-- These characters are wholly mine. It is true that Sam and Annie look like our ancient gals, but any other resemblance to any other people, real or fictitional, is strictly coincidental.
Sex -- This is a lesbian romance thriller. There are graphic, but loving, scenes of sex between women. If you're under 18 you're just going to have to wait awhile to read, or if this is illegal where you are, I sincerely extend my condolences.
Violence -- This is a story of violent hatred attacking an innocent gay community. The violence is psychopathic and unsettling, but not overly gory.
Language -- Infrequently, some really scummy people show up in this book, and they use really disgusting language. Even our heroines are driven to cuss now and again. But the purpose is to display certain mind types, and in this, the language is only realistic.
General -- I should probably let you know beforehand that this story deals with bigots and hate crimes. If this is going to be hard for you, you may want to go elsewhere. -- There are hospital scenes dealing with diverse injuries. I am not a member of the medical profession. If the things I have my doctors and nurses do for certain injuries were done by real doctors to real people, it could very well kill them.
Feed the bard -- This is my first attempt at fanfic writing, so your comments would be a big help to me. Thanks.
A TIME TO LOVE, A TIME TO HATE
The rowdy crowd hooted and hollered and heckled at their friends and family on the field. Kids wound trails under the bleachers picking up beer and pop cans and earning fine incomes of nickels. The Montana Star and local paper had reporters at the game, alert to the possibility that trouble could break out at any moment. The Rattlers were playing the Coyotes, one of the better teams in the league. Sam was behind third directing her runners. Nell had just struck out, and, at the moment, there were no runners on base to direct. Annie came up to the plate and rapped the bat against her shoes, knocking the dirt out of her cleats. Sam grinned. Boy, she looked like a veteran. Annie stepped up and ground her feet into the dust. She swung her bat a couple times waiting for the wind up. The pitch sizzled over the plate. It was clearly a strike. Annie could see it distinctly. But this was the hottest pitcher she had faced so far, seeing and hitting were two different things. The second pitch was a ball by the slightest hair. She let it pass. Annie heard her teammates yelling, "Good eye! Good eye!" from the dugout. She cranked for the third pitch and let the bat swing. The ball cracked out into the void between left and center, and Annie took off. She watched as the shortstop and center fielder headed for a crash veering off at the last moment as the ball fell in between them and kept on rolling. She turned her eyes to Sam who waved her around first and on to second, signalling slide. She dropped and slid, tangling up with the second baseman who was going after the ball. Surprisingly, the ball sailed on across the field and across the foul line on the other side. Sam started wildly signalling her on, and Annie curled to her feet with a catlike grace and sprinted down the third base line. She slid in again as the pitcher, covering the base, bent helplessly over her, the ball still in the mitt of the catcher who had finally wound up with it. Sam reached over and lifted the little nurse clear off the ground and onto her feet. The sound of the crowd and her teammates going crazy came to her ears for the first time, and Sam shook her shoulders and started dusting her off. She'd got a hit off the Coyotes' pitcher! She only had one base to go to score!
Rita came up, and Annie waited down the baseline, hunched and ready for a dash to home and the first score of her life. In three pitches, Rita struck out for the end of the inning, and Annie stood on baseline blinking at Sam. "That is so anticlimactic!" she cried.
Sam laughed. "That's softball." She put her arm around the small, dusty woman and walked her into the dugout.
In the fourth inning it happened. Four cars squealed into the parking lot, honking their horns, passengers hanging out the windows shouting epithets and spray painting the cars parked around them. It lasted no more than thirty seconds, and the cars peeled back out of the lot and out of the park. No one had even had a chance to run to the lot and identify them. The bleachers cleared out as spectators and players ran to the parking lot to check on their cars. The reporter for the Montana Star shook his head as he surveyed the stripe of flourescent orange across his back bumper. Sam and Annie's cars were spared because they were more up front than the vandals had come. They stationed people around the lot to identify anyone coming in to try that again, and the games continued with grim determination. They weren't going to stop playing! Not for any damned, sorry-assed bigots!
After the games, over beers at the Rattler, Sam kicked back and discussed the evening with Annie, Mare, El, Darnell and his partner, Stu.
"They just keep hitting the games!" Sam fumed.
"They think they're hitting lesbians," Darnell said.
"But half the damn players are straight!" Sam growled.
"Well, it's all they've got to hit, Sam. There's no other target around except the bar," Mare said.
"Why don't you guys play softball in the men's league, anyway? You don't do anything in the summer. You need to start staging ballets in the park," El emptied her bottle of beer. "Take a little focus off us women."
Stu huffed, "Hey, gay men play softball! We don't need no stinkin' tutus!"
"Yeah, but, I mean, summer softball just doesn't attract gay men like it does women. You guys don't have any activity where you stand out like us."
"Well, let's put in some public baths down at the park, and I'll go get naked for 'em."
Darnell considered. "You're right, El. The women are taking the brunt of this. Maybe we should come to the games to be a threatening presence."
Stu laughed. "Threatening presence? Oh, yeah. I'll bring my heaviest handbag."
"No," Darnell went on calmly, "I mean, dress up in a uniform of some sort, all of us the same. And all wearing the ribbon. Ring the field and bleachers. Keep a lookout."
Everybody thought about the idea. Stu spoke first. "I like the idea. Let's do it. What are we going to wear? I see leather. Chaps. Cowboy hats. No, seriously!"
Darnell got up from the table and Stu rose with him. "I'll pass the idea around. Maybe we can become more visible in a helpful way."
The two strode away, and Sam leaned close to Annie's ear. "Wanna dance, wild thang?"
"I'm ready!" Annie shouted, and they ambled out into the midst of dancing bodies and throbbing music.
Sam started slowly, hoping she wouldn't pull anything, but by the end of the song, she was up to speed, and Annie watched her with delight. Sam was the best dancer on the floor. Tall, smooth and sexy. Annie danced everything she knew, and Sam stayed right with her. When they started dancing be-bop, they found their nitch. The floor even cleared for them and started cheering them on. The other be-bop dancers came out to play, and the night got crazy.
The Protectors sat around Sam's livingroom redesigning their strategies. First, they would get more people. They didn't need to be fighters, but if they could find fighters, so much the better. The houses would have at least two people at them every night, one in front, one in back, more people if they could find more fighters. Eddie and Peter were going to call martial arts pals from all over the state and recruit as many fighters as they could. They would have cell phones present to call police at the first sign of trouble. They were going to protect, and they were going to capture, and they were going to put an end to the violence. Recipients of threatening letters were not going to be touched again.
Discussion turned to the approaching rally at the militia encampment. Everybody wondered what was going on with that. All shared the suspicion that the anti-gay violence was going to be the subject of at least some of the gathering. They wanted a presence there, but didn't know how to get themselves in. They were all known. They would be kicked out at the gate. They needed reconnaisance equipment. Some way to hear and see inside the meeting by creeping close, planting devices beforehand, and manning the equipment from a distance when the rally started. Sam said she would see Vernon about instruments that would do what they needed. They set their tasks for the rally: monitor all the speeches, who's speaking, check license plates, find out what known persons or groups were attending. They laid their plans for surveiling the rally, then broke up for the night. Sam sat on her couch for an hour after the meeting, lights turned off, staring into the darkness, searching her mind for anything more they could do. Finally, satisfied that they had events in hand, she went to bed and slept restlessly.
Vernon Quigley leaned on the counter of his electronics shop and listened to Sam describe the kinds of equipment she was looking for. He nodded his unruly hair uneasily and pushed up thick glasses as she ran down her list. This was all surveillance equipment. Spy stuff. He shifted his small frame from his right foot to his left and shook his head. He worried what Sam Adams was up to. A thought hit him, and he brought it up obliquely. "Well, what you're asking for is long distance listening equipment. Something you'd need if you were, say, trying to eaves drop on a big gathering like that rally up at the militia encampment next week."
Sam looked at him without flinching. "Yeah, I want something like that, Vernon."
Vernon stared back. "I could put together something that might give you some coverage, but it would be hard to set up; you'd need to place it on the site beforehand, and run wiring out to your controls. What you really need is someone on the inside with equipment on him. He could wear self contained, battery operated stuff and just move around wherever he needed."
"I don't have anybody who can get on the site," Sam said.
"The faces of all my people are known. We can't get close to who we want to surveil."
"Somebody like me could maybe get in, though."
Sam just looked at him.
"I know how to work the equipment."
Sam's jaw clenched. "This might be dangerous, Vernon."
"I don't like bigotry. I don't like what's going on. There are a lot of people like me who want to help but don't know how. Maybe this is my way."
Sam thought hard. "I can't let you, Vernon."
"I might just go up there on my own and record it all."
"Vernon, it they catch you taping their rally without permission, they'll take your equipment, break it, and kick you out, maybe even hurt you."
Vernon smiled. "If they catch me."
Sam sighed. She realized there was no stopping him. Finally she shrugged and nodded.
And with that, Vernon Quigley became a Protector.
Henry Trent leaned against the door of the neat apartment house, fingering the mailbox with the name, Annie O'Shea, on it. A car drew up and stopped and he watched as a small woman dressed in nursing whites got out and came up the front walk. Casually, he pushed himself away from the doorway and started down the walk. He stopped in front of her, blocking her way, and she looked up at him. "Afternoon," he said. "Beautiful day," Annie responded. The eyes before her held an element of leering familiarity as he smiled down on her, and she lowered her eyes. "Excuse me," she said. He stepped aside, and she went by and on up the stairs. As she picked up her mail, she looked back over her shoulder. He stood there still, leering at her, then turned and ambled on down the walk. She went inside feeling slightly dirty.
Three rings... four...
She looked at the letter in her trembling hand.
Five rings. She hung up and drove over to the garage.
Sam was on a roller under a car. Buddy was slouched in the greasy old easy chair at the corner of the garage. He looked up from the comic book he was reading and chortled a happy, "Hey, Annie." Then saw the concern on her pretty features and stood up. "Annie, what's the matter?" This brought Sam out from under the car. Annie's face was pale, her lips parted, her eyes wide. Sam leaped up and came to her.
"Look," Annie said, offering the letter to Sam.
On plain paper, were the familiar cut out letters reading, "YOU'RE NEXT".
"I just got it. Just now when I got home." Annie glanced at Sam's face. It was drawn and white, the eyes smoldering. "It doesn't have a stamp on it. See? Somebody just dropped it in my box."
"And, Sam, when I got home, there was a guy standing up by the front door. He was just standing there, but when I came up the walk, he came down and stepped in front of me. It was really weird."
"Did he say anything?"
"Yeah, he just said, 'Afternoon'. But it was the way he looked at me. It was this real smirky, sexual leer. I got the creeps immediately. I finally had to say, excuse me, to get him to move. Then he stayed there while I went up and picked up my mail. And when I got upstairs," her voice broke and tears came into her eyes, "I found this in the mail."
Sam took the frightened woman into her arms. "Shh. Shh. We're not going to let anything happen."
"I don't care if they slash my tires, but I'm scared of pain, Sam. I don't do well with pain."
Sam's stomach clenched. She bowed her head down and kissed Annie, then tucked the blond head under her chin and held her closely.
"I'm not going to let anything happen to you. Trust me, Annie. They won't get to you." She stepped away and steered Annie to the seats inside the station. "What did this guy look like?"
Annie described the tall, lanky, shaggy haired man.
Buddy's eyes widened. "That sounds like Henry Trent."
Sam ran a hand over her face. "I knew that son of a bitch had his hands in this! Okay. We have to let Linny know you got this. If you got one, others have probably gone out, too. Annie," Sam reached a hand over and laid it on Annie's knee. "I think you should go to your place and get some things, and you should stay with me for the next few days. I can keep you safe. Just trust me. Do you want to do that?"
Annie shook her head, "But, Sam, I'll just be putting you in danger."
"Sweetheart, I'll be perfectly safe. I can take care of myself. What happened before, I tell ya it was that damn crowbar. If he wouldn't have got me that first lucky blow... And, Annie, there are people in place to help us out. But I can guard you better at my place than if you're alone in your own apartment."
"I'll feel better if I'm with you."
"Then that's what we'll do."
Buddy went home with Annie to get the things she'd need to move into Sam's, and Sam felt her body break down in waves of trembling. She went to the phone and called Linley about Annie's letter, then started calling and organizing Protectors.
By seven that night Linley called to report that six letters had been received. Sam called the Protectors who were all stunned. They did not have the resources to protect six people. Eddie and Peter started their phone calls around the state immediately. They thought they could have people coming in by the next day. Linley, who had been in touch for weeks with Gay National and Women Gathering, called again to report that both organizations were sending national representatives to Boffler to begin looking into how their groups could help out in town. She had notified the police about the new round of letters, also the local and state press that were in town. Annie sat on Sam's couch trying to concentrate on a book while Sam paced and worked on the phone.
Around ten the phone calls stopped, and Sam went around the house closing curtains and making sure they were battened down. She stopped in the livingroom by the couch. "You ready for bed?"
"Yeah. Don't know if I'll be able to sleep, though."
"You'll be safe. We're not going to let anything happen."
"Sam," Annie laid down her book and turned off the light beside her leaving her and Sam in darkness, "Are you and Mare and Eddie and the rest doing something about us people who are getting letters?" She stood and found Sam's hand, taking it in her own. "I know you want it secret. I shouldn't even ask. But I wanted to let you know, I love you. And I love the Boffler gay community. You are all so brave, and you take care of us." She moved into Sam's arms and kissed her and hugged her closely.
They went upstairs to Sam's room. Annie went to the window and stood staring out. Sam came quietly up behind her, reached around her and closed the curtains. "You shouldn't stand by the windows, sweetheart."
Annie looked around then turned into Sam's arms. "I can't believe people are doing this."
Sam pulled the little nurese closer. "Madness, isn't it?" She kissed the blond tresses softly. "You'll be okay. We're prepared."
"It's the hatred. Why does someone hate me badly enough to do this? All of us can ask that question, but, I mean, it really hits home when you open that letter with your name on it."
"They're sick, Annie. All hate and anger. A few of them find each other, get each other all heated up, and they come up with violence."
"But they have so much support. The elections, all the letters in the papers..."
"They're still the minority. Just a noisy minority. We have to believe that. This is all going to work out in the end."
"I don't think I could get through this without you."
"I'll never let them hurt you. I'll never let them do that." Sam pulled Annie close and kissed her hair. "Let's go to bed."
They shed their clothes and Sam crawled into bed while Annie set the alarm to go to work at four in the morning. Annie crawled in and snuggled close to Sam, putting her head on a strong shoulder and wrapping her arm across Sam's stomach. Surprisingly, without further conversation, they fell asleep like that.
In the morning, Annie woke up to a blaring ringing and Sam thrashing around in bed to get to the alarm. It was four a.m. Sam lay back in bed with a groan. "This is insane."
Annie sat up in bed and ruffled Sam's hair.
"Do you have a minute?" Sam asked.
"Come 'ere." Sam pulled Annie back down beside her and snuggled close to her beautiful body. For a moment they got lost in kisses. Finally Sam said sleepily, "I'll take you to work."
"Do you think that's necessary?"
"Let's not take any chances, okay?"
They lay together silently until Annie realized Sam had drifted off again. She lifted herself up on an elbow and kissed Sam's nose before sitting up and dragging herself out of bed. She couldn't believe how tired she was. She was going to have to be careful to get enough sleep to stay sharp at work. My god, this was all so crazy. After her shower, she felt better. She shook Sam gently awake and dressed as Sam stumbled out of bed and pulled on shorts and a t-shirt. They ate a quick breakfast and headed out the door. In the darkness, Sam could see no one, but she knew that Mare was somewhere on the lawn and would go home now that Annie was going to work. "I'll pick you up at four." Sam said softly as they got in the truck.
"Alright. Be careful today."
"I'm not in any danger, love."
"I'm just scared of everything right now."
"We'll be okay. Everybody will be okay. Don't worry."
Annie kissed Sam before slipping out of the car and going into the hospital. It felt good, reassuring to see Tam and Nettie's faces. And she was surprised at how easily she concentrated on work, like having a strong anchor in troubled seas. When end of shift rolled up, she returned to the outside world like a penitent turned out of their sanctuary. Only the thought of Sam's strong, safe presence waiting for her gave her relief from her fear.
The next morning, a guy in a suit parked his car to the side of Adam's Auto Shop and walked in the big overhead door to where Sam bent over the engine of her latest sick car. "Samantha Adams?"
Sam pulled out from under the hood and just looked at him in surprise.
"Are you Samantha Adams?"
"Sam Adams, yeah."
He flipped a badge and ID out of his jacket pocket. Dillon Trader. FBI. Sam's heart lurched. The feds were finally coming in. "I'd like to ask you some questions about the hate crimes happening here in Boffler."
Sam pulled a grease cloth out of her hip pocket and wiped off her hands. "Sure. Here. Let's go into the station where we can sit down."
Sam led him to the office next door, and pulled some quarters out of a can that sat on the counter. "Soda pop?"
"No thank you."
Sam put some coins in the machine and got herself a Coke. "I'm sure glad to see you. We're getting pretty beat up here. And we're getting pretty scared."
Agent Trader was grave and professional. He questioned Sam about her beating, then asked if she had thoughts about who was doing the violence. They talked for three quarters of an hour as Sam told him everything she knew and everything she suspected about the violent events. She suggested he should talk to Linley Colridge and wrote Linley's number down on a scrap of paper for him. She thanked him for helping them out. Then finally he offered her a card with the number of his Wallace office on it, she wished him good luck, and he left the shop.
Buddy had hovered around the conversation listening closely to the exchange, all a-tingle that an FBI guy was actually right here standing in the station. When Agent Trader left, he turned to Sam excitedly. "He looked like just like a G-man, didn't he, Sam? Just like on TV. I'd a knowed he was a G-man from thirty feet away. They're gonna get the feds in here, snoopin' all over the place, and bust this thing wide open."
"I sure hope so, Buddy." Sam picked up the phone and punched in a number. "Sounds like there's only this guy here so far, and he's only doing a check up, but we can hope it leads to more." She tilted her head attentively to the receiver. "Linny! The FBI is in town!"
Off work, Annie and Sam sequestered themselves inside the house, puttering around, playing board games while heckling each other, snuggling on the couch exploring each other's bodies. Annie read while Sam painted. Sam began teaching Annie the basics of taekwon do. No danger intruded into the peace, and it began to feel like a dreamy vacation off earth somewhere. Sam kept thoughts of the Sunday surveillance of the militia rally at the back of her mind. She wanted Annie's days to be as peaceful as possible, and she realized that she herself needed the peace.
They went to the ballgame on Saturday and were surprised to see cable news trucks there. There was a lot for the media to cover. The 'cowboys' were there looking cool and tough in their leather ensembles. And the worst violence so far swept the games. Along with the usual crowd of family and friends who filled the bleachers, a dozen unknowns piled in, and just as the first games got underway, a rain of bottles and M-80's poured onto the field and dugouts. The crazies dropped down from the bleachers and began running for their cars. The Cowboys gave chase, tackling many of the offenders into the dust to hold for the law. Fights broke out. The dugouts emptied as the players poured onto the field to tend to the injuries of those who were caught in explosions of turf and shrapnel. It was a stunning moment of war before the cop cars squealed into the park and quiet finally returned to the field. A couple officers talked to the coaches of each team telling them that they were closing down the games. Angry cries of opposition rose from the players gathered around their coaches listening to what the cops were saying. They would not be stopped by the sons of bitches! There was nothing the cops could do. The games went on. This fiery resistance was recorded by the press along with all the rest of the drama. That evening, stories began running on TV about the hate erupting in the little Montana town. The violence in Boffler became national news. Annie watched the story unfold with as much shock as she had felt at the game. The images captured the moments powerfully conveying the bloody opposition that was splitting the town. Sam watched the piece edgily, then rose to pace again aimlessly around the room. She wandered back to the kitchen and opened the refrigerator door bending over to scan the contents. Annie, aware of Sam's edginess all night, followed her down the hall and came and leaned on the open refrigerator door while Sam studied the interior.
"Honey, what's happening?" Annie asked.
Sam pulled out the carton of milk and closed the door. She shook her head and shrugged. "Aw...."
"You've been nervous all evening. Is it the game?"
"Those M-80's could have killed somebody." Sam grabbed a glass and poured herself some milk.
"They come so close, don't they?" A chill passed through Annie's stomach as she remembered the threat she was under.
"They're crazy. We're fighting psychopaths."
"We'll get this turned around. The FBI will help now. There can't be that many psychopaths."
"They'll be coming in by the busload. Who do you think is coming to the militia rally?"
The chill in Annie's stomach grew and a biting wave of nausea swept her.
Sam continued grimly. "Crazies from all over the country are coming in. Hundreds of the craziest bastards in the country coming to beat up gays in Boffler."
"Do you think so, Sam?"
"I think we're going to need an army to protect us!"
Tears came to Annie's eyes. It seemed impossible. Sam looked over and saw the glistening cheeks. "I'm sorry, love." She took the little body in her arms. "I'm so sorry. I've been edgy all day. I don't know who's coming into the militia rally. I just get ideas that scare me."
"If you're right, how can we possibly protect ourselves?"
"Leahy will have to call up the national guard. We'll go under martial rule. Doesn't seem possible, does it?"
Sam felt the muscles in the back of her neck tighten with the tension. Finally she said, "Let's not think about it, okay? The FBI's coming in, and the militia meeting probably doesn't have a thing to do with us at all. We're just scaring ourselves, being silly. Let's just forget about everything and have a peaceful night." She didn't believe this; she only wanted to sooth Annie who had started trembling in her arms. But Annie didn't believe it either; she knew Sam was just trying to sooth the trembling that had taken control of her suddenly. She loved her for it.
The friends of Eddie and Peter, fighters from around Montana and neighboring states, were coming in. There were twelve so far. Men and women well versed in martial arts, champions in competition, taking vacation time from their jobs so they could come to Boffler Creek and spend their nights crouching silently in the shadows of someone's home in case crazy people snuck in to do violence. Even with the influx of support, the Protectors found no relief from their own vigil tasks. Every other night they were scheduled to guard a recipient of the 'You're Next' letters.
Sam chafed in the frustration of still having her cast on and being unable to help. Finally, a few days before it was scheduled, she saw Dr. Bazen and insisted he remove the damned thing or she was going to take a hammer to it. When Annie got home from work, Sam was waiting for her in the studio, painting in the nude.
Annie's mouth dropped open as she stepped into the large room and beheld her lover in all her splendor, muscular shoulders moving as she worked with brush and palette over a new piece. She wore no cast.
"Wow!" Annie stuttered.
Sam looked around and laid down her brush and palette. "You're home. I've been waiting for you."
"Thank you, sweetheart."
"Your cast is off."
Sam came over to Annie, kissed her lightly on the lips, and started undressing her. Annie stood compliantly while Sam moved down the buttons of her blouse. "Did you take off your cast yourself, or did Bazen do it?"
"Dr. Bazen was very obliging once I told him I'd crack it with a hammer if he didn't do it."
"I love coming home and finding you nude, darling, but to what do I owe this auspicious welcoming?"
"This hand," Sam said, stopping to hold up her left arm and wiggle the fingers. "Has never touched you. Do you realize that?"
"And the first thing I want it to touch, is your naked back." The shirt dropped on the floor and Sam quickly unfastened Annie's bra and discarded it on top of the shirt. Annie stood before her naked from the waist up. Sweet gods, incredibly beautiful. Sam took a moment to revel in the beauty of Annie's breasts, then took the little nurse in her arms, kissing her deeply and running the freed and delighted hand over the velvety flesh of her back. So smooth, so soft. It was a feast of pleasure. She ran her hand up and down Annie's side, then pulled back to lay her hand on Annie's cheek, oh so softly running her thumb across Annie's lips, running her fingers over the brow and around the curve of the perfect ear. She ran her fingers through Annie's hair, pulling the blond head to her and taking soft lips with her own. "This is so nice."
Annie hummed her agreement as tongues caressed delicately. Sam slipped around behind her, never releasing the cacoon of her arms. "And this, dear hand," Sam whispered in a convenient ear, "is Annie's breast." The hand tickled up Annie's stomach and onto her left breast, cradling the luscious lobe, running lightly over the pink nipple which stiffened sensitively, kneading gently. Sam and Annie issued moans together. Sam dropped her hands down, unsnapping and unzipping Annie's slacks, slipping them down with her underwear. She knelt and slipped off Annie's shoes and the rest of her clothes, and kissed her way up the back of Annie's legs and back until she stood behind her lover again. "And this," she whispered, "is Annie's beautiful mound." Her left hand slid down for the first time and fingers slipped into the curls at the apex of her legs. Annie opened her legs to let the hand explore as Sam wished. Sam tickled her fingers between the parted legs and felt the velvet of the soft nether lips. Annie was wet, and Sam felt her own body respond to this erotic sensation. With her fingers she parted the lower lips and gently stroked the area from opening to clit. Annie's head fell back against her shoulder with a breathless sigh.
They wound up upstairs in bed after Annie moaned she could no longer stand. When they were finished, Sam's newly healthy hand and both partners were luxuriously satiated and contented.
At one o'clock in the morning, the phone rang. Sam awoke immediately and fumbled for the receiver. Darnell was on the other end. "They just tried to get Les. Five of them. We stopped them; three of 'em got away, but the cops have the two we caught."
"Good work, Darnell. I'll put out the alert."
Sam disconnected and Annie rolled to an elbow. "What is it?"
Sam punched in another number. "They just hit Les Court. We caught two of them! We finally have somebody to question!" She called the crews keeping vigils at four other locations and informed them that the crazies were on the move tonight. Then she got up and started pulling on her clothes.
"Where are you going?" Annie asked.
Sam came and knelt at the bed taking Annie's hand. "If they hit Les tonight, they may be trying to hit everybody. I'm going to spend the night downstairs. We'll turn the phone off up here so you can sleep."
Suddenly Annie was very frightened. "No, don't leave, Sam. I don't think I'll be able to sleep anyway."
"Honey, I... I want to be downstairs if anything happens. I can handle it better down there."
"Then I want to come with you. You sleep on the couch; I'll get a sleeping bag and sleep on the floor."
"I'm not going to sleep. You sleep on the couch."
They went downstairs and Sam stepped outside to let the vigil keepers around Annie know that Les had been hit. When she came back in, Annie was snuggled on the couch. Sam came and tucked her in gently. "Go to sleep, love. I'll wake you up at four to go to work, okay?"
"This is really scary, Sam."
"I know, darling. But we're not going to let anything happen to you."
The next hour was punctuated by incoming calls. All four remaining sites outside of Sam's house were hit. Two more attacks had been thwarted, but at the homes of one lesbian and one gay, the Protectors had been overpowered by a host of crazies and the victims had been reached. Vic Sievers' champion collies had been shot and killed, and Karen Bowden was simply gone. The latter news raised the hair on everybody's neck. Annie finally got some sleep in the late hours of the night. Sam woke her a half an hour later than usual at four-thirty. As the green eyes blinked to consciousness, Sam whispered, "I'll take you to work. You'll be safe there."
"Are you going to be safe? Are they going to stay here and guard you?"
"I'll be fine."
"Sam, they hit everbody but us, didn't they?"
Sam couldn't keep the grimness from entering her eyes. "Yeah. Didn't hit us tonight."
"Does that scare you?"
"It doesn't mean anything. Indicates that the hit groups work independantly, is all."
"I was afraid maybe it meant they were going to try something special."
"Doesn't necessarily mean that, love. But whatever happens..." Annie felt Sam's hand begin to shake, "Whatever happens, I am not going to let anybody get to you."
Sam's morning was devoted to debriefing all the Protectors regarding the attacks the last night. Much to the intense relief of everyone who knew about the events, Karen Bowden showed up physically safe though deeply shaken. She had been taken into the woods by five hooded men who tied her to a tree, then stepped back with their rifles and shot rounds of blanks at her. This had gone on for an hour. After all riflemen had shot their rounds at her, they came to her calling her every filthy name in the book and told her that they'd had their fun with her and now they were going to kill her. She hadn't known until she'd been brought back to her home and let go with the warning to get the fuck out of Boffler whether she was going to be killed or not. Each Protector wondered aloud with Sam why Annie hadn't been hit with the others. Everyone agreed with Sam that it meant that something special was being planned. They had a lot of fighters gathered with Eddie and Peter's friends, and they decided to concentrate all their power on Sam's house, the full contingent of twenty people splitting into two shifts and taking every other night. That would mean ten people guarding the house at all times. Surely the crazies couldn't break through such a shield.
But Sam only got more and more scared as she talked with her comrades. Maybe they were going to hit Annie at the hospital where the Protectors couldn't get in to secure her. Maybe they were crazy enough to send in a team in broad daylight when the Protectors wouldn't be around. Maybe, maybe, maybe! Finally Sam called Linley Colridge and asked if she could get in to see her semi-professionally.
Linley was, by training, a counseling psychologist. She still carried a small patient load, though most of her time now was spent on teaching and heading the Women's Studies program. At the sound of Sam's voice, Linley decided to clear her afternoon schedule and see Sam at once. It was not the first time since this violence started that she had made time to counsel someone. More and more people had come in to her, and she could not turn them away. Her days had become very full. But Sam was someone special, and it concerned Linley that her strong friend sounded so desperate.
Sam came in tense, giving Linley a cursory smile and throwing herself into the easy chair in the big office.
"'What seems to be the problem, Sam?"
"Linny, I... I'm having trouble holding it together."
Linny's expression grew serious. "What's happening?"
"Too much... I don't even know where to start."
"How long have you been feeling like this?"
"A few days."
"Anything happen a few days ago?"
Sam looked down at her big hands, at the fingers fidgeting distractedly. "For the first time in my life, I told someone I loved them."
Linny crossed her legs and leaned back in her chair, absorbing herself in the session. "I see. Annie, I presume." Sam nodded her head without looking up. Linny sighed. "That's a biggie, Sam. Especially for you."
"And these are difficult times to be starting a new relationship. Uncertain," Linny prodded gently.
Sam snorted and rubbed her forehead. "Yeah. That's part of it. See, I... I encouraged the relationship. I encouraged her to come out." Linny watched a wave of trembling go through Sam. "She'd only been in town two weeks. Nobody knew her. Nobody knew that she was gay."
"And now Annie has gotten one of the threatening letters," Linny lead her into what she surmised was the heart of the problem.
A tear made its way down Sam's cheek. "They hit everybody else last night," she said. She dropped her elbows on her knees, face in her hands. "I have people watching her all... all the time. A bunch of us started a protection group; we watch all the gays who get letters. We stopped three of the attempts just last night. They hit everybody but Annie. All on one night. Now, it's like a thunderstorm and you're just waiting for the next clap of thunder. I don't know why they haven't tried to get Annie. Except they must be planning something special. They know we're waiting for them now. They know how we operate. They're going to be prepared. It... oh, it just gets worse." She got up to pace.
"Sammy, can I get you something to drink? Coffee, tea?"
"No, I'm fine."
"Just take your time."
"Henry Trent is in on all this, I'm pretty sure. You know the bad blood between us. I'm afraid... I'm afraid he's planning something special for Annie because he knows we're together. Something we can't stop."
Linny watched the long, lean body before her tremble in agony. 'You have a lot on your plate, Sam."
"And something else, Linny."
"When I went into the hospital after those guys got me in the shop, Annie was wonderful. I don't know how it happened, Linny. I fell in love with her the first time I opened my eyes and saw her. I could feel myself falling. I flirted with her like crazy. I did everything I could to make her notice me. And she did. And then I started seeing her. We'd go out. I..." Sam turned away and struggled with the words as though they were nearly too bitter to speak. "I took her to the Rattler. The GAY BAR for chris'sake! I OUTED HER, Linny! And then, when she got the letter, I had her move in with me! So every damn bigot watching knows she's gay and she's with me!" Sam's voice fell so softly it was barely audible. "I sabotaged her in every way I could. And now I'm scared I'm not going to be able to keep her safe." Sam's voice broke and more tears came. "And I just can't hold it together anymore."
Linny sat perfectly still. A hundred thoughts skittered through her mind. "Sam..." she spoke carefully, "I know you. You are a sensible and prudent person. But you're making yourself out to sound like some rash, selfish son of a bitch."
The tears poured out now, coursing down her cheeks, and Sam buried her eyes behind a hand.
Linny went on. "Because right now, you feel like a rash, selfish son of a bitch, but, Sam, that's not you. And we are going to go over this slowly, and I'm going to show you just how trustworthy and responsible and wonderfully human you've been."
Sam collapsed into a chair, her head bowed down into the shelter of her arms, sobbing. Linny ached to go take her in her arms and comfort her, but she sat still in her chair and applied her professional skills to this woman who was on the razor's edge.
They talked for another hour and a half, until Sam at least intellectually could see that she was not to blame for what was happening to Annie. That she was exerting herself in every way to safeguard Annie. Linny asked if she could schedule Sam for the next day. "I'll take it out in trade with you, okay?" Linney grinned, but Sam stared numbly. "Yeah. Yeah. Thanks, Linny." Sam left the office, closing the door behind her, leaving the counselor to grieve over what was happening in their poor little community, and all the pain it was bringing to her. Terrible, tragic evil was at work in Boffler, and everyone was being swept up in it. And she was going to fight for one soul after another. It was going to take everyone in town to stop this evil that was brewing.
After four days, Sam and Darnell slipped into their bug sites and secreted out the tapes again. They went back to Sam's, sat at the kitchen table with a couple of soda pops and turned on the tape from Henry's house to see what turned up. It was frustrating when they got the sound of Henry entering his house and switching on the radio, followed by two hours of loud, irritating music. Half way through the tape, it was clear that the phone rang and Henry answered, but they could not make out what he said even with playing the segment back several times. Clearly, taping the house might be futile, they realized. They'd wind up with hours of music or television and nothing incriminating or suggestive of what was planned for those receiving letters. They decided not to bug the house again.
The tape from the shack was a different story entirely. The conversation they picked up was tantalizingly interesting without being fully incriminating. The first five minutes was filled with miscellaneous sounds which they agreed were probably racoons coming into the shack and rummaging around for remnants of food left among the garbage that cluttered the place. Then they heard the sound of the door slamming, and boot steps across the floor. They heard a beer can popped. Then the door slammed again, and they heard Henry greeting someone. No names were used. The two conversed casually about the quality of fishing being good for the time of year, and the size of catches they had made recently. Then the door slammed again and a third party entered. Sam could recognize Henry's voice as he heartily greeted the newcomer, "Booger!" The three voices overlapped in aimless conversation. The door slammed again and it sounded like several people came in from the round of greetings that arose. Finally, Henry's voice sounded above the others.
"Quiet down. Quiet down, now. We got a lot to talk about."
Sam and Darnell sat forward in their seats. Apparently the first thing that had happened in the shack was this meeting, and they were going to get to hear ninety minutes of it.
"Joe, you got figures on how many people are coming for the rally?"
"They think it's going to be more than they expected. They're getting reponses from all over the country. Every state so far. The thing that's so great is, there's going to be a lot staying around afterward for brainstorming."
"Fuck, we're putting something together that's gonna change this whole godammed country. And everybody senses that! That's why they're all so excited."
"I can't believe we're actually pulling this off. I mean, this is big!"
"It's damn big, Dawson. New way of keeping your community clean. It's the voice of the people! And we need that in America. The government isn't the voice of the people! Politicians don't give a damn! They're just earning big money and looking out for themselves. The people have to act. That's our whole message. People have to take their own action to make their communities the way they want. Fuck government! We don't need government!"
A chorus of voices seconded Henry's remark; it started becoming clear that Henry was the leader and, indeed, the visionary of this group, and that the group was not just a clan of rowdy's raising hell against people they hated, but a revolutionary cadre with an agenda for social discourse that amounted to terrorism. Sam and Darnell were forced to stop the tape frequently to hoot angrily about how intellectually bankrupt the notions on the tape were. Visions of life in the minds of people who could not comprehend the diversity of deeply held alternative visions that existed and competed around and among them. Who could not comprehend the total destabilization of social relations that would arise from the implimentation of their agenda. Their imaginations could carry them no further than imagining a world that was like they wanted it to be. A world run by the rules they believed in, where nonconformists were harassed into submission, run out of town, thrown in prison, or... worse.
As the tape rolled on, it was revealed that Henry's ideas would be presented sometime during the rally. The main business of this meeting was to arrange for volunteers to help run the rally and house incoming leaders from other regions of the country with whom Henry particularly wanted to make contact. It frustrated the two Protectors that Henry wasn't talking about this group's involvement in the violence in Boffler. They knew he was the ringleader, but nothing came forward on the tape. After an hour, the meeting broke up, and the last half hour of tape was made up of racoons scuttling through the trash. Sam called the FBI and told them the names that they had gotten from the tape. It felt good. Like the noose was finally beginning to close around the necks of the crazies.
After Darnell left, Sam went over to the shop and worked until Annie came home. They had already, in a few days, set up a routine. Annie would come home and go right to the shop where she would find Sam greasy, deep inside the hood of a vehicle or under a vehicle which was raised high on the hoist. Today Sam had her nose under a hood, and she quirked an eye up in Annie's direction and grinned when she heard the merry hello. "Nurse Annie! All ready for your weekend!"
"Free as a bird. While you, poor drudge, are still hunched over your work, toiling away."
"Us car doctors don't get to keep the comfy hours of you people doctors. We have to work for a living."
"And get dirty," Annie added coming close to wipe a streak of grease off Sam's cheek.
"Part of the fun." Annie bent over carefully so as not to get her work whites dirty and kissed Sam's head. "Hey, Buddy," Sam went on, "Tell Annie what you heard today."
Buddy had wandered in from the station's office when Annie arrived and now he came up to her and started talking with dead serious excitement. "My brother Rooster talked with one of the guys who beat up Sam! A guy from over in Keeler. Denny Fraker's his name. He told Rooster straight out that he was there that night. He was one of the guys holdin' Sam up!"
Annie's eyes opened wide. "My god!"
"And then, he tried to get Rooster to join him and some of the guys in goin' out one day and gettin' one of the gays for hisself!"
Annie was nearly dumbstruck. "I can't believe he was talking about that."
"Well, he was drunk in a bar over in Keeler. Rooster goes over there to play pool. He knows a lot of the guys over there. They all hate gays, sorry, Annie, hate to say that in front of you, but they do, so Rooster for years just shrugged it off and went along with them. So they all thought Rooster was one of 'em. And this here guy, he was drunk and tellin' the whole crowd about it. Rooster was askin' all sorts of questions, tryin' to find out who was in charge of it all. The guy didn't know! He says nobody who makes the attacks knows who's back of it all! Ain't that secretive? A friend of his, Little Jeffers, Little's from Boffler, Little asked him one day if he wanted to get together with some guys and make trouble for gays over here in Boffler. That's how Fraker found out about it. An' it's all he knows. Little wouldn't tell him how he found out about it, just that Little was supposed to get together some guys who wanted to raise a little hell. So one day, Denny, he got a phone call tellin' him to meet with some guys at Bob's Bar downtown 'cause they was gonna go do no-good to some homo. And when he got there, one of the guys said they was gonna come beat up Sam. And Rooster said this Fraker guy was really happy they was gonna beat up Sam Adams 'cause he said Sam needed it. Damn, Sam, it just makes me sick to say that. But at least the cops can get this guy and Little Jeffers now."
Sam had pulled out from under the hood and was wiping her hands on a grease cloth. "Doesn't sound like he knows very much, though."
"Jeffers does, though," Buddy said excitedly, "If they can get him to talk."
"He didn't know anything about Henry Trent being involved. And, Buddy, Rooster probably shouldn't go to the cops yet anyhow. Fraker tells Rooster in a bar, and all of a sudden the cops come and pick up him and Little, those guys are gonna think Rooster squealed on 'em. And they'll come lookin' for him."
"Rooster don't care, Sam. He just wants to help out. He told this guy that he'd maybe like to go out sometime with some guys. He told me he could spy on 'em. Maybe find out who all's in on it. Maybe catch Henry."
"Well, Buddy, then he for sure can't go to the cops. The cops can't pick up Fraker or Little, or Fraker might figure out it was Rooster who fingered him. Bingo! His cover's blown! He's not gonna be able to do anybody any good."
"It could of been anybody at the bar, though, Sam. This Fraker was tellin' everybody. Rooster don't think this guy will think it was him."
Sam shook her head doubtfully. "Well, tell Rooster to be careful. These guys are sick. He's got to understand this could be dangerous."
"Oh, Rooster's gonna do real good. He's no dumby. He's the smart one in the family. He'll be fine."
Sam tossed the grease cloth into a barrel. "I'm going to take a break, Buddy. I'll be up at the house."
Sam and Annie walked out of the shop without another word spoken. When they were halfway to the house, Annie looked with concern at the tall mechanic. "Sam, is Rooster any smarter than Buddy?"
"Oh, dear. Sam, if he goes undercover with them, how likely is it that he's going to be caught?"
"Buddy's his brother and everybody knows Buddy and me are friends. If one of them gets picked up by the cops or anything goes wrong for them, Rooster's gonna be their first suspect! We gotta stop them from taking Rooster in."
"Let's get in the house. I need to talk to you about something."
They went into the house, and Sam led the way back to the kitchen where she sprawled into a chair in the breakfast nook. Annie took a chair beside her and kicked off her shoes after a long day on her feet. She regarded Sam wide-eyed. "What's up?"
Sam didn't look at her. "I have some people coming over tonight."
"Ah. One of those secret evenings."
"Yeah. But I don't want you to leave. This is your house right now, and I don't want you to have to leave when we all get together. So I'll just let you in on the secret."
Annie felt her spine tingle.
"You know already, really; you guessed. Some of us around here, some of us gays and lesbians who are black belts in some martial art or another..."
"You're protecting the people who get 'You're Next' letters, aren't you?"
"I didn't know for sure. But I suspected. The other night I realized that Peter and Eddie and you and Mare all were martial arts masters. And I asked myself what a bunch of fighters might be doing together. And protecting us who were getting the letters came to mind."
"Yeah. We're trying to protect our people. There's eight of us, Eddie and Peter, Mare and El, Darnell, Mark O'Hara and Harry and me. And Eddie and Peter are calling in a bunch of their friends to come to town and help out, so we can keep everything covered. And we... we also do a little snooping around."
Sam's voice dwindled away uncertainly, and a chill played again on Annie's spine. "Snooping around?"
"Yeah. That's what the meeting tonight is all about. We put a bug, a listening device, in Henry Trent's house and in this old shack he has down in Bogg's Holler..."
Annie felt icy fingers moving in her guts.
"Darnell and I picked them up this morning and listened to the tapes. They held a meeting in the shack. We got some names and information. Nothing about the harassment, but apparently they're gonna take part in this rally that's coming up at the militia encampment. We're all gonna be talking about it tonight. And I'll tell everybody that Rooster is getting mixed up with these guys, and we'll figure out how to stop them from using him. We can't let Rooster get involved. He'll wind up in the hospital. I'll feel responsible if anything happens to Rooster. He's only doing this 'cause Buddy and I are pals. He's doing it for Buddy and me."
"Sam, I'm sure you know that what you've just told me is some really scary shit."
"We're careful. We can take care of ourselves."
"Alright. I won't say anything then. In fact, I'm gonna try really hard not to even think about it. It's just tied my guts up in knots."
"Nothing will happen. You don't need to worry, sweetheart."
"I'll make that my mantra." She looked deeply into Sam's eyes. "You guys are heros, you know?"
"We don't have anybody else to rely on. Cops can't help us. The FBI can't protect us. We have to protect ourselves."
"I know, love. I'm proud of you. And scared."
Sam got up and moved in behind Annie's chair and kissed the crown of her head. "Don't be scared. I'm going back down to the shop. Everybody's going to come over at seven. I'd like it if you joined the meeting. We could always use another head. You can be an honorary Protector."
"Yeah. I'll be the voice of caution and prudence."
"We particularly need one of those."
Sam grinned and bent down and kissed Annie's lips and sauntered back out the door and down to the shop.
That evening, the Protectors gathered at Sam and Annie's to review what Sam and Darnell had found on the tapes. Annie sat quietly while the others considered their new information and strategized. The Protectors pondered the information on the tape and agreed that a bug should go into the office up at the militia encampment. The rally was in two weeks, and clearly one thing on their agenda was going to be the harassment going on in Boffler. Mare, Harry and Sam agreed to plant the bug. Sam brought up the subject of Rooster, and after thoughtful conversation they went with a suggestion Annie made that Sam would find Henry Trent for a talk and let it slip that Buddy and his brother Rooster were her friends. None of them would let Rooster in if they suspected he was close to Sam. Rooster would deny it, of course, because he wanted to be a spy. But Sam would have thrown the cloak of suspicion over him, and that was all it would take to protect him from dangerous association with the crazies.
They sat around the picnic table out in Sam's back yard, drinking beer and getting philosophical. It was something like a game, they agreed, this creeping around, bugging the opposition, waiting in shadows to outfight the opposition. A game that their lives and happiness depended on. A game that their sweet days and evenings with friends depended on. A game that the integrity and worth of their very characters depended on.
"How do you think this will all wind up?" Eddie mused.
"We've gotta win," Sam sighed. "We can't let society start denying the worth of homosexuals again. Young gays have been growing up in that sick system for ever. We have to keep bringing acceptance and understanding into the world. We can't go back into the darkness."
El nodded her head. "You know, Sam. We really are just on the cusp of society accepting homosexuality. Only in the last thirty years or so. Or even in the last ten years. And it's still so shaky. Look at the military. Look at fundamentalist religion. Look at Trent and his crazies. Look at Texas! We still have enemies trying to take us down everywhere."
"We have to stay vigilant," Peter said. "We have to keep preaching and practicing tolerance. Opening eyes and minds. We're like the front guard for this cause, who have to bear the outrages of hatred and just keep working. This is where we're lucky we've got Linley, and you, Annie. She's so good at staying calm and enlightening people. And she keeps me balanced. I need her to keep reminding me of love. I'm afraid what might happen without her."
"It is incredible, in the face of all this madness and violence to have a voice calling us all to keep loving. It makes this such a stark spiritual battle," Annie added.
"Yeah, that's what it is. A battle between the forces of good and the forces of evil, between love and hate," Eddie mused.
They fell silent for a few moments, each lost in their own thoughts. The soft breeze of a Montana summer's evening teased their hair and faces. The distant sound of dogs and childern playing in lawns around the block came to them. The air was soft and fragrant. The long shadows were fading into darkness. All was peaceful. Almost like it used to be.
Mare broke the silence saying softly, "I wonder what things will be like in another hundred years."
"That's what we're fighting for now," Sam murmured.
The evening broke up with Mare, Harry and Sam arranging to get together in the wee hours of the morning to plant the bug up at the militia encampment. Sam and Annie bid their friends goodbye with their arms around each other's waists, then walked into the house to the breakfast nook. Annie dropped sleepily into a chair, and Sam slipped behind her bending down to wrap her arms around Annie's shoulder and lay her cheek on Annie's hair. "Good idea you had about what to do about Rooster. No matter what he does, they won't let him near them. You have a sneaky mind, love."
"Thank you, darling. You have a sneaky mind, too."
Sam brushed her lips lightly across Annie's hair and stood up. "You want a snack?"
"No. I think I'll just go to bed. I'm zonked."
"Oh, my poor little baby. I bet your feet hurt. I'll carry you upstairs and lay you in bed and take off your clothes and massage your feet."
Annie stood, finding Sam and slumping against her chest. "Carry me, honey."
Sam wrapped strong arms around her lover and lifted her up. Annie just closed her eyes and snuggled her face into Sam's shoulder. Sam carried her to the doorway of the kitchen. "Lift your little hand up and turn off the light."
Annie sleepily flipped the light switch, and Sam carried her through the darkness up the steps. She lay her lover down in bed and gently unbuttoned and removed her clothes planting soft kisses on exposed flesh as she went. Annie lay back, eyes closed, soaking in this luxury. She felt Sam's hands take her feet and massage deeply. It was heaven. "That feels so good." She floated on the sensations wending her way into peaceful sleep. Sam watched the breathing deepen and even and laid down Annie's feet, straightening the legs. She stood and looked at the small, naked body lit by faint moonlight. Annie looked so innocent, so vulnerable when she slept. Sam lay down on the bed, moving over her lover, holding her weight on her elbows, lowering her head so her cheek lay lightly on Annie's hair. She would never let anything hurt her. She would die for Annie. She would keep Annie safe with every ounce of her strength.
The alarm clock went off at three. Sam twisted quickly to turn it off, then lay back in bed trying to figure out why it was still dark. Oh yeah. She and Mare and Harry were going to place the bug. Annie reached over for her, still nearly asleep, wrapping her leg and arm over Sam's body, nuzzling her face into Sam's shoulder. Sam whispered, "Hey, sleepyhead. I've gotta get up."
"Oh, Sam, I wish this was just another morning in a peaceful world."
"That's what we're working on, love."
"I know." Annie sighed unhappily. "I'll make you some breakfast."
"No, babe. Stay here and sleep. We'll be back in about an hour. I want to find you here in bed, so I can crawl back in with you. I'll eat when I wake up later."
Annie lifted onto her elbow and looked down at her beautiful Sam. "I want you guys to be careful."
"There won't be anyone at the compound, honey. It's perfectly safe."
"Just be careful. Just promise me."
"We will be. Eddie and El are outside if you need anything."
"I just need you back home, here beside me."
"Okay, sweetie. Hour and a half. No longer. I promise."
Annie leaned down and kissed Sam's lips and moved off her, letting her up to slip away. She lay on her side, pulling Sam's pillow in close to her, and watched as her lover dressed in the shadows. The last thing Sam did was to come and kiss her lips softly. "Love you, darling."
"I love you, sweetheart."
She stepped into the shadows and was gone.
They climbed through the undergrowth of the old forest, making their way slowly to the encampment above. The deep darkness of the wood's floor made going hard, but they were close enough they no longer trusted using their flashlights. Their hands were their eyes now as they carefully made their way through tangles of wood ferns and fallen limbs by the faint moonlight that found its way through the leafy canopy above them. It was a great relief when they broke into the clearing around the compound and light from the setting moon illuminated their way. The first task was to find which building among the several that composed the compound served as the office. They split up and began slipping into dark structures from the north end of the complex to the south. Sam slipped out of a building that seemed to be a warehouse and heard the sound of a crow calling through the darkness. Mare had found the office. She slipped through shadows across the compound and gathered with her two confederates. Mare and Harry remained outside while Sam slipped in to place the bug. Inside, she used her flashlight to find a good location for the small recorder. A shelf holding models of old guns was covered with dust indicating it was never touched. She hid the bug behind one of the models and checked from all angles making sure their little spy was undetectable. Satisfying herself that the bug would be successful, she turned her attention quickly around the room. A sheaf of papers lay on a desk, and she bowed over it. Committee lists with rows of names. She began going through the papers looking for names she knew, most particularly, Henry Trent's. A soft knock sounded on the door, and she tensed flicking off the flashlight. No other sound broke the silence, so Sam moved fluidly to the door and quietly opened it. There was no activity outside. She slipped out. Mare whispered to her from a patch of shadow at the end of the building's porch. She joined her friends behind the cover of a wall of clematis.
"They have guards. We just saw them cross the opening at the south end. They're over there on the west side now, beyond the buildings," Mare whispered.
"Well, let's go out the east side, through that field that leads down to the timbering road. Then we'll just follow the road back to the car."
"Sounds good." Mare agreed.
They had to move into the moonlight in order to get down off the porch and around to the back of the ring of buildings. Before moving, they surveyed the large inner courtyard. The mission had just gotten a lot tenser. Sam moved off first followed silently by Harry and Mare. She moved without stopping clear around the building to the shadows on the east side. They gathered there. They would check again up and down the clearing that ringed the compound before crossing it and running through a small windbreak of pine trees and into the field beyond. No movement was visible, so, at Sam's signal, they raced across the fifty feet of clearing and into the windbreak, across the ground carpeted softly with pine needles, to the edge of the field beyond. Sam immediately threw herself to the ground, and Mare and Harry followed suit. Fifteen feet in front of them, a small living tent was erected in the field. Beside it was another and another and another stretching from one end of the field to the other. The field was full of militia members camping out around the compound. They were caught between guards on one side and a field of crazies on the other.
Continued in part 6
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