Chapter 16: Yahoos Afloat

It is foggy, a fog rising from the water as the air is cool and the water, up from the Gulf, is warm. Finegan is peddling along silently, well out from the shore. Joey is sitting on the front deck with his arm over Barney, who has his mouth tied shut with a red bandana.

A floating city, a collection of many different types of boats or floatation devices is bobbing up and down in the water. One is a group of rowboats tied together at the front, so they form a wheel. This seems to be a way of holding onto them more than a living space. One is a yacht. One is a raft cobbled together from logs for floatation, with a mattress in the center covered by a couple umbrellas. There are a couple speedboats with plastic covers as rain guards, pulled back so those living in them have air.

Sounds of whooping and yelling and spashing can be heard. Dimly, through the fog, some young men and women are seen jumping into the water, skinny dipping in the dark. There are no lights anywhere - not on shore, not on the boats, and not on the houseboat.

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Finegan is cooking breakfast on the portable camping grill, flipping fish over and sipping coffee with the other hand. Joey is at the back of the houseboat, preparing to clean up after Barney, who does his job on a piece of plastic, which is then slipped over the edge to be rinsed and folded. A daily morning routine. Barney steps off the plastic, giving his fresh turd a last sniff. Finegan is setting out 3 plates on a box next to the grill. He dishes out potatoes from a frying pan set to the side on the grill, then divides the fish. He sets one plate down on the deck for Barney and hands another to Joey, then takes a seat on one of the boxes to eat. Joey asks,

So they were yahoos because they were noisy?

Finegan has his mouth full, but answers anyway.

Ah, yeah, but don't care about other people much . . having a party all the time . . taking what they want.

Half a dozen people have appeared on the shoreline, just standing and staring. They are dressed in farm clothes, the men in coveralls, the women in plain cotton dresses and hair in braids wrapped around their heads. The men have clubs in their hands. Finegan waves but his wave is not returned.

Umm . . Looks like they're a little touchy about people in boats.

Joey waves too, and Barney barks once, wagging his tail. Finegan decides to go over in the canoe, which has been tied to the side of the houseboat. He gets into the canoe in broad daylight, so those on the shore can see he is not armed and certainly, being outnumbered, is not dangerous. Finegan says,

They look like good folk. . . See what this is about.

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As Finegan approaches shore he raising both his hands up, holding the paddle with both hands, to indicate no sudden moves on his part and allow a full view of the canoe bottom and his sides, to show he is not packing a weapon. As the canoe bumps shore, a couple men step forward to pull it onto shore. One of them gives Finegan a hand, which he grabs to steady himself as he steps out onto the shore. The farmer says,

Thought you were one of them.

Finegan explains.

We came through Memphis and heard about them yahoos. You militia?

The farmer says,

Shore patrol, yeah.

Finegan introduces himself.

I'm a trader. Been all along the new coastline since Georgia. Might have something you folks need, been lookin for. We don't raid and run, that's for sure.

Finegan casts a glance to his right, down river down the shoreline.

Recon it's safe to leave my boat there? Do they come up this far, during the day?

The farmer meets the eyes of the others for a moment, getting confirmation on what he is about to say.

Look, I'll come back with you and show you a good bay, out of view and all. If there's a problem here, we'll hear about it.

The farmer raises a horn he has been holding in one hand. It's a child's toy trumpet made of plastic. He hands the trumpet to one of the others and steps into the water to step into the canoe.

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Finegan and the Farmer are emerging from some woods near a tumbledown farm. They are walking side by side, but the farmer is leading slightly. They are talking as they walk toward the collapsed barn and house. Joey is bringing up the rear, dawdling to look at things in the woods as he goes. These woods are different from the woods along the coastline of Georgia, where he had been raised.

The farmer has bib coveralls on, farmer boots that come up near to his knees, and for a shirt is wearing dirty long johns. He is balding, has not shaved in days, and a few wild hairs are growing out of his ears and eyebrows. Appearance is the least of his worries. The farmer is explaining their troubles.

Can't get our rest at night. They sleep during the day, I guess. Half of us sleep during the day and patrol at night, the other half patrol during the day, and no work gets done. Hell of a business.

Exploring for a solution, Finegan asks,

If you could see at night, as well as day, could you cut your night patrol?

The farmer responds,

You mean lights? We ain't got those no how.

Finegan continues to explore for a solution.

No, I mean night vision goggles. I've got several from a military depot. If you had a few people on high points, good view of the water, how many needed to sight the boats incoming?

Now the farmer ponders.

Well, lessee. . .

The farmer has stopped in his tracks to mentally compute, and is pointing off into the air in a half circle where the water surrounds the farming community.

I guess 3 at the least, best off would be 5, but 3 would do it.

Finegan is finally onto something.

OK, I've got those 3. Next step. Trip wires. You got wild life that would trip wires 3 feet or more above ground? You cleaned out the deer around here?

The farmer laughs.

Oh, deer are extinct! We kept our breeding stock and the chickens in the house, slept outside, but the deer, they got taken out.

Finegan says,

From what I seed of that group, they'd not be inclined to crawl along the ground. We could trip wire the whole perimeter to see off alarms. Double trip it, in fact.

In what is to be their typical response, the farmer says,

I got no wire a'tall.

And once again, Finegan to the rescue.

I do. Plenty enough. Fine wire, but it won't break. Now, next step. Best is something like a bell, a clang, can't mistake it, ya'know. Have your night vision guys with a bell too.

The farmer says,

I got no bells.

Finegan says,

I do. Lets get started.

Finegan turns to put his hand out for a handshake with the farmer.

What'cha got in trade?

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The night, along the humid river front, is filled with the sounds of insects singing. Finegan, the farmer, and several other farming folk are sitting in the shadows of an outdoor camp next to the collapsed farmhouse and barn. Occasionally someone swats a mosquito. No one is saying a word, all listening intently, eyes ranging along the perimeter of the farmstead. Suddenly there is the sound of a clanging bell, followed minutes later by a second clanging bell of a different pitch, coming from a different direction. Finegan points.

That's your far guard and a trip wire on this other end.

The group mobilizes, grabbing clubs and pitch forks, one carrying a coiled rope over his neck and down under one shoulder. They take off in the direction of the trip wire.

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Three teenage boys are clustered in the woods. The raid leader says,

What the fuck was that?

They are standing, momentarily confused, looking around. One of them, a clumsy goof, says,

I ran into somethin here. Ah . . it's a wire. A wire.

The leader says,

Well duck under it. Common. Move it already.

The bell clangs out again.

Christ you can't do anything right. Don't pull on it, duck under it.

The three boys get on hands and knees and are starting to crawl along under the trip wire when the farming group bursts onto the scene, swinging clubs.

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Half a dozen prisoners are tied back to back, in pairs. They are all tied at the ankle too, so running is impossible for any of them. Five are boys, one a teen-age girl. All are very resentful of being captured. Coffee has been brewed over a campfire and scrambled eggs and toast being served to the farming community. Finegan and Joey are guests. The prisoners are not being offered anything but a drink of water from a tin mug, held to their mouths. Finegan gestures to the prisoners and turns to the farmer, who is seated on a hay bale next to him. Finegan asks,

What'cha goin' to do with 'em?

The farmer replies,

Shoot em?

Finegan says,

One thing for sure, you've got to sink their boats. They'd just take up again down the coast. . . I can do that. Got a drill. Sink em all and sink em good. Shame, but that's the first place they'd head.

The resentful farmer says,

Yeah, but they'd raid on land too.

Finegan says,

Harder to hide on land. And harder to run. On the water, they could move, find new territory. They had the element of surprise, at least at first.

Finegan and the Farmer are pondering the situations, chewing and swallowing and slurping, both staring at the glowering group of prisoners. Finegan asks,

How much did they steal? Give me the value in days stolen from y'all.

The farmer leans back for a moment, taking in a deep breath, looks up toward the sky, and pausing in his chewing for a moment. Then he swallows.

Given how many of us'en had to watch, and days lost collecting our harvest? I'd say several months. This been going on for months. We did plant and have a harvest waiting, but made no progress, y'know?

The farmer gestures around the site, indicating the state of his outdoor camp, which is still out in the open except for some tarp tents in the farmhouse yard. Finegan has a suggestion.

Here's what I'd suggest. This group owes you that time. Make a chain gang and work them for that time. Take them months to work it off. Maybe they learn something about farming and don't have to steal no more. Doing 'em a favor. Good behavior, that one gets off first, on his own, across land. Send 'em off as a group and you've got a gang formed. The ringleader goes last. Keep a night guard on for a good while after too.

And as usual, the farmer says,

I got no chain and I got no locks.

And Finegan says,

I do.

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Finegan and Joey are walking across the gangplank with a plate of scrambled eggs for Barney, who is wagging his tail, greeting them. Several of the farming community are following him, bearing produce - several bags of potatoes, a cardboard box filled with green cabbages, another filled with turnips, and a jug of home brew. Finegan is stashing the goods in vegetable bins as they hand it over on the deck of the houseboat and leave, one by one. He and Joey wave goodbye as the group trudges up the steep ravine from the hidden bay where the houseboat has been stashed all this time.

Finegan still has the jug of home brew hanging from one of his fingers. Joey looks at the jug, then back up at Finegan, not saying a word but saying volumes.

This time's gonna be different. I don't feel the need no more.

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The houseboat is pulled alongside the yacht, moored with the grappling hooks. Finegan is on the deck of the yacht, handing duffle bags of gear down to Joey, who stashes them onto the front deck, running some of the bags into the house itself. Some of the bags clang as though cookware or tools might be inside. The ring of rowboats can be seen to one side, taking on water, as are the speedboats. The yacht is starting to list to one side also. Finegan says,

Might be a change of clothes in there for you too. You're growing like a weed. Captain's log in there too. Might make for some interesting reading. . . No sense letting all this stuff rot in the water. . . It was stolen in the first place.

Finegan tosses the grappling hooks back onto the houseboat, and climbs down the ladder at the side of the yacht as the houseboat starts to drift away. He opens one of the duffle bags and fishes out the captain's log and, seated on a box, starts to flip pages. The log reads,

We were swept inland by a giant wave coming off the Gulf. Our compass is no help, is erratic.

Finegan takes a swig from his jug and continues to flip pages, reading. In the background the yacht continues to list to the side, almost on its side, and the smaller boats can no longer be seen, having sunk. The raft make of logs had been tied to the houseboat earlier, and is starting to tug away from shore with the houseboat as it drifts in the current, the outgoing tide. The log continues,

Floods everywhere. Landmarks unrecognizable. We're out of food and water. Gas almost gone.

Finegan takes another swig from the jug, flipping more pages, scanning. The shoreline is in the distance now, the floating raft lit from the left by the setting sun. The final log entry says,

Drifted close to land. Taking the dinghy over. Abandoning ship.

Finegan is about to take another swig from the jug but ponders it instead. He goes over to the side of the houseboat and pours the rest of the homebrew overboard, setting the jug down. He looks out at the floating raft, drifting downstream with the outgoing tide along with the houseboat. He says,

Lets cut that loose and go upriver a bit, see what's to see up there, eh?

Finegan picks up a knife and walks over to where the floating raft is tied to the houseboat, slicing the line.