Abel and I looked at the fallen man and then shook ourselves, realizing that if we were going to get his gear and get gone we better do it quickly or there wouldn’t be anything left for us to get.
We ran for the warehouse but I stopped to get my arrows. Two of them were salvageable but the shaft on the third was bent. I ripped it out of the corpse anyway so that I could have the fletching and the broadhead tip. I put the gore covered arrows in my quiver and followed Abel into the warehouse.
The only light in the cave-like interior came from the orange glow of the fires that illuminated the doorway and came in through the ventilation windows set high in the walls. Not much light but enough for Abel to find his pack and rifle that had been thrown into the corner. You could tell it had been gone through but nothing of import except the food I had packed for him was missing.
“Day-cee we have a little time I think. I have cached a good bit in the woods but what would be your wish if you could have anything?”
I said the first things that sprang to my mind. “Powder and primers, shotgun shells of any caliber, .22lr and 9mm ammo, lead ingots, spare firing pins, spare magazines for the guns we already have, gun oil, any spare brass for our handguns and rifles … and … some web belting, and new holster for you … and … and ….” I stopped, shrugging. “This is ridiculous. Anything Abel … whatever we get will be more than we had before.”
“Si Querida. As always you are wise. But I wish for to show you something I did not have time to take before I was captured. I hid it back here.” He handed me a gun and I knew it was a Springfield 1911.
I said a bit puzzled, “I didn’t know they came so small.”
“Si. It is .45 caliber but is named a micro-compact.” I could tell he was repeating what he had read because he was enunciating the words slowly and precisely. “So … it will fit in your hand. Yes?”
I’d never had a .45 of my own so it felt a little strange but if Abel thought it would be good to have then I thought so be it. Couldn’t imagine I’d take the thing hunting any time but it looked like it would pack a wallop against a person if I needed it to.
We didn’t take too many guns; mostly what we were after was ammo and reload components for those we already had. The few new guns that Abel had wanted were already in the cache. I thought of something. “Abel, do you think they’ve cleared out the food yet?”
Abel nodded, “Si. It was probably the first thing everyone ran for. But … yes, I think there is time.”
I looked at him and asked, “Time for what?”
“If I know Hakim he will have a cache of his own some place near. He would make sure that he had an … an escape route. Si?” As I hefted the really heavy pack onto my sore back he asked me, “Too heavy?”
“Yeah, but I can go a couple of miles with it if you don’t expect me to go too fast. This stupid thing probably weighs close to seventy pounds. I’ve never carried much more than fifty. I’m not complaining though because I know yours is heavier and you’re banged up more than I am.”
He put his hand on my shoulder and said, “I will be an old man before you truly let me hear you complain without reason. But you are right, these packs … they are too heavy. Let us get to the cache and lighten our load. Then we will go looking for Hakim’s treasure.”
We had to wait out three more groups of men coming in to grab all they could carry and then run away. Finally we couldn’t wait any longer; the fire was so near that we could feel the heat from hit when we stepped out into the night. It was aggravating to leave so much behind but we didn’t have any choice. We couldn’t carry any more and the few operational vehicles were already long gone; they wouldn’t get far due to lack of fuel. As it was I was struggling before we’d gone half a mile.
By the time we reached the cache both Abel and I were shaking. We hadn’t eaten real regular the last couple of days and the adrenaline and stress had left us with very little reserves.
Huffing, trying to catch my breath I said, “Abel, give me a minute.”
Regretfully he said, “We do not have a few minutes Querida. We must needs go find Hakim’s …”
“… treasure. I know. But I’m not asking for a rest I’m asking for you to give me a sec so I can make us something we can eat while we are walking back. I don’t know about you but I’m toast.”
“I mean I’m beat, running low on energy, getting to the point I’m not going to be able to go any more.”
He sighed. “Si Querida. I am this toast as well.”
In spite of how I felt I had to smile at his upside down grammar but that didn’t stop me from popping open two zip bags, throwing in some rolled oats, and then squeezing in some nut butter. I zipped the bag shut and squished the oats and nut butter together. “Just rip open the corner of the baggie and squeeze the stuff into your mouth a little at a time. It will destroy the bag and the oats are going to be chewy but at least it will give us some energy.”
True enough as far as things go but we were both still hungry by the time we got close to Hakim’s living quarters. Peeking in we could see that the place had already been ransacked. I told Abel, “If there was something here before it’s gone now.”
“No,” he told me. “He would not keep supplies here because of this very thing. He would want to be able to get away quickly and arrive at his cache to resupply before …”
Something occurred to me. “Wait … I know where we are at.”
“Si … we are at Hakim’s quarters.”
I shook my head. “No … not that. What I mean is this used to be the ranger’s house … the guy who took care of the park. Him and his son took turns operating the fee gate. Let me think.”
I turned this way and that trying to picture everything in my head from what I remembered. Abel asked me, “Querida, what is it you do?”
I was frustrated trying to remember exactly and then put it in terms of what was here now. “It’s a story that Dad and one of his friends told me one time. Hang on … he said it was behind the house about five hundred yards.”
Abel left me to think while he went over what little was left in the house. He came out carrying … I had to look again to believe what I was seeing. “Abel! What is that?!”
He grinned hugely and said, “It is the sword and dagger that Hakim used for show. It is now mine.”
I looked at it. Dad had a thing for well-crafted knives and I could tell the ones that Abel held were the real deal. “That’s not a ceremonial sword, that’s a real one … and not cheap either.”
“It is … hmm … Turkey Sword … a scimitar. The dagger is match, yes?” The blade of the scimitar was thirty-two inches long but the scimitar’s full length was forty-eight inches. The hilt was made of wood and steel and was beautiful in its simplicity. The dagger was its match only smaller.
“Yeah. You can probably find something similar to them in one of Dad’s knife and sword books in the library.”
He nodded while he put the sheathed sharps into his pack. Once done he said, “Now, what is this that had you twisting and turning to remember?”
“Like I said, it was a story from when my dad was a kid. If you think I can get up to stuff the stories from when Dad was a boy would make your hair fall out. He didn’t have much adult supervision until his step dad came along but that didn’t last because the man died. Dad would sometimes stay out all night and … wait … now I know. Follow me.”
We went into the tree line … trees that hadn’t been there when my dad was a kid … and eventually came to the foundation and chimney of a very old house. I said, “OK, we need to be careful, there is an old cistern here someplace.”
Less than a minute later I heard a crack and then a mild curse before an eerily hollow voice called, “I have found it.”
I fumbled my way over in the dark in time to see a dark outline of Abel push away the covered top of a hole. I bent down beside him but before I could look at what he had found I was on my back and looking skyward being thoroughly kissed.
“Uh … Abel …?” I gulped when I caught my breath.
“Look in the hole Day-cee.”
I took the small penlight from him and looked down to see several small metal barrels. Disgusted I sat up. “It’s just beer kegs.”
I could hear the smile in his voice. “Kegs yes, but not of beer. When we first came to this country we found that vermin were very strong and wicked and would chew through all paper and plastico. The orders came and many of these kegs were … were … adaptado … to hold grains and liquids not beer or wine. See?”
I looked where he was pointing with the penlight and could see that where a tap should have been there was a kind of cap. There were five of them down in the hole. The kegs weren’t very big but for a single man and the right ingredients, and supplemented with hunting and fishing, it could have gotten him through a normal winter.
Abel reached down into the hole and brought out one of the kegs with some difficulty. He said, “Twenty-five kilograms, perhaps a little less.”
Being in the habit of converting his metric measurements to American measurements I said, “Fifty pounds or thereabouts … but of what.”
He rocked the keg back and forth and you could hear rattling but not loud. “Some kind of grain … but not corn I think. Probably wheat.”
He pulled out another and rocked it back and forth. It sounded like small marbles. Abel said, “Chickpeas.”
He went to grab the third one and nearly fell in. “Are you OK?” I asked him concerned at how he rubbed his shoulder after he sat back up.
“Si, just a strain. It is much more than 25 kilograms. I think easily three times that.” Looking at me he asked, “Are you too tired to take this back to our cache? I would like to take this away from here in case the fire spreads before we can return for them.”
And that’s what we did. It took us four trips and by the time we were finished we were falling down exhausted. The first trip we carried the first two kegs that did indeed have wheat and chickpeas in them. The second trip was a keg of something that Abel told me was dried fava beans; and wonder of wonders a keg full of green coffee beans. I shuddered at the smell but Abel acted like he was gonna get high on the odor alone. The third trip was the hardest.
We were already tired and the last keg was the heavy one. We finally rigged a pole and sling and carried it on our shoulders; Abel in front and me in the back. I was ready to drop it over the edge but in the end it was worth it because the keg contained honey.
We had thought there were only the five kegs but when we got them out of the hole we found there were a few metal ammo boxes below the kegs, a metal box containing what turned out to be spices, a small metal tub of pistachios, and a small metal trunk of stuff I couldn’t even read the labels on. All of the last bits went into our packs or the sling for our last trip.
When we got back to the cache site I could tell that Abel needed to sleep. I wanted to sleep as well but I had enough to do to satisfy my curiosity and keep me awake for a couple of hours. The sun would soon be up so I told him, “No sense in trying to go anywhere right now. Let me take the first watch and …”
Right at that moment the sky light up like the Fourth of July. After we’d gotten over being startled out of a year’s growth Abel said dryly, “The munitions dump went boom.”
I couldn’t help it. I started laughing … and laughing and laughing to the point of tears. “Shhhhh,” he said as he rocked me. “It is time for the resting. It is all over for now. We are safe. You will lay down …”
I pushed off of his chest and wiped my eyes. “No … really I’m fine. It just all kind of struck me. It reminded me so much of my other birthday and I just … just … lost it for a bit.”
“You’re other …? Es su cumpleanos? Why did you not tell me Querida?”
I shrugged. “It’s no big deal. No really, it’s not,” I told him when he tried to object. “Daniel never cared about birthdays … that time thing he has … and I don’t know … it just didn’t matter much after a while when it was just him and me. Besides you didn’t make a big deal out of your birthday.”
It was his turn to shrug, “I told you, there were so many of us that our cumpleanos was never … well … Abuelo … the cost you see.”
“No, I get it. My folks didn’t break the bank either. We always tried to do something together as a family and then … well, they’re gone now.”
I tried to shrug it off but he whispered, “But I am here now. And you are diez y seis … sixteen. Yes? I have heard that it is important for girls.”
“You mean like a Sweet Sixteen and all that?”
He nodded. “Si … like a Quinceanera at fifteen for my cousins.”
“Sure, sixteen is a … kind of a benchmark age I guess you could say for kids in this country but not everyone has a big party for it. Let’s just let it go. Besides, I think I’ve had plenty of excitement to mark the day, don’t you?”
At my hug he said, “Si, we both have. But now I will remember the day and next year we will do something … as a family. You and me and Daniel. Si?”
I grinned and after a bit of dickering he agreed that I could take the first watch while he rested.