By Cindy and Walt
“Get your asses out of bed. Something is happening and I have no idea what,” I said. “I need you to help get Bart and his wife through the compound and to the meadow behind the greenhouses. Get a move on and bring something to make sure nothing happens to them while they are on the Catfish Farm.” I said that from the doorway of the travel trailer.
Shit this thing is going to need airing out before Andrew can ever use it again, I thought. I had no idea what the smell was, but it was much worse than dirty socks. It wasn’t as bad as rotting flesh, but it was pretty bad.
Sterlin went to the front gate to allow them inside the compound parking lot. Once they were outside, I noticed that their car had no luggage. When a woman leaves in the middle of the night with nothing but a large purse, it can not mean anything good. That and the fact I had never seen or heard of Swamp Dog using a chopper which most likely meant a disaster of some kind.
“What the hell is going on?” I asked in the parking lot.
“No time to explain, the chopper is inbound as we speak. You will see it on the news,” Bart said to me.
“What the fuck is going on,” I asked as we threaded our way to the rear of the property.
“It’s Sylvia. Apparently she is dead,” he said. “Watch the news and you can fill in the blanks. Be ready to run or fight.”
By the time he said all that, we were on the back of the new fence line. I expected a blackhawk or something like that. What came down was a soap bubble with a tail rotor. As the old saying goes, there was room for their ass and a gallon of gas.
The bird was remarkably quiet and when it was gone five minutes after it touched down, Bart and Rita were gone as well. “I’ll call you about the plant,” Bart said just before he ducked and ran to the chopper.
There was never any news updates in the middle of the night, so we all went back to our beds to try and sleep. In my case it worked. I could lay my head down and fall asleep in the middle of a firefight I expected. It was a trait I picked up being undercover. I had learned to completely compartmentalize my brain.
I could work on a problem till I came to a dead end. I could then put it down and do something else totally unconnected. Later I could pick it up right where I left off and work it till the next dead end. The ability to shut my mind off helped me sleep through the screams of a third world prison, as well as being someone with no identity.
The point is I slept till 5 AM. I rolled the trike into the parking lot. Before I got to the key card access machine, I saw the light come on in the travel trailer. Even so I didn’t leave the gate open. I had no idea if there was an assassin waiting in the dark or not. If there was I wasn’t going to leave the door to the chicken coop open for him.
I rode toward the fast food restaurant. But when I got to the road where I would normally turn right to the Dairy Queen, instead I turned left into town. I pulled the trike to a stop in front of the Cafe. Inside I found the boxer and the waitress pretty much alone. There was one of Miss Sadie’s kinsmen seated at the counter. I really didn’t want any small talk, I just wanted breakfast.
“Two eggs scrambled soft, with sausage and potatoes,” I said to the boxer through the window.
“You want toast,” he asked.
“Yes please,” I replied as I slipped back inside myself.
Sylvia being gone was going to be a real kick in the ass. I wondered if we were all being hunted. If so I needed a plan to run again. I couldn’t use the trike people at Church Camp, if not those in the Swamp knew about the trike. How the fuck could I get lost, I wondered.
“Thanks,” I said to the waitress as she put the food onto the table for me. I also didn’t have a problem eating. I paid the only slightly bigger check than usual, then rolled out of the parking space in front. Twenty minutes later I opened the gate that guarded our parking area. I saw Bart’s car, my truck, Sterlin’s Caddy, and the tarp which covered the two bikes all in place. Steve’s pick up was gone.
If they are smart they will be on the lamb together. Two guys are harder to slip up on, I thought. I went to my cabin to watch the news.
“Today’s top story is a double kidnapping of the operatives involved in the murder of Ambassador Hays and his two body guards. They were taken from their home and shot in the street along with their families. There was a third attempt that wasn’t as successful. Details are sketchy, but it looks as though two of the dead in the third attempt were Americans. We are attempting to get more details at this time.”
Then the news switched to damage control and denials. Since there was a time difference the news was several hours old. I waited for the two operatives I had on staff to show up. When they did an hour later I wasn’t at all surprised to note the lumps under their clothing.
“Well what do you think?” I asked.
“I think we are sitting ducks here,” Sterlin said.
“That is a fact,” Steve agreed. “It would take five to ten guys to secure this compound.”
“Oh I don’t know about that. Most likely we are going to jail, rather than have a firefight,” I commented. “I might be pissed at the government but I’m not ready to go to war with them.”
“Yeah I think we need to sit tight and let this play out,” Steve said.
“I agree. How about you Sterlin?” I asked.
“I sure as hell ain’t looking for a fight,” he said.
“Then it’s time to water the plants,” I said. So that is what we did. We returned to our work schedule, but kept our cell phones turned on and close. Every couple of hours we went in for a news update. The latest was mostly politicians giving opinions. No one on my farm gave a crap about their opinions. Then of course they paraded a bunch of generals and retired generals out to give their opinion. The serving generals all denied any involvement of the military.
One of the anchors made the tenuous connection to Swamp Dog. “General if there were no Americans involved in the operation to obviously seek retribution for the murder of the Ambassador and his two private contractors, who do you think would do it?”
“Mercenaries,” he said bluntly. A split second later he looked like he had swallowed the poison pill.
“You mean a civilian American militia?” the newsman asked.
“No, I mean an American Foreign Legion,” he said trying to find a way out of the interview. The damage was done. Swamp dog was about to have a light shined on them.
“Shit, we are fucked,” Sterlin said.
“There is a shit storm coming, but it won’t kill the snake. It will most likely cut off the tail, but not the head.” I always knew Sylvia was the face of Swamp Dog, but not the head. “In the meantime we will just get back to work on the compound. Even if we have to run, we can’t touch the money we are making here.”
What I hoped no one knew was that I had invested in a number of good quality diamonds of one and two carats in size. I had not invested in stones so large as to cause a stir when sold. My stones were worth between two or three thousand dollars a carat. They were sitting on the shelf in my kitchen, inside two coffee cans. The cans had been opened the coffee poured out, then a number of stones poured into the empty can after which enough of the coffee was replaced to fill the can. I also re-glued the metallic foil and resealed the lid. There was nothing to distinguish it from any other coffee can on the shelf. I still owned the three empty batteries cases filled with precious metals. There was probably a quarter million in gold, silver, and diamonds on hand at any given time. There would be no wire transfers to trace. With the physical gold, silver, and diamonds I could sell them and turn them into cash easily. The trick was to keep the amounts small enough so a gold store or a jewelry store could pay on the spot. I did not want to run, but I could if necessary. That had been the whole purpose of the skimmed cash used to buy the precious metals and gems.
We went back to the greenhouse then worked until dark. The daylight lasted a little longer every day. When we went inside. There were a few further details available. The strike team had gotten Sylvia’s body out, so that her body wasn’t dragged through the streets.
“If we have to bug out, do you guys need money?” I asked. “I plan to go by the bank to make one large cash withdrawal if I have time. The money is no good to me sitting in a bank, if I’m on the run. So if you need some we can grab it as we leave town,” I suggested.
“If we bug out in the middle of the night I can survive, but cash is always a nice thing to have,” Sterlin replied. Steve just nodded his head.
“In the bank in Williamston we can probably draw twenty five thousand from their main branch. More and we might have to wait and I’m not going to alert the government prior to our leaving,” I said. We can hit every ATM in the city in one round for a thousand each before we run. They are going to know where we start from anyway, so we might as well. After that we have to get lost.
“How do we do that?” Sterlin asked.
“Cars from Craig’s list with stolen plates. Change plates every ten days, but swap the plates so the car with the stolen plates won’t be noticed for a while. If the plates are from a different state, we make one swap for an in state plate, then we go immediately to a parking lot across town to switch it on another car for the local one we just stole. That way the final stolen plate will be good longer,” I said.
“Damn girl you really know how to do this shit,” Sterlin said.
“Let’s hope it’s not necessary. I’m expecting Bart to call any time now,” I said.
When the eight o’clock new began, it began with the General and the American Foreign Legion quote. That general’s off the cuff remark was going to haunt us all. The news on every network ran with it. Way too much attention was headed for the Swamp Dog.
I turned to my computer and read the complete interview and then the comments. As expected there were two schools. One thought Sylvia and her crew where heroes. Someone finally doing something was the majority of the comments. Other thought they should be put on trial as terrorists for the killing of the terrorist’s families. There was in fact a lively discussion raging.
“The theory is a person may be ready to die for his beliefs, but is he ready to see his wife and kids or mother and dad die for them as well?” Liam said. I just nodded my understanding. Even so I knew it was cold.
Bart called at midnight. “How about looking in on the plant for me. Maybe put one of your crew in charge there just to keep an eye on Miss Sadie’s nephew.”
“Sure I’ll go down tomorrow and take my crew along. You know I can’t be in charge of the plant, but I can look in. Either one of my guys is capable of doing the day to day management till you get back,” I said.
“Fair enough,” Bart said.
“Do I need to pack a bag?” I asked.
“Not sure, but I wouldn’t rush off till we see how the wind blows,” he said.
“Fair enough,” I said.
I went into the seating area of my cabin where the two guys sat. “Well guys we are to carry on carrying on,” I said. “Bart needs one of you to make sure the product at his tea plant keeps moving. Would one of you like to volunteer?”
“Not me,” Sterlin said. “I’m going to be looking for dogs.”
“Shit Rose, I don’t want to be cooped up inside,” Steve said.
“I can’t do it. It would bring the USDA investigator down on me,” I explained. I thought a minute then said, “How about you split the detail. Long as someone is stopping in every couple of hours and keeping control of the manufacturing, it will pretty much run itself. Bart should be back soon, maybe without Rita, but he can’t be gone too long I’m sure. He has bills to pay and that sort of thing.”
“He might have an auto pay like you do,” Steve suggested.
“And how do you know about that?” I asked. I was more curious than concerned.
“I heard you talking to the bank about adding the insurance and tags to the truck to the auto pay list,” he explained.
“Okay, Bart has one of those accounts as well, but that doesn’t pay the help,” I said. “Of course I could do that and call it a loan to keep the connection from coming out.”
“So tomorrow, since there isn’t anything pressing in the houses, Steve to the tea plant, and Sterlin to the shelter for a dog,” I said.
“Sounds like a plan. If Miss Sadie’s kin seems less than cooperative I’ll call you,” Steve said.
Once I went to bed I slept well, but I spent some time in a chat room wearing myself out first. I met a man who was interesting but when the subject turned to sex, I left. I just wasn’t in the mood.
When 5 AM came I wanted to stay in bed. I wanted that a lot of mornings but just like most I rolled out of bed. I was in the parking lot on the trike when I noticed the two ‘boys’ came out and pull in behind me.
“No racing today, we go as a pack,” Sterlin said. He had placed himself in charge of security. Since so far everything he said made sense, I went along.
The phone rang while we were in the Dairy Queen, so I knew it was Bart. “What’s up?” I asked.
“The Memorial Service is Sunday. The Swamp is surrounded by reporters. We are holding it at the Church Camp. You are invited but not the other two since they didn’t really know her,” Bart said. “I’m only invited because of Rita.”
“I’ll be there,” I said. Since it was Wednesday morning, I had time to make plans.
“I’m going to be gone over the weekend, so you two will have time to work on the residence. The farm can run a couple of days on autopilot,” I explained.
“Are we still going with last night’s plan?” Steve asked.
“Yes Steve, you are going to be behind a desk at least for the morning,” I explained.
“I’m going to get us a dog today. There are three shelters in the area. Steve and I are trading cars today. He is going to look like a business executive, and I’m going to buy a dog crate to bring the dog home. I am also going to get a doghouse for him. You need to give me a hundred bucks from the company accounts,” Sterlin demanded.
“Make it two hundred. You might have to pay an adoption fee,” I suggested.
“Right I hadn’t thought of that.”
“And don’t go to the shelters after all. Try the bulletin board at the diner for a puppy or a stray. We don’t want a sterile dog. If we can, we are going to start our own breed,” I said. “So keep that in mind.”
When we got back to the compound there was a sadness that hung in the air. Steve and Sterlin left the compound and I worked in the houses. I had the shotgun within reach most all day.
“Can you come down here?” Steve asked in his call just before noon.
“What’s the problem?” I asked.
“It isn’t urgent, but we need to do something that’s all,” he said.
Five minutes later Sterlin showed up with a really ragged looking dog. “Well he is not from the pound that’s for sure. Where did you get him?” I asked.
“The man in the diner sent me to see a man who had about ten dogs staked in his yard. They all looked like this one. He wanted to sell this one because he couldn’t control him,” Sterlin said.
“Tell me he isn’t a fighting dog,” I said.
“I wish I could, but he was trained by the bastard who raised him. The dog was for sale because he attacked the trainer. The trainer was ready to shoot him when I came along. The only reason the dog is alive is that he was going to try to have him breed a couple of bitches before he shot him.”
“Okay get him under control if you can, then get him to a Vet,” I said.
“Oh he is going to a Vet first,” I can sedate him if they can’t,” Sterlin said.
“What are we going to do about the dog trainer?” I asked seeing the blood in Sterlin’s eyes.
“Put him in a cage after I get back from the Vets and leave him. He lives alone. It will take a few days for anyone to find him,” Sterlin suggested.
“What if he comes here looking for some payback?” I asked.
“There is a lot of land in those woods,” Sterlin said.
“Not there, if it comes to that we will do something else with the bodies. You know he won’t come alone,” I said.
He just nodded his head. “I should have killed him. There was a time I would have,” Sterlin said.
“We all get past the blood lust. We just never forget how to kill,” I said.
The meeting at the plant was about the distribution of the tea. The delivery company was taking it on itself to raise their prices while Bart was gone. It was either pay the price or have the tea sit in the warehouse till Bart came back. The retailers would not be happy about that.
“Okay tell the mother fucker to kiss your ass. He can take it up with Bart, when he comes back, if he does. Then make me a list of places and times for delivery. The delivery man probably doesn’t know it but we have a fucking truck.”
“Well I can deliver the shit myself,” Steve suggested.
“Assess Miss Sadie’s Nephew and if he can handle it, put him in charge of the plant making the tea while you deliver. Give him a temporary raise to help you run the place,” I suggested.
“Good idea, I’ll have the route laid out by end of day. Since I can’t get on the alarm notification list I’m going to sleep here tonight,” Steve informed me.
“Right you are. I’ll be back to help you deliver tomorrow. Sterlin needs to stay with the new dog,” I explained.
“Oh we have a dog?” Steve asked.
“I think it is a dog. We are going to have to wait till the Vet gets through with him to be sure.” I didn’t laugh when I said it.
I went back to the compound and puttered until Sterlin arrived. “They are keeping the dog over night to observe him. They are also keeping him drugged. I told the Vet his history.”
“Good, we don’t want him biting a Vet,” I suggested. “I have to go out on a delivery run with Steve tomorrow morning. I should be back by the end of day. You are going to have to pay the Vet tomorrow so here.” I handed him five one hundred dollar bills. “I want to see change.”
After breakfast Sterlin went back to the house along with Steve and I. He went to check on the run while we left in the large box delivery truck, which had been a U-haul truck until recently.
On the drive into town Steve asked, “What do you think will happen to Swamp Dog now?”
“I have no idea, but I should know more after this weekend. I will be spending it with people who at least have an idea of what’s going on.”
That day we finished the deliveries by noon. The big stop was the post office for the out of state deliveries. There were about two hundred small boxes in that delivery. We also drove to the surrounding area stores. The long haul ones we were saving for Friday. I wanted to get back in to see how the nephew of Miss Sadie did while working alone. We found that he had done a full days run and had it all packaged and the packages waiting to be combined to fill the next days orders.
“Steve I can make tomorrow’s run with you, but you are going to need to hire someone temporarily to fill in, I guess. I need to be at the farm and I don’t need to be seen working for the factory,” I said.
“I guess I need to hire a driver. Nobody needs to go along with the tea. It has no street value. It’s just for little old ladies and housewives to calm their nerves,” he commented.
“I agree there is less need for security than there is with my business. But I wouldn’t put a girl in the truck,” I said.
“Well I guess it’s Miss Sadie’s employment service,” Steve said.
“Why don’t you do this instead. You drive the delivery truck yourself. Come into the plant in the morning and than again when the run is over. That way you can make sure the nephew is on site before you go and check the progress when you return. Do an inventory every weekend to be sure it’s all going into the product,” I suggested. “You can even schedule a couple of days to pick up raw materials.”
“I can try that for a week but I’m telling you Rose one week and I’m out of here,” he said.
“Tell him to stop his whining,” Liam said.
“Well just hang in there. When it gets too much maybe we can put Sterlin in here for a week. I don’t think it is going to go that long. I’ll tell Bart he needs to get back here when I see him over the weekend.”