We reached Ed's place in just over an hour.
His property was filled with big rigs. They all must have been out of operation since the quarantine began. There was also a big warehouse-style motor shop at the head of the driveway, and behind it was the house.
Ed was really happy to see me. He came out in the felt cowboy hat he always wore, smiling, holding his arms open. Honestly, I hadn't thought about Ed much since everything had happened, but he had always been a good boss, and we'd always gotten along. He gave me a big hug when I slid off the horse.
"Ashley!" He looked me over. "My oh my! I wasn't sure if I'd ever see you again. Chris told me you were missing, and it just about broke my heart. Thank God you're okay."
"We brought goodies." Chris started untying the plastic bags filled with antibiotics from the saddle.
"You're kidding me!" Ed smiled, smoothing his mustache. "Is that what I think it is? So much! How the hell'd you get all that?"
"Illegally," Chris laughed. "Very illegally."
"My oh my."
"You have Ashley to thank for all this. All of it."
Ed smiled at me. "Well, somehow that doesn't surprise me."
I was actually feeling a little bit good for the first time in a very long time.
While Ed helped us hide the horses in the motor shop, Chris told me that it was actually Ed who first started calling the resistance the Underground.
"After that," Chris explained, "people who needed help started showing up. Ed was the one who started feeling other people out who might be willing to shelter positives from the Home Guard. He's been able to find—what? Five or six households now?"
Ed nodded. "They're good people. But they sure are scared. The Home Guard's getting more and more nosey."
"Ed won't say who's doing the sheltering," Chris explained. "He won't even tell me. But it's probably not a bad idea to keep it all as secret as possible."
After securing the horses, we shut the motor shop's large double doors and Ed led us to the house.
"Come and have some lunch," he said. "You two must be starving."
Nothing could have been truer. I was famished.
I couldn't believe it, but Ed actually made us steaks. Nothing had ever tasted better in my life.
While we ate, I told Ed about the cliff dwellings that my dad and I had discovered years ago. It was the first time I'd ever spoken about them with anybody but my Dad.
"I can't imagine a safer place to shelter refugees," I said. "It won't be easy getting provisions out there, and the weather's going to get cold, but if we can make it work, it would be almost impossible for the Home Guard to find a hideout like that for a long time."
"Well, sounds like it's better than anything else we got now." Ed offered me a second steak. "You sure you can find it?"
I nodded. "I'm sure. It might take two or three days on horseback, but I can find it. My dad marked it on a topo map for me. And I'm going. I've decided. Any of the refugees who are willing to make the journey can come."
After lunch, Ed virtually emptied his pantry, filling duffel bags and suitcases with rice and beans and canned food. He gave me four sleeping bags and rolled up another eight or nine blankets from his closet. He even insisted we take every box of shotgun shells he owned. We secured all of these provisions and tied them under tarps onto three of the horse's backs.
"This won't last long," Ed said. "We'll work on getting more provisions soon."
Then he shut himself away in a cluttered spare room to call all of the members of the Underground who were sheltering positives, asking them to pass word to the refugees to gather at his house if they wanted to go with me to hide in a remote location.
"Tell them that if they want to come, it's going to be rough out there," I said, before Ed closed the door. "No electricity, running water. None of that. We'll have shelter and plenty of antibiotics, at least. But they'll have to be blindfolded on the way out. Tell them that."
Ed nodded. "That's probably a good idea. I understand the blindfolds. I'll tell them. And it'll be their choice whether to go."
He shut the door and started making the calls.
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