Murder Most Foul
New – 20 August 2005
A Glancing Blow
Murder Most Foul
Sally walked slowly, her arms dangling, as she tried to relax her mind and body. There was so much to do and so few people to do it. Most of the men seemed intent upon scavenger parties, trying to discover the lay of the land and locate supplies and materials to set up a better camp; a single enclave could simply not be expected to house the survivors of three. And Fred Smith seemed possessed of the idea of establishing a permanence for their home and the surrounding territory.
Only Lew Snapp seemed immune to the explorer's fever, preferring instead to establish the basis for a future crop of food. Fred had not yet allowed Lew to commit any of the precious supply of seed, but Lew nevertheless was preparing the ground. The bad news was that the only available labor being the women, it was they who spent the majority of their time in 'the field'. The blatantly male chauvinist attitude that Fred was moving toward angered Sally. She thought they were beyond that. It was time the women explored with the men and the men worked in the fields alongside the women -- share and share alike.
But perhaps the most frustrating fact was that most of the women preferred to stay close by the enclave and thus, in general, negated her argument. Sally was unsure whether it was the children that precipitated the attitude or not, but she felt a strong objection to being categorized on a basis not of her own choosing. The fact that Sally had never had children of her own was also probably a notable factor.
Sally let herself down on an outcropping of boulders. Her shoulders sagged, her spirit depressed by her lot. Only Beverly Losten and Nancy Lomas seemed to have the spirit to help Sally break the mold. But Nancy was totally immersed in her concern for Jim, while Beverly seemed more concerned about connecting with George Frederick. Sally could not deny her that right, but did object to Beverly's obsession of trying to please George. The fact that George was becoming the number two man in the group suggested that Beverly wanted to hook up with a strong man – and simultaneously someone she actually liked. This was in contrast to Diana Riddle who appeared to be chasing Fred Smith for the more obvious reasons of power by association.
Perhaps Sally could appreciate Diana's or Beverly's position even more if Larry Scott was here to help Sally fight her battles. A lone woman was in a decidedly inferior position, as their community fell back into very old stereotypes in the face of survival concerns. It was as if single women by virtue of their singularity were not to be trusted. The assumption seemed to be that if they could not -- apparently -- attract the all important male, then they were not worthy. Sally found the very idea disgusting, if not, admittedly, a prevailing aspect of reality.
Sally thought for a while of Scott, her mind reliving some of those marvelous moments with him. Scott had been so open with her and Sally had never felt that Scott would ever impose any limitations on her. He genuinely preferred that she be her own independent self. It was a glorious relationship, she thought. But then the doubt once again crossed her mind; Scott was not here. And she could not even be sure if he was alive. Scott could not help her -- at least not now.
What then of Sally Hammond? That was the question that nagged at her. Where did she fit? Better yet, did she? An emancipated woman in a barbaric world just might be a contradiction. Perhaps her only means of control of her own life would be through a man; i.e., manipulation of a mate might be her only choice. The difficulty was that the thought of a mate that she could manipulate disgusted her. If she could control him, she would not respect him. Then, as she sat leaning on the boulders, her thoughts of frustration, depression and seeming anger were interrupted.
She glanced up to see Mike Brownson approaching. Without a thought, she brought out a smile and answered, "Oh, hi Mike." Then brushing off the boulder adjacent to where she sat, she added, "Have a seat."
Mike gently settled by her, perhaps a foot away and, glancing at her only casually, "A penny for your thoughts."
She smiled gently. "I'm not sure a penny's worth much these days."
"Yeah, I guess so. Come to think of it, it wasn't worth much before, either."
Sally laughed. "Touché."
"But, seriously, Sally. What are you doing out here? Not drifting off to fantasyland, I trust."
Sally looked at him momentarily. “Tempting but no. Besides I hate crowds.” When Mike only smiled, she added, "Or were you referring to Les? Do you buy Fred's story on how he died?"
Mike, surprised, answered, "Well, I guess that I hadn't really thought to question it. It seemed… well… plausible.” Then, turning to her, "Don't you believe him?"
Sally frowned. "Oh, I'm not really questioning why Les died. I'm just not sure that we have to accept Fred's cure."
"What are you talking about?"
“Fred planted the seed of doubt. Anyone might go off the deep end. We all have to watch each other now to prevent similar events. Pretty soon, any abnormal action is suspect of insanity, of drifting away from reality. Time to spy on your neighbor. ”
"That's a little harsh, isn't it? And why should Fred want to do that?"
"When you're in charge, you can reduce speculation on the suitability of your own actions if you get each person to suspect everyone else's actions."
"Good Lord! That sounds a bit paranoid."
Sally laughed. "See?”
Suddenly Mike caught on. Joining her laugher, he said, "You make a good argument.”
"Actually, you're probably right, I am a bit paranoid. But mostly because I'm a woman and I feel myself being forced into what I consider a wholly unacceptable mold."
Mike thought for a moment. "Hadn't really thought of that, but I can see what you mean. Fred is not the sort to advocate the liberation of women. Certainly not under these circumstances."
"You see my problem.” Then, smiling cynically, "I doubt that I can ever be subservient and yet circumstances may be dictating otherwise." When Mike only looked thoughtful, she added, "Which just about sums up my thoughts. Therefore you owe me a penny."
Mike smiled, then looked up. "Damn! You know, I don't think I have any pennies."
Sally looked aghast, and then laughed out loud. Mike joined her for a second, then quietly added, his gaze turned from her, "You have a very nice laugh, Sally."
Sally dampened her gusto considerably, recognizing the impact of those simple words and where they could lead. "Thanks,” was all she replied. It was his move.
After a moment of thought, Mike said, "It's a different world we live in, Sally. And I suppose that it's one where the rules are different. The one thing that seems obvious is that two can survive better than one.”
Sally put her hand on Mike's. “What are you trying to say, Mike?”
"Well, I was thinking of us, sort of, teaming up.”
"You mean like in tennis? Did you want me to play net? ”
Mike saw her kidding grin and smiled broadly. "Actually, I was thinking of something a bit closer.”
Sally smiled with genuine sweetness. “I know, Mike. And I'm flattered. You could have any woman in the… well… in this severely limited community of even more limited choices... And yet, you chose me!” Slowly her smile dampened. “But I don't think I love you.”
Mike glanced over at her. Smiling mischievously, he said, “Frankly, Sally, I don't think I love you either.”
Sally looked surprised before laughing delightedly. "Well, it's nice to know we have something in common. That's always very important in relationships.”
Mike continued to smile. Then, more seriously, “It's just that I figure, of all the women here, I would much prefer your company. You're strong and capable of taking care of yourself, and I like that. And you're quite good looking. I like that, too.”
Sally blushed and said nothing for a second. “Well, you're pretty good looking yourself.” And then with a twinkle in her eyes, “And apparently, Lois Snapp agrees with me."
It was Mike's turn to blush but his color went to a much darker red. "Lois? I'm not sure what you mean."
Sally was enjoying this, as Mike's red coloring went through a variety of shades. "One gets the distinct impression that she has attached herself to you.”
Mike tried to laugh it off. "Well, it's not much of anything. I'm more like a father to her.”
"Mike, she has a father.” The words were particularly clear and distinct.
Mike, suddenly thoughtful, answered, "Yes, you're right.” Then as Sally continued to grin, Mike looked at her intently. "Does she concern you?”
Then Sally became serious. "Oh no; not like that, Mike. I doubt that I would be jealous. On the other hand, I don't want to be just a member of your harem."
Mike, shocked, blurted out, "Oh no, Sally. It wouldn't be like that.”
She hushed him. "I know that, Mike. But my point is that we have to go slow. I know that I can't commit myself right now, and I'm afraid that permanent commitments may get us into difficult situations later on.” Mike glanced away uneasily as Sally quickly went on, "Mike, if you ever want to take a walk with me or talk about things, I'd be honored. But we have to take things one step at a time.
Mike smiled slightly. Then, with a grin, "Care to take a walk?"
Sally laughed and, her arms on his shoulder, said, "Not with Lois watching us.” Mike turned abruptly toward the enclave and saw the lone, slim figure standing motionless, watching them intently. He turned back, half-smiling and half in distress, "Oh, Lord!"
Sally just laughed with even more glee, leaning toward Mike with a gentle affection.
As they walked back toward the enclave with a carefully executed casual gait and maintaining a respectable distance, they continued to talk in apparent earnestness. Lois seeing their approach appeared to be ever so slightly relieved. Then their lightheartedness was abruptly ended by George Frederick and Evan Hendricks. Evan carried the broken body of a young woman.
Sally rushed toward the men as they approached. George answered her unspoken question before she could get close enough. "She's dead, Sally.”
Sally halted abruptly, tears welling in her eyes, as she stared at George. “Who? Do we…”
“It's Georgina Evans.”
"Georgina ? Oh no!" Sally's hands came up to her face as George put his hand on her shoulder. Evan carried the body past them, on toward the enclave. Then the thought hit her. Looking up at George, she asked with renewed interest, "Georgina?”
George answered, "That's right. Georgina and the Evans were in Viking, along with Jon Trippe."
"Then we've found Viking?"
"Not yet, but it has to be close by.”
Sally glanced away, her mind trying to sort the array of new possibilities. If they could find a fourth enclave and its inhabitants, then they could find all six. And Eagle would include Larry Scott!
Fred, having just been informed of the discovery by Evan Hendricks, joined the group. “Where did you find her, George?” he asked.
George, his hands in his pockets, glanced at Fred where he stood between Sally and Mike. “There's a steep embankment about four hundred yards off toward the southeast. There's a gentle drop from here to the edge and then it's suddenly straight up. Evan and I were moving along the bottom of the cliff, looking for an easy way up when Evan literally tripped over her body. She was lying at the base of the cliff, almost completely covered with dirt.”
Fred was pointblank. "What killed her?"
“Looks like a sharp rock in her back.”
"Then it was an accident?”
"Maybe. She could have just fallen off the cliff.”
“Is that what you really believe?” Sally prodded.
"She could have simply stumbled off the cliff in the wind and smog or, by the same token, she could have been pushed.” He hesitated for just a moment as the others, particularly Sally, looked skeptical. “The thing that bothers me is the possibility of rape.”
"Rape? You're kidding!"
"No. When we brushed the dirt away from her, her clothes fairly fell off. They had been ripped so that she was completely exposed in front.”
"Oh my God!" Sally sighed.
“But who would try such a thing? We're too small a community to allow anyone to expect that they could get away with rape! That doesn't make sense.” Mike was clearly disturbed.
George looked at him intently. “On the contrary, Mike. Anyone contemplating rape and murder has a distinct advantage. Death is not uncommon now. There are definite possibilities for people to die of exposure, to become lost, to falloff a cliff in the smog, or whatever. A rapist might feel that his crime could be easily covered and no one would suspect. Had it not been for her torn clothes, I doubt that I would have had the slightest suspicion. And there is simply no way we have the resources to do a full scale investigation these days. A rapist is very likely to be able to get away with it."
Sally still looked shocked. “It's just that it's so incredible. Are we back to survival of the fittest?”
All of them continued to stand about, trying to organize their own thoughts, while Doc Steward and Beverly Losten looked after the body. After a bit, Steward came out and spoke quietly to Fred. Then they went together back into the shelter. After a few moments they came back out. It was George who asked, “Well, Fred?"
Fred shrugged only slightly. "Doc, tell them what you found."
Al looked uneasy and trying to draw on a lifetime of professionalism, said, “Georgina was killed by a sharp rock in her spinal column. Apparently she died rather quickly.”
"Could it have been an accident?”
Fred glanced away and ordered, “Finish the report, Al.”
Al looked at Fred for only an instant, then turned to the others. With his head slightly bowed, he replied, “lt also appears likely that she was raped.”
A low, sorrowful murmur ran through the three of them. Then Sally said, "I just can't beieve it of anyone of our group. It's just not right.”
Fred looked perplexed for a moment at her answer. "Sally, it does not necessarily have to be one of us. In fact, it's very unlikely anyone of our group did do it. No one of us had been in that area before. And there's no reason to assume that someone in Georgina's enclave was responsible. There may be other survivors roaming around in this muck, taking whatever they can get. She could have been away from Viking when they found her, and then for whatever reason they raped and killed her.”
Sally looked suddenly surprised. "You mean others might have survived, even without enclaves?"
"Certainly. You're a testimony to that. Even with a destroyed enclave, you and a few others made it. There are bound to be other lucky ones. Only they may be a bit hungrier and more likely to commit any crime that will increase their survival chances."
Sally blurted out, "How does rape increase your chances for survival?"
"Rape was probably secondary. Robbery was more likely the principal motive. In any event, our emphasis now must be to prevent future occurrences and to find Viking."
"Georgina 's enclave?"
"Exactly. In fact, they may be out searching for her now, which would increase the chances for contact. Therefore it's important we begin immediately."
George glanced up at the weather. "The wind is still relatively calm and the visibility ain't too bad."
"Good! George," Fred turned to face him, "You had better organize a group to go out right away. Mike can assist you there." Fred glanced at Mike.
"We'll need a couple of others."
"Take Ryker and Warren. Evan and Al can help me set up some sort of security nearby."
"What about me?" Sally asked.
Fred looked surprised. "What about you?"
"I want to go with George and the others." Her voice sounded particularly insistent.
Fred saw the drive in her face and features and her suddenly erect, demanding stature. "I'm not entirely in favor of a woman going along, but I'll leave it up to George.”
George laughed, "Hell, Sally's tougher than John. It's okay by me.”
Fred frowned but held his peace.
Then Beverly, who had just joined them, said, "Well, in that case, I'm going too."
Fred jerked around to view the second mutineer. "Now wait just a minute.”
"But they may need some immediate medical aid." Beverly was also insistent.
George looked at Fred, helplessly, and smiled.
Fred, on the other hand, found nothing to his liking. His insistence on strict obedience to this point in time had been directed primarily to the men, because in Fred's mind that's where any challenge to his authority would derive. Fred has assumed that the women would fall into line naturally. It was obviously a serious error on his part, but now was not the time to address that problem. Fred wasn't ready for that just yet.
Finally he conceded aloud, "Okay, but absolutely no one else. And, remember, ladies,” he glanced at each of them in turn, "You'll be given no special treatments, no favors."
Sally and Beverly acknowledged their ready willingness to the rules while George and Mike merely smiled at each other. Both of them knew better that the women by their very nature would receive both special treatment and favors from the men.
Fred turned and walked away a few steps, then turned back. "George, let me have a quick word with you.”
"Sure, Fred," George answered, “Mike, you and the girls… uh… you and the women get ready. I want to leave within the hour.”
Everyone acknowledged the apparent orders, and moved off with swift purpose. George walked over to Fred, where he stood alone. “Yes?"
Fred seemed intent upon something, his hands on his hips. It was then he made his decision. “George, as soon as you get back, I'm going to make you security chief again. Apparently we're going to need it.”
“Fine with me, Fred.”
“Also, you'd better take a rifle along with you. Only don't make it too obvious, just sling it and act as if you're out for a 20 mile hike. And you might also carry a handgun for Mike, just in case you run into trouble. But keep it out of sight, and don't give it to him unless it's necessary.”
“Understood. Anything else?"
“Yes.” Fred looked directly into George's face. "When you find Viking, and I'm sure you will, you'd best take Jon Trippe aside and clue him into the situation. When we join forces he works for me and you, in that order. Make sure he understands that right off. I don't want him leading his troop into camp here like a prima donna or a tribal chief.”
“No problem, Fred. I understand completely.”
Fred studied him for a moment. “Good!” Then Fred turned and walked back to the enclave.
Lois Snapp turned away from the enclave and began to walk toward the stake that Mike had set yesterday before he and the others had left to search for Viking. It was their only link with 'home' and it was Lois' only link with Mike. It seemed very tentative and fragile -- as fragile, perhaps, as Georgina.
That was the scary part. Georgina had had a husband. Had Frank been killed and left Georgina without a man? Was that why she had died? Without someone to protect her, Lois, too, might be unable to survive. She could not turn to her father, since he could probably not protect her, but would likely be killed in the attempt. No, her answer was Mike. And yet Mike seemed to have other plans.
Lois could bear no grudge against Sally, though. She was too much of what Lois hoped she would become. Lois had admired Sally for her strength and confidence and she could not now turn on her. If Sally wanted Mike, Lois knew only too well that she would have him. So where did that leave Lois?
Number two? Could Lois be a second wife to Mike? Was it possible? Could the three of them join forces? But the answers would not come despite Lois' efforts. There was no way for her to know. But she vowed she would find out. When Mike returned, she would offer herself. And he would take her this time. She would make him take her. It was her only chance; she had to seal the contract between them.
Silently, as she planned her methods, Lois walked to the stake and sat down next to it. She slid her hand on the outstretched rope, as if to feel Mike's presence. As the slight wind tossed and flailed her shoulder-length hair, she sat relaxed. She had made her decision and, in itself, it was enough to satisfy her for now. In fact, her decision was so firm that it didn't even need confirmation from either Mike or Sally. It was, in Lois' mind, a done deal!
Her mind floated gently on the breeze, relishing in the new state of affairs; until she heard her name called. She turned toward the enclave to see Emma Steward looking for her. The misty haze floated between them, varying the visibility in a thousand shades. Then Lois raised her hand and called back. Catching sight of Lois, Emma motioned for her to return. Lois hesitated for just a moment, unsure if she should leave her post. But finally she relented.
She stood up, ready to return, only to feel the soreness in her bones. How long had she been here? Glancing at her watch, she realized it had been hours; no wonder her back and seat had hurt -- the ground was hard and unyielding. The more troublesome thought, though, was the fact that Mike and the others had now been gone overnight and already away for almost seventeen hours. She glanced into the mist and haze where the rope disappeared, then turned away. Her fingers rested gently on the line, as if to say good-bye.
Then suddenly the rope moved. The rope fluctuated against her hand, communicating a vital message. She turned abruptly and peered through the haze. Then she saw a figure. Her breath a single gasp, she looked ever harder. Then she recognized George. Delighted, she turned back to the enclave and yelled, "They're back!"
Emma, standing by the enclave hatch, recognized Lois' shout immediately and yelled into the enclave for the others. The announcement having been made, Lois turned and ran lightly toward Fredericks and the others just now appearing in the mist. She recognized Beverly behind George and then a new face. She stopped short until she recognized Jon Trippe behind a ragged beard. She smiled brilliantly.
George waved. “Lois! Hey there! We're back."
"Welcome home," her voice bounced with jubilance.
George, smiling, answered, "And we brought some friends."
"I can see!" she yelled excitedly. She grabbed Jon and hugged him. He smiled, with a shade of embarrassment. Then she embraced Dawn Trippe, just to be fair. She was still in the moment when she saw Mike and momentarily forgot everyone else. She smiled a simple, "Mike", and leaped into his arms. He felt so good, even though he nearly fell over from her onrush. Still feeling the delight of being in his arms, she suddenly saw over Mike's shoulders a surprised and startled Sally. All of a sudden her careful, but possibly now ruined plans flooded back to her mind and she felt an acute embarrassment.
But Sally gave her a beautiful and totally generous smile and said, “Lois!”
Lois stepped back from Mike and then carefully approached Sally. Sally grabbed her and hugged her with great affection. Lois was suddenly overjoyed. She was accepted. In a very brief moment she was accepted. The three of them were now one.
So delighted and happy, she hardly noticed Mike Sienstra and Tom Warren walking up behind Sally. While the others began greeting the arrivals, she stepped away from Sally and gave Tom an affectionate hug. Then, unsure but very happy, she looked at Sienstra. What-the-hell, she thought, and gave him a hug. He seemed particularly surprised and appreciative. She then stepped back and turned to find Mike again.
Everyone was milling around, bestowing individual greetings and being very happy. The news that most everyone was safe was passed. When Frank's, Georgina's and Mary Sienstra's fates were mentioned, there was a brief moment of silence by everyone, as if to acknowledge their passing in a dignified way.
Lois kept looking over heads, trying to locate Mike again. Then she noticed Mike Sienstra looking over at her. She smiled at him in her genuine fashion and he smiled back. Then she was back to her search when she saw Sally. Figuring that Mike would be nearby, she started toward Sally.
Then a gentle hand on her arm brought her up short. She turned and saw Sienstra, broadly smiling. He asked, "You're Lew Snapp's daughter, aren't you?"
"And ain't you the pretty one, though.”
Lois' smile abruptly fell apart. Something in his tone sounded warning bells in her intuition. And yet she could think of nothing to say, trying only to not appear too bewildered.
Sienstra pressed his advantage, "We'll have to make it a point to see a lot more of each other.”
Lois stuttered, trying to fall back and regroup, but his hand now held her arm firmly. Then, stammering, she said, "I don't think so. I mean... I belong to Mike Brownson." Her argument seemed particularly apt and she hoped Sienstra would quickly grasp it and step aside.
His face showed a false hurt as he said, "Oh, Lois, I'm afraid you've been mislead. Brownson has Sally, that's clear. Perhaps Brownson has just been stringing you along."
"No, he hasn't. He's mine." Then to announce their arrangement, "He's Sally's and mine."
Sienstra was genuinely surprised. Then he laughed aloud. Chuckling, he watched her hesitation and fear. "Two for one, eh? Well, I'm afraid that ain't the way things work sweetie!”
Lois was suddenly very scared. She pulled away but he kept his grip. "Please, let go of my arm."
“Now sweetie, why'd you want to run away?”
"Let go of her arm, Sienstra!" Brownson ordered. Suddenly a hush fell over everyone as they turned to watch Mike Brownson move as if to reclaim his property.
Sienstra, his hand still on Lois' arm, glared back with a wicked smile to challenge, “Something you want, hot rod?"
"Let go of her arm!” Brownson was livid.
"What for?" Sienstra asked, as if disbelieving the magnitude of the request. "She belong to you or something? You maybe starting a harem?" Sienstra's false smile had turned to an obious threat.
Brownson reached for Lois' arm, saying, “I said, let...”
Sienstra's abrupt movement cut off Brownson, just as his right arm swung at Brownson's head. Unprepared, Mike took Sienstra's right roundhouse on the ear and fell heavily to the ground. Lois dropped to the ground beside Brownson. Instinctively, Trippe ordered, "Cool it, Sienstra!"
Sienstra turned from the beaten foe and the girl to glare at Jon. "Shove it, Trippe."
Jon felt a wave of hatred and momentarily could only glare back. Fred Smith, completely astounded by the events, began to move forward. He glanced over to Frederick, asking for information. George was already watching Smith and seemed to signal that Sienstra's behavior was not totally unexpected. Then Fred intervened.
“What the hell do you think you're doing, Sienstra?"
Sienstra turned from Trippe to look on Smith with contempt. "You talking to me, buster?"
Fred halted and planted his feet. He wanted Sienstra to know that he would not back down. "Yes, I'm talking to you.”
"Well, I ain't talking to you." Then he dismissed Fred with a turn of his head and started to reach for Lois.
"Back off, Sienstra!" Fred ordered.
Sienstra casually turned back to Smith. Then he slowly walked toward him, his head slightly bowed and moving like he was out for a stroll. Suddenly he was practically against Smith and, in a quiet but clear tone, said, "Stick it in your ear, Smitty!" Each word had been carefully and clearly enunciated. Then he shoved Fred back.
Fred was enraged as he staggered back, trying to keep his feet. He managed, but had inadvertently turned back to the crowd. His eyes met Sally's fascinated and incredulous stare just as his ears heard Sienstra's boasting laugh.
There are moments of clarity in people's lives. Fred Smith knew that his leadership was inconsequential if he allowed Sienstra to get away with anything. It was also instantly clear that no one in the group had any remorse for what might happen to Sienstra. There was even the fleeting glimpse of an idea whereby putting Sienstra in his place – by whatever means – would work in Fred's favor. No one would question his authority, ever again!
Fred turned to Brownson who was still shaking his head to clear it. “Brownson. Is Lois with you?”
Lois looked at her chosen lover, not daring to breath. Brownson knew that there was only one answer if Lois was not to be handed over to something worse than the Inquisition. In a very clear, firm voice, he answered. “Yes.”
“Is that right, Lois,” Fred asked.
Lois was suddenly in a paradoxical state of ecstatic bliss. “Yes,” she intoned as quickly and as intensely as she would have said, ‘I do”.
Diana Snapp gasped slightly, and turned to her husband, expecting some reaction. But Lew Snapp knew his daughter well enough to know that objecting to anything at this point would be a kin to sticking one's head into an operating combine to see how it worked. That was never the sort of thing that Lew would ever do.
“Bullshit,” Sienstra retorted. “Brownson already has Sally. He can't have two women.”
“Oh, yes he can,” Sally said, her voice clear and distinct.
“No fucking way,” Sienstra balked.
Fred looked at Sienstra with now open contempt. “Looks like the vote has gone against you, Mike. Now, for the last time, back off.”
“Shove it, Smitty! You only think you're in charge. I know what's going on here!”
Fred sighed with an almost tantalizing resignation. Turning away slightly, Fred walked over to George Frederick. Sienstra could only laugh at the apparent debacle.
George watched Fred approach him, realizing that Fred was not interested in meeting his eyes. With a simple movement, Fred took a hold of George's nonchalantly held rifle. It barely occurred to George to resist Fred's actions.
Sienstra sensed for the first time an uneasiness, as Fred turned from Frederick. But Sienstra had always known that a good bluff was better than most actions. He smiled accordingly, and tried to laugh even more mockingly as a last ditch effort to disuade Fred -- and simultaneously to shore up his own courage.
Then he saw Fred' face of determination and disguised hatred. Sienstra looked around as if to gather support from others, but then realized that no one was even showing great concern. Sally was in fact looking on as if one might witness an execution. Sienstra would have pulled a gun and fired point blank, but he had no gun.
He turned back to where Brownson was only now starting to get up. Unaware of almost anything but Sienstra's approach, he seemed to harden for the conflict. Sienstra reached out again for Lois' arm, as she ducked back behind the protection of her new man.
Fred yelled again, "Sienstra, you bloody son-of-a-bitch, I said back off!"
Sienstra turned, feinting surprise. When he saw the rifle leveled at him, he only stared for a moment. Then he began to smile. In a world where every able-bodied man was a critical asset, you didn't kill them off over something as trivial as women's rights. Sienstra, watching Fred, then smiled even more and slowly turned to face the rifle. His arm held out to show he concealed nothing, he began chiding Smith. “A gun, Smitty? You gonna threaten me with your big gun?"
Fred slid the safety off. Sienstra laughed visibly. Then, he said, "You ain't got the guts, buster!" He began to walk toward Smith again, his eyes darting occasionally to the rifle. He was about to vocally challenge Fred again when he again saw Fred's eyes and carved face. To Sienstra, the glassy eyes were no longer Fred's, but were in possession of some other being. And that other being was committed, had already made the decision. Raising one arm as if to ward it off, Sienstra started to take the first step backwards.
The bullet ripped into Sienstra's gut as the roar of the rifle screamed above the background noise. Fred was motionless as Sienstra stumbled back with the burning pain in his gut. Then a second shot ripped into Sienstra barely three inches from the other. Sienstra turned slightly as his body absorbed the second shell. Seeing death, Sienstra fell to his knees, his face turned slightly away from Smith. The third bullet tore into the side of Sienstra's head, exploding in a burst of finality. His body reeled back for just a second then collapsed face first to the ground.
Fred still didn't move. He remained utterly motionless, unaware of the muffled screams and choked expressions of horror. The thought of exposing the common but gentle people – not to mention the children -- to a brutal execution briefly crossed his mind. But such an event might dissipate a lot of reactionary complaints in the future. The critical justification seemingly apparent in his mind, Fred began to watch Sienstra with an eye toward ensuring that the sentence had been executed in full.
Sienstra was dead, Fred thought, as he stood there. It was correct. There had been no alternative. Rationalizing, he knew instinctively that the leader's responsibility was clear. Thinking to himself, he verbalized it in his mind. 'It was unfortunate but necessary. A tragedy. But we could not back down. We must accept this necessary action as part of our responsibility. Sienstra's challenge could not be tolerated. We had no choice. We did our duty and will continue to do so. Period.'
Then the reality of there being others began to come back to Fred as he saw George Frederick moving Sienstra to one side to check for signs of life. Beyond them, Brownson and Lois were on their feet, with Lois staring at Sienstra and her hands grasping Brownson's shirt for an anchor. Brownson stood staring at Smith.
Then Fred lowered the rifle and handed it to George. "Fredericks."
George stood up, ready the accept the weapon, and suddenly aware that Smith had used his last name instead of 'George'. Instinctively, he knew that Smith would not call him 'George' again.
"Your weapon.” Fred extended it to him. As George took it, Smith ordered, "Make preparations to bury the body. Then I want to see you, Trippe and Brownson, within the hour at the boulders."
George answered simply, "Yes, sir.” His army training had well prepared him for this new state of affairs.
Then Fred turned and strode back to the enclave.
Chapter Seven -- United We Stand
Chapter Nine -- New Faces
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