The trajectory of Billy Rueben’s life was accurately predicted by his Kindergarten teacher. On his first report-card, she wrote “Does not play well with others. Impulsive. Never considers consequences before acting.”
Billy was a slightly-built, sallow-faced man with a slightly stooped appearance. In his late-20s, his economic fortunes had been squandered betting on the-next-big thing. This time, though, he was sure he was on to a winner.
His grandfather had called in all kinds of favors and had gotten him a Letter of Marque.
He was near the end of the convoy of trucks heading out of Lansing on M-99 toward Eaton Rapids. He seethed as drivers ahead of him peeled off the line and headed down side-roads that appeared to be rich in loot.
Billy had achieved self-awareness. He knew he did not play well with others and usually got the shitty-end of the stick as a result. He did not follow any of those trucks.
That is how he found himself to be the only truck to enter the City of Eaton Rapids. Him and him alone.
Cruising down the nearly deserted street, he was oblivious to the stares he was receiving. His head was swivelling around trying to figure out where they stored the food. Then, a stray breeze brought him the smell of freshly baking bread. Billy’s stomach growled.
He pulled his truck into the parking lot of the Submarine Sandwich shop. Of course they had bread!!! Probably lots of other food, too.
Billy turned the truck around so the nose was pointed to the street.
Getting out of the cab, he saw an armed guard.
Billy presented his Letter of Marque to the guard and told him “Get these hicks to load up the truck. I am on a schedule”
Billy assumed the guards worked for the Governor and were there to protect against unauthorized looting. He did not attend to what appeared to be random motion of the guards as they moved to put the truck’s body behind Billy or moving so stray shots and pass-throughs would skip up the street rather than into nearby buildings.
Nobody had ever accused Billy of being a quick thinker.
Gary Weber crooked a finger to beckon the Mayor. “What do you think of this?” he asked.
The Mayor took the page. Billy heard the rasp of a cigarette lighter igniting and before Billy could react, the Mayor was holding the flame to the precious piece of paper.
“Think of what?” the Mayor asked.
Billy was scrambling to get his gun out of his waistband when he noticed that several of the guards were already pointing their rifles at him.
This was not shaping up to be Billy’s day. He was on probation the recruiter who had issued the Letter and would remain so until he had either recruited three more raiders or returned with more than three-thousand pounds of food.
Rodney Wagner was also experiencing a heightened state of anxiety.
The dehumidifier in the dank basement of their hundred year-old house on the south end of Lansing’s Fabulous Acres neighborhood had not been running ever since the power went down.
Lest you get the wrong idea about Rodney and Joyce’s house and the “Fabulous Acres” neighborhood, the houses were on tiny lots and of ramshackle construction. Rodney’s house was one of the very few not surrounded by a tall, chain-link fence and patrolled by pit-bulls with names like Angelo or Romero or Drago.
Rodney and Joyce’s presence in the neighborhood was a bit of an anamoly.
Joyce was a PK. That is, a Preacher’s Kid. Even at age 63 and after their home had been broken into several times, she was still naive and trustful.
Rodney loved Joyce and as long as she shared his bed let him go hunting out-West every autumn, he could live in a tent and be happy.
Rodney was also a stubborn man. His brother in Eaton Rapids had been pointing to the downward slide for years and damned if he was going to give his brother the satisfaction of say “See, I was right.”
But his brother had been.
You can take a boy out of the country but you cannot take the country out of the boy. Rodney had a substantial stash of supplies in his basement but they would be quickly destroyed by the humidity.
The humidity was exacerbated by the sewers backing up. Already, houses at lower elevation were reporting over a foot of raw sewage in their basements.
Jim Thresher was about to make a scene.
Every VFW hall and every bar that caters to ex-military has at least one person like Thresher.
When Jim entered the bar, men would look at their wrist watches and suddenly remember urgent appointments elsewhere.
Jim was a bluffer, a blowhard and a braggart. He fancied himself "an operator" and would tell anybody who slowed down within six feet of his table that "I killed more gooks in one day than the rest of my platoon killed in five years." Oddly, his claim was based in fact.
The defining moment in Jim’s life was in 1972 in Thailand. He reported for duty higher than a kite. He had been given the assignment to hitch his truck to a trailer that carried a water tank and move it to another location.
Jim became disoriented while en-route and became thoroughly lost. Jim subscribed to the belief that when lost in a foreign country the proper solution was to accelerate and lay on the horn. Eventually, you will recognize some landmark or the MPs will find you.
The tires of the M149 Water Buffalo hit the washed out approach to a bridge over one of the countless canals in the area and the tongue jumped off the hitch.
Travelling at 45 miles per hour, the 4500 pound trailer plowed through the pedestrians crossing the bridge, killing 12 and maiming almost 30 more.
Jim bluffed his way out of it. He claimed the trailer was defective and that the damage to the hitch had been there BEFORE the accident. When asked why he had not red-tagged the trailer during his pre-operaton inspection, Jim claimed it looked like that when it came out of the Motor Pool PMs and he assumed mechanics had bought off on the damage.
Then he went for his kill-shot. “If you discipline me you are going to have to discipline every mechanic who worked on it and every driver who signed off on their pre-op inspections. You won't have a single mechanic or driver left."
The officers folded. Jim was shipped out to Germany and the brass did whatever it took to prevent the carnage Jim had caused from spinning up into an international incident.
Jim was about to use his guardhouse lawyering skills to straighten out the people running the neighborhood food distribution.
Everybody knew that when things went in the ditch you needed a real military man to run things. Not some pansy officer. You needed somebody who had been there and done that. Of course, they would have to make it worth his while.
And if they tried to screw with him they would rue the day they had tangled with Jim Thresher.