Behind the Ruins (Stories of the Fall) (7 page)

“I
don’t really give a shit what you think, or anyone else here. They’re coming,
this next summer, and they’ll kill and steal and do what they like. That’s all
there is to it. You can talk all you want, and I know there’ll be a lot of it,
but you’ll pick one of three things. You’ll run, you’ll fight, or you’ll let
them take the lives and the things they want.”

Grey
paused for the space of a breath or two and continued in a more relaxed tone.

“I
like the valley, and I’m willing to fight to keep it, but I can also pack my
gear and leave. I don’t have a ranch, or a mill, or a farm, or a family. So
when you all decide, you let me know, and maybe I can help. Either with plans,
or with packing. Now, does anyone have a sensible question, or can I go outside
and have a smoke?”

Clay
spoke, raising his hand.

“I
got one. How many you do you think there are, and how well are they geared?”

“Their
scout party was about two dozen; half or more with guns, the rest with bows and
such. I’d guess their total numbers would be a minimum of four or five times
that. Probably half will have guns and know how to use them.”

There
was a general mutter, some of it optimistic, some the opposite. Maggie stood up
from her seat beside Clay.

“There’s
more guns than that in the valley, Grey. Why should these folk worry?” She
asked, her eyes bright.

“You
know the answer to any question before you ask it Maggie. Anyone who knows you
knows that.” There were some nods and a short laugh or two. “But I’ll tell you
so you don’t have to explain it.” Grey rubbed his face, hearing the whiskers
rasp.

“They
need to worry because these people will be together. A few guns together, used
right, will kill a hundred disorganized farmers.” There was a rumble at that,
but Grey ignored it and carried on. “If they burn you out of your homes,
they’ll have an easy time killing you off a group at a time - or getting you to
give them what they want. They’re going to come looking to hunt you. We need to
turn that around and hunt them first.”

Tillingford
stood up and raised an eyebrow. “You want to take the fight to them before they
get up into the valley proper?”

“I
do.”

“And
you’d be leading this fandango?”

“I’ll
want people who can think on their own if they have to, but who can listen.
That way if one man goes down we won’t fall apart.”

“So
that was a yes?” Tillingford asked.

“Yes.”

“As
you pointed out, you have less to lose than most here. What makes you sure
you’re the man to lead this?”

“Because
I don’t have anything to lose, and because I’ve some experience with this sort
of thing. Because I’m your best shot of keeping the body count low.”
Tillingford had a pensive look that augured more questions, so Grey continued
on. “And there will be a body count, and probably not just for them. There’ll
be shooting if we fight, and people will die. But you’re faced with losing people
either way. If you fight, you have a chance to wind up still holding your lands
and homes. If you don’t, well, you all know how hard it is to start over.”

Grey
sat down and leaned his head back, closing his eyes as the assembly broke into
muttered conversations and debates on each pew. Doc leaned over and whispered
in his ear.

“That
wasn’t bad. Did you put Clay up to that?”

“No,
Clay’s smart. Him and Maggie both. They know they have it good and they want to
keep what they have. Tillingford’s just voicing the worries all these folk have
and won’t say straight out: Will you get my babies killed?”

“Well,
will you?”

“I’ll
try not to. Oh hell, the Reverend is getting up to say his piece.”

Dove
returned to the step below the pulpit. He held his hands up, palms to the
crowd, and his boom cut across the noise like a scythe.

“Neighbors,
calm for a moment. The whole day is ahead and we have time to decide this to
everyone’s satisfaction,” the Reverend said.

“Good
luck with that,” Doc murmured.

“What
Grey says makes good sense,” Dove continued, unsmiling, “and I am glad God has
seen fit to place someone like him here in our community at this time. A man
who has fought before, and who has experienced the evil that these sort of men
revel in.”

Grey’s
eyebrows rose and he glanced at doc, who shrugged.

“We
need to realize that these raiders come for their own violent, senseless
reasons, and they will not be turned back by our prayers alone. Do not despise
Grey’s advice because it seems dangerous. Doing nothing is equally dangerous,
and his knowledge of these people will be our edge. He is the stone in our
sling.

“The
good book says thou shalt not murder. It also holds many examples of the
faithful overcoming evil, sometimes by force of arms. To do so in the defense
of your homes and families is both worthy and wise. I suggest we all take some
time to discuss things, and meet again after lunch.”

The
crowd-noise rose again, and people began clumping in groups or heading into the
cooler air outside.

Dove
descended the step and walked to where he could face Grey and Doc. They rose to
meet him.

Grey
and the Reverend exchanged looks.

“I
didn’t expect your support,” Grey admitted.

Dove
bared his teeth in what wasn’t really a smile. His reply was pitched for their
ears alone.

“I
don’t support you. I support resistance and admit your experience. You’re no
different than those jackals from down south. They’re killers, and we need a
killer. And with a little luck, you won’t be coming back.”

Doc
forced a laugh as the Reverend turned on his heel and stalked away.

“I
always figured you were mistaken about the Reverend not liking you. What the
hell was that about?”

“I
don’t know,” Grey said.

Oh,
but you do
, something giggled in the back of his head.
Murder
will out.

The
crowd ate lunch around the long plank tables in the yard, and after Grey turned
away a hundred questions the crowd returned to the church. Grey stood and faced
the crowd. They quieted after a minute, but for a few continuous whispers from
the rear pews. He hadn’t expected many naysayers, and the talk at lunch had
reassured him. No one had asked if they should fight; just how they would do
it. Grey discarded his plans to focus morale, and went straight to the meat.

“Lots
of you asked at lunch how we’d put together a defense,” Grey said. “I’ll answer
again so you all know. We’re not doing that yet. You’ll need to decide how many
and where later, but we have the winter to plan and early spring to practice.
That’s something that local leaders like Tom will want to organize. What we’ll
need to know right now is what we have to defend ourselves with. That’ll answer
to most of the ‘hows’. So, while Doc notes it down, I want counts of horses,
guns, men and women with skills we can use, whether bow or gun or riding or
trapping. I want to know if anyone has or knows where any explosives are, any
chemicals, wire, rope, tools, whatever.

“People
- more than a few of you in this room - have salted away things that would
help. I know that. And right now you’re thinking of just staying quiet and
saving it for a rainy day. This is the rainy day. We’ve got winter and then we
need to be ready. Those supplies can be used to ready the Port and other
strongpoints that the raiders will have to deal with before they can attack anything
else.”

Grey
lowered his head, eyes scanning the room from the shadows beneath his brow.

“There
may be those here who are funneling info to the raiders.” There was a general
rumble of disbelief and anger. Grey let it pass. “I say may; there may not be.
But if I was them, I’d try to have at least one or two informers. Maybe I’d
grab a kid and hold them; maybe I’d promise better land or a job once they were
in charge, whatever. If you’re here, I ask this much, try to limit what you say
to them. They’ll threaten or lie to get what they want from you. Your best
chance is with us.”

The
crowd muttered, and people shifted uncomfortably.

“He
said ‘may be’,” Clay put in loudly. “And we need to keep it in mind, and stay
alert, but don’t get paranoid.”

Grey
continued.

“That’s
another reason why I’m not answering ‘how’ here today. Whatever groups we form
to do this job, here or there, will know, and I’m going to want them to keep it
quiet. If you wind up a volunteer, you’ll want to tell your family and friends
about what we’re doing - but you need to control that sneaking piece of pride
that wants to brag, because it may get you killed.

“So,
with that, let’s get stated. We have a lot to do.”

 

Chapter 5: The Castle

 

“We
have a lot to do, and your scouts aren’t helping the situation, Harris,” Creedy
said, staring at the man who stood before his old steel desk. Where Creedy’s
quarters were well-appointed, his office was a basic concrete cube with a
single window, a desk and two chairs and little else. The thirty-year-old
leftovers of the previous occupant still awaited their owner on the walls and
shelves.

Harris
was a lank, limping, sallow man with a raggedly chewed Wild Bill Hickok
moustache so black it looked like boot polish. He was in his thirties, Creedy
knew, but looked much older. Creedy, in contrast, was dapper, clean shaven and
neat, dressed in handmade khaki slacks and a crisp ironed shirt that fit him
well. He was close to the same age, but looked a decade younger. His brown hair
was short, neatly combed, and he smelled faintly of aftershave. His eyes were
mild and brown.

“I
know, Mr. Creedy,” Harris said. “I left them a note to catch us up as soon as
they could. But we had orders to get back before the first freeze, and Trey was
late getting in.”

“So
my orders made you lose three scouts?” Creedy asked. His voice was
disinterested. Harris paled.

“No
sir. That is entirely my fault. I thought we would be late if we didn’t head
back when we did, and we left on my order.” Harris stood very erect, and stared
over Creedy’s head at an old porn magazine calendar tacked on the office’s rear
wall. Miss April of some year or other had one leg behind her head and was
intently focused on the pink dildo she was holding. Harris had rarely felt less
horny than he did at the moment, but it kept his eyes safely away from
Creedy’s.

“And
now, weeks later, we have three fewer scouts, the early snows are on the hills,
and we’ve lost one of our maps. The one, in fact, with most of the northern
settlements marked on it?”

Harris
nodded, his eyes still on the calendar. “Yes, sir.”
Oh God, don’t let him
kill me while I’m staring at a whore fucking herself with a plastic dick,
Harris
prayed.

“Well,”
Creedy paused and appeared to think, though he’d decided his course before Harris
had arrived. He could smell the acrid fear-sweat on Harris, and it amused him.
“That’s unfortunate. It won’t disarrange my plans, but it will mean we move
more blindly than I like. I did make it clear that I expected the maps to be
treated with care when I sent you, didn’t I, Harris?”

Harris
nodded in mute misery. The calendar girl was wearing sequined fuck-me pumps
with what had to be six-inch heels. Harris wondered in a fragmented, nightmare
way whether she could have ever walked in them.

“Gregor!”
Creedy called. The office door swung open a foot and a hulking man, heavily
scarred, peered around the jamb.

“Yes,
Mr. Creedy?” His voice was a fitting basso rumble that sounded like big rocks
rolling in a drum.

“Please
escort Harris to the Quad,” Creedy said. Harris looked like he might be sick.
“He has made a mistake, but I value his future here with us, with the Castle.
So let’s say fifteen lashes. Try to avoid killing him, but if it happens, well,
I understand it’s not an exact science.”

“Yes,
Mr. Creedy,” Gregor said.

“You’ll
do better,” Creedy said, staring at Harris.

“Yes,
thank you Mr. Creedy. Yes I will. Thank you, sir.” Harris said in a breathy
voice.

Creedy
spoke a final time as Gregor took the mustached man’s arm and began to walk him
out. His reasonable, calm tone followed Harris down the concrete hall with its
peeling curls of green paint.

“And
don’t confuse this, Harris. You’re not valuable. I just hate waste. But if you
fuck me again, I’ll have Gregor skin you alive.”

Creedy
spent the next half-hour organizing the information his outriders had brought
him, both the group he had sent north to sweep the Okanagan Valley and the
second unit, which had ridden southeast and felt out the edges of the Green
forces. The second group, under the more capable command of Luke Glass, found
Green scouts along the Snake River. Their main force was somewhere east of
Idaho still, it seemed. It was too far to mount a raid on the Castle, Creedy
reflected, but still too close.

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