Crazy Apache Babe
Jess leaned away from the door and yawned. The baby muttered in her sleep and smacked
her lips, as if nursing.
The door felt cool and he stretched, yawning again. Linnet cocked an eye and he gave her a sheepish look, but stood, not apologized for being unmannerly.
She gave him a tortilla of beef and peppers. He muttered his thanks and tore off a large bite. Nina frowned and sniffed. Nose stuck in the air, she looked away and his face scorched. Just a little sheepish, he looked from them.
Wainwright chortled and Jess frowned, squinting at the man. The beard was still iron gray, but combed. His clothes had been washed, as well.
“Women,” the professor said. “Nesters, all.”
“They do civilize a man, sir.” Jess gave Linnet a slow wink and her eyes blazed. Jess averted his gaze before the knife she gripped could decorate his chest.
With a small, sheepish chuckle, Wainwright said, “I would suppose it’s at last safe to tell my secret passion.”
Even Jess stared.
Face growing dark, the old man grinned. “John Wayne and Sam Elliot. Once, I had every Western they made.” Growing shy, he looked from them. “I was born in Phoenix and grew up there, near Van Buren and 60.”
“The red light district?” Nina said, chortling, only to shudder when Linnet scowled. The little girl ducked under the table. She came back, snatched down a plate, the coloring book and crayons and dived into her refuge.
Linnet looked from Wainwright. “She doesn’t know what it means.”
Just a little muffled, Nina said, “The heck I don’t. Pa said Justin and the boys were there ever’ Saturd’y night--” She grunted and Linnet gave Wainwright a flawless, innocent smile.
Wainwright sat back with a not-unhappy sigh.
“It’s been a great many years. Almost forty now, and the past is, as Jess says, passed.” He folded his hands over his stomach. “Escape came by way of an uncle who adopted me. At age twelve, I became an Air Force brat. By seventeen, I was in college and then given the opportunity to return to Arizona, but took a turn in the Air Force, instead.” A small, secret smile touched his face. “Uncle Abe loved Westerns. He grew up on a ranch near Fort Sill, chasing cattle and running from razorback hogs. His hero was Sam Pickering.”
When all they did was look, he frowned. “Pickering. Sam Pickering, the African American who invented bull dogging.”
“He was Cherokee,” Nina said, peeking out from her refuge. “Mama said so.”
Lips pursed, Wainwright gave her a slow nod.
“Yes, but was also known as an African American. His wife was also Cherokee, but they registered as Colored.”
“Geez, but that was ‘cause we were all red nig--”
“Shah the caca.” An angry Linnet grabbed at her but Nina dodged back under the table.
“We are,” Nina said, her voice dark. “Daddy done said so.”
Linnet offered an apologetic smile. Before she could speak, Jess frowned. He raised a hand and tipped his head back to listen.
Company, he signed. Many more than three.
Eyes trembling, Nina sank into her nest and pulled the blanket over her head. She reached out for the book and crayons. She popped back up to take the baby, sliding her under the blanket too.
Jess closed his eyes to her fear. He took the .38 and nodded his thanks to Linnet. She cut a hand down, signing for him to get back with her. Ignoring her fear, he remained by the door. Feet slipped close and stopped, but went on. Jess held up two fingers and clenched a fist to show that two stayed by the door.
Linnet shrugged but it was stretching her shoulder muscles. She rolled her head and somehow held two knives in each hand, and a wire with a weight on it twinkled in her hair.
Jess signed, You are as womanly as our graceful Lady of the Maize.
She signed back, Some men talk too easily out of the big smiley. The sign she used wasn’t big smiley and a scowling Nina covered the baby’s eyes.
May your mother’s house thrive with the joy of many daughters. Having put her in her place, Jess turned from the dazed look she gave him.
Light, almost soundless, one set of feet walked away and he signed that. Then the second set charged from the door. A howl ripped through the building. Men screamed and guns cracked. Something thudded on the door and a man shrieked in pain. Jess pressed one ear to the door. An arrow, he signed.
A drop of blood seeped under the door. Linnet pointed at it, and Jess nodded.
The battle ended almost as fast as it began. Jess signed a question mark.
Anyone of your family?
Linnet turned from him with tears in her eyes. Nina dragged the blanket over her head and Jess frowned. Wainwright sighed and raised dark eyes to the ceiling. He gasped and Jess looked.
A tile moved. It was slight, but it did move. Jess pointed at Linnet and aimed a finger at the tile. She stepped from under it with Jess’s bow and tried to draw it, but only managed to pull the rawhide string partway back. She threw a warning scowl at Jess while he shuddered with the need to grin. The wobble stopped, but the tile next to it sagged.
Nina finished coloring one page, then started a careful work on the next. Light coming under the door slowly faded to darkness and still Jess crouched, one cheek pressed against the floor, but not near the blood.
He rolled and a blade stabbed under the door. It jerked out and a man said something. Another man answered and the knob rattled. Then they rammed the door but it was two inches thick oak and well over a century old.
Again, a man spoke. Jess frowned and signed, Not American. When Linnet raised a hand, palm up in question, he shook his head. Not Mexican. Not Tohono. Not Chiricahua.
She crept forward to listen, but shook her head.
Something heavy rammed the door. It was solid, but Jess and Linnet leaned on it. Wainwright slipped to them, adding his weight.
Wood clattered on the floor and a man shouted, firing a rifle. Again, something thudded on the door and Jess nodded at a faint hum. Arrow, he signed, and managed to hold onto the door and press himself against her. Linnet frowned but stayed where she was.
A clatter came from beyond the door. One man thumped on it, but raced away. An engine roared and Wainwright sat up frowning.
“My car--” He clapped a hand over his mouth and sat back.
Tires squealed and the car rumbled, the roar growing faint. Shouting men raced after it into the night.
When Jess signed all-clear, Wainwright choked.
“My car. My uncle’s car, a ’53 Cadillac. Mint condition. I know, I know,” he said to a staring Jess and Linnet. “Not green to keep an ancient monstrosity, but it was ever so fun, driving it.”
Nina crept out to hug him.
“That’s OK, Doc. We’ll get ya another un.” She smiled and said, “What’s a car?”
An unladylike snort came from Linnet. Scowling, she clapped a hand over her mouth before Jess could do more than frown at her lack of manners.
Wainwright shook his head. “Well, possessions possess you, as my poor mother tried to teach us.” He groaned and shoved himself erect. “With any luck, they’ll assume that we escaped their trap.”
He stilled and a ceiling tile moved. Linnet flipped a knife at it and the tile cracked. An ocelot fell, but caught its claws on a wire. Fangs bared, it dropped to snarl and spit. Jess opened the door and the cat tore out of the apartment, over a corpse, and was gone.
“A kitty?” Linnet gaped.
“An ocelot.” Wainwright grinned. “A miniature jaguar, you might say. Something did survive. An ocelot...” He dropped in the chair and Jess closed the door. Lips pursed, he frowned. “But, what could it be feeding on?”
Jess nudged the corpse with one foot. The body was fresh enough it rolled over, eyes staring at the ceiling, staring at nothing.
Wainwright ran to him. “Well, that mystery is solved. The cat followed the sounds of battle and came to await a meal.”
“And the prairie dogs, Doc? What are they eating?”
Wainwright blinked. “...Ants carry fungi with them. Possibly, the prairie dogs do, as well. You saw nothing green?”
“Just Linnet’s face when I whipped her.”
Linnet belted him, but with a fist, not the knife. She hopped up and snatched the one from the ceiling, only to grab a chair and jump again. She looked down smiling and hopped to the floor.
“Put the tile back, mister.”
She chortled. “Mama Kitty got two babies up there. It stinks of mice. Bet she finds meat a-plenty in this old building.”
Wainwright heaved onto the chair and peered over the broken tiles. Then he held a hand down and picked up Nina to see. Barely shadows, the kittens hissed a warning. She giggled and he lowered her into Jess’s arms. Wainwright climbed down and looked at Jess, but Jess only put the tile back in place.
“It’s her home,” he said, muttering. “She needs peace and quiet so the babies can survive.” When Linnet gave him a strange look, he shrugged. “She’s a sign of home. When Pa was stationed at Fort Bliss, we had one what lived in the cow byre. She was free and that un should be, too.”
Nina sighed and hugged him. Skinny face serious, she said, “Will you marry me?”
Jess gaped and stuttered. Then Linnet spun choking. He pulled Nina up and she gave him a kiss on the cheek.
“It’s settled,” Nina said. “Now we’re in-gagged.”
Eyes cold, Linnet stared up at the cracked ceiling tile. A small tremor threatened to shatter her composure.
“Well, ma’am…” Jess frowned. “I mean, Miz Wysoki. It’s awful wonderful to be asked. Makes me so proud to know a young lady with such good tastes, and all. But, well, I’m afraid I’m taken.” He gave a tragic sigh. “Miz Linnet already asked.”
“What?” Only one said it, but two pairs of female eyes burned, and at him of all people.
With a gentle smile, Jess hugged Nina and let her slide to the floor.
“Honey, there will come the day when I’m old and my hair as gray as Doc and you’ll meet some young gentleman. Then you’ll fall in love. I just hope you don’t have to catch him with a crossbow dart, like your sister did.”
“I did no--”
A cold look from Jess make Linnet shut her mouth. When he smiled, she stared at the ceiling.
After a few moments, she said, “You demanded, mister, so I agreed.”
He winked and Nina giggled. She pressed a finger to her lips and scowled. The baby was fast asleep in her crate.
Jess leaned back on the door to smile at the children. He shrugged at a frown from Linnet and slid the bolt back from the door. It was gold colored, as was the fastener, and both far larger than any he had seen. He pointed at his eyes, then lowered the hand palm down before he made a diagonal slash. At a touch from Wainwright, lights dimmed to nothing.
Foot against the door, Jess turned the knob, took the pressure from the foot, and slid the door back an inch. The air was cool, sweet when it drifted through high broken windows. A draft of it snaked dust around piles of books and furniture.
Jess ran a hand over the door. Where they used a ram, it put a deep dent in the wood.
Mouth close to Linnet’s ear, he said, “Good thing they didn’t use a log.”
She grunted, but Wainwright whispered, “No. This is one of the oldest buildings on campus, which is why the library is here. Since the USSR threat, certain alumni have put funds into preserving it in case of war.” He glanced over the vast hall. “The windows withstood the initial blast but some cracked. That was all.” A loving smile on his face, he patted the door. “Oak panels over titanium steel. The basement is also fortified.”
He beckoned to Jess. “Come here a moment.”
Jess stepped forward and Wainwright closed the door. He pressed a hand on the crosspiece in the upper center.
“Now try to open it.”
Jess took the knob but it wouldn’t turn. He frowned and tried again.
“Locked,” Wainwright said. “For days after the bomb hit Davis, we had it all under lockdown.” To Jess, he said, “The air force base.” He pressed the hand to the panel and gave them a sheepish grin. “Open sesame.”
Only barely heard, something clicked.
“Electronic locks.” Wainwright sighed. “It’s easy to remember and voice activated, but it needs to know who it is working the lock.”
“How is it only you’re here?” Linnet said.
Wainwright’s face grew tight. “There were a number of us who Emergency Routing called in. Only a few made it. The rest...” He sighed and headed to his left. “It was early Sunday morning and America slept.” One hand cut down, signing them to come.
Linnet looked in. “Nina, guard.”
The child dashed to the door and shoved it closed. The bolt snapped in place.
Looking through the murky light for trouble, Jess trotted after Wainwright with Linnet close behind. Wainwright stopped at another door and palmed it, muttering. He opened the door. Batter marks showed on this one, as well. The old man looked back and stepped inside.
A flight of stairs led into the dark. Wainwright motioned for Linnet to close the door. Only after she did, did he mutter.
Lights glowed in the ceiling. Wainwright trotted down the stairs to a dust-free concrete floor. He stopped by a gray electrical panel to open it. Some lights burned white, others red. A few were not on at all.
“White is a go. Yellow a warning, meaning the power in that part of campus is low.” He touched one that was red. “And these mean there is no power to that building. This was the backup system. Roof slates were replaced with solar slates in the late seventies, then had to be replaced again in the nineties.” Voice desert dry, he said, “Faulty wiring made of aluminum, not copper. And replaced once again for the same reason. This time, in two-thousand and six. An organization of alumni had it done by private contractor rather than trust another bidder. They also rebuilt the interior to make the place impregnable.”
Voice no less dry, Linnet said, “And how did I get in? And those men?”
Wainwright gave her a gentle, grandfatherly smile.
“I was too chicken to set it. The bomb made computers go haywire. While this is shielded--it was supposed to be the bomb shelter for the campus--radiation caused a severe overload of the system.” His hands spread in minor despair. “We made it, but the dean refused to believe we were under attack. He left the outer doors open until a student rushed in firing at us.” Eyes mystified, he said, “A white student, an American. We hid down here. Then the bomb hit and the young man stopped shooting.”
“Capt’n de Garza said they were all white.” Jess shrugged. “Tsabotzi raiders, wanting to colonize us again.”
“Means a bearded demon, sir.” Linnet’s nose wrinkled in a grin and Jess’s heart tried to explode. She cut him down with a cool look.
Wainwright grunted. “Yes. World War Two. I always said it never ended, just went underground. SS officers went to the USSR. Their American base was Argentina, but Asia was Mao. The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem helped place hundreds of them across North Africa and the Middle East, many of them Serbian.”
He closed the panel and walked to a second flight of steps. At the top, he unbolted the door but Jess shoved him out of the way and slid the bolt home. He listened for several minutes before sliding the bolt back. Even then he was cautious opening the door. He slid out into a sullen, tropic heat and a riot of green plants.
“My garden,” Wainwright said. He smiled, happy now. “As we lived in subsidized housing, a high-rise, Mother could have only potted plants, but managed to raise tomatoes, peppers, and greens in aquaponics. For fertilizer she used water from a fish tank--the only pets allowed. A child of sharecroppers from Alabama, she was quite resourceful.”
“Subsidized?” Linnet frowned. Jess said, “Homes for poor folks.”
She nodded and looked through the greenery. She smiled at a blossom and reached out to touch it only to snatch her hand back.
“What?” Wainwright jumped to her, then gave the blossom a puzzled frown.
Tears running down her face, Linnet said, “It too pretty and I don’t want to hurt it.” She choked and Jess pulled her into his arms. With a sigh, she held him for a moment, then jumped away scowling.
“Yes, ma’am,” he said. “I’m here for you, when you need me.”
A low growl in her voice, Linnet said, “That’ll be the day, cowboy.”
Wainwright found the ceiling of more interest. He moved down tangled rows of plants.
“This is our water purification system. It goes from the sewer lines to a methane digester, then runs through here and out. Fresh water comes in via other lines.”
Jess stopped him. “You have a well?”
“No. It comes from water lines--”
“They’re busted,” Jess said. “Detention Reservoir collapsed and wiped out everything down from it.”
Wainwright gaped and stared. He gasped, running down long rows only to skid on decaying leaves and dashed to the left to a panel. It was thrown open and he scowled over it. A gage showed nothing, not even a red light.
“The system,” he said, frowning and pulled a seat out from under a desk. “It’s getting some water from the cisterns, but where is the rest coming from?”
He ran trembling hands over a keyboard. A screen glowed, numbers and odd letters showing on it. It faded and he scowled, trying again. Then he leaned back and chortled.
“The system is working. It’s recycling water we use back into the tanks.” One hand took in the greenhouse. “A biofilter. Methane bacteria that survive would die in the oxygen-rich air. Once the effluent sprays into a tank, it flows through the root zones, then into a cistern for us.”
Linnet stared at the greenhouse.
“You mean we’re drinking--” She gagged.
A broad grin on his face, Wainwright leaned back and folded his hands over his stomach.
“Tasty, isn’t it?” He raised a hand to stop her mutters. “It’s no less pure than good spring water. When it rains, water runs through a filter into the intake, then is sterilized before it comes into the system. Due to parasites from birds it has to be sterilized. This, you see, was experimental. A bioshelter.”
He stood up to close the panel. Taking an iron pipe, he gave them a shy look.
“My defense system,” he said. “In case of emergency.”
Jess frowned at an itch in the back of his head and looked up. The shadow of a man crept across the roof. He aimed the .38, but Wainwright grabbed him by the arm.
“No, it would only ricochet and possibly damage the pipes.” He smiled. “Armored glass. You looked over the courtyard? The black tiles are the roof. We could hold a circus there--dancing clowns, parade horses, and elephants--and not a one would crack. The tiles are bonded with more of the same material.”
The man scurried along the wall only to jump to his feet and try to smash a window. The club fell from his hands and he staggered back hunched over one wrist. As if to say see the example of a fool, Wainwright lifted one hand with a small chortle.
Linnet sighed a word and pointed at someone leaning over the roof. The person held a bow and the one on the tiles ran, dodging an arrow. Then sparks struck, but not many, and the faint retort of a gun. Both Linnet and Jess ducked, only to come up with faces burning at Wainwright’s chortle.
The man stumbled and didn’t rise, his eyes staring into the tile under his face. Two more arrows struck the corpse. Dropping on ropes, the pair rappelled down the walls to land in a crouch. They crept towards the man and Linnet looked away.
She sighed, walking from the attack. She stopped by a clump of stunted maize to stare at it. Jess tore his gaze from the butchering and came to put an arm around her waist. She frowned, but let the arm stay.
“The crop needs thinning, Doc,” she said, not looking at either man.
Wainwright chortled. “Nesters,” he said.
Jess cleared his throat. “How do we secure the building?”
Eyes wide, Wainwright took a slow breath. “Close and lock any windows and doors. We can palm them, but how would the ocelot get out?”
“How did she get in?” Linnet looked around Jess’s lean bulk. “When I scouted the place, sir, all the doors were closed. I came in through a broken window.”
The old man scowled over that. “She must have a secret way. Heavens, but as old as this building is...”
He walked towards the door, but Linnet jumped after him. “Wait. The girls and I need more than dried meat stew.”
She started to gather peppers dried on the bushes, and beans. The pods rattled and she started to shell them, dropping beans in her pockets, but Wainwright found a green plastic box. She loaded it in that and heaved it over one shoulder. When Jess tried to take it, she backed from him.
“I got this. Do your duty, mister. Go stand between a woman and danger.”
With a faint smile, he nodded and cupped his free hand under his heart, then signed superior being. Linnet rolled her eyes, but walked from him towards the exit.
Wainwright stopped at the computer panel, opening it. He typed a message and stood, motioning Jess to sit.
“Come.” Wainwright frowned, so Jess sat. “Now, press your hands against the screen and tell it hello.”
Jess looked up and Linnet rolled her eyes. Frowning at Wainwright for making him feel like a dope, he pressed his hands on the screen.
“Louder, and speak more. Tell it your life-story if you want, but it needs to get a typical resonance of your voice.”
“I... Lord, but I’m Jess Ganian o’ Lone Mountain. An orphan, I guess, alone in the world till I met Linnet. And Doc, here,” he said, hastening to honor the old man. “I mean, I had a family, but it ain’t much. Mama and Pa died.” He stopped, frowning and looking from Linnet. His chin thrust up. “I ain’t a cry baby, but spoke the truth. That’s about it.” He looked at Wainwright.
“Look straight at the screen. See the green dot? Yes, stare at it.” Wainwright tapped a key.
White light flashed at Jess. With a strangled shout, he jumped, doing a back flip over the chair aiming the .38 at the screen.
With a shout of horror, Wainwright stumbled between him and the screen.
“No, no. It took a picture of your retina--your eyes. If someone killed you and took your hands, they could key the lock, but would need to be a ventriloquist or have a recording to match the tones of your voice. This was a failsafe. No one has yet to match a retinal print, not even with the eyes of the dead.”
He gestured at Linnet. Jess jumped to her, but she shoved the crate in his arms.
“Guard that,” she said, scowling. “It’s more valuable than most men.”
Jess frowned at dead-ripe peppers but his mouth watered.
“Yes, ma’am.” Eyes gleaming, he found a conical red fruit and tried it. He shivered and grinned. He took a second and pressed it to Linnet’s lips. Staring into his eyes, she opened and then nipped his fingers. Shocked that she would be so bold he jerked his hand back.
Wainwright cleared his throat. Linnet scowled and jumped in the chair. She placed her hands on the screen.
“I... My name is Linnet Wysoki. A linnet is a bird, a shore bird. Wysoki means Wolf Sacred Person, ‘cause an ancestor, John, came out o’ Pennsylvania when Genocidal Jackson forced all the redskins--I mean Native Americans--out of the East. Mama was Angie de Vargas and her family is from Sasali--Sara--who was leader of the ‘skins in the valley, and Sir Manuel de Vargas, a conquistador she conquered.” She glanced at Wainwright, who nodded. “My little sister is Nina. We’re all that survive. Out of thousands of the family, only her and me.” She trembled, but sat stiff. “Is that enough, Doc?”
He touched a key. “Stare at the dot.”
She did and when the light flashed, she leaped from the chair. The crate crashed on the floor and Jess caught her, holding Linnet as she trembled in his arms.
“Nesters,” Wainwright said, smiling at the computer. “Later, we’ll bring Nina and the baby to record them, as well.” He frowned. “By the bye, what is her name? We can’t just call her baby.”
Linnet frowned up at Jess.
With a small shrug, he said, “Donno. Elise used to name her young uns, but Miz Packer ate ‘em, so she stopped.”
A shiver ran through Linnet so Jess tightened his arms around her.
In a fierce, angry mutter, Jess said, “She won’t to ours, hear? We’ll live free till they kill us.”
One trembling hand touched his face. Linnet snatched the hand back and jumped from him. She gasped at the crate.
“If you wrecked breakfast, mister, I’ll use that bow on your neck.”
Trying not to smile, Jess rubbed the back of his neck.
Wainwright coughed and closed the panel.
“Now you know how to do this. When you type, use English. It’s set for most languages and even Chinese characters.” He grimaced. “The Society of Deans was so adamant they would take over peacefully, once our government ceased making war.”
“Instead they bombed us into extinction.” Linnet grunted and heaved the crate on one shoulder. “Colonizers, all, including your bunch of deans.”
Jess walked after her. He looked back. Wainwright stood slumped with tears running down his face and looking far older than his sixty years.
“Doc?” said Jess, his voice gentle. “It’s the best time to go, sir.”
The old man gave a start, but nodded and trotted after them.
At the door, Jess stopped him from opening it and listened. Wainwright made a small noise, but Linnet shook her head.
Wainwright trotted after them to the stairs, walking up that, and waited until Jess nodded. They stole out, into the library, easing over the floor to the apartment door. The body was gone, even the blood. A small movement showed on a pile of books. A fat mouse hanging from her jaws, the ocelot fled them, streaking to a ladder that leaned on the wall.
Jess dropped aiming at the pile. A man crept from it to scowl at the ladder and then stole to an outer door, easing through that. When no more people showed, Jess nodded at Wainwright.
The old man motioned for Jess to open the door. With a small frown, Jess tried the knob, but it was locked. He pressed a hand on the crosspiece.
The lock opened and he turned the knob. The door thrust open and a baseball snapped at him. Jess grabbed it and scowled at Nina, but then he grinned and winked.
“Smart o’ you. Just, leave me some head to think with.”
“Maybe,” she said. “Mama always said men don’t think.” Behind her, the baby was naked and a faint odor of feces hung in the air. “I washed her good and washed the diaper, too. Mister, we need a mess of diapers.”
When Linnet moved in with the crate, Nina’s eyes glowed.
“You found cans?”
Linnet shook her head. When Jess took the crate, she frowned, but let him sit it on the table.
Nine stood on a chair to peer in it.
“Geez, what’s this stuff? It’s pretty.”
“Fresh vegetables,” Wainwright said, closing the door. Something thudded on it and he gasped, shooting the bolt home.