Ashes of the Unspeakable
An ELECTRIFYING story of survival . . .
In THE BORROWED WORLD, Franklin Horton showed us an America brought to its knees by a nationwide terror attack. The target? The American infrastructure.
Cell phone connections were sporadic. Electrical power was failing. Mortar attacks on major fuel refineries had created a gas shortage, stranding travelers throughout the country. One of those stranded travelers, Jim Powell, and his group of coworkers were frantically trying to make their way home using the gear on their backs and whatever other means they found at their disposal. It was a journey wracked with violent, deadly encounters and exhausting physical demands, pushing each of them to the brink of their abilities. Meanwhile, on the other side of Virginia, Jim's family was facing their own struggle as desperate neighbors began to turn against each other with increasing brutality.
In the second book in this series, ASHES OF THE UNSPEAKABLE, we find Jim and his group still struggling to reach home. While just a few days have passed since the initial attack, the group finds that their country is quickly descending into a vicious, chaotic landscape where nothing comes easy. While they fight to close the distance between them and their loved ones, they cannot avoid the steadily growing number of people who have realized that they can get away with whatever they want in a world where there are no longer any legal consequences for their actions.
At home, Jim's family is basically forced into lockdown after a local jail discharges its starving inmates, leading to the arrival of new, extremely violent presence in their valley. The stranger sets his sights on driving other families from their homes and taking what they own. As Jim races home, his wife Ellen struggles to keep her family safe, while each night a neighbor’s home is burned to the ground.
Release date: October 9, 2015
Publisher: Horsemen Of The Apocalypse LLC
Print pages: 308
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Ashes of the Unspeakable
It had only been a few days since a coordinated terror attack, believed to be the work of ISIS operatives, hit the United States. Except for a few isolated pockets, America no longer had electricity. What had once been a unified national electrical grid now lay in tatters. One and two-man terrorist teams, armed with explosives and mortars, had destroyed massive transformers at critical junctures in the grid. The fragile electrical infrastructure began crumbling like the dried husk of an insect. The attacks were simple but devastating. There were only two places in the world that made replacements for those critical transformers that had been destroyed. Both were an ocean away. With each transformer having to be built specifically for its location within the power grid, and with each taking up to a year to build, it was unknown how long it would take to restore power to everyone.
Communication networks had also been designated targets. GPS worked but cell phone reception was sporadic. Sometimes text messages would send, but it might be hours before they went through. They might not go through at all. As propane generators began to run out of fuel, the remaining functional cell towers would begin dropping like flies. All that would remain would be the human network of rumors and stories passed from person to person.
The attack also destroyed several weak, neglected dams. This took very little effort on the part of the attackers. Structures that were known risks, long overdue for repair or replacement, collapsed easily under mortar attacks. Billions of gallons of water were released onto millions of unsuspecting citizens. Many homes were washed away, collapsing as they were swept off their foundations. Other homes remained intact, their frightened inhabitants watching helplessly from windows as they were carried away on the dark waters. Nashville, Tennessee was only one of the major cities devastated by flooding from a breached dam. The death toll was unknown, with estimates only placed at massive.
The lack of fuel was the crippling blow. Nearly all of the major refineries had come under attack. One man with one mortar hit each of those refineries, and now most people in the United States did not have access to fuel for their vehicles or generators. Nor would those who relied on oil for heating their homes be able to get any for winter. Those who sat in flooded cities awaiting rescue would be waiting for a very long time. First responders quickly discovered there was not enough fuel remaining to do everything that needed to be done. There wasn’t even enough to save everyone that needed saving.
As the magnitude of the attacks became apparent, the government issued orders to restrict fuel sales to the public. First responders, police, and the military could obtain fuel for emergency vehicles but no one else had access. Gas stations along major highways had larger underground tanks that held more fuel, so law enforcement officers were dispatched to those points to guard the supply. Shootouts erupted in this process and lives were lost on both sides. Across the country, men in business suits were breaking into strangers’ storage buildings to siphon gas from lawnmowers, simply trying to get home from work. Ordinary folks were killed either trying to get fuel or to protect their own fuel against those wanting to take it.
Those unfortunate enough to be caught any distance from home were forced to abandon their vehicles. With no fuel and no prospects for getting more, their vehicles became useless to them. Rest areas and highway exits quickly became populated with stranded and confused travelers. With the growing crowds came crime, violence, and unrest. Nowhere on or around any highway was safe.
In an attempt to defuse this growing refugee problem, FEMA responded by creating camps along interstate highways. They ran buses along the interstate to pick up the desperate vacationers, the starving business travelers, the long haul truckers, and anyone else just plain unlucky enough to be caught out in this disaster. Law enforcement at all levels was working to clear crowded interstate exits and force people to use the FEMA camps. It was the only way they saw to restore order. The plan was that once people were at a camp, FEMA would work toward getting those folks back home. They acknowledged it could take months to get the logistics worked out. A person might be shuttled from camp to camp, slowly getting closer to home with each relocation. Eventually they would get there. Or so it was promised.
For some, this did not seem like much of a solution. The very idea of FEMA camps had a lot of negative implications attached to it. Folks were concerned that they would become like internment camps and that the residents would never be allowed to leave. Those travelers legally carrying concealed weapons were afraid they’d be forced to give them up if they went to the camps. They were right.
The scale of the disaster grew worse every day, contributing to the inability of FEMA and the government to get a handle on things. The government was crippled by the scale of the attacks. FEMA was pulled in so many directions that they were rendered ineffectual on all levels.
The lack of information was one of the most psychologically devastating aspects of the disaster. Americans had grown used to a constant intravenous feed of news and information. They watched disasters unfold like sporting events, glued to the televisions or the internet, absorbing every facet of the suffering of others. They watched wars, earthquakes, elections, and movie award shows with equal fascination and equal disinterest. They’d become dependent on it. Now, the total lack of information created an ominous cloud that hung over the nation and increased the generalized anxiety experienced by each and every person.
Everyone wanted to know what was happening.
Of course, had everyone known what was happening at a national level, they would have found no comfort. Despite what religious groups and the paranoid thought, it was not the end of the world. This was not the doomsday event of legend and lore. It was, however, an event that would change the face of the nation. For a long time, it would be the end of the world as they knew it. The government was still there, they just couldn’t speak directly to the people. They also couldn’t do a damn thing to help them.
Even if they had been able to speak to the citizenry, what would they say? Would they tell them that, without power, the nation faced a greater than ninety percent mortality rate over the next year? Would they warn folks in the northern cities that they would probably freeze to death over the coming winter, if starvation and disease didn’t get them first? Would they tell folks that there would probably be no more trucks of food showing up at grocery stores? Would they admit that law enforcement would have little impact on the coming waves of crime, violence, and social unrest?
Would they tell people that they would soon turn on each other?
Would they admit it had already started?
Lloyd’s Barber Shop
Jim Powell awoke, disoriented, and immediately felt for his pistol. When his hand didn’t fall on his holstered weapon, there was a moment of panic. He tried to sit up and locate it. His attempt to sit up was met with a pain and stiffness so intense that it took his breath and nearly made him cry out. He bit back an agonized groan. The pain brought clarity, though, and he realized where he was. He was in his friend Lloyd’s first-floor apartment in Crawfish, Virginia. He was in a sleeping bag in the floor, scattered among a half-dozen or so other sleeping bodies. They were all people he knew.
He was safe.
He had awoken on this particular floor more times than he cared to admit. Usually it was after a drunken night of live acoustic music, cheap cigars, and whatever booze was at hand. Though he didn’t have a hangover this time, he was experiencing a worse type of pain. The previous day gradually came back to him, and he recalled the details of his injury. He had been clotheslined from an ATV he was driving on the Blue Ridge Parkway. He’d nearly been decapitated by a trap sprung on him by the last survivor of a group of lowlifes he and his co-workers had encountered on the road. Had he not had his arm raised to point at a landmark, the barbed wire strand would have caught him by the neck and likely killed him. Instead, it only made him wish he was dead. His spine felt as if someone had attempted to twist him into a pretzel.
He carefully probed his head and could feel a pronounced knot on the back of it. He had a large scrape on his scalp that had scabbed over. It hurt to touch it, so the logical thing to do would have been to not touch it, but injuries were like magnets and Jim kept poking at it. The muscles of his arm, shoulder, and back were tight and very sore. He knew that beneath his shirt, his upper body probably looked like an old banana – all brown, yellow, and black. He preferred not to look.
The wire had dislocated his shoulder, forcing him to jerk it back into place by himself. He was hoping that was truly a once in a lifetime experience. It was that special. As much as he wanted to get home to his family, he was not sure if he’d be able to carry a pack that day. He would have to see how his body loosened up once he got moving.
He removed his phone from its case on his belt. He powered it up and waited for it to go through the boot process. He’d been charging it with a portable solar unit while he walked, but with no signal there at Lloyd’s so he’d turned it off to conserve power. He didn’t need to make a call right now, he needed a different kind of connection.
When the phone finished booting up, he selected the photo library and started thumbing through pictures. There was one of him in a tandem kayak with his son and daughter when they were little more than toddlers. There was another of his daughter clutching a long Northern Pike in her hands, a nervous smile on her face as she stared at its pointy teeth. There was one of his son looking sweaty and exhausted, resting on a stone bridge on the carriage roads of Acadia National Park after a long bike ride. There was another of him and his wife taken at a friend’s cookout several years ago. There were always fewer of the two of them together since they were usually the ones taking the pictures. They always meant to remedy that situation, but it never worked out.
The pictures made Jim well with emotion. He was sure this was made worse at the moment by his physical pain and sense of desperation. He needed to be at home looking out for his family. He worried constantly for their safety. He had to get home. Before he could do that, though, he first had to get up from the floor. He had to make himself get to his feet and restart his journey home.
He attempted to extricate himself from his sleeping bag. It took some work with the pain hitting on all cylinders. It was more than stiff muscles. His back felt as if nerves were being ground to pulp between his vertebrae. He would have cursed but the pain took his breath and left none to spare for profanity. Once free of the sleeping bag, he finally got to his feet. That took more awkward maneuvering and he hoped that no one was awake to see when a cramp struck his calf muscle. He carefully hobbled around, attempting to stretch the cramped muscle and make this new pain go away. It was the icing on the cake. In this morning of suffering, he felt as far from his family as he’d ever felt.
His backpack lay in the floor above his sleeping bag. Propped on top of it, he could see his Beretta 92 in its holster. He’d started this journey home with a smaller backpack full of what he called his Get Home Gear, however, he was now carrying a larger Gregory backpack. He’d found it on the Appalachian Trail, dropped by an escaping ATV rider after his coworker Randi killed the man’s partner. The men had attacked Jim’s camp in the middle of the night but they’d been ready for the attacks.
They suspected the pack had originally been stolen from an Appalachian Trail through-hiker. The pack and the gear inside was not of the type likely to belong to the low-life that dropped it in his escape. Jim had to assume that the hiker who had originally owned the pack was dead. He was fairly certain that the men responsible for that hiker’s death were dead now, too. They were likely among the numerous men he’d seen die these past few days. It had been that kind of trip.
There were only three in Jim’s group now – him and two co-workers. They had made their way this far after being trapped in Richmond, Virginia, in the aftermath of the sweeping ISIS terror attacks. Their party had been larger at the beginning of the crisis, and as the scale of the attacks became clear to them that morning in Richmond, they’d decided as a group to try to make a run for it. They thought they could make it home by car, but at a travel plaza not far outside of Richmond, the harsh reality of their situation came crashing down on them.
They’d turned off the interstate for fuel and a restroom break only to find a sign indicating that fuel sales were restricted to a few gallons per customer. In the moments between their arrival and their attempt to buy fuel, state troopers had arrived to halt all fuel sales and to guard the pumps. This news had been devastating to the large crowd that had gathered there waiting for their opportunity to refuel. An altercation between a disgruntled customer and a trooper quickly escalated and turned deadly. Gun shots rang out.
When waiting customers pulled their own concealed weapons to protect themselves, rounds flew in all directions. A stray round caught Lois, one of Jim’s coworkers, in the head, and she was dead before she hit the floor. Though he and Lois had not gotten along at all, he’d never wished death on her.
They were forced to abandon one of their cars there when it was blocked in. They’d also been forced to leave Lois’ body behind in their scramble to escape the scene without further casualties. When they attempted to exit the truck stop parking lot, they got into an altercation with another stranded traveler, intent on carjacking their vehicle. The man shattered their driver’s window and was drawing back to shatter Gary’s skull with the same tire iron, when Jim reacted. He climbed out of the car, leveled his .380 concealed carry pistol across the roof of the car, and dropped the man dead in the road.
It was the first man he’d ever killed. Between the brutality of watching Lois die and seeing Jim kill a man, most of his group was in a state of shock. They didn’t even realize he had a gun with him. It was, in fact, a violation of his company’s policy to have a gun in a company car, but that was a policy Jim had always ignored. What those coworkers didn’t know was that Jim’s gun was not the only gun in the car. His friend Gary was armed and Jim had a second, larger pistol in his Get Home Bag in the trunk.
A little further down the road, their fuel ran out, and they were forced to start hoofing it down the interstate, leaving their company car abandoned on the shoulder. Tension was already developing in the group at this point. In Jim’s mind, the situation taking place was crystal clear. He knew exactly what was happening. He’d read about this type of thing and suspected they were experiencing what was known as a collapsing systems failure. Others in the group had blinders on and assumed this was simply a really, really bad day at work and things would be fine tomorrow. Jim thought they were idiots and may have mentioned it once or twice. People skills were not his forte.
After several miles of walking, they’d reached a crowded interstate exit where they were able to get a meal and hole up in a dark, powerless hotel. The local cops maintained a roadblock to prevent mobs of travelers from entering their town. This had become the case along interstate highways throughout America; stranded travelers were creating trouble for roadside communities. The local sheriff had shown up that evening at Jim’s exit and made an announcement that FEMA was going to start running buses up and down the interstate the next morning. They would deliver people to recovery camps, then eventually on to their homes.
Two of the folks in Jim’s group – gullible people in his opinion – preferred to trust in FEMA to provide for their needs and get them home. Gary, Jim, and a coworker named Randi were less trusting about turning their fate over to anyone else, particularly the government. Early the next morning, the group of three set out on foot to avoid being caught in the FEMA roundup. Though it had not been an easy trip, they consoled themselves with the thought that they were getting closer to home every day. Yesterday, they reached Crawfish, Virginia. The town was home to Jim’s oldest friend, Lloyd. The group stopped there, hoping to rest and resupply before continuing on their journey.
Jim found his shoes, unfortunately relying more on his sense of smell than sight. Such was the consequence of walking too many miles with too few showers. Shoes in hand, he limped toward the kitchen, weaving his way through the sleeping bodies. Lloyd wasn’t married and it would have been apparent, even to a stranger, that this house did not have a woman’s touch. Lloyd’s building was nearly one hundred and fifty years old. His storefront apartment had, at various times, been a doctor’s office, a law office, and a movie theater. It was decorated with musical instruments, old bottles, and other antique junk. Lloyd lived in the past. Not even his own past, but more like his grandfather’s or great-grandfather’s past. Unlike Jim, Lloyd was not a child of the 1960s and 1970s but, by his own choosing, a child of the 1930s. It made him an interesting person to know.
In the kitchen, Jim found one of Lloyd’s musician friends making coffee in a stovetop percolator, an appliance Jim had not seen in action since his childhood. He realized Lloyd must still have propane in his tanks. The man making the coffee was thin, with black hair that stuck out in all directions. Jim wasn’t sure if it was from sleep or some funky hairstyle. He wore a green t-shirt that said Fear the Banjo.
“I’ve heard a lot about you, Jim” he said. “Lloyd is always talking about the adventures you guys had when you were kids.”
Jim reached out to shake the man’s hand. “Those adventures extended well past childhood. Trust me on that.”
“I’m Masa,” the man said. “Lloyd calls me Tojo.”
“He calls all Asian people by that name,” Jim said, shaking his head. “Aren’t you offended?”
Masa placed the lid on the percolator and slid it onto the burning stove eye. “Nah, it’s just how he is,” he replied. “He’s equally offensive to all races – especially his own.”
“So what are you doing here in the U.S.?” Jim asked. “I think I remember Lloyd saying you were from Tokyo.”
“I am. We were all headed to the Galax Old Fiddler’s Convention. I come every year,” Masa said. “A couple of years ago, Lloyd told me that he always had a group come to his house before the festival to play and get geared up. This is the first year I’ve been able to make it.”
“And what a year you picked.”
“No shit.” Masa sat down at the table.
Jim made his way across the room, shoes in hand, and stiffly sat down across from Masa. He struggled with his shoes in an unforgiving wooden ladder-back chair. Even Lloyd’s newest furniture appeared to be at least fifty years old.
“I got down here a week before the festival,” Masa said. “We played music here every night and drank lots of alcohol. Then we packed up, bought tons of food for camping at the festival, bought cases of beer and liquor, and we hit the road.”
“I take it you didn’t make it?”
“No,” Masa replied. “We got to the first gas station about twenty minutes up the road and stopped to fill up for the trip. We pulled in at the pump right when they were hanging signs out saying that there was no gas for sale.”
“I know the feeling,” Jim said. “That completely sucks.”
Masa shrugged, lit a cigarette, and inhaled deeply. “Yeah, but it would have sucked worse to have gotten all the way down there and been trapped at Galax. Trapped on a fenced-in fairground full of hillbillies, can you imagine? They’d be clubbing each other over the head with instruments and eating the dead.”
Jim shook his head at the image, suspecting it might be close to the truth.
“Since we didn’t get any farther than that, we turned around and came back here. We’ve been playing and drinking ever since. I think we already drank all our booze. Sometimes people wander in from the town with food or some of that moonshine. They like to listen to us play. It’s been fun, in a post-disaster kind of way.”
“It’s not been fun on our end,” Jim said. “Too much worry. Too much violence. I’ve got family at home that I’m trying to get to and it feels like it’s taking way too long to get there. You know, the worst part about this whole disaster is the lack of information. I grew up in the 1970s and we were blissfully ignorant then. There was thirty minutes of local news and thirty minutes of national news each night. If they didn’t talk about it then, you didn’t need to know about it.”
The percolator began boiling, a sound that roused a sense of nostalgia in Jim, reminding him of beehive hairdos and long cigarettes. “You guys hear any news here at all?” he asked.
Masa shook his head. “Nothing credible. Every person that comes by Lloyd’s Barber Shop has some story about who did this or what’s happening. Half of them say it’s your own government. None of it sounded very probable. I never knew this country had so many conspiracy nuts. We don’t have so many in Japan.”
“A true conspiracy nut would say that’s because your government killed or imprisoned them,” Jim said, only half joking.
Masa put out his cigarette and stood. “How about breakfast? We’ve still got coolers full of camping food that has to be eaten before the ice melts.”
The idea of fresh food sounded great to Jim. The mere thought of it made him instantly ravenous. “Let me get some of that coffee and I’ll help.”
An hour later, the entire house was up and everyone was gorging themselves on paper plates heaped with bacon, eggs, biscuits, sausage, and gravy. People were crammed onto 1940s sofas and odd wingback chairs with shiny, threadbare upholstery in the dark living room with its high ceiling. Jim took in the assortment of people, noting that there wasn’t a lot of difference in the appearance, or smell, between this group and the through-hikers they’d encountered on the trail. Knowing this group of musicians stank despite having lived in relative comfort for the last few days, Jim assumed that his own smell and appearance must be far worse than he imagined. Maybe he was getting immune to it.
“This is great,” Gary said. “I’m so sick of candy bars and trail food. Once I make it home, I hope to never eat another candy bar in my entire life.”
“That’s harsh, dude,” Masa said. “Snickers are the bomb.”
“Try living off them for a week and tell me that,” Gary said.
Over the meal, Gary, Randi, and Jim discussed their plans for the next stage of their journey. Jim’s body continued to send signals that all it wanted was to lie back down. He attempted to convince his body that this was not a possibility. He hoped that moving around would loosen him up enough that he could travel. Under different circumstances, he would concede defeat, take it easy for the day, and give his body a chance to heal. This was a different world, though, and time was a luxury he didn’t have. Depending on what his family was going through, a delay of a day, even an hour, could mean the difference between life and death.
There was no way he could relax when he didn’t know what was happening to his family. Days ago, when this journey started, he experienced a sense of exhilaration that he was taking his fate into his own hands by starting this journey back home. Others in their group had opted to wait for a FEMA bus and allow themselves to be taken to a camp along the interstate until they could be transported home. Jim, Randi, and Gary had not felt comfortable with that idea, instead choosing to walk.
As the days dragged on and he still wasn’t home, Jim began to experience both mental and physical symptoms that pressed him forward with ever increasing urgency. Mentally, his worry for his family consumed nearly every waking moment. Physically, that worry manifested itself as an anxiety that clutched his chest like a claw. Each passing day turned up the volume on his worry by one more notch.
He could whine and say that he didn’t know how much more he could take, but he’d learned a long time ago that the degree to which a human could experience suffering was nearly infinite. Ask any tortured prisoner. Ask any parent who lost a child. There is no merciful insanity that shields you and whisks you away to a better place. There is no respite. There is no rescue.
Gary was experiencing his own set of aches and pains as well. Yesterday, Jim and Randi thought they’d lost him when he took a handgun round to the chest. It turned out that he was wearing light body armor that had stopped the round. They didn’t even know he had the body armor. The impact left him with a nasty bruise to the chest and some sore ribs. Randi had a round graze her cheek, nearly taking off her head. The whole group felt beaten, abused, and debilitated.
“I’m with you, Jim,” Gary said. “I feel like shit, but feel like I need to be moving in the direction of home, even if I have to crawl.”
Randi agreed. “Let’s get back on the road and get another day closer. What’s the plan?”
They’d come this far utilizing a Get Home Plan that Jim had developed over several years, in preparation for a disaster hitting if he was away from home. He traveled to Richmond, Virginia, so frequently in the years after 9/11 that it was hard not to think about how he would get home if something happened. He liked to think that a little paranoia could save your life. His plan had been to use the Appalachian Trail to stay off the main roads and back home safely. By design, the trail avoided major metropolitan areas, which was exactly what Jim wanted. By the time his group left the trail for good, they would hopefully be within thirty miles or so of their homes.
Lloyd was eavesdropping on the conversation as he stuffed his face with breakfast. At this stage of his life, less interested in impressing people, he’d completely submerged himself into his character, adopting a Depression-era style of dress. He wore dark pants and a collarless white shirt with a felt hat and suspenders. Jim was used to a lifetime of Lloyd’s odd manner of dress and paid no attention to it anymore. People that didn’t know him would often pause for a second look, like he’d escaped in costume from a theatrical troupe.
“I might go with you,” Lloyd said. “I’ve got no family here and I’m worried about my parents.”
Lloyd’s parents still lived in the same town where Jim lived. They were both retired and probably needed help about now if they didn’t have any preparations made. If Jim had been home, he could have checked on them.
“You’re welcome to join us,” Jim said. “If you can keep up. The terrain is challenging, to say the least. You musicians live kind of a sedentary lifestyle and I know you’re not used to anything physically-demanding.”
“Shouldn’t be a problem,” Lloyd said. “I have good shoes and a strong woman to carry my stuff.” He nodded in Randi’s direction and winked at her.
She was not impressed. “One more crack like that and this strong woman will be carrying your stuff in a jar, if you know what I mean.” Randi scissored her fingers together in a snipping motion.
Lloyd winced and crossed his legs.
Two of Lloyd’s musical entourage stood and dumped their paper plates in a nearby garbage bag. One was Frank Hollister, whom Jim had met several times over the years, and the other was Steve Wright, whom Jim knew from previous visits. They were both from York in the U.K. and came over each summer to play the Old Time music festival circuit with Lloyd. They called their group Frank, Lloyd, Wright.
“We’re thinking we’d like another nip of that moonshine,” Frank said in his crisp English accent. As a frequent pub musician back home, he had a beer belly and a permanently red face. His beard was a thick red-gray mass that sprouted from his face in all directions. He was a fiddle-maker by trade and regarded by all as a damn fine musician.
Steve Wright nodded and grinned in agreement, obviously ready for a nip. While a drinking man like his buddy Frank, his appearance stood in stark contrast to the other man. Steve was rail thin with greasy black hair that was tied back into a long ponytail. He made his living as a busker, playing the sidewalks of York for tips. He was truly a man that lived for the day and the future could be damned. The current disaster meant nothing to him, really. As long as he had a fiddle and a drink he was content.
“Sorry, boys,” Lloyd said. “You drunken sons-of-bitches drank it all yesterday.”
The men were crushed, their wilting posture saying more than words ever could have.
“I might know where we can get more,” Lloyd offered.
Their spirits lifted instantly.
“Claude, the car dealer from up the road. You remember him?”
The two Englishmen nodded enthusiastically.
“He usually keeps some for guests. We can probably trade him out of some.”
“With what?” Frank asked. “What might he require in trade?”
Lloyd pointed to the old trunk that he used as a coffee table. It was a vintage steamer trunk from the 1800s. “Clear the junk off that trunk.”
Gary removed the ashtrays and empty bottles from the top of the trunk and carefully set them on the floor. When he was done, he flipped the latches and raised the lid of the trunk. A smile broke out on his face when he looked inside.
Jim stood up and walked over to see what Gary was smiling about. “Damn. Where did you get all these?”
The trunk was nearly full of handguns and ragged boxes of ammunition, some obviously vintage judging. Jim reached into the trunk and moved a few around. Some of the guns were wrapped in oily rags, some were zipped into proper pistol cases, and still others were loose and piled atop each other. As a gun lover, Jim was appalled at the carelessness of Lloyd’s weapon storage system.
“I’m a barber,” Lloyd explained. “Everyone knows the town barber. When someone needs cash, they come to their barber and ask if he wants to buy something they’re selling. Sometimes it’s a car or truck, a tractor, a musical instrument. Sometimes it’s car parts. Sometimes it’s guns. I’ve got a whole closet of rifles back there too.”
At that, Gary and Jim glanced at each other. They had complained to each other several times on this trip that they sure would appreciate having a long gun of some type. The limited accuracy of pistols at great distances had restricted their ability to take out a threat from a position of cover the previous day. They’d been forced to expose themselves to gunfire so they could get close enough to shoot back with any accuracy. With a good rifle and a well-placed shot, the issue could have been resolved with less risk to their group.
“So you’re kind of like a pawn shop?” Randi asked.
Lloyd shook his head. “Not exactly. I make them an offer and they can take it or leave it. I don’t want to hear what the item is worth or what they have in it. I don’t give a shit. I never pay much for anything, because I’m not as desperate as they are. If it’s a gun, they have to give me a box of shells with it. That’s my rule. Guns always sell better if they come with ammunition. And unlike a pawn shop, there’s no promise that you can buy it back from me when your circumstances are better. Once you sell the gun to me, it’s mine. I might sell it back to you, or I might not. I might sound like an asshole, but those are my rules.”
Lloyd stood up, threw his paper plate in the garbage, and walked to the trunk. He dug around, pulling out a Harrington and Richardson snub-nose .38 and a worn box of shells. He handed it to Frank.
“Offer him this for two gallons,” Lloyd said. “Don’t take less.”
Frank frowned. “I thought you said he only kept a little moonshine for guests. You think he really has two spare gallons lying about?”
“He does,” Lloyd assured him. “He has thirsty guests.”
Frank turned to Jim. “Would one of you gentlemen be so kind as to lend us the use of your quad bike? Frankly, I’m too fat and hungover to walk.”
“Do you know how to operate one?” Jim asked. He wasn’t familiar with the term quad bike, but was assuming Frank meant the ATVs they rode in on.
“Yes. I’ve worked on farms back in England quite frequently and our farmers find them just as useful as your farmers do.”
“Then certainly, Frank,” Jim said. “They’re parked around back.”
“Gentlemen,” Steve said, tipping his hat, “we shall return momentarily, hopefully with intoxicating spirits. Please tune your instruments.”
Lloyd was shaking his head as the men departed. “Crazy English bastards.”
“They’re funny bastards,” Jim said.
“They certainly are,” Lloyd agreed.
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