I settled into one of the well worn chairs they had in front of the store underneath the overhang. He looked at Zane who was standing there unsure if he was supposed to sit down or not. The door leading inside opened, a young guy, white, in his twenties, and carrying a sawed off pump shotgun stepped out. He looked at me, the kid, then the dogs, who with the exception of Woof had laid down and were watching us with their tongues hanging out. He shook his head, and said "You okay Grandpa?"
"I'm fine Cameron. Take the boy inside and give him something to eat. See if we got a bowl we can put some water in to give these dogs a drink.
"Sure Grandpa." Zane looked at me and I nodded that it was okay. Cameron stepped back to let Zane though and Woof was right behind him. "Whoa dog. Not you." He started to step in between Zane and Woof. Woof didn't like that. I heard him growl and watched as his lips curled back. Everybody froze for a second until the old man waved his hand and said "Fine. Let the boy bring his dog with him." Cameron looked a little dubious but he gave Woof as much room as he could so he could through after Zane.
We watched the door shut behind them. The old man kind of smiled, then said "That may be the biggest German Shepherd I have ever seen. He got some wolf in him?" I laughed, I had gotten a flash mental picture of all the people Woof had probably eaten and answered "He's got a lot of bloodlines in him."
The old man considered that for a minute and decided to let it go. He reached out and we shook hands. That felt very strange. He told me "They call me the Captain because I was a Navy Captain once upon a time." He pointed at his ball cap. The faded yellow said "ONI" and had a government seal. My specialty was the USSR. Like I said. I've been out for awhile." Then he stared at me. It took me a couple beats to realize what he wanted. I told him "My names Gardener." If I remembered right I was supposed to tell him my occupation. "I'm a Major in the Freya Brigade." I thought it sounded good. You know, it was military sounding an everything. He didn't looked impressed. Instead he replied "You don't say." I shrugged.
"So tell me what you've seen." He yelled out "Can we get some ice tea out here! Sorry, I am forgetting my manners." So I told him a version of what we had seen and where we had been. He knew about the Brethren and he made it clear he didn't like them. He wasn't a big fan of the Colonel either. "Traitors. That's all they are. Traitors." He made it sound uglier and more obscene then all the curse words I could think of.
An old lady, about his age, came out and handed us each a glass of mint tea. It was unsweetened but a welcome change from what I usually drank. There was also a piece of bread to go with it. I couldn't help but make a face when I bit into it. The old man laughed, then said "Yeah, I know. Mostly acorns and what not. Takes some getting used to." I agreed with him but I ate it anyway. He listened to my story, nodded most of the time, asked a couple of questions, and generally was a very good listener. The lady came out near the end to refill our glasses and told me "The boy is asleep inside on the floor. I wanted to wake him and move him somewhere more comfortable but his dog wasn't having any of it."
I told her "That's fine. Thank you." She didn't say anything. I think she expected me to go inside and move the kid. He was fine where he was.
I was interested in what the old man had to say. Mostly how they managed to survive. I told him "Okay. Your turn."
He laughed. Then he told me "I would like to hear the version you just told me with all the stuff I know you left out." He held up his hand and said "I know. Not a problem. What interests me more is the Balkanization and the politics going on here. You didn't see much of the government did you?" I had already told him that I hadn't but I told him again. The part about the police battalion had interested him. It interested him a lot.
"We survived because I knew something bad was coming. Look around you. Everyone here is related one way or another. We dropped trees in two different places and in between did our best to tear up the road. We did that on both sides of us. Then we hunkered down. We took some people in and we shot a few. We were lucky. Most people couldn't or didn't want to walk far. That's why I was surprised to see you. Not many, even now, walk the woods. Now we got the Brethren and the Colonel sniffing around. He was getting ready to say something when I heard them. Truck engines. I held my hand up to silence him. Yep. They were coming quick too. "You got company coming" I told him. He couldn't hear it yet. "You got two trucks coming down the road from the north. Moving fast too." He looked at me and his eyes narrowed. I knew what he was thinking so I told him "Nope. Not mine." Then he heard them.