Chapter 7 – A New Day
Kirk is jogged from a deep sleep by the muffled woof of Gunner at the other side of their bedroom door. He can feel Gwen’s left arm wrapped across his torso and her head nestled atop of his chest. The familiar hiss of dueling CPAP machines is the only sound in the room. All is right in their bedroom again.
He wraps his left arm across her back and gently rubs her left shoulder as Gunner simultaneously gives a more determined and slightly louder bark. The combination of Kirk’s rub and Gunner’s second bark rouses Gwen too. She lifts her head and kisses Kirk and rolls over to grab her phone. “Good morning baby, what time is it?”
Kirk shuts off his machine, grabs his phone and a pair of readers from the nightstand that holds his machine. “Good morning beautiful. It’s a little after 10:00. I’ll feed and let Gunner out.” He exits the bed and looks for something to wear. Yesterday’s sweats are grabbed from a pile on the floor. After performing a smell test on the sweatshirt, he proclaims. “Clean enough!” The sweats are donned, the door is opened to reveal a wagging dog who follows Kirk to the pantry door.
Their feeding ritual is performed just as it was yesterday and every day before for years. Gunner enjoys his breakfast, and Kirk thinks back on the events of last evening. He can’t get the Rubber Knife Gang and the smoking man out of his mind. Who is more dangerous, the punks or the vigilante? Kirk’s unease is interrupted after Gunner has emptied his food bowl. The two head for the sliding glass patio door. It is unlocked, opened and the dog exits for his morning constitutional.
The normalcy of caring for Gunner only eases Kirk’s mind a little. There is still much to do.
Gwen, who has is still wearing PJs, joins him in the reading room. “Mom sent a text. Lenexa didn’t experience any damage. Everyone in Kansas is good.”
Kirk holds up his phone. “That’s good news, my Mom left a voice mail. I need to turn the ringer back on. She’s fine too, Omaha felt nothing but she’s worried about us. She heard the news about all of the Mississippi river bridge closures. Even if gasoline supplies recover, when will anyone be able to cross the river bridges? Air traffic is about to increase exponentially, I guess.”
Gwen interrupts: “Oh, also, the local ER sent an email, they are understaffed today they want to know if I can fill in until the docs out of Milwaukee can make it back to town.”
“What about wound care? Are you cleared to work ER at our hospital?” Responds Kirk.
Gwen explains; “I’m still on staff in wound care and Emergency Medicine, but everyone needing wound care cancelled their appointments. The ER is slammed. I told them I could be there at noon. Is that OK?”
Kirk’s eyes widen. “It’s the right thing to do. I’m going to call the factory. It will be interesting to see how many people made it to work this morning. Finding gas to get back and forth to work could be interesting for a while. Give me a minute babe.” He heads outside to watch Gunner and make the call to work.
Gwen heads to the kitchen to brew a pot of coffee. Whole coffee beans are poured into an electric grinder, five seconds later ground coffee is dumped into the paperless filter. She pours enough water in to make 8 cups, presses the ‘brew’ button, and turns her attention to the fridge for breakfast fare.
The patio door opens, Kirk and Gunner reenter the house. “We’re shutting the plants down for at least the next business week. The crews can take vacation or excused time off without pay. We do not have any way to get materials to or from our customers and suppliers west of the Mississippi river. This is NOT good.”
Alarmed Gwen asks; “Excused without pay! What if the shutdown is for longer than a week, or a month?”
“There’s a plan for that too. If we shut down beyond this week, they can file for unemployment insurance from the state. Currently there is no federal program for an act of God like this. FEMA is concentrating on the St. Louis area for now, but this quake is affecting the entire country’s supply line and transportation system. No one considered back up planning for this type of disaster.” Is Kirk’s response.
“What about you Kirk? You’re salaried, will you stay on the payroll?”
“For now. But that will be a corporate decision down the road. Remember COVID? The entire salaried staff took a 4-week furlough. No pay, but benefits stayed intact. I could see that as a possibility. Either way, I’m working from home until further notice. As long as the internet connections continue to function.”
This news comforts Gwen. “I feel better knowing that you will be closer to home for a while, with or without the income. When talking to Lou Ann, it sounded like my hours in the ER can be as long as I wish. That can keep our boat afloat for a long time.”
Kirk has an idea. “As long as I’m not traveling to work each day, I’d like to drive you to and from the ER. Less chance that someone siphons gasoline from the tank in the hospital parking lot. Keeping the cars locked up in the garage as much as possible reduces our odds of losing gasoline. If things go south people will get bolder about when and where they steal.”
Gwen initially agrees but thinks of something that Kirk has never experienced at his factory. “As long as we have an ability to communicate. I have a land line at work plus my mobile, but you only have the iPhone. Even in good times drug seekers will break into medical facilities. Plus, drugs can be barter for non addicts too. Between people needing money and addicts needing a fix, the hospital will be a target”
Kirk thinks. “Good point. Hey! Remember that box of items from dad’s garage?”
“Yes, I remember. It was full of odds and ends. Why?” responds Gwen.
“I think there were a few locking gas caps in there! If so, you can drive to work and back. It will save on gasoline too. Only one trip back and forth.” Kirk exits to the garage with Gwen and Gunner following him out of the house.
Picking through a box “There! Four of them. Let’s see if any of these fit our cars.” Luckily the couple do find locking caps that fit their cars and each of them have two keys. “We need to label these key, with each of us able to unlock the other’s gas cap.” Gwen goes back inside followed by Kirk and Gunner to find ID tags for the new gas tank keys. The tagged keys are placed on each other’s keychains.
Gwen needs to take a shower before putting on her scrubs for work. Remembering that there is now a bladder full of drinking water in the tub, she turns to Kirk. “We will need to shower in the basement bathroom until we decide what to do with all of the water in our tub.” She gathers her clothes, a towel, all of the soaps and lotions that she needs then heads downstairs to shower.
Kirk stands at the top of the steps. “I’m going to check on the neighbors while you get ready for work. See if everyone is doing well. Maybe someone will know something that is not on the news.”
Gwen peeks around the corner to face up at Kirk. “I’d like to go with you. There will be plenty of time after I’m ready to leave. Can you wait please? I’m better at asking questions.”
“True baby. Yes, I will wait.” Kirk begins to walk down into the basement too. “The camping gear needs to be inspected. It’s been forever since some of that stuff has been used. Remembering and relearning how to use our portable, outdoor gear will be good to do.” He is now at the bottom of the steps next to Gwen. They kiss. Gunner descends to meet up with his humans.
Kirk turns to the back-northwest corner of the basement where all of the camping gear is stored. Grabs the largest tote, turns and heads back up the steps and onto the deck from the garage exit. Gunner chooses to stay in the basement to guard Gwen’s shower. Besides, he likes to stick his head in the shower and drink the warm shower water.
There are several items fueled by propane: a lamp, two cook stoves, and a portable space heater. Once all of the items are out of their original boxes, he reenters the garage to grab a propane torch that is used primarily to light the grill and the outdoor firepit.
When he is back outside Kirk notices that the tote does not contain any cylinders of camp stove propane. Before heading back inside the house for propane it occurs to him that propane is a resource worth conserving too. Instead of getting more propane, he takes the cylinder off of the torch to use on all the items that he wants to test.
The source of fire starter for each item will be two types of zero fuel fire starters that were collected the last couple of years. One a magnesium flint and one a solar powered fuel free lighter. The lantern and space heater both have their own internal flint. Kirk was able to light both the lantern and heater, then adjust the amount of light that the lantern emits and adjust the amount of heat that the space heater can produce.
The camp stoves do not have their own flints. They are perfect test subjects for the flint and solar lighter. With some effort, Kirk is able to light both stoves. They have each developed a little rust from being stored with burned on food still on the burners. A wire brush is retrieved from the garage and Kirk brushes the soot off of each burner on both cook stoves.
As Kirk puts each item back into their original boxes and storage tote. He makes a mental note to test theses fire starters during the next bonfire plus the tiki torches at dusk tonight, and goes back into the house to put the tote away.
Gwen is in her robe with Gunner at the bottom of the basement stairs watching Kirk bring the tote back downstairs.
“Everything works and, remarkably, I remembered how to use them all. The stove needed to be cleaned with a wire brush…deer camp spillage…now they work like a charm. I even test drove the magnesium flint and solar lighter. The flint took me a few attempts, it is more art than science. But, the solar lighter works like a charm. I left it on the deck to recharge under the sun.”
Gwen gives him a kiss and swats him on the butt as he passes by. “That’s my stud. You are going to teach me how to use all of the camping gear, right? I’m going to dress quick, then we can make the neighborhood rounds. OKAY?”
Kirk is in the back room by now and shouts; “Absolutely baby, we will practice after you get home. You can start the bonfire and tiki torches too!”
“Sounds like a plan babe!” Gwen and Gunner go back upstairs.
First stop is Delia Brooks home next door to the east. Delia tells them that she and her family is doing as well as possible, all things considered. She has one daughter in town who has already checked in on her. However, she does have one daughter in Minnesota and is not sure if or when she will be able to cross the Mississippi river bridge near the Twin Cities. Delia assures them that she has everything that she needs for now. She has plenty of gasoline, food and essential supplies and no need to drive anywhere for the moment.
Second stop is the Steele home directly across the street to the north. Gunner barks from the front room window as they cross the street. Gunner knows that the Steele’s Labrador Aaron will be at the door to greet his people and expresses his displeasure about being left out of the action. As vowed, Gunner was not put into his kennel while Gwen and Kirk leave the house to make the neighborhood rounds.
The Steele house was full, neither Bill or Betty went into work today and all three children are home. Virtual classes were called off too. Bill’s family have good sized gardens in several locations around the area. Food is not an issue thanks to the gardens and plenty of outdoor sporting for foul and venison last fall and winter.
The Gage’s shared their story from the night before at the BP Station downtown. Bill thought that Smoking Man with the handgun was most likely Tom Chesterfield. Tom is a concealed carry advocate and lives in that part of town with his wife and kids, but his family also owns farmland west of town.
Betty assured the Gage’s that Tom is only dangerous to people that cross him, he would probably be a good ally to have when the chips are down. The Gage’s mentioned that forming a neighborhood cooperative would be a good idea for communication, skills, resources, and the safety that numbers bring.
Bill added; “Have you talked to Chuck and Char Tschappen two houses to the west? Chuck is a retired Marine Raider. He trained at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. If there is anyone in the neighborhood that we need in the fold it is Chuck and Char.”
Chuck and Charlene Tschappen keep mostly to themselves. Oh sure, they always wave and smile when driving by, but conversation has been limited to one or two sentences in passing. Heck, this is Wisconsin, everyone is Midwest friendly in Wisconsin. It is almost illegal not to gesture a friendly wave when passing a neighbor on the street. Gwen and Kirk vow to get acquainted with Chuck and Char. Marine special forces experience could come in real handy if resources become scarce.
Next stop Kay Long the Gage’s next door neighbor to the west. It was odd that Kay didn’t come outside to see what the Steele’s and Gage’s were talking about. The three homes were the closest in the immediate area of the block. Not noticing was out of character for Kay who is an outgoing social animal.
Gwen presses the ‘ring’ bell and waits. Kay responds on the video instructing them to let themselves in. Kirk enters in Kay’s security code; the door unlocks, they open the garage door and walk in. After shutting the pedestrian door behind them, and slipping off their sandals, Kay’s kitchen is entered. “Hello? Kay? We’re here.” Gwen announces.
“In the front room.” Replies Kay. As they approach, Kay is not her usual energetic alert self.
“Are you OKAY?” Gwen asks.
“No, I’m not.” Responds Kay. “Andy’s niece Francis and her family live near St. Louis. Andy’s sister in-law Rita lives near Francis too. Frank works in St. Louis. They are in the middle of this mess. I’m worried about them.”
“Oh, I remember you talking about Francis” Responds Gwen. “When was the last time you heard from them? Have you tried to contact them since yesterday?”
“I tried to call Francis yesterday right after the quake, but all of the lines were down. Then when text messages all came in at once, I checked for one from her, but nothing. Finally, around sundown I got a text message from her telling me that she was headed to Wisconsin, but she didn’t know how long the trip would take. I also missed a call that she placed one minute after the text arrived., but no voice message.”
Confused, Gwen asks; “What about her mom, husband and son? Are they with her?”
“The text didn’t say, and I’ve lost contact with her. Her phone and the lines are working, I was able to leave a voice message asking her to call me when she can. She has yet to respond”
Kay looks as panicked as the Gage’s have ever seen her. This is her husband Andrew’s side of the family, and this is the only part of Andrew’s family left. They are very important to Kay.
Gwen looks at her phone. “I’m running out of time. It’s time to get to work.”
Kay perks up looking surprised. “You just got home from the northern clinic; surely you are not headed back up to Chippewa?!”
Gwen shakes her head no. “The local ER is shorthanded. All of the Milwaukee docs and support staff couldn’t make it in today. I’m just filling in until things settle down. I told them I’d be in by noon.”
Kirk finally speaks up. “Think positive thoughts Kay, we all need them right now. Let’s bring as good of a universe to us as possible. After Gwen leaves for work, I’m going to pitch a tent to air it out. It has been in the basement getting smelly for several years. If you want, you can come over and help. It might take your mind off of things for a while. Sometimes doing something normal during a crisis can ease your mind.”
“That’s not my idea of doing something normal. Tell you what, I’ll sit on my deck drinking a Bloody Mary and supervise your work. Gunner will be helpful, I’m sure.” Replies Kay.
Kirk smiles “Fine, be that way. Let me know if you need anything. I’m not going anywhere today.” The three say goodbye for now and go about the next duties of the day.
Kay continues to worry about Francis and wonders why she has not responded to any follow up communication. Something does not feel right.