I grinned as, in rapid succession, Charlie, Bob and Thumper drove up to the house. At the back of Charlie’s and Bob’s trucks were trailers loaded with snowmobiles and ATV’s. Thumper, in his usual style, had opted for his racing trailer, and I could only imagine what he’d packed inside.
Shaking my head, I called out as the doors opened on the trucks, “You guys are cutting it pretty close. The sun is almost down.” Thumper grinned at me. “What’s in the trailer?” Thumper’s grin grew broader.
“My Baja race truck. I spent all afternoon stripping the body off and welding in a couple of additional bucket seats with 5-point harnesses.”
My jaw dropped. “What the hell? What are you thinking of using it for?” Thumper scared me from time to time. He tended to go a bit overboard with his various hobbies.
“Who knows? But if we need a fast rugged go-anywhere truck, this one is custom made for the job.”
“What else is in the trailer?” I noted that the trailer was running a bit low and it had bottomed out at least once as he’d pulled up to the house.
“Bambi’s truck. She didn’t want to leave it at home. It hasn’t got the guts to pull the trailer fully, well, all right, overloaded, so I put it in the trailer.” He grinned that damned grin of his again. “And everything out of my basement, including the reloading equipment.”
We walked over to the trailer and he swung open the doors. Sure enough, the back of Bambi’s truck was loaded with powder, shells and bullets. I also saw multiple cans of gasoline. I swore.
“Goddamnttohell, Thumper! Only a bone headed idiot like you would put gunpowder and gasoline together in the same trailer. Are you out of your fucking mind?” His grin dimmed a bit.
“I didn’t have much choice. I wasn’t about to put either one in the truck with Bambi and me. I didn’t want to strap it to the roof, where anyone could see it, what was I supposed to do?”
I sighed. “No, you‘re right. You did the right thing. But I have to tell you, I’m glad I wasn’t driving with you. One quick stop or one turn too fast and there wouldn’t have been anything left to pick up.” I shook my head. “Let’s get this damn thing unloaded.”
The girls were chatter boxing as usual as they unloaded the trucks, so Charlie, Bob, Thumper and I got the snowmobiles and ATV’s unloaded and stored in the shed. The trailers were pushed to one side but turned for easy hookup. The semi started up and I could see George starting to roll towards the freshly plowed parking area Fred had created. Fred was guiding George with hand signals as the semi slowly rolled out of sight.
Soon enough, all the trucks were unloaded and their cargoes stored, and all of us were back in the house. Betsy had whipped up hot chocolate liberally laced with brandy, and sitting in front of the fireplace we were all warmed up soon enough. As our conversation rolled around various topics but carefully skirting political issues, Betsy called us into the dining room for dinner.
I stood at the head of the table as everyone seated themselves. Betsy and Fred stood in the doorway. I smiled. “Betsy, you and Fred belong at this table as well. Grab place setting and sit!” Lauren smiled warmly at them as they scurried in and sat.
All eyes turned towards me. “My friends, you know that you have been part of my extended family for many years. I consider all of you to be the brothers and sisters that I never had. Each of you has left their stamp on me, some visible,” I looked at George and he grinned at me, “some invisible. I’ve asked you all here because I am worried about what is happening to our country.” The smiles and grins vanished and in their place, the uncomfortable knowledge of an unknown future weighed heavily on their faces.
“None of us knows what will happen tomorrow, next week, next month or next year. I’d like to hope that our worries and fears are out of place, but common sense tells me that it is far better to be prepared than to be unprepared.” Heads nodded around the table. “My gut tells me that soon enough, our preparations today will pay off and everything we’ve collected here will be needed, if not by us, then by others in similar need. I have little faith right now in Washington D.C., but I have great faith in the people of this country. We have weathered many storms, fought many battles and have stood strong.” More nods around the table.
I raised my wine glass. “To the blood of patriots, past and present. They have watered the Tree of Liberty for over two centuries.” Glasses raised around the table.
Fred’s eyes were wet and his voice shook with emotion. “To fallen friends and heroes alike, long may they be remembered.”
“To Friends and Heroes.” Glasses rose again.
I sat and I saw Betsy bow her head. We all clasped hands, and in a tradition that went back to our childhood, we all bowed our heads and Betsy said grace. “Dear Lord, please bless the family at this table. Bless the gifts that each of us bring and allow us to serve your greater power. Guide our leaders in their time of need, and grant those that have lost loved ones the mercy of your peace. Guide us as we seek our futures together. Amen.”
As one, we said “Amen.”
And per the unwritten rule of good table manners, not one word was spoken of the troubles outside.
* * *
After dinner all of us moved into the living room and sat around the fireplace. We were all quiet for awhile, mostly staring into the fire. Finally, Susan cleared her throat. “Jim, for Bob and the others, I’d like to thank you for the invitation to stay here. I’m not sure how long we will stay, but if I’m reading what is not being said on the news correctly, it might be for a long time.”
I nodded. “I hope we are both wrong, and that in a week or so this will all blow over, but I don’t think so. This is an opportunity far too good to pass up, and I think the more radical elements of our nation will see this as a God-given opportunity to take advantage of the situation. Did you hear the news this afternoon?”
“That bitch.” This from Bambi. She had carried double poly-sci and history majors when she went to the University of Minnesota. “Calling for investigations into the Anti-American sentiments of members of Congress? Who the hell does she think she is? The reincarnation of Joe McCarthy?”
“I’m not surprised”, said Charlie. “She’s always been a nut-case, and I’m betting the next thing she says will be that the President brought this upon himself.” He shook his head. “But let’s table that particular discussion for a moment. I’d like to know how prepared we are for a long stay.” He looked at me.
I turned to Betsy, who had just sat down after cleaning up in the kitchen. “Ask Fred to come in, will you please?” I looked back at Charlie. “We are in good shape food-wise, especially with the extras all of you brought with today. I’m guessing that we have probably 6 months or better of food stocks, which will see us through spring and early summer.” I looked at Betsy. She nodded. “Fred? What’s the status of the boathouse and the rest of the equipment?”
He closed his eyes and I could see him mentally reviewing inventory levels. “The boathouse is in good shape. The buried gasoline tank is full of premium for the boats, so we have about 1,000 gallons give or take a bit. That was filled back in November just before the first snowfall. I restocked all the fishing gear, so what you purchased today and with what everyone brought with, we probably have more than we need. Danie topped off both propane tanks this morning, and the tanker that George parked behind the shed will see us through to the end of next winter.”
“What about bleed-off? How much will we lose?” I looked at George.
“Almost nothing. Propane isn’t like liquid oxygen. It will stay stable for a long time. I will keep an eye on the tank pressure during the summer months, if we are still here, but we won’t have to worry about that for a long time yet.”
I nodded. “How are we set for medicines and medical emergencies?” I looked again at Betsy. She looked thoughtful.
“Well, Mr. Peters, The first aid kits are always well stocked, but I’m concerned about medicines. I know that you need refills every month, and I’m assuming that everyone else is going to have some medicine requirements as well.”
I made a face. “Crap. OK. Someone take notes, we need to get all these things written down somewhere.”
Lauren grabbed a paper pad and pen and began to write. One by one each of us raised questions and the answers were written down. After about 2 hours, we began to wind down.
I took the list from Lauren and looked it over. “Not bad. Some gaps, but I think we can get them filled fairly easily.” I handed it back to her. “Would you make 5 copies of this?” She nodded and headed for my home office.
As we waited for her to return, I said “Tomorrow is Sunday. Most of the stores should be open, but since they usually open later on Sundays, that means we won’t have a whole lot of time. For some of the items on the list we may have to make a run down to the Twin Cities. I suggest all of us head to bed so we can get an early start tomorrow morning.” There were murmurs of agreement and Lauren walked back with 6 sheets of paper in her hand. I kept one and handed the rest out to each couple. “Let’s decide who goes where and then let’s get some sleep.”
* * *
The sky was just turning light as I heard a light knock on the door. A soft voice, Fred’s by the sound, said “Breakfast in 10 minutes, Mr. Peters.”
I groaned. “OK Fred. Thanks.” As I stretched, there was a soft sound of protest at being moved. The warm round shape under the blanket moved closer and wiggled further down in the bed, totally buried under the covers as usual. Lauren did not like to wake up early in the morning. I drew the blanket down slowly until her head was uncovered. I kissed her cheek gently then nibbled on an exposed ear.
“Time to wake up sleepy head.” More protests, but she couldn’t wiggle any further down. Her eyes fluttered open.
“You beast. You meanie. I want to sleep!” She grabbed the blanket and made to pull it up over her head. I smiled.
“No way, cupcake.” I grabbed the blanket and sheet and whipped it off the bed. She shrieked as the cool room air hit her skin.
“You bastard! I will get you for that!” She grabbed a pillow and threw it at me. Expecting it, I grabbed it and tossed it on the chair across the room.
“Now, now, honey…we have a lot to do today,” I said placating. I raised my hands as another pillow came sailing through the air towards me. I knocked it away and sprinted to the bathroom, pretending to lock it behind me. She hit the door with the flat of her hand, and then opened it. There was fire in her eyes, and for a moment I thought I was a goner. When Lauren gets mad, it is a good idea to keep at least 30 feet away, we were less than 3 inches.
Both hands darted out and grabbed my ears. I winced. “Listen bub. You do that again, and you are dead meat. No one will protect you, and I’m sure that Danie, Susan, Shirley and Bambi will all be character witnesses at my trial.” My eyes were watering from the pain. She pulled me to within an inch and looked deep into my eyes, then pulled me into a kiss, her hands releasing my ears to curl behind my head and pull me further down to her level.
“There, now we are even,” she said as she released me, hands running down my back. She swatted me and said “In the shower. We don’t have much time.”
* * *
About 90 minutes later, we were rolling down Highway 10, headed for the Twin Cities. I was driving and Lauren was busy keying in the addresses for the book stores that we needed to hit in case we weren’t able to completely fill the shopping list at one store. I suggested that we strongly consider spreading our purchases out over several stores, but Danie had said that the books on the list were probably on almost everyone’s list so we should get what we could at the first stop, then fill as needed from the rest of the stores on the list.
The rest of the teams had spread out, with a 10 minute separation between departures so if anyone were observing, it would look like we had all just spend the evening together and were now heading home. Betsy had stayed back, to monitor the phones and act as a clearinghouse in case a team got held up – I wanted to keep our exposure to a minimum. Any team held up for any reason would pass their purchase list on to another team, so they could concentrate on extracting themselves from the situation. My thought was more along the lines of getting stuck in a long check out line more than anything else.
As we passed through St. Cloud, we were driving along the BNSF mainline, and it was stacked up with container and empty coal trains. “I wonder what’s going on with the railroad. I assume that they would not be covered under the curfew rules, I know I heard whistles last night.”
Lauren shook her head. “No idea.”
We hit Becker about 20 minutes later and it soon became clear. A train, pulled by 4 Army locomotives, was heading north. Behind the locomotives were flat car after flat car of MBT’s, APC’s, motorized and stationary artillery, Bradley’s, and oh dear god, MLRS!
“Oh shit. Oh Shit. OH SHIT!!!” My face went taut. “Lauren – call all the teams and tell them that they need to finish up their lists fast and head back to the house and get ready to lock down. Tell them that we’ve seen armor and artillery heading north, most likely, for Ripley, but maybe points west.” I nudged the speed up a couple of miles per hour. We did not need Multiple Launch Rocket Systems in our backyard. It was unthinkable that these would be deployed inside the US. It could only mean that the Army was seeing some sort of threat that only a long-range punch could take out.
* * *
We made good time down to the Twin Cities, and finished our list with only four stops. We called in after each stop, and after our third stop, Betsy told us that all the other teams were back at the house. She gave us one item that had stumped George and Danie, a spare backup electrical generator. We headed over to the closest Home Depot, did a quick search and found they were all out. Lauren spoke briefly with the store manager who told her that the store out in St. Michael, off Interstate 94 had just gotten a shipment in that morning. We headed out for the last item on our list.
* * *
Traffic on the Interstate was slow, and had been for the past 10 miles. I worked my way up through the heavy traffic, weaving in and out, passing cars and trucks when I could, but being careful not to draw too much attention to ourselves. I kept my speed to a maximum of about 5 miles per hour over the posted limits, but those times were few and far between. We’d finally reached Rogers when we saw what the problem was. A military convoy headed north.
“Lauren, grab a pen and paper and write down a count of vehicles, type and number. Be discrete.” She looked quizzically at me. “Don’t make it obvious that you are writing things down. We don’t want to draw the wrong attention.” She nodded and started making notes on the back of our shopping list. We passed vehicle after vehicle of the convoy. There seemed to be no end in sight. When we finally reached the exit for St. Michael, Lauren had a count of over 200 vehicles. Her eyes were wide with fear. “What does this mean, Jimmy?”
I shook my head. I had no idea. There wasn’t a word being spoken on the radio, and I’d been flipping through the channels, much to Lauren’s disgust. It was all the same – discussions about the assassinations, the usual rabid ravings of the far left and right wing talking heads, and nothing about what we’d seen with our own eyes.
As we pulled into the Home Depot parking lot, I turned to Lauren. “Why don’t you stay in the car, honey? Call in the information to Betsy, and ask Fred to check on Ripley. I want to know what’s going on over there. Ask him to review the video files from overnight. See if he can get a handle on any activity.” She nodded in acknowledgement, and I left the truck and headed in to the store.
They did have backup generators, including one 22 kW household unit. I looked at the unit, sighed, and turned to the salesman. “I’m also going to need a trailer to haul this home.”
“We can deliver it for you, if you want, sir,” he said.
“I’m sure you can, but I live way up north. I’m pretty sure you’d rather keep your trucks close by. As it is, I’m going to be pressed to be home before dark. Can we get this done in a hurry?” I frowned as I looked at my watch. We had about 2 hours of daylight left, and at least 90 minutes of driving time.
“Yes sir. We’ve changed our checkout policies to handle situations like this. Please follow me.” He turned and headed for a set of cubicles nearby.
As it turned out, we were out of there in good time, all told about 15 minutes after I’d looked at my watch. A crew of 3 husky kids had pulled a trailer out of the line up, rolled it up to the truck, hitched it, and hooked up the wires, all while another crew of kids hustled two small generators on flat carts, followed by a forklift with the big generator.
We pulled into the gas station in the shopping center across the street and I topped off the main and reserve tanks on the truck, while Lauren tried to find a least-time route back to the house. I could tell she was worried as I slid into the seat, closed the door and started the engine. “We’ve only got about an hour and a half of daylight left. I’m not sure we are going to get back in time.”
“Can we make St. Cloud?”
“Yes, that we can make, but there’s no way we will get as far as Little Falls before dusk.”
“OK, call in and report. Tell them we are staying overnight in St. Cloud, probably at the Holiday Inn. It’s got the best highway access, and we can get on the road first thing in the morning.”
I pulled out onto the highway and headed for St. Cloud. Traffic was still heavy, and when we reached Monticello, I took the exit and headed south. Lauren looked up in surprise. “What are you doing?”
“Heading for Buffalo. There’s no way we are going to make St. Cloud with all this traffic. We can spend the night in Buffalo. It’s off the beaten track and will get us off the road in plenty of time. We can stop at the Wal-Mart and pick up a tarp to cover the trailer.”