Sunday, February 8, 2015

Part 120


Sgt. Shelly opened her mouth to say something when the radio that Josie carried crackled to life.  "Container Nine has prematurely evacuated.  I repeat Container Nine has prematurely evacuated.  Execute plan Epsilon.  Report to stations.  Repeat, report to stations.  Execute plan epsilon."

Carp.

I asked, "Does that mean what I think it means?"

Something had changed in all four women.  What ever their personal issues are when called to duty they turn into real fighting machines.

"Yes," Sgt. Shelly said succinctly.  "Luce, boost her up in that tree."

"Thanks but I don't need a boost, just remember if you start shooting don't shoot up."  I took a running leap and scurried up the tree.  There were no leaves so it wasn't like I was hiding but I was able to get high enough off the ground that I felt safe and it gave me a great vantage and one look was all it took.

"Sergeant Shelly ..."

"Just Shelly pipsqueak."

I hate that name.  They've shortened it to Pip like its cute or something.

"I know it is dark and all," I said.  "But isn't there supposed to be more lights over by the chow line?  There's like a big blank spot there now."

"Dammit.  Give me a report of what else you see.  Do it quick."

"I can still see the big tent where the supplies are and I think there is a bunch of people in uniforms ringed around it.  And ... yeah ... it looks like there is some kind of bucket brigade line of people moving stuff from the tent to a couple of gray trailer trucks.  There's also a fire of some type ... you should be smelling it pretty soon if you can't yet ... on the far perimeter, near where we walked in from the train depot.  Other than that it just looks like a lot of people running around trying to figure out where they belong ... and oh yeah ... it looks like they've started taking people out of the tent with the Red Cross symbol on it but I can't tell where they are going."

As soon as I had finished she told me, "Stay in the tree.  You don't have a uniform yet so could catch some friendly fire."  Turning she said, "Time to go to work ladies."  I watched them until they disappeared into the dark with Sgt. Shelly taking point.

The story books always make things so exciting for the heroine even when she isn't part of the action.  Wrong.  It's boring ... and in this case it was boring and cold.  Boring wasn't bad but being cold was total carp.  I'd taken my jacket off around the fire and now I regretted it.  I was giving serious thought to climbing down and getting it when people started running into the clearing.  It was Chris and a redheaded girl followed by some of the livelier puss brains I've seen recently.

I gave a sharp whistle and skinnied down to the lowest limb.  "Yo!  This way."

Chris spotted me and pulled the girl after him.  If they had had one more minute, even half a one, they both would have made it up.  Chris had just boosted the girl so that she could grab on and was half way up the trunk when one of the puss brains grabbed his leg.  He wasn't going to make it without help so I got around the girl and jumped down and started swinging.

Crack!  Crack!  CRACK!  Crack!

Chris slid down beside me and started using a camp chair to push them away.  "Stay out of my swing radius!" I yelled at him.

"Gun?  Gun?  Gun?"

"Stop gobbling.  I've got one in my right pocket.  Duck under, reach in and grab it but for pity sake don't shoot me."

Chris turned out to be a better shot than me and was able to put the attacking puss brains down with one well placed shot each time while I took them out in my more personal way.  As soon as the last one went down we were scrambling up the tree.

As the girl started fussing over both of us enough to make me uncomfortable Chris dug into my pocket again and was reloading the magazine.  "This isn't standard issue."

"Whatever.  It belonged to a friend.  He died.  So ... just whatever."

"Yeah.  I got one of those whatevers that belonged to our brother.  Dorrie here took it apart to clean it last night only didn't finish putting it together."  He shot her a dirty look and she looked contrite.

Dorrie was older than me but not by much but she was one of those wispy, airy fairy girls that guys at school used to go all protective and junk over.  "Hi," she muttered.  "I'm Dorrie."

I nodded.  "You're Chris' sister, the one that works in supply."

She nodded and then tensed as we watched another small group of puss brains come through but ignore us in favor of tipping the cart over in the test kitchen two down from where I had been.  I sighed.  "They prefer it on the hoof but they'll take food anyway they can get it."  I looked at Chris.  "You up for this?"

He sighed and said, "Yeah."

To Dorrie's muted protests Chris and I slid back down the tree once again and then on the count of three we ran over, dealt consequences, and then ran back to the tree and climbed up.  We were both breathing hard.

I asked, "Are we going to get in trouble for this?"

"You mean because we're ... "

"Yeah, because we are killing the infecteds."

He shook his head.  "No.  They changed the rules when it started to warm up and the infecteds started escaping containment.  Patrols can't hunt them down and get bounties for them like some towns are paying mercs to do but if they are a direct threat - and running loose in a camp is considered a direct threat - then we've been instructed to do what we have to to restore containment up to and including lethal actions."

It didn't make me happy and it sounded strange the way he explained it but I was relieved to find out that I wasn't going to get court martialed or whatever they do to contractors on what was sorta my first day on the job.

Part 119


There wasn't a single grain of rice or drip of salsa reamining when the group that was testing me left to go to some cooks' meeting at the supply tent.  Testing me was the word for it too.  I noticed on the train that being around so many other people so closely was irritating but since most of them had their own groups that they were hooked up with I was left alone most of the time.  In camp I was having to deal with people on every side and I was just about done with it.  I do not ever want to shame my parents but I keep getting close.

Mom was more sociable than Dad.  Dad knew too much about people in town and they knew he knew; it made everyone uncomfortable though Dad never was one to gossip about work ... at least not to me though he might have talked to Mom sometimes.  I got a few warnings about people but rarely specific details and I was always told that I was expected to keep it to myself unless something happened that I thought Dad should know about.  Mom on the other hand liked to socialize though we didn't do it at our house which was too small for adult parties.  She was always helping to organize stuff at the church or neighborhood block parties or stuff for the scouts or school stuff.  Dad went along because it made Mom happy.  I always thought I was more like Mom as far as people stuff went but maybe I'm turning out to be more like Dad.  All I know is that at the end of everyday after being cooped up and having to deal with so many people, my brain feels like it has been in a blender until I can crawl off to have some quiet and pull it together.  But it is hardly ever quiet it seems.  The train I was on rarely stopped  for more than an hour at a time and was always noisy.  And now even this Base seems to murmur and rustle 24/7.  Even when I wake up in the middle of the night to have to hunt up the latrine there is always someone talking, working, or something.  It is enough to make me want to scream and tell everyone to shut up and stop moving so I can have just five minutes of silence.

I was almost finished organizing the remaining supplies when the redhead - whose name turns out to be Chris - and the blonde who never did tell me his name or if he did it didn't register, came back with a baker's dozen of squirrels all skinned and gutted.  I said, "I don't have anything to trade for the extra squirrels."

"Don't worry about it.  The Colonel actually paid us to clean the squirrels out of his tent when he saw us hunting up the first couple we caught.  He was complaining about how the rodents were getting into the paper files looking for nesting material and food.  Anywho my name is Chris.  What's yours?"

"DeeDee," I mumbled expecting them to make fun of it but they didn't so I relaxed.

I set the squirrel carcasses to cook with some salt and onions in the water and then showed Chris and the blonde guy how to wash and then stretch the furs so they they wouldn't dry all curled up.  "I don't plan on these things lasting very long or I would tan them ... you do that with brains if you don't have fancy chemicals.  I figure these will last until warmer weather sets in and I can just wear my plain leather coat after that.  I made it myself out of deer hide."  OK, so I'm a little proud about it.

"Serious?" the blonde asked like I was going up in his estimation.

"Serious," I said.  "There was this old guy who taught me that kind of stuff.  He was real tough, wouldn't settle and let me go to the next step until I got the one I was working on just right in his opinion.  Mr. Svenson taught me a lot."

"Where is he?"

"I hope he is somewhere safe with his family.  They got run out of the North Woods too - that's where I stayed last - and I probably would have gone with their group only I got separated from them.  It was too much like stupid to try and find them after that so I started out on my own again."

"What do you mean again?"

Since I could do what I was doing and talk at the same time, and because they'd brought me more squirrels than I'd asked for, I felt obligated to pay them with answers to their questions.  After I was finished with the squirrel pelts I started on the pizzas.  I had found a half barrel attached to the side of the hot dog cart and decided to disconnect it and use it as a reflector oven.  Chris and the other one didn't seem at all surprised so I figured it must have been one of the uses for it anyway.  When I found screen shelves made of flat wire mesh that fit in the slots inside the barrel I knew I had guessed right.  I was looking at a homemade reflector oven.

The "oven" had four shelves so I made four pizzas.  I figured I'd bartered one to Chris and Blondie, promised one to Shelly and the other women to make them go away, and that would leave two to feed the men that were testing me.  I knew two pizzas wouldn't go very far but they were testing my cooking not looking to get fat off of it.  That was also why I made the cake in the dutch oven.  Actually it was more like a dump cake than a regular fancy cake, plus it was shaped like the bottom of the dutch oven I cooked it in.

I tossed the contents of a large can of pie filling in the bottom of the dutchie, sprinkled a little bit of the brown sugar over that, and then made up a simple cake batter and poured that over the top of the gunk already in the dutchie.  I then set the dutch oven on a few coals and put a few on the lid.  It only needed about twenty to thirty minutes to bake up ... just in time for the pizzas to be finished.

Chris and blondie hauled theirs away like I might change my mind and renege on our trade.  They actually had it in their hats because it was too hot to carry.  Gross.  And it irritated me but I realized they didn't know me well enough to know they'd just insulted me so I let it go.  Besides, after dealing with Toddie and his friends I wasn't really surprised; I swear I think boys are hardwired for stupidity about half the time and they just can't help themselves.  It's like biological or something.

Lucy and the rest of the women set up eating not too far off from where I was serving the men.  It irritated me to have to keep an eye on both groups.  I kept waiting for it to turn into a cat and dog fight but it never did.  In fact as the cooks filed out they treated the women ... well not with respect exactly but they weren't anywhere near being disrespectful.

I handed Shelly the last of the cake as she'd instructed me to give the others there first and asked, "What gives?"

"About what?"

"How come those men acted ... I dunno ... different to you?"

I heard Josie said, "You ain't earned no respect yet girlie.  We have."

I took a deep breath and let it out and basically ignored her while still talking to Sherry.  "That's not what I mean ... I mean they acted ... different.  Are they ... uh ... civilians?  Like me?"

Sherry nonchalantly leaned back against the tree and crossed her ankles.  "They aren't civilians and technically neither are you.  Most cooks are contractors ... noncombatants.  Some in other units are active duty but our unit primarily uses contractors which sets you apart from the ranks of civilians you'll run into.  It doesn't give you any extra authority but it does give a little clout."

Slowly I said, "OK so it is kind of a military thing.  So what is the rank thing?  My dad was a cop so I understand rank ... but how does it ... I guess I'm asking how does it apply here.  I've got a job.  I'm a contractor.  Where does that stick me on the food chain?"

"On the bottom of my shoe grunt," Josie answered which caused Gayle to snicker right along with her.

Shelly gave them a look and they both tapered to a last snort.  She turned to me and asked, "Why do you want to know?"

"So I don't get in trouble or cause trouble.  No one has explained how things work to me, they've only hinted around about it.  And Sgt. Shadwell said that there are lots of rules here that there weren't back where I come from.  I don't want any headaches and I don't want to do stuff that gets people in my business.  If I know up front I don't have to make so many mistakes ... if I don't make so many mistakes people have no reason to feel like they have to get in my face and correct me."

Lucy glanced at me and said, "Well, if you can stay out of trouble it is more than our last couple of cooks ..."  She stopped when she caught Shelly giving her a scowl.

She turned back to me and said, "I guess that's a fair enough answer.  Sgt. Shadwell is actually Master Sergeant Shadwell.  If you get any correspondence from her you'll see her rank written MSGT rather than jsut SGT."

"But we just call her Sergeant?"

"Pretty much unless there are some people around that impose protocol, like high ranking officers.  That hasn't happened in a while though.  Most of those people stay in their walled compounds."

I asked, "What are you?"

"Sgt. Shelly Dreyfuss."

"A plain sergeant or a flavored one like MSgt. Shadwell?"

Out of no where Josie jumped up and tried to push me backwards.  She almost had me ... almost ... but Moses had made us practice ways of getting away from puss brains all the time and I'd had to use them to get away from a couple of the men.  Plus I had the element of surprise.  Josie thought I was a limp noodle but I am in a lot better shape than most people think.  Dad used to say I was as wiry as a monkey.  Moses used to complain that I was so small it was like trying to grab a rat.  Same difference I guess.  I turned in Josie's grip and swept her feet from under her and then went backwards and came up with my bat.

Gayle and Josie both started for me but Lucy grabbed Gayle and Shelly ... Sgt. Dreyfuss ... grabbed Josie and basically pinned her to a tree.  She growled at them, "Will you two stop being a couple of hormonal blockheads?  She was just asking questions.  I don't want to have to do anymore cooking.  You got that?"

[Note:  she didn't call them blockheads but it's embarrassing to write down all the words I've been hearing lately.  Definitely not cool.  Since this is my notebook I'll record it the way I see fit ... and without all the cuss words that would probably make even Mr. Svenson blush even with him being an old sailor.]


Josie and Gayle didn't like what they were hearing but Sgt. Shelly didn't seem to care and she turned her back on them and said to me, "You used up your only get out of jail free card.  You do that again and I'll let them have you."

"Over what?  She came at me.  I'm asking about ranks so I don't get in this kind of ruckus.  What's with the over sensitive act?  I sure as heck don't outrank anyone around here.  I'm having to pass some doggone stupid test just so I can go out and work my butt off feeding your unit and taking your carp."

Lucy said, "We're a tight unit.  You were being disrespectful to Shelly."

"How?"

"Asking what flavor she is."

"Huh?  I just meant is she a sergeant sergeant or a fancy title sergeant.  I mean why the heck has she let me call her by her first name if this rank stuff is so important?"

Sgt. Shelly shook her head.  "It's a wonder you aren't dead."

"Yeah I've come close.  Puss brains are like that.  And so are perverts and freaks and all the other carp that I've had to deal with for the last two years.  But no biggie ... just beat the carp out of me and carry on.  It's not like you people in uniform are supposed to be different or anything."

Lucy shook her head and said, "It's not like that."

"Sure, you can say that.  They stick up for you.  Me?  Half of you want to beat my brains out like I'm an infected so excuse me if I don't agree.  No wonder this group can't keep a number five if you're like this.  I ..."

There was a scream and gun shots and the argument of the moment was forgotten.

Part 118


I was really interested in seeing what Lucy had brought in the pack but no sooner had she taken off than ten of the biggest mish-mash of men show up and all but growl about me better having something decent to eat.

If they thought I was going to let them intentionally intimidate me then they had another think coming.  Toddie's friends had treated me this way for years and I was completely immune.  I had also had to deal with Moses and the other men in the group.  But I suspected, just like Toddie and his friends as well as the rest of the men that I've run into, if you feed them they shut up quick enough.  Besides, I'd dealt with puss brains and perverts way too much; compared to that these guys looked like pussy cats ... dirty pussy cats but yeah, definitely on the manageable end of things.  So I told them, "Yeah, yeah.  Keep complaining and see what happens to your lunch.  You're cooks.  You should know what happens when you hack a cook off."

They looked at each other like a frog had suddenly sat up and started singing ... like I might be interesting after all.  Maybe.  But they were still gruff enough that one little push back from me wasn't going to completely stop them.  I hadn't figured it would, and their running commentary during the meal about short people, girls, and how they would have done things better had me real tempted to spike their coffee with some senna that I had found in an herbal shop after I left the Northern Woods.  It might not be as powerful as it had been fresh but I was pretty sure it would still have them hopping to the latrines for the rest of the day if I gave into tempation.  Instead I saved my supply of constipation fix and blew them off ... some things matter and some things don't.  Although I swear, the way they acted they sure could have used a fix alright.

After breakfast they tried to get up and get away with not cleaning their dishes and I said, "Do I look like your Mom?  There's the pan of hot water, have at it.  'Cause I guarantee if you don't I won't and you'll be eating lunch off of a dirty mess kit."

There was some grumbling over that but I think mostly because they thought they'd be able to trick me.  Uh uh.  I'd listened to Lucy and the other women enough to pick up a few things and one of them was that everyone was responsible for their own gear ... including their eating utensils, canteens, and mess kits.

I was very happy to see them go and from the look on the other cooks' faces up and down the area we'd been allocated for our test, the others were too.  I was trying to pull my head together for the next go around when I saw a couple of boys close to my age running around delivering stuff to the other cooks.  I stopped them with an offer to let them lick the spoons where I was mixing cake batter for supper's dessert.  I said to them, "Hey, got a question."

"Figures," the blonde one said.  "Girls always have ulterior motives."

"Not always but close," I admitted.  "Anyway, look do you know if it is against the rules if I add my own stuff to the ingredients I was given?"

The redhead shrugged his shoulders.  "Don't know why it would be.  All the cooks do it when they are out in the field.  You are kinda expected to make what you're given go further."

I cross my arms and muttered, "Well, woulda been nice if someone had mentioned it but thanks for the info."  They were kinda skinny and there was a cool breeze blowing so I said, "Bring your mugs over here and have some Sherpa Tea.  It's not much of a thank you but at least it is something."

The blonde seemed to be the more suspicious of the two and looked over into the pot of tea that I had brewed for myself and asked, "What's in it?"

"Water, tea, powdered milk, butter, honey, and some spices.  I don't like coffee see, and I haven't seen chocolate in a long time, so this is the next best thing I could come up with.  My brother's Boy Scout troop drank it a lot when they were camping in the winter."

Redhead said, "My brother was going for his Eagle BOR before Z-Day. That's board of review."

"I know what a BOR is," I told him.  "My dad sat on the one in the Council where we lived.  My brother made Eagle before he went off to college."

"Is he ...?"

I shrugged.  "I'm pretty sure he is."  Uncomfortable and irritated by the questions I asked, "You want some or not?"

"Yeah," they said in unison.

The readhead asked, "So what are you gonna add ... to the supplies I mean?"

"Squirrel.  They've been driving me buggy trying to get into stuff.  One almost bit me when I tried to shoo it off this morning.  I can't believe there are so many around here.  I figure people would have hunted them into extinction."

The blonde said, "We've only been set up in this location a couple of days.  As soon as the suttlers get wind of our knew location they'll get took out soon enough."

"The suttlers or the squirrels?" I asked a little confused at the way he phrased it.  "And what are suttlers?"

The redhead snorted into his mug and the blonde one rolled his eyes but said, "The squirrels.  Geez.  Suttlers have tents they set up like the old strip malls used to be.  You buy stuff from them.  Although, come to think of it, you get around some of them suttlers long enough and you'll wish it was them you could catch and skin.  Man, they'll take you for every bit of pay you got if they can."

The redhead said to him, "They ain't all that bad.  You're just sore that that woman sold you them boots that were supposed to be water proof only they ain't.  Now you got foot rot and you're in trouble with Dr. Matthews for not reporting it sooner."

The blonde growled like he was irritated at being remind.  I didn't say anything.  I learned from Doc early on that taking care of your feet was as important as taking care of your eating utensils ... both could kill you from infection if you weren't careful.  The discussion did remind me however that I might finally have the opportunity to get a new pair of boots or at least get the ones I was wearing fixed somehow.

Redhead asked me, "What ya gonna make with the squirrel?  Stew, fry it, what?"

"Pizza."

Both boys looked at me like I'd suddenly grown a third eye on the end of my nose.

"You ain't either," Blondie said only it was more of a question than a denial of what I had said.

"I am too.  Geez, call me a liar and not even know me."

Redhead asked, "Seriously?  Pizza?"

"Yeah, what of it?  Is it like forbidden or something?"

"Heck no," he said.  "Just ... you know it costs a pretty penny to get a pizza when you can find a suttler that can bake it.  And you don't have no oven from what I see.  How you gonna fix pizza?"

"Geez, it isn't that hard."  I explained how I was going to do it as I started making homemade corn tortillas.

They were only half way listening to me as they watched me make a pile of them.  To shut their mouths on the questions that were about to fall out I handed them a couple to taste test for me.  Finally the blonde says, "You don't look Mexi."

I rolled my eyes.  "I'm not.  My dad had a friend that was married to a woman that was from Honduras and she taught Mom and me how to make these.  Easier than having to bake bread all the time and cheaper than getting it from the grocery store too."

That flew right over their heads.  I guess when there were still grocery stores they were too busy being boys to notice.  Redhead gives me a squint and then says, "What say you and me make a bargain."

I don't care what age they are guys are still guys and I scooted a little away from him before asking, "What kind of bargain?"

"Not the kind you think I mean.  And don't worry about thinking it.  I got a sister ... she works in supply.  She tells me what she has to put up with so I figured it must be the same for all females."  He pronounced it fee-males like he wanted me to understand he didn't mean just girls or just women but all of them combined.

I nodded and said, "Ok but that isn't telling me what bargain you are trying to make."

The blonde elbowed him and redhead gave him a dirty look.  "Don't try and tell me you don't want some."

"Want some what?" I asked even more suspicious.

"Squirrel pizza.  I figure it can't be worse than the slop they dish out in the chow line and you look like you know what you are doing so ..... the bargain is if I bring you some squirrels will you trade them for a slice of pizza?"

Relief swept through me.  "Is that all?  Don't be stupid.  Sure.  If you bring me, hmmm, let's say eight to ten squirrels ... the plumper they are the closer to eight but if they are skinny I'll need the full ten ... and leave their furs on and I'll trade you a pizza."

Surprised the blonde said, "A whole pizza?"

"Isn't that what I just said?"  I looked at the redhead and added, "But you can't take too long because I'm going to have to skin and cook them before I can use the meat for the pizzas."

The redhead said, "For a whole pizza I'll gut and skin 'em for you."

"Can you skin them without wrecking the fur?  I need to patch my coat where my pack has worn it threadbare in places across my back.  I'm starting to see the stuffing between the layers."

He nodded.  "Got the same problem only Dorrie - that's my sister - says I don't have enough on Account to get a new jacket yet and that I'd outgrow it anyway before next season so I'm making do.  How you aim to fix your jacket?"

"Just get the squirrels and I'll show you.  I gotta finish the filling for these Coyote Tortillas before those men show back up."

The blonde gave me a stupified look and I shook my head.  "Geez you're gullible.  No, there isn't coyote meat in the filling.  They're named after the coyotes - they're men - that used to get illegals across the border for a price.  They have to travel fast and at night so food has to be portable and easy to eat too.  Now get if you want any pizza."

They jogged off and I turned to find Lucy had materialized out of no where and was watching me.  She said, "Making friends already?  I'd watch it if I were you.  You could get a reputation."

It was two second before I realized what she meant.  "Ew.  No.  It's just a barter ... you know, a trade.  There wasn't any meat in the supplies so I ..."

She interrupted, "Yeah, we heard."

"We?"

The other three women in the unit jumped down from the tree they'd been sitting in.  Sherry was the leader and looked the part.  She was pretty once - reminding me a bit of Dr. Ponytail - but the life she had picked had done its best to erase it.  Gayle was the emergency medic and had already tried to give me the once over though I'd avoided what I could of it.  She struck me as cold but she seemed to think of the other three women as her sisters and treated them that way.  I had a feeling that she'd be a bad person to get on the wrong side of.  I wasn't sure what her ancestry was but it was either Asian or Eastern European because her eyes were a strange almond shape that didn't match the rest of her features.  Josie had announced that her biological mother was Haitian and her father French but that she'd been orphaned during an earthquake and then adopted by a childless couple here in the States.  I think she'd been trying to egg me to tell my story but I was having none of it because I didn't need anyone - least of all four strangers - pick it apart or use it against me in some way.  None of them spoke of having any family left alive and I sure wasn't going to ask.  None of my business.  I figured the more I stayed out of their hair the more they'd stay out of mine.

Instead I scowled and asked, "What's up playing panther?  Don't think I can behave myself?"

Josie - apparently short for Josephine though she promised to cut my tongue out if I ever tried to call her that - snorted good naturedly which I'd already learned was a bad sign.  "So ... you like to play with the boys?"

I gave them all a dirty look.  "You soooo obviously don't know me."

"You like girls then?  That your thang?" Gayle asked.

Getting upset I told them, "Nothing is my 'thang'.  Leave me alone."

Shelly gave me a hard look and then told Josie and Gayle to knock it off.  "Yeah, we were checking up on you to make sure you weren't getting into trouble.  Heard Gibson complaining about the fancy breakfast he had to eat and how it was giving him indigestion."

"If he's who I think it wasn't the peach french toast that gave him indigestion but the snuff he had in his cheek while he was eating it.  That has got to be the most disgusting thing I've ever see ... peach juice and snuff juice running down his chin at the same time ... and I've seen some gross junk alright."

Shelly snorted and nodded.  "That's Gibson.  You think the snuff habit is bad, trying being the one that has to eat his cooking.  I think he flavors everything with his spit."

"Carp, now that is gross."

Lucy laughed and told the other three, "See, I told you she can't even cuss."

"I can too cuss ... I just choose not to.  Well most of the time.  It's ... it's how I ... Never mind I'm tired of explaining it to people.  You don't like it then don't listen.  Look, I'm behaving so what else do you want?  I'm kinda busy here."

Lucy was the one that asked, "You serious about Squirrel Pizza."

"Geez, does everyone around here need to clean their ears out?  Yeah.  Squirrel Pizza.  It's no big deal."

Josie demanded, "We want one."

Fully prepared to appease them if it meant that they would go away I told her, "Fine.  Whatever.  Come back around six and I'll have one for you.  Now go away, I'm busy."

And I was.  I had a big bowl where I was mixing cooked rice, salsa from a can of it from the supplies I was given, and a couple of cans of drained black beans as well.  I hadn't been able to find a grater so I was having to shave the block of cheddar cheese I had been given with a paring knife and it wasn't the easiest thing to do and talk at the same time.

Gayle said, "You need a better edge on that knife before you cut your thumb off."

"It has a good edge ... just did it this morning.  It's just this cheese is as hard as a rock.  It would probably save time just to crumble the stuff."

Shelly said with her own edge, this time in her voice, "You going to give us that pizza?"

"Not right this flaming second," I snapped as she had said it looming over me and I really had almost sliced my thumb off.  "Come back at six o'clock like I told you."  I heard grumbling coming from down the path and snapped.  "Will you please scat already?  Here they come and if I'm going to pass this test I don't need you making them grumpier than they already are."

Lucy asked, "Who said that's what we were going to do?"

I rolled my eyes.  "Oh I didn't just ride several hundred miles on a train with you.  Nope, you all are a bunch of bo beeps just looking after your short little sheep."

Lucy grinned and was soon followed by the others but they did fade away before the grumpaholics showed up and said, "Lunch better be better than breakfast was."