Haven Page 19


I glanced at Bodo in time to see him smiling too, but when he caught me looking, he stopped, going back to having his little tantrum.


I had about another hour of patience left in me before I was going to blow my top at Bodo. Hopefully he’d get his head out of his butt before then so I wouldn’t have to.


We followed Jackson up to his porch where Katy was already ladling out stew to anyone who could hold a bowl.


A few of the dogs milled around, probably hoping for something to fall. “Scoot!” Katy yelled, gesturing at them fiercely with her ladle. Three of the four took off, but the little one stayed. “You too, Tater,” she said, nudging him with her foot.


But Tater wasn’t hearing any of it. He went right back to his begging and was rewarded a few seconds later with a chunk of potato that I was pretty sure Katy had dropped on purpose. He reminded me of Buster, a dog who was impossible to dislike or send away.


Two kids had fallen asleep on their backs before they could get any stew, mouths hanging open and slack. Their color didn’t look very good either. I had a feeling Jackson was going to be digging some more graves soon.


“This is the best stew I’ve ever eaten,” said Chantal, some of it dripping down her chin. Seeing it made me realize how hungry I was. My salivary glands started working overtime and my stomach growled loudly. I felt a little guilty that Winky and the others wouldn’t be getting any of this, but that wasn’t going to stop me from taking my share.


I took a bowl from Katy and dug in.


“Holy crap,” I said around a chunk of carrot a few seconds later. I never thought carrots could taste so good. “This is … heaven.” I couldn’t believe it. It was like being transported back to the school cafeteria. I’d always scoffed at the stew there, never daring to try it, but now I realized I should have paid it more respect. My stomach was cramping in ecstasy. The food in Kahayatle was pretty damn good, but there was nothing like real beef in authentic beef stew.


“Aw, it ain’t that good,” said Katy, clearly pleased by the compliments she was receiving.


“No, dis is goodt,” said Bodo, poking a hunk of meat with his spoon, his cheeks bulging with food. “Where didt you find all da vegetables? Carrots, potatoes, and onions? Even da salt.”


“In our garden, of course. What? You think I walked to the supermarket?” Katy snorted. “That’ll be the day.” She ladled more stew into Bodo’s bowl. “We get the salt from the ocean, believe it or not. Evaporate the water right out. Works like a charm.”


“We’re totally self-sustaining at the Triple Bar D,” said Jackson, addressing all the kids who’d come out of the trailer. “If you want to stay, you can, but you’ll have to work. And when I say work, I mean, work your tail off. Work your fingers to the bone.”


Katy held up a manual-labor-worn hand, wiggling her fingers a little. The fingernails were ragged all the way to the quick and not from being bitten. I could see the callouses on her palms from several feet away.


“He ain’t jokin’ neither,” Katy added. “It’s dawn to midnight around here and then there’s guard duty. Luckily we have help with that part of it.” She nudged the little dog at her feet.


“I can work,” said Chantal. She looked at me. “But I’m not sure if it’s as safe here as it will be with her.”


“Bryn is my name, by the way, you guys. And this big strapping German guy with me is Bodo.”


He nodded his head at them, his mouth too full to speak.


“What’s a guy from Germany doing all the way over here?” asked Chantal. She gave him a special smile that made me instantly sick to my stomach. There was no way Bodo would want to be with me when Chantal was around. Even dirty and raggedy, she was ten times prettier than me.


“I wass doing an exchanche and den the bomb dropped on da worldt and dat was da end of my Cherman life. I’m Hamerican now.” He looked back down at his bowl, preparing another giant spoonful for his mouth.


Katy could obviously care less about Bodo. She didn’t even spare him a glance before she was responding to Chantal’s earlier comment. “It’s plenty safe here.” She sounded defensive. “We got dogs up the yin yang, rifles, shotguns, bows and arrows … you name it, we got it. And we know how to use all of it, too.”


“So how does that help you when some kid comes up in the middle of the night to snag one of your cows?” I asked.


“First of all, ain’t no one gettin’ on this here property without us knowin’. We got dogs can smell outsiders from a mile away. Plus one of us always stays awake while the other one sleeps. And the herd’s never far from the house.” She shrugged. “It gets a little pungent sometimes, but until we have more hands, that’s the way it’s gotta be. Plus, we got the ewes.”


“The ewes?” Now I was really confused.


“Dat’s da girl sheeps, Bryn. I know da English for farm animals because my granfadder had a farm and he hadt lots of American friends.”


Bodo’s explanation did nothing to help me understand. “I didn’t know ewes were so aggressive. You actually use them to protect your ranch? Like guard ewes?”


Katy and Jackson both started laughing. I couldn’t get a straight answer out of either one of them for a full five minutes.


When Katy could finally speak, she put her hand on my shoulder. “Ball-biter … you’re one-a the funniest girls I ever met. You’re all right by me, though. You’re aaaaalll right by me.” She patted me a few times before picking up her beef stew pot and walking towards the front door.


I rolled my eyes. “The name’s Bryn, okay? Call me ball-biter one more time, and I’ll pop you in the boob.”


She sobered up quick, turning around. “Them’s fightin’ words, girl. But I’m gonna keep my fists to myself because I don’t wanna lose a chunk of my girl parts when you decide to get all angry and hungry at the same time.”


I acted like I was going for her just to make her flinch, and she didn’t disappoint. She jumped so far, so fast, I almost didn’t see it happening. The empty pot was on the floor and her knife was out and ready in half a second. The sound of the pot clanking around continued, but she was still and ready to fight.


“Stay back,” she said, a six-inch blade in her hand. “I’ll stick you like a dang pig, you come any closer.”


I laughed, easing up my stance. “Relax, Katy. I was just kidding.” I settled back down, tipping my bowl up to my mouth and slurping up the rest of the broth, ignoring her so she’d calm down. “So tell me about these attack ewes.”


Jackson walked off the porch. “Follow me. I’ll show you the ewes.”


I put my bowl down on the steps and walked down to be with Jackson, leaving everyone else behind to finish their meal. A moment later I heard sounds behind me and found Bodo coming up behind us. He still wasn’t talking to me, but at least he had my back. I let that warm me a little and help me ignore the fact that he’d been spending an awful lot of effort on hurting my feelings and acting like an immature ass.


***


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We approached a shed-like structure that couldn’t possibly have been big enough to house more than a couple sheep. Maybe four, max. They must be really small ones.


When Jackson got to the front of it, he reached for a flap on the side of the wall. I realized then that it had wire mesh on it.


“What are those? Air holes?” None of this made any sense to me.


Jackson laughed. “I guess you could call ‘em air holes if you want. Me, I call ‘em cages, but whatever. It all works.”


He opened one up and reached in, pulling out something very small and gray.


“Dat’s not a ewe,” said Bodo, drawing even with me.


Jackson turned to fully face us. “Well, it’s a part of the ewes.”


I crossed my arms over my chest. “Something tells me we’re being mocked right now.”


“I think so too,” said Bodo.


“Nah, it ain’t like that. You just misunderstood, and I figured it’d be more interesting to show you than to explain it.” He held out what looked like a pigeon. “This here is one of the members of the Triple Bar D EWS. The Early Warnin’ System we got set up with some friends in this county and a few nearby.”


“Pigeons.” I said simply.


“Well, carrier pigeons to be more specific, but yeah. Little birds.”


Bodo stepped forward, his hands held out. He was speechless.


Jackson pulled the bird back towards his chest. “You can’t touch it. Birds need special handlin’. It ain’t for everybody.”


“Bodo’s an expert,” I said. “He raises hawks.”


Jackson frowned. “That’s the only threat to the EWS … them damn hawks an’ peregrines an’ owls. Damn vultures.” He held his bird up near his neck now, stroking its feathers gently as he frowned at Bodo.


“I will not hurt your birdt. I swear it. I love birds of all kindts.”


I could hear the plea in his voice, and even though he was being a buttbasket to me, I hoped like heck Jackson would let him hold the dumb bird.


Jackson thought about it for a couple seconds and then extended it out to Bodo. “Here. Just be gentle.”


“Of course.” Bodo took her into his hands, being sure to keep her wings close to her body and turning her against his lower chest. “How didt you train dem?” He looked down at the bird, rubbing her head with this thumb.


“When we heard that the world was gonna go in the crapper, we worked at school on some projects to help prepare. Then when school kinda died off, we just kept at it. One a-them was this carrier pigeon project. We’ve got message points all over Florida and Georgia now too.”


“That is … friggin’ amazing,” I said, totally blown away. “You mean these birds actually carry messages?”


Jackson smiled proudly. “Heck yeah, they do. Look. Here’s one we got a couple weeks ago.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out a narrow strip of paper, handing it to me.


I looked at it, but it was just a bunch of letters and numbers that didn’t make sense.


“Is this some kind of code?” I asked.


“Yup. We made it up ourselves.” He rocked back on his heels and then his toes, obviously very pleased with himself. And he had a right to be. This was one of the most amazing and hopeful things I’d seen since walking onto the prison grounds.


“What does this one say?”


Jackson walked over and pointed to the codes. “Says here … ball-biter at Everglades prison. Can send friends.”


Bodo laughed. “Oh, dat’s funny. You’re famous, Bryn. Da testicle girl is in da prison.” His shoulders were quaking with laughter.


I punched him in the arm. “Shut up, jackass.” I turned my frown on Jackson. “You’re making that up. Not cool.”


“No, I swear to God, I ain’t. I can’t teach you the code ‘cause, you know, you’re a hot target and if anyone catches you they’re gonna torture the secrets outta ya, but you can believe it. That’s what that message says.”


“Who sent it?”


He flipped the paper over. “This one here came from the Amazons.”


My jaw dropped open. “You know the Amazon bi … wenches? Over there by the ocean?”


“Yeah. Everyone does.”


“But that’s almost a hundred miles from here!”


“So? Our birds can go that far. They’re champions.” He frowned at Bodo and took his bird back. “Only thing that ever gets in the way of our operation are them birds of prey.”


“I can train dem to leaf your birds alone,” said Bodo, speaking in a rush. “I can do dat! Dey can live togedder and dat will be okay. It’s not a problem.”

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