The week before the national election the meeting of C.I.Y.O. Congress of International Youth Organizations was hosted by the Boy Scouts of America at Philmont Scout Ranch. Also for any interested attending groups a five day trail experience was offered. Only a few groups chose to extend their stays and take advantage of this.
After returning from the trail Tuesday afternoon the boys and adults enjoyed hot showers and hot meals provided by the mess hall. It was election day but there was very little discussion of politics. Before taps each unit had their laundry collected and it would be returned to the camps in the morning.
After breakfast Wednesday morning those attending, both youth and adult, made their way to the Trading Post. Everyone purchased a Philmont leather belt and a Philmont Tooth of Time belt buckle. The Scouts all purchased patches to collect and to trade and of course there were T-shirts, hats and other souvenirs. As usual the Trading Post was doing well in separating boys from their money, and everyone was perfectly happy.
The leader of a Boys' Brigade unit was in the office wearing his dress uniform, since after the trek it was the only clothing he had that was not in the laundry. The staff member behind the counter greeted him, "I hope your trek was enjoyable, we are not usually open at this time of year."
"Aye, It WAS wonderful. I think this is a great time of year ta be here. Not terribly hoot durin' the day, but a wee bit of chill at night. I'm glad we all had cold weather gear. The lads had a fantastic time. I'll be a bet'n they will want to return in the summer."
"I'm glad to hear that. But we have some bad news. It started after you were on the trail. Mr. Bryce was attacked Monday, but escaped and has won the election. Someone has hacked into the internet and the material released is terrifying. Children are disappearing and Gays are being targeted in particular, it seems. This morning Florida has gone silent, no news or phone service. There has been a power grid failure in Texas and Southern New Mexico and Arizona. We are getting conflicting reports and travel right now is risky.
The adult leader next in line sighed, "A little crazy doesn't begin to cover it."
"God help us," one of the adults with him murmured worriedly.
"Aye, Laddie, God Help us all." The Boys' Brigade leader said beside them. "I be Scott Montgomery, the leader of the Boys' Brigade from Edinburgh, Scotland."
One of the adults behind the Scout leader said, "The kilt was a clue."
"Aye, laddie, you got ta have the legs for it. We are well and truly stranded. Our flight has been cancelled, so we canna' get home. Me wee ones and staff are truly stranded and I canna' beam us up."
The American leader asked, "So have you made any plans?"
"Thought of heading to Mexico but that looks pretty risky. So the other choice is head for Canada. It's a long way, especially without transportation, but at least they speak English. As part of the United Kingdom, we should be able ta get home from there." Mr. Montgomery said.
The American leader asked, "How many in your group?"
"Seven lads, myself, and two other adults, so ten of us all total."
"We might be able to help you."
"I'll be here, canna' go anywhere else."
* * * * *
Minutes later, back in the Scout's camp one of the leaders took out his satellite phone and dialed.
"Eric? They have you answering the phones?"
"Bugging out? Is it that bad?"
"Okay, let me check on a destination. Go ahead and keep working. Keeping those kids safe is the number one priority."
"Yeah, You, too. Give my love to everybody. I'll get back to you."
He disconnected the call and went to talk to the other leaders. This looked bad.
* * * * *
"There's only about ten people in the dining room. Do you want me to ask them to leave?" Jim asked cautiously.
"No. But please let them know that we've been ordered to close the mission. If any of them need a box of food, clothing, or anything such as that, make sure that you give them as much as they can carry before they leave." Father Doherty said slowly.
"We have food boxes already made up that we give out to the needy, we'll be sure to offer those to anyone who is here." Father Kinsey said quietly.
Father Doherty nodded his agreement to the plan.
"I don't know who did the ordering for this place, but I'd sure like to shake his hand." Artimus said as he walked into the kitchen, followed closely by Gregory.
"That would be Father Kinsey." Father Franklin said with a smile.
Artimus walked to Father Kinsey and shook his hand firmly before saying, "Excellent job filling that pantry, Father. It's hard to believe that you didn't know something was coming, with the stockpile that you've got in there."
"Father Haslip was sometimes a bit... let's just say, negligent, when it came to paying our bills. I thought it best to keep a good supply of non-perishable foodstuffs on hand for the times when we were waiting for our 'billing problems' to be cleared up." Father Kinsey said shyly.
"So, food isn't going to be an issue?" Father Doherty asked hopefully.
"No. I think that I can safely say that we've got that covered." Artimus said happily.
"What else will we need to do before the bus arrives?" Jim asked as he looked around.
"I suppose that now would be a good time for everyone to gather their personal things." Father Franklin said hesitantly, then he looked around to see if anyone else had a better idea.
"Jim, why don't you and Father Franklin help our guests in the dining room. The rest of us can get our personal things together, then whoever is finished first can relieve you so you can have a chance to gather your own things." Father Doherty said decisively.
Everyone seemed to be in agreement and left the room.
Father Doherty looked at the two boys who were still sitting quietly at the table and smiled.
"Now I'm sure that the two of you could do with a good meal."
"We can wait, if you have other things you need to be attending," Art said cautiously.
"No. Not a thing." Father Doherty said as he walked out of the kitchen with a smile.
The boys sat silently, not knowing if they were supposed to be doing something.
Before either of them could think of what to do next, Father Doherty walked back into the room with two plates full of food.
"What would you like to drink?" Father Doherty asked as he placed the plates on the table.
"Anything will be fine." Art answered quickly.
"Is milk okay?" Father Doherty asked, as he paused at the refrigerator door.
Both boys nodded hesitantly.
Father Doherty took the milk from the refrigerator, then grabbed two large glasses from the cupboard as he walked back to the table. "Since we will be leaving soon, and the place is going to be closed, I thought it would be best to use up as much of the perishable things as possible. I know we are going to have the use of a bus, but I don't have any idea whether there will be any coolers or a refrigerator there. So go ahead and drink as much as you want."
After he poured the two glasses of milk, Father Doherty took a seat at the table and watched the two boys as they ate.
It took a few minutes before Euan noticed the priest watching them and looked at him inquiringly.
"I'm just trying to get a sense of what kind of help you boys are needing." Father Doherty said thoughtfully.
"The food and the shower is really enough." Euan said frankly.
Father Doherty looked at the boys for a moment longer, then nodded before standing.
"If you would like second helpings of anything, you may help yourselves. The serving line is just through that door. I'm just going to go and fetch my things. I only arrived last night, and haven't unpacked, so it should only take me a minute." Father Doherty said as he walked toward the door.
Neither boy said anything as they watched him leave.
* * * * *
Father Doherty smiled as he walked back into the kitchen and found that the boys had helped themselves to second helpings of lunch.
He set his luggage just inside the door as he said, "I just had a thought. I'm sure that we must have some sort of a clothes closet here. Since you didn't have anything with you when you arrived, why don't we go through what's on offer and pick you each out a few nice outfits, and you're going to need some good winter coats."
Both boys looked surprised by the suggestion.
"Before you can worry yourselves, this is a mission. What we give, we give freely and without any expectation of payment." Father Doherty said as he looked carefully at each boy, wanting to be sure that they understood.
"Thank you, Father." Art said as he met his gaze.
"I really should have thought to change clothes while I was back there. I'm not a priest anymore..."
"I realize that. But it has nothing to do with your official title, it's a token of our esteem. So long as you allow it, we will call you and the other former priests 'Father' to show our respect for all you." Art said seriously.
"For as long as you're willing to honor me with the title, I will proudly wear it." Father Doherty said reverently, then smiled as he added, "And it's good to see that although you're a bit bruised and battered, that your will has not been broken."
"If I'm understanding things correctly, I don't think that any of us has the luxury of being able to think that our fates are safe in someone else's hands. I will be strong because I have to be. The alternative is unacceptable." Art said frankly.
Father Doherty slowly nodded, then quietly said, "Still, I regret that you two can't have the opportunity to be carefree boys for just a while longer."
"Art was never carefree." Euan said playfully.
"Which is why I choose to share company with you. You counterbalance me." Art said to the boy at his side.
Father Doherty chuckled, he could tell that what he was seeing was part of an ongoing argument that the boys must have been teasingly fighting for years.
"If you're done eating, why don't we go exploring and see if we can find the clothes closet." Father Doherty said warmly.
"It's just down the hall. That's where we got these clothes." Euan said quickly.
"Why don't you show me?" Father Doherty said with a smile.
"What about these dishes?" Art asked as he stood.
"You can drop them in the bus tub in the window. That's where the dirty plates from the dining room will go, as well." Father Doherty said casually.
After the boys had dropped off their dishes, Father Doherty followed them out of the room to find them some more clothes.
* * * * *
"What's that knocking?" Father Doherty asked as he looked up from the wash sink.
"Probably someone at the front door. We locked it after the last of our lunch people left." Jim Borders said casually.
"We'd better go and see if it's someone needing our help." Father Doherty said as he quickly dried his hands on a dishtowel.
Art and Euan automatically got up from their place at the table and followed Father Doherty out of the room.
Father Doherty noticed, but didn't make any comment about it.
* * * * *
"Hello?" Father Doherty said as he carefully opened the inner door.
"I thought this was a mission! Why's the door locked? Is Eustis here?" A woman asked belligerently.
"Yes, he's here. Just a moment." Father Doherty said as he stood back and held the door open wide.
The woman stepped into the entry hall with a small boy holding her hand.
"I'm Father Doherty, I'm guessing that you must be Emmogene." He said pleasantly.
She looked at Father Doherty, then the two boys beside him before saying, "Yeah. If you and your boyfriends aren't too busy, could you take me to my brother?"
Before Art or Euan could react, Father Doherty gave a single nod and ushered her down the hallway, toward the kitchen.
As they walked, the little boy at Emmogene's side looked up at Father Doherty with wide eyes.
* * * * *
"There you are! Do you know what it's like out there? I swear to god, it's like all hell's gonna break loose any minute. You can cut the tension with a knife." Emmogene said as she ran to her brother.
"I'm glad you're here, Em." Father Franklin said as he held his sister tightly, then he noticed the child clinging to her leg and asked, "Who is this that you have with you?"
"Gunner." Emmogene said as she released the hug.
Father Franklin squatted down and smiled at the little boy as he said, "Hello, Gunner. I'm your Uncle Eustis."
The boy ducked behind his mother's leg to hide.
"So, Euey, what's the story?" Emmogene asked as she looked her brother in the eyes.
"All that stuff that Keith has been going on about since... at least as long as I've known him... it's true. It's happening... Now." Father Franklin said seriously.
"And you think that just because you said that you're sorry that me and my boyfriend are going to save you and your boys' club?" Emmogene asked frankly.
Father Franklin closed his eyes for a moment and might have been silently counting to ten, trying to compose himself. Whatever he did, it must have worked, because when he opened his eyes, he seemed to be completely calm and unruffled.
"There are three priests, including myself, six residents who have been staying here for various reasons, and these two young men, who have only just joined us this afternoon. If you and Keith would be willing to allow us to use your bus to travel to safety, we would be grateful. But if part of the price of your help is having to put up with your innuendo and disrespect, then I believe that I will have to decline." Father Franklin said carefully.
Emmogene stared at her brother for a moment, then broke into laughter.
"I've never been told to 'fuck off' so nice in all my life! God, Eustis! You grew a pair of balls! I never woulda bet on that happenin!" Emmogene chuckled.
Father Franklin's only response was to slightly blush as he waited for his sister to calm down.
"You knew before you joined up that I thought all priests were just a bunch of sanctimonious baby-rapers. Nothin's happened since then to make me think any different." Emmogene said frankly.
"We're people, Em. There are very bad people, just as bad as you imagine them. But there are good people, too. I promise." Father Franklin said gently.
Emmogene looked around the group before saying, "Whatever. But any of you lay a finger, or anything else, on Gunner, and I'll shoot your dicks off."
"You've mellowed with age." Father Franklin said with a smile at his sister.
"It's motherhood. It's made me all soft." she said with a shrug.
There was a long moment of silence before Jim finally asked, "So, are we going?"
"Sure. Everything's fine. Let's go out and see the bus so we can get to work." Father Franklin said happily.
* * * * *
Father Doherty had a boy under each arm as he stared up at the side of the bus in astonishment.
Artimus and Father Kinsey were side by side, and both seemed to be trying to speak, although no words were coming out.
"What does it mean, 'Lesbian Gravy'?" Ahmid finally asked hesitantly.
"That was the name of Keith's band. They broke up, but Keith got to keep the tour bus." Father Franklin said happily.
"And you want us to ride in it?" Jim slowly asked from Ahmid's side.
"That's the plan." Father Franklin said as he turned to look at the men with a slightly mischievous smile on his face.
"You want a group of priests to drive across the country in a bus that says 'Lesbian Gravy' on the side?" Jim asked even more slowly.
"It's a bus." Father Franklin said simply.
"This is what the good Lord has provided us. Let's be grateful for what we've been given and load it up!" Father Doherty said firmly.
Uncertain looks went around the group, but finally the men started to move into action.
"Boys, is there any way you could do me a big favor?" Father Doherty asked Art and Euan, who were at his sides.
"What can we do for you, Father?" Art asked immediately.
"As you know, Ahmid has a gunshot wound. Although he's in pain, he's still trying to do his part. Could you two sort of keep an eye on him and maybe encourage him to take breaks with you and keep him from overdoing it?" Father Doherty asked hopefully.
"Yes. It's good that you're respectful of his feelings. It would hurt his pride to be excluded from helping." Art said frankly.
"Exactly. Thank you, guys. I really appreciate this." Father Doherty said gratefully, then hurried away.
* * * * *
"Father, since the bus is so big and has so much cargo area, I was thinking that we can probably take most of the dry food with us. Of course, it'll take us a little extra time to load it, doing it this way, but at least we won't have to worry about leaving a bunch of food behind for no good reason." Artimus said frankly.
"Yes. Since the Lord provided all of this for us, we should make the best use of his gifts." Father Doherty said thoughtfully.
"If we're going to do this, we need to get started." Artimus said as he looked Father Doherty in the eyes.
"Then let's do it."
* * * * *
"Please get in and sit down, Father. You must be tired." Ahmid said, as Father Doherty slowly walked onto the bus.
"I think that's all of it." Father Doherty said as he walked to the nearest seat and collapsed. He was drenched in sweat and seemed to be nearly worn out.
"Did you get your own personal stuff, too?" Euan asked quietly.
"Yes. But could you go around and ask everyone else? I don't want to take the chance of anyone leaving their things behind." Father Doherty asked hopefully.
"Don't worry, Father. I'll take care of it." Euan said gently, then hurried off the bus.
Art sat down beside Father Doherty and quietly said, "Euan and I made sure that Ahmid didn't do too much. Harry was hurting, too. His back. He wouldn't stop working, but we talked him into cooking dinner, then got him on the bus."
"Thank you, Art. I know it may not seem like it to you, but you've been a tremendous help to me." Father Doherty said as he turned his head slightly and smiled at the boy.
"You're right. I don't see that I did much of anything, at least, not compared to you." Art said frankly.
"Because you were watching out for Ahmid and Harry, I was free to concern myself with other things and do what needed to be done. If it weren't for you, I would have had to divide my attention so that neither of them would overdo it and take the chance of further injuring themselves." Father Doherty said frankly.
"If we were any help at all, then I'm glad." Art said honestly.
"That's everything. I think we're done." Father Franklin said as he fell into the seat across the aisle from Father Doherty.
"Did you get all your personal things?" Art asked him gently.
"Yes. Euan just asked me about that a moment ago. All my things are in the boxes outside the lavatory at the end of the aisle."
"So, when are you guys planning on heading out?" Keith asked as he climbed onto the bus. The man had long hair in the back, something beyond the typical mullet and was dressed in dark jeans and a t shirt.
"As much as I would like to stop and rest for a while, we need to be going as soon as possible. You don't want to be in this neighborhood after dark." Father Franklin said honestly.
"Do you know who's gonna drive?" Keith asked seriously.
"I thought we'd take turns." Father Franklin said slowly.
"Can you even drive a car?" Keith asked with a laugh.
"Sure. I have a license." Father Franklin answered immediately.
"That's not what I asked. How long has it been since you've actually driven?" Keith asked seriously.
"Not since I got the license. I've never owned a car." Father Franklin said somewhat shyly.
"Yeah. Um, I don't want you driving this big ass thing through the city on MY insurance." Keith said honestly.
"Excuse me, but if you're talking about driving, you should know that as part of my military training, I learned to drive heavy equipment." Greg said as he sat forward, obviously not quite certain that he was following the conversation correctly.
Keith looked him over, then said, "I tell you what. I'll drive us out of Chicago and get us to the rendezvous point where everyone's meeting up. From there on, it's open road and I'll let you drive it."
"May God bless you, Keith." Father Doherty said warmly.
"Don't start with me!" Keith said firmly, then added, "I'm gonna let Emmogene know what's going on, then we can hit the road."
"I like him." Father Doherty said with a smile at Father Franklin.
* * * * *
"Hello? Excuse me?" an unfamiliar voice called from the front of the bus.
Father Doherty forced himself to stand and hurried forward.
"Yes. How may I help you?" Father Doherty cautiously asked the unfamiliar man.
"The mission over there is all locked up. I'm supposed to deliver something to one of the priests, there." the young man said seriously.
"I'm sorry, but the Church has closed the mission. Everyone from the mission is here on the bus. We're all just relaxing for a moment before we leave." Father Doherty said pleasantly.
"Wait. Are you Father Doherty?" the young man asked suddenly.
"Yes. I am." Father Doherty said cautiously, certain that he'd never met the man before.
"You're the one I'm supposed to deliver this to." the young man said as he took what looked like a cell phone with an enormous antenna out of his pocket and handed it to the father. Father Doherty absently noted that the phone seemed to be brand new and that there was a charger, bundled at it's side.
"What? From who?" Father Doherty asked with surprise.
"There's one number saved in the phone. Call it." The young man said simply.
"Wait! Who sent you?" Father Doherty asked quickly.
"When you make your call, make sure you tell Dax that Tony said 'Hi'." the young man said with a smile before turning and walking away.
Father Doherty watched for a moment as the young man walked down the block, then got into a very nice sports car and quickly drove off.
* * * * *
Alex Cappo sat alone in a very nice Italian Restaurant located on Chicago's North side. This restaurant only catered to those who had enough money, or power, to warrant their access to such an establishment. The fact that Alex Cappo, or Cappy as he was mostly called, owned the place, made it so that he could do as he pleased. Ordering the place closed so he could hold a meeting was one such privilege of ownership.
He lived a comfortable life, although it was actually two lives. He always liked to say that he was a real life superhero, he had his day life, or his Clark Kent life. But when that was over, he became Superman! Although few thought he was all that super.
His official life had him as the Chief of the Special Operations/Gang Unit. A job that he thoroughly enjoyed. The reason he liked it so much, was it played so well into his 'night life'. That of the head of the only remaining mob family left in Chicago. He took up where his great grandfather left off, and destroyed all the other families in the City.
But he didn't just stop at taking out the rest of the mob families. When he was done with that, he looked at what else was going on in Chicago, and targeted the street gangs; groups of thugs that simply liked to hurt people and enjoyed doing whatever they could to gain; whatever they could grab for themselves. When he moved into his position in the CPD Gangs Unit, there were over a hundred separate gangs. A number which Cappy knew was simply too large to be manageable. He started to use the police to target certain gangs, while using his 'other' assets to aid some of the others. Now, there were only nine gangs, and they all reported directly to him. Yes, Alex Cappo did what his great grandfather, the legendary Al Capone, could not. He truly made the city of Chicago his.
He smiled as he saw the first man enter the room. A smallish oriental man in his early thirties. He ran the North West side of the city, and ran it with an iron fist. He would be trouble for Alex, if Alex didn't have some very damaging information about the man. Information that they both agreed would be better off to keep quiet. "Mr. Cappo." The man said with a traditional bow as he stopped a few feet away from Cappy.
"Lin... Thank you for coming. Please have a seat, the rest should be arriving shortly."
"Yes sir." Lin said as he took a seat. "I saw Derrick outside; however, your security was taking their time making sure he had no weapons."
"I see." Cappy said with disapproval. It was not good form to bring a weapon to any meeting with Cappy, and Derrick knew it. He would have to reconsider who ran the South Side. Especially when the large man finally sauntered into the room, with his baggy jeans hanging below his hips. Cappy had a dress code, and they all knew it. For this man to break the dress code was the final nail in his coffin.
He didn't say anything right away, though, he waited as the rest of the leaders entered the room, all of them dressed more appropriately, before he began to get things underway. Most people would have thought bringing these eight men, and one woman into the same room would have created a bloodbath, but few people realized how things really worked. The gangs were there to do the grunt work, and to keep the citizens in place, not to mention keeping eyes off of what Cappy was doing. It worked brilliantly, especially when a gang war would erupt, or some drive by shooting happened.
In truth, though, the gangs often worked together, even though most of the gang members didn't know it. These people in the room knew to work together, and who to take their orders from. Each of them owed their lives and success to Cappy, and they knew it. Each of them controlled a section of the city, and made sure that what Cappy wanted to happen, happened.
Finally, he stood up and walked out from behind the head of the table. "Thank you all for coming, especially on such short notice." He started out. He chose to ignore Derrick's quiet comment about not really having a choice. "I am sure some of you have seen the news, and know what is happening in Washington DC. You also know by now that things are spiraling out of control. The information I have says that President Ashwood is not going to give up power, and will do whatever it takes to keep the office. I did not have any specifics of what he was planning, until I got a call from my son."
"And just what could that bastard boy whore of yours have to say..." Derrick snidely said, then looked around to see who would support him. No one did. When he looked back at Cappy, his face paled, as he was looking down the barrel of Cappy's silenced 9mm pistol. Cappy didn't say a word, and Derrick never got a chance. As soon as their eyes met, Cappy pulled the trigger, putting a bullet right between the man's eyes.
The two large men that were standing by the door, quietly moved over and pulled the body out of its seat, and dragged it out of the room. Two more men came in, and looked at Cappy. "Please ask Booker to join us. He is now running the South Side. Also, it would probably be nice to bring him up to speed on what his new role will entail."
One of the men silently left the room, as Cappy looked around at the people sitting at the table. "Does anyone else wish to insult my family?"
No one said a word, many of them simply shaking their heads in the negative. "Good. While we wait for Booker to get here, why don't we have some refreshments." On the cue, several waiters hurried into the room as Cappy retook his seat, and drinks were quickly brought for everyone.
Right as the main course was being served, another large black man walked into the room. He looked a little shaken up, and Cappy had to stop himself from smiling. He pointed to the seat next to the one that Derrick had been in, and Cappy saw Booker wince when he saw the blood spill on the seat. "Thank you for coming..." Cappy said with a small smile. "Would you like something to drink to go with your dinner?"
Not surprisingly, the man had little appetite, but did drink more than one drink, before dinner was over. Once the last plate was cleared, Cappy again rose, and started to pace while he spoke. "As I said before we were so rudely interrupted, it has come to my attention that President Ashwood has no intention of peacefully giving up the presidency, even though he soundly lost the election. My son has made his way to safety on the West Coast. It wasn't until he called me this afternoon, that I knew any details. The information that he has, says that President Ashwood has set up situations that will cause much death and suffering to happen all over the country, including our fine city. Personally, I don't care what he does in DC, but the moment that his actions cause issues to happen in MY city, I take exception to that. The information I have is that tomorrow there will be many engineered riots happening across the city, that will all turn violent, giving the President reason to send in military troops to quell the rioting. He then plans on not having the military leave, keeping the city completely under his control." He paused as he met eyes with everyone in the room. "That is NOT going to happen."
Silence reigned as Cappy took his seat again. "This is what I want you all to do. I want you to break out every weapon you have, I will open my stores as well, and make sure that everyone has everything they need. When the riots start to get violent, I want them shut down HARD and FAST. You'll be working with the cops on this one, so make sure your guys know that. If the Military starts to roll into your areas, I want you to call for help from the others, and take them out. Take as much equipment as you can, and if you have to, hit and run, then hit them again. This is our city, and NO ONE, not even the President of the United States is going to take it without one hell of a fight."
That got rousing agreement from everyone in the room, and once the noise quieted down, Cappy continued. "I also know that every one of you will want to try and get some people out of town. I am arranging for several buses to head to an evacuation point on the West Coast. I need several volunteers to go with them and help protect them. Let them know that when they get there, they are to follow my son's orders, just as if they came from me. If they do not, I will make sure they answer for it... personally."
As soon as everyone nodded, Cappy ended the meeting, and got back to work setting everything up that was needed. This was going to be a busy couple of days, and he had a lot to do to prepare.
* * * * *
"Everyone ready?" Keith called out as he climbed onto the bus and walked directly to the driver's seat.
"May God bestow His blessings and bounty upon you for the wonderful things that you are doing and have done for us, my son." Father Doherty said warmly.
"Would you cut the Christian voodoo thing? You're creeping me out." Keith said uncomfortably as he closed the door of the bus.
"As you like. Then I'll just say 'Thank you'." Father Doherty finished with a smile.
Keith looked at him uncertainly for a moment, then started the bus.
Father Doherty took a long moment to look at the phone still in his hand, then cautiously turned it on.
He glanced around to see that everyone was looking out the windows, back at the abandoned mission, and remembered his feelings from just the night before.
A smile crossed his face as he thought about the angry, defensive boy that had been in his care for months as he pressed the button to dial the only number stored in the phone.
After two rings, a voice answered, "Brown residence. Carson speaking."
Father Doherty was surprised by the young voice, and wasn't quite sure what to say. His uncertainty was obvious as he finally managed to stammer, "Hello. My name is Father Doherty. I was told that if I called this number, that I could speak to a young man named Dax."
"He's expecting your call. Just a minute." Carson said quickly, then the line went silent as he was put on hold.
"Is everything okay?" Art asked Father Doherty quietly from the seat behind.
"Yes. I think it is... or it will be." Father Doherty said with an assuring smile, then turned his attention back to the phone when he heard a voice.
"Father Doherty?" Dax asked hopefully.
"Dax? It's wonderful to hear your voice. How are you doing? Is everyone alright?" Father Doherty asked quickly.
"What? Yeah, I'm fine. Everyone's fine. There's just some big stuff going on and you really need to get out of Chicago." Dax said urgently.
"I am currently on a bus with all the priests and residents of my new mission, heading out of town." Father Doherty said calmly.
"That's good, but... you need to be careful. We've heard some stuff. The cops are stopping people on the main roads. And if any of you are on Ashwood's list, they'll arrest you." Dax said seriously.
"A list? What kind of list? Why would anyone want to arrest us?" Father Doherty asked with concern.
"The list has all kinds of people on it. Liberals, gays, people who contributed to Bryce's campaign... anyone they think will put up a fight. They're trying to take them out of action before they can organize and do anything." Dax said anxiously.
"There are only so many ways out of Chicago. I believe our only choice will be to trust that the good Lord will watch over us and provide for our needs." Father Doherty said with a note of concern under his words.
"You said that you're leaving. Do you know where you're going?" Dax asked quickly and seemed to be trying to change the subject.
"West. We're counting on the Lord to provide us a destination." Father Doherty said honestly.
"Kettle Falls, Washington. That's where we are... hold on. Zane looks like he's about to wet himself. Here, talk to him before he explodes." Dax said before there was a rustling on the phone.
"Dad? Is that really you?" Zane asked hopefully.
"Yes, son. You have no idea how wonderful it is to hear your voice and to know that you're safe." Father Doherty said warmly as his vision blurred with unformed tears.
"I love you, Dad. I don't remember if I said it before I left. I love you." Zane said urgently.
"I love you as well, my one and only son." Father Doherty said in nearly a whisper, then continued more strongly, "Tell me, how is everyone doing? Is Brother Jacques having any trouble? How are Jamiah and Loquicia? Is Ty getting along well?"
"Everyone here is fine. But we're all worried about you. You need to get out of Chicago. Bad things are about to happen, I mean, really bad. The phones were cut off between here and Chicago and the only way we could talk to you was because of Dax's dad." Zane said quickly.
"I had no idea..." Father Doherty said slowly as he began to realize the severity of their situation.
"We're in Kettle Falls, Washington. Please Dad, everyone is going to be worried about you until you're here with us." Zane said urgently.
"I don't know if our driver has other plans for our destination. We've only been concerned about getting out of Chicago and haven't discussed where we're going besides that. All I can promise at this point is that I'll try..." Father Doherty trailed off as he heard a police siren in very close proximity to the bus.
"What's wrong?" Zane asked quickly.
"I don't know. I think we're being pulled over. I'll have to call you back." Father Doherty said as he hurried to look around.
The looks of puzzlement and fear around the bus did nothing to reassure him.
"I love you, Zane. Now and always." Father Doherty whispered into the phone, then reluctantly turned it off.
* * * * *
"What's the problem, officer?" Keith asked as he opened the door of the bus.
"We're under orders to stop exiting traffic and detain suspected terrorists. If everyone will have your identification ready, we can have you on your way in just a few minutes." The officer said in a voice that held more than a little impatience.
"Yes... sir. We'll be happy to cooperate." Keith quickly said as he fumbled for his wallet.
As he waited, the officer stepped onto the bus and looked around curiously.
When his gaze stopped on Father Kinsey, the officer said, "It's you!"
As soon as Father Kinsey recognized the officer, he shyly asked, "Did you and your partner enjoy the coffee and donuts this morning?"
"They were great! Actually, they were the high point of a pretty awful day." The officer said frankly, then cautiously asked, "Where are you guys going?"
"The church instructed us to close the mission and turn all of our charges out into the street. We could not, in good conscience, do that. So we are setting off to the West, in hopes of finding a place where everyone can be cared for." Father Kinsey said carefully.
The officer stepped back off the bus and called to the squad car, "Steve! Bring Emo up here!"
Cautious looks flashed around the bus, but no one dared to speak.
The officer stepped back onto the bus and said in a low, firm voice, "Listen, guys. What's going on... it's bad. I don't know what happens to the people on that list when we turn them in, but I think it's safe to assume that it's not something good."
Everyone seemed to be frozen in place as they listened to the uniformed officer speak.
The uniformed officer from the car walked up the side of the bus, leading a black haired boy in cuffs.
"Steve's little brother, Emo, is on the list. We've been keeping him with us, hoping to find a way to keep him safe, but things are getting worse and worse. I hate to ask this of you, but could you take him with you?" The uniformed officer, Joe, asked hopefully.
"Yes. We would never turn our backs on a person in need." Father Doherty said immediately.
"What are you doing?" The boy, Emo, asked as he was led onto the bus.
"Give me your hands. You're going with them." Joe said as he took out his handcuff keys.
Emo looked around, then back at Joe with disbelief. "You said that I'm in all this trouble for being gay. Do you honestly think that sticking me on a bus full of Catholic priests is going to help with that?"
"I think that these are some good people." Joe said seriously.
"We can't keep you safe." Steve said from the first step of the bus. "This may be the only shot we've got at getting you out of here. You may be a moody little pain in the ass, but you're my brother and I'll do anything to protect you. Please, go with them."
"I'm sorry." The boy whispered.
"Don't be sorry. Be proud, be yourself, just like you've always been. But for right now just... be safe." Steve said seriously, then stepped back off the bus.
"You guys need to hurry and get out of here. Even though we haven't heard anything official, from the way things are looking, it won't be very long before ALL outgoing traffic will be stopped." Joe said seriously.
"Come here, young man, and take a seat." Father Doherty said as he gestured for Emo to come to him.
"Thanks." Joe said with obvious anxiety as he also left the bus.
"We good?" Keith asked as he looked into his mirror and was relieved to see Emmogene and Gunner in the truck behind them, waiting.
"Let's get out of here." Father Kinsey said solidly.
Keith nodded, then pulled them into traffic.
* * * * *
It had been less than twenty minutes since the traffic stop, and everyone had remained silent.
Too much was going on and emotions were running too high for anyone to feel much like talking.
Emo took the opportunity to look around and found that no one seemed to be paying him the least little bit of attention.
Even the priest next to him seemed to be lost in his own little world.
A honking horn caused nearly everyone in the bus to jump half out of their seats.
"Oh FUCK!" Keith gasped as he slowed the bus.
Everyone on the driver's side of the bus looked out and froze with fear when they saw the shotgun pointing out of the window of the car beside them. The person in the back of the car was gesturing for Keith to pull over.
Keith tried to keep his composure as he watched Emmogene drive past them in the fast lane.
"Guys! We're screwed." Jim said as he felt the bus coming to a stop.
"Trust in God. All will go according to his plan." Father Doherty called out, trying to reassure the others.
"Do you think his plan includes us having our brains splattered up and down the inside of this bus?" Keith asked as he opened the door to the man with the shotgun.
"Who's Father Doherty?" The pot-bellied man asked in a low voice.
After a moment to work up his courage, Father Doherty finally said, "I am."
"Jingo, Trav." The man said as he stepped back from the doorway.
A younger man and woman got on the bus. From the way that they were dressed, they were both obviously gang-bangers.
"You ain't gonna get much farther on your own, Father. Shit's gettin too bad out there. These two's been sent to ride along with you." The pot-bellied man said firmly, then walked away, back to the car.
"Get this thing moving!" The young woman said as she walked three rows back on the bus and dropped into the first available seat.
"Whatever you say." Keith said with astonishment.
"Don't be worried if, in a few minutes, you see a helicopter or two. There's a bad spot with the state police up ahead, and we're just kinda bein proof that you got a free pass outta here." The young man said as he remained standing, right beside Keith.
"We do?" Keith asked hesitantly.
"Don't ask me who, but you's got someone way high up watchin out fer yas. We's here ta prove that you's the ones not ta be fucked with." The young man said frankly.
"The Lord works in mysterious ways..." Father Franklin said uncertainly as he looked across the aisle at Father Doherty.
"Even so, this seems to be a bit of a stretch, even for him." Father Doherty responded slowly.
* * * * *
"I get the feeling that we're in a hurry. But I'm going to have to stop at that truck stop ahead, to fill up." Keith said to the man who hadn't left his side in the past half hour.
The man looked at the sign, then smiled as he said, "That's one of ours. No problem."
Keith glanced at him with surprise, but made no delay in taking the off ramp to take them to the truck stop.
* * * * *
"Oh God! Are you alright?" Emmogene cried as she ran to Keith and hugged him desperately.
"Everything's fine. It wasn't as bad as it looked." Keith whispered, then noticed that Gunner was hugging his legs.
"Come on up here, little man. How's my buddy doin?" Keith asked as he picked up his son.
"Mama was cryin." Gunner said with tears in his eyes.
"I know. Ain't nothin I can do 'bout that. But everythin's fine now." Keith assured his son and his girlfriend quietly.
"The truck's filled up, and I got you something to eat. Just in case... you survived." Emmogene finished in a whisper as her eyes filled with tears again.
"As bad as it looks, the truth is, these guys are helping us get out. From the looks of things, all the major throughways are being shut off, one by one. The guys who stopped us said that they can get us past some shit that's comin' up." Keith said honestly.
"Did they have to pull a shotgun on you?" Emmogene asked, switching immediately from fear to anger.
"I can't think of any way that I would have pulled over and let them on the bus if they hadn't done that." Keith said honestly.
"Problem." Jim called out from the side of the bus.
"What now?" Keith asked as he turned his attention to the man.
"I guess when we were making our plans, we didn't figure on the amount of weight we'd be carrying and how much it'd cost to fill up a bus..." Jim said reluctantly.
"How short are you?" Keith asked hesitantly.
"About a hundred bucks." Jim said regretfully.
"It's covered!" The young man, Trav, said as he walked up to the side of the bus.
"What? How?" Jim asked suddenly.
"It's all been paid for. Put your money away. Now get everyone loaded up. We ain't hit that road block yet, and I DO know it's gonna get worse 'fore it gets better." Trav said before walking to the front of the bus.
"Do you want for Greg to drive for a while? He said that he knew how." Jim asked Keith cautiously.
"No. There's too much crazy shit goin' on. I'd feel better if I was the one driving for now. Once we meet up with our people, then someone else can take a turn at driving." Keith said seriously.
"Do you mind if I drive ahead?" Emmogene asked her boyfriend quietly.
"From the sound of it, there's gonna be a roadblock before too long. It might be best if you stuck with us until then, so whatever help these guys can give us can help you out, too." Keith said seriously.
"Fine. Just... no more shotguns or police cars, okay?" Emmogene asked hopefully.
"I'll do my best." Keith said before giving her a kiss.
After a cuddle and a kiss for Gunner, Keith made his way back to the front of the bus to start the next leg of their journey.
* * * * *
"Holy shit!" Keith gasped as two helicopters flew over the bus, frighteningly close.
"How are you doing, Emo?" Father Doherty asked the silent boy at his side.
"What the FUCK is going on!?" Emo asked as he scrunched down in the seat to see the helicopters above them.
"I'm trusting that God has a plan, because everything seems to be going more and more out of my control." Father Doherty said frankly.
"Where are you taking me?" Emo asked as he finally turned his attention away from the helicopters.
"Kettle Falls, Washington... at least, that's where I'm hoping to go. As I said before, all of this is in God's hands right now." Father Doherty said honestly.
"Um, yeah. Whatever helps you sleep at night." Emo said before looking out the window again.
* * * * *
"Everyone, you might want to brace yourselves." Keith called out as he slowed the bus.
Those that had allowed themselves to relax suddenly became fully awake and looked ahead at the flashing police lights and the sea of stopped cars ahead.
"Pull into the fast lane." The young woman, Jingo, said as she moved to the front of the bus.
"Are you sure?" Keith said slowly as he saw that the police were guiding people to the right side of the road.
"Do it!" She snapped impatiently.
Keith, being conditioned to respond to Emmogene's voice, immediately did exactly as he was told.
As he began to slowly pull forward in the fast lane, he noticed that one of the helicopters was now nearly riding on top of the bus.
He quickly checked his rear view mirror to find that the second helicopter was directly above Emmogene, and she seemed to have a terrified look on her face.
A police officer that was standing in the fast lane before the bus, quickly moved to the side of the road, then started motioning for them to continue on.
The traffic jam that went on for over half a mile passed by outside the bus as they continued to travel toward the blockade at a slow, steady speed.
"You're going to need to stop up ahead." Jingo said seriously.
"Whatever you say." Keith said as he glanced in his rear view mirror again to check on Emmogene and Gunner.
After a few minutes of slow driving, Jingo finally said, "Stop."
Keith brought the bus to a full stop about fifteen feet from a collection of police cruisers blocking the interstate highway.
"Let me off." Jingo said as she walked toward the door.
Keith leaned over and opened the door for her, immediately.
Everyone on the bus watched as the young woman confidently walked to a small group of police officers who were gathered ahead of them.
Keith couldn't begin to guess at what she was saying to them when he was startled by the sound of a voice close to his ear.
"Get ready to go." Trav said firmly.
Keith put his foot on the brake and slipped into first gear.
Suddenly, Jingo ran back toward the bus and as soon as she was inside, she said, "Go!"
Keith began to inch the bus forward as the state police cars started backing out of the way.
Within a few seconds, the path was cleared out in front of them and Keith was guiding the bus through the tight channel of police vehicles.
In the rear view mirror, Keith could see that Emmogene was following, nearly on his bumper.
Just as soon as Emmogene was past the first of the cars, they began to move back into place, reinstating the barricade.
"They're not letting anyone else through, are they?" Keith asked in surprise as he looked at the vast blackness before him.
"Just you. And I suggest that you give it some gas before they change their minds." Jingo said seriously, then added, "They weren't very happy about receiving an exception to their very strict and straightforward orders."
Keith confirmed that Emmogene was still following closely behind before taking them up to regular highway speed.
A few minutes later, the helicopters gradually started gaining altitude and eventually they flew off to attend to other things.
* * * * *
"Well, that's it for our part." Trav said from his usual place, standing beside Keith.
"How do you mean?" Keith asked hesitantly.
"We was sent along to get yous guys past that roadblock. They's still a chance that somethin else'll come up soes we can help yas, but that's all we was told 'bout." Trav said frankly.
"So, what are you going to do now?" Father Doherty asked from behind Trav.
After turning to face him, Trav said, "You's not the only'uns wanting ta git outa Chicago. You's jes the first. We's supposed'ta ride along wit yous an when we gits ta where we's goin, we're s'posed ta make a place for our people. Jes 'cause we's leaving Chicago, don't mean that we stopped takin care of our own."
"Do you know where we're going?" Father Doherty asked cautiously.
"The plan is to go to a place called Kettle Falls, Washington. We were told that there's already someone there and that when we arrive, he'll tell us what to do next." Jingo said as she walked to Trav's side.
"I was also planning to go to Kettle Falls, that's where my son is." Father Doherty said thoughtfully.
"Son?" Emo asked from Father Doherty's side.
"Long story." Father Doherty said with a smile at the young man.
"Priests!" Emo said with a roll of his eyes, then looked out the window at the dark empty road ahead of them.
* * * * *
"I'm supposed to turn off up here, so we can meet up with the people from back home. Does anyone have a problem with that?" Keith asked as he looked mainly at Trav and Jingo.
"Do what you need to do. Just don't think about doing anything to keep us from getting to Washington." Jingo said firmly.
"No. There's just a group of us from back home, all the people who saw that something bad was coming. We decided to meet up here because there's strength in numbers." Keith hurried to explain.
"Yeah. Sounds good." Jingo said in a disinterested tone as she walked back down the aisle to take a seat.
"When we stop, Harry's made up a good dinner for everyone. He just didn't want to serve it while we were on the road." Art said loudly.
"That sounds like a very good idea. I'm quite hungry." Father Doherty said with a smile of appreciation at Harry, who was a few seats back, across the aisle.
"I hated the thought of leaving so much perishable food back at the mission, so the boys carried most of it onto the bus. While I cooked as much as I could to make a good meal for when we were ready to stop." Harry quickly explained.
"I'm sure everyone will enjoy it." Father Doherty said with a smile as he turned to face forward.
"Father." Trav said as he moved down the aisle to stand beside him.
"Yes?" Father Doherty asked curiously.
"'Fore I ferget, I was told ta tell yas that when we git ta Kettle Falls, you's s'posed to give the phone ta Dax." Trav said quietly.
Father Doherty looked up at Trav with confusion at the strange instruction.
"That's all I was told. I figured you'd know what they was talkin 'bout." Trav said honestly.
"Yes. I do... I just don't understand why." Father Doherty said frankly.
"It's not fer us ta understand. It's our job to do." Trav said simply before walking further down the aisle to find a seat.
* * * * *
"What the hell?" Keith said as he pulled off the road at a large rest area that was filled to beyond overflowing.
"Is something wrong?" Father Doherty asked cautiously.
"Only that there's about three times as many people here as there should be." Keith said as he surveyed the area cautiously.
A knocking on the door of the bus caused everyone to jump.
Keith looked carefully in the meager light, then smiled when he recognized the person.
As he opened the door of the bus he said, "Dougie, what's going on here? What the hell happened?"
"Did you hear about that big roadblock on the Interstate?" Dougie asked as he climbed aboard.
"Yeah. We just came from there." Keith said cautiously.
"Really? They're not letting anyone through. While we were trying to get out, we met up with lots of other people who were doing the same. Finally, we found a way to drive cross-country and avoid all the roadblocks." Dougie said excitedly, then asked, "How'd the old bus run. Did she give you any trouble?"
"She didn't miss a tick the whole way." Keith said happily, then noticed that everyone else on the bus was watching them.
"Guys, this is Doug. He used to be in the band with me."
"Hey." Doug said as he gave a slight wave, then turned to Keith and urgently said, "No one knows what we should do next. We can't stay here, with this many people, we'll run out of food in just a few days. Most of these people weren't prepared for anything like this. Some of them didn't bring any food at all."
"These guys have been told that there's a place for them in Kettle Falls, Washington. I know it's not much of a plan, but it's all we've got at the moment. If we get everyone on the road and head that way, we can check it out. If it's not doable, then we can stop there and figure out something else." Keith said frankly.
"It's better than anything else that we've come up with. I'd feel a whole lot better if we were on the move. We're still a little bit too close to Chicago for my comfort." Doug said frankly.
"I'm with you. We need to stop for a few minutes to have something to eat and to switch drivers, but we'll be ready to go before too long." Keith said seriously.
"I'll spread the word that we have someplace to go. By the time you're ready to leave, everyone else should be good to go. We're telling anyone with a CB to turn it to channel 14." Doug said frankly.
"Alright. Let's do it!"
* * * * *
When Keith had finished the meal that Emmogene had bought for him at the truck stop, he went back to the bus to confirm their travel plans. They were just starting to eat and Keith was surprised to discover that no one present had the slightest idea where Kettle Falls, Washington was, much less how to get there.
After a few minutes in his truck, he returned with an obviously well used road atlas. He was able to find Kettle Falls relatively easily, but the remainder of the meal was spent discussing which routes to take and which to avoid. There was also a brief discussion about driving straight through, but when Father Kinsey suggested that some of those in their caravan might have only one driver, no one pressed the matter any further.
After the meal was consumed and everyone had had a chance to walk around and get their circulation back, it was finally agreed that they were ready to hit the road again.
Keith walked Greg through the directions that they had decided on and made sure that he was comfortable before leaving to join Emmogene and Gunner in the truck.
"Are we ready to do this?" Father Doherty asked as he looked back into the bus of people. He felt that all of them were his responsibility, and yet, it was hard for him to accept that he hadn't known any of them for more than a day.
The looks of trust and anticipation that Father Doherty received as a response caused him to smile.
"I don't know what we're going to find ahead of us. But with trust in God and a reliance on each other, we will face what's ahead and strive to do His will." Father Doherty said peacefully.
A wave of calm assurance from those gathered made him certain that they were ready to get back on the open road.
* * * * *
As Greg pulled the bus away from the large rest area, he saw a string of vehicles, vans, trucks, buses and even some cars, streaming out of the lot, following behind him.
The road ahead was open to him and he felt nothing but peace as he led the way to, what he hoped would be, their promised land.
TO BE CONTINUED...
Being a Co-author seems really strange. I mean, I was all ready to write the Editor's notes, when I realised that I wasn't the editor on this chapter.
Quite honestly, I am not really sure what to add, since almost anything I might say could be a spoiler. So I will simply say there is a lot more to come, and it is going to get pretty exciting, so I suggest you keep an eye out for more, pretty soon.
Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher
Yeah, Darryl, no more editor's notes. That's my job. Jeez!
This chapter goes WAY beyond AAKD (Add A Kid Disease). Add a Scout troop? Add a Boy's Brigade? Add a Caravan of Survivalists? I really hope MM & Darryl have something figured out for all these people. Jeez.
And this Scott Montgomery wanting to Beam-Up? DARRYL!!!!!!!!!!!
At least I was prepared for the change of location for this chapter. What will happen when these guys reach Kettle Falls, Washington? Maybe another group from who knows where will set out to join them. I mean we need to jump around from chapter to chapter. I must say this has been misdirection at its finest.
Great job guys!