Castle Roland

Book I

by MultiMapper


Chapter 19

Posted: N/A

Copyright © 2012 - 2015 by MultiMapper and The Revolutions Universe Partnership
All Rights Reserved


Metamorphosis Logo"There have been reports coming into our newsroom, of members of the military and other government agents collapsing bridges, attempting to cut off access to those wishing to travel from East to West."

Sudden looks of surprise flashed around the occupants of the bus.

"Art, did you just hear that?" Father Doherty asked as he walked forward.

"Yes. Big Noise is talking to the truckers on other channels to find out the best way for us to proceed." Art said seriously.

Father Doherty was surprised by the response, but felt assured that Art had the situation well in hand.

"Father, the truckers seem to think that we should change our route to a more southern track, so we can cross the Missouri sooner, just in case those bridges are in danger." Art said over his shoulder.

"Yes. That sounds like a prudent precaution. Will you let the others know?" Father Doherty asked thoughtfully.

"Big Noise told me on channel 14, so anyone with a radio heard what he told me." Art answered frankly.

"That's good. But be sure to listen carefully for any news we should be aware of." Father Doherty said with concern.

"Yes, Father." Art said before turning his full attention back to the radio.

"Father, it appears that we may have some trouble ahead." Art said as he walked back to stand beside Father Doherty's seat.

Father Doherty looked past him to see that Euan was still sitting by the radio, keeping abreast of the latest developments.

"What seems to be the matter?" Father Doherty asked cautiously.

"Big Noise just told us that there are several vehicles blocking the bridge that we were planning to cross." Art said in a low voice.

"Does he have another bridge that he can recommend?" Father Doherty asked slowly.

"No. He says that we'll be taking this one. There are some truckers that are going to clear the roadblock for us. Big Noise told me to tell you that he just got word through the grapevine, 'from here on, the Teamsters will be seeing us through'."

Father Doherty was stunned into speechlessness by the announcement.

Ernie sat in his seat with a big grin on his face. He had just gotten word that a convoy of passenger vehicles were only a few miles behind him, heading their way. In front of him, about 2 miles up ahead, he knew there were a bunch of Bears sitting and waiting. This was gonna be fun.

"Breaker 1 9... Big Noise... . you got them folks heading this way yet?"

"10-4! They're all right behind me."

"Roger that... . looks like it's time to start a Bear hunt!" Ernie grinned as he waited. He loved this truck, especially after getting it all decked out. He had glasspacks on the exhaust pipes, blowing black smoke from the stacks. Lights were all over the truck cab, but his favorite thing was the 3½ in brush guard that he had bolted to the front of his truck. He'd always dreamed of using it to knock out some Bears, and now... he would get his wish.

He pulled the chain attached to his air horn as the first of the convoy passed underneath him and the rest of his 'boys'. Ernie howled in laughter as he saw the bus that was leading. There was no way anyone would ever mistake that bus for anything else. He grabbed his mic that was hanging from the ceiling, and spoke with a huge grin plastered on his face. "Let's hit it, boys. I got the front door, the rest you sneak in the convoy wherever you can. Don't let them little tonka toys fall behind!"

He let go of the mic, dropped his eighteen speed transmission into third gear, and gently let off the clutch. His big ole Pete belched out black smoke as he started to rumble down the on ramp he'd been waiting on.

"Breaker Breaker... Monarch, you got your ears on?" Big Noise said over the radio, causing Art to bend down and pick up the mic.

"10-4, Good Buddy!" He said with a bit of excitement.

Big Noise's laughter over the mic boomed from the speaker. "Piece of advice there Monarch, don't be calling no truckers a 'good buddy.' Roger that?"

Art looked at Euan who just shrugged. "Uhhh, Roger."

"Good boy. I'll explain it later. Listen, I got some friends that are gonna jump ahead of ya. Ask your driver to drop down into the granny lane, and do 'bout 40, 'till the first three trucks pass ya, then you better stick that nose of yours to the back bumper of the truck in front of ya. Make sure everyone knows not to slow down no matter what happens. You got that."

"Uhh.. Roger that." Art said confused, thankfully Euan didn't ask questions, he moved up right next to Greg.

"Greg, need you to stay in the right lane and drop down to like 40 okay?" He said speaking up a little bit since Greg was hard of hearing.

Greg gave him a weird look, but did as he was told.

What seemed like an hour later, but was really only about 10 minutes, Greg saw the sign saying that the bridge 5 miles ahead was closed, and for all traffic to exit. He started to get worried until he looked in his mirror. Behind him, and coming up fast in the left lane was a huge truck, with two more behind it. Remembering what Euan had said, Greg started to accelerate a bit. The lead truck was blaring his air horn as he went by, and slipped in front of the bus. Two other trucks slipped in, right as they were coming up to the exit ramp that was supposed to ship all traffic off. Thankfully, there wasn't much traffic on the road, and what there was, had either taken the exit, or had stopped.

The lead truck never let up as he came to the two cop cars that were sitting across the road, directing traffic. He slammed right into both of them, spinning them off to the side.

Art and Euan both looked back to try and see what had happened to the police cars, but couldn't see any details as they sped by.

Greg looked down and saw they were doing about eighty miles an hour, the most he figured the bus could safely do, but the trucks in front of them were slowly pulling away. Up ahead of them he saw another curve. When the bus took the curve, Greg saw that the bridge was blocked by military vehicles, he almost started to let off the accelerator when he saw the first truck was speeding up.

"Holy shit!" He cried as the truck rammed the hummers that the military had stationed in front of the bridge. The two other trucks went to either side of the road, and slammed into the already spinning vehicles causing one of them to flip over the rail and plunge into the river below!

"Our father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name..." Father Doherty muttered nervously as he watched the carnage erupt before him.

Art and Euan stared in disbelief at the spectacle. Although it was only a matter of seconds that flashed before them, time seemed to have slowed and etched every detail into their minds. Neither knew if they were excited or horrified at what they had just seen, they only knew that they would never forget it.

When Jingo and Trav saw what was ahead, they were understandably concerned. But as soon as the lead truck hit the vehicles blocking the road, both of them started to cheer like the Cubs had just won the World Series.

Greg floored it, and began rumbling across the bridge, hoping that none of the broken glass or debris would cut down one of the tires. "Make sure everyone knows to keep going!" Greg shouted to Art who was already talking on the radio telling everyone just that.

They were less than a mile past the bridge when Big Noise came back over the radio. "Some fun there, Monarch! Tell you what. There's a truck stop about an hour up the road. Ernie's gonna keep the front door open for ya, you just sail on through and stop there. We'll get you all something to eat, and see about some of your vehicles. Sound good?"

During the course of their duties, attending to the CB radio, Art and Euan also kept an eye on the road.

Ahead of them, Art could see an SUV pulled off to the side of the road with its hood up and some people standing around the front of the vehicle.

"Breaker, Breaker. Monarch here." Art announced. "Could someone drop back and check on a stranded vehicle that we just passed? There are about five people standing there with the bonnet up, from what I could see. They appear to be in trouble. If they need help, would you offer them a ride, if you can? We shan't be too much longer on the road, so we can try to work out something for them once we get to the next rest area. That way stopping to check on them won't slow the convoy, but they won't have to go without help."

"Got’cha Monarch. This is Shoe Fly. Me an' my boy, Blue, will stop and if they need help, we should have room for 'em." A voice responded.

"Thank you, Shoe Fly. Keep us posted." Art said with a smile.

About five minutes later, a voice called on the radio, "Breaker, breaker. Monarch, you there?"

Euan quickly handed Art the microphone and stood aside.

"This is Monarch." Art answered seriously.

"We got them people you was worried 'bout. Tween me an' my boy, we got plenty of room for 'em, an' they's wantin' ta go ta that place we's goin' anyways."

"Thank you for picking them up. We will see what more we can do for them when we stop at the truck stop." Art said thoughtfully.

"'Fore we do that, they got a problem. Their daughter, she's about nine, she needs insulin. They was gonna drive to the pharmacy, then head west. But then they had car troubles and they've been stuck for the last three hours." Shoe Fly said with concern.

"Does the child need a doctor?" Art asked as his mind raced, trying to decide what he would do if the answer was 'yes'.

"No. She'll be good for a little while. But she's gonna need that insulin before the day's over." Shoe Fly said frankly.

Euan took the microphone from Art's hand and asked, "Where's the town with the pharmacy?"

"'Bout thirty, thirty-five miles north of here." Shoe Fly said after a quick consideration.

"I can already tell you, it's closed." Another voice said on the radio.

"Who is that?" Euan asked cautiously.

"Sweet Sister Mary out of Missoula, and I know where you're talkin' about. Looks like the whole damned town's been shut down. Ain't not one store or gas station open in the whole god forsaken thing."

"Thank you, Sister." Euan said slowly, then Art took the microphone from his hand.

"Give us a few minutes to see what we can do. I'll get back to you as soon as we have an answer." Art said thoughtfully.

"Father Doherty." Art began formally as he approached.

"What is it, Art?" Father Doherty asked as he sat straighter in the chair, sensing the seriousness.

"There was a stranded vehicle that we passed. I asked someone to check on them and it turns out that they have a child who is diabetic. They were trying to get to a town where they could buy some insulin, but we heard on the CB that the pharmacy is closed." Art said with concern.

"I suppose that we can look ahead and see what towns we'll be passing through. Hopefully, one of them will have an open pharmacy." Father Doherty said slowly.

"I wouldn't bet on it." A voice called from behind him.

When Art and Father Doherty turned, Jingo continued, "Between the blackout and martial law, I wouldn't bet on anyplace bein’ open."

"I hadn't thought of that." Father Doherty said slowly, then looked at Art and said, "She may very well be right."

"We need to find that little girl some insulin." Art said firmly.

"Perhaps your friend, Big Noise, will have some suggestions of where we could find some." Father Doherty offered half-heartedly.

"Hold up on that." Jingo said slowly.

Father Doherty and Art looked at her curiously.

"When we get to the truck stop, I'm going to need to borrow a car." Jingo said as she looked Father Doherty in the eyes.

"That won't be necessary..." Father Doherty began to say, but was interrupted.

"If this don't go right, you can still call your trucker friend and find another way to get the kid her medicine. No matter what, I know you ain't lettin' that kid do without. But if I go now, I may be able to get her medicine without no one havin’ to make a special trip or stop or anything." Jingo said reasonably.

"Jingo, you've become very important to us, and I'm afraid that what you're planning will have risks that we would rather that you didn't take." Father Doherty said gently.

"If you think you can stop me, you're welcome to try. But if you can't, I'm doin’ this." Jingo said frankly.

"Doin’ what?" Trav asked as he walked up the aisle.

"Skittle run." Jingo said simply.

"Count me in!" Trav said excitedly.

Jingo rolled her eyes, then said, "Like I'd do it without you."

"I just thought... I need to call Zane. He's probably getting worried, after hearing about all the horrible things going on. I should have called him earlier. Some father I am. I just find out I have a son, then I forget all about him."

Once he took the phone off the charger, he quickly dialed Carson's number... actually it was the only number stored in the phone... he didn't pay any attention to what the number actually was.

Carson answered. It took a few minutes to get Zane, but he finally got on the phone and they were able to have a good talk.

Art was working the CB when a call came in from Big Noise.

"Howdy, guys! There's gonna be a big ole truck stop about fifteen miles ahead. There'll be a huge sign you'll be able to see as soon as you round the next bend. Don't worry about the cost, it's already been taken care of. Tell everyone to fill their tanks, grab whatever snacks they want, and have them wait there. We'll be distributing CB radios to as many people as we can. We'll make sure everyone knows how to use them."

"This next thing is very important. Everyone who has a cell phone needs to remove the batteries from them. Them guv-mint freaks can use the GPS functions to trace the location to within a few yards. That goes for the older ones, too. If the phone doesn't have GPS, they can still triangulate using the existing Cell towers. Besides, the cell towers will be useless to make calls on, with all the emergency traffic going on, and people calling their long lost relatives, there won't be enough frequencies available to get any calls through. But the GPS and tower tracking use a different set of frequencies, so that stuff WILL work, no matter what... unless, of course, the whole cell system crashes, which is also a strong possibility."

It didn't take all that long to reach the truck stop, and like Big Noise had said, they saw the huge sign for it as soon as they rounded the bend. The sign was on what must have been a forty foot platform, and the thing was gigantic. It was bigger than most drive-in theater screens, and proclaimed the emblem of the truck stop, along with showing huge platters of food and all sorts of impulse items.

They pulled the bus up next to the fuel pumps, the area was full of trucks. When Greg pulled the air brake knob, and set the brakes, he opened the door, and Father Doherty was the first out and standing on solid ground. He couldn't help but take a deep breath and let it out. They had made it a long ways already, but they still had a long way to go.

He took a moment to look around as all the other vehicles pulled in behind them, and tried to find parking spots. Thankfully, the place didn't look all that busy, and there were only a few cars, and about fifty trucks, even though this place could easily hold three times that number.

He noticed that the truck they had stopped behind had some damage to the side of the trailer. He got a curious look on his face, and took a few steps to the side, and that's when he realized that this was one of the trucks that blew through the roadblock, and opened everything up for them.

Art, Euan and a few others had just made it to Father Doherty's side when two men started towards them. When they were still several feet away, one of them, a huge monster of a man, with a big bushy beard, was the first one to speak up. "So, which one of you guys be Monarch?"

Art hesitantly held up his hand and the man's face lit up and he stuck his hand out. "I'm Big Noise... Nice to finally put a face to the name!" When Art got up the courage to take the man's hand, he couldn't help but notice that his hand felt dwarfed.

"Jeez, He’s Fuckin' HUGE!"

"Trav, please watch your language." Father Doherty said disapprovingly as he glanced over his shoulder.

"Wasn't me!" Trav defended.

"Sorry, Father." Father Kinsey muttered shyly.

"Not to worry, Father... ." Big Noise said with a grin. "I's used to it. Now, let me introduce you to your new best friend." He reached over and slapped the man with him on the shoulder. The other man, who was big in his own right, still looked small compared to Big Noise. "This here be Ernie, but you can call him Wubber Ducky."

Several people started to smile, and the man did, too. "Now, before you go making fun of my handle, you should know the reason I have it, is 'cause my nephew called me that. It was the last time I was able to talk to him before he died, so I kept it that way, in his honor."

"Oh, I am so sorry." Father Doherty said as the grin fell from his face. Ernie's smile, though, did not fade.

"No worries about it, Padre... It was quite a while ago, and I know it sounds funny the first time."

There was a slight, uncomfortable pause in the conversation, that was finally broken, but not by one of the people there. They all saw a car come in that was hissing badly from under the hood, and smoke and steam were coming out in billows. The car stopped a little ways away from them, and it finally gave up the fight. A loud, jarring 'thunk' sounded from under the hood and the engine was suddenly silent, but for the hissing of steam. The front doors, and one of the back ones opened up, and three people stumbled out, steam billowing out of the passenger compartment as well. All three of them were coughing, but smiling. "I didn't think she would last, but she got us here!"

Father Doherty watched as the man walked over to the group. The man walked right up to him and stuck out his hand.

"Name's Amos Collins. These be my boys Cory and Chris, or as I like to call them, 'Double Trouble'." Father Doherty held out his hand for the two boys, obviously twins, to shake. They were identical, both with longish brown hair, and a long 'rat tail' that went down almost to their butts, and they each had a face full of freckles. They both grinned, showing mouths full of braces as they shook the Father's hand.

Father Doherty chuckled as he made a show of rubbing his eyes. "Yup, I must be seeing double."

They giggled at Father Doherty's small joke and the left one said, grinning, "You're not seeing double, we're twins! I'm Cory and that's my baby brother, Chris."

Chris gave his twin a withering look and said, "Will you stop calling me that? You're only five minutes older than I am!"

Once the introductions were made, Amos dropped his voice as he leaned close to Father Doherty. "Uhhh, hate to have to ask this, but you think there’s some way we's could hitch a ride with someone else. I's don't think da old car's gonna go any further."

Father Doherty started to think about it when Ernie spoke up, "You see them mobile parking lots over there?" he pointed to several car carriers. "Head on over, tell them Ernie sent ya, and that you need a new car."

"You mean they'll just give us one of those cars?" Chris spoke up in awe.

"Yes, sir!" Ernie said with a grin. "I don't know if anyone's told ya yet, but you guys got some big time people wantin' to make sure this convoy gets to where it's going. I got word from the big man himself, saying that I was to make damn sure that y'all had everything you need. The Teamsters are gonna make sure you make it. We got trucks here that's got everythin' y'all need, to get there. And we's gonna make sure you make it there, safe and sound. I'm leadin’, the rest of you, follow. We'll have the trucks in with all you little guys, making sure that nothin' happens."

He chuckled at the shocked looks from everyone, then finally reached forward and put a hand on each of the twins’ shoulders. "Tell you what. I want twin number one... . that’d be you, boy," he said as he gently shook Chris's shoulder, "to go around and find out who ain't gotta car that'll make it. Lead them on over to the Parking Lots over there, and make sure they get one that'll make it. If we need more, we got another couple of 'em that are about three hours away comin' in, so we should have enough."

He grinned as he gently shook Cory’s shoulder. “And twin number two, you see that truck over there that's got his back doors open? He's got a load full of CB radios. I want you to go over there, get a crash course in how to set 'em up, and then make sure that every vehicle gets one of 'em, and gets them hooked up right. Think you guys can do that?"

"I should be twin number one, I'm older!" Cory objected.

Ernie glared at Cory, who instantly clamped his mouth shut.

"Well?" Ernie prompted.

The twins looked at each other with huge eyes. They both just nodded, not able to say much. "Well then, why's you standing here... get going!" Ernie said as he gave them a gentle shove before they ran off towards their trucks.

The sound of a squeal of tires drew Father Doherty's attention and he barely caught sight of Jingo and Trav tearing out of the parking lot in a sporty vehicle at an insane rate of speed. As much as Father Doherty intellectually knew that what they were planning to do was dangerous and illegal, his heart had already accepted that this was their irreverent and unorthodox way of helping.

"Hey! Did anyone just see a gold Jaguar go by here?!" A paunchy middle aged man called as he ran toward the gathering of men.

Father Doherty was surprised to find that everyone seemed to be looking at him to answer.

After a moment of consideration, Father Doherty looked the man in the eyes and said, "No, my son. I didn't see a thing."

"Hello, Father. My name is BIG Noyes. I know... you already know that's my handle, sort of, but I think it might be easier if you knew how I got that name. My family came over here, afore there was a United States. They was Pioneers, or somethin' like that. They didn't spell the name N.O.Y.E.S originally, I couldn't tell you how it was spelled back then. My Granddaddy had a wicked sense of humor, though, and since my daddy never shut his cryin' mouth when he was born, Granddaddy named him LOUD. My mama, she had a very rough time carryin' me. When I was born, I weighed in at over sixteen pounds. When Papa first saw me, the first thing he said to Mama was, "Damnation, Bertha, he's fuckin' huge! We gotta call him 'Big'!"

Father Doherty laughed.

"Seriously, I ain't kiddin' ya, it's on my license."

Father Doherty grinned. "I've heard some unusual names, before, and usually the people who have them seldom even let their friends know. You, on the other hand, have used your name as a badge. I can tell you enjoy it. It is something very special to you. Isn't it?"

"Yep. It sure is... When we moved to a Chicago suburb called Winnetka,” He grinned. "As soon as the kids at school found out my name, they started giggling, and I kinda wondered why. Finally George Benson, one of the older kids told me there was a song called 'Big Noise From Winnetka.' The song was by some guy named Bob Crosby; a bandleader and Bing's brother. Later, it was a hit by Bette Midler. I've proudly carried the name for all these years, and I have a bunch of versions of the song in my iPod.

"My Mama died shortly after she gave birth to my younger sister. Sis' birth weight was only three pounds. My daddy named her, too. 'Well, I guess that evens things out, some,' he told Mama. “She's so tiny, we'll just call her Little.

"Daddy 'n me raised 'Little' together. Now she's all growed up and has kids of her own. She married a guy named Short; Carey Short, who's almost as big as I am. So now she's Little Short. I couldn't believe she'd pick someone named Short, but she did. They gots two wonderful kids, a boy and a girl. Larry and Laurie. Laurie's the large economy size, and Larry's just about normal size for his age. I'd better shut up and let you guys get back to more important stuff." He patted Father Doherty on the head, as if the Priest was a little boy, and headed back to his truck.

Eventually, people made their way inside the huge truck stop. The place was jam packed with everything a trucker might find useful. There were high capacity power inverters, and generators, able to provide as much power as needed.

There were high power stereo systems, and all the camping equipment you could imagine. They even had air mattresses with built in vibrators. Father Doherty had been walking around for a few minutes when a surprising realization set in. The truck stop had electricity.

Apparently, Father Doherty exuded the impression that he was just the person you could tell your troubles to, because when he walked up to the counter to pay for some candy he had picked up for the boys, the owner began to explain the various problems he was having. "Father, my name's Ferguson." (He didn't say whether it was his first or last name.) Ferguson was worried sick about his family. He had a son, his wife and their two boys. Ferguson desperately wanted them to go with the convoy, feeling they would be much safer somewhere farther west.

"Hell, I've lived here most all my life. My dad bought this place in the early 1950's, along with about twenty acres of land that surrounded it, and just kept adding on, year after year, until it looked like a total monstrosity. This building you're in now was built about ten years ago, just before Dad passed away. The old buildings were torn down shortly after this one was finished. We built the new store with all new tanks and other equipment, and we moved in here, then took out the old stuff, and didn't lose any business while construction and destruction took place.

"Dad got a low interest loan, and we got it built in less than three months. We had tons of people helping get it done. Everybody loved Dad. They wouldn't take a dime from us to do the work. Even some of his trucker customers brought stuff in and gave their own time to pitch in and work.

"We had to hold Dad's funeral at the American Legion Hall, so we could have room for all the guests. Even then, we had to set up some seating and loudspeakers in the parking lot, cause there were still too many people even for that big hall." He paused to take a deep breath before continuing.

"I told you all that, to tell you this; I know the shit is gonna hit the fan, and I don't think it's gonna be too long before it does, and I wanna make sure that my son and his family get settled somewhere safe.

"Don't even think about tellin' me that I need to go, too. I've already had the argument, in spades, with my son and his wife, and it just ain't gonna happen. As he so often tells me, I'm a stubborn old fart, and I ain't about to change anytime soon." he laughed.

"I know exactly what my dad would've done, and I aim to do things just like he would've.

"I still have lots of friends; well, most of them were Dad's friends, but they all respect me and they are all going to need this place, here. So, as long as I can manage to keep it going. I'm not just going to pull up stakes and leave this place. It just plain ain't gonna happen. That's final!

"I love the people around here way too much and so does Martha, that’s my wife and the best short order cook this side of heaven. I thought it would be best if she left with you guys, too, but she wouldn't even listen to my arguments. She stood right there and told me that we're partners for life, and that's the way it's gonna stay. So she and I will hold out here, for as long as we can, and hopefully we can weather the storm, so to speak, and once all this crap is finished, my family can come back here, and we'll still be right here, then we'll go on from there.

"I know the Teamsters have promised to take care of the bill you guys ring up, but I don't want their money, or yours either. So, put that stuff in the bag and take it out to those kids I saw you with earlier. I want to show my appreciation for what you've done so far, and what I hope you will do for me and my family, namely getting my kids and grandkids out of here and to a safe place."

While Father Doherty was in the truck stop, Emo was waiting on the bus.

Most times, Emo was perfectly content to be left to his own thoughts. In fact, he preferred it. This time, however, he felt something gnawing at him.

Greg, the guy who could barely hear, had been driving all day long. Although Emo didn't know from personal experience how tiring that was, he understood that it was a sacrifice and that the others appreciated it and respected Greg for what he was doing.

Art and Euan had been working as a team on the CB radio, and had sort of taken on the responsibility of keeping track of the entire, ever expanding, convoy and relaying important messages from anyone in trouble to Father Doherty.

Emo absently shook his head in wonder at the amazing man that he had found himself with, by pure chance. Everyone on the bus, everyone in the convoy, looked to Father Doherty for his guidance. No one had ever trusted Emo to do a single thing, and he couldn't imagine how strong of a person Father Doherty was to be able to make decisions for HUNDREDS of people and remain calm and collected. He, however, felt ashamed that he wasn’t doing anything.

The sound of the AM radio intruded on his thoughts and Emo turned, and saw Jim listening carefully for any details that Father Doherty or the rest of the convoy might need to know. In essence, he was keeping watch on the outside world and staying alert so that the rest of them wouldn't have to sort through the unimportant details.

He saw Father Kinsey and Father Franklin step onto the bus and hurry to the back. He didn't need to look, to know what they were doing. He was sure that the two priests were gathering something or other to help another of their convoy, whether it be food or warm clothes.

Even the two punks, Jingo and Trav, had proven to be incredibly useful. They had gotten the bus past the state police roadblock, then had even performed emergency surgery on Ahmid to get the bullet out of his shoulder. And just as they arrived, they had volunteered to go and get medicine for a sick little girl.

Looking around at all the people he was traveling with, Emo felt that he should be doing something... doing more to contribute. How could he remain sitting, waiting to be served lunch, waiting to be taken to their next stop, just waiting... on the off chance that someone might ask him for his help to do... something, anything?

Without really thinking about it, Emo got up from his seat and walked forward, then got off the bus.

The air outside still had a bit of a chill, but it wasn't so bad that he needed to go back for his jacket. The afternoon sunshine made up for it.

He heard the sound of a fussy baby not too far away, but didn't give it much thought. He looked around the truck stop, flooded to beyond overflowing with every type of vehicle imaginable, and tried to think of something he could do. Some way that he could help someone, that might contribute to the well being of the convoy.

The cry of the baby escalated into a full fledged shriek, and drew his attention.

When he was younger, he had spent some time with one of his distant cousins who had a baby, and he was able to recognize that the baby's cry wasn't a typical one.

He walked around the front of the bus to investigate and found a woman holding a baby and leaning against a car, parked just on the other side. If he had thought to look out his window while he was on the bus, he could have easily seen her.

As he walked up to the car, the first thing that he noticed was that the woman holding the baby was young... too young. Despite the red eyes framed by dark circles, he would be willing to bet that the young woman wasn't even eighteen.

"It sounds really unhappy." Emo said quietly as he approached.

"I'm beginning to think that that's just his nature." The young woman said in a rough voice. She sounded like she had been crying. Now that he was closer, he could tell that she was exhausted.

Suddenly, the baby let out a demonic little growl, followed by an ear piercing shriek that stopped Emo in his tracks.

"Come on, baby. You need to calm down or we're going to lose our ride." The young woman said in a soothing voice as she started gently bouncing him.

The baby started the low, demonic growl again, which combined with the bouncing, resulted in an interesting engine-like sound.

"I used to take care of my little cousin, and he always seemed to like it. If you want, I could try holding him for a while." Emo offered cautiously.

"Sure. I don't seem to be having any luck." The young woman said with resignation. "He's been crying for over an hour, now, on and off. Every time I think I'm getting him settled down, he seems to gather more energy and starts crying louder. He was a little bit quieter while we were on the road. But when we stopped here, he started his air raid siren again. Honestly, I'm at my wit's end. I don't know why, but, somehow, I get the feeling you really want to help, so let's see what he does if you hold him. Do you know how to hold an infant?"

"Yeah. I helped my second cousin, Jasmine, take care of her little Anthony; well, I helped a little, anyway." Emo finished shyly.

"Wow, I'm talking to you as if I've known you all my life, and I don't even know your name." She giggled. "I'm Angela Baxter, what's your name?"

"I hate my real name, so I never use it anymore. Most people just call me Emo." he told her.

"My mom always used to say that knowing a person's name gives you some sort of power over them, so I can sort of understand you not wanting to give it out freely. Emo certainly fits you, though. I like it."

Emo smiled at the compliment and took it to heart.

She walked over to Emo and gently put the little baby in Emo's arms. As soon as he got comfortable holding the little guy, the baby looked right into Emo's eyes, and calmed right down. He wiggled a little, to get more comfortable, and closed his eyes.

"You're really cute, little guy." Emo whispered.

The baby cooed and Emo giggled.

"Seriously!?" Angela gasped. "I'm his mother and he hasn't been that contented with me for weeks. I had him eight weeks ago, and after the first couple of weeks, he hasn't been quiet for more than a couple of hours at a time, and then, only after I've fed him."

"Where's his Daddy? He should be helping you. It's his baby, too."

"Well, he's out of the picture for good. He walked off the night I told him I was pregnant, and I haven't seen him since. I can't say that that bothers me all that much. I mean, he told me to get an abortion. He didn't offer to pay for it, though. I couldn't have gone through with an abortion, anyway. I just couldn't. I kept telling myself that I would give him up for adoption, and he'd get some loving parents and have a wonderful life, but once I saw him, I couldn't just hand him over to the Social Services Child Division. I've seen what they do with kids."

"Don't I know it." Emo whispered, trying not to wake up the sleeping beauty.

"I still can't believe how comfortable he seems to be in your arms. I got out of the car to let Justine get a break from his crying. She was kind enough to give me a ride, and I am really grateful for that, but she doesn't have much patience with babies. She said she never wanted kids of her own, but she didn't mind watching them occasionally for someone else. But Colton has been so fussy that I'm getting worried that she might not let us keep going with her."

"Well, if your friend needs a break, why don't you and Colton ride with us for the next leg of the trip? There's still one or two empty seats left on the bus and I know that no one would mind." Emo said honestly.

"But what if he starts crying again? It's bad enough that Justine and I had to listen to it for hours on end, I'd hate to put a bus full of people through that." Angela said slowly, obviously conflicted about the decision.

"There are three priests on our bus. I don't think anyone's going to get too nasty if Colton gets fussy." Emo said softly as he looked at the adorable baby in his arms.

After a long silent moment, Angela finally said, "Okay. You talked me into it. Just give me a few minutes to get his diaper bag and to tell Justine what's going on."

"Take all the time you need. I’m just going to take him on the bus, where it’s a little warmer." Emo said with a smile at the sleeping baby.

Angela stepped onto the bus and cautiously looked around. She smiled when she saw Emo sitting in a chair with Colton sleeping on his chest.

"Emo, would you mind watching Colt for a few minutes while I go into the truck stop? I'd like to take the chance to freshen up and I'd also like to buy a few things." Angela asked hopefully.

"No problem. You take as long as you need. Us guys are doing just fine." Emo said with a smile at the baby in his arms.

Angela watched Emo holding the baby for a moment, then silently turned and left the bus.

"Emo... where did you get that?" Euan asked as he and Art walked onto the bus.

"Hi guys. This is Colton. You don't think Father Doherty will mind that I invited him and his mom to ride with us, do you?" Emo asked anxiously.

"No. Probably not. Knowing him." Euan said honestly.

"Isn't he cute?" Emo asked as he looked at the baby adoringly.

Art and Euan moved closer to get a better look at the baby and couldn't help but agree.

"Has Father Kinsey made it back, yet?" Father Doherty asked as he got onto the bus.

"No. Last we saw, he and Father Franklin were giving extra clothing and blankets to some of those that just joined our convoy." Euan said slowly.

"I met him in the truck stop while I was talking to the owner. I got the impression that he wanted to tell me something, but was reluctant to say it back there." Father Doherty said as he walked further onto the bus, then stopped in his tracks when he saw Emo holding a baby in his arms.

"Look at what I got." Emo said with a grin.

Father Doherty's eyes went wide and he was obviously speechless.

"You don't mind, do you?" Emo asked as his smile faded.

"What did you do, Emo?" Father Doherty asked cautiously.

"I just invited Colt, here, and his mom to ride with us until we stop for the night." Emo said plaintively.

"Where is his mother?" Father Doherty asked slowly.

"She's in the truck stop, getting cleaned up." Emo said in a rush.

"After some discussion with Big Noise and some others, we've decided to remain here for the night; then start fresh in the morning, after everyone's had a good night of sleep." Father Doherty said softly.

Emo thought for a moment, then said, "Yeah. I bet Angela is gonna be happy about that. She looks dead tired."

"Tired people tend to make mistakes. Big Noise and the others are professional truckers and I trust their judgment when they say that we will actually save more time than we'll lose if we take a night off so that everyone can rest up and be at their best." Father Doherty said frankly.

"Makes sense." Emo said gently as he looked at the baby sleeping in his arms.

"Another reason to stop is so that we can be sure that everyone is ready for the drive tomorrow. We'll check out the vehicles, make sure that everyone has a CB radio and do whatever else we can to make sure the entire convoy has everything they need, to make a long distance run tomorrow."

"If we're not leaving tonight, then what should we be doing now?" Euan asked slowly.

"Since you're our communications experts, I think it would be good if you got the word out to everyone else that we're staying the night here." Father Doherty said with a smile.

Art and Euan exchanged surprised looks, then Art hesitantly asked, "You're trusting us to tell EVERYONE?"

"You're our communications guys, aren't you? Who else would I trust to do it?" Father Doherty asked with a grin.

"But what if we can't find everyone to tell them?" Euan asked in a small voice.

"Be sure to tell everyone to pass on the message. Even if you don't tell them directly, you can be reasonably sure that at some point they'll be told."

"We'll do it." Art said decisively.

"If anyone is having a problem, be sure to send them to me." Father Doherty said as he finally took his usual seat, beside Emo.

"Yes, Father." Art said warmly, then led the way off the bus.

"What was the baby's name, again?" Father Doherty asked as he looked at the baby tenderly.


"Absolutely beautiful."

Emo and Father Doherty looked up at the sound of someone getting on the bus.

"Father Doherty, this is Angela Baxter. She's Colton's mom." Emo said quietly, so as not to disturb the baby.

"You have a beautiful baby, Miss Baxter." Father Doherty said warmly.

"Oh, please, call me Angela." She said nervously.

Father Doherty looked at her for a long moment, then said, "Of course, Angela. And before I forget to mention it, I just wanted you to know that until yesterday, I worked at a rescue mission in inner city Chicago. So I have a wealth of knowledge when it comes to taking care of babies. Should you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to come to me at any time."

"That's good. Up until now, Emo's about the most experienced person that I've been around." Angela said weakly.

"What about your parents, dear?" Father Doherty asked gently.

"My mom died when I was little. When I told my dad that I was pregnant, he called me a whore and threw me out of his house." Angela said as tears welled in her eyes.

Father Doherty slowly nodded, then quietly said, "It happens all too often that way. Girls, who are barely more than children themselves, are forced to face a world of hate and cruelty for being the most natural thing in the world, a mother."

Angela’s tears fell as she nodded her agreement.

"Over the years, I've taken in several young mothers and helped them as much as I could until they were able to provide for themselves and their children." Father Doherty said quietly, then looked her in the eyes as he continued, "And there have been times when a mother who wasn't prepared and couldn't deal with the responsibility, chose to leave her child with me, knowing that I would do my best to provide the child the best possible home and future."

Emo looked at Father Doherty with surprise at the words.

"You didn't call the cops on them?" Angela asked hesitantly.

"Many times I didn't need to. It wasn't like they up and left in the middle of the night. With a few legal documents and a notary, I was given guardianship. That allowed me the time and the freedom to find the best possible home for the child. The mother was free to get on with her own life, secure in the knowledge that her child was being provided for."

"You must... wow." Angela stammered.

"Yeah." Emo said hesitantly.

"But for now, it appears that we're going to be taking the rest of the day off from traveling. You would be welcome to stay here with us and have dinner if you would like." Father Doherty said pleasantly.

"What? We're not driving anymore today?" Angela asked with surprise.

"No. When we arrived here, I talked with some professional truckers and they told me that some of my drivers seriously needed some down time. Once we've got everyone rested, then we're going to make a really long drive tomorrow."

"I need to tell Justine. I bet she's gonna be SO happy!" Angela smiled. She turned and seemed to be about to leave when she looked back at Emo, holding Colton.

"He's fine. If he wakes up, I can come and get you." Emo said frankly.

Angela thought about it for a moment, then quietly said, "Thanks, Emo."

He smiled at her and nodded, then watched as she left the bus.

As soon as Angela was gone, Emo turned to Father Doherty and asked, "What was that all about?"

"What do you mean?" Father Doherty asked curiously.

"Sometimes they choose to leave their babies with me." Emo said in a poor imitation of Father Doherty's voice, then looked at him curiously.

"She was thinking about it, Emo. I'm certain of it. I've seen too many new mothers with that same look." Father Doherty said frankly.

"Thinking about what?" Emo asked cautiously, although he already knew.

"She was thinking about leaving, and not taking her baby with her." Father Doherty said as he looked Emo in the eyes.

"No. She wouldn't..." Emo began to say, but faltered as he realized that even he didn't believe what he was saying.

"I don't know that she would." Father Doherty conceded, then added, "But she was thinking about it."

"So you just let her know that you'd be willing to take Colt, so that he'd be safe?" Emo asked slowly.

"No. I just told her a way that she can escape this burden of responsibility without destroying her life or the life of her son." Father Doherty said gently.

Emo looked down at the little boy in his arms and wanted to hold him a little tighter, to protect him.

"I sincerely hope that she decides to keep the baby. But if she chooses not to, we can see that he has the best possible future." Father Doherty said softly as he looked at the sleeping little boy.

"We?" Emo asked uncertainly.

"Yes, Marsden. We."

"Oh, I need to sit down." Harry said as he walked onto the bus in obvious pain.

"Have you been overdoing it?" Father Doherty asked with concern.

Once Harry settled into his seat, he said, "A little. But it was worth it. Word is spreading that we're stopping here for the night and... I don't even know how to describe it. Everyone is weary and worried but still... so full of hope. It's amazing to be part of something like this. It's kind of like a dream."

"I suppose it is." Father Doherty said distantly.

"Have you seen where I put my crutches? So far, I've been feeling well enough not to need them. But I'm betting that I'll need to use them for the next few days, if I'm able to stand up at all." Harry said as he looked around as best he could without getting up from his chair.

"I saw your crutches in the back, standing just outside the lavatory door. I believe they were placed there when Keith reconfigured the seating." Father Doherty said as he stood and started toward the back.

Harry leaned forward and looked at Emo curiously for a moment before asking, "You didn't have that with you the whole time, did you?"

"No." Emo chuckled, then added, "I've just been taking care of Colton since we stopped here."

Harry nodded, then said, "Good. I know that I've been kind of absorbed in everything that's going on, but I didn't think I was that out of it."

"Here you go, Harry. And if you need anything else, please let me know." Father Doherty said as he handed over the crutches.

"I will, Father. Thank you." Harry said as he accepted the crutches and placed them beside his chair.

The sound of more people entering the bus drew everyone's attention.

"Is everything alright?" Father Doherty immediately asked when he saw Jingo and Trav.

"Fine. We got everything we needed. Seeing the looks on those people’s faces when we gave them the insulin made the whole trip worth it." Jingo said happily.

Trav looked as giddy as a kid at Christmas as he followed.

"Trav, Harry has been having some serious back pain. I was wondering if you might be able to spare something so that he can have a good night of sleep, tonight." Father Doherty asked hesitantly.

"Hell yeah! I gots skittles for days!" Trav giggled, then took a ziplock bag from his pocket and started to sort through it.

"Here ya go, man. These is the BEST!" Trav said as he handed Harry two pills.

Harry looked at Father Doherty uncertainly.

"I think Trav is as close to an expert on pain management as we've got." Father Doherty said frankly.

"Don't you be worryin' 'bout nothin’. We's s'posed ta gets all a yous ta Washin'ton. This shit'll just shut the pain off. That's it." Trav said firmly.

"And if you take too many, you'll have to go into rehab to get off of 'em." Jingo added seriously.

Trav made a little 'pfft' sound in her direction as he rolled his eyes, then looked at Harry questioningly.

"I'll get you something to wash them down." Father Doherty said as he stood.

"You really think I should take them?" Harry asked uncertainly.

"I really think that the pain that you've been in has been slowly closing in on you, preventing you from enjoying more and more of your life. I wouldn't recommend that you take these drugs regularly, but I think that you're overdue for a night off." Father Doherty said as he handed a glass of water to Harry.

After another moment to consider, Harry slowly put the pills into his mouth, then washed them down with a long drink of water.

"Hold on! Wait! Don't take those!" Trav said as he looked into his bag full of pills.

Harry looked at Trav with wide eyes filled with panic.

"I'm jus’ fuckin' wit’ ya." Trav giggled, then fell back into his chair, roaring with laughter.

Harry wilted with relief as Father Doherty fought to keep from laughing openly.

"Is he awake, yet?" Angela asked as she climbed onto the bus.

"No. He's slept the whole time." Emo said, then looked down and noticed that Colton's eyes were wide open and alert.

"He must've heard his mama. I bet he knows what time it is." She said as she walked to Emo.

Colton started making sucking sounds as he began to wiggle in Emo's arms.

"Come to mama. It's your dinner time." Angela said as she gently took the baby from Emo.

"Wait, you gots a baby?" Trav asked in confusion.

"Yeah. Ever since Chicago. Didn't you notice?" Emo asked as he watched Angela drape a towel over Colton before reaching underneath to bare a nipple.

Emo turned in time to see Trav looking at Jingo to tell him if he really was that out of it.

"I'm just fuckin' with you." Emo finally said with a wink, then looked over to see Harry grinning at the whole exchange.

Angela sighed deeply. "His nursing me is a double edged sword. It feels so nice when he's drinking like this, but then when he's finished, he throws about half of it up, when I burp him."

Once Colton finished his meal, Angela held him against her shoulder and started gently patting his back.

"He may not like being patted." Emo said with concern.

When she looked at him, he continued. "He doesn't like that. It hurts his stomach. You didn't see his face when you did that. If you always do that, it's no wonder he throws up." Emo gently took Colton from her and cuddled him for a moment. Then he laid Colton across his lap on a towel as he started rubbing his back and mumbling softly as he did so. In a few seconds, Colton let loose with a huge loud burp, with no sign of him throwing up, causing a huge burst of applause to erupt from everyone on the bus.

"That was Awesome!" Emo said with a smile, "I couldn't have done better myself."

Which garnered quite a bit of giggling and other assorted laughter from most everyone.

"Is anybody hungry?" Artimus asked as he climbed onto the bus, carrying two large plastic bags, one on each arm.

"Did you BUY lunch for everyone?" Father Doherty asked with surprise.

"No. Your good friend, Ferguson, insisted on providing lunch for our entire group. He wouldn't take no for an answer." Artimus said happily as he carried the food farther onto the bus.

Father Kinsey climbed onto the bus next with two more bags and timidly said, "I felt funny accepting his hospitality, but I couldn't seem to be able to find a way to refuse. I wanted to talk to you about it, but you were otherwise occupied at the time."

"No disrespect to Father Kinsey, I love everything he cooks and have never had any complaints. But from the smell... I think most everything here is DEEP FRIED! I can't even tell you how much I've missed that." Father Franklin said as he brought up the rear with even more bags of food.

"It looks like the three of you have brought enough food to feed an army." Father Doherty said with surprise.

"Yes. It DOES look that way." Father Franklin agreed.

"Can someone help me get the tables set up, so I can start laying this out? I don't know about anyone else, but I'm really quite hungry." Father Kinsey said hopefully.

"Got it." Artimus said as he started pulling the tables out of their little cabinet.

"Are you sure you don't mind me staying?" Angela asked quietly.

"Of course we don't mind. Honestly, I think we're going to need all the help we can get to eat all this food." Father Doherty said with a chuckle.

"But before we do that... I think this little guy might need a fresh diaper." Emo said reluctantly.

"I should probably take him to the car to do that. I swear, every time I try to change him, it's like he's marking his territory. He's like a fire hose!" Angela said as she picked up the diaper bag.

"Perhaps it might be a good idea to do it here, so I can offer some helpful hints." Father Doherty suggested gently.

"Yeah. I changed Anthony a few times. I think I remember what to do." Emo said quickly.

After a moment to consider, Angela started taking the needed supplies out of the diaper bag.

"If you'll let me in there for a moment, then you'll have a table to change him on." Father Franklin said as he started unfolding the legs.

"Yeah. That'll work." Emo said as he held Colton against his chest and sat back.

A moment later, the table was set up in front of Emo.

"I'll put down a towel... I hope one's enough." Angela said nervously.

"I'm sure it will be fine." Father Doherty said soothingly.

"Don't worry, little guy. This'll just take a minute." Emo said to the baby with a smile, then carefully placed him on the towel. As soon as the baby was settled, he turned to Angela and asked, "Do you have the new diaper ready?"

"Here." She said cautiously, since he hadn't even made a move to take off the dirty diaper yet.

"I'm ready for it." Emo said as he stopped and waited.

Angela handed it to him and noticed that he unfolded the diaper and placed it beside the baby before he even made a move to remove the soiled diaper.

"This is the tricky part." Emo said as he released the little sticky tabs.

In one swift move, he lowered the front of the diaper and simultaneously moved the new diaper into place.

"You thought you had me there, didn't you." Emo said gently to Colton. "I could see it in your beady little eyes."

The baby giggled and started kicking his feet.

"Yeah. Your mama warned me about you." Emo said as he efficiently removed the soiled diaper, then asked Angela, "Do you have any baby wipes?"

"Yes. Here you go." Angela said in a rush, then held the open box out to him.

"Gotta clean up your poopy little mess..." Emo said soothingly to Colton as he wiped his little bottom.

"Do you use any kind of lotion?" Emo asked as he glanced at Angela.

"I did when he had diaper rash, but I haven't since it cleared up." Angela answered quickly, then asked, "Should I?"

"My cousin used it all the time. I don't know if that's right or wrong. I just thought I should ask." Emo said casually as he brought the new diaper up under Colton and fastened it closed.

"There we go." Emo said happily, then looked at Father Doherty and asked, "Did I miss anything?"

"No. Not a thing." Father Doherty said with a satisfied smile.

"I'll get rid of this smelly thing." Angela said as she took the soiled diaper and moved to the front of the bus.

"It's really okay that I invited them, isn't it?" Emo asked with concern.

"Yes, Marsden. Not only is it okay, I believe that it is as it was meant to be." Father Doherty said slowly.

Emo looked at him curiously, but Angela approaching prevented him from asking what the Father meant by that.

"These fried mushrooms are HEAVENLY!" Father Franklin said dramatically.

A few smiles went around the gathering, but no one made any comment, mostly because their mouths were too full.

"Boys, do you think that you were able to get the message out to the rest of the convoy that we're stopping for the night?" Father Doherty asked between bites.

"Yeah. We made a big circle and talked to lots of people. We did like you said and told everyone to pass the message along." Euan said happily.

"Very good." Father Doherty said with a smile, then thought to ask, "Has anyone thought about what they'd like to do, since we have a night off from traveling?"

"I heard some talk, and I think that Lesbian Gravy is going to put on a show in the lot behind the truck stop." Arthur said seriously.

"Do you think that they'll need the bus?" Father Doherty asked with concern.

"Have you been behind the truck stop?" Arthur asked in return.

"No. I don't think I had reason to go back there." Father Doherty said slowly.

"There's already a platform out there. I bet that there's some kind of biker rallies or some other kind of event that's held here. It's just too perfect of a stage to be sitting out there for no reason." Arthur said honestly.

"Well then, if they're going to put on a show, I think that we should all go, to show our support." Father Doherty said decisively.

"Yeah. And besides, I really enjoyed their show last night." Artimus said honestly.

"Lesbian Gravy put on a show last night?" Angela asked quietly.

"Yes. At the rest stop where we stayed. They played a lot of really old songs that everybody knew and everyone was singing along... it was really nice." Emo said frankly.

"I think I'd like to see that." Angela said with the beginning of a smile.

"We'll just need to be sure to bundle Colton up so he doesn't get too cold." Emo said thoughtfully.

"I've got some extra things in the diaper bag. It should be enough." Angela said confidently.

Father Doherty smiled at the exchange, then quietly said, "I think that before the show, I would very much like to take a walk around and talk with some of the people we're traveling with. I got to meet some of them last night, and I'd like to check on them to see how they're doing."

"Can we go with you?" Art asked hopefully.

"Of course. Anyone who wishes to, may accompany me. I doubt that we'll encounter as many people in need as we did last night, but still... I feel drawn to walk among the people and try to understand who all of them are and where they're coming from. I think that will be the only way that we can REALLY help them." Father Doherty said, as if to himself.

"Do you want to go with us?" Emo asked Angela gently.

"Not really. If I could, I'd really like to take a nap, except that I'm afraid that I'll miss Lesbian Gravy's show." Angela said frankly.

"Why don't I take Colton on the walk with me, and we'll come back and wake you up when the show's about to start?" Emo asked with a smile.

"You'd do that?" Angela asked with surprise.

"Sure. You go and have a good rest. Us guys are just going to go and meet the neighbors." Emo said with a smile.

"Thank you, Emo. You don't know how bad I need this." Angela said and seemed to be about to break into tears.

"We'll see you in a few hours." Emo said with a smile, then watched as Angela hurried off the bus.

"Harry, are you sure that you're up to walking around with us?" Father Doherty asked with concern as they stepped off the bus.

"Honestly, I feel like I could do anything right now. I don't know what it was that Trav gave me, but it's far and away better than anything my doctor has ever given me for pain. If I'm only going to feel like this for one night, I'm going to make the most of it." Harry said seriously.

Father Doherty smiled and nodded, then turned to his other side and asked, "Do you think that Colton's going to be warm enough?"

Emo looked down at the baby, dressed in a miniature hoodie and said, "He's got his jacket and he's wrapped in a blanket. I think the fresh air will be good for him. But if it starts getting colder, I'll just take him back to the bus."

"Just keep a careful eye on him. If you notice him acting like he's cold, be sure to get him warm immediately." Father Doherty warned.

Emo nodded his agreement, but was gratified beyond words that Father Doherty was trusting him with such an important task.

"Are you Monarch?" A man asked cautiously as he approached with a woman at his side.

"Yes, although you may call me Art when we are not on the radio." Art said pleasantly.

"We heard you earlier on the CB, saying that if anyone needed food or warm clothing..." The man trailed off, looking to be ashamed for asking for charity.

"Please, realize that all of us were caught unawares by the events of the past days. Our best hope rests in helping each other. If you have need of something, please ask." Art said calmly.

"If you could spare some food... we don't eat very much." The woman asked timidly.

"I'll get it." Euan said quietly before dashing away, back to the bus.

"Euan will bring you some food. Is there anything else that you'll be needing?" Art asked cautiously.

"No. We have everything we need in the car, we just didn't think to take any food with us." The woman said shyly.

"As I said, we were all caught unawares." Art said sympathetically.

"You look as though you've been in a fight. Are you okay?" The man asked Art with concern.

Art chuckled, then said, "I am well. This is nothing more than some scrapes and bruises from an incident that happened before everything else in the world went crazy."

"But are you alright?" The woman asked as she looked Art in the eyes.

"I thank you for your concern, but rest assured that I am doing quite well." Art said gently.

"Here. This should be enough for a couple days." Euan said as he walked up carrying a cardboard box.

"Thank you, but this is way too much." The woman said with surprise.

"If you have excess, then share with someone in need. I have a feeling that there will be no shortage of need in the coming days." Art said gravely.

"We'll do that. And if either one of you need anything, we're Holly and Ryan. We always have the radio on, so call us if you need anything at all." The woman said seriously.

"The best hope for all of us to get through this crisis is to help each other. So, I promise you that if we find ourselves in need, we will call upon you." Art said in a calm, respectful voice.

"Thank you, not only for the food, but for treating us... decently. Being without food..."

"We were all caught unawares." Art interrupted.

Ryan nodded, then turned with the box of food in his arms.

"Thanks again." Holly said quickly before turning to catch up to Ryan.

Father Doherty and his group walked from one vehicle to the next, introducing themselves or visiting with people they had met the previous night. Father Doherty received an unexpectedly warm welcome from Margaret, then she noticed Colton and spent several minutes gushing over what a beautiful baby he was.

"Do you know how to play soccer?" A boy asked as he walked up to Euan.

"Yes, both Art and I play at our school." Euan answered pleasantly.

"If we can find a couple more kids, maybe we could play, some." The boy said hopefully.

"Father, would you mind if Art and I played soccer with these guys?" Euan asked cautiously.

"I think that's a wonderful idea. The reason we're stopping tonight is so that everyone has a chance to relax, so you should go and enjoy yourselves." Father Doherty said warmly.

"Can we, Mom?" the boy asked as he looked up into his mother's eyes.

"Sure. Just stay where I can see you." Margaret said warmly.

"C'mon, Jody. Mom said 'yes'," the boy said toward the SUV.

A moment later, a slightly younger boy hopped out the open door, carrying a soccer ball.

"Cody! Jody! You stay where I can see you. Do you hear me?" Margaret called after them.

"We'll be right here." The older of the two, Cody, called back.

"Since Brody went missing, I've been so scared for them." Margaret muttered as she watched them run away.

"Understandable." Father Doherty said gently, at her side.

Although everyone else had moved on to visit with other people in the convoy, Father Doherty and Emo remained with Margaret. They weren't in any hurry and were able to enjoy a comfortable visit.

When they had been talking for awhile, Father Franklin approached the gathering, leading two men, one older and one younger.

"I'm sorry for interrupting you, Father. But these gentlemen would like very much to speak with you." Father Franklin said quietly.

"That's quite alright. Gentlemen, the young man is Emo and the baby in his arms is Colton. And this lovely young woman at my side is Margaret. Please feel free to join us." Father Doherty said pleasantly.

"Thank you. If you're sure that we won't be interrupting." The older man said uncertainly.

"There's nothing to interrupt. We're just chatting about everything and nothing while we watch the children play." Father Doherty said as he gestured toward the field where about ten children were now playing soccer.

"My name is Joshua Taggert and this is my son Jeremiah. It's our pleasure to meet you." The man said respectfully.

"Artimus and Harry are waiting for me. Please, excuse me." Father Franklin said in a rush before withdrawing.

Father Doherty watched him leave, then looked at the father and son curiously.

"We joined up with this rather amazing collection of people this morning. And everyone that we've talked to since has told us that you're the person in charge, and that it was you that decided that we're going to Kettle Falls." Joshua said seriously.

After a moment to consider, Father Doherty quietly said, "Although there might be some truth to what you've been told, I should probably tell you that all of this happened on its own. There was never a point when anyone ever asked me if I wanted to be in charge, and I most certainly never asked for it."

"I suppose that I can see that." Joshua said slowly, then thought to ask, "But still, I'm very interested to know how you came to the decision to travel to Kettle Falls."

"Actually, it's quite simple. That's where my son is." Father Doherty said simply.

Joshua and Jeremiah stared at Father Doherty uncertainly, but it was Margaret who finally asked, "You have a son?"

"Yes. That's actually quite a long story. But suffice it to say that I met my son for the first time a few short days ago. The people at my mission were in a bit of a quandary about how to protect the children in our charge. When my son and his cousin arrived, they were able to make arrangements to get the children to safety. I'm not quite sure how or why, but they ended up in Kettle Falls, Washington."

After a moment to consider, Joshua slowly asked, "So you don't know anyone who's a member of the kingdom?"

"STOP!" A voice called out.

Everyone looked toward the field of children playing to find that a young child had wandered into the midst of the soccer game.

No one said anything and only watched as one of the kids ran around and seemed to be talking to everyone.

"What are they up to?" Jeremiah asked curiously.

Before anyone could answer, the game play started up again.

It took a moment before Emo understood what was going on.

"I think Art just told everyone to include Gunner." Emo said with a smile.

"Look at that." Jeremiah said with a laugh as he pointed.

The kids who were playing had kicked the ball to Gunner, and all of them were waiting and encouraging him to kick it.

Finally, Gunner gave it a good kick and everyone on both their loosely formed teams cheered for him.

"Those are some good kids you got there." Margaret said admiringly.

Father Doherty smiled as he nodded.

"Are you guys going to the Lesbian Gravy concert tonight?" Emo asked Jeremiah curiously.

"Dad wants to catch up on his sleep, but I was thinking about it. How about you?" Jeremiah asked hopefully.

"Yeah. As long as it's not too cold for Colton." Emo said as he cuddled the baby in his arms.

"Is that your son?" Jeremiah asked as he moved closer to see the baby.

"No." Emo said regretfully, and it was obvious that he didn't want to go into detail.

"Those are some good boys." Emmogene said distantly as she watched the children play.

"I've honestly not spent much time with children before this week. Of course, I've worked to help any of the children who have been at our mission, but I've always kept my distance..." Father Franklin said as he smiled at the children playing.

"Having Gunner is one of the greatest joys of my life. It makes me sad to think that you may never have that chance." Emmogene said as she turned to look at her brother.

"Things are very much up in the air with me right now. Before we left Chicago, we were ordered by the church to close our mission and turn all our residents out into the street. When we refused to do so, all of us chose to leave the priesthood. While we're on this journey, it seems that all of us are continuing to behave as priests, that being the best way for us to help the most people. But once we arrive at our destination, I suppose that some decisions will have to be made." Father Franklin said as he turned his attention back to the children.

"Are you thinking about leaving the priesthood permanently so that you can start a family?" Emmogene asked softly.

"No. I haven't really been thinking about it. But this little bit of time that I've spent with the boys has been so pleasant... Let's just say that I'm not as opposed to the idea as I once was." Father Franklin finished with a smile.

"You should really think about it, Eustis. Maybe there's a way that you can continue to help people and still have a life that's your own." Emmogene said imploringly.

"I'll think about it, Em." Father Franklin said to his sister with a smile.

When the sun finally set, the preparations for the concert were completed.

Emo made sure that Colton was dressed warmly and brought an extra blanket with him, just in case.

As much as he didn't want to, he reluctantly walked to the car that was parked beside the bus and tapped on the window.

It took two more bouts of tapping before Angela realized who it was that was knocking.

"I'm sorry to wake you up, but you wanted to see the concert and Colton needs his dinner."

"No problem. If I wait too long to feed him, the milk builds up and it hurts. I need this as much as he does." She said as she opened her blouse and bared a breast.

Emo handed the baby to her, then looked away.

When the feeding was done, Angela excused herself to go to the ladies room at the truck stop and told Emo that she'd catch up with him later.

Although Emo had expected Angela to join him at the concert, he wasn't particularly bothered by her choice. So, once she had walked away, he walked the short distance to where Jeremiah and his dad were parked.

As he approached the panel van, Jeremiah spotted him and happily got out of the van and hurried to join Emo and Colton.

"I talked to some people, and I think that this is gonna be great." Jeremiah said with a grand smile.

"If it's anything like last night, then it’ll be almost magical. Just having everyone gathered around and singing together... It's awesome. I've never felt anything like it." Emo said happily as he led the way toward the back of the truck stop.

At the beginning of the concert, Keith asked Emmogene to bring Gunner up to the stage. When Emo looked around, he could tell that no one else knew what was going on either. But Emo broke into a wide grin when he saw Keith give Gunner a microphone.

With some backup from the band, Gunner gave a rather rocking rendition of 'Twinkle Twinkle Little Star'. When the applause finally died down (and it took some time), Keith led Gunner back to Emmogene and gave him a kiss goodnight before sending him on his way.

After that, the concert seemed to take on a life of its own. There were some of the old songs from the night before but also a lot of newer songs as well as a few of Lesbian Gravy's original works.

Colton was awake through most of the concert. He seemed to be aware of what was going on and enjoying all the odd new sounds occurring around him. Emo kept close watch on him, but the baby seemed to be perfectly happy.

“This is going to be our last song tonight. We hope we helped to take your minds off your troubles for a while. Just remember, folks, we’re all in this together.” Keith said before nodding to his band mates. When the music started, everyone was surprised to hear the band performing an instrumental version of the National Anthem.

To the band’s credit, they didn’t try to jazz it up. It was a straightforward rendition, done as true to the original score as could be done on the instruments they used.

Those that knew the words, sang along. Those that didn’t, simply held their right hands to their hearts and listened. There were more than a few damp eyes as the final notes of the song faded away into the night.

Emo didn’t have words to describe what he was feeling, he just knew that it was something incredibly special.

As the crowd began to disperse, Emo walked with Jeremiah back to his van. They didn’t talk, but the silence between them was contemplative, not uncomfortable. Once Jeremiah was safely in his father’s car, Emo headed back toward the bus, with Colton in his arms.

"Would you think about doing me a big favor?" Angela asked as he met her outside the bus.

"Of course. What can I do for you?" Emo asked immediately.

"Listen. I'm dead tired. It was great to have a nap, but what I'm really needing is a full night of sleep. I was just wondering, since he seems so quiet and happy with you, if there's any way you could keep Colton for the whole night?" Angela asked hopefully, begging with her eyes.

"Yeah. I'd love that, but isn't he going to need to eat during the middle of the night?" Emo asked thoughtfully.

"Don't worry about that. I'll express some milk, then I'll show you how to warm it up when he's hungry. If you run into any problems during the night, I'll be sleeping in the car, right next door." Angela said happily.

"Oh, I didn't know... You can do that?" Emo asked with surprise.

"When my dad kicked me out, I went to this shelter. Since I was pregnant they sent me to some prenatal classes. Along with teaching me which end to diaper, they also gave me a breast pump and taught me how to use it." Angela said simply.

"I didn't know... Um... Sure. I'd be happy to watch Colton tonight." Emo stammered.

"Thanks. You're sweet. If you don't mind, I'd like to use the bathroom on the bus for a few minutes while I'm using the breast pump. And when I'm done, I'll show you how to heat up the bottle." Angela said with a smile.

"Yeah. Let's go!" Emo said happily then turned to climb onto the bus.

By the time Angela was done with her instructions, just about everyone was getting settled in for sleep.

"What do you think, little guy? Do you think us guys will be alright for one night?" Emo asked as he rested back and settled Colton on his chest.

Colton wiggled a little, then seemed to find the perfect spot, before falling fast asleep.

To Be Continued...

Darryl's Notes:

I don't know if you have noticed, but in some of these chapters I use the term Editor's Notes, while in others, I try to come up with some other name for them. The reason for the difference is my participation in the particular chapter. The ones I don't edit, are the ones where I have a large percentage of written content. Those will be mostly the ones involving Chicago content. "I used to live in Chicago."

It looks as though Colton and Emo are getting along splendidly. I am sure Angela appreciates his dedication and capabilities with taking care of Colton.

Father Doherty saw that look in her eyes, though, and of course, he is now planning ahead, just in case, since he has seen that look, many times before, and he has become pretty good at predicting these things.

It sure was nice of the bigger kids to allow Gunner to join them in their "Football" game. He sure was over the moon, about it, and that actually impressed Emmogene, as well as several others. These are really good kids.

I wonder what will happen in the next chapter.

Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher

Editor’s Notes:

Actually I think Darryl is just feeling picked-on by me. As well he should.

Anyway, this was a very interesting chapter, back to the Chicago group. Father Doherty is the leader of the convoy whether or not he wants to be. Just being himself is all that is required, God has given him the blessing of a true leader.

Speaking of blessings, Emo certainly has a gift for babies. Colton has taken right to him. Of course, all of us are seeing a great Dad in Emo. I am worried as to what Angela is going to do. Every time she goes off, I worry that she is going to split. I hope not because she really doesn’t have any good options for where to go. Colton needs his Mommy, too.

I wonder where the next chapter will be from. We haven’t checked in to Kettle Falls recently. I seem to remember something about helicopters.


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