Hell to Pay
Chapter 3

Copyright© 2011 by woodmanone

Please read Chapters 1& 2 to understand the characters and the events in the story to this point.

Constructive comments, critiques, and emails are very welcome and appreciated.

Thank you for taking your time to follow this tale. Please enjoy.

Dixie didn't hesitate; without thinking about it she picked up the shotgun and blazed away at the three men. She hit Raff first because he had the rifle in his hand. Then she quickly shot Sam and Ted before they could stop their headlong rush and get a gun up. In a space of a few seconds there were three men on the ground.

Dixie stood and examined the three. Raff had been hit in the stomach, Sam and Ted weren't in any better shape. All three were dead. She looked at the men for a few seconds and said, "Hell to Pay guys is sometimes more than expected."

Dixie heard Casey moan and turned back to see him trying to sit up. "Stay still for a minute," she ordered. "You got hit but you're okay."

Dixie ran inside and brought the first aid kit back to Casey. Head wounds bleed a lot and Casey had blood running down his face. She quickly cleaned up the blood and applied a liberal amount of antiseptic ointment to the wound. Dixie put a dressing over the crease and held it in place by winding a gauze roll around Casey's head.

"You look like a mummy," she said with a smile when she finished.

Casey gave her a weak smile and asked, "What happened?" He looked around and saw the three bodies. He looked back at Dixie and repeated, "What happened?"

"Never mind that right now," she replied. "How are you feeling?"

He put his hand up and adjusted the bandage. "I'm a little dizzy but that's going away. And I've got a headache."

"C'mon let's get you inside. I think a couple of aspirins are called for."

Casey leaned on Dixie and made it inside to a chair. She went back outside and brought the shotgun and the .22 Magnum into the cabin.

He watched her for and minute and said, "Now, tell me what happened."

Dixie brought him some water and sat down next to him. "We made them leave their pistols but we forgot about that," she said pointing to the .22 Magnum. "Raff and the others came back and set up an ambush. When you went down they started running toward us." Dixie stopped for several seconds, took a deep breath and said simply, "I picked up your shotgun and stopped them."

Casey let her sit quietly for a bit. "Good thing Raff wasn't a better shot. Two inches to the right and I would've been in trouble." He took Dixie's hand and said, "Thank you."

"What are we going to do with the bodies? Dixie asked.

Casey was quiet for a bit and then answered, "There's another abandoned mine shaft near where their Jeep was parked. This one goes straight down for about a hundred feet. We'll dump the bodies there and cover them."

Dixie shuddered. "Seems sort of heartless, doesn't it?"

"Maybe so," Casey replied shrugging his shoulders. "But I doubt they worried too much about what to do with my body after they killed me." He hesitated and said, "I doubt they would have worried too much about you either."

Dixie nodded and hugged Casey. She made him sit and rest before she'd let him get up. They held each other most of the day, Casey recovering from his wound and Dixie coming to grips with having to kill three men.

"I know I shot them to protect you and me, but it still bothers me that I had to killed them," Dixie admitted. "Does this feeling ever go away?"

Casey hugged her to him. "It gets easier but it never really goes away. You have to remember why you shot them."

He put his hand under her chin, raised her head from his chest, and looked her in the eye. "You had to choose between them or us. For my part I think you made the right choice," he added with a smile.

Late that afternoon, the two of them hiked to the end of the valley to inspect the mine shaft. It was just as Casey described; a hole in the ground about ten by six feet. While they were looking at the hole, Casey saw the Jeep parked almost exactly where it had been before.

Casey drove the Jeep back to the cabin and with Dixie's help loaded the bodies into the back. They returned to the mine shaft and quickly dumped the bodies into the dark hole. Dixie stood for a minute with her head bowed saying a silent prayer for the men. Casey respected her silence and stood to the side.

He told Dixie to take cover behind the Jeep. She saw Casey drop a small canvas bag into the hole and then he ran to join her. Ten seconds later there was an explosion, the ground shook and the mine shaft collapsed in on itself.

"What was that?" Dixie asked.

"That was C4," Casey answered.

"I thought you were kidding about the C4. I thought it was just a bluff to make Raff give up."

"A bluff only works if you're willing to follow through with it," he replied. "C'mon let's get some rest."

Casey and Dixie changed a few things over the next month and a half. They were seldom if ever away from each other. Raff and the other two had been able to do what they did because Dixie was alone at the cabin. Casey was determined that she wouldn't be left alone again.

They made the hike to Casey's truck and brought the supplies to the cabin. Casey and Dixie returned the truck to the gulley and camouflaged it again. He said the reasons they'd left there were still valid. They did bring Raff's Jeep up to the cabin and filled the gas tank from some of the jerry cans in the storage cave. Every four or five days they would make a trip to the truck to start and run it for several minutes. Each time, after they were done, Casey would hide the ignition coil.

"If we have to make a run for it I don't want to worry about the Ford starting," Casey explained.

Casey had decided to supplement their supplies by returning to hunting. He set snares for rabbits and birds and checked them every day. Casey used his bow for most of the hunting. It wouldn't give away their position like the sound of a rifle shot. Dixie went with him on his hunts. She was fairly quiet in the woods, but Casey was a ghost. He moved with so little noise that he could almost walk right up on his target. Casey taught Dixie how to be quieter.

Twice a day they would hook up the radio and listen to the reports from the city. The Nation Guard and the police were gaining more control and the government had finally found a way to stop the spread of the computer virus. Some strides had been made to restore things to normal but the city was still a dangerous place to be.

"When are we going back?" Dixie asked one morning at breakfast.

"We could go now if you want to. I think our apartments are in the safe zone," Casey replied.

"When we go back there won't be any of this your apartment or my apartment nonsense. We'll live together," Dixie said smiling. "I've gotten to like having you around all the time."

"If we go back we won't live as well as we do here. We'll have to live with the rationing. They won't let us keep our own food supplies." Casey stopped and thought. "My sales job isn't there anymore and the bank you worked at is closed too."

"I don't know if I want to leave this," Dixie said looking around.

"We don't have to leave. I told you before we can stay here for months, maybe years now that we're hunting." Casey put his hand on Dixie's shoulder. "If you want to go back we will but I'd rather stay here for a while longer."

Dixie put her arms around his waist and nodded in agreement.

Coming back from a hunting trip carrying two pheasants, Casey stopped holding up his hand to Dixie who was following him. He signaled her to be quiet and to indicate that three people were on the front porch of the cabin. They stopped inside the tree line, knelt down, and watched.

A woman of about thirty five, a young boy appearing to be about twelve or so and an even younger girl were at the door of the cabin. The woman knocked on the door and waited for an answer. She knocked a second time and when she didn't get an answer led the boy and girl around the side of the cabin to the back. Casey and Dixie, staying in the tree line, moved so that they could watch the three.

There was a bag of empty food cans that Casey had planned to dispose of the next day. The boy saw the bag and rummaged through it. He pulled out a few of them and ran his finger around the inside of one. Pulling his finger out he showed the woman and the girl the remains of what had been in the can. He stuck his finger in his mouth and sucked off the leftover food. The girl quickly grabbed a can and did the same thing.

Casey and Dixie had planted a small garden to supplement their food supply. It wasn't big and was mostly radishes, onions, and carrots. The woman pulled a few of the plants, cleaned off the dirt and gave the children several onions and radishes. She ate a couple of radishes too. The three were gaunt and dirty and seemed tired. It was obvious that they'd had a hard time and were about done in.

Casey and Dixie had been checking the strangers back trail to make sure they were alone. He stepped out of the tree line so the three could see him while Dixie stayed under cover. The woman stiffened and called the children to her. The boy was carrying a baseball bat and stepped in front of the woman and girl. He raised the bat in a defensive position.

"That's my garden," Casey said.

"Leave us alone Mister," the boy said with fear in his voice. "All we took was a few onions."

Casey smiled at the boy. He admired the youngster's bravery and his willingness to protect the woman and girl. "Who are you ma'am? Where did you come from?"

The woman stepped forward, nervously eying the bow in Casey's hand. "I'm Sally Douglas and this is my son John and daughter Mary," she replied. "I'm sorry for stealing from your garden. We haven't had anything to eat for two days except some packaged cheese crackers and a handful of raisins."

"Where is your husband Mrs. Douglas?" Casey asked as he slowly stepped closer.

Before Sally could answer, John spoke up. "My dad doesn't live with us anymore. He left a long time ago."

Casey nodded and looked at the woman. "John Sr. and I split up," Sally offered. "He decided he didn't want to be tied down as a father or a husband, so he left. We haven't heard from him for five years."

"And how did you come to be here raiding my garden?" Casey asked with a smile to show he wasn't upset.

"We live, or I guess I should say lived, in Lemay. That's a suburb of St. Louis," Sally told him. Casey nodded that he knew Lemay and she continued, "I was a nurse at St. Alexius Hospital in south St. Louis but it became very dangerous. The gangs started raiding the hospital for drugs and other supplies so I quit going to work. We were okay at home for a while after the problems started but when the National Guard took over St. Louis we started having some trouble. They forced a lot of the gangs out of the city and our neighborhood was attacked several times." Sally stopped talking as Dixie stepped out of the tree line behind Casey.

"Hi Mrs. Douglas. Hi kids," Dixie greeted them. Turning to Casey with a smile she asked, "Their story can be told over breakfast, don't you think Casey?"

He nodded. "Of course, I'm sorry Mrs. Douglas. Living here alone has apparently made me forget my manners. Just a minute please." Casey went around to the front of the cabin, went in, and came to open the back door. "Please come in," he said.

Sally hesitated and Dixie came to her and took her hand. "It's okay Sally," she said gently leading her into the cabin. Dixie pointed to the kitchen table. "You guys sit down and we'll get you some breakfast," Dixie suggested. "I'm sorry all we have are powdered eggs but we do have some ham slices and potatoes."

The children smiled and nodded their heads; powdered eggs, ham, and potatoes would be fine for them. Sally looked on in wonder as Dixie and Casey began to cook breakfast for her children and herself. She watched for a minute and then broke down into tears.

Dixie quickly went to her and put her arm around Sally's shoulders. John watched his mother with concern and Mary walked over and took Sally's hand.

"What's wrong Momma?" Mary asked.

"Your Momma's just happy that you all are going to get something to eat," Dixie explained smiling at the little girl. "Sometimes people cry when they're happy." Dixie caught Casey's eye and motioned with her head toward the door.

"C'mon kids, let's go check the snares while your mom and Dixie fix breakfast," he suggested. "Maybe we caught something for supper."

John didn't want to leave his mother but Sally nodded at him. He took Mary's hand and followed Casey out of the cabin. On the way out Mary said, "That's silly. I don't cry when I'm happy, I laugh."

About an hour later Casey and his two helpers returned after checking the snares. John was carrying a rabbit and his sister carried a pheasant. Mary had told Casey she didn't mind carrying the funny looking chicken but that she didn't want to carry Bugs Bunny.

Breakfast was waiting and after washing up, the three hunters sat down at the table. The next few minutes were quiet except for the sound of forks scraping against a plate. After everyone was done, Casey took the kids to the front part of the house to keep them busy while Sally told her story to Dixie. He told the children about the different types of animals that lived in the hills.

Dixie watched him with the children for a minute or two. It's like Casey is two different men, she thought. With me and the children he's as gentle and kind as anyone I've ever known. But with Raff, Sam, and Ted he was ready to kill them with that sniper rifle of his.

Turning back to Sally, Dixie poured them another cup of coffee and said, "Now that you and the children are fed tell us how you came to be up here in these hills."

"Like I said, when the government took over in St. Louis it forced some of the gangs and thieves to leave the city. After the second or third attack, Jim Taylor our next door neighbor suggested that the kids and I move in with him. He said it would be easier to protect one house than two. It made sense so we took all of our food and supplies and moved into his house."

Sally stopped for a few seconds with a faraway look in her eyes. "Two days after the move, we were attacked again, this time by three men. Jim chased them off with his rifle. It was a couple of days afterwards that he began to change. Or maybe he just started showing his true nature."

She shuddered and continued, "I heard Jim yell out in pain from the back of the house and ran to see what had happened. I thought we were under attack again. When I got to the back bedroom, John was standing in the corner holding a bat with Mary behind him. Jim was holding his wrist and cussing at John."

"He tried to do bad things to me and Mary," John added listening to his mother's story. "Momma had warned us about anyone touching us where they weren't supposed to. So I hit him with my bat."

Sally smiled and looked over at her son. "He certainly did and if I hadn't stopped him, John would have hit him again." She paused for a few seconds thinking of what Jim had tried to do. "Anyway, while Jim was wrapping up his wrist we stole his truck and made a run for it. Unfortunately we left all our food and supplies at Jim's house."

"Where were you running to?" Dixie asked. "Do you have family or friends nearby?"

"I didn't think about where we were going, just about getting away from that son of ... I mean that horrible man," Sally answered. "We drove the back roads south and west and ran out of gas about two miles from here. I knew there is a little town over this way somewhere so we decided to go there. Then we found your place."

Casey stood and went to the storage room of the cabin. He came back carrying two sleeping bags. Handing John one he directed him to spread it out. "You guys lie down for a while and rest up," he told John and Mary. Turning to Sally he said, "You can use the cot next to them. Y'all must be tired."

John and Mary thought it was great fun using the sleeping bags inside a house. Soon they were sleeping and Sally wasn't far behind. Casey motioned for Dixie to follow him outside. Out of habit he picked up his .223 rifle as he stepped through the door and Dixie grabbed her shotgun.

They walked a short distance away from the cabin. "Casey we can't just let them go on," Dixie said. "They'll never make it"

Casey nodded and replied, "If Sally wants to leave we can't stop her Honey. We can help with food and gas but we can't stop her."

"I know, but..." Dixie started.

"Don't get all upset," Casey interrupted. "I've got an idea. Let's wait until after supper and I'll spring it on them."

Late that afternoon Casey took John and Mary out to the back of the cabin with him. "If you guys are gonna be hunters you've got to learn to skin and clean your catch."

He had a fire going with a big pot of water boiling on it. Casey dipped the pheasant in the boiling water and after about thirty seconds pulled it out. He shook the bird until most of the water was gone and handed it to Mary.

"Here little one, use this stump as a table and pluck all the feathers off," Casey instructed and showed her how to pull the feathers. "Save the big ones from the tail and the wings."

Turning to John he said, "C'mon, I'll show you how to skin and gut a rabbit." He showed the boy how to cut the skin so he could peel it off in one piece. Then he had him cut open the body and pull out the intestines.

Casey waited to see if John would be put off by the necessities of living off the land. The only comment John made was when he cleaned the body cavity. "Smells gross," he said and continued to work.

Mary worked hard to get the feathers off the "funny looking chicken" and soon had the bird plucked clean. Casey gutted the bird and washed it. Then he held the pheasant close to the fire turning it.

"That will singe off any feathers we missed," he explained. The three "hunters" put their kill on a spit and began to cook it over an open fire.

Dixie and Sally had wrapped a few potatoes in foil and Casey threw them into the coals. "We'll have roast pheasant tonight with baked potatoes," he said. "Tomorrow we'll cut up the rabbit and make a stew with it and the leftover potatoes. We might even add a can of carrots or tomatoes just to give it extra flavor."

"That's more than we've had to eat in at one time in over a week," Sally said after supper. "Thank you."

"Let's get things cleaned up," Casey said. "We should discuss what you're going to do Sally. I've got a proposition for you."

Sally stiffed and looked hard at Casey. He saw her reaction and quickly said, "It's not that kind of proposition Mrs. Douglas."

Still a little wary, Sally nodded and helped with the clean up. Dixie got the children interested in one of the outdoor magazines in the cabin so Casey and Sally could talk.

"Sally the way I look at it, you've got two options here," Casey said. "You and the kids can go your own way. If that's what you decide, we'll give you gas for your truck and supplies to take with you. Or..."

"Or what?" Sally asked still concerned about Casey's use of the word proposition.

"Or you guys can stay here with us." Casey leaned forward in his chair. "It won't be charity; we can use your help."

"Our help?"

"Yes. When I go hunting Dixie is always with me," Casey explained. "We're never more than a few steps away from each other."

Sally smiled a little and said, "I've noticed that."

"When we hunt there's no one at the cabin. If someone should find the place it could be nasty when we come back. You could be a sort of rear guard for us. See what I mean?" Casey asked.

She nodded and Casey continued, "I've got some walky talkies and we can stay in contact with you at the cabin while we're hunting. If anyone shows up give us a call and we'll come a runnin."

Dixie had wandered over and said, "You help us and we'll help you. You'll have food and a safe place to live. Probably more important to you, your children will be safe too."

"Think it over Sally," Casey said. "Sleep on it and give us your decision in the morning." Casey stood and stretched. "I'm done talkin ladies, I'm headed for bed. Y'all stay up as late as you want. Good night."

The next morning after a breakfast of oatmeal and some canned bacon, Casey strapped on his .357 and picked up his bow.

"I'm gonna check the snares," Casey told the ladies. "Should be back in about an hour, then we'll go listen to the radio and see if things are getting back to normal. Dixie you know the drill."

"Yes dear," Dixie responded. "Stay close to the cabin and if anybody shows up call you on the Walkie Talkie."

Sally nodded and watched the two say goodbye. It's nice of them offering to let us stay, she thought. It's nice that they've made up a story to make me feel useful if we do stay. I don't know how long it will be before we can go home or even if I want to go home. Stay or go, either way we're in better shape than when we got here.

An hour later, Casey returned carrying two rabbits. John offered to clean them so Casey handed them to the boy. He and Dixie climbed the hill, attached the antennae to the radio and listened to the latest reports from the city and the country.

The National Guard had begun to restore the infrastructure. They had managed to get the water plants fully up and running and would soon have the electric generating plants back online. Government IT people had finally found a way to eradicate the virus. It would take time to erase it from all computers and to repair the damage it caused but progress was being made.

A government agency spokesman said that no group or one person had claimed responsibility for the virus. The agency believed that it was an experiment that had gotten out of hand. He said there was no indication that terrorists or hackers were involved.

The spokesman added that the citizens who had left their homes could return safely. The gangs that had taken over the cities were being dealt with. There was still rationing of food and supplies but according to the reports everything would be back to normal in a couple of months. Then the people could go back to their lives.

The radio station said the next report would be at midday and soon they would be broadcasting as they had before the virus.

Casey disconnected the antennae and put the radio back in its hiding place. He looked at Dixie and shook his head. "Bullshit," he said. "It could take months before this is all sorted out."

"You really think so?" Dixie questioned.

Nodding his head Casey replied, "It will be quite awhile before the government can give up control over the cities and effected areas." He stared down at the cabin for a few seconds. "You really want to go back Dixie? We can stay here for a long, long, time."

Dixie was quiet and then said, "We can't stay here forever."

"Yeah, but by that time maybe things will be better in the small towns around here." Casey smiled and added,

Casey saw Dixie's hesitation. "No matter what they say, your job at the bank won't be reinstated for some time, maybe months. But ... If you want to go back, I'll take you."

"Will you come with me?"

"No. I'll get you back to a safe zone in the city and then I'll come back here." He shook his head. "I don't want some government bureaucrat taking my guns and food supplies and then telling me when and how much I can eat. I'll do better out here."

Dixie stared at Casey for several minutes. He sat quietly and waited for her decision. Finally she sighed, took a deep breath and said. "I think I'd rather decide when and what I eat for myself too." She smiled and added, "I didn't like being in that office all day anyway."

Casey grabbed her and pulled her to him. After kissing her he took Dixie's hand and led her to the storage cave. They spent a little over an hour in the cave; it was the only privacy they'd had since Sally and the children came into their lives.

On the way back to the cabin Casey smiled and said, "If Sally stays we'll have to figure a way to get some alone time."

Dixie nodded and returned his smile.

Sally, John, and Mary were sitting in front of the cabin when they returned. She had a shotgun lying across her lap as she watched the children play.

"Have trouble?" Casey asked.

"No, but I remembered what my Dad taught me," Sally replied. Casey raised an eyebrow and she said, "He said that the only time you needed a gun was when you need one."

Casey chuckled. "I didn't mention it before but if you want to go back home I'll take you there. Have you made a decision?"

Sally nodded. "I think we'd better stay here and be your rear guard," she said with a smile. Maybe later we can go back to the city."

John spoke up and said, "I want to learn to use your bow Mr. Casey."

"I guess that decides it," Casey said and laughed. "You'll have to stay now."

Over the next two months the three adults and two children became if not a family, the closest thing to it. Casey found he really enjoyed teaching John about the outdoors. Mary tagged along on some of their hikes and she learned to be very quiet in the woods. Dixie taught Sally the finer points of hunting and tracking.

Casey and Sally hiked to the stranded truck with a can of gas and brought the four wheel drive vehicle back to the cabin. He showed Sally how to pull and reconnect the ignition coil, hiding it nearby.

A couple of days later, Sally watched Casey and John return from a hunting trip carrying a turkey. Casey handed John the bird and the boy took it around to the back of the cabin to clean it. Mary followed saying that she'd help with the 'big chicken', which brought a smile to both Casey and Sally's face.

"Why not use a gun instead of your bow?" Sally asked. "I would guess you have to get much closer with a bow."

"You do, but a bow doesn't make any noise," Casey answered. "The sound of a gunshot carries a long way and I don't know who's around to hear it." He grinned at Sally and added, "The next visitors might not be as nice as you guys."

Becoming more serious Sally asked, "When do you think things will be back to normal?

Dixie came out onto the porch and heard Sally's question. "It'll be a while yet, but even then we've decided we're not going back to St. Louis. At least, not any time soon."

Casey nodded. "We'll get you to where you want to go but we're staying here."

Sally stared at them for a few seconds. "I've got no reason to go back. The house was a rental and with that ass living next door I wouldn't feel safe." After pausing she said, "But I need to get John and Mary back to a normal life. They need to go to school and interact with other children."

"Let's wait a while and see how the recovery goes," Dixie suggested. Sally nodded her agreement.

Two weeks later Casey made a scouting trip to the little town closest to them. Winona was about fifty miles distance so he took the Jeep. Dixie and John wanted to go with him.

"I can travel faster by myself if something goes wrong," Casey told them. He hugged Dixie and promised, "I'll be back late this afternoon. I'll drive close to town, do a quiet scout to see how things are, and come back."

"But why do you have to go?" Dixie asked. She was worried about the possible problems he could encounter.

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