This book is dedicated to my wife, Dale, and to my other family members whose support made it possible.
Cover design by Rita Toews at WordPress.com, http://www.yourebookcover.com
Editing assistance from Michelle Scoville who sees typos that mere mortals would never find unaided.
Chapter 18 reveals that a young girl was sexually assaulted by an authority figure. The details of the assault are not revealed – only that it occurred. No explicit description of this incident is included in the chapter or anywhere else in the book. However there is a “shock impact” that parents may wish to preview. It comes at the very end of the chapter.
• Doc and Granny, about 75 years old.
• Hank (44) and Yolanda (40).
• Wolf (20), Mac (20), Jock (1.5), Emily (1 month).
• William (19), Melissa (20), Will & Izzy (1.5).
• Yollie (19), TG (20), Liset (6), Yo-Yo (2), Hank (7 months).
• Wizard (17), Lucas (15), Theo (14), Mathias (13), Reese (11).
• Winnie (10), Patella (3), Scapula (1).
• Stu McKenzie (45), Momaka (41).
• Dreamer (15), Wanda (56).
• Brigadier-General Jock MacLatchie (50).
• Madison (almost 6)
Characters associated with Safe Haven Ranch #4
Big Daddy, Big Momma, Pililiani.
Boss #24 who becomes Boss #15 (Yuri); Boss #2 who becomes Boss #1 (Mike)
Characters associated with the Kingdom of Scandinavia
Queen Freya (Ashleigh), Prince Samuel, Wilhelm (Regent)
Jakobina (Jak) and Benedikta Ekelund (Bean).
This page is to help you if you get confused about who is who in the story. If that happens, click your way back to the Table of Contents and scroll back one page.
“Mommy’s back,” Madison declared as Winnie ambled through the door. The word Mommy stopped Winnie dead in her tracks. It was May 3, 2086 – two days after Winnie and Reese had saved Maddy from dying in an abandoned animal lair. Winnie didn’t remember giving birth to a five year old girl in the last couple of days. She had been up north sorting out which male wolves would become romantically engaged in creating wolf babies with Patella and Scapula. Winnie was matchmaking again, but this time within the animal kingdom.
Winnie looked up to see Reese sprawled on the cushioned sofa, a well-worn picture book in his hands, and a sort-of-daughter perched contentedly on his knees. Winnie mind-messaged him, Mommy? Really?
I’m Daddy. I’m glad you’re back. Madison clutches my hand and follows me around everywhere. Sometimes she stands on my feet, clamps onto my legs, and won’t get off. I have to carry her on my feet if I want to go anywhere.
You should have messaged me.
Mom was going to do that today. She wanted you to have at least one day of freedom before you became a mommy.
She’s kidding, right?
I dunno. What I do know is that I’m too young to be a daddy.
Winnie felt two arms around her waist and looked down. A blond head was nuzzled into her tummy. For a little kid, Maddy was remarkably strong. “Hi Maddy.”
“I’m Madison,” she corrected.
“OK. Hi, Madison. Uh, could you relax your arms a bit so that I can breathe?”
Madison did. But that pause allowed her to put a foot on top of each of Winnie’s feet. “Daddy’s been teaching me how to read. What are we going to do now?”
Winnie looked up, but Reese had disappeared. Coward! When did she start talking?
Reese didn’t reply.
“Pick me up?” Madison lifted her arms into the air while remaining balanced precariously on Winnie’s two small feet.
“Why don’t you walk beside me? We’ll find Mom.”
“The one who keeps the house neat.”
“Oh. That’s Daddy’s mommy. She’s my granny.”
I didn’t tell her that. She figured it out on her own.
Is Mom mad at us? Reese? Reese?
No, Yolanda wasn’t mad. But she was insistent that Winnie find Madison’s real parents and reunite them with Madison. And do that quickly! What was happening right now was not healthy!
Winnie played with Madison in the house for the rest of the morning, made lunch for the two of them, and then played some more active games in the yard.
“Are you tired yet?” Winnie asked hopefully. “Would you like to have a short nap?”
“I’m never having a nap again!”
Madison seemed quite determined about that, so Winnie asked Yolanda to watch Madison while she and Marie tried to find her parents. As soon as Winnie disappeared, Yolanda told Reese to come out of hiding and take care of his daughter. Some people might believe that Yolanda was enjoying having two of her children learn what it was like to be a parent. They’d be right.
Winnie and Marie returned to the compound later that evening and reported to Yolanda and the rest of the Wilizy that Madison’s parents were dead. Winnie didn’t think it was necessary to time-travel into the couple’s past to learn anything more. But your friendly narrator knows the full story of Madison’s parents and I see no reason to keep that from my readers. I’ll start with how Madison’s mom (Ashleigh) met Madison’s dad (Sam) and I’ll end the story with how they died. Just remember. Winnie and the Wilizy family do not know any of this yet. In time, they’ll know the full story.
The stunning young woman who would become known as Ashleigh was standing nude inside a square of four full-length ornate mirrors, staring at herself one day in October, 2077. This was nine and a half years before Winnie and Reese would become Madison’s parents. The four mirrors were arranged so that the young woman could see any part of her body without having to move her head more than a quarter turn. She had just finished her hour of physical training; checking her body for imperfections afterwards was part of the routine.
As the young woman expected, the body was perfect. It went well with the face which was perfect too. That wasn’t just her opinion. Everybody agreed that she had the perfect face and the perfect body. How long the body would remain perfect would be determined by events not entirely within the young woman’s control. She did have control over one thing though.
“The body will not bear children.” The young woman had made that stipulation abundantly clear to her uncle who had assigned his staff to find a suitable husband for her. She had no shortage of suitors, but few of them had the necessary genes. Although she refused to bear children, the young woman placed no ban on having sex in her marriage. After all, her name could be traced back to the Goddess of Love and Beauty. Having sex was taken for granted. She’d have plenty of children but she wasn’t going to mar her perfect body by putting it through the agonizing absurdity of childbirth. It would be up to others to hammer out how her children would be born.
The perfect body wasn’t called Ashleigh at this point. The perfect body’s name was Freya.
A suitable husband candidate was identified in late 2078. He came from an acceptable family – one that had the right genes plus ample money. At 20, the man was appropriately attractive and sufficiently intelligent. Freya tried him out in bed. Sex for her wasn’t for romance; it was just a way to give the body an energetic workout. He had stamina; he’d do. His name was Samuel.
One test of his acceptability remained. A quest, if you like. Not the kind of quest where a knight had to slay a ferocious dragon. This particular knight did not have a shiny coat of armour, a bejeweled sword, a gallant steed, or any of those other symbols of the chivalrous age when a knight’s primary purpose in life was to rescue beautiful damsels in distress. This knight wore a white lab coat, required thick glasses to see, and bustled off to his workplace on foot. In his quest, he would arm himself with test tubes to slay the not-so-mythical dragon that he faced. The dragon he had to overcome had an unconventionally long name. How to produce a perfect baby without leaving a mark on the mother’s perfect body.
In preparation for his quest, the knight-suitor took a long trip to consult with an expert in his field. She was helpful and gave him custom-made equipment to take back with him. On his return, Samuel’s people and Freya’s people reached an agreement. The marriage would be allowed to proceed on condition that Samuel produced a perfect baby girl without marring the body in any way. The baby would be named Freya. For motivational purposes, he was granted temporary visiting privileges with the body.
Freya’s daughter made her grand entrance into the world of the living on June 6, 2080. Freya, the mother, was otherwise occupied at the time, but that snippet of information was not made public. A marriage certificate was backdated to nine months plus one day previous. Life changed for Freya with that birth. Not because she had to care for her baby daughter; she had servants for that grubby chore. Instead, with another perfect body in the family, albeit a miniature one, Freya’s future role in life was now confirmed. She would assume responsibility for the family business.
For Samuel, life did not change all that much after his daughter’s birth. He still wore a white lab coat and glasses. He still walked to work. But he had a much shorter commute now because he lived in his wife’s house and worked in the basement. His quest had been expanded. Produce more babies for Freya. Lots of them at a time. Samuel found the scientific challenge invigorating. He didn’t need motivational sex. That was best for everybody since Freya had other things on her mind besides sex. She was managing the family business – the kingdom of Scandinavia. Technically right now, it was a queendom, but even in 2080, equality of women had not yet made it into the approved vocabulary of constitutional monarchies.
By June 2081 when little Princess Freya celebrated her first birthday, Queen Freya’s idyllic life had unravelled. She still had her perfect body, she still draped it in expensive luxurious clothes, and she still exercised an hour every day. But affairs of state consumed a ridiculous amount of time. Her parents may have been willing to dedicate their lives to affairs of state when they had been ruling the country; Freya was not. She asked her uncle to resume his role as Prince Regent. He insisted that he couldn’t. The laws of the country made her the queen. Freya continued to attend all the required formalities. Most of the time she didn’t understand what the meetings were about. She had been raised to be beautiful and regal, not intelligent.
Queen Freya knew from the meetings that tensions within her country were increasing; their slide into depravity was accelerating. Freya lived within a democracy governed by a parliament. Even a monarch could have little impact. She believed her uncle when he predicted that the country as she knew it now would not be there for Princess Freya. Queen Freya saw ample evidence that he’d be right.
Freya found her public duties difficult to perform because she had to do so without revealing her distaste of some of the people in attendance. Even looking out the windows of her city palace would bring the foul taste of bile to her mouth. Pockets of the disease were visible even in the crowds that were no further away than the other side of the security gates. She couldn’t look out her own windows without being reminded of what was happening to her country! Disease was everywhere!
Scandinavia’s entire military apparatus was stretched to the limit in attempts to cope with the disease. The country’s security presence throughout the borders had been successful in making it difficult for more disease carriers to enter the country. But Freya ruled over a large country bounded by miles and miles of deserted coastline. [Narrator: Scandinavia was the amalgamation of the two former countries of Sweden and Norway.] Their entire armed forces, and almost all of their security budget, were committed to keeping their borders secure. The pestilence was easily detected and the carriers could be caught and turned away. But as soon as the security forces detected and closed one gap in their armour, disease carriers would create another. Their pressure on the borders was relentless.
Special Ops, a secret and impressively big unit within Queen Freya’s military forces, had an answer for her. They agreed that it was impossible to imprison or deport the disease carriers who had managed to enter the country already. But similar to AIDS in the previous century, this disease was spread by carriers having sex. The more carriers that were in the country, the more babies they’d have. Once a baby was conceived, that baby would carry the pestilence. There was no known cure.
Special Ops argued that if security forces couldn’t do anything after diseased children had been conceived, their focus rightly should be on preventing disease carriers from conceiving children. This could be done quietly and painlessly with secretly distributed chemicals. The head of Special Ops characterized it as a form of vaccination. Carriers would not be hurt. But neither would they ever have children again. In time, the disease’s penetration of their society would slow and eventually disappear. Patience would win out in the end.
Special Ops had been working successfully for years on a pilot program that would increase the number of the children in the country who were disease-free. But the officer in charge of that program told Queen Freya that they were finding it difficult to expand that program to meet the growing demands that the country had for healthy children. If Queen Freya were to double their budget, that would give them the additional staff and resources they’d need to increase the number of disease-immune children. Meanwhile their chemical program would be preventing the carriers of the disease from producing more diseased children. The country could be made healthy again. Not immediately, but the country could be free of pestilence in time for Princess Freya’s reign.
“Spare no effort,” Queen Freya ordered the head of her Special Ops Division. “Do whatever it takes. The future of our country depends on you!”
One year later, 2-year old Princess Freya was celebrating her birthday on a utilitarian yacht that was making its way slowly from Scandinavia to North America. The year had not been kind to her mother. Officially, the queen was having a difficult pregnancy and was seeking medical expertise outside of the country. Unofficially, she wasn’t even pregnant. Prince Samuel had told his wife that another perfect baby daughter was possible whenever she wanted it. [Narrator: Since Samuel was not the head of the country, he could not be called King. He had to be a Prince instead.] Freya wanted more from him than another perfect daughter. She wanted multiple simultaneous births, the better to increase the number of healthy children in the country. Naturally she insisted that these births were to be achieved without leaving a mark on the body. Samuel confessed that the science wasn’t ready yet. One of the reasons for visiting America was so that he could gain access to the Americans’ advanced computer technology.
Queen Freya had a much more pressing reason to leave the country. Her security personnel had advised her that the royal family’s continued presence in the Stockholm palace posed a health risk not only for them but for their security personnel as well. Since both she and Prince Samuel spoke English fluently, why didn’t they go to the United States for an extended holiday? The royal yacht could take them that far quite easily.
Queen Freya had resisted, but the army’s Chief of Staff had the winning argument. The public had learned how some unknown chemicals were being used on certain pestilence carriers. In response, the disease carriers had purchased the influence of some sleazy politicians who were raising howls of protest about the rights of all people to determine for themselves if they wanted to have health vaccinations or not. The country’s majority government was firmly in power, but so long as Queen Freya remained in the palace, the public protests would continue. It was best that she leave the country so that the armed forces could take back control of the streets. She needn’t concern herself with how they were going to do that. The army’s Chief of Staff could talk to Queen Freya like that with impunity. He was her uncle – the former prince regent.
The royal family left Scandinavia secretly at the end of May 2082. In order to maintain a degree of anonymity in the U.S., the royal couple travelled in a stripped down yacht with only two members of the military to guard them. The guards would pretend to be a married couple. The man would act as a gardener/carpenter; the woman would serve as Freya’s maid. Since Freya had never worked a day in her life, and since Samuel was hopelessly inept in anything he did outside of the lab, both soldiers would take care of kitchen duties as well. They also handled all of the sailing duties. If it were necessary to remain away from the country for more than a year, a different pretend married couple would take over guard/servant duties each June.
On the trip down the western coasts of Alaska, British Columbia, and Washington, the exiles adjusted to their new circumstances. The name Freya would be too noticeable. The queen took the name Ashleigh instead. The prince’s name was shortened to Sam. The most common American surname was Smith. Queen Freya had rejected that name as hopelessly common. They’d be known as Ashleigh and Sam Smythe instead. Princess Freya would become Madison. Each of the servants would be called Johnson. Whichever Johnson was closest when the queen called for a servant would respond. Bowing and curtsying were no longer appropriate behaviours and the long trip gave enough time for old habits to be broken.
Samuel had learned that the University of Washington in Seattle had a genetics lab that might be useful. They sailed into Seattle harbour, passing Bainbridge Island and its busy Eagle Harbour. Ashleigh saw the houses atop the ridge above the harbour and instructed the Johnson sailing the ship to anchor. “Rent me a suitable furnished house up there,” she commanded.
One week later, they were off the yacht and in a high end, although not ostentatious three storey house. The Johnsons would live in the furnished suite above the stylized helicopter hangar. Sam would convert the basement of the house to a lab although it would take him several months to get it up and running. Madison had the entire third floor to herself. Mrs. Johnson filled it with toys and checked in several times a day to see if Madison’s diaper needed changing. Ashleigh didn’t enjoy the climb to the third floor, so she didn’t attempt it a second time. She’d see Madison at meals, exactly as she had done back home. Otherwise, Ashleigh spent her time in the mini-gym or in a bedroom that Mr. Johnson had converted to a study. She had decided that she’d spend her free time writing historical romance novels.
It wasn’t until well after Madison’s third birthday that Sam noticed that his daughter didn’t have much to say during the family’s meals. Most of the time, she ignored any questions that she was asked. After silently finishing her meal, she’d scramble down from her booster chair and scoot up to her apartment on the third floor.
“Is Madison all right?” Sam asked Ashleigh. “She hardly talks during meals. Is she like that during the day too?”
“I don’t know,” Ashleigh said. “Ask the staff.”
The Johnsons were duly called in. Neither could answer the question. Mrs. Johnson had stopped traipsing up to the third floor because her duty regarding Madison was solely to change her diapers. Madison was now potty trained. Mr. Johnson had no reason to visit the third floor because nothing upstairs was broken.
Alone with his wife, Sam probed as to what kind of involvement Queen Freya had with her daughter. The simple answer was None.
Before the reader jumps to some hasty conclusions, I must tell you that when Queen Freya was a child, she herself had rarely seen her parents. She was raised by staff who were hired for that purpose. Even when she entered her teenage years, she’d only see her mom and dad for meals and for formal family occasions. After they died in a copter accident when she was 14, Freya continued that same relationship with her uncle. Queen Freya was just raising her daughter as she herself had been raised. The difference was that Queen Freya had had staff to talk to, listen to, and relate to when she was growing up. Madison had nobody. No wonder she didn’t say much. She understood only a few words. She had nothing to say because she hadn’t had any practice talking.
Fortunately Sam had been raised in a normal family environment – an absolutely stinking rich environment, but one where family members talked with each other and the mother and father raised their children. He explained what Ashleigh’s role as a mother was supposed to be. He himself was too busy doing his queen’s bidding to become involved in raising a child. But he’d have more time to spend with his family if the queen allowed him to make one tiny incision in the body. Making babies with her eggs was much easier than making babies without any of her eggs. The queen ignored such a ludicrous idea. The body was all that she had.
“We’ll hire staff so that Madison won’t be left on her own,” Queen Freya directed.
“We’re not supposed to interact with strangers. You uncle was most specific about that. Only the Johnsons are allowed in the house. You know that Scandinavia is still in turmoil. Your uncle will not appreciate hearing that you won’t take care of your own daughter.”
So Ashleigh took the plunge. She had nothing else to do anyway. The dream of writing romances had proven to be more challenging than she had thought. Other than her signature, Freya had never written a word in her life. She had staff to do that. The Johnson lady wasn’t panning out very well in that romance-writing venture.
In time, Ashleigh began to enjoy her time with Madison. They’d go to the local playground and Ashleigh would watch how other mothers treated their children. Then she’d do the same thing that they did. She and Madison walked frequently – part of Ashleigh’s resolve to maintain her perfect body. That meant that both of them saw grocery stores, for example, and learned what they were. A library was a tremendous discovery. The librarian would read stories to the children, and afterwards, the children could play together. One time Ashleigh had to clench her teeth when a diseased mother tried to talk to her. She left immediately for home to scrub both her own and her daughter’s perfect bodies.
In June 2084, one set of Johnsons went home; another set of Johnsons arrived to take over guarding the royal family and attending to their needs. The new male servant’s real first name was James. The new female servant’s real first name was Jak, short for Jakobina.
In September 2084, Ashleigh enrolled her daughter in pre-school. Like the other moms, she accompanied her daughter to the classroom on the first day; unlike the others, she stayed for the term. At first, it was to observe what the teachers were doing. Then because it appeared to be enjoyable, Ashleigh volunteered to help. None of the little boys or girls was diseased, so she was able to relax and continue to learn what little girls and boys needed from the adults in their lives.
Madison got along well with the other little girls and boys. She laughed and jumped – something that she never did at home. She even talked. The other children called her Maddy which wasn’t very regal, but Ashleigh let it slide because her daughter liked the name. Madison even learned how to print her abbreviated name and brought drawings home regularly with the name Maddy scrawled on the top. Ashleigh observed other mothers praising their children when they showed them what they had done in pre-school that day. Naturally she did the same. She heard one mom telling her son that his drawing was going on the fridge door as soon as they got home. So Ashleigh decided to do the same. That proved impossible to do until Jak told her what a fridge was and where it was located in the house. Afterwards they had to find a magnet. That led to Ashleigh walking to the local store and making her first ever purchase. Madison was pleased to see her drawing on the fridge where everybody could see it.
One day, Madison came down with an illness. Ashleigh asked one of the teachers what she should do and was directed to the local medical clinic. She went into the examination room with Madison to make sure that the doctor didn’t take any blood. Sam was very insistent that Madison’s blood must never be checked. But the doctor only listened to Madison’s chest and gave Ashleigh a slip of paper that allowed her to buy some medicine. The medicine worked.
Ashleigh knew that Madison would have to go to kindergarten on her own. The pre-school teachers had told her that parents would not be allowed to stay in the classroom. But they also told Ashleigh that she could continue to help in the pre-school room if she wanted to. “You have a real talent for working with young children,” one of the teachers confided. “They’re always so well behaved around you,” the other praised.
“Perhaps we’ll have the good fortune of having another Smythe child in our classroom soon.”
“Any plans?” the more forward of the teachers asked.
“My husband is working on that,” Ashleigh replied. “He’s very dedicated to the process of making babies.”
“Aren’t they all!”
“He’s always researching new ways to make babies.”
This brought a titter or two. And since Mrs. Smythe seemed comfortable sharing intimate details, the more forward of the teachers dared to ask. “And you? Do you learn new things too?”
“I learned about the fridge,” Ashleigh admitted after some thought. “I use it a lot now.”
Later that evening, two perplexed American husbands in two different homes watched as their wives pulled all the food and shelves out of their fridges. Both stared at the empty space that was revealed. Both shook their heads. She must be double-jointed, one teacher thought. The other woman only glanced at the fridge’s interior, but took a long look at the top before ruling it out. Then she started musing about the door.
Ashleigh knew that Madison would have to learn how to walk to her kindergarten class safely, and in time, she’d need to know her way around their little community on the north side of Eagle Harbour. So Ashleigh gave her lessons on finding her way around the area. If Freya had been a flop of a mother in Madison’s first three years, she made up for that in her last year.
I say her last year, because on March 4, 2085, Madison walked by herself to the playground less than a block away from the house. She didn’t come back.
Jak tried to convince Ashleigh that Madison had been kidnapped for money. So long as they were patient and didn’t call in the police, the kidnappers would send a ransom note demanding payment and they’d get Madison back by giving them what they wanted. The kidnappers had probably been attracted to Madison because she was living in a very wealthy neighbourhood.
Ashleigh’s patience lasted a few days. Then she began acting like Queen Freya. She ordered Jak to report the kidnapping to the police. She was to tell the police that the family would offer a very large reward for the safe return of the little girl. Jak managed to talk her into circulating a missing child poster instead. After a week had passed with no note from the kidnappers, and with no response to the posters, Queen Freya threatened to act again. She herself would go to the police chief and offer a large reward. If it were necessary to ensure his full cooperation, she would reveal who she was.
Jak had orders covering many possible scenarios they might face in their exile. One such set of orders told her what to do if Ashleigh acted in a way that her regal origins would be revealed. Jak followed her orders. A massive explosion destroyed the house. Only two people set sail to Scandinavia on the royal yacht that morning.
Winnie and Marie returned from their search for Madison’s parents after Madison had scooted off to bed. Winnie had already mind-messaged Yolanda that the parents were dead. The directors and Reese were waiting for them in the kitchen. Winnie gave the report; Marie just sat and listened.
“Marie and I already knew where and when Madison had been kidnapped, so we returned to that place and time, TiTr’d back a few minutes, and watched her as she ran to the playground. She lived in a large three-storey house that had a much smaller building on the grounds. A form of hangar perhaps. The servants lived on the top floor of that building.”
“Servants?” Doc asked. “Really?”
“Two of them. The family had to be very rich. The location provided an excellent view of the harbour. The house was very big as were all the houses in the area. All sat on large landscaped properties that had wonderful views. The male servant worked outdoors most of the time; the woman servant worked indoors most of the time. Cook perhaps. She was the one who did the shopping, but the store delivered the groceries to the home. At least that was their routine immediately after the kidnapping.”
“Three days after the kidnapping, the cook travelled by ferry to Seattle where she met with a police sergeant for a short time. She was then taken into a larger room where she met with the chief of police and a few other men.”
“Neither the father nor mother went to the police station?” Hank asked.
“No. Neither of them left the house at any time that we were watching.”
“Isn’t that kind of strange?” Yolanda asked.
“They’re very wealthy,” Hank answered. “The cook might be their security person. It could be that it was her job to make contact.”
“The cook asked the police to circulate a missing child poster,” Winnie continued. “That was all that she asked them to do. They offered to come to the house and provide assistance, but the cook turned them down. She explained that the parents were distraught and valued their privacy. The police plastered posters all over Bainbridge Island.”
“Did you manage to get into the house and eavesdrop?” Doc this time.
“Getting in would have been difficult because there was hardly any foot traffic in or out. So after watching the meeting in Seattle, Marie and I skipped forward in time to get a sense of what was going to happen. One week after the kidnapping, March 11 at 3 a.m., a huge explosion in the basement of the house blew out all the windows and the fire took care of the rest of the building. It was two days before the firemen could sift through the wreckage. They found two skeletons, both burned beyond recognition. One was female, the other was male.”
“Did they interview the servants?” Hank asked.
“They tried but couldn’t find them.”
“That’s suspicious. How hard did they try?” Hank again.
“They tried hard for the first day. The family had arrived in Seattle in a yacht that they had moored in the harbour immediately below their house. When the police checked the harbour, the yacht was gone. The police had no way to track where it went.”
“But you did,” Hank said.
“Two figures made several trips from the basement of the house to the yacht in the early morning of the explosion. They were carrying a lot of wooden crates. The yacht left the harbour several hours before the explosion. We tracked it north up the coast but saw no reason to go further. Our job was to find the parents and we had done that.”
“The servants killed Madison’s mother and father and then blew up the house,” Yolanda concluded.
“We could easily follow the yacht,” Granny suggested.
“Proving that the servants deliberately blew up the house would be difficult. We could eventually insert a TiTr drone into the house, but knowing that they killed their employers and proving it in a court of law would be a different matter.” Hank, the ex-policeman at work.”
“Why did they kill them? And why, only one week after the kidnapping?” Doc, this time.
Granny answered with a possibility. “Robbery? What do you think, Winnie? Marie?”
“They carried a lot of crates down to the yacht, Granny.”
“Murder and robbery,” Doc summarized. “But is it our job to bring justice to Madison’s parents? Don’t we have other more pressing business right now? Isn’t our first priority the girl? Plus we have many slaves to rescue from the Safe Haven ranches.”
“Who’s going to tell Madison about her parents? What happens to her now?” Yolanda posed the most difficult questions.
“Find a family for her?” Hank asked.
“We all know her background, right?” Yolanda looked at each of the directors in turn. All of them nodded. Winnie’s report on Madison’s escape from New York didn’t give all the detail that you, the reader has now, but they knew enough. It was a miracle that she had survived.
“She has a family now. She has a mommy and daddy now too.”
“Mommmmm! I’m too young to be a mommy. Reese is too young to be a daddy.”
“Too bad. You don’t get to choose. Madison gets to choose. She chose you. She’s fixated on you and Reese right now. That will change. Right, Doc?”
“Yes. But this little girl has been heavily traumatized. We can’t even begin to imagine how she’s coping with that. For now at least, we can’t tell her about her parents.”
The directors talked some more about Madison and what the family could do. Both Reese and Winnie became less stressed when Doc outlined the kind of help that others could provide once Madison learned who everybody was and became comfortable living in a large family.
“I still don’t like letting those two murderers off,” Granny groused. “This whole thing stinks. Something is wrong. It doesn’t make sense that the parents would be murdered. My gut says that Safe Haven is involved in that murder somehow. We know that they were involved in the kidnapping. We need to investigate further.”
“Jock could ask Seattle’s chief of police what their investigation found. He did send him a poster, after all.”
“Good idea, Winnie,” Hank praised. “Will you talk to Jock?”
“Granny, you don’t have to worry about the two servants getting away with the murder and the robbery,” Marie spoke for the first time.
“How so?” Granny asked.
“I put a curse on both of them when I saw what they did.”
“What was the curse?”
“They will die from an explosion and a fire, exactly as their victims did.”
“Are you able to put curses on people through a TiTr sling?”
“I don’t see why not. I could test it with one of you if you wanted to know for sure. I have a curse that produces teenage acne. Anybody?”
Saturday, May 4. Winnie had a meeting scheduled with Jock for the morning. The Wilizy would be planning an operation against the Safe Haven ranches and she didn’t want to miss it. Reese offered to look after Madison in the morning, but he wanted to have the afternoon to start on his home schooling bots.
“Did Mom and Dad try to change your mind about going back to home-schooling?”
“No. I just told them I wasn’t returning to the Penticton school. I couldn’t go to school and be a daddy at the same time.”
“But that’s not the real reason.”
“There’s nothing at the school for me now. I have a good start on my colour chart. I have no reason to go back.”
“Annika may change her mind when she finds out more about her dad.”
“I don’t want to talk about this.”
So they made a little schedule for the week. Reese would handle the mornings and Winnie the afternoons. If Madison needed parenting in the evening, they’d share.
Reese was waiting in the kitchen when Madison came in for breakfast. “Hiya Madison,” he greeted cheerfully.
She just looked at him with no expression whatsoever on her face. Then she grumped, “I’m Maddy.”
“OK, Maddy. We normally get our own breakfasts. Cereal and toast mostly. Would you like me to help you?”
“I can do it.”
And she did. She poured cereal into a bowl without spilling any. Looked in the fridge and saw some milk. Poured it into the bowl almost perfectly. Got a cloth and wiped up the drops on the table. Pulled a spoon out of the mass of cutlery on the table. Saw the big knife for cutting bread on a counter and brought that back to her place at the table too. Then she ate slowly, watching Reese continuously from under her eyelashes. Reese didn’t notice the stare or the big knife by her left hand. He was checking the schedule on the fridge. Yolanda had listed some possible activities for Madison. Cleaning her dirty dishes off the kitchen table was first on the list. Second on the list was moving into Yollie’s old bedroom.
“You’ll have your own bedroom from now on. We’ll give you some toys that other kids in the family have used. Later this week, we’ll buy you more clothes and you can keep them in your bedroom closet and bureau. We all have our own bedroom.”
“Granny and Grandpa don’t.” [Narrator: As I may have mentioned to you previously, Maddy saw everything.]
“They’re married and they don’t mind sharing a bedroom. Here’s your new room.”
Maddy stood in the hallway and peered in. Then she looked at the doorknob. “Is there a lock?”
“No. You won’t need a lock. If your door is closed, nobody will barge in on you. Not even Granny or Grandpa. They’ll knock on your door and wait for you to answer. If you don’t want anybody to come in, tell them that you want to be alone.”
Maddy shut the bedroom door from the hallway and then opened it again. Afterwards she went into the bedroom and closed the door behind her. Reese could hear her fiddling with the doorknob. He was about to ask her if she needed help when Maddy opened the door. “I can leave the bedroom whenever I want?”
“Of course. If you become hungry in the middle of the night, you can get a snack. All the lights in the house are fixed so that they’ll come on when you walk near them in the dark. But be sure to clean up any mess that you make in the kitchen. Put away the milk, for example. I forgot to do that once after a snack and it went bad.”
Maddy looked at his neck and saw no collar of any kind. “Did they beat you?”
“No. Nobody beats anybody in this house. That won’t happen to you again, Madison.”
“My brother Wizard tried different names too when he was growing up. Granny put the name he was using that day on a sign on the fridge so that everybody knew what to call him. Would you like me to do that for you too?”
“I can print my own name,” Maddy declared. And she did. Reese put the sign on the fridge and told everybody that Madison was experimenting with names like Wizard had.
Winnie’s meeting with Jock was through a mind-message conference. Lucas and Theo were in the Wilizy/Asia which was hovering over Toronto, Jock was in Toronto’s city hall being a mayor, Melissa and Mac were in the satellite compound, and Winnie and Marie were in Marie’s home in the main compound.
Jock was in charge of the meeting. “First thing we have to do is find out how many ranches Safe Haven has and where they are. We can’t make any plans until we know exactly what we’re going up against. Marie, do you know?”
“I thought Shango and Theogun would just help with Ranch #2. I didn’t curse any of the other owners.”
“We can’t rescue the slaves at one ranch and ignore all of the other slaves in the other ranches,” Melissa explained.
“The other ranch owners would probably re-capture the slaves and imprison them on their own ranch,” Winnie added.
“The first attack will be the easiest,” Jock predicted. “Nobody will be expecting it. But after that, we’ll have to be careful. The ranch owners will be expecting us.”
“Does that mean simultaneous attacks, Jock?” Theo reached that conclusion quickly.
“If not simultaneous, then close to it. But before we go into battle, we’ll shut down their communications so that one ranch can’t warn another or call for reinforcements. Marie, can ranch owners communicate with each other?”
“I only know about Ranches #2, #3, #4, #7, and #10. They’re close enough to talk back and forth. We arranged hair dressing days ahead of time, for example. All of those ranches have black masters and white slaves. Safe Haven must have other ranches too.”
“Are they all in the same general area? Where was it, Winnie?”
“Northern Montana. Missouri River area.”
“I don’t know anything about other ranches,” Marie answered. “But a copter came once a week to Ranch #2. The pilot was collecting letters for their headquarters and dropping off letters for us.”
“Courier service,” Lucas concluded. “I can follow that copter easily. When did he come to your ranch?”
Reese was showing Maddy where Hank kept his stores of used games, toys, and books. Maddy picked out a sampling of each and together with Reese, they bundled them into her bedroom. He watched as she stacked the games and books carefully in the bottom of the closet. The biggest game on the bottom, the next biggest, etc. “Where should I put the toys?” Maddy asked.
It had been a long time since Yollie had kept toys in her bedroom, but Reese knew where he could find a large crate that would work. Maddy had taken mostly stuffies from the caves, but she had lingered over other things as well. “I’ll bring a big box,” he said.
Maddy stood by the bedroom door as Reese left. “You have to knock first to come back in, right?”
“I’ll knock first,” Reese confirmed. He heard the door close behind him.
A few minutes later, Reese knocked and waited at the door. He heard her turning the knob and the door opened a sliver. Two blue eyes looked out.
“I have the box, Maddy.”
Maddy stood well back from the door as Reese entered and looked for a good place to put it. In doing so, he noticed a bunny stuffie on the bed and a faint imprint of where she had been lying on the bedspread. “Where do you want it?”
Maddy looked around and pointed at the spot next to her bureau. Reese put the empty crate in place and turned. Maddy had been peering into the crate, but she stepped back immediately when Reese turned.
“You can put the toys in the crate yourself. Would you like me to read you one of the books?”
Maddy shook her head No.
“I’ve played with all of these games before. Snakes and Ladders is a lot of fun. Would you like me to show you how it works?”
Maddy shook her head No.
“Would you like more stuffies?”
Maddy shook her head No.
“Do you want to be alone?”
Maddy nodded her head.
Reese paused at the doorway. “I’ll be in the living room if you need anything. If I’m not there, I’ll be in my bedroom. We passed it on the way. Remember?”
“I can leave my bedroom any time I want, right?”
“Yes, of course.”
“Can I leave the house?”
“Yes. But I will have to go with you until you learn you way around the compound. We have a very big property and it would be easy for you to get lost.”
“Are there any snakes?”
Maddy looked at him but said nothing.
“See you later, Maddy,” and Reese left. He heard the click of the bedroom door. He didn’t hear the noise of Maddy pushing the empty crate up against the door.
Is she mad because she can’t sleep in Winnie’s bed with her? Strange. She never tried to hold my hand once. She must have woken up in a bad mood. I wonder if she has a headache or something. Should I have asked?
“What weapons do the ranches have, Marie?” Jock was now into part 2 of the planning meeting. Assessing the enemy’s strengths.
“At my ranch, rifles and whips. The rifles are stored in a locked room in the bunkhouse where the bosses sleep. Only Boss #1 and Boss #2 have the key. Big Momma and Big Daddy have keys too.”
“Do you know what weapons the other ranches might have?”
“No. This is not something that the Big Mommas shared when they were having their hair done.”
“We know that six of the ranches will be heavily armed,” Melissa warned. “William and Wolf watched the SODs steal arms from Saskatoon and deliver them to a spot in North Dakota. If they know that we’re coming, we can expect a lot of firepower against us.” [Narrator: As described in Teenage Mutant Ninja Torpedoes.]
“Best to hit those ranches first, right?” Lucas was thinking strategically.
“Perhaps,” Melissa agreed. “The North Dakota location suggests that the ranches could be spread around in both Montana and North Dakota. Perhaps even more widely.”
“If William can give me the time and date that the SODs left Saskatoon, I can track those six copters back to their ranches.”
“Good idea, Lucas.”
“I’ll help,” Theo jumped in. “I’ll help Lucas trail that courier too.”
“From the ranch numbers, we know that they have at least ten ranches, spread widely, some with lots of armaments,” Melissa summarized. “Marie, is there anything else that we need to know about what we’ll be facing when we attack?”
“Ranch #10 had dog collars that tracked every slave’s location every minute. We didn’t have that in #2. Other ranches may have the better collars.”
“How would we know?” Winnie asked.
“I dunno,” Marie answered.
“If they knew in advance that an attack was coming, would the Big Mommas kill their slaves beforehand?” Melissa asked.
“Big Momma #2 would kill some as an example. Next she’d lock the rest up and starve them until the threat had passed.”
“Melissa, you’ll need to build in an element of surprise at each ranch, not only at the first ranch we attack.” Jock confirmed what everybody was in the process of concluding for themselves. “I think we’re done for now. Lucas and Theo are going to find all the ranches. Lucas, why don’t you call the next meeting when you and Theo are ready to report?”
I’ll give my readers some background information now on Jak Johnson. You’ll remember Jak Johnson. She was the servant who blew up Queen Freya and Prince Samuel on March 11, 2085 and then fled with thousands of dollars of rich treasures that the Smythe family had in their home. Some readers may have asked the question: How could the Smythe family be robbed of all of their treasures when they had arrived in a yacht with no treasures? That would have been a good question for the police or for the Wilizy to ask too. But they didn’t know how empty the Smythe’s yacht had been when they arrived.
There was another inaccuracy in Winnie’s report. Jak didn’t flee with James Johnson, her military partner. She fled with Prince Samuel. Mr. Johnson died from the bomb in the house. All of those cartons that they carried to the yacht? They contained the vital contents of Prince Samuel’s lab.
After leaving Bainbridge Island, Jak returned the queen’s yacht to the Royal Navy Yards in Gothenburg on the west coast of the province of Sweden. From there, she requisitioned a military copter for an overland trip eastward to Stockholm, the capital of Scandinavia. Her rank of Major in Scandinavia’s Special Ops forces guaranteed an immediate response to her request. She parked in the Transportation Division’s receiving area in Stockholm’s main army base, reported in to headquarters, and then waited. There was a good chance that she would face a secret military trial for assassinating the country’s queen. Jak was remarkably calm while she waited for her meeting with the military’s Chief of Staff. She had been working for him for years. She knew how his mind worked.
The Chief of Staff kept her waiting only 15 minutes. Her unexpected arrival would have set off alarm bells in his inner sanctum. He would know that something went wrong in Seattle.
“The streets are eerily calm, Wilhelm,” Jak observed after closing the Chief of Staff’s door. Obviously she was on a first name basis with Wilhelm, Queen Freya’s uncle.
“The secret military trials of the politicians who had proven themselves to be traitors went well. Parliament is behaving itself. I brought in the army to give the citizens a show of force in the streets. I let the protests go on long enough to justify a sharp response.” When Wilhelm used the words sharp response, that meant Special Ops forces were allowed latitude on how they responded. In those situations, accidental deaths were permitted. Accidental as in what happens when a subversive politician walks into a speeding bullet. Oopsey. “What went wrong in Seattle, Jakobina?”
Jak’s report was too detailed for me to recount fully. These were her key points. Princess Freya had been kidnapped, but no ransom had been asked. Queen Freya had been on the verge of drawing a lot of attention to herself, not as Ashleigh Smythe, but as Queen Freya of Scandinavia. Jak had prevented her from doing that.
Also, Queen Freya had been extremely stubborn about denying Prince Samuel access to her baby eggs. One of Jak’s orders had been to give Prince Samuel the fortitude to press her on that need. She had wasted far too much time on that part of her assignment – showing an interest in his work, as well as listening to him blather on about what he was doing and why. Jak closed her report with this defense of her actions. “Queen Freya’s decision to reveal herself as our monarch was one of the pre-conditions for extreme action. I did what my orders instructed me to do.”
“And your colleague? Did your orders instruct you to kill him as well?”
“James and I arrived in June last year and found the Queen as she had been when she lived in the palace. Dictatorial and distant. But in the last 11 months, Queen Freya changed. She became human. She volunteered at a pre-school. She was a mother to the princess in the best sense of the word. My ex-colleague began to like her. I did not trust him to execute the queen or to allow me to do it for him. I followed my orders.”
“So you did, Major. Dismissed.”
Jak rose to leave, relieved that a firing squad wasn’t waiting for her.
“One moment, Jakobina.”
“Your uniform insignia are out of date, Lieutenant Colonel. You can see to them after you return from your two week leave.”
Near the end of March 2085, Jak returned to her normal duties. With calm restored in the streets, Special Ops was once again covertly using chemicals to prevent infected citizens from having children and thereby spreading their pestilence. This time, the commander of the Special Ops was being smarter about it. Jak was the third highest-ranking officer in that operation and remained in that position for just over a year. She received an urgent message to present herself at the Chief of Staff’s office on April 26, 2086. This was the same day as the Wilizy were conducting interrogations in Maple Loaf Gardens.
Wilhelm didn’t wait for her to sit down before starting. “We’ve been running a highly secret program. At the time that you and I met last year, you didn’t need to know about it. Princess Freya wasn’t in danger at that time. Now she is.”
Jak nodded and sat down. She was used to hearing didn’t need to know. Special Ops would have more accurately referred to as Secret Ops.
“Our secret operation started over ten years ago as a pilot program. We engaged an American group of entrepreneurs named Safe Haven Corporation to kidnap schoolgirls who were blonde, fair-skinned and blue-eyed. These girls were taken to a very private and secure spot where two trainers provided instruction. One trainer gave the girl basic literacy in the Scandinavian language. The second adjusted the girl’s memories. Both of these lessons were given under chemicals, hypnosis, and memory implantation. The pilot succeeded. Before she left the country, Queen Freya instructed Special Ops to pull out all stops to save the country. We had done that already. We may have anticipated that order by ten years, but our operations are now legitimately covered by a royal decree.”
“There are two outcomes from the program. When Safe Haven kidnaps girls who are young enough, they have their memories adjusted so that they can come to Scandinavia and appear as normal little Scandinavian girls. We adopt them out to a family who has the same concerns as we do. They raise her, marry her off, and tell the newly married couple that their country needs lots of children. It’s a small way of increasing the number of healthy citizens.”
“The program for Safe Haven’s older kidnapped girls has had more of an impact. They are too old to be given new memories. Instead, trainers convince them that they will serve a vital service to our country by removing pestilence carriers, one carrier at a time. Who would suspect that a little girl was an assassin? When they reach puberty, they will perform the same service, but they will be able to use seduction to help with targeting. We have been receiving the young assassins for six months. They’ve been highly successful.”
“When you reported that Princess Freya had been kidnapped, and when no ransom emerged, I realized that Safe Haven might have been involved in that kidnapping. She was underage for the program, but I saw no need to worry about her safety. In time, Safe Haven would send her back to us with her memories adjusted. In the meantime, Safe Haven would unknowingly keep her hidden for us. I did not inform them that they had a member of our royal family in their grasp. The chances of us receiving a real ransom note would have been high. These people exist only to accumulate more wealth for themselves.”
“Yesterday I received a very apologetic communication from the Safe Haven head office. One of their young girls had escaped. Not once, but twice. They’re still searching for her and have a promising lead. But in case she has escaped for good, they wanted to know if we would mind very much if they reduced their production quota by one? They are willing to pay a penalty for missing the quota.”
“Lieutenant-Colonel, the young girl who has escaped from Safe Haven is Princess Freya. You will find her. You will meet with the man in charge of procuring and educating candidates for our program. You will volunteer to help him find their missing girl. I have told them that we might increase the number of girls we pay them to kidnap. I have also suggested that we will allow them to kidnap other races besides the blonde, blue-eyed, fair-skinned Scandinavian look. We may actually do that since there are enough different races now in Scandinavia that any young girl could become an effective assassin. This will be enough motivation for them to let you poke around in their slave ranches. Find out how she escaped. Determine if she is alive, as they believe. Then find her without their knowledge, if possible. Or if that isn’t possible, help them find her. Do nothing to reveal that she is Scandinavia’s crown princess.”
“Do you believe that she’s still alive?”
“From what they’ve told me, yes. But that’s something you should determine for yourself. Safe Haven is telling me that the girl who got away is an escape genius. Is Princess Freya an escape genius?”
“That’s not possible.”
“Take an armed long-range solar copter. No military markings. If you need help, I can give you a partner. I can give you one or two platoons of Special Ops infiltrators if you need a military force to help recover her.”
“For now, give me a partner with her own copter so I can send her back with messages and receive instructions. If Benedikta Ekelund is available, I’ll take her. We’ve worked together before.”
“But only in Finland?”
“Yes. She has never been in North America. I don’t know where she is now.”
One phone call later, Wilhelm told Jak that Lieutenant Ekelund was working as a martial arts instructor at the army’s main base. She would receive her new orders that afternoon.
Wilhelm’s briefing continued. “Tell Lieutenant Ekelund only that you and she are in North America to find Princess Freya and bring her home to safety. You were part of her security detail so that’s why you’re on this mission. Tell her that Queen Freya is safe, but in a different North American location. You can tell her that Princess Freya was abducted by the Safe Haven people who kidnap girls to work on their slave ranches. They did not know who she was, nor do we want them to learn who she is. They lost her. They’ll help us find her and, in exchange, we may give them some additional contract work. Keep that part of the briefing fuzzy. Do not tell her how we are using Safe Haven’s blonde girls here in Scandinavia. If she proves reliable, we can bring her into the pestilence operations later.”
“A training exercise for her?”
“More of a reliability check, I think. Will she do what’s necessary and keep her mouth shut? Can she operate undercover on her own for long periods of time without jeopardizing the mission? If not, you know what to do. The security of the pestilence operations cannot be compromised. Leave no loose ends.”
“Why did you choose Benedikta Ekelund? She’s too noticeable for undercover work in the daytime. Good for fixing the hole in the window behind me, I suppose.”
Jak looked up at the window. It was one of those high arching windows and there was a very small hole at the very top. No way could even Bean have reached it. “Stray bullet?”
“No. I’ve been told it’s a stress fracture from a bird or something. Maintenance will fix it next week.
Jak returned to the topic at hand. “Bean fixed something more difficult than a hole in a window for us, if you’ll recall.”
“I do recall now. Your colleagues gave the two of you a unique nickname. Did you mind?”
“Having the name of a child’s fairy tale? No, not really. We found it amusing. Why do you want Princess Freya back so badly? Why don’t you just order her assassinated like you did with the Queen?”
“In time, I will. But for now, Prince Samuel has made some leaps forward in being able to mass-produce blonde, blue-eyed girls. We want Princess Freya for her eggs. Imagine over 1 million young Scandinavian girls looking like Queen Freya.
“Queen Freya was not particularly smart.”
Jak’s briefing with Wilhelm had been April 26. We’re back to present time now. It’s Sunday, May 5 2086 and Jak and her partner will be meeting a man who calls himself Fred Brown. Jak suspected that this was not his real name. The place of the meeting will be the abandoned Safeco Field, home of the old Seattle Mariners baseball team. The field hadn’t been used for baseball for decades.
Fred Brown had selected the Mariners’ field as a meeting place for several reasons. First, it was usually open but empty. The occasional fitness buff might be huffing up and down the cement stairs, but otherwise, there’d be nobody in the stadium to see them meet. Second, the field was very noticeable from the air. All his Scandinavian visitors had to do was find Bainbridge Island and head east. They’d see the green of the artificial turf easily enough. Third, when they met on the pitcher’s mound in the center of the empty field, there was zero chance that somebody could be listening in. Fred Brown was always careful. His job required it. My readers know of him as Safe Haven’s personnel officer.
Jak and Benedikta landed their copters in center field and walked to the pitcher’s mound. Mr. Brown’s 4-seater copter had a standard white exterior with yellow highlights. The back two seats could be removed for carrying cargo such as kidnapped girls. The brochure from the manufacturer hadn’t mentioned that benefit specifically.
The Scandinavian operatives were using two entirely black military copters that were supposed to appear like normal copters that any family might purchase. The snout of the machine gun in the nose of the copter was concealed. The guns that could fire from the two openings on the sides of the copter were safely hidden in two shapeless sacks. Two crates full of miscellaneous weapons were sitting innocently in Jak’s cargo area labelled as CANNED VEGETABLES. Jak had also stored two duffle bags of military clothing that might be needed for nighttime operations. She had brought only one suitcase of civilian clothes holding two presentable disguises. She was wearing one of them now. A dark blue pantsuit with a white blouse. Her other pantsuit was black. Her second blouse was dark blue. Jak wasn’t wearing her usual combat boots. The black pumps went better with this outfit.
Benedikta had the same two pantsuits to choose from as Jak, but she had picked black for today. She also had two duffle bags of military clothing. The two crates sitting in her copter’s cargo area were labelled SEED POTATOES. One held various forms of explosives and detonators; the second contained various surveillance tools.
As they strode across center field and approached the pitcher’s mound, both Jak and Benedikta were trying to get a sense of this Fred Brown. They knew it was a very common name. The man himself looked very common too. He was dressed just as any other male in his mid 30s would be. He was average height, average weight, average build, and average appearance. His most unique feature was a tiny scar mark, like a chicken pox indentation, on his left cheek. He wore glasses, had an average nose, as well as a reasonably good haircut that was becoming a little shaggy. Typical for males of his age, he had a receding hairline and a preceding gut. If you looked up average man in Wikipedia, you’d find Fred Brown’s picture.
For his part, Fred Brown was eyeing the two women striding towards him. His first thought was military. He had expected that. What he hadn’t expected was the obvious nature of their employment. The two operatives must have participated in countless parades. Unconsciously, they were marching, arms swinging in unison, shoulders back, and head straight. They may as well have had a sign on their clothes that read: We are soldiers. We wear clothing that has been mass-produced. The colour of our underwear is khaki. Their military background stood out. That was not a good thing as far as Fred Brown was concerned. Especially not if these two were supposed to be undercover operatives. Mr. Average Man, who could walk down a street and not be noticed, was not impressed.
Introductions were made; hands were shaken. Jak took charge.
“We have come prepared to assist you in the search for and recovery of this girl from Bainbridge Island. What was her name again?”
“Madison Smythe,” Fred Brown answered. Military people don’t forget names. Why are you pretending not to know?
“We’ll follow your lead on her recovery. Ask for resources if you need anything. My partner and I are just the first two in what could be a larger force at your disposal.”
Sounds like you’re desperate to find her. Why is Madison Smythe so important to you?
“We’d also like to talk about some additional contract work with you. We’ll have to examine your facilities to determine whether you can meet our needs. We’ll also be looking at the security issues your facilities might face if you have to increase your numbers of kidnapped girls. It appears that two if your storage sites may have been compromised. We’d like to visit those places. Perhaps we’ll see something that others have missed.”
“I’d be glad to give you a tour.”
“Perhaps to maximize our time, you could give my partner the coordinates of the slave ranch where this Smythe girl was first kept? She’ll talk with your key people on site. Look for security weaknesses. Traitors. That kind of thing. Meanwhile, I’d be happy to have you show me around other sites. We can use my copter, if you like.”
Too conspicuous. “Let’s use mine. People are used to seeing it. I’ll show you where you can hide yours.”
“How long will this tour take?”
“At least a week. I have a side trip to make.”
“Let’s meet up with Benedikta on Tuesday May 14 – at the slave ranch. I’d like to see what a slave ranch looks like.”
Fred Brown watched the two Scandinavians marching back to their copters. Mr. Brown was an average male; his mind wandered down average paths. He had noticed that Jak was a good-looking blonde. Everything that an average man would be interested in was in its right place and appearing very healthy. Not that he’d try anything with a woman who had the ability to kill quietly and efficiently. But it was still good to be with the good-looking woman in the pair. Benedikta was tall and skinny to the point of appearing vulnerable to a sudden gust of wind. She had no figure to speak of. At least not one that Fred Brown could discern. In fact, with the wire glasses on her face and the black hair cropped close to her skull, she looked like an accountant. She could pass for a man. Perhaps she was. A man posing as a geeky, awkward looking woman. Would they do that? Why would they do that?
Sunday morning. Reese looked up from his cereal bowl as Maddy skipped into the kitchen. She went immediately to the fridge and turned over the page showing her name for the day. It now read Madison. Then she went to Reese and gave him a big hug. “Hi Daddy.” It was an awkward hug since Reese was sitting and facing the table; still, she managed to pull it off.
“Hi Madison. What do you want to do today?”
“Shall we start with breakfast?”
Reese looked at Madison. She was still standing next to him, her arms clasped around his neck and looking at him in expectation.
“Would you like me to make you something to eat?”
“What would you like?”
So Reese put a bowl of cereal on the table along with a single slice of toast and peanut butter. Madison sat at the table next to him and ate contentedly. Afterwards she stood next to him, put her arms around his neck again and asked, “Can we play some games?”
Reese agreed, but first Madison had to clear her place at the table. When they went back to her bedroom, he told her that she had to make her bed too. In fact, she should make her bed before leaving her bedroom. Madison replied, “OK” and made her bed. Next it was teeth brushing time. And face and hands washing time.
“What games would you like to play?”
“All of them.”
Reese bundled all of the games on Madison’s floor together and took them into the kitchen where they could sit at the table together. He explained the first game, Snakes and Ladders, and they started. Madison lasted a few minutes before losing interest. She stood next to him and put her arms around his neck.
“Are we done?”
Madison nodded and said, “I won.”
“Next game,” she said.
Reese played bits of three more games. “Let’s do something else,” she said at the end of fifteen minutes.
“First we have to put these games away.”
“OK.” Madison stood watching Reese.
“You take two games back to your room and I’ll take the rest.”
The morning went very slowly for Reese. Madison’s attention span was measured in minutes. For example, when she was sitting on his lap and Reese was reading from a book, he would only get through the first couple of pages before Madison took the book out of his hands, close it, and announce, “Next book.”
At one point, desperate to find something that might keep her interest, Reese took her back to the storeroom and asked her if she saw anything that she’d like to play with. That was a mistake.
“Everything,” Madison said.
So Reese and Madison shared the job of bringing all of the books, toys and stuffies to her bedroom. Reese did exercise some judgement in only bringing things that were suitable for her age. They placed everything on the floor in front of the closet. Then Madison did something somewhat surprising.
“I’m going to play in my bedroom by myself now,” she revealed and almost pushed Reese out the door. She closed the door firmly behind him.
Reese shrugged, went into his bedroom, plopped on his bed, and closed his eyes. Winnie’s voice from the hallway woke him. “Where’s Madison, Reese?”
“She’s in her bedroom. Playing by herself.”
“She’s not there.”
Reese trotted down the hallway and looked through the open doorway. The big mess that had been on the floor … he checked the time … an hour ago was gone. All of the picture books were organized into four neat piles on the floor of the closet. The biggest book was on the bottom; the smallest book was on the top of each pile. The games were similarly organized, although the stacks were nowhere near as high. The stuffies couldn’t be organized into piles; instead, he found a clump of stuffies in each of the four corners of the bedroom. “I closed my eyes for only a second.”
“Let’s do a TiTr search,” Winnie proposed.
They found Madison in the recreation center, although her route there was hardly direct. Madison had wandered around the compound, looking at the buildings. She had seen the gym and had tried to enter but was blocked by the invisible walls. She had been quite persistent – walking around the entire perimeter and pushing against the electronic barrier. From the gym, she walked to the recreation center, saw the open door, knocked on it, and had entered. She was now in the corner of the main room, fully engrossed in playing with Reese’s figurine armies when Reese and Winnie came in.
“There you are,” Winnie said.
Madison looked up and stared silently. Then – “Mommy! Daddy!” Next – hugs. “I found more toys,” she exclaimed.
“Let’s have some lunch,” Winnie said. “This afternoon you can play with the wolves.”
“What are wolves?”
After Winnie had supervised Madison’s bedtime bath, a worried mommy and daddy met with Yolanda and Granny. Reese described how his morning had gone. He also admitted that he had fallen asleep when he was supposed to be watching her. “Anything I tried to do, she tired of it in just a few minutes,” he summarized. “I ran out of ideas. I was exhausted.”
“Same for me,” Winnie admitted. “I thought that she’d enjoy playing horsey with Patella and Scapula. She was too frightened of them so I sent them away. She had tried very hard to get into the gym, so I took her in and tried to play kick ball with her. She wasn’t interested. I tried reading; I tried games. I took her around the compound and told her who lived in each house. We visited with Granny and she ate a cookie. But she couldn’t sit still and started climbing all over me. Stu and Momaka aren’t back from their holiday yet, so we didn’t go in there. I thought I’d take her a little further into the compound so that she’d be able to wander around on her own if she wanted to. I’d point out where to be careful. She kept trying to walk on my feet, and when I wouldn’t let her, she started pulling and tugging on me. Whining. Asking me to carry her in my arms; asking me to put her on my shoulders. I called Reese and he put her on his shoulders and we walked together. That was the only time that she sat still the whole day!”
Reese took over. “Winnie talked about the things we were passing and how Madison should not go near the river. We went all the way downriver to the security fence and I explained how she shouldn’t try to go past the signs. I told her that we had a fence to keep bad people out and told her that she should never go outside that fence without an adult.”
“Did she understand?”
“I think so,” Winnie said. “On the tour, she listened to everything we said. She wasn’t squirming around trying to get down or trying to hug one of us. She just stared at everything. I don’t know if she was enjoying the walk or not. She wasn’t smiling, but she did look really curious.”
“Afterwards we came home and it was time for supper. We promised to take her upriver tomorrow. She went in her bedroom to wash up for supper and it was huggy huggy time all over again. She ate supper quietly and wanted to go to bed. It was way too early for that.”
“She seems to like having an hour by herself before bedtime,” Granny observed.
“Yeah. She wanted some private time yesterday too. I listened at the door for a bit. She was talking to herself. I couldn’t hear what she was saying.”
“Little girls talk to their dolls,” Yolanda said. “Perfectly normal.”
“She doesn’t have any dolls. Yollie used hers for target practice, remember? I got to play with detached heads and limbs.”
“What are we supposed to do?” Reese asked. “She won’t even listen to me read a five page picture book.”
“She does seem to be a little behind in attention span,” Granny admitted. “The behaviour you described is what a toddler would exhibit.”
“Perhaps she’ll focus more if she’s involved in the activity. Get her doing things, not just listening. Colouring? Cutting paper? Tracing?”
“Yolanda’s right. Some children are more quiet and passive; others have to be doing something all the time. Lucas was like that.”
“Reduce the number of choices that she has. She sees a big stack of books and figures that she has to read them all. Have her pick only a few books, and a few games for the day, and those are the ones she has to play with.”
“Thanks, Granny. She has them all in stacks now; it will be easy to do that. Is that a little weird the way she puts everything into stacks?”
“Not at all, Winnie. Little kids like making stacks. Toddlers do that a lot. Afterwards they knock their stacks over.”
“What about all the hugging?” Reese asked.
“She’s been hurt. People have been horrible towards her. She needs those hugs, Reese. Don’t stop giving them; don’t push her away.”
“Thanks, Mom. Being a parent is way harder than I thought it would be.”
“Really? I always found it quite easy.”
Granny was still in snort heaven when Marie and Doc came into the kitchen.
“All done?” Yolanda asked.
“Yeah. Marie put her to sleep and I inserted a Wilizy brain plug. We’ll have a location monitor on her at all times now, plus she’ll be able to get into the gym. I gave her a quick check-up. She’s healthy.”
“Marie, do you have any ideas on how to keep her occupied?”
“Teach her how to climb trees. That’s what I did with Nary. Drove me crazy, that girl.”
“So that’s what did it.”
“Tread softly, Doc. I know many spells.”
“Do you have anything that will make him more sociable?” Granny asked.
“Not without changing him into a woman.”
“Works for me,” Granny said.
Tuesday morning, May 7. Everybody from the satellite community arrived as a surprise for Winnie’s 10th birthday. It was a double surprise party. Liset had turned 6 two days earlier. Madison was pumped when she saw who was there. She was able to play with the youngsters and give them a whole lot of hugs. The toddlers hugged her back.
Winnie offered to put safety-saddles on the wolves and give horsey rides to everybody who wanted one. William acted as horse wrangler, making sure that the little ones were all fastened in tightly. When Liset’s turn came, she decided that she’d ride with just stirrups, the saddle, and the reins. No restraints. William looked at Yollie who nodded, so he did as she asked. Madison saw what was happening and stepped forward.
“Madison,” William said with some surprise. Winnie had told him that she had been scared of the wolves.
“I’m Maddy,” she corrected.
“Madison. Maddy. Too confusing. I’ll call you M-girl,” William said. “Do you want a horsey ride too?”
“Like Liset,” Maddy said. “Not like the babies.”
So William positioned Maddy on the saddle. “Use your knees to stay tight to Scapula’s body. Shake the reins if you want to go faster.”
Scapula started with a walk and Maddy seemed quite content with that until she saw Liset. Liset had been playing horsey for years, so Patella was trotting well in front of Maddy, and going in circles, and even bouncing on her toes a little to give Liset a bumpy ride. Maddy shook the reins and Scapula began to trot. With Patella going in circles, she caught up quickly. Maddy wanted to go in circles too, so Scapula began to follow Patella. Liset looked over her shoulder, saw Maddy right behind her, straightened Patella out, and shook the reins. As Patella pulled away, Maddy shook her reins too.
It was at about this time that everybody sitting in the common area saw what was happening. Both wolves were galloping by now; both Liset and Maddy were hunched forward, reins forgotten, arms around the wolves’ neck. “Faster,” Liset screamed. “Faster,” Maddy echoed.
“Oh my God, they’ll kill themselves,” Granny exclaimed. “Winnie!”
By this time, both wolves had realized that they could continue to race full out on the bumpy ground and tire themselves out, or they had a second option. They energized their slings.
Don’t turn any sharp corners, Winnie messaged them.
Both horsies and riders were disappearing into the distance.
“It’s OK, Granny. They’re actually safer in the air. Patella and Scapula will fly downriver a bit and then come back.”
And come back they did. At warp speed. Both girls screeching “Faster, faster!”
The wolves slowed and stopped in front of the community hall, and both girls rolled off their steeds onto the ground, laughing and screaming. They hugged each other and jumped up and down, clasped together in one vibrating mass of excitement. “Can we do it again?” Liset asked. “Again,” Maddy echoed.
And that’s how Maddy learned that the Wilizy could fly. And that’s why your narrator remembers her sixth birthday party so vividly.
The men were playing floor hockey in the gym after an early supper while the women were still sitting on blankets in a big circle on the common and surrounded by a lot of empty picnic baskets. The toddlers were on the meadow playing some sort of chase game. M-Girl, as William had christened her, was in charge. I was sitting next to Winnie – openly listening to the adults. When the meeting of the Raging Gardeners had started, Granny had mind-messaged Winnie something, but Winnie had replied out loud for everybody to hear. “Liset is old enough to stay.” Winnie looked rather determined about that and nobody argued with her. At least not that I could hear.
There wasn’t much to report on the preparations for the battles with Safe Haven. Lucas and Theo were still collecting information. Granny warned everybody that the Wilizy would need everybody for this operation. Winnie must have mind-messaged her because she looked at me and said, “We’ll give Liset something to do.”
The talk about Safe Haven and the ranches inevitably led to talk about Madison/Maddy. They agreed that she should have a nickname while she decided which name she would take. It would be too confusing otherwise. Nobody liked William’s M-Girl. They brainstormed a few names and Winnie suggested that they shorten M-Girl to MG, but say it as EmmaGee. They agreed that Winnie should see if Madison/Maddy liked that or not.
Granny said that the meeting of the Raging Gardeners was over and I should go and play with my cousins. Winnie agreed that I should leave but sent me a mind-message of her face winking. So I left. EmmaGee and I thought up a brand new game with one of the soft bouncy balls, so I didn’t mind. Winnie told me afterwards what had happened anyway.
The women talked about how EmmaGee was settling in but would need a lot of caring help still.
“I like what she’s done with her bedroom,” Yolanda admitted. “Everything is neat and orderly. All of her playthings are in stacks and put away properly. She now has enough clothes so that she can change each day, and she does enjoy her bath at night.”
Winnie added her impressions of what had happened when she and Yolanda had taken EmmaGee to the second hand store the day before. “It was interesting watching her while she went up and down the aisles. Mom said that we’d let her pick out her own clothes and showed her the list. EmmaGee looked at the list and was able to read it. We started from the ground up. Shoes, socks, underclothes, jeans, tops, sweaters, jackets and hats. Then we followed her around with a big buggy. I was surprised when she was choosing the tops. She would rub the material between two fingers. She did that with a top that looked very nice but was badly made. It was almost like she had a look of disgust on her face when she put it back.”
Yolanda continued. “She didn’t know how to select the sizes, so we helped her on that; otherwise, she did everything on her own. She made good choices. Lots of colours for the tops; sturdy jeans. Tell them about the butterflies, Winnie.”
“We had finished all of the clothes shopping and Mom was looking around the store searching for a big toy box. I saw EmmaGee in the used jewelry section and she was staring into one of the glass cases. I went over and stood by her.”
“What are these?” she asked.
“Jewelry,” I answered. “Somebody made these to look like butterflies.”
“Do they zap you?”
“I wasn’t sure what she meant by that, but obviously she was worried about being hurt. So I explained that they were pieces of jewelry that she could attach to one of her tops. She’d have to open the pin that was behind the butterfly, put the pin through her top, and then close the pin. I could show her how to do that if she wanted, but we’d need to ask the lady at the counter to open the display case.”
“She wanted to see the pins up close, so we had the case opened, and I pulled one out and put it on her. I showed her how I would put it on myself too, so she could see how you have to pull the top away a bit to get at it. She wanted to try it on her own, so she did.”
“It’s a little awkward to fasten it,” I explained. “The only danger is sticking the pin into your finger.”
“I once cut my finger with a knife and it hurt a lot.”
“This won’t hurt much if you accidentally stab yourself.”
“Could you put the pin into the shirt before you put the shirt on?”
“Sure. That would be a smart thing to do. But be sure to take the pin off before you put the top into your dirty clothes hamper. The washing could break the butterfly.”
“She was continuing to stare at the jewelry. The store had a whole collection of butterflies made up of different coloured shiny stones and beads. These had been made locally, I believe. They weren’t second-hand, that’s for sure. I rubbed them a little to see how well they had been glued.”
“Why did you do that?” she asked.
I explained and then she had to do it too.
“Do you like these,” I asked.
She nodded. “Pretty,” she added.
“Would you like one?”
“They’re not on the list.”
“Mom won’t mind adding one to the list.”
“Could I have four?”
She had to think about that.
“So that there’d always be a butterfly that would go with the different coloured tops,” she replied.
“That really surprised me. Thinking about colour coordination that way. And I looked at the colours that were in the buggy and noticed that she had some favorite colours. Almost everything was one of four colours: fire-engine red, soft pink, royal blue, or Kelly green. The same with her underclothes. I checked the price of the butterflies. A little high. I looked at the buggy again and thought. Dad would have a fit if we paid full price for a whole buggy. I knew what Wizard would do.”
“You can have four,” I offered.
I watched for a bit as she ran her hands over the tray of butterflies. She looked at me, became all serious, and said. “Could I have some privacy, please?”
“I wasn’t expecting that. It wasn’t like I was watching her get dressed and undressed. But I agreed and moved away. I pretended to do some shopping, but watched her. What if she wanted privacy so that she could slip a butterfly into a pocket? I didn’t think she’d do that, but to be honest, we don’t know this girl at all.”
“I learned that she wasn’t going to steal them. She was deciding which four to buy. She talked about which ones she should buy out loud. I couldn’t hear exactly what she was saying, but I believe she was working out a rotation of how she’d wear the clothes. Each butterfly had to have the same amount of time on one of her tops as the other butterflies, or something like that. I could see her talking to herself about this. But she eventually picked up four butterflies and placed each against the four coloured tops. I could see her sort of relax a bit. The decision was made.”
“I let EmmaGee take the jewelry to the counter while I pushed the buggy. Mom was there too with a circular youth table for her bedroom – something that wasn’t too high for EmmaGee and where she could play games, or crayon, or whatever.”
“EmmaGee looked a it. There were some scrapes on the legs, and a few chips out of the edges, but the top was unmarked and that’s all that counts. Plus it came with two chairs which I thought was a plus since she and Liset had hit it off so well. Perhaps Liset could come up for more visits. For a sec, I thought she was going to comment on the scrapes. She had a scowl on her face and I could see that she didn’t like the table. Then the scowl went away and she had a bright smile.”
“Thank you, Granny,” she began. “I know exactly where I’ll put it.”
“She actually said, Could I have some privacy, please?” Granny repeated.
“Yeah. It was almost like an adult talking. A snooty adult.”
“That’s a little weird,” Melissa ventured.
“Talking things through is smart though,” Mac suggested. “It shows that she has a process for making decisions. Signs of an analytical mind, perhaps. She knows how to plan, I suspect.”
“She seems to do a lot of talking when she’s alone,” Winnie added. “The getting ready for bed routine, for example. She has her bath, she dresses for bed, and she has some downtime on her own. Reese has heard her chattering away at this time. With her stuffies, I guess. It would be interesting to know what she talks about. She turns the light off on her own when she’s ready to sleep. She’s getting enough sleep, so I don’t see why we should be tucking her in and turning off the light for her.”
“She’s been on her own a lot,” Yolanda said. “She was an only child who was kidnapped with nobody else to talk to other than the kidnappers. It’s not surprising that she’d talk to her stuffies. Perfectly healthy.”
“Not so healthy if the stuffies talk back,” Marie quipped.
“You got that right,” Granny said.
“Did you get a deal on the buggy?” Yollie asked.
"I asked the owner if I could leave the buggy in a corner while I checked what the other thrift store in town had. She offered 50% off."
“Did you take it?” Mac asked.
“She agreed to 60%.”
“Dad would have been proud,” Yollie said and led the applause.
The guests from the satellite compound had left, but not without some long hugs. “I miss these family events,” Yolanda confided to Melissa before she left.
“I do too. I wish we could live closer to you, but it’s too risky. Learning what EmmaGee went through makes me shudder. What if somebody kidnapped one of ours?”
Maddy/Madison had liked the EmmaGee nickname, so that’s what Liset called her when they said good-bye. All of the other toddlers were asleep by then because of the time zone difference, so Liset was the only one that EmmaGee could hug.
I’ll skip forward a few hours now to tell you what happened later that night. EmmaGee was in her bedroom, wearing some blue and white jammies if you’re interested in such things. She was sitting at the new round table with the Snakes and Ladder game spread out in front of her. It’s not much fun to play games by yourself, but EmmaGee had worked out a way. She had four markers on the game board. These weren’t the small coloured discs that came with the board; she was using her butterflies as player markers. One was predominantly red, the other mostly pink, the other blue, and the last green – to go with her clothes, as I have mentioned.
The talk at the table will be a little confusing for the reader.
“Karita rolls a 6; you’ll want a 2 next turn.” EmmaGee moved the green butterfly six spaces.
“Now it’s Freya’s turn. Oops. The blue butterfly has to go down the snake. Now it’s Madison’s turn. Madison, you have to remember to tell us which number you’re hoping for. That way, your counting will improve.”
At that point, EmmaGee extended her right hand, put her finger next to the pink butterfly, and counted out the spaces to reach a ladder. “I need a 6.”
“OK, roll the dice. You didn’t get a 6. You got a 4. How much more did you need? Two? Two is correct. Now move your butterfly.”
EmmaGee moved the pink butterfly four spaces.
“My turn now. Maddy rolls a 4.” EmmaGee moved the red butterfly four spaces.
Four girls’ names; four butterflies. EmmaGee must be trying out four possible names to call herself, not just two. The reader knows about the Madison and Maddy names. She obviously was considering Freya and Karita as names too. Or perhaps there’s another explanation. I’ll describe the conversation that followed after the game was over in a different fashion so that you’ll understand what I mean by another explanation.
Karita: “What does everybody think about Liset?”
Madison: “She’s OK.”
Freya: “I like her.”
Maddy: “I like her a lot. We could be good friends with her.”
Karita: “That’s because of the horsey race, Maddy. You’re always doing things that are way too dangerous.”
Madison: “I almost peed our pants, I was so scared.”
Freya: “You have to stop doing that, Madison. It’s very uncomfortable walking around in clothes that are wet and smelly. Do you want to turn out like Pissy?”
Madison: “I don’t do it on purpose, Freya. You and Karita peed our pants when Brute put us down on the rock with the snakes too. Only Maddy didn’t.”
Maddy: “I didn’t know that the body had so much pee in it.”
Karita: “I wonder how long it took for Pissy to get out of the bedroom.”
Madison: “Pissy was OK when she wasn’t angry. I didn’t mind her reading to us. She read slow and sounded out the words.”
Freya: “Brute was real mean. I hope he didn’t get out.”
Karita: “Freya! You wanted him to die?”
Freya: “I did. If it hadn’t been for Maddy being brave, we’d still be there.”
Karita: “If it hadn’t been for Maddy being able to read, we’d be back in a Safe Haven ranch.”
Maddy: “If I can read, that means you can too. It’s the same as Karita. She can speak Scandinavian, so we all can too.”
Freya: “I remember my mommy speaking Scandinavian to me. That was before you guys came.”
Madison: “I can’t read like Maddy can. Too many words to remember.”
Freya: “You need to try harder, Madison.”
Madison: “You need to be less bossy, Freya.”
Karita: “Yeah, Freya. You’re not in charge, you know. We almost didn’t get this table because it wasn’t good enough for you.”
Maddy: “It’s a good table, Freya. Who cares what it looks like?”
Freya: “I care. I can’t help it. Just like Madison can’t help talking all the time.”
Madison: “I don’t talk all the time.”
Freya: “Yes, you do!”
Maddy: “Sometimes I take over the body only so that we can have some quiet.”
Karita: “Madison can’t help the way she is. We shouldn’t be mean to her.”
Madison: “Did you know that Izzy can change her skin colour from white to brown?”
Maddy: “I saw Will do the same thing, except he kept his front side white, and his back side brown.”
Freya: “You said back side.”
Freya: “It’s another word for bum. That’s a bad word.”
Maddy: “Bum, bum, bum.”
Madison: “Maddy’s being a baddy again.”
Karita: “We should go to bed.”
[EmmaGee was now in bed.]
Maddy: “I’d like to have the body in the morning for a change.”
Madison: “We agreed that I could have the mornings so that Daddy can read to me and I can point out the words that I don’t know. We all agreed.”
Maddy: “OK. But I want to play with the wolves in the afternoon.”
Madison: “But they’re scary. What if they bite? They could bite our hand off. Do you guys want to be walking around without a hand? I say no more wolves.”
Karita: “I’m trying to sleep, Madison.”
Maddy: “Yeah, give it a rest, Madison. We’ll work it out in the morning,”
Madison: “I’m just saying…”
Karita: “Freya, make her stop.”
Freya: “You should stop talking, Madison.”
Madison: “If I don’t?”
Freya: “I’ll think about the snakes and then you’ll have nightmares.”
Karita: “No fair. I don’t want to have nightmares too.”
Freya: “You won’t have them if Madison stops talking.”
Karita: “Madison, stop talking please.”
Madison: “I won’t talk any more. I promise.”
Freya: “OK. Everybody has to go to sleep now.”
Maddy: “Princess Freya has spoken.”
It was one week later, Tuesday May 14. Lucas had convened a second meeting of the Safe Haven operation team. The Saskatchewan soldiers were still in Toronto but Jock had finished being mayor. He’d put his Base Commander in charge of the soldiers and return to Regina this week. University classes were out in Toronto, but Dreamer was going to stay and work out with Lylah. Lucas was going to accept Jock’s offer to take some training with the Saskatchewan army, but he wasn’t sure what that training was. Right now, he had a lot on the go with thinking about Safe Haven and how the Wilizy might attack the ranches. Theo and Nary had plans to return to the home compound soon.
Lucas started the scouting report. “Theo and I followed the Safe Haven courier to seventeen ranches. They’re scattered into three clusters in Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota. All the ranches are congregated around steady water supply: The Missouri River headlands in Montana, Lake Sakakawea area in North Dakota, and the Missouri River when it becomes Lake Oahe in South Dakota. The three clusters are not close to each other. For us, that’s not as much a problem as it will be for Safe Haven. We can put one Wilizy ship over each state and move from one ranch in a cluster to another ranch in that cluster reasonably quickly. We also have sling speed for any warriors we want to put into battle. For Safe Haven, the clusters are too far apart for easy communication and reinforcement. If we block their communications, we might be able to fight three separate battles on three different nights and concentrate our forces better.”
Theo continued. “The ranches all follow the same construction design. They have a big house that serves as the home for the slave owners, and we presume, for young female slaves. Each ranch has a shantytown for the field slaves, a bunkhouse for the bosses, and a wooden storage shed in the middle of the fields where they grow their food. This shed holds the tools that the slaves need to work in the fields. Presumably the bosses check that everything comes back to those sheds each night. Any kind of metal could be turned into a weapon, so they’d want those locked up tight. The only way into that shed is through the single door which is padlocked shut each night.”
“All the ranches have cattle operations and the cattle bosses are located some distance from the Big House. It might be possible to disable the cattle bosses without anybody in the Big House knowing about it. These ranches cover a lot of ground. Away from the water supply, the land is very dry. They use the nearby water to irrigate their food crops; they do not irrigate the cattle grounds. The cattle tend to be scrawny as a result.”
Lucas took over. “We followed the courier to Safe Haven’s headquarters in Minneapolis. They’re inside a three-storey building away from the downtown core. We didn’t try to follow the courier into the building. We’d want TG to check out the building for security surveillance before doing that, but it’s possible we’d have an easy entry. Safe Haven has no obvious enemies. Why would they have extensive security? They operate out of a small, anonymous building.”
“On the matter of weaponry, we tracked the six copters that transported the stolen weapons from the Saskatoon army base back in September 2083. We can assume that we’ll face increased resistance at these six ranches because of those weapons. What we don’t know is whether those ranches shared their arms with other ranches in the area. There’s no obvious way of determining defensive strength from the air. Plus what weapons they do have could be stored anywhere. We’d be entering battles blind unless we can learn about their weapons. If we could find out where they’re stored, we could destroy them first.”
“Any supply of major weaponry will be under lock and key,” Jock said. “They won’t take the chance of slaves getting their hands on them.”
“The slaves will know,” Marie said. “Before I was taken away to die, the key slaves in each ranch in our area had a plan for preventing bosses from reaching their weapons. I was in charge in Ranch #2. A housekeeper named Pililiani was in charge in Ranch #4. I don’t know about the other ranches. Most of the housekeepers I knew back then will be dead now.”
“Could we send somebody into the ranches to ask the slaves?” Winnie suggested. “Undercover operations?”
“Some slaves are not trustworthy. They’ll trade information about a stranger appearing on the ranch for something as simple as a pair of socks.”
“Could you find out who to talk to, Marie?”
“In the ranches in our area, yes. I’d start with Pililiani, assuming she’s still alive. She would be able to identify the slave who is in charge of the escape plan in each ranch in that area. They may be able to help us but that depends if they’ve given up hope or not. Other ranches, I don’t know.”
“Worth a try,” Melissa said.
“Are you willing, Marie?”
“If Winnie will help me.”
“We should have a full team to handle undercover ops,” Jock started to steer the conversation.
“I wouldn’t mind being on the team,” Lucas said.
“You’ll have other duties,” the general said to Lucas. “To start, arrange to have surveillance equipment flying over every ranch.”
“I’ll ask William and Wolf to do that for us. TG can set up a computer control site where all the data are stored. Makes it easier to search and analyze.”
“As quickly as possible then. We’ll want to know what copter traffic comes in and out of these ranches. Look for signs of cooperation between ranches. I’ll be back in Regina on Thursday. Report to me there.”
“Do armaments give off a distinctive smell, General?” Theo asked.
“Yes, the smell of gun oil, for example. There’ll also be a smell if any armament has been test fired recently. I believe I know where you’re going with this.”
“Nary and I would like to be on the team.”
“Done. Nary’s sense of smell will be helpful. We’ll start with one four-person undercover team. Theo, Nary, Winnie, and Marie. See what you can find out with Marie’s contact person first. Restrict yourself to the ranches in that area. We’ll determine later if we’re able to extend ourselves into the other clusters. Theo’s in charge. Do NOT, and I repeat, do NOT do anything that might give Safe Haven advance warning that they’re going to be attacked.”
“An army is going to attack the Safe Haven ranches soon?”
“That’s what Fred Brown thinks,” Jak told her partner. It was Tuesday night, May 14, and the two Scandinavian operatives were camped out on the open prairie by Ranch #4. In the last week, Fred Brown had given Jak a tour through some of Safe Haven’s operations while Benedikta had prowled around Ranch #4. They were camping outside that ranch now, partly so that they could debrief each other in private and partly because Jak wanted to camp out on a prairie. Scandinavia didn’t have prairies.
“What army is going to attack them?” Bene asked.
[Narrator: Bene was short for Benedikta. Her friends pronounced it Bean, as in Jak and the Beanstalk. That was the child’s fairy tale that prompted the nickname that their colleagues had given them – Benedikta being so tall and skinny. See? Who said that army people aren’t fun to be around?]
“The Saskatchewan army is going to attack Safe Haven,” Jak replied.
“Saskatchewan? Are those the big hairy creatures who live up in mountains and have big feet?”
“No. Those are Sasquatch and they’re mythical creatures. Saskatchewan is a Canadian province. It contains mostly prairie land where farmers grow a lot of different kinds of grasses.”
“It has an army?”
“So I’m told.”
“How big an army?”
“I couldn’t find it.”
“You better start at the beginning, Jak.”
“Our first stop on Fred’s tour was a bunker in Washington State that used to be owned by one of the world is ending freaks before Safe Haven took it over. Princess Freya had been held there shortly after her kidnapping. This bunker had very good security. Plus Princess Freya wore a security collar that would inflict pain if she managed to sneak out of the bunker. She had no way to escape from that bunker on her own and she didn’t.”
“You’re calling him Fred?”
“You spend as much time with a guy as I did, you get into first names even if the guy is paranoid.”
“Where’d you go next?”
“Fred wanted to check out the Saskatchewan army general, so we flew to Regina – the capital of the province and where their big army base was located. Fred had become suspicious when he lost some of his kidnappers. He lost quite a few actually in a short period of time. He figured somebody was tracking, capturing, and interrogating them. So he reported this to the Safe Haven management group in Minneapolis and they approved his proposal to hide all of their young blondes in Safe Haven’s slave ranches. They have seventeen scattered across the middle of the country. He figured they’d be well hidden there. That’s why Princess Freya ended up in Ranch #4.”
“As you know, Princess Freya escaped from Ranch #4 and later, she escaped from a Safe Haven cottage in New York State. After that, Fred was able to determine that a group of do-gooders who are known as Weight Watchers transported her across the continent where she ended up in a work camp in Montana. A Safe Haven copter was slated to pick her up there when she inexplicably walked out of the camp. The camp made plans for a thorough search with horses and dogs. Somebody who knew what he was doing disabled the search copter. That somebody also spooked their horses enough that it took hours to round them up. That somebody also scattered the dogs. That caused enough of a delay for that somebody to rescue her before the search party found her.”
“Princess Freya had help at that work camp,” Beanstalk agreed. “If she had help there, she could have had help with her other escapes. You knew her. Was Princess Freya somebody who could plan those escapes herself?”
“Beanstalk, Queen Freya had the brains of a plate of fiskbullar. [Narrator: a plate of fish balls.] Her daughter wasn’t even that smart. She couldn’t have planned any of that. When she went outside for walks in Seattle, she’d stand at the open door in her house clothes waiting for me to join her. It would be poring outside. I’d say something like: Do you think you’ll need a raincoat? She’d look surprised and would have to think about it. This girl couldn’t plan an escape. Plus she wouldn’t be able to conceal any escape plan from anybody. At home, she’d jabber on endlessly, babbling anything that came into her mind. I say again: this girl could not have escaped from Safe Haven facilities on her own. Yes, she had help. And that’s why you were here with an open mind. Looking for how she got that help. Fred Brown believes it was the Saskatchewan army that helped her escape and they’re hiding her.”
“I did some personal research after Fred’s tour ended. The main Saskatchewan army is stationed in Regina. Security is very lax on the base, so I was able to wander around freely. All I could find were a dozen men and four big fighter copters. I heard that the general was conducting training exercises outside of the province and had left by copter in late April. I pretended to be interested in buying a house near the airfield. I asked the owner if he were ever bothered by the noise of military copters coming and going, like recently on the training exercises. Beanstalk, their entire training exercise force was transported in a single copter. The house owner heard them leaving in early morning. A transport copter can carry… what? Thirty soldiers? The Saskatchewan army conducts training exercises for 30 soldiers? Even if you add in what soldiers they may have at their other base in Saskatoon, there can’t be more than 100 active soldiers in the entire province who can go into battle. This is not an army! It’s a police station. Plus the general is a drunk!”
“How’d you find that out?”
“I asked about the Saskatchewan army at the Safe Haven headquarters. At one point, they had three prospective ranch owners who were selling stolen Saskatchewan army weapons to some of their ranches as down payments on buying a ranch. These guys were soldiers. This general – name of Jock MacLatchie – was in charge of the base where they were stealing the weapons. They got away with it because he was drunk all the time.”
“But Fred Brown believes the ranches are in danger? Why?”
“This drunk general sent an official query to the Seattle Police Force asking if they had made any progress on the missing girl from Bainbridge Island. Saskatchewan has some sort of electronic group that monitors the border for crimes. The police and military in the area have an agreement to share information. Fred thinks that Saskatchewan army force has heard about the ranches and is looking for Princess Freya so that she can give them inside information on Safe Haven. If they find her, Wilhelm will have our heads.”
“Is it possible that it was the Saskatchewan army that rescued her from the work camp?”
“No. If they had, why would the general ask for information on her?”
“Somebody else then?”
“Perhaps. But I think it’s a giant smoke screen. Safe Haven is trying to make us believe that Princess Freya is an escape expert. They’re trying to say that they have good security – except for this one single incident. They are hiding what happened because they want our business.”
“But she has escaped three times. That suggests strongly that Safe Haven has security issues. Do they have good security?”
“The security at the underground bunker where she was kept first was excellent,” Jak declared. “The security into their headquarters is excellent too. I don’t see any enemy force getting into the Safe Haven offices in Minneapolis alive. I don’t know about her escape from Ranch #4 – you’re going to tell me about that. She probably escaped from the cottage in New York with the help of do-gooders who brought her all the way across the country – perhaps to reunite her with her parents in Seattle. I believe do-gooders rescued her from that work camp. That’s where she is now. In the home of some do-gooder.”
It was time for Beanstalk’s report.
“The security at Ranch #4 is sufficient to keep slaves within the confines of a very large area. All slaves wear collars that will provide increasing amounts of electrical shock if a slave tries to leave the ranch or remove the collar. Princess Freya was wearing a slave collar. But a Safe Haven trainer made the mistake of removing that security collar because it was injuring her skin. The intent was to let the skin heal and then re-attach the collar more loosely. They didn’t know that she used the time she was without a collar to hide in a copter that would be travelling east across the country as part of a transfer of slaves from one camp to another.”
“The transportation of the slaves to their new camp was done in two stages. Eight bosses were sent ahead on a transport to prepare the camp. This was the copter that Princess Freya hid in. A second smaller copter was sent shortly afterwards because some necessary equipment had been forgotten. Boss #24 was on that second copter. That copter belonged to the ranch’s Big Daddy and his wife had put a tracker on it. The data from that tracker were reviewed. Boss #24 landed the copter safely and that copter never moved until Boss #2 used it to survey the island looking for signs of the princess.”
“Princess Freya’s absence from the ranch was noticed the next morning. After a search in the house and grounds proved futile, they suspected she had hidden on the first copter and a second transport copter was sent to search for her. Boss #2 was on that large copter which was also used to convey the slaves who would be living in the camp. When Boss #2 arrived, he found the village destroyed by a windstorm and eight bosses dead from a lightning strike on the transport where they had been sleeping. Boss #24 was still alive because he had slept separately. Boss #2 searched for the missing girl and uncovered evidence that she had been killed by one of the many alligators living around that island. He returned the slaves, and Boss #24, to the ranch for instructions. Big Momma investigated, agreed that the missing girl was dead, and made the necessary report to Safe Haven. Big Momma obviously believed both bosses because she promoted them. She doesn’t know that Princess Freya made it safely off that island. Safe Haven didn’t tell her.”
“How confident are you in what you uncovered?” Jak asked.
“I was given access to all the security staff who were involved in the transportation of the slaves. I was also given access to slaves who had been transported. The boss lady sat in on every interview to make sure the staff were forthcoming.”
“We should look into how Princess Freya escaped off that island,” Jak interrupted Bean’s report.
“Yes. We should also look into what actually happened on that island. None of the slaves had anything to say about what the camp looked like or where the bosses had died. Neither boss had anything to say about that. They saw some signs that the animals on the island had been at work on the bodies, but they had to return the slaves to Ranch #4 and had no time to bury the bodies properly. That part of the story smelled like Surströmming.”
[Narrator: Surströmming is a Scandinavian delicacy consisting of fermented Baltic herring that are packed together in a brine that allows bacteria that rot flesh to thrive. That’s right. Rotting flesh! People who eat this disgusting dish have to open its can in the outdoors because the smell is so disgusting. In comparison, outhouses have a pleasing, fresh smelling odour.]
“There would have been a lot of gossip,” Jak added. “Big Momma didn’t attend that meeting to ensure the slaves were forthcoming.”
“No. She didn’t have to be in the meeting to do that. The slaves are deathly afraid of her. I suspect she was there to ensure that nobody blabbed too much. She’s hiding something.”
“Which suggests a security weakness somewhere. Tell me all the details they gave you on what happened at that camp.”
“Did anything else catch your attention, Bean?”
“There was one curious event that happened at the ranch much earlier. I didn’t think much of it at the time. A cleaning girl discovered that the little blonde girl had taken off the top to a toilet tank and had written her name in felt on the underside. She wrote Maddy. At the time, she was being conditioned to use the name Karita.”
“Did she write out a call for help?”
“No. Just her name. The cleaning girl also found a Band-Aid with a little bit of blood. It had been attached to the underside of the toilet top.”
[Narrator: Scandinavian curses often include references to devils.]
“I’ll know better tomorrow after I get Fred to take a look at the toilet top in the underground bunker. You stay here where I can find you.”
Jak and the Beanstalk met again the next morning. Jak gave Beanstalk the bot that had accompanied Princess Freya across the continent. “Use this to find every Weight-Watcher who helped Princess Freya escape. Remember they know her as Maddy. Tell them that the Weight Watcher head office heard about what they had done to help this poor little girl and they hired you to write a story. They want everybody in the religion to hear what they did. Get into the houses. Pretend to interview them. Ask them to show you where Maddy slept. Invent an excuse to look in the bathroom that she would have used. If you find a Band-Aid on the underside of the toilet top, burn it or bury it.”
“I take it that Fred found a spot of blood on a used Band-Aid in Princess Freya’s bathroom?”
“He did. I’m going home to report. I’ll meet you in Regina in ten days. Noon, on May 25, at the old football stadium.”
“I thought you didn’t believe the Saskatchewan army was a threat.”
“I don’t, but I want to rule them out. I’ll be taking a real close look at the general.”
“And what will you do if he is involved?”
“Army bases can be dangerous places to work.”
“Be careful. Army bases can be dangerous for people like us too.”
“Speaking of being careful. Were you planning on enjoying yourself while you’re burying bloody Band-Aids?”
“Let’s see. One day for each town that Princess Freya stayed in. Nights with nothing to do. I expect to find lots of bars with lots of attractive men. What do you think?”
“Don’t jeopardize the mission, Beanstalk.”
“I wouldn’t do that, boss. Just a little personal pleasure. About the mission – why am I destroying used Band-Aids?”
“You don’t need to know.”
“You don’t need to know.”
“I think that I do, Lylah. You have to admit that what just happened was somewhat unusual.”
Dreamer and Lylah were at the U of T where classes were out and the campus was essentially deserted. Lylah had suggested that instead of working out in one of the practice gyms, they could work out in the gym where the Blues played all of their games. Practicing in a large gym with seating for thousands of spectators would give Dreamer a sense of what it would be like to play for the varsity, if she made it that far. They had been practicing hard when they were interrupted. Now they weren’t practicing. They weren’t even in the main gym. They were back in the practice gym. Talking.
“This doesn’t affect you, Dreamer. It’s all about me.”
“The head coach of the University of Toronto’s women’s basketball team had a major fit and kicked you out of the gym and all we were doing was practicing. You’re coaching me. I thought the varsity coaches wanted you to coach me.”
“They do. Even the head coach does. This won’t affect your chances of making the team.”
“But we can’t practice in the main gym?”
“You can. I can’t.”
“What’s going on, Lylah?”
“You don’t need to know, Dreamer. You’ll find out soon enough. But not now.”
“Not now, EmmaGee.”
“But Mom, I hardly ever get to play with them.”
EmmaGee was in the kitchen with Yolanda, pleading her case. Yes, that’s right. EmmaGee was calling Yolanda Mom. Maddy had noticed when Liset and the little kids had been visiting for the birthday party that their moms were all grown up. But Winnie wasn’t. Their dads had deep voices, but Reese didn’t. All of Maddy’s pretend moms and dads had been older people. EmmaGee’s mommy and daddy were very young.
The four EmmaGees had talked about that. They liked Reese and Winnie, but Maddy had noticed that they were always asking Yolanda for help. Freya, ever sensitive about who was in charge, said quite firmly that Yolanda was the boss of the family. Maybe they should ask Yolanda who their mommy and daddy were supposed to be? How come they had been given two really young ones?
Madison said that she didn’t want to hurt Reese and Winnie’s feelings. That meant that Maddy and Freya couldn’t be involved in the discussion because Maddy was too blunt and Freya, well, she was just plain old bossy and didn’t get along well with people generally. Karita was the one chosen to open up the topic of picking new parents.
Yolanda ended up being their Mom, (she didn’t want Mommy), and that produced various sighs of relief within the Wilizy family. Reese and Winnie, for sure. Yolanda too. Yolanda’s grandchildren were growing up far away from her. She was yearning to be an active grandmother. EmmaGee was close enough to being a grandchild to fill that void. Now, let’s go back to the previous conversation.
“But Mom, I hardly ever get to play with them.”
On that, EmmaGee was correct. Actually, Karita was the one talking with Yolanda; but it had been Maddy who had asked her to. As you know, Maddy liked the wolves.
“Wolves aren’t toys, EmmaGee.”
“I know, Mom. But Winnie isn’t using them right now because she’s away. And they don’t have anything to do. Whenever I go outside, they come right up and look like they want to play. They follow me everywhere.”
On that, once again, EmmaGee was correct. Patella and Scapula were the designated lifeguards whenever EmmaGee stepped foot outside the house. The wolves weren’t allowed in the house now that Winnie wasn’t suffering from headaches; otherwise they’d be following her around inside too.
“Well I believe that they do like you,” Yolanda avoided disclosing that the wolves were simply doing their job. But EmmaGee was right. Both wolves did show signs of liking her.
“So if I went for a little ride on Scapula, then Scapula wouldn’t mind. And she’d enjoy her exercise. Right? Nobody would have to put on a saddle for me because I’d ride her bareback. I think she’d like it better that way.”
On that, once again, EmmaGee was correct. Scapula objected to saddles. I’m not a grass eater, she had complained to Winnie. Horses are grass eaters, and wolves as well as panthers had no use for grass eaters. At least not for live grass eaters.
“You’re too young to ride unsupervised and everybody else here has work to do.”
“But Mom, I am going to be six years old soon. Liset can do all sorts of things by herself and she’s six.”
On that, once again, EmmaGee was correct. The Seattle police chief had sent a copy of his entire file on the Bainbridge Island kidnapping/bombing to Jock. Madison Smythe had been born June 6, 2080. Her birthday was less than a month away.
“Where would you and Scapula go?”
Three EmmaGee internal voices all shouted Yay! They knew when a victory was in sight. Actually, make that two internal voices. Madison wasn’t overly thrilled about the wolf rides, but she had told the others that she’d take the body to the bathroom before the ride. Just in case.
“Up and down the river valley. It’s safe. We’ve done that before.”
On that, once again, EmmaGee was correct.
“No flying, though.”
“But Mom, it’s actually safer if Scapula flies. Just a little bit into the air.”
On that, once again, EmmaGee was correct.
“Alright. You can fly on Scapula. But Patella has to be with you in case you have an accident.” Yolanda didn’t even try to put a limit on how fast Scapula would be flying. She knew when she was licked.
“Thanks, Mom. I’ll tell Scapula and Patella. We’re very happy that you’ve made this decision.”
I should point out here that EmmaGee had no idea that wolves who had a complete understanding of the English language and who could also fly did not exist outside the Wilizy compound. Nor did she realize that having four people inside a single body was… shall we say… unconventional. She thought everybody had more than one person inside their body – commenting on how well the person was operating that body and offering pointed suggestions on how she should be doing it better. So when EmmaGee told Yolanda that “We’re very happy,” she was merely listening to Freya who was telling Karita to thank Yolanda. Freya even dictated the sentence. You probably figured that out on your own.
For her part, Yolanda was inclined to cut EmmaGee some slack because of her good behaviour. She was very diligent about practicing her reading in the morning, for example. Reese would read several books to her and EmmaGee wouldn’t just listen, but she’d also point to words she couldn’t read or the words she didn’t understand. After Reese had left, EmmaGee would sit on the sofa and re-read the stories until she had them right. (Freya was insistent that she do that; Maddy would be there in the background helping her.)
During meals, EmmaGee would help with peeling (Karita), carrying things to the table (Maddy), and cleaning up afterwards (Madison). Freya would refuse to help at meals. These chores were for staff to perform; the four EmmaGees would argue about that, but Freya always won those arguments. After all, she was the princess; they were merely members of the royal court.
In addition to being well-behaved, EmmaGee did cute things. Like playing dress-up using the clothes in Hank’s barter barrel. She’d put on little parties with her stuffies, pretending to be a princess. (Guess whose idea that was.) Plus EmmaGee was mature for her age. She’d take herself to bed – never arguing about wanting to stay up. She’d play quietly with her stuffies and then turn off her light and go to sleep. (Yolanda didn’t know about the rip-roaring fights that the EmmaGees occasionally got into – like when somebody snuck an extra spoonful of dessert.)
So when EmmaGee said We’re very happy, Yolanda just assumed that she was playing princess again. She never gave it a second thought. Yolanda was monitoring one irritating little behaviour though. Somebody had taught EmmaGee how to hide in corners and eavesdrop on adult conversations.
Thursday, May 16. Wolf reported to the general that they had drones flying over each ranch now. TG had written software that would notify him if any copter arrived that was not a Safe Haven copter. The software would also notify the general. Jock instructed TG to have any such notifications sent to Lucas also.
Lucas was now living at the Regina base in one of the bunkhouses designated for bachelor officers. He was once again wearing the second lieutenant’s uniform that Jock had lent him for the Toronto operation. This time, the uniform was his. Yolanda had told Lucas that a military career was perfect for him. After that mind-message conversation, Yolanda had retreated into her bedroom and hyperventilated for a while.
With some of Regina’s soldiers still in Toronto, and most of the rest with the Saskatoon detachment on a six-week survival training exercise in Northern Saskatchewan, Lucas would have the bunkhouse mostly to himself until the end of June. Not that he would be in it very often. Jock had set him up temporarily in the office normally occupied by the Base Commander who was now eating moss with the troops in the Arctic Circle. This would put Lucas next door to Jock’s office, which was handy because they’d be talking together frequently. Lucas’ office also had the benefit of a powerful computer and plenty of room to spread papers out.
Lucas’ first assignment was to make himself familiar with the army’s battle command software. To start, he’d create an inventory of all the personal skills and assets that the Wilizy could bring to the battles they’d be having with the Safe Haven ranches. Lucas would have to create at least three battle groups. Lucas’ face paled when the general told him he’d be a battle commander for the upcoming war – Mac might not be readily available for the duty because of little Emily. However she was available to help in the planning via mind-messages. Plus the general would supervise all of his work closely. The war would be sort of like what had happened in Toronto, but Lucas would have more responsibility this time. When he wasn’t preparing plans for the war, Lucas would read some books on military history. The general plopped a half-dozen books actually made out of paper on the corner of his desk to start with.
Late that Thursday night, Marie and Winnie were floating high over Ranch #4’s big house. The little bit of moon that was also floating above the ranch gave enough light to reveal if anybody was moving around when she should have been sleeping. She being Pililiani.
“If Pililiani heard what happened at the slave island, then she knows that I’m still alive, or at the very least, that something weird happened on that island,” Marie said. “Her bedroom is next to the kitchen but right in the middle of the house; we can’t just rap on a window and motion her to come out.”
“Can we contact her during the day?”
“Not easily. She’s always inside the house. An invisible hand tapping her on her shoulder would probably freak her out.”
“It would me. I see a small light to our right.”
They floated in that direction. A tiny fire. It was only visible because they were so high in the air. From the Big House, it would be invisible. The flames were sufficiently bright to reveal a large body kneeling in front of the fire.
“That’s her. Praying. She must be living in the slave quarters now. I’ll approach. You stay in the darkness until I invite you in.”
After Marie whispered to Pililiani from the shadows, the large woman stood up and rushed towards her. There was a whole lot of hugging and crying. Marie included. This surprised Winnie because she had never seen that side of her before.
Pililiani blurted, “We can be ready in a couple of days. I haven’t said anything to anybody because I didn’t know how long it would be before you showed up. It’s just as it was the last time we talked. We can stop the bosses from arming themselves; we can’t stop Big Momma from killing us with the collars.”
“I have some friends; they’ll take care of the collars. You should meet one of them. Winnie?”
Winnie came into the firelight and Marie told Pililiani that Winnie had rescued little Maddy. “She’s safe, but I can’t tell you where she is.”
That started the waterworks again, and Pililiani pulled Winnie into the air and embraced her. Winnie commented later that it was like being inside a huge pillow, one that was becoming a little soggy, but a pillow nonetheless.
“I’m introducing you to Winnie so that you’ll know that she is part of the plan we’ll have to rescue all of the slaves in Ranch #4. Where are you working now? Why aren’t you sleeping in the Big House?”
“I sleep in the nursery. Somebody else is housekeeper now. You won’t know her, Marie.”
“Does she know about the escape plan? Does she know the other housekeepers?”
“No and no. She just started her job.”
“When is your next housekeeping meeting?” Winnie took charge.
“Monday, next week.”
Marie, we need Pililiani back in her job so that she can meet with the other housekeepers and tell them about us. Ideas?
I have something that might work. Depends if I can find the right plants.
On the assumption that Marie’s plan would work, Winnie asked Pililiani to hold the upcoming housekeeper’s meeting outside where Big Momma wouldn’t be able to overhear. She shouldn’t say anything at all about Marie or a possible rescue. Instead she was to tell the housekeepers that a friend of the slaves would visit each of them. For the next ten nights, they should stand outside their Big House, drinking something from a big cup at about 10 p.m. After ten minutes, they should walk into the darkness. If they heard a quiet cough and the words Marie sent me, they should tell that stranger anything the stranger wanted to know.
Winnie also asked Pililiani to collect as much information as she could about the slave leaders in the nearby ranches and if any new security improvements had been made. Also, did she know of any slave who might know anything about other Safe Haven ranches further away? They’d meet with Pililiani one night in this gulley to hear what she had found out. On the way back to the compound, Winnie messaged Theo to tell him what she had done.
Theo and Nary had returned to the home compound from Toronto several days ago and had immediately taken off for northern B.C. because Contrary needed to hunt. Theo watched the hunts from overhead, and while he initially found the kills and the eating revolting, he was becoming used to them. Nary would appear after the panther had satisfied her hunger and they’d talk about the experience. Theo was interested in what the panther was thinking about at the time. Nary was only partially there herself and found it difficult to explain.
“Why don’t you talk with Contrary yourself?” she suggested.
Well, that was difficult because Contrary could only communicate to humans by images. However she did understand simple words and phrases. So Theo established a semblance of communication between the two, and surprisingly, the beginning of an emotional connection as well. Theo woke up one morning to find Contrary’s head resting on his chest and a paw draped over his body. This was not a particularly enjoyable way to wake up. Panthers have atrocious morning breath.
Speaking of emotional connections, Nary and Theo were entering the part of a relationship where sexual temptations were becoming… well, tempting. The two sleeping bags started across the fire pit from each other. Two days later, the bags were next to each other. Kissing was now an accepted form of greeting – even if they had just exchanged the same greetings a moment before. Serious necking was on the horizon as was the likelihood of two sleeping bags being zippered into one. Fortunately, or unfortunately depending on your perspective, it was at this point that Theo received Winnie’s message that she had begun the undercover operation and he should probably return to the compound. He was in charge after all. Theo wasn’t particularly keen to return. It wasn’t the kind of undercover work that he had been fantasizing about.
Jak was delayed in Scandinavia much longer than she had expected. She had expected to arrive at the base, report to Wilhelm, wait a few minutes for orders, and return to North America. But somewhere between reporting and returning, she lost a lot of time. Jak was certain that the long delay had something to do with Wilhelm’s reaction to hearing about the blood on the Band-Aid. So while she was waiting for Wilhelm to formulate some orders, she decided to drop in on the prince and see what he had to say about that blood.
That was fairly straightforward too. She said Hej (Hello), undressed, laid there for a bit, successfully suppressed a yawn, dressed, and left. In that time interval, she did manage to confirm that Yes, if an analysis of Princess Freya’s blood were seen by somebody who knew how to read the analysis, that would a bad thing.
“How bad?” she had asked.
According to Samuel, it would be extremely bad if they decided to copy what Samuel had done and learned how to do it faster. Jak had received the same disastrous vibration from Wilhelm. On the good side, Samuel had been making faster progress ever since he started collaborating with another geneticist who had more experience in the field than he had and was now living in the basement lab.
Jak thought about that word collaborating and wondered if the prince might be using a form of genetic slang to mean having sex with her. She peeked at the other geneticist on her way out. Not a chance. Not that Jak would have minded losing the prince’s affections, such as they were. Ever since their first time in Seattle, Jak had enjoyed having sex with the prince like a dog enjoyed making pannakor (pancakes). In other words, enjoyment during sex with the prince was not an emotion she would ever savour. And before you judge Jak harshly for bedding a married man, remember that she had been ordered to give the prince enough fortitude to convince the queen to give him access to her eggs. Finding a way to give the prince fortitude was like teaching a minnow to make fisksoppa (fish soup). That wasn’t going to happen either. It was more likely that the minnow would become part of the fish soup. Jak had come to the lab feeling hungry. You probably knew that already, didn’t you?
Tuesday May 21. After returning from Scandinavia, Jak made an intentional wrong turn at the front door of the Saskatchewan army’s command center in Regina. Nobody had checked her credentials at the entrance to the base; nobody had checked her in at the entrance to the building; why shouldn’t she deliberately make a wrong turn?
The hallway led to Brigadier-General Jock MacLatchie’s office. A prominent sign pointed the way. How polite. She passed various offices on the way. All of the doors were closed and locked in the middle of a working day. Interesting.
Brigadier-General MacLatchie probably occupied the office at the end of the hallway. It had a little anteroom in front of it. The office itself was big, with large glass walls. It was apparently empty. But the office next to it wasn’t. Jak paused at the door and looked in. A second lieutenant was sitting behind the desk. He was working on his computer; maps and other papers were strewn across the desk. He looked to be about 15. Perhaps 16 in a pinch. He was what the Canadians would label aboriginal – Scandinavia didn’t have these people. The sign on the door announced that he was the Base Commander. That would mean he was second in command below the Brigadier-General. A second lieutenant who probably wasn’t shaving yet was the second highest-ranking officer in this half of the Saskatchewan army!
Jak rapped on the wall and the base commander looked up. “I’m trying to find the recruiting officer,” she said.
“Check at reception,” the teenager advised. “It’s at the other end of the hallway.”
So here’s some nearly useless information my readers may never need to know. Centuries ago, the U.S. army had adopted the practice of shaving the tails of untrained pack mules – the better for keeping an eye on the new “recruits” because they were inclined to act foolishly. Those untrained mules were referred to as shavetails. The expression had also been attached to lowly untrained second lieutenants for many, many years. The operative word here was untrained officer.
“Thanks,” Jak replied.
“No problem,” the shavetail muttered into the paper he was studying.
Jak ended up getting recruitment information from the receptionist – a civilian. She didn’t bite on any of Jak’s questions on how big the army was, or what kind of combat experience Jak might expect to receive if she joined up. When the receptionist asked her what kind of career she was thinking about, Jak said, “I’m a good pilot.”
“We have some jumbo copters, but we have all the pilots we need.”
“What do you need?”
“We could use some infantry,” the civilian admitted.
Really? Not experienced officers?
Jak took some application papers and thanked the receptionist. Then she left the base and took up an observation position in a little coffee shop about a block away from the main gate. The general was at the base. She knew because she had seen his sissy little green beret in his office. It was late afternoon; she didn’t figure she’d have to kill much time.
Late afternoon that same day, Theo and Nary were killing time, waiting for nightfall. They were investigating the six ranches clustered around the Lake Oahe area in South Dakota. These ranches were #12 through to #17. Obviously from their numerical designations, they were the ranches that Save Haven had built most recently. If the Wilizy were going to find any new developments in how the ranches were organized, they would appear here. Nary and Theo hadn’t found anything particularly different, but they hadn’t been able to examine the security systems of the ranches. They were sniffing for weaponry instead.
Before they started on their sniff patrols, Theo had asked Nary: “Who has the best sense of smell? You in your human body, or Contrary?” Nary didn’t have to think. Contrary had the best sniffer. So when nightfall came, Contrary would wander around the ranch while Theo hovered invisibly above. They had learned in last night’s search that it wasn’t safe to assume that the weaponry would be stored close to the Big Houses and bunkhouses. Ranch #12’s owners had established caches of weapons outside the security perimeter where they’d be safe from the slaves. These caches were buried and thus not likely to be found by strangers – as if any stranger would wander through these desolate areas. Tonight, they found that both of Ranch #12’s bunkhouses gave off a strong aroma of gun oil and the main house positively reeked. They also gave off scents of other types of weapons.
Having so many weapons at these newer ranches meant that Theo and Nary had to spend several nights searching, and I hasten to remind the reader that these ranches covered a lot of ground. Currently their daily schedule was to conduct a sniff patrol from 11 p.m. to first light, which was at about 5 a.m. They’d return to their camp and sleep to about noon. Contrary would hunt for about an hour while Theo cooked a meal for himself and for Nary when she returned. During the afternoon, they’d explore the area. Generally they’d stick close to the Missouri River because the land there was the most scenic. North Dakota was mostly rolling prairie land. The view was not all that interesting after you’ve seen miles and miles of it. Sometime during the afternoon, they’d be hot enough to welcome a skinny dip in the river. They’d chose two spots out of view from each other and then message each other when they were dressed again.
They were back in the camp now, feeling somewhat refreshed from the heat of the day. At least, Nary was. Theo was not.
“I don’t know what it is, Nary. I’m completely exhausted this week. I have to force myself to get up when you wake up. I have no energy when I am awake. I just basically floated in the river this afternoon.”
“Is the heat bothering you?”
“It shouldn’t. We have this kind of heat back home. Besides, I’m still tired when the sun goes down. It’s a good thing I’m in my sling when we go out on sniff patrol; I wouldn’t be able to keep up with Contrary and she’s only walking around.”
“Contrary and I can manage the patrols by ourselves. Even inside of her, I’m aware enough of where we are to memorize the important spots.”
“Yeah, but I would sleep 12 or 16 hours a day and that wouldn’t be good. I have to force myself to be active.”
“You’re energetic when we’re kissing,” Nary said, but that was mostly a FFF (a Feminine-Fabricated-Fantasy). In conversations between women who share this kind of information with each other, one might say to her friend – I had to give him a FFF. An FFF is a form of TLC (Tender Loving Care) but without any touching or hugging involved. The FFF essentially consists of massaging a male ego with words of unrestrained admiration; if that doesn’t work, TLC is employed. If that fails, well, we all know what happens next. Some males will deliberately adopt a hangdog expression and persist in that act of fake sadness in the hopes of moving directly to stage 3. Guys – a little tip for you. That works once. Don’t try it again.
Nary was not yet sophisticated enough in wily womanly ways to know what she was doing. She was just trying to make Theo feel better. She didn’t realize that she was engaged in a genetically programmed response to a male looking sad. Men have genetically programmed responses to a girl friend appearing sad too. Their response is to hustle her off to bed. That’ll make her feel better. I will restrain myself from commenting on how poorly men have been genetically programmed.
But the astute reader will realize that Nary’s comment about Theo kissing energetically was indeed a fabrication. This is more accurately described as a lie. Truth be told, Theo wasn’t as romantically energetic as he had been when they were camping in the north. It’s true that they were now sleeping together in a double-zippered sleeping bag, but after a few minutes of kissing, Theo would fall asleep. This is not a reaction that is soothing to the feminine ego.
Nary started wondering if she had been kissing him wrong. Kissing had seemed so easy at first. Perhaps there were secrets yet to be unearthed. Nary was quite prepared to undertake some unearthing, but when Theo was asleep, he was a giant slab of sedimentary rock. Nary would need a solar-powered backhoe and a front-end loader to unearth any romantic inclinations that Theo might have hidden under that slab.
Back to the story…
Theo and Nary sat for a while – looking at the river.
“I don’t know what to say, Theo. I know that Contrary tires easily when she isn’t able to hunt, but you’ve been eating normally. Right?”
“Usual dried rations, plus energy bars. How are Contrary’s energy levels? Is she handling the heat OK?”
“Sure. She’s ready to hunt again right now. The little antelopes in this area are only enough for a single meal.”
“Do you think that she’d mind if I took some cuts off her kill and cooked them? Perhaps I’m not eating enough. Or the dried food may be bad.”
“You should stay well back after the kill until she settles down to gnaw. I’ll ask her to leave you some good parts.”
Ten minutes before the military base’s main building was set to close, Lucas heard slapping on the wall between his office and the general’s. Thinking that this was the general’s way of calling him, Lucas left his office and looked in on the general. “Did you want me, General?”
Jock looked up, the front section of Regina’s Leader Post newspaper crumpled into a bludgeon in his hand. “Stupid bee stung me,” Jock explained. “I have successfully re-engaged and defeated the enemy.” At rare times, Jock could be whimsical. “Bees and I do not have a mutual admiration relationship,” he admitted.
“Lots of them around,” Lucas said and returned to his desk.
Ten minutes later, Jock did call Lucas into his office. “My allergy has kicked in, Lucas. I could use some help walking home.”
Lucas offered to get a solar car and driver – the base did have a car pool for such situations. But Jock declined. “The walk will do me good; it’ll push the poison out faster. I just don’t want to fall on my face on the way home.”
That indeed was a risk. Lucas offered his left arm, and the general leaned on it all the way home. He was unsteady and had to walk slowly. “Poison goes straight to my cerebellum. Balance is gone,” he explained. At one point, he stopped, turned towards Lucas, put an arm on his shoulder, lifted up his right leg, and fiddled with his shoe. “Picked up a stone,” he explained. Lucas was more concerned about getting the general home safely. He didn’t even begin to wonder how a stone could have gotten inside the general’s lace-up combat boots.
The general unlocked his front door and asked Lucas if he would crush some ice in a dishtowel and bring it out to him on the porch. He’d sit right here on the front step and rest. Lucas did as asked. The general put the cloth-draped ice to his face and leaned his head back against the porch post. “Anything interesting happen today?”
“I’ve asked William to create a sensor that can pinpoint the location of the transmitter that creates the electronic security fence. We know where it’s kept in Ranch #4, but we won’t always know where it’s hidden in other ranches.”
“Good idea. Yours?”
“Yeah, actually it was. If William’s sensor can locate it, I bet he could rig something that can destroy it too. We won’t have to use lightning strikes. No point of giving them warning before we attack.”
“Smart. Lightning becomes the back up. Any visitors to the base today?” [Narrator: For suspicious-minded readers, I can confirm that Brigadier-General MacLatchie had a good idea what the answer would be to that question.]
“One. Somebody wanted information on joining up. I sent her to Connie.”
“Yah. Blonde, good looking.”
“OK, I’m feeling better, Lucas. I’m going to survive. I hate bees.”
“See you tomorrow, General.”
Jock stayed where he was. The ice bag against his face was helping what indeed had been a bee sting. It was also helping to hide the fact that he didn’t have his eyes closed and had a narrow line of sight into the street in front of his house and the good looking blonde who was approaching. Experienced soldiers develop a keen sense of awareness when somebody is behind them and staring at their back.
Yup. Military background. Who are you? Where did you come from? And why are you in Regina of all places?
Jak had some questions too. Do you need help getting home drunk every evening? How do you get away with sitting drunk on your front stoop for everyone to see? Wherever did the Saskatchewan army find that gawd-awful green colour for their berets?
As agreed, Jak and the Beanstalk met in the middle of an empty football field just outside downtown Regina on Saturday, May 25. Beanstalk’s first words were, “Do we have new orders?”
“Some,” Jak replied. “Our absolute top priority is to rescue Princess Freya. We are allowed maximum latitude in how we find her and secure her. To assist us, we will have a full platoon of elite special-ops soldiers stationed wherever we want them. I’ve worked with this platoon before. They too will have discretion to use maximum force if necessary. The captain of that force will take directions from me.”
“Forty of our very best men? Led by a captain, not a lieutenant? Isn’t that a somewhat excessive reaction?”
“Did Wilhelm tell you why?”
“I already knew.”
“Something to do with the blood?”
“Yeah. I can’t say more. All you need to know is retrieving Princess Freya is now a national priority. Did you recover all the Band-Aids?”
“Yes. Princess Freya appears to have been accident-prone.”
Of course, the briefing meeting was much longer than that short exchange. Jak also told Bean about her scouting trip to the Saskatchewan army base.
Bean had the same incredulous reaction as Jak had experienced. “The general is a drunk, the second in command is a shavetail, the base is virtually empty, and all they admit to needing is infantry? That’s ridiculous! Are you going to dig deeper?”
“Nah. We are no longer interested in whatever negligible threat General MacLatchie and his army might pose to Safe Haven.”
“Do we tell Fred that he’s paranoid?”
“No. I’ll reinforce that we’ll fully support Safe Haven if they ever need our military help. I won’t tell him that we have elite forces close by.”
“Define close by.”
“That decision will be up to you, Bean. Princess Freya was last seen in northern Montana. I’ve spent a couple of days looking around the area. Montana borders on eastern British Columbia, Alberta, and Saskatchewan. I want you to pick a remote spot to hide the platoon so that they can reach any of those locations quickly. If necessary, they should also be able to reach the slave ranches quickly in case the princess is spotted near one of them. After you have the platoon settled in, I want you to start searching for do-gooders who could have rescued the princess at Fort Peck Lake.”
“Not an individual. A group. An organization of some kind. They were able to get a copter to a remote area quickly. They may have some military background – at least enough to know how to disable a copter and delay a search party. Information has a way of reaching them. They may be the group that was catching Fred’s kidnappers, in which case they almost certainly have the ability to cover a lot of ground quickly. High speed copters perhaps. Try looking for where they could have purchased them. A do-gooder group this big, and with this kind of ability, will have some public face. They can’t be entirely invisible.”
“But they’re not the Saskatchewan army?”
“I suspect that they could take the Saskatchewan army out to the woodshed and spank them. Actually you and I could do that.”
“What will you be doing?”
“I’ll be looking at the island slave camp to see how our dumb Princess Freya could have made it off that island alive while deliberately leaving misleading evidence that she had been killed by an alligator.”
The debriefing had now turned to more personal matters. These two women were a team of assassins that had nothing to do but talk when they were waiting in the shadows. On such nights, they had shared information about their sex lives as a way of staying awake.
“Did you learn anything more from Prince Samuel? Other than he’s a lousy lover?”
“I already knew that. I didn’t particularly enjoy the reminder. He’s working with another geneticist now. That’s all that’s different. What about you? How many men did you have sex with?”
“Six. I was a naughty naughty girl.”
“We won’t get any blow-back from your personal hobby will we Bean?”
“It will be like I was never there.”
“Six men? Really?”
“I found the best looking one in the Walk Like a Duck Pub in Watertown, the place where two sex crazies were keeping Princess Freya on a nearby island that was covered in snakes…”
The Wilizy planning team was meeting again. Jock and Lucas were in Regina, Melissa and Mac were in the satellite compound, and the rest (Winnie, Marie, Nary, and Theo) were in the home compound.
“We’ve been fortunate,” Winnie started. “The slaves in each of the five Montana ranches have an established escape committee. Marie was able to make quick contact with a key person in Ranch #4. Her name is Pililiani and she’s the senior housekeeper in the region. That housekeeper group meets on a regular basis. All the other housekeepers are either in charge of their escape committee or they’re close to the person who is.”
“We’ve had face-to-face meetings with the key person at each ranch to tell them that their rescue is coming. They don’t know when, or where, or how. They won’t tell the other slaves anything until the night before. I doubt that we’ll have any leaks, but the plans may have to be changed at the last minute if we encounter unexpected difficulties.”
“Like losing our head housekeeper,” Marie interjected.
“Pililiani had been demoted and we needed her back as ranch #4’s housekeeper so that she’d be able to give us access to the other housekeepers. Marie put some plant into the ranch’s water tower. The next morning, every female who was still of childbearing age had such terrible cramps and mood swings that they started snarling, backbiting, arguing, and fighting with each other. Big Momma gave up after two days and brought Pililiani back to control the staff.”
“It was part of a curse that lasts a full year. I watered it down to only three days.”
“Good one,” Winnie said.
Nobody else was impressed.
Winnie continued undeterred. “Bottom line for us is: we can be operational in Montana in less than 48 hours. The slaves will stop the bosses from reaching their weapons. They have a way to break into the storage shed holding all of the garden tools and that will give them access to metal tools, like shovels and rakes. We know where the security transmitter is located in each Montana ranch and Lucas told me that William is working on a transmitter destruction tool. The slaves have said that they’ll take care of the bosses and the Big Mommas and Big Daddys. That means that all we have to do is take out that dog collar transmitter and monitor the battleground in case of surprises.”
“Lucas, what can you tell us about William’s weapon?” Jock asked.
“He has to field test it still, but if it works, we’ll have a weapon that will find the security transmitter and disable it. He didn’t want to destroy the transmitter with an explosion because that would create a noise. This way, there’ll be no warning when we attack. He’ll test it against some of the ranches to ensure that the signal will penetrate the walls of the house. He’s not expecting any problems.”
“Theo, your report?”
“Nary and I have finished searching the ranches in South Dakota. We know where weapons are stored, but not precisely what weapons they have. In cases where the weapons are stored in an attackable area, like a bunkhouse, we can probably destroy them. Similarly we can destroy the weapons that are cached outside the perimeters. For some ranches, we don’t have the necessary information yet. We will need more Wilizy personnel or more time to complete these searches. Unless William has a non-explosive way of disabling the weapons, we’ll be making plenty of noise. More troubling is the fact that every South Dakota ranch has arms stored in several locations inside the main house. Contrary often found it difficult to pinpoint the location exactly. That means the arms are hidden well away from the outside walls. I doubt that we can get at these arms without slipping into the house itself. We might be able to do that in the dead of night, but it will be time consuming and dangerous. The question becomes, how many of these South Dakota ranches can we hit in one night.”
Nary took over. “We have no idea if the slaves in these ranches have any escape plans or who the leaders might be. Winnie’s housekeepers have had no contact with anybody in South Dakota.”
“As to the ranches in North Dakota, we haven’t gotten to them yet,” Theo explained. “They’re next up on our sniff patrols. But I expect that we’ll have the same results. We’ll learn the location of external arms stores but not the internal ones. Plus we won’t find anybody that we can approach. Plus these ranches will have superior weaponry. Plus we have a personnel issue.”
Jock looked up at that. “What do you mean by personnel issue, Theo?”
“Something is wrong with me. I don’t know what it is. I have no energy. I want to sleep all day. I even have trouble focusing on planning.”
“Have you talked to Doc?” Melissa asked.
“Not yet, but that’s why we came home. I had some improvement when I started adding meat to my diet. I’m actually eating a lot of it now because I always feel famished. But I’ve had no change in energy levels. I think Winnie should take over command of all the scouting. She’s finished with her ranches. Nary and I can continue to do sniff patrols, but Winnie should be the one making the decisions. I can’t focus.”
Nobody knew what to say.
“Winnie?” Jock asked.
“I have the time to do it,” she said. “Perhaps even an idea.”
“Like?” Lucas asked.
“If we can find one slave in each cluster of ranches – just one housekeeper kind of slave – that slave could have contacts in the other ranches. Once we have one personal contact, we might be able to find out most of what we need.”
“That would be better than what we have right now,” Theo admitted. “How?”
“Ask Reese to join us. We’ll have him look at the colours of the housekeepers that we know are loyal; next he’ll go looking for other slaves on other ranches that have the same colours. We’ll still have problems making contact with the slaves, but at least it’s a start.”
Everybody liked Winnie’s idea, so she was asked to invite Reese onto the team. Marie didn’t say anything but she did make a mental note. I knew she was the smartest. She also didn’t say anything about the concern that Nary was showing towards Theo. Nary had kept one hand on Theo’s arm the whole meeting, and even helped him get out of his chair to see Doc. Theo didn’t have to go far. Doc had showed up at the meeting immediately after Theo had mentioned he was ill and took Theo into the kitchen and closed the door at that point. Jock had one final item to report.
“Lucas and I had a good-looking young blonde drop by the Regina command center,” he started. “She followed us home. Normally I wouldn’t be surprised to see a good-looking blonde following Lucas home, but she was interested in me.”
Everybody went Ooh and Ahh.
“She was also interested in the base. From the way she carried herself, it was obvious that she had a military background. I have activated some hidden security features on our command building and on my quarters in case she comes back. She has returned yet. I downloaded these pictures from TG’s drones in the hallway of my office. I’m sending them to you now. Take a long look. Tell me if you’ve seen her before.”
Nobody had seen her before.
“It’s possible that she was honestly interested in joining up. She has the military background. She told our staff that she’s a good pilot, but we told her that we didn’t need pilots. So she decided not to pursue it and that’s why she didn’t come back. But if that were the case, why did she follow me home? If she had wanted to talk with me, why didn’t she come up to my door and introduce herself?”
“Have we given the U.S. military any reason to be unhappy with us, Dad?”
“No, Mac. We have good relations with the limited number of contacts that we have had. Why did you assume United States military? They hardly exist now.”
“Who else could it be?”
“I don’t know,” Jock replied. “The Saskatchewan army did receive some publicity in Toronto. Perhaps she heard about us from that. We’re all thinking that this blonde was somebody from Safe Haven. Perhaps she actually was interested in Saskatchewan. Anyway, keep these images handy. Keep an eye out. If anybody sees her again, message me immediately.”
At that point, Theo and Doc came back into the meeting room. Theo asked Nary to stand beside him.
“You see,” Theo insisted. “I told you. I haven’t grown. Nary reaches my shoulders just like always.”
“But Theo, I used to come up to your nose,” Doc pointed out. “Now I barely come up to your chin.”
Turning to the group, Doc explained. “Theo’s in a growth spurt. An aggressive growth spurt. He has added height in the last couple of weeks. He has also filled out in the chest. More muscles. More bulk. That’s why he’s been so tired. Here’s my prescription, Theo. Eat, Eat, Eat. And get plenty of rest. Be prepared for aches and pains in your joints. Jock, Theo will not be at his best as long as this growth spurt lasts.”
“U of T is going to love you,” Lucas said.
“Nary is in a growth spurt too,” Doc added. “You get the same prescription.”
Marie nodded in agreement. And now it begins.
Yolanda was puttering around in the kitchen while EmmaGee was in the living room playing one of her make-believe games. Otherwise the house was empty, as it almost always was these days. Theoretically Reese and Winnie still lived here, but both were working on the Safe Haven battle plans right now and were camping out with Marie somewhere in the northern states.
Theo had messaged Yolanda this morning that he was beginning to feel better. He ought to. He had taken a full freezer with him when he left after the meeting. Theo messaged that it had flown like a giant… well, like a giant freezer. But it was manageable if they flew slowly. Thank goodness for William’s filaments. Who would have thought four years ago that Theo could take an invisible freezer full of vegetables and fruits on a camping trip? Nary was in a growing spurt too, but she said that she didn’t feel tired. Probably because Contrary was eating enough for the two of them. Eating enough for two of them brought another thought. Yolanda had seen Theo easing into the root cellar before he and Nary left. A quick check after they had gone revealed that he had taken some birth control protection with him. Yolanda was actually relieved about that. She had seen how Nary was looking at him, and how she had her hand on his arm all meeting long. Nary would be good for Theo. If they weren’t having sex now, they would be soon. Yolanda didn’t have any strong feelings about her children having sex before marriage; just so long as both felt strongly about each other and both of them were ready for it. Casual sex was another matter. She had made her feelings on that abundantly clear when she had given each of her teenagers her version of the sex talk.
Lucas was getting better about messaging Yolanda frequently. He admitted that he was finding it difficult to prepare the battle plan, but Melissa was helping him a lot. When he wasn’t doing that, he was plowing through some books that Jock had lent them. They were tough going. History books on old battles. Interesting though.
Wizard wasn’t sleeping at home any longer. He had moved to Toronto and was managing all his business operations from the Wilizy/Asia. Supposedly, Dreamer was living in the boarding house with the girl who was giving her coaching help. Perhaps she was sleeping there; perhaps she was sleeping in the ship. Yolanda wasn’t going to ask. She was just happy that Wizard and Dreamer were friends again.
Winnie had finally coughed up the name of Lucas’ love interest. Dreamer’s basketball coach – Lylah. That love interest wouldn’t stick around long with Lucas ignoring her all summer to work in Regina. Too bad, but Lucas was too young for anything serious anyway. Winnie had said that Lylah was enrolled in university courses and had played university basketball. Lucas would be much younger than her. It would be best if the relationship ended before it could become serious. But Dreamer and Wizard – they were close to the age where teenagers like them would be considering starting a family of their own. Yolanda wouldn’t mind the two of them being together. Dreamer seemed to have her dreams under control. Momaka said that she was continuing to recover from her father’s abuse even though the Raging Gardeners hadn’t planted any perverts recently.
Momaka and Stu were hardly ever around now. Yolanda felt certain that they had established semi-permanent residency in the sub. The last time Yolanda had seen Momaka, she had been clinging to Stu, just like Nary had been clinging to Theo. Bob was under control now even when Momaka was sleeping. Too bad they couldn’t start a family of their own.
As to the family in the satellite community, Melissa was the only one who messaged with any frequency. Wolf certainly wouldn’t. Great stone face also meant great stone communicator. It’s hard to get words out of a rock. All three of the satellite’s women were very busy with their families. Seven children and none of them had seen their seventh birthday yet. Eight children soon. Melissa was pregnant. Yolanda wondered if William had messed around with the genes again.
Yolanda looked out the kitchen window onto her garden patch. Only a few years ago, the boys had been flying over the garden and plucking out weeds. It beat weeding on your knees. Eventually, that kind of weeding had ended up in weed throwing wars. Yolanda didn’t keep a vegetable garden any longer. The family bought all the fruit and vegetables they needed. Wizard had insisted. They had ample money. He said that she shouldn’t even think of having to do all that weeding by herself. Now they had a peanut patch. Very little weeding involved. Two crops a year and their first crop was ready now. Yolanda went outside with a big bowl to pick some peanuts.
Peanuts are easy to pick. Yolanda was back quickly and paused at the door. EmmaGee was wearing pink shorts and a green top with a blue butterfly attached. It was somewhat of a garish combination, but Yolanda actually approved of it. She had had a major fight with EmmaGee about her clothes.
The week after they had bought the tops at the second-hand store, EmmaGee had gotten into the habit of changing her top multiple times during the day. She’d wear one top for an hour or two, and then go into her bedroom and change. The next top would last a few hours. Each time she changed, the top had to have a similarly coloured butterfly. These constant changes during the day meant that all her tops would need washing every day. EmmaGee protested that she didn’t mind wearing clothes that she had worn the previous day, but Yolanda wasn’t going to have any of that. “After you wear a top, it goes into the laundry basket,” she told her. Boys might wear the same clothes for a week, but girls wore clean clothes every morning! No ifs, ands, or buts about that! This meant that Yolanda was doing a small bit of laundry every day. It had been sort of cute how EmmaGee would have colour-coordinated tops with butterflies, but that kind of cute didn’t last long.
EmmaGee had become quite agitated when Yolanda insisted that she couldn’t change a top once she had put it on. That had brought on a crying fit, a temper tantrum, and a long sulk in her bedroom. Yolanda was certain that she could purchase some more tops of the same colours, but the whole idea of throwing a top into the laundry basket after only an hour of use – well, that wasn’t going to fly, not even if it had a butterfly attached to it.
Yolanda had another talk with EmmaGee after she had settled down. EmmaGee insisted that it wouldn’t be fair if she could only wear one butterfly a day. She argued that this would hurt the butterflies’ feelings. Yolanda found that hard to fathom. Why would a butterfly broach mind if it hadn’t been worn enough? EmmaGee played games where she pretended her stuffies were real babies. All girls did that. But was EmmaGee also inventing games where the butterflies were real too? To the point of them having feelings?
Yolanda suggested a solution. She and EmmaGee would go on a shopping trip. Yolanda would buy her one additional top of each favorite colour. Also, because it was too hot now for jeans, she’d buy shorts in the same colours. EmmaGee would end up with two pink tops, and one pink pair of pink shorts, etcetera. EmmaGee could mix and match the tops and shorts however she wanted, but once she put her clothes on in the morning, they had to stay on. No changing every hour. To be fair to the butterflies, EmmaGee would be allowed to switch them whenever she wanted to.
EmmaGee said that she had to think about that and came out of her bedroom the next morning to say that everybody had agreed. Presumably, the butterflies had talked about it among themselves. Girls and their pretend friends! If stuffies could talk, why couldn’t coloured butterfly broaches talk too?
The two had gone shopping, found some nice shorts and more tops in the right colours, and had come home quite happy about the solution. EmmaGee would still feel the need to change colours – even in the middle of supper, for example. She’d leap off her chair, go into her bedroom, and come back with a different butterfly. Granny reassured Yolanda that it was just a passing phase.
As Yolanda came into the house from the peanut patch, EmmaGee was in the living room playing with a pretend community of sofa cushions and pillows from her bedroom. One cushion was a grocery store; another was a school; another a playground; plus she had numerous houses. There were stuffies in abundance. One for the storekeeper, for example; more for other children playing in the playground. Two for the schoolteachers. She had quite the little village going for her. Along with a running commentary.
“Now we’re going into the store to buy a magnet. The lady in the store is very nice and she finds one for us. Mommy buys it with a big smile. She won’t tell me what it’s for. Let’s go to the school now. The school is on the other side of this hill, so we have to walk. Now we’re at the school and the two teachers are helping little kids learn their alphabet. So let’s make a class of students. Rabbit stuffie can sit here, kitty over here, doggy over here. Good. Now we’re going to sing the alphabet song.”
Quite the imagination. Yolanda let life in the pillow village recede into the background while she prepared to do some baking. She came back to what was happening in the village with a jolt.
“No, no, no,” the stuffie in EmmaGee’s hand was saying. “You’re not supposed to leave me standing on the step that long! I’ve told you that before. When I ring the doorbell, I expect you to open it immediately. If you have to sit by the door until I come home, that’s what you’re going to do. I am not happy. I am not happy at all!”
“EmmaGee,” Yolanda interrupted. “Put your stuffie down and come into the kitchen, please.”
Here’s what happened next. Yolanda created a pretend game where a mommy named Bossy would tell EmmaGee what to do, and EmmaGee had to do whatever Bossy demanded. Bossy started by ordering EmmaGee to put the knives and forks on the table for dinner. But Bossy mom was never satisfied and EmmaGee was continually changing the table. When the tears were trickling down EmmaGee’s cheeks, Yolanda ended the game and took EmmaGee into the living room, sat down on the rocking chair, and pulled EmmaGee into her lap. They had a long talk about being nice to people and not talking in the mean tone of voice that EmmaGee had used.
“But they were staff,” EmmaGee explained. “They’re supposed to do whatever I say.”
That led to more discussion. Yolanda always in a soft voice and always putting the scenario back to – How would you feel if… If EmmaGee didn’t have an answer, or wouldn’t answer, Yolanda would say, “Why don’t you and I have a pretend game where you get to find out how you would feel?” That would prompt an answer right smartly.
That led to EmmaGee’s comment that lots of parents were mean. Why was it wrong for EmmaGee to be just like them? Yolanda asked for examples. She knew some of what Maddy had gone through; she thought it might help EmmaGee if she talked about it. Maddy certainly needed to hear that what had happened to her was wrong. EmmaGee gave a lot of examples and it was at that time that the sitting on the lap position became a very tight hug on the lap position.
Yolanda tried to explain that everything that had happened to EmmaGee was wrong. It shouldn’t have happened. The adults were wrong. They were very bad adults.
“Will you make them play a pretend game where you explain what they did was wrong?” EmmaGee asked.
“Yes, we’ll do something like that. Who was your favorite pretend mom?”
EmmaGee took a long time to answer. Yolanda initially thought that she’d have to remind her about the question, but she saw EmmaGee’s lips moving. There was no sound coming out, but she was talking to herself. The family had concluded that this was her way of reaching a difficult decision.
“Pililiani,” EmmaGee replied. “She wasn’t a pretend mom, but she was nice to me.”
So they talked about Pililiani for a while. And why she was a nice person; and why the other people weren’t nice people; and what kind of person EmmaGee wanted to be herself when she grew up.
“I have an idea,” Yolanda said. She was amazed that EmmaGee had sat for so long and had remained focused for so long. Time to move on. “You might like this.”
“Granny hasn’t been feeling well for the last couple of days and she hasn’t been able to bake. She likes to have cookies in the house for whenever guests come by. She’s running out of cookies.”
“I had a cookie at her place once.”
“I was planning to bake some cookies for her and take them over. You can help. Would you like to learn how to bake cookies?”
EmmaGee nodded, jumped off Yolanda’s lap, and scooted into her bedroom. “I have to change,” she yelled on the way down the hallway.
Yolanda was in the kitchen arranging ingredients when EmmaGee returned. “Aren’t those nice,” she commented. “All four butterflies together like that.”
EmmaGee was standing on her step stool next to the table. Yolanda was standing behind the mixing bowl. “We’re going to make peanut cookies,” she announced. “Have you ever had a peanut or seen one?”
“No. I don’t think so.”
“Peanuts come in a shell that looks like this. Have you ever seen one of these?”
“No. It’s all wrinkly.”
“The peanuts are inside the shell. You crack the shell open like this.” Yolanda squished the shell and opened it. “You will usually find two peanuts inside. Like this. Would you like to taste one?”
“Is it good?”
“I like peanuts. Try. You can eat both.”
So, EmmaGee did and smacked her lips. “Those were good. I haven’t had any of those before. They’re crunchy.”
“Your job, as my assistant cookie maker, is to count out twelve peanut shells for me, crack each one open, and take out the peanuts. You know how to count to twelve, right?”
EmmaGee nodded. “I’m up to one hundred now. Reese is helping me.”
“After you have the twelve peanuts, you’ll put all of them into the mixing bowl and help me stir them into the cookie dough. At that point, if you want to have a peanut for yourself, you can have one.”
“Can I have four?”
“You can if you tell me how many peanut shells you’ll have to open to get four.”
On the way over to Granny’s, EmmaGee asked, “Will Granny give me a cookie again?”
“I don’t know. We’ll see. But you can’t ask for one. If you do, she’ll say No.”
“Because it’s rude to visit somebody only so that you can get a cookie. That’s not why we’re visiting her. We’re giving her a gift because we want her to feel better.”
“If she did offer me a cookie, do you think I could have four?”
“We’ll see. Don’t forget to say thank you.” She’s certainly fixated on the number 4. I wonder why.
Later that evening, Yolanda decided that it was time for EmmaGee to learn about her mommy and daddy being dead. She didn’t say anything about them being murdered or burning up in a fire.
Saturday, June 1. Beanstalk met with the Captain of the Special Ops platoon in the center of the Regina football field. Jak had described it as the only recognizable landmark in southern Saskatchewan. Bean didn’t know about that, but it was certainly easy to find. She took the captain south to the Little Missouri National Grassland site in North Dakota. It was reasonably close to all of the Safe Haven Ranches. From Google map, she was able to estimate that the Montana and South Dakota ranches were about 300 miles away, or a helicopter flight of one or two hours depending on how much you wanted to risk being noticed. Minneapolis was much further away, but Jak hadn’t said anything about the platoon having to cover that area. With their hiding place being in North Dakota, the platoon was closest to the ranches scattered around Sakakawea Lake. About 100 miles, or less than an hour away. Bean didn’t know that these were the ranches that concerned the Wilizy the most.
The captain looked at the wilderness of the area and approved. He gave the location of the proposed campsite to somebody on the other end of a walkie-talkie and then invited Bean to stick around and meet the guys. While they waited, he gave her two long-range walkie-talkies and showed her how to use them.
Walkie-talkies (WTs) were essential communication tools for the military in the 1900s and remained in place until computer technology replaced them. WTs were radio transmitters and receivers built into a compact, portable, easily used device. The WTs had a handle that could be turned to generate enough power to send and receive the messages. As radios, they could broadcast and receive voice communications over various radio frequencies. The ancients had radios in all their homes in the first half of the 20th century and used them to listen to entertainment like dramas, comedies, and music. By changing the frequency with a tuning dial, the ancients could listen to all sorts of different content.
When the military used WTs, the two people communicating with each other would have agreed ahead of time on what frequency they would use. But there was a risk that anybody else who had a radio receiver tuned to that frequency could hear the conversation. The two communicators were essentially sending their conversation into the air for anybody to listen to. Military people used coded messages that were in English their native language but which would reveal nothing of value to a stranger. Meeting at the usual place and time, as we agreed, for example, told a listening stranger nothing.
WTs were able to broadcast and receive, but they could not do both at the same time. They weren’t like telephones (another ancient communication tool) where two people could talk at the same time. These particular WTs had a range of about 100-150 miles on the flat terrain of the prairies and the conversations worked like this.
When the captain wanted to talk to Bean, he pressed the Send button and talked. Bean’s WT would be in its stand-by mode – Receive. When the captain was finished talking, he’d end his message with the word Over and press his Receive button. The word Over was to tell Bean that it was now her turn to talk. She would press her Send button and talk. When she was finished talking, she’d say Over and push her receive button. When the captain was finished with the conversation and wanted to tell Bean that he wouldn’t be saying anything else, he’d say Over and Out.
Reese spent three days at Ranch #4 looking at slaves and their colours. Through Winnie, he asked Pililiani to identify the slaves that would be the most likely to let information slip, or who’d deliberately leak information to the bosses. She identified them by standing next to them and drinking from a large cup after supper. Reese added the colours of these people to his chart. On the third day, he happened to notice that Ranch #4 had two bosses who had remarkably light colours. They also had some heavy, savage looking purple/orange streaks that he hadn’t ever seen before. Reese suggested that Winnie tell Pililiani about them because those savage lines could be dangerous for them during the rescue. Winnie did mention them to the housekeeper, but Pililiani revealed that she already knew about those two bosses and she’d be careful.
After Ranch #4, Reese proceeded to take colour scans at the other Montana ranches. He spent one day per ranch, focusing heavily on the field slaves who would be fighting the battles. He found no slaves that had risky colours. He decided to check the bosses too but found none with those purple/orange streaks. While Reese and Marie were concentrating on the Montana ranches, Marie had started looking at the South Dakota slaves. She followed them to their work and back, listening to their conversations. She was looking for leaders who tried to give their fellow slaves some hope. Marie identified one or two at each ranch and then waited for Winnie and Reese to meet her.
William was trying to find a way to explode ammunition electronically. He called for TG’s assistance when he ran out of ideas. Meanwhile, Lucas was meeting with Melissa in the satellite compound to pull together the outlines of an overall battle strategy. Mac joined them whenever possible. In the evenings, the boys would take Lucas out to the local pub so that they could people-watch over drinks that looked alcoholic but weren’t. Lucas had been close to only Theo before, but now found himself pulled into Wolf’s circle too.
Wolf had a lot of talents that he didn’t normally let people see. Singing was only one of them. He had a sharp scientific mind as well. On the last night Lucas was at the satellite compound, Mac and Wolf performed the songs that they were going to sing at the next Wilizy talent show they could attend. Afterwards they dragged Lucas up to the makeshift stage in their living room to sing some songs with them. Lucas had a surprisingly good baritone now that his voice had changed. Wolf was a tenor. Mac gave him some breathing exercises that would help him develop a voice that could carry over a parade ground. “You should sing more often,” she said as she hugged him good-bye. “You could be good.”
That evening, Bean was sitting around a campfire with thirty Scandinavian soldiers who had been in a number of secret operations in Stockholm. Each soldier had recently developed a strong urge to brag about their exploits to a Special Ops lieutenant with boobs. As well, Bean heard innumerable suggestions that her experience would be helpful in verifying that the dark woods around the camp were safe from intruders.
These requests were not all that subtle. Some men would openly invite her to have sex with them. Others would make a few hand gestures to her over the firelight indicating that they thought she was pretty and would like to date her – or something like that. Bean would salute each inviter with a middle finger and that would be it until somebody else thought that he was so much more manly than the other guy that surely she wouldn’t be able to resist him.
Bean was having trouble resisting. All of these were men of the type she looked for when she had an evening on her own. So many of them were all clustered in one spot that her body was beginning to ache in need. One man in particular caught her eye. Charming and persistent, he wasn’t going to take No for an answer. Bean saw him looking at her, saluted him with her middle finger again, and winked. She couldn’t help herself.
Beanstalk had to go before she gave in. The costs were too high. So Bean stood up and told the group. “Guys, it’s been charming, but I have to go. I’ll be sleeping in my copter, by myself, and in a place that you won’t be able to find. Captain, I’ll probably be dropping in on you before you go into action.” Then she turned away and left before she changed her mind. She’d remember the charming guy. He’d be the first soldier she’d invite into the woods. But not tonight.
A few days later, Jak was in the charred cargo hold of the Safe Haven transport copter that had been destroyed by a lightning strike when a thunderstorm had crossed over the slave island. Jak had a healthy dollop of scientific curiosity in her genes. Lightening strikes kill eight people? A girl who isn’t smart enough to wear a raincoat in the rain escapes from an isolated island in the middle of a river on her own? Something wasn’t right. Let me rephrase that. A lot of things weren’t right.
OK, I’m Princess Freya. I’ve hidden in the back of this beast. Boss #1 has landed it and his sub-bosses have gotten out. Boss #24 has landed Big Daddy’s copter behind me in a little clearing. He gets out and talks to Boss #1. They agree that Boss #24 will repair the walkways between the huts on stilts. Boss #1 takes his men in the opposite direction to cut wood. I saw the fresh cuts on the way in. They’re directly up river from here. So tell me Princess Freya, how did you sneak out of the copter when there was a full load of cargo between you and the copter’s side doors?
You climbed over the top of the cargo? OK. Let’s say that you did that. You probably had enough space to do that if you were strong enough to lift yourself up to the top box. But Boss #24 is working all around this clearing. Wouldn’t he see you leaving the copter?
You left through the back hatch? OK. Let’s say you’re strong enough to undo the latch. This one is stiff. Where’d you find that strength? Even if you found the strength, look what happens when the latch is undone. The hatch automatically goes all the way to a full opening. Yes, you’d get out. But Princess Freya, you’re not tall enough to close the hatch. Wouldn’t somebody notice that the cargo hatch was open when it had been shut before? So how’d you sneak out of the copter without being detected?
And tell me this Princess Frey: how did you travel to your supposed camp at the other end of this island when a wood cutting crew was directly in front of you and blocking the way?
You hid until they went back to the slave village. OK, let’s say that worked. So now you’re at the other end of the island. You make a camp and eat some food. Tell me Princess Freya, why did you decide to camp on the U.S side of the island, hike all the way across the whole width of the island, and walk through water up to your waist to the Canadian side. Fred Brown said that was where you were re-kidnapped. Why didn’t you walk through the water to the American side? You were right there. The U.S. shoreline is just as close.
It looks to me as though this camp that you set up on the American side of the island was a false trail. Tell me, Princess Freya, how did a dumb bunny like you come up with the idea of leaving a false camp behind you?
And while you’re at it Princess Freya, how many blankets did you take with you in the copter? You left one in your fake camp. But the New York Safe Haven guy told Fred that he found you shivering inside two blankets. Why would you bring three blankets with you? How would you store them? They’re ratty, but they take up plenty of space. Who gave you those blankets? Or perhaps you got the blankets from the sealed crates in the copter. Who opened those crates for you?
I’m Boss #24. I’ve been sent to catch up with Boss #1. I do so. I land Big Daddy’s copter in a small clearing that’s outside the security perimeter. I do that because it would interfere with unloading the transport copter. Boss #24 was right. It would.
I’m Boss #24. From what I can see inside this transport, it looked like everybody was eating here. Like you said you did. So far, so good.
It’s beginning to storm. You leave this copter to tie down Big Daddy’s copter. Probably a good idea. You stay there through the storm.
You told Bean that you woke up late because you hadn’t been able to sleep from worrying about trees falling on Big Daddy’s copter. You walked into camp and found the transport copter with a destroyed rotor from an obvious lightning strike. All of the bosses were inside and were dead. This copter is entirely metal inside. OK, I buy the deaths from a lighting strike.
But Boss #24, where are the bodies of the other bosses now? You told Bean that you left them here in the copter because you couldn’t dig any graves. You suggested that animals had been working on the bodies. But the doors and the cargo hold of this transport were closed when I arrived. So where are those rotting dead bodies that were left inside? Or do alligators now have opposable thumbs that allow them to open doors? And how would alligators be able to shut the doors after they had finished eating every speck of those bodies. And why can I not find any signs of blood inside this copter?
If I were Boss #24, and I wanted to help a clueless little girl escape, I would have taken her from the back of the transport copter over to Big Daddy’s copter as soon as the other bosses went to cut wood. I would have already decided to land the copter in that small clearing because it would be conveniently out of sight. Later that night, I would take out the tracker device hidden inside Big Daddy’s copter, slip the princess over to the Canadian side, give her blankets that I had brought with me, and return the copter to its clearing without the other bosses being aware. Afterwards I’d see in the morning that the other bosses were dead and use that time to set up the fake camp. Boss #24, you set Princess Freya free. I can feel it. But you had help. Who told you that a tracker was hidden in the copter? Somebody in the ranch, obviously. Who?
And finally, Boss #24. What actually did happen on this island? You were here. Eight bosses died and their bodies are gone. Why are you alive? Are you connected with the do-gooders?
Back in the Lake Oahe area in South Dakota, Theo was feeling better. If one were to measure the improvement in his energy levels by comparing it to the amount of kissing the couple did before falling asleep in their zippered-together sleeping bag, he was indeed much healthier that a week ago. He was so healthy that many mornings, Nary and Theo would awake in two separate sleeping bags, a decision that had been made by one or the other of them for reasons that neither was willing to share right now. I’ll let you ponder on that for a bit before explaining.
Theo was continuing to hunt with Contrary. She would look up at his invisible sling after she had made the kill and Theo would materialize next to the kill and cut off whatever strips of flesh he wanted. He built the fire right next to where Contrary was feeding. She didn’t mind.
Theo was able to communicate clearly and directly with Contrary now and she’d do whatever he instructed. Yes, there might be an image thrown his way if she didn’t like it. An image of a panther barring her teeth, for example. Or she might express her unhappiness other ways. One time, Theo told Contrary that watching her eat the contents of the kill’s stomach was disgusting. She sent him an image of a celery stalk followed by an image of a panther coughing up a hairball. Theo thought that Nary had sent him that message, but she said that she hadn’t. However she had that look that Marie got when she was teasing, so Theo ignored her denials.
Theo could read Contrary’s moods now. Her contentment after a long feed; her lazy indifference when she was sunning herself on some rocks; her irritation when she was clawing at something biting her in her fur. Theo could also sense her presence when he and Nary were engaged in nocturnal events of the smooching variety. An to his intense frustration, when their breaths were becoming short, he’d sense two red eyes watching their every move. It was more than a little disconcerting and it was then that he’d unzip the sleeping bags and move away from Nary. Sometimes, it was Nary who would unzipper the bags and shift locations.
Theo asked Nary if she ever saw Contrary’s eyes watching them.
“I feel her watching, yes.”
“Is that why you unzip the sleeping bags and move away?”
“Yes. I don’t know if she’s curious, angry, or jealous. I don’t want to find out.”
The next afternoon, Theo was swimming in the river. Actually swimming, not just floating in a haze of fatigue. He looked up to see Nary relaxing on the bank, her hair all wet.
“My swimming area was full of stones,” she mentioned. “What was that you were doing?”
“Swimming,” Theo said. “I use my hands to pull me through the water while I kick my feet to push me. You can move through the water pretty fast when you’re good at it. I’m not good at it.”
“Would you teach me?”
“Sure.” Theo thought she meant at some point in the future. And with clothes on.
Nary stood up, pulled off her clothes, and started wading into the river.
She looked up and saw him trying to not look at her body and failing miserably at his chivalrous challenge.
“Why don’t you want to look at my body? Do you think it’s ugly?”
Only an oafish lout would leave his girlfriend with the impression that she didn’t have a nice body and that he didn’t want to look at it.
Theo was a gallant male.
On the same day that Theo was being gallant, Bean was graciously offering money to strangers. Both she and Jak had been given ample funds to handle any operational expenses they might incur in their mission.
Bean had coptered to the little community where Princess Freya should have been waiting for the Safe Haven copter to take her to Ranch #4. This was the Fort Peck Lake dam area. She announced to members of the community that some reward money had been made available for information on the disappearance of the little girl. She was hoping that she could give some of that money to the people who had formed the search team.
Bean interviewed that team as a group on the little picnic site next to the lake. This was where the community’s search teams had met to receive instructions. She wanted them all there together in the hopes that somebody’s memories might spark other memories. She also kept them as a group so that the information that she collected would be reasonably accurate. Individually, people might make up whatever they thought she wanted to hear. In a group, they’d be less likely to do that especially since Bean had told them that one lie or exaggeration would mean that nobody in the group would receive any reward money whatsoever. The number of bills that she was flashing was sufficient, she thought, to ensure honesty.
Here’s what she heard.
On the intensity of their efforts to find the missing girl: Some of them had seen the little girl playing with other kids in the picnic site. A member of the community had seen the cook beating the little girl with a wooden spoon. Everybody in the community heard about that. The little girl disappeared soon afterwards. They figured she ran away because of the beating. Yes, they had tried hard to find her. They felt bad about that beating. She had seemed like a nice little girl.
On the spooking of the horses: They had no idea how that had happened. One minute the horses were milling around the picnic site, munching whatever grass they could find; the next minute, they were hightailing it out of there. These were domesticated horses. They were not prone to sudden stampedes. The searchers had lost more than an hour finding and bringing them back.
On the dogs: They had no idea why the dogs had disappeared or where they had gone.
On the copter not working: They had found some feathers stuck in the workings of the rotor. The copter had been working fine when it had landed.
On the site with the animal lair: The search team had found a blonde hair in that hiding place. They also found lots of little footprints at the site. They were very hard to see because recent rain had wiped almost everything away. The search team had seen a copter flying near the animal lair where the little girl had been sleeping. This copter was either a personal copter or a business copter. White in colour. Perhaps some other markings also, but it was too far away to tell.
Bean distributed the money evenly and asked for directions to the animal lair.
OK, I’m Princess Freya, and I’m in the animal den on the hillside. Why am I there?
Because I’m tired and I can see a rainstorm coming.
Why would my footprints be down on the flat where the copter supposedly landed?
Because I had been following the lakeshore where the walking was easier.
This line of inquiry isn’t helping me.
[Narrator: You’ll haven noticed that both Jak and the Beanstalk used the same style of working through a problem. It was a form of question and answer analysis used by the Scandinavian military.]
OK, I’m the do-gooder searching for the princess. How did I know that I should come to this area?
Perhaps from talking to the person in Dickinson who passed her on to the cook who brought her here?
Kind of iffy.
Princess Freya left camp Tuesday morning. The community used solar-powered trucks to follow her footprints along the lakeshore until those disappeared. Then they put a solar copter into the air but it was getting dark. So let’s say that they didn’t extend their search far enough that first day. I’ve heard nothing to suggest that a do-gooder was in the area on that first day.
It’s now the second day. How did the do-gooder find out that the princess had escaped? How did he get here?
It doesn’t matter how he found out. He found out somehow. The real question is: how did the do-gooder sabotage the rescue effort while at the same time he was conducting his own search for the princess?
He couldn’t have done that. That means that two do-gooders were in the area and working together. One was in the copter; the other was at the camp. A stranger would have attracted attention. That means that one of the do-gooders lives in that area and is known to the community. He would have called his base for help and that’s why the copter arrived. A personal copter doesn’t have great speed. That means that they had a base near-by. Might that be their home base? Or are they in a larger base that is looking closely at Safe Haven? Those ranches aren’t all that far away. Are they planning to attack Safe Haven ranches? Why would they do that?
Because they’re do-gooders.
How did the do-gooder in that copter know that Freya was in that den without anybody spotting the copter until it was too late?
The do-gooder in the copter spotted her from a distance? If he had been flying low over the lake, the community people wouldn’t have seen him. There are lots of bends in the lake at that point. I don’t know what colour clothes the princess had. Perhaps he saw a flash of colour; perhaps he had long distance binoculars? Military grade? That fits with the theory that the do-gooders have military background. They also have far ranging communications. That fits with a military background as well.
Princess Freya saw the copter flying low over the lake and decided to hide. That’s why she was in that den.
I’m the pilot of the do-gooder copter. I know Freya is hiding in the cave. What do I do? The community search team is perhaps an hour behind me.
I land and haul her out of the cave?
I saw no sign of a struggle in the cave. I would have seen signs if somebody had hauled Princess Freya bodily out of the cave.
Why didn’t the do-gooder haul her out of the cave?
Because he’s a do-gooder. He didn’t want to traumatize her. She was already frightened.
I’m the do-gooder that didn’t go up to the den because that would have frightened her. How did I get Freya to come down out of the den?
She’d be hungry. I offered her food. No, that wouldn’t work. She wouldn’t have come down to get food from an adult. I could be part of the community search team. She wouldn’t trust an adult stranger. I’d have to be somebody she’d trust before she came out of that den willingly.
Am I another kid? The do-gooders were called into the area on an emergency and they sent a kid? In an adult copter? You’re losing your mind, Benedikta.
She’d trust me if she had seen me before. If I had been nice to her before. I’m Princess Freya. When was the last time anybody had been nice to me? When that person had helped me to escape from Ranch #4? Or from the island? That young boss? If so, how’d he travel all the way here? He’d never be able to leave the ranch.
I’m not getting anywhere. New line of inquiry. There were lots of footprints here before the rains came. Why were those footprints here?
Bean searched the area by following an imaginary grid – walking very carefully along the lines of that grid one small step at a time and peering at the ground. All she saw was baked soil and some dying tufts of grass. She flopped flat on her stomach and peered at the site, looking for unnatural dips or bulges that might indicate if the area had been disturbed. She saw a bulge that shouldn’t have been there.
A little digging later, Bean uncovered a paper bag that held an assortment of used wooden forks and spoons. Ants had gotten into the bag and if anything edible had been in the sack, it was long gone. She had probably found an old picnic site. Those footprints could have been months old. She crumpled up the bag, and rather than reburying it, Bean tossed it into the back of her copter.
Reese was smiling a lot these days. He was enjoying himself because he was directly involved in a Wilizy operation and they needed him. No longer did he have to sit at a sensor console high above the battleground. Now he was flying immediately above the heads of the slaves, looking at colours. The extra time looking at slave colours at the Montana ranches had been worthwhile. He knew what to look for now. Plus he had suggested to Winnie – who somehow had been put in charge even though she was younger than Reese – that all he had to do was find one slave with the right colours in each ranch. Why would she need more? That slave would be able to give them the information they needed, even if the slaves didn’t have an escape plan.
The search had gone quickly after Winnie had agreed. It had taken only two days to identify potential leaders in the South Dakota ranches. Now he was looking at the North Dakota ranches. Winnie had warned that he should be extra careful with these ranches because they were more dangerous. That’s why he had surveyed each ranch twice and then asked Winnie to join him.
“I don’t understand these colours,” he started. “They’re mostly gray with some other dark colours. No slave in any of these ranches has any bright colours.”
“What does gray mean?”
“I don’t know. The kids at the school didn’t have any. I think the gray colour means that they have given up. They’re sad.”
“That would make sense.”
“What do you want me to do?”
“Let me think.”
An idea popped up. Winnie began recalling what she had seen at the cottage in New York. She thought about Brute putting Maddy onto the rock and telling her the snakes were poisonous when they weren’t. She thought about how Pissy had beaten Maddy while Maddy was covering up, screeching, and peeing. The more she thought about these memories, the angrier she became. She pictured Brute and Pissy’s faces and thought about what she wanted to do to them. Next she added swear words to what she was thinking. Thanks to Marie, Winnie now had quite a collection of scalding profane curses. She became even angrier. She dipped into the Japanese swear words that Momaka had shared with her. Scalding, scathing profane curses can really get a person stoked.
“Winnie, you’re scaring me.”
“What?” Winnie had forgotten that Reese was sitting beside her.
“Your colours. They’re very bad.”
“Good. Look at the darkest of those colours. Memorize them. Find me some slaves that have some of those colours within their gray.”
“What will that mean?”
“They’re angry enough to kill.”
Theo was smiling a lot these days too. So was Nary. Theo was teaching Nary to swim and, in the absence of swim suits, that would mean that two bare bodies would be in close proximity to each other. When she wasn’t choking on water, Nary was looking. Curious by nature, Nary was not body shy and she’d couldn’t conceive [I say that word hesitantly] of the idea that Theo would be too. She had seen male animals. She had seen two deer mating. But she had never seen a human male’s body fully uncovered. She looked. She asked questions. Purely out of curiosity.
Theo was emboldened to do the same. He too was curious, never having seen a female body that wasn’t covered before. He looked. He asked questions. Purely out of curiosity. And if anything happened between the two of them that went further than asking questions, that happened by mutual agreement.
So they’d go skinny dipping, splash each other, touch each other, and play I grabbed you games. But it never became more than that. Passion and cold water do not mix very well.
But at night, when they zippered the sleeping bags together, and Nary slipped into the bag without her top on, passion did become a possibility. But Contrary was there with them. It was like going for a walk with your girl friend and having a Greek grandmother two paces behind you. Watching the two of you. Nattering at you. Images of two red eyes would appear in Theo’s mind. Nary admitted that she could feel Contrary struggling to take over her body. At one point, after one Let’s catch our breath interlude, Theo heard an unusual noise, and asked Nary, “Was that you?”
“What do you mean?”
“Were you growling at me?”
“Contrary, go away!” Nary demanded. “Theo, tell her to go away. She doesn’t listen to me.”
“She listens to me now.”
And Theo was right. Contrary listened to Theo during hunting, He’d think-order her to make a sharp turn to her left; she’d make a sharp turn to her left. He’d tell her to go right, she did. He told her to run faster, and she did. He felt the violence bubbling to the surface as she leapt to the kill. He’d smell the blood. And Theo was no longer revolted by it. But no matter how forcefully he told Contrary to go away, Contrary wouldn’t leave his mind when he was feeling what he was feeling in Nary’s embrace.
“Contrary, go away!” he ordered once again.
But she wouldn’t leave. Theo saw the image of a snarling panther each time he demanded that she give them some privacy. That blunt angry image, plus Contrary’s sharp teeth and claws had that Greek grandmother beat by a country mile, or even an Athenian kilometer. Nary and Theo would unzip their bag, resign themselves to sleeping alone, and only then did the two red eyes disappear.
While Theo and Nary were experiencing the curse of the black, furry Greek grandmother, Bean was in Saskatchewan searching for references in the local print and electronic media to local charity groups. After several days, she had found nothing that provoked her curiosity and decided to travel to Alberta.
A day after her examination of the destroyed copter transport, Jak was sitting on a bar stool in the Walks Like a Duck pub in Watertown, New York. She had decided to take a long look at the cottage where Princess Freya had disappeared, mostly because she was so close to it. Afterwards, she dropped into the pub where Bean had found her most handsome man, just curious to see what a pub with the name Walks Like a Duck would look like. She had been expecting a great deal of duck paraphernalia, but it was only a regular pub. No walking ducks were on parade. The bartender was chatting with another patron just two stools down. With only two customers in the pub, he had nothing else to do. Jak was sipping her drink; the guy in the checkered shirt was busy talking to the bartender. Jak wasn’t listening; she was mentally reviewing what she had found in the cottage with the escape proof bedroom. She had been let into the cottage by the New York Safe Haven recruiter – the man who had kidnapped Princess Freya in Canada and had brought her to Waterton.
Jak had looked closely at the bedroom. The skeletons were long gone, as was the door. Safe Haven’s recruiter had told Jak that he had taken that door off immediately after he had discovered the bodies. He didn’t want that door closing on him while he was inside. That’s what had happened to Brute and Pissy. He didn’t know if that closed door had been by accident or by design. Jak didn’t know either. The princess was beginning to surprise her. Perhaps the kidnapping experience had changed her for the better. No matter how Brute and Pissy had ended up locked in the bedroom, Princess Freya had walked out of the cottage carrying the Safe Haven security transmitter with her. Did she receive help? Jak saw no sign of that.
Jak didn’t find anything in the bedroom that was important to note. It was a very pleasant little girl’s bedroom. Nice clothes, lots of toys, and plenty of picture books. Picture books were scattered on the sofa in the living room. The living room was a little messy with unwashed cereal bowls. Jak found empty beer bottles in the laundry room and even more empty beer bottles in the living room.
Jak had uncovered nothing unusual in that cottage so long as you didn’t count the sexual toys in the master bedroom. She did find a dead snake on the floor in Maddy’s closet, which would not count as unusual. It had been stomped on. Snakes were all over this little island; this one must have been attracted into the cottage by the heat. Jak found nothing else remarkable inside or outside the cottage.
Back to present time. Business was still slow in the duck-walking pub and Jak had drunk all the wanted. She started to slide off the barstool. “I heard that it had been a crime of passion,” the bartender was saying.
“What’s that mean,” the other patron asked.
“Good old Happy won’t be sleeping with any more women.”
Jak stopped in mid slide and returned to her drink nursing position.
“You mean if he somehow came back to life.”
“Yeah. He was cut up where a man wouldn’t want to be cut up. The grave was deep. Old man Peterson’s dogs have good sniffers though. They were digging away the soil when Peterson caught up to them. Happy hadn’t been buried all that long.”
“Is Chet leaking any information?”
“You know Chet. Active murder inquiry and all that. He has everybody in the station walking around with sealed lips. Don’t know why. Everybody would know why Happy was killed.”
“Plenty of potential suspects.”
“Lots of married man in the county would put Happy in that grave if they had proof. Lots of fathers of teenage girls could have reasons to see him gone too. Somebody finally found some proof.”
“Happy did spread himself around. He had that manner; could charm his way into the pants of any woman around here. And did, if the rumours are correct. That’s why he was always happy, I guess.”
“He was last seen here in the pub, you know.”
“He was chatting up some stranger; a tall thin girl. Short black hair. Not overly attractive.”
“That wouldn’t have made any difference to Happy.”
“Did they leave together?”
“Nah. She sent him away from her table and left.”
“Happy struck out?”
“Who would have guessed?”
What have you done, Bean?
There’s an expression from ancient times. If it walks like a duck, and if it talks like a duck, it’s gotta be a duck. Bean talked like she was promiscuous, she acted like she was promiscuous, but in this little community in New York, she hadn’t walked like a duck.
Benedikta Ekelund had been born and raised in northern Scandinavia. Her father, a barber, had left Scandinavia for a holiday and had returned with a wife. This caused quite a stir in the little community – not because everybody had thought that he’d die a bachelor, and not because of the whirlwind romance. The stir, perhaps better rephrased as outrage, was because he had married a woman who carried the pestilence. She wore a head covering that revealed little more than her face and she said little to anybody who might be bold enough to talk to her. Her knowledge of the Scandinavian language was rudimentary, at best. When she appeared in the community, she wore heavy dark clothes and walked head down two paces behind her husband. Her skin colour, such as anybody could see, was tinted. Her hair colour, again as much as could be determined, was black.
Black hair is not uncommon among Scandinavians. The stereotypical Scandinavian is blonde and blue-eyed, but other colours of hair and eyes are common. But only the pestilence carriers wore those strange clothes and practiced the strange religion. Nobody ever saw the barber’s wife practicing her religion, but everybody knew that she did. That’s the way those people were.
The presence of a contagious husband and a contagious wife in Scandinavian communities was becoming more prevalent in the 2060s, but marriages between pure Scandinavians and pestilence carriers was virtually unheard of. Such marriages weren’t outlawed by law; but they were outlawed by social … let’s call it… disapproval. Had it not been for Benedikta’s father being the sole barber in town, the family would have starved. Her pestilence-carrying mother, an established doctor in her homeland, tried to find work in that field. She ended up cleaning the offices of the few doctors who preferred living in remote communities. The community could have used another doctor, especially a female doctor, but nobody came to her home after Dr. Akilah Ekelund hung up her sign.
Benedikta was born in that community in May 2067 and was raised in her mother’s religion. Her mother, seeing how the community had reacted to her own presence, tried to ease her daughter’s way. A scarf over her daughter’s head was essential, but otherwise Benedikta wore the same clothes as her classmates. She grew up speaking perfect Scandinavian and, in time, perfect English. Had it not been for the scarf that completely enclosed her hair, Benedikta could have passed as a pure Scandinavian. She had Sven’s skin colour and Akilah’s black curly hair.
But Benedikta’s classmates never accepted her. She was different, partly because of her strange religion. Everybody knew that pestilence carriers were the reason that it had rained during Scandinavia’s Midsummer celebration the last five years. That rain had ruined the coffee crop. Foreign pestilence carriers could not appreciate the importance of coffee and the Midsummer celebration to Scandinavian society.
Benedikta was also physically different – tall, gangly, and awkward from the beginning. Neither parent knew which family member gave her the height. Her classmates figured she got her height by stealing newborn children out of their prams and eating them. At least that was the rumour going around town. Actually, the Ekelunds ate and enjoyed the same food as everybody else in the community, with the one-time exception of when they had tried Surströmming and did not enjoy it in the slightest. One of their neighbors had sent Mrs. Ekelund a can of this delicacy with a note welcoming her to the community. They had made the mistake of opening it in their house and the inside had reeked for weeks.
While Benedikta could not be considered an attractive teenager, she did have beautiful hair. Nobody outside the house ever saw that hair. But her religion’s restrictions on hair covering applied only to trips outside the home. Inside the home, Benedikta would walk around with her long curls flapping around her ears, and she would comb it, and try forming it into different hairdo styles. Exactly like her classmates did. She wasn’t talking non-stop about boys, but she did have the young teenage girl affliction known as I have to change the way I do my hair now.
As to the rest of her appearance, without the hair, Benedikta could have passed as a boy. She was as tall as the tallest boy in the school and she was developing the athletic lope that natural athletes fall into when their body growth permits. She tried to join the school’s athletic teams, but was denied because her scarf was too dangerous. She might whip her head around to catch a basketball and the wicked end of the deadly scarf could put out somebody’s eye, for example. Neighbours also wondered if she had a weapon hidden underneath the scarf. These people hid weapons in their hair, you know.
Benedikta’s mother did not require her to respect all of the religion’s clothing expectations as she entered her teenage years. She did expect modesty though. “You cannot expect men to control their urges,” she would say to her daughter repeatedly. “It’s up to women to dress in such a way that male urges are not aroused. Those girls who are being raped – that’s happening because they are inviting it. Keep your body hidden. Do not flirt; do not move in a way that will attract a man’s gaze. Do not look at a man directly – he may be unable to control himself if you do.”
The mom’s comment about girls being raped? That hadn’t happened in their small community, but they had heard reports of it in the city to the south. This was the city that held the middle school that Benedikta would be attending soon. Benedikta and her mom had travelled to that city to buy school clothes that would be suitably modest. Her mom passed judgement on what Benedikta brought to her. Pairs of slacks and jeans were fine. But if she wore a dress or skirt, it had to reach to her ankles. Blouses were fine so long as only the top button was undone. If the blouses were short sleeved, she had to wear a sweater over it. Or she could wear a long sleeved blouse. They bought several scarves – bigger ones now because Benedikta had let her hair grow and she needed more cloth to contain it. The scarves had beautiful colours. Otherwise, Benedikta wore browns, dark blues, and blacks.
It was late summer 2080 when Benedikta received approval from her parents to take the solar bus into the city. She’d practice bussing, walking to her school and then finding her way around it so that she wouldn’t get lost on her first day. Finding the school had been one of the reasons for the previous shopping trip. Today’s clothes had been chosen carefully. A long skirt because it was much too hot for jeans. A short sleeved blouse. The heat was such that her mom relented on the sweater. Her dad gave her enough money for the trip there and back and for a gelato as well. He also slipped his shaving knife into the right pocket of her skirt. “To help you feel safe,” he said.
Benedikta had played with that knife as a child. She’d hold it in her hand when it was closed and flick it open with a simple wrist action. Then she’d close it and do it again. Her dad kept it very sharp so that his customers would be pleased with the close shaves that he gave them. She hadn’t played with it for years, but he was right. She did feel safer with it.
The school was three blocks away from the bus stop. Benedikta turned the wrong way when she got off. She knew that she had made a mistake two blocks into her walk because she should have been able to see the school by then. Rather than going back to her starting point, Benedikta visualized a map of the area. She believed that the school was somewhere inside a three block square. If she went to the end of this block and turned right and walked three blocks, and then turned right and walked three blocks… she’d see it eventually. In her confusion and increasing dismay at being lost, she hadn’t noticed that some of her curly black hair had slipped out from inside the scarf.
Benedikta noticed the three teenage boys after she had made her second right turn. They were just lounging on the stoop of some old building. This block was full of old buildings. The boys were looking at her as she approached. Benedikta kept her head down and did not return their stares. But she did put her right hand into her pocket.
As she went to pass the boys, they blocked her way. If a neighbour had been looking out a window, she would have seen two of the boys each take Benedikta’s shoulder and steer her into the nearby alley and out of sight. The third boy stayed in front of her, talking. Being charming. Telling her how pretty she was, asking if she’d like to have sex with him. A person close enough to that alley would have heard Benedikta say No.
The charming boy was persistent. He knew it would be better if she agreed; he was usually quite successful at this. He asked her if she would like to open up her blouse a little – it being so hot. She said No. She emphasized it several more times to other suggestions. When it was obvious that charm wasn’t going to work, the boy in front of her nodded at his buddies and they grabbed her in a way that they thought would keep her contained. The boy in front stepped out of his shorts and underwear. The boys holding Benedikta should have grabbed her hands, not her breasts. She looked at what was approaching her, brought her right hand out of her pocket, flicked her wrist, and yelled No again. Then the knife slashed through the air.
The police chief had arrived at the scene. A male teenager was lying dead on the pavement. He had bled to death from a knife wound. The two other teenagers who had purportedly been in the alley were long gone. The resident who had heard the screams of the young man and called the police had given her statement and left. “I saw her standing over the body, holding the bloody knife. I didn’t see or hear anything else.”
“It’s clear what happened here,” the chief declared to the other police and medical personnel at the scene. “I’ll deal with the girl, you medics shift that body out of here. Constables, go back to your beats.”
The chief took Benedikta to his office, sat her down in front of the desk, and asked her to tell him exactly what happened. She did, emphasizing that she had said No several times and that the boy had undressed in preparation for raping her.
“But he didn’t rape you,” the chief stated for the record.
“He was going to,” Benedikta insisted.
“You don’t know that. He could have changed his mind. There was no rape.”
“But the other boys grabbed my breasts and held me so that I couldn’t move.”
“The alley was slippery. They probably didn’t want you to fall and hurt yourself. As to grabbing your breasts… why would you care? You have no breasts to speak of.”
Benedikta didn’t know what to say.
“What did happen was you killed a young man in the prime of his life. That’s murder. You intended to kill him. You knew what you were doing with that knife.”
“You’re going to jail for a long time. Starting today.”
The chief picked up a brief case and took Benedikta down a number of hallways, past some heavy doors, and eventually they came to a row of empty cells. He put her in the last one and followed her in. “You might as well get used to being in a cell.”
Benedikta backed up against the wall. She was white and shaking. “I was defending myself.”
“Against something that didn’t happen. You killed a man.” He saw Benedikta’s eye looking at the open cell door. The chief stepped over and closed it. “But I may have a way to save you from jail,” he offered.
Benedikta didn’t say anything.
“The government has a program for criminals who are guilty of a major crime. Sign a confession of your guilt and the government will allow you to join the armed forces. You may enlist under an assumed name if you wish. For murder, you would normally serve a minimum of ten years in prison. You may serve that time in the military if you wish. Otherwise, you’re going to jail. Those are your only two choices. What’s it going to be?”
“Military,” she managed to say when he opened the cell door to leave.
The police chief opened the briefcase, pulled out a paper form, and set it on the briefcase in front of her. He had a pen in his shirt pocket that he gave to her. When she reached the section for age, he explained, “You have to be at least fifteen years old. How old are you?”
“You look older. Put in fifteen. You’ll pass.”
“What does Genetics mean?”
“In the line for father, put in Scandinavian. In the line for mother, put in Scandinavian. Obviously, that’s not exactly true but the military won’t let people like you in otherwise. You’re white enough to pass.”
When she had finished writing the confession and had signed it, she gave the paper back. He looked it over and nodded. “I have to fill out a form too. I have to confirm that you are healthy. I do that with a physical exam. I’ll do it here. Now.”
Benedikta recoiled against the wall.
The police chief grabbed the mattress on the cell’s bed, placed it on the floor, looked up at her, and tapped the mattress twice to indicate where he wanted her.
After the police chief had finished with her, he escorted Benedikta to the military recruitment office and left her sitting on a hard wooden bench – still dazed. The military wouldn’t let her go home to say good-bye to her parents. Too many of these capital crime recruits wouldn’t come back if they were allowed to leave. But they did let her write a letter that they would post. Benedikta wrote that she had been given an opportunity to receive her education at a military school and this would allow her to join the military as an officer later. The people wanted her and were willing to give her a free education. She had to leave right now and she’d be in a different part of the country for her schooling. She’d write when she could.
In Scandinavia, boot camp lasted for a full year. This was the year when all recruits were turned into passable soldiers. Male and female recruits were integrated during most of that year except for physical skills courses. They also had their own barracks and their own gyms where they could work on improving their physical fitness.
In her first week of camp, Benedikta was working out in the women’s gym in off hours when a stranger started exercising next to her. Benedikta nodded at her and went back to stretching.
“Your name is Benedikta Ekelund and you’re here because you were accused of a capital crime. You signed a written confession. Don’t look at me. Continue stretching. I’m a friend.”
“I’m here to tell you that an error occurred while your application form was being processed. Somebody forgot to enter the nature of your recruitment and the reasons why you’re here. You’ll be free to leave the army in three years, exactly like every other recruit. The army has no record of your crime or of your confession.”
“We’re hoping you’ll stay longer than three years. There are a number of people like us in the military. We’re all here because we went through an experience similar to yours. If you want to know more, here’s how to contact us. Many women soldiers work out in bare feet. I like to place a towel under each foot for hygienic reasons. When I’m going from one exercise station to another, I will drape one towel over my left arm, and carry the end of the other towel in my right hand, flicking it slowly as I walk. If you do the same and if one of us is in the gym, you’ll have a training partner. We keep our presence secret because the rape that you must have experienced is not an isolated event. It was not your fault. You did not cause it to happen. Talk with one of us if you want to learn more.”
Benedikta looked down at the woman’s feet. Two towels. She nodded at her.
“A word of advice. Women like us are used to having a scarf over our heads. We unconsciously tuck our hair inside the scarf whether the scarf is there or not. I knew that you were one of us simply by watching you for a few minutes. You won’t try to tuck your hair inside a non-existent scarf if you cut most of it off. Do that tonight. You won’t be safe here if you don’t.”
With that, the woman left carrying the towels as she had described.
Benedikta had success in her first year of training in spite of being two years younger than her fellow recruits. She proved herself to be athletically gifted. She had a gawky way of walking, but that disappeared when she ran or jumped. She was always first in the obstacle courses, even against the men. Nobody was as agile. In other challenges, she was always well ahead of the other girls and was competitive with the boys.
Benedikta had inherited her mother’s intelligence. Now that her peers accepted her as a normal person, she enjoyed classes and learned quickly. But she stood out the most in the combat exercises when soldiers were expected to respond quickly and act decisively. One of her instructors wrote on an assessment form: “Benedikta is fearless in combat situations.” She didn’t know that Bean was fearless because she didn’t care if she lived or died. Her preference was to die. She couldn’t kill herself – that would produce the wrong kind of letter to her parents. But a letter home praising her for dying for her country would be acceptable. This would prove her worth to those Scandinavians who hated her kind.
On the day that boot camp ended, Benedikta was lounging on her bunk, waiting for divisional assignments to be posted when a corporal approached her bunk.
“You’ve done well in your training,” she commended. “Your instructors have written glowing reports. You’ll be posted to an infantry division on the Finnish border. That order won’t be posted for another hour.”
Benedikta said nothing. She had found that saying nothing was a good way of keeping out of trouble.
“You and I have a mutual acquaintance. A certain police chief. He has a picture of me. I’m lying on a mattress in a police cell and I have no clothes on. He told me that if I didn’t keep my mouth shut about him raping me, he would send that picture to my parents. He’s bound to have the same picture of you and he would have given you the same warning.”
Again Benedikta said nothing.
“I’m going to the gym to have a workout. After that, I’ll post the order you’ve been waiting for. You should join me in the gym. You’re looking a little pudgy.”
Benedikta watched as the corporal opened a small sports bag, took out two towels, and arranged them in her hands just so.
In the privacy of an empty gym, the corporal described her own experience. She had come out of a store to find the chief waiting for her. He accused her of shoplifting, arrested her, took her to a cell far inside the station, and forced her to disrobe to prove that she wasn’t concealing her thefts under her clothes. When she had removed enough clothing to show that the accusation was false, the police chief had pulled the item she had allegedly stolen out of his pocket. “I found this when I searched you,” he accused.
Benedikta learned that this kind of arrest was being duplicated around the country. False arrests, forced confessions, rapes, and pictures. It couldn’t be a coincidence. Somebody somewhere was telling police how they could rape the women of their religion without getting caught.
“We can’t prove it,” the corporal admitted as they rested by the weight bench. “We believe the young men raping our girls in the cities are also part of that plan. Some of our girls won’t bring charges because they’re too ashamed. They think that they did something to cause the rape. A dress that was too short; long hair not covered completely; or perhaps a direct look at a man’s face. But that had nothing to do with the rape. The men raped them because they wanted to and they knew they’d get away with it.”
“They get away with it?”
“Always. No rapist appears in front of a judge these days. We know that some girls have brought charges, but have withdrawn them. We believe that some police officer interviewed them in an empty cell and gave them some photographic reasons why they should drop the charges. These women won’t talk to us.”
“We have a few women who are white enough to pass as pure Scandinavian. Some are in the military; some are in the police.”
“We know that a rogue unit in the military has soldiers that disguise themselves, commit rapes in one of our communities, and disappear. Everybody in the community knows about the rapes and who was victimized. Even though the women could not have brought it upon themselves, the community and their own families treat these women as unclean, unworthy, and dishonoured. They lose their family and their community. We can’t find any information on these soldiers. We thought with you going into the infantry, you might be able to find them for us.”
During her year in the infantry, Benedikta went from hating herself to hating her religion. The way they had to dress, the way they had to be subservient to men, and the way they had to act in public. They mustn’t make eye contact. They mustn’t wear clothes that might inflame a man. Why should women have to dress so that men wouldn’t become aroused? Why shouldn’t men learn to control their urges instead?
Why were women being guided by words that had been written many centuries earlier? Men had written these words in a world where women were possessions like camels and sheep. The world was a different place now. The religion’s rules wouldn’t work. For example, when facing a potentially dangerous situation, their Good Book required the man in the family to shoot an arrow over the head of the potential combatant. To give him fair warning. For the people in their religion who took the word of the gospel literally, and there were many, how could that work in a world where bows and arrows no longer existed? But yet, that’s what they heard they should do in their church services.
Benedikta made no contact with the towel women. In her view, their cause was hopeless. How could a few women change the way an entire nation or religion operated? She was still intent on killing herself, but doing so with honour.
In August 2082, Bean’s file was sent to the Office of Special Operations and she was called in for a meeting. Their recruiter asked Bean to sign up for Special Operations when they thought she was 17 but was actually 15. Her first posting would be as a lieutenant. She asked if her work would be dangerous. The recruiter said Yes. Bean said Yes too.
Her training now shifted to rigorous conditioning and strength building. Bean’s size gave her an advantage. Long arms for defense, long lean muscles for lifting and throwing attackers around. She learned how to kill in numerous ways. She became lethal. She didn’t realize that she was being trained to be an assassin. She wouldn’t have cared.
Bean’s life changed in June 2083 when one of the visiting instructors at the Nighttime Infiltration course asked her if she’d like to try a real operation for a change. One that would take her out of the country. Bean asked if it would be dangerous. She received the expected answer and replied as the reader would anticipate.
That instructor’s name was Jakobina. She was a young officer with some impressive operational results. The Finns were acting up; certain measures had to be taken. Benedikta and Jakobina were sent as an undercover team to what had once been a province of Scandinavia and would become so again if events unfolded the way the military wanted. The undercover team was ordered to upset the Finish military without getting caught. Finnish deaths from unfortunate accidents were allowed.
It was during this period that they became known as Jak and the Beanstalk. Jak showed Bean that the first thing you should always do when you’re given an undercover job is to find Finns who were vulnerable. Just as Scandinavian wolves would separate the weakest moose from the herd, it was their job to identify the weakest Finn. Appropriate pressure could then be bought to bear depending on what the mission’s goals were. In this way, Jak and the Beanstalk were able to access confidential reports on troop movements and where certain key soldiers would be at certain times. Jak would deliver the fatal accident; Bean would serve as spotter.
The focus on finding the vulnerable prompted the third step in Bean’s transformation. She recognized that it wasn’t her mother’s religion that had been instrumental in her rape. There were many admirable components to that religion so long as you didn’t take each word in the Good Book literally. It provided a guide to how to live in a society, like her army’s Military Code of Conduct told recruits what they could do and what they couldn’t. Thinking of the Good Book in that way meant that the rule about not stealing a neighbour’s camel was now a rule about not stealing a neighbour’s copter. The point was: don’t take something that doesn’t belong to you. One didn’t shoot an arrow over a combatant’s head any longer. But yes, in today’s world you should face that combatant and issue a warning. The point was: Don’t kill somebody from behind and without warning. And that was beginning to bother Bean. Because she was killing from the shadows.
But Bean had sworn an oath to Queen Freya that she would defend the country from the actions of their enemies. Bean was on a military mission; she was defending her country. The people she was killing were enemies.
For her part, Jak was passionate about her job. There was nothing that she wouldn’t do for the mission. A little torture, an assassination or two, and even sex. Jak had no personal interest in sex, but if the mission required it, she wouldn’t hesitate to use her body to lure men into a trap. In that situation, Bean would do the killing. And Bean learned to accept that part of the mission. Because she had sworn that oath to her queen to kill her country’s enemies.
In June 2084, Jak was assigned to a new mission outside of the country and Bean returned to base. The Special Ops commander was reluctant to partner her with another operative when he had been told that Jak would return in a year. Good undercover teams are hard to develop. When you have a team as good as Jak and the Beanstalk, you don’t break it apart; you put it on stand-by.
Bean was given an assignment as martial arts instructor in the military’s main base. She taught three classes a day, one for each of the martial arts specialties that she had mastered. The rest of the time, she supervised the gym. For the Beanstalk, that meant that she’d offer to fill up a sports team if an extra player were needed; or she’d serve as a partner for somebody trying to work on a particular skill in a particular sport. She had no school-based experience in playing sports, but in this assignment, she learned the fundamentals of all gym-based sports just by being asked to join in. She became particularly good in volleyball, for example, as her dominating height allowed her to control the net. In badminton, her long arms and her quickness meant that she could return shots that most players could not. In basketball, her height allowed her to play with the men and hold her own. Like some basketball forwards who had potential close to the net, she developed a hankering to shoot from behind the 3-point line instead. She was remarkably adept at missing every shot she took. None came close. Opponents would tease her and goad her into trying another 3-pointer. She always lived down to expectations.
Living in Stockholm, and working a 9-5 job, Bean had ample time to develop a social life. She was as successful at that as she was at hitting a 3-pointer. The Beanstalk wasn’t attractive and she was self-conscious of that and her gawky height. She was very reserved when she was with others – probably a by-product of being a trained assassin and having a number of brutal murders to her credit. To be perfectly blunt, she was cold. Even in sports where people clearly enjoyed being with her, she was business-like, closed to all hints of a possible date, and not the type of person that would be invited to a group party.
But Bean did go out to pubs and during the year that she was working in the gym, she probably hit every pub in Stockholm at least five or six times. She wasn’t a person who would drown her sorrows in drink. She limited herself to two drinks before leaving the pub and going home. She never went to two pubs on the same night.
At the beginning, Bean went to the pubs to watch other people and see how they interacted. Bean had learned that a key to becoming better in volleyball, for example, was to watch a good player and copy what that person did. So she went to pubs to watch and learn. She knew that nobody wanted to be around her; she wanted to change that.
One summer night, she was on her first drink and watching a couple sitting two tables away from her. The girl had been with three other girls, but they had left. Shortly afterwards, a man approached her. She could see him working very hard at getting an invitation to join her. When the girl allowed him to buy her a drink, he came back to the table, pulled a chair close to hers, and sat down within touching distance. Everything thing about him screamed: Girl! Go home, and be sure that nobody follows behind you. The girl didn’t. Instead she listened to him as he talked, smiled, and joked. Bean recognized the type. Persistent, charming, and totally interested in only one thing. He reminded her of the boy that she had murdered. Bean watched them leave together. She was tempted to follow them to protect her, but realized it was none of her business. This was a grown woman. Bean was only 17 years old.
Two weeks afterwards, Beanstalk was in the same pub and noticed the same woman going from table to table with several papers in her hand. When she stopped at Bean’s table, she asked, “Have you seen this man in the last couple of weeks?” The poster had a good likeness of the man’s face. Hand-drawn, but accurate. The poster also had the woman’s name and postal address on the bottom. The woman’s face was revealing. Eyes that were still black plus a missing front tooth.
“He beat you?”
“First, and then raped me,” she blurted.
“Leave the poster with me,” Bean replied. “I’ll keep an eye out for him.”
The Beanstalk had just found a hobby.
The lethal missions with Jak had triggered Bean’s fourth transformation. She accepted that controlled violence was honourable in certain situations. She hadn’t wanted to be involved with the towel women because she couldn’t see how they could succeed. Find information on a platoon. What then? Encourage men to be respectful to women?
But women were being targeted for rape everywhere in Scandinavia. If she couldn’t change the men, at least she could reduce the risks that other women would face. And so she found, tracked, and killed rapists as a hobby.
In doing so, some people would consider Bean a sociopath. A crazy person who would kill without hesitation. Without feeling. Perhaps she was a sociopath. Some readers may consider her as such. But perhaps her actions were understandable given the trauma of her own rape, the training the military gave her afterwards, and Jak’s influence in convincing her that anything was permissible so long as it had an honourable purpose. Some people would consider Bean’s actions as appropriate reactions to threatening circumstance. And make no mistake, there were threatening circumstances. When Bean went out on a date, she was in danger of being raped every time. Here’s how a typical Beanstalk date would play out.
Bean would dress as most women did, but conservatively. She wouldn’t wear her military fatigues into a pub any longer. She would enter a pub, sit by herself, order a drink, and nurse it. She might even order a second drink. If she finished the second drink, and nobody had approached her, she’d leave the bar and nobody would die that night.
However some men did approach her. She knew that they weren’t approaching her because she was attractive. The men who dropped by her table were predators. She was strictly a conquest for them; something to brag about. She turned them all away.
Some came back for a second attempt. These were the charmers; the men who were convinced in their own mind that no woman could resist them if they could first open up a conversation with them. These men reminded Bean of her attempted rapist. Most of them took the second rejection and moved on. Some didn’t.
A pattern emerged. A charmer, a truly dedicated hunter would sit down and begin a conversation. Or at least try to. Bean would listen as he told her about himself. She would refuse the offer of another drink. The same for a dance. She would look directly at him; she would not show herself as a weak vulnerable woman in any way. Several times during their conversation, she would break into his tale of woe, or accomplishment, or brag to say, “I do not want to have sex with you.”
He’d continue his patter. In his mind, he was thinking. Of course, she wanted to have sex with him. He only needed to get her alone somewhere. Some men thought that this would allow her to release the pent-up desires that she had for him; she’d willingly agree to a sexual encounter when other people weren’t around to see. She was just maintaining her reputation; but in the sack, she’d be a wild woman. Other men wanted to get her alone so that they could take what they wanted whether she wanted them to have it or not. Both were dangerous, but the second type overly so because they would beat and/or kill.
When she finished her second drink, Bean would stand up and say. “I’m leaving now. I’m going to have my workout and head to bed. Alone. I do not want to have sex with you.”
He would offer to see her safely home. She’d say that she couldn’t stop him, but she didn’t want to be seen with him. She’d leave the bar alone. He’d wait a few minutes and then trail her home. When she started to open the outside door to her building, he’d move up to her side and say something like, “I’ll make sure nobody is hiding in the hallway, shall I?”
Once inside her room, she’d clear some space and inform her guest that her workout consisted of a dance routine. She would be removing some, but not all of her clothes. If her dance bothered him, he should leave. Again she announced, “I do not want to have sex with you.”
Bean’s dance was actually a series of martial arts moves that could be lethal if performed at high speed. Bean used them at slow speed to calm herself. She had first started to dance before bedtime when she was struggling with some demons. She’d perform each step of the routine slowly, deliberately, even languidly while repeating in her mind something that she was trying to accept at the time. One of her favorite mantras was: I’m not responsible for a man trying to rape me because a wisp of my hair is showing. Another favorite was: If a man becomes aroused because I look at his face, he’s the one that’s nutso. I’m not.
Bean removed her outer clothes, but only to give her the ability to move freely. She was not wearing anything revealing or provocative beneath them. But periodically, during the workout, she’d stop and say. “If this is bothering you, leave. I do not want to have sex with you.”
When the dance was over, Bean entered the bathroom without a word or a look at her visitor. She closed the door, removed the rest of her clothes, turned on the shower, and stepped into the tub. She turned toward the showerhead so that she wouldn’t see him when he came into the tub.
By this point, any man still there would be stepping into the tub soon. Usually, they’d have forced rape on their mind. A scrawny girl like her wouldn’t stand a chance.
Bean would hear the shower curtain open, and a male voice saying something like, “I thought I’d help you wash your back.”
She waited until she felt the first touch of flesh on flesh. Then she’d turn to face him, place her left hand on his chest, and push him backward. “I told you I do not want to have sex with you,” she’d say. Only afterwards would the blade in her right hand flash.
Bean had learned a chokehold in one of her classes that prevented a dying victim from making any noise. Bean would flip the knife closed and drop it in the tub. Next she’d quickly apply that chokehold with one hand, grab the charmer’s shoulder with her other hand, and hold him upright while he bled to death. If he attempted to struggle, she was in ideal position to put a knee into his groin, which was already suffering from a grievous injury. While he died, she would become covered in blood too, but she didn’t care. She was in a bathtub and both she and it were easy to clean.
Later in the dead of night, she would carry his body to her copter on her shoulder, wrapped in a tarp that she had purchased for that purpose. She would take him to the Finnish coast and drop him in the water. She’d let the Finnish police try to identify a mutilated, naked dead man without any identification. They certainly wouldn’t be talking to their counterparts in Scandinavia.
Oh, and that poster she had received from the beaten woman? Three months after she had circulated the poster, the woman received the same poster in an anonymous brown envelope. The words, This man is dead, were scrawled in felt pen over his face. He died in pain was added at the bottom.
One final word for the reader. In June 2086, when Bean met the platoon in the woods in the wilderness, Bean had been engaged in her hobby for two years. Do you remember the men in the platoon that Bean had met around their campfire and how they had bragged a lot about their operations? Here’s what Bean had learned around that fire.
Their most recent operation had been in Stockholm and specifically, in a neighbourhood of coloured immigrants. She had listened to them brag how they had raped the pestilence-carrying women of that community. Many of the soldiers carried one or more scarves from that operation. Some carried other more intimate articles of clothing. They pulled them out of their pockets to show her and their buddies. Some put the clothing on their heads and pretended to be girlish. Everybody had a good ol’ time around that fire.
These soldiers were the elements of the army the towel women were looking for. These were the men who were told to rape and they did it with great enjoyment. It’s true that Benedikta had been aching to take them individually into the woods. But not for sex. She wanted them for her hobby.
Sociopath? You decide.
The second week of June arrived before Jak had a chance to meet with Bean. After leaving Watertown, Jak had travelled to Minneapolis to examine their slave records. She was looking for more information on the young boss #24. She read that he had been taken to Chicago when he was 10 years old and had grown up to be a gang leader. He had even developed the beginnings of a prosperous peach farm. When Big Momma #4 ordered more bosses for her ranch, Safe Haven sent him as part of the package. Big Daddy was his father and this ranch had stipulated that any of his sons who survived their time in Chicago should be returned to the ranch as bosses when requested.
The Safe Haven headquarters kept limited birth records from their seventeen ranches. For each ranch, they identified the boys by a number that indicated where he was in Big Daddy’s production line and the year in which he was born. They registered no name because the ranches didn’t want to go to the bother of naming their slaves. The girls were recorded in a similar fashion, but no female would ever be returned to the ranch in which she was born due to the biological consequences that could follow from a Big Daddy having sex with his own daughter. The data on the gender-based production lines enabled headquarters to check how each Big Daddy was performing gender-wise. Females brought in more money for Safe Haven than males. Big Daddies who didn’t have the right touch on the gender issue could find themselves facing monetary penalties.
Jak also checked the records to see whether Safe Haven would be able to ramp up their kidnappings sufficiently to meet Scandinavia’s increased demand for white girls of different hair and eye colours all between the ages of 6 to 10. She had figured that Wilhelm wouldn’t take too kindly to receiving girls of mixed white and black heritage, so Jak didn’t even consider trying to tap into the crops of locally produced girl slaves coming out of the ranches at the age of 10. Safe Haven’s staff of contracted kidnappers was a little low on numbers right now, but the Safe Haven executive assured her that their current staff could increase their production numbers if restrictions were removed on hair and eye colouring.
Lastly, Jak looked at where the older kidnapped girls might be sent to be trained as assassins. The people who owned Safe Haven had an impressive list of properties that could house the kind of educational institutions Scandinavia would need to create assassins out of innocent girls. She decided that it would be better if Scandinavian instructors came to the U.S. than the girls going to Scandinavia. That way, there’d be no chance of any girls escaping and embarrassing the people in charge of the program.
And this brought up the most important question of whether Safe Haven’s ranches had sufficient security. Was Ranch #4’s loss of a kidnapped girl a security risk that existed in all of the franchises or was it limited to Ranch #4? And what really happened on that slave island? Was that a risk facing all of the ranches? That young boss would have to be interviewed again – this time by Jak and her interrogation tools. Big Momma would not be present this time. But that interrogation could wait. Right now, Jak had to meet Bean to learn what she had found out in her search for do-gooders.
Bean had found a name. The Wilizy. They fit Jak’s criteria almost perfectly.
• A group, not an individual? Check. Their exact size was unknown, but they had sufficient numbers to defeat an Alberta dictator.
• Ability to move copters into an area quickly? Check. A war with some people in Alaska had revealed that they could fight on numerous fronts and move arms and resources quickly. In the Alberta war, they had struck military bases at opposite ends of the province simultaneously.
• Military background? Definitely, as per the wars and battles mentioned above. Their people would be able to disable a copter and delay a search party.
• Information has a way to reach to them? Check. A public face? Check. They ran a business operation that had large retail outlets in three different provinces. With the thousands of people moving through their stores, it would be very easy for undercover operators to send messages to the executives of the organization.
• Do-gooders? Check. They operated a foundation that cared for abused women and children. They ran a television network that focused on education. They ran singing contests for contestants of all ages and then showed all the performances on their TV network.
Bean had even found information that supported a theory that she had discarded. The Wilizy had told an Alaska commandant that they would give his airplanes to their children to play with. That meant that they had little children who were trained to fly. This raised the possibility that a child could have landed the copter that the town’s search party saw near the river. All those faint little footprints on the ground by the picnic stash? Those could have come from Wilizy children. How did they lure Princess Freya out of the lair? By offering her food in the form of a picnic for little children.
“The Wilizy look very promising, Bean. But you’re not sure? What’s wrong?”
“After they defeated the Alaskans in battle, they lost their key military strategist and scientific magician in a copter explosion. They haven’t operated as a military force since. At least not that I’ve been able to find. Their focus has become completely commercial. They’d have no reason to kidnap Princess Freya.”
“Could they have been planning to sell her back to us at a big profit?”
“How would they know who to ask for the money?” Bean asked. “If they picked her up, they did so to rescue her. She was wandering in the wilderness. They saw her and saved her. Do-gooders. Even members of that Fort Peck Lake community wanted to save her after they saw the cook beating her. “
“She’s living with the Wilizy now,” Jak concluded. “Find their home and you’ll find the princess.”
“I have a lead on where their home base is. Also, I’ve heard that they have large high-speed transports that aren’t copters. They are manufacturing planes and they are planning to sell them. I want to check out that place too. I heard rumblings that some of the Wilizy’s key people were seen in Toronto. I don’t know why they’d be there. Jak, you’ve been back east. Could you look into that?”
“I have to report to Stockholm. I’m overdue to give my report and Wilhelm does not like to wait. Can you do it?”
“I gotta run, Jak. I’ll do Toronto later. These leads are much more promising.”
Bean was gone before Jak could ask her about a certain dead body buried in a grave in a New York forest. Jak shifted her plans. She had intended to visit Ranch #4 and interrogate Boss #24 to find out what had actually happened on that slave island. That interrogation could wait. The security of all of the other ranches appeared intact. Safe Haven had the capacity to increase their kidnappings. She’d give Wilhelm her recommendation to proceed with the expansion of the project. She’d also suggest the Wilizy as a possible enemy simply because they had won two wars years ago and had somehow become involved with Princess Freya.
When she came back from Stockholm, Jak would drop into some of the towns that Princess Freya had passed through to see if other men had gone missing at about the time that Bean had been in the area. Wilhelm had stipulated that this operation was to test Bean’s reliability. Wilhelm’s orders had been clear on what Jak had to do if she failed the test. Eliminating an unreliable operative was more important than discovering whatever secret Big Momma #4 was hiding.
By now, the reader will have recognized that EmmaGee is not normal. You might even think that she’s a little bit crazy what with four different personalities living within the same body and babbling back and forth with each other.
The psychological labels for this condition have varied over time. The most common label, and the one that strikes right at the heart of the condition, is Multiple Personality Disorder. Multiple Personality Disorder is a condition wherein a person’s identity is fragmented into two or more distinct personalities. Each personality takes turns controlling the body.
Experts in this field believe that the disorder is caused by sustained severe childhood trauma that creates a mental split that serves as a defense against that trauma. Each identity that results from this trauma has its own mood and behaviours. In some cases, the identities do not share memories or experiences. As you have seen, EmmaGee’s four identities know everything that is going on when the other identity is controlling the body. You have also seen that the identities actually work together as sisters, each taking care of the others.
But still, EmmaGee is crazy, right?
What about Bean? She had a childhood trauma and now she’s tracking down men and killing them. Does that qualify as crazy?
What about Nary? She was the victim of childhood trauma by living on an island where every year men come to kill the inhabitants. I mention Nary because people suffering from Multiple Personality Disorder can have animals, and even mythical figures sharing their bodies. Nary and Contrary shared the same body. Does that make Nary crazy too?
Voodoo practitioners would claim that Contrary was not a personality within Nary’s body. She was a real panther who existed on a neighbouring astral plane. That plane was close enough to Nary’s astral plane that Contrary could hear Nary calling her. She’d slip across the division, appear in Nary’s world, and Nary would inhabit the panther’s body sufficiently to influence it. Nary never claimed that she could tell Contrary what to do; but she could influence it with promises of food. And after the panther had fed, it would return to its own hunting grounds.
But if Nary were to tell average citizens that she could exist inside a panther’s body while it killed its prey, they’d open up the door on the cuckoo wagon and throw her inside. Perhaps we should consider her a little bit crazy too. Right?
As you’ll read soon, Theo can also call that panther from another astral plane. He has to be crazy too. Right?
I am reminded of the story of my first husband’s great, great Uncle Beauregard who lived before the troubles. Beauregard was in his 60s when he went crazy. His wife had died several years previous and he was living comfortably by himself in a big empty house. The only thing marring his happy existence was a neighbour lady by the name of Hilda who took it on herself to convince Uncle Beauregard that he needed another wife. She’d come by with a plate of food, settle herself down on the settee, and begin a non-stop commentary on all that had happened in her life since her previous visit. Her approach to conversation was akin to an army’s Take no prisoners policy. Hilda’s approach to conversation was Take no breaths because in doing so, that might give the person opposite her a chance to participate in the conversation. She’d rattle on until her throat got dry and then she’d leave, taking yesterday’s empty plate with her. Beauregard hastened that state of dryness by offering her a full glass of whiskey that he knew she couldn’t drink without her body blowing up into a giant fart balloon. It was either drink the whisky and make embarrassing noises or go home when her throat became parched.
One day, after the parched throat had left for the day, Beauregard held his aching head in his hands, looked at the plate of free food sitting on his kitchen counter, and declared, “It’s not worth it.”
The next day, Hilda was walking briskly towards Beauregard’s house – a full truckload of gossip to share with him – when she saw a strange sight. Beauregard was on his porch in his wife’s nicest black cocktail dress and with her string of fake pearls around his neck. This nice appearance was ruined somewhat by the battered sports shoes and white socks on his feet and a poorly kept lawn of white hair on his legs. He had a fat cigar in his mouth and was taking puffs on it. In between puffs, he’d point his nose at the sky and bark like a dog. When the barking dog saw Hilda frozen on the sidewalk, the dog looked at her and grunted Arunnnhh? Then Beauregard started hip-hopping down the sidewalk towards her, barking. Hilda quickly turned the truck around.
Hilda took this for three days straight before phoning the local old coots home and reporting that a crazy old man was barking at her. Beauregard hadn’t expected her to do that. He thought that she’d just leave him alone. The old coots home used a fake plumber’s van for assessing and picking up potential residents. It was parked against a curb a half block away when Hilda came back for a fourth attempt.
The van driver and his assistant took Beauregard into the old coots home and by this time, the barking dog had retreated into its kennel. Beauregard asked some questions and looked around. The first thing he saw was a bevy of fine looking women in white uniforms. They were young, at least compared to him, and they were giving their patients kind personal care. He wandered into the dining room. Residents received free ice cream every afternoon along with hot cookies. The meal menu wasn’t bad except for the vegetables which Beauregard did not consider suitable food for a man. Beauregard sat down in the facility’s game room and contemplated what life would be like with that big screen TV, the card table, and the full-sized pool table. Best of all, staying in this fine establishment would be free for old codgers who had been declared crazy as an old coot, although that wouldn’t be the medical term that was stamped on his admission form. Beauregard thanked the director of admissions and told him that he was confident that he had himself under control.
Two days later, Beauregard was standing outside Hilda’s front door barking like a dog, but wearing his old codger’s clothes. This time the plumber’s van made a one-way trip to the old coots home.
Beauregard did well in the old coots home. His craziness was only periodic. Between episodes, he’d enjoy himself in his free private room, eating his free food, watching a free sports channel on his free TV, and eying the nurses – a pastime that also was free. When he wasn’t being entertained by the TV, Beauregard would sit in a wheel chair that he didn’t need but which was useful for gaining sympathy. He’d watch the pretty nurses as they strolled by and he’d smile at them. Beauregard would fantasize a little about each one. Life couldn’t be better, he thought.
Well, he was wrong. It could be better. One day, three old codgers wandered into the games room where Beauregard was working on some three-cushion bank shots on that full-length pool table. They closed the door and declared, “We’re not crazy either.”
A day later, Beauregard was not only living in reasonable splendour for free, but he was now enjoying poker games inside a haze of cigar smoke in the company of three buds. At least one of the four old men would go crazy each day. They all had their own routines, but they all exhibited a common insane pattern. They’d run down the hallway, clutching and grabbing at the nurses as they passed. Each had diagrammed out in advance what moves he would use. With all of them being football fanatics, you won’t be surprised to hear what their plans were.
For example: Run straight to the nurse’s station, button hook and grab a nurse, flash out to the flat, curl, grab a nurse, and then head for the goal line with hands extended and cackling like,… well, cackling like a crazy old coot. The goal line was Amber who was not flat chested. She was so not flat chested that getting a touch down on the so not flat chested part of her body was worth six points. The other nurses had nice boobs that definitely qualified for field goals, but Amber’s boobs were a major score.
Grabbing for butts was point-worthy too. However they’d need a lot of butt grabs to win the competition because butt grabs were worth only one point – a butt grab being considered a mere chip shot from immediately in front of the goal posts. However if anybody achieved a butt grab that encompassed both sides of the field of play, they’d get a two-point conversion. The boys would keep score for a week and then start from zero again.
Medical staff were perplexed at what would set them off. They theorized that if they could find the cause, they might be able to stop the fits. If you’re interested in such things, what set Beauregard and his buds off was the end of their daily poker game. When one of them ran out of matchsticks (heads removed for safety reasons by the staff), they’d count up who had won and that guy was given the reward of going crazy.
Beauregard suggested that they time their crazy fits to occur when most of the nurses were in the hall carrying trays of something. With a laden tray, a nurse was not likely to go squealing away into a corner. To prevent the contents of their tray from spilling, they’d stand still instead. “Beauregard, you are a dirty old man,” one nurse would say while tolerating his hands. On these days, (and they couldn’t schedule the insane fits too often at tray-carrying times for fear of being found out), the touches became more caressing and less grabby. Some of the nurses were getting more action from the crazy old coots than they were getting from their husbands. They’d look at each other and shrug – What can you do. They’re crazy.
But the absolute best part of going crazy was when one of the nurses suggested to the staff psychiatrist that they might be able to learn what was causing the old codgers to have crazy fits if they got them drunk. They might blurt out some information that would allow staff to draw some conclusions. To hide the true purpose of the booze, the nurse offering this solution told the psychiatrist that a few nurses might be persuaded to work overtime on Friday nights and make notes on any revelations that came to light. The crazy men would know that something was up if the psychiatrist started watching them; the nurses would be beyond suspicion.
So four crazy old men who weren’t crazy, and four nurses who were going crazy because they were being ignored at home, were able to spend Friday evenings drinking and sharing experiences. And if, from time to time, a nurse or four would feel it would be safer to sleep over rather than driving home in their condition, well… that was just part of drinking responsibly. The nurses couldn’t ply the crazy old coots with liquor if they didn’t take a few sips themselves, could they? Close supervision during the night might be necessary if the liquor loosened their tongues, wouldn’t it? For obvious reasons, the nurses didn’t share with anybody what the term close supervision meant.
The reason I tell you this story is to share this observation with you: Sometimes, being crazy works out well for the crazy person.
Crazy Nary, if we may characterize her as such, was lying on top of a sleeping bag, curled up like a cat, and sunning herself on a sandy beach when Theo returned from his hunting excursion with Contrary. Nary was wearing only a few scraps of cloth, but not because she was trying to get a tan – black skin doesn’t show a tan very well. She was just soaking up the sun, relaxing the muscles, and feeling good. Like a cat. That doesn’t surprise you, does it?
“That hunting trip was amazing,” Crazy Theo said. (If Nary is crazy, the same must be true for Theo.)
“You managed to call Contrary to you?”
That had been a problem for Theo up to today. Contrary would only come when Nary called her. Once she had crossed into this plane, she’d let Theo share. But otherwise, no. Nary had described for Theo how she and Marie brought their companions across the astral plane, or out of the cuckoo hut if you’re inclined to believe that explanation of a panther and human sharing biological space.
“It’s not a verbal call. It’s a mental call. Imagine her in your head, say the Voodoo words I gave you, and put some oomph on them. Contrary won’t be used to hearing you so you have to draw her attention away from whatever she’s doing at the time on her side of the astral plane.”
Theo had done that and Contrary had appeared in his mind. He messaged some Voodoo words that Nary explained were equivalent to “I’m coming in,” and Contrary opened her mind.
“I can’t believe what it’s like to be fully inside the body of a panther,” he said. “Before, I was sort of on the outside, looking in. But once she opened up her mind, I could sense everything that Contrary was thinking, seeing, hearing, smelling, and doing. We were perfectly attuned. I feel her power more when I’m inside. She’s actually a big panther when you’re all the way in.”
“When you’re used to her, you’ll be able to adjust her size bigger or smaller,” Nary added. “I never thought of her as big.”
“I can’t think of anything that would be more exciting. Sex would probably be more exciting, I suppose.”
Crazy Nary stretched like a cat would, looked directly at Crazy Theo, and purred, “I know a way to find out.”
Like I said…, sometimes being crazy works out well for the crazy people.
On Monday June 17, Bean found the Wilizy compound. The battles with the Alaskans had not been a secret, especially to the people who lived in the general area of the Wilizy compound. Local shopkeepers in particular were eager to talk. Tourist traffic had died off after Will and Izzy had died, but here was a lady who was interested in the Wilizy and she had money to spend. When Bean heard how tourist guides had brought people right up the compound’s security fence, she revealed that she was a tourist guide herself. Perhaps the shopkeeper could give her directions to the compound? When she brought her tourists to the Wilizy compound, she’d be sure to have a rest stop right here in front of his store.
As Bean was loading up her copter with samples of tourist trinkets from his store, the owner felt it fair to warn her how the Alaskan’s planes had tried to bomb the compound and had failed. He also warned her that she’d have to be sure to stop the tourists from going too far past the warning signs. Blinking lights were bad news. Nobody had been able to find a way past the Wilizy’s security fence.
Bean coptered to the Wilizy’s southern perimeter the next day. She landed near a meandering river and began to hike in. She saw the printed warning signs but continued past the sign that announced a Final Warning. When a red light started closing ground on her, she retreated until it stopped where it was, still blinking, but not angrily. She lay flat on the ground for a few minutes and began a slow crawl forward. When the light began to approach her again, she retreated.
Back at her copter, Bean hesitated for a few minutes before circling the compound and trying to penetrate the defenses from a different direction. As soon as a red light appeared, she turned around and left the area.
The next day found Bean mingling with patrons in a Red Deer pub that was a short stroll away from the gate into the Wilizy Aircraft factory. She was interested in buying aircraft. What exactly were they making? She heard about the super transports that were not for sale. She also heard that smaller transports would be available soon and small family planes/copters were in the planning stage. Nobody could tell her about the power train the Wilizy were using, but they did say that these planes were far superior to the Alaskan planes that the Wilizy had shot down quite easily in their war.
On Thursday of that week, Bean met Jak in Regina in the middle of the old football field. They met there solely because it was a good meeting place. Jak had completed a soft recon of the army base before landing in the field just to reassure herself. The base was still near empty. She put the Saskatchewan Sasquatches out of her mind.
“Do you have new orders?” Bean asked.
“No, but I did tell Wilhelm that you were pursuing a lead on the Wilizy organization. I told him that they had been a military threat some years ago but were now focused on making money. He offered two more platoons if we thought we needed them. Those platoons would be regular army.”
“I met the men in the first platoon. They were bragging about one of their secret operations. In Stockholm, I believe.”
“Yah. That operation was in response to all the protests in the streets. Accusations were spreading that pestilence carriers were being inoculated to prevent the spread of disease. Some sleazy politicians were bleating about the rights of all people to determine for themselves if they would have health vaccinations or not. The guys in this platoon had been ordered to sneak into a mostly residential area and burn and loot the businesses of some pestilence carriers. They also had the green light to rape up to two of the female pestilence carriers each. I gather they all took trophies. Scarves mostly, but underwear as well. Ask them about that. I’m sure they’ll be happy to show you.”
Bean remained quiet.
Jak continued with her description of the operation. “That operation changed the focus of the protests from inoculations to one of law and order. Wilhelm brought in the regular army and restored order sharply. The sleazy politicians who were trying to drum up support for pestilence carriers disappeared. A successful ending for Special Ops actually. I was out of the country at the time, but was promoted into the command structure for that platoon when I returned. I helped design a program that hid chemicals in food or drinks that only pestilence carriers would consume. No pestilence carriers will be having children in that community, I can tell you. It’s a pilot. If it continues to work successfully, Special Ops will conduct it nation-wide.”
Really, Jak? Really?
“What about your search for the Wilizy?”
Bean didn’t know what to say. She was still reeling from Jak’s comments. Jak and Bean had killed before, but they were defending the country from an enemy force. The towel women thought that a rogue platoon was raping and disappearing. It wasn’t a rogue platoon out of control after all. Special Ops, the same organization that Bean belonged to, was systematically raping and poisoning Scandinavian citizens under direct orders! But only the citizens who had a different colour and a different religion received their attention. She didn’t share her outrage. Bean had learned before – you rarely get in trouble for keeping your mouth shut. “I’m still looking for their home compound,” she lied.
“I’ll go back east and check out the rumour of the Wilizy presence in Toronto for you,” Jak offered. “After that, I’ll go back to Ranch #4 to wrap up the mystery of how Princess Freya escaped. I’m almost certain she had help.”
The same day that Jak and Bean were meeting in Saskatchewan, the Wilizy were meeting in their recreation center in the home compound. This was a full-scale family meeting that had been called to prepare them for the battles that would commence in two days. All Warriors of fighting age were asked to attend. They timed the meeting so that the kiddies would be in bed when it started. Liset was allowed to attend her first briefing meeting – at least the first one where she wasn’t hiding. EmmaGee was in that hiding place instead.
“Just a quick announcement before we start,” Jock began the meeting. “I’m circulating a picture of a woman who was testing the home compound’s defenses earlier this week. As you can see, she is very tall and has short dark hair. You can tell she’s military by the belly crawl. We also have a close up of her from one of TG’s cameras. A camera further out picked up her copter as it landed. Take a close look at that.”
“Military,” Hank observed. “Not a type I’ve seen before.”
“How do you know it’s military?” Momaka asked.
“Disguised gun ports at the front.” Jock replied for Hank. “This is not the woman who followed me in Regina. However the clothes she is wearing are identical in colour and style.”
“We’re being re-conned,” Lucas concluded. It’s amazing how wearing a uniform to a family function can prompt the use of military language.
“Have any of you who were investigating the …”
At that point, Theo and Nary came into the rec center. “Sorry we’re late. Contrary was being difficult.”
Actually, they were late because they lost track of time. I probably don’t have to tell you what they were doing that caused them to lose track of time.
Six pairs of female eyes looked at Nary; next, they looked at Theo; then, these same eyeballs twanged like a banjo string in recognition of why they were late. Granny messaged Yolanda, They’ve just had sex. Yolanda had figured that out on her own. Immediately after listening to Granny’s message, Yolanda received similar messages from Momaka, Melissa, and Mac. Yollie sent her message ten seconds later. She had been leaning over to talk with Liset when the grand entrance took place. Winnie was not sophisticated enough about sex yet to twang her eyeballs, but she could read the look on Nary’s face. Way to go, Nary!
“Theo, you’re looking better,” Doc observed. Doc didn’t have the necessary genetic perceptions to know that he should have silently twanged his eyeballs and kept his mouth shut.
Granny suppressed a snort with difficulty and turned it into a cough instead. The other eyeball twangers swallowed snickers.
Marie hadn’t twanged her eyeballs, nor had she suppressed a snicker or a snort. She had known about the sex before Nary and Theo had walked through the door. In fact, she had delayed this new stage of their relationship as much as she could to ensure that both wanted it. Remember those red eyes that served as an optical form of birth control? Guess what? They didn’t belong to Contrary. Marie could now relax. She would die within the next ten days, but she knew now that Theo would care for Nary after she was gone.
“Well…, I am feeling better,” Theo agreed.
Smiles and snickerettes started to emerge.
“What?”– some of the men asked in reaction to the women’s strange behaviour.
“Oh, for goodness sakes,” Mac declared. Then she went to the pair standing in the doorway trying really, really hard to appear nonchalant. Mac gave them both a big hug and said, “Congratulations, guys!” All the eyeball twanging women followed.
The men continued to ask… “What?”
The meeting had finally resumed. Jock was able to ask if anybody researching the Safe Haven ranches had seen the soldier with the black hair. None had.
Melissa asked for a readiness report. Winnie announced that they were ready. Key people in each ranch had been contacted and brought into their part of the plan. Each ranch had the same type of go signal. The slave leader would hang a pre-specified distinctive piece of clothing on the drying line 24 hours before the Wilizy attack was programmed to start. The drying line always had clothes on it; nobody would notice the signal except the sub-leaders who would inform their groups of the impending battle only a few hours ahead of time. Then they’d all hide in readiness. Nobody would have the chance to leak any information to the bosses.
Melissa was starting to identify the battle groups when Lucas interrupted. “I’m sorry, Melissa. I know I helped prepare this plan and I thought it would work. But it won’t work. It’s all wrong.”
That snapped everybody into silence. Melissa’s plans were never wrong.
“What’s wrong with it,” Melissa asked. A certain amount of frost had vexed its way into her voice.
“Here’s one thing that could be a problem. You and I expected that if we could keep the bosses away from their stash of weapons, the slaves could overcome them. But if a single boss happens to be sleeping with a weapon close by, that boss can kill at least six slaves if not more. Plus if the bosses can rally together, they can be a solid phalanx of whips and whatever wooden weapons they can find. With a gun picking off the leaders, the slaves will crumble.”
Lucas had been reading Jock’s books. A phalanx was a Greek formation that packed infantry tightly together so that individual soldiers couldn’t be picked off one after another. Rather, they were the ones that would take care of pick-off duties.
“Do you have another idea, Lucas?” Jock had become suddenly curious.
“As a matter of fact, I do. I thought of it when Nary came in.”
“Command group will continue to meet here,” Jock ordered. “The rest of you can play in the gym or something.”
An hour later, Jock messaged the family. “Everybody should relax. We need at least a week to develop new plans.”
Jak never intended to go to Toronto. Instead, she spent a day in London Ontario, not to be confused with London England. She identified herself to the London police as a specialist in finding missing people. She was just passing through and thought that she’d drop by. Did London have any people who had been reported missing? She might be able to earn some money and at the same time give the London police a hand.
The London police were reluctant to give Jak much information because missing persons investigations are always ongoing until the missing persons had been determined to be not missing. The desk sergeant wasn’t too forthcoming. It wouldn’t do to have some bounty hunter embarrass the police. So Jak did what she should have done in the first place. She went to the local news media. The editor was quite happy to confirm that the police were searching for a man who had gone missing on May 17. She even gave Jak his name.
“Where did Bernard like to drink?” Jak asked.
“The Sink Hole,” she replied. “Two blocks east. Everybody called him Hands. Not too many people will want this guy found.”
Since Jak had intended to visit that pub only to get a read on the missing guy’s character, and since the editor had already given her that, Jak left town and headed west. Bean had been in the London area in mid-May when Hands had gone missing.
Winnie was meeting with Marie on the shores of the St. Lawrence Rivulet as it passed the northeastern tip of the slave island. Marie was going to take a rest in the bottom of the rivulet for a couple of days seeing as how the battle plan wouldn't be ready for a week. Winnie had accompanied her because she wanted to see what Marie would look like in her alligator body. Marie had offered to show her back at the compound, but Winnie had argued that it wouldn't be the same thing. For people who knew Winnie well, they might suspect that Winnie wasn't being 100% honest. They'd be right.
Winnie’s ploy started out quite innocently.
“Lucas is working on the battle plan and he wanted me to check with you about your vision. We have a number of options on how we attack the ranches, but we know that you have some preferences on how Big Momma #2 and Big Daddy #2 should die. Could you describe exactly what your vision was?”
“I saw lightning and flames in the skies around the Big House. It’s burning. The young girls are running by me when I enter the house. Big Momma and Big Daddy are behind them. They see me, turn, and flee. They’re screaming. I follow them up the stairs and they’re trapped. Then I chew on them. They called me Marie, so they knew it was me even though I was in my alligator body.”
“You told me that you thought you were burning too.”
“Yes, I am burning but not badly enough yet to stop me from chewing on them.”
“Did you see your snout in your vision?”
“You were an alligator. You should have been able to see your snout.”
Marie had to think. Her eyes went blank. “I didn’t see my snout. I was focused so much on the Bigs that I just didn’t look down.”
“So you’re not completely sure that you’re in your alligator body, right?”
“I have to be in that body. I’d never be able to survive the flames if I were a panther.”
“But you can be a panther, right?”
“I can call a number of different creatures to me. The more often I call them, the more quickly they come. I have used the panther a lot. But panthers can’t live long if they’re on fire, so I have to be using the alligator in my vision.”
“How did you know the alligator’s body was on fire?”
“The flames were all around me.”
“But you weren’t actually in pain?”
“Alligator bodies don’t have many nerve endings.”
“You see, Marie…” Winnie was using her convincing voice. “We’re trying to win the battles with as little damage as possible to the ranches. The slaves will take care of the bosses and the owners. We’ll try to prevent any of the slaves from dying, but we’re worried about what happens after the slaves win the battles. Where do they go? With seventeen ranches, there are too many slaves for us to relocate to some shelter somewhere. We can’t take them back to the town where they were kidnapped. For many of them, that was 10 or 20 years ago.”
Marie listened but said nothing.
“For the next couple of months anyway, we were hoping that the slaves might be willing to stay on the ranches and work them. They’d have food and they’d be with people they knew and liked. But they would be the people running the ranch, not the bosses. Do you think they’d go for that? At least for a while?”
“There’d have to be changes.”
“Of course. And one change would be where they lived. Many of them could live in the Big House. The cooks could still prepare meals for everybody. People would be way warmer and dryer. But if we burn all the Big Houses down, they’ll have nowhere to stay. If we could win the battles without actually burning the big houses down, would that be OK with you?”
“How would you do that? In my vision, flames are everywhere. That’s been foretold. It will happen that way.”
“We can give you the flames and William says that his flames won’t burn the houses down. Is that OK?”
“We’d like to change another thing too. Since you don’t know for sure that you are in an alligator’s body in the vision, how about being a panther instead?”
“A panther is faster and it’s scarier. You’ll still get to chew on the slave-owners.”
“I guess. Are you going to change anything else?”
“Everything you saw in your vision will come true. The lightning, the flames, and an animal munching happily. Except I was wondering if you’d mind not dying.”
“Winnie, I told you. It’s been foretold. We can’t change the future. Some of Nary’s life has been foretold. Changing my future would change hers!”
“We won’t change the future, Marie. Your vision as you described it will come true. But you never did see yourself dying in your vision, did you? You just assumed that you were going to die because of the flames. That dying part doesn’t have to happen.”
Marie sat, thinking. Then in front of Winnie’s eyes, she became an alligator. An alligator that trundled into the river and sank below the surface.
“Marie, you don’t have to die,” Winnie called after her. When the alligator didn’t reappear, Winnie activated her sling and dove into the water too. She positioned herself underneath Marie’s sinking alligator body and tried to grab it. Marie became angry with Winnie and started snapping at her. Winnie stayed close to Marie’s body so that she couldn’t turn her snout enough to bite her, but still she had to deal with the front and back feet. Sharp claws! They were hard to avoid but she kept a close bear hug on Marie’s chest – make that an alligator hug – and managed to avoid being clawed.
Stop fighting me, Marie! Watch your claws! You don’t have to die. If you’ve seen some of Nary’s future, that means that you were there to see that future. If you were dead, you wouldn’t have known what’s going to happen to Nary.
Marie wouldn’t listen. She began to roll Winnie down into the mud. Suddenly Marie’s body stiffened and her grip weakened. Winnie felt her own body rising out of the water and being deposited on solid ground. When she had wiped the water out of her eyes, Marie was in front of her, dripping wet.
“That wasn’t my alligator you were wrestling with, Winnie.”
When Winnie came to, she was lying on the bank. Marie was sitting cross-legged on the ground in front of her, eating what looked to be a raw fish. “You made a good point, Winnie. I think I’ll stay alive. Can we go home now or did you want to wrestle another alligator?”
Saturday, June 22. Dreamer and Wizard were in the outdoor gym at the home compound. Dreamer was working out and Wizard was helping. He had been helping her on the workouts ever since Lylah had gone home to her family at the end of May. Right now, Dreamer was working on her 3-point shot. Wizard had a ball-trolley that held fifteen balls and he was feeding her a ball every three seconds. Dreamer would shoot, look at Wizard, and receive a bounce pass in perfect position to catch and shoot. Wizard had mastered the bounce pass! More impressively, he had been scouring the Internet for basketball drills. This catch and shoot drill was one of his finds.
After the fifteenth shot, Wizard would normally retrieve the balls while Dreamer worked on her arm strength. Wiz had hung an iron bar in the sky after William had told him how he had used to do gymnastics in the atmosphere. Dreamer was doing pull-ups on that bar right now.
“My right arm is dead, Wiz. I have nothing left,” she said.
“Yeah. Your elbow was drifting sideways on the last five shots. You want to try left hand work, closer in?”
“I dunno. What do you think?”
“Leg conditioning plus ball handling?”
“Let’s do that.”
Wizard pulled out a set of gardening gloves from the basket of training supplies that he was accumulating. Dribbling with your hand buried inside a gardening glove was always a challenge, even for Dreamer. Wizard set some pylons where there would be the normal basketball court lines and handed her a ball. “Set of lines for one minute?”
“Yeah. And Wiz, you have to urge me to work harder in the last twenty seconds. Just say Go, Go, Go. Really loud.”
Jak visited three communities on Saturday: Sarnia Ontario, Lansing Michigan, and Milwaukee Wisconsin. Milwaukee was too big for her to be able to make assumptions about any missing persons and Bean’s possible involvement with them. She used the city only as a place to stop and sleep. Sarnia was a strikeout. Lansing was a definite. The missing guy was a womanizer, he liked to use pubs for his hunting grounds, and a majorly tall young girl had been in that pub on the night he had disappeared. The police had tried to find her as a witness, but had no success.
The Wilizy Cloth and Dye store in Surrey B.C. was awesome. Bean had seen pictures of the long-gone Ikea stores that had populated all of Scandinavia’s major city centers. When the troubles had come, people weren’t too interested in buying home furnishings and the chain had slowly disappeared. But the stores had been a significant part of Scandinavia’s history – something for citizens to be proud of. Now some Scandinavians were proud of raping and poisoning.
Bean was looking for one type of item in the Wilizy store. Picnic supplies. What she saw and smelled as soon as she entered the store was chocolate. Bean had tasted chocolate before, but it was very rare in Scandinavia.
Bean had bought a chunk of chocolate in Denmark early in her special ops career. She had been given a five-day leave and, after taking care of some long overdue business in a small northern Scandinavian community, she had ended up in Malmo at the southern tip of the country. She had taken the ferry to Copenhagen Denmark as part of a celebration for the enjoyable visit she had had with a certain police captain. The captain didn’t enjoy it as much as Bean had.
After the police captain had opened the door to his safe, the first thing she took out of it was her father’s shaving knife. Next she burned every picture that the captain had stored in his safe. That fire consumed the captain’s body as well as the burnable parts of the police station. Fire investigators were able to determine that the fire had started in his office where the police captain’s body was found; they couldn’t determine if he were alive or not when the fire started. Bean wasn’t around to give them that answer. She was in Copenhagen, eating chocolate.
That chunk of chocolate had been very expensive. Good too. Extremely good, even. But not something that a lowly lieutenant could afford on a regular basis. Years after her chocolate treat, Bean was in Surrey BC and looking at rack after rack of chocolate delicacies. Some were formed into flat pieces – the store called them chocolate bars. Others were individually sold in little blobs called chocolates. These blobs had chocolate that covered some sweet filling inside. The customers in the store were coming into this section of the store, browsing up and down some aisles, selecting what they wanted, and going into a line where they paid some money. For the little individual chocolates, you had to go up to a counter where you’d point at what you wanted and a teenage girl or boy would put them into a bag, write the price on the front, and hand the bag over.
Bean started browsing and selecting. She quickly found herself with too many selections and not enough hands. Her dilemma was solved when a teenage girl wearing a white shirt with emerald green highlights gave her a container with handles. “You can put what you want in one of these,” she volunteered and left. Bean ended up taking one of each bar the store had to offer. The prices were ridiculously low. Then she asked the girl in white and green if they sold picnic supplies. The store did. Their picnic forks and spoons were identical to the wooden cutlery that Bean had found in the bag of picnic debris she had uncovered by Fort Peck Lake.
Bean was now 80% certain the Wilizy were involved somehow in Princess Freya's disappearance from Fort Peck Lake. But just because she found picnic utensils in their store, that didn't prove anything. Anybody could have bought those utensils at any of several Wilizy stores. The fact that the Wilizy sold that picnic debris didn't prove that there were the do-gooders who rescued Princess Freya. More research would be needed.
Sunday, June 23. Lucas and Melissa announced that the battle plan for attacking the seventeen ranches was finalized. Lucas had asked for a number of changes to the original and Melissa had agreed. “This plan is much better,” she conceded and kissed Lucas on his cheek. Lucas was used to receiving manly thumps on his back; he wasn’t quite sure how to deal with a sisterly kiss on his cheek. He rather enjoyed it, actually.
Lucas had had a number of concerns. My readers know already that he wanted to avoid casualties and that meant that they had to ensure that the bosses didn’t have any access to weapons. Nor could they be allowed to form themselves into a small, tight group.
Lucas’ second concern was that the battle plan should not rely exclusively on William’s science – like man-made thunder and lightning, gravitational weapons, invisibility, and lasers. Theo had used a science-based plan that worked at the slave island. But Marie had added a second component to Theo’s plan – Voodoo – if you like. Or think of what she added as being the opposite of scientific. Mystical. Lucas wanted to take advantage of the weapons that the Wilizy had in that area. Bob, Contrary, and Marie’s alligator – as yet unnamed. Winnie was still working on possible names. Alfalfa, the alligator? Alicia? Alibaba? Nothing had come to mind that was sufficiently menacing.
William had received updates on what the new battle plan would require him to invent as Lucas and Melissa developed it. So on Sunday, he already had one of the weapons designed if not yet created. William, Wolf, and TG headed down to Stanford University to work on two other weapons. Since Mathias and his jumbo freight transports were critical to the success of the plan, they asked him to come along to assist.
Jak was continuing to work her way westward. She visited Madison, Eau Claire and Minneapolis. No missing men had been reported in Madison, an abusive husband was missing in Eau Claire, and Minneapolis was far too large for her to pursue. The Eau Claire man was a possibility, but he hadn’t been in a pub before his disappearance. He did fit the general profile of Bean’s men. Call him a possible.
Jak dropped in on the Safe Haven managers in Minneapolis while she was in the city. Their three-storey building’s security was very tight. The only way to reach Safe Haven’s second floor offices was by an elevator that was monitored with facial recognition software. Any intruders who entered that elevator would be locked inside until Safe Haven’s security decided to release. This made her feel better about Scandinavia’s association with Safe Haven. Ranch #4 might have some security problems, but overall, Jak thought Safe Haven executives were very security conscious.
Fred Brown, the personnel officer for the western region, was there and he was continuing to preach his conspiracy theory. Somebody is out to get us. Management wanted to know what Jak thought.
Jak told them firmly that it wouldn’t be the Saskatchewan army that would be attacking them, that was for sure. Her partner was currently pursuing another lead that might take them to the place where some do-gooder shopkeepers were holding Maddy. However her partner was having second thoughts about this group because whatever armed power they had had in the past, they didn’t have it now. Plus all they cared about now was making money. Why would a do-gooder group, who may have recovered Maddy, decide to attack the Safe Haven group with its seventeen ranches? Why would they do that? And if anybody were foolish enough to attack a slave ranch, a highly trained Scandinavian Special Ops platoon could be flying over that ranch inside of 24 hours.
Fred Brown remained unconvinced. “These storekeepers. Do they have a name? What military experience did they have?”
“They’re known as the Wilizy,” Jak said. They defeated some Alaskans and an Alberta dictator, but that was before they lost their military leadership.”
On that same Sunday, Bean returned to the Wilizy compound but landed on the northern perimeter instead of the southern edge. She found a hiding place near the meandering river well outside the warning signs and settled in. She had an excellent view of the river valley, but couldn’t see any actual buildings. She assumed that the Wilizy’s buildings were well beyond the second bend of the river, which was as far as she could see.
At 4:32 p.m. on that Sunday afternoon, Bean saw a little blonde girl riding a small pony, or perhaps a large dog. The animal was slowing down from what appeared to be a hard gallop. Bean watched it slow to a trot, turn around, accelerate again, and disappear from view. The girl was riding bareback without benefit of reins or stirrups. She obviously was used to riding this animal. She’d be doing it again.
“Got’cha,” Bean crowed. It would be an easy shot from a hidden position. If Wilhelm wanted the princess dead, Bean could give him that result.
Monday, June 25. Mac announced that William would have his magic ready on time. A large group meeting would be held Thursday morning, June 28. Early Thursday afternoon, they’d break into groups and have dress rehearsals for the upcoming battles.
They’d have Friday morning and afternoon to rest. Marie would help them have a nap Friday afternoon. They’d awake at around 9 p.m. and all of them would be in position over Ranch #2 by 10 p.m. on Friday night. Mac would make the decision when to start attacking the Montana ranches (#2, #3, #4, #7, and #10) and, if all went well, they’d be finished well before sunrise. They’d start attacking South Dakota ranches (#1, #5, #6, #8, #9, and #11) late Saturday night. On Sunday night and Monday morning, the last day of the war, North Dakota ranches (#12-#17) would suffer the same fate as the others. If changes in the attack had to be made after the first morning, they had plenty of time to do that.
That same Monday, Jak and the Beanstalk used their portable walkie-talkies to arrange a meeting at Lempsee Lake in southeastern Saskatchewan. It was the only lake of any size in that part of the province. Jak was coming from the east and Bean was coming from the west – it had seemed like a good place to meet.
“Did you find anything?” Jak asked. She was referring to Bean’s search for the Wilizy home compound.
“No,” Bean lied. “I thought that if I could learn the heading of the copter that picked Princess Freya up at Fort Peck, I might be able to find their home base. We had assumed, remember, that we thought it might be close. One of the searchers gave me the heading, but it didn’t work out. The whole area is desolate empty space.”
“Anything on the Wilizy?”
“Nothing,” Bean lied. “I visited their store in Surrey. They’re making plenty of money. It’s as we thought. They lost their two fighting leaders and decided to concentrate on selling stuff. I don’t believe that they’re the do-gooders we want. You?”
“I found Toronto easy enough,” Jak lied. She hadn’t even gone there. “It was just a big city.”
“Your whole trip was a waste of time?”
“It was a disappointing trip.”
Jak wasn't lying about that. Her discoveries about Bean had been disappointing. Three men had gone missing in cities that Bean had stopped in on her route to find bloody Band-Aids. Jak hadn't been able to tie Bean conclusively to those disappearances, but it would have been extreme coincidence that she'd be in some community on one day and that would be the day that some man would disappear. Three times. The men were all of the same type. Jak was now 90% certain that Bean was killing men and that made her unstable. It was OK to kill people on orders, but it was not OK to kill people as a hobby. Clearly, Bean was not suited for continued work in Special Ops. The reason why she was doing this was not yet apparent. Jak wasn't certain that she needed to know the reason for Bean's behaviour before she acted.
“Now what?” Bean asked Jak.
“I’ll work on the mystery at Ranch #4, I guess. You?”
That wasn’t quite a lie. Jak was going to visit Ranch #4. But first she would spend some time in Fargo, North Dakota. If a man had disappeared there recently, she’d try to tie it to Bean. Meanwhile, she’d be close enough to the Safe Haven ranches if anything developed. She was also reasonably close to the hidden platoon in case she was needed.
“I’ll continue to look for the Wilizy home just in case,” Bean lied. She’d be spending some quality time with the hidden platoon instead.
“Keep in touch by walkie-talkie,” Jak instructed.
Tuesday, June 25. With only three full days before the Safe Haven battles began in earnest, most of the Wilizy hung around the compound. Dreamer and Wizard, for example, painted basketball court lines on the gym floor.
For the umpteenth time, Reese re-read Annika’s email in which she apologized for over-reacting at her father’s trial, but she also told him that she wouldn’t be coming back to Penticton. Her mom had taken a job at the University of Toronto and they’d be living there from now on. She wrote of other things in the email too, but nothing of importance. Reese had emailed Annika to tell her that he didn’t mind about the trial and hoped that she’d make lots of friends in Toronto. Neither of them had written again.
Yollie said that she shouldn’t take part in the operation as she was still prone to a lot of nausea and discomfort from her pregnancy. The last month had been difficult for her. She’d stay with the kiddies in the home compound. Yolanda also begged off from the battles saying that she wanted to keep an eye on Yollie who wasn’t one to complain about little aches and pains.
Granny took Liset up in the Wilizy/Asia and showed her how to operate the sensors. Since EmmaGee was the same age as Liset, it didn’t seem fair for her to be excluded, so she was given the same training. Doc helped by giving the sensors something to find.
Hank, Stu, and Momaka made sure all the Wilizy ships were above the home compound, certified battle-ready, and stocked with provisions and weaponry.
Jock, Melissa, Mac, and Lucas set up battle command equipment and resources in the Wilizy/America. Then they checked and re-checked the details of the operations for mistakes made or necessities forgotten.
William, Wolf, TG, and Mathias were testing out the new weaponry at Stanford. Some of the weapons had passed easily. Currently, they were trying to perfect a delivery system. Mathias was scheduled to fly above the battlefield in one of the transports and deliver incendiary devices into the air below him. Let’s call them what they were. Bombs. Tiny bombs. The timing on the delivery of those bombs was proving troublesome. They kept exploding too close to the transport. William and TG were currently working on an explode now signal that would operate on atmospheric pressure. Once the bombs fell to a certain defined height, they would explode. All Mathias had to do was stay well above that height. That way, neither he nor the transport would burn up.
Mathias, for his part, knew that if he flew too high, the tiny bombs would stray far and wide. The lower he flew, the more accurate the bombing would be. Given the consequences of that burning up possibility, he was more than a little interested in what William and TG were engineering.
“Why don’t you trail a long empty hose underneath the transport?” Mathias asked after witnessing yet another too-close-for-comfort mock run. “Put something at the end of that hose that will activate the bombs.”
“But Mathias, we’d have to shift the bombs from the transport copter’s cargo bay into a very narrow hose opening. That delivery system will be way harder than just shovelling them out of the cargo bay.” The shoveller was scheduled to be Mathias, who once again had a reason to be a little concerned about wading through incendiary devices that could explode if the transport breached a certain altitude.
Wolf, TG, and William all went back to their complicated schemes. They forgot that Mathias was now 12 years old, and not a little kid any longer. Mathias demonstrated that to them half an hour later with this question. “You know that filament vacuum cleaner that you and TG used to pick up those Chicago pellets?”
[Narrator: Chicago pellets cause all electronic-powered devices to die abruptly when they come within range. The pellets had been part of Operation “Dead Man Walking” when TG had joined the Wilizy. I wrote about them in Book #3: “Assassination Day.” Mathias had been 8 years old at the time. Here’s a question for the reader. How much would a little kid have known about that? Here’s the answer: Mathias was a little kid that didn’t say much, but he saw a lot. In that respect, he was quite similar to Maddy.]
“Yeah. What about the pellets?” Wolf muttered absent-mindedly. He was trying to concentrate. Younger brothers!
“Why don’t you use that vacuum system? Vacuum the bombs up and then blow them into one end of the hose and out the other end. Way, way below the transport,” Mathias added just in case Wolf hadn’t figured that part out.
“Wide funnel on the intake,” TG suggested.
“Narrow output on the other end that will generate enough pressure to scatter the bombs further from the ship,” William confirmed. “We can attach an electronic spark at the bottom of the hose.”
Mathias thought that up? Really? Wolf thought.
“This could be fun. We should practice some bombing runs!” William was a kid at heart even though he would be turning a mature 20 on the last day of the war.
Jak spent the day in Fargo, North Dakota. When she left, she knew that Bean had killed a man there. Her partner wouldn’t get caught because Bean would never return to Fargo. Jak couldn’t prove it in a court of law, but she knew it. Knowing it was enough. She had assassinated Queen Freya on far less.
Bean spent the day with the Special Ops platoon, participating in a training exercise with them and demonstrating that she had the strength to handle the rigours of strenuous physical activity and the dexterity to kill quietly.
But that had been earlier in the day. Right now, she was sitting around a campfire and experiencing the revelry and camaraderie of the platoon. That revelry was focused on women in general and what the men liked to do to them. [Narrator: What? No hot dogs and marshmallows? Let’s degrade women instead?] This conversation around the fire wasn’t as bad as it had been the previous time she had endured a campfire with them. Perhaps they were holding back because she had proven immune to their charms the last time she had sat around a fire. Or perhaps they were easing off because the captain had told them to stay out of his way.
Captain Nielsen, first name Victor, was a charmer and surprisingly direct. He hung near her throughout the morning. In one of the physical training drills that afternoon, he had observed, “You’re very fit. Want to have sex afterwards?” She replied No, and he left her alone after that. Until it was dark.
That night, he sat next to her at the campfire. When a graphic invitation was extended to her from the other side of the fire, he urged, “You’ll have to excuse the men. They aren’t used to having such an appealing woman in their midst.”
“You’re not planning to call me beautiful, are you,” Bean accused.
“No,” he responded. “You aren’t beautiful. But you are very appealing. Perhaps because of the danger. Your hand-to-hand combat skills are impressive. This is attractive to soldiers.”
“I do not want to have sex with you, Captain,” Bean insisted.
“Not tonight,” he admitted. “That would put you in a bad light. But at least think about it.” Then he piled on the charm.
Wednesday, June 26. The first battles with the Safe Haven ranches would begin late Friday night provided that two Scandinavian operatives didn’t foul their plans up first.
Jak had had enough time now to chew on the question: How did Princess Freya escape from Safe Haven Ranch #4, fake a camp site on the slave island and her death near that camp, travel all the way to the other side of the island, and wade through alligator infested waters to safety. She decided to chew on that question with Big Momma #4. First, Jak described all of the questions that had arisen once she had looked at everything in detail. At the end, she gave Big Momma the only possible conclusion.
“Your young boss, the guy with the crooked nose. He’s Boss #24, right?”
“Boss #15 now. I promoted him.”
“Well, Boss #15 helped Maddy escape. And somebody else in this ranch was also involved.”
Big Momma didn’t believe her. So Jak told her how she would have done it had she had been Boss #15. She would have told Big Momma that some necessary saw blades had been left behind when actually, the blades were stashed in the first copter under the copilot’s seat, exactly like they were supposed to be. When she reached the slave island, she would wait for the wood cutting team to start work before hiding Maddy in Big Daddy’s copter until nightfall. At that point, she would remove the tracker from the copter and leave it on the ground where it would report that the copter hadn’t been moved. She would fly Maddy to the Canadian side of the rivulet in the dark after the thunderstorm had passed. She would wait until first light and then fake a false campsite and Maddy’s death. Afterwards, she’d return to the slave village, park the copter, put the tracker back in, and join the other bosses. She’d explain her late appearance by saying simply that she had overslept. But she didn’t need that excuse because she found all of the bosses dead in the copter transport. “That explains everything, doesn’t it, Big Momma?”
“But one thing doesn’t fit, Big Momma. Boss #15 told my partner that he left the bodies in the copter because there was no place to dig graves. He suggested that the alligators ate them. However the doors and cargo hold of the transport were closed when I visited the scene. How did the alligators eat those bodies when the transport was sealed up tight? And why didn’t Boss #1 do something about those bodies? He didn’t – because they weren’t inside the transport copter.”
“What really happened to the bosses, Big Momma? Everybody lied to my partner. You sat in on the interrogations to make sure that they did. Tell me the truth or I’ll order Safe Haven to take away your franchise.”
Jak was experienced in interrogating captives, finding weaknesses, and torturing the truth out of them. Bean hadn’t had interrogator training. That’s why those lies had been allowed to stand. In Big Momma’s case, Jak didn’t have to physically beat her. She just had to hit her where it would hurt the most. The loss of her franchise.
Big Momma caved and told Jak what had happened to the bosses. Jak didn’t believe her. She did believe her after she watched Boss #15’s bot – live and in gory colour.
“Voodoo? Really? And this Marie. She threatened that you’d be joining the dead bosses?”
“She has no way to travel here. Even if she stole a copter, she has no idea where the ranch is located. Slaves can’t see out the windows when they’re being transported. All of the ranches are in desolate areas. Plus we’re not exactly alligator and panther territory here.”
Jak made a quick decision. She could tell Safe Haven they might be at risk from a Voodoo nut job who killed bosses with the help of a black panther and some alligators. Or she could maintain her own credibility by saying nothing. Jak decided to say nothing. After all, what happened on that island had nothing to do with Princess Freya. But Jak still had to identify the person who helped Princess Freya escape from Ranch #4.
“Boss #15 couldn’t have done all of this on his own,” Jak declared. “You don’t have one security hole in your ranch; you have two.”
“Not possible,” Big Momma countered but her heart wasn’t in it.
“Identify the helper and you might keep your franchise,” Jak offered. Big Momma #4 wasn’t going to keep her franchise. Jak had already made that decision. This miniature megalomaniac was the reason why Princess Freya’s eggs were currently in jeopardy – somebody had to pay for that. But interrogating a prisoner isn’t only about breaking through their lies and getting a confession. Offering a little hope in exchange for cooperation might bring the final secret out or perhaps produce additional insight.
Jak continued the interrogation. “The little boss returns from faking the scenes, finds some animals killing the bosses, gets sick, and waits for the next transport to arrive carrying the slaves. That makes the boss in charge of that transport his helper.”
“That would be Boss #2. I don’t think so. I know of nothing in his past to suggest that he would have any reason to help him. Boss #15 is a recent addition to the ranch. He and Boss #2 have no history whatsoever together. Plus Boss #2 was second in line for the top job. Why would he jeopardize his prospects for being the top boss for a little girl that he didn’t even know? I never saw any contact between him and the girl. I promoted Boss #2 to #1 because I thought he handled everything properly.”
“Which means somebody else is the helper. Who?”
“It has to be Pililiani. She’s the only slave who showed any affection to Maddy. She gave her a bedroom next to the kitchen and kept her safe from any house slaves who might have been jealous.”
“Big Daddy set her up in the very large bedroom next to his own. The young slaves in the house wouldn’t like her living in a huge bedroom by herself when the rest of them were squished into small dormitories.
“So she ended up next to the kitchen. How? Why?”
“We had a water leak in the upstairs wing. Pililiani warned me about fungus and health issues for the little girl. We couldn’t leave her there with Safe Haven’s insistence that their blondes not be harmed in any way.”
“Who fixed the water leak?”
“And that’s his link to the girl,” Jak said triumphantly.
“That makes Pililiani involved too.”
“What will you do?”
Big Momma’s answer came quickly. “I’ll force Boss #15 to whip Pililiani to death in front of everybody. Afterwards I’ll chemically castrate him and send him to the cattle camp. The slaves will be useless after the demonstration, so I’ll do it late this afternoon. That way I can get a full day of work from them first. “
About the same time as Jak was conducting her interrogation, back in the Little Missouri National Grassland area, the men in Scandinavia’s platoon were finishing a morning of training. Captain Nielsen called to Bean from the opening of his tent.
“Lieutenant, you and I should probably do a recon for tomorrow’s training location,” he announced loud enough for bystanders to hear. After she was inside the tent, he added, “We’ll take one of the small copters. All of them have spare sleeping bags inside. We’ll be gone for an hour; perhaps two.”
“I do not want to have sex with you, Captain,” she said.
“I understand your reluctance to open up that possibility with the men. Once you start, when would it end?”
“So many men, so little time,” she sarcasticated.
“Precisely,” he agreed. “And the tensions within the platoon that might arise if some men were left out.”
You’re completely serious, aren’t you? But Bean said nothing.
“I saw your reactions the last time you were here. You were squirming; you were finding it difficult to breath normally. You wanted to go into the woods and have sex with every single one of them, but as you concluded, too many men, too little time.”
Bean pressed her internal mute button. Nothing good was ever achieved by pointing out how ridiculously wrong a superior officer’s conclusion was.
“You should not feel embarrassed by this, Lieutenant. The men and I see this all the time. The men in this platoon are strong, dangerous, and almost irresistible to most women.”
“The women throw themselves at their feet, do they?” Again, Bean was being sarcastic.
“In fact, they do end up there.”
“Their mouths may say No, but their eyes say Yes.”
“You do understand. This is good.”
“And do you participate with your men in helping these women release their pent up desires?”
“What kind of leader would I be otherwise?”
Again, the captain was entirely serious.
“And have you kept souvenirs of your successes in helping these poor desperate women?”
“As a matter of fact, I have.” Captain Nielsen went to a filing cabinet and pulled out a fist full of mementos of good times. “I have a number of different fabrics, different colours. Would you like to try some on?”
“I’ll stick with my khakis, Captain.”
“I sense that you remain cool to the idea. Perhaps it’s because you are concerned that I might reveal your secret to others. It might hurt your career if others found out that you were unable to withstand the temptations offered by virile men such as us.”
“The thought had crossed my mind, Captain. You do after all collect souvenirs.”
“Then I propose the following arrangement. You and I will pretend to do a recon. When we are alone, I will give you something that would be damaging to my career if it were found in your possession. You will give me your khakis. Neither of us would want that transfer of souvenirs to become public.”
“And if I say to you one more time that I do not want to have sex with you, Captain?”
“Your mouth says the words, but your eyes say differently.”
“And if I say again that I do not want to sex with you, Captain?”
“You have a good reputation now, Lieutenant. You should ask yourself how sterling that reputation will be if important people back home heard that you went into the woods with every single man in this platoon. The men will back me up. You know they will.”
“I have a better idea,” Jak said to Big Momma.
“What could be better than lethal whipping and castration? It keeps slaves docile for years.”
“It’s just the timing that I suggest you reconsider.”
“What’s wrong with the timing?”
“What if more than these two people were involved? If you kill and castrate too soon, you’ll never know if there were more. Six of your bosses have been killed. What if your slaves have spread word of that around your ranch and are planning an uprising? You have the opportunity right now to discover all of their dirty little secrets.”
Bean flew the captain’s command copter so that she’d be able to choose the location of their date. She had a number of requirements for its location. For example, somewhere that had soft ground. The captain brought a brief case with him, his walkie-talkie, and a side arm in case they ran into potential problems. Bean knew what he meant by potential problems. She was the potential problem. Bean herself brought a pair of binoculars as any recon would require and wore her hiking boots, not her combat boots. She made sure the captain saw that she wasn’t wearing a side arm. He’d relax a bit.
The captain put the top sergeant in charge and gave him an estimated time of return. Bean flew for less than five minutes before circling for a landing. The captain pulled a sleeping bag out of the copter and followed Bean to the spot she had chosen – a small grassy meadow as a temporary bed. He put the sleeping bag on the grass.
“Your secrets?” Bean asked.
“In the copter.”
Bean stripped to her waist, but put her thumbs into the top of her fatigue pants before going further. “You go first,” she stalled.
The captain was more than willing.
Bean turned her back on the captain so that she could take something out of her front right pocket and finished disrobing. When she felt the first touch of flesh on flesh, she turned and said, “I told you I did not want to have sex with you, Captain.” Only then did her father’s blade flash in the sunlight. She held the captain up while his blood spilled all over her and onto the soft grassy meadow.
“What’s the most likely time of day that Boss #15 could have met with Pililiani to arrange the water leak?” Jak asked.
“Couldn’t have been during the day. They have no reason to even see each other on most days. It had to be at night. After everybody is asleep.”
“Where does Boss #15 sleep?”
“In the bunkhouse with all the other bosses.”
“In the house, next to the kitchen. She’s by herself there.”
“You must have bosses who would be willing to spy on Boss #15. Pick one. Tell him to listen for Boss #15 sneaking out of the bunkhouse. When he does, tell your spy to come and get you. The two of you will have to wait long enough for other slaves to come to the meeting. This way, you’ll catch all of the plotters together.”
“I’ll put Boss #1 onto it.”
“Not the top boss. Put #2 or #3 on it. They’ll be hungrier for advancement and more likely to stay awake waiting for #15 to sneak out. This could take a few days. Perhaps more. It will depend on how often the plotters meet.”
Bean didn’t bother trying to bury the captain’s body. The animals would take care of him and he was out of sight where he was. She used his clothes and a nearby pond to clean the blood off her body. The pond had been the key requirement for the kill site. She was lucky it had come up so quickly.
But first, his secrets. The briefcase held the official orders for his platoon. She skimmed them.
You will travel to … select a remote location and remain hidden … liaise with Jak and the Beanstalk … enter into combat as necessary to recover one of Scandinavia’s possessions … highest ranking officer will assume command … take care not to reveal your presence … may employ full latitude of options in recovering the asset and in keeping your presence undiscovered … if the asset cannot be acquired and discovery is imminent, you are to terminate the mission as instructed … your involvement in subsidiary operations deemed important to the main mission is authorized under the conditions noted earlier … report to headquarters at least once a month … use antiquated broadcast communications only in emergencies …
Bean threw the captain’s briefcase and his sodden clothes into the back of the copter. She couldn’t do anything about the kill signs on the ground – the blood was a dead giveaway, but it was mostly hidden in the grass. In time, no sign of what happened here would remain except for some bones. She lifted off, found a spot to bury the captain’s clothes, and found another spot to hide the copter. The hike back to camp took an hour.
“Captain Nielsen has decided to report to home base earlier than his orders required, Sergeant,” she announced as she walked into camp. “He said that we were close enough to thirty days now, and he’d get it out of the way before action was imminent.”
“I saw those orders, Sergeant. They stipulate that the highest ranking officer will assume command of the platoon when he’s away, which means that I will take the captain’s place until he returns. He didn’t think that it would be more than a week. Let the men know, Sergeant.”
“Captain Nielsen gave you some exercise?” the sergeant asked and winked.
“The captain received no exercise and left me with a two hour hike instead. He wasn’t too pleased with me. You might let the other men know why he was displeased. And let them know also that I don’t take kindly to suggestions that orders banning short-term relationships between officers and enlisted men could be ignored. I can handle a twenty-mile forced march in the heat. You might let them know about that too.”
“Very good, Lieutenant.”
Thursday, June 27 – one day before the Safe Haven operation was scheduled to begin. It was thirty minutes before Melissa and Lucas would present the battle plan to the entire family and Lucas had just entered the battle command center in the Wilizy/America in response to a request from the general.
“Lieutenant. Apologies for the rush request, but I have finished reviewing the battle operations plan and have two quick questions.”
“I don’t see anything here about the Save Haven courier. I expect that you’d want to ensure that he doesn’t blunder into one of ranches once we’ve started the operation.”
“Correct, General. I’ll be taking care of the courier personally on my way to the first battle tomorrow morning. His copter will be attacked by vandals.”
“You know where he’ll be?”
“Yes, General. Theo and I tracked his route. He’ll be in Seattle staying at a condo on Mercer Island.”
“What if he’s not there, Lieutenant?”
“Sir, he’s there. I put a drone above the building. He arrived last night and his schedule gives him a full day of rest.” Lucas had noticed that the general was, shall we say, grilling him. Formalities would have to be observed.
“Fine. We know a personnel officer also has responsibilities in this area. He could blunder into the operation too. Name is Fred…”
“Fred Brown, Sir. But that’s an alias. His real name is Douglas Petunia, at least that’s the name on the lease to his condo. I expect he’d want to keep that surname secret given that it’s so easily remembered.”
“Petunia, you say?”
“Sir. Yes, Sir. The courier stays at the personnel officer’s condo on his off day. That’s the reason I put the drone there in the first place. The Raging Gardeners had encountered him in their operations but had not determined his residence or his identity. Winnie encountered him when she and Marie were beginning their search for EmmaGee. I had an opportunity to TiTr him. I thought we might want to have a visit with him some time.”
“Is he going to blunder into our operation, Lieutenant?”
“Not likely, Sir. His copter is currently in Minneapolis and is parked next to Safe Haven’s main office. His copter has been there for several days.”
“You know this how?”
“General, I put a tracker on his copter so that we’d be able to find him when we wanted him.”
“I see. And why are neither of these men mentioned in the battle plan?”
“Neither is within the time parameters for the operation, Sir. Is the general unhappy with any lack of detail in the operation plan? Should I have included these references? I thought that they were outside the focus of our full forces. I have these two under personal observation.”
“No, Lieutenant. You didn’t need to distract the focus of the main force. I had an interesting drone …”
“Yes, Sir. I received the report from TG’s drone over Ranch #4 too. The blonde military woman who scouted the Saskatchewan base arrived at Ranch #4 yesterday morning and left yesterday evening on an easterly heading. I didn’t want to divert any personnel to pursue her as we are stretched thin as it is for tomorrow’s operation. We’ll circulate her picture again in today’s meeting and ask everybody to keep an eye out for her.”
“And the reason that we don’t know where she came from or why she’s here?”
“We know she came from Scandinavia, Sir, but we don’t know why. I could only conduct a short TiTr search. Her presence here is very sporadic. She shows up for a brief stop and then disappears. She travels all over the country, but we don’t know why.”
“And you know this how?”
“I placed a location drone in her copter. It provides very limited information, Sir.”
“Where is she now?”
“Minneapolis, Sir. Would the general wish me to inform him of all my activities in more detail in the future? I thought that I had full latitude in how I conducted the operation.”
“You do, Lieutenant. You do. I was just curious. Carry on.”
Interesting. I thought I had him on the personnel officer, but he was right on top of it. He sure put me in my place. He surprised me with the Scandinavian connection. Why is a Scandinavian officer in North America? What is Safe Haven doing for Scandinavia? Or, what is Scandinavia doing for Safe Haven?
Beanstalk spent the morning working the platoon hard. She needed them to recognize her as their commanding officer. She let them have a brief rest for lunch before introducing them to a form of hand-to-hand conduct that they obviously hadn’t seen before. Each soldier had a chance to go one-on-one with her. Each man found himself on the ground facing a lethal hand poised to strike. That should take care of the credibility issue, Jak thought.
The briefing for the upcoming battles went smoothly. Lucas described what was going to happen from one day to the next; Melissa gave them the blue print for each day’s operation. They were essentially fighting the same battle seventeen times. Mac identified each person’s role in the battle and went through each role in detail. Liset and EmmaGee were sitting in the front row, all eyes and ears, and in the case of EmmaGee, butterflied to capacity. Neither fully understood William’s science weapons, but they did perk up when they heard that the wolves and Bob would be part of the battle.
I wonder if they need riders, Liset mind-messaged.
An invisible dragon.
What’s a dragon?
Tell you later.
The only surprise came when Lucas threw a picture of the Scandinavian mystery woman up on the big screen and told the group that she had been seen at Ranch #4 yesterday. “Look closely. Has anybody seen this woman before?”
EmmaGee’s hand shot up in the air. The kids in Pre-School always had to put their hand in the air when they wanted to ask the teacher a question or answer a question. Lucas’ home schooling experience didn’t extend to raising hands. He was about to move on in the briefing when Reese messaged him. Lucas. EmmaGee has her hand up.
In school, kids have to put their hands up if they want to say something. You should ask her what she wants.
“EmmaGee. Did you want to say something?”
Princess Freya stood up as she had been taught to do and said in a loud clear voice so that everybody could hear: “I know that lady in the picture. Her name is Jak. She was my mommy’s servant.”
“Your mommy had a servant?” Lucas asked. He knew what a servant was – in theory at least. But he had never known anybody, or heard of anybody, who had a servant. The rest of the Wilizy were similarly ignorant.
“My daddy had one too. His servant’s name was James. My mommy and daddy didn’t call them by their first names. They just called them Johnson.”
“Why would your parents have servants,” Dreamer asked. “Were they rich or something?”
“I don’t know. My first mommy bossed people around a lot when she was alive. Mom told me that bossing people around is bad and I shouldn’t do it. So I stopped.”
“What did your servants do?” Dreamer was pursuing the idea that people could be so rich that they’d hire servants to do… what?
“James always worked outside, so I don’t know. Jak worked inside. She’d clean, cook, and go shopping. I didn’t like Jak. She was very bad once.”
“What did she do?”
“I saw Jak and my daddy wrestling on a bed once and neither of them had any clothes on. She wasn’t supposed to do that. Staff were supposed to wear their servant clothes the whole time they were in the house.”
That Thursday night, at about 11 p.m., Ranch #4 was quiet and dark. Dawn comes early during the summer and slaves needed their sleep. Bosses did too, as all had to be up before dawn. There was no moon, so Boss #1 had to almost feel his was across the expanse of the short cropped meadow that served as a gathering place for slaves and bosses alike when they weren’t in the fields. Boss #1 had heard the rustling of clothes and the soft pad-pad of feet as somebody left the bunkhouse. Bosses were not bred to be sensitive and thoughtful about disturbing the sleep of other bosses. Somebody was sneaking out and wanted that to be a secret.
Boss #1 followed the prowling boss and was not surprised at his destination. When Big Momma lit the kerosene lamp in her bedroom, that faint light allowed Boss #1 to see where he wanted to go and he quickened his steps. His destination was the root cellar. It was the only place in that ranch where a slave from the house could meet with a boss from the bunkhouse in the dead of night and not be discovered.
The steps down to the root cellar were dirt – not the kind of substance that would convey the sound of somebody approaching. Boss #1 felt for the padlock that should be on the hasp of that door. Starving slaves would loot that cellar if they had the chance. The padlock on that door was gone. The housekeeper was one of the few people on that ranch who was entrusted with the key. Nobody, not even the housekeeper, should be in the root cellar at this time of night. Not unless she was having a secret meeting with one of the bosses.
Boss #1 turned the handle of the door to the root cellar and…
Big Momma was padding down the winding staircase in the Big House as quickly as she could – one hand on the handrail, the other holding the lantern. She had gone to bed dressed for a quick departure. Her hair was tied in a bun and held in place under a linen scarf. A thin lavender veil covered her face. Nobody saw Big Momma’s face without its makeup. Well, almost nobody. Pililiani had once seen her unadorned face. And now Pililiani would die with that knowledge unshared.
Actually Pililiani had shared that knowledge with the housekeepers years and years ago. That ship had sailed. Let me re-word that. Poets have told us that Helen of Troy had a face that could launch a thousand ships. Big Momma’s unmasked face could sink a thousand ships. So it would be more accurate to say – That ship had sunk.
Big Momma was wearing a frilly housecoat that was out of place with the boots on her feet. Lacing them up was the cause for her delay in leaving the house. She didn’t know where she’d be going on the ranch and who knew what she’d be stepping in. The thought of having to walk around the hog pens and chicken yards had caused her to shudder. No bare feet. Boots were essential.
Boss #1 turned the handle of the door to the root cellar and … burst through quickly. He shut the door quickly behind him before the light from a sputtering candle could be seen. Pililiani and Boss #15 were frozen at the sound of the intrusion.
“You gotta leave now,” Boss #1 warned. “One of the bosses snuck out of the bunkhouse after Yuri left. He’ll be leading Big Momma here any minute. The light in her bedroom went out when I was coming down into the cellar.”
Pililiani blew out the candle, put it in a pocket, and pushed both Boss #1 and #15 out of the root cellar. Then she fastened the padlock and crept up the earthen step just behind the two bosses.
“She’ll be coming out the Big House’s front door,” Boss #1 whispered to Pililiani. “You can use the back door. Yuri and I will draw her away with a light. Can you find the house in the dark?”
“Done it plenty of times before,” Pililiani whispered before disappearing in the darkness.
“Where are we going, Mike?”
“I made a plan in case we were ever discovered. We’re going to the water tower. I’ll do most of the talking. You’ll do the climbing. I’ll explain on the way.”
Boss #15 was at the top of the ladder to the water tower, peering inside, and holding a lit kerosene lantern in his hands. It had been the light from that lantern that had caused Boss #3 to turn away from the root cellar and aim for the water tower instead.
“What’s going on here?” Big Momma demanded to know as she finished her quiet approach.
Boss #1 turned around quickly, as though he had been startled.
“Big Momma! Boss #3. What are you doing here?”
“What are YOU doing out of the bunkhouse. This better be good. Who’s up the ladder?”
Boss #1 couldn’t believe that somebody could actually think that he was doing something suspicious. He didn’t say anything, but Big Momma could tell from his face that he was experiencing difficulty controlling his emotions. Boss #1 was indeed having trouble controlling his emotions. He was struggling to control an impending fit of belly-grabbing laughter at the sight of Big Momma wearing a veil over her face in the middle of a pitch-black night.
Boss #1 managed to control himself and began the explanation he had shared with Boss #15. “Do you remember some weeks back when the entire house staff came down with some bug? I noticed that none of the women in the slave huts had become ill. They drink from the river; house staff drink from the river too, but the water goes to the tower first. That got me thinking.”
“Something was in the water tower?”
“It would be a possibility, right? Some unhappy slave finds a poisonous plant, slips up the ladder in the darkness, and drops the plant in. Boss #15 is looking at the security of the water tower right now.”
“He’s in charge of the house’s plumbing. Who would be better? Did you find anything up there, #15?”
“There’s no lock on the lid to the tower at all,” #15’s voice wafted down from the height of the tower. “I tried to look inside, but the light from this lantern isn’t strong enough for me to see anything.”
“Why didn’t you tell me what you’d be doing?”
Boss #1 touched Big Momma’s gowned elbow with a finger and steered her away from the tower and out of Boss #3’s hearing. “All due respects, Big Momma, but the Big House leaks like a sieve. Let’s keep this discussion between the two of us. I’ve had a feeling lately, call it a hunch, that something is going on here at the ranch and it’s not good. The slaves aren’t acting the same since those bosses were killed.”
“I noticed that too,” Big Momma lied.
“The attempt to poison everybody in the Big House may have been an attempt to attack you. It didn’t work and we can count ourselves lucky that it didn’t. Some of those girls were horribly sick. If some sort of plot is in the works, perhaps the next attempt will be more successful. Boss #15 kept his mouth shut about those two beasts at the slave island, so I knew that he could be trusted. I couldn’t let anybody else know about my suspicions. Now that I’ve established that we have no security on this water tower at all, we have two options. Lock it up tight. Or put a secret guard on it and catch whoever is trying to harm you. It would mean some boss staying awake all night for one or two weeks, I expect. What would you like me to do?”
Big Momma didn’t have to think long. “Catch them in the act.”
“My thoughts exactly. I’ll put #15 up there tomorrow night. I’ll watch as well.”
“That Scandinavian army gal thought that #15 had helped the little blonde girl escape. She suggested that he could have taken the tracker out of Big Daddy’s copter. That would have allowed him to take her to safety.”
Boss #1 snorted. “That’s one suspicious crazy lady.” Boss #1 edged a little closer to Big Momma. Close enough that the strong muscles of his left arm were actually pressing against Big Momma’s arm in her frilly housecoat. “Here’s why she’s a little soft in the head.” Boss #1 had lowered his voice even further. Big Momma leaned forward to hear. She could feel #1’s breath on her face.
“First of all, I put a trip wire on that tracker. One of my hairs.” He put his index finger and thumb together on the fabric over her wrist and brought her hand to his head. “I have thick long hairs. Feel them.” And he waited while she did.
Big Momma did. Quite thoroughly even.
“I wove two of my hairs together and wrapped them around the connection in a certain way. Anybody undoing that tracker in the dead of night would never notice the trip wire. The hairs were still there, exactly as I had inserted them, when I checked it that morning at the slave island.”
“And the second reason?”
“If Boss #15 did indeed have full access to Big Daddy’s copter, why did he come back to the ranch?”
“Because he knew about the explosive?”
“Only I knew about the explosive. This guy is a stranger. Why would I tell him? And even if he did know about the explosive somehow, he could have used the copter to leave the island, fly half an hour towards the ranch, land, and walk away. The copter wouldn’t have exploded. We’d never find him.”
Big Momma’s veiled face looked uncertain in the dim light of the lantern. A sort of romantic light. Boss #1 had the gall to actually put his hand on Big Momma’s hand, pat it gently, leave it there flesh on flesh, and say soothingly. “If what the army gal said is right, why would #15 come back to the ranch, Big Momma?”
It’s now Friday, June 28 at 10:45 p.m. The Wilizy are getting into position above their first target of the evening – Ranch #2. Marie’s former ranch. They’ve planned two simultaneous battles – one at ranch #2’s cattle operations and one at the Big House. I’ll describe each of the battlefields below and give you the names of the Wilizy in each of the battle groups.
Ranch #2’s cattle operations consisted of a lot of scrawny cows wandering around the prairie under the supervision of five bosses on horses and twenty slaves on foot. The bosses lived in a small bunkhouse; the slaves lived in a slightly larger, locked bunkhouse. Bosses slept on a wooden-framed bed that had a pad, blanket, and a pillow; slaves got a blanket on the floor, a blanket to cover themselves, and the freedom to use their arm for a pillow. The lock on the slaves’ bunkhouse was purely a formality. All of the slaves in this part of the ranch were bosses who had proven to be unworthy of the title. Whatever resentment they may have felt at one time to their demotion was long gone. As were the glands that would produce testosterone that would be needed to get angry.
All bosses carried a wand with them at all times. The wand was powered and controlled by the main security transmitter in the Big House. Bosses also carried whips. A locked storage locker in the bosses’ bunkhouse held guns and ammunition. At night, the horses were kept in a log corral sufficiently far from the bosses’ bunkhouses to keep the smell from disturbing their sleep.
Seven Wilizy would fight the battle at this part of the ranch. Melissa was operating out of the Wilizy/America as the commander for all of the cattle battles. With her in the ship were Granny as ship’s captain and communicator, Doc on weapons, and Liset and EmmaGee on the long-range sensors. Stu was hovering above the corral and would provide “ground support.” Momaka was in charge of mystical warrior support. She was circling high in the sky in her form as Bob, the Invisible Dragon. Soon he would become Bob, the Visible Dragon.
Melissa faced two risks to a cattle battle going awry. One risk was the horses. Part of Stu’s job was to keep the horses from injuring themselves when Bob put in his appearance. Stu had admitted to having ridden a horse before, so that was why he had been assigned to Melissa’s command. The second risk was whether the slaves would attack the bosses when Bob appeared. Winnie had been assured that the slaves would have the anger to deal with the bosses; they behaved as they did because they had no hope. Melissa would know better after the first few battles. If they didn’t attack the bosses, or couldn’t attack the bosses, Bob’s role would become more proactive.
Melissa anticipated that the battle would take no more than 15 minutes. As soon as the slaves had secured their part of the ranch, Melissa and the Wilizy/Asia would relocate to the next ranch scheduled to be attacked and prepare for the next battle. They had to arrive there early so that Stu could unlock the door to the slave’s bunkhouse. The slaves would be waiting for a tap-tap signal and would then leave the bunkhouse and hide in the darkness until the rest of the Wilizy forces arrived.
During the trip from one ranch to the next, the two girls on the sensors would need to keep a close watch. [Narrator: That’s what Granny told EmmaGee and me, but we never encountered any threats. They were just trying to make us feel involved, I think. But I didn’t realize that at the time. EmmaGee really bought into the role. She’d stand at attention and salute when Granny gave her an order. “Yes, your majesty,” she’d say. Or “No, your majesty.” I had to explain that army people had to be called “Sir” or “Ma’am.”]
The tasks facing the Wilizy at the Big House were more complicated. These tasks were: disable the security fence transmitter; destroy all weapons that the bosses might have access to; hide the field slaves safely on the grounds; move the house slaves out of danger; and, propel the bosses and the two slave owners into the open. Melissa didn’t know how long the battle around the Big Houses would last. With five ranches to attack in one evening, and with darkness essential to their success, Melissa created two entirely different Big House attack forces. While one force was attacking Ranch #2, the other force would be preparing to attack Ranch #3. They would leap frog past each other during the evening. The order of attacks in Montana were #2, #3, #4, #7 and #10.
The Wilizy/Asia held Wanda as captain, TG and Theo handling weaponry, and Reese as ground support. Mac was Battle Commander for the Wilizy/Asia force. On the Wilizy/Europe were Lucas as battle commander, Wizard as ship captain, Hank and Wolf on weaponry, and Dreamer on ground support.
A small task force of Wilizy was available for additional emergency support at any battle: Jock, as Commander in Chief, William for science/technology support, Winnie as liaison with the slaves, Mathias for air support, Patella and Scapula to assist house slaves, and Marie for mystical warrior support. Nary was also part of this group in case Marie’s health became an issue.
At 10:45 p.m., Mac began working through the pre-battle checklist for the two operations at Ranch #2.
Mac to Melissa (Cattle Commander): please confirm that Ranch #2’s cattle slaves are clear of their bunkhouse.
Melissa to Mac. Confirming that the cattle slaves are out of the bunkhouse.
Mac to Granny (Wilizy/America Captain): please confirm that you have heat signatures on the cattle slaves and that your Mystical Warrior is aware where the slaves have hidden.
Granny to Mac: Confirming. Momaka is circling high overhead. Bob is ready.
Mac to Granny (Wilizy/America Captain): Please advise of the number of bosses in their bunkhouse.
Granny to Mac: We have six heat signatures.
Mac to (Wilizy/America Captain): Please confirm that the ship’s weaponry is ready.
Granny to Mac: I’ve always wanted to say this. Locked and loaded, Battle Commander.
Mac to Stu (Ground Support): Please confirm that the horses have been hobbled as well as hooded.
Stu to Mac: The horses are safe and will not interfere.
Mac to all Wilizy in the Cattle Group. Stand-by for further instructions from Melissa. Everybody rest easy.
Mac to TG (Big House weaponry): Please confirm you are in place outside Big Momma’s bedroom.
TG to Mac. I am outside the Big House and ready. The weapon has eyes on the security fence transmitter.
Mac to Reese (Ground Support): Please confirm that work camp slaves have taken weapons from the tool shed.
Reese to Mac: The slaves have emptied the tool shed of all potential weapons. I am now with Winnie’s wolves to help with the house slaves.
Mac to Winnie (Slave Liaison): Please confirm that your wolves are ready.
Winnie to Mac: Patella and Scapula are hidden in the dark just to the edge of Big House #2’s porch. I will activate the guide lights on their collars once the battle begins.
Mac to Wanda (Captain, Wilizy/Asia): Please confirm that the ship’s weaponry is ready.
Wanda to Mac: What Granny said. Locked and loaded, Battle Commander.
Mac to Wanda (Captain, Wilizy/Asia): Please advise of the number of bosses in their bunkhouse.
Wanda to Mac: We have twenty-five heat signatures.
Mac to Wanda (Captain, Wilizy/Asia): Please confirm that you have heat signatures on all of the work camp slaves and that your Mystical Warrior is aware where the work camp slaves have hidden.
Wanda to Mac: Confirmed on the heat signatures. Marie is ready.
Mac to Mathias (Air Support): What’s your position and status, Mathias?
Mathias to Mac: I’m at high altitude circling over Big House #2. Bomblets are ready for dispersal.
Mac to Marie (Mystical warrior support). Please confirm your position and status.
I’m at the local Wilizy Cloth and Dye store picking up chocolates for everybody.
Mac to Marie: Just say where you are, Marie. Please.
I’m circling above Reese’s transport so that I won’t get burned prematurely.
Thank you, Marie. Mac to Theo (Weaponry: Please confirm that all arms caches have been targeted.
Theo to Mac: I am in position to blow up the weapons storage closet in the bosses’ bunkhouse. This ranch has no other weapon caches.
Mac to Big House #2 Battle Group: Stand by.
Mac to all forces: Remember we have six bosses in the cattle ranch, twenty five bosses at the Big House, and two slave owners. One minute to attack. Be safe.
The battle began promptly at 11:00 p.m.
Mac to ship captains. Commence thunderstorms. Continue flash and crash on prearranged schedule.
This first step of the operation was straightforward. The Wilizy/America’s target was the cattle bosses’ bunkhouse. Granny put the end of a lightning bolt about ten meters above the roof. The thunderclap followed immediately afterwards. She continued to rock that portion of the ranch every twenty seconds – waiting for a signal from Mac.
Meanwhile, Wanda was using the Wilizy/Asia’s equipment to put her lightning strikes over the bunkhouse of the Big House’s bosses. Again, on a twenty second interval.
Hank to TG: Big Momma is out on her porch. TG, you can proceed.
TG to Mac: I have destroyed the security transmitter. All wands are now inactive. All dog collars are now inactive.
Stu to Doc: Six cattle bosses are now outside. Doc, you can proceed.
Doc to Melissa: I have destroyed all the weapons of the cattle bosses.
Jock to Theo: All twenty-five bosses are outside their bunkhouse. Theo, you can proceed.
Theo to Mac: I have destroyed all the weapons of the bosses near the big house.
The key to the timing of the main part of the battle was the Big House’s security fence transmitter. It had to be eliminated as early as possible. As you’ve read, William had devised a weapon that could not only identify the transmitter’s location but render it inactive as well. This action would create a small noise, so they wanted to wait until Big Momma had left her bedroom before using it.
With Lucas’ and Theo’s research, Winnie put together a document that identified where each security transmitter was located in the seventeen ranches. Most were in a Big Momma bedroom. In that situation, Hank would watch for her to appear either on her balcony or downstairs on the porch. If the transmitter was too far inside the building for William’s weapon to act reliably, Hank would be invisibly inside the Big House armed with William’s weapon waiting for the transmitter location to be clear of witnesses.
Winnie’s document also listed the number of bosses that the Wilizy could expect in each cattle ranch bunkhouse and in each Big House bunkhouse. If necessary, she left special instructions. For example, for Ranch #4, Reese had identified two bosses who had unusually light colours. Winnie had learned that those two bosses were supporters of the slaves and would be sitting on the cover of the water tower waiting for the killing to stop and for dawn to arrive.
The lightning and thunder were designed to bring the bosses out of their bunkhouses and into the open so quickly that they wouldn’t stop to arm themselves. The lightning would also get the bosses looking up into the sky. Now, back to the battle.
Mac to Mathias: Seed the sky over both operations. Ship captains: On Mathias’ word, burn up your overhead sky.
William had created tiny bomblets. These were similar to the fireworks that he had invented for Melissa many books ago, but these bomblets were smaller and produced no explosion. But they did produce plenty of light. Chemically treated, these bomblets turned into red and yellow colours that drifted slowly to the ground. These flaming light particles would light up the centre of each battlefield with eerie lights, but leave the grounds on the outside of the battlefield dark. To keep his bomb targeting tight, Mathias had to fly low so that the particles wouldn’t drift too far sideways. The spark at the end of his vacuum hose would light each particle. When Mac told the ship captains to burn up the sky, they were to make a cloud-to-cloud lightning strike that was intended to make the onlookers believe that the lightning had exploded the sky into eerie colours. Mathias would continue to lay down wave after wave of flaming light particles until he was told that all the bosses had been captured.
Mac to Melissa: Continue cattle ranch operations on your own schedule.
Only the destruction of the security transmitter and the exploding sky had to be coordinated over both battlefields. After that, Melissa was free to operate on her own time schedule. The cattle operation ended quickly. Bob, the visible dragon, appeared in the night sky over the cattle camp, lit up by eerie flaming colours all drifting to the ground. Bob drifted to the ground as well, and as he did, his body became enveloped by flames. Near ground level, he turned and flew straight at the bosses – flames coming from his snout, his body, and his tail. The bosses scattered in panic into the darkness where the slaves were waiting. Even Stu, who knew what to expect, fell to the ground and covered his head.
Bob needed only one strafing run to panic the bosses. Melissa waited to receive confirmation from Doc and Stu that the slaves were in control before messaging the group:
Melissa to all Warriors: Cattle battle is over. All bosses are in custody of the ex-slaves. We’re re-locating to Ranch #3 now.
Less than 10 minutes had passed.
The battle at the Big House was more complicated because of the larger number of bosses, and the need to get the young house slaves out of the Big House and to safety. They also needed to push the ranch’s Big Momma and Big Daddy out of the house quickly so that they wouldn’t stop to arm themselves from any stash of weapons they might have inside the house. Also, especially for Ranch #2, the Battle Command Group wanted to ensure that Marie’s drama presentation was as close to what she had seen in her vision as possible. Here’s what happened above the Big House after Wanda lit up the skies.
Out of the dark heavens and down into the flaming sky came a drifting figure. As the body came closer to the ground, her form became more visible. It was an old woman dressed in slave clothes. As she descended, she’d point her hand at something to the outside of the lit area, and it would explode in flames. Then she’d point to another side, and that area would explode in flames. It was almost as though she was keeping the spectators close, as a sort of captive audience. Certainly no audience would want to disappear into the darkness with those fireballs exploding.
When this slave lady had everybody standing still and watching her, she spoke. Her voice filled the air around the Big House. “My name is Marie, and I have cursed… “ Marie went on for a while, mentioning some bosses by name, but especially talking to Big Daddy and Big Momma. Then poof. She was gone.
A lightning strike brought everybody’s face skyward again. In the distance, they saw a falling flame approaching closer and closer. The flame landed on the ground and began speeding towards the bosses who panicked and fled. Those that fled too far away from where they were supposed to flee to were steered in the correct direction by a black flaming creature that would look like a panther if any of the bosses’ eyes weren’t bugged out beyond their noses. In case my readers didn’t know this, panthers are just as adept at herding sheep-like bosses as dogs are adept at herding sheep.
At some inaudible instruction, the panther faced the Big House and let loose with some very loud and hair-raising screams. The slave girls, who by now had come down to the ground floor in fright from seeing all the lightning and flames around the house, saw the flaming panther and began running out the front door.
With the front door clear, the flaming panther pushed her way into the house and stopped – looking for her prey. Big Momma and Big Daddy were in the foyer, ready to run through the door. They saw the flaming panther, turned, and fled up the staircase screaming as they ran, No, Marie! No! The flaming panther caught them in the hallway. She chewed on them for a while, all the time that her fur was burning. By the time she had finished munching, all the bosses were dead or captured and the young house slaves were coming out of their hiding places, shaken, but safe.
Marie’s vision was identical to what actually happened in the battle. There were flames around the house from the falling light particles – but the house was never damaged because the particles extinguished themselves when they hit a solid surface like the ground or the roof of the house.
The explosions that kept the bosses close to the house? Flash bombs that William created and TG and Theo threw.
Marie’s loud voice that filled the air? And the panther’s yowls? They were amplified by Wolf’s portable PA system that he had used many battles ago.
The panther and dragon were indeed engulfed in flames. But in the science world, there are hot flames, as when wood burns, and there are cold flames. Cold flames consume no air, burn no fuel, and create no smoke. Being cold, the flames are not hot enough to burn a panther’s fur coat or a dragon’s leathery skin.
William created the cold flame powder and saturated both the dragon’s skin and the panther’s fur with it before the battle. All they had to do was fly though any of the flaming light particles to set their bodies on fire.
Now you know what a battle looks like when it combines mystical creatures and real-life science. Just as Lucas had wanted.
Early Saturday morning, Yuri and Mike were staring out into the night sky. There was no moon, but some stars gave enough light that they could see each other’s shadowy body. One body was slim and wiry; the other was tall and husky.
“You think that red glow is them?” Yuri asked.
“I dunno,” Mike replied. “It’s in the direction of Ranch #3. Did you hear that thunder?”
“Yeah. Very faint. It hasn’t been hot enough for thunderstorms.”
“My thinking too. Did that tiny girl tell Pililiani anything at all about how they planned to scare the bosses so badly that they’d run away?”
“No,” Yuri replied. “She just told Pililiani that all the slaves should spread out and hide away from the house. Your idea of the poison in the water tower was a great way to get us out of the bunkhouse and up here out of danger once the killing starts.”
“I come up with a few good ideas occasionally. You’re smarter. You figured out what those pellets could do back in Chicago. Had your gang using them. Helped all the boys survive. Peaches too. That was a great idea.”
“You found the pellets, Mike. You’re braver. I’d have never gone so deep into those underground bunkers on my own. All those weapons and armaments just stacked in huge piles. You know how the ancients would have used those pellets, right?”
“Yah. Fire those big bullets into the sky over somebody you didn’t like, explode the bullet, and everything electronic below would die when a pellet touched it. Whatever happened to the pellets?”
“I was opening only a few of the big bullets at a time, and bringing the pellets to the surface. One day, the Safe Haven people came and took my entire stock of pellets away. They knew how we were using them. They didn’t say anything to me, just took them. The next week, they took me away too. I hope the gang kept the peach trees growing. That girl. Did she say that her people would leave the Big House alone?”
“Yeah,” Mike confirmed. “Pililiani told her that you wanted the house left untouched so that the slaves could live there and help you with the peaches. Pililiani will stay afterwards and help. She’ll persuade others too. Pililiani said the girl spoke funny.”
“Like not from here. When she talked about the house, she’d say hoose, not house. Pililiani told me that she saw some of her face in the candlelight. Brown colour. Like somebody from the Indian tribes still living in the wilderness. I’d see Indians from time to time when I coptered Big Daddy on his drinking trips.”
“The gang kid that I traded pellets for peaches – he had brown skin too. Two of his brothers had bows and arrows. They looked like they could use them. Wizard spoke funny too. I talked with him quite a bit on his second trip. He’d say aboot, instead of about. And he’d often finish a sentence with an eh.”
“How do you mean?”
“The trees have to be planted deep. Do you understand, eh?”
“Weird. Who’d speak like that?”
“Who’d speak like that, eh?”
“That would drive me crazy after a while.”
“Yeah, it did for me. He was smart though. He had a little sister who sat under their wagon on their first trip.”
“Do you believe that it’s the same little girl?”
“Nah. Chicago is far away from here. She had a big pup. Looked like it would grow up nasty. Wizard told me it was a wolf and they bred them to kill. I tried to trade for it but he wouldn’t.”
“Well, keep an eye out for wolves. If you see one, you’ll know she’s the same girl.”
“Not likely. What will you do after we’re done here, Mike?”
“I’m getting away from here as fast as I can. I can’t stay here. Too many memories.”
“Yah. I don’t blame you. I was too young to remember much.”
“I never got to ask you,” Mike opened. “The day I broke your nose in front of everybody. You knew why I had to do that, right?”
“Yeah. Pililiani explained it to me afterwards. To keep me from being sold to some dirty old man when I reached Chicago. The nose really hurt at first, but the pain went away. They took me to Chicago the next day. The practice fights we had in the root cellar helped me a lot.”
“Made you tough. You learned how to defend yourself. I didn’t want you to have the same kind of first year in Chicago that I did.”
“I still make wooden knives, you know. I gave some to the slaves tonight. I also chopped down one of the trees in the gully yesterday, cut and delimbed the branches. They’ll be able to use those as clubs.”
“Pililiani gave them as many kitchen knives as she could find. Hair salon scissors too. I left the tool shed unlocked so they can take the rakes and shovels.”
“That glow in the sky is gone now.”
“You think everybody saw the signal on the drying line?”
“Definitely. Everybody was waiting for it.”
“You know why Pililiani put that blouse on the line, right?”
“The blouse with the little red threads stitched into the pocket? Yeah, she told me how she had sewn it back together and why it would be the signal.”
“There aren’t too many slaves still here who would know about it.”
“Everybody knows about it. Pililiani makes sure. You still remember everything?”
“Mom sewed those threads into that blouse at night with no light. It was what she was wearing when she was whipped to death.”
“Pililiani put her hands over my eyes so I couldn’t see it.”
“Mom watched me the whole time. She even winked at me. Never made a sound the whole time.”
“Pililiani helped us afterwards. She told us how Mom had prayed a lot. But not to Voodoo.”
“To something else. And Mom gave us our names so that we’d know that we were destined to return to this ranch and help free the slaves.”
“The names of Archangels.”
“The slaves will take care of Big Daddy.”
“Pililiani is going to put Mom’s blouse on Big Momma in front of everybody. Then she’ll give her to us.”
“Do you have your whip, Uriel?”
“Inside my shirt, Michael. Yours?”
Saturday morning, Lieutenant Bean came back into camp from the promontory she was using to pretend to talk to Jak via the walkie-talkie. “Sargeant,” she bellowed.
“Prepare for high speed, emergency run. We’ll take all possible weapons with us, plus rations for one day. All men should be in combat gear and prepared for assault as well as close in work. I want to leave in ten minutes. Transport copter only.”
“Very good, Lieutenant. May I tell the men where we’re going?”
“My partner found Princess Freya. We have to pick her up before the enemy discovers that we know where she is.”
“And the enemy, Lieutenant?”
“We’re losing time, Sargeant. I’ll brief the men completely before we attack.”
Early Saturday afternoon, the Wilizy were all aloft and sailing slowly towards South Dakota. Most were still sleeping in one of the ship cabins – some with the help of one of Marie’s spells. They had wrapped up Saturday’s operations with five ranches liberated and no casualties among the slaves or the Wilizy. The same cannot be said for the bosses and the slave owners. Lucas and Mac flew over the Montana ranches in daylight to ensure that everything was under control, but found nothing to delay them from getting to one of the ships and crawling into a bunk.
Marie had used her panther to kill Big Momma #2 and Big Daddy #2. She told the Battle Group that for the next two nights, she’d serve as the figure descending out of the sky; Nary could use Contrary to herd bosses into the shadows for the next two nights.
“Is your heart alright?” Mac had asked. Doc had alerted her to Marie’s health issues.
“Yes, I’m fine. I don’t need to be in on the killing any longer. I did what I swore I’d do. Plus my panther is used to killing fleeing grass eaters. It’s hard to keep her herding and not killing.”
Theo was surprised that Marie had her own panther. “I thought you and Nary shared Contrary,” he said to her.
“No. Contrary is Nary’s companion. She won’t listen to me.”
That made Theo feel good, because Contrary certainly listened to him.
Lieutenant Bean ordered a ground hugging, slow copter run up a narrow river valley that wound below some mountains somewhere in southwestern B.C. “Stealth mode,” she instructed her soldiers as the copter came to a quiet rest. She climbed into the back of the copter from the co-pilot’s seat and motioned everybody to huddle in.
“I don’t know how much the Captain has told you about this platoon’s mission, so I’ll give you a full briefing now. Remain quiet. Noise can travel far in these narrow valleys. Some time ago, the members of our royal family were relocated to North America to keep them safe from harm. Princess Freya was kidnapped by a group who do not know who they have. We have heard that they are trying to sell her to some white slavers who will, in turn, sell her to barbaric men of colour. I do not have to tell you what will await the princess. My partner and I have been trying to locate that group’s home base. You were brought to North America to assist us if that became necessary. Your assistance is now necessary.”
“Jak informed me this morning that the princess is in a compound just north of us in this valley. She has seen her. She is certain it is the princess. The princess appears healthy. But my partner witnessed her crying that she wanted to return home to her mommy and daddy. Her guard slapped the princess hard and threatened to feed her to the dogs if she kept crying. Obviously these are brutal people. But Jak has been watching their compound and reported that their compound is near empty today and they are vulnerable to a surprise attack. This platoon will be that surprise attack.”
“Once we’re past the exterior security fence, you should encounter little resistance. However we first have to secure the princess. After that, you can do whatever you want to the remaining survivors. I am told that you will find women in the main base. I understand that the captain has given you wide ranging latitude in those cases. I will give you the same latitude. But don’t leave the women alive after you’ve finished with them. I will shoot any of their men who survive the initial onslaught. Nobody is to know that we were here.”
“The only difficulty we will face is getting by their security fence. It is electronic in nature. That means no razor wires to cut and no land mines to avoid. Princess Freya’s capturers have placed warning signs in front of their electronic fence. These are intended to scare off anybody accidentally walking through this area. They are not dangerous in themselves. You’ll know that the security fence has become aware of your presence when you see one or more flashing red lights. Jak and I encountered these in Finland. For individuals trying to sneak into an enemy base, these defenses are formidable. However what they can’t handle is a mass assault at a single point of attack. Their system tries to stop every single person that comes towards the fence but when it can’t handle the volume of data, it will freeze up. We will have ten full seconds to get past that security fence before it can re-boot. There are no other security precautions behind this single fence.”
“How could they manufacturer have missed that?” the sergeant asked. “How could the owners have missed that?”
“These people have close ties to Finland and we all know how poorly made Finnish armaments are. Plus Jak and I suspect that nobody has ever attacked this security fence in a mass attack. It’s intended primarily to keep out riff raff. The occupants are storekeepers who are only interested in acquiring wealth. They have no military background that we can determine. Incidentally, you’re welcome to help yourself to any trinkets you find lying around. But first, we secure the princess; afterwards we kill anybody still living. Only after that can you loot.”
A low murmur of interest spread through the copter.
“Here are your specific orders. You will exit the copter quietly, taking all the weapons you can handle. If you can shoot with both hands at the same time, bring two weapons. We will approach the security wall in a phalanx formation, shoulder to shoulder. The sergeant will be at one end of the line, I will be at the other end. We will advance slowly until we see blinking red lights approaching us. At that point, we will stop. We will wait until everybody in the line is at the same distance away from the security fence. At my signal, we will all charge at the wall, shooting as many bullets as we can into the fence. Once we are through, we will regroup and move quickly to the enemy’s home base. The noise of the shooting will have warned the occupants. Jak is at the northern end of the compound in case somebody tries to escape in that direction.”
“I want everybody to visualize Princess Freya in your mind. Sweet little blonde, blue-eyed Freya. They’ll probably sell her to some brown-skinned illiterate who spends his time praying when he’s not forcing himself on her. We’re attacking this compound to save her from that fate. When you return home with her, you will be treated as heroes.”
Bean let the murmurs of disgust ebb before whispering, “Everybody disembark quietly now.”
In Minneapolis, Jak was meeting with Fred Brown and the Vice-President in charge of the ranches.
“I identified ranch #4’s security leak and informed the Big Momma,” Jak started. “A young boss had been collaborating with her housekeeper. I suspect that the two of them are meeting regularly; she’s going to catch them and deal with them.”
“Any chance that more slaves are involved?” the vice-president asked.
“I didn’t see any signs of that. I did see signs that the slaves were terrified of her.”
“Do you agree, Fred?”
“I never personally checked the little blonde girl in Ranch #4. We had two good operators working with the girl. They never sent me any complaints of problems.”
“Does that mean that you approve of our security, Jak?” The vice president wanted a decision from Jak because the budget officer at Headquarters was asking him that question every week.
“I’ll approve the extension to our contract with you provided that the next time I’m at Ranch #4 the housekeeper is dead and the boss is neutered as Big Momma #4 promised.”
“And the little girl we promised you? Any closer to finding her?”
“My partner is working on a lead, but she wasn’t optimistic. I’ll contact her in the next day or so. If we don’t find her, you’re still facing the penalty. It will be severe because you broke the contract not only in not keeping her secure, but also in grabbing her in the first place. I have determined that the Smythe girl that you kidnapped was underage. I believe this man was in charge of that initial kidnapping.” Jak turned and looked at Fred Brown who began to stammer a reply.
Everything about Bean’s plan worked perfectly, up to the point where they attacked William’s security fence. Then everybody died instantaneously. Well, almost everybody.
After she had given the signal to attack, Bean had taken a step forward before diving to the ground. When the shooting stopped, she turned to scan the line and found the persistent charmer from her first night at the fire staring at her. The business end of his rifle was staring at her too.
“I wondered about you when the captain didn’t come back,” he said. “He had promised to give you to me after he was done. I was looking forward to it.”
“The captain and I didn’t see eye to eye.”
“Is he dead?”
“Tell me why you did all of this and I’ll shoot to kill. Otherwise, … well, you know.”
“Your platoon invaded a community in Stockholm and raped every woman you could find. I have had this thing about rapists ever since I was raped by somebody like you.”
“We only rape women carrying the pestilence. That’s the directive.”
Bean prepared herself. She was on her belly. Her rifle was in her right hand and pointing at the security fence. She wouldn’t have time to twist around and re-aim her rifle. She decided that she didn’t mind dying. This operation had given her forty rapists in exchange for her one pestilence carrying life. It was an honourable way to go.
The charmer finally realized why Bean wasn’t saying anything.
“You’re not pure white? You’re a coloured…”
The charmer didn’t have a chance to finish his sentence. The perfect round hole though his forehead and out the other side was probably the reason. A bit of steam curled out of the hole and up over his head. Brain matter boils in high heat.
Bean looked around frantically, re-aimed her gun into the security fence, and burrowed down into the leaves and branches of the forest floor.
“Relax,” a woman’s voice said. “You’re not in any danger so long as you clean up the mess you made. I’m not going to do it.”
Theo and Lucas were relaxing in the command center. Lucas was on duty there and couldn’t leave; that didn’t mean the Theo couldn’t visit with his brother.
“Have you stopped growing yet?” Lucas asked.
“I think so. I have energy again.”
“You’ve changed a lot.”
“It was like somebody gave me growth stimulants of some kind. I’m way taller.”
“Bigger in the chest too. Deeper voice. Black whiskers coming in.”
“I feel really strong. Like I could wrestle a bear.”
“Well you do wrestle with a panther.”
“Nary and me wrestling is off limits, Lucas.”
“I know. I’m teasing. I like Nary. I’m glad for you. Just don’t make her mad. She’s one big intimidating…. I dunno, force of nature? Like nothing can stop her if she puts her mind to it.”
“She’s still Nary. She’s sweet.”
“You do remember who her mother is, right?”
[Narrator: speaking of mothers…]
Yolanda and Bean were working in tandem. Yolanda would drag a dead soldier to the copter; Bean would lift the body up and heave it inside. Yolanda started helping with the bodies after Bean had described what was happening back in Scandinavia and why.
“How old were you when you were raped?” Yolanda asked.
“And your age now?”
[Narrator: During all of this conversation, Yolanda and Bean were pulling and heaving. I won’t bother describing that again.]
“And you have just killed thirty-nine soldiers and their captain before that.”
“Yuh. I have one more to go. My ex-partner.”
“She planned and executed chemical attacks on innocent Scandinavians who were guilty of nothing more than being different.”
“I admire you for what you’re doing.”
“You shouldn’t admire me. I’ve done my share of killing. It was part of the job. No longer.”
“I killed four men when I was your age,” Yolanda admitted.
“What did they do?”
“It’s what they were trying to do. Rape me; kill my husband-to-be.”
“How’d you do it?”
“Very efficiently,” Yolanda said. “Why were these soldiers so easy to persuade to attack us? I couldn’t hear what you were saying in the copter.”
“You were watching us that long? How? I landed way outside your security fence.”
“We have an excellent security system. Why did they try to attack the compound?”
“To snatch the little blonde girl you have here. The one who rides the dogs.”
“You and your partner have been after EmmaGee?”
“We call her Freya. She was born in Scandinavia. Somebody stole her from us. The regent who runs Scandinavia wants her back. His name is Wilhelm.”
“Why does he want her back?”
“Unless I’m mistaken about what happened to her mother, your little EmmaGee is the current Queen of Scandinavia. Wilhelm probably wants her back so that he can kill her, but that will come later. He has something else in mind for her, but my partner has been very secretive about that. I believe she was the one who assassinated the queen.”
Bean was in the copter, the door still open, finishing the conversation with Yolanda.
“I never got your name,” Yolanda said.
“People call me Beanstalk or Bean for short. Yours?”
“Yolanda. Where will you go? What will you do?”
“This Scandinavian expeditionary force has been massacred. I can’t be its sole survivor returning to Scandinavia, so I guess I’m out of a job. I have a hobby that I will probably work full time on.”
“Care to elaborate?”
“No. I’m not a very nice person, Yolanda. You wouldn’t like what I do for a hobby.”
“I like what you did here. Perhaps we’ll run across each other some time.”
“Not likely. Yolanda, a word of advice.”
“This thing with your EmmaGee? Wilhelm won’t give up. I don’t know why he is so determined to bring her back to Scandinavia. He wants her alive, but I know somehow that he’s planning to kill her. That doesn’t make sense. I don’t know how he’s going to abduct her, but somebody from Scandinavia will be back here to try. They know that you’re called the Wilizy. I gave your name to my partner before I realized what I was doing. She almost certainly would have told Wilhelm. I’m sorry I did that, but anybody could find you. You’re not exactly a secret organization. My partner thought that the Saskatchewan army might be part of the plot, but I think she gave up on that option. Wilhelm’s soldiers will find this compound easily. And they’ll find only one storekeeper woman to defend it. And nobody to defend you if you step outside this fence.”
“We have others who can help. They’re looking at acquiring some cattle operations right now.”
“It’s too bad that you lost Will and Izzy. You might have a chance otherwise. Wilhelm will bring his entire army into this valley if killing you from the shadows doesn’t work first, Yolanda.”
“What are we facing, Bean?”
“Conventional weaponry only. They don’t have hand-held lasers like you do. They have one submarine that you shouldn’t have to worry about because it’s only used to move personnel from Scandinavia into Finland and back. Most platoons have several solar copters, but they won’t be a threat against your airplanes. Scandinavia’s biggest threat to you are its assassins and saboteurs. These are the people who will kidnap EmmaGee if she ever steps foot outside this compound.”
“Thank you, Bean. I’ll return the favour. If you are ever in difficulty and you need a place to hide, go to any Wilizy Cloth and Dye store and ask to speak to the store manager. Tell him that you have a large shipment of beans if he’s interested in buying it. Tell him that you had heard that Yolanda really likes beans.”
Beanstalk nodded and shut the door. As the copter lifted into the air, Yolanda knocked on the door panel. Bean opened it and hovered. Yolanda stepped inside the open door and put both hands on the bottom of the doorframe to keep the copter close.
“We spotted you earlier, Bean. Be sure to repaint this copter. It’s obviously military. Nobody has black copters in North America. You’re obviously military too. Grow your hair longer. Let it curl. A little make-up wouldn’t hurt if you’re somewhere where women wear make-up. Don’t march when you walk. You have a weapon in your right front pocket. I could kill you before you reach it. Move it onto your belt, or use a strap that will attach it to your forearm. Wear long loose sleeves. Perhaps take off your glasses to soften your stare at people? Smile more. When you kill, kill quickly and thoroughly. Don’t go soft. A girl all by herself, undercover…”
Bean nodded, saluted in thanks, and finished her ascent. An ex-RCMP undercover operative saluted back and then vanished.
The Wilizy’s Sunday morning battles in South Dakota went very smoothly. I don’t have much to say about them. Six ranches, six successful endings. No casualties to the slaves. Again, the Warriors went back to the Wilizy ships to sleep while the ships sailed on autopilot to North Dakota.
By Sunday noon, the Safe Haven managers in Minneapolis were fretting about their regular courier not arriving on time. The Petunia man started making I told you so noises so they asked Jak to contact her partner to see if she had heard anything. Jak couldn’t reach Beanstalk; the platoon captain wasn’t responding either. She assumed that both were out of range. Perhaps Jak was with them and they were out on a training exercise somewhere. A one-day delay was nothing for the courier system. It had happened numerous times in the past. Safe Haven management decided to wait one more day before sending out a copter to investigate.
They stopped fretting after Beanstalk contacted Jak that afternoon.
Bean had returned to the platoon’s campsite after leaving Yolanda Saturday afternoon. She had stripped the men’s bodies and left them scattered over the desolate prairies for the animals to find. She burned everything personal that could suggest that forty men might have lived at this campsite and then she slept comfortably through the night.
Sunday morning, Bean woke well rested and decided to have a little holiday. An R&R. Rest and Recreation. By 2 p.m. Sunday, she had had enough R&R. Beanstalk had never been the kind of person to sit and watch clouds float across the sky.
Back to business. What was she going to do? Bean made a list of her assets. Two large copter transports; the captain’s command copter; another small copter; lots and lots of weapons and ammunition; enough money to handle living expenses for months. Oh, and two obsolete walkie-talkies. She could use this camp as her hideout. Pursuing her hobby would mean living in a large urban area where she could be anonymous. Then, depending on how visible she had been, and how active, Bean may or may not move on to another urban area, but she’d always have this place as a refuge.
But first, she had to deal with her partner. Jak needed to die because of her active management of the chemical attacks on innocent men and women in Scandinavia. These people were citizens, but not the right colour or religion for some people. Bean could continue to pretend that her walkie-talkie wasn’t within range to hear Jak’s attempts to communicate with her. (One such attempt had come through loud and clear.) But that would leave Jak with unanswered questions. Jak knew that she was researching the Wilizy. Bean’s silence might cause Jak to think that she was dead at the hands of the Wilizy. Bean couldn’t do that to the Wilizy, not after Yolanda had been so understanding and full of advice.
The thought of those WTs prompted a memory to surface. Why had the captain’s orders warned him about excessive use of the WTs when Jak and Bean hadn’t been similarly warned? Why did the words terminate the operation in the captain’s written orders make her visualize a dead man’s bony hand rising out of a grave. She hiked back to the captain’s hidden copter to remind herself exactly what words appeared in the orders.
Use antiquated broadcast communications only in emergencies. Why use them only in emergencies? Why the restriction? WTs were obsolete. Nobody would be listening in to those messages.
You are to terminate the mission as instructed. As instructed where? As instructed when? There were no instructions in the Captain’s orders on how to terminate this mission. That meant that somebody had to have given him those orders previously. Back in Scandinavia. If the asset cannot be acquired and discovery is imminent, you are to terminate the mission as instructed. That was military-speak for an order that would look like this in English: If the operation is in danger of failing, cut off all the loose ends. Those loose ends were Jak and the Beanstalk.
Bean brought the captain’s copter back to the camp. She had taken her own WT on the operation to the Wilizy compound solely for show. This is what officers do. Carry around communication devices. It was still in the transport copter.
Bean undid the screws holding the back plate of her WT to the WT’s body, but she did not try to pull off the back plate. That action might trigger an explosive device hidden inside.
Bean found a long stick and attached her barber blade to it. It had a very small sharp point. She tried to insert the point into the tiny gap between WT’s body and the WT’s back plate. She was standing as far away as possible. That far away, she couldn’t slip the point of the knife into the gap.
This time, she turned her WT over – making very sure that the back plate did not separate from the body. Next she attached a rope to the WT’s wind-up handle, threw the end of the rope over a tree branch, walked the loose end of the rope as far away from the WT as possible, hid behind a tree, and then hauled on the rope pulling the WT into the air while leaving its back plate on the ground.
No explosion. Perhaps she had been wrong.
Bean anchored the loose end of the rope and approached the hanging WT carefully. She peered up into its interior and saw Special Op’s favorite explosive for use in small spaces. She could disarm it easily enough. But she didn’t.
Opening up the WT had not created an explosion. Therefore, something else would create the explosion. Only one other thing could cause her WT to explode. That something was the captain’s WT. After all, he had been ordered to terminate her. He’d do that by calling Bean’s WT and he’d explode it remotely when she had the WT close to her ear.
The exterior of the captain’s WT was no different from Bean’s. A crank to generate enough electricity to power the transmitter, a Send button and a Receive button. So what would cause the transmitter on the captain’s WT to send the type of message that would explode Bean’s WT? Logically, it wouldn’t be the Receive button; it would be the Send button.
Bean grabbed the captain’s WT and moved far away from her own WT which was still hanging from a rope looped over a tree limb. She put another very big tree trunk between her and her WT. Only afterwards did she push the captain’s send button two times in rapid succession.
Three times in rapid succession.
One push on the button but held down for…
The explosion was impressive.
No time like the present. She already had the lieutenant’s WT in her hand.
“Bean to Jak. Come in Jak. Over.”
“Bean! Where have you been? I’ve been trying to reach you. Over.”
“I found the compound of those store owners and thought I saw something we wanted. I took some friends on a high-speed run. It was a false alarm. We just got back. What did you want? Over.”
“Some of my friends are worried that their communications service has been broken. They’re wondering if you have heard anything they should know about. Over.”
“You’re in their place of business? Over.”
“Yeah. They’re in the same room as I am right now. Over.”
That works for me. What kind of people make money by raping teenage girls so that they’ll give birth to slaves.
“Jak, I have something to tell you. I’ve been thinking about my career. I’m not happy about the way you’ve been treating some people in our country. You know – that chemical program that you and your boss have been operating. Over.”
“I’m only following orders, Bean. But we do need to talk. You have to stop mixing personal hobbies with our operations. I know what you’ve been doing. Over.”
“Jak, I used to wear a shawl when I was younger and that got me raped because of people like you. So I’ll continue to enjoy my personal hobby in spite of what you think. I’m resigning from the Scandinavian military forces effective immediately. Jak, you’re resigning too.”
Bean held the WT’s Send button down for a full ten seconds.
“Over and out, Jak.”
The Safe Haven management team found Bean’s explosion impressive. I did tell you that that they had stopped fretting after Beanstalk contacted Jak.
The Wilizy would determine later that Jak had died when an explosion blew her head open and a small fire burned her body almost beyond recognition. Marie would have been pleased. The murdering servant of an assassinated queen was now dead from a fire and an explosion. Voodoo curses can be effective through a TiTr sling after all.
Monday morning’s battles in North Dakota were as successful as the previous battles. Once again, there were no casualties to the slaves. I have only one difference to note. Theo became directly involved in herding the bosses the last day of the war. Nary was complaining bitterly that Contrary was being very contrary. “She must be in heat or something. I was fighting with her the whole time we were working on the last ranch yesterday.”
“OK if I take your place?” Theo was feeling good about his chances of managing Contrary’s moods. She had been very obedient the last time he was inside her head. He called her to him and his confidence was confirmed. He found the evening exhilarating and he and Contrary were perfectly attuned to each other.
After three mornings of fighting the same battle seventeen times, the Wilizy had become very efficient. They finished the last battle, and the war, at 2:30 in the morning. A celebration could wait. The Warriors just wanted to go home and sleep. So they did. All but two of them. Theo and Nary said that they’d sleep in the open prairie. Liset and EmmaGee were the only two Wilizy who didn’t know why they were doing that.
Perhaps sleeping in comfy beds might have been a better idea. They’d have slept better. Theo found himself in an intense dream. One where he was inside Contrary’s head and body and she was chasing something. He probably fell into the dream because of the boss herding that he had done earlier. But instead of chasing bosses, he was chasing something else. It started with an aroma. An aroma that could not be ignored. Contrary ran at full power, following the scent, twisting and turning, getting closer and closer. Then the catch. A fight. But no kill.
Theo awoke to find Nary bolting up off her sleeping pad like he had just done. “I had the most amazing dream,” Theo blurted. “Erotic. Sexy.”
“I did too,” Nary admitted.
Theo looked at Nary. Nary looked at Theo.
“You wanna?” Theo asked.
“You silver-tongued devil,” Nary replied.
The Wilizy’s wrap up meeting isn’t due to start quite yet, so let me first give you a little background that will help you understand what happened back in Ranch #4.
Many religions refer to archangels. Pililiani hadn’t been able to tell the two boys anything specific about their mom’s religion other then she prayed a lot. She did know that their mom’s name was Angela, so it would have been consistent for her to name her two boys after angels.
Archangels are the most powerful angels available to fight battles against evil. Archangel Michael is considered the leader of all the archangels. His name represents protection, courage, strength, and truth. I’m not claiming that the Archangel Michael was a boss in Safe Haven Ranch #4. But Boss #1 fit the name well. After the battle, Michael left the area as he said he would. He took the last name Haven to remind himself of his mother and brother.
Uriel is considered one of the wisest archangels. He is full of intellectual information, practical solutions, and creative insight. Yuri did stay on the ranch with Pililiani and tried to make a go of the peach farm. Yuri considered Pililiani as his second mother and cared for her for the rest of her life.
The Wilizy debriefing meeting was scheduled for noon on Monday July 1 and they held it in the recreation center, as usual. Yolanda’s first impulse when the Warriors started drifting into the home compound on Sunday was to tell Hank, and perhaps others, about Bean, the attack on the compound, and EmmaGee’s real identity. But Hank needed his sleep, so she put it off. There’d be time later. In the meantime, Yolanda left the compound for a Sunday of “me time.”
Jock chaired the meeting, but quickly turned it over to Melissa, Mac, and Lucas to summarize the results. The Wilizy gave all three a resounding round of applause for a highly successful operation. Seventeen separate battles; all successful and no glitches.
Momaka asked if she could make a comment and Jock turned the floor over to her.
“I’d like to thank Lucas for including the mystical warriors in this war. We appreciated the opportunity to be fully engaged in the battles.” Only Patella and Scapula were physically present to hear the applause, but the Wilizy hoped that Bob, Contrary, and Marie’s panther knew that they were appreciated.
One of the satisfactions that the Wilizy had about that war was that they themselves were not directly involved in the justice that followed. The slaves decided what would happen to the bosses and to the owners. Each ranch dealt with them in slightly different ways. All of the deaths were gruesome but quick. That was quite normal for justice on the frontier where any formal judicial system was entirely missing.
The debriefing meeting was ending. Hank advised everybody that they’d hold a full scale Wilizy meeting early the next morning. This series of battles were over. The war with Safe Haven was not.
Wanda had expressed the view that the war had actually become a little boring after a while. Each battle started with a bang – the explosions, Marie floating in the sky, flaming light particles everywhere. But then, the battle became … routine. The war itself also started with a bang, but it ended with everybody just wanting to go home and sleep.
Doc dredged up an old expression about battle strategies: Start with a bang, don’t end on a whimper. But the Wilizy decided that the expression didn’t fit. Their war had ended with people going home to sleep. That hardly qualified as a whimper.
Next it was time for Yollie to name the operation. “I haven’t been involved in this operation, so it’s hardly appropriate for me to name it,” Yollie started. “Thanks to Mom’s help, I’m feeling better again, but I haven’t had the time and energy to do anything. I asked Marie to give the operation a name seeing as how it’s really been her war. The Wilizy did a lot of good the last three days, and that’s all because of Marie.”
So Marie had to stand up and listen to applause.
“Yollie told me the names of some of your other operations. They’re really short names. My operational name is wordier. I hope you like it. The operation’s name is: I could have sworn Big Momma said BITE ME! So, I did.”
They loved the name.
Later that night, Nary and Theo were sharing a cabin on the Wilizy/Asia. Yolanda had actually taken them by their hands and pushed them into a cabin. “Go. Nobody is upset that you’re having sex. Not even Marie.”
So Nary and Theo officially became a couple, although sex was the furthest thing from Nary’s mind that evening. She had to tell Theo something. And Theo had the not so pleasant experience of hearing the word that all bachelors hope they’ll never hear. It starts with the letter “P.”
“Are you sure?” Theo asked.
“I’m sure,” Nary said.
“Mom’s going to kill me,” Theo whimpered. “If she doesn’t, Marie will.”
So the war did end with a whimper, after all.
It would be best to read the novels in the Wilizy series in order.
I Got’cha: Book #1 in the Wilizy Series (July 2081 to October 2081
If you think being a teenager in today’s world is tough, try being one in 2081. In Alberta’s It’s Only Fair society, your brain-band will zap you just for chewing with your mouth open. One boy pried his brain-band off to see what living with emotions would be like. Being chased by the entire Alberta army was bad enough. It became worse when another 15 year old kid offered to help him escape.
The Get-Even Bird: Book #2 in the Wilizy Series (November 2081 to April 2082)
Will and Izzy are forced to flee from Zzyk’s army. After months away from Alberta, they fly their sailing ship into B.C. thinking that they would be safe there. Bad mistake! Izzy is captured. All Will has to do to save her life is turn himself in for a free brain-band fitting appointment. That’s what happens when you wear a Zorro costume to a dance.
Assassination Day: Book #3 in the Wilizy Series (May 2082 to September 2082)
A DPS technician offers to defect if the Wilizy will rescue his daughter from The Citadel – some super smart military people who are friends with Zzyk. Izzy thinks that their new recruit is an assassin, but Yollie insists that he’s a decent man. Can assassins be decent men? It will take a hair-raising experience to find out.
Hoist the Jolly Lucas: Book #4 in the Wilizy Series (September 2082 to March 2083)
It’s bad enough that Zzyk pins the blame for two assassinations on Izzy and launches a full out assault on their home compound. But then, another enemy takes advantage of a security lapse to get revenge for a war that happened 20 years ago. The Wilizy are left reeling with two key members kidnapped and stashed where they can’t be found, let alone rescued. For the family to survive, everybody must enter the battle. The story is as much about the past as it is about the present.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Torpedoes: Book #5 in the Wilizy Series (March 2083 to September 2084)
Mac disappears and doesn’t want to be found. Will and Wolf use time-travel to search for her and discover secrets she wouldn’t want them to know. The Alaskans attack when Will is finding out what happens to a submarine’s air when it is lying helpless on the ocean floor. Between the Alaskans’ impenetrable fortress and their bubblegum weapons, life is going to get a little sticky for the Wilizy.
Bob, the Invisible Dragon: Book #6 in the Wilizy Series (September 2084 to May 2085)
Raging hormones as well as Raging Gardeners play key roles when young Wilizy warriors are attacked and the Wilizy’s scientific marvels offer no protection. The youngsters’ future will rely on a different kind of warrior protecting them. Warning: events at the end of the story will move quickly. They certainly won’t drag on.
Nary, Nary, Quite Contrary: Book #7 in the Wilizy Series (May 2085 to December 2085)
Theo and Lucas move to Toronto to live on their own. Both meet girls but neither is brave enough to introduce his new friend to the family. They wouldn’t have the time anyway, what with villains trying to assassinate them and Voodoo royalty greeting them as though they were Voodoo gods. At the end of the story, Lucas receives a surprise Boxing Day gift that leaves him speechless.
Maddy’s a Baddy: Book #8 in the Wilizy Series (December 2085 to May 2086)
Maddy had escaped from Big Momma only to find herself all alone in the cold and begging for food in Eastern Canada. While she’s trying to return to her home in Seattle, the Wilizy have their own problems. Everybody in the family is intent on bringing the judge to justice for what he did to Lucas. It would have been so easy for them to rescue Maddy, but they didn’t know anything about her.
Bite Me! Book #9 in the Wilizy Series (May 2086 to July 2086)
Spurred on by Marie’s desire to eat a meal with her former slave masters, the Wilizy plan to put Safe Haven ranches out of business. In the process, they encounter two foreign assassins intent on abducting Maddy. Theo and Nary become closer but a red-eyed chaperone does not approve. The Wilizy’s war with Safe Haven starts with a bang but ends with a whimper.
The tenth book in the series is tentatively titled Wheelchair Moccasins.
David J. Wighton is a retired educator who enjoys writing youth novels when he’s not on a basketball court coaching middle-school girls. The books in his Wilizy series peek at how people lived after the word’s governments collapsed in the chaos that followed the catastrophic rise in ocean levels and the disappearance of the world’s last deposits of oil.
Wighton’s novels have strong teenage characters driving the plot and facing challenges that, in many respects, are no different from what teenagers face today. His novels are intended to entertain and readers will find adventure, romance, suspense, humour, a strong focus on family, plus a touch of whimsy. Wighton also writes to provoke a little thought about life in today’s societies and what the future might bring. Teachers may find the series useful in the classroom and the novels are priced with that intent in mind.