A Girl Called Jack Cover Photo

A Girl Called Jack Cover Photo

Monday, September 7, 2015

Chapter 9


“Fourteen Feet by six feet.” 

Desi looked over his bowl of grits the next morning and asked, “Huh?” 

“That’s the size of the truck bed we have to work with.  Fourteen by six.  The bed is twenty inches deep without the camper top.” 

“And the topper adds?” 

“Near the cab it adds another twenty inches of height.  At the tailgate it adds thirty-six inches.  Seems like it should be a lot but now that I’m filling it …” 

“We’ll work it out somehow.  Unless you need me for some lifting I’m going to start wrapping the mattresses.  Uh … you sure about …” 

“Dezz you said yourself that the cellar is a good size but it isn’t the Taj freaking Mahal.  The girls will just wind up in the same bed anyway so we take the full size for them to share.  We take the king sized mattress off my parents’ bed so in case all four of us have to be in the same bed for warmth.” 

“Yeah … but what about …” 

Quietly Jack said, “You aren’t Don.  And … and the rest of it will work itself out.  Just don’t … make things complicated.  Not unless we get ready for complicated at some point and both want it.” 

Just as quietly Desi asked, “You sure?  I know I was complaining about the mattresses but … I … I didn’t mean for it to sound like it came out.” 

“You need to stop worrying that I’m going to go off like a Tallahassee bottle rocket.  I’m not the women in your family.” 

“Yeah well … it is taking some getting used to I admit,” he said with a small grin.  “But you know what I mean.  It seems like this is getting more complicated than I ever thought about it being.  Then there is that Josh thing.” 

“There is no ‘Josh thing’ so just drop it.  He left me and never looked back.  The jerk had the nerve to say it was for my own good that he was setting me free.  Like he was doing me a giant favor or something.  Ass.  I thought we were working on forever.  Apparently he was just working on what was easy.  I’m done with him and if I never hear his name again it will be too soon.  Got it?” 

“Got it Chica.  His loss is my gain.”  Upon saying Desi winced.  “That didn’t come out right.” 

For about a second and a half Jack looked outraged then she just looked tired.  “Don’t worry about it.  Let’s just keep going.” 

“Ok, but when I’m finished wrapping the mattresses and getting them tied down I’m going to take a quick creep.” 

Jack looked at him sharply.  “Dezz …” 

“I know Jackalene.  Still, I wanna look one last time.  I also need to make sure that the gates at the back of the subdivision haven’t been blocked off or chained or something.  I doubt they are but I don’t want to drive out of here and suddenly find a hitch in our plan before we’ve even gotten on the highway.” 

It was smart, Jack admitted it to herself, but all she did was nod and try not to watch when after about an hour he told her he was finished with the mattresses and heading out for “wood.”  The girls wanted to know if they were leaving that night why they needed more wood. 

“Because your brother likes to be ready for just in case.  Concha that box isn’t even half full.  Look through the games and books again.  Remember this is all the toys and stuff we are going to be able to take and all you’ll have for a long time.  Lena start bringing me the rest of that stack of Mom’s cookbooks and recipe boxes.  I’m taking these even if I have to tie them to the hood of the truck.” 

“What about all the pictures?  Is there room for them?” 

“Yeah.  The ones from the wall will have to come out of their frames but we’ll squeeze them in.” 

“Even the pretty silver frames?” 

“Would you rather save the pictures or the frames?” 

Lena merely sighed, did as she was asked then went to help Concha pick through some of the books and toys.  “Can we take movies?” she asked a few minutes later. 

“No Lena,” Jack asked on a long suffering sigh.   

“But you’re taking all the family movies that Daddy took?  Right?” 

“That’s different.  There isn’t going to be a tv or electricity to watch them on and they’ll take space we don’t have, but the family movies are … are memories … for down the road.” 

“What about movies for later when the ‘canoes are over?” 

That stopped Jack and she didn’t know exactly how to answer that “later” might be not be until they were too old to even want to watch the movies she wanted to take.  Instead she said, “We’ll have to figure that out when the time comes.  For now let’s just do the best we can.  Though … look, bring over the zipper book that Mom was going to organize the game console stuff in.  No Lena … no way can we take the game console but if you take the games out and put the DVDs in there then … then maybe at some point we can have them to watch.” 

“Down the road?” the little girl asked hopefully. 

“Yeah Squirt, down the road.  Just stick with the Disney’s first, then the Classics, and … and then we’ll have to see how many slots there are and how many we can find room for.” 

A couple of hours later the girls fell asleep after helping to move some of the lighter boxes and totes for Jack to pack.  The temperature was starting to drop and Jack was trying not to worry about Desi being gone so long.  She added a couple of pieces of wood to the fire and set a pot of hamburger soup close to it so it could simmer and be ready to get dumped into the lunch box thermoses that were lined up there as well.  Jack went back to loading things in the truck; if she hadn’t she wouldn’t have heard them. 

“C’mon dumbass.  Help us and we’ll go easy on the chicklets.  Don’t help and we’ll use ‘em long and hard.  Up to you.”  There was the sound of flesh hitting flesh.” 

Then another voice came jogging up.  “No way we’re getting in that front door.  Metal in metal.  It’s this one or a window.” 

Someone trying to sound in charge snapped, “Told you asshats I didn’t want to break any windows yet.  Might draw the neighbors and give ‘em time to organize against us like across the road.  That’s why York ain’t with us no more.” 

Creepers.  Jack was about to count how many when she saw a chisel wedge its way between the frame and side door.  Jack almost cussed but instead grabbed the fourteen pound bulldog sledge hammer she had been trying to find a place for and brought it down on the head of the first creeper through the door.  She heard his noggin pop like a melon.  She kept swinging until Desi grabbed her and said, “Whoa Jack … alto bebe’, alto.  They’re all down.  Stop Jackalene.” 

Jack was breathing hard.  Desi’s arms were around her from behind and his hands were on hers trying to control the swings she was still taking with the sledge hammer.  “It’s ok Jack.  Let me take the hammer.” 

Slowly Jack let go and then ran into the house but was relieved to find the girls had slept through the whole thing.  She turned only to stop in shock.  Desi was covered in blood and at least some of it was obviously his.  “Oh god,” she mouthed without letting a sound passed her lips.  She ran over to him and pulled him into the utility room.  “Did I hit you?!” 

Desi leaned on the washer and asked, “You saying it would take a sledgehammer to take me out?” 

“I’m saying … saying …”  Then she stuck her head down the utility sink and started puking.  She heard Desi grunt in surprise but she couldn’t find the wherewithal to be embarrassed.  All she could do was puke and shake. 

Forty minutes later it was cleaned up … Jack’s puke, the mess she and Desi had made of the creepers, and getting rid of the bodies by dumping them down into the flood way that was running fast and mean from the hard, dirty rain that had started to fall. 

“Dezz …” 

“I’m fine Jackalene.  It’s over.” 

“Then for gosh sake why go back out?  You said all the abandoned houses had been broken into and about half of them trashed.  No telling when the rest of their creeper gang is going to be back.” 

“This was the day crew.  Next crew won’t show up to clean up until almost daybreak tomorrow, if then.  I wanna see what they have stashed in that trailer.  They owe us.” 

“They owe us what?  They’ve already paid with their lives.” 

“Pain and suffering.  They went too fast.  If there hadn’t been so many of them …” 

“Dangit Dezz don’t go all male machismo on me.  You took on six guys with a freakin’ box cutter after they hit you from behind and took the gun.” 

“I got it back.  I wasn’t gonna lose your dad’s gun.” 

“It could have laid there and rusted for all I care!  You … you …” 

“But I didn’t.  You didn’t.  We kept the girls safe.  Sucks for the bad guys but they got what they went looking for whether they knew they were looking for it or not.  But this just means we really gotta get out of here tonight.  They have the whole neighborhood mapped.  They know about you and the supplies.  They said it was Vern that gave you up.  Do you understand what that means Chica?” 

“It means … it means that if Vern was picked up by the National Guard then some of the guards or local cops are probably in on this.  There’s no way it could have gotten to the creepers that fast otherwise.” 

“Good.  You see it.  The who’s and why’s don’t matter though except we gotta go as soon as we can pack up and head out.  But I’m gonna check that stash.  We deserve that much.” 

“But geez Dezz, where are we going to put it?” 

“Depends on what it is.  You just keep packing.  I won’t be long.” 

As he jogged away holding his side where he’d been sliced and kicked by the guy he’d taken out with the box cutter Jack muttered, “That’s what you said last time.”

Chapter 8



 A couple of hours later Jack and Desi were both tired but satisfied they’d made progress.  It was Desi that said, “The trick is going to be getting this stuff packed so that it will fit.” 

Jack agreed and said, “It’s gonna be a jigsaw puzzle that’s for sure.  I know you want to go through some other houses but I don’t know if it will do any good.  We probably still have too much to take even after we finish breaking things down.  I think I’ve got a way figured to make more room in the cab.  We’ll squish the two girls into the center – they’ll stay warmer that way anyway – and then on either end of the back seat and on the floor beneath their feet we’ll fit all that stuff from Dad’s shop.” 

“Yeah, I was thinking the same thing but I want to take one more walk through some of them.  There’s things you brought up that I never thought about.  Cleaning stuff and … er … girl stuff … are only two of them.  And I put another tub of matches I found in the garage on the kitchen table with the other ones.  Did somebody collect matches or something?” 

“Dad.  Sorta.  It was one of the few things he didn’t think you could ever have enough of.  Matches, nails and screws, toothpicks, and those lighters you use with an acetylene torch.” 

“Well he had a point with those lighters.  And the barbecue lighters we’ve found will be useful too.  And what were those things you’re momma put in that hurricane supply box?” 

“Solid fuel tabs.  They’ll boil a small pot of water real fast.  And we’ll need to bring the eco-stove from Dad’s shop some way.” 

“If you’re talking about that rocket stove we will, even if I have to strap it on top of the cab.  I went to visit my mother’s family one time and that’s what they cooked on every meal.  I mean it looked a little different …”  He stopped, obviously thinking.  “I wonder if they’ve cleared away the debris from that house fire.  If they haven’t it is probably full of stuff that I can use … bricks, cinderblocks, just lots of stuff.” 

Before Desi could get wound back up Jack said, “The girls are asleep.  I haven’t asked before now because … well because we’ve had other stuff to focus on.  But that cut below your eye is getting puffy and the one across your nose is too.  They need cleaning.  If I do it will you tell me what happened?” 

“You don’t need …” 

“Yeah Desi, I do.  Like we told the girls, we’re throwing in together.  You mean to do the safety stuff … security I guess … and you came up with the idea of a place that we can go.  You can’t do the job you picked for yourself if you get sick.” 

Put like that Desi let Jack clean the cuts out and told her what had happened.  “You sure the girls are asleep?” 

“Yeah.  Listen.  I can tell when they’re faking and this ain’t faking.  They’ve been at it too long.” 

“Ok … it was that homeless guy.  He tried to track us.  He wanted … wanted Concha.” 

“Geez.  A pervert.  That kind of crap we don’t need on top of all of the other crap.  Where did you leave it with him?  Did he get the message?” 

Desi gave a one shoulder shrug and said, “He slid down into the flood way.  I didn’t see where he came out; the water was moving fast where he went through the ice.  I needed to get back to Concha or I would have taken care of it.” 

Jack heard the hardness in his voice, but it didn’t bother her.  She’d heard the same hardness in her father’s voice when some gang members had started to hang out at her bus stop and he had gotten tired of the cops doing nothing.  He’d set ‘em up.  The gangbangers had taken a fall.  ‘Nuff said. 

“Ok.  Next time though don’t wait so long to clean cuts out.  It isn’t like doctors are that easy to find now, I have a feeling they’re going to be doubly hard to find where we’re going.” 

Desi looked at Jack for a surprised moment then nodded finding dealing with her a lot easier than most of the females that he’d dealt with in the past.  But just in case he changed the subject.  “How long do you think it will take us to get this stuff packed?” 

“I’m going to start on it tonight.  Gonna line the truck bed with blankets and moving pads.  Line the back of the cab where the girls are going to be the same way.  After that comes necessities starting with the food so pick your poison with those foil packets; everything else is getting sealed up.” 

Desi said, “If you got important papers, especially IDs, put them in a backpack and keep them up front with us.  Anything you can’t live without do the same thing in case we have to … to bail out of the truck for some reason.” 

Carefully Jack asked, “You think it is gonna be that bad?” 

“No … but better be prepared just in case anyway.”   

A few hours later Jack was sitting in the dark of the kitchen trying to hide from her anguish and depression.  Desi found her there anyway. 

“You … you ok?” 

“Yeah.” 

“Is … is it going through your parents’ stuff?” 

“Yeah.” 

“Uh …” 

“No.” 

“You don’t know what I was going to say.” 

“You were going to offer to find a bigger truck or a trailer or something like that.  So … no.  If we went to go live with any of the family we’d have to do this.  It’s just getting through it and then Lena crying ‘cause … ‘cause she didn’t realize how much was going to be left behind.  We’ll deal with it.  There isn’t time not to deal with it.” 

Hesitantly, worried that he was pouring salt on an already painful wound, Desi said, “You think you could be ready to leave tomorrow … late afternoon, early evening?  After the Troopers get called in off the road?” 

Jack looked up and saw that Desi was very serious.  “Did another one blow?” 

“Not yet but … but they said that the geysers in Yellowstone are acting funny.” 

Jack’s mind blanked for a few seconds before going into overdrive.  “We’ll be ready one way or the other.  How long is it going to take to get to this place?” 

“Between four and five hours is what it would normally take.  It depends if they are using north bound lanes for south bound traffic.” 

“You sure we’ll have enough fuel to get there?” 

“Yeah.  Maybe just, but I’ve got the reserve gas cans full.” 

“You went out creeping again,” Jack accused.  “You told me it was for wood.” 

“It was for wood.  Then I saw the Mortensens leave.  Their son, the one with the eye patch, came and got them.” 

“They could come back.” 

“Naw.  He had a trailer and they were loading it to the gills and I heard him ask a dozen times if that was it because they needed to go and weren’t coming back.  Mr. Mortensen told him that what was left wasn’t going to be any use to anyone and if it was then the creepers were welcome to it.  I didn’t go in the house … you could smell where they used to have all them cats.  I glanced in the shed and found these cans of fuel.  One of them diesel, other two are regular gas.  I’ve already put Seafoam in them to let it evaporate any water in it.” 

A little reluctantly Jack said, “Fine but we won’t be able to strap those to the outside.” 

“No so we’ll need to leave room near the hatch so we can grab them if we need them without unpacking anything.” 

Jack inserted that into her mental plan and stood up.  “I’m going to leave a tub out for each girl to fill with their stuff.  That’s one of the things that will have to go at their feet.  And if Lena gets to be too much for Concha let me know.  She’s taking this sister thing pretty serious.  She won’t even let the poor kid go to the bathroom without her.” 

Desi shook his head.  “I was gonna say the same thing to you about Lena.  Don’t worry about it.  It’ll work itself out.  Right now it seems to be helping them and keeping them out of our hair so we can work.  Concha was scared all the time and just the little time she’s been with Lena … she’s started talking again.  Not much but some.  Makes me feel better.” 

Jack made a face.  “Lena wouldn’t stop talking.  It’s like she had to fill up all the empty space with sound.  It was driving me crazy because I couldn’t think and listen to her at the same time.  She’s finally started calming down.  Yeah, they’re good for each other.” 

Jack started to walk back to the garage but Desi took her arm.  “Things will work out Jackalene.  Maybe they won’t be like they were but, they’ll be ok.” 

Sighing Jack said, “Things are never going to be like they used to be and that’s not just because the earth is having a major case of acid reflux.  I’ll deal with it.  I’ll be ok.  It’s just going to take time.” 

Desi wondered just who she was trying to convince, him … or herself.