It happened on the third day of March in the year 2032. That’s when the first pulse was detected. A team of scientists studying live data from a radio telescope pointed at the planet Neptune noticed the anomaly and debated for the next four minutes what it was, and what they should do about it. The argument lasted only four minutes because that’s how long it took for the electromagnetic pulse to reach the earth.
The initial wave was so powerful that it knocked out all of their equipment, along with every communication satellite orbiting the earth. Power grids and cellular networks around the globe went down simultaneously, leaving half the world in literal darkness and all of it in the figurative kind. Soon, all computers, from home PCs to the big mainframes that pretty much ran the world, as well as almost every other piece of electronics-dependent technology worldwide, were useless. It was a devastating event with crippling effects felt in every country on the face of the earth.
What the scientists would have seen if their instruments were still functioning, was not a singular event, but a constant bombardment of pulse after pulse that not only destroyed the majority of the world’s technology, but would prevent it’s rebuilding until, hopefully at some point in the future, the pulses would subside, or they could be blocked or overcome by technological advances.
As the scientific community tried without success to study and respond to the phenomenon and its destruction, governments collapsed under the weight of riots and general chaos caused by a population left in the dark, and left to fend for itself without technology for the first time in generations.
When electronics of all kinds were destroyed, the people of the world were quickly both enlightened and dismayed by the fact that almost everything in their lives had been controlled by them in one way or another. The entire planet was brought to a standstill, and the level of technology reverted to something similar to nineteenth-century America. Steam-powered equipment was the most advanced machinery to survive the cosmic onslaught in working condition, and most of those were museum pieces or antique curiosities.
At first, the government of the then United States of America had thought they were under attack from an unknown enemy using some kind of new weapon, but it soon became clear that the entire world was in the same condition. For a short time it was even suspected that the earth was being invaded by an alien force, but when no invasion came, it became clear that the planet had been paralyzed by wave after wave of a naturally occurring but totally devastating electromagnetic energy.
By the time the truth of what had happened reached the masses, it was too late. The United States and every other country in the world had lost control of their populace. War, famine, and disease wreaked havoc around the globe. All of the modern methods of food production and medical treatment were rendered inoperative, and even though all of the modern weapons of destruction were also useless, mankind still found effective ways to kill one another. People died in the hundreds of millions.
The pulses kept coming and the scientists were without any proper means to determine the source or the expected duration. Anarchy reigned worldwide and there were no longer any facilities or funding for the necessary research to be conducted. It slowly became accepted that the bombardment might never end and that the new reality of the world might be permanent.
Families and social groups became clannish, banding together to take advantage of the support and protection that numbers could provide. Eventually, the vacuum left by the collapse of the large central governments was filled by smaller, localized forms. Something akin to the Roman city-state became the most common model, with people banding together to be stronger in numbers. Railroad tracks were repaired and steam engines were refurbished in various parts of the world, allowing some of these city-states to form alliances, and the age-old business of empire building began once again.
Many of these city-states were too remote to be a part of this restructuring. They were left to develop their own society and government without outside interference. They effectively built their own wilderness empires in isolation from what was happening in the rest of the world.
If history has taught us anything, it’s that under every form of government ever devised by mankind, some people in authority will eventually begin to abuse the system and use their power to advance their own position. When that happened in some of these newly established city-states, bands of organized opposition formed to battle against the current oppressors. This is the story of one such conflict.
When Mason Maddox woke up one late summer morning, forty-two years after the breakdown of civilization, and looked out the window to see that the leaves had already started changing color, he made a snap decision that would change his destiny, and in a small way, the destiny of the world. There’s no way I can stand another winter up here on this mountain, he thought, shaking his head. Not if it’s anything like the last one.
The previous winter had been the worst since he’d escaped to the mountains over twenty years earlier. The snow had fallen in such large amounts, and the temperature had stayed so cold, that he couldn’t even leave the cabin to get wood or hunt. As a result, he had come closer to dying than he would probably care to admit and had spent the latter part of the season wondering what he would do first, starve to death, or freeze.
In the end, he did neither, but it was close enough to make him doubt himself. He knew that it was his fault for not stocking up enough firewood and dried meat, but the severity of the weather had taken him by surprise. He was slipping, and up on the mountain, slipping meant death.
He ate a quick breakfast and set about getting ready for the trip, partly because he wanted to get an early start on the long hike, but mostly because he wanted to leave before he changed his mind.
Wanting to travel light, he packed only the things he really needed. The toughest decision was whether or not to take his trusty Marlin lever action rifle. He had run out of ammunition years earlier, but there was always a chance that he could find some down below. He ran his fingers over the two Ms, his initials, burned into the wooden stock, and instantly decided to take it. He had carried the weapon since he was a little boy hunting with his father, and it was the closest thing he had to a security blanket.
After shuttering the windows and bolting the door, he left his cabin behind, not expecting to ever return to the home that had sheltered him for the better part of two decades. When he got the edge of the small clearing that was his yard, he turned back to take one last look. Mason knew that, in a way, he would miss the place, but mostly he hoped that he would never see it again.
He knew that he could probably walk the thirty or so miles to Stone’s Grave in one long day, but that would put him entering the area well after sunset. It was his hometown, and the only town he had ever seen, but the last time he’d been there, it wasn’t somewhere you wanted to be at night if you could avoid it. And that was assuming that the hamlet was even still there. A lot can change in twenty years, especially if the decline of civilization had continued after he’d opted out of society.
He stopped about an hour before nightfall and set up camp, guessing that he was still about five miles from the treeless plateau of level grassland that marked the outskirts of the city. Even at that distance, he could see and smell the smoke from the coal and wood burning furnaces that warmed and powered the homes and industries of his hometown.
He wanted to leave plenty of distance separating his camp from whatever had become of civilization, both to be able to build a fire instead of having to endure the evening chill, and to able to get some sleep instead of keeping guard all night. It turned out that he didn’t leave quite enough.
After a welcome meal of deer jerky and hard bread, he watched the fire die down to just embers and curled up in his cloak to get some sleep. He was just on the verge of dozing off when he heard the footsteps.
He hadn’t been around another human being in many years, but he hadn’t lost the ability to recognize the distinctive sound of a man walking in the woods. It was obvious to Mason that the man knew he was there. He wasn’t stomping through the brush like someone out for a stroll; he was creeping quietly toward the camp, trying to catch whoever was there unaware.
Unfortunately for the man, Mason Maddox was difficult to sneak up on. From the second he heard the movement, he was preparing to deal with whoever was approaching his position. He stayed curled up as if he was asleep, but he was slowly and indiscernibly removing his knife from its sheath and holding it at the ready.
The man stopped near the remains of the campfire and looked around, surveying the area. As Mason watched through squinted eyes, he saw the man notice first the backpack and then the rifle leaning against a tree right beside his sleeping spot. The man moved carefully over to the tree and reached down to pick up the rifle. Mason swiftly and quietly used his leg to sweep both feet out from under the man. He crashed to the ground taken completely off guard by the move. By the time he realized what was happening, Mason was kneeling over him, holding the knife to his throat.
“You’ve got one chance to explain yourself, friend,” Mason said calmly, “Better make it good.”
“Let me start by saying that I wasn’t going to hurt you,” the man replied. “I have a knife too. If I wanted to kill you, you’d be dead right now.”
“I doubt that,” Mason retorted. “I’ve been listening to your movements for at least forty yards. If you had come in with your knife drawn, you’d be the one who’s dead right now.”
“Really?” the man said, surprised, “Forty yards? Damn, I must be losing my touch. But, the point is, I didn’t come in with my knife drawn.”
“Why did you go for my rifle?” Mason asked.
“I just wanted to look at it because I haven’t seen one in a while. There are a few people in town that still have them, but you don’t ever see them because no one’s had any bullets in years.”
Mason pulled the knife back from the man’s throat but kept it at the ready. “Don’t do anything sudden, just slowly sit up and let me get a look at you.”
“Like I said,” the man responded, easing up to a sitting position. “I’m not trying to hurt you, or steal from you or anything like that. I don’t run into many people up here in the woods, I just wanted to find out who you were.”
“Why don’t we start with who you are,” Mason said.
“My name’s Lucas Dyer, and don’t let the last name give you any ideas, I ain’t ready to die just yet.”
Mason laughed in spite of himself. “Jury’s still out on that, friend,” he replied. “What are you doing up here in the woods at night?”
“Saw your campfire,” Lucas answered. “You don’t let somebody come onto your land and not check it out.”
“Your land?” Mason asked. “Is the government recognizing property rights again?”
“Hell no,” Lucas exclaimed. “I recognize my own property rights. My family’s been on this land as long as anybody can remember. I don’t need any government to tell me it’s mine.”
Mason put his knife back into its sheath and said, “My name is Mason Maddox.”
Lucas smiled broadly and replied, “Ha, I thought it might be you.”
Mason stoked the fire back to life and the two men settled in around it to continue their conversation.
“How do you know me?” Mason asked, skeptical, but intrigued.
“Don’t really know you,” Lucas answered, “But I know who you are. I knew your folks well, back in the day. When all hell broke loose and they were killed, I heard that you disappeared. I asked around but nobody seemed to know what happened to you. Some said you were dead, some said you escaped into the mountains, but nobody knew for sure. I guess I know now.”
Mason grimaced at the memory of his parents being killed; gunned down trying to protect their home. He knew that if he had been there, he would have fought with them, and most likely been killed too.
“Why don’t I remember you, if you were friends of my parents like you say?” Mason asked, suspicious, but not overly so.
“You’d probably know me if I told you the name your parents knew me by,” he answered in an exaggerated whisper. “Look at my face and try to remember, but keep it to yourself if you do. That name’s not been said around here in many years, and I aim to keep it that way.”
Lucas leaned in to let the fire illuminate his face, and Mason stared at it for a good minute. Finally, his eyes widened in shock and he said, “You? It can’t be. You died before my parents did. How can that be?”
“Well, for one thing, I ain’t really dead. And for another thing, I owe the fact that I’m not dead to your folks. They helped me go underground by faking my death, and they hid me until I could get out of town.”
“Hid you where? Mason asked.
“You’ll love this; back in fifty-two, I lived for two weeks under your house.”
Mason smiled in spite of himself, “In the crawlspace? You lived down there in the dirt, with the spiders and rats?”
Lucas laughed and replied, “Spiders, yes, didn’t see any rats. To me, right then, it seemed like paradise.”
Mason shook his head and said, “How did I not know this was going on?”
“Hell, what were you back then, twelve, thirteen? I’m sure you had other things on your mind.”
“I was fourteen,” Mason answered defensively.
“Oh fourteen,” Lucas laughed sarcastically. “Hell, son, you should have been leading the resistance.”
“Is that what you were doing?” Mason asked. “Leading the resistance I mean. Was my dad part of it?”
Lucas smiled, but it was a bitter smile. “Leading the resistance? No. Leading a small part of it, in this area? Yeah, son, I guess you could say that.”
“And Dad?” Mason repeated.
“Your dad and your mom were a part of it. Not big parts maybe, but important parts. Sometimes the most important people were the ones nobody suspected would be involved. But, I guess somebody figured it out or they wouldn’t have been murdered.”
“Murdered?” Mason asked. “They were killed in one of the neighborhood food riots. That much I know.”
“You don’t know near as much as you think you do, son. Your parents were murdered plain and simple. The riot was started to cover up their murder, but murder it was. The Wardens controlled the press, so it was easy for them to have fighting break out in your neighborhood. And of course they also controlled the Guard Watch, so it was easy for them to have your parents murdered and make it look like part of the riot.”
“Wait,” Mason said, confused by the flood of startling information. “You’re saying that the Council of Wardens had my parents killed and that they planned the riot in my neighborhood to cover it up? That they murdered them for some political purpose? What possible reason could they have for wanting them dead? I can’t believe my parents were a threat to anyone, least of all the Wardens.”
“They were more of a threat than you know, but most likely they were killed because the Wardens found out that they helped me escape. I think they were killed in retaliation for that help.”
They were both quiet for a minute, and then Lucas spoke up and added, “I’m sorry for that, son, I really am. Your folks were good people, and I wouldn’t have gone to them for help if I’d known how it would end.”
Mason thought about it for a second and then he said, “I don’t blame you, Lucas. I’m thankful to you for telling me the truth. After it happened, I was the one who found their bodies. I was devastated and distraught. I didn’t have anybody specific to blame, so I blamed everyone. I hated everyone and everything. I hated what people had become, and I ran away from it all. I’ve been gone a long time, and I don’t even know what it’s like down there anymore. I came back because I just couldn’t take the mountain winters anymore. Thanks to you, I have a new reason for coming back to civilization.”
Lucas looked at Mason and sized him up. He had grown up for sure. He had the look of a strong and rugged man. He had long hair and a beard, and he was tall and brawny. His eyes were the feature that made him identifiable as a Maddox. They were an extremely dark shade of green that looked almost black from a distance. Every member of Mason’s father’s family had them, at least every member that Lucas had met.
It was also obvious to Lucas that he had some fighting skills. The ease at which Mason got the drop on him was proof of that. But, even so, if Mason was implying what he thought he was implying, he was afraid for him. Taking on the Wardens and the Guard Watch was no game. They were powerful and ruthless. Killing and death meant nothing to them. Money wasn’t even a temptation to them, the only thing they craved was power, and they had accumulated a lot more of it since the last time Mason was in town.
Lucas leaned in close and said, “Listen to me, boy, I know what you’re thinking, and you need to stop thinking it. You can’t take them on; you’ll just end up dead like your folks. I couldn’t stop what happened to them, but I can stop it from happening to you. First thing in the morning, son, you need to turn around and head back up into those mountains.”
Mason smiled, but the smile was a scary thing to see. “Maybe I will go back to the mountains, after I bring justice to the people responsible for my parents’ murder.”
“Are you after justice, son, or vengeance?” Lucas asked.
Mason looked at him without blinking and replied, “Right now, I don’t see the difference.”
The fire was dying out again, and there was a definite chill in the air. Lucas Dyer stood up and said, “Listen, Mason, I told you what I told you because you deserve to know. It was the right thing to do, and I’m glad I did it, but now you’re talking like a damn fool. There’s nothing you can do about what happened.” He shook his head and started to turn away, but at the last second, he turned back and added, “Damn it, son, I hate to say it, but you’re just going to have to let it go.”
Mason stood up and stuck out his hand. Lucas shook it, and they just stared at each other for a minute before Mason said, “Thanks again for telling me the truth about my parents, Lucas, I really do appreciate it. But now, I need to take care of it. I know you mean well with your advice, but there are some things that a man can’t just let go.”
Lucas shook his head again. “There’s nothing I can say to talk you out of this? It’s pure suicide you know.”
“This is on me, Lucas; I don’t want you to feel responsible for my actions. I’m not that fifteen-year-old kid anymore. You go back to your life, and just forget that you found me here. I can take care of myself.”
Lucas gave Mason a dismissive wave and turned to walk away. After a few steps, he turned back and said with a frown on his face, “Aw, damn it. I know I’ll probably live to regret this, but come on, son. You can stay with me until you get ready to do whatever it is you’re going to do. You’ll have to lay low though; nobody can know you’re here. And when you do start whatever war you’re going to start, we never met. Do you understand me? You don’t know me and I don’t know you. Is it a deal?”
Mason smiled and nodded. “It’s a deal,” he said, and then started to disguise the evidence of the campsite.
“Leave it,” Lucas said, “Nothing’s more suspicious in the woods than someone trying to hide the fact that they were there.”
“Good point,” Mason agreed. Then he picked up his rifle and pack, and followed Lucas out into the darkness.
They walked for the better part of an hour through the dimly lit woods. The moon and stars gave off enough light to keep them from falling, but not much more than that. Mason took the opportunity to size up his newfound friend. Lucas was a little shorter than Mason but was stockier. He had broad shoulders and massive arms. He also had a beard, but his was closely trimmed, as was his hair.
When they came up to a massive old house built of stone, Lucas stopped and said, “You wait here. I need to announce our presence.”
He walked to the edge of the woods and whistled loudly using his fingers; one long whistle, then three short, and then after a pause, one more short. He waited until he heard a response; two short whistles followed by one long. He motioned for Mason to follow him toward the house. He didn’t go to the front entrance; instead, he walked around to the back of the house and opened a cellar door.
It was dark inside, but Lucas walked nonchalantly through the opening. Mason stepped through the door behind him and was surprised to feel the point of a knife at his throat. His first impulse was to fight, but knowing that he was at a huge disadvantage, he held back and didn’t make a move.
The door closed behind him, and a lantern flared to life in front of him. It took a second for his eyes to become accustomed to the light. When they did, he saw Lucas standing in front of him with a woman at his shoulder holding the lamp. He couldn’t see who had the knife at his throat.
Lucas had a smile on his face as he said, “Who’s got the drop on who now?”
“What’s going on here?” Mason asked with a calm voice, but with anger in his eyes. “Did you set me up? Do you work for them?”
Lucas laughed loudly and said, “Nothing so sinister, son.” Then he said to the person with the knife, “Let him go, Aubree. He’s a friend.”
Mason felt the knife slide away from his neck and turned to see a girl holding it. She was smiling too, but something about the smile made it look more like a smirk. He turned back to Lucas and said, “What the hell, Lucas? I thought we had a deal.”
Still smiling, Lucas responded, “Calm down, son, we do have a deal. This is just standard procedure when I’m coming home at night. Remember the whistles? The first long whistle tells them I’m back. In the second part, two tells them I’m alone and three tells them there is someone with me. The last part tells them how many.”
“Clever,” Mason said. “How did they know to come to the cellar door?”
“We always come and go through this door at night,” he answered. “Anyone approaching the front or back door after dark is immediately suspect.”
Mason nodded his head in respect for the elaborate system and then stepped forward to get a better look at the woman with the lantern. “Oh, sorry,” Lucas said quickly. “This is my wife, Grace Dyer. Gracie, this is Mason Maddox. You remember, Fletcher and Nora’s boy.”
Grace’s eyes lit up, and for a second it looked like she might cry. Instead, she handed the lamp to Lucas and rushed forward, wrapped her arms around Mason, and hugged him tightly. “Mason Maddox,” she said excitedly, “As I live and breathe. You probably don’t remember, but I used to babysit you when you were little. It was my first job. I was only seventeen, myself.”
When she let him go, Mason pulled back to get a better look at her. “Oh my God,” He exclaimed. “Are you Grace Aldrich? I do remember you. You used to stay with me when Mom and Dad went out. I was what, seven or eight?”
“Eight, if I remember correctly,” Grace answered.
“I loved having you babysit because you let me stay up and play, long past my bedtime.”
Grace laughed and said, “I wasn’t very responsible back then, was I? And here you are again, after what, more than twenty years? I can’t believe it, I…” She stopped without completing the sentence.
“Thought I was dead?” Mason finished for her.
She smiled and responded, “That is what I heard.”
“Don’t believe everything you hear, Grace,” Mason said smiling back at her.
Lucas spoke up and said, “These days, we say don’t believe anything you hear.”
“Let’s all go upstairs,” Grace said, “And you can tell me your story, Mason. I’ve got some leftovers if you’re hungry.”
“I could eat,” Mason replied.
“Good,” Grace said, “Then it’s settled.” She turned and led them up the stairs. Lucas followed his wife, and Mason fell in behind him. Aubree Dyer stayed where she stood and watched the others climb the stairs. When they were gone, she locked and barred the cellar door in the dark, before following them up into the light.
In the kitchen of her house, Grace Dyer put together a plate of food for Mason. He remembered thinking that she was pretty when he was a kid, and now he looked at her and thought that she had aged well. There were a few lines in her face, and some gray in her hair, but she was still an attractive woman.
Lucas opened up a few bottles of homemade beer and put them on the table. Aubree joined the group, and Lucas handed her a bottle.
Mason looked at her, picked up his bottle, took a sip, and then said to Lucas, “You didn’t introduce us. Is Aubree your daughter?”
“Shit,” Lucas responded, “Sorry about that, it slipped my mind in all the commotion. Yep, Aubree is our only child and a pretty special one at that.”
Mason smiled and said, “She sure got the better of me downstairs, so I’ll have to agree with you there.”
“Spends too much time out and about with you,” Grace said to Lucas, “Instead of in here with me learning how to do the things that I do.”
“Nobody can do the things that you do Momma,” Aubree said, with a sly smile on her face. “I knew better than to even try, so I took the easy road.” She pointed to Lucas with her thumb when she said the last part.
Lucas laughed and responded, “I would take offense at that remark, but she’s right. She takes to everything I teach her, almost like she should be the one telling me how to do it. She’s a natural for sure.”
Grace set the food on the table, and everybody sat down. “I hope you don’t mind talking while you eat, Mason,” she said, “Because I really want to hear your story. What happened to you after your…after what happened to your parents?”
“You don’t have to sugar coat it for my benefit,” he answered, “I’m okay with talking about it. After my parents were killed, I was afraid. I thought at the time that it was a random act, just another riot like the ones that were happening all over. I was suddenly all alone in the world and I was terrified of what that meant. I had no other close family, and I knew that I didn’t want to go to one of the orphan workhouses, so I packed up my rifle and my camping gear and went out into the woods.
“I was pretty good at all the hunting and survival stuff, my dad used to say that I acted like I had been born in the woods instead of in town. I got by okay, and I kept getting deeper and deeper into the woods, and farther up into the mountains until I came to secluded little valley nestled among the peaks. It was clear that no man had been through the area in a long time, so I decided to settle there and live my life alone, away from what was left of civilization. I found a spring, built a cabin and a few outbuildings, and even farmed a small patch of land.
“Everything was going good, and I was fully prepared to live out my days alone on the mountain, until that winter last year. I didn’t expect it and I hadn’t prepared for it. It almost killed me, and I didn’t want to go through it again, so I decided to come back down and see if it was any better here than it was when I left.”
All three of them stared at Mason for a minute, until Lucas spoke up and said, “Better hell, it’s much worse than when you left, son. I told you before, that the best thing you could do for yourself was to go back up in them mountains.”
Grace reached across the table and put her hand on Mason’s. It was a gentle and sincere gesture, and it got his attention, “Lucas is right, Mason. There’s nothing good for you down here. I wish I could tell you something different, but you should listen to him, he knows what he’s talking about.”
“I appreciate the advice,” Mason replied. “I promise you I’ll think about it.”
Mason caught the smirk on Lucas’ face and could tell that his new friend already had him figured out and that he knew that his mind was already made up. He finished his food and stood. “Thank you so much for the hospitality. I really appreciate it.”
Grace smiled and took the hint. “Come with me Mason, I’ll show you to the guest room.”
“Yes ma’am,” Mason responded as he followed her out of the kitchen.
Aubree waited until she was sure that they were out of earshot, and then said to her father, “Are you crazy, Dad? You brought him here? I think this could end very badly.”
“First of all,” Lucas snapped, “Don’t talk to me like that young lady. Secondly, yeah, you’re right; this is a very bad situation, and the truth is, it’s much more dangerous than you even know.”
Her eyes widened and she looked hard at her father. “Why? What’s really going on?”
“He knows the truth about his parents,” Lucas replied. “He knows why they were really killed.”
She smiled a sarcastic smile and said, “You told him, didn’t you? I heard him say when he was telling his story, that he thought at the time it was just random rioting that they got caught up in. If he knows different now, it has to be because you told him.”
“Damn girl,” Lucas laughed, “Nothing gets by you, does it.”
“So I’m right?” She pushed.
“Yes, baby, you’re right,” He admitted. “I felt like I owed him that much, seeing how his parents were murdered pretty much because of me, because they chose to help me. You can’t tell me you would have done anything differently.”
She thought about it for a second and then replied, “No, I guess not.” She thought a second more and added, “So the trouble that you’re expecting…”
She paused and he spoke up and finished the thought. “Yes, the trouble I’m expecting is because he’s going to try to even the score.”
“It’s suicide,” She said immediately.
“That’s exactly what I told him. I need to make him understand that things have only gotten worse since he left here. I need to make him see that he’s got no chance.”
“Will he listen?” she asked.
Lucas slowly shook his head and said, “I doubt that, baby girl. I sincerely doubt that.”
Weston Wicks usually slept through the night, only waking when his aide came into his room to serve him breakfast. That night was different for some reason. He woke up from an unusual dream and couldn’t get back to sleep. In the dream, someone was watching him, stalking him, always in the shadows. He never got a clear image of the stalker’s face, and when he finally woke, opened his eyes and looked around, he realized that he was cold and shaking.
“It was just a dream,” he said out loud, even though he was alone in the dark room. He tried to doze back off, but he was never able to fully shake the feeling that the dream had left behind. Eventually, he gave up, lit a lamp and picked up the book he was reading.
He was still reading when Jasper Boedie came into the room carrying a tray and a newspaper. The tray contained a light breakfast and a large cup of strong, black coffee. Boedie set the tray down in front of his boss and then sat down in the wingback chair beside the bed. He held onto the newspaper but didn’t read it. He knew better than to even look at it before Wicks had a chance to read it first.
The two men stayed silent until Wicks had taken a few sips of the coffee, and then Boedie spoke up and said, “You’re up early this morning, boss, couldn’t sleep?”
“I slept fine,” Wicks lied. “I just wanted to get an early start today, lots of important things to do.”