“They did what?!” I yelped in both surprise and fear.
“I said they took him in for questioning,” Jude answered with a cautious look on his face. I knew that look, he wanted me to tone it back and use some sense as there were others in the same boat milling about. It was hard but I grabbed myself and put it under control; things were stressful enough, I didn’t want to make them worse.
“Questioning for what?” I demanded to know in a more moderate tone of voice.
“About stuff.” I gave him the look that answer deserved and he sighed, his own frustration peeking out. “Sorry Sweetheart, but how the heck am I supposed to know? It is the same question everyone is asking but no answer is being given.”
“Well aren’t the cops supposed to say why before they haul you off like that?”
Jude shrugged thoughtfully. “Not exactly; besides cops aren’t the ones that hauled him and the others off, guys from the Commander’s office did. And they don’t have to follow the same rules as everyone else as they fall under the authority of DHS which kinda … er …”
“Yeah … they get to use that old saw about national security. But this isn’t national, this is North West Doodlysquat, Tennessee and everyone knows it. If there are any national security issues then the military should be the ones handling it because of Ft. Campbell … and Fort Donnelson too if it comes right down to it.”
Another good ol’ boy in the crowd milling around where we had all gathered, whose father had gotten hauled off in the same round up that Butch had gotten caught up in said, “Yup. And that right there is the problem see. Somebody done run to them boys out at the guard station and they in turn run to their commander or whatever you call that guy that bosses everyone over at the Base. He done sent someone over here lickety split. Commander Carlsburg done got a hair up his bum over how he was done over being kept to the city limits and it is just twisting that hair this way and that to be told that now even in the city limits he can get bossed by the military.”
Outraged I asked, “So this isn’t anything but a grown man throwing a tantrum like a two year old? There isn’t really anything to it but someone trying to prove how much authority they have?!”
“Hush Dovie,” Jude said repressively.
“Excuse me?” I asked drawing back getting caught off guard by the unexpected order.
“Look, I don’t mean to snap but,” he stopped and scratched his head in aggravation. Then more calmly he explained, “We’re both on edge. We already run into a lotta crap while shopping today. We gotta stay smart. If this is over the same thing …”
“Oh,” I said repentantly after a brief moment of thinking. “Are you … you mean …” I stopped and then asked quietly, “You think they took Butch because of me?”
“I don’t know Dovie and that’s the truth. But whether it is or it isn’t the reason, I don’t want to draw any more attention to you … or anyone else for that matter. And you know Butch wouldn’t either so let’s us both … we need to stay calm.”
One of the other men asked, “Whatcha mean Killarney?”
Jude looked and later told me he recognized the man as having a stepson that had turned out to be a double negative. “Seems someone around here has hard feelings over the Double Negatives and are starting to grill them and treat … well … track them is what we were told point blank. We were trying to pay for things at the checkout and they wouldn’t even let us until they had gotten permission … like maybe we weren’t good enough to trade with no matter what the color our money was. Was real funny … real … real strange the way they were doing and … and acting …”
When Jude puttered off with a thoughtful and concerned look at me I explained further to a few others that had turned to listen in, “They haven’t said anything directly but it felt a whole lot like I don’t want to ever come into town again. Tracking is only the first step; I’m afraid they’ll quarantine us again or something like that. And now if they are after family ‘cause of me …”
“What on earth for?” a woman wanted to know.
I shrugged. “Seems like just because they can. The Nazis did it to the Jews. The Japanese were thrown into internment camps here in the US during that war. Not sure what is going on but I’m not liking it at all. Now they’re going after the rest of my family.”
Jude gently chucked me under the chin and said, “We don’t know that for sure Sweetheart.”
I gave him the eye. “Then what gives? Butch is so straight he squeaks when he walks.”
One of the men growled and said, “He don’t look like he is walking so straight anymore.”
Jude and I jerked around thinking the guy was besmirching our family but we saw that he was staring at a military truck that had pulled up. Some men were getting out of the back end with the help of some soldiers. One of those men was Butch and he looked like he’d been worked over pretty hard.
Jude and I ran over and put an arm around each side of him. “Aw knock it off you two,” he rasped. “I ain’t dead … and I can walk.”
“Shut up Butch,” I told him. “All we are doing is trying to get a little sweetening in because otherwise River is going to have our heads.”
Butch’s irritation dropped back a notch realizing we weren’t just babying him in public to embarrass him. “I’m fine Dovie.” He gave a pain-filled whisper to Jude. “Get us out of here but don’t look in a panic; I don’t want to get stopped again or blamed for causing a stampeded. They thought I was too knocked out to hear what they were saying but there’s a riot working this way and if what they said can be believed, the military boys are going to fence this place in and maybe let it burn long and hard to teach Carlsburg a lesson.”
After a few choice words Jude was all business. We helped Butch into the back of the wagon and I sat in the back with him to keep an eye on our rear until we could get beyond the last checkpoint. Once past there we finally picked up a little speed not so fast that anything jarred loose, including our teeth on the rough road.
Jude didn’t turn from driving but asked, “You serious about being OK Butch?”
“I’ll live, just get us back home. I already see a couple of plumes of smoke from the far side of town. I don’t want to be caught out if they shut the roads down. Just take it easy, whatever I’m sitting on is digging a hole in my …”
“Sorry Dovie,” he said automatically rather than actually meaning it.
Jude asked him, “You ready to talk?”
Before he could start I asked, almost afraid to hear the answer, “Was … was it because of … of me Butch? Did it have anything to do with …”
Butch cursed more words in that one sentence than I think I’d ever heard him use in my whole life. “Dovie, don’t you ever … ever … let them get ahold of you … them kids either. I’m talkin’ to Dad and Clewis as soon as we get home.” Addressing Jude and surprising him a bit he said, “Jude, I know you and Clewis have been up to something and I haven’t been too sure I wanted to know about it until now. Dad kinda figures something is up too but is willing to ignore it so long as it don’t bring no problems down on the family. But if it is about keeping Dovie and the kids safe, count us in.”
I blanched. “It did have something to do with us.”
“Kinda yeah and kinda no. It was part of it but it wasn’t all of it. They started off that direction then keep taking rabbit trails. It was like they had so many things to be nosey about that they didn’t know where to start or how to stay on topic once they did start. It’s for sure that they don’t like the farm folks much at all. They think we’re holding back, that we have more than we deserve to have – food, land, fuel, fresh water, everything. They think we aren’t nothing but a bunch of ignorant redneck hillbillies. And they don’t like the military much either. I’ve never seen such a cluster @#$%.”
My mouth fell open so far I couldn’t even get it hinged to yelp at his language. I mean it isn’t like I hadn’t heard the word used before but I’d never heard it from Butch. Jude got real serious and said, “Explain it so I can see it. It was the DNs but it wasn’t. Was it more about being jealous of country folks or less?”
“Dang my head is ringing,” Butch complained, pinching the sore bridge of his nose. “Give me a sec to try and clear my head so I make sense. The guy caught me completely off guard and plowed me down. Once I was down I got kicked a couple of times. Lord knows where it would have gone because I had my hands zipped tied and was even having a hard time finding my feet to get up.”
“Don’t start Dovie. There’s no time for that and I ain’t as big a wuss as my face makes me look like. I worked the oil fields. You learn to brawl to survive out there. Didn’t do as much of it after River came into the picture but that doesn’t mean I didn’t have to every so often. I was a crew leader and had some really rough characters under me. I had to prove myself more than once ‘cause I was quite a bit younger than a lot of the others were. But this what happened here … this was a different kettle of fish. This wasn’t brawling … don’t know what I’d call it but it wasn’t a real fight, more like they were trying to … to teach me a lesson or something. But somewhere along the way them guys turned into a dog pack, they lost control. Two of us guys were already down hard and taking it in the kidneys with boots when them soldiers busted in. Carlsburg better have a good dental plan because a couple of his boys got their mouth smashed by the stock of a few M16s. Guess the soldiers had been telling someone to open the door to that area of the warehouse a few times when the racket started; they stopped asking and just came on in on their own by taking the door down. If the space hadn’t been so closed in there probably would have been gun fire.”
Jude muttered – and I could hear the fury in his voice, “Good thing they had the brains to control theirselves. Ricochets and friendly fire can kill too.”
“Tell me about it.” He tried to sniff through his swollen nose and winced. “Anyway, I ain’t got a real good idea of what they were supposed to be questioning us about. I think it was a shake down that got out of hand but I don’t know for sure. They asked some dip@#$% questions that didn’t make any sense since all they would have had to do was pull the information up on their computer or by swiping our ID cards on one of them terminals.”
Something clicked. “Betcha they’ve been locked out and they are trying to build their own private database.”
Butch gave me a thoughtful look and Jude asked from him place on the wagon seat, “You mean you think they’ve been cut off how?”
“Maybe the military and DHS are starting to step on each other’s toes or maybe trying to … to … heck I don’t know. But remember how wiggy that guy was when I said something about their computers at the Exchange? How he got all defensive?”
“Yeah, but that’s a stretch based on a lot of guesses and assumptions.”
Admitting it I said, “OK, maybe it is. But why else would they be looking for information they should already have?”
Butch, ever the one with commonsense said, “Don’t go off on a tangent Dovie. The DNs weren’t the only thing they were asking about. They also wanted to know about how much food our families had and that sort of thing. One of the other guys got a good thump for asking why they needed to know since Carlsburg didn’t have any say over what went on outside the city limits anyway. ‘Nother guy said something about if Carlsburg wanted to know so bad he could ask those raiders that he’d been sending out that have been trying to sneak around the military patrols. That more than anything is what really hacked off those guys that were questioning us.”
I said, “And people think I have a smart mouth full of sass. Even I would have had the sense to keep my teeth clamped on a comment like that.”
Butch snorted, “I should hope so, especially now that you’ve got responsibilities. And speaking of … River thinks she might be … you know … and I don’t want her more shook up than needed in case she is. So’s we keep some of this stuff to ourselves. Got it?”
Bossy Butch. But Jude apparently agreed with him, if not for the same reasons. “No one needs to know all of it until we’ve had time to think about it and talk things out. I guess we gotta bring Dad in on it though I’ve been trying not to. We had a couple of things happen to us today that needs airing out too.”
“That why Dovie is all bent about the DNs and wanting to know if it was her fault I got took.”
“Hey,” I said. “I’m sitting right here.”
But Jude and Butch kept talking like I wasn’t as Jude explained about the Exchange and the Bx. Butch said, “Figures. You can always count on when things seem like they are just about to settle down is right when they are going to pick right back up again. Reckon we got us a lot of thinking and doing to talk over the next little while.”
I stared at the horizon where a few more plumes of smoke were beginning to rise in the distance from the direction we had just come and I hoped everyone else had had the smarts to get out of town.