Beamo’s Gold part 24
Little Bit gives up some secrets.
There was no water at our campsite under the overhang at the side of a bare cliff. We had plenty of wet snow to melt but couldn’t get the soaking juniper wood lit. Bonehead finally used a flare to start the main campfire. After the freak blizzard, a cold front assailed us like a pack of invisible wolves. Wind howled as the deep-freeze bit with icicle fangs, looking to open up and lap the body heat of anyone out in the open.
Little Bit wanted our own campfire next to her tent. I used a flaming log from the main campfire to get one going and then we slipped inside her cozy lair. She brought out some beef pemmican that Hopper and some of the dollmolls prepared with dried blueberries back in their Illnoise Swamp base camp.
We sat cross-legged inside, out of the cold blast, chewing the fatty pemmican and eyeing each other. Late in the afternoon the snowstorm started up again. Now inside her sleeping bag with me, Little Bit fidgeted because she ran out of reewanna.
“Look at the souvenir I slipped out from Mo’s Island,” I said, trying to distract her. I scooted out of the sleeping bag, dug into my pack and retrieved the hand grenade.
“How did you get away with that?” She smiled. “I thought you were against thieving.”
I passed it to her. “The best method to snatch something is you don’t let yourself know you’re sneaking it, even long after you have gained possession.” I took the grenade back and packed it away. “I only filch when it’s an extreme situation.”
“Is that what you’re doing, stealing me because you’re in an extreme situation?” She sported a whimsical yet sad tone that I refused to put up with.
“I will have you know now that I am not the goody-goody man, so you better watch out.” Some might criticize the girl leader of a ruthless bank-robbing gang complaining about getting stolen, but I saw her vulnerability and it moved me in a way I can’t describe.
“No, you’re not the goody-goody man; that’s for sure!” She laughed then stopped in the middle. I let her mull over her situation.
We sat in silence for that little while. Her talk about my shoplifting the grenade made me think about my family history. The Roamers had been river pirates at the end of Doomtime. They prowled the upper Missysip River for hundreds of years after the nuuk and other poisons finally flushed out. The outlaw clan was very much feared and despised, which meant they were successful. But then the literate settlers from Ha-Ha County led by Colonel Crans came down from the Zark hills and got Crans County established on the east bank of the Missysip River. Slowly but surely the noose tightened. My grandfather Rawlsy Roamer born on water, the last of his whittled down river pirate family. At the age of four, a combined three-county militia finally caught up with and shot down my grandfather’s parents. He got adopted by a successful scavenge man named Gin Ruda. He never changed his name though. They say he died of a kidney malady up in the Apalash Mountains five years after he retired. My grandmother could still be alive up there.
“Are you glad now we snatched you, Beamo?” her voice rose over the wind. It was a serious question. No music I could think of to go with this kind of talk.
“That’s like asking if I feel lucky to be born.” I sat up, stroked her hair. “I didn’t have any sayso about either.”
“What were you doing out in the swamp when you had the run-in with Philindra?”
“I was looking for the Caterpillar Tractor Company Headquarters. It’s a legendary place where they say a cache of giant steel big-rigs called bulldozers is buried. My dad searched for it his whole life. This summer I got desperate to score another primo find to finish my chateau inside the Gate. All the ancient maps are no good when it comes to pinpointing that treasure. It’s supposed to be about twelve miles northeast of an ancient Merican metro called Pe-or-ia that was located next to what was once a wide, shallow river. Earthquakes and floods shifted the land too much to tell where anything is. The river is long gone and the Illnoise Swamp swallowed every trace of that metro’s ruins.”
“What happened to your dad?” Her tone on my dad’s side, something new to me.
“Walls of an excavation pit caved in on him in Iwa not far from the spot I later found the big-rig hauler. I can’t say how or why he made the mistake. He must have dug a thousand pits like that in his scavenge man career. Not usual for us to be digging that time of year. Most winters I would get to sit back next the firelight and concentrate on reading my newfound books. It wasn’t my place to check his instructions to the crew.”
My dad never made a mistake like that before. Always paid his debts early. Would never tolerate any lack of propriety from his family. I guess our river pirate family history made him sensitive to any criticism along those lines. The problem is the pursuit of perfection runs out eventually.
“Beamo’s gold.” Little Bit alluded to my passion for reading those ancient books. She took off her wool socks and put her small feet with scarlet painted toenails on my lap. “Massage!” she commanded. Despite our campfire right next to the tent, the freeze was creeping inside.
We took turns rubbing each other down to keep the circulation going in the cold. Preventing frostbite this way is pleasant work with a partner like Little Bit, I have to say.
As Little Bit worked on my feet, she gave a confidential stare with her big green eyes. Outside the light faded. A little less than half an hour until dusk.
“You notice that Kaim and his goons always disappear?” She halted working on me and nodded outside. Somehow she knew they did so again.
Too cozy, I didn’t peek out the tent fly and just shrugged for a response. She knew the hired-gun goon clinations as well as I did.
“I’m not talking about that,” she spoke softly, glanced around to make sure no shadows prowled outside the tent, leaned in towards me and then whispered even softer: “Remember the second night we camped by the waterfall? After you passed out, I doubled back on them in the dark. I crawled up close enough to their campfire to hear them talking into some machine that looked like a box.”
“And?” I was interested now.
“I heard the box talk back.” She leaned away, pulled the sleeping bag over her shoulders.
“So they have a working ray-dey-o,” I said. “Could you tell who they were talking to?”
“It was military code. Tee thinks you’re right about what they’re up to. He told me about how you jumped down Fank Journ’s throat at that parlay you all had on Mo’s Island. It’s a combined army from Zark and Aplash counties that’s coming up on our rear to take the gold from us as soon as we find it. They’re not going to let us hold on to it for months like you thought.”
“They’re following us close and it’s a big army, not just a scouting party.” I heard my voice get serious. How could they have put together the biggest Zark-Aplash combo army in history that fast? Suddenly my mind worked out motley groupings of scenarios. None of them played out for our benefit. Then it hit me that Little Bit was withholding info. “The only way you would know what they were doing is if you saw one used before.”
She paused for a few seconds then spilled it, “Tee has one too.”
“Where did he get it?”
“Bronut Osring.” Then she had to put in, “You’re not the only successful scavenge man from Crans County.”
“I realize I’m not the only lucky digger,” I replied. Osring spent two decades looking for a hidden National Guard armory cache. Looks like he found it. One of those scavenge men expert at living low profile, he kept everyone from knowing his business. Kind of made me envious. No one could get any of the three-dozen or so short wave ray-dey-os we busted out of civilian safes to work. Military grade electriky equipment properly stored turned out to be a different story. “Who is Tee talking to?”
Little Bit looked down away from me and said, “New Sing. Tem Tang, that salvage rep you sold your big-rig find to, is really an intelligence officer for the Corporations of New Sing.”
“Not much of a surprise.” New Sing was the only nation in the world run by corporations, which meant no New Sing government could ever be held liable for what their straw bosses did. That kind of cutthroat government-business conspiracy was outlawed and despised in the rest of the world including in the Zarks for over a thousand years. Supposedly their stock market where you could invest in the corporations was the reason the now four million citizens of New Sing boasted the fastest growing and most advanced economy and tech in the world. I almost laughed at the idea of Marxist Tee Sal teaming up with the New Sing corporatists, but it wasn’t funny.
“I need to sleep on all this,” I rolled back inside the sleeping bag with Little Bit. Outside, our campfire died with the daylight.