Mark and Betsy Salazar lived in the Duckworth mansion for a month before they moved a mile west and a mile north.
Even in mid-May the huge house used huge amounts of firewood to take the edge off the morning chill.
Betsy felt a bit stifled by being so close to Rick and Kate. After the move they were a mile-and-a-half from the store and almost two miles from where Rick and Kate lived. Betsy judged that to be the perfect distance, a half-hour walk to the store and a twelve minute bike ride to the house.
They moved into a 1200 square foot house that was perched on a rise. It had mature maple and a weeping willow tree for shade. Best of all, there were neighbor kids the same ages as their own children.
Betsy had a garden. Mark worked for Farmer Don even though the thousand ounces of silver he had stashed in the SUV when bugging out made working unnecessary, at least for a while.
Mark also became something of a preacher, specializing in baptizing and burials.
Mark had been his paternal grandmother’s favorite grandchild and consequently he spent much time with her.
His Grandmother Salazar believed that the living and the dead were separated by a gauzy veil. She included her own mother and grandmother in conversation as if they were sitting around the kitchen table drinking coffee as she taught Mark how to make gingerbread cookies.
It seemed no stranger to Mark than his father's talking to the dog. Rick had often told him, “Nobody knows how much dogs understand. I don’t see any harm in talking to them as if they were high school kids.”
Mark grew up with no fear of death or of ghosts. His grandmother taught him such fears are for those who choose to live unrighteously.
The great wave of births had yet to break. Long, dark winter nights and no access to reliable birth-control made that almost inevitable. August-through-November promised to be a joyous if laborious time.
The deaths, however, were already too-frequent. It was possible to be in arrears on your tetanus vaccination and never know it before Ebola struck. After Ebola, digging in the dirt with sharp tools and the recent mining of old manure piles with pitchforks made lockjaw an easy, if fatal, diagnosis.
Nyssa encountered a lot of resistance on the first few puncture wounds that she attempted to treat. Treatment involved aggressive irrigation from the bottom of the puncture with large quantities of sterile water and a blunt, hypodermic needle. Then vigorous scrubbing with the largest, sterile brush that would enter the wound. Then more irrigation. Repeat three times. Then shave off all of the skin within a half inch of the wound to expose any foreign material that may have been wiped off by layers of skin as the foreign object penetrated. Without the benefit of local anesthesia, it was a painful treatment.
Even after word of the slow, painful deaths spread around the community, there was still hesitation at being treated until Dr Sam Wilder and Gabby Salazar got together and cobbled together a process to convert ethanol alcohol to dimethyl ether.
Gabby hated the downtime associated with switching processes so she ran the ether until she had filled up three, 20 pound LP gas pigs before shutting down and switching back to making ethanol. To her way of thinking it was just as easy to make ten gallons as it was to make a pint.
For the most part, Pastor James handled baptisms and burials in Pray Church and the northern part of Chernovsky’s Annex. Mark Salazar handled baptisms and burials in Kates Store, Blastic’s Demesne and the southern part of Chernovsky’s Annex.
After three burials, it was natural when neighbors asked if he would lead a Sunday service.
Initially, he found that intimidating. As a Catholic, he had been raised to believe that preaching was a sacrament and a very, very big deal. After talking with Betsy, and praying (and yes, having some conversations with his grandmother in his head), he decided the need was great and God would understand.
He settled on reading an Old Testament passage, from a New Testament “letter” and then from one of the four Gospels. The first few Sundays he read the Book of Jonah and Paul's letters to Timothy. For the Gospel readings he started right at the beginning with Matthew.
In the beginning, Mark decided that the material could stand on its own. He felt no need to add any commentary. Better to be a transparent window than a lens that distorted. After a couple of months, one of his church members asked, “I don’t see how that applies to me.” Then Mark decided to spent no more than one minute after each reading to observe how he, personally, saw the readings apply to his own life and to ask his small congregation if any of them would like to add their own comments.
Benicio had no problem finding a minion willing to go to the store Kate ran and purchase a few items. In the course of purchasing a few items, the subject of Duckworth came up. The minion learned that the entire Duckworth family simply disappeared at the time of the last, major blizzard. Nobody had seen any of the Duckworths since early March.
The minion had no problem finding the Duckworth mansion. The drive was overgrown and showed no sign of traffic. The minion was a former cop who thoroughly tossed the place. He was unable to find what he was looking for, although he found the safe with the missing door still lag-bolted to the framing of the house.
That left Benicio in a bit of a quandary. The crew he sent to raid Duckworth’s mansion back in May had disappeared without a trace. He suspected that Duckworth had slipped away with his family and the drugs but he could not rule out the possibility that the lieutenants he sent on the raid may have seen an opportunity and absconded with the goods.