"There's a door right there. Why do we have to walk around?" Jorry asked curiously.
"Because we're uninvited guests and we're coming here to ask them a favor. There's no way to know which customs and courtesies the Browns recognize as most important, so we need to be on our best behavior." Father Doherty explained calmly as they walked.
"Yeah. I guess." Jorry grudgingly agreed.
"How's Colton?" Jody asked Emo quietly.
"He's happy as he can be, all curled up in his blankets." Emo said with a tender smile.
"Well, if he's not happy for some reason, you let me or Nick know. That's why we're here, to help you." Jody said firmly.
"Thanks, guys. I really appreciate that." Emo said sincerely.
* * * * *
As he approached a lit up sign, he saw the message change to say, "Approaching driver, change to CB channel 17 or dial 1117."
"I am addressing the vehicle approaching Washington mile marker number seven, this is the first checkpoint on this route to Kettle Falls. There is some basic information that we would like to pass on to you so that we can streamline the registration process. Would you please identify your driver and vehicle?" A man's voice said over the CB radio.
"I'm Martel Fleming and I'm in a 1973 Bluebird. I mean, Pontiac Firebird that's blue." Martel said anxiously.
"It's nice to meet you, Martel, my name's Justin. Wow. That sounds like a sweet ride! I can't wait to see it! Now tell me, how many passengers do you have?" Justin asked pleasantly
"None. It's just me." Martel said nervously.
"Do you have any medical issues or anything that we can help you with?" Justin asked professionally.
"No. I'm fine. Just looking for a place to stay." Martel said honestly.
"Oh, well, let me tell you upfront that we're asking most people who are arriving alone to park their cars here and bus in to Kettle Falls. But since you've got such a sweet ride, let me see if I can clear you to drive all the way in." Justin said cheerfully.
"If I have to leave the Bluebird, is she going to be okay?" Martel asked cautiously.
"Sure. We've got monster parking lots all over the place... well, actually they're fields, but they work the same. There's security wandering around, checking on all the cars, so no one's going to mess with her." Justin said seriously.
"Thanks, Justin. And you can call me Marty if you want. This car is just about all I've got left. I guess that I should just be grateful. I'm lucky to still be alive."
"Where are you from, Marty?"
"Kansas City. It was my day off and I took the Bluebird to the shop for an oil change when we heard everything blow up." Marty said darkly, then quietly added, "My home, my work, everything is gone."
"If you end up leaving the Bluebird with us, we'll keep a close eye on her and when you're ready to move on, you can bus back down and pick her up. But if we let everyone who drove in here take their vehicles with them, Kettle Falls would be a traffic nightmare." Justin said frankly.
"I guess I'll do it... If I have to." Marty said in a conflicted tone.
"It says here that you used to work as a security officer in Mesa, Arizona. Is that right?" Justin asked curiously.
"Yeah. For a couple years. How did you know that?"
"We've got access to a monster database that helps us to register people. I tell you what, if you really don't want to leave the Bluebird with us, how about you consider stopping in at the checkpoint and helping us out with security? Since you obviously know that a car can be a whole lot more than a means of transportation, maybe you could help us keep other people's cars safe." Justin suggested carefully.
"I don't have much money. I'd have to find a place to live and be able to buy food." Marty said hesitantly.
"You won't have to worry about that. We're pretty much a barter economy around here, now. If you perform an important job, you get paid with room and board. I guess if you want something like a new computer, for your own personal use, then you might have to come up with some cash. But as far as the necessities of life, we'll see that you're taken care of." Justin said seriously.
"Well, if you really have a job for me, then 'yes'. I'd like to stay." Marty said excitedly.
"We have plenty of jobs. And keep in mind that this is all volunteer. If you have some family or friends show up and you need to move on, it won't be a problem." Justin assured him.
"No. I really don't have anybody." Marty reluctantly admitted.
"Then stop at the checkpoint and we'll make you part of the family."
* * * * *
"Shit!" Carson exclaimed as he slammed his hands on his keyboard tray.
"What's wrong?" Jay asked immediately.
"All this time I always thought Canadians were such nice people. But these guys are total dicks!" Carson ranted.
"Not all of us are that way." Euan said from across the room.
"Oh, you're Canadian?" Carson asked cautiously.
"Well, I guess it's Canadian politicians that are dicks." Carson said carefully.
"I can accept that." Euan said with a smile, then turned back to his computer.
Carson grudgingly typed a command on his computer, then waited.
Although it took only a few seconds for the video to connect, Carson felt his irritation rising during that time.
"Young Mr. Brown. How can we be of service to you today?" General Adams asked diplomatically.
"I need to speak to the Vice President." Carson said firmly.
"I'm afraid he's otherwise occupied at the moment. Maybe it's something I can help with." General Adams said simply.
Carson despised the insincere courtesy that General Adams was using and felt his temper rise another notch.
"I just got a report that the negotiations to open the Canadian border have been put on hold. I don't know if you understand just how important this is. I've got tens of thousands of people heading this way. Kettle Falls and Colville are filling up. My food supplier has just informed me that he's stopped receiving any shipments. All I need to make all of this work is one simple thing, and that's for us to have a place for all these people to go." Carson said in an escalating voice that ended in nearly a scream.
"This is a sensitive political matter that must be handled very delicately..." General Adams began to say, but was interrupted.
"Sensitive? Let's see how sensitive you are when we have people starving and dying, packed in so tight that they don't have room to fall over dead! Tens of thousands of people... are coming here... right now... what part of that aren't you getting?" Carson exploded.
"What's the problem?" A voice said from behind General Adams, then Eric walked into view.
"Eric, I need Mike to get the Canadian border open. We're running out of time." Carson implored him to understand.
"Hang on for just a second. I'll go wake him up." Eric said seriously.
As Carson stared at General Adams, who was staring right back at him, he began to feel bad about losing his temper.
Finally, Carson grudgingly said, "All these people are counting on me. They're trusting me to coordinate this whole mess and keep them safe. I know it isn't your fault, but the bottleneck at the Canadian border could really cause this entire thing to fail."
"We're doing our best." General Adams said simply.
"What is it, Carson?" Mike asked as he hurried into view.
His disheveled clothes and mussed hair gave evidence that he had indeed been sleeping.
"They suspended negotiations on opening the Canadian border. So basically, we're screwed." Carson said frankly.
"I don't know if it will help, but I can call Jack and see if he has any strings that he hasn't pulled yet." Mike said thoughtfully.
"I don't believe that will be necessary." Art said as he walked up behind Carson.
"Arthur?" Mike asked in wide-eyed wonder.
"Yes. He's one of the boys who arrived with that convoy from Chicago." Eric said quietly.
Mike stared at Art's image on the screen for a moment, then broke into laughter.
"What is it?" Eric asked in confusion.
General Adams was silent, but seemed no less confused.
"Gentlemen, may I introduce, His Royal Highness, King Arthur James George Edward Windsor, King of the British Commonwealth." Mike said very properly.
"Thank you, Mr. Vice President." Art said formally.
"It's my pleasure, Your Highness." Mike said sincerely.
"Do you think it might be possible for me to join you upstairs, so that we may speak to those who have been frustrating Carson's efforts?" Art asked calmly.
"It would be my absolute pleasure to set up a video conference for you." Mike said with a delighted smile.
Art smiled as he gave a single nod of affirmation.
When the video stream stopped, Art turned to find everyone in the command center staring at him.
"Um... yeah. He's the King of England. Did we forget to mention that?" Euan asked quietly, trying to minimize the impact.
"Fuck! I'm glad I was nice to him." Bug said frankly.
Art turned to Bug and smiled before saying, "My title demands a certain level of respect, but you gave me respect for the person I am. Rest assured, I will always remember you, Bug."
"Would you like to borrow some nicer clothes before you go upstairs?" Carson asked cautiously.
Art considered for a moment, then said, "I believe that presenting myself as I am, will lend to the veracity of the story of how I came to be here. But, if your offer remains open, I may choose to change after my conference."
"Well, Mr. Crante keeps us stocked up on tons of formal clothes that we hardly ever get to wear. So you should have lots to choose from, and if mine don't fit you, I bet Tommy's will." Carson said seriously.
"I fear that now that I have revealed who I am, that I may not be able to return. That being the case, I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of you for accepting and including me in your efforts to help the refugees." Art said as he looked around the room.
"If you ever need us, you know where to find us." Ben said frankly.
"Thank you, Ben. And if you and Oleksandr ever find yourselves in England, do be sure to stop in for a bit." Art said with a smile at them.
"Yeah. Next time we're there we'll look you up. I promise." Ben said with a smile.
Art then looked to Euan inquiringly and received a nod that he was ready to go.
"Goodbye, my friends." Art said before exiting the room.
* * * * *
"Good morning, gentlemen. Please excuse me for not coming out and meeting you, but I have some work that requires my immediate attention." Deb said from behind her desk.
"That's quite alright. We'll try not to take up too much of your time. In short, we came to ask if you could direct us to someone who might be able to help us in gathering baby supplies for Colton. We only have the contents of his diaper bag to try and care for him." Father Doherty said simply.
"I can't believe that I didn't think of that. There's one person that I can think of who would be uniquely suited to help you, give me a moment to see if she's available." Deb said as she picked up her phone.
"Thank you. We wouldn't ask if it weren't an immediate need." Father Doherty said quietly.
Deb nodded that she had heard, then said into the phone, "Shar? It's Deb. We've had some people arrive with a newborn and they don't have any baby supplies at all. Would you have time to help them?"
Everyone watched and waited for Deb to receive the answer.
"Of course she can come along! The baby is here with his own personal entourage. I'm sure she'll fit right in with them." Deb said happily, then looked at Father Doherty and gave a thumbs up.
"They'll be waiting for you to arrive. And Hobie's in Carson's room if you'd like to stop in to say 'hi' to him." Deb said pleasantly.
"I'll see you then. Goodbye." Deb said with a smile, then looked to Father Doherty and said, "Sharlette will be right over. She'll be bringing her daughter, Laticia."
"Thank you." Father Doherty said sincerely.
"Have you had breakfast?" Deb asked curiously.
"Yes. At least Emo and I have." Father Doherty said, then looked at Jorry, Jody and Nick.
"Yes. We had a really good breakfast at Mr. Thompson's house." Jody said for all of them.
"Allen Thompson?" Deb asked with a smile.
"Yes. We're staying with him until our dads arrive." Jody answered.
"I think that's great! I really like Allen. He seems like a genuinely good person." Deb said warmly.
"Yeah. He's great." Jody agreed.
"Would I have time to stop in and visit with the children while I'm here?" Father Doherty asked hopefully.
"Yes. You should have at least ten minutes before Sharlette arrives." Deb said pleasantly.
"Thank you again for your time and for your help." Father Doherty said gratefully before leading the boys out of her office.
* * * * *
As she approached a lit up sign, she saw the message change to say, "Approaching driver, change to CB channel 20 or dial 1120."
She quickly dialed her cell phone and listened as a female voice said, "Hello? I'm talking to the vehicle approaching Washington mile marker number one twenty four, this is checkpoint seventeen and it's the first checkpoint to Kettle Falls on this route. There is some information that we would like to pass on to you so that we can streamline the registration process. Would you please identify your driver and vehicle?"
"I'm Sarah Strong and I'm driving a mustard yellow 1987 Yugo." She said quietly.
"Thank you, Sarah. Give me just a moment."
Sarah continued to drive, hoping to find safety and security ahead.
"Thank you for waiting, Sarah. Tell me, are you from Marysville, California?"
"Yes, what's left of it. How did you know that?" Sarah asked in surprise.
"Computers. Do you have any passengers with you?"
"Just my dogs, Rufus and Ichabod."
"Thank you. I'd like to verify my information. Are you an LVN, specialized in elder care?"
"Yes. I'm amazed that you know so much about me." Sarah said honestly.
"It's all part of trying to help people as quickly and efficiently as possible. Tell me, are you interested in stopping in Kettle Falls, or do you have plans to move on from there?"
"Actually, I don't have any plans at all. I'm just trying to find someplace where there's food and a house that isn't going to crumble to dust if I slam the front door." Sarah said honestly.
"As you can imagine with all that's going on, we're in need of medical professionals in Kettle Falls. If you'd be willing to help out, you'll be provided with food and shelter in exchange for helping out at our local hospital."
"That sounds great! I didn't have any idea how I was going to survive with only the few things I was able to scavenge from what was left of my house. I guess I should just be grateful that I thought to let the dogs out before I went to work."
"When you get to the checkpoint, just tell them your name. Of course, you can stop for gas or food if you need to, but you won't need to wait at the roadblock. You're already cleared in the system. As soon as you arrive in Kettle Falls, you can ask anyone wearing a volunteer sash and they'll be able to direct you to where you'll be living. They can also direct you to the hospital as soon as you're ready to start helping out."
"So, there won't be any problem with my dogs?" Sarah asked to be sure.
"No. In fact, I made sure to schedule you for a house that's close to a dog park, so you can take Rufus and Ichabod for walks whenever they need it."
"That sounds wonderful!" Sarah said happily.
"I'm glad you think so. But I should warn you, that since you're going to be housed in an actual house, you may be asked to share your house with someone else. We're expecting the living spaces to be filling up, so we have to utilize them as effectively as possible."
"That shouldn't be a problem, as long as they don't mind Rufus and Ichabod." Sarah said seriously.
"Must love dogs. Got it. And we'll do our best to see that your roomed with another medical professional. It helps to share a space with someone who's sympathetic to what you're going through."
"That really sounds great. I can hardly wait." Sarah said with a smile.
"Then I guess all that's left is to officially welcome you to Kettle Falls. I hope that everything works out for you."
"Thank you. I was really nervous about all this, but now I'm looking forward to it." Sarah said peacefully.
"Things are likely to get tough, but with all of us pulling together, I think we'll get through it just fine."
* * * * *
"Hey, Dad. Is this a good time?" Dax asked cautiously.
"Yes. I'm between meetings right now, so it's a perfect time. How are you doing, Dax?" Alex asked his son gently.
"I'm great. I just wanted to let you know that the people you sent are here. Well, not at the moment, but they met with me last night and asked me if I really wanted to do this. I wanted to call and tell you that I'm going to do it." Dax said seriously.
"I thought you would. I'm proud of you, Dax." Alex said happily.
"Yeah. Well, if it was just me, I'd say I couldn't do it. But as long as I've got you, Ben and Olex there to help me, I think I'll be okay." Dax said contentedly.
"Olex? Who's that?" Alex asked curiously.
Dax smiled at the question, then said, "Oleksandr was at the mission shelter when I first arrived there. After that, he was sent to a foster home. Right before we left to come here, Oleksandr showed up at the mission. His new foster father had beaten and raped him, and somehow he found his way back to us."
"Did you call the police?" Alex asked carefully.
"No. Things were really crazy right then. We were afraid that if we didn't leave right away, we might not have been able to get out at all." Dax said frankly.
"That probably would have gotten sticky. Good thinking, Dax." Alex said honestly.
"Yeah. But don't worry about Olex, between me and Ben, we're taking really good care of him. It's funny, I always wondered what it would be like to have brothers. I imagine that this is what it must be like." Dax said earnestly.
"It sounds like you've found some good people to claim as your family. Just keep in mind that if any of you needs anything, you can contact me. There may not be much I can do at this distance, but I'm not completely without means." Alex said honestly.
"Yeah. I'll remember." Dax said quietly, then quickly added, "I see Jingo, so I'd better get to work."
"I'm right here if you have any questions or if I can help you somehow." Alex said gently.
"I know, Dad. And I'm right here, ready to help, if there's anything I can do for you." Dax said sincerely.
"Jingo and Trav will help get things settled in regards to our people. And I have someone else on the way to help you with the day to day operations." Alex said frankly.
"Who?" Dax asked curiously.
"His name is Reuben, I don't think you've met him. He'll explain his role in things when he gets there." Alex said simply, then quietly added, "I have to go, I have a meeting about to start."
"Yeah. I've got to talk to Jingo so we can get started." Dax said regretfully, then quietly added, "Bye."
"I love you, Dakota. Goodbye."
* * * * *
The automated road sign lit up with the message, "Approaching driver, change to CB channel 1 or dial 1101."
"Does anyone have a phone?"
"Yeah. Hang on. Mine's in my messenger bag."
"Anyone else? We'll be there before Arlan can dig it out of his purse."
"Yeah. I've got it, what was the number?"
"I am addressing the vehicle approaching Washington mile marker number two, this is the first checkpoint on this route to Kettle Falls. There is some basic information that we would like to pass on to you so that we can streamline the registration process. Would you please identify your driver and vehicle?" A man's voice asked calmly.
"Yeah. Um... our driver is named Steven Long and we're in a silver Tundra... do you need to know the license plate number or something?"
"I don't know yet. Let me see if I can find any information by matching the driver's name and vehicle."
"Steven's just driving. The truck's in my name, that's Donald Marcus."
"Thank you, Donald. That should make things easier."
"Please call me Mal. Everyone does."
"Sure thing, Mal. Tell me, how many people are with you today?"
"There's four of us." Mal answered.
"Do you or anyone in your vehicle need any medical care or have any urgent problems?"
"No. We're all fine."
"Good. Good. Just a few more questions and your registration will be done. Kettle Falls is acting as a way station to help people rest, refuel and attend to whatever medical or mechanical needs they have before they move on."
"Move on to where?" Mal asked cautiously.
"Canada. I'm sorry I can't be more specific, but a lot of things are still being worked out."
"There are two of us who really can't leave the United States. Is that going to be a problem?"
"No, and just so you know, I'm a volunteer, we all are. We don't work for the Federal or state government. I don't know if this applies to you, but there's a way that I can sort of mask your identities in the computer. We'll get you registered and reserve a place for you, but if anyone searches for your names, they won't find a match."
"Yeah. It'd be great if you'd do that. Thank you." Mal said sincerely.
"Okay, that's done. Before I go on, are you planning to stay in Kettle Falls?"
"We don't have any real plans. All we really want is to find a place where we can lead normal lives." Mal said honestly.
"Well, then you may need to think about moving on. Kettle Falls doesn't need settlers, it needs workers to help a whole lot of scared people."
"I don't know what we could do to help anyone." Mal said regretfully.
"Listen, according to what I'm seeing here, your truck was registered in Orlando, is that right?"
"Yeah." Mal said cautiously.
"Then the first thing you need to do when you get to Kettle Falls is ask any volunteer to put you in touch with a guy named Bug. He's one of the organizers of all of this. But he's also from Orlando and asked that if anyone from Orlando needs help of any kind, that they should talk to him."
"What should we tell him?" Mal asked uncertainly.
"Tell him that you want to help. He'll probably know better than anyone what kind of help they're needing."
"Okay. Thanks. We'll do that." Mal said with the beginning of a smile.
"Okay, you're cleared. When you approach the roadblock, just have Steven tell them his name and they'll let you go on through."
"Thanks for going out of your way to help us." Mal said sincerely.
"Yeah. Well, my name's Devon and this is checkpoint four. You call me if you need help with anything."
"Thank you, Devon. I'll do that." Mal said sincerely.
* * * * *
"I can't thank you enough for helping us, Your Highness." Mike said gratefully.
"I'm simply glad that we were able to get the situation resolved." Art said quietly.
"You don't seem glad." Mike observed.
Art looked around to verify that only Eric an Euan could hear before he quietly said, "In revealing my true identity, I have essentially forsaken the people who I have been watching over since we left Chicago."
"How do you mean?" Mike asked curiously.
Art looked at Euan imploringly, silently asking him to explain.
"During our trip here, Art has been known to the convoy as 'Monarch'. People have come to depend on him to help and guide them." Euan carefully explained.
"But didn't you do all of that on the radio? You could still do that from here." Eric said hopefully.
Art slowly shook his head and said, "Now that my identity has been revealed, there is no way that I can devote my full concentration to the needs of the people. They deserve better than what I can possibly give."
"Do you think you might have the time to instruct someone to do it for you?" Eric asked thoughtfully.
"Did you have someone in mind?" Mike asked curiously at Eric's expression.
"What about the boys? I know they've got to be on the verge of cabin fever by now." Eric said honestly.
Art shook his head and said, "No disrespect intended, but I don't think a group of children could do what needs to be done."
"Maybe not, but we've also got a group of young men, heroes, from Anaheim, who've been spending a lot of time with the boys. I bet that if you asked, they'd be happy to help you out." Eric said seriously.
"Heroes, you say?" Art asked curiously.
"Yes. They saved the lives of the president's in-laws." Eric confirmed.
Art considered for a moment, then looked to Euan with question.
"Any help is better than no help." Euan offered simply.
"Very well. Now that my presence is known, my time here is no doubt short. We should begin." Art said decisively.
"If you'll come with me, Your Highness, the boys are right back here." Eric said respectfully.
Mike watched them go and enjoyed the feeling of relief that at least some things seemed to be working out.
* * * * *
"I need to speak to someone in charge." A scruffy looking man in his forties said as he walked into the checkpoint station.
"Please have a seat and we'll get to you as quickly as we can." A plump young woman said tiredly.
"Listen, I've got some important information that I've got to get to someone in charge." The man insisted loudly.
"Is there a problem, Mazzie?" An older woman asked as she stepped out of a hallway at the back.
"This gentleman needs to speak to someone in charge." Mazzie said simply, then turned her attention back to the person in front of her.
"How may I help you today?" The woman asked professionally.
"I need to talk to someone high up in charge." The man said urgently.
The woman guided him to an office, just a few feet away, then quietly said, "I'm Mrs. Wendt and I'm the highest authority you're going to find at this checkpoint."
"Okay, I'm really sorry to be so pushy, but this is important." The man said, then when he could tell that she was honestly paying attention, he continued, "I've been in prison for the past ten years. A couple days ago, they let me out and told me that I was supposed to come here and get a job, then figure out some way to make things go really wrong for you people."
"I can see why you're so intent on speaking to someone, Mr...?"
"Samuelson. I'm Keil Samuelson. Can you put me in touch with someone in charge so they'll know to be on the lookout for more people like me?" He asked hopefully.
"Yes. Come over here, behind the desk and I'll set up a video conference for you." Mrs. Wendt said as she took a seat.
"Thank you. I wasn't sure if you were going to take me seriously, since... you know." Keil finished in a mutter.
"It sounds to me like we're on the same side of things. As far as the other, you made a mistake, you paid the price. I'm willing to leave it at that." Mrs. Wendt said as she typed on the keyboard.
"Thank you, Ma'am. I really appreciate that." Keil said sincerely.
"You said you got something important?" A young man asked impatiently from the computer monitor.
"Yes. This is Mr. Samuelson and he believes that he has some important information for you." Mrs. Wendt said, then motioned for Keil to move in closer.
"I ain't got all fucking day. What you got?"
"I've been in prison for the past ten years. A few days ago, they let me out and told me to come here, well, to Kettle Falls, and to join up and start doing things to cause it to all fall apart." Keil said seriously.
"Yeah. We figured they'd be sending someone our way before long. Who's in charge there?"
"This is Mrs. Wendt." Keil said as he motioned to her.
"Get this guy on the next plane, train, helicopter, bus... whatever the fuck you got. We need to get him here to Kettle Falls so he can talk to our security guys."
"I have a medevac chopper on standby waiting to be needed. Is this important enough to use that?" Mrs. Wendt asked cautiously.
"Yeah. It could be. If anyone gives you any shit, tell 'em Bug told you to." The young man said firmly.
"Bug? You're Bug?" Mrs. Wendt asked in surprise.
"Yeah. Listen, Lady. I got a fuck of a lot of work here. Get Mr. Samuelson here as quick as you can. I'm out." Bug said, then the video link ended.
"Well. You asked to speak to someone in charge. That was Bug, he's one of the people who organized this whole thing." Mrs. Wendt said in amazement.
"Somehow I thought the person in charge would be slightly older and a little more... professional." Keil said honestly.
"He may have a potty mouth, but there's no denying that he's helping a lot of people." Mrs. Wendt said as she quickly typed on her keyboard.
Mr. Samuelson smiled, then said, "I'm not complaining. I think I'd feel a lot more at ease with him than some stuffed suit."
"Your helicopter will be here in about five minutes. I'll take you out back where you can wait." Mrs. Wendt said as she stood.
"Thank you, Ma'am. I appreciate all your help."
* * * * *
As Deb walked into the living room, she couldn't help but smile at the sight of all the young girls gathered around Emo and Colton.
Father Doherty was standing nearby with Ken and Kev on either side of him.
"Everyone, I'd like to introduce Sharlette Blevins. She's not only a good friend of mine, but she's also an amazing interior designer. The reason I asked her over is because she has more experience than anyone I know at stocking a nursery." Deb said with a smile.
"Momma, can I see the baby?" Laticia asked from her mother's side.
"Go ahead." Sharlette said, then watched with a smile as her daughter joined the other girls.
"I was thinking that with it being just above freezing out, you might not want to take the baby outside more than necessary. What would you think about leaving him here while you're shopping?" Deb asked curiously.
"I don't know." Emo said anxiously.
Ken stepped to where Emo could see him easily and said, "I promise, we'll stay with him the whole time you're gone."
Kev stood beside his brother and said, "Colton needs his baby things but he doesn't need to be out in the cold. Please let us help you."
"Nick and I will stay here with Colton. You know we'll take good care of him." Jody said assuringly.
Emo smiled before saying, "You win, guys."
"If you'll excuse me for a moment, I need to stop in and see Hobie. Then we can leave." Sharlette said before walking toward Carson's bedroom.
"That reminds me, I need to talk to Carson about a few things." Father Doherty said as he followed.
* * * * *
There was a knock on the door that echoed through the sparsely furnished little apartment.
"Who is it?" A woman timidly asked.
"Chicago police. We need to speak to a Mr. William Foster regarding the foster child, Oleksandr Rodchenko." One of two uniformed police officers said coldly.
After looking through the peephole and verifying who was there, the woman timidly opened the door.
"Have you found Oleksandr? We've been so worried about him." The woman said as a tear glided down her cheek.
"Not worried enough to file a missing persons report, it seems." The officer said coldly.
The woman looked down, but didn't respond otherwise.
"May we speak with Mr. Foster, ma'am?" The police officer asked firmly.
"Yes, he's right in there." The woman said as she pointed.
The officer that had spoken gave his partner a serious look, then walked alone into the living room.
"Do you have any other children in the house?" The second officer asked in a voice that seemed quite a bit less forceful than his partner's.
"No. Olivia and Diana are at a friend's house." The woman said nervously.
"Where might that be? We may need to talk to them." The officer asked.
"I don't know where it is, but I've got the number." The woman said as she rushed to the refrigerator and pulled a slip of paper from under a magnet.
The officer accepted the piece of paper from her and looked at it. He didn't react when a loud 'pop' sounded from the living room.
The woman froze in place as every bit of color washed out of her face.
"Don't worry. The girls will be taken care of." The officer said as he drew his pistol.
"No. Please. He did it. I didn't do anything." The woman whimpered.
"Maybe you should have done something." The officer said, then pulled the trigger.
* * * * *
"Carson, do you have a minute? I would like to ask you about something." Father Doherty asked quietly.
"Yeah, although I can't promise a full minute. I'll give you what I can." Carson said as he looked away from his monitors.
"Then I will keep this brief." Father Doherty said in prelude. "There is a group of people who would like very much to help out. They've worked together well in the past and I would like for us to work together to help you, if that is at all possible."
Carson glanced at his monitors before saying, "Yeah. Okay."
"Many of them are concerned about their friends and family members who may or may not be on their way here. So, I suppose my request of you is twofold. First, I would like to find the answers for them about their loved ones, so that they might be more at ease. Then, if it's possible, I'd like to know if there's any way that they could do the same for others, so that we could circulate amongst the arriving people and do our best to help them." Father Doherty said honestly.
Carson quickly looked at his monitors again, then called out, "Oleksandr? Would you mind helping me for a minute?"
"What can I do, Carson?" Oleksandr asked as he hurried across the room.
"Would you find out how many radios Father Doherty needs, then get him set up with Dizzy?" Carson asked distractedly.
"Do they do the same as the subvocals?" Oleksandr asked curiously.
"Yeah. The setup is exactly the same. But if you have trouble, I'm right here." Carson said with a quick smile at the boy.
"Hi, Father Doherty. I'm glad you're here." Oleksandr said happily.
"It's good to see you, too, Oleksandr. You seem to be doing well." Father Doherty said warmly.
"Yeah. Ben's my daddy, now." Oleksandr said happily.
"Yes. I know. Isn't it wonderful?" Father Doherty asked with a tender smile.
"Come on Father Doherty. You need radios. They're right over here." Oleksandr said as he took Father Doherty's hand and drew him away.
"Can you help me find out about the friends and families?" Father Doherty asked over his shoulder, toward Carson.
"Once you're set up with Dizzy, you can ask him. If he can't answer a question, he'll route the request to me or Bug." Carson answered seriously.
"Here, put this on." Oleksandr said as he handed a radio to Father Doherty.
"Okay. What now?" Father Doherty asked as he fitted the earpiece in his ear.
"Push the microphone, then tell Dizzy your name." Oleksandr said seriously.
"Hello, Dizzy. This is Father Doherty."
"Hello, Father Doherty. I'm Dizzy. If you ever want to talk to someone else wearing a subvocal or a radio, just key the mic and say their name, and I'll be sure that they can hear your message." Dizzy said pleasantly.
"Well, thank you. Yes. That would be very helpful." Father Doherty said in astonishment.
"How many radios are you going to need?" Oleksandr asked curiously.
"Nine, I think." Father Doherty said uncertainly.
"If you need more, we've got plenty." Oleksandr said as he gathered up nine radios.
"Thank you, Oleksandr. You've been very helpful." Father Doherty said warmly.
"Give him an extra one for Zane. That way he can call if he needs something." Ben said quickly.
"Yes. That's a good idea. Thank you, Ben." Father Doherty said as Oleksandr handed him one more radio.
"Are you ready?" Sharlette asked from beside Hobie.
"Yes. Thank you for waiting." Father Doherty said appreciatively, then on impulse he leaned in to give Oleksandr a quick hug.
* * * * *
As she approached a lit up sign, she saw the message change to say, "Approaching driver, change to CB channel 4 or dial 1104."
She shifted her weight onto one hip as she tried to snag the phone in her pocket. Once she had finally retrieved it, she hurriedly dialed.
"Vehicle approaching Washington mile marker number seven, this is the first checkpoint to Kettle Falls. There is some basic information that we would like to pass on to you so that we can streamline the registration process. Would you please identify your driver and vehicle?" A calm male voice said professionally.
"I'm Amber Pyle and I'm in a 2008 blue-green Civic." She answered carefully.
"Welcome to the first checkpoint, Amber. I'm Sid. Would you mind telling me how many passengers you have?" Sid asked.
"Yeah. Just one. His name is Jonathan Mann and he's hurt." Amber said regretfully.
"Okay, Amber, if you can, will you tell me what kind of injury that he has, we'll do our best to help him." Sid said seriously.
"I don't know what they did to him. When we were in a town in Mississippi, we were both out trying to find food and something happened to him. When I found him, his ears were bleeding and he was in some kind of shock. I've done my best to help him, but he's still not right." Amber said slowly and sounded to be on the verge of tears.
"Okay, Amber. I've heard something similar from a few of the other new arrivals. From what they've described, it sounds like your friend might have been blasted with some sort of sonic cannon, like they've been using for crowd control." Sid carefully explained.
"Can you help him? I don't know what to do for him." Amber quickly asked.
"They've got a really good hospital in Kettle Falls. I tell you what, Amber. You should be reaching the checkpoint here in about five minutes or so. When you get here, gather whatever things you want to take with you, then tell anyone wearing a volunteer sash who you are. They'll take you and your friend to a waiting helicopter and you'll be taken directly to the hospital." Sid told her carefully.
"Is Mr. Mann going to be alright?" Amber asked hopefully.
"Only a doctor would be able to tell you that. But we're going to do everything we can to make sure that he has every chance for a full recovery." Sid told her calmly.
"Thank you. I didn't know what to do except just keep driving." Amber quietly admitted.
"You protected and cared for your friend. Considering what's going on these days, I think you've done an amazing thing." Sid told her, then suddenly asked, "Would you mind telling me the last four of your social security number?"
"Three three five four." Amber said cautiously.
"Good. Let me verify, are you from Orlando, Florida?"
"Yes. That's right." Amber confirmed.
"Then there's one more thing you need to know. I've got a contact person for you. When you get to Kettle Falls, if you find yourself needing something, all you'll need to do is ask any volunteer to send a message to 'Bug'. Even though all the volunteers will do whatever they can to help you, Bug is dedicated to helping the people from your area."
"Wait, is there any chance you're talking about Bug Winters?" Amber asked cautiously.
"I don't know. I've never heard anyone use his last name. But from the stories I've been hearing, he's one of the people who orchestrated the whole refugee effort." Sid said honestly.
"If it's him, I work with his brother." Amber said in wonder.
"Then make sure you contact him as soon as you get in. I bet he'll be happy to hear from you. All of us need whatever happiness we can find, these days."
"Thank you. I just saw the sign saying that the checkpoint is in one mile." Amber said slowly, sounding to be relieved.
"Remember, when you get there, gather your personal belongings, then find a volunteer and tell them who you are. From there, everything else will be taken care of for you."
"Thank you, Sid. I was scared half to death about what we were going to find when we got here. I feel a lot better now."
"I'm glad to hear it. You take care of yourself, Amber. And if there's anything I can help you with, you can also ask any volunteer to contact Sid at checkpoint six." Sid told her gently.
"Thank you again, Sid. I'll remember that."
* * * * *
"Dizzy." Deb said in a loud, motherly tone as she entered Carson's room.
"How can I help you, Mrs. Brown?" Dizzy responded immediately.
Everyone in the room, including Carson, stopped what they were doing and waited to see what Deb wanted.
"Carson, didn't you tell me you were going to fix that? Every time he says Mrs. Brown, I expect to see your grandmother walking into the room." Deb said with playful aggravation.
"Sorry, Mom, I've been kind of busy." Carson said to his mother with a reluctant smile.
"Priorities, Carson." Deb teased, then looked past Carson to the alcove and said, "Dizzy, I need for you to find me a paralegal."
"Please restate the request in another format. I don't understand what you mean." Dizzy said seriously.
"Actually, I can probably do that for you Mrs...um, Deb." Bug said hesitantly, then added, "I've already got the program set up to search for people to recruit, so it would take me, like a minute, to pop a module in there to find a paralegal for you."
"That's very sweet of you, Bug. I had really just intended for Dizzy to search the local yellow pages and want ads." Deb said happily.
"Fuck! Anyone you find that way probably doesn't have a job for a really good reason. The people who are arriving here had to leave their regular lives and jobs behind. I bet we can find some really good ones for you doing it this way." Bug said sincerely.
When she flashed a glare at Bug, the others in the room slightly flinched back, waiting for the stern 'talking to' that Bug was about to get. When Bug didn't seem to notice, Deb quietly muttered to herself, "I must be losing my touch."
Bug looked at her curiously, waiting for her decision.
"I agree with your reasoning, Bug." She said slowly, then seemed to come to a decision. "Now, only do this if you have time. But if you can work it in, could you find me three to five paralegals to interview?"
"Is an hour alright?" Bug asked as he turned most of his attention back to his laptop screen.
"Whenever you have time to do it will be fine." Deb assured him.
"I mean, will you have time to interview the first one in about an hour?" Bug asked seriously.
"Oh. Yes. Thank you." Deb said in surprise.
Bug was typing up a storm on his keyboard and it took a moment before Deb realized that no response would be forthcoming.
"He's just really focused on what you asked him to do." Carson explained quietly.
"I can see that." Deb said with a smile at her son, to reassure him that she wasn't offended by Bug's behavior.
"I've been kind of focused on what's been going on in town. Is there anything going on around here that I need to be aware of?" Carson asked in a not too subtle attempt to change the subject.
"You may already know this, but your grandfather called a little bit ago so that we could arrange for your old hospital bed to be put into the room assigned to Zane and Brother Jacques." Deb said thoughtfully.
"No. I didn't know about that. From what little I know of Zane's condition, I'm surprised that he'll be coming home so soon after the surgery." Carson said seriously.
"From the way Dad explained it, the only thing that's really going to help Zane to recover is time. Normally, he would spend most of that time at the hospital so that they could keep an eye on him. But with things being as they are, Dad feels that if we care for Zane here, that he will recover just as well and that there will be one more bed free at the hospital for someone who needs it." Deb explained carefully.
"I guess that makes sense." Carson said thoughtfully.
"Will you let us know when he gets here? I'm his family. I should be spending a lot more time with him." Ben said regretfully.
"From what you said last night, when you did go to visit him, he didn't even know you were there." Bug said seriously.
"Yeah. He was all zonked out and could barely keep his eyes open." Ben reluctantly admitted.
"So you could'a stood there all night with your thumb up your ass, doinâ€™ nothin to help anyone. Or you could be here, keeping track of what's going on outside of Washington, so the rest of us can keep working on what's happening right in front of us." Bug said firmly.
Ben chuckled, then said, "Yeah. I guess so. But when Zane gets here, I'll need to leave for a little bit to check in with him."
"I can take care of it while you're gone." Oleksandr said confidently.
Ben looked at Oleksandr with surprise, which morphed into indecision.
"I'm eight-years-old. I'm not a baby." Oleksandr informed him sternly.
"And remember we'll all be here to help him and that he can call you on the subvocal if he needs anything." Bug interjected on Oleksandr's behalf.
Ben smiled at Bug, then turned his attention to Oleksandr as he said, "Okay. I'll let you take over for me. But if we're going to do that, I need to show you what we're doing."
"You guys call, if you need anything." Deb said as she turned to leave.
"You can count on it." Carson said with a smile at his mother.
* * * * *
"Hey. What's going on?" Lazlo asked as he approached a group of about ten kids, close to his own age.
"Nothin. Just hangin." One of the kids, a boy of about twelve said in a bored voice.
"I've heard that there's stuff we can do at the school." Lazlo said honestly.
"Busy work. That's just what I want to do when school's out." An older girl said sarcastically.
As Lazlo thought about what they were saying, he noticed that two more kids were approaching them, apparently looking for something to do.
"Give me a minute. Maybe I can come up with something." Lazlo said thoughtfully, then keyed the mic of his subvocal, "Jay, I've just met up with some kids in town and they don't have anything to do. Have you got any ideas?"
"Any kids that aren't with their parents should be at the school." Jay answered seriously.
"If school was out and you were away from home, would you want to sit in a classroom and do busy work all day?" Lazlo asked frankly.
"I guess not. I remember seeing some boy scouts, or something like that, here yesterday. Maybe I can get in touch with them. That could be fun." Jay said in a considering voice.
"When I tried to join a group like that, they wouldn't take me because my dads are gay. I'd rather sit in a classroom and stare at the wall all day, than hang around with someone like that." Lazlo said firmly.
"I don't know what to tell you, Lazlo. Let me think on it and I'll call you back when I have an idea." Jay said reluctantly.
"Thanks, Jay. I know what I'm going to do now. I'll call you back if I need help with it." Lazlo said happily.
"What are you going to do?" Jay asked curiously.
"I'll tell you tonight. These guys are looking at me like I'm crazy." Lazlo quickly answered, then the link fell silent.
* * * * *
As soon as the helicopter touched down and the door had opened, a man in a black suit approached and asked, "Mr. Samuelson?"
"Yes. That's right." Keil said cautiously.
"I'm Agent Cole. Please grab your things and come with me."
Keil hefted his backpack and walked hunched over until they were well away from the helicopter.
As soon as they were able to stand again, Agent Cole quietly said, "When we received notice that you were arriving, we did as much of a background check as we could. There are a few things that we would like to verify before we go any further."
"Yeah. I'm ashamed of a lot of what I've done, but I've decided that this is a lot more important than me." Keil said seriously.
"To put it bluntly, you were convicted of murdering your wife. Had all of this not happened, you would have been eligible for parole next year. Is that correct?" Agent Cole asked as he guided Keil to walk across the lawn.
"I would have been eligible in May of 2014." Keil answered evenly.
"What would you like to see happen when all of these security matters are concluded?" Agent Cole asked as he stopped to wait for an answer.
"I don't know. I've thought about going somewhere, probably up into the mountains, and lose myself there, just pretend that none of this ever happened. Sort of start out with a clean slate. But before I can close the door on my old life, I have to try and find out what happened to my son. If he's still alive... and if he'll even talk to me, I have to do whatever I can to see that he's going to be alright. I owe him that much." Keil said regretfully.
Agent Cole seemed to consider his answer for a moment, then quietly said, "Your son is alive."
"He is? How is he? Where is he? Is there any way I can talk to him?" Keil asked in a rush.
"I tell you what, let's go inside and you can tell us what you know about the prisoner release. After that, I'll talk to you about your son." Agent Cole said quietly.
"Okay. Yeah. But you're sure, you're really sure that Jake's alive?" Keil asked to confirm.
"Yes, Mr. Samuelson. I promise you that he's alive." Agent Cole said assuringly, then added more firmly, "Let's go inside."
* * * * *
At the sound of silence, Allen slowly looked up from his laptop at the dining room table.
"Where'd everybody go?" JD asked curiously as he looked around.
Allen chuckled, then said, "Some of them are in the living room, watching the local news about what's been happening the past few days."
"Last thing I remember, I was finishing breakfast." JD said as he slowly stood.
"You've been typing up a storm since then. I hope you got some good work done. You seemed to be really into it." Allen said pleasantly.
JD slowly stretched. As he did so, his turtleneck shirt rode up enough to expose his slender, tattooed belly.
When JD finished his stretch, he noticed Allen's curious gaze and said, "Yeah. I've got lots of tattoos. It's something that I really don't like talking about."
"Fair enough. But I guess that explains why you're wearing the turtleneck shirt and gloves. You've got to be roasting alive." Allen said with concern.
"I'm kinda used to it. But if it's not going to make you uncomfortable around me, I would like to change into something a little cooler." JD said honestly.
"Don't worry about me. Although I don't have any tattoos myself, it doesn't mean that I disapprove of them. I've just never been inspired to do that." Allen said frankly.
"Good. I've learned that lots of people react in lots of different ways when they find out. I didn't want to take that chance with you." JD said frankly.
"What puts me off are people who are uncaring, callus or just plain mean. Not much else really bothers me." Allen said frankly.
"Are you going to be in here for a while? I mean, did you have some more work to do?" JD asked curiously.
"Mr. Brown sent me some schematics to look over. I don't really have to do anything, he just wanted for me to look them over so that I'd be familiar with them before Monday." Allen said honestly.
"Okay. I guess I'll hit the bathroom and change into something cooler, then after I've checked in with Jody, I'll be back out here with you." JD said as he started walking toward the door.
"Sounds good, except that Jody isn't here right now. He went to the Brown's house to help out with a baby." Allen said quickly, so JD would hear before he left the room.
"You let Jody leave by himself?" JD asked as he stopped in his tracks.
"No. He left with Jorry and Nick. Don't worry. He's fine." Allen assured him.
"My dads are trusting me to take care of him." JD said firmly.
"He's at Ryan Brown's house. There's probably not a safer place for him to be in all of Kettle Falls." Allen said calmly.
"I guess if he's with Jorry, he'll be alright. But I'd feel a lot better if I was with him." JD said reluctantly.
"I know. How about you go and change, then I'll keep you company while you write?" Allen asked gently.
After a moment to consider, JD finally said, "Yeah. I guess so. Thanks, Allen."
* * * * *
"You got a radio or somethin?" The twelve-year-old asked cautiously.
"Yeah. My foster brother is working at the command center where they're running everything. He gave me a radio so I could call him if I need something." Lazlo said honestly.
"You mean at Tommy and Carson's house?" One of the kids asked curiously.
"Yeah. That's where we're staying. My brother, Jay, is working with Carson right now." Lazlo answered with a smile.
"We all knew that Carson was really smart with his robots and stuff, but no one ever thought he could do anything like this." The older girl said quietly.
"From what Jay's told me, Carson never thought he could do something like this, either. But when he noticed that things had started going wrong, he tried to find ways to make them go right. Then, before he knew what happened... all of this." Lazlo said seriously.
"I wish I was smart enough and rich enough to do stuff like that." One of the younger kids, a boy, said longingly.
"That's how I was feeling yesterday. But today, I've got an important job to do." Lazlo said with the beginning of a smile.
"What kind of job do you have?" The older girl asked cautiously.
"What Jay asked me to do is walk around and talk to people to find out what they need that we don't already have for them." Lazlo said frankly.
"Yeah. I guess that's good." The twelve-year-old boy said consideringly.
"What I found out, is that lots of us are out of school with nothing to do and no way to help out." Lazlo said slowly.
"Yeah." The older girl said with anticipation.
"One of my dads is running the kitchens and concerts and stuff that they're doing all over the place. I was thinking that maybe we could get with him and set up with something like maybe a big bonfire, lots of hot dogs and games, and maybe some music. Hanging around the school sounds really boring, but if you guys will help me, maybe we could come up with something really fun that all of us would like to do." Lazlo implored them to understand.
"Can we do it where we can have skateboarding?" An older boy asked hopefully.
"Do you know of a place where we can do that? I'm not from here." Lazlo said honestly.
"Yeah. There's a few places... if they'll let us."
"If you can find a place, I'll talk to my brother and my dad about permission and stuff." Lazlo said confidently.
"And you want us to help you set this up?" The boy asked incredulously.
"Sure. This is going to be whatever we make it. I want a bonfire, and you want skateboarding. Anyone else?" Lazlo asked as he looked around the growing group of children and young teens.
"I'm Vikki. And if I can help with the music, you can count me in." The older girl said confidently.
"You got it, Vikki. I'm Lazlo." Lazlo said happily, then looked around and asked, "Anyone else?
"I'm Dalton, and if you want, I can talk to some of my friends and we can set up some BMX runs that are really awesome." The twelve-year-old boy said as he looked cautiously around the group to see if anyone were going to say he was too young.
"That sounds great, Dalton. Remember that if you get stuck on anything, the rest of us will be here to help you." Lazlo said as he held Dalton's gaze.
"Yeah. Okay." Dalton said with a relieved smile.
"Come on, everyone. The more great ideas we have for things to do, the better this is going to be." Lazlo said as he looked around and realized that their group had already grown to over twenty-five.
Lazlo's bodyguard, Christina, stood back and watched the whole thing develop with a tender smile of pride for the shy boy she had arrived with.
To Be Continued...
Hey, they gave me editor's notes!
I'm so glad to see that people are able to work together and not be all bogged down with red tape and self importance.
Lazlo seems to have found a niche, and it looks as if he is getting respect and cooperation. That is really cool.
I wondered when art would have to own up to his identity. I am sure he would rather not have had to do it so soon, but without his help, things could have gone sour in a big hurry.
I would really hate to be the guy whose head got handed to him on a platter for being such an ass.
I was glad to see Amber, I was worried about her. Bug will really be glad to see her, too.
Allen seems to be a little less overbearing with JD than he was with Ken/Kev, I hate to admit it but I can't remember which one was his husband's son. I hate getting old.
It looks as if each new arrival is being pointed in the right direction, with all the intel they have on the people coming to Kettle Falls, they are pretty able to select the proper position to do the most good. There seems to be a lot of teamwork going on.
I love the fact that even the younger kids are able to help out and can rightfully feel that they are accomplishing something.
Once again MM has come through with flying colours, and has brought us another well thought out and very interesting chapter.
I can hardly wait for the next installment.
Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher