Between the two of them, they had cooked up a plan.
Both women were carrying packs. Louisa was carrying mostly clothing. Carmen was carrying bribes to get past the Customs Station.
The two women split from the men when the men turned west at the power-lines, the women continued another half-mile south, then a half-mile west to the Customs Station. Moving closer to the station, they could see a fire and the “agents” trying to stay awake and warm themselves in the frosty night.
Carmen opted for the direct approach. “Hey, you guys. You look cold.”
They spun them away from the fire. Of course, their night vision was toast. They did not see the two women until they were in the middle of the men. Boys, really.
The roads they were guarding never had much traffic, even before the Covid and now they had the tiniest trickle. They had volunteered to guard the roads, lured by certain riches. The riches proved an illusion and being the youngest men selected they had been given “midnight” shift.
Other Customs Stations may have been raking in the loot hand-over-fist but not these guys.
“We felt sorry for you guys and brought you a bite to eat” Carmen said.
It doesn’t take much to make tamales. Masa, a tiny bit of greasy meat, some spices and something to wrap them.
They were like to food of the Gods to the cold, tired, hungry boys guarding the roads. The sympathetic voices of the women were like a honeyed balm to their bruised souls.
Carmen, the unmarried sister, was an outrageous flirt. She could not help it. It was how she was wired.
She sorted the men out as they interacted. It took her just a few minutes to figure out who was really in charge.
Then she sidled just a little bit closer as she button-hooked upwind of him. She smelled of soap and a hint of lilac. Oh, and two dozen still-warm tamales.
She laid a hand on his upper arm as he reached into the pizza warming bag for his tamales.
Her touch was firm as she massaged his muscles through his too-thin jacket. “Oh! You are a big and strong one, no? No wonder you are a guard” she marveled. "I like men who are big and strong."
Like a butterfly she fluttered from boy-to-boy and kept stitching back to the one she had pegged as the leader. Every time she came close to the leader Carmen touched him. Nothing overtly sexual but feminine and very possessive. If any of the other men had carnal thoughts toward Carmen, they were tempered with the knowledge that she seemed to be under the leader's protection. Alpha-wolf bitches are off-limits.
When the women left, nobody noticed that they left in a different direction than the one they had had entered the station.
Carmen promised to bring tamales again the next night. After all, the nights were long and cold and where else would a comely lass find such good company?
None of the men really believed she would come back. Before she left, she made them promise to save her some scraps of meat so she could make tamales suitable for big, hard-muscled, working men like them.
The fifteen mules varied their route from the previous night. They hooked farther south and farther east than the night before.
That is something they had noticed about traveling in the cities. Whether they zigged-and-zagged every block or went as far east as possible before turning north the distance was the same. And, given the issues with the Section 8 housing, it might even make sense to add distance to the trip if it gave hazards a wide berth and prevented ambushers from “patterning” them.
Hermes Aiello told Gilbert that the two women had jobs. They were to scout out trailers and abandoned houses where people could squat and they were to compromise the Custom Stations people fleeing Fabulous Acres would have to pass.
Gilbert had split his crew into two separate work-parties.
One of the land owners smelled the campfire where they were roasting their lunch and objected. None of the crew was particularly proficient at English and they were unable to defend themselves.
The land-owner called the Mayor. The land-owner harangued the mayor in front of the idle work-crew.
The Mayor, while not very religious, had upon occasion looked in the Bible for wisdom. Recalling something from the Old Testament, he asked “Would you deny an ox a bite of grain while it threshed it for you?”
“I don’t know what the hell you are talking about. These guys are eating better than Americans. I never told them they could eat any of this meat” the man fumed.
The mayor turned to the crew. “This man does not want your help. Leave him. Go here. They need you more” as the mayor showed them an address.
That is when the land-owner lost it. His animal was half butchered and the campfire was still burning. The butchers dumped the animal on the dirt to retrieve their gambrel and hoist.
The mayor said “You just fired us. Don’t bother asking for help again. There is more than enough work for these men; work where people will not get in their way and stop them from doing their jobs.”
The mayor called the next job ahead. “Hey, the crew is available sooner than I thought. I just wanted to clear up a potential misunderstanding. These guys don’t have food or a kitchen. You can either feed them or let them eat some meat scraps while they butcher. It don’t matter which. Preparing their own food won't slow them down. They just fit it in.”
The men from Fabulous Acres could understand spoken English much better than they could speak it. It was clear that they wouldn’t have any trouble collecting plenty of scraps for the bribe-tamales and the mayor was a good-guy to work for.
Dar Spaulding sought the comfort of the marital bed and for the second time in their marriage, Leslie refused.
She had a blistering headache.
Dar attributed it to “that time of life” even though that had been years earlier.
Dar took it more philosophically than the first time it happened. For one thing, he was twenty years older and his needs weren’t as urgent. For another, sleep is a wonderful medicine and Leslie was clearly not feeling well. He wanted her to get better.