“I can’t go any farther” Quinn announced.
The guard gave him a poke in the back with the barrel of his weapon, a rattly pump shotgun. “Yes you will.”
“It ain’t a matter of won't. It is a matter of ‘can’t.” Quinn said. “Look at my boot.”
The boot had blood seeping out of it.
The West Branch normally ran fast and shallow. When Quinn and his detail reached it, it was still and deep. The debris from the demolished bridges created a series of dams that turned the West Branch into a long, narrow lake.
Not able to see the bottom, the men took off all of their clothing except their boots and socks. Nobody with a brain is going to walk out into water without footwear. There is no telling what trash is waiting to puncture or trap the unshod foot. While a boot might be more vulnerable to entrapment, the wearer has the option of being able to worm his foot out.
The water was slightly deeper than crotch-deep. Exiting the other side, they put their clothing back on but their boots and socks were soaked.
Walking the better part of five miles raised a bumper crop of blisters on all the feet but Quinn suffered most of all. In the best of times, his left boot was a very poor fit.
The man detailed to guard and transport Quinn was the one the patrol could most easily afford the loss of. That is, he was slow-witted.
Due to a shortage of radios, there was not one to give to the dim-witted guard.
Confronted with an unsolvable problem. He had the men sit in the grass beside the road and he waited for help.
“What do you mean, you can’t remember his name?” Chernovsky’s voice came through the shortwave.
“That is not what I said.” Moe Tyler said. “It was Sparkle or Sprinkles or something like that.”
“Was it ‘Spackle’?” Chernovsky asked, his voice beyond cold.
“Yeah, that could be it.” Tyler admitted.
“I suggest you find out.” Chernovsky said. It was not a suggestion.
“That is going to take a little bit.” Tyler said. “They ain’t here. I gotta get ahold of the patrol.”
“I will be waiting” Chernovsky said.
Tyler was regretting that second cup of coffee he enjoyed before he called Chernovsky. He probably would have remembered that kid’s name. Damn. He was going to have to start writing things down.
“Yeah, they left a couple of hours ago. They shoulda been to your place by now.” the leader of the patrol said.
Moe looked around the farm and even hollered in case they had holed up in one of his barns. No luck.
The second call to Chernovsky was even more scorching than the first.
Tyler was regretting his new allies but he sure did like the silver.
It took the better part of forty minutes to find Quinn and his detail.
The hand-held radio could communicate with Tyler’s home base but not Chernovsky some 35 miles away. Consequently, Chernovsky would ask a question, Tyler repeat it and then Quinn would answer. That answer again passed through Tyler on the way back to Chernovsky.
After the conversation, Chernovsky made if VERY clear to Tyler that Spackle and his crew were going to be treated like pampered guests.
Two hours later, Milo Talon pulled into Moe Tyler’s farm yard with a truck. He had cargo and he had a passenger.
Dysen bounded out of the cab and smothered Quinn in an enormous hug.
While Dysen and Quinn were getting reacquainted, Milo unloaded an assortment of hardware, including two motor-scooters.
Turning to Milo, Quinn said, “I appreciate you bringing Dysen but I would have seen her soon enough.”
Milo replied “Well, here is the thing. Chernovsky figures he owes you two a honeymoon so he made arrangements with Tyler to make that happen.”
Quinn looked over at Moe Tyler who did not look too happy.
“That really isn’t necessary” Quinn said. “I really want to get back to the farm.”
“Your farm is doing great. The crew is sawing logs like crazy-mad. You can ask Dysen.” Milo informed him.
“Ok, what is the rest of the story?” Quinn asked.
“How about you and me step up into my office” Milo said, indicating the cab of the truck.
“How did you know this was here?” Lieutenant Martens asked.
They were camped a quarter-mile from the road where they had intersected the pipeline right-of-way. Dog had flushed a young rabbit and the two men and Dog were feasting on roast rabbit and soaked hardtack.
“I do a little bit of trading” Straeder said. “I can’t carry Walmart on my back so I always ask ‘Whatchya lookin’ for?’”
“We do a little bit of chit-chatting and I always ask about the trading prospects to the north. That is when somebody told me about the pipeline, just west of Parshalville. They said it went northwest at least as far as Bancroft” Straeder said.
“I have people in Eaton Rapids” Straeder admitted. “I figured that if things went into-the-ditch I could head north to avoid the fighting. Then head west and hook north around Lansing.”
“That is a long way to go to get where your are going” Martens said.
“Mebbe so” Straeder said. “But maybe I can make a few dollars on the way, then it won’t be so bad.”