January 8, 2015: Looters?
Do you remember hurricane Katrina? Do you remember the picture that circulated shortly thereafter – the one of a looter carrying a plastic tub of beer bottles? That picture became an instant Internet meme. I think it was even a popular Halloween costume.
It sounds as if we have a new breed of looters. These looters are much less friendly. The post-Katrina looters smashed windows, broke into stores and stole things, but I don’t remember them setting fire to anyone’s home or shooting anyone. If the Internet still existed, I can’t imagine our new breed of looters becoming a joke passed around by e-mail. OK, we don’t have e-mail but you know what I mean.
After hearing the second-hand story of the Gunters’ survival, and giving it some thought, looters have become my new number-one concern. I think it’s time that we call a family meeting and figure out what improvements we need to make to our defenses to ensure our security. That goes on the top of tomorrow’s to-do list.
I’m also giving some serious thought to one little detail in the account of the Gunters’ survival. National Guard troops disbanded and took home equipment, supplies, weapons and ammunition. It seems pretty obvious to me that there is a serious probability that those items will be used for purely selfish purposes and not for defending the members of the community at large. Now that could be as innocuous as the former troops defending themselves from looters. It could just as easily be as insidious as those troops banding together and utilizing the weapons and supplies to do some looting themselves.
I went and visited Jake this week. Does that surprise you? I figured it was time to bury the hatchet. I know what you’re thinking … not in his skull. Remember? I’m turning over a new leaf. This was a big step.
Ol’ Jake wasn’t doing too well.
When I knocked on the door, his wife answered. I couldn’t remember her name but she’s the only one in the Gunter family whose name doesn’t start with the letter “J”. Anyway … you should have seen the look on her face when she opened the door. What color there was drained out of her cheeks and her eyes started darting around the room. Probably looking for a place to run and hide.
“I’m here on a peaceful mission,” I assured her.
She looked relieved but suspicious.
“I just wanted to check on Jake and let him know I’m sorry for hurting him,” I tried to calm her nerves.
“Please, come in,” she replied, regaining a bit of her composure.
There was a pretty good fire in the fireplace but it was still cold over by the door. The girls were sitting on the hearth shelling soybeans. There was no sign of the boyfriends.
“Jake’s back in the big bedroom,” Mrs. Gunter pointed through a doorway.
I followed her as she led the way to the bedroom. She was wearing a dress that hung off of her like a set of drapes. It was easily five sizes too big for her. She must have lost 50 pounds over the last six months. The girls didn’t look like they’d lost nearly as much weight but I was still concerned about them – especially the pregnant one.
Jake was laying on one of the Army cots in a sleeping bag. There was a fire in the wood stove and the room was actually quite warm. Jake rolled over in my direction when I entered the room. An involuntary groan escaped his lips.
His throat still had a pretty good-sized bruise on it from where I’d hit him. He was lucky I hadn’t crushed his larynx. If I’d hit him with my fist, I probably would have.
“Jake, I just wanted to apologize for hurting you so badly …” I started.
“I ain’t hurt that badly,” he retorted, coughing.
The cough must have hurt his ribs because he winced in pain and kind of doubled-up in the sleeping bag.
“Well, that’s good to hear,” I replied, ignoring the obvious lie. “We’ll need every able body if looters follow you here.”
I didn’t mean for it to come out in an accusatory tone, but it did.
“Nobody followed us.” Jake was getting mad.
Boy, he’s easily riled up.
“Good. Glad to hear it, Jake.” I didn’t buy it for a second.
He rode his family into our ambush without a clue. Anyone worth their salt could follow the Gunters’ tracks in the snow directly to our place from the last place they stayed. I was sure of it.
“Well, I hope you’re up and around soon,” I started out the door.
“Johnson.” Jake had never called me by my first name as long as I’d known him. “Don’t you worry your pretty little head about me. You got plenty else to be thinking about.”
“You’re right, Jake,” I agreed, “I do. So long, now.”
With that I turned and walked out of the room.
“Mrs. Gunter ….” I began when we were back by the fireplace in the main room.
“Please, call me Karla,” she stopped me, putting her hand on my arm.
“OK, Karla.” I complied. “You may not know this, but Jake and I go back a long ways. There was bad blood between us long before what happened on Christmas day.”
“Jake mentioned that the two of you didn’t get along,” she agreed, nodding her head, her brow furrowed.
The two girls sat quietly, listening attentively to every word. They had stopped shelling soybeans and folded their hands in their laps. I noticed that both of them had severely chewed fingernails. The tips of their fingers were literally raw. I hope Laura spotted that when she checked them over. I need to remember to make sure they have something to heal up those sores before they get infected.
“He wasn’t sure that we should come here,” Karla continued. “I don’t know what we’ll do now.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“I’m sure you’ll want us to leave as soon as Jake’s able, right?” Her eyes begged me to say no.
“Not if Jake …” I wasn’t sure how to phrase it, “… not if Jake and I can get along.”
“Oh, I hope so!”
The pleading in her eyes was so deep I could almost feel it.
I’m guessing she was a pretty attractive woman back when Jake married her. Still barely more than skin and bones, now, her eyes were about all she had. She knew how to use them, though. A small tear had gathered at the corner of each of her eyes. She dabbed at them with the sleeve of her dress.
Who wears a dress in this kind of weather? Both of the girls were wearing long, denim skirts. Strange.
I can’t figure out how Karla ended up with Jake. They seem so opposite. Opposites attract, I guess. Miriam and I are very different. A lot of people have probably wondered how she ended up with me. I think Jake and Karla got married while I was away in the Army. I don’t know how they met. She seems awful nice to be stuck with him. Not a lot of options in small-town Nebraska, I guess.
“You folks need to eat better,” I cautioned. “Where are the boys? Getting food? Hunting?”
“I … I think so,” the older girl, Jamie, replied.
She was the pregnant one.
“How are you doing?” I asked.
She looked down at her hands, “Fine.”
Something wasn’t right with this bunch. I couldn’t put a finger on exactly what, but I could tell that something was rotten in Denmark. Maybe Jake was an abuser. That wouldn’t surprise me.
I wanted to know the story on the two boyfriends.
“How’d you two meet your boyfriends,” I asked, giving the two girls my softest, kindest look.
You’d have thought I farted at a church meeting. Those women clamped up tighter than a can of sardines.
“The girls met them through some of the boys at the church,” Karla choked out.
So much for my softest, kindest look.
Both of the boys looked to be Hispanic. I knew my parents’ church had a Hispanic outreach so that made some sense but something about it still felt wrong. The women clammed up too tightly when I asked about the boys. Karla’s answer was too strained. The looks on their faces said way more than their words. Both girls started chewing on their fingernails almost as soon as the question was out of my mouth.
My granddad had a remedy for bad habits like chewing your nails and licking your lips … Tabasco sauce … or horse manure. Either one had the desired effect … quickly.
I’m convinced the boyfriends are up to some kind of no good. Maybe Jake too. I’ve been trying to remember anything I could about Jake, from before the crash, to try to get a clue.
Priority number two on the to-do list: Figure out what those two boys are up to. Something just doesn’t add up.
“Well, you three need to take care of yourselves,” I purposely left Jake and the two boys out of my statement. “We have plenty of food for the winter. You just come over with a cart, or something, and we’ll help you load it up and bring it back here.”
Karla just nodded, eyes shifting. The girls had to be close to the bone on their fingers by now. What an annoying habit.
“For the time-being, I’d prefer that the two boys not come onto our place,” I looked hard at Karla to make sure she understood.
She got the message and nodded again. This time her eyes went to the floor and stayed there. The girls’ eyes were fixed on the floor as well. Nom, nom, nom … what was that fairy tale where the old lady had the kids stick their fingers out of the cage to tell if they were ready to eat yet? Hansel and Gretel? Pretty sure that was the one. These girls’ fingers would have given the old lady a fright.
I said my goodbyes and went through the door quickly to avoid letting much more cold air into the house.
They really need to get that place warmed up and start eating some more nutritious food … and stop eating their fingers!
On my way back I decided to take a little bit of a look around. Instead of heading straight down the driveway, I circled around the barn and toward the back of the house. What I found there made me even more suspicious.
There were a lot of tracks in the snow. A lot more than there should have been. I expected to see tracks around the wood pile and the out house. I expected to see tracks leading off to the west to hunt in the trees. I expected to see tracks, primarily, from the two boys.
What I saw was tracks made by probably ten people. Most of them came and went from the northwest – the general direction of Norfolk.
Time to schedule that family meeting.