poppa into him. “Hmmm…do you know that I love you both?” He whispered into their ears.

    “You do?” Rosa said, and smiled. It was obvious that both girls just got out of their baths, as their hair was wet and combed.

    “Absolutely.” He said, meaning every word. “Did you have a good day?”

    “Yes, we helped Mommy pick corn and we played hide and seek in the garden.” Emmy said.

    Rick chuckled and gave both a kiss. “Where’s Mommy?”

    “She’s inside reading.” Rosa replied.

    “Hey speaking of reading, when do you two start school?” Rick asked the pair.

    “Tomorrow.” Rosa answered.

    “Good, are you excited?”

    Both girls nodded.

    Brenda came outside and hugged him. “Hi, well, how did it go?” She asked, giving him a peck on the lips. Before he could answer, she sniffed his shirt, “Whew, you need a bath.”

    Rick laughed, “Yeah, I guess I do.”

    “Come in, I have some dinner for you, after you get cleaned up.” Brenda went back inside and turned on the gas stove, heating large pots of water. “Girl’s, it’s time for bed.” She called to Emmy and Rosa, who came in and gave them both a good night kiss before scampering off to their room.

    Brenda knocked on the door and entered as Rick peeled off his dirty clothes in the candle lit bathroom and sat on the edge of the cool tub. “Hal and Jimmy came over today. They brought the generator and had some guys hook it up to our electrical system and the well.” She said, and excitedly added, “We have water, we still have to make our own hot water, but at least we can now wash clothes.”


    “Jimmy also brought you this,” Brenda held out a warm opened beer.

    “Oh wow, that was nice of him.” He said, taking a swig of the beer. “What did those guys have to say?”

    “Hal brought Paul his Jeep, and we just talked. They all like you…and they’re concerned about the front lines.” She said, leaving to get the water and returning moments later, dumping the steaming water into the tub, creating a fog in the dim bathroom.

    Rick gently immersed himself into the hot water, Brenda took off her clothes and climbed in behind him and started washing his back. “This feels so good, I am so beat.” Rick uttered. “So you say that Hal is concerned about the front line’s?”

    “Yeah, I think that he feels guilty about it.”

    “There’s nothing to feel guilty about. I mean, it’s not a good situation at all….but we’ll get it figured out.”

    “Are you sure?” She questioned.

    “I have to, there’s no other choice, is there?” He said, rinsing the soap off of his body.

    “No there’s not.” She paused momentarily and whispered, “Rick, I don’t know about you, but I don’t think that God would have brought us to this place to squash us like bugs, do you?” She said, then turned his head towards her and kissed him tenderly. Her fears subsiding as their passions took over. Stretching out in the bath water, they held one another and ignored the front lines issues for the time being.

    Rick slept in past his usual pre-dawn wake up. The glowing morning sky coupled with a brewing pot of coffee, made for a nice start to the day. While the coffee was percolating, he noticed some book cases in the living room and started browsing the titles. The people who had owned the house before that day, had an interest in military history and science, as there were shelves of books on those subjects. Taking two books, Rick poured a cup of coffee and sat on the front porch, soaking up the early rising sun and reading. He was totally absorbed in the two books and didn’t hear Paul walk up the drive. “Good morning.” Paul said, “What are you reading?”

    Rick looked up and folded the corner of the page he was on, “A book on the Viet Nam War,” he then held the other book, “This is ‘The Art of War’. You know, these books got me thinking about what we’re doing on the front lines.”

    “How so?” Paul asked.

    “Well, the Viet Cong were undermanned, and under-gunned, right? Yet, they made a pretty good show for themselves against a much larger and better equipped army. Maybe we could take some of their techniques and use them here.”

    “Yeah I can see where that might work. What about the other book?” Paul said and then added, “By the way, I’ve read that one…you’ll like it.”

    “Sun Tzu says that when you are weak, you should try to show that you are strong…I’ll have to give this one some thought. It’s kind of hard to believe that he wrote this about a thousand years ago and it’s still pertinent.” Rick looked at his watch, “It’s almost time for Jimmy to open up. I want you to come with me before you pick up your guy’s, ok?”

    Paul nodded. “Sure.”

    “By the way, how did you sleep last night?”

    Paul smiled, “Pretty damned good.”

    “Me too…Brenda has a way of taking that stress right out of me.” Rick said, smiling.

    “I know what you mean.” Paul said with an embarrassed smile, as he was uncomfortable talking about intimacy issues.

    “You know, one day we’re going to have two pregnant women…are you ready to be a Daddy?”

    “No…but when it happens, I’ll deal with it.” Paul said laughing.

    Rick and Paul went to the shed behind Rick’s house, looking for tools to carry to the front lines. Finding what was needed, they loaded up the truck. Brenda and the girls came outside. “Daddy, we start school today.” Emmy exclaimed.

    “Yeah, I know…hey, you called me ‘Daddy’ and not ‘Poppa’. What’s up with that, short-stuff?”

    “I dunno, I like Daddy better than Poppa.” Emmy smiled and added, “Rosie likes Poppa.”

    Rick laughed as he hugged his daughters, “I don’t care what you call me, I like both names.” He said, and looked at Brenda, “I’m going to spend the night with the guy’s on the front lines tonight. Do you know where my stuff is?”

    “Your sleeping bag and pack is in the back bedroom.” She replied, “I meet with the hospital staff today. I’m going to take the transport to Elkins after I get the girls set up at school.”

    “Cool…wow, life goes on.” Rick said. Stepping next to her, he whispered into her ear, “Just promise me that you’ll keep your weapon close by…all the time, ok?”

    She smiled, “Absolutely,” The fears of the past couple of months came back full force, “I wish this was over.” She whispered back to him.

    “I do too…one day, hopefully it will be.” He said. “Make sure you tell Christine the same thing.”

    Rick went inside and gathered his pack, loaded it into the truck, kissed his family good-bye then left with Paul following behind in the Jeep.

    Jimmy’s Garage looked to be a hundred years old. The building hadn’t seen a fresh coat of paint in many years, old cars and trucks sat in various stages of storage or repair on both sides of the shop. Rick drove his truck into the front parking lot, splashing through a mud puddle and parking on a dry spot near the opened garage door.

    Jimmy and his friends came out from inside the garage, wiping their hands on blue well used shop towels. He waved at Rick.

    “Good morning Jimmy.” Rick greeted him, and extended his hand to the tall thin mechanic.

    “Good morning Mr. Martin. How’s the truck running?” Jimmy said, his smile and good ole’ boy nature bubbling out.

    “Shes running great Jimmy. I want to thank you for the generator and getting it set up at the house. Brenda really appreciates having running water.” Rick said.

    “Not a problem. We didn’t know if we’d be disturbing you on a Sunday.” He replied.

    “Not a problem there, I was out on the lines. Actually, Paul and I are heading back out there in a bit. I need to talk with you about something.” Rick said, as the friend’s of Jimmy’s gathered around. “I need a favor.”

    Jimmy nodded, “What do you need?”

    “I need a couple of vehicles. You see, out on the front lines, if one of our guy’s is wounded and I wasn’t there, there would be no way to get him to the hospital.”

    Jimmy thought for a moment and nodded, “I think we’ve got a couple that you can use.” He answered and added, “So, do you think that we’ll be attacked?”

    Rick nodded, “It’s just a matter of time before they start coming for us…and I want to be ready for them.”

    “I’ll get right on it today, and have them brought to the front lines, hopefully by this afternoon.”

    “I appreciate that.” Rick said, shaking his hand and leaving for the school to pick up the other team.

    Standing in front of the school house were twelve of the replacement guards. Rick and Paul pulled in and greeted them all. They loaded their things into the Jeep and truck. Paul and Rick shook hands, wished each other well and then left for the front lines.

    Arriving at the roadblock, Rick was greeted by Jared standing guard, rifle at the ready. The others quickly came out and greeted their friends. They boys all knew one another from before that day.

    Rick walked along the road to the where he could see the valley, everyone followed. “You know when I left I said that we should build a large bunker? Well, I did some reading about the Viet Nam War and I’ve changed my mind.” He said, and then spent the next hour bringing back the history of that conflict and how the Viet Cong stood against the US Military. “So, what I want to do is to build small holes along this ridge, “He said pointing up towards the ridge line. “Right below the ridge on the road, is where I want to make our roadblock. That way, when they stop we have a clear shot down on them.” He said and turned to their side of the road. “Over here, I want hole’s dug so that we make a cross fire, understand?”

    The fellows nodded excitedly.

    “Now I want this area in front of us to be cleared to at least one hundred yards…so, let’s get started.” He said and then went back to the truck and handed out the tools. They spent the rest of the day chopping down and dragging trees to create a new roadblock, shelters and clearing land.

    Before dusk settled in, Jimmy and his friends brought an old International Harvester pick up truck to their camp. The guys appreciated their new transportation; however the need for an improvised ambulance left them with the realization about the seriousness of their situation.

    That evening, as they were eating around the campfire and relaxing from their hard physical work the conversation turned to combat.

    “Do you think that we can take these guys, Mr. Martin?” Jared asked.

    “Yeah I do…if we have the element of surprise and if your shots are accurate.” He answered and added, “We don’t have the luxury of having superior firepower, so we have to be accurate. Now, I want to say that this situation could change at a moments notice.” He explained, “What we have planned might not happen in the way we think…let me give you an example, we met this guy, Pepper Wayne, and he felt he was being watched and was going to be attacked. So, Brenda and I went into the woods to hunt the guy that was watching him. I figured that if I could take out one or two of them, then that might make them think differently about attacking Pepper.” He paused momentarily and continued, “Well, it didn’t happen that way, we found the entire group of them and Brenda and I attacked the group, taking them all out.”

    “Miss Brenda shot them too?” David asked, surprised.

    “Yeah, she did a great job.” Rick said proudly. “The point I’m trying to make is that everything is fluid, and we have to be able to improvise, adapt and overcome…just like the Marines say.”

    The group sat silently thinking about their situation and Rick’s advice and warnings.

    “Tomorrow I want everyone to practice moving between the fox holes and dry firing. I’m going to head back and make some Molotov Cocktails. We’ll put some up on the fox holes on the ridgeline, so you can toss them down onto whoever is below you.”

    “You know, we could take some of that brush that’s lying around and make a slash pile.” Winston said.

    Rick looked at him, his eye questioning.

    “What we could do is set that on fire with some of those Molotov Cocktails. Since its green, it’ll make a lot of smoke, which might hide our movements.” Winston answered.

    Rick smiled, “Good idea, let’s do that.”

    The group talked for a while longer and then turned in for the evening. Brent took guard duty in one of the newly created foxholes along the base of the ridge.

    The next morning, after they all ran drills between the fox holes and had a good sweat worked up, Rick gathered them all together. “I’m going to take six of you back to town. Now, if you don’t have anything to do, feel free to come over to my house and hang out. We certainly can use the help with the garden.” He offered, and added, “I’m going to do some work on Winston’s rifle, so if anyone needs work done in their weapon’s, let me know.” With that said, they loaded the truck and headed back to town. Stopping at the school, three of the team got out, the other three decided to come over to Rick’s.

    Their house was empty when they arrived. Rick hated an empty house; it felt too quiet and unnatural, especially after that day. The boys put their packs into the spare bedroom and made themselves at home. Rick walked out to the road and picked up the empty food baskets. Handing them to the fellows, they all pulled ripe vegetables. It didn’t take very long to fill the baskets and set them by the mailbox. Brenda rode the bike, pulling the trailer with Emmy and Rosa down the road.

    Rick went over to her, giving her a kiss. “How was your day?” He asked, talking the bike and walking it up the drive for her.

    “It was great, the hospital staff is very friendly, and with the electricity on, we can do most anything we could before that day, health wise.”

    “We have some guests.” Rick said, his tone was one of asking her approval, rather than making a declaration.

    “I see that.” She said, her tone was accepting towards their guests. “It looks like you all have been busy in the garden too.” She said, and asked, “How is it on the front lines?”

    “We’re getting there. I don’t know if I’ll ever be comfortable with it, but at least now we can make some sort of a stand.”

“That’s good.” Brenda said smiling and now able to relax. “Rosa, would you like to make dinner tonight?”

    Rosa nodded excitedly and took off into the kitchen to start dinner.

    “Brent, why don’t you help Rosa with dinner?” Rick asked.

    Brent shrugged his shoulders and went in to help. Jared and Winston found a football in the garage and began to toss it around in the backyard. Emmy went inside to do her homework at the kitchen table.

    “It looks like our family is growing.” Rick said to Brenda, his arm around her waist.

    “Yeah maybe one day you and I will have one of our own.” She said, smiling seductively and nudging him with her shoulder.

    Rick smiled at the nudge, “After dinner tonight I’m going over to the gun shop…I need to do some work on Winston’s rifle.” He said, and then asked, “Do you mind?”

    “No, I don’t, just don’t wake me up when you get back…unless you want to wake me.” She smiled, her seduction stirring up Ricks hormones.

    Dinner was superb. They all enjoyed freshly steamed corn, green beans, Rosa’s marvelous tortillas, rice and beans. Everyone ate beyond their fill.

    “You did great, for a kid.” Brent said to Rosa.

    “A kid!” Rosa exclaimed, standing up, her chair sliding back against the wall, and stormed off, spouting off angrily in Spanish.

    Rick looked at Brent. “That wasn’t nice.” His father-like tone brought Brent back down to reality.

    “I didn’t mean anything by it…aww, I guess I shouldn’t have said ‘kid’.” Brent said his eyes downcast, knowing he screwed up with Rosa and Rick. 

    Brenda whispered into Rick’s ear, “I need to talk with you in private.” She led him into the living room, “Look, there’s something you need to know.”

    His puzzled facial expressions answered without words.

    “Rosa isn’t a child any longer…she’s a woman.”

    “What do you mean?”

    “Rick, she has her first period.” Brenda said.

    “What? She’s too young for that!” He exclaimed.

    “Really? And you base that on what? Her age? Or her biological age?” Brenda replied, her medical background ended any logical argument Rick had. Brenda added, “Rosa has a birthday this week…she’ll be thirteen.”

    Rick exhaled audibly, “Jeez…I would have never thought…” his words trailed off.

    “Get used to it…Poppa.” She said smiling broadly. “You might think about having a talk with her.”

    “What?” His eyes twitched at the thought of having ‘that’ kind of talk with Rosa. He thought for a moment and accepted his role with her. Making his way to her bedroom, Rick knocked gently and opened the door. Rosa sat on the bed, her eyes wet from crying. “Can I talk with you Rosa?”

    She said nothing, just nodded.

    Rick sat on the bed next to her. “Rosa, I want to tell you that you are the best daughter any man could ever hope to have. I really mean that.”

    She looked at him, and hugged her Poppa tightly, soft sobs came from within.

    “You’re changing Rosa…and I hate it.” He said.

    She looked up at him, her eyes questioning, “Why?”

    “Because I didn’t have the chance to be with you before. I would have loved to have raised you from a baby, but I didn’t and I accept that. I just know that one day, you’ll come home and announce that there’s a guy in your life and…” his voice trailed off as tears welled up in his eyes.

    Rosa looked in his eyes and wiped his tears. “Poppa…you’re the best Poppa anybody could ever hope to have.” They both hugged and cried. Rosa and Rick found a level of Father and Daughter trust and honesty that most men only wished they knew about their daughters. After a little while Brenda and Emmy came inside, they all talked, Emmy was curious about what changes Rosa was going through. Brenda explained it in a way that a six year old would understand. 

    Rick left the women to themselves and their conversations. Brenda had made the boys makeshift beds in the spare room, the house was quiet. Taking Winston’s rifle he left for the gun shop.

    Town was quiet, after all it was dark and the streets were rolled up, same as before that day. Parking in front of the shop, Rick unlocked the three deadbolts and noticed the weight of the door as he opened it. The door was steel plate on the front and back and about three inches thick, but swung on hinges that were glass smooth.

    “Interesting.” Rick said to himself as he went inside, finding and lighting the lantern. Holding the light up above his head, he wandered around the shop, shaking his head at the senselessness of the empty shop and cursing whoever set off the nuclear bomb’s.

    In the back area, Rick set the lantern up on a shelf and started to gather the tool’s and equipment to glass bed the hunting rifle. Taking the rifle and setting it into the gun vice, he looked around for some paper to run between the barrel and stock, to double check the location of the offending barrel rub. Opening Herbs desk he found his check book and tore out a blank check and used it to make the check. Pulling up a well used bar stool, Rick took a deep breath and began to disassemble the rifle. With the screws out of the rifle, he looked down at the end of the shop table. The photo of Herb and his brother Lynn sat propped up; they both seemed to stare at him.

    “Hi Herb, how are ya?” Rick said to the image. “I’m going to glass bed this rifle; you’re more than welcome to watch.” He said chuckling.

    Rick took a chisel and other wood removing tools and gouged out some of the stock channel. Replacing the barreled action, he checked to see if enough wood was removed, there wasn’t, so he took more out until the blank check moved freely between the stock channel and barrel. Finally he was satisfied with the stock and began to tape up the barrel.

    Everything was ready to go. Rick opened the package of glass bed mix.

    “Don’t forget the clay.”

    Ricks eyes opened wide at the soft voice. He looked at the photo, it hadn’t changed. He questioned in his mind whether it was an audible voice or from his own subconscious. Looking at the photo again, “Are you talking to me?” He said, and then his eyes were drawn up to a box of modeling clay on the shelf above. Realizing that one final step was needed to do the glass bedding correctly, he took the clay and made a dam to contain any of the runoff epoxy material in the stock.

    “Thanks Herb, I missed that.” He said to the photo. “Let me finish up with this job and I’ll tell you what’s going on here.”

    Rick mixed up the epoxy glass bedding material, and then applied releasing agent to the taped barrel. The releasing agent wouldn’t allow the epoxy to stick to the barrel. Quickly, before the epoxy started to harden, he then poured it into the stock and smeared it around. Taking the barreled action Rick placed it into the stock and tightened the screws. The bluish gray epoxy oozed out alone the sides and front of the stock. Rick wiped it off, trying to make a neat appearance, he then used a spring clamp to clamp the barrel and stock.

    “Ok, finished…now we’ll let it sit for a day or so and…” His voice trailed off, as he looked back at the photo. Taking a deep breath and exhaling, “Herb, we’re in a bad way right now.”

    The photo started back.

    “You see, I’m in charge of twenty four guys and we’re supposed to protect this community. All we have to do that with is hunting rifles and shotguns, with the exception of Paul and me. I have a Garand and Paul has an FAL...that’s it.”

    The photo stared back.

    “I understand that you were in Korea, so you know about combat and what it takes to defend an area. Anyway, my guy’s are motivated, and we’re using some of the tricks from the Viet Cong, so we have that going for us.”

    The photo stared back.

    It was as if an unseen hand moved Ricks head to look at the top shelf. Ricks eyes were drawn to a metal box, which sat between some shop manuals. Standing up from the stool, he looked around and found a step ladder, climbing up a step or two he reached the box and brought it down. It was an ordinary rectangular box, green and old. Unclasping and opening it, inside was a bottle of Jack Daniels whiskey and papers.

    “Do you mind if I have a drink of your whiskey?”

    The photo stared back.

    Inside the box was a shot glass, a souvenir from a trip to the USS Arizona memorial at Pearl Harbor. Rick poured himself a shot and drained it in two sips. Looking back at the photo, he said, “Thanks Herb.” Then poured another shot, as the alcohol burned its way into his system. Extracting each paper from the box, it was Herbs remembrance box, a time capsule from his past. Rick read Lynn’s death certificate and the acknowledgment of his valor from the War Department. Next he found Herbs Honorable Discharge papers from the Marines, and then his Fathers Civil Defense card from World War ll. Each piece of paper, filled with the history and memories which were almost holy in nature.

    Rick finished his reading, and draining his shot glass, he held it towards the photo and toasted. “Here’s to you Herb…I wish that you were here, I really do, we need you.” He said, feeling relaxed and pouring another shot.

    The photo stared back.

    Rick looked at the image, his eyes focusing on the handwritten date at the bottom of the photograph. Holding the photo, he read the date, 15 October 1941. For whatever reason he couldn’t take his eyes off the photo and date. “Hal said that he tried every combination on the safe that he could think of.” He said, taking the photo into the area next to the safe. Pulling up a chair and a small table, he propped the photo up and went over to the safe. The numbers on the combination dial were hard to read in the dim light, so Rick went back into the shop and brought out the lantern, and then set it behind him. Now the numbers could be read. He spun the dial on the large old green safe.

    “10…15…41…” He tried to move the safes black handle, “Nothing. Ok, let’s try this, 10…15…19…41.” He spun the dial and again, “Nothing.” He looked at the photograph.

    The photo stared back.

    Taking a deep breath and another shot of Jack Daniels, “So, what am I missing here?”  He said to the uncommunicative image. His eyes again were drawn to the date on the photo. Cocking his head slightly to the side as he tried to make sense of the date, an idea popped into his head, and he went back to the safe. “15…10…41…” He again tried to move the safes handle, “Nothing. I’m thinking that you write dates the old way, right?” Rick went back into the shop and flipped through Herb’s checkbook, he was right. Herb used the military date system of day, month and year, as opposed to the civilian system of month, day and year.

    “I could run numbers forever and not get it right. So, what would you use as the combination?” He said to himself and the photo.

    The photo stared back.

    “Shit…it was here all along.” He said and excitedly spun the combination dial. “7…12…41…” Trying the handle, “Nothing. Ok, 7…12…19…41.” Moving the handle again, CLICK. “Yes! Hot damn, we’ve got it!” He paused and closed his eyes, slowly opening the heavy safes door. Opening his eyes. “Nothing! Are you fucking kidding me!” He said, glaring angrily at the photograph. Turning back to the opened safe, there was some ropes and nylon straps with a ‘come-along’ and an old pulley. He took that stuff and tossed them onto the ground. Tapping the walls to see if there was a false wall or bottom, he shook his head as there was nothing of value or hidden in the safe. Reaching up above the inside door he found a magnetic hook with a set of keys. On one of the inside shelves perched an old style flashlight with a large rectangular battery.

    Rick sat down in the chair and shook his head. “Junk, nothing but junk.” He said, looking at the photo.

    The photo stared back.  

    Rick sat back into the chair, dejected and deep in thought. “I don’t think that you would go through all this trouble to keep crap in your safe, it just doesn’t make sense.” He said, holding the photograph and looking into the faces of a youthful Herb and his older brother Lynn wearing his Navy uniform. Rick poured himself another shot; the alcohol was now having an effect on his mind and body. Looking back at the opened safe, he took off his glasses, rubbing his eyes, and then replaced them.

    There was something about the pattern on the floor which drew his attention. The ancient dirty linoleum floor was made from squares of white and blue speckled markings. The bright light from behind cast an imperceptible shadow on the floor.  Two barely visible parallel lines running away from the safe. Rick got down on his knees and ran his finger gently across the lines; the linoleum was definitely indented, as if a great weight had made the inch wide trough. The lines lead to the wood base beneath the safe. Reaching over, he moved the wood base, it was a facade. Energetically, he pulled the wooden covering away, the safe was on wheels, and they matched up exactly with the indented lines on the floor.

    Rick looked up at the image. “Well?” He said, and then picked up the ropes. Looking back at the safe, he saw two loops that were welded to the base. Turning his head to the far wall he noticed two silver heavy duty eye bolts that were screwed into that wall. “Shit Herb…I get it now.”

    Rick took the come-along and attached the ends of the thick nylon rope to the eye bolts on the far wall and the other two ends to the welded loops on the safe. Taking in the slack he worked the handle of the come-along, slowly moving the heavy wheeled safe away from the wall and to the place where the lines on the floor stopped. Standing up, he went behind the safe and saw a large trap door in the floor. The door was concrete and had two locks imbedded into its top. Remembering the keys he had found, Rick unlocked them and tried to lift out the three and a half foot square concrete plug. We couldn’t budge it.

    There was another pile of ropes on the floor and an old wood pulley. The concrete door had four places imbedded into its top, looking up he saw four large eye bolts in the ceiling. The ropes matched up perfectly. The alcohol that Rick had consumed earlier vanished as he found a source of internal energy which propelled him. Slowly he pulled on the ropes and the door lifted from its base. Once clear, he slid the six inch thick door off to the side, exposing a dark hole.

    Stepping back momentarily, he looked at the photograph and nodded, “Pretty slick Herb.” He said, and then brought out the step ladder. As he lowered the four foot ladder into the hole, the smell hit him. It wasn’t the stench of death that he still wasn’t used to; it was the familiar aroma of nitrates from gunpowder. The ladder dropped almost out of sight. The old flashlight worked perfectly as he started down the steps.

    Reaching the bottom, he shined the light around the room and shook his head in utter amazement. The room was filled with wood military surplus crates, from floor to ceiling. Rick went over to a stack and pried off one of the lids. Inside were six M1 Garand rifles. Exhaling audibly, he shouted through the hole, “Herb Jess, you are the man!” Stepping back he counted eight of the crates. Stacked along side the Garands, almost to the six foot ceiling, were pallets of crates. Reading the side of the boxes he saw that they were ammunition for the Garands. His mind swirled at the find.

    Turning to the other wall, he slowly stepped over to lines of rifles that were propped against that wall. AR-15’s, forty eight of them. Rick felt like passing out, he was lightheaded and giddy. Next to the AR’s sat crates of ammunition for them. Taking one of the plastic pouches out of a box he read ‘South Africa 5.56 300 rounds’. He went from crate to crate, each find as exciting as the first. Herb had stored rifles, magazines, canvas holsters for the forty eight brand spanking new in the box Springfield .45 pistols and tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands rounds of ammunition.

    “Rick, are you here?” A voice called from above.

    “Hal! Hey I’m down here.” Rick called back as he saw Hal’s shadow move across the opening.

    “You gotta be kidding me.” Hal exclaimed. “You figured it out.” He said.

    “Yeah, hey come on down, check this out.” Rick said, still making finds in the hand carved cave arsenal.

    Hal gently started down the ladder, Rick went over and helped his friend with his footing. Reaching the bottom, Hal turned around. “Sum-bitch!” He exclaimed, and added, “Sum-bitch!”

    “You got that right my friend. Herb had to have been working on this for years. Come here and look at this.” Rick led Hal to the crates of Garands, and lifted one out, “These are from the Civilian Marksmanship Program, I know the hang tags.” He read the tag. “This one is a Service Grade and Herb marked it at four inches.” He handed the rifle to Hal who checked it over and handed it back.

    “How many rifles are there?” Hal asked.

    “I figure that there are forty eight M1’s, and another forty eight AR-15’s.” He replied pointing over to the wall of stacked black rifles. “It will probably take me a week to inventory all of this stuff, and then I have to get the Cosmoline off of everything.” He replied excitedly. “This is awesome, I’ll tell you, this changes everything.”

    Hal was wandering around, opening and closing boxes. “Hey what’s in here?” He asked.

    Rick hadn’t notice a burlap covering on the far wall. Hal had pulled it back and Rick knelt down into another carved out room. Here was the source of the nitrate smell. Crawling onto the room, Rick stood and shook his head, again in amazement. “Looks like powder, bulk bullets,” He said flipping open the lids to stacks of boxes, “Primers and all the reloading stuff anyone would need.” He said, and quietly added, “He’s got it all.” Crawling back out, Hal and Rick stood face to face. “I’m just blown away with it all.”

    “I’m blown away that you got the combination figured out.” Hal commented.

    “You had the dates backwards. Herb used military dating…the combination is 7, 12, 19, 41.”

    “Sum-bitch.” Was all Hal could muster. “Hey, the reason that I’m here…and this is going to work out perfectly, is that we were talking about a place for you and your guys.” 

    Rick looked at Hal, “I’m listening.”

    “Jimmy and I talked about your situation and he suggested that maybe you could use the Windwood Resort.”

    Rick shrugged his shoulders and raised his hands, gesturing that he had no idea what Hal meant.  

    “The Windwood Resort is a fly-in motel.”

    “You mean an airport motel?”

    “No, it’s a place where folks would fly their planes in and go skiing or whatever, stay for a few days and then leave. It’s not an airport per se, but just an asphalt runway.”

    Rick nodded, “Ok.” He said, still not sure how this would work.

    “Look, the motel has about twelve or fifteen rooms, a restaurant and two large bunk houses. You could make that your base.”

    Rick smiled, “Yeah…yeah, that sounds good. Where is it?”

    “It’s about five miles from here, near the resort you stayed at when you first came in.” Hal said and smiled, then added, “I’ll have the electricity turned on in a day or so, and will have a bunch of folks over to help you get it squared away. I even have a dorm mother for you.”

    “Dorm mother?”

    “Yeah, Miss Linda…she’s the one who puts together the food for your guys. I know that she would love to have a kitchen to herself.”

    “This is fantastic.” Rick said. The pair went back up the steps. Hal left and Rick sat back in the chair and looked at the photo. Pouring himself another shot, he extended it to the image. “Here’s to you my friend.” He said and drank the liquor. “I want to thank you, from the bottom of my heart.” He said, then turned off the lantern and locked up.

    Rick sang out loud to himself on the drive home, window down and weaving drunk. He stopped at the mailboxes, seeing that Paul’s Jeep was in the driveway. Stumbling towards his home, Rick called out loudly. “Hey Paul, get up!” His words slurred.

    Paul opened a window, still half asleep. “What’s up?” He said quietly trying not to wake Christine.

    “I found it!” He said loudly.

    “Shhh…Christine’s asleep. You found what?”

   “Herbs stash…guns and ammo, and tons of it!” He exclaimed drunkenly.

    “Are you drunk?” Paul asked, noticing the bottle of whisky in Rick’s hand.

    “Yup.” He said, “I’ll see you tomorrow, we’ll get this stuff figured out.” He said and started towards his house.

    “Hey.” Paul called, “Are you serious about the gun’s?”

    “Yup…lot’s of em.” He said, continuing his staggered walk to his house, laughing to himself knowing that Paul wouldn’t be able to get back to sleep. Stumbling up the front steps and into the house, he bumped into the furniture and said out loud. “Shhh.” He chuckled as he found the bedroom and sat on the bed, taking off his clothes.

    Brenda rolled over towards him. “You stink, are you drunk?”

    Rick chuckled drunkenly, “Yup…hey I found them.”

    “Found what?” She asked, more perturbed at his inebriation than his explanation.

    “The gun’s that Herb stashed…there’s enough.” His words trailed off as he lay down, passing out.

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