Copyright© 2010 by Shakes Peer2B
The next few days were almost as busy as our first days in the valley, as we worked to get the new people settled. Amanda's teams had set up new tents next to the ones already erected for those who came with us, as the simplest solution to the problem of living space, but I had an issue with keeping them separate.
"We need to get them integrated, Amanda," I told her. "If they are to become part of the community, we and they need to have no dividing lines between us. Let's find a way to mix them in with the rest of us. For starters, I think the doc can stay up at the house, since he needs to be on call. As for the rest, they don't necessarily have to share a tent with one of our people, but their tents shouldn't be in a separate group. Maybe intersperse them with ours."
"Hmmm, it'll take some explaining, but I'll get it done. How's the arm?"
"It's okay. Doc looked it over and said it doesn't look infected, so he stitched up the holes. It's still going to be about six weeks until it heals. Anything else going on here that I should know about?"
"I've put a couple of the new folks who proved they could shoot on watches around the perimeter of the valley to take some of the load off of the original people. You know, it's amazing the difference the little training we've had has made in the attitudes and discipline of our group. I hadn't really noticed the changes until I got to compare them with the newbies. We've come a long way in a short time."
"That we have. Wanda Somers kicked one of the new guys' asses this morning when he refused to do something that needed doing. My first instinct was to step in, but then I remembered our rules. Personally, I think the guy fell in love with her for doing it, but that's none of my business. At any rate, we need to get these folks trained too. I know you're pretty busy, but get some of your better pupils to help out with the hand-to-hand. Who've we got that can fill in for Garcia for a couple of days?"
"The only one I can think of is Sanchez."
"Well, since I'm pretty useless here, and you're better at managing this stuff than I am, why don't I go find her? Oh yeah, get Matt to start teaching marksmanship, too."
"Already thought of that. He and Crystal will start this morning. Oh, you should know that both Ruth and Cora are pregnant. My strip didn't turn the right color yet, but I'm still hoping."
"That's great news! I'll be sure to stop by and congratulate them."
I found Ruth and Cora together in the kitchen. Ruth looked devastated, and Cora was trying to console her.
"Remember what Gavin said the other night? It doesn't matter whose baby it is, because it is our baby. You don't have to go through this alone. You have Jamaal as well as the rest of us. It will be all right."
"How can it be all right? I won't know for at least eight more months who the father is, then what? You think Jamaal will stick around if it isn't his baby? I know he says he will, but I know men. As soon as he sees a white skin on that baby, he'll be gone!"
"I think you're selling Jamaal a little short, there, Ruth," I butted in. "But even if you're right, even if he does bail, I'll be here. Cora will be here. Everyone will be here. You are not alone. What I said the other night still goes. No matter whose baby, it's a precious gift, and I guarantee that the entire community will treasure you and your baby."
"How can you guarantee that? You can't change hundreds of years of prejudice and, and ... Well, you just can't!"
"Actually, I happen to know a bit about marketing. We'll keep hitting them over the head with the message until they've heard it enough times that their automatic responses kick in. You know the ones: 'I've heard that a lot. It must be true.' It used to work for the crap they sold on TV and it'll work for us even better because it is true. Wait and see. We're in a time when change is forced on all of us, so we're getting in the habit of re-examining our old ideas. People will come around, Ruth. It just takes time and the right environment."
"God! What were you before? A snake-oil salesman? Listening to you, you make it so easy to believe it will come true."
"I've never been a salesman in my life. What I have been is a guy who makes things happen. My company was beating out its competitors because I made my people think beyond the 'tried and true.' I made them come up with original solutions to old problems. I made them break out of their comfort zones. That's what I'm good at. I make people do what others think is impossible. You believe what I say because, deep down, you know that I believe it too. That's all there is to it."
I took her in my arms as best I could with one arm in a sling as she sobbed, and held her for long minutes. When she finally disengaged from me, her face was a wet, smudged mess, but there was a smile on it. Not much of one, but a smile nonetheless.
"Thanks, Gavin," she said softly. "I still don't know whether I can believe what you say, but you give me hope, and maybe that's enough."
"Well, the reason I came here this morning was to congratulate the two of you. Your fears and uncertainties aside, you and Cora are the first official Mothers of the New World, and I, for one, appreciate that very much. I think, perhaps, that it calls for a celebration, only you should not be the one preparing it. Let me talk to Amanda and see what we can come up with."
"Celebrating is about the last thing I feel like doing right now, Gavin." Ruth said morosely.
"Then you'll just have to endure our celebration of you, and of Cora, my dear. This is part of that marketing campaign I was telling you about, besides being a true cause for celebration, okay? This is momentous occasion, and you two are going to be celebrated whether you want it or not."
I hoped my smile took any callousness from my words. I knew that, in Ruth's state of mind, she was not feeling very festive, but it was time for us to have a bit of relaxation if for no other reason than to relieve some of the stress of the last few weeks, and what better excuse than burgeoning motherhood?
I turned, then, to Cora, and gave her a passionate kiss. "Congratulations, Corazon," I told her softly, just as Jamaal came tearing into the kitchen.
Without a word to anyone else, he grabbed Ruth in a bear hug and started dancing her around the room, her feet never touching the floor.
"Jamaal!" she shrieked, "Jamaal! What's gotten into you?"
"No, baby," he laughed, "it's what's gotten into you! You gonna be a momma! We gonna have our firs' kid! I'm'on' be a daddy!"
"Jamaal, stop! Stop!" She pounded ineffectually at his chest and shoulders with clenched fists, "Cut it out! You don't even know if it's yours!"
"Yes I do, baby," he laughed. "Who else gon' step up, huh? You think I care if our baby got white skin? His momma got white skin, but that don't make no dif'ence to me. Thass our baby, baby!"
"Jamaal!" she exclaimed as he whirled her around again, but this time there was amusement and wonder in her voice. "You really don't care? You'll still love me?"
"Baby, you couldn't stop me loving you if you tried," he answered, his accent disappearing as he became serious. "You've been the best thing that ever happened to me. I lost a girl in the sickness, and I thought my world was over. Then what happened? One night I wake up and there you are in my tent, smelling so fresh and clean. I know when you first came to me it was maybe just curiosity, but somehow, when you turned to me after that rape, you captured me. Right then, you stopped being a rich white bitch that wanted to know if those stories about black men were true, and you turned into somebody real. Nobody ever depended on me for anything like that before and there's no feeling like that in the world. I've never been like I have these last few weeks, baby. As long as you're around I can't be any other way. In my mind, right up to the night after that rape, I was a player, but I'm not playing now, baby. I don't have a lot of education, but I'm a damn good plumber, and now I'm a daddy. I'm going to be the daddy of your babies as long as you let me."
"Oh, Jamaal," Ruth sighed, capturing his lips with hers.
That kiss didn't show any signs of ending anytime soon, so I took Cora's arm and steered her out of the room.
"How are you holding up, Cora?" I asked.
"I am happy to be pregnant again," she replied, wistfully, "and although I am glad you are to be my baby's father, still, I cannot help wishing my husband was the father and, well, you know."
"I understand," I said, turning to embrace her with my good arm. "I can appreciate that I'm not the love of your life, Cora, but I'm proud to be the father of your baby, and hope I can do a better job than I've done so far, of being there for you."
"It is okay. I know you have a lot to do, and I have been very busy helping Dr. Mondale set things up to make the infirmary more efficient."
"How is the good doctor working out? Have you had to kick his butt to keep him in line?"
"No," she smiled, "though it is a wonderful feeling to know that I could. He is actually not so bad, now that he understands the situation. He is like Heather - it takes a little time for things to sink in, but once they do, he's okay. He really is a good doctor. He just needed to break some old habits."
"All right. I've got to go let Carmen know she needs to start training these people in the care and use of small arms."
I didn't see Amanda on my way across the compound, so I didn't have a chance to get her started thinking about a celebration. I found Carmen helping the new folks get set up in the mine.
"I don't know, Mr. Thompson," she said. "I mean, I don't mind helping out, but are you sure I'm the right one for the job?"
"You've learned what you've been taught, Carmen," I told her. "Just start where Ramon started teaching you and teach it to them. I don't think I'd try to copy his teaching style, though. You should just be yourself and learn as you go. I guarantee that whatever you teach these people, you will know better than anyone else by the time you're done."
"Huh? What does that mean?"
"It means that there's no better way to learn all you can about something than to try to teach it to others. In answering their questions and making sure they get it right, you'll learn things you never thought to ask when it was being taught to you. Just remember, don't try to bullshit them. If you don't know the answer to a question, tell 'em you'll have to get back to 'em, then go look it up or ask someone. If necessary, make them wait until the Gunny gets back, then find out."
"Geez, now you've really got me scared!"
"Nothing to be scared of, Carmen. It might be a good idea to find out who knows what before you start trying to teach them, that way you can teach each one at the level he or she needs to be taught. You might even find that some of 'em can help with the teaching. There used to be a lot of ex-military types out there, so don't hesitate to use whatever resources you've got."
"I'll do the best I can, sir."
"That's all anyone can ask. Hey, if you run into Amanda, would you ask her, when she gets time, to come see me? It's not urgent, but there's something I'd like to talk to her about before I forget."
I took a little time alone to try to devise ways of fighting and using weapons with only one arm available, but it was slow going and I didn't see Amanda until it was time for me to relieve her on watch.
"Hey, big boy," she called out as she saw me. "I hear you want to talk to me. What's on your mind?"
"A celebration. I think it would be a good idea to put together a celebration as a morale booster, and Ruth and Cora have given us the perfect excuse, don't you think?"
"Thanksgiving. It's three days from now. Seems we have a lot to be thankful for, especially the first two pregnancies, so why not tie the historical holiday into the new calendar and give it new meaning?"
"Wait, wait, wait! It can't be Thanksgiving already! We've only been here, for..."
"I checked on the computer in Archie's study. In three days, it's Thanksgiving."
"Jesus H. Christ! Where the hell has the time gone! Okay, Thanksgiving it is, but I don't want Ruth working her butt off on this one. She's one of the guests of honor, so somebody else needs to deal with getting everything set up. This would probably be a good time to break out that beer that had Ramon and Colby going at it when we first got together."
"Thought you'd never ask!" Amanda grinned. "I'm looking forward to it. Now get your crippled ass out there and stand your watch. I'm going to bed."
Heather met me at the mouth of the mine tunnel with Humphrey already saddled.
I was mounted and ready to start my rounds when something occurred to me. "Isn't your punishment over with?"
"Yeah. It ended a few days ago, but this is the only thing I know how to do that's of any use to the community, so I keep doing it. I kinda like being around the animals, anyway. At least I get to sleep in a tent now."
"Well, like I've told you before," I said, "taking care of those animals is very important to our community, so if that's your contribution, it's a good one."
"Thank you, Mr. Thompson."
Humphrey, not having been ridden since our little excursion into the desert, was feeling frisky and I had to keep some tension on the reins to keep him from taking the switchbacks too fast as we made our rounds.
The watches were tired, but they were awake and as alert as could be expected. After a quick check in the mine, I rode up to the south pasture. The sun was just starting to peek over the ridge to the east as I rode Humphrey along the west side of the valley. Out of the corner of my eye, I caught movement in the shadowed desert below. Taking out my binoculars, I watched as truck after truck came into view, traveling northward around our little mountain.
I recognized the lead truck with the makeshift machinegun mount as ours.
"Three, this is One. Come in," I said into my walkie-talkie.
There was a pause before a voice came back, "One, this is Three, good morning! Glad to see someone's on watch up there!"
"Good morning yourself," I replied. "How's the weather where you are?"
"Sun's coming up and it looks like it's going to be a beautiful morning," came the reply. "Not a cloud in the sky!"
"Roger that, Three," I said. "Hold where you are. I'll come to you."
"Copy that, One," Gunny's voice came back. "Will halt and hold position pending your arrival."
"Roger three. One out."
I rode Humphrey down the trail to the lower valley as fast as the sure-footed cowpony could take the switchbacks, and roused the compound as I galloped for the house. I asked Ruth, who was up preparing breakfast, to hand me a stack of the rule sheets that we had printed out so we'd have them handy, before spurring Humphrey toward the trailhead.
Humphrey wanted to run and I had to rein him in as we descended the trail to the desert to keep him from sliding off the path.
I had always loved the desert in the morning. There was still a little chill in the air, but the sun was rapidly taking care of that. The scents of the desert plants as they soaked up what moisture they could from the sparse morning dew overpowered even the pervasive odor of rotting flesh. I let Humphrey set his own pace as I turned him west.
Humphrey set off at a canter, snorting as if savoring the wind in his nostrils. The convoy had just begun rounding the northwest 'corner' of our mountains when they stopped, so it didn't take long to find them.
Gunny separated himself from a group of men, all wearing desert camouflage, as he saw me approach. I noted with approval that there were sentries posted and that everyone in sight was armed.
"Hey, Gavin!" Gunny waved. "What happened to the arm?"
"Long story, but the other guy lost."
"That doesn't surprise me, but I still want to hear that story sometime."
"I'm sure Grey Eagle will be happy to tell it to anyone who will listen..."
I stopped when I saw Garcia's puzzled expression.
"Oh yeah. That's another long story. Suffice to say, we've got twenty-one more people in camp than when you left, one of whom is an old mentor of mine."
"Well, unless you've got a problem with any of these folks, we're about to have a lot more than that. Come on, let me introduce you."
"Wait a minute. What happened to your face?"
"Oh, nothin' much. Me and Chief O'Donell had a little wall-to-wall discussion to establish pecking order, since we're the same grade and same time in grade."
"So who pecks first?"
"It was a draw," he grinned. "Somebody else'll have to make that decision. Damn good fight, though!"
"Anybody that can hold his own with you, I gotta meet!" I laughed.
"You will, come on over."