By Michael Morgan
Copyright 2016 All Rights Reserved
— 14 —
“What say there Texas?”
Marty spun around looking for the voice. He’d just been cursing himself for a fool for taking advice from the old man at the gas station. Just go down the road a mile, and turn on the dirt road to the end. Now he was who knows where standing in a grove of trees waiting on some stranger to show up, and he had no idea why or what for.
The old man stepped out from behind a tree, and walked over, “Hi, I’m Tom.”
Marty took the offered hand, “Marty. Am I glad to see you? I was beginning to think I was an idiot.”
“Not today.” Tom opened the thermos he was carrying, and offered the cup to Marty “Cold water?”
“That would be great.” Tom poured and Marty drained the cup before handing it back.
Tom refilled it, “I’m sorry about sending you off the beaten path, but I wanted Camille at the gas station to think you’d gone toward Montgomery.”
“Why does that matter?” Marty handed the cup back and waved off the refill, so Tom poured for himself and drank.
“What did she tell you when you talked to her?” Tom capped the thermos, and stood it on the truck’s hood.
Marty looked disgusted, “The bitch wouldn’t sell me no gas. Said it was for official use only. I offered her ten dollars a gallon, and I begged her, but nuthin’ doin’.”
“Don’t be too hard on Camille,” Tom turned to lean his backside against the fender. “Apparently she’s getting orders from the Feds care o’ our local Sheriff. She just told me the same thing, and that I had to get a Sam’s card in order to buy groceries from now on.”
“That’s weird,” Marty too leaned against the truck. “She didn’t say anything about a Sam’s card to me.”
“Because you’re not a local.” Tom craned his neck to look back along the dirt road for a moment at the sound of a car on the highway, “Way I understand it, you have to be a local to get the goodies, and anyone who’s not local is a refugee. Refugees get arrested and turned over to FEMA.”
Marty nodded in understanding, “Which is why we’re standin’ in this nice shady spot talkin’.” At Tom’s nod he continued, “So you have some gas, and want to make some money.”
“I heard money’s no good anymore,” Tom stirred the dirt with the toe of his boot. “Can’t buy a thing with it. Nor credit cards.”
Marty looked crestfallen, “So what do we do?”
“In times like this we fall back on ancient traditions,” Tom smiled. “And we do a little horse trading.”
“OK,” Marty brightened. “You know what I need. What do you need?”
Tom turned serious, “Information to start with. Not bullshit. Hard facts.”
Marty nodded acceptance.
“Once I have the information, I may ask you to help me out with a chore.” Tom paused, “Still interested?”
“I can’t say until I hear about this chore of yours,” Marty pushed back his ball cap. “I can’t get mixed up in anything illegal.”
Tom nodded, “Fair enough. The information is worth five gallons of gas to me. Can we start there?”
“Ask away,” Marty offered. “I can’t go nowhere without at least that much.”
Tom thought for a moment, “Where are you coming from?”
“They got electricity?
“Naw. The city is dark. Just the Army base has juice.”
“Why are you running?”
“Running? What makes you think I’m running?”
“Nothing in your truck bed but air, and no bags in the cab. You travel awful light for a man who ain’t running”
“I’m going to my folks in Virginia. Dad was a Marine Sergeant Major stationed at Quantico before he retired. Mom liked the area so they stayed.”
“So what made you leave Texas?”
“Shit is breakin’ loose all over down there since the lights went out. Gangs shootin’ everything up. People lootin’. It’s bad.”
“Isn’t the Army doing anything?”
“One o’ my buddies who’s in the Army called me the day after the lights went out. He said the base was on lockdown, and orders had come down to move everything that wasn’t nailed down. He offered to fill my truck if I hurried. I drove over near the base, but I couldn’t find him. When I tried to go home to pack, things were already starting to come apart, so I just drove out with what I had in my pockets.”
“So how did you end up way out here?”
“The radio was still workin’, and Dallas sounded as bad as what I left, so I headed to Tyler to pick up 20 to Shreveport where I ran out of gas the first time. I worked for a fella for a few days in exchange for some gas, and I got back on the road. Every time I tried to turn north off I-20, it was blocked off, so I kept going east. I ran out of gas the second time near Jackson, and that ol’ boy like to worked me to death for a week fifteen gallons. Now I’m here.” Marty picked up the thermos and eyebrowed for permission. At Tom’s nod, he uncapped and poured.
Tom waited until Marty had finished drinking, “How many places did you pass that had power?”
“Not many. It was hard to tell because I drove mostly durin’ the day. When I was stopped, only folks with generators had power.”
“Did you see any transformer stations?”
“You mean the burned out ones?”
Tom nodded, “You passed ours over by the gas station.”
“Almost every town had some kind of big fires. I could see the smoke from the highway. Some of the stations along the road were burned.” Marty offered the cup to Tom who declined, so he poured the last and sipped it, “That mean something special?”
Tom scratched his nose, “I’m not sure yet. Did the radio say anything about Washington?”
“Just the national emergency declaration and the usual about how FEMA will be chargin’ over the hill any day now. Lost the radio crossin’ into Mississippi, so I don’t know much after that.”
“You said the riots started the day after the lights went out.”
“Yeah, that’s about right.”
“Riots all over, or just in spots?”