Dilemma part 5

0900hrs Southern zone, Harbor town Enclave.

It was quiet there under the trees, the ground speckled with beams of sunlight that slipped through the tree top canopy. Erin, followed by a security team walked through the trees till she emerged on the flagstone patio that surrounded the old pool. A small crowd had already gathered, the news had spread fast, she thought.

She forced herself to look into the water to see the body that floated just below the surface. “How?” she grated.

“it looks like he slipped and fell into the pool, one of the clean up teams led by Al Cohen found him.” Morgan said joining her, he wrapped an arm around her shoulders and squeezed trying to comfort her. He knew how she felt about Bob. Most people felt the same way; Bob was that rare guy that almost every one liked. Morgan wasn’t foolish enough to believe that Mathias and Tolman liked Bob, but then again they didn’t like any one. As far as people like they were concerned, you were either a willing tool or an obstacle to be removed.

Bob had always been friendly and the first person willing to help anyone work through a problem. He was one of the hardest workers in the Enclave and probably the only one working with Erin that no one not even Mathias could tar as corrupt and venal simply because no one would believe it.

“are you sure?” she asked, as men pulled Bob’s body out of the pool. “that it was an accident.”

He nodded slowly “no reason to think it was anything else” he lied smoothly and believably for the people who stood near enough to listen in.

“good, I hate the idea that some one killed him” she replied, her voice trembled with grief as tears slid down her face. He noted the men that saw and looked away, giving her at least mental privacy.

“It’s a tragic loss” Mathias said from behind them, Erin stiffened under Morgans arm and he prayed she didn’t whirl on Mathias. Morgan would never know the the amount of Cold deadly determination it took for Erin to turn slowly, keeping the fury and loathing she felt from showing on her face.

“Yes it is” She said softly, letting the tears flow. “the Enclave will be a poorer place with him gone.” She said and if she knew how many people were listening, latching on to every word to repeat later to those who were not present she gave no sign. “His death is made even worse by the fact that he was the one that negotiated the deal that got us the plans for the smokers.” She didn’t have to add that the smokers would double if not triple the amount of fish available to eat and allow the storage of the excess fish for longer than a few hours to a day. Steve had already announced that and the message had spread through the enclave quickly.

A murmur arose from the small crowd, it had been assumed, Rightly so, that Steve had negotiated for the smokers. Morgan knew Steve wouldn’t correct the story, he liked Bob to much and knew that it would piss Mathias off to no end to have to thank Bob for something so vital to the Enclave. because that meant Erin was at least tacitly involved.

“Then we have much to thank him for Erin, I hope that you do the eulogy you knew him best” Mathias said, with just the proper amount of pain and pity in his voice and on his face. God I hate her, he thought, the announcement about the smokers has already damaged my plan, I knew they were up to something with those things, but I had no idea it went beyond just cooking the fish. Now the fires I have been stoking are cooling in many of the people that were swinging my way and I will have to work twice as hard to stir up the level of anger and desperation I need. Now this, with Steve being behind it, I could use that to show she fell on her face again, get people to think she was using the trader to help herself and that Steve had to step forward to ensure food for the enclave.

But no one will ever believe that Bob acted with out talking it over with Erin, he was too conscientious a man to go off on his own, she had to have approved it and every one would know that. Damn her, the lesbian bitch.

“I would be honored to do so” Erin replied and then did the one thing that Mathias, in fact no one would have expected. “and I would hope that you would speak as well. we will have the funeral tomorrow before the meeting,”

oh nicely played bitch, I cant say no or I lose some of the people who are backing me and just solidify the dislike that so many have for me and I will have to waste time sitting and composing lies to hand out with a straight face at the funeral of the most liked man in the damn Enclave.

Mathias did not miss the low mutters from the crowd about how they would have to rush the funeral to have the meeting at noon and how disrespectful that was. and they couldn’t just let the body sit not in this day and age. Erin had played him right into a corner. If she suggested they delay the meeting she would gain some leverage and not a few votes if he refused the offer and refusing carried the added millstone of making him look like a power hungry, cold hearted shit. Which would almost guarantee, an easy win for her leaving his efforts to rebuilding his reputation in ruins and almost certainly cost him any future chance to gain power. On the other hand if he offered to move the meeting back, just long enough to allow a decent amount of time for the funeral and speeches, he would come across as compassionate and understanding helping his reputation AND turn the tables on her.

“thank you I would like that” Mathias said solemnly. Erins prayer that he choke on his words was not answered, maybe at the funeral, she thought with anticipation. “and I would like to suggest that despite the gravity of our situation that we move the meeting back two hours so that we can say goodbye to Bob properly.”

It had to be a miracle that triumph didn’t flash in her eyes, and the archangels didn’t descend with trumpets blowing. She hated using Bobs death for political maneuvering, it made her sick to be honest. But the idea had occurred to her the moment she turned to face Mathias knowing she couldn’t pull his testicles off by hand and feed them to him.

She knew Bob would have demanded she use his death and anything possible to derail Mathias’s plan, because Bob had cared about the people here. Those two hours would make all the difference in the world for the plan that had formed in her mind as she stood there calmly talking to the man who had killed Bob who had become not just her best friend over the years but an older, wise brother as well.

“Thank you, I am sure that every one will appreciate your gesture and take it in the spirit that it is given.” Take that you two faced, slime, Erin thought with out a single flicker of her thoughts on her face. She had no doubt that Mathias knew exactly what she meant, but if he did he only tilted his head and wiped at his eyes as it to remove the crocodile tears that he couldn’t quite make on command.

She fell silent as Bobs body was carried past and a fresh spurt of grief wracked her. she watched with reddened eyes as Bob made his last trip across the Enclave he had come to love as his own family warts and all.

1000 hrs.

The violence had dropped considerably but there were still outbursts, and the tensions had only slightly eased with the news that more fish would be available thanks to Bobs Smokers. As Morgan had thought, Steve and the other fishermen had not only remained silent about the truth but had elaborated making it a grand tale of smoke filled room tough negation with bob being so wily that he had gotten the trader to accept next to nothing for something so vital to the Enclave. most had to doubt that last part, but in a way it was the solid truth as well, what Chris had accepted in exchange was ten pounds of smoked fish for when he left the Enclave to move on to his next stop.

Morgan turned away from the window and its view of the Marina, to face Erin, “I hope this wild ass plan of yours works Erin. But I guess if you fail, the outcome would still be the same.”

“It will work Morgan,” She said harshly. “it has to work doesn’t it”

“I don’t disagree Erin, but if Mathias decides to pull out that food cache of his and claim its yours and that you have been screwing people for a couple of years we are screwed.”

“Just send out the team like we talked about, and I will handle the rest.” She said.

1130 hrs June 22nd

for two years now, Hank had worked down at the marina helping clean and maintain the boats there, especially the fishing boat which was vital to the Enclave. Today had started off good when the Fishing boat had returned early loaded down, they had offloaded quickly so the boat could be turned around to go back out. Steves usual belly aching about need a real fishing boat had been noticeably absent this morning.

The smokers had changed a lot, Hank thought as he rushed along the walkway towards the Clinic. Steve was already talking about fitting out another boat to send out and he had asked Hank if he might be interested in being part of the new fishing crew.

To be part of something so vital thrilled him, but he wasn’t sure if it was the right thing for him to do. He had never been into boats, and it was dangerous work as he well knew. All you had to do was see the stump on Steves right hand where he had lost a finger or Dwayne Parkers foot with its three missing toes to know the job wasn’t the safest thing in the world.

But all the same he was excited at actually having an important decision to make, one that didn’t involve running from the undead or having to kill someone. But the icing in todays cake had been when Mrs. Mills his Neighbor had appeared on the dock, flustered and anxious to tell him in the clipped rapid fire speaking voice of hers that Lucinda had been taken to the clinic having gone into labor.

His stomach was in knots, fear and excitement warred inside him. Having babies was a dangerous thing in this new world. Several women had already died giving birth over the last five years, and it wasn’t easy for the babies either.

He turned up the walk passing under the shade trees that had survived the storm, and walked faster up the walkway that would take him to the clinic his full attention on getting to his wife and not much else. Surprise was total when something slammed into the back of his head, stars danced in his eyes and he tasted blood.

“we got us a breeder” a voice he recognized as belonging to Bart Peters said. “you dumb asses knocking up women knowing we don’t have a lot of food. what you think we are just going to starve ourselves so your brat can eat food that’s ours. Well think again” Bart snarled. Hank turned and a fist punched into his nose knocking him to the ground, a boot kicked him in the ribs. He gasped in pain realizing there were at least four men. But his vision was blurred and his mind was reeling making it hard for him to see who the others might be.

“you and your sow can leave the Enclave or we will kill you” Bart said coldly. “and to make sure you understand we mean business. We are going to work you over.”

Hank curled up gasping as boots and fists pummeled him. the pain was intense and he was sure he had a few broken bones already. The day that should have been the happiest in his life, had become a nightmare of pain and fear.

The gunshots almost made him scream but the fear throttled the sound before it could tear from his throat. And from the curses and fear in his attackers voices they hadn’t fired either. The Guards, he thought, oh thank god the guard.

Chris had seen the four men following the obviously distracted man, he had seen the tension and the anger rolling off the four men like a tidal wave, it was in the way they moved, sharp violent motions as they psyched themselves up to the task at hand. Things never change he had thought, some people just love to get violent at the slightest excuse. And those four have an excuse.

As the victim turned onto the walkway that would take him towards the clinic and into the tree and brush covered area that would keep people in the surrounding buildings from seeing him, Chris had known what was going to happen.

He should have walked away, He wasn’t here to get involved in things like this. He almost did too, he was actually starting to turn away when the first pursuer took two long strides and punched the distracted victim in the back of the head.

That stopped Chris in his tracks and when the other three men leaped forward to join in the attack he knew he had to stop it. Chris was from Sullivan island, his law enforcement training, his own beliefs on the matter compelled him to intervene but it was the example that Jared Stone had set that drove him into action. Good men did not stand idly by it was almost the mantra of the people on Sullivan Island these days.

He drew his pistol as he moved to the center of the path, anger and disgust at the cowards as they punched and kicked the downed man. He fired two shots into ground beside the fight then put his front sight on the man who had thrown the first punch.

Bart, blood dripping from his knuckles turned and stared in shock at the man who had come up behind him. The Trader stood about twenty feet away, holding a flat black, unwavering pistol pointed squarely at the center of Barts face.

The Black hole of the barrel seemed to grow larger with every passing second till it looked bigger than Bart’s head and he thought he could almost see the gleam of copper on the giant bullet down inside the now massive weapon.

“I suggest you numb nuts leave right not,” Chris said not wasting words. He already had his targets in order, the leader first then the stumpy guy with thinning hair to the leaders left and back two steps, after that it was gap toothed guy to the left and back five steps, then the guy with the lazy eye back and to the right.

The bore of the weapon pointed at Bart snapped back into normal size, though it still appeared far larger than he wanted to contemplate. But he couldn’t just walk away either, he had his reputation to consider. “This aint none of your business Trader” Bart stated as calmly as his nerves would let him at any rate. Which to be honest wasn’t much.

“Usually I would agree with you if it were just a fist fight.” Chris McCaffrey said. “but it seems to me that four men beating up on one guy who is already on the ground is just a little cowardly. So you four are going to step back then walk away.” Chris said, killing them wouldn’t be best answer but he wouldn’t hesitate to do it either.

“or what” Ed Neely, said loudly casting a look at Bart, Ed was sure that they were safe from anything this man might want to do, Bart thought, and I think he might be wrong about this. With all that was going on security wasn’t as reliable as it had been, which was one of things they had counted on when the decided to jump the breeder.

“Or I will shoot you. Dead in case your wondering” Chris said his voice level and full of confidence.

This was a man who had come from the outside, the mainland. It was dangerous out there, every one knew that and this guy traveled around with things like coffee and other things that people would kill over.

The man had to be able to fight in order to stay alive and keep his things, Bart thought. Then he thought about the story he had heard about the raid on the traders camp and how many men had supposedly been killed.

More importantly, Bart had only his fists, and a knife he carried on his belt, the Trader had a pistol. Bart was inclined to believe the man meant exactly what he said. He glanced at Ed, and could see the muscles bugling in anticipation.

Ed how ever wasn’t as smart as Bart, He was fact as stupid as most people thought he was from just looking at him. Ed rushed the trader, a wild smile on his face, big fist drawn back. Why the man thought McCaffrey would be worried about Security Bart didn’t know but Ed did. And it was just like Ed to jump into a gun fight with out a weapon.

The pistol fired twice, Ed jerked the back of his head and his back exploded outwards dousing Bart and the others in gore, Eds body stumbled another step then fell in a heap. “any one else want to test me” Chris asked calmly. He didn’t like killing but he liked bullies even less.

“We are leaving” Bart muttered backing up, trying to ignore the warm wet feeling moving down his leg from his crotch.

“Good,” Chris said. Bart and the other two men turned and bolted off into the grounds. As soon as they were out of sight Chris holstered his pistol and threw up in the bushes.

1200hrs. south of Edisto island.

Catherine was almost to heavily loaded, Norman thought as he trimmed the sails. She wasn’t responding like she normally would have. But there was no way he would have left any of this behind, and if there had been a way to load more the cargo would be stacked as high as possible.

He glanced at Henry, who was talking quietly with the attractive young woman that he had been asked to pick up on Edisto Island. She claimed to be a trader like McCaffrey, but McCaffrey would never have looked as good as she did in those tight leather pants, knee high boots and white tshirt.

Sorry Catherine I do love you honey, but she is a very good looking young lady and its been many years since I’ve been intimate. If I were forty years younger, I would as Henry put it, be all over that. he chuckled to himself at the absurdity of the idea a woman that young would ever be interested in a old fart like himself, no matter how thin and athletic said old fart might be.

Of course the double shoulder hostler rig complete with .45’s and the military M-4 she carried, along with a knife that was almost as long as a sword she wore probably discouraged most men from approaching her and made Norman suspect she was far more than a simple trader.

The rest of her gear, including the leather Jacket she had been wearing when she first came aboard were lashed to the deck. As she talked to Henry, she pulled her long blond hair into a pony tail.

He shook his head, and force himself to stop staring at her bottom and the curve of her breast’s. either its been a very long time, and it has or she is incredibly attractive. Probably a little of both he thought.

He sat down behind the wheel and checked the compass, before he opened the Log book of captain Jonathan Pike the late master of the container cargo ship Illinois.

It wasn’t the first time he had read it, no not by a long shot, but there was a quiet desperation to the tone of the Pikes log, that had grown to outright fear as the world died around them that brought him back to the log time and again. It had been bad on Hilton head back then, but Norman had not had to sit and listen to the pleas for help or the calm acceptance of death that was broadcast from a thousand places, that slowly went off the air one by one. He hadn’t had to make the decision to pick up refugee’s only to lose half his crew and three quarters of the refugee’s because sixteen of them had been bitten and by the time Pike had heard over the radio that any one bitten was infected it had already been to late.

He had only respect for the captain who, faced with the undead loose on his ship, his life boats gone, food supply dwindling and his engines failing from damage taken while fighting the undead, had ran his ship aground on an island with what he considered a small population to try and give his crew a chance to escape and survive.

Norman looked up at Henry, who was talking quietly with Stephanie and watching the water as if he expected some kind of threat. He wondered what Henry would say if he asked him about the discrepancy between the log, the Cargo manifest hardcopy and what they had found on the cargo ship. Norman didn’t really care it was to his benefit, to the Enclaves benefit actually. No he would remain quiet and mention it to Erin and let her decide.

McCaffrey hadn’t known it but he had chosen well when he had picked me, Norman thought. At least four of the boat captains I can think of might have taken this cargo and ran with it. Me, I’m tempted but It’s just not who I am.

His thoughts staggered to a stop as he heard a insistent buzzing ring, Coming from the pouch on Henrys pack. it was the second time today he had heard it and it still filled him with amazement and a feeling that he couldn’t quite pin down. it was like a cross between hope and awe.

He waved to Henry who probably couldn’t hear it over the sound of wind and water. Henry nodded and made his way to the cockpit. Norman watched as the younger man pulled the Sat phone from his pouch and answered it.

God, Its still hard to believe that one of those works. Norman thought.

Norman couldn’t hear what little Henry had to say but the tension lines that appeared on his face, and in the way his mouth turned slightly down it probably wasn’t good news.

After a moment, the man hung up and faced Norman. “Chris..” he paused for a moment then started again. “You deserve the truth, things have gone to shit at the Enclave, some fights and attacks all apparently being stirred up by some guy who wants to replace your leader. Chris wants you to wait till night fall before you come back, he thinks your boat might be attacked and wants you to come in when its hard for people to see you enter the Marina.”

Mathias, Norman thought, that Asshole is stirring people up against Erin. But attacking his boat, he couldn’t really see that. but if McCaffrey thought, no its my people.

Norman frowned thoughtfully; think this through your boat is loaded with food, and other supplies that the Enclave could use. Food was Mathias was using to whip people up against Erin, if he even suspected that Catherine had food aboard, he might just get his lap dog Tolman to try something, like seize his boat to liberate the food or some other nonsense like that. but all he had to do was enter the Marina and get Steve to summon security to guard his boat.

“Norman, trust him. I haven’t been with him long but I’ve seen groups of people disintegrate over food, even though there was enough for all of them. If we go in after dark, me and Stephanie can guard the boat while your people offload the cargo and get it stored where ever they can keep it safe. And that will keep you and your boat safe.”

“Why can’t you guard Catherine in the daylight.” Norman asked.

“Because any one with a rifle can shoot us from a distance in daylight. Unless they have Night vision goggles they aren’t going to be shooting us from long range after dark.” Henry explained, not mentioning he and Stephanie had a set of the precious NVG’s if it came down to them needing that edge.

Norman thought about it for a few minutes then nodded, coming in under cover of darkness might help Erin too, if there really were fights and riots and what not going on. God he couldn’t believe things had deteriorated that badly as fast they had. “All right we will stand off Buck island, its just a small spit of an island in the Calibogue sound, just north of Harbor town. I guess it wont hurt to be delayed a little bit.” Norman said.

1300 hrs, Harbor town Security office.

Morgan paced angrily around the office, ignoring McCaffrey who sat at the table cleaing his weapon. He wasn’t angry with McCaffrey, he was angry at the situation and the men who had engineered the situation that had led to that Idiot Ed’s death, as well as having Bob killed.

Erin was silent, sitting by the window and looking outside lost in her own thoughts.

“If I let you go Mathias will use that as weapon against Erin” Morgan finally said turning to face McCaffrey. Chris looked nonplussed as he finished cleaning his pistol and reassembled it.

“Probably” Chris said as he put away his cleaning kit and holstered his sidearm.

“That’s all you have to say is probably” Morgan asked incredulously.

“Morgan, I understand what’s going on the position you find yourself in. There is nothing I can do to stop it. I acted in self defense and you know that, so you have two choices cave in and jail me which means that your Enemy wins because he is controlling the situation or let me go and tell the truth of the matter and let your enemy try to use it as a weapon. But I cant help you if I am locked up, or even if I am restricted to this building”

“can you kill Mathias and Tolman” Erin asked quietly, turning to face Chris. Her eyes red and swollen from crying.

“I could but that wont help you Erin” Chris said gently. “it will only inflame his supporters and make you look like a murderous tyrant and scared of the message that Mathias was spreading.”

“He had a good man killed” Erin said harshly. “he needs to pay for that.”

“Can you prove it” Chris asked, it felt strange really here at the end of everything to be talking about proof and courts and all that, but it was evidence that there was some kind of recovery.

“No” Morgan said cutting into the conversation, he had never seen Erin like this not once in the last six years. “ oh, there were a few things written on his clipboard that his killers didn’t even think was a clue, like where he had started his inspection of the Southern zone and the last place he had checked, he had already checked the area his body was found in an hour before. There was no reason for him to go back.” Morgan explained.

“That’s all you have to go on” Chris asked shaking his head. “I was a forest ranger, and even I can tell you that is not even close to enough to arrest some for murder much less want another man to kill over.” He raised a hand to stop the certain to be angry retort for Erin. “I’m not saying your friend wasn’t killed Erin, I really am not. But if you go off half cocked with just ‘there was no reason for him to go back there’, then Mathias wins because you come off looking like your abusing your power and authority on a revenge.”

Erin looked down at the floor for a moment, her shoulders sagging. She looked so hurt and lost that Chris felt a wave of pity for her. she sat that way for a moment then her spine straightened and she rose to her feet. “your right, I have a plan and it’s the only thing that might work to end this. But it wont bring justice for Bobs death.” She said bitterly.

“You may not ever get justice Erin” Morgan said, thankful she was coming out of her depression. “at least not publicly for Bobs death, but if you can defeat Mathias and ruin his chances of gaining power it’s a justice of a sort.”

Chris held his tongue, he could kill Mathias and he could get away with it. The trouble was he represented the safe zone, even if these folks didn’t know it right now, and if he committed murder, even if the slime ass deserved it, it would forever stain the Zone with his actions and no matter how Erin felt now, later she would find it hard to trust a group who remove threats using murder.

“If that’s all I can get I will take it,” She said backing away from the dark thoughts that haunted her.

“Unless I’m under arrest I would like to leave I have a things to do today” Chris said.

“What exactly Mr. McCaffrey? giving away another invention for ten pounds of fish.” Erin asked curtly.

“no this time I was thinking I might ask for ten pounds of condoms” Chris said with a half smile.

“You are optimistic aren’t you” Morgan said, with a bark of laughter that felt good after the emotional roller coaster he had been on most of the day.

“Turning a frown upside down” Chris said lightly.

“Men” Erin stated shaking her head angrily. “Go on leave McCaffrey, but understand that Mathias’s people might decide to jump you for killing one of their own.”

“Oh I understand that quite well” Chris replied. “Its part of the job” he said as he rose to his feet, collected his gear and headed for the door. “just like protecting myself is part of the job.” he added darkly as he stepped through the door.

From the Journal of Chris McCaffrey

I think the thing that still surprises me is encountering a group of people and you still think of them as Americans, you expect them to act a certain way, think a certain way and the truth is since the dead, that just isn’t true.

Some act close, some are so different its not even funny like that town of Swingers I stumbled across last year. Or the oddest is that religious group “the brothers of James” who believed that the bulk of humanity had not been killed by the undead but raptured.

Those that had been killed by the undead had sinned badly and earned death, and their dead bodies had become a vessel from the righteous cleansing force of god. They believed they had been left behind by god to show the rest of humanity the way to heaven and to suffer so that those who remained could go to heaven. Nuts every one of them.

But back to Harbor Town, these people still try to hold to old values, but its breaking down and if the opposition, Mathias, gains power I doubt that it will last more than a year after.

All I can do at this point is try and help keep Erin alive and in power, if she is forced out I will bring her to Sullivan I think she would be an asset.

Speaking of assets, there are at least eight big sail boats, since I have no idea what kind, class, model or what ever they are I cant be more specific at this point. I spotted some racks near the lighthouse that had once contained kayaks and canoes, from what I was told the Guard stored them in the building behind the lighthouse.

With twenty some odd golf courses scattered around this island a lot of food and cotton can be grown here, on land that wont take a lot of work i.e. demolishing houses, streets or clearing trees.

Apparently, the guard set up some kind of pump system to pump fresh water from spring or creek into the Enclave, I’ve been wondering about that. I talked to Noel last night and she told me that they have a couple of men who work in shifts to keep the pump working and the enclave supplied with water.

I’ve been told that at the airport on the island, at least before the island fell. There are supposed to be military trucks, IFV’s, Planes and stacks and stacks of equipment. The only problem according to the people I have talked to, is that the airport is close to another Enclave who may have already claimed it.

Erin has been told through people from other groups they have encountered is that a man named Gideon Snow runs the place. when I am done here I plan on heading that direction with a stop off to visit the Sea Pines Enclave run by Tucker and Chapman.

Well time to go, I have to meet with two men from the Sea pines Enclave then stop by the clinic.

1422 hrs, Harbor town

“She is up to something” Tolman said as he stood in front of the large window and looked down on the Marina. “where did she send Norman for starters?”

“She might be yes. No matter how much we may wish she were a drooling idiot Erin Brinn is smart and determined.” Mathias replied calmly. “And I have been told that it was the Trader who talked Norman into heading out, but no one seems to know why or where. For all we know Norman’s boat may have foundered during the hurricane.” He frowned for a moment then shrugged. “it doesn’t matter, there is really nothing she can do at this point.”

“That’s what you said before that damn trader gave her the plans to those Smokers. And I still think we should damage them or something.”

“No those are critical to our future” Mathias replied.

“They were built out of scrap parts, we can build more.” Tolman argued.

“Then destroying them will gain us nothing if they can be easily rebuilt. No she played that well giving Bob the Martyr, credit for that.” Mathias replied. “Thankfully the trader has given me more grist for the mill by killing one of our concerned citizens. By this time tomorrow, he will be most unwelcome.”

“What if he does represent another group? There is a rumor to that effect” Tolman asked. “Do we want to risk losing what ever trade he might be able to bring in?”

Mathias stroked the arm of his chair for a moment as he thought about that then shook his head. “He has a back pack, all he has traded so far was the design for the smoker. That really doesn’t sound like he has anything else that might be worth while, Power for starters, Gas, food all of that would be useful and he has none of it. Anything else he has, we could find for ourselves and we will as soon as I get us organized and send men over to the main land to search the ruins there just like he does.”

Tolman gave a slight smile at that idea, “your right of course, and the mainland would present several challenges I would enjoy.”

“ Good, you have a better Idea than I do who would be inclined to confront the Trader, discourage violence, I only wish for confrontation, the man is armed and apparently has no qualms about killing. But if some one were unstable enough to jump him I would not protest.” Mathias said with a smile. “just remember the whole goal is to make him feel unwelcome and unwanted.”

“No problem, I know just the men” Tolman said a smile flickered across his cruel looking face.

1525 hrs, North Zone Harbor town Enclave, Food storage center.

A small crowd had gathered outside the old Yacht rental and supply company building that had been used to store food in for several years now.

The Captain of the guard detail stood impassively watching as the crowd of maybe sixty people chanted slogans and demanded to see how much food there really was.

“What do we do sir?” the watch sergeant asked. He looked nervous which wasn’t good in a man who had achieved his rank in the security company should have a better handle on his emotions, Captain Daniel Wilder thought, but the Sergeant had been just a landscape contractor before the dead had risen he was not a professional soldier, Guardsman or police officer.

“We do our duty Sergeant, if they storm the building we will have to open fire, I will not see a mob steal food and leave others to starve, we have a ration system for a reason.”

“I know sir, but I don’t know if I can open fire on them, I know some of those people. They are hungry.”

“You have a kid and a wife right, what happens if those people steal or destroy the bulk of the supplies stored here. Your wife and kid starve, then this place becomes a free for all Sergeant who every has enough ammo or can beat some one to death over a can of beans wins, think about that while we wait.”

“Yes sir” the Sergeant said dutifully, and he was thinking about it and he didn’t want to live like that and he damn sure didn’t want his wife and child to live like that. Not to mention that kind of break down would mean the end of the Enclave too.

The mob had not moved on the building in the last half hour and perhaps they wouldn’t, Wilder thought, he hoped not like the sergeant he too know people in that crowd but for his wife and the enclave he would shoot every one of them down if they tried to force their way in.

“they wont let us see because it empty” some one at the back of the mob shouted. “we have rights, let us in.” their were scattered agreements in the mob, and the mood began to shift.

“I would bet my non existent pay check who ever yelled that is a plant” Wilder commented to the sergeant sounding as calm as ever. He didn’t say it aloud but he was damn sure Mathias was behind this little demonstration and he wanted a conflict so he could use it against Erin. And if they charged the building he would get his confrontation too, Wilder thought I can do nothing else and that was what Mathias had to be counting on.

“Stand to men, ready weapons” the Sergeant called out, and the men along the rooftop lifted their rifles, rifles with very little ammo into High ready. “don’t there Captain” the Sergeant said pointing as Wilder opened his mouth to countermand the order. His gaze followed the pointing finger and he saw Erin Brinn walking own the sidewalk alone and unarmed.

“Hold your fire till I give the order” Wilder said, hoping like hell Erin knew what she was doing.

Erin’s stomach was a pit of fear that if it collapsed in on itself any further would become a black hole. she walked up to the front of the building and climbed up on an old decorative planter to face the crowd.

Morgan had come close to beating her unconscious to keep her from doing this but she had won out in the end.

“where is the trader?,” some one yelled sarcastically.

“Where is our food?” another called out.

“we demand to see our resources.” Yet another yelled over the crowd noise.

She held up her hands and made her face show the emotions she desired Concern and Compassion, the fear she locked down refusing to let them see it. “Please its hard to hear everything if your all shouting at once” she yelled. her own voice almost lost in the tumult.

Finally two of the men in the crowd began to get their neighbors to quiet down. when the volume was low enough, Erin smiled her thanks “Now exactly what is the problem?” she asked, “ and please one at time or get some one to speak for all of you.”

“There is talk that, well most of the food is gone” A man said embarrassed to give the whole rumor to her.

“You mean the rumor that I’ve stolen most of the food so when I lose all of you will pay the price” Erin said shaking her head sadly. “It is not true”

“Then let us see it” A dark haired, rather handsome if slim man yelled.

It wasn’t an unreasonable demand Erin thought, and if I were in their shoes I would want to see for myself too, and the only reason that they would think of for her to deny them access would be because we, no I , she corrected, are lying.

“They are smuggling it out of the Enclave using that so called Trader,” a man yelled from the back.

“I want all of you to pick four people known to the majority of you that will speak for you. I will take them inside and show them what’s inside. The supply list is public and copies are posted at the Fish stand and at the Cafeteria if some one wants to go get one of those lists so they can compare it to the list here and compare it to what is on the shelves I will be more than willing to wait.”

Wilder didn’t know whether to laugh or stare in shock, Erin had deflected the two most likely arguments that Mathias’s people could make. The lists were bogus and the crowd wasn’t allow in because Erin had something to hide. And by god the ugly mood was dissipating, as Erin stood there ready to give them what they had demanded.

“Why the hell cant all of us go in there” another man yelled. Wilder frowned, who ever that was, was staying out of sight in the back and was determined to keep the crowd angry which only proved he worked for Mathias. He scanned the back of the crowd and finally spotted a group of men who seemed to stick together, a group with in the group.

“Because there is not a lot of space inside, and I want to make sure that every one that goes inside is safe. which is why I asked for you to choose four men to represent you to go inside with me.” Erin replied calmly, pitching her voice to be heard over the much quieter crowd. That wasn’t exactly the truth Wilder thought, four men were far easier to keep track of and there was less chance of someone like that man and his buddies from doing damage.

He watched as the crowd began shouting at each other as they tried to pick four men and Wilder had to wonder if he was going to have to send men out there to break up the fights that looked to be developing.

It took half an hour but finally there were four men and none he noted were from the small group of rabble-rousers in the back. Some one appeared with a supply list, and the four men armed with the supply list followed Erin inside.

“Keep an eye on the men in the back, the ones clustered around that guy in the fisherman’s hat.” He warned the duty Sergeant then walked to the other side of the roof, to check the security team that was stationed back there. Everything seemed okay, but he couldn’t shake the feeling that something was getting ready to happen.

Things had gone better than expected, Erin thought as she watched the men carefully check the supply manifest against what was on the shelves, if anything they were definitely beginning to feel played by Mathias’s goons. She thought watching the reactions as every thing they picked to check out was where it was supposed to be in the numbers it was supposed to be, subtracting for the days usage while was charted as well.

They moved along the neatly labeled shelves and bins, consulting the list and talking amongst themselves as she stood off a little ways giving them room.

Finally Carey Swift, a fifty something slim man with thinning dark hair, turned to her. a faint blush to his cheeks “I’m sorry Erin, I shouldn’t have listened to rumors.” He said. “its just. Well you know”

“Your hungry and worried, you have a wife and a teen age daughter.” She said, knowing that fact that she remembered little things like his name, and his family that made a huge difference to him. Mathias probably didn’t even know his name and wouldn’t have cared if he had a family or not and Cary probably knew that.

“I wont ask you how your going to vote tomorrow Cary, but I want you to know I really am trying my best to solve this problem.”

“I know Erin, I know” Cary said then looked at the other three men. “I’ve seen enough lets go” she thought for a moment one of the men was going to protest and insist on checking more items but then he nodded and followed Cary towards the door. she hoped that the waiting crowd outside would listen to this mean, but if not she was prepared to spend all day taking four at a time through the place till they were satisfied.

As they stepped outside, the waiting crowd began to ask questions, it was a flood of sound that the only clear comments were the loudest. Erin stepped past Cary intending on giving him space to let him talk, but her plans changed as a shot rang out. Erin cried out and then someone slammed into her taking her out of the line of fire even as six more shots rang out.

“Hold your fire” Wilder shouted as the first shot rang out, his men were focused on the crowd below, and that was not where the shot had come from. He didn’t want a massacre. He back handed a man who fired anyway, knocking the man away from the edge of the roof. “Find that shooter then you can open up.” he ordered, then reported the gunfire and asked for assistance, his radio dying before he finished.

“use the slap flare just in case.” He ordered watching the crowd below scatter. It didn’t look like any one in the crowd had been hit, and for that he was thankful. The Security team that had escorted Erin and hung back on her orders were rushing up, weapons ready but they didn’t fire on the unarmed protesters. Who ever had wanted a massacre wasn’t getting one today. Behind him someone triggered the emergency slap flare, the glowing ball of light would draw every nearby security team.

“I am going to check on Erin, hold the roof sergeant” He called out then slid down the ladder into the mechanical room below.

It was chaos on the ground; men and women who had been protesting ran screaming expecting to be gunned down any moment. most took cover the moment they found anything that might block a bullet, even as Yance Tiembo and three security teams raced in weapons up. spreading out looking for the shooter and checking for wounded.

Yance Spotted Captain Wilder and Erin, her shirt covered in blood carrying a wounded man into the food storage building, a dead body lay sprawled before the doors. “Are you okay” Yance shouted as he ran up.

“Yes, I am F’ing fine” Erin said angrily. “this isn’t my blood” She added.

“Spread out secure the area around the door and watch for the shooter” Tiembo told his men, as Erin and Wilder carried the wounded man inside. Tiembo found himself wishing that Travis were awake and in charge.

“What the hell happened?” He asked as Wilder and Erin stepped back outside and headed for a woman who sat slumped against a decorative Stone trash can container, her hands pressed to her side trying to stop the blood from leaking out.

“at a guess, some one hoped start a massacre” Wilder stated, then explained about the small group of men that had seemed intent on working the crowd up, and they had not looked happy when Erin led the four men inside to inspect the food supplies. “… I think they had hoped to get the crowd to charge the doors then wither shoot at us or some of the people in the crowd, knowing we would respond thinking we were under attack.

Then seeing the mob was actually calming down and wasn’t going to charge I think they decided to start shooting anyway so it could be said we attacked a quiet innocent group of people. Probably find a way to make sure it looks like Erin lured them into position and kept them nice and docile then laughed and danced as they died.”

Erin said nothing as she knelt beside the woman and using a pocket knife cut a strip off her own shirt, having to hunt to find a clean stretch of fabric. To hell with what people think, she thought knowing that she was showing far more flesh than would be considered modest. She started binding the other womans wounds, listening to Wilder and Tiembo speculate.

“I’m here to help” A familiar voice said, she tied off the make shift bandage and looked up to see McCaffrey. Just who she needed around, the man that some people were hoping to run out of town. She saw the crowd growing as the worried and the curious appeared trying to find out what was going on.

“How are you going to help?” A security officer snapped.

“I have a trauma kit, and some training.” McCaffrey said then stepped past the guard who had stopped him.

“Leave him be” Erin called out hoping that McCaffrey could help. “your going to be all right” she told the woman and rose to her feet. As McCaffrey knelt beside one of the wounded, a short man with blond hair and club foot.

“do you really have training.?”

“I was a Ranger, I worked Search and rescue, in addition to the usual white water rescue, tracking and other stuff, I had to be able deal with medical emergencies, like gun shot wounds amongst other things,” McCaffrey said. He opened the large black bag that she had seen strapped to his pack and began to pull out the things he was going to need.

He cut away the mans shirt and Erin had to look away to keep from throwing up as she saw the bloody bubbles blowing out of the hole in the mans chest. “See I never cared about the LEO side of being a ranger, in fact I avoided it. when I could.” He said as he examined the wound. If it bothered him at all she couldn’t see it. “Sucking chest wound,” he said pointing. “about the only thing I can do is apply a dressing and then hope Sandy has a chest drain and the proper supplies to treat it at the clinic.” He said as he quickly placed a dressing over the wound and taped it down on three sides.

Erin looked into the black bag and her eyes crew wide at what she saw in there. “where did you get that stuff. Most of it looks brand new”

“Not new but well stored” he said.

“Cant you give him something for the pain.”

“I could but, right now it could make things worse and I am no doctor.”

She watched as he moved to the next victim, and used more priceless medical supplies. Regardless of what he called himself, he wasn’t a trader. He would have gotten food and ammunition for just a pressure bandage and he had to know that and why would he care enough to help the Enclaves wounded.

“So why did you become a ranger?” She asked kneeling beside him. Watching as he carefully cleaned the wounded woman’s wound.

“Didn’t like people all that much” He said with a chuckle. “I became a Ranger because I loved wilderness it was really that simple”

“Nothing is ever that simple” she replied as she looked back and saw Sandy arriving pulling a cart loaded with supplies.

“its always that simple Erin, people just love to complicate things.” He said as he applied a pressure bandage.

“Now that I agree with you on, so I have one more question Mr. McCaffrey what do you really want here?” She asked. Suddenly aware of the fact he wasn’t even trying to check out her boobs through the rent in her shirt. She felt vaguely insulted and laughed silently at herself.

“to work a few deals, help out a little and be on my way.” he said as he closed his bag and rose to his feet. She had enough suspicions about what he was up to, she should have him thrown out, even if she didn’t think about the fact he seemed a genuinely nice person, he had helped the enclave climb almost all the way out of a deep hole food wise, and now this. He was also a political liability that Mathias was using to full affect, questioning what Chris was doing here, what kind of secret deals had Erin made with him, and of course the not so subtle questions about where the food McCaffrey ate came from.

She frowned for a moment meeting his eyes, then decided she would let him stay till the vote, after that it might not matter what she wanted and hopefully she would finally find out what he was really after.

“one day I will figure it out.” Erin vowed.

“I am sure you will” he said then headed over to Sandy and the next Victim.

1600hrs.

The shooting took every one by surprise, and it forced even the most anti Erin types to step back and take a deep breath. Only one man had died, and all the other survivors had stated that the gun fire had not come from Security forces. No one was willing to dispute their word since several were well known supporters of Walter and political enemies of Erin and if they denied this was some unprovoked attack by Erin and her people no one else was willing to say otherwise.

And that acceptance and shock of a rogue player led to an Uneasy and unspoken truce that not even Mathias and Tolman could talk others into breaking not without out coming completely out into the light and showing their manipulation of events to every one.

The knowledge that the food situation had improved had damped down the worst of the violence but it still simmered under the surface waiting to erupt again and there were men who moved through the enclave, whispering about hidden food caches and outside influences, stoking the fires a little higher with each sentence.

1640hrs. Marthias quarters.

“Who fired those shots?” Mathias snapped. “every one in the damn enclave assumes I had it done.”

Tolman stood there impassively not worried at all about what Mathias might do, he had no reason Mathias was not a fighter. “Tell me you were not involved in this” Mathias demanded.

“No I had nothing to do with this, and I didn’t get any one else to do this either. Even I know something like this works against our plans. Duke and his boys were there, trying to get the crowd to riot or get security to go off. My personal opinion it was one or two of Dukes men who fired those shots from the roof of the old sears store across the way.”

“your opinion or you know this for a fact.” Mathias asked already seeing a way out of this. Tolman shrugged an odd glint in his eyes.

“I know it Mathias, Right after the shots, I was over by the clinic.” He said. Mathias nodded picturing the lay out, there would have been a building between Tolman and the quad where the shooting occurred. “ I saw Peddleston and Rahburger leave the old Sears store and head south, while every one else was heading to the quad to find out what had happened.”

“both of them are idiots and good friends with Duke.” Mathias said. Duke had been good to have around, but now he was to much of a liability an thankfully Mathias had never given him orders to do anything, Duke had just supported anything violent and anti Erin. So there was nothing he could use against Mathias or Tolman or at least he assumed so, If Tolman had acted with out permission Mathias would throw him to the wolves. “We two are going to pay a visit to Morgan, we have some shooters to turn in and a plot to expose that should buy me back a few votes”

“if you think its best” Tolman said sounding irritated. “The man is a tool in more than one sense but I hate tossing him under the bus.”

“The man has placed the entire plan in Jeopardy, what if he had shot Erin! No one would ever believe that you and I were not a party to his plan, if he even had a plan. No the only way to recover this situation is to turn the shooters over to Morgan and let him unravel the plot, what ever it was.” Mathias stated. Tolman shrugged again; personally the only thing that bothered him was turning them in. It would make the other people who occasionally worked for him wonder if they would be tossed to the wolves if Tolman saw a need to do so. Nothing he could do about it, Mathias was right and Tolman wanted the power that Mathias being in control would bring him.

He was a man who knew his limits, he was not interested in being in charge of the Enclave, no he enjoyed the power and prestige that came from being the head of the man in charges security, he liked taking care of the problems not having to deal with the day to day minutiae, the bitching and the whining. He was a problem solver and that was all he wanted to be.

Mathias finished his hot chocolate and wiped the cup clean then rose to his feet. “Let us go to see Morgan now, we have our civic duty to attend to Mr. Tolman. And I think I need to give a speech addressing how shocked I am at such behavior and how we need to bank the flames of anger and seek to have reasoned and well thought discourse. Not rampant violence in the streets or we as a group will fall, after all Mr. Tolman we are a law abiding group” He said solemnly.

From the Journal of Chris McCaffrey.

I’ve spent hours today creeping around dodging lynch mobs, apparently I’ve rubbed the bad guys of the play the wrong way and they have issued pitch forks and Torches to the Peasants to drive me out of town.

There was a shooting this afternoon, five wounded, two eventually died. Now heres the kicker Mathias, the opposition leader and prime slime bag and his henchman were the ones who provided the Head of security the information needed to round up the shooters and then bust up a ring of hard case idiots who thought killing a few people so they could blame Erin for it was a wise idea.

Mathias gave a very moving speech complete with crocodile tear on how the situation needed to be peacefully resolved and begged people not to resort to violence and killing. It was all very touching and made me want to shoot his ass right there for hypocrisy.

The man knows how to play the crowd, and he was dropping hints about something big he planned on revealing tomorrow during the meeting. I am betting it is the stolen food cache. I have a little surprise too, two of them actually. Norman will be coming in this evening after high tide. Henry was a bit a cagey about what all Norman took off the Illinois, so I guess Norman wants to surprise Erin.

On a different note, I talked with the two men from Tuckers group and discovered something fascinating, both men have a brass cylinder with leather wrappings and a carry strap, the thing is about a foot tall and about four inches in diameter and it’s a battery that Tucker the leader of the group made. Apparently Tucker was some kind of tinker and engineer before the Dead, according to them most of the stuff Tucker makes looks like and is often based on technology from the 1800’s. As soon as I am finished here, unless Eric has plans for me somewhere else I will be going to Tuckers and see what if anything he has to offer. If the man can really do half of what I have been told and I can wrangle a deal with him Sullivan will benefit greatly.

Its just after sunset, so I guess I need to make my way down to the Marina to be on hand when Norman docks.

2115 hrs.

The yacht slid towards the Marina rigging humming in the wind. Henry crouched on the deck waiting to help if needed. Which was rarely, this old rich mans toy was automated out the ying yang as his granny was known to say.

He could see the lighthouse looming darkly on the horizon, and felt the yacht alter course just a little and begin to slow, there was a rattle and a hum as winches went to work.

“what’s going on” Stephanie, sitting across from Norman asked.

“The wind is out of the East, and this is a sail boat” Norman replied.

“and?”

“We are heading east, the wind usually pushes a sail boat by filling the sails. If you head straight into the wind you end up in irons, or I guess you would say stopping.” He chuckled for a second. “ So we have to tack a little and will have to enter the Harbor from the port side close hauled.” Norman said.

Stephanie was silent she had no idea what he was talking about but he knew his business and she wasn’t going to pester him with questions. She smothered a laugh thinking about how far she had come in six years, from slutty sorority bimbo queen, to a woman well trained in fighting and survival and was smart enough to keep her mouth shout and listen instead of yammering away assured of her own intelligence over others.

God she had been an arrogant bitch back then. Dumber than a box of Rocks as Jared stone had put it, and Henry, Her Henry had changed all that, they had both been outcasts in the convoy, Henry had never been good dealing with people and getting into a fight with Jared’s best friend had not helped his cause. However, the man had risked death to save her life, and had been able to see past her own stupidity to the woman inside, the woman he loved and most importantly he had believed in her.

When he had been murdered by the Russian Psychopath she hadn’t just sunk into grief, no she had been determined to learn how to fight, partly to avenge Henry but more to prove to herself to the other and Henry had been right there in her dreams pushing, encouraging believing in her. Jared Stone and His wife had personally taken her training in hand and she had flourished.

The dark shoreline drew closer, and she could really begin to make out buildings other than the lighthouse. Even see the glow of candles in a few windows. the water murmured as it slid along the hull of the yacht, and the soft sound of wind through the rigging was soothing.

There was talk back on Sullivan about how important ships were going to be in the immediate future and how they needed Captains and crew. I wonder if I could learn how to do this and get my own boat, she thought, a good crew/salvage team, hit New York an a few other ports, maybe sail down to Puerto Rico or even to Jamaica, see if Hedonism is still open.

“thank god they never decided to string nets an cables across the mouth of the Marina at night” Norman commented.

Stephanie nodded as she watched the mostly dark buildings grow larger as the yacht drew closer. “how many people live here” She asked again.

“Five hundred and something, I don’t quite remember “Norman said. “Why?”

“Just curious why no one had gotten at least a few lights on. I saw a place last year where a guy was using those solar powered garden lights. Just to have some lighting in his house. A woman I know, set up a battery system to run a few lights and other things that she charged using a bicycle.”

“do many people have lights where your from” Norman asked trying to hid his excitement.

“Some yes, even a few street lights” She said.

“That I would like to see” Norman replied almost dreamily. “ I miss lights”

“With the fuel you took off the Illinois I’m surprised you haven’t fired up the generator on this thing and gotten the lights burning..” Henry said as he swung down into the cockpit.

“I hadn’t even thought about the lights” Norman said then pointed. “Get up to the bow, I want a look out just in case.”

Chris stood on the dock, listening to the water lap against the walls of the marina. It was quiet in the Enclave, almost to quiet, he thought. The shootings had really hit home for these people, who had to be wondering if this whole vote thing tomorrow was really worth the deaths and the problems the no confidence vote had spawned.

Usually at this time of the evening, there would be a few people, mostly couples, strolling along the walkway that encircled the Marina. He had wondered if it was their way of hanging on to a little bit of the old world, or a real attempt at romance either way it wasn’t something he had seen much of outside of Sullivan.

Tonight other than the security patrols and the fisherman guarding the smokers, he was alone outside. He almost checked the watch he no longer wore then began to pace the dock watching the mouth of the Marina.

Hearing a soft sound, he turned and saw a dark figure climbing down the steps to the dock. Chris, hand on his pistol watched and waited as the figure reached the dock and walked towards him. “Feeling restless” Steve said out of the darkness.

“Might say that” Chris replied relaxing just a little. He like Steve but there were others that might be creeping around out there looking for him.

“It’s been a long day,” Steve opinioned as he laced his fingers together and popped his knuckles. “ saw you come down here earlier, I wanted to come down and say thanks, one of the men you bandaged up today was my godson, Sandy says you saved his life.”

Chris turned to face the water, watching the moonlight glitter on the water. “your Welcome Steve, just glad I could help”

“You’ve caused quite a stir around here, some folks want to run you off, others think you’re a good man to have around, and I hear that a few of the ladies want to have your children.”

Chris laughed softly. “Well I don’t mind practicing with them, but I’m not ready to settle down yet, to many place to go and to much to do.”

“Kids do have a way of settling a man down” Steve said with an unseen nod. “I need to thank you for that map too, I never knew they made maps that marked out the best fishing area’s.”

“Neither did I till I found it.” Chris said, squinting as he thought he saw a boat, darker than the night sail from south to north.

There it was again Chris thought as he saw the dark shape out beyond the marina, moving towards the south this time.

“Looks like a boat is out there” Steve said. There was a note of tension in his voice.

“Its Norman” Chris said not caring if Steve became curious about how he knew.

“Maybe, Security will be sending people down here to check it out.” Steve said “we keep a look out up in the lighthouse.”

They either aren’t very good lookouts or I was far enough out and with the size of the canoe it was hard to see against the water, Chris thought.

“Might as well tell them to get Erin out here too.” Chris said as he saw the boat, he could see it clearly enough now to be sure that was what it was, swing about and head for the Marina mouth

Erin had to force herself not to ran down the steps and across the dock to the Catherine, she had made record time getting here once Morgan’s messenger had reached her.

Half the Enclave could see the lanterns and candles down here, she thought and they all had to be wondering what was going on, which meant that Mathias would put in an appearance eventually.

She stepped aside to let Steve’s fisherman pass, each man carried a bulging heavy bag slung over their backs, behind them were Security men carrying bags as well. she worked her way down to where the Catherine was tied off and found Norman talking with McCaffrey, a Blond woman and a young black man.

“What is going on here?, who are these people?” She asked walking up to the small group.

“Erin I would like you to meet Stephanie, and Henry associates of mine” Chris said.

Stephanie, Erin noted was her age maybe a little older, her hair, pulled into a pony tail that hung down to the middle of her back, almost glowed in the lantern light. She was a very attractive woman dressed in leather and armed to the teeth with a sword, pistols and a rifle that looked like an old US Army weapon, they kind they had used in Afghanistan. Henry at least dressed a little more normally, jeans and a t-shirt and only had a single pistol and shotgun. Light shone off his shaven head and he gave her a smile of white even teeth.

“Come on board Erin I will show you what’s going on” Norman said excitedly. “Morgan wanted it off loaded and stored under guard as quickly as possible. “

Erin followed Norman onto the Catherine and started to turn to ask Bob a question, the feeling that he should be here beside her, brought all the grief and feelings of loss welling up again. She pushed them back, lips trembling and stilled her face once more as Norman walked over to a pile of boxes that men were loading into bags.

He lifted the box and passed it to her, she had to turn it slightly to catch the light from the Lanterns on the dock and sitting on top of the Salon. Her breath caught and her eyes widened as she saw what was printed on the side of the box. “Meals Ready to Eat.” Her eyes scanned the rest of words focusing on the last two lines. “ US Government Property, Commercial resale is unlawful”

”how, where?” she said then took a deep breath and began again. “where did you find these Norman and how many of them did you find.”

For a moment an odd look crossed Normans face his eyes cutting toward the dock where Chris and his associates were still talking. “ there were five of those containers, that I know of Erin, judging by the first one I opened, there are 32 pallets in each one, each pallet contains 48 cases, with 12 meals per case. So around 576 meals per pallet.”

Erin’s mind whirled as she stared at the box in her hand, “18,432 meals per container” she whispered. “How did you find it all?

“Chris gave me the location as payment for picking up his associates, he said some one he knew had checked it out last year but they didn’t have the time or the manpower to salvage the ship. And its not only food on there Erin, there’s containers loaded with Chinese Solar panels, tools, farming gear, clothes, all kinds of things. Hell there’s a container that had a Mercedes inside.” Norman said, “hang on a second”

Erin nodded sharply, and passed the case she held to one of the men to pack up as Norman rushed off below decks.

“…. so that’s the situation here” Chris said as he looked over at Erin and saw Norman handing her a book. Erin still holding the book looked towards Chris. Then she looked back at Norman and the two of them continued talking.

“You know Chris, Norman aint stupid.” Henry said. “he crawled all over that ship, and let me tell you, he is pretty spry for an old white guy.” Henry said with a laugh. “He asked me and Stephanie some pretty sharp questions.”

“That’s fine, all this will be over tomorrow after that I think I can answer a few questions.” Chris said with a grin. “Assuming of course I don’t get run out of town by the peasant mob that’s been looking for me.”

“You must really like getting shot” Henry said shaking his head sadly. “I aint my grandfather I will not be prying any bullets out of your white butt.” He said then looked at Stephanie “no seriously, ol chris here got shot in the ass and thigh that’s how we met.”

“Shot by Cannibals, he always leaves that part out.”

“well them boys were a little partial to white meat” Henry said with a laugh. “and luckily for Chris here, they liked to play with their food before eating. Which is how we got there in time.”

“Here we go” Chris said shaking his head. Henry launched into his version of the night in question. Stephanie started laughing.

2200hrs Mathias’s quarters.

Mathias stood on his balcony watching the lights down on the dock wondering what was going on. The only thing he had been able to learn so far was that Norman had returned, and his boat had been loaded down something. Rumors conflicted of course, some claimed that Men had hauled off a large amount of something, but others claimed what ever Norman had brought back was still on board, strapped to the deck and underguard.

He sipped from his glass of whiskey, gazing thoughtfully at the tableau below. I wonder what Erin is up to, but I am sure I will find out tomorrow. He was more worried about the possibility of her becoming a threat tonight than he had been this morning.

Dukes little plot had cost Mathias hugely, which meant that tomorrow right after the funeral he was going to have to reveal Erin’s Cache, leaving even her supporters reeling with no time to think or recover before they had to vote. The disgust and anger would carry the vote in his favor, and only later when they had calmed down would some begin to really question the story. It would be far too late at that point and he didn’t care, he would be in charge and that was all that mattered.

He smiled nastily giving the people down there on the dock the mental finger, not a damn thing you clowns can do to top me, he said silently.

He sipped more whiskey, debating on opening the can of Spotted Dick. No it was to late he decided.

Hearing a knock on the front door, he sat his glass down and walked to the door, frowning in irritation as it opened admitting Tolman. “what did you find out?” he asked as he crossed the room and refilled his glass and one for Tolman.

“Solar panels and farming tools is whats aboard. But there are rumors that something was taken off and hidden. What ever it might be there cant be a lot of and it cant make a difference in tomorrows vote.”

“that remains to be seen Mr. Tolman” Mathias said passing Tolman a glass, the dark haired man smiled as he accepted it.

“Oh and You will like this, Norman returned with a black man and a Blond woman who seem to know or work for the Trader.”

“ I had assumed that you would deal with the trader by now” Mathais said in a tone that left now question on how annoyed he was at Tolmans failure.

“I have had people expressing their dislike of the trader all day Mathias, and when you told me your plan this afternoon, I immediately put it into motion. But the trader has kept out of sight, except of his appearance after the shooting where he helped treat the wounded. And frankly with the way our people was acting and the gratitude many expressed for his help, not to mention all the security around the place, I thought using the men I had picked to verbally assault him was not the most intelligent move I could have made.” He shrugged slightly, “after that he left with Sandy and several security personell and vanished again. he entered the clinic and then slipped out unseen. The man is like a ghost when he wants to be.”

“except that he was down at the docks, correct” Mathias said. Though he sounded more thoughtful than annoyed. “I suspect he was the one that Told Norman where to find his cargo, just like he gave Steve the smokers. I should have had him removed early on.” Mathias frowned angrily. “hindsight of course is never wrong, But now I have to wonder what exactly might have been smuggled off that Yacht and hidden away. If anything was actually taken off, of course.”

“I can arrange to have a talk with him” Tolman said with a cold smile of predatory anticipation.

“No, now he as two friends to help him watch his back, I suspect they might be as dangerous as he is. No continue spreading the rumors, and I want you to build on the cargo that was supposedly taken off the Yacht and hidden.” Mathias said pausing to sip at his drink then began to pace in front of his windows as he mentally worked out a plan. “Lets suggest that it was Erins cargo, something she got from the trader. Food stuff that she is hiding away in case she loses. We will not have a lot of time to spread that before the funeral but lets try. but other than that do not try a thing with the Trader, not now. Once I win the vote, I can turn you and security loose on the man and kill him or run him off.”

Tolman nodded, then stood there for a moment swirling the whiskey in his glass around as he looked out the window into the night. “What happens if you don’t win the vote.” He finally asked daring to voice the question that no one else would.

“then we frame Erin for food hording, prove she hired Duke to shoot those people and link her to anything we can come up with including selling her mother into sexual slavery to make a buck if that’s what it takes.” Mathias stated, a slight smirk flickered across his lips.

Tolman nodded but he was going to make his own plans just in case, if his own dream and plans were wrecked he would wreck Erins plans as well. That you carpet munching Lesbo is a promise.

From the Journal of Chris McCaffrey.

Well the cargo arrived, and Norman has quietly arraigned for four other boats to head out after the vote to load up more food and materials. Henry is right Norman isn’t an idiot, there were several hundred tons of fuel still on board the cargo ship and Norman filled his tanks while there, but now he plans on pumping the fuel from his yacht into a bigger boat that can haul more than his and the other yachts. Casey would love this guy.

Erin has a tight lid on the cargo and I think she may be right that no one has leaked what was taken off and hidden. Thought hidden is not exactly what I would call stashing the MRE’s in the food storage building. She will reveal it tomorrow in her speech before the vote.

I suspect that Mathias will not go quietly into the night and to that end I have arraigned something that might just help that along. Tolman is the one person I think might resist if their plans fall apart but with Stephanie and Henry here and two more people on call I am not really worried about Tolman any longer.

I am reminded, damn you Jared, of a saying ‘Elections are won by men and women chiefly because most people vote against somebody rather than for somebody’ I think it was Franklin Adams who said that, anyway, I hope that is not the case tomorrow or if it is that they vote against Mathias regardless of how they feel about Erin.

Tomorrow we will know whether I can open up at least a little more to Erin Brinn, speaking of tomorrow its almost midnight and I need to get some sleep.

10 thoughts on “Dilemma part 5

    • Thanks for reading and more is on the way James, I am hoping to get it finished and posted tonight, might end up being tomorrow night instead. Today was a busy day that kept me from writing alot.

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