It was the end of the road for Thibodeaux and Andi.
There had been no word from “higher”.
Thibodeaux made expeditions three miles to the south and to the north and none of Sayed’s observation posts were still operating. Just him and Andi.
He knew the jig was up once they ran out of hard-tack. You can starve to death eating rabbit meat. Not enough fat. Not enough calories.
And they weren’t catching all that many rabbits. The rabbits had figured out how to twist around and chew through the synthetic cordage. Unlike steel, the nylon was no match for bunny teeth.
Thibodeaux and Andi discussed the best way to surrender. They knew there was a high risk that they would be shot while turning themselves in.
Andi voted for surrendering to the two lovers they saw strolling twice-a-day. Her reasoning was that they were the ones most likely to have empathy for the couple.
Thibodeaux was of two minds. While he agreed with Andi in principle, the man had clearly been wounded and since he was of military age, it was a damned good chance that Sayed’s forces had been the ones to shoot him. Men tend to resent things like that and had been known to hold grudges.
In the end Thibodeaux agreed because he didn’t have any better ideas.
Wyatt and Tikka were very regular in their walks. Andi had them timed down to a ten-minute window.
Thibodeaux and Andi stashed their guns in the middle of a blackberry thicket some 150 yards from the road. If things went sideways they wanted to be able to recover them.
They left their backpacks and water there as well.
They intercepted Wyatt and Tikka a quarter mile off Howell Road. Howell Road was a heavily traveled artery and they didn't want a crowd. On the other hand, they didn't want the couple they were surrendering to to feel isolated and to think they were being ambushed.
Thibodeaux and Andi stepped into the middle of the road some thirty-five yards ahead of Wyatt and Tikka. They were holding hands as they walked out of the brush that lined the road.
They turned and faced Wyatt. They separated by about six feet and raised their hands and Andi loudly announced “We are political refugees from Ann Arbor and we want to surrender to you.”
Then they waited.
Wyatt saw a scruffy, hairy, muddy man who he knew was not a Buffer-Zone fighter. That is, a threat.
Tikka saw a magazine-cover, glamorous model. That is, a woman so gorgeous that Tikka was instantly intimidated.
Wyatt slipped his handgun out of his holster and kept it at low-ready as they approached the couple. Tikka had a .22, bolt-action long gun for defense against feral dogs and to pot the occassional woodchuck or squirrel. She didn’t think to un-sling it.
“Who are you?” Wyatt asked. His voice was not particularly loud. Just loud enough.
“We are refugees from Ann Arbor and we are surrendering to you.” Thibodeaux said.
“Yeah, I heard that. If you are refugees, then why are you surrendering?” Wyatt asked.
“Good question” Thibodeaux admitted.
“We are surrendering because we recognize that you are calling the shots.” Andi said. Then, she regretted her choice of words. Getting shot was NOT what she wanted to have happen.
“So who ARE you?” Wyatt repeated.
“My name is Thibodeaux and this is my wife Andi” Thibodeaux said.
Tikka saw the lightening fast glance Andi gave Thibodeaux. Andi's head did not move a millimeter, just her eyes. Tikka guessed that until just now, Andi had been oblivious to the fact that Thibodeaux was going to identify her as his 'wife'.
She was not wrong.
Wyatt nodded. He had not picked up on Andi’s quick ‘tell’. His eyes were glued to Thibodeaux. His 'spider' senses told him that Thibodeaux was by far the more dangerous of the two. "My name is Wyatt and this is my fiance, Tikka."
Neither Thibodeaux or Andi missed the fact that Tikka’s eyebrows shot to her hairline. Tikka would never be the poker player that Andi was.
“Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t shoot you both like rabid dogs” Wyatt said. “We have been over-run with your kind, stealing and breaking into homes.”
“Shooting you might be a kindness. A bunch of you have Ebola” Wyatt concluded. "It is not a pretty way to die."
“I used to work with a guy” Thibodeaux said. “We moved from job-to-job for almost two years. Last I knew, he married a girl who lived near Eaton Rapids. Any chance you can call him and get a character reference?”
“Not likely he is still alive. The first wave of Ebola took lots of folks” Wyatt said.
“Maybe” Thibodeaux said. “I got a letter from him while things were getting hairy and he was alive back then.”
Tikka, who grew up north of Eaton Rapids and far more likely to know if Thibodeaux’s friend was alive asked “Who is your friend. I might be able to tell you if he is still alive.”
“His name is Milo Talon” Thibodeaux said.
Even Wyatt knew who Milo Talon was and knew that he was very much alive. Milo had been instrumental in getting General Spackle to approve the land-grants and to getting the garden plots plowed. Milo Talon supplied the tractor and the manpower. Milo Talon owned the trucking company that delivered the vast majority of supplies that had kept Wyatt alive the last nine months.
“How do I know you aren’t making that up?” Wyatt asked.
“Ask him” was all Thibodeaux could suggest. From Thibodeaux’s standpoint, things were going well. Neither Andi nor he had been shot. Yet.
Given sufficient priority, it is possible to daisy-chain repeaters together and talk over great distances. Wyatt, as a wounded soldier who never abused the privilege was able to command that priority.
Milo almost didn’t pick-up the call. They were hustling to put together a shipment and he was busy. Gladys “suggested” it would be in his best interest to pick up the call. Nobody wanted to piss-off the local operator, so he sighed and toggled the call in.
“Yeah, whaddya got?” Milo asked, cutting to the chase. He was beyond busy with dozens of people wanting a piece of his time or a favor.
After a lag as each repeater collected and disgorged the message in chunks, he heard “I am guarding an enemy combatant who claims to know you. Says you can give him a character reference” the disembodied voice said.
“What is his name?” Milo asked.
“Never gave me a first name. Just calls himself ‘Thibodeaux’.”
The roulette wheel had to spin around twice before the ball dropped into the slot.
“Scruffy bastard? Talks like a drunk with a mouth full of marbles?” Milo asked.
“More or less” Wyatt responded.
“If you don't mind, can you hand him the radio” Milo asked Wyatt.
Then, once he was sure the radio had been handed over “You dirty, rotten bastard. You still owe me $10 for lunch”
“Yeah, about that. I have been busy. You know, you are a lot more likely to get it if your soldier boy doesn’t shoot me first” Thibodeaux said.
“Hand the radio back to your guard” Milo said.
“What is your name, son?” Milo asked.
“Wyatt” Wyatt responded.
“Tell you what, Wyatt. It will take me an hour to get there from Capiche. I could get there quicker but it would be hell on the tires. Is there any chance you and my friend Thibodeaux could stay tucked out of sight until I get there? You know how folks have been getting excited when they see enemy combatants.” Milo asked.
Wyatt agreed that he had no pressing engagements and he and Tikka could keep Thibodeaux and his wife company until Milo showed up to take things in hand.
Milo walked out into the warehouse and asked which truck was closest to fully loaded for shipment to the Buffer-Zone. The crew pointed at a Ford truck.
“Throw five gallons of gas in the tank. I don’t have time to fire up the gassifer” Milo said. That was a lot easier to say that now that the Canton-to-Burlington line was delivering crude oil up the Michigan spur and Ozzie and Gabby had figured out how to distill it without blowing up.
Fifty-five minutes later, Milo pulled up to the GPS coordinates Wyatt had transmitted. By post-Ebola standards, it was a Cannonball Run.
“Shit, I knew you were too ornery to kill.” Milo said, hugging Thibodeaux and thumping him on the back.
“We have a screaming need for people who will work” Milo said. “There just aren’t enough people who know how to do ‘stuff’.”
"I don't think there will be any issues in getting the two of you in except that you need to go through quarantine.
Thibodeaux cocked an eyebrow.
"Ebola" Milo said. "We have a vaccine but you still need to be in quarantine for four weeks."
"It isn't a very good vaccine. It takes a while to kick in and it isn't 100% effective with older people. So to protect them and to keep you out of sight...we need to find a place to stash you during your quarantine.
That is when Tikka piped up again. “Mr. Talon, My fiancé has a forty-acre farm next to his that they can stay in. I can make sure they have food, water and whatever else they need if they stay there.”
Milo smiled and said, "Call me 'Milo'."
Turning to Wyatt, Milo asked "What about you? Are you willing to put up with this devious bastard for a month? By the way, I appreciate how discretely you handled this. Most people wouldn't have shown as level of a head."
Wyatt was trapped. The third richest man in Delta Township/Capiche just told his bride-to-be that they were on a first name basis. Wyatt punted.
"It is really up to Tikka, Mr. Talon. She is going to do most of the work. General Spackle isn't very eager to let us go...at least just yet. If Tikka wants to do it then I am all in" Wyatt said.
Milo smiled. "Whaddya think, Thibodeaux? You got a better offer?"
That is when Andi sent Thibodeaux a smile that promised many joyful nights over the coming decades “I think we should take them up on it, 'Hubby'.”
---The end of the third and final saga of Seven Cows---