The Semi-Mega-Sad Ending. Part I
There are certainly some “and a lot of things happen here” spots, but you get the gist. Better than the first Scooby Doo ending, but still not right. Not the original spelling of Mannie’s name. A mi, no me gusta. Today you can get all three of my Deserted Lands e-books for under $11 for the “This Sale Goes to Elevensies” Sale!
“Lizzie knows we’ve gotten captured,” Jess said softly.
Manny turned to Jess. She looked tired, but trying to hold herself together. She was tough, but he was pretty sure it was a thin sheen of toughness. “What do you think she’ll do?”
“Well, if she’s still as crazy as she used to be…” Jess shrugged. “She’d probably gonna get Zach to help her break us out.”
“If they can find us.”
There was a sound out of sight. And muffled voices. Then a female voice carried over the top of them. “Lock me up with the others.” The voice demanded. Then, “Please?”
Manny looked at Jess and she nodded. “Lizzie.” They said at the same time.
A few minutes later the guards led a petite girl with mussed short hair and a man’s jacket and jeans. Her eyes lit up when she saw him. He could see aspects of her mother and strange aspects of himself. He stood and crowded toward the door. “Elizabeth?”
“Dad.” She smiled. “Sorry about the circumstances. Not the reunion I’d imagined.”
The first guard unlocked the door. “Please, step back, sir.”
Manny backed away. The world was suddenly fuzzy and he could feel his heart beat in his head. The door slid open and Lizzie rushed in and wrapped her arms around him, spinning him. He buried his face in her hair as the tears flowed from his eyes. “Oh, Lizzie. Oh, my.”
“Daddy. I’m sorry. I was so afraid I’d never see you.”
“Excuse me, miss? Sir?” The guard had keys in his hands. “I can unlock your cuffs.”
“Daddy, daddy, daddy.” Lizzie repeated.
Her voice and the sound of the words in her mouth buoyed Manny up. He allowed Lizzie to spin him toward the guard without letting go of him. Then his arms were free. He wrapped them around her. No words came. He just held her. The guard left and the cell door slid shut. Manny thought he could see tears threatening in the guards eyes.
“Lizzie. I was afraid I wouldn’t live to see you. And then you were dead.” He winced at the memory. “Then things kind of went black. I’m sorry. It was weak.”
“It’s okay, Daddy.”
Her eyes, glistening red with tears, glowed up at him. “I won’t let it happen again.”
“I don’t care. I found you.” Her body shook with sobs. “I found you.”
“You found me.” He chuckled. “I was lost, but now am found.”
“Yeah.” He hugged her close, her head fit just under his chin. “Never been religious, but some of those hymns…”
Jess jumped down and when Manny released her, wrapped Lizzie in her strong farmer girl arms. “God, Lizzie. It’s good to see you.”
“You too, Jess.” Lizzie nodded toward Manny. “Thanks for taking care of my dad.”
“He wouldn’t let me take care of him much, but at least I gave him someone to talk to.”
BeeGee cleared her throat.
Jess stepped aside. “Lizzie, meet BeeGee.”
“Your Dad drank the last of my vodka.”
The Native American woman shrugged sheepishly. “Your dad’s a good man, Lizzie.”
“Yeah. I hope so.” Lizzie smiled at Manny.
He smiled back at his daughter. “Yeah. I hope so, too.” She shrugged back into his arms and squeezed. He held her close and felt her breathe.
After a while the guards brought in some breakfast. Oatmeal, steaming in bowls. Pretty plain, but with honey and brown sugar on the side. Coffee, hearty smelling and black steamed beside it. And there was sugar and cream to go with it. The guards left them alone while they ate. Something about the experience seemed to lend everything a little extra humanity.
Jess introduced Lizzie to BeeGee and gave her a short version of their meeting. They talked about their journeys while the four of them sat around the rolling cart and ate breakfast. The food was good and filling and the coffee was as hearty as it smelled.
Someone came to the door of the cell, Manny assumed it was the guard and didn’t bother to look. “I’m glad you found your daughter, son.”
The voice surprised Manny, but he knew who he would see before he looked up. “I’m not really young enough to be your son, Sir.” The captain from the Provo guard post smiled gently at him.
“I know.” The Captain replied, his gruff voice softened. “I’m sorry you didn’t heed my warning. I don’t really have a choice this time. Headquarters is pretty sure they know who you are and why you’re here.”
Manny laughed and with only a hint of bitterness said, “That’s really freakin’ amazing, since I’m pretty damn sure I don’t know why I’m here. Maybe you can tell me so we both know.”
“Well, Lieutenant Manuel Guerrero,” The Captain’s gray eyes twinkled, “they think you’re a military spy sent to infiltrate their city. ”
“I’m not in the Army anymore,” Manny growled. “And why the Hell would I do that?”
The older man chuckled. “Because, of course, what they’re doing here is the most important thing going in the world. And everyone is going to try to take it away from them.”
Manny stood and crossed to the older man. “And what is going on here?”
“You know what happens when there’s a power vacuum. Two-bit dictators pop up.”
“You don’t sound like you respect your superiors.”
“Oh, I respect my superiors…”
“So what happens next?” Lizzie stood and walked over to the bars.
“I get to escort you back to Provo and you get to meet His Holiness, The Redeemer.”
“Yippee.” Lizzie said with a grimace. “When do we leave?”
“As soon as we’re ready.”
“Can I have one phone call?” Lizzie asked.
The captain laughed out loud. “Good one. Sorry, no. I’m afraid the exchange your father and I had last night has set some wheels turning. The good thing is they think he’s important. That gives you a level of safety not common around here.”
“Great. How come that doesn’t really make me feel better?” Lizzie walked back to the breakfast and finished her coffee.
Manny stepped forward and stared into those eyes. They stared calmly back. They held strength and sadness. What had he lost? What did he still hold dear? He could see that the Captain had chosen duty as his path to deliverance. Manny broke the eye contact. “Well, let’s get moving then.”
The captain motioned to the guards and the doors were opened. “Your chariot awaits.”
The chariot was a converted Hummer stretch Limo. They were joined inside by two armed guards and the Captain. Two military jeeps complete with a mounted machine guns flanked them.
“Riding in style,” Lizze said. The derision dripped from her words.
“Not my choice, young lady,” the Captain said flatly.
The ride to Provo was not altogether unpleasant. Manny and the Captain exchanged war stories as if they were heading to a party.
Manny stared at the Captain. “We need your help for this to work.”
A flash of pain crossed the old man’s eyes. “I’d like to help, but I can’t. I’ve already done too much, maybe.”
“Why the Hell can’t you help us??” Manny wanted to grab the man and shake his refusal from him. “You don’t like what’s going on. You play your ‘sense of duty’ games, but you won’t really hold yourself to the promises it makes.”
Something in the older man’s manner succumbed. “I can’t.” He sat down heavily and then he did appear to be old enough to be Manny’s father. “They’ve got my grand-daughter. Treating her like a queen…” He cut off. “A queen for a price. She doesn’t want to go and I can’t leave her.”
That was a motivation Manny could understand. He nodded. “Okay. I need to get my people out of here. Can you help me get to my daughter? Maybe we can even set it up so you report our escape to the higher ups to keep you and her both safe.”
Lizzie watched the heated exchange between her father and the self-titled Redeemer.
Manny stopped pacing and turned to the Reedemer. “Okay. What do you want from me so I can free my daughter?”
The Redeemer hovered over a map of what once was the United States. “I want the military government of San Antonio to recognize the sovereign state of Utah.”
Lizzie caught herself before she laughed out loud. The Redeemer glanced toward her. Don’t make it harder on your father. She tensed then relaxed. His eyes were not seeing her, but something else. Maybe his future? Not mine, too, I hope.
He continued with a low, sonorous voice. “And a treaty to be signed that recognizes our ability to govern our subjects and protect our borders.”
“That’s all?” Manny collapsed in a chair.
The Redeemer returned to the present. “Sarcasm won’t help, Mr. Guerrero.”
“Are you sure?” Manny stared at his hands. “Look. Sir. Sorry. Two things. I am not a spy. I am not in the Army anymore. I have no pull with anyone. How can I get you what you want? Send him.” He pointed to the Captain. “Are you active duty?”
The Captain looked to the Redeemer, who nodded. “27 years active. 14 years in the reserves. I was recalled in September.”
Her father nodded at the Redeemer. “Wouldn’t he be a better choice?”
“He would be. But I need him here.” The Redeemer’s face darkened for a moment. “He commands a certain… Respect.”
“Yes. He does.” Manny sighed.
Lizzie wanted to go hug him, but now was not the time. He straightened up. Very straight. She suddenly saw the soldier in her father.
He stood toe to toe with the Redeemer. His words came out slow. “I think you’re crazy.”
Lizzie watched the Redeemer closely. His lips twitched, but she could not tell if it was in anger or humor.
Then her father stepped back. “But if that’s what it takes to get my people safely out of here….”
“It is. The only way.” The Redeemer faced her father. They held each other’s eyes.
Finally he stepped away. “I need my cell phone back? And how can I communicate with my daughter? You want my assistance you better keep her healthy and safe.”
“Of course.” The Redeemer agreed. “She can call you under supervision. There may be a short delay in your conversations. We don’t want any unmonitored communications.”
“Wait.” Lizzie had heard enough. “My father is an honorable man.”
“That’s what I am counting on.”
Lizzie strode over to the Redeemer. She caught his eyes. “Can I speak to you alone?”
“No, Lizzie.” Her father said behind her.
“I can handle myself, Dad.”
“I’m not worried about you handling yourself.”
“Very amusing, Mr. Guerrero.” The Redeemer’s face did not show amusement. “You may speak with me alone. This way.” He gestured for her to follow him and turned away down the hallway.
Lizzie hugged her dad. “Trust me.” He held her for a moment, then nodded. She could tell he didn’t want her to go, but she could see he wanted to treat her like an adult. For once a parent who will. Sorry, mama. Mostly thinking about Doug. She followed the Redeemer down the hallway and into the door he’d entered. He closed the door behind her.
“Can I get you a drink, Miss?”
“Lizzie. Yes. I’ll take a drink. Coffee and Irish whiskey?”
He chuckled. “Not a very girly drink.”
“I’m not a very girly, girl, Mr.–” She waited.
“You don’t like calling me the Redeemer?” His lips fought the smile they threatened. The smile won. “Very well. Mr. Ray. Mark, if you wish to be even more informal.” He poured the coffee. “Cream?”
“No. Black. Two sugars. Thank you.” She glanced around the room. It was nice not adorned, but not too excessive. The furniture looked like the room. Except the bar he poured the drinks from. It looked like a seriously expensive.
“I try not to be too extravagant, but I have a thing for antiques. The sideboard is 18th century American. Hand-carved. I liberated it from one of the local museums.” He brought her the drink. “So. How can you help me?”
“My father is an honorable man. If he promises to deliver your message to San Antonio he will. If he is doing it voluntarily I expect it will go better for you.” She took a sip of the coffee. It burned slightly both from the heat and the alcohol. “I’ve only recently been reunited with him. I don’t want him to go without me.”
“Understandable. But you are suggesting that I simply let you go?”
“Yes. It would be the smart political thing to do.”
“Miss Guerrero. Lizzie. Do not presume….” He stopped speaking. Something changed in his manner. “Lizzie, there are a variety of dangers out there. You have met the collectors. I barely keep them in control. Others are less, uh… reasonable.” He turned to face her, stepped toward her. His eyes held hers, challenging. “I think it safer for one man to travel south alone.”
“There are others. My friends. Who have still managed to evade your collectors.”
His smile had left his eyes. Lizzie turned away from them. She suddenly felt dizzy, flushed. She undid the next button on her shirt and turned back toward him. Had he put something else in the coffee? “If we meet up with them, we ought to be able to safely deliver your ‘offering of peace’ and respect for other ‘sovereign’ states.”
“You may button your shirt, Ms. Guererro. I am not likely to accede to your wishes with such theatrics.”
She gave him her best ‘oh, my god are you kidding, I wouldn’t sleep with you in a million years look.’ Then she met his eyes. “I’m not trying to seduce you, Mr. Ray. It’s too hot in here.” She crossed to the sideboard and set the coffee down. She poured a glass of water from the pitcher with ice and took a deep drink and refilled it. “That’s better.” She turned back toward him. “I want to propose that you make a show of peaceful acceptance. I want you to grant freedom to any of the people you have collected who wish to leave. My dog-people and the rest.”
“Lizzie. Most of those people cannot take care of themselves. And more importantly most wish to remain. Winter is coming on. We have power, protection and food.” He laughed. “I don’t think you’d get many takers.”
“No. Maybe not. And maybe I’d only get the troublemakers… More people like me. But how can it hurt? You would appear…” She searched for the word… “magnanimous.” She watched his eyebrow raise and again the war between his smile and his severity. “It gives more support to your request for recognition. You are at the cutting edge. I don’t think there are many places in the country that have programs in place as well as yours to help people.” Lizzie hoped her emphasis on the word help came out as she wanted it to and not sarcastically as she felt. She took another sip of the ice water. She could feel his eyes on her.
“An interesting idea. But if you have a caravan of people it will slow down my… ‘offering of peace,’ as you called it. I need that message delivered before winter hits.”
She could see the wheels spinning, calculating. She said nothing. Let him think on it.
“If he leaves first and with a smaller party while you continue with your ‘volunteers’ at a slower pace. Will that be acceptable? I cannot allow you much in the way of equipment.”
“Perhaps a bus?”
“How many do you expect?”
“I don’t know.” She squared off with him. “How many do you expect would leave if you offered them their freedom?”
He smiled again at that. “Well. I don’t know either. Perhaps we’ll see. Your offer of freedom in the oncoming cold season versus my benevolent offer of protection from the elements and the wild ones on the outside.” He crossed to the window and looked down on the city. “Will your father agree?”
It was Lizzie’s turn to smile. “I don’t know. You’ll have to ask him.”
“Let’s ask him, then, shall we?”
When they walked out together the Captain from the cell had joined her father. He saluted the Redeemer and acknowledged Lizzie with a tip of his hat.
“Mr. Guerrero. Your daughter’s calm reasonableness has prevailed over my fearful protectiveness. Provided you get an early start taking my ‘offering of peace’ south…” The redeemer nodded at Lizzie. “Your daughter has convinced me to offer freedom to those of my people who wish to leave the safety of my City. She will continue south with them. You will have your cell phones returned to you. I’m afraid my basic distrust has only been reinforced by human behaviors since The Fall.”
Lizzie heard an odd emphasis on the word Fall. A religious significance, perhaps? The Redeemer was certainly a powerful personality. What had he done before “The Fall” had come?
“We will be ‘magnanimous’ with our peoples.”
Again the nod to Lizzie. He was charming. Probably sold cars. Lizzie watched her father’s response. It was tentative. He couldn’t quite trust the Redeemer either. But she could see him battling with himself over an appropriate response.
“Forgive me, your Excellence. How am I to trust you?”
“Through my deeds.” The Redeemer smiled. “Lizzie’s plan may rid me of troublemakers who will make it harder to shepherd my flock through the coming dark times. If the people who remain choose my protection, then all will be well.”
The Captain cleared his throat. “You are offering freedom to all who wish it?”
“For those whose reasons to leave outweigh their reasons to stay, Captain, yes. Many will choose to stay for the safety and protection I offer.” Their eyes locked together for a brief moment. “I will entrust you with ensuring that those wishing to leave are allowed to. We cannot offer them much in terms of supplies. Perhaps a school bus or two, depending on how many choose to leave.”
The Captain saluted. “I will begin work on it right away.”
Stay tuned for the next half next weekend.