It was nearly mid-morning by the time that they were back on the road. The neighbouring house had been unlocked, as it turned out, and while the previous owners had removed most of the furnishings and essentials, they had left the bathroom intact. The only regret that they had was that they could not use the shower, as only enough water remained for a quick wash. Still, they felt better from their visit and buoyed by a combination of tea and cleanliness, they walked quickly toward the FOOD & FUEL sign.
The sign led them to a small rest-stop that had previously housed a gas station, a small store, and a Big Coffee outlet. As they approached cautiously, it became clear that at least some of this complex was still in use. A pickup truck was parked beside the coffee shop window and another truck was parked next to the gas pumps. The building appeared to still have electricity, and the man could make out faint outlines of people inside the store and coffee shop. Behind the building, he spotted what appeared to be a garage. In the distance, more commercial buildings and a church looked to have activity going on inside them. The rest-stop had police tape around it, as did each of the other buildings that the man could see. The woman was too frightened to play a flute – she crouched in the trees with the wagon while the man called out shakily to the people at the station.
“Hallo!” he shouted. “We don’t want any trouble! Please don’t attack! We’re just peaceful travellers! Is anyone there?”
A man with a gun steadily aimed toward him exited the pickup truck closest to them. His friendly tone did not match his gun.
“Who are you?”
“My name is Noah Mann,” the terrified young man with five firearms replied, trying to sound confident in himself. It was the first time that he had used his alias that he and the woman had almost jokingly come up with two nights previously.
Yes, staring down the Cyclops of a gun barrel, he thought to himself.
“No-AH, like the ark!”
“Oh, Noah! Are you alone?”
“There’s two of us.” He gestured for the woman to get up. She rose and stood beside him, one hand on the wagon and one poised to grab one of his guns if necessary.
“Oh, you’ve got a woman with you? What’s her name, then?”
“Eva,” she squeaked.
“Ava, like the actress or like the perfume and soap ladies? You two married?”
“Sure, now,” Noah replied casually, almost without thinking it. The woman tried not to look startled, and the man who pointed the gun at them lowered it, and Noah breathed a sigh of relief.
“Well then, Mister and Missus Mann, come in here and get yourselves a coffee. The chief of police will be by in an hour on his rounds. He can drive you across town and get you two on your way. I’m afraid you can’t stay here past tomorrow unless you apply with him. If you want to stay the night here, we can probably get you set up somewhere in town.”
“Thank-you very much,” Eva whispered, hauling the wagon into the coffee shop. It was just narrow enough to fit through the door.
“What is your name, sir?”
“Oh, of course! Name’s Joseph. I’m the deputy chief of police for the town. Every building and every citizen has yellow tape.” He indicated the police-tape armband around his shoulder, which was no longer obscured by a firearm. “Since you two don’t, you have to be accompanied at all times by people who do. Stick around here awhile, have a cup. You got money?”
“Fine if you do, fine if you don’t nowadays, I guess. Sit down and relax! I’ve got to go, but I’ll leave you here with Rachel and the crew here. They’ll take good care of you.”