-- 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
Sue HickersonSlowly, creeping on their bellies, Sam led the little troop back into the meager cover of the windbreak.
Mare was the first to speak. "Who in the hell are they?"
Sam responded. "I think they must be people coming to the rally. Coming early maybe to get in a little commando training. They're probably from all over the country."
Harry moved a little to avoid a pinecone that was pressing sharply right in her stomach. "So how are we going to get back to the car?"
"We'll have to go down the main road, won't we?" Mare said. "We can keep right to the edge of it inside the trees."
Sam agreed. "Yeah. And let's go down all the way to those lower fields and see how many cars are parked down there. See if it looks like these people are all from out of town."
The windbreak was narrow consisting only of a single row of trees. They would be clearly visible from either side as they moved down the fringe of the field and the fringe of the compound clearing. Mare whispered, "I hope nobody wakes up over in that field."
Harry whispered, "I hope those two guards are the only ones spookin' around."
Sam whispered, "I hope we get some good tape from that bug, 'cause I'd sure hate it if this trip was all for nothing."
The other two agreed, and together they slipped off down the line of the windbreak.
They were almost to the end of the compound when they saw the beam of a large flashlight sweeping across the trees before them. All three froze in their tracks.
"It's those guards coming around the compound." Mare crawled up close to Sam, and Harry joined them.
"We're going to have to get up a tree," Sam said.
"Oh, great!" Harry snorted softly. "Just give me a couple months to loose some weight!"
The stocky redhead looked into the tangle of fine branches that spread up from the trunk of the tree beside her.
"You'll make it," Sam urged. "Let's move!"
Harry took the tree beside her, and Mare and Sam ran to the next two and shimmied up painfully through the sharp branches that wove close together as they rose. She could see the flashlight beam sweeping over the ground through the thick needles. It came up along side them and passed by as the guards moved on down the perimeter of the compound. Slowly she climbed back down, the branches catching and tearing at her clothes and skin. Her feet reached the ground just as a sharp crack and heavy thud sounded behind her. She looked back to see Mare down from her tree running and bending down under Harry's tree. Sam looked quickly up the compound clearing. The guards were hidden in night shadows, but the lantern light continued to move away, so they hadn't been heard. She moved back to where Harry writhed on the ground. Bending over Harry's ear she whispered tensely, "Where do you hurt, Harry?"
Harry said nothing, just rolled from side to side on the ground gasping without taking in air.
"She got the breath knocked out of her, I think," Mare said softly. "Is that it, Har?"
Harry nodded her head gasping helplessly.
Sam laid a firm hand on Harry's shoulder. "Just wait a second. It'll come back. You're okay, Harry."
Finally, the redhead gasped air in deeply and rolled over onto her side panting heavily. Sam and Mare stroked her gently. "Take it easy, Harry," Mare said. "We're safe. We're okay."
Slowly, Harry gathered herself and pulled herself to her knees. "I knew I was gonna fall outa that dammed tree!" She whispered.
"You okay? Nothing else hurt?"
"I'm good to go, but I think my back is going to be feeling it later today."
Sam and Mare helped her up. They glanced quickly around them ascertaining that no one had been roused, then took off on down the windbreak moving slowly, giving Harry a chance to recover a bit more.
When they finally hit the tree line at the end of the field, they melted into the shadowed cover with relief. The sky was lightening. It was probably only half an hour till dawn. Slowly they made their way through the darkness under the trees till they reached the old timbering road which would lead them to their car.
"Maybe we should go on back, forget the cars this morning. Get Harry to bed," Mare said.
"No, guys. I'm good to do this," Harry insisted.
"You sure?" Sam pressed.
"Yes. Let's go see where those guys are from."
So the three passed down beyond the timbering road and toward the parking fields below.
Annie could not go back to sleep. She lay in bed thinking of Sam and the others making their way through the thorned tangles of a deep night woods, and wishing them well. She thought of guards who might be patrolling the area. Guards with rifles. Guards with dogs. Until she couldn't lay in bed any more, and went downstairs, pulling a book from the bookshelves and settling onto the couch with a cup of cocoa. The minutes dragged by. After an hour, she started getting hopeful that Sam would be back at any moment. It made it that much harder to wait as time seemed to stand still. Finally, she could read no longer. She began simply pacing the livingroom, waiting for the sound of Sam's car in the drive. Sam said she would be home in an hour and a half. At the latest. Promise. Only ten minutes were left. Was something wrong? Annie made a pot of coffee and carried it out into the backyard on a tray with cups and cookies. She could tell when she stepped outside that the sky was lightening. "El? Eddie? Are you out here?" The shadows by the side of the house rustled, and she could feel icy fingers move in her stomach even though she knew the emerging figure was a Protector.
"You're up early," El said softly.
"I can't sleep. Sam is supposed to be home already. I can't stop worrying. Here. I made you some coffee."
Annie set the service down on the picnic table and El poured herself a cup and took a cookie. "Sam's fine, honey. Don't worry. They'll be back when they're done."
"Then why did Sam promise an hour and a half?"
"Because that's how long it would take if nothing came up."
"That's why I'm scared. Something's come up."
"Annie, it hasn't even been an hour and a half since she left."
"There's nobody up at the camp. Nothing's gone wrong. Don't worry. Why don't you go round front and give Eddie some coffee."
A shiver went through Annie. "I can't stop the fears. I'm almost in a panic." Tears came. She turned and stepped into El's strong body and wrapped her arms around that strength for support.
El took the little nurse in her arms and stroked and patted her back. "Now, don't give in to the fears, Annie. We can't do our work if we give in to the fears. You have to be strong for Sam."
"Your Mare is with her, El. Aren't you scared? I don't know how you guys do it."
"We do it by knowing that we're going to be careful and avoid danger before we get into it. We're going to be prepared, and we're going to take care of ourselves and our friends. We're not afraid, Annie. We're all caution and sky high adrenaline. And damn fine fighters. There's no safer combination than that. Now. Go give Eddie a coffee break."
"Thank you, El."
"Sure. Thanks for the coffee and cookies."
Annie picked up the tray and made her way around front softly calling Eddie's name.
"Up here," Eddie called softly from the porch shadows. Annie went up with the early morning snack and found Eddie in the porch swing.
"I brought you coffee and cookies."
"Well, you're a sweetheart, Annie. What are you doing up so early."
"Waiting for Sam. She's supposed to be home about now. I let my fears get away from me and had to go bawl on El's shoulder for a little while."
"Oh, don't to that," Eddie laughed softly. "Fear is the enemy. It gives you adrenaline, which is good, but you have to be careful it doesn't steal your mind. You keep your head and only deal with what you have to deal with."
Annie set the tray on the porch railing and poured a cup for Eddie, bringing it to him with a couple cookies.
They sat and talked about the tape from Henry's shack and the coming militia rally and all the crazies who would come to town. Annie asked if Eddie thought there would be trouble, and Eddie's face grew dark as he answered truthfully that almost undoubtedly evil winds would blow in the town during the time the crazies were gathered. Annie closed her eyes and drew in a deep breath. She wanted the nightmare to end. She wanted to wake up and have it be the 'good old days' again. The sky lightened and the sunlight touched the treetops. With sunrise, El came around from the back of the house and joined Annie and Eddie on the porch. She watched Annie closely as they talked. The young woman kept looking down the street in the direction Sam's car would come, and her face gathered tension as the minutes passed. It was a half hour after Sam had promised to be home, but El knew a lot could have happened that would hold the threesome up but wouldn't endanger them greatly. She herself was wondering where they were; the trip should only have taken an hour. She felt an alert energy growing in her guts, but she wouldn't become strongly concerned for at least another hour.
The time came when the Protectors who secreted themselves through the night usually left for the day, but Eddie and El stayed on. Annie was up and pacing and she turned to her two friends. "It's getting late. You two should go home and get some sleep."
"No, no," El said. "We'll wait here till Sam gets back." She knew Eddie was feeling the same heightening of adrenaline she was. Every person on the porch was getting anxious to see Sam again. "How about I go in and perk us some more coffee?"
Annie was so grateful they were staying with her. She'd go stark raving mad without them. "I'll go with you, El." She said.
"And I'll go in and pee," Eddie grinned.
They all thought Sam would come pulling up while they were tucked away inside. But no one came, and they returned to their positions on the porch, Annie pacing nervously. The sun was fully up now, beautiful morning shadows laying across the small town vista. Cars were starting to move down the street, which drove Annie crazy as she froze and stared every time a car came from the west. El and Eddie checked their watches more frequently. Annie felt herself near to tears. She kept checking with El whether things were okay or whether they should begin worrying. El kept reassuring her that there was no reason to panic, but she finally acknowledged that she was becoming concerned. This panicked Annie. She could stand no more. She burst into tears. Eddie and El leaped to her, wrapping their arms around her, trying to comfort and sooth her. They were standing, cooing over the little nurse when Sam drove in the driveway. All three looked up and tore away to the truck as Sam stepped out. Annie flew into her arms sobbing, and Sam enfolded her in confusion. "Baby. Baby. What happened? Did they come for you?" Blue eyes wild with concern lifted anxiously to El and Eddie.
"You were supposed to be home an hour ago, champ," El said. "She's sick with worry."
"Oh, darling, darling, I'm here. I've got you. I'm fine. We ran into a few things we didn't expect. We had to check more things than we thought and hike about an extra hour through the woods."
Annie clutched her closely, small hands gripping the fabric of the torn black shirt Sam wore. "You said an hour and a half. You promised."
"I'm sorry, baby. I never dreamed it would take longer than that. I hoped you'd still be sleeping."
"I couldn't sleep, Sam. I just worried."
"I'm so sorry, love. I shouldn't have promised."
"It's alright you promised, Sam. You meant to be back then. It only gave me a precise moment to start panicking."
"I see." Sam laughed softly. "I'm so sorry, Annie."
"If El and Eddie hadn't been here, I don't know what I'd have done."
"Hey, thanks, you guys. You must be tired."
Eddie and El shook their heads. "We're fine," El said, "Just glad to see back in one piece."
"Actually," Sam said, "I'm glad you're here. We discovered a lot of crazies camping out in a field up there. They have about a hundred cars down in their parking fields. Lots of vans and busses. And the rally isn't for another two weeks. We've been wondering what everybody's doing here so early."
"They already have people camping in the fields?" Eddie asked.
"Hundreds of them, in a field up there. We nearly ran right into somebody's tent when we were trying to get away from the guards."
"There were two of them circling the compound. Whatever they're doing up there, they want to keep it secret."
"They're probably holding commando games. Strategy meetings. That kind of stuff." Eddie guessed.
El squinted, thinking it over. "Maybe somebody should go up there and scope out what they're doing."
Annie leaned against Sam comfortably now, soaking up the comfort of her closeness. She pulled reluctantly away and took up Sam's hand. "Why don't we go in, and I'll make you all breakfast."
That sounded good to everyone, so they trooped inside considering this new twist to events in Boffler.
Annie climbed on top of Sam the moment they crawled into bed. She lifted her hands up to Sam's hair and laid her head on Sam's shoulder. Every few seconds she would move her head just enough to kiss the flesh below her lips. She relaxed completely drinking in the comforting nearness of her lover with every pore of her naked body. The tall mechanic held her tenderly, drawing lazy circles on her back, dipping her head now and then to kiss the blond hair. No words were necessary. Their solace lay in this physical comforting of flesh embracing flesh. Without moving, they fell asleep.
The weekly women's softball games had become a barometer of the bigots' activity. As the teams and spectators assembled this week, they wondered what was in store for them. Alert eyes carefully scanned the faces of new arrivals at the parking lot and bleachers, looking for unknown, unfriendly faces. The Cowboys were out in force patrolling the field and parking lot. The new addition this week was a contingent of uniformed officers from the local police force. Six uniforms stood around the bleacher area while two more watched over the incoming traffic of vehicles.
Linley and Carol slipped into the bleachers next to Sam and Annie who were scheduled to play in the second games. They were not regulars at the weekly games and Sam shot Linny a quizical look as she bid them hello.
"I've come to cheer on the gladiators," Linny laughed. "I have a volume of Bond's Women's History in my handbag in case I need to beat off any lions."
"Well, we're all safe, then," Sam grinned.
The afternoon proceded peacefully, although throughout the games a train of cars, many with out of state license plates, pulled into the parking lot cruising slowly through it before driving off again. Annie hit a single and double and threw a runner out at second base. She revelled in her body's growing ability in the game. She loved the feeling of her limbs moving with smooth efficient skill to accomplish everything she wanted. It made her feel jubilant and alive. Sam marvelled at her fast development into an important part of the team. She really was a natural. To the surprise of everyone in attendance, there were no incidents, and the crowd finally broke up to go their separate ways.
Down at the Rattler, the talk was of the almost eerie peacefulness of the afternoon. With scores of crazies camped out in the woods up at the militia compound, everyone had expected something big. Everyone knew something big was surely going to happen with that many crazies assembling, but what and when?
Linley, who was a rare patron of the bar, took a sip of her white wine and leaned in over the table. "I wonder if the national press coverage is staying their hand right now. The national cable news has us on all the time, and the statewide papers have articles and letters everyday."
"Of course," Peter mused, "That might be something they want. All that national publicity. Good for recruitment."
"I think it was the cops presence that kept them away today," Eddie suggested tipping his cowboy hat far back on his head. "They were there. Driving through the lot all afternoon. They just didn't stay and do anything."
"Maybe the newbies from up in the fields were cruising around getting a lay of the land," Sam speculated. "Maybe next week they'll have something planned."
Linley leaned forward again. "I was talking to the mayor today. He says the Blood of the Lamb pastor has applied for an assembly permit for the militia encampment for that week. The surprising thing is the anticipated participants are listed to be a thousand people."
Everyone around the table opened their eyes and lowered their beers to stare at Linley, guts starting to churn as they considered her news.
"A thousand people!" Annie gasped. "They're assembling a thousand people?!"
Mare slouched back in her chair taking a slow draw of her beer. "Fasten your seatbelts, everybody. It's gonna be a bumpy ride."
El and Darnell and Sam decided they would go up early next morning and see what there was to see.
Eddie cleared his throat. "You know, Sam, now that we've stopped those two attacks, they know we're waiting for them. They know how we work. We've lost the element of surprise. What do you think they're going to do?"
Faces turned even darker. Sam inhaled deeply and blew the air out through pursed lips. "Maybe send in bigger forces. Try to overwhelm us."
"They know we'll call the cops as soon as we see them," Eddie figured. "Wouldn't matter how big their force was if the cops come with guns."
"Maybe they'll try their hits during the day," Peter offered.
"Or do drive by shootings," El added. "Use shotguns. Shoot up the houses. Never confront us at all."
"I'll tell you," Mare said looking at Annie, "I'm sure glad you're with Sam. It's gonna be hard to get by her."
Annie squeezed the thigh her hand was resting on. "When they hit me, at least they'll reveal the strategy they're going to try to use with you guys. It'll help us in the future."
"We're not going to let them get you," Darnell said.
The group was somber in consideration of what might lie ahead until Sam finally declared that she wanted to play pool now that her arm was out of the cast. So she and Annie grabbed a couple of cues and the rest gathered around the table while Sam blew Annie's socks off with a dazzling display of trick shots after which she bashfully brushed aside the delighted praise and insisted she could tell she was rusty. Then Annie pulled her to the dance floor and the rest of the evening was spent going crazy to music that blasted ear drums and raised the roof.
Around midnight, a slightly tipsy Sam and Annie ambled out of the bar in the company of six slightly tipsy Protectors, Harry, Darnell, Mark and three of the out of town volunteers. Sam stopped outside the door and looked up and down the sidewalk. Sure enough, Henry Trent leaned against the building to her right with three of his buddies. Sam left her party and sauntered over to him. Annie watched as the two talked together smiling and laughing with mean gleams in their eyes toward each other. Finally, Sam sauntered back and put her arm around Annie's shoulders. "He won't be using Rooster any," she said.
"You two looked pretty friendly."
Sam snorted mirthlessly. "We were using our 'I'll tie you up with your tongue if you touch me' faces. Merely a thin veil of civility laid over our hatred. We know we aren't going to go bowling together any time soon."
Annie chuckled and the group went on over to Sam's house. The vigil crew was left out on the lawn conferring in whispers among themselves, setting out the strategy for the night's vigil, while the two lovers slipped into the house and immediately found each other's arms.
"Hey, Montana Skinny," Annie whispered. She could feel Sam laugh silently in her arms. "You could make beau coup bucks at that game of pool if you wanted."
"Damn you're good!"
"You could make money dancing."
They tasted each others lips slowly. "We oughta start a saloon."
They giggled together. "You could sucker 'em in at the pool tables, and I'd be the dance hall girl."
"Annie in a fancy corset and cleavage. Whew! That'd draw 'em in. Mmmm, I like that picture."
"Maybe I'll be Miss Kitty for Halloween."
"Yeah, and I'll be Matt."
"Or Festus." They giggled again.
"You sleepy?" Sam asked leaning her forehead down against Annie's.
"No, but I want to go to bed."
"Why don't you make up the couch and I'll go get us some ice cream."
They had taken to sleeping together downstairs since the threat letter had come. Sam insisted on staying downstairs, and Annie insisted on being with her, so the couch had become their snug nest for now. It was comfortably wide enough for the both of them if they snuggled together, which was an attractive feature of the arrangement. And snuggling had become so much more satisfying now that Sam's cast was gone. It was like her left hand was trying to make up for time lost. Annie brought in two bowls of double fudge ripple. Sam had dimmed the lights romantically, and the night seemed made for cuddling. They slouched down on the couch, legs and shoulders touching affectionately.
"You know, they have a dance contest down at the bar every year," Sam said between mouthfuls of the icy treat.
"Nice prize, too. A weekend at a little bed and breakfast up near the border that caters to gay clientele."
"Oh, Sam! Let's start practicing! I want to go!"
"Yeah. Bofflerites know how to have fun. Something going on every minute."
"What else happens in Boffler?"
"Well, Boffler also has an annual Chicken Egg-stravaganza. That's coming right up in August."
Annie nearly snorted ice cream out her nose. "An Egg-stravaganza? I can't imagine."
"It's a hoot. You'll love it. And we have ice hockey leagues in the winter."
"You going to play?"
"Sure. I love hockey."
"I'll love watching you skim along the ice body slamming all my friends into the wall. You sexy thing. My little girlfriend gone butch and crazy."
"So what else does Boffler have?"
"Well, we always go all out for Christmas, and people come from all over northern Montana just to drive the streets and see the displays. Of course, all of us go crazy having to weave in and out of all the gawkers, but it makes Christmas really special for the kids. You should see the shop. Buddy and I have built up a pretty impressive display. And we have Boffler's annual Snow Ball. Big winter festival and town dance at the KC. All sorts of sking and ice skating and dog sledding. Of course, the town doesn't appreciate all us lesbians dancing at their Ball, so we have an annual dance over at the college called Sappho's Dream. Gets pretty steamy. Everybody comes dressy. Evening wear."
The thought of dancing with Sam at a fancy ball was so romantic it made Annie's mouth water. "I can hardly wait to see you."
"You can wear your Miss Kitty corset."
"I think I'll save Miss Kitty for Halloween."
A thought struck Annie and she scootched over and lay her head on Sam's strong shoulder. "Listen to us talk about our future together. A month ago, this is what I was dreaming about."
"Me, too. I'm so glad it's happened. I'm the luckiest person in the world. I have the sweetest, most beautiful lover I've ever seen."
"Do you believe in soulmates?"
"I don't know. Why?"
"This just feels so fated, Sam. Right from the first I was drawn to you. Like my heart knew you already and loved you."
'I think I know what you mean. I came to and saw you there like an angel and fell in love right then."
Annie took Sam's empty bowl and set it with her own on the coffee table. She pulled her legs up under her and turned her body to Sam and took the beautiful face in her hands. Longing for the sweetness of Sam's mouth, she drew close, licked the soft lips light as a feather, then melted into a long, deep kiss.
A knock came at the door, and Sam hissed a frustrated breath and rose to answer it, Annie at her heels. Harry was there looking concerned.
"Hi, Sam. Sorry to bother you. We don't know if it's anything, but the same truck has driven by about four times now. They can't see us, but we're thinking they might be scoping the place, waiting for lights to go out to move in. Just wanted to alert you."
Annie peeked around Sam's shoulder, and she felt her stomach clench. This had been such a nice day. Even the game had been peaceful. Almost like this madness were just a dream. But, no, the reality was that Hate was gathering in the hills, and it was focusing its ugly eye on her. She felt tears come to her eyes, tears of fear and helpless rage and plain, aching grief that this all could be happening.
"Thanks, Harry. We'll be ready," Sam said grimly. Harry slipped back into the shadows of night, and Sam and Annie returned to the livingroom and Sam wrapped her arms around her lover. "We'll keep you safe."
Annie just held on tightly, small hands clutching the soft folds of Sam's shirt.
They decided to turn off the lights and lie down in their clothes. They lay together for an hour, Sam holding Annie closely, both silent, lost in their own thoughts. Finally, Annie drifted into a fitful sleep. Sam kissed the crown of her head, feeling the warmth of her body close and tense even in sleep, and recommitted herself to protecting her innocent lover.
At two o'clock, eight crazies walked down the sidewalk and entered the lawn. Harry had the cell phone and immediately called 911. All she got was static. The crazies headed for the house, and she tossed the phone aside in order to move in and take action. Four of the Protectors stepped out from the shadows engaging the crazies. Darnell ran onto the porch and banged on the front door before he charged back down the steps and into the fray on the front lawn.
Inside, Sam jerked alert as Annie awakened with a cry. Sam embraced her tightly and said tersely, "They're here. Stay on the couch!"
Outside the fight was engaged. Harry shouted and raised a ruckus as she fought, hoping someone might hear and call the cops, but with the shop on one side of the house and nothing on the other, there was no one to hear her cries. The Protectors were on their own. With the outer contingent of vigil keepers engaged, a second crew of crazies slipped into the yard and onto the porch undetected.
The tall mechanic leaped up and headed for the front door to join in the fight out on the lawn, but as she drew near, she saw five flashlight beams heading up the steps onto the porch. She drew back and flattened herself against the wall of the livingroom where she could see the entryway reflected in a mirror on the opposite wall. She and Annie waited breathlessly for no more than five seconds. Then the glass in the front door shattered and a hand came through unlocking the door from the inside. Sam watched the flashlight beams entering. The small pools of light skittered over the floor and walls. "Find the stairs,"a deep voice said quietly. A flashlight beam blinded her momentarily as it swept across her face and then came back to her location. "There she is!" the bearer of the lamp cried. They came at her in a rush and she stepped from her hiding place, standing ready, feet spread, arms flared out at her sides. Annie saw her in the shifting beams of light. One of the crazies moved in and Sam leaped spinning, her foot catching him in the chin and knocking him back into the man behind him. The flashlight spun from his hand, its beam sweeping crazily around the room as it fell. Two attackers rushed her, getting her arms. She twisted and bent over bringing one of them over her back, then got a strangle hold around the other's neck and brought her knee up into his face. Annie watched in mesmerized terror. Everything was seen in the eerie strobe of flashlight beams. Sam was incredible. It was like a fantastic ballet. She ducked a fist that came at her and came up with a tremendous kick to the crazy's groin. Annie slipped from the couch and grabbed up a fallen flashlight. The last man grabbed the front of Sam's shirt shaking her violently and landing a blow to her face. Annie leaped forward over moaning bodies on the floor and brought the heavy lamp down on his head as hard as she could just as his blow staggered Sam backwards. He fell bonelessly to the floor. Sam and Annie stood panting, looking down on the bodies around them. Sam wondered where the cops were. Where were the sirens? Something had gone wrong. "Call the cops, Annie. I'm going outside to see what's happening. I'll be right back."
She grabbed a flashlight from the floor and stepped out into the darkness swinging the beam across the lawn. The six Protectors were dragging their eight opponents into a pile in the middle of the lawn. She ran down to Harry. "Where are the cops?"
"Phone didn't work. There was nothing but static."
"Annie's calling them now."
"You guys okay?"
"Five of 'em got in, but we got 'em."
"They got inside?!"
"Yeah. Must have set up in two shifts. Engaged you guys first, then snuck in while you were busy. After you tie these guys up, come in and help me with the ones inside, okay?"
Sam went back into the house finally switching on the lights. Annie was standing over the moaning attackers, a flashlight gripped tightly in her hand. Sam could see her shaking. Already a siren could be heard in the distance. "They got them all outside. They're going to tie them and then come get these."
"You've got to teach me taekwon do. I don't ever want to feel so helpless as I felt tonight."
"Alright. We'll get you going down at Eddie and Peter's."
"You were incredible, Sam. That kick."
The Protectors started coming in from outside. Mark and Darnell knelt to tie the men on the floor. Harry came to Sam. "It looks like you took a fist to the face," Harry noted the darkening bruise and small smear of blood on Sam's lip.
"Looks like you did, too," Sam smirked without mirth. Harry's eye was blackening and slightly swollen.
"There were thirteen of them. Eight outside and five in here."
"Unlucky for them."
"That's a big crew."
"I don't think they were expecting us to have so many people."
"I don't think they were expecting you to be able to take five of them," Harry grinned.
"I didn't. Annie got one. Clocked him with a flashlight."
"Well, you go girl!" Harry crowed proudly.
"So they're using more people. Must be recruiting goons from their tent town."
"And they're using teams. One team to occupy the outer guard, and a second team to get into the house."
"Could they have jammed our phone?"
"I think they did," Harry nodded. "There was nothing but static."
"I'll ask Vernon what to do."
"So it looks like we're seeing their new MO."
"Use more people and split them up into teams. So, guys, how do we fight that?"
"What if they send out even more 'You're Next' letters next time?" Darnell looked up from the hands he was tying. "They have a thousand people coming in next week. How are we gonna compete?"
Sam wiped her face with her hands. "Let's think for a couple of days. Maybe we can get some help through Gay National. Maybe the governor will step in. I don't know."
They took their captives out into the yard where cop cars were gathering, their lights flashing in the darkness. At least they had more people to question now. Eventually one of the captured crazies would break and talk, and the crazies' organization would begin to collapse. Then they could just round up the master minds behind the violence and it would all end. The thugs were carted off, Sam and Annie thanked the Protectors and sent them home with affectionate hugs and claps on the back and went upstairs to bed. Sam was too tired to repair the front door. "Just let it go for tonight." She was scheduled to get up in three hours to go up into the hills with Darnell and El and check out the encampment there. It felt like the madness would never end.
They were walking through a jungle of huge, verdant flowers. They were naked, like Adam and Eve, and all felt innocent and full of love except for an undercurrent of gnawing evil that lurked beneath the peaceful surface. The air was fragrant with the magnificent blossoms. Annie was delighting in stopping and smelling all the flowers and Sam was delighting in Annie. Suddenly, a flower at her side reached up, and its petals smothered her face. She couldn't breathe. Her heart started racing. She started struggling.
She awoke to a pillow over her face. Something was holding her arms and legs down. She rolled powerfully to break the grip of the crazies. Annie was calling her name. Sam tore her right arm away from them and smashed somebody in the face. The muscles in her leg bunched fiercely as she drew it back against somebody's grip drawing him over the bed, then forced it forward suddenly sending him crashing back against the wall. Annie's cries were abruptly muffled as an attacker put his brawny hand over her mouth and dragged her out of the room. Sam ripped herself loose from her last two assailants nearly pulling her leg out of its hip socket, and leaped from the bed. She grabbed one of the crazies and threw him against the other, then tore down the hall turning on lights as she went to the stairs where two more crazies were dragging Annie away from her. She ran down and grabbed the last man by the scruff of his shirt and pulled him off. They struggled, Sam trying to get a hand free to belt the guy. Annie struggled fiercely with her captor, her eyes growing wide as she watched a crazy come down the stairs behind Sam hefting a heavy flashlight. Suddenly, she bit the hand that covered her mouth and shouted, "Sam! Look out!" The crazy came down the stairs and hit Sam on the head with the flashlight as she turned to him. Blood poured forth, and her legs buckled. On down the stairs, Annie's crazy turned her around and slapped her sharply. Sam groggily watched them take her lover out the front door. The ground tilted unsteadily under her feet as she pulled herself up and started running, dazed, down the steps and out onto the lawn. Annie, being dragged off the porch and into the outer darkness, looked behind as Sam, covered in blood, ran out the door toward her. One assailant let loose of Annie's arm and stepped back delivering a roundhouse punch on Sam's jaw. She fell again. The crazies threw Annie into a waiting car and piled in after her. Sam regained her feet, the world swimming around her. "Annie!" She staggered forward toward the crazies in the car. She saw Annie in the back seat between two big hulks, her eyes caught in the moonlight, terrified. With a lunge she grabbed the driver's door handle as the car took off into the street dragging her along. The man driving started rolling the window up, and Sam grabbed the rising glass and tore the window to shards which scattered over her. She reached her hand into the car and got a grip on the driver who started cussing. Making sure her hold on the driver's shirt was secure, she released her grip on the door handle and reached for the steering wheel. Her feet were now dragging along the pavement as the car started to excellerate. "Git her off!" the driver cried. A crazy from the back seat leaned forward and started raining blows on her head. She felt her fingers touch the wheel, and strained her muscles to lift herself up and grab it. It was a wrestling match for a moment between her and the driver for control of the wheel. He glanced frantically at her. "You're crazy, bitch!" he shouted. Finally she jerked the wheel sharply to the left. The car careened across the street and crashed to an abrupt halt against a car on the other side. The impact threw her off and crashing into the parked car as well. She heard cursing as the crazies tried futilely to get their vehicle back on the road. Then, without a word, one crazy leaped out and ran for it, and the others followed. Their footsteps echoed away into the night, and finally there was silence. Sam tried to stand, but she couldn't tell up from down and tumbled back against the twisted metal of the car. She felt anxious, gentle fingers on her face and head. Annie had her. Annie. Annie was safe now. They were both safe. She heard Annie calling her and managed to lift a hand to her lover's face. "It's over now, Annie. 'S over now."
She must have lost consciousness for a while, because when she came to, Davey Hueygens was bending over her and colored lights were crazily flickering over the scene. She moved to stand, but Davey gently restrained her. A blanket was tossed over her, and she realized she just had on her sleeping boxers and T-shirt underneath. This was crazy. Where was Annie? In a hoarse voice she called her lover, the sound coming out as barely a whisper. But in an instant she saw the beautiful blond head bending to her. Annie was in her bathrobe. Out here in the night? "How are you, Sam?"
"Not bad. Head hurts. Can't seem to keep track of... the ground."
"You just relax. An ambulance is coming."
"Sam, you have a concussion. Your feet are all torn up..."
"No, Annie. Don't take me to the hos... hospit... I want to be with you. Want to be with you, tonight. In our bed. Please don't take me."
"Sweetheart, darling, they have to check you out. Then we'll go home."
"I need to hold you."
"Yes, love, I'll hold you all night. I won't let you go. I've got you."
"I love you, too."
"Love you so."
Davey rose somberly to give the two a little privacy. Paul Wagoner, the officer standing with him, clenched his fists and walked away. Annie glanced up at him. He was the officer whose car had been stolen. Clearly he was uneasy with their soft words. She turned back to Sam just as the ambulance drove up. "They're here, honey."
"Crazies...?" Sam suddenly pushed against Annie's hand, lifting herself to a sitting position, struggling to get to her feet as a dreamlike memory of the night's violence flickered in her brain.
"No, the ambulance. Don't move, love. We're okay."
Sam slipped back down, and Annie recovered her with the blanket. The paramedics came, and Annie stepped out of their way as they stabilized Sam's body and lifted her onto a stretcher.
"Annie!" she cried out. They lifted her and started moving her, and she rose up on the stretcher in a panic before the little nurse could get back to her side and slip her hand into Sam's big one, and push her back down.
"I'm here, Sam! I'm here." Clearly, she would have to ride in the ambulance with them. Sam would tear it apart and go leaping out the back doors if they separated them. She whispered this to the paramedic beside her who agreed that with Sam Adams like this, thay had better not try and separate the two. So everyone piled into the ambulance and drove together to the hospital, Sam clinging tightly to Annie's hand.
The doctor looked her over. Her scalp was cut and a large bump surrounded the area. It took several stitches to close the injury. Her pupils responded sluggishly, and she was unclear about the events of the night. But she was more lucid and more in control of herself. The damage was not serious. "I don't know how your wrist held up to holding you to the door handle." Dr. Bazen grumbled. He was clearly sleepy at this early hour of the morning, and his eyes lined deeply as he looked grimly at her. "I don't know how you broke that window. I don't know how you broke the window without breaking your hand."
"I was in a zen state."
"What? The zen state of insanity?"
"It was the zen state of panic! They had Annie in there!" She had bruises all over her right wrist and hand where she broke the window in and around the fingers of her left hand where she had clung to the door handle. Her feet had flesh scraped off the bottom and sides and were heavily salved and bound.
Dr. Bazen looked down and rubbed his eyes with a heavy hand. "Sure, Sam. I understand. We have to do what we have to do, don't we. I'm sorry."
"I want to go home, Doc. I want to be with Annie."
"You've got to stay in bed today."
"I have work to do."
"No work, Sam. Bed. Twenty-four hours. Do it for Annie. She knows it's important. You'll only worry her."
Annie's eyebrows raised as she was brought into the tug of wills. Bazen was right. It was important and she would worry.
Sam looked somber. Annie came to her and put her hands on her shoulder. "I'll take care of her, Dr. Bazen. Let me take her home so she can get some sleep."
"Think you can manage her?"
"Alright. Keep her in bed. Twenty-four hours."
"I'll do that." Annie assured him, unsure herself that she could restrain Sam from going into the hills with Darnell and El if her lacerated feet would at all carry her. Dr. Bazen left the emergency room cubicle, and Annie helped Sam out of the hospital gown and into the clothes she had brought with her. She held Sam's elbow as they walked down the corridor to the outer door although Sam's steps were sure again only a slight limp hinting at the wounds to her feet. Annie didn't know how she did it. Buddy was waiting with the truck and all three crowded in.
"Sam! Annie told me what you done! That they come twice and you stopped 'em both times. I should have been there, Sam! But I didn't hear nothin'!"
"It's okay, Buddy. Everything turned out okay."
When they got home, Annie straightened the abandoned covers on the couch and put Sam to bed on it. Sam had been given pain pills at the hospital and Annie could see the drowsiness invading her eyes. "I'm going to call El. You're in no shape to go into the woods with them this morning."
Surprisingly, Sam nodded her agreement.
"Is it starting to hurt?"
"You're getting over the shock." She undressed Sam as they spoke, then tucked her under the sheet and light blanket and kissed her sleepy eyes.
"Thank you, Annie," Sam whispered.
Annie took her face gently and looked intently into her eyes. "Thank you, Sam."
"I'll never let them hurt you."
"Go to sleep, Sam. I love you."
Sleep took her before she could answer. Dreamless. Deep. Annie called El and let her know of the night's events. El said they would call Harry to go with them. Then Annie called Eddie and told him they were attacked again. She asked if someone could come over for the rest of the night, because Sam could not fight off another attack.
She picked up a book and turned off all the lights but the one by the chair in which she sat. She glanced at the clock. Five AM on the dot. It seemed impossible that all this had happened in the space of three hours. It felt like she had been being traumatized for weeks.
In ten minutes Eddie knocked lightly on the front door. He called through the broken window, "Hey, Annie, it's me." She went and opened the shattered door to him. "Me and Darnell are here. More guys are coming. You want me to fix this window?"
"No. Sam's sleeping. I don't want to disturb her."
"I can brush up the glass."
"No." She was too tired for any sound or movement. "No, I'll get it in the morning. Thank you, Eddie."
"How you doing?"
"I don't know. I'm still shaking."
"Yeah. Well, take good care of yourself, kiddo. And take care of our girl."
"I will." She closed the door softly and went back to her book. She looked over at Sam's tranquil face. Thank god she was sleeping. Thank god she was having a moment of peace.
She awoke in the chair, a crick in her neck. Her book had fallen to the floor. She glanced at the clock. Eight AM. She looked at Sam. She hadn't moved at all. Annie stood, her muscles protesting, and moved to Sam's side. The breathing was deep and easy. The eyes moved restlessly under the lids. She leaned down and ever so gently brushed her lips over Sam's forehead. The Protectors would be gone now that the sun was well up. She decided she had better fix the door so they could lock it again. If that would do them any good, she thought bitterly. She wandered into the kitchen and got the broom and dustpan and went out onto the porch. Eddie was sitting in the porch swing swaying slowly, looking sleepy, and she jumped violently when she saw him.
"Eddie! What are you still doing here?"
"Just hanging around to see you. Didn't mean to scare you. Wanted to let you know that we've moved another shift of Protectors in here. They're all from out of town. Wanted to introduce you."
"Someone's going to be here through the day?"
"Yeah. Just till Sam's well again. Probably not necessary, but..."
She looked around and saw no one.
"Oh, they're all in the backyard playing horseshoes. You don't mind, do you?"
"Not at all. I'm grateful."
"They'll just hang around, some in back, a couple in front up here on the porch. Not much point in us hiding in the bushes anymore. They know we're protecting the homes of people who get the letter. I'll get somebody to fix that door."
He took her around back and introduced her to the crew of eight men and women. They asked after her and Sam and expressed the hope that they could meet Sam, too. They had glints of pride in their eyes, and Annie realized that they all felt a bit of hero worship for the tall mechanic. It stirred a pang of affection for these people. They were all heros. And Sam was their leader, the hero's hero. One woman was a carpentar and volunteered happily to fix the front door. Eddie bade her good bye with a sleepy twinkle in his eye, but she stopped him and took him in her arms. She hugged him for a long moment, letting her feelings of gratitude pour out from her. Finally, she pulled away and looked into his questioning eyes. "You are all wonderful, Eddie. I'm a lucky woman. I know heros. They're my friends." Eddie laughed softly and looked away humbly. "Well... I'll see you tonight, Annie."
Sam didn't stir until afternoon. Annie was in her chair, reading, when Sam finally woke with a soft groan. Annie came and knelt at her side. Eyes opened holding pain and confusion. "Sam? How're you feeling?"
The big blues tracked to Annie's face, and the face took on a look of urgency. "Kiss," Sam croaked.
Annie smiled and leaned down and kissed her lover tenderly. "You don't look so good."
"Don't feel so good," Sam mumbled, shifting around on the couch and trying to figure out where she was.
"You remember last night?"
"Uh... kind of... The crazies came, didn't they?"
Sam closed her eyes tightly trying to put fragments of memory into place. "Hard to remember."
"Are you in pain, sweetheart?"
"Yeah. My head. And my feet."
"Here." Pills and water were on the coffee table, and Annie provided them to Sam who hoisted herself onto an elbow to take them. Sam handed the glass back to Annie and felt her head. "God. I've got a goose egg up here."
"One of them hit you with a flashlight."
Sam looked at her in deep concentration. "On the stairs?"
"They got you!" Sam moved quickly onto the floor, kneeling with Annie, pulling her into her arms and kissing her hair. "I see them pulling you down the stairs!"
"You saved me Sam. You ran after us. They pushed me into the car, but you grabbed the handle and they started dragging you along the street."
Sam worked hard to remember.
"That's why your feet hurt, love. They dragged you along the street and you didn't have anything on your feet."
"You... you were naked."
"Yes. They pulled us out of bed upstairs. We didn't think they were coming."
"Those fucking apes saw you naked?!"
"I can't stand the thought of what they must be saying about you!"
"Sam, Sam, it's okay. I don't care what they say. I only care that we're safe and home and everything is peaceful today."
Sam settled down. She pulled herself back up on the couch. For the first time, Annie noticed Sam's bandaged feet. The wrapping was stained with blood. "Let me rebandage your feet. Look at them. Poor thing. Sam, lie back and let me take care of you."
She busied herself getting new wrappings and water to wash the painful abrasions. As she unbound Sam's feet, Sam let out a gutteral moan. Her feet were swollen and as the wrapping was untied, blood gushed in and unloosed a sharp throbbing that sent bolts of electricity through her body. The sides and bottoms of Sam's feet looked like mangled pulp in places. Annie wetted smooth cloths in cool water and wrapped them around Sam's feet. The coolness felt good, and Sam moaned in relief. Annie laid towels on the coffee table and elevated Sam's feet onto it.
"We have a crew of Protectors outside," Annie informed Sam.
"They're going to stay until you get better."
"Who's out there?"
"Bunch of new people from out of town. Very nice crew."
"I'll have to go out and meet 'em."
"I think they'd like that, honey. I think you're like a living legend to them."
Sam laughed. "Oh, god, that was years ago!"
"They probably remember me from competitions. I did them in high school and college. Won some titles."
"What did you win?"
"Oh, this and that."
"This and that what?"
"Oh, some state titles, regional."
Annie looked at her with round eyes. "You won national titles?"
Sam laughed. "You should see your face."
"Sam! Did you win international titles?"
"I never competed internationally. It cost too much."
"So how many national titles did you win?"
Annie's eyes were big as saucers. "You won five national titles???"
"That was a long time ago. I'm all out of shape now. I'm old and decrepit."
"No wonder Davey calls you champ! Where are your trophies?"
"Oh, they're in a box up in the attic."
"Sam! We need to bring them down!"
"No, that was in the past. I don't want to live in the past. Let's leave 'em up there, and let me get on with my life."
"Well... I at least want to see them."
"Okay. Some rainy day we'll go look at them."
No wonder Sam thought she was invincible. She damn near was. Just mortal enough to suffer damage when she threw herself relentlessly into the teeth of danger with unbending determination. Just mortal enough to get herself into trouble that stopped Annie's heart everytime she remembered the events of the last night.
Annie resalved and bound Sam's feet, and went into the kitchen to make them each a sandwich for lunch. Sam insisted on hobbling along behind to the breakfast alcove, sucking in hisses of air between clenched teeth with every step. Then dropping down into a chair and propping her feet up on another while Annie busied herself with their meal. Why Sam would want to suffer the pain of following her into the kitchen, Annie couldn't understand. But after they ate lunch, Sam followed her out into the back yard when she went to get the woman who was going to help her fix the door. All the fighters gathered around to meet her while Sam sat at the picnic table. Annie and Lynn started to go back inside to fix the door, and Sam got up to hobble with them. "Why don't you stay out here, sweetheart?" "No, maybe I can help you," Sam beamed. So Sam hobbled along behind her while she went back inside and even hobbled down the basement steps when she went down for the tool box. She told Sam not to come, but Sam had looked like a scolded puppy, and murmured that she wanted to come with her. So, puzzled, she let Sam moan and hiss her way down and up the steps. It was as Sam hobbled painfully up the stairs that it finally hit Annie. Sam couldn't let her out of her sight. It was that tender, vulnerable area in Sam that must have gotten broken in the trauma of the night, and now, like a child, Sam couldn't bear to be away from the one who loved her, who was her comfort and safe sanctuary. Annie guessed that Sam was totally unaware that she was following this compulsion. Annie immediately gave Lynn the toolbox, pointed her toward the front door, and came to the couch, where she finally got Sam to lie down.
"What are you going to do? Are you going to stay here?" Sam looked at her with puppy dog eyes.
Annie elevated Sam's feet on some pillows. "I'm going to sit with you and read my book."
Sam's smile of relief was like the sun coming out. "Sounds like a plan."
"You want a book?"
"No. Think I'll nap a little."
So long as Annie was near, Sam felt at ease. A rush of affection almost painful engulfed Annie and she knelt down, gathering Sam into her arms and drinking in their love in long, sweet kisses. "I'll be right here if you want anything," she whispered.
"I just want you safe beside me."
Annie kissed Sam's lips deeply once, then lightly. Then she got her book and sat down in her chair close to the tall mechanic.
Two nights later, Sam sat in the circle of light at the breakfast nook, staring into the surrounding darkness, mulling over the history of the violence in Boffler, looking for patterns. Annie lay upstairs asleep. Sam's mind wondered in a contemplative state of concentration, the deep mind working effortlessly, weaving images that welled up into consciousness. The series of attacks kept arising in her mind. First, the cross on Linny's lawn. Then the anti-gay graffitti on the houses. The tar-and-feathering. Her beating. The house torn up. The car torn up. Driving Laury off the road. Vic's dogs killed. Karen shot at with blanks. Her inner eye focussed sharply on these images. Memories from her own life began to emerge. A beating. A car torn apart. A terrifying run through a night woods. A pattern suggested itself. The pictures were not perfect, but they were so strongly suggestive that Sam got up and found paper and pen and went back into the nightmares of her mind, struggling to remember events from years ago, making a list that could end the intensifying violence.
At two o'clock, Sam heard Annie come down the stairs and join her in the kitchen. Annie stood beside her and bent down to lay her cheek on Sam's hair. "It's late, sweetheart." Annie burred sleepily.
"Are you about ready to come to bed?"
"Yeah. Just... trying to see if I see something here."
"You have to sleep, sweetheart. You haven't been getting enough sleep lately."
Indeed, darkening circles under Sam's eyes testified to the fact that she had not slept well for the last period when Annie was under heavy threat. And Annie's eyes were bruised with exhaustion as well. A sign of the toll the violence in Boffler was taking on everyone.
"Yeah. Let's go on up to bed."
"Good. I can't sleep well when you're not with me."
"Need your pillow, do you?"
"Yes. My pillow and the woman I love."
Sam turned out the light and wrapped an arm around Annie's shoulders. "Let's go to bed."
Sam's feet stuck out from under the jalopy she was retooling. She whistled tunelessly as she focussed in an absorbed zen state on the work she was doing. Buddy slouched in the battered easy chair in the shop reading a comic book and drinking a soda pop. A truck pulled up outside and Buddy looked up ready to go pump gas, but the truck stopped away from the pumps and a raunchy looking fella got out. Buddy's eyes popped. It was Henry Trent. Buddy laid down the comic book and said softly, "Sam..." Henry meandered up to the big overhead doorway and leaned against the wall. "Hey, Adams."
Sam immediately rolled herself out from under the car, sitting up to face Henry, wiping her hands on a grease cloth she pulled from a pocket. The two antagonists looked at each other wordlessly for a long moment. Finally Henry grinned. "I come to git me a pop." Sam watched him with a sinister glare. He shrugged himself away from the wall and mosied to the old pop machine, depositing two bits and pulling out a bottle of cola. He opened it and drew a long swallow. "Hear your little girl friend didn't get hurt the other day."
"And how did you hear that, Henry? Your goons tell ya?"
"Hey, I ain't got no goons. Just the grapevine. But I bet they ain't done tryin'."
"Bet they won't get through me if they try." Sam stood up and moved over in front of Henry. She hid the pain the movement caused. No way Trent was going to know how much she hurt.
"Bet they will."
"You'd better tell your militia buddies to call it off, Henry. We got FBI crawling all over the place now."
"You're really fishin', ain'tcha, Adams. You think the militia's gonna back something like this?"
"Damn bigots up there sure aren't using their benevolent offices to stop it, are they?"
"Oh, Sam, Sam, Sam... You're losin' your sense of humor, girl. You a little scared about that new pussy of yours gettin' her pretty face beat up?"
Sam made a move toward him, but pulled herself back.
Henry grinned at her. "I'm gonna love seein' your face when they get her. You think you can parade her all over town and cram her down everybody's throats. You stinkin' perverts are about to find out where you really live."
"Get out of here, you piece of trash."
"I ain't the trash, homo."
"I'm cleaning up the trash."
Sam made a move for him now, and Henry ran back to his truck and opened the door. He shouted back at her, "Us decent folk are gonna whup your sorry ass 'til you get the hell out of Boffler and out of the state!" He leaped into his car as she came at him again, and peeled off down the street.
Buddy came up to her, looking after Trent's truck as it squealed out the drive. "I thought you was gonna hit him, Sam."
"You ain't in no shape."
"Did you hear what he said?"
"That last part. He as much as said he was part of all this bullshit."
"What do you make of that, Sam?"
"I think he's driving all this craziness. And I think way down deep at the base of his guts, he's doing it because he hates me. And I think he's starting to make sure I know that. Lets me know how personal it is between me and Henry. "
Continued in Part 7
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