Tuesday, July 11, 2006

We were on the highway for only ten minutes, but it was an extremely tense ten minutes. Our company had no idea if some military caravan was going to suddenly appear over the next hill, or if someone had blown up parts of the road. We drove fast, and hoped we would detect a rupture before it hit.

Finally we got up to Cameron Park. It had the feel of a small town, even though it was only a few minutes from the city. The hills had something to do with making the place seem quiet. I almost crashed into a herd of… get this… buffalo. Someone’s dying wish must have been to let them run free. I would like to catch a few later on, if they were still alive. They’d do great in the meat locker.

Karol directed us to a neighborhood. You couldn’t call it that. Each ‘estate’ had about five, ten acres to its name… you couldn’t see the house next to you. It was about as rural as we were going to get for our amount of gasoline.

“Alright, ladies,” I said over my cell phone, “We’re having a special giveaway today in the Cameron Park area… all of the houses are free!” We laughed.

“We need fences,” Tayva said, “preferably with a stream. And a big house, but not too gaudy, it might attract others.”

“Should we pass up this multi-million dollar mansion, then?” We slowed the cars down to observe a huge house on a hill, passed a large cast-iron fence and a vine-covered gate to match. We couldn’t see specifics, in the pitch black. There were no streetlamps in this area, our only illumination was our headlights, with which we caught a glimpse of a large stream running through the center. But the gate was locked down with many heavy chains. Someone didn’t want us to come in, and we weren’t going to. I had brought the blowtorch, but it wouldn’t do a thing to that.

“No one knows what goes on behind those walls…” I laughed mysteriously. It could have just been an empty lot with a lake, in the darkness. When the lights came on, I later found it to be a huge mansion, with three full stories in some places: my house paled in comparison to its guesthouse. It had a formidable stream, a tennis court, a basketball court, and wonderful Spanish architecture. But we couldn’t find a good way in.

We moved on, and house-hunted. I have a lot of painful memories searching for a house, especially in Folsom, where real estate is horribly expensive. I’m glad that money wasn’t the issue.

One house we found very attractive. Two stories, quite large, good amount of property, a long driveway where we could see the looters a few minutes before they got there. The gate was open, and we drove the cars in to search the place. With Tayva at my side with her weapon, and my good ol’ Browning at hand, we found the front doors to be locked. I pulled my blowtorch out and started melting the knob down. It was a good tool to have, though I didn’t know exactly what I was supposed to do with it to open up a door. I kept on getting the feeling I should be firing the lock up, not the knob.

No matter. I was only a few seconds into it when the door rushed open, and the wrong side of a shotgun was shoved in my face. I dropped everything and put my hands up.

“Back up, boy.” Someone shoved the shotgun into my chest, and I quickly obeyed. “Come on, git, that’s right.”

“We’re sorry.” Tayva said, calmly, hands up, her pistol no where in sight. The shotgun swerved around to her. The assailant hadn’t seen her. They might have been blinded by our headlights, pointing straight at them. I caught the scene with the gun out of my face. There was a woman peeking out the doorway, and the one holding the shotgun was a man about five and a half feet tall with straight black hair and a curly beard.

“We don’t want to hurt anyone,” Tayva continued, “we don’t want a fight; we were just looking for some food and a place to rest, our mistake.”

“We don’t have any for you. Now give us your weapons and get out of here before we take something else.” The man shouted, his eyes lining up a shot on Tayva.

I realized my spare gun was in my back pocket. In a second I had it in my hand. I took two steps towards the man with the shotgun, and placed it at his head. The man lurched in my direction, as if to attack, but pulled the trigger too soon, and ripped the air with a noise that made me jump. I accidentally pulled the trigger, in my surprise.

But I had left the safety on, again. A cold shiver went down my spine. I could have killed this man, who was probably just trying to protect his family.

“Sir, we don’t want any trouble. If you’ll drop your shotgun, we’ll take our things and leave.”

“Git your hands off of –“ Tayva fired a shot into the air, her pistol back in her hands. The man immediately dropped his shotgun to the ground. I nearly pulled the trigger on my Browning again. God almighty I needed practice!

“Sorry folks!” I tried to say friendly-like, “Didn’t want to cause a disturbance!”

“You guys might want to keep a lock on your gate, if you want to stay safe!” Karol yelled from the car.

We found our place soon after: it had a cast-iron fence and a gate, a bit shorter than the other, with only a small thing of chain holding it together. The blowtorch made easy work of that. Angelina took Tayva’s place to take a sweep of the land. There was no one inside. It had a small stream in the corner, which we could use for water if we needed to. Some of its fences were old, weak, wooden things, but its front was very strong. It was on top of a hill, with a lot of trees, and a good view over the empty highway. There was a barn, with no animals, and get this: a flock of seven woolen sheep! The house was kind of old, and it must have belonged to an elderly couple, because it had very little modern technology: more paintings and family pictures and such.

I didn’t suspect the pool in the back. It had a tarp over it… and it was so dark… Tayva fell through. She screamed. I tossed down my stuff, undid my shoes, and dove in after her. It would have been easier if Tayva hadn’t completely panicked, and if it wasn’t nearly pitch black. For a second out there, I was afraid one or both of us would drown. The tarp hindering my movements around me, the cold water seeping in… But I finally followed her voice and wrapped my arms around her.

“Calm down. Calm down. Calm down.” I repeated over and over, to get her to stop gasping for breath and struggling. I went down a couple of times, and began to panic… But I held it in. I pushed the tarp aside again and again; it kept coming. I gulped down a bunch of water by the time Tayva finally relaxed. She couldn’t swim so well in her shoes. I made slow kicks in a random, dark direction, worried I might be making it nowhere, and drown in a small, narrow pool. My head finally collided with a wall, and I pushed Tayva up onto the edge.

“You got it? You okay?” I asked urgently. She grunted in agreement and made her way up. I came out of the pool after her. I couldn’t see her in the pitch black, but I eventually followed the sounds of her frightened breathing.

“You okay?” I asked again, as I found her wet shoulder.

I don’t know how it happened, but Tayva found my lips once again, in the darkness… she must have practiced the move… and we made out again for ten or so minutes in our wet clothes. I finally got a grip on myself and pulled away, and we sat in silence. It was very cool outside, and we were both shivering by now.

“I lost my shoes in the pool, Mike.” She chattered.

“What about your gun?”

“It’s waterproof.”

“When did they make guns waterproof?”

“Mine is.”

“You fine now?” I asked her.

“Yeah, I’m good.”

“Let’s go get the others. This is our place.”

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