They reached the burned out husk of a tractor trailer which blocked the road, cutting off the nearby community. Not having seen many people, and not wanting to invest a lot of time getting into a town they didn’t know anyone in, they made a U-turn and headed back to the highway again.
The rest of the trip was similar. Some areas were relatively intact, while others had the nearby trees flattened and the roadway heavily torn up. Alice pointed out pieces of cars in the trees a good 30 feet from the roadway, apparently thrown there by the force of the impact that destroyed them. They each remained quiet as they tried to fathom the extent of the damage this solitary storm had done to the country. Multiplying the damage they saw times the amount of communities scattered across its path provided frightening numbers.
Although no one said anything about it, David felt himself growing increasingly frustrated and angry at the world in general. He wanted to help someone, but so far all they’d seen was damage, no one actually requiring help. What’s more, he was more concerned with getting Alice and Ellen somewhere they were better protected.
They turned off the highway at the town of Wayne’s Quarters. It was the nearest large town to David’s house, although it was another 27 miles away. This town, like the other, had extensive damage, but since they arrived later the residents had had more time to recover and there were more people out surveying the damage. Although this was the town that David did his shopping in, he had no plans to pick anything up tonight, having done all his shopping before he went to pick his daughter up.
Building after building was extensively damaged, but most were still standing, and while they’d take a lot to make them habitable again they were still structurally sound. While some of the buildings had people working on them the majority of them stood silent, though they didn’t know if it was because the inhabitants were asleep, hurt or missing.
As they traveled slowly through the town, hoping to avoid hitting something, they saw some people running into a nearby drug store. It was a large chain store, but it was one that David was familiar with. A huge section had been ripped out of one wall leaving the building exposed, and a bunch of scruffy looking young men could be seen entering the damaged building. David knew exactly what that meant.
He knew it would be safer avoiding it, but he just couldn’t. He couldn’t leave this to the police, because it would be a long time before they got around to checking up on the various empty businesses. He quietly pulled into the parking lot, parking a short distance from the car they’d seen the young men running from.
“Stay here,” David told the girls. He got out and went to the back of the car and opened the back gate. Removing something, he returned to where the girls were.
“Take this,” he told Alice, handing her a sharp awl, he knew she’d seen one before. “I’m going inside. Don’t follow me, and try not to attract attention. I want you to use this to prevent them from leaving before I’m finished.” He looked at his daughter to make sure she knew what he was telling her to do. She swallowed and nodded so he went on.
“When you’ve flattened the tires, get back in the car, lock the doors and keep your head down. Again, don’t leave the car no matter what you hear. If anyone comes after you, sound the horn.” He glanced at both Alice and Ellen, and when they nodded he headed towards the building as if he was going for a pack of gum.
But David reconsidered, coming back to his vehicle, opening the back and grabbing a two-by-four. Since he frequently worked on his house, his SUV was frequently loaded with various building supplies. He checked once again that the girls were OK, and then headed off; watching for any lookouts the kids may have left. He didn’t see any, apparently the perpetrators were either stupid or sure no one would ever interfere with them. But then, David had never had any illusions about the intelligence of criminals.
He stopped by the crumbling remains of the southern wall, first listening to see if anyone was there. He considered what he was doing. He knew it was clearly stupid, and that the police and the courts wouldn’t look favorably on vigilantism. If caught he’d likely spend time in prison for it, but he couldn’t see ignoring such clear lawlessness. The police couldn’t be counted on in the near future, so if someone didn’t step up anarchy was likely to result. But more than that, he realized he was feeling frustrated by what had been happening and he felt a need to act out on it. As much as anything else, he was going after these men simply as an act of rebellion against nature. It was just these jerks bad fortune that they happened to have stumbled across his path. Besides, the owner of the drug store was a friend of his.
Standing by the gash in the wall he heard someone approaching, so he stood back and waited. Just as the nameless figure crossed the threshold David swung his two-by-four and struck the young man in the face, sending him sprawling back into the store, scattering a large bag full of pill bottles he’d been carrying.
David hoped he hadn’t alerted the other thieves. However he was pretty sure they were still busy looting the business, sending one at a time to ferry the drugs they stole out to their waiting car. The others would likely be trying to find the locked Class A prescriptions. David surmised the young men inside were likely drug addicts looking for a quick high, who saw the devastation everyone had encountered as their chance to get high quality drugs without having to work for it.
Walking inside, David glanced around before focusing on the man he’d struck. The side wall of the store had collapsed. The gap was in the newsstand/toys/bottled water section. Thus there was scattered paper, pools of water, and toys strewn all around, making walking treacherous. However the sounds of the rustling paper and the wind blowing into the store masked much of the noise he was likely to make.
Seeing no one else around, he approached the stunned figure. He was scruffily dressed, bedraggled and pretty ratty looking, but the biggest thing about him at the moment was his broken nose, damaged eye socket and the blood splattered over his face.
The guy appeared to be unconscious. Although David had hit him hard, he wasn’t sure it was hard enough to knock him out, so he didn’t know if the guy had a glass jaw or if he had possibly struck his head on the hard tile floor. He hadn’t wanted to kill the guy, after all, addicts managed to recover all the time. But what he did want was to prevent the creep from taking advantage of others. Stepping up, David slammed the two-by-four down across the man’s chest. He knew if he left the man lying there he could wake up at any time, and that would leave someone to attack him from behind, which he didn’t need right now. However he knew he hit him hard enough to at least break several ribs, making moving around quite painful. This guy wouldn’t be likely to be looking for any trouble for a little while. Seeing the guy hadn’t moved after he struck him he looked up, moving farther in the dark business.
He knew where the criminals would be, they’d be searching behind the closed off druggist area. It looked like the guy that David had struck had been carrying the easy to grab cold medicines, those used for making crystal meth. That meant that these guys hadn’t been here long, thus the ones left wouldn’t be as likely to be coming out quite yet. It also meant these guys, being either associated with or ‘meth-heads’ themselves, would likely be more desperate and less concerned about repercussions than typical criminals.
It was slow going trying to find his way in the dark expanse, but he was guided by the noise of several men rummaging through the back of the store. There were occasional flashes of light, so David supposed they’d grabbed flashlights to help them in their search for drugs. This helped David, since he could easily spot them, and if he could disable the light their night vision wouldn’t be as good as his was.
David had no combat experience whatsoever, had never gotten into fights as a kid, and was really ill prepared for this type of encounter. He knew his opponents would be much more adept at confrontations than he was. After all, David’s history was with intellectual pursuits. However, all the construction he’d been doing the last couple of years had helped his physique, and he decided his best bet was to overcompensate.
He knew the biggest downfall of most amateurs was in pulling their punches. However he had so much built up frustration over not being able to control what had been happening to him, his daughter and Ellen last night, that he didn’t think that would be a problem. He also planned to hit anyone he came across that much harder, just to make sure they didn’t get up again. He figured he might be able to get away with a slight miscue, but any serious mistakes would likely cost him his life here.
The door to the pharmacy was standing open, and the flashlight inside was moving around so rapidly it was easy to see what was going on inside. David reached over and grabbed some items off a nearby counter. He had no idea what he’d picked up, but that wasn’t important at the moment. He wasn’t much interested in making any purchases. Stepping cautiously inside the door he saw three scruffy looking men. Two of which were older, easily in their 40s, the other was a young kid like the first one was. Luckily they were so distracted looking for the ‘good drugs’ that they weren’t paying attention to much else. The biggest guy had a crow bar they’d found somewhere that he was trying to use to pry open a safe. David just shook his head, criminals just don’t come very smart, he reminded himself.
Walking up quickly but quietly, he tossed whatever he’d picked up into the far corner, and before it hit the ground he started his swing. The sound of the small packages hitting the floor caused the three men to stop what they were doing and turn toward the sound. The biggest guy, the one with the crowbar, looked up, but left the crowbar lodged in the crease in the safe. David’s two-by-four hit him with a solid crack in the back of the head. He was aware that such a blow might very well be fatal, but he was also aware not taking the man out would surely be fatal for him. The man collapsed to the floor instantly, not making a sound aside from the large crack the two-by-four made when it struck his head.
The other two jerked back at the noise, turning to observe their friend, as the crowbar he’d been using clattered noisily to the floor. However David was already spinning around, turning almost 280°. Just as the two noticed him standing behind their fallen comrade and they started to turn on him, he finished his swing, connecting solidly with his two-by-four against the side of the farthest of the two men. There was another loud crack as the two-by-four split in two, and the man stumbled back making a sickening wheezing sound.
However the last man was now aware of what was happening, and he’d be much more dangerous, especially now that David was essentially unarmed. The last figure, another older man, lunged at him, grabbing his arm just as David was spinning again, trying to build momentum to spin out of the man’s reach. David did, in fact, spin away from him as intended, but the man held onto his arm, causing him to over spin and collapse onto one knee. The man slugged David in the side of the face, knocking him to the ground as the pain of the blow flashed across his eyes. Although the man was scrawny and undernourished, he was still pretty big and evidently plenty strong.
As David hit the ground he heard the other man gasping loudly, he couldn’t see him at the moment as he was facing the wrong direction staring at the floor, but it sounded like he was suffering from a collapsed lung. David, knowing he had to move quickly, tried to push himself up and used the motion to shove himself over into a roll. Just as his head cleared the floor he saw the kick aimed at his side. Luckily the blow got him after he was already moving. It hurt like hell, but the blow augmented the action he’d already begun, rolling him over and away from the man.
David realized he hadn’t thought this out very carefully, since he didn’t have any backup plans. He hadn’t thought to carry another weapon, or even anything to distract his opponents with.
His roll carried him a short distance away, and when he hit the nearby metal cabinet he grabbed the edge and spun around it, using his own momentum to keep him moving farther away. However the motion and the punch to his face left him feeling dizzy, so he wasn’t sure if he’d be able to stand. Instead he rolled/crawled towards the door to the pharmacy, hoping to get out of the close confining environment. But as he was almost to the door he felt another kick to his side, knocking him sideways, causing him to hit the door at an odd angle. His momentum again caused him to spin around and through the door, but it also caused him to spin wildly once through the door, so he tumbled to the floor again, sliding along the cold tile floor.
“Bloody Fucker,” the man shouter, “I don’t know who the hell you are, but that was the biggest mistake of your life. I’m going to kill you and leave your bloody corpse for your kids to find.”
David didn’t bother listening to the man, knowing it wouldn’t help him. He was trying frantically to think of something he could try, something he could grab to help him, but nothing came to mind. Probably because his mind wasn’t working very clearly yet, and he was still moving too fast in the darkened room to see much of anything. He heard his opponent bellow behind him, accompanied by the gasping wet breath of his companion. It sounded like the man David had broken his two-by-four against was spitting up blood, which would mean that man, at least, wouldn’t be as much of a threat.
David knew his primary opponent had followed him out, so he rolled over, turning to watch for a coming attack. However David’s previous planning had come into play. The kid with the busted lung had been holding the flashlight, and while the pharmacy was still lit, his opponent was now trying to see him in the dimly lit aisles, which his flashlight adjusted eyes weren’t able to work well in.
The delay allowed David to once again spring up and roll to the side. The man following him detected the motion, but couldn’t make out what he was doing. He cautiously followed, allowing David to gain some ground as well as giving him time to clear his head and think clearly again.
Reaching the end of the display David felt around, searching for some tool to use to help defend himself. He found something and tried to ready himself. He crouched against the display aisle, which in the dark managed to hide him fairly effectively. The other man cautiously approached, feet spread wide so he’d be able to react to any attack he’d encounter. As the man neared, David threw a small bottle of something at his face. The man’s first instinct was to protect his face, so he raised his arms to block whatever David had thrown. However the motions were too late as the small plastic bottle smacked him in the face. The little plastic container was hardly heavy enough to do any damage, but the surprise caused the man to step a half-step back, which was all the assistance that David needed.
David once again swung with all his might, this time hitting the man in the shin with the umbrella he’d picked up, causing him to spin slightly. The combination of the spin and his off balance position caused him to slowly fall to the side.
David took the opportunity to jump to his feet again. The other man landed on one knee, stopping his fall, but he was facing away from David and hadn’t had the opportunity to prepare himself. Getting to his feet, David used the umbrella to knock some packages to the floor, causing the man to flinch away from him, which David followed up by lunging at him, driving the point of the umbrella into his kidney.
The man cried out, but the impact broke the fragile umbrella, which was already weakened from David’s previous attack, causing it to bend in the middle. Tossing it over the aisle divider, David took a step forward and kicked hard, connecting with the man on the floor’s jaw, jerking his head back and causing him to rise into the air, landing with a resounding thud on the tile floor. He didn’t seem to be moving after that, but David was aware he still had another man left, and the others might possibly have recovered by now, so he had to get things under control quickly.
David looked around, once again looking for something he could make a plan with. He then rushed back to the pharmacy, still trying to move quietly. However, as he entered the pharmacy, he saw he needn’t have been so careful. The other man lay against the wall, holding the pry bar while panting in a wheezing labored breath. David simply faced him for a moment as they both tried to take the other’s measure.
“OK, you rest here. I’m going to take care of your friends, just so they don’t surprise me. When I get back I’ll take care of your lung. In the meantime you can decide if you want to fight me, or whether you’d like to live. It’s up to you, since I don’t particularly care one way or the other.” With that David turned and left the guy alone with his crowbar, placing the alarm clock and the jar of ointment he’d picked up to disable the guy with on a nearby counter. He didn’t think he’d need them now.
He grabbed the guy he’d knocked unconscious outside of the pharmacy by the feet and dragged him towards the hole in the wall they’d entered through. He was more likely to wake up than the one he hit in the back of the head with the two-by-four. When he got him by the younger man, still lying quietly bleeding in a pool of water, he dumped him beside his pal and calmly walked out to his SUV.
When he opened the back of the truck both Alice and Ellen jumped. Despite their being wary, neither one had noticed him approaching the vehicle.
“Damn, Daddy, don’t do that!”
“Watch the language, young lady,” David warned her, although he wasn’t as concerned with her language as he was in other things at the moment.
“Sorry, but you scared us half to death. You’re always doing that. You move so damn quietly,” Alice complained. Her father just glared at her and she stared back, not worried about using the wrong language given the circumstances. David eventually gave up and looked away.
“What happened?” Ellen asked, more worried about what dangers David may have been facing than in blaming him for surprising them.
“Nothing much. Stopped a couple of looters. Stay here, same rules. I’ll be back in a bit. Oh,” he said after a moment’s thought, “if you hear anything unusual, don’t look back. You won’t like it much.” With that he shut the back of the vehicle.
Of course, as soon as he said that they both turned around and watched him walk away.
David knew stopping a couple of punks rummaging through an accessible and unprotected drug store wouldn’t stop the next drug addicts who happened to wander past. No, he’d need something to dissuade others from trying the same thing. But he thought he might have just the thing. He briefly glanced at the two unconscious men, deciding they’d be likely to remain that way for a few moments, but he tied the one man’s hands with some scarves he found for sale nearby. Then he returned to the pharmacy.
When he entered the closed in room the wheezing addict glanced at him warily, but he’d lain the pry bar aside. The man was badly dressed, somewhat dirty with greasy hair, with a wispy beard and a sunken gaunt look to him. David didn’t think he had many alternative career options open to him.
“Are you… are you gonna help me now?” he asked.
“Not yet. I’ve got to take care of your friend first,” David advised him. “You realize there isn’t much I can do, though, don’t you?”
“I was wondering what you were going to… try,” the man admitted, sweating heavily. However David saw he still had good color, so he didn’t think the collapsed lung was affecting his blood pressure yet. The big danger was if the lung caused the blood pressure to lower, triggering heart damage. If that didn’t occur, then the next worry was permanent damage to the lung. But without an ambulance or any police service David didn’t know how likely they were to get any help. He knew he wasn’t about to drive for another couple of hours in dangerous conditions to walk into a strange hospital carrying someone he’d waylaid and intentionally injured. He’d help as much as he could, but he wasn’t planning on putting himself in danger trying to help him either. He figured the creep brought the trouble on himself.
“I’m going to try to inflate the lung. It’s likely to only be marginally successful. Basically I’m going to try to get the lung to inflate on its own. But you need to rest, you’ll need to save your strength.”
“Wait a… minute,” the kid gasped. “First you attack us, then you try to save… me. Now you’re dragging the other guys away. What’s… what’s up?”
“There aren’t any police, stupid. As you’ve guessed, there’s no law enforcement or ambulance service at the moment. In cases like this individuals have to step into the breach to help the community. I stopped you from stealing supplies needed by the community, so there’s no need to kill you. But if you try something like this again, I’ll do just that. You understand?”
The guy nodded quickly, despite the effect it had on his breathing.
“I’m sorry, man. I just thought—”
“No, you weren’t thinking. You saw an easy opportunity, and like the lazy jackass you are you figured you’d take it, despite the fact others are injured and hurting nearby. Now leave me alone, I’ve got another asshole to take care of,” David replied as he dragged the other unconscious older man out of the room by his feet, heedless of how his head occasionally banged into the nearby cabinets.
When he got him by the other bodies, he quickly checked all three. The one kid, the first one he’d attacked, seemed to be coming around. He grabbed his face, opened his eye to see just how awake he was. Seeing he was coming to, he addressed him briefly.
“Sorry about this, but believe me, you’ll appreciate being out for this,” he told him. Then he hit him full in the face again, knocking him out once again. Once he was sure he was out he grabbed the most dangerous of the men first, the one who’d come after him. He dragged him outside, and with great difficulty stood him up against the intact wall beside the large gap in the stores wall and stretched his arm over his head. At that point he pulled the nail gun he’d grabbed from his car. It was handy working on his home so much, as he had plenty of tools available for all kinds of situations. Holding the man up with his own body and holding his hand steady, David proceeded to nail the man’s hand to the wall, making sure he didn’t puncture anything vital. When he saw the hand was attached to the side of the building successfully, he did the same thing to the other hand. The guy was unconscious for the first one, but began to wake up and moan while he was positioning his other hand. When he shot the second nail through his hand the man came fully awake, screaming piteously. David ignored him, making sure he was secure, then stepped back to make sure he wouldn’t pull free from the building.
“Consider yourself lucky, punk. I could just have easily have put the nail in your forehead. Remember that the next time you think there are no cops around.” David started to turn around but, as if remembering something, he turned back. “By the way, if you see any of your friends with similar ideas, tell them it’s not such a good idea.” He had no idea if the man understood anything that he said through his pain or not, but frankly he didn’t really care. He was pissed at the world, and these men had been stupid enough to threaten his friends and the community when he was angry at the universe.
David pulled the other two men, one by one, and did the same to each of them. Luckily the first one remained unconscious until he was done, while the other remained out of it, requiring David to first slap him, then to throw some water on him to revive him. The first man stared at him unbelievingly throughout the entire procedure. When he started to beg David to let him go David simply stared at him and lifted the nail gun suggestively. He stopped begging at that point.
Satisfied with his work, David set the nail gun aside, dusted himself off, and headed back inside.
He found the other criminal where he’d left him, still struggling for breath. He searched through the store using the man’s flashlight. No, scratch that, he was sure he’d stolen that as well. These guys weren’t smart enough to prepare for anything.
He finally found the vials of portable oxygen the pharmacist kept for those needing help breathing. He got it hooked up and set the oxygen flow to maximum, however these devices weren’t meant to apply oxygen under pressure, only to supply a small additional flow of oxygen. It was assumed that anything more would require a trip to the hospital, they hadn’t exactly been counting on a situation like this one.
Figuring it wouldn’t hurt, David hooked up two, hoping the additional one would provide some additional pressure, but not really expecting it to.
“This is about the best I can do,” David advised the wounded thug. “If it doesn’t work you’re out of luck, since the police aren’t coming by any time soon, and I’m not going to risk a trip to the nearest hospital on bad roads under the current circumstances. Are you ready?” he asked, not bothering to explain what he was going to do. The guy nodded wordlessly, still laboring for breath.
David had hastily rigged a mouthpiece onto the two separate oxygen tanks, and placed it over the man’s face. “When I say the word, take the biggest breath you can. It’s going to hurt like hell, but breathe like your life depends on it, because if they don’t reinflate there’s a fair chance you’ll be dead by the time the cops find you.” The man looked frightened but nodded his understanding. With that David turned both tanks onto their maximum flow and signaled the guy to start breathing. The man struggled hard, trying to breathe as deeply as he could. David couldn’t see much result, but he kept the mouthpiece in place and talked the guy into continuing, suggesting different breathing techniques. Then he noticed the man’s chest lift a bit. Encouraged, he told the guy to work harder, and slowly he got his breathing a little more under control.
“You just survived on a miracle’s chance,” David warned him. “Take this as a sign. You can either take this as a last opportunity and turn your life around, or next time the next guy won’t be so understanding.”
The guy tried to respond, but he was still having trouble breathing so David didn’t wait for a reply. Instead he lifted him up and carried him out of the building, not bothering to mention they were passing his friends. David carried him around to the far side of the building and set him in front of the store, advising him to watch for the police and to flag them down as soon as he saw them. “You’re not out of the woods yet, and your continuing to breathe is more important than avoiding jail,” David told him before he left him sitting there.
When he got back to the car the two girls were waiting for him. He put his nail gun back into the back of the car and then got into the driver’s seat like nothing unusual had happened.
“Uh, Dad, you’ve got blood all over yourself,” his daughter told him.
“Yeah, that one guy was a bit of a bleeder,” he told her nonchalantly. “Look, don’t EVER try to do that yourself,” he told Alice as he stripped off his shirt and dropped it under his seat. “This was an unusual experience and I thought it was necessary, but I’ll probably pay for it, and I came close to paying for it a couple of times already. Violence is never the best option, and it’s only allowable when you can think of no other options,” he advised her as he drove off, leaving the one man out front with his friends still hanging by their hands from the side of the building. “And, if you do decide it’s necessary, always be prepared to pay for it when you’re caught.”
Neither girl was willing to say anything in response to that, Ellen wondering who this man was, and Alice wondering what happened to her kindly loving father. Once they’d been driving for a while Ellen asked for a few details, though.
“I left the owner a note,” he told them.
“Was that wise?” Ellen asked.
“No, but I thought it was necessary,” he said. “I wrote a short note that said ‘Sorry for the mess, but you had a rodent problem that needed addressing. Remember to take some pictures so others will remember to not try the same thing.’”
“Again, I’m going to have to ask why?” Ellen asked.
David laughed briefly. “I slid some money into the scanner used to print photos. Hopefully he’ll figure it out before the cops see the note. I know it won’t help him much, but I don’t want to be guilty of stealing just like those others guys were. I’m willing to pay for what I did, but I’m not anxious to volunteer for said punishment, and I’m not willing to pay for something I can avoid, like stealing from a friend.”
“We’ll see how much of a friend he is when the police get there,” Ellen responded.
“Yeah, we will. We certainly will,” David answered with feeling.
The rest of the way to the house wasn’t quite so eventful, simply because there weren’t as many buildings around. David stopped a couple of times when it looked like someone might need help. Once there were no survivors, another time everyone but two were OK, and the last one they helped the people set things straight, or at least straight enough for them to survive the night.
So it was fairly late when the trio finally arrived at David’s mountain hideaway. Alice got out and opened the gate, David explaining that he didn’t like unexpected people showing up, since hunters like to help themselves to your land if you gave them a chance, and he was afraid of one of them accidentally shooting Alice while she was running around the property.
There were several split and partially downed trees, but his property remained largely unscathed, despite the craters everywhere. Ellen was amazed at the house’s remoteness, observing only a quiet little cabin at the foot of a cliff raised a good twenty feet off the floor of the valley, which sloped away from the cottage. She couldn’t see any other houses nearby, and his private driveway was so long it assured he had no neighbors around him.
David stopped the car and Alice went right to work, grabbing her things and taking them into the house. Ellen, unsure what to do, followed her, but turned when she noted David wasn’t accompanying them.
“Aren’t you coming?” she asked, as she watched him stripping his jeans and cleaning out the front of the SUV.
“Nope, I’ve got to burn my clothes first,” he calmly told her. “I may be willing to pay for what I chose to do, but nothing says that I have to be stupid enough to volunteer evidence to anyone asking. I’m an unlikely repeat offender, so I’m willing to extend myself the benefit of the doubt.”
“Do you need any help?” Ellen asked, as Alice stopped by the door seeing what she was going to do.
“No, you go ahead and sack out. Alice will show you our spare bed. I’ve got several things to do before I’m set for the night.”
“Like what?” she asked, curious. “Maybe I can help?”
He looked at her and smiled crookedly. “Well, that depends. How good are you at climbing mountains or high ladders.”
“If I may say so, I’d say I’m fairly good at both,” she told him with her own smile, proud of her ability to handle herself outdoors.
“Well then, get your stuff stowed and you and Alice can join me,” he told her.
“You want her climbing the mountain in the middle of the night?” she asked.
“Like I could stop her,” he replied.
“Yeah, I always help him,” Alice assured her. “I’m his assistant.”
“Well then, you have yourself two assistants for the night,” Ellen told him. “But could we discuss the sleeping arrangements? I’m thinking I’d rather not sleep alone tonight.”
“That’s OK, Ellen,” Alice assured her with a laugh, “you can sleep with me tonight.”
Both David and Ellen laughed at that, knowing Alice was teasing them. She may be young, but she knew enough to know what they were talking about.
“No, you’re perfectly welcome to sleep with either of us,” David told Ellen. “I just didn’t want to make any assumptions. It’s always better to be cautious and be pleasantly surprised, than be presumptuous and be disappointed.”
“You’re a wise man. We’ll be out shortly. Need any lighter fluid?”
“Nope. I’ve got some in the shed,” he responded.
“Wow,” Ellen said, looking up at the large tower stretching into the heavens before her and the thin metal ladder attached to it, “when you said you were going to climb a ladder, I thought you meant one of those folding things.”
“Nope, this is Dad’s wind turbine,” Alice said proudly, since she was familiar with it and had helped with it multiple times in the past. “It provides enough electricity to power the whole house. We even have a large battery that stores power for when there isn’t any wind.”
“So what do you need to do, again?” Ellen asked. Although she’d told them she was fine with ‘climbing mountains and ladders’, she’d found it had been a while since she’d been asked to do either, and for as much difficulty as she had following little Alice up here, she didn’t want to think about climbing that turbine.
“The turbine’s stopped,” David explained. “It’s designed to lock down if anything goes wrong. I suspect it was damaged by a meteor but it looks intact, but I’ll only be sure once I go up and check it out. From the looks of it it seems that one of the blades snapped off.”
“Duh!” Alice replied with mock distain. “There are pieces of it lying down there,” she said, pointing over the cliff at a spot hundreds of feet below them. As much as Ellen liked hiking the Appalachian Trail, she had no desire to go staring off of cliffs in the middle of the night following a meteor shower that may have knocked something loose.
“That’s true, Alice,” David replied, “but you know as well as I do that the impact could have wrenched something loose when it happened. But, in either case, I’m going to rig a pulley when I get up there so you can send me the new blade.”
“Uh, excuse me for being dense,” Ellen asked, “but what’s with the bloody nail gun? Were you planning on nailing someone to it, or did you think you could nail whatever was wrong with it?”
“Oh, sorry. If I was thinking I’d have hidden it better,” David answered. “I really didn’t want to put you into the position of possibly having to testify against me if anyone finds out about it. By the way, if anyone asks, you never saw it, and if they press, I tossed it into the pond downstream from us. It’s got a mucky bottom, so it’ll take them forever to search it.”
“As disturbing as the idea of you hiding a weapon used in a crime is, I’m moved that you‘d think of us instead of yourself,” Ellen told him. “You realize we’re both already implicated. We both heard your warnings, along with the sound of the nail gun and the screams of that poor man.”
“Poor man?” David asked dismissively. “They were drug addicted meth heads that took advantage of a natural disaster where thousands were threatened and untold damage was inflicted, to steal a controlled substance that’s likely to be needed because of those selfsame injuries.”
“Yeah, yeah, I get why it was necessary, but I’m still squeamish about having to see it. I know it had to be done, and I respect you for having the gumption to do it. But I’m just not sure I could have done it. If I could have, I would have followed you and provided you with some support. Instead, I waited like a child outside for your killers to come out and assault your daughter and me.”
“Hey, I’m no kid!” Alice protested. “Besides, I know how to defend myself. And Dad knows how to take care of himself. I’ve seen him get himself out of all kinds of jams.”
“Still, it was the idea that something might have happened that worried me,” Ellen explained. “Anyway, I think I know how to work the pulley, so we should be OK.”
“That’s OK, Ellen,” Alice replied confidently, “I’ve used these many times. It’s a snap. I’ll show you.”
David said he should have everything rigged in a few minutes, and he started climbing. They both watched him as he got smaller and smaller, at which point Ellen turned to Alice.
“You know, you certainly aren’t a typical little girl. Anyone else would be talking to her boyfriends or shopping, but here you are doing dangerous mechanical repairs in the dead of night.”
“Hey, I do all that stuff when I’m at home with Mom. But that’s only because there’s nothing else to do there. I’d do this all the time if I could.”
“So you really do this kind of stuff every weekend?” Ellen asked, before realizing she’d unintentionally said the wrong thing. They’d told her how often she came up.
“No,” Alice pouted. “I only get up here half that much, if even that. Mom won’t let me come up any more than the court appointed times. In fact she keeps threatening to limit my visits even more, claiming Dad is ‘exposing me to bodily injury’.”
“Excuse me for asking, but just how do you and your mom get along?” Ellen asked her new friend. “So far I’ve only heard you complain about how restrictive she is. Is she really that bad?”
Alice’s face fell and she looked sad, “No, she’s fine. She thinks she’s looking out for my best interests. But she thinks my best interests are learning to shop and date bunches of guys. I’m just not interested in those things. Well,” she said after pausing to consider it for a moment, “I guess I am, but not the way that she is. She really blames Dad for not keeping up the life they had, but it was killing Dad. He hated his old job, and he felt like he was helping destroy people’s lives by doing what he was doing. He’s been much happier living here, doing this, even if it means he had to give Mom up.”
“So he was unhappy about the divorce, huh?” Ellen asked, fishing for some inside information.
“Yeah, he was. He really loved Mom, but she wanted what she wanted, and it didn’t include moving out here with Daddy. He didn’t fight the divorce, though.”
“He didn’t?” Ellen asked. “Why not? You said he wanted to remain married.”
“He said she wasn’t being unreasonable, and that he understood what she wanted. He claimed he was the one that changed and that he’d disappointed her, so the divorce was really his fault. Most of all, he said that he wanted her to be happy, even if that meant she’d be happy without him.”
“Wow, that says a lot about your father. There aren’t many guys that would be so accommodating.”
“Yeah, but it hasn’t done him much good. He hasn’t dated anyone since Mom refused to come out here. She took one look at the home site and got back in the car and drove back to the city, refusing to come back out again. She’s never even seen the house.”
“For as much as your dad’s actions say about him, your mother’s actions also seem to say a lot about her,” Ellen observed, just as something large crashed down beside them. She jumped back, holding onto Alice as she did so. But Alice just laughed and walked up, grabbing the rope bundle that David had tossed down to them.
“This is what we use to lift the blade up to him,” Alice told her nervous friend. “He must have removed whatever was damaged. See the pieces in the bag? They’re all the ones he has to replace. Grab the spare blade and we’ll lift it up to him. I’ve got the bag of parts he’ll need to attach it.”
So Alice helped Ellen lift the spare parts up to David stationed well above them. When Ellen glanced up, she could see his back end hanging above them, along with the reassuring safety ropes he’d explained would protect him if he happened to slip. They quickly got the parts up, but then had to wait while David made the necessary repairs.
“So, about your mother?” Ellen prompted.
“Oh, sorry. Yeah, it does. She says that she’s happy with her new life, but I’m not so sure,” Alice explained. “She dates a bunch of guys, but I think it’s because no one has ever impressed her as much as Dad did.”
“Do you think she regrets her decision?” Ellen asked with a certain amount of nervousness. She wasn’t sure what might or might not happen between her and Alice’s father, but she certainly didn’t want to have to deal with a messy triangle.
“No, I just think she’s not as happy as she thought she’d be. But she’s definitely a city girl. She’s in all kinds of organization and clubs. She volunteers for a bunch of things, and she has me involved in a whole mess of stuff. For as much as I complain about it, I know I have better opportunities than other kids do. I don’t think she has any desire to move out here. She’s fine with her life. It’s Dad that I worry about.”
“How so?” Ellen asked, although she could imagine just what she hoped his problems were.
“Well, as I said, Dad hasn’t dated anyone. He goes into town and talks to everyone, but he doesn’t spend any time with anyone. He knows how to be sociable, but he has no friends. I’m the only one he spends any time with. He knows a bunch of people, but he’s always on his own.”
“That’s really too bad,” Ellen replied, though she was actually thinking it was anything but. It sounded like there might be a spot for her in David’s life, and she was anxious to try out for it.
Not wanting to appear to be too pushy, Ellen started to talk to Alice about her life, and Alice asked her about her career, about what writing for corporations was like. It was clear that Alice didn’t think much of ‘Corporations’, and Ellen assumed it was because of how her father described why he’d quit his job. She tried to put a positive spin on what she did and what the companies she worked for did, but she didn’t seem to be able to dissuade Alice from her opinions on the subject.
“Mom works at a law firm, and she’s involved in a lot of corporate groups. She’s always talking about what this one did, and what the other one makes, but I never hear what any of them are doing for anyone. All she seems to care about is how much money they make. I’m sorry, but I’m not sure that should be your sole purpose in life.”
Their discussion was interrupted by the zipping sound of the equipment bag returning down to them. It landed softly, and then the line connecting it fell on top of it, signaling that David was finished. They quickly got busy securing the equipment, so everything was finished by the time David came back down.
“So it’s all finished?” Ellen asked, not sure if there was anything else they needed to do.
“That’s it. I’m surprised. I’d thought the turbine would have been pulverized, but it managed to miss any real damage. So we’ll have plenty of power tonight.”
“We had power before we came up,” she corrected him.
“Ah, yeah, but that was battery power. It would only have lasted so long. The water heater wouldn’t last long without a steady power supply. I keep it on a standby system, diverting power to the more important features like heating and air conditioning.”
“You consider air conditioning to be that important?” Ellen asked. Alice laughed in response.
“No, silly, the air conditioning is for the refrigeration unit. It keeps the refrigerators and freezers cold. You wouldn’t want your food to spoil because it was cloudy for too many days. Personally, I’d rather have fresh vegetables and ice cream than an overly long shower.”
“Gee, I’ve got a lot to learn, it seems,” Ellen answered. “So I didn’t notice any damage to the house. How did you avoid all that damage when everyone else we saw got creamed?”
“Oh, that’s easy,” David explained, as he stowed the rest of the equipment. “The house is built into a westward facing cliff, which makes for some excellent sunsets by the way. But apparently it’s pointed in the opposite direction of the oncoming meteors. Thus, as the meteor storm travels across the country it’s moving against the far side of the mountain. I’ll bet you the other side doesn’t look nearly as pretty as ours does.”
“Wow, was that planned?” Ellen asked.
“No, it’s a little hard to plan for something like a meteor shower like we had. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of another one like that before. It’s definitely a freak occurrence. Hold on a minute,” David told them. “I need to get rid of this,” he said, holding up the nail gun, “and it would be better if neither of you saw what I did with it.”
So Ellen and Alice talked more about Alice’s friends, her school and her hopes for the future while David was busy hiding the evidence against him.
“So do you want to be a mathematician like your father, a builder like he is now, or something else?” Ellen asked.
Alice seemed to consider that question. “Well, Dad says that you need math for anything that you do. He says that the three most important courses he ever took in school were typing, speed reading and calculus. He says you need mathematics to understand what everyone else tells you. He explained how the graphs they show on the news can only be understood if you know what the type of curve they reflect means. So I’ll study math, but I’m not sure what else I’ll do with it. Right now I’m thinking of being a doctor, but I’ve got a while yet to decide.”
“That’s very mature of you, Alice,” Ellen told her. “Why medicine? Wait, let me guess. I’ll bet it’s because you can help people, right?”
“Yep, how’d you know?” Alice asked, proud that Ellen could understand her priorities.
“Well, you describe why your father disliked working for a corporation, and you dislike how your mother doesn’t seem to recognize what the corporations she works for do to people, so I figured that would be your primary motivation. I think it’s a noble aspiration.”
Just then David came back. “OK, that’s taken care of. Remember, if anyone asks, I tossed it into the lake. Then if anyone tells you it isn’t there, just tell them you aren’t sure which lake I threw it into, since you weren’t with me.”
With that they set off, tired after a very long day and ready for some sleep. Well, as much as they each wanted to sleep, two of the people there were thinking they’d like to postpone sleeping for a while at least.