Major Culpepper watched as Private Robards placed the last dynamite bundle.
“That’ll do it sir.”
“You’re sure?” the Major asked. “We can leave nothing to chance.”
“It’ll be a magnificent explosion,” Robards replied.
Robards picked up a wooden detonator box, being careful not to get his hand anywhere near the plunger at the top. The device was hooked up to a large spool of blasting cord, the opposite end of which was hooked up to the last bundle of dynamite. In turn, that bundle was connected to a long line of bundles placed on supports all across the bridge.
“I’ll walk the box across, sir,” Robards said. “I don’t trust any of these other idiots with it.”
“Very well,” the Major said. “Just be sure not kill us all with that contraption.”
One of Robards’ helpers picked up the spool and walked behind the demolition expert, leaving a trail of blasting cord behind as they walked toward the Illinois side of the bridge.
The Major addressed the crowd. Corporal Bartlett took his place next to a squad of soldiers.
“Now then,” Major Culpepper said. “Women and children only! All men say your goodbyes and then off you go back to the West to fight the zombie menace. Make your country proud.”
An ornery looking man shouted, “Why don’t you fight the zombie menace?”
The Major grabbed his belly and laughed. “Oh you are a card sir! I’m much too important to have my brains eaten. Away with you now!”
All the men turned and started to trudge back to Highwater. Women of all ages marched across the bridge. Some carried babies, others held their children by the hand.
One woman kept her face covered by a scarf. Her shoulders were wrapped by a raggedy, worn out afghan. A bonnet covered the top of her head. She hobbled along slowly, her right hand gripping a cane. With her left arm, she clutched a white cloth bundle.
Bartlett approached her.
“Oh ma’am,” the Corporal said. “Here, let me help you that.”
The old woman’s voice was high-pitched. “No thank you sonny.”
“Please ma’am,” Bartlett insisted as he reached for the bundle. “You look very unsteady and I fear you might drop your grandchild.”
The old woman looked down and shook her head. “Oh no, sonny. He’s fine. What a nice young man you are for caring. Goodbye!”
Oddly, the old woman picked up her pace, walking as if she didn’t even need the cane.
Bartlett kept up. He grabbed the bundle and pulled it away only to be surprised how heavy it was.
“Ma’am I don’t mind helping you at all…what the…ooomph!”
Bartlett strained under the weight of the bundle. “What in the world?”
The old woman grabbed the other end of the bundle. “He’s a very fat baby. Let him go!”
“What have you been feeding him?” Bartlett asked as he yanked the bundle his way.
“Buttermilk three times a day,” the old lady said as she yanked the bundle back. “He’ll be as big as Paul Bunyan one day!”
There the pair stood on the bridge, locked in a tug of war with the bundle, each refusing to give in.
“Stop!” the old woman protested. “You’re hurting him!”
“Ma’am,” Bartlett replied. “I’m with the government. You can trust me!”
Finally, each person pulled their end of the bundle so hard that the cloth came undone and hundreds of metal objects clattered all across the bridge.
Cutlery made out of pure silver. Forks. Knives. Spoons. Gold pocket watches. A flask or two. A cigar box. Rings. Necklaces. All manner of jewelry. Coins of every denomination.
Bartlett was shocked. He grabbed the bonnet that was covering the old lady’s head to reveal a head of grimy receding hair. He then pulled her scarf away to discover that she was not a she at all.
It was frequent Bonnie Lass customer Roscoe Crandall.
“What’s the meaning of this?” Major Culpepper asked as he stepped over to inspect the commotion. As soon as he saw the riches at his feet he added, “What in the name of William T. Sherman is all this?”
Roscoe started to reply with his old lady impression. “It’s not…”
Seeing that Bartlett and Culpepper were not amused, Roscoe reverted to his own voice.
“It’s not a bunch of peoples’ personal belongings I looted from their homes while they were all busy running for their lives from the dead men I swear,” Roscoe said. “It’s all mine.”
Bartlett raised an eyebrow. “Really?”
Roscoe grabbed the lapels of his pink dress and puffed out his chest. “They are! I’ll have you know I’m a rather well-to-do man in Highwater!”
Bartlett shook his head. “You’re in a lot of troub…”
Before the corporal could finish his sentence, a bullet tore through Roscoe’s skull. The degenerate’s body fell to the ground.
The corporal turned to the Major, who was holding a smoking pistol.
“Sir!” Bartlett said.
“Oh don’t give me that look, Bartlett,” the Major said. “The man was clearly scum.”
“But he should have had a trial!” Bartlett said.
“We’re under martial law, man,” Major Culpepper said. “The law’s very unclear in dark times such as these.”
The major looked at all the shiny objects on the ground, then back to Bartlett.
“Be a good man and scoop that all up, will you?” the Major asked. “We’ll claim it for the war effort.”
“But we should try to find out who the owners are,” Bartlett said. “Maybe some of these things belong to the women.”
“Nonsense!” the Major said. “We have a wall to build!”
Bartlett shook his head disapprovingly then remembered his place. He dropped to his knees and started picking up the items and placing them in the white cloth.
A feint sound interrupted his concentration.
Bartlett lifted his head up. “What was that?”
The Major nonchalantly dropped some tobacco into his pipe. “What was what?”
“Arrr! Arrr! Arrrrrwooooooo!”
“That!” Bartlett said.