Training relaxed as the ground got icy. Pushing too hard, especially in the dark of night, put too many fighters onto the disabled list.
The picket of sensors that Sam was extending on a daily basis reduced the need for night watchmen. The need would never completely disappear but it was pared down to about 20% of what it was, with half of them in quick-reaction mode and half actually patrolling.
The West Branch border was not hermetically sealed. A small amount of trade moved across the river.
Young men vary, but most are wired to need six hours of sleep a night. They might like more, but the hard ground mitigated against lounging in the rack any longer than was needed.
Campfires started popping up as young men sought to entertain themselves. Stories were told, plans were made, information was shared.
A group of men gathered about a campfire approximately 10 miles south of I-96. The campfire was set a good fifty yards away from any of the other fires or tents. The men were there by invitation only.
“You know, this is bull shit” Jeremy said.
“We have been through this a thousand times” David said. “We have to bide our time. Tit-for-tat, buddy. Don’t have any leverage unless we have something of value to trade.”
“Still, its bull shit” Jeremy said. “Every mutherfucker in Livingston County can order pizza. Every Mfer in Howell can get drunk, have a girlfriend and get laid. And we are out here freezing our asses off.”
“He’s got a point” Smitty said.
David rounded on Smitty. “I expect stupid from Jeremy. I expect better from you.”
Smitty said “I am just sayin’ that Jeremy has a point. We are playing your game but it would go a lot easier if we weren’t living like fucking monks. You know what I am sayin’?”
David looked around. This was not a mutiny...yet.
“We can desert right now” David said. “and what does that get us?”
“We can be in downtown Howell in four, maybe five hours and what happens to us?” David said.
“We end up doing shit details and settling for sloppy-seconds with the women” David said. “Am I right?”
“But if you can keep your mouths shut and your pants zipped, and wait just a few months...what will we have to trade for?” David asked.
“We can offer the assholes from Ann Arbor safe passage through the buffer zone. All we will ask is that we be appointed administrators of Ingham and Eaton Counties.” David said.
“The choice is simple: Flake out now and suck left-hind tit for the rest of your life...or be patient, play MY game and get first pick of prime, table-grade women, booze and weed for the rest of your life.”
“Why would they GIVE us Ingham and Eaton County?” Jeremy asked.
“They gotta give it to somebody?” David said, reasonably. “Look at who they put in charge when they took over Livingston County? They didn’t have enough people to take over, so they rewarded the fighters who helped them out.” David said.
“Put yourself in their shoes. They didn’t have the warm bodies to control Livingston County. They aren’t going to have the warm bodies when they take over Ingham and Eaton Counties. Who do they turn to? The people who are on their side and have the muscle to get the job done.” David said.
Jeremy shook his head, mulishly. Smitty calmed down.
David kept Jeremy around because Jeremy was predictable. If he flushed Jeremy, David wouldn’t know who was going to step into the role of “the loyal opposition”. Better to have somebody predictable, somebody who was entirely predictable and a total idiot.
What David did not account for in his calculations was somebody with exceptional hearing, somebody who was not completely welcome at any of the other fires. Somebody like Donut Wohlfert.