by Lubrican

Chapters : 1 | 2 | 3-10 Available On

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Chapter One

Halloween was never one of my favorite holidays as a kid. I didn't get excited about it because we lived on a farm, with no neighbors close, so I didn't get to go trick or treating. Not like other kids did, anyway.

Oh, we went to town a couple of times, and my dad would let us off in the fancy part of town, so we could go a few blocks and rake in as much candy as possible, but we never had bags stuffed full like some of the kids talked about in school the next day.

And I was never a believer in ghouls and witches and goblins and all that sort of thing. Of course I suppose nobody is really, except a few wackos, but even the fun of "believing" in that stuff so you could get scared during movies, didn't do much for me. And then they started making the movies super high tech and all that crap and I just quit going to movies entirely.

I know I sound like a cranky old sourpuss. That's fine. I made a very good career out of being known as a cranky old sourpuss.

And then I met Valerie ... and everything changed.

But I'll get to that in a minute. First, you need to understand where I was in my life when I met her. I work for Tan-Gen Limited, which is a global business that has its fingers in practically every industry that exists, from toys to genetic medicine. And my position with them is somewhat unique. That's because I'm somewhat unique. I've never found a doctor (psychiatrist or psychologist) who can explain how I do what I do, but if you insert me into a system, and let me watch it for a week or so, I can identify for you the strong and weak points of that system.

Take, for instance, the manufacturing of trash bags. You have two big rolls of plastic that feed sheets into mated halves, which then go through rollers that press the edges together, along with another pressed joint every 18.5 inches. If you introduce a serrated blade that cuts almost through the roll every 18.5 inches, you can make a roll of plastic that will tear into separate bags easily, giving you a trash bag that's 18.5 inches long.

Sounds simple, right?

It took who knows how many engineers to design and build the machinery that does all this, and it worked flawlessly. The problem was that none of those engineers actually used those trash bags. Maybe they were married, and their wife took care of trash bags. Maybe they had a maid. The point is that they didn't install that bag into a trash can, or take it out and tie it up to dispose of when it was full.

I, on the other hand, did that on a regular basis. So I noticed that if the trash bag was two inches longer, it would fit the trash can better and you could roll the top of the bag over the rim of the can. People wouldn't get so frustrated with the bag sliding down into the can. Further, it was easier to tie, especially if you also inserted a draw string into the design.

Yup. I'm the guy who invented the draw string on trash bags. And Tan-Gen's subsidiary that made trash bags tripled their sales within three months. It was counter-intuitive, because nobody would have thought you'd make more money if you increased the amount of materials in the product and spent more money making it.

But I did.

And I didn't know squat about trash bags when I walked into the plant.

I'm a troubleshooter. I notice trouble, and imagine ways to solve problems. I have a talent for picking up on how a system works, and how it could be made better. And because my style wasn't anything like what "efficiency experts" commonly did, I was almost always successful, while all they did was fix things that weren't necessarily broken. Even my salary got paid differently. They were only too gleeful to give me the terms I asked for when I started work.

"I want three percent of whatever I save or make you," I said.

"Three percent," said John Granger, CEO of Tan-Gen Ltd. My dad played golf with him and got me the interview. "That's not much," he said. "That's three cents on the dollar."

"That's what I want to be paid," I said.

"Deal," he said.

On my first job, I saved them thirty-two million dollars in production costs, and increased business by ten percent. When Mr. Granger figured out that my first paycheck was going to be almost half a million, he about had a heart attack.

But he also realized how much money I would make the company, if I could do that for them again. And again. And again.

So I worked for them twelve years as an actual employee, and earned more money than I could spend if I bought a new car every day until I die. Now I'm a consultant, which means I work for fun. I get to take the jobs I feel like taking, and can say no to the others. That ticks people off, but I've been ticking people off for years. Engineers hate me with a white hot passion, because I don't have a degree in engineering and I make them look stupid. Whoever designed the system I go in and tear through hates me too, because that system was their baby, and they didn't think anything was wrong with it. But I knew what kind of power I wielded, and I didn't care what idiots thought, or how much they resisted, saying I didn't know what I was talking about. I always did. I always got my way. And only once did something I recommended fail to increase either productivity or profits.

So what does this have to do with Halloween? Or Valerie Martin?

Well, I learned a long time ago that people who have money also have parasites flocking around them. So I don't live like I have money. I live in what looks like a normal house, on Piquant Street in Great Falls, NY, which is a suburb of Niagara Falls, NY. There is also a Richardson Falls and an Evening Falls, which shouldn't surprise you when you realize all of these coat tail towns were started by land speculators way back when.

So when I'm not off making Tan-Gen millions, I live just like every other schmoe in town. Or look like I live that way. I don't buy lots of glitzy things that would flaunt the fact that I'm the richest son of a bitch in the county. Instead, I invest my money in ways that will improve my own standard of living.

Like the renovation I did on the house after I bought it. I called in people from outside of the Niagara Falls area, so nobody in town would know they turned my house into a fortress that even SEAL Team Six couldn't get into. And I bought a 1966 427 Chevelle SS, and had it restored to pristine condition, because I think it's the most beautiful car ever built. It's short, squat, and powerful, like I am.

But the main point of all this is that, at 8:45 P.M on October 31st of 2011, I was living in what passed for a normal town, where kids went from door to door on Halloween and begged for candy, making empty threats to trick me if I didn't treat them. I actually loved it, because I had good treats, the kind that made kids eyes bug out, and I had a blast awarding them.

And that brings us to Valerie Martin. Valerie was dressed as a witch that night, all in black. Her hair is naturally black as coal, and goes all the way down to her ass ... witch's hair if ever I saw it. Plus, there just isn't any makeup in the world, short of full fledged, professional movie masks, that could make this woman look awful. She had tried to make her eyes look dark, and had added a greenish tint to the face paint she was wearing, but all she looked like was a beautiful woman trying to look like a witch, and only presenting the hint of witchiness.

The two little hobgoblins who she pushed through my gate and up the walk to my house looked the part much better. They appeared to be between six and ten. I've never married or had kids, so they all look pretty much the same to me. They were made up to look like zombies. They were wearing torn clothing, and their face paint created an unhealthy pallor pretty well. The boy shambled wonderfully, but the girl, who turned out to be his twin sister, was too scared to act the part. That might have been because I had spent over ten thousand dollars on the skeleton suit I was wearing. It was high tech, and from more than ten feet away, it looked like I actually was a skeleton. It even had sound effects, of shaking bones and chattering teeth. The eye sockets lit up red. It was great.

"If you want a treat, you have to come get it," I growled into the microphone of the device that distorted my voice and made it sound like it came from a tomb.

The little girl decided she didn't want a treat. Her brother had more courage.

When he got close enough to discern that I was actually wearing a skeleton suit, and was not, in fact, a skeleton, he took another step forward confidently.

"Whatcha got?" he asked, bravely.

"What do you say?" my voice boomed.

"Trick or treat!" he responded immediately.

"Take your pick," I said, opening the cooler I had beside my foot. In it were toys, sacks of candy, coupons for a year's subscription to various children's magazines, gift cards to various fast food restaurants, and toy stores. I even had a card that said I'd pay for the first year's medical bills and food for a puppy, if that puppy was adopted from the pound and given to a child for Christmas. I made that one up myself. I hadn't had any takers on it yet, but that's only because every kid who wanted it had a parent with him or her.

Now those of you who are discerning may have noticed that when I met Valerie and her children, I put the time in there, along with the date of Halloween for the year referenced. If you don't live in Niagara Falls or its surroundings, that time and date group might mean nothing to you. But if you watched the news on the first of November, that year, you probably saw our little town's fifteen minutes of fame. That's because, roughly fifteen minutes prior to when Valerie Martin sent her twins up my sidewalk, what became known locally as the Tuscarora Riot got kicked off.

Tuscarora is the name of an Indian tribe, and they have a reservation near Niagara Falls. What happened was that a member of that tribe was minding his own business, putting gas in his pickup truck at Sam's Get and Git convenience store, when a bunch of bikers rode into the parking lot to patronize the liquor store next door to Sam's. It was closed, because the town selectmen had decided Halloween was enough trouble without a bunch of drunks hooting it up too. The bikers were upset, and decided to take it out on Sam's customers, whereupon the Tuscarora Indian, who also happened to be a three tour veteran of Iraq, taught their leader some manners. Then, since there were two dozen more of them, he hopped in his truck and took off. He was brave (no pun intended), not stupid.

They called what happened next the Tuscarora Riot, which isn't fair, because there was only one Indian, and two dozen or more bikers. But people have been fucking over Indians for hundreds of years, so we shouldn't be surprised. Anyway, there was this mad chase, which caused a bunch of accidents, and people started chasing the bikers, some of whom crashed and had to run for it. Pretty soon there was a crowd of mostly people in their teens who had no idea what started the whole thing, but were having a wonderful time raising hell and tearing stuff up.

And a group of about fifty or sixty of those juvenile delinquents came around the corner of Elm and Piquant streets, at 8:45 PM. They were throwing rocks and bottles and running up onto porches to smash pumpkins and kicking down fences and just generally acting like assholes as they surged toward my house.

And toward Valerie Martin, who was standing on the sidewalk.

Now, believe it or not, a mob is actually a system of sorts. It has a body, and it has movement. There are generally leaders, and there is something that motivates the mob. So you can sometimes hypothesize what a mob is going to do.

Basically, I analyzed the system that was approaching my house, and recognized some control measures that might lend themselves to affecting the outcome of the situation.

I delayed putting those control measures into place long enough to snatch up the little zombie standing in front of me and put him inside my front door.

"You need to bring your daughter into the house now," I roared. I didn't mean to roar, but the voice thingy was still plugged in and working fine. The average mother would have simply screamed, snatched up her remaining child, and run for it to report the madman who had kidnapped her son. But Valerie wasn't the average mother. Plus I pointed one skeletal arm and hand at the mob, and her head turned and saw 'horde of savage beasts' bearing down on her. She was a smart girl. She ran, scooped up the little girl zombie and followed me into the house, where at least there was only one beast.

There is a feature built into the wall beside each of the entrances to my house that came in handy that night. All it took was putting one of six fingers I had programmed into the fingerprint scanner on a little dipped out area built into the wall, and a spring-loaded door popped open, revealing a mini arsenal inside. I grabbed the shotgun with the drum magazine and took it back outside.

The mob was still two houses down, destroying Mrs. Abernathy's carefully tended flowerbeds and garden gnomes.

I fired six rounds into the air. I was in fear of my life. That's what I told the police later, anyway. They were hotter to see my permit than to ask why I fired the thing.

Funny how gunfire will take the starch out of the spines of a bunch of worthless juvenile delinquents.

"You will disperse," I growled into the microphone. "You will not run. Anyone I see running will be shot. You will walk calmly - on the sidewalks - and go somewhere else. This street is closed for the evening."

Of course the fact that a skeleton was waving the shotgun around in the air didn't hurt anything. And, of course, nobody walked, or stayed on the sidewalk.
But they took off screaming back in the direction they had come from which, presumably, was already trashed.

The riot went on for another three or four hours that night, but not on our street.

And that's how I met Valerie Martin and her twins, Chip and Samantha.

Valerie was not a happy camper when first we met. Not right away, anyway. She had the same aversion to guns that most New Yorkers have. That's because, as far as most New Yorkers are concerned, the only people who have guns are criminals. And nobody likes criminals. So nobody likes guns. I know it doesn't make sense. You could say that eyes are bad, since criminals have eyes. And hands and fingers too. May as well ban all eyes, hands and fingers. I'm sure crime would go down. At least that's probably what New York politicians would think.

In any case, while Valerie did not like guns, she liked what had happened to her house even less. She lived three blocks away, on Newton Street, and when she called her neighbor to see how things were over there, her neighbor was in tears, saying that half the block was on fire.

Including Valerie's house.

So that's why Valerie and her children stayed at my house, instead of going home. And it was good she did, too, because New York Police don't think anybody should have a permit to own a short-barreled shotgun, especially a semi-automatic one with a pistol grip and a drum magazine. Even if you're in fear of your life. They think you should call 911 and ask them to come solve your problem.

I asked mister nice policeman how many people from Piquant Street had called 911 that night. I didn't give him time to answer. "You didn't show up," I said, instead. "We sort of had to fend for ourselves."

"We certainly did!" agreed Valerie, passionately.

Anyway, there wasn't much they could do. I have the best attorneys on the face of the planet, and the one I called doesn't live in Niagara Falls, so he didn't have problems of his own. He said, "Stay on the line, Duke. This won't take a minute." He needled me by calling me John Wayne's nickname, because he said I had the same mindset as Mr. Wayne sometimes. I stayed on the line. It actually took fifteen minutes, but they were dithering, trying to figure out what to do. Pretty soon somebody came to get mister nice policeman and whispered in his ear. He looked disgusted, but whoever had called him off had enough pull that it outweighed his burning desire to seize my shotgun and drag me off in hand irons for defending our neighborhood.

I turned around, and that was when I found out that Valerie Martin had nowhere to go.

Now, imagine a beautiful young woman, who is shapely and could model for any of the hair or makeup commercials without even using the products first. And don't think beautiful women aren't aware they're beautiful. Or at least that other people think they're beautiful. They may not believe it deep down, but that's because they see the outside flaws that most other people never notice, and they know the inside flaws that they don't think anybody else has (but which we all do, of course). But a woman like that is hit on so frequently, by so many men, married or not, that she's aware that she has something a lot of men are after.

In this case, she had twins to prove that as well.

And then imagine that all the men in her life prior to meeting a raving skeleton who not only waved a gun around, but actually fired it a bunch of times, were jerks who only wanted to mount her soft, white body long enough to piston their prick in her until they reached sweet release.

I suppose they wanted more than that. Like bragging rights, to have her on their arm as they showed off what incredible masculinity they must possess, to be able to claim this trophy. But mostly they wanted to see her naked and fuck her. They didn't really care about her or love her. And this was because every one of them couldn't believe, even for a minute, that a woman this fine would choose to stay with a loser like him. Just like beautiful women know they're beautiful, jerks know they are jerks. They like to say they're just obeying Mother Nature's prime directive of spreading their seed as far and wide as possible, but they're really just assholes, and they usually know that.

You don't have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that any woman with half a brain will soon arrive at the conclusion that since all the men she's met in her life were jerks ... then all men are jerks. She knows that's not true, of course. She's met lots of wonderful men, mostly husbands of her friends. Or guys who are gay. But all the available men are jerks.

Especially the one who got her pregnant with twins and only then admitted he already had a wife and family.

Granted, I was older ... old enough, in fact, to be her father. But she'd been hit on dozens of times by men old enough to be her father, so I didn't get any slack. Not in the beginning. And then there was the raving, gun shooting lunatic aspect of things.

Turned out I just happened to do two things that mitigated a lot of her inborn hostility towards me.

"Are you okay?" I asked, after the mob turned and fled. That was the first thing. Later on she'd say it was the fact that I snatched up Chip and protected him, and then took her and Samantha in. But anybody would have done that.

"I'm sorry," I said, which was the second thing that got me points that night. She didn't know what I was sorry for. Actually, what I was talking about was scaring Samantha, who was still sniffling. But I had done many things (in her estimation) that called for an apology, and from her perspective, I had offered one.

She liked that. I was polite. And she liked polite.

Then there was the awkward, semi tense period while we waited for it to be safe for her to leave. Small talk in that situation is very difficult, because neither of you believes the relationship is going to last longer than a few more minutes.

I'd argue that the only reason the cops showed up at my house was because of the gunfire. The rioters didn't happen to be carrying firearms. They did recover some ten or twelve hand guns either taken from bikers or believed to have been abandoned by them, but those guys were smart enough not to use them in New York. Or maybe they weren't in fear of their lives, like I was. In any case, while only three percent of the 911 calls that night actually resulted in the police showing up, I was in the three percent. I'm pretty sure if I hadn't popped off a few rounds, nobody would have come to "render aid." In fact, while the cops were at my house trying to disarm me, the riot was still going on four or five blocks away. But the riot was fluid, ebbing and flowing. It would have taken an actual plan to contain that, and the Great Falls PD did not have a plan to quell a riot. I, on the other hand, was static, in one place. And I had a gun! That, they had a plan for.

The point is that that awkward social situation between Valerie and me got interrupted by the police, who took long enough that Valerie had time to investigate and find out she had no place to go, because everything she owned in the world was going up in flames and there was nothing she could do about it.

So when the police finally left, I was then confronted with a weeping woman with two ten-year-olds who were trying to tell her that everything was going to be okay. That's what she always told them when they cried, so that's what they told her when she cried.

When I found out what happened, I said, "You can stay here, of course. I have plenty of room. Call your husband and tell him to come here too. You can all stay with me until you figure something else out."

That was the third thing I did right that night, and I didn't even know it.

There was no husband, of course. I knew there were assholes in the world already, so this was simply more evidence of proof. And I knew, or had worked with, dozens of men who were like the one who victimized Valerie. These were men who thought whatever they wanted was what should happen, simply because they wanted it. And if they need to lie to get what they want, that's fine because they deserve to have whatever it is they want. And if you wanted a woman like Valerie, then you needed to tell her what she wanted to hear, such as that you were sadly alone because of the untimely demise of your wife, or that you were a confirmed bachelor because you'd never, until you met Valerie, met the woman you sensed was your life mate.

But when you're nineteen and don't have a lot of life experience yet, your bullshit radar isn't fully functional. And Valerie wanted to believe in love and finding her soul mate and the whole dream. So she was ripe for the plucking, so to speak, when she accepted a date with the wrong man.

She'd had a tough life, which most people simply wouldn't believe because she was so astonishingly beautiful. She'd also learned from her mistakes.

"We can't stay here," she said, tearfully.

"Why not?" I asked.

"We don't even know you," she wailed.

I stuck out my hand. "Bob Masters," I said. "I'm glad to have met you, but sorry it had to be under these circumstances."

"You know what I meant," she said. The tears abated. She was a strong woman, and was beginning to cope already.

"Call your husband," I said. "Talk it over with him. If he has somewhere else for you to stay, I'll run you and your kids over there."

"I'm not married," she said, with that hardness in her voice that I knew meant this was a sore subject with her.

"Then what do you want to do?" I asked. "I'm at your service. You want me to take you to a hotel?" There were dozens of hotels and motels all around Niagara Falls, so many that they actually had to compete for business.

She went very still, biting her lower lip. "We can't afford that," she finally said, after a pregnant pause.

"I can," I said. "I can put you up for a week or two, until you can deal with the insurance company and get your feet back under you."

She became wary instantly, and took a step away from me. Her children went with her, one at each leg. They knew something was wrong and were worried. Her hands went to touch their shoulders, an automatic protective posture.

"Look," I said, holding up my hands to show they were empty. "I'm better off than this house makes me look. I can afford to help you. You need help. If you don't want to let me do that, that's fine. Call the Red Cross, or whoever you do want to get some help from. But make a decision, because you either need to stay here, or take your children somewhere else. You can't go home."

I saw panic in her face then. Even her darkened eyes, green-tinted skin and the panic couldn't disguise the fact that she was achingly beautiful. I admit that, at that moment, I just wanted to see her fresh from the shower, to see what she looked like normally. Don't get me wrong. I knew she was in trouble, and I empathized with her. I was ready to give her as much help as she needed to get catch her breath and make some decisions. But a relationship takes two people, and so far she hadn't displayed any evidence that she was interested in being one of two people in the relationship I was suggesting.

"I need to see our house," she said, tightly.

"I'll get the car," I said.

I grew up in the seventies and was lucky enough to have a grandmother who had a prodigious memory and loved to tell stories. So if I speak like I'm a lot older than I am, that's my Gram's stories coming out to the next generation.

Take the fifties, for example. Back then a child's car seat consisted of a contraption that hooked on the back of the front bench seat, and which you could drop a kid into. They usually had their own red, plastic steering wheel, so that youngster could pretend to drive too. There was no seat belt, because most cars didn't have them yet. They were a newfangled idea at that point, at least for people who weren't race car drivers. And if you didn't have something like that, then you just put them in the back seat, where they sat or stood or walked around or whatever. You didn't worry about seat belts, because you were a good driver, and you knew you weren't going to get into an accident. Back then most families only had one car, and the only places there were traffic jams were in Los Angeles, and places like that.

I'm not trying to say seat belts and child safety seats are a bad idea. I'm just saying that for ten or twenty years, we did pretty well without them. And in the current situation, we were only going four blocks, over to Newton Street. We probably wouldn't get above twenty miles an hour. But the fact that I didn't have car seats for the kids just about unhinged her.

"Put them in the back," I said. "Tell them to strap in and not move around. We'll be there in a jiffy."

She dithered until I said, "Let's just walk. We could have been there already."

I think it was the memory of that mob that finally overcame her conditioning. We put the twins in the back and strapped them in, and off we went. Slowly.

Her street was clogged with fire trucks. Two of them were from Richardson Falls and one was from Neosho Falls. That was because our own department had been overwhelmed and was elsewhere. By the time they got help in from other areas, though, it was too late to save much.

Such as on Newton Street.

Four houses had burned, or were still burning. Basically, what the firemen were doing now was cooling down the ashes. It was obvious there was nothing left of the four houses. The two houses on either end of the blackened strip showed heat damage, but the firemen had been able to put enough water on them to keep them from catching fire.

Valerie's house was one of the four that was a total loss. The tallest thing standing was her water heater. Her car was also a blackened heap of twisted metal in what had been the garage. The firemen tried to make us leave immediately, until she told them it was her house. Then they just restricted her to standing 200 feet away.

She cried then, in great, sobbing heaves that broke my heart.

She ended up in my arms, and I tried to comfort her. I even said, "It's going to be okay." The twins each hugged one of her legs. I found out later they were crying because their mother was so obviously distressed, not because they recognized the remains of their house. They didn't. It looked too strange for ten-year-old brains to recognize.

Finally, I got them back into the car, turned it around, and drove back to my house. When I parked, I sat there, leaving the keys in the ignition.

"What do you want to do?" I asked, after waiting until she stopped sniffling. She looked over at me.

"If you try to hurt either me or my children, I'll cut your heart out," she said. Her face didn't match the words at all. Maybe another man would have been offended by that. But I knew she was hurting, and that the last thing she needed right now was any kind of trouble from a man.

"Sounds fair to me," I said.

"Then we'll stay with you," she said, all traces of hardness gone from her voice. "Just for tonight."

"Let me show you to your accommodations," I said, taking the keys out of the ignition and opening the door.

The house I decided on had two bedrooms when I bought it. I'm not the kind of guy who has cookouts in the back yard. In fact, to me, all a back yard is, is something you have to mow. So when I did the renovation, I had them expand the house into the back yard. That enlarged one of the bedrooms, making it what some folks might call palatial. I had a king sized bed in there, and the bathroom could have served as the locker room for a volleyball team, especially if they liked each other a lot and were even a teensy bit kinky. The walk-in closet was big enough to park a VW Beetle in. Except it was full of clothes. But you get the idea.

I had another room added on the other side of the house. That one was pretty much for storage, including food. It had two freezers in it, and a big pantry. I also kept my business records in there. The "guest bedroom" wasn't really for visitors. I didn't have visitors. I didn't even have an extra bed. I had all my craft stuff set up in there, all spread out. I like to do stained glass, and wood burning and a dozen other crafty things, and I'm not a fan of packing everything up when you want to change crafts. I haven't bought a Christmas present in years. All most of my extended family members know is that, after college, I got some kind of job that involved a lot of travel and that I had some hermit-like attributes. A few even thought I was an over the road trucker, based on the disparate places I called people from to wish them a happy birthday or whatever. My mom and dad knew what I did, and how well off I was, but the rest of the family didn't need to know how much money I had, so I didn't buy them expensive gifts. I made them really special ones, instead.

So the accommodations I showed them to, of course, were my bedroom. I pulled the covers and sheets off the bed and wadded them up under one arm while I opened the linen closet in the wall beside the bed.

"I'll go put these in the laundry," I said. "You can choose your sheets. I'm sorry I don't have anything separate for the kids, but the bed's big enough for everybody."

"This is your bedroom," said Valerie. I told you she wasn't stupid.

"There's a guest bedroom," I said. "It's not big enough for the three of you, but I'll fit in there just fine." That was, technically, true, and she had enough problems without the need to feel guilty about displacing me from my opulent bedroom. Nor did she need to know that my "guest bedroom" had no bed. I planned to sleep on the couch, something that had happened many times in the past when I fell asleep watching TV or was just too lazy to get up and go to bed.

She looked doubtful.

"It's fine," I said. "Really. This no imposition. I'm actually looking forward to having some company. And your problems dwarf anything I could even think to complain about, including sleeping on the floor." She looked alarmed so I reassured her. "I won't have to sleep on the floor. It was just an example. Really, I want you to be comfortable, and once you lock that door," (I pointed to the bedroom door) "it would take an army to get into this room. You'll be safe and secure. You need sleep, because tomorrow morning you've got a lot to do."

She slumped, dejectedly. I had just reminded her that she was homeless, destitute, with no place to take her children. They didn't even have non-zombie clothes to change into.

Thinking of that, I told her I had a quick errand to run, but that I'd be right back. I got extra towels for them, suggesting they could get cleaned up while I was gone. Then I showed her how to enter the pass code and arm the security system, which was no loss of security to me because I can change the code any time I like. I could tell she wasn't happy about me leaving, which I thought was somewhat ironic, seeing as how she had threatened to un-man me if I was bad. I mean if I wasn't even there I couldn't be bad, you know?

The riot was still going on. This particular riot was of a fragmented nature. My guess is that the original group splintered, which spread the rage and destruction instead of dissipating it. But the destruction was in pockets. Swathes, to be more nearly correct. There would be two or three blocks of ruination, followed by complete normalcy. In many parts of town there was no evidence whatsoever that anything bad was going on. Then, ten or fifteen blocks further on I'd see the results of stupidity and senseless rage, where the rioters had, for whatever reason, looted whatever they could and destroyed the rest. My mind toyed with the idea that someone in a riot only destroys what he doesn't own himself. Maybe out of jealousy that someone else has it?

Martial law was needed, but that wasn't in the plan. More to the point, there was no mechanism for notifying the populace of such a decision, or enforcing it. I found out later that somebody tried to call in the National Guard, but by the time those hoops got jumped through, the rioters had faded away.

So I was able to drive to WalMart, which was open. Don't be surprised. WalMart closes for only one day in the year, and it isn't for Halloween. It was a nervous place, though. Several employees had been called away to deal with their own losses, and the word was out about the riots. I saw one guy with two carts full of bottled water, complaining to his wife that it wouldn't fit in their car.

"Is that for the firemen?" I asked. "I've got a truck." I was simply offering to help.

"No!" screamed the woman. "It's for us! We got here first! You can't have any!"

I backed off. She was obviously in "retreat to the compound" mode and who knew if she was armed. I was, after all.

"No problem," I said. "I have plenty already."

I left them to deal with their water and picked out three sets of clothes for the kids. I wasn't too sure about the sizes, so I went larger, rather than smaller, figuring they could grow into them. When it came to Valerie, I guessed medium and got her two T shirts and two pairs of sweat pants. I didn't get underwear for anybody. I figured Valerie could do that later, when she got herself some real clothes.

When I got back everybody had been through the shower. They'd put back on the only clothes they now owned, of course, and they looked decidedly odd. The twins turned out to be cute as a bug. They were fraternal, of course, and without makeup, if I'd seen them on the street in normal clothes, I might not have suspected they were related. They were roughly the same size and both had brown hair, though Samantha's was curly and a little darker, while Chip's was straight and tended toward the blonder side of things. Both had brown eyes, and both didn't mind staring at me intently as I came into the bedroom, where they were sitting on the edge of the bed.

Valerie, even with wet hair, was just as beautiful as I had suspected. I decided not to spend too much time looking at her. I had on thin pants, and the last thing I needed was for the arousal she was already causing in me to show up through them.

"Clothes," I announced, tossing the bag on the bed.

Samantha finally showed an emotion other than fear or mistrust and dug into the bag.

"You didn't have to do that," said Valerie.

"I know," I said. "But I did, so let's move on. There's something in there for you too. It's just temporary until you can choose your own. You can pay me back later."

"How much did you spend? And when do I need to pay you back?" she asked.

"I don't know. Next year? How about on Halloween? That would be kind of a neat tradition. I wouldn't ask for it all at once, of course. Every Halloween you come over for dinner and give me an installment! I like the idea of that." I tried not to put too much sarcasm in my voice. Again, she didn't disappoint me. She just ignored me and looked at the pile of clothes that had appeared on my bed.

Chip had taken the bag away from his sister and upended it. I was to learn that Samantha was the flightier of the pair, who let emotion guide her most times, while Chip was more practical, and heuristic in his approach. In this case, for example, Samantha had been moving clothes around inside the bag, trying to look at them that way, and he took the more direct route of dumping everything so it was all visible.

I saw Valerie's shoulders relax. It was a little thing, but I noticed it, because she had been so guarded and tense. Not that I blamed her. She had plenty to be tense about. But I found out later that the reason for this little bit of relaxation was because when I told her I'd gotten her something, she was afraid I'd picked out something that would accentuate or reveal her body when worn. When she saw T shirts and sweat pants, it was a relief to her. Again, later, she told me that was when she decided I probably wasn't a pervert, and that she might be able to trust me.

Of course as things turned out, I had done exactly what she was afraid I might do. I just hadn't known I'd done it.

That's because, as it turned out, medium was a bit tight on her. It wasn't like she had any trouble getting things on. They just hugged her body gently, rather than hanging loose. The T shirts I'd gotten her were white. I wear gray myself, but I got white for her. She's a woman. Don't ask me to explain why I think men wear gray and women wear white, because I can't.

Maybe my subconscious feels like women are pure and men are slightly soiled?

But I can tell you one thing. I did not get her those cheap, white T shirts because they conform well to an erect nipple, and you can also see a dark areola through it. I can state under oath that I didn't think about that when I picked out those T shirts.

I don't know the medical term for it, but some women's nipples are sensitive in a way that almost any emotion makes them become erect. Fear, anger, lust, love ... anything at all, and her nipples pop out. The stronger the emotion and the more they pop out.

I tell you all this because when I told them I'd go do something else so they could change into clean clothes, and then came back, I learned that Valerie had very dark areolas. This is because, as it turned out, she'd decided to do a load of wash while they went trick or treating. That load included all her bras, but she figured going braless for a couple of hours dressed in a long, black heavy gown would be no big deal. So, basically, she had no bra to put on under that T shirt.

I intuited that she hadn't looked in a mirror yet. I don't have one in my bedroom. I know what I look like, you know? About the only time I look in a mirror is when I comb my hair or trim my beard. She had been folding her children's zombie costumes and stood up as I re-entered the room.

"Anybody hungry?" I asked, reflecting on how that T shirt really accentuated Valerie's breasts. They looked lush and heavy through the thin cloth.

I was treated to the sight of her nipples popping up like miniature prairie dog heads coming out of their burrows. My groin reacted about the same time I reflected on how it wouldn't be good at all to get caught staring at her breasts. My eyes slid up to her face, whereupon I realized I was already busted. In my own defense - the only defense I could think of at the moment - I went to my closet and pulled out a short sleeved, checkered work shirt. I held it out to her. She looked down at her breasts. She knew what they did.

"Shit," she said, softly. It sounded like a one word summation of the situation she thought she was in.

"I'll try not to ogle you, " I said softly. "If I get weak and stare, just bark at me. I really am house trained."

She looked at me with the frown still marring her features. Her eyes had an odd look in them, though. She took the shirt. I imagined her shrugging into it and those fabulous breasts bobbing around in the process, so I turned my back to her and faced the kids.

"It's still kind of wild and wooly out there, so we probably need to eat here. I have all kinds of stuff in the freezer, though. What do you like?"

"There are sheep outside?" Samantha's voice was surprisingly deep when she wasn't frightened.

"I beg your pardon?" I asked, confused.

"You said wooly," explained Chip, looking at me. "You said it was wooly outside. My sister is very literally minded."

"I'm fascinated that a kid your age is familiar with the concept of someone being literally minded," I replied.

"I get all A's in school," he said, beaming.

"I want to see the sheep," complained Samantha.

I looked at her. "There are no sheep. That's a term cowboys used to use to say things were really crazy."

"Well then why didn't they just say things were really crazy?" she asked.

Chip had his sister pegged.

"Are we going to argue, or eat?" I asked. "Because I can do either. I love to argue. I'm a philosopher, and that's what they do for a living. So I can argue all day long if you want to. But I'm also kind of hungry. And it's hard to have fun arguing if your stomach keeps growling. So why don't we eat first, and then we can argue the rest of the night."

They opted for corn dogs and tater tots. Kids. What can you say?

What's that? Why did I have corn dogs and tater tots in my freezer? I'm a lost boy at heart. Never grow up. That's me.

I had some little pizza pocket looking things, except they weren't filled with pizza type stuff. Instead, they tasted like Reuben sandwiches. I'm not lying. The taste of Reuben Sandwich just burst in your mouth when you ate one. Valerie said that sounded good, though I don't think she was thinking about food. There were too many other things to think about just then.

I opened a can of lima beans. Samantha went, "Ewww," and I said, "Think about it as if it's rent. You have to eat a couple of bites as rent for staying here." She wasn't happy, but she later ate two bites. I also got out the cottage cheese, which made me instantly popular with both kids.

"Mom hardly ever gets cottage cheese," gushed Samantha. "Just about the only time we get that is when we go to Grandma's."

"Grandma?" I looked at Valerie. "Do we need to check on her? I can run you to her house."

"If you want to drive for three or four days," said Valerie. "She lives in California."

"Oh," I said. "Back to plan A."

When she took her first bite of the Reuben sandwich pizza pocket thingies, her face changed.

"This is delicious!" she said.

"I have lots."

And, just then, the power went out.

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