Cooper; new stuff added 08/29/2018

Zombie or Post Apocalyptic themed fiction/stories.

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Re: Cooper; new stuff added 04/11/2017

Post by teotwaki » Tue Apr 11, 2017 11:56 pm

A perfect bedtime story!!!

Thanks!!!
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Re: Cooper; new stuff added 04/11/2017

Post by idahobob » Wed Apr 12, 2017 10:20 am

Another good 'un! :clap: :clap:

Thank You!

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Re: Cooper; new stuff added 04/11/2017

Post by 91Eunozs » Wed Apr 12, 2017 11:00 pm

Great story...thanks again!
Molon Latte...come & take our coffee order
Doctorr Fabulous wrote:... It's fun to play pretend, but this is the internet, and it's time to be serious.
zengunfighter wrote:... you don't want to blow a tranny in the middle of a pursuit...
woodsghost wrote:... A defensive gun without training is basically a talisman. It might ward off evil, but I wouldn't count on it.

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Re: Cooper; new stuff added 04/11/2017

Post by EdRider » Mon Jan 29, 2018 6:52 pm

While, I have really enjoyed Hannah, Owen, Cole and Jesse in the zombie changed world, your Cooper stories are the most excellent.

I like the world you have created with all of the normal dangers of temporary stove piping to motorcycle gangs wanting control of the local area an dhow the locals all worked together to overcome a changed world.

I even liked the way the stories were not in chronological order, but how did Sanjana meet Lyle? Inquiring minds wish to know.......

I would like to find out in the published version, really excellent. Thanks and I hope you come back to this story someday soon.

You should also post the Mountain on this site (and maybe finish it to stop the MOAR sounds......)

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Re: Cooper; new stuff added 04/11/2017

Post by doc66 » Wed Jan 31, 2018 4:17 pm

Thanks, man!

I enjoy Cooper as well, and not having it told chronological is easier on me...

As for Sanjana, well, that's a story that might still happen.
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Re: Cooper; new stuff added 04/11/2017

Post by EdRider » Sun Jul 15, 2018 8:29 pm

Ah, Doc.... just reread this series for the third or more time. I am hoping you may have some more of the Cooper world to share. Really excellent tales.

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Re: Cooper; new stuff added 04/11/2017

Post by doc66 » Thu Jul 26, 2018 8:17 am

EdRider wrote:
Sun Jul 15, 2018 8:29 pm
Ah, Doc.... just reread this series for the third or more time. I am hoping you may have some more of the Cooper world to share. Really excellent tales.
Working on something just for you....
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Re: Cooper; new stuff added 04/11/2017

Post by 91Eunozs » Sat Jul 28, 2018 11:36 am

Such a tease! Saw you posted in one of your story threads and got all excited...

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Molon Latte...come & take our coffee order
Doctorr Fabulous wrote:... It's fun to play pretend, but this is the internet, and it's time to be serious.
zengunfighter wrote:... you don't want to blow a tranny in the middle of a pursuit...
woodsghost wrote:... A defensive gun without training is basically a talisman. It might ward off evil, but I wouldn't count on it.

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Re: Cooper; new stuff added 04/11/2017

Post by doc66 » Fri Aug 03, 2018 3:21 am

No promises. I should have something (or two) up in the next week....

I had to figure out just what the story line was going to be. Now, I got it.
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Re: Cooper; new stuff added 04/11/2017

Post by doc66 » Wed Aug 29, 2018 4:10 pm

Sorry it took so long I was working on tree different stories for this, and this was finished first. Enjoy




Boone reined in the horse and leaned on the saddle horn, his eyes sweeping over the valley below. The trees were green and heavy with leaves in the summer air. There had not been any amount of rain for a couple of weeks, scattered showers, enough to keep crops alive, had blown through the mountains, and the air was heavy with the scent of dust and sun-soaked grasses and wild flowers which bloomed sporadically in the tree line. The road they were on was sticky with patches of tar and the sun baked asphalt still carried a faint odor of oil. In his motorcycle days, tar snakes like the ones wriggling along the surface of roads like this one were travelled with care as they became slippery in corners. Horses simply stepped in the soft patches and kept on, oblivious to the tacky spots they trod. Boone was sweating in his old leather jacket, but the morning had a chill to it with the heavy dew, and he had simply left is on rather than fuss with stripping it off and tying it behind the saddle. It wasn’t like they would not reach town soon anyway.

Behind him, Josh struggled briefly with the pack mule, cursing low under his breath as the animal jerked at the lead to get at a patch of sweet grass near the broken roadway they plod. Boone glanced at the other man, smiling at his struggle. It reminded Boone of when he had first met Josh and basically conned his way into the other man’s life. The world was nearing its demise, and Josh had been a slightly overweight, nerdy guy who practiced pseudo survivalism. Josh’s internet learned skills actually came in handy once everything started collapsing in rapid succession, and while the practice was sometimes questionable, Josh’s attempts kept them going when others were not surviving. Boone and Josh had roamed for several months on their motorcycles, living the lives of post-apocalyptic cowboys until they had been forced into joining a motorcycle gang or dying. Once rescued from that predicament, the two had made themselves useful on the mountain with a thriving community lead by their redeemer, Cooper. With the collapse of Everything, Josh had grown from the awkward surplus store clerk into a hardened stayer and was often Boone’s voice of reason and conscious.

“You alright?” asked Boone.

Josh nodded and snapped the lead one last time. He pushed his glasses up on his nose. “Yeah, this stupid animal thinks it can get away with all kinds of shit.”

Nodding, Boone looked back over the valley.

He could see the collection of houses making up a small village. There looked to be a central business district, maybe with a community center or a government building, and possibly a church or two. A couple store fronts finished out the center of the village. It was smaller than New Washington, and Boone could see gardens occupying yards and green spaces, and a few pens for stock. Spreading out from the village, the houses and buildings seemed in good shape, as if the valley had escaped the trials of the rest of the universe, simply adjusting to each change with easy. This spoke to Boone of a strong central government or a responsible community which held together in spite of the stressors put on it. The farms looked to be well run, though the fields were small. Boone imagined this was why they had made contact with Heidi and her growing business of supplying work horses to communities; they wanted to expand their produce production to meet the needs of the valley’s population. Boone knew from the maps in his saddle bags that the valley was called Renfroe Valley, and the village was known as Woodside. Boone absently wondered just what the current population of the entire valley was.

“Looks prosperous,” commented Josh, nudging his horse up next to Boone’s own beast. Josh cast his bespeckled eyes over the valley, squinting a little as he did so. Boone wondered just how far out of date his friend’s prescription might be. One day, they were going to have to find an optometrist who could grind out a pair of new lenses from the man, or at least supply Josh with a pair of recycled lenses that would work for him.

“It does. Let’s see what they can trade for some horses or mules,” agreed Boone. “I’ll bet the salt will go over big though, you and I might make a killing on that.”

They had the big mule loaded down with a little over a hundred pounds of salt in addition to their camping gear and food. Boone and Heidi had argued about his taking salt to trade, but in the end, Boone had simply ignored her protests and loaded up the mule anyway. She was going to make out like a bandit on the horse trading, and while Boone and Josh would also benefit from the deal Heidi made, Boone wanted to be able to have a little side trade for things she might find unimportant. He needed socks, someone to reload his collection of all brass shotgun shells, rum, if he could find some. They were there on a scouting mission, putting out feelers and seeing just who might want to trade, and what they might have to trade. Heidi would be the one to come and finalize any deals.

“You ready to get off that horse?” asked Boone to Josh.

“I was ready yesterday,” replied Josh.

“Yeah, me too.”

They started the horses moving down the hill. This was the furthest they had come to trade horses. They had a gasified truck they could have brought, but Heidi wanted them to show off the wares, so they rode the horses. While it was nice to get away from the daily grind of the chores around the growing horse farm and off the mountain, the tedious ride was wearing on both of them. They had stopped briefly in the communities along the way, carrying news and trading along the way, putting out feelers for more business opportunities for not only the horses, but for goods from the mountain community they hailed from. The farm of el Jefe could trade in corn, sheep, and apples just to list a few of the things, and they could trade technology as well; the ability to convert houses to solar power if the materials were available, they had a forge going to repair iron works and create household necessities.

Often times Boone marveled at how far back in the past they had fallen. He missed so many things about the past; showers with hot water on demand; pizza. They still made pizza, if you liked farmer’s cheese and kinda peperoni, but it was nothing like a late night, shitty, fast food pizza delivered to your door while you sat on the couch and smoked a bowl and drank beer playing video games. He missed video games. He missed riding his chopper and listening to raunchy blues in dive bars and hanging out with loose women and reprobates. All things considered, he had a good life in the Here and Now. He had a fairly willing bed partner in Heidi; her business and his adventures kept them comfortable by the standards of the time. He had to work harder than he liked to; getting up to feed horses, and cows, and chickens, and goats, and gardening, more like farming now, with trying to grow feed for the animals, the people who worked with and for them, pretty good friends on the mountain who would party when they could, all that was good. But, Boone mused, he missed living for the moment, working an odd job here and there to pay for food and gas for the Harley, getting high. There was something to be said about getting high and going swimming in a river you happened across alongside a back country road.

“What’s that?” asked Josh.

Boone shook himself out of his meandering thoughts and looked over at his riding partner. The other man nodded down the road at the straight away. Boone lifted himself out of his saddle and peered over the horses head.

Coming at them was a contraption which looked like a four wheeled bicycle. Over the distance, Boone could hear a popping sound, somewhat like a lawnmower, but with a deeper tone. There were two seats on the contraption, and an awning over the driver, with a little windshield across the frame. The rest of it was open to the air. Boone sat back in the saddle.

“I have no idea,” muttered Boone. “Greeting party?”

Josh laughed. “When has anyone ever greeted us?”

Boone had to laugh with his friend. The answer was, of course, almost never. Boone reached forward on the saddle horn and made sure the old M97 was loose on the lanyard and thumbed back the hammer the rest of the way. The sawn off pump action was beat up, it rattled, and hammered his hands like someone was kicking them with a steel toed boot when it went off, but he loved the stupid thing and it made him feel more like he was acting in an end of the world road movie than anything else could have. Beside him, Josh pulled free his AR15, resting it across the saddle in front of him.

It wasn’t long before the weird machine came sputtering and popping up to them. The horses and the mule shied away from the thing, its single cylinder engine even louder up close. In the air, they could smell an odor that reminded Boone of old saloons and cheap vodka. The smell made him wonder just what the vehicle was burning for fuel. The driver shut the machine down after slowing and stopping in the roadway, easing off the bench seat and standing beside it to wave Boone and Josh down, motioning for them to stop. The driver, an older woman, wore a pair of rip stop tactical pants and a faded uniform shirt with sheriff patches on the short sleeves. Boone had to admire the woman standing before them; she was physically very fit and carried herself with an air of authority that the washed-out uniform could not embody. She carried a pistol on her hip, there was an SBR AR close at hand, and a shotgun was racked on the frame of the machine. Her gray streaked hair was pulled back in a harsh pony tail and shoved under a ball cap with the department logo. She nodded to the two men as she placed herself in a near, but tactically advantageous position.

“Good afternoon,” she said. “What brings you to Renfroe Valley?”

Boone nodded back, but Josh answered.

“Afternoon, Sheriff…?” guessed Josh. When he wasn’t corrected, he continued. “We’re from over by New Washington, come over here to see about some horse trading.”

Nodding, the Sheriff cast an eye over the horses and the mule. “You represent the horse trader?”

“We do,” confirmed Josh. “H-B-J stables. We got word that there were some people looking for horses.”

“I got word you might be headed this way,” said the Sheriff, relaxing a little on knowing their reason for coming into the valley. “You’re headed down to Woodside then? I’m Sheriff Conyers.”

Josh introduced himself and Boone, nodding at the motorized contraption the Sheriff was driving. “Interesting vehicle you’ve got there.”

Sheriff Conyers put a hand on the tube frame work. “It was seized Before as part of an illegal grow operation. When things fell apart, I remembered it was there in evidence and now it’s my patrol car.”

“It’s an interesting ride,” mentioned Josh.

“I converted it from a pedal bike to the engine drive. Took a 125 cc dirt bike engine and I got it to run on alcohol.” The Sheriff was obviously proud of the machine.

“Pretty cool.”

“Well, I saw you on the horses and thought I’d stop and check,” said Sheriff Conyers. “You gentlemen have a safe ride into Woodside.”

“Thank you,” said Josh. “Is there a place to get a couple of rooms and a meal, like a boarding house or the like?”

“There’s a Bed and Breakfast still operating in town,” confirmed the Sheriff. “Folks from out in the county use it when they come in. It’s a big, yellow, three story house, you’ll see it.”

Thanking her again, Josh and Boone eased the horses passed the contraption as the Sheriff climbed back into the buggy. Boone glanced back and saw that she was writing the encounter into a log book. He wondered how many deputies the county had and how far out the reach of the local law was. New Washington didn’t have a police force or a sheriff’s department. It was a strange little feudal community with an elected government in town and basically strongmen enclaves surrounding the town. El Jefe and Cooper were the defacto leaders of the mountain where Boone and the rest lived, and the idea of law was more of a Do Unto Others creed than a written, enforceable code. New Washington had once had a police force, but with the collapse, the enforcers faded away, more interested in survival than keeping the peace.

“I wonder if there’s a bar,” mused Boone, his thoughts of Law and Order taking him to the one hundred and eighty degree side of the spectrum.

“A bar?” repeated Josh. “What would make you ask that?”

“You got Law, you’ve got to have a place where the riffraff hangs out; it can’t be all B&Bs and Jesus,” said Boone. “Besides; that vehicle ran on alcohol. That mean’s someone has a still. And that means booze.”

“Not if the Sheriff owns the still,” contradicted Josh.

Boone chuckled aloud. “If there’s one still, there’s at least two more. My bet is that there’s a still at a couple of the farms around here.” He slowed the horse to ease the hammer of the shotgun back down. “It’s not all roses and pearls around here. If it were, they wouldn’t have the Law.”

Josh slowed his horse and the mule to match Boone. “You have a very dim view of the world, my friend.”

“I am what the rest of you know as a realist,” countered Boone.

Making sure Boone saw him roll his eyes; Josh nudged the horse and mule ahead of the other man’s mount. Boone gave the man’s back a grin before urging his own animal down the road.

The house was big and yellow. The entire yard was a garden of useable herbs and flowers intended to attract bees and provide for the hives dotting the street and yards. The warm air was heavy with the scent of rosemary, sage, thyme, mint, and what seemed to be a dozen other unnamed fragrances. Boone and Josh dismounted from the horses as a woman came out of the interior, letting the screen door bang shut against the frame. She stood at the railing of the wrap around porch, observing the two men as they fussed with the reins and tied the horses off on the fence denoting the end of the yard. Like everyone in town, she seemed to be very curious about the newcomers; Boone got the impression they did not have many people from outside the valley visit. When the horses had trotted down the main street of the small village the beasts and riders were the subject of much curiosity. People who were out on the street, or tending to gardens, or taking care of livestock, or washing clothes, all stopped to stare at the two men as they guided the horses down the thoroughfare which was complete with shade trees and even trimmed grass.

Boone and Josh smiled and raised their hands in greeting while they made sure the fence was strong enough to deter the animals from wandering. Boone eased over to where Josh was inspecting the load on the mule.

“You get the feeling like you’re in one of those creepy movies where they do rituals on strangers on the full moon?” asked Boone.

“What kind of movies did you used to watch?” asked Josh. Boone gave his friend a side look. Josh glanced at the woman who had yet to return their wave. “Yeah, I get that feeling.”

The two men pulled their rifles off the horses and Boone slung the old pump from the single point sling, shoving it around his back as he and Josh walked up to the porch. The number of firearms the two carried probably belied the friendly aura they were trying to project.

“Can I help you?” asked the woman. Like the Sheriff, she was tall and narrow, and athletic looking. Her hair was cut short around her neck, and she wore a men’s shirt over faded jeans and a T-shirt which hugged her torso.

“Sheriff Conyers said we might find a room or two for a few nights,” said Josh. “We’re in town working to set up trades for horses.”

The woman’s expression changed when they mentioned the sheriff and the horse trading. “You’re here to talk to John Todd.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“I just thought you’d be staying at his farm,” she told them.

“Well, we’ve got some other trading to do, if we can,” said Josh.

She cocked her head. “More than horses?”

“Yes,” he said, stepping on the porch. Boone followed, casting his gaze along the windows and the back out at the street where there were several people leaning on their own porch railings or walking by and openly gazing at the two men, the horses and mule, and the woman they were speaking to. Josh continued. “We’ve got salt to trade. We were hoping that would cover the cost of our rooms as well.”

The woman openly gawked for a brief moment. “Salt? We’ve been so scarce on salt--,” she nodded. “Of course, I’ll take salt on trade. You have a lot?”

“A bit,” admitted Josh. “We could go a pound a night for two rooms and maybe a breakfast and maybe another meal thrown in?”

She nodded quickly. “Of course. Yes.”

“Is there a place where we can put up our horses?”

“I have a garage around back, we can put them in there? We’re really not set up for much bigger than chickens here. I get my meat and milk from other sources.”

“That’s fine, as long as they can’t get out on their own.”

“We can lock the door up,” assured the woman.

“I’m Josh, and this is Boone,” introduced Josh.

“I’m Margret,” said the woman, holding out her hand. “Forgive my rudeness, you all caught me off guard and we really don’t see that many outsiders here in Woodside. We’re off the beaten path.”

“Well, let’s hope our visit can change that,” smiled Josh, shaking her hand.

Boone did the same, trying to give her a warm smile, but knowing that his general appearance; Fu Manchu, shaggy hair, motorcycle jacket, rough looking jeans, the array of weaponry, didn’t play to a comforting image. He looked more like a bandito coming to steal horses than a horse trader. There was a reason Josh was doing most of the talking. Boone tended to be less diplomatic in general conversation, not to mention negotiations. Never in his life had Boone thought of himself as a good person. He knew that most of the time he was abrasive, made inappropriate comments, and was an asshole, even to the people he considered friends. His best friendship to date was the one he had with Josh. The end of the world had cemented that weird relationship in a way that no amount of bar fights and smoking pot could have. The woman warily took his hand and released it a moment too soon. Boone found himself giving her a roguish grin that made her take a step back. He almost laughed, but instead widened the grin until it was a smirk. He knew she was already having second thoughts about letting him into the house.

“Don’t worry,” he said to her. “I’m house trained.”

Margaret gave him an uncomfortable nod and Josh looked as if he might want to punch Boone for even speaking. Looking over his attire, Margaret seemed to be gauging Boone as to how he fit in with the bespeckled man beside him. The look was openly curious and somewhat judgmental. Boone returned her frank gaze, holding her stare until she took a step away from him.

“You must be the muscle,” she finally said to Boone.

“Well, that and my finishing school charm,” he countered. Glancing over at Josh who was bug-eyed behind his glasses, Boone shrugged. “Sorry, they say I can be inappropriate at times. That’s why they don’t let me speak.”

“Understandable,” she returned. “Shall we put those horses up?”

The men agreed and followed the woman to the garage.

The building was around the back of the house. Margaret led them down a driveway alongside the house to the backyard where a two car structure stood which had been converted to hold goats. It had a loft for straw and hay and feed. Chickens scattered away from them and the goats were staked out so that they would keep the grass down in the back. Boone could tell the goats were moved as needed to graze at the lawn and perhaps even loan the animals out occasionally for trade goods. Margaret stopped in front of the open bays and motioned to the interior. There was a roughed out area in one of the bay where the animals could be penned, the fencing made of old pallets to section it from the storage and work shop area. Boone gave the garage holding area a hard inspection, wondering if the makeshift fencing would hold the horses. Seeing his examination, Margaret nodded to the garage doors.

“We roll the garage doors down at night for security,” she told him as she unlatched the pallet which acted as a gate. “The posts are bolted into the floor so the animals don’t knock it down.”

Leading the horses and the mule into the pen, Boone and Josh stripped them of their gear and rubbed the animals down with straw. They then gave the gear rough cleaning before stacking the panniers and saddles to one side of the storage part of the garage. Boone freed a scoop from their gear and turned to Margaret.

“Do you have something we can put the salt in?” asked Boone.

She did, and went back into the house to get the container. As Boone opened the salt, Josh came up to him and they spoke in low tones while they waited on Margaret to return.

“Do you think our gear and trade is safe in here?” asked Josh.

Boone looked around the garage and at the doors leading into the makeshift barn. He chuckled. “I don’t know. I mean, this place can be locked up, but, you know; locks are only as good as the people around it; speaking from experience.”

“Should we take our trade into the house with us?” wondered Josh.

Shrugging, Boone did not know what the risk of leaving the salt would be. He told Josh this, adding, “They’ve got a Sheriff here. I mean that can mean that they are super Law and Order types or there’s rampant crime and they have to keep people in line. Take your pick. From the looks of the town riding in, I’d say they are Law and Order types, but I’ve been wrong before.”

“A couple times,” agreed Josh.

“Hey, buddy,” laughed Boone, “your reputation isn’t the most stellar, either.”

“It was before I met you,” countered Josh.

Boone grabbed his chest as if he had just been stabbed in the heart and pretended to stagger. “Ouch, my heart, you wounded me.”

Josh rolled his eyes. Margaret entered the garage in the middle of Boone and Josh’s antics. She paused on seeing the two men cutting up. Boone stopped lurching and gave her a smile.

“We were wondering; is the garage safe to leave our trade in?” he bluntly asked her. Margaret looked taken aback. Boone gave her a roguish grin. “Nothing personal, but you know—.”

“We’ve never had a problem, I mean there are a few incidents here and there, but the Sheriff and deputies keep a pretty tight rein on problems,” Margaret told them.

“Well, we’ll leave things here for now,” cut in Josh. “We can lock things up at night—?”

She nodded, understanding the meaning of his hanging question. “Of course, the salt is more valuable than gold I suppose.”

Boone almost asked her if she had a safe big enough for 100 pounds of salt but bit his tongue and simply asked for her container. She handed him the gallon Mason jar and Boone filled the scoop up. They had done some rough estimates before leaving the mountain and figured that there was a little over roughly two pounds to a gallon. The scoop they had chosen was about a pound, give or take, of salt. Boone filled the container with two pounds of salt, knowing they would be staying at the Bed and Breakfast for more than one night, and probably more than two. He handed the container back to Margaret and she reverently sealed the Mason jar after putting her finger into the sea salt sized grains and licking the crystals off her finger. Her eyes closed in pleasure and she let out a small moan.

“I’ve been hoarding my salt and I’m nearly out, you don’t know how much you miss the flavor until you aren’t using it,” she said. “How can we get you to bring in more?”

Josh stepped in to the conversation while Boone tied off the heavy bag of salt. “If we get the horse trade taken care of to everyone’s satisfaction, we can bring in more when we bring the horses.”

“I may buy a horse just for the salt,” she told them, half joking. “Will you be trading the salt with anyone?”

“Anyone who has something of value to trade,” said Josh agreeably. “I’m sure we’ll be picky about trade goods for this trip; we’ve only the mule to carry goods back with us, but once we get a trade route established, the items to trade will expand with it.”

“Know you’ve got a place to stay when you do,” she told him. “Just keep bringing the salt.”

Boone and Josh stashed the heavy bags with their gear, piling the saddles and blankets over the panniers to offer a modicum of security to the casual glance. They grabbed their daypacks and saddle bags and followed Margaret back into the house.
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Re: Cooper; new stuff added 04/11/2017

Post by doc66 » Wed Aug 29, 2018 4:12 pm

She gave them rooms off the second story balcony. Boone and Josh settled into the rooms and both men washed the dirt and dust of the road off their bodies in the deep bath tub. Boone lost the Paper, Scissors, Rock battle and had to take his bath after Josh. Boone gathered up the makings of his pipe and tobacco and his home grown marijuana after slipping into a comfortable pair of shorts and a relatively clean t-shirt. Margaret told them their clothing could be cleaned by the woman who took in wash from people around the community; she had an old wringer washer and was able to keep enough work in trade going through that enterprise. According to Margaret, a couple pounds of salt would pay for the clothing to be washed, but it would take a couple of days. Boone and Josh told her they would keep the offer in mind, and both decided if they could trade for clothing to wear while theirs were being cleaned, it might be worth the expenditure. He found Josh on the balcony, wearing a pair of sweat pants and a t shirt, and lounging in an Adirondack chair, sipping on a glass of what appeared to be iced tea. Boone stopped in mid stride and stared at the glass and the ice it contained.

“What the fuck?”

Josh grinned and held up a second glass. “I got you one.”

“How the hell do they have ice?”

Motioning to the other chair on the balcony, Josh handed the glass to Boone as he took the seat. “They have an ice house.”

“How the hell did they get ice?” asked Boone again, sipping at the honey sweetened tea. It was a rose hip tea with a hint of sage. The cold of the drink on a hot day was something Boone never thought he would ever feel in his mouth again.

“You ever read the Little House on the Prairie books?”

“Nope.”

“Well, I read them as a kid, I barely remember them, but, according to Margaret, one of the townspeople was reading them—you know how most of us read for entertainment now?” said Josh with a sidelong glance at Boone, who was known for his disinterest in reading for pleasure. Boone shot him a sour look and motioned for him to continue. “Well, they started reading Farmer Boy, about Laura Ingalls Wilder’s husband, Almanzo, and there’s a part of it where they describe cutting ice from the river and storing it in sawdust packed barns to keep over the summer months. Anyway, this woman showed her husband and he got with the rest of the town and now every winter, they cut river ice and store it in the basement of one of the buildings in town, packed with sawdust and moss and whatever else they can find to insulate it. Now, during the summer, boom, ice. They use it to keep meat and veggies and everything else.”

“Damn. And it doesn’t melt?”

“Sure it does,” said Josh. “But I guess that the rate of melt verses the ice they have offsets the loss.”

“I wonder if we can do this?”

“I’ll bet we could,” said Josh. “We’d need a storage place, and insulating material. But, why not?”

Boone set the glass down after running the cold, moisture beaded surface over his forehead. He packed the pipe with his brand of herb and passed it to Josh, who took it and inhaled a deep lungful, letting the smoke trickle out of his mouth and nose. Boone took his own deep breath and passed it back to Josh. They finished the bowl and Boone tapped out the ash as the compound in the smoke rushed through his body. The constituent began to relax his saddle tight muscles and gave him the pleasant buzz around his ears he enjoyed. Boone repacked the pipe with the tobacco which—if the Tinker were to be believed—had made its way to them from Tennessee. Cutting the plug off the tobacco rope in what Boone called his Smoke Bag, he shredded the leave apart and stuffed the bowl with the flakes. He snapped the corn alcohol fueled zippo against the contents of the bowl and puffed the pipe weed to an even burning coal.

“Ice from a kids books,” he mused.

“You can learn all kinds of things in books,” said Josh.

Boone snorted smoke out his nose. “I went to college, Josh, I am aware that you learn shit from books. I just never was much of a reader, even then. I’m a hands on kind of guy.”

Josh’s retort was stopped by a knock at the screen door behind them. They turned to see Margaret at the door with a pitcher of iced tea.

“Hey,” greeted Boone from around the stem of the pipe.

“Is that tobacco?” she asked.

“Straight from Tennessee, if Tinker Joe is to be believed,” he told her.

She seemed to struggle with her next statement. “I thought I smelled something else…”

Boone laughed. Josh had to grin, the effects of the marijuana taking the edge off even his sometimes taciturn self.

“What else would it have been?” asked Josh, as innocently as he could muster. Margaret seemed embarrassed.

“Well—.”

“Would it have been a problem?”

“No,” she said hurriedly. “I was just curious.”

Boone motioned for her to come out onto the balcony. He stood, patting the chair and taking the picture from her, setting it on the table where his Smoke Bag lay. Boone picked up the bag and gave her a sly look.

“You’re not going to kick us out?”

Margaret grinned. Something neither Josh nor Boone was sure she was capable of. “No.”

Boone pulled free a Yankee One Hitter. He didn’t know where the name had originated from; he once had a friend in collage—a proper southern gentleman—who always called his little pipe that, and Boone had taken up the tradition. He assumed it was something to do with the Northern states failure to share wealth with the South after the Civil War. He packed the straight pipe and handed it and the lighter to Margaret. She took the tube and with an expertise born of a miss spent youth, emptied the contents in one take. She handed the pipe back to Boone and smiled. Boone offered another to her, which she declined.

“It’s been a long time,” she told them around exhaling. “I’m good.”

They sat in silence for a moment, their hostess seeming to enjoy herself in the two men’s quiet company, even though their first encounters had been somewhat strained. Below them, the town seemed to be winding down as the shadows began to lengthen. People were moving around less, the smell of cook stoves heating up was filling the air, and somewhere, a single, small caliber pistol shot was heard. Boone smiled and looked over at the other two who were sipping on iced tea and soaking up the late afternoon sun.

“Someone is getting dinner ready,” he said as the light crack of the .22 faded in the air. The comment made Margaret stir.

“I need to get started on that myself.”

“Don’t you have people to help you?” asked Josh.

“I have a girl who comes in the morning to help prepare and clean and she comes in the evening,” said Margaret. “But since you’re the only ones in the house at the moment, and unexpected, I’m on my own tonight.”

“Well, don’t go out of the way tonight,” said Josh. “We can make do with whatever you have around. We’ve been eating hard tack, and sticky rice, and dried salami, and hard cheese for four days. An egg sandwich would be better at this point.”

Margaret shook her head and stood. “Sandy will be home soon, and we have a border here as well. I need to have something more ready.”

“Sandy?” asked Boone.

“The Sheriff,” said Margaret. “She lives here too.”

“Like, rents a room?”

Smiling, Margaret shook her head. “Like, she’s my wife.”

“Oh, shit,” said Boone. “And I just got you high?”

“Don’t worry about it,” assured Margaret. “She’ll never know.”

Picking up the pitcher of iced tea, Margaret refilled their glasses. “I’ll ring the bell when everything is ready for dinner. Relax, smoke, and listen for that thing she drives to pull up. Dinner will be ready soon after.”

They watched her leave the balcony and when the door to their rooms closed, Boone and Josh began laughing quietly.

“Dude,” said Boone. “The Sheriff’s wife.”

“Right?” said Josh. “No wonder she told us to come here. Keeping the payola in the family.” He became serious. “You don’t say anything stupid.”

“What are you talking about?”

“You know what I’m talking about,” said Josh. “You’re already stoned. Keep your mouth shut and say a lot of yes ma’am’s.”

“Yes ma’am.”

“Fuck you, let’s take one more hit before the Law gets here,” said Josh, reaching for the pipe.







Diner was zucchini fritters and grilled peppers and onions. The fritters were flavored with fresh dill and a smooth white cheese which reminded Boone of mozzarella. Topping the fritters was minced green onions over a dollop of sour cream, which was something Boone hadn’t realized he missed until tasting the tangy sauce. Margaret said both were locally made by one of the farmers out in the valley. Boone found it both amazing and amusing the differences in the food from place to place now that people had to rely on local produce and know how. Back on the mountain, the food was mainly influenced by El Ranchero de Montana’s Northern Mexican Cohuila region and Sanjana’s Indian cuisine.

Sheriff Sandy Conyers still wore her uniform, but her pistol belt was elsewhere, she and Margaret spoke of the day’s events while they ate, and Boone and Josh soaked in the information as the two chatted about neighbors and the happenings in the valley around them. Sheriff Conyers—Boone could not yet think of her as Sandy, especially since she was in uniform—mentioned that the local still, her source of fuel of the odd motorized buggy she drove, was not producing as much alcohol as it had been. The stills owner, a man she called Hobbs, claimed it was because the grain supply was getting scarce through the learner summer months.

“Honestly, I think it’s because Hobbs and Richards are running that Speakeasy again,” groused the Sheriff. “I’ll shut it down when I find it.”

Boone smiled at the thought of a dry county. Up on the mountain, wine and corn beer, and moonshine—even small casks of bourbon—were normal parts of daily life and trading. He shoved a bit of fritter in his mouth to keep from commenting about the alcohol situation in Renfroe Valley. Boone was surprised when Josh spoke up.

“Why the ban on alcohol for pleasure?”

Sheriff Conyers smiled over her glass of iced tea. “Well, it’s a resources problem. Our farms don’t have the ability to have large fields of grain without gas to run the tractors. We have converted a couple over to run alcohol—like my buggy—but the amount of field they can till verses the grain grown doesn’t leave much left over. It takes a lot of grain to make alcohol, roughly a ten to one yield, and most of it is better used for feed to see the animals through the winter months. It’s also used to feed our population. So, we’re a dry county, until things change. I take it things are different where you are?”

Josh nodded. “We have corn beer, moonshine, and a pretty substantial wine industry in the New Washington valley and on the mountain. Even when things were hard, the wineries keep producing grapes and with the number of horses in the area, we never really lost a lot of tilled ground. Bumper crops have kept us well stocked in drinkable pleasures.”

“Well, maybe when those horses you have get this way, we can rethink how we do things,” said the Sheriff.

The up till now quiet border, Jimmy, he introduced himself as, laughed around his fork. “I could use a drink.”

Jimmy was a rough hand around local farms, he seemed to have an air of perpetual dust hanging around him, even though it was evident his had washed up before coming to the table. When Jimmy had come back to the B&B after his day’s work, he was carrying a cloth grocery bag of foodstuffs which he handed over to Margaret, which Boone assumed was payment for his room and board. Some of the food he brought back was what they were currently eating. Having lived the later part of his life around ne’er-do-wells, Boone recognized a kindred spirit, or at least someone who would probably know where the Speakeasy the Sheriff was looking for might be located. Boone also surmised that the only thing keeping Jimmy from a life of laziness and hanging around other malcontents was the same thing that kept Boone from doing the same; in the new world, you had to work to eat.

Sheriff Conyers cast her gaze at Jimmy, measuring his words against the possibility that her boarder might have information on the missing alcohol. Josh spoke across the gaze, pulling the Sheriffs attention away from the man.

“Well, if the trade route opens up, you all wouldn’t object to trading for the alcohol, would you?” mentioned Josh. “There are plenty of people around New Washington that have surplus to trade, and not all of it is drinkable; it’s vinegar in some cases, we have grape seed oils, raisins, yeasts; all kinds of things.”

“Sounds like you all are doing well for yourselves,” said Margaret. “You have the salt you’re bringing in, the trade animals, apparently lots of booze—.”

They all laughed at that. Josh shook his head as he replied. “It’s not all parties and feasts; we work hard for what we have and we’ve got a pretty good community that watches out for each other.”

“Do you have any kind of Law Enforcement?” asked Sandy Conyers.

“No,” admitted Josh. He glanced a Boone, searching for how he wanted to frame his statement. “We are kinda libertarian, in the old school sense of you work hard, take care of your own, and as long as you’re not hurting those around you, you’re good. New Washington has elected officials, but even there, they don’t have an organized enforcement agency. People pitch in where it’s needed, and we are more Old School Wild West, if you will. When someone fucks up, we get together a posse and correct the problem. Cooper might be the closest thing to the Law we have; he’s been known to hunt people down and take care of problems.”

“Cooper?”

“El Poderoso,” laughed Boone and Josh together. The look of confusion on the faces of those at the table implied that if they had a Hispanic population in Renfroe Valley, it wasn’t large or influential. Josh explained. “It means, tough guy, powerful, the guy in charge, you know.”

“He’s a strong man?” asked the Sheriff, giving words the negative connotation.

“No. He’s just this guy who—,” started Josh.

“Fucking saved our lives,” cut in Boone. “He’s like Spiderman.” When everyone continued to stare at him, Boone struggled to explain himself. “You know; Peter Parker? He doesn’t want all this power, he doesn’t want to save people or get involved in the worlds shit, he just wants to fuck Mary Jane and hang out with his buddies, but he gets involved anyway, because that’s what good people do? That’s Cooper.”

“He saved your lives?”

“Him and a bunch of other people, but yeah. We owe a lot to Cooper.”

There was a silence that stretched out for longer than it should have as those gathered digested the information. The heavy air dissipated when Margaret cleared her throat. “Sounds like he makes you all better people.”

Boone grinned. “He tries.”

Jimmy roughly stood away from the table. “Well, I’m going to go and relax. Good meeting you guys, maybe we can hang out.”

He picked up his plate and carried it into the kitchen. They heard him clean the plate and then the bang of the screen door as the man exited the house for where ever he went to relax. Boone wondered if Jimmy were going to the Speakeasy.

“Interesting fellow,” said Josh.

“He’s a lay about and malcontent,” said Sandy Conyers. “I suspect that he’s headed to where ever you can buy a jar of grain alcohol right now.”

“You could follow him,” said Boone.

Sandy Conyers shook her head. “No. What do I do with him then? We have a lock up, but locking someone up means we have a person who is sitting and waiting on punishment which amounts to doing work they are probably already doing. The alcohol I can confiscate and use it in my buggy, or give it over to one of the alcohol burning tractors to use, but short of hacking up the still, shooting Hobbs and Richards, it’s easier to simply let them skim off a little for side trade and make sure that something comes my way to run the buggy. The Law only works as well as the people who believe in it. For the most part, most of the town adheres to the agreed upon rules we put together After.”

“How’d you become Sheriff?” asked Josh.

Sandy and Margaret laughed and Sandy reached out and took Margaret’s hand. “Well, I was a Patrol Captain in the city Before and Margaret and I bought this place to open our dream B&B. We moved up here about five years before it all fell apart, and I was working part time at the Sheriff’s department. When it hit, the Sheriff had a massive heart attack, his Chief Deputy was killed along with a few deputies in a big shoot out with a bunch of nomadic white supremacists, the rest of the department disbanded or faded away and it was down to me, two other deputies and a couple jailers who lived in the area. Renfroe Valley, Woodside in particular, wanted some kind of standing law enforcement. They held a ‘raise your hands’ election down at the town hall and some jerk nominated me.”

Margaret and Sandy smiled at one another. Boone suspected that Margaret might have been the “jerk.”

“How many deputies do you have?”

“Four. Those two deputies I mentioned and the jailers.”

“You patrol in that alcohol powered buggy?”

“And on bikes,” she said. “The valley is about as far as we can patrol with what we’ve got.”

Margaret released Sandy’s hand and she stood, gathering up the dishes and taking them to the kitchen. Boone and Josh offered to help, but were turned down with a head shake and a smile. Boone pushed away from the table.

“I’m going to check on the horses,” he said. Josh stood with him. They thanked Margaret and left the two women together for their personal time.

Outside at the garage, Boone and Josh found Jimmy leaning against the bay door frame looking at the horses and the mule. He nodded to the two men and motioned to the animals.

“You got lots’a horses?” asked Jimmy.

Boone cocked his head and stared at the man. “At least three.”

“Yeah, I mean, where you come from, you got lots’a horse?”

“How would you answer that question, Jimmy?”

“You ain’t gotta be an asshole,” said Jimmy, pushing off the doorpost. “I’m just asking a question.”

“Well, Jimmy, we have a business to protect, and when people ask us about our stock, we get kinda protective,” growled Boone.

“Look at it from our point of view,” said Josh, stepping passed the man to the horses. “We’re in the business of trading horses. It’s like having a trade secret in the auto industry; you remember when Chevy used to hide the type of cars they were working on for the next year? It’s like that. We like to keep the models a secret until they’re unveiled.”

Jimmy nodded with Josh and shrugged. “I was just being friendly.”

“Sure you were,” Josh told him politely. “Boone’s job is to protect the business is all.”

Jimmy shrugged. “I get it, I guess. You saddle them up like the cowboys?”

“Jesus,” breathed Boone.

Josh waved all of the questions away. “Sure, Jimmy, like the cowboys. There’s not too many ways to saddle up a horse, you know.”

“What’s a horse cost?” continued Jimmy, starting to follow them around as they made sure the horses were secure in the garage, checking the horses for the beginnings of saddle sores, any damage to the hooves, loose horse shoes; there was another thing people didn’t know until they had to shoe a horse; like people, horses had different size hooves; like a human, horses had hooves that were long and wide, short and thin, and even varied according to the depth of the hoof. The nails used were just as important as the type of shoe, it would not do the horse or rider any good to have a nail that was too deep splitting or penetrating the hoof, just like throwing a shoe from a shallow nail would be a problem. Then saddling a horse was a skill as well. Josh had to laugh a little when Jimmy asked what a horse cost. The concept of a horse and maintenance of that animal were still foreign to a society where the car was still a hard-wired memory.

“Horse’s are expensive,” said Josh as Boone slapped one of the horses on the shoulder to get it to raise its hoof so he could look at the shoe and condition of the hoof it was attached to. “Not just in initial cost, it’s all the other things that go with it; feed, care, maintenance to the animal so it doesn’t lame up—.”

“They never talk about that shit in the movies, do they?” responded Jimmy.

“Nope,” agreed Josh.

“What would a horse cost me?” asked Jimmy again. “I mean, let’s just assume I know that other stuff you’re talking about.”

“Just the horse?” said Josh. He shrugged and avoided the mule’s big stomp as he worked around the animal. “I don’t know Jimmy, it’s not like we’ve got a dollar amount in mind. We see what people have to trade, how it benefits us and our place. We’re not going to trade, say, a bag of flour for one. Now if you have a wagon load of flour, we’ll start talking.”

Jimmy nodded. “Sure, sure.”

“What do you need a horse for?” asked Boone.

Startled that Boone was speaking to him, Jimmy got embarrassed and looked away out at the darkening sky. “I donno. Seems a good way to get out of here.”

“It does until you have to stop and let the horse rest up and heal from a saddle sore you didn’t catch forming,” said Boone. “There’s a reason why cowboys had a bunch of horses to choose from when they were on cattle drives and stage coaches had stops to switch out horses.”

“You all only had two to ride,” pointed out Jimmy.

“We went slow and took our time getting here,” said Josh.

As if he were done having the conversation, Jimmy cracked his neck and walked to the open garage bay, looking at the saddles piled over the bags of trade salt. Boone and Josh stiffened and watched him while he just looked at the saddles and blankets. The man turned away and headed out the door.

“Have a good one,” said Jimmy.

They bid the man a good night. After he was well out of ear shot, Boone and Josh stood over the saddles and panniers.

“Should we move them into the house with us?” asked Josh.

“We gonna move the horses too?”

“It might deter him.”

“I don’t think he’ll steal them tonight,” said Boone tightly. “If at all. He’s not brave enough to do that. I doubt he could wrangle two horses and a mule by himself.”

“He only needs one,” said Josh.

“Let’s hope it’s yours.”

“Haha,” stressed Josh. “Let’s at least move the salt up to our room. I doubt Margaret or the Sheriff will fuck with anything in our room.”

Boone agreed with his friend. They hefted the salt bags onto their shoulders and stuffed them under the beds once they were in the rooms they had rented. It wasn’t the utmost secure place, but they were out of sight and not laying around in the garage where anyone could get at them. After sharing a pipe of the Tennessee tobacco, the two retired to bed for their early start in the morning to the farm of John Todd.
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Re: Cooper; new stuff added 04/11/2017

Post by doc66 » Wed Aug 29, 2018 4:12 pm

John Todd had looked over the horses and the mule. He had acted like he knew what he was looking at; indeed, he had milk cows and beef cattle and goats and chickens and pigs and hogs and acres of wheat and corn and gardens of vegetables and fruit trees, along with all kinds of helping hands in the form of neighbors who worked hard to keep the farm going along with whatever personal small farms endeavors they themselves had. It wasn’t so different from El Jefe’s ranch up on the mountain, or Cooper’s homestead, or even their own small horse ranch. People had to work together to survive. John Todd had shown them the farm, his short stature and wide body belying the swiftness of his movements. He was dressed as one might expect a farmer to be attired; bib overalls that were stained and patched from hard work, boots which showed the scuffs under the layer of polish he probably applied at least once a week to preserve the leather, and a faded t-shirt under the bib, proclaiming that He was a farmer. While they walked, he had explained that he was plowing with the last of his diesel reserves and after this season, the horses would be his source of plowing. Since he would not be breaking new ground, the horses would actually have an easier time of working the farm, turning plowed ground and towing the wagons and equipment. Sitting on the porch, sipping hard cider and eating dried peach turnovers made by John Todd’s wife and her small kitchen staff; that was how Boone thought of the people working for John Todd, as staff, they were talking about how many horses John Todd thought he might need right away.

“—I’d like to have six, right away,” John Todd was saying. “There’s so much to do, six would give me four to work and two to rest and rotate in.”

“You’d still need to break them to a plow,” said Josh. “We have them broken to the wagon and some to riding; but we don’t do plowing. I don’t know that we can provide six, right away.”

“How many are you thinking?” asked John Todd, sipping at the hard cider and wiping the sweat from the iced glass off on his stained overalls. Everyone had ice here. Boone loved that ice was on demand. He was going to get Heidi to contract for an ice house as soon as they got back to the mountain. While Josh was calculating the number of horses they had, the contracts they had to fill verses the demand across the board, Boone was gazing out over the people working in the big barn and around the fields.

“I think we can go with three, right away, with three delivered in a couple months,” said Josh. When John Todd looked perturbed at the numbers, Josh hastened to remind him, “We have a lot of clients; There’s only so many horses—good horses—available. We sell good horses, Mr. Todd.”

“I understand,” agreed John Todd. He thought a moment. “What about mules? Could you get me mules? I am not looking to compete with you; I’m looking to keep my farm, and probably several other farms in the area, going. That mule you have, it’s a strong looking beast, and I’ll need animals that can work as hard as I do.”

Boone almost laughed at that, but he didn’t. In today’s world, statements like that were not made lightly, and people didn’t help work a farm while the owner lay about and gave orders. If you didn’t pitch in alongside them, they’d stop coming to help. You couldn’t pay people in cash, it was in work ethic and the results of that labor that kept people around. Cooper was up just as early as anyone else on the mountain, and Boone did not doubt that John Todd was the first one out in the field. Boone kept his vigil on observing the farmhands and how they interacted with the farm itself. Heidi was always interested in how the farm treated the animals and how the people treated the farms and ranches she was dealing with. To her those interactions were a direct indication of how her horses would be taken care of. If things seemed well cared for, if the buildings were in good repair, the animals in good condition, she seemed to believe that all else was well.

“We have mules,” said Josh carefully. In truth, they had a lot of mules. They had wrangled the remains of Heidi’s father’s small ranch an experience of cowboying which had been eye opening, dangerous, and cemented the petite woman’s place as a knowledgeable and commanding stockman. The wild horses and the mules and hinnies, and donkeys on the property, interbred by the man who had taken over her father’s ranch, had been a boon to the ranch she was building. The horses, the excellent horse flesh her father had raised, was still evident in the breeding and cross breeding. With the fall of the MC in the area, the ranch had been wide open for the taking, and Heidi—and her mercenary and vindictive streak—had taken advantage of the situation before anyone else could. The results were a rather large and sometimes uncontained herd of animals roaming the mountainside and small parks and clearings. Boone and Josh, along with the rest of the people on that side of the mountain, had learned a lot about horse wrangling in a short period of time. “What if we went with two horses and two mules to start?”

“I can live with that,” said John Todd. “As long as we can agree on two solid horse for the next go around, and I might even pick up another couple mules, my crop depending.”

Josh nodded. “Yes, sir, I understand. You’ve had a bumper crop of wheat?”

“I’ve had more than expected,” agreed John Todd carefully.

“Would you ship grain, or processed flour?” asked Josh as if the deal were already decided for the grain.

“Well, my understanding was I’d make a firm deal with your boss,” he said guardedly.

“The final deal will be hers,” agreed Josh. “But She wants me to come back with some kind of rough agreement; she doesn’t want to start from scratch, you understand. If you leave open too much room, you can waste a lot of time and energy.”

John Todd nodded in agreement. He and Josh began to hash out the details, as much as John Todd was willing to, and Josh began to note the deal in his ledger book; the record of all they contracted for and the amounts of what people were roughly willing to pay for the horses and mules. As they bartered back and forth, Josh easily threw in that they had salt available and would be willing to trade luxury goods such as wines, corn beer, and even a cask or two of corn whisky, along with the other goods the valley and mountain had to offer. John Todd mentioned he had wool, in thread form, yarn, and even rough cloth, and that a neighbor made barrel staves and barrels. Boone half listened, his thoughts drifting in and out while he sat on the porch and chewed on the ice.

He sat up when he saw Jimmy and another man speaking in the shadow of the barn. The two men seemed to be looking at the horses, where the three men sat on the porch talking business, and comparing their observations, with heads tilted together. John Todd’s wife came out with a pitcher of hard cider. She was a mirror of John Todd; she would look plump in a famine, but Boone knew her type, there was a layer of hard muscle under the fleshy appearing layer. She quietly refilled the glasses. When she came to Boone, she held out the contents of the pitcher as Josh and John Todd went over particulars.

Boone held out his glass with a smile. He motioned with the full glass to where Jimmy and the other man stood in the shade of the barn. “Is that Jimmy over there?”

John Todd’s wife looked where Boone pointed. “It is; he should be in the barn, not lounging beside it; those stalls don’t much themselves.”

“No, they don’t,” agreed Boone. “Probably taking a break; stalls are hard work.”

“If we get a real day’s hard work out of Jimmy, it’s nothing short of a miracle.”

“No much for an honest day’s work?” asked Boone. He smiled, knowing he couldn’t be counted on much of a day’s work if he could get out of it.

She misread the smile, as he expected her to. “There’s honest, and then there’s Jimmy. He works what he needs too to get paid; nothing more.”

“Who is that with him?”

“Richards,” she scoffed. “Why John Todd hires them is sometimes beyond me.”

“Lay-abouts?”

“Probably thieves too,” she supplied, happy to have someone to gossip with. “Why Sheriff Conyers doesn’t run them out of town is beyond me; as you know, she even let’s Jimmy live under the same roof.”

“Easier to keep an eye on him if he’s right there,” suggested Boone.

“Sometimes it’s hard to see the end of your nose,” pooh-poohed Mrs. Todd. “Everyone knows those two—and that roustabout Hobbs, with his still for alleged fuel—are up to no good 90 percent of the time.”

“Have you had problems with them?” asked Boone, as innocently as he could manage.

Mrs. Todd looked over to where John Todd was going over the book with Josh. “Between you and I? We’ve been missing portions of grain and sugar beets when they work. I say they’re skimming, John Todd says that damage and carelessness will do that. He is not a man to see someone starve. I think they take it for that still and make hooch to sell around the valley. Some folks will do most anything for a drink.”

Smiling, Boone sipped at the hard cider.

“Don’t think we don’t use everything here, but why go out of the way to create hardships off folks?”

“Truth in that,” said Boone.

“Well, I have to get back to dinner,” she said, seeing John Todd and Josh close the book. “You’ll stay for dinner?”

“It’s up to Josh, but don’t be surprised if we do.”

She smiled and made her way back to the kitchen.

Dinner was the hands who had been working the farm and Boone and Josh gathered at a long table served family style with heaping bowls of mashed potatoes, greens, creamed corn that had been canned in the last year, loaves of crusty bread, creamy butter, and a smoked ham that had been roasted with apples. Boone and Josh had brought two pounds of salt for John Todd as a symbol of good faith, and there was a cellar of salt being passed from person to person. Boone watched as each person probably put more salt than was necessary on every item of food on their plate. He himself wolfed down his fair share of bread; breads made from flour were not common on the mountain; most of their crop was corn based and they had been trying to get winter wheat started as a crop, they were still working on getting enough of the seed set aside for crop and to use as a food source. The current wheat flour they were getting was being stretched with the corn meal, of which they seemed to have plenty.

As he slathered a chunk of the crust with another knifeful of butter, Boone kept an eye on Jimmy and the man Mrs. Todd had identified as Richards. They were laughing and taling with the men and woman around them, but occasionally, he would catch them glancing up the table at he or Josh, and their merriment seemed to wane when that happened. Both Josh and Boone were armed, carrying at least side arm each—Boone of course was, comparatively speaking, armed to the teeth with his Glock and 1911—and a rifle on the horses, which was different from the people in Renfroe Valley. Most of them never seemed to be armed. John Todd had a cowboy style revolver in a period holster, and there were probably a couple other people who had shown up to work toting the odd rifle or shotgun, but for the most part, there were no firearms evident. That was strange for Boone to see, as on the mountain, it seemed most folks were armed all the time. He wondered if that were the reason Renfroe Valley had a Sheriff and New Washington and the surrounding hills and mountains did not; if everyone was armed and took care of things as needed, there was no need for law enforcement? When bad things happened, did they cower down and hope Sheriff Conyers showed up with a couple of deputies to handle the situation, or did they run for the hills? Boone bit into the crust and munched away, deciding that a small, well-armed group of determined people—like the MC had been at one point—could roll through the valley in no time, making it over into a hell hole, like Hartsville had been.

Boone helped himself to another spoon of mashed potatoes and put more butter on the mound, adding the ham juice soaked apples and another slice of the smoked ham. Corn followed to the plate when it was passed by and Josh shot him a look which Boone interrupted to mean that Josh did not want Boone making an ass of himself by eating enough for three people. Boone smiled at the man, and took a big forkful of the mashed potatoes and shoved them into his mouth with a bite of ham. Josh turned away and spoke with the person next to him, pretending to ignore Boone.

“So them horses,” said the man next to Boone. “You all got a bunch of them?”

Boone turned to the man, looking at him over his fork, assessing the worker for a moment before answering. The man was probably trying to make genuine conversation. Boone nodded at the man, chewing and swallowing. “We’ve get enough to trade them around.”

“You got a stud and everything?” asked the man. “I mean, you ain’t just gathering up strays and such and selling them?”

“Mavericks,” said Boone. The man gave him a blank look. Boone waved the fork around in the air. “Horses that are unbranded, or not owned, are called mavericks, or mustangs if they are running wild, free range as it were. Strays are dogs and cats. Our horses are branded, old school, with the H-B-J brand, the rising H-B-J connected,” Boone traced the brand in his mashed potatoes with the fork for the man. “You see someone riding a horse with that brand, you know it’s a fine piece of horse flesh.”

The man looked as if Boone had given him more of an answer than he wanted, as if he were trying to be polite, and had realized being courteous was a mistake. He forged on anyway. “So you raise them?”

“We raise as many as we can,” agreed Boone. “Demand outstrips the supply sometimes, but we manage.”

Nodding the man started to turn back to his own plate. Boone forged on, secretly gleeful that he had someone to torment. “What do you do around here? Just work for John Todd, or do you have your own place?”

“I manage some of the work around here and on the Davidson place,” admitted the man. “I also do a little farming at my own house.”

“Lots of experience with management?” quipped Boone, digging into his food.

“I was the local representative for the state farm bureau, so I have some expertise in the subject,” he said dryly.

“FFA guy? That’s cool,” Boone stuck out his hand. “I’m Boone, the B in the brand.”

“Gerrard.”

“Sounds French, we have a chick back on the mountain, she speaks French.”

“German, actually,” corrected the man. “The Normans brought the name to France and England.”

“No shit?”

“No—,” said Garrard.

“You always eat on the farm like this?” asked Boone, waving another chunk of buttered bread at the long table. He followed the wave with a glance down the table where Jimmy and Richards were edging out of their seats, along with another man who cast a glance of his own at Boone and looked away when their eyes met. Boone tried to get a good look at the man, but was torn away by Garrard answering him.

“Not normally,” admitted Garrard. “Your horse trading is something of an event, and John Todd wanted to put on a good impression for you. Normally, when the work is done we scatter to our own homes. Sunday is the day that the Todd’s usually open the farm to friends and neighbors and hands.”

“Special occasion,” nodded Boone, knowingly. “We do the same thing where we’re from; have occasions where we get together and party a little. Sometimes a lot.”

Garrard smiled stiffly. “Renfroe Valley isn’t exactly a party place.”

“Well, Gerry,” said Boone. “Maybe we can change that once we start trading horses.” Josh was trying to capture his attention. Boone thanked the man for his time and grabbed his hard cider and chunk of buttered bread, excusing himself to meet Josh.

“You about ready?” asked Josh. “It’s getting late, and I want to try to get back to the B&B before it’s too dark.”

“You want to bail?” said Boone. “We’re the guests of honor….”

“Dude, do you really want to stay?”

Boone grinned. “I brought my smokes, my smoke, and this hard cider isn’t too bad. I’ll bet we could swap this for corn beer even up.”

“John Todd isn’t exactly a party kind of guy,” pointed out Josh. “And you can get fucked up on the horse on the way into town.”

“Whatever you want to do,” returned Boone. “But, I did meet the head of the FFA or something, and he’s a farm manager, we could probably get to know him and invite him to New Washington to talk to people.”

“Give him the invite, and let’s make our exit.”

Boone nodded. “I’m gonna make a ham sandwich for the road too.”

“How much have you eaten?”

“Enough for a healthy shit,” said Boone over his shoulder as he walked back to the table. Josh let out an exasperated groan and went to make his excuses with John Todd.





They rode in along in the dusk, the heavy smell of the fields all around them as the horses and mule plodded along the crumbling surface of the secondary road. Above them, the bats were starting to flutter in their search for the insects which had started to increase with the fading light. Along the edge of the horizon, the stars were beginning to shine in the dark rim of the world. Boone passed the pipe to Josh, who inhaled and passed the pipe back to his friend. They had left the gathering on what seemed to have been a positive note, even though John Todd and his wife had mentioned several times to the two riders that they were welcome to stay at the farm house. Josh had made a pleasant excuse about wanting to do some trading in town and needing to be back so they could be up and ready early. Mrs. Todd had given them a Tupperware container of peach cobbler, which they promised to return as soon as they could, either by the sheriff or personally before they left Renfroe Valley. Boone stowed the pipe and brought out the ham sandwich he made before leaving the table at John Todd’s farm.

“Jesus, dude, where do you put all that food?”

“I enjoy eating,” said Boone. “And in two or three days, we’ll be back to hard bread and smoked jerky.”

“Yeah, but, how many plates did you have? It was ridiculous.”

“How long have you known me? You’ve seen me eat….”

Josh had to think about it for moment. “Wow. It’s actually been years now.”

“Time flies when you’re having fun, don’t it?”

“I wouldn’t call it all fun.”

“No, not all of it.”

They rode on for a moment.

“Gimme a bite of that,” said Josh.

“Starting to wonder why you didn’t make one?” asked Boone tearing off half the sandwich and handing it over to Josh.

Josh took his half and smiled at his friend. “No need for me to make one when I can bum off you.”

They rode on in silence for a measure, the warm air cooling as the evening breezes began to brush across the valley. Overhead the stars began to show in the darkening sky, and the blaze of the setting sun was casting a red fire through the trees. The shadows lengthened across the road, chilling the air and making Boone shudder as the horses plodded along, following the mood of their rides, not in any hurry to be in a particular place. With the evening cooling the smells of the wild flowers came to the on the breezes, the perfumed air washing over the two men adding to the easy feeling of contentment. They topped a rise and the town spread out before them, the reflection of the setting sun giving the buildings a warm glow. In some of the windows, candle light could be seen as small sparks against the dusk.

“It’s not a bad place,” murmured Josh.

“You could live here?”

“I don’t know about that,” said Josh. “Maybe, Before, I could have been okay here. You know, worked a job and had a place of my own.”

“A woman to share the porch with, a good book?”

“Nothing wrong with all that,” defended Josh.

Boone gave a small, friendly laugh. “I can see you doing that.”

“Not you?”

“No, man,” Boone said. “You met me Before. Do you think I’d have been good with that?”

“Nope,” Josh told him. “The American Dream was not yours.”

“We all have our versions of that Dream.”

They fell silent again as the horses entered the town limits. It wasn’t long before they had put up the horses and the mule, said hello to Margaret and Sandra, that they collapsed in their respective beds and were asleep.
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Re: Cooper; new stuff added 04/11/2017

Post by doc66 » Wed Aug 29, 2018 4:13 pm

There was barely light in the room when Boone and Josh were awakened by firm knocking on the door to their room. Boone recognized the knock. Anyone who had spent time on the shady side of the law knew the firm, consistent pounding and what it meant. For a moment, Boone was transported back in time, and he had a moment of fear, thinking that his past crimes had finally caught up with him. He had a brief flash of two men lying dead on the dirty floor of an abandoned warehouse. Josh’s voice asking him what the hell was up snapped him back to the present.

“No clue, dude,” croaked Boone in a sleep laden voice. He struggled upright in the predawn light that was seeping into the room. Josh was fighting with his pants, trying to get at least one leg in the jeans. Boone forwent the exertion of attempting the pants, and grabbed the 1911 from under his pillow, padding to the door. He removed the ladder backed chair from under the door knob and opened the barrier, keeping the pistol down by his leg.

Sheriff Conyers stood on the other side, her uniform on and blonde gray hair under the hat. She ignored Boone’s striped boxers and the pistol in his hand.

“Get your pants on,” she said to the two of them. “Someone stole your horses.”

It took a moment for the words to register. Behind him, Boone heard Josh curse and a thud as his friend fell over, his pants half on and half off. Boone almost burst out laughing until the seriousness of the words spoken by the sheriff sank in.

“Mother fucker.”

Josh used the bed to pull himself up and pulled his pants on the rest of the way. Boone went over to his own bed and gathered up the tangle of clothing from the floor. He tossed the 1911 on the bed and jerked on his clothing, speaking to the sheriff while did so.

“What happened?”

“Someone forced the man door and opened the bay door,” supplied Sheriff Conyers.

“No one heard anything?”

“Did you?” snapped the Sheriff back.

“Fuck.” Boone pulled on his shoulder holster and put on his gunbelt as Josh grabbed up his rifle. “How’d you find it?”

“My deputy and I were switching up for the shift, he was bringing the buggy back to me and saw the door had been forced.”

“Do we have more buggies, or horses, to help us look?” asked Boone.

“I’ve got my deputy headed out to the Todd farm to borrow his diesel truck and from there go over to the Chapman’s place and borrow their alcohol fueled dirt bikes.”

Boone’s interest was piqued by the mention of the dirt bikes, but he knew that gathering the posse together to hunt down the horse thieves would take a massive amount of time that gave the thieves the chance to escape. There was no telling how much time the thieves had for a head start. There was a niggling suspicion in the back of his mind as he dressed.

“Has anyone checked to see if Jimmy is still here?”

“Jimmy?” asked the Sheriff.

“He’s been asking a lot of questions about the horses, and he and that Richards guy were acting pretty suspicious out at the Todd place today.”

“Let’s check,” said Sheriff Conyers.

Boone and Josh followed the Sheriff to the room rented by Jimmy.

Sheriff Conyers did not bother to knock. Instead, she pulled a key from over the door frame and unlocked the door. She replaced the key and Boone and Josh went in nearly on her heels. The room was dark and stuffy, the drapes were pulled over the window, blocking any morning breeze that might seep through the window. There was the odor of feet and stale breath, and in the twilight coming through the door, Boone could see clothing piled on a chair, boots and shoes kicked over to one side of the door, and a basket of clothing was in a corner. In the bed, the sleeping form of Jimmy lay with the sheets over his face, softly snoring away the last vestiges of the night. Conyers stood over the bed for a moment, the sight of the man in bed, to her, meant he had nothing to do with the theft of the horses, and she was reluctant to wake the man since his innocence was apparent by his being asleep in his bed.

Boone did not feel the same way.

He stepped around Conyers and slapped the man hard in the head, the dull thump of the blow sounding through the room. Conyers reached out to stop him, but Boone danced away, cursing the man as Jimmy let out a startled yell and fought with his sheets to uncover himself and escape the assault.

“Where the fuck are my horses, Jimmy,” shouted Boone. “Where the fuck did your buddies take them?”

As Boone raised his arm to slap at Jimmy again, Sheriff Conyers managed to get a grip on Boone’s arm and spun him partially around. Boone windmilled his arm to try and break loose, while Jimmy scrambled and fell off the bed on the opposite side from where Conyers and Boone struggled. Josh tried to intercede but could not decide the best way to disentangle Boone and the Sheriff, and managed to simply get in the way of the Sheriff stopping Boone, and Boone escaping. The three of them slapped and pushed and pulled at one another, falling into the bed and pushing it against Jimmy, who was trying to get up and make his way to the door to escape. Boone stopped trying to escape the Sheriff, and took another swing at Jimmy, connecting with Jimmy’s shoulder. Jimmy yelped and swung back, hitting at Boone but missing, and the blow glanced off the Sheriff’s jaw. Conyers head snapped back and she loosened her grip on Boone, which let Boone dive at Jimmy and tackle him back to the floor. Josh stepped away from the swinging fists; his heel caught on the bedding and fell into the bed stand sending it crashing to the ground. Josh followed the stand, groaning as wood splintered under the weight of his body.

Boone was throwing punches at Jimmy, hitting the man in the head and shoulders and on his upraised arms. Jimmy yelled and bucked, attempting to dislodge Boone, who was riding high on the man’s upper body, straddling him as if he were a horse Boone wanted to break for riding. Conyers recovered from the burning fist to her jaw and in a swift motion, she was on Boone, wrapping him in a head lock and her legs levered around his body until he was sent flying off Jimmy and to the floor where she applied a moment of pressure to the struggling man’s carotid artery, creating temporary hypoxia. Boone’s body went slack, and Conyers pushed him off her. She quickly cuffed the man before she rolled to her feet and saw Jimmy half crawling toward the door.

“Stop right there, Jimmy,” she commanded.

Jimmy did as he was told and rolled over to cower with his legs draw up. “That fucker’s trying to kill me. I didn’t do nothing.”

Josh pushed himself away from the night stand, using the bed to pull himself up. He sat heavily on the bed, inspecting his arms and shoulders for cuts, swearing under his breath as he made sure his glasses were not broken.

“He’s not going to do shit, but you’re not going anywhere,” she told him.

“I didn’t do nothing, Sheriff,” he said again. “I was sleeping.”

“Where’s our goddamn horses?” spat Josh, straightening himself as he got off the bed.

“I don’t know,” said Jimmy.

Boone was waking up. He gave a heavy, almost snorting sound as he came too. “What the fuck?”

“You stay right there,” ordered Sheriff Conyers. Margaret appeared in the doorway, a short lever action rifle in her hands. Conyers gave her a tight smile. “We got this under control, honey.”

“It doesn’t sound like it.”

“There was a moment of confusion—.”

Margaret looked at the broken furniture, Jimmy, Boone cuffed and swearing, and Josh, then back at Sandra. “Next person that breaks something in my house, I’ll shoot them, understand?”

Everyone nodded. Boone even stopped swearing.

After Margaret left, Conyers pulled Jimmy to his feet and swept the clothing off the chair and sat him in it, telling him not to move. Boone was already up and he took a seat on the bed. Josh stood by the bed, wondering just what action he should take.

Conyers leaned over Jimmy. “If you know anything about the horses, now is the time to talk, because if I find out later you knew something and didn’t tell me, I’ll bury you myself, Jimmy. Being my cousin’s nephew doesn’t hold that much water.”

“I didn’t steal them,” said Jimmy again.

“I didn’t ask if you stole them,” said Sheriff Conyers. “I asked if you knew anything about them getting stolen.”

Jimmy looked uncomfortable and tried to not meet her gaze. Conyers snapped her fingers and drew his attention back. “Well?”

“I think it was Richards and Hobbs,” he said.

“You think?”

He let out a martyred sigh. “I mean, they asked me a bunch of questions about the horses, about those guys,” Jimmy nodded at Boone and Josh, “and where the horses were kept.”

“What did you tell them?”

“I just told them, you know.”

“Fucker,” spat Boone.

Conyers shot him a hard look. “You’re already on thin ice, mister.”

Boone clamped his mouth shut. He had enough experience with the Law to know when to shut up.

“Where’d they take the horses?” asked Sheriff Conyers.

“I donno.”

“Jimmy?”

“I donno,” he reiterated. “I mean, maybe by the still?”

“The legal one or the one they use to make that rot gut?”

Jimmy fell silent. Conyers stepped close to him and leaned down so that she was the only thing he could see. “I’ve been letting that thing go because it’s not worth my time to deal with it. I let people buy the hooch because we’re not savages and people like to have a nip occasionally. But, I swear to all that is Holy, Jimmy, if you fuck me around on this, I will see that you hang from the first tall tree I come across and leave you for the birds to tear apart. Those horses are more to this town than just something for those men to ride, those horses represent a better life for this valley. Now. Where is the still?”

Jimmy blinked. By the expression on Jimmy’s face, Boone could see that Jimmy was debating about just how serious Sheriff Conyers was. Boone knew that Conyers would probably not hang the man, but, there was a small part of him that hoped Conyers was genuine in her threat. The risk of hanging, Boone knew, was also the reason—however small—that Jimmy would cave and tell her. Jimmy did not want to die.

“The still is up by the old Martin place. He’s got it hide back in the woods, by the creek,” Jimmy muttered this almost to the floor. “There’s an old barn or something back there. The horses are back there, probably.”

Conyers nodded and turned away from him, leaving him sitting in the chair. She walked over to Boone.

“Turn around.”

Doing as he was told, Boone presented his shackled wrists to the Sheriff. She took the cuffs off him, leaning in as she did so.

“I just knocked you out that time,” she told him. “Next time, I’ll break something.”

Boone took her at her word.

Sheriff Conyers took the cuffs over to Jimmy. “Stand up Jimmy, you’re currently under arrest for suspicion of horse theft.”

“I didn’t do nothing,” he said again, as if his protests were going to sway the sheriff from her decision.

“We’ll let the magistrate decide that,” she told him.

“The mayor don’t like me none,” whined Jimmy.

“Lots of people don’t like you none, Jimmy, but that doesn’t change how Justice works.”

Sheriff Conyers pulled Jimmy’s hands around behind him and cuffed him. Once the bracelets were in place she motioned for all of them to proceed her down stairs. In the kitchen, Margaret had the peach cobbler from John Todd’s wife set out in the table along with sourdough biscuits and butter and jam. There was also a pot of the Black Drink that Margaret made. When had she served the drink to them the previous morning, she described it as Native American coffee; a drink made from the Yaupon Holly bush, prepared by roasting the leaves and small branches and then boiling it until the water was black. The drink had a super hard kick from the high caffeine content, and Boone had felt the buzz most of the morning. Today he was looking forward to having the drink simply because of the rude way he had been awakened. The sun was starting to shine at its full morning brightness.

“I’m going to walk Jimmy down to the holding cell,” said Sheriff Conyers.

Jimmy twisted around and gave her a hurt and surprised look. “I don’t get breakfast?”

“You’ll eat when this is done,” said Conyers.

“Well, that’s bullshit.”

Boone could tell Conyers was trying very hard to not simply jerk Jimmy off his feet and drag him out the door. Sheriff Conyers stopped long enough to kiss Margaret before leading the protesting man out the door. Boone and Josh sat down at the table and each pulled a plate to them, scooping out cobbler and pouring the coffee-like beverage into mugs.

“I’m surprised she’s not taking you two to jail as well,” mentioned Margaret.

“I guess she figures knocking Boone out was punishment enough,” said Josh.

Margaret gave Boone an appraising look. “6 years as an MMA contender; she’s 17 and 2.”

“Jesus,” breathed Boone. Josh cast a look towards Boone, as if he were trying to convey just how lucky he was. Boone accepted the look and ducked his head down to avoid any further discourse on the subject. The now very real threat to break something floated to the fore of Boone’s mind. He was glad that she had only knocked him out. The rest of the wait was done in silence.



The noon sun shone through the trees, burning away any kind of relief the shade might have offered. The Martin place leaned to one side, its weather-beaten siding pulling away from the boards underneath with hollow spaces where windows once reflected. Tall grasses grew all around the property and saplings were springing up to reclaim the empty yard for the woods which lay behind the house. Somewhere in those woods was a barn, and in the barn were the horses belonging to Boone and Josh. Sheriff Conyers had gathered her troops, which consisted of two deputies, John Todd, The Chapman boys, and Boone and Josh. Since they had a location for where the horses might be, and it wasn’t too far outside of town, Sheriff Conyers had forgone wasting precious fuel in the vehicles and walked the distance to the still. By the time everyone had gathered at the Bed and Breakfast and the plans were laid with all the posse present to add their remarks, the sun had climbed into the sky and burned away anything representing a pleasant day. It had taken them until nearly noon to walk the hot, sticky distance, and Boone was fighting his natural impulse to argue with the Sheriff about her strategy. Conyers glassed the house with her binoculars from the minimal shadow of a tree across the road from the house. She pulled the magnification away from her eyes.

“I don’t see anyone.”

Of course not, thought Boone, because they’re smart and inside. If they were even at the property.

“They’re supposed to be in a barn in the woods,” reminded Boone.

“Well, let’s clear the house,” said Conyers. She motioned to her deputies, who came over to her position like they were play acting in a war movie. Conyers laid out a rough plan to check the house and then told the Chapman boys, John Todd, and Boone and Josh; “Cover us and wait here while we check the house.”

“What, you don’t think we’ve got the skills?” asked Boone, anxious to be doing something other than crouching under a tree.

“Honestly, no.”

Boone swallowed the stinging of the words; it was her valley, and she and the deputies had worked together on these types of things before. He bit down on his retort, sighing with what Conyers took to be disappointment.

“It’s not personal,” said Conyers. Boone simply nodded and she and the deputies ran across the road and up to the house. The Chapman boys and John Todd pointed their rifles at the house pantomiming what they had seen done on TV, when there had still been TV. Boone and Josh watched with detached interest as the three dove through the door and into the dark interior.

“We should probably move up,” said Josh. “We’re pretty far away to provide support or back up.”

“She told us to stay.”

After a bit, while the locals gripped rifles and breathed heavily in the hot sun, a deputy came out of the house and waved for them to come to the house. The Chapman boys mimicked the Sheriffs sprint across the road, but John Todd and Boone and Josh walked the distance as if they were simply headed to the house to visit friends.

“The house is clear,” announced the deputy.

Again, Boone bit back his sarcastic rejoinder. Josh gave his friend a worried look, as if he knew it was not much time before Boone exploded with some kind of smart aleck remark.

Conyers came out of the house. “Let’s find the barn.”

She gave them a marching order and they fanned out into the woods behind the house, stepping under the canopy of leaves and out of the sun. The heat of the sun was mostly reflected off the leaves above them, but the light streaming down between the branches managed to give the woods a close, hot feeling, and they were all sweating before they were out of sight of the tree line. Spider webs clung to their faces, bugs flew around their ears, and it seemed every manner of creepy crawly thing managed to fall off trees to land on their arms and clothing. When it seemed that they had gone too far, Boone heard the snort of one of the horses. He stopped moving, and Josh stopped with him. Since they were at the edge of the line, the others did not see them stop. Boone peered through the trees and saw the rough outline of the barn; a tall, ramshackle structure with graying boards blending in with the trees around it and the rusty tin roof was nearly camouflaged against the leaves around it. Boone and Josh headed for the building, their rifles leading the way.

As they got closer, they could smell the faint odor of wood burning, and the sound of the horses as they moved around in stalls. The barn door was open on one side and through the gap, Boone and Josh could see partially into the shadows. There was an old tractor occupying part of the center and what looked to be what was left of a wagon. A man sat in a lawn chair in front of a large column with piping erupting from the peak of the shaft. The piping spiraled down to a barrel and then over to another stainless-steel pot. The man appeared to be sleeping, his head hung back and his mouth was open wide. Another man, who Boone recognized as Richards, puttered around by a long wooden table, on which mason jars and bottles were lined up. He was corking the bottles, twisting tops onto mason jars, and singing to himself. Boone pointed him out to Josh. Josh nodded and pointed to two long guns leaning against the wall not far from where Richards was working.

Boone and Josh walked as stealthily into the barn as they were able and managed to enter through the open door before Richards seemed to sense that something was amiss. He turned and saw Boone and Josh, a jar held in his hand and the screw cap in the other. Boone saw his eyes dart over to the long guns.

Raising his rifle up to point at Richards, Boone spoke in a low, menacing voice. “Please.”

Richards raised his hands, the jar and cap still in them. Josh sidled over to the sleeping man and kicked the chair. The man, Hobbs, assumed Boone, snorted and blinked, looking around confused.

“I told you I just wanted a little nap,” he began to say before seeing Josh, who pointed his own rifle at Hobbs. Hobbs raised his hands, not understanding why they were there, but recognizing the threat from the rifle. “You want some moonshine, you ain’t got to point a rifle at me—.”

“Get up,” ordered Josh. “Go over there with him.”

“Sure, sure,” said Hobbs, putting his hands down to heave himself up out of the lawn chair. As he rose up, a pistol appeared in his hand and swung up at Josh.

Josh triggered the rifle three times and Hobbs sat back down in the chair, a surprised look on his face as the rounds exited his body, through the nylon strapping on the chair and skipped off the hard ground of the barn, kicking up dust and dirt and shattering the bullets, sending the fragments into the wall beyond. Richards cringed and dropped to his knees, the moonshine spilling all over his wrist and forearm, spattering onto the ground.

“Don’t kill me,” begged Richards. The whickering of a horse punctuated the man’s words.

Josh poked at Hobbs with the still smoking barrel of the AR. The man’s chest gave a little but there was no other reaction from Hobbs. Josh left the pistol where it had fallen and pointed his rifle at Richards who cringed away from Boone and Josh. Behind them, the two could hear the Sheriff and the others rushing through the woods to the barn. They stumbled into the barn, looking wildly around, taking in the still, Richards kneeling on the ground, Boone and Josh with rifles pointed at the man, and the still, bleeding, form of Hobbs. A horse kicked at the stall restraining it while the scene developed.

“What the hell happened?” demanded Sheriff Conyers.

“He drew down on me,” said Josh, indicating the pistol.

“Conyers,” said John Todd. “We found our horse thieves.”

“Well, no, wait a minute,” stammered Richards.

Conyers stepped passed Boone and gave a gentle push on his AR indicating he should lower the weapon. Boone did so, keeping it at ready in case Richards had an attack of stupid. Conyers stepped up to Richards with one of the deputies following and took the mason jar and cap out of his hands. She nodded to the deputy to cuff the kneeling suspect.

“Richards, you’re under arrest,” said Conyers as the deputy put the cuffs on him. “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say, can be used against you in a court of Law. You have the right to an attorney—.”

“No, this ain’t what it looks like,” said Richards. “It was Hobbs.”

“You can take that up with your attorney and the magistrate.”

John Todd was poking around the barn along with the Chapman boys and he called the Sheriff over to him. “Look at this, see those seed bags? Those are full of my corn and wheat. Got my marking on them still.”

“Horses aren’t the first thing you’ve stolen,” said Conyers.

The deputy spoke from another corner. “Sheriff, there’s some other stuff over here, too. Boots and stuff, clothing. Camping gear.”

“Where’d that come from?” wondered the Sheriff. She looked down at Richards. “You still want to talk?”

“I want my lawyer.”

Conyers nodded. She turned to Josh. “I’ll need your rifle.”

“What the hell for?”

“You shot a man, this is a crime scene.”

“What? He drew down on me,” protested Josh.

“It’s the Law,” said Conyers.

Josh and Boone exchanged a long, hard look. Boone was still at the ready, and was waiting for Josh to give the word. If Josh were agreeable, Boone was willing to shoot his way out of the barn; he doubted that those in the barn were ready for sudden violence to erupt. Sheriff Conyers tensed on seeing the exchange between the two. Her hand slid down to her own slung rifle, obviously knowing that she was at a disadvantage. The deputies were focused on their own tasks, and no one else seemed to notice how close they were to an all-out gun battle. Josh gave a small shake of his head and unslung his rifle, handing it over to Conyers. Boone hesitated before letting his own rifle fall on its sling. Conyers let out a loud sigh and slung Josh’s rifle over her back.

“You can still stay at the house,” she told Josh. “This isn’t personal. It’s the Law. I have too—.”

Josh nodded. “I think I understand. Can we take the horses out of here?”

Sheriff Conyers gave her permission. Boone and Josh went to the horses and calmed them enough to take them out of the barn and start leading them toward the B&B. On the way out, Boone swiped a couple of bottles of moonshine when the no one was looking.

“I had your play,” said Boone, handing Josh a bottle.

“I know, but it is her job.”
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Re: Cooper; new stuff added 04/11/2017

Post by doc66 » Wed Aug 29, 2018 4:14 pm

The magistrate pounded the gavel to bring order to the court.

Court was held in the church, since the old town hall was not big enough to contain all the people who had shown up for the event of the year. The balcony was occupied, the pews were packed, and there was standing room only in the back near the open doors. All the windows had been thrown open to try and coax a cross breeze into the building and the door to the steeple was open in an attempt to create a chimney effect, but with the number of bodies in the place, if one had to sit near the center of the pew it was “balls hot,” as Boone had heard someone say. People were fanning themselves with cardboard fans folded and sold by the church ladies auxiliary. Each fan had a scripture on it about justice and redemption and a reminder that there was still church held every Sunday and Wednesday, with potluck suppers the third Sunday every month. Boone’s verse was about white horses and judging war, or something. In the front, the pulpit had been removed and replaced with a high desk and throne-looking chair behind the alter, and the witness chair was a high backed, cross engraved, alter chair where normally the pastor sat while the choir sang. The jury sat in the choir loft with the court stenographer—probably the coolest place in the church since there were only twelve peers and a little old lady reclining in a space meant for thirty—and the Cross had been covered with a purple Lent sheet; Boone wondered if it were so that Jesus did not have to witness a miscarriage of justice, or if they did not want him to influence the proceedings.

There was a prosecutor table set up in front of the first pew, stage right, and a defense table set stage left. The prosecutor was a gray-haired old woman who had apparently been second chair to a famous murder case back in her day, and she liked to give the jury little head shakes when she did not agree with what the defense postulated. For the defense was a man who reminded Boone of the first district attorney on the TV show Law and Order. It amazed Boone that there were two attorneys around to try the case; he was not sure if two attorneys could be found on the mountain, but then, justice on the Mountain tended to be rather swift and there was little need for attorneys. Both the prosecutor and the defense wore suits dug out of the back of a closet, and the judge, the mayor of the town, actually wore a judicial robe. There had been motions to suppress—one of them being that the mayor did not have the jurisdiction to try the case since the horses had been in the county, which had been overturned due to the fact the horses were stolen from the town—the attempt to charge Josh with murder—quashed since he had been acting as a deputy in the search for the stolen horses and Hobbs had drawn down on him, as supported by Boone and Richards, before Richards stopped talking to law enforcement—and then the motion that the mayor was not able to try a capital case since he was a magistrate and only able to try misdemeanors under state law. The mayor had been able to dig up some 1870 law which allowed him to stand in as judge if a capital case judge were unable to try to case.

That had taken two weeks.

Being witnesses, Josh and Boone were required to attend the trail. Their statements and testimony was vital to the case, insisted the prosecutor. Boone and Josh left town, brought back more horses and Heidi, who was thoroughly amused by the process after being pissed off they had been gone for so long. The little blonde had asked Sheriff Conyers at one point, “Why didn’t you just shoot Richards when you had the chance?”

Sheriff Conyers had looked uncomfortable and shook her head. “Things don’t work that way here.”

“Too bad,” said Heidi, giving Conyers an impish grin and flashing her a substantial amount of leg when she sat down to have tea with Sandy. “It might have worked better in your favor.”

The good thing about the trial was the opening of the trade route between Renfroe Valley and New Washington. Since Boone and Josh were required to be at the trail, now in it’s fifth day, there had been a lot of back and forth with the surplus crops, salt, more horses, goats, chickens, beer, wine, pigs, wool, and a dozen other items that could be crammed onto a pack horse or shoved into a wagon. Outside the court was a bustling market complete with food stalls and even a whiskey vendor, although spirits were strictly forbidden in the court, there was a lot of it imbibed outside the doors. The pastor had not wanted the vendor on church property, so he had set up across the street, selling his wares as would a Snake Oil salesman, advertising medicinal and purification elixirs to life the spirits and free the mind.

The cat calls in the court room died down and, on the stand, Richards looked confused and scared, the flowery tie he wore appearing as if it were a temporary substitution for the noose the was destined for. He tried to loosen it while the gavel pounded, but it did not seem to help his state of concern.

“There will be no more outbursts in the court,” commanded the mayor. “Any other out bursts will cause me to clear the room.”

“You can’t do that,” shouted someone. “This here’s a public hearing, you said so yourself.”

“Carl Gentry, I’ll have you removed,” said the mayor, pointing the gavel at the man somewhere in the depths of the pews. Sheriff Conyers and her deputies searched where the mayor had pointed.

“You and what army?” asked someone else.

This brought another round of pounding and Conyers and her deputies tried to find the speaker.

People laughed and hooted and finally a relative silence fell across the room. The mayor nodded to the defense attorney. “Mr. Wall, you may proceed.”

“Thank you, your honor,” said Wall. He returned to standing near Richards. “Mr. Richards, now on the day in question, you said that the deceased Mr. Hobbs woke you at your residence and asked you to help him move the horses to the barn at the old Martin place.”

“Yes, sir,” said Richards.

“Objection,” called the prosecutor. “He’s leading the witness. He has to ask a question.”

“Sustained,” said the mayor. “Put it in the form of a question, Mr. Wall.”

Mr. Wall nodded, reframing his statement. Richards stared at the man for a moment and sighed. “He come up to the house and he said to me, ‘I got them horses, come get one and take to the barn.’”

“Did you go with Mr. Hobbs to get the horse?”

“No, sir, I overslept.”

The court room erupted in laughter and the gavel banged. Richards looked sick when he realized what he had said. Wall leaned in while the court was in disarray and shook his head, mouthing for him to only answer ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ The prosecutor shook her head and stood. The mayor recognized her.

“Your honor, this is obviously a travesty and a mockery of the court, the witness just admitted that he didn’t steal the horse only because he overslept.”

“Do you have a motion?” asked the Mayor.

“I motion that we let the jury decide the fate of the defendant and stop this charade,” said the prosecutor.

“My client deserves a trail,” said the defense attorney.

“And he got one, it’s not our fault he’s too stupid to take a plea,” quipped the prosecutor.

More laughter. More gavel. Boone was enjoying himself; it as like watching something out of a movie about Judge Roy Bean.

“Counsel will sidebar,” commanded the mayor. The court stenographer stepped up to the alter with the two attorneys. The three held a conference while the court became restless and Richards tried to adjust his tie.

It was an interesting side note that the items found in the barn with the still and the horses were probably the plunder of a criminal ring headed by Hobbs. Richards claimed to not know anything about the spoils, but Boone—and Conyers—were guessing that there was something more sinister happening in the outlying regions of the county, and there were possibly fresh graves to be found. Conyers had been searching further and further for the evidence but happened upon nothing so far. Boone wondered how many people were actually involved in a criminal element on Renfroe Valley. Hobbs, Richards, and Jimmy were probably the tip of the iceberg. Jimmy was another trial coming up, he had testified about his involvement in the horse theft, diminishing his part in the affair, and Richards had fingered Jimmy as the one who had helped Hobbs get the horses out of the garage, which Jimmy denied loudly, stating he was in bed. Either way, without Hobbs around to give his part of the story, it could not be proven that Jimmy had anything to do with the theft other than association with the suspects, stupidity, and casual remarks.

The lawyers stepped away from the bench. The mayor rolled his head on his shoulders and looked at Mr. Wall.

“Do you have further?”

“No, your Honor.”

Richards sat still for a moment as the words sank in. “Wait a minute, I didn’t get to tell my story!”

“Because it was just a story, not the truth!” catcalled someone from the gallery. Laughter erupted from the chamber and one of the deputies managed to find the culprit and grab them out of the pew. There was a brief exchange of words and the man nodded and stomped out of the church with the deputy in tow.

The mayor sighed. He rapped the gavel. “Prosecutor Sharpe, would you like to cross examine?”

“No, your Honor,” said the old woman. “I do believe the defendant has said enough.”

“But I ain’t told my side yet,” said Richards.

“Mr. Richards,” said the mayor. “It might be best for you if you just let the case rest. After all, the decision, no matter how you want to couch your story, is up to a jury of your peers.”

Richards looked over at the gathered jury, people from the town who knew him and lived near him. The expression on their faces did not bode well for his innocence. He heaved out a sigh and looked at the mayor. “I want a new trial.”

“Mr. Richards,” the mayor managed to not sound exasperated, “if new evidence comes to light to change things, you can ask for that. For now, please step down from the stand.”

“So, it’s over?”

“It’s to be left in the jury’s hands now.”

Richards suddenly nodded and stood. He straightened his tie, adjusted his suit coat, and stepped from the witness chair without looking at the court or those gathered to watch the spectacle. The mayor gave a moment for him to reach his seat and called for closing arguments.

Both ending statement were short and sweet, with the defense standing in front of the jury and clasping his hands as if in prayer. He spoke of the facts of the case, reminding everyone that, “While Richards had helped lead the horses to the barn, the actual theft had been carried out by Hobbs, and Hobbs had already paid the price for the theft of the horses with his life. Richards, we all should agree, was culpable of bad judgement and poor choices in friends, not the actual theft of the horses, and his sentence should reflect his decisions, not those of his compatriots.”

Walls sat down after thanking the jury for their time. The mayor nodded and turned to the jury, reminding them they could only try the case based on the facts and evidence put before them, that personal temperament aside, this was a grave decision and should be made with care and deliberation. He pounded the gavel and the jury was taken to the bible study room in the back of the church, off the pastor’s study. A deputy followed them to be sure no one tried to speak to the jury as they deliberated.

Everyone stood and began talking all at once. The main subject of the conversation was how long it would take the jury to decide something, and then what the decision would be. Most felt the jury would wait until after dinner to come back with a decision since the lady’s auxiliary was making pork roast and yams with snap peas. The punishment that was being thrown about varied from a hanging to hard labor. No one seemed to know what the hard labor would consist of, but the ideas were intriguing. Someone suggested digging community latrines for the town market place, and then cleaning and digging latrines for everyone lese in town. Someone else suggested patching pot holes armed while with a wheelbarrow and a shovel, another talked about mucking every stall in Renfroe Valley. There was a lot of work to be done that no one really wanted to do.

Heidi, dressed in a short sun dress and her Doc Martins and not much else, was garnering a lot of looks from the old men and young boys around town as she stood beside Boone and Josh. Heidi enjoyed the attention she was getting, and knew that her appearance created a stir, until she started negotiations, and then she was referred to as, “that woman.” She kept telling Boone when they found someone that did tattoos, she wanted one of a dragon, to match her persona; beautiful and dangerous. She leaned against Boone, nodding toward a side door that was barely being utilized. The three of them made their way to the door and slipped out.

Once outside, the air seemed to get thirty degrees cooler.

“Damn,” said Heidi. “That was better than TV.”

“It’s too bad it became a spectacle,” said Josh. “Richards hardly had a chance.”

“He stole our fucking horses,” reminded Heidi. “He’s lucky they can’t tie him to the actual theft, otherwise he might already be swinging.”

“I don’t know if they’ve got the stomach for that around here,” said Boone, leading them to where the food vendors and market place was set up.

“What do they have the stomach for?” wondered Heidi.

“Let’s be fair,” put in Josh. “They’ve been trying to maintain some semblance of the past when it comes to Law and Order and punishment. Not everyone deserves a bullet to the head.”

“No, but those that do—,” started Boone.

“What do they deserve?” asked Heidi. “To be stuck in a closet for years? What kind of punishment does crime deserve? What could be worse than having to live in a place where you have to watch your back in hopes of not getting stabbed as opposed to simply know that if you fuck things up, you could just die? Which one is living?”

“We can’t just kill everyone,” said Josh. “There has to be a line, punishment of some sort.”

“Like why not?” asked Heidi. “Would punishment be more effective if we stood them in the middle of the crowd and stripped them naked, then threw old fruit at them and shouted, ‘SHAME, SHAME?’”

Her outburst made people look at them. Boone smiled and waved. He was used to these types of discussions.

“Or maybe we could throw stones at them until they bled?” Heidi shook her head. “What’s the answer?”

“Is there an answer?” countered Josh. “Look, all I’m saying is that there’s going to be crimes, and there has to be punishment. What system we use is really up to the society the crime is committed in. Where we live, there’s little to no crime because, well, it’ll get you shot and killed. Here, they decided to try and keep going with what was Before. It’s not really our call to say if they’re system is better or worse; it’s what they came up with. All we can do is agree that when we’re here, we abide by their rules.”

“And keep traipsing back and forth between our communities, wasting days out of our lives for them to decide he should peel potatoes?”

“If that’s their decision, yes,” said Josh. “Look, we didn’t have to come back, really. What were they going to do, come and get us? No. We came back because we—a no matter how we cut it—were interested in seeing how they handled things here. We also came back because it was an opportunity for us to expand our trade base, not only for H-B-J, but for New Washington as a whole. We’ve already gotten trade goods that will make life so much easier for us come winter. Wool blankets, sweaters, socks, there’s damn good cobbler here that can repair boots we thought were fit for the junk pile; plus we opened up the wine market for Coulter; and they thought they were going to have to bath in the surplus they have. We can trade salt and yeast, and—.”

“I get all that, but the question put to you is a simple one, Counsel,” said Heidi. “What should punishment consist of?”

“It’s societies choice,” said Josh.

“So, you agree with the way we do things in New Washington?”

“Most of the time,” said Josh. “Not all.”

“What would you rather see?”

“More throwing tomatoes and less shooting bullets,” he grinned. “A good talking to.”

Heidi grinned back. “Liberal scum.”

“I used to be conservative until shit fell apart,” said Josh.

They arrived at one of the food vendors and Boone ordered three of the savory pastries the woman had racked on baking sheets. He gave her the asking price of a quarter cup of salt after a bit of haggling back and forth over what might be appropriate. Boone missed cash money. Maybe they could start a currency between New Washington, Renfroe Valley, and Coulter, agree that the currency represented something tangible, to be turned in for that item at a later date? He shook his head, economics were not his thing. Thanking the woman, Boone put the jar of salt he was carrying around back in the messenger bag. They bit into the pastries and were quiet for a moment. As they ate, they walked among the crowd and looked at the wares brought out by the populace to be traded away. One person had a notebook with a sign that read “I’ll do what’s needed around the house.” He was trading work for food and necessities. Someone would write what they wanted at the bottom of a sheet and they would negotiate a trade, which they would write down at the top, with the work to be done. They would both sign it and he would give them the bottom sheet as a receipt. Someone else had yarn, another was trading lens’s from camera’s or similar, touting them as fire starters.

There was a man and a woman playing a guitar and a banjo respectively, while an old man did a shuffle on a snare drum and a cymbal. They had a basket in front of them which was being filled with canned goods and fresh foods. Someone had even left them a mandolin. Boone wondered if they could play the mandolin. He wrapped his arms around Heidi while they listened, feeling her snuggle into his embrace. They stayed for several songs, even dancing a little for one. Boone left them the jar of salt.

The church bell rang.

“That was quick,” said Josh.

“It was pretty cut and dry,” said Heidi.

People began to file back in. Being witnesses, Boone and Josh were afforded front row seats. Heidi settled between them and the court filed in with the jury in tow. The mayor rapped the gavel for the court to come to order and silence fell over the church.

“Ladies and Gentlemen of the Jury, have you reached a verdict?”

The jury foreman stood. “We have, your Honor.”

A piece of paper was handed from the foreman to the mayor, who opened the paper, read it, and then folded it again.

“Would you please tell the court your verdict?” asked the mayor.

“Guilty, your Honor, on all counts of theft.”

There was clapping and a few cheers. Beside him, Heidi nodded. The gavel rapped. The mayor turned to Richards who sat stone faced and staring at the place where the Cross was covered with the purple Lent drape.

“Mr. Richards, you have been found guilty of three counts of theft of a horse. You will be sentenced to hard labor, Mr. Richards, as befitting your crime. You will perform this labor no more than five years, and no less than three years. You will be accompanied at all times by a monitor as you perform these labors, and you will be remanded to a locked room when not performing the labor, or chains if a room is not available. The labor you perform will be to the benefit of the community you have harmed. This being said, you will perform no less than five months of the labor at the H-B-J ranch against whom you committed the crime. The rest of your sentence will be carried out in Renfroe Valley. Do you have any words you wish to say?”

Richards sat motionless. He started when he was nudged by Walls, who whispered to him. Richards stood with Walls. “No, your Honor, I have nothing to say other than I didn’t steal them horses. Hobbs did.”

“Thank you, Mr. Richards,” said the mayor. He banged his gavel and dismissed the jury thanking them for their service and time. People stood as Richards was lead out of the court by the deputies and Conyers.

“H-B-J Ranch?” said Boone, looking over at Josh, who seemed as confused as Boone was. They both looked down at Heidi. “Well?”

“They were our fucking horses,” said Heidi. “If we can’t shoot him, then we should at least get something out of it. I want a new barn, and that fucker can dig me footers.”

“You talked to the mayor?” grinned Boone.

“It’s amazing what a little sundress will get you when play the stricken damsel,” she said.

“Jesus,” said Josh.

“Justice,” corrected Heidi. “You gotta play within the perimeters that society gives you.”

“Touché, little lady,” said Josh.

“Let’s go try some of that whiskey,” suggested Heidi. “And we’ll talk about how big we want that barn to be.”

They left by the side door again, leaving the chattering crowd behind them.
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Re: Cooper; new stuff added 08/29/2018

Post by 91Eunozs » Wed Aug 29, 2018 7:07 pm

Haven’t read the new entries yet (saving for bedtime!), but had to give a quick

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The ZS Fiction drought is over! Thanks doc...

Edit: couldn’t wait! Great read... minor typos and all! And I love how you’re bringing the supporting characters to the main story to life. This is a great story/novella unto itself. Well done sehr...well done.
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Re: Cooper; new stuff added 08/29/2018

Post by doc66 » Wed Aug 29, 2018 11:42 pm

Thanks, man! I found a bunch of typos and word switches myself after posting, but as an excuse, l had a time l wanted to post this by, and l was running up against it putting the final chapter together.

Sometimes I have to give myself a deadline or l ramble on.

Glad you like the secondary characters stories. I like writing in this universe. And with more characters, there's a multitude of different tales l can tell.

Hope the next installment is as enjoyable.
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Re: Cooper; new stuff added 08/29/2018

Post by EdRider » Fri Aug 31, 2018 2:23 pm

Awesome sub story in the greater Cooper world. I like how the "bad guys" don't have to be nomadic apocalyptic crime lords out to take over entire towns and are more believable as they reflect the type of characters I would expect in the story line being displayed... again just awesome.

I am looking forward to MOAR!

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Re: Cooper; new stuff added 08/29/2018

Post by FlashDaddy » Sat Sep 01, 2018 2:12 pm

Great chapters! I really enjoy your writing style and the world you’ve created. Thank you!
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Re: Cooper; new stuff added 08/29/2018

Post by teotwaki » Sat Sep 01, 2018 3:25 pm

I enjoyed the new chapters a lot. A perfect way to spend the early afternoon.
My adventures and pictures are on my blog http://suntothenorth.blogspot.com

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Re: Cooper; new stuff added 08/29/2018

Post by doc66 » Tue Sep 11, 2018 1:30 am

Anyone heard from IdahoBob?
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Re: Cooper; new stuff added 08/29/2018

Post by idahobob » Wed Sep 12, 2018 9:24 am

Yup, I'm here.

Great installment. Thanks sooooo much! :clap: :clap:
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