“Hey, bidder, bidder … who give me five?” the auctioneer’s pitter-patter reminded Steve of days gone by. He had grown up in the country during a time when farm auctions were all too common. Steve and his dad had gone to well over 50 farm auctions during Steve’s formative years. He could recall the forlorn looks of the farmers as their belongings, homes and land were auctioned off before their eyes. Bankruptcy and farm auctions were a way of life in rural Nebraska in the 1980’s.
There had been those who had tried to help. Steve remembered Farm Aid – a concert put on by a number of musicians with connections to the farming community. The concert was intended to raise money for struggling farmers.
“I wonder how much of that money farmers ever saw,” Steve mumbled to himself.
Steve stood by helplessly, now, feeling like those farmers whose entire lives had been up for auction. Only now, it was his seventeen year-old daughter up on the block. Next was his fifteen year-old and after that, his thirteen year-old baby. Steve’s stomach did a back-flip. He was sure that he was about to vomit again. Not that there was anything to come up. Steve had been vomiting since shortly after his wife, Rhona, tearfully admitted to what she had done.
After he had vomited, Steve’s initial reaction was to kill his wife. Secretly, the thought had been in the back of his mind for several years. Who would blame him now? Certainly, the U.N. soldiers guarding the shelter wouldn’t care. More than likely, they would turn it into a gambling event instead. Would the odds be in Steve’s favor or would they be betting on his heavier and possibly stronger wife?
With no weapon, Steve had decided against attempting to kill his wife and, instead, threw up once again – this time on Rhona’s cot.
With no other recourse coming to mind, Steve fell to his knees and prayed. It had been a long time since Steve had prayed. His father had raised him as a God-fearing boy, but as life had gotten busier Steve had drifted away. Now, Steve felt as if he had nowhere else to go. He was absolutely at his wits’ end and very nearly at the end of his sanity as well.
Rhona was pestering him while Steve tried to pray. She was crying hysterically, tugging at him, begging him to do something.
“What am I supposed to do?” Steve fired back at Rhona. He was a little surprised at the vehemence of his riposte.
“You traded them for a handful of magic beans, you stupid ….” Steve’s voice trailed off as people around them began to gawk.
Steve lowered his voice, “They were just like so many cows to you … cows to be traded for a handful of magic pills. Why don’t you go take those pills … every single one of them … right now?”
Steve wanted to swear a blue streak. He wanted to call his wife every vile name he could think of … and then kill her with his bare hands. Instead, he bit his tongue so hard that it bled and then stalked off to the porta-potties for another round of vomiting.
As Steve stood wondering what to do, the bidding continued on his oldest daughter. The auctioneer asked for bids in dollars but few bidders actually had paper money. Anyone that bid was required to show their trade item or items to allow the seller to determine whether or not he deemed it to be worth the bid.
While some human trafficking was not uncommon, the bidding was slow. People had to be fed … unless you bought them to eat them. There were rumors of a few groups that had resorted to cannibalism and decided that they liked the taste. The relatively few individuals sold into sex trade rarely lived more than a few days. Usually, a combination of exhaustion and dehydration killed them. Most were given nothing to eat and little, if anything, to drink. Regardless of the mode, being sold at auction was almost certainly a death sentence – in all likelihood, a horrible death.
Steve racked his brain for a way to save his daughters. He couldn’t simply charge in and try to run off with them. If he was killed, they would still be sold and doubtless meet the same fate. He had already asked the man to whom Rhona traded them if he would take the Ambien back. Nothing doing. The man had scavenged the Ambien from a house that he’d raided. It had been virtually free. The three girls would bring enough in trade to allow him to resupply himself and live a few more days.
As the agonizing process continued, a tall man, perhaps 6′ 3” or 6′ 4”, with broad shoulders, a long, bushy beard and shaved head strode through the middle of the crowd. He was dressed in desert camouflage pants, heavy tanker’s boots and a thin black T-shirt stretched tight enough to show that he was bulging with well-nourished muscle.
“He certainly isn’t wasting away without food or water,” Steve thought to himself.
Steve noticed a Marine Eagle, Globe and Anchor tattoo on one of the man’s bulging biceps. On the other bicep was a caricature of a bulldog wearing a drill instructor’s hat.
The man pushed through the crowd to the front, plunked down a .50 caliber ammo can, looked the seller squarely in the eye and said, “I want all three.”
“What’s in the can?” the much-smaller seller didn’t seem unnerved by the big man.
“Twenty-four 30-round M4 magazines filled with M855 penetrator,” the big guy responded.
The seller rubbed his hands together and reached to open the ammo can.
The anchor tattoo jumped as the big guy grabbed the seller’s wrist.
“Huh-uh,” he growled, “you get to look in the can when I do.”
Nervous laughter tittered through the crowd.
“Fair enough,” the seller quipped, rubbing his wrist, “they’re yours. I’d much rather have the ammunition.”
“You’ll get the bullet as soon as I get the girls.”
Steve caught the big man’s use of the singular, “bullet”, and wondered if he had mis-spoken.
The seller pushed Steve’s daughters forward. The big guy swept them past him with his beam of a left arm. Steve noticed that his right arm was moving as he did so. It plunged down toward his waist and then flashed back upward again. The move was so fast and so fluid that Steve barely noticed it. A semi-automatic pistol appeared in the big guy’s right hand as if by magic. The bicep with the bulldog on it flexed. Steve watched in slow motion as the cords of muscle in the man’s forearm twitched. A loud explosion broke through the chatter of the crowd and the seller’s head exploded like a melon hit with a sledge hammer.
Everyone in the crowd, except for three other similarly dressed men, ducked, instinctively. There had been enough gunfire over the last several months that those who were still alive knew what to do when they heard it. More shots were expected but none came.
The big man spoke with a booming voice, “That’s what happens to human traffickers.”
With that, he and his three companions pushed their way back through the crowd as everyone returned to their feet.
Steve’s girls had run to him as soon as they were released. The four men in desert camo pants and black T-shirts walked up.
“These your daughters?” the big guy seemed to be the group’s spokesman. The other three were all shorter, ranging from, perhaps, 5” 10” to about six feet even.
“Yes, sir,” Steve could only imagine what the guy was thinking. “Before you shoot me, I didn’t sell them.”
“So, what happened, then?” the big guy didn’t look like he believed Steve.
“I … uh … my wife,” Steve stammered.
“Our mother traded us for a handful of sleeping pills,” the oldest girl spoke up.
“Your mother?” the smallest of the four guys spoke up. “Now I’ve seen everything.”
“You living in the shelter?” the big guy motioned toward the high school just a few yards away.
“Yes,” Steve hung his head.
“Why couldn’t I be like one of these guys?” he thought.
“You planning to stay there?” the big guy’s voice seemed to soften.
“We don’t have anywhere else to go,” Steve whispered, ashamed of himself.
“Not necessarily true,” the big guy’s voice was quieter still. “We have a place. There’s about 150 people. It’s kind of crowded and everyone has to pull their own weight.”
“What would we do,” Steve’s middle girl was suspicious.
“Depends on your skill set,” the big guy replied. “Mostly, the women cook, sew clothes, can, dry meat, that kind of stuff. Guys, either need to know how to raise crops, or animals or how to stay alive while scavenging.”
Steve looked at his three beautiful daughters, his face covered in guilt.
“Daddy, it’s OK,” Steve’s youngest took his hand. “We know you did the best you could.”
“Let’s go, Dad,” it was Steve’s oldest. “Mom can stay here. We don’t even need to tell her.”
“Yeah, Dad, let’s go,” Steve’s middle girl took his other hand.
Steve looked up at the big guy and then at the three shorter men.
“I’m not like you guys,” he began, “but I did grow up on a farm. I’m sure a lot of that will come back to me and I don’t mind earning my keep to live as a free man.”
“You’ll be free to come and go as you please,” the big guy assured him. “As long as you pull your fair share of the load. You don’t work … you don’t eat. Got it?”
“Got it,” Steve agreed and then looked at his girls with a small smile on his face and tears glistening in his eyes.
“We’ll get our things,” Steve’s oldest was taking charge, “and be back in five minutes.”
“What about your mom?” the smallest of the four guys chimed in again.
“She’ll be asleep,” Steve said bitterly.