I know I needed to stay focused but between my anger at the attackers and my concern for Thor who was extremely pale I suspected I was struggling to keep things in perspective and keep my mind on business. I knew for sure when we were in sight of the bridge and Montgomery caught up with me.
“Slow down Kid. You’re getting too far out front. Someone could get between us and cut off about ability to reach the caravan and lend assistance.”
“OK. How’s Thor looking?” I asked knowing he’d just come from back there.
“That's what I'm talking about now. Stay focused,” he admonished me. “You aren’t going to help him worrying and getting yourself hurt ‘cause you weren’t paying enough attention. How do you think that is going to make him feel.”
I sighed knowing he spoke the truth even if I didn’t like it. I focused Evans’ binoculars that I’d inherited on what was in front of me. “Bridge is down to one lane as far as I can see. The vehicles left are all single layers and won’t give cover the way the piles of them did. But the way they are done this can’t be how the cars just stopped. Everything is way too neat; it’s not natural.”
“Mississippi probably has a lot of cars plugging things under the bridge. Hal said, and I guess you weren’t there at that point, that group from Olive Branch cleared it early on where the Muslim group tried to trap them on the peninsula, and in the process they simply upended a bunch over the sides. Another thing, you notice how all the buildings overlooking the highway are damaged pretty significantly?”
I said, “Yeah, I thought that was done in the rioting.”
“Only partially. Hal said that group fire bombed most of those left to get rid of the sniper vantage points. Apparently they had a big salvage operation going and then destroyed stairwells and catwalks to make them unusable.”
“Persistent sons a guns ain’t they?” But the picture he was painting actually made me feel blessed and grateful. We could have been hip deep in bad guys throwing things at us including bullets. “No one had tried to take the bridge out completely?”
“Naw. Both sides need it too much. The Mississippi is a dangerous river, difficult to go crossways on. The bridge is the most reliable route. The Muslims may shoot themselves in the foot at some point but not until they are willing to cut themselves loose from the leadership in Cairo.”
“So this isn’t anything but a preview of things to come.”
Montgomery shrugged, “Couldn’t stay easy forever Kid.”
Actually crossing the bridge was anticlimactic, at least until we got closer to Olive Branch when I got a bad case of the heebies. Montgomery caught up to me. “Hey Kid, when I said slow down I didn’t mean this slow.”
I looked at him. “There’s a couple of people watching from those bushes.”
“How many?” he asked going into wolf mode.
“I don’t know. Probably two or three. I smell two different tobacco smokes for sure and maybe some Copenhagen in there too. Doubt someone is going to puff and dip at the same time.”
“You can smell that?”
“Don’t look at me all weird. When the breeze was blowing this way even Pilbos would have noticed it.”
A crafty look came over his face. “I’ve never seen a Muslim with a Copenhagen ring on his pocket. Cigarettes yes, dip … no.”
I just nodded trying to notice anything useful. Montgomery was fading to go back to the caravan to give them a heads up when I saw a rifle barrel poke from the bushes.
“Down!” Montgomery dropped and the rifle barrel disappeared. I was a hair’s width away from spraying the bushes but decided to give them one last chance since I didn’t know who was on the other side of them. “Hey, you in the bush, all we want to do is avoid trouble and pass by. No harm, no foul this time but I won’t put up with you aiming at my friend again. If you’ve got a problem with us passing by then explain before you shoot, not after.”
No one said anything for a moment then a voice called out, “Are ye with them?”
“With who?” I asked.
“Them heathens,” the same voice answered to be followed by another voice with a less rural accent, “The Muslims.”
“We’re not with any group from around here,” I told the disembodied voices. “We’re just passing through, looking for a place to stay for the night out of everybody’s way.”
The second voice said, “You’re with that bunch from the bridge?”
“Yes,” I answered since they probably already knew the truth of it anyway.
I could hear them conferring then one shouted, “Whoa! No closer!!”
I turned to see Thor teetering on his horse and I hollered, “You people whoa yourselves. You mess with him and you …”
Thor called, “Easy now. No one wants trouble.” I turned and gave the bushes a dirty look, leaving Montgomery to cover us both as I helped Thor down.
I heard a voice from the bushes, “You better be related boy ‘cause we don’t tolerate that kind of stuff here.”
I was losing patience and turned around and said, “Keep your dirty mouth shut. If you had a lick of sense …” I didn’t get to finish what I was saying because Thor put his hand over my mouth. If he hadn’t been in obvious pain I would have bit him. Instead I nodded my head but let him know my feelings by snorting and giving him a look that told him just how fed up I was with the current male population in general.
A fourth voice spoke up from a direction I hadn’t suspected and with a little bit of laugh in his voice said, “Sorry ma’am. Taye must not have his glasses on.” A man in his forties stepped out much to the consternation of his fellows. Taking in Thor’s bloody bandage he said, “Looks like you’ve had some trouble.”
Thor said in a casual and reasonable tone of voice, “Nothing we couldn’t handle.”
The fourth man walked up easily but carefully and stuck out his hand, “Abe Rhodes.”
“Thor will do for me,” Thor said sticking his own hand out.
Mr. Rhodes smiled again, looking Thor up and down, and said, “I believe it will.”
A whiff of a smell on the wind had me turning back towards the way we had come from. At almost the same time Mr. Rhodes did the same thing. I looked over at Thor and said, “Exhaust, diesel.”
Mr. Rhodes made a motion with his arm and then turned to Thor, “Get your people and animals and come on. You can stay between the walls, but we won’t leave the gates open forever.”
Montgomery ran to the lead wagon and everyone started moving forward at a quick pace. I boosted Thor into his saddle and told him, “You’ve got point. I’m going back to help Chuckri get the kids in.” I took off at a run knowing that I’d likely be paying for that but too worried at the strength of any group that still had working diesel engines. Besides, Thor needed to be upfront to do any parley if need be.
I wondered what was taking the wagons so long to get going forward when I saw the boys dumping lambs and kids into the wagons with people as quick as they could be rounded up. “Keep moving!” I told them. “Faster. Better to lose an animal than your family. Move!”
The dogs were moving the remaining herd animals faster than the wagons could move so I sent the boys ahead. That’s when the first bullet came our way. “Faster!!”
Pilbos leaned down in the saddle and grabbed David and Chuckri grabbed Taniel. “Go! I’ll cover the rear!” I told them.
“Cover your own rear!” hollered Pilbos. “If you don’t Thor’ll have our heads.” That didn’t stop him from moving forward and trying to keep the cows and their calves moving.
I picked some cover and proceeded to teach them that was following us that it wasn’t nice to hack off a girl from Virginny when she was already in a foul mood. It especially wasn’t nice to endanger her love life. Suddenly Montgomery was at my side. “Wanna play some more?”
“Don’t mind if I do,” I told him in a bloodthirsty frame of mind.
I wasn’t in the shape I was during the season but doggone I hadn’t degenerated into some weakling either. Now you figure they’d have learned some caution after what happened before hand but apparently not. I guess they were all too eager for them virgins they are constantly going on about. My throwing arm skipped that little ball shaped thing right into the cab of the lead vehicle. That made a good sized mess in the middle of the road, blocking it to the vehicle behind. We’d halved their forces in one boom.
But it didn’t stop them. Men poured out of the second truck like clowns from a clown car. Montgomery got my attention and we headed off at a run. There are days you fight and days you run to fight another day.
And days you dig in and fight whether you want to or not because you can’t outrun the enemy’s bullets.
Why is it during the worse time you get the hiccups? It was probably nerves and having to inhale my lunch on the run but knowing why didn’t make them any less annoying. They were also interfering with my ability to aim and shoot with the accuracy I normally had. Dat burn it I hate when that happens. But hiccups or not I didn’t leave Montgomery to do all the work.
Then from our side I caught a couple trying to sneak around us and cut us off. They rushed and the stinking hiccups messed me up again. I guess those knuckleheads didn’t expect me to turn around and rush them right back. I noticed when I took the two losers down they were kind of scrawny but that didn’t stop me from picking them up and slamming them down hard. I heard one of ‘em make this funny snapping noise and thought, “Oops. Gotta watch your strength girl.” My next thought was, “Oh no you don’t gotta watch nothing. Squash these idiots like the cockroaches they are.”
When I was finished I turned to find Montgomery just looking at me and shaking his head. “Stop playing with your food Rocky. Let’s go.” We headed out at a good clip, unsure if we had any more following us. Before long I was glad my main pack was in one of the wagons. It was too flaming hot for this kind of nonsense.