Getting By
Chapter 8

Copyright© 2010 by Shakes Peer2B

Most everyone else had already taken advantage of the showers (there were three in the house) for the evening, so Cora kindly consented to let me do so as well. By the time I came out, my legs were feeling a bit rubbery, but my butt didn't hurt quite as much.

Ruth was supervising KP, even though she was one of the cooks, and pointed to a few steaks and vegetables that remained after the others had eaten.

Gunny showed up while I was finishing my meal, with Amanda in tow. "Matt will be along later, he's still tending the horses."

We were deep in discussion of my discovery of the afternoon when Matt came in.

"Hey Matt," I greeted him. "Just in time. We're trying to figure out what to do about that mine. I saw at least one cave-in and then there's the 'back door' that we need to worry about. I don't want anyone wandering in there and getting hurt."

"Well, horses and livestock shouldn't be much of a problem as long as we keep them behind their fences," Matt said. "This Archie apparently didn't want animals wandering, either. None of his range is unfenced, even in that south pasture. Dogs, on the other hand, I don't know what you can do about, short of keeping 'em on a leash."

"Well, if we can rig a fence or something across the tunnels in the appropriate places, it should keep them out of the danger zone. They won't be able to dig under with a solid rock floor like we've got in most of the tunnels."

"I saw some rolls of chain-link in one of the sheds," Amanda said. "If we can figure a way to fasten it to the walls and floor, it should do the trick."

"That's easy," I shrugged. "Just staple it to the framing timbers. We'll probably need something to stiffen the bottom so they can't push under, but that stuff usually comes with metal strips for that purpose. We should probably make it easily removable so we can use the mine as an escape route, if need be."

"That's pretty easy, too," Matt said around a mouthful of food. "We used to make temporary 'gaps' that were just wire and a piece of wood at one end. All you need is a way to hook the wood to the post. A wire or rope loop or two should do the trick. Of course, that sort of 'gap' can be opened from either side pretty easily, so if you're worried about intruders..."

"We'll have to deal with intruders some other way," I told him. It was going to stretch us pretty thin to have a sentry down there, but we had to do what we had to do.

"Just thought I'd mention it. Don't forget to include that south pasture in your plans, too. If anybody got up there with weapons, they'd have us at a distinct disadvantage."

"All right," I said, pleased with the synergy we seemed to be developing in our little group, "We'll take some materials and tools with us and see what we can do when we go down there tomorrow, and then we'll see about the south pasture. Meanwhile, Matt, you want to tell us about what your explorations uncovered?"

"Sure. The path up the cliff face by the waterfall is fairly broad, and though it has a few switchbacks, it's plenty easy for horses, cattle, or even ATV's. I wouldn't try it with the Hummvee or the trucks, though. The south pasture is about forty or fifty feet below the top of the path, which rises about a hundred fifty feet above the floor of this valley. I rode down the east side, which Archie seems to have fenced off for a path. The whole valley is about half a mile wide by about two miles long and runs roughly north-south. I saw at least one gate in the fence along the west side, which might indicate another path down the mountain, but I didn't get that far. I did find the way down from the south end because the path at the top was pretty well-used. It's actually a vehicle track. Unpaved, but Archie apparently came up that way a lot in whatever vehicle he used for doing work around here. There's kind of a basin up there that apparently catches runoff in the rainy season, and it's fed by some tiny streams that come from higher up. Didn't see any snow so I don't know where that water's comin' from, but here's the good news: Instead of just letting the livestock drink from the catch basin, which is higher than the pastures, and use it for a bathroom, Archie has set up a little system where water trickles into troughs that the animals drink from, then, whatever's left goes to water the grass. The waterfall up there," he pointed with his fork, "is overflow from the catch basin that doesn't flow through the pastures, but through a concrete lined ditch. Since the livestock can't get to it, it ought to be pretty clean, maybe even drinkable."

"What about the horses?" This from Garcia. "Any more up there?"

"Not that I saw. The ones I brought back seem to be pretty good stock, but the best one of the lot's already been claimed." He smiled and pointed his fork in my direction.

"Thanks, Matt," I said, "Would you excuse us for a few minutes, now? There are some things I need to discuss with these two."

"Sure. Oh yeah, in case you're wondering, it's about five miles from the bottom of the south trail around to the main trail." He waved and disappeared.

"Okay, so we have two, maybe three escape routes if we need them, but any way down is a way up for potential enemies, and all need some sort of sentry system."

"Yeah," Gunny nodded, thinking. "We don't have enough people to guard all of those routes around the clock, so I'll rig up some sort of tripwire alarm, and we'll patrol on horseback. It'd be a lot easier without the dogs, but I'll see what I can come up with."

"Maybe we have to put up with some false alarms from the dogs for a while," I said. "I know the danger of crying wolf too often, but those are pretty smart dogs and maybe we can teach them to avoid our tripwires."

"I'll talk to Crystal," Gunny grinned. "Those dogs all like her a lot better than they do me."

"By the way, what's up with Colby and Smiley coming to attention and saluting me on my way in? I thought we weren't going to try to make Marines out of them yet."

"Believe me, Gav, they ain't Marines by any stretch of the imagination, but the fastest way to get where we need to be with those two is to instill some discipline, particularly respect for authority. Normally, I'd have about six weeks to work on that, but I have to take some shortcuts, so I've taken a more personalized approach. Those two and a couple of others showed some promise and I took a little time to instill in them the pride of the service they've undertaken and explain why they need to show respect for those who have given them that opportunity. It seems to be working with the ones I've hand-picked, but I won't be able to use the same approach with everyone, especially the older folks."

"Okay, it's your call. I just wanted to make sure that you weren't ignoring the fact that anyone here could just take off and find another place to hole up if they didn't like the environment."

"I understand that, Gav," he replied irritably. "It's not really that much different than basic, except that I don't have a captive audience. I still need to know who I need to lean on and who will respond better to persuasion."

If this had been a military unit, Garcia would never have permitted himself to answer a superior that way. It reminded me that my authority over him was only as good as his respect for me. If I had really been his commanding officer I would have given him a dressing-down, at the very least. As it was, I needed to maintain order without losing one of my best assets.

"Gunny, if I didn't think you could handle it, I'd find another way to get it done, but if I didn't question what I don't understand about your methods, I wouldn't deserve to be in my position. If I think you need to change anything, I'll tell you outright. At the moment, I'm just seeking information. That's something both of you should understand about me: When I ask a question, there are no hidden agendas. I ask so I can get the information I need to do my job. I understand that both of you, as well as others in this camp have experience that's different than mine, so I ask to understand, especially when something seems to conflict with what was planned. Until I tell you I think you're wrong, however, there is no criticism implied or intended. If I do criticize something you do, I'm only criticizing that one thing, not the person who did it, understood?"

"Gotcha, boss," Ramon held out his hand. "Sorry if I got a little testy there. It's been a long day."

"You're allowed, Gunny," I accepted his offered handshake, "in private. In public is another matter. You've started something with these guys, now you have to set the personal example for them to follow."

Garcia snapped to attention and gave me his best parade-ground salute. "Aye, aye, sir!"

"As you were, Gunny. I don't know how they did things in the Marines, so I'm going to follow the Navy protocol. You don't salute when you're uncovered."

"Just demonstrating my public demeanor when you're around, sir!" he grinned.

"Smartass!" I smiled back.

I gave the KP crew my dirty dishes and headed back up the path to the mine. Dark had fallen, but the moon was bright enough that I didn't need a light. Amanda fell in beside me.

"Time for your hand-to-hand combat lesson, Mr. Thompson," she said as she caught up.

"I'm pretty tired, Amanda," I said. "Let's hold off on that until tomorrow, okay?"

Next thing I knew, I was face down on the path with the diminutive Asian lady painfully twisting my right arm up behind my shoulder blades.

"Listen up and listen good!" Amanda whispered harshly in my ear, "So far, you've done what a leader needs to do. People are following you because you've shown that you're not going to ask them to do anything you wouldn't do. The moment you start to lean on privilege, though, the moment you let yourself off the hook with an excuse you wouldn't take from one of them, that's the moment you start losing them. Now, I don't give a shit if you're half dead with fatigue. You need to suck it up and show these people that they can do it too! Got that?"

I sighed heavily, blowing up a puff of dust from the path, "I'm about to get pounded, aren't I?"

"Depends on how well you pay attention," Amanda grinned, helping me off the ground, and now playing to a gathering audience.

I didn't think for a minute that I was in her league, but I'd had some martial arts classes in my younger days, and thought I might surprise her, so when she pulled me to my feet, I let myself keep moving forward, grabbing her shoulder and trying a hip-throw while she was off-balance. Again I found myself face down in the dust.

"Okay, good!" Amanda said, "Good try, but you were slow getting your leg behind me and you telegraphed it with your weight shift."

She reached down to help me up again, clearly giving me another try. This time I was faster, but only managed a deadlock. We stood there for a few seconds with me trying to push her backward over my leg until Amanda shifted her weight slightly, and grabbing the back of my fatigues, successfully completed the throw I had been attempting.

The rest of the lesson went about the same. She didn't gloat when she got the best of me, which was most of the time, but pointed out the flaws in what I was attempting. The good news was, I forgot about the soreness in my butt and legs from having ridden Humphrey bareback. The bad news was that by the time she got done with me, I had a whole new set of aches and pains, and I needed another shower - only I had mandated a maximum of one shower a day per person in the house.

Grumbling to myself, I took a clean set of clothes and headed off to the waterfall. It was a long walk, and gave me time to think, but my mind was in turmoil. Had I taken on too much? Would I be able to keep up the pace that would be demanded of me? Would I, a software company executive, be able to do what I had promised these people I would do, or would I wind up letting them down? I was dead tired, and according to Ramon's schedule, in about four hours I was due on watch again, and I didn't think I'd be able to manage it. I was just admonishing myself to quit feeling sorry for myself and finish what I started when Amanda caught up with me.

"Mind if I join you? I noticed you forgot your towel, so I brought an extra one."

I cocked an eyebrow in her direction, wondering if she was intending to revisit last night's unfortunate event, but the young Asian smiled and said, "Just for the shower, and, I admit, to get to know you a bit. You and I haven't had much time to talk, and I think it's about time."

Well, the waterfall should be a good place for sharing secrets without being overheard, though we might have to shout a bit to hear each other. I stripped off my dirty fatigues and stepped carefully into the dark pool that had formed at the bottom of the fall. The place where I entered was a large boulder that sloped gently into the water until about knee depth, and then dropped off sharply. Taking a deep breath, I stepped off into the cool water, sinking until my head was under water. Out of curiosity, I allowed myself to continue downward until my feet touched sand. The water at that point was only about ten feet deep, though I imagined it would vary with the seasons and proximity to the waterfall.

When I surfaced, Amanda was timidly sitting on the edge of the submerged boulder, her small, perfectly formed breasts barely awash.

"Come on in," I told her, "the water's fine!"

"Can't swim!" she called back.

Visions of waterborne revenge for my earlier thrashing at her hands flashed through my brain, but were quickly dispelled.

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