Berg and I were having a meeting, the kind of meeting we never told anyone about, and for the first time, Ray was invited. There was an inner circle forming and Ray was the first member and he seemed to know it. Ray was a simple man with a very simple mission; he had a young wife and an infant son. Whatever promoted him made those two safer. He married again, this time to Berg and myself as leaders and he was willing to do what it took to ensure that we stayed in power. Berg must have seen this sort of devotion as something to foster belief in, and we would attract more dedicated men. Is there something a little sinister in this sort of thing? Yeah, maybe. It had already killed three men, and all but enslaved two women, but I thought of that as growing pains, means to an end, and I still felt guilty. But I had Reba on my mind and I knew that Berg was still, and likely always, our best bet for surviving. I began to understand me hating him yet thinking he was our savior, in a way, made sense.
Sonny Johnson was one of those people who didn’t believe he ought to be kept out of any place he wanted to go. He would walk back into the kitchen to tell the cooks how he wanted the food done or he would walk into someone’s room and just start talking. That irritated most people but it infuriated Berg. It was hard to tell when the man was mad, or happy, or anything, but I knew Sonny grated on his nerves, and Sonny made a point to do it, too. But the ill- fated attempt to rescue Miles had cost Sonny his oldest son, maimed his middle child, and his youngest was still missing, and very likely dead. The odd of someone surviving on his own out there was practically zero. We were half expecting Sonny to barge in and demand that something be done to find Miles. So when Sonny knocked on the door and then stuck his head inside and asked, “Do you have a minute, Berg?” All three of us just stopped and stared.
It was hard to see Sonny Johnson like this. His ordinarily strong arms looked withered and weak, and he moved as if every joint in his body hurt him, and it was likely they did. He could still work but keeping up with the younger men was no longer an option. Even his son was slower now, and the Johnson family had to wonder what this would eventually mean.
But whatever we thought Sonny had to say, what he did say stunned us: he wanted us to go look Miles at the old Johnson place, yes, but he was willing to give to the compound anything and everything they could salvage. Moreover, he wanted to donate any furniture that we might need, and all he wanted was his bed, Martha missed it so, but all the farm equipment he was willing to give over. Of course, Sonny began weeping as he spoke, if there was some sort of Miles being alive, he would want to know but if there was signs Miles was dead well… Sonny shoulders shook he cried so hard. Martha Johnson wanted her baby to be alive and Sonny was going to do anything he could to find out. Berg agreed to the mission but cautioned Sonny he would not be allowed to go and neither would his son. Sonny balked at this, but Berg held his ground and Sonny gave in. I could not believe it.
The subject of Reba came up next and I could feel my face turning red, but Sonny was looking at Berg, not me. Reba was part of his family, Sonny claimed, and as such, he thought she ought to be living with the family, and not on her own. Sonny knew damn well he better not make the claim Reba wasn’t safe because Berg was a hardnosed dictator when it came to security. Sonny instead claimed that as a Johnson, Reba had an obligation to the family and he more or less petitioned Berg to force her to move back in with them. But once again, Berg was ahead of Sonny. With the loss of Reba, Berg told him, that left more space in the Johnson family area. Space was a coveted thing these days, Berg reminded Sonny, and perhaps someone more grateful would like to fill that space. But Berg wasn’t done. But, just to be fair, Berg told him, he would send me to talk to Reba, and she if there was a problem or an issue that might need mediation. If that was okay with Sonny, and of course, me.
Sonny left in debt to Berg and I could visit Reba without questions being raised. I was thrilled. Ray was impressed as hell, seeing Berg in action up close for the first time. But Berg leaned back in his chair and thought for a moment.
“There’s something else here.” Berg said. But he didn’t go into detail. “That man is lying to us about something.”
We set up planning to go to the Johnson place, and return with supplies, and Martha’s bed. Berg didn’t say anything else about what he thought might be going on, but he did ask Ray to keep him informed about who came and went in the Johnson’s part of the school.
Two days later Berg asked me to go see Sonny with him, and the trip was one hundred percent business. Berg wrote down all the stuff Sonny thought might be of use, and Martha said there was an old Singer in the attic that might still work. Berg got Sonny to give him the layout of the house and the barn. After that, Berg asked him straight forward, “How is Miles going to react to us showing up?” And Sonny hemmed and hawed but allowed that Miles wasn’t a violent man at all. Berg said told Sonny we would go in three, maybe four days, but the next day an hour before dawn he told me to pick six men I trusted, take Ray, and three more to sweep, and go as soon as it was light enough to see, and tell everyone we were going to Quitman. But head to the Johnson place as quickly as possible. “And arm at least three men. You pack a sidearm. Give Ray a rifle”
End part eleven.