This is a continuation of my short story series. If you came here looking for my Sandy Hook story
or GC rant, either scroll down or click here
for the direct links.
Note: I want to give a special thanks to commenter Ed for cleaning up my grammatical mess in Part 5.
J. Allen Timms was the man in charge of the old RVS distribution center, but very few people, including the employees who worked there, realized it. He started his career in Naval Intelligence immediately after graduating college. Through some fortuitous events, as well as his natural ability to diagnose a situation, come up with a solution, and take the right actions, he moved up the officer ranks to Commander at the quickest possible speed the Navy would allow. This, coupled with his natural abilities, got him noticed by the CIA. They recruited him while he was still serving in the Navy and based on the feedback they were receiving from him, they decided to move forward with getting him in a position that better suited his abilities.
The CIA arranged for his very early retirement from the Navy. They then took 18 months to secretly send him through multiple training facilities to hone and better his skills, and get him familiar with the latest state of the art gadgets that would be available to him. After his training was complete, they got him a top position with the newly created Bureau of Domestic Affairs and Crisis Intervention Agency (BDACIA), that dealt specifically with domestic terrorism and extremism, which was a sub agency of the Domestic Homeland Security Agency (DHSA.) Because the CIA could not conduct operations within the borders of the United States, they simply circumvented them by creating sub agencies of domestic agencies that had the power to operate within the US, and they filled positions with their trained operatives that were paid, not by the CIA, but instead by the parent agencies. This made it all legal. It was no coincidence that Timms worked for an agency who’s acronym ended with CIA. The conspiracy theory people ate it up. However, J. Allen Timms was an elaborately created alias. It was so good, that even the DHSA and FBI hadn’t flinched when doing the background check for the high level position at the BDACIA.
Timms had been asked by his country to stop the negative domestic actions against his country, and he had willingly answered the call. He knew it was his patriotic duty to stop the terrorists and extremists operating in the US. He had aggressively studied and excelled during every course the Navy, CIA, and DHSA had laid upon him. During his 18 months of various CIA training, he had mastered martial arts, two foreign languages, the art of covert operations, surveillance (of every type imaginable), coercion, evasion, killing, and healing, among others. He took his job and responsibilities personally. He knew that there were very few people capable of doing the job, so he was very serious about everything he did to make sure the job got done. No terrorists would ever get past him while in his area of operations.
The BDACIA’s publicized function was to deal with the new and emerging development of people who were resisting the new laws and taxes, while its primary unpublicized function was to process persons who had been deemed “domestic extremists and/or terrorists.” The BDACIA operated various processing, holding, and internment facilities throughout the US as well as overseas when necessary. But the position Timms held within the BDACIA was a dual role of interrogations of “interesting” persons being processed, and external intelligence gathering to assist in the capture other extremists. This was a highly classified unrecognized position. Timms’ actual job title was Director of Operations, American Health Authority (AHA) Region 6-2.
External intelligence gathering is where Timms excelled. Though he had become quite good at interrogating people, it was not what he loved. In his back office, he had access to a large array of sophisticated electronic and visual surveillance technologies, many of which ran automatically 24 hours per day, 7 days per week. For his work, the best tools were those he personally manipulated, directed, or controlled in some manner. These sensors worked best when coupled with his innate intuition and gut instincts.
This is how he had found Doreen and Drew, several months earlier. It started with a gut feeling, but the finding of the two anti-government extremists was pure luck. He was monitoring one of his near perimeter sensors (which was not something he normally did) that scanned for anomalous RF transmissions, when he noted a spurious Wi-Fi handshake attempt. It wasn’t the fact that it was Wi-Fi, or that it was attempted, it was that what he witnessed was encrypted and lasted less than two seconds. The encryption itself was not a big deal, as people used encryption all the time (not that it ever mattered, since he could either break it or use the back door accesses to the encryption programs), and the attempted handshake was no big deal either, but the combination of the two that piqued his interest. Had he not been monitoring the receiver at that very moment, he would have received a computer generated report several hours later with the broken handshake, and not given it much thought. He may have given it to a technician to follow-up on, but generally nothing ever came from these anonymous RX/TX hunts.
He quickly turned his chair to the bank of monitors and looked at what the building’s various cameras were seeing. He could detect nothing out of the ordinary, but this did not change his mind about the strangeness of the event. He took a few minutes to look over some of his recorded data and concluded that this event was worth pursuing. Even if it led nowhere, it would be a good exercise. He determined that since the RF monitor had been installed, that it had never recorded any similar events. He also found that the connection attempt was made with the BBQ restaurant across the street from the old RVS facility, which had an upgraded and more powerful business signal that had a significantly longer range than normal private Wi-Fi signals.
These two pieces of information, coupled with the time of occurrence, he hoped would allow him to find out what happened. Since the restaurant had a signal booster he had to do some math, but figured they had a boosted range of somewhere around a three hundred feet radius from the router. This was a fairly significant area to search, but whatever had occurred, he was confident he could figure it out.
He slid over to his review monitors, which allowed him to look over the recorded video and any other data collected on a pair of monitors simultaneously. Normally, he viewed video feeds on one monitor and data from other sources on the companion monitor. Timms pulled up the first eight video feeds and had all of them paused at the exact time of the event. He also pulled up the collected RF data (Wi-Fi, cellular, radio, etc.) streams for the same time period on the other monitor. He would need to correlate each signal with a person or place on the various video feeds. This was something he normally had one or more of the technicians do for him, but on this particular day, he was treating this event as “hot” and wanted to do the exercise himself. He felt it was important that he stayed fresh.
It didn’t take him long to match up various transmissions with their associated sources in the videos. His saving grace was that the restaurant was closed and not full of patrons on cell phones and tablets at the time of the event, otherwise it would be impossible to figure out what happened, but at a little after 9am there were only passing cars and pedestrians to deal with. He was also fortunate that there was only one other business open with an active Wi-Fi signal within the area he was doing his search, and he had direct access to the internal camera feed. After 15 minutes, he had visually correlated all but two RF transmissions - the event, and an encrypted connection that was still ongoing. He did not need to visually correlate the last one since he was able to break the encryption and determine that it was a computer belonging to a family in a nearby apartment surfing the web for how to repair a dryer. He had accounted for every, passing car, person, business, and residence within the range of the Wi-Fi signal. But the event was still associated with someone he had yet to find.
When Timms took over at the old RVS Distribution Center, now dubbed the AHA Distribution Center, they were winding down their actual distribution functions. The facility had been quickly undergoing a conversion from distribution of drugs and medical supplies to use as a temporary internment and interrogation facility for the purposes of processing persons arrested and captured under the new anti-terrorist and extremist laws. The trucks kept coming in those early months, but instead of bringing in new medical supplies they were bringing in fencing, pre-fabricated walls and cells, as well as tons of fancy monitoring equipment. And instead of taking out medical supplies for distribution to stores, they were taking out the old logistics equipment, shelving, and heavy equipment. Because the trucks backed up to the bay doors, what was happening inside was unseen by the outside. It only took four short months to accomplish, and they had created a very useful facility for the purpose of getting the bad guys processed out to where they needed to go, but only after extracting any relevant information first through various interrogation techniques.
During the transformation, all of the external security systems had to be updated. Instead of the normal closed circuit security cameras, the guts of the cameras had been upgraded to the latest technology. Along with camera upgrades, various sensors and other devices had been installed. One of Timms’ favorite pieces of equipment was a very small acoustic listening device that had been installed on an existing antenna on the roof. It was barely bigger than a hand, and was made from a special clear polycarbonate material. The receiver’s electronics were the size of a woman’s pinky finger, and the servo that allowed the device to be actuated to the controller’s desired position was the size of a bottle cap. From fifty feet away, it was almost impossible to see. From one hundred yards away it was completely invisible. In this case, with it position on the roof of the large building, no one even knew it was there.
Timms put on the headset for the Claptrap 2012a, and faced his bank of video monitors. He would listen to normal audio while monitoring the video feeds for correlation. Mostly he listened to people talking on their phones, or cars going by on the street. There was nothing of interest to him. After more than half an hour, he was about to move on to something else, when he spotted a woman on the sidewalk talking on her phone. She stood out to him because of the way she dressed, which was very nice for this area of town. He figured she must work for a bank or some other institution that required a higher standard of dress code. He rotated the acoustic dish to her position on the sidewalk, placing the digital overlay of crosshairs on her, and then began the drama into which Timms was unwittingly pulled.
The entire conversation revolved around a divorce. Though Timms was detached, the whole conversation made him sad for the couple. They had small children together, and he wanted to work things out. She was over him and his antics. As they talked it out for ten minutes, the young lady paced back and forth on the side walk, forcing Timms to constantly keep the dish moving to keep up with her and the conversation. He noted that this falling out had nothing to do with the normal problems that ended relationships - money and infidelity. No, this one had more to do with personal attention. She wanted more than he was giving.
“What?!” Timms jammed the remote toggle for camera 6, instantly forgetting about the lady and her problems. He panned and zoomed the camera onto an older Ford Crown Victoria parked in the lot between two buildings across the street. He continued to zoom in to look into the interior. The windows were tinted very dark and there was a tint strip across the top of the windshield making the dark colored interior of the silver Crown Vic pitch black. The best he could do was to see that there were no occupants in the front seats, but he was certain that he had seen movement inside the vehicle in the background while he was watching and listening in on the lady’s conversation. It had been a small movement, but he knew he saw something. It could have even been a dog for all he knew.
He rotated the Claptrap listening dish and put the crosshairs on the car. The only thing he could hear were some external city noises and rap music. He continued to watch and listen, but he neither saw nor heard anything of interest. He brought camera 5 to bear on the parking lot, and started a methodical search. As he did, it dawned on him that he could not tell where the rap music was coming from. He started rotating the dish around the area of the parking lot and noted that the only place the music seemed to be coming from was within the parking lot, and most specifically the silver Crown Victoria.
‘Were there people smoking dope in the back seat? Did anyone still do that?’ he wondered. He focused his two cameras on the car and then the listening device. He adjusted the sensitivity on the Claptrap to diminish other sounds. Then he tried to cancel out the rap music, but the computer program that did the work was unable to match the notes, even though it had identified the correct song. He zoomed in camera 5 to the corner of the rearview mirror. If he could see it vibrating from the bass, then he would know the music was coming from the Crown Vic. As the zoom hit 122x, he could make out the mirror vibrations. Most people would think it was the camera vibrating in the wind on the roof of the building, but Timms knew better. Besides the fact that the wind was minimal to non-existent, the camera was triple dampened, with a dampener at the base mount, the head mount, and internally on the camera itself. It would stay completely stable up to 25 mph. It was definitely the mirror vibrating.
Now he just needed to hear what was going on inside the car. He needed to know if it was a dope smoker or something else. No amount of adjusting would cancel any of the rap songs that played on the radio for the next ninety minutes of observations. The computer continued to note an anomaly in the sound, that is best described as “incalculable distortion.” He also noted that the volume would increase and decrease from time-to-time, but never saw anyone make an adjustment to the radio. He picked up the phone and punched the number 3:
“Yeah, Boss?” came the answer on the first ring.
“Launch the cloud,” Timms replied.
“What’s the tasking?”
“Don’t know yet. Just get it over us. Call me when you are in the AO.” Timms hung up the phone.
Timms knew that with the SilkCloud IV es (electronic surveillance) drone airborne, he would be able to use its more sophisticated infrared and thermal cameras to see into the car. He didn’t have any on the building. That was something he was going to need to remedy. He figured it would take Jason about 15 minutes to get the bird up and over their area to start the surveillance. He just hoped he wasn’t spending a bunch of money on some damn dope smokers. Of course, he could call the police and have them check out the car, but that would ruin the exercise, and if it were something other than dope smokers, they may get spooked off. Timms was aware that counter surveillance was a better option than to just burn a possible lead with a police check.
Minutes later, he watched as a person exited the rear driver’s side of the vehicle and get into the front seat. The person was wearing a denim jacket and a ball cap. Because the person had short hair, he assumed it was a man. The person kept his head down so his face was not visible, which meant that Timms could not run a facial recognition profile. Timms was unable to tell if the person was a man or a woman. The car backed out and exited the parking lot.
Timms punched the speaker button on his phone and tapped the 3.
“Where’s my bird?”
Timms hung up without acknowledging. There was really no use at this point. The SilkCloud would not make it in time. He returned to his bank of monitors and pulled up the traffic cameras. As the Crown Victoria passed through a signaled intersection three blocks from the parking lot, he snapped photos of the front and rear of the vehicle. The driver was still obscured by the ball cap, and it was still too dark in the interior to see anything useful. He did get the license plate, which he immediately ran through the police database.
The license plate came back to Jones Sisters Security, L.C. out of Spain. ‘Spain? That didn’t make any sense. The license plates were from this state. What is going on?’ He simultaneously did a check for the company while tracking the vehicle with the city’s traffic cameras. As he was waiting on returns for the security company, he watched the vehicle turn into a large restaurant’s parking lot. The traffic cameras could only see at an extreme distance, and there was almost no detail. Timms immediately picked up the ringing phone.
“Three minutes. Tasking yet?”
“Head over to the Greasy Spoon on the west side. You are looking for a mid-nineties silver Crown Victoria. Do you know what those look like?”
“Uh, yeah boss,” Jason retorted in a sarcastic tone.
“Hey, I had to check. Those were a little before your time,” Timms joked with the young flight operator.
“Ok. I will reroute and be there in five.”
Timms turned back to his display to look at the incoming data on the vehicle and the company. He found it odd that there was almost no information. The vehicle had a very short history. It had been owned by a large city’s police department on the other side of the state, then purchased at auction by an individual four years later. Then just less than a year ago it was acquired by Jones Sisters Security, L.C. with an address in the Canary Islands, La Palma (Spain). He could not find any record with the county for such a company. He was almost at a dead end. He knew one thing for certain - these were no pot smokers.
Timms had reflected on that fortuitous day many months since. Had Drew and Doreen not been so poorly trained, he would have never detected them that day in the background of a separate conversation he was watching and listening in on. Even so, he had lost them that first day. The car was a complete dead end, and had been abandoned later that day in the Greasy Spoon parking lot, never to be revisited. The company was finally found to have been created in another state, with no listed members or owners, and the Registered Agent had no information other than a bad address.
It was three weeks later that Timms found the 58-year old Broussard twins again in a mid-nineties Ford F-250 truck in an adjacent parking lot. The only reason he caught them was from the music playing on the radio. It took several more weeks for him to finally get enough of a face shot to identify the pair. They were again driving a vehicle registered to a New Mexico limited liability company with a foreign address on a difficult-to-access island. It cost the government considerable monies to run down the addresses only to find that they ended with a tourist hot dog vendor who moonlighted as a mail forwarder. He would send the mail to another island in another country where the mail may or may not be forwarded again. Eventually, it would dead end somewhere. And why not? No one really needed to be notified that their registration was about to expire. They knew when it happened. Since the limited liability companies were not doing business, the State never needed to contact them for any reason. All very anonymous. All very untraceable.
But your face stayed with you where ever you went. Doreen made the mistake of propping her binoculars on the headrest of the seat in front of her. At one point she moved them and a camera captured enough of her face in the darkened truck to run through the recognition computer. Through Doreen, Timms determined her accomplice was her twin brother Drew. Neither had any criminal history; they both graduated high school and operated the family ranch, which they inherited. Though neither of them were well trained in actual surveillance, they were most certainly being trained and assisted in everything else by professionals. Timms was glad he had not burned them with a police check many months back, but he was still no closer to their handlers than he was that first day.
The twins had a fairly set routine. Early in the morning, one or both of them would go to a local store or shop and purchase some non-essentials with their Homeland Equitable Liberty Pay (H.E.L.P.) card. Timms was grateful for the laws that did away with paper money. Digital money was so much easier to track people down with. He found it very effective to use against people he was interrogating. Timms figured that these purchases gave the twins some form of plausible deniability in the event they were confronted by police. Of course, it would not help them once Timms finally decided to bring them in, since he had video evidence of their activities to confront them with once they started lying.
The other thing they did was play rap music, especially music with long bass hits. Sometimes they would run the engine of the truck in lieu of music. He knew they were doing this to mask their conversations, and it was working well, even against the agency’s most sophisticated equipment. No matter what he tried, the computers could never noise cancel the music or engine. There was some anomalous background interference that the computers were unable to account for. On top of that, the engine would change speed at an irregular interval. Because of this, Timms could never hear or record any part of their conversation in a manner that was useful.
Once the twins completed their surveillance, usually no more than twice a week, they would leave the parking lot and take a circuitous route through the city streets and end up parking the truck in a private parking garage. Even though Timms had had teams covertly enter the vehicle, install trackers, and put 24/7 surveillance on it, they always seemed to get around it. Twice a covert team had entered the vehicle, and it was completely clean. The only worthy intel that gave a piece of the puzzle was to learn that the stereo system had a wireless remote that allowed them to change the volume, station, or CD track from the back seat. Every vehicle tracker had failed to operate when they were in the vehicle, and no one ever got near the truck when surveillance was on it.
Even when the SilkCloud was up, they would either go into an underground structure, parking garage, or operate in places that had dense overhead cover. Even on the days that Drew would spend over thirty minutes to get his snacks at the corner convenience store, he took a route that shielded him from overhead view. Any of the private cameras at various businesses that Timms had access to, either suddenly didn’t work or were of too poor quality to be of any use.
Timms had tried to use the cameras in the parking garage to monitor the truck and the twins, but they always seemed to be broken. Timms had entertained offering the owners of the parking garage an upgrade to their video system, but figured that it may be too suspicious. Regardless, he was still perplexed as to why, with all of the great technology he had, the twins were still able to keep their actions following their surveillance secret. They certainly had professional help.
Timms was contemplating new ways to track the twins as he was driving in to work this morning. He always made it a point to not look in the direction of the parking lots from which they would conduct their surveillance, even though his instincts always told him he should. They had been playing this cat and mouse game for so many months now, and he was enjoying the chase. His only ace was that he knew they were there; otherwise they seemed to be holding most of the cards in this game. He knew they didn’t know what was going on inside the building under his command, and he was sure…
“Is that…?” Timms said aloud to himself. He was only four blocks from his office when he spotted what he thought was Doreen walking down the sidewalk several blocks ahead, likely on her morning illicit caffeine run, later than usual. He slowed down to several miles under the speed limit to observe longer and make sure. The person had all of the right features. In fact, everything was right except for the time. It had to be her. As he was only a hundred yards away, he could tell for sure that it was Doreen.
Timms made his decision instantly. He was going to jump on this rare opportunity to do some field work. He made a left turn into the first parking lot on the same side of the street as Doreen, but still almost one hundred yards away. He took the chance that she saw him when he made the turn, but it was a chance worth taking. She may be doing surveillance on the facility and its employees, but there was no way that she knew who he really was. In fact, Drew and Doreen had come in contact with several agency employees over the months, and they had always acted as if they didn’t know who they were.
He quickly parked and set into a jog towards Doreen. His line of sight to her was blocked by a building, and as he approached the corner of the building, he slowed to a walk and stepped onto the sidewalk. He saw less than the back half of Doreen as she was disappearing into the long pedestrian alleyway between the various businesses. He picked up his pace again to close the distance and get to the alley before she could disappear down one of the many side alleys. He was contemplating his next move. He wanted to subdue her, capture her and get her into an interrogation room. He could have had a team do this months before, but never saw a good opportunity. But today she was out of routine, and out of routine was an opening to be exploited.
As he came to the alleyway, he was becoming excited to be personally responsible for getting a domestic extremist off the street. Drew and Doreen had broken many of the constitutionally upheld laws that he had sworn an Oath to protect and defend. He already had a Constitutional Executive Decree (C.E.D., erroneously pronounced “seed”) for their arrest, search, and detainment back in his office, drafted under provisions of the Agriculture, Livestock, and Paper Products Act (ALPPA). Today was going to be a good day. He could see Doreen just twenty-five yards in front of him. The narrow brick-lined alley with dense foliage trees made the alley a perfect way to prevent a person being seen from overhead. These alleys were strewn throughout several blocks of businesses and residential lofts. It made sense that people used them to conduct illegal business. Yesterday was Doreen’s last day for doing that, and she didn’t even know it.
As he approached her from behind in a fast walk, he was rolling his foot falls in a heel-toe fashion and keeping his weight on the outside edges of his feet. This made his fast walk nearly silent; certainly quiet enough to approach a lady twice his age who had been listening to loud rap music for the past twelve hours. He noted her limp caused by a genetic defect that both her and Drew shared. It didn’t help that she was overweight by seventy pounds.
Timms scanned the area for witnesses. All of the businesses in this area were closed, and there was no one in the alley but Doreen and himself. He reached under his suit jacket and pulled the small 100,000 volt Taser out of its fabric holster. The new technology made these amazingly small. It was no larger than his two battery flashlight, and actually looked very much like it. He was just ten feet away and ready to make his move. He was going to have to go for her neck, as her heavy denim clothing and jacket would likely keep the prongs of the device too far from her skin.
As he raised his hand to deliver the voltage, Doreen delivered a mule kick directly to his abdomen just above his groin, causing the Taser to fly out of his hand and him to collapse to the ground. She had not even turned around, but had waited until he was in range and thrust her leg rearward with immense force on his advancing body. Timms wondered if she had seen his shadow or reflection in some glass. It didn’t matter, he was down, and she was not.
“Blue Jay?!” she said with astonishment as she turned to face her attacker. “Well, I don know wut you wan’ned, but Ima ‘bout ta fuck you up!”
She reached down and grabbed Timms by the hair and stood him up. He was still half folded trying to recover from his abdominal pain. He never saw the powerful punch to his face, followed by a swift kick to his groin as he was falling backwards. He was curled up as sheer pain spiked throughout his body. He was developing a putrid metal taste in his mouth. Then Doreen started to kick him in the spine and ribs. His fetal position was the only thing protecting his vital areas, but he was in so much pain that he figured dying might be the only plausible solution to his current situation; and it sure seemed that Doreen was intent on delivering that solution.
“You’s a dumb bas’derd!” she said between kicks. “You dun taut you’s could take vantage of da ol lady, huh? You piece of….”
Her voice trailed off, and she stopped kicking him, which he was more than grateful for. The pain he felt was worse than any training he had been exposed to. He glanced up and saw Doreen half bent over holding her chest with one hand and the other on her knee. She appeared to have used all of her energy and was suffering from not being able to get enough oxygen into her chest. She was breathing hard and gasping. Timms decided this was the best opportunity for him to get back on the offensive. He tried to push himself back up, but the pain in his abdomen and groin was too much. He just had to lay on the ground and hope Doreen stayed winded for a while.
As he kept watching her, she didn’t seem to be recovering at all. She was wincing and pushing on her chest. She had backed herself up twelve to fifteen feet from him trying to catch her breath. He just kept watching and waiting for his pain to subside. Doreen stood upright, still clutching her chest, but it appeared that she was intent on smashing his bones even more if he didn’t do something to stop her. He started to push himself up again, fighting through the pain in his back and belly. He was unable to stand completely erect. As he looked towards her, a wave of pain went through him and he threw up bile between his spread legs.
“Caint hold da breakfast, huh? Wuss!” Doreen scolded him. She started limping her way towards him, clenching both fists as she approached. He couldn’t let her hit him again. She had already bested him. She was far stronger than he had anticipated, extremely quick, and not at all what he anticipated, especially for a 58-year old disabled, overweight woman. He figured that she could probably take out more than half of his classmates in his hand-to-hand class back at the CIA. If she got another good lick in, he’d be done. This isn’t how this was supposed to go.
As she closed, he braced himself for the blows, hoping to be able to launch an effective counter. Her first swing was a left uppercut intended for his abdomen, but hit his breast plate instead. Even this was considerably more painful than he expected, as it had enough energy behind it to force him into a considerably more erect position. With his peripheral vision he could see a right overhand coming straight for his head. He wasn’t going to have time to dodge it, at least not completely. With considerable effort, he thrust his knee into her ample abdominal region, making contact just below her sternum, as the punch grazed down his face, almost entirely missing him.
Doreen collapsed in a pile at his feet and he folded himself again, putting his hands on his knees. Doreen rolled onto her back, either by her own efforts or by momentum, he didn’t know. She was pale with bulging eyes and obviously in serious distress. She weakly put her right hand on her left shoulder and attempted to squeeze. She was having a heart attack. Timms reached into his pocket and pulled out his cell phone.
“Doreen? Doreen? Look at me,” Timms said in a soft, but panting voice. He looked down the alleyway in both directions and saw no one moving about.
“Doreen? You’re having a heart attack.” Timms held up the phone, with its face towards Doreen. “You need an ambulance if you want to live. I just need a little information from you. Doreen? Look at me.”
Doreen rotated her head slightly and looked blankly at Timms.
“Doreen? Did you hear me? You are having a heart attack. An ambulance can be here in two minutes. Just tell me who you work for,” Timms said, still waggling his phone at her.
Timms wasn’t sure what to do. He had never had to interrogate someone who was suddenly dying from natural causes. Maybe she knew she was dying, or maybe she was in denial. Either of those were not good for him being able to extract information from her. A person had to believe they were going to make it, or at least have a chance. He knew she was not going to make it, but what did she know? He had to assume the worst.
“Doreen? Drew’s going to be next unless you tell me who you work for. I am going to go pick him up, and he is going to go to prison for the rest of his life. But if you tell me who you work for, I will leave him alone. He can tend the ranch into old age and live a good life,” he lied to her, still panting. “Who do you work for?”
Timms could see that she was trying to speak, but he couldn’t hear anything. He wasn’t about to get too close. She had proven a significant adversary and could still have a winning card to play in this fight. If she had not had a health problem in the middle of their confrontation, he likely would have died or been captured if that was their prerogative.
“What? I can’t hear you Doreen. You‘re going to have to speak up.”
“Traitor!” She spit out in a gravelly voice, her eyes tightening on him as her grip loosened on her shoulder.
“Traitor? Are you calling me a traitor?” Timms queried, incredulous at the accusation. He was a patriot, and this woman was an extremist, maybe even a terrorist, calling him a traitor, of all things. “You’re the traitor, sweetheart.”
Her eyes relaxed and started to gloss over. Her body was relaxed, and she was still taking short shallow breaths. Timms put the phone back in his pocket and walked in the direction where his Taser flew when he was mule kicked. She was a lost cause if her delirious mind thought he was a traitor. He found the small Taser some thirty feet from where he was initially kicked, between the wall of a building and the base of a tree in the alley. He holstered the device and continued to walk opposite the direction he had entered the pedestrian alleyway. Just as he was turning into a side alley that would take him back in the direction of his truck, he noticed Drug Doug standing in an alcove in the alley. He quickly wondered if Drug Doug had witnessed their altercation. Probably not from where he was standing in the alcove, but Timms couldn’t take the chance.
He retrieved the phone from his pocket and dialed 911.
“911. This call is recorded. Where is your emergency?” came the female voice on the other end.
“There is a lady laying in the pedestrian alley behind the old Johnson’s place. I don’t know if she is breathing or not, and I saw a man dressed in black jeans and a dark plaid shirt walking away from the area to the south.”
Timms disconnected the call and removed the battery from his phone as he came to the street. He could already hear sirens in the distance. He dropped the back of the phone into a trash bin and put the battery in his pocket. He crossed the street and walked the block and a half back to his truck. Once he got there he put the main part of the phone under his front tire and got into the truck. He looked himself over, and noticed that his suit was a bit dirty, so he stepped out of the truck and started dusting himself off. He removed his coat and dusted off the back to make it as presentable as possible. Fortunately, the brick lined alley was swept daily by city workers, and Doreen’s boots had not done any noticeable damage.
He could hear more sirens now. He looked in the mirror to see if any bruising was visible from the punches he had received. He couldn’t see any, but he knew that some might show up later. He was certain that his body would be bruised. He was still suffering from the effects of the beating he took, and would likely suffer for weeks to come. He removed his “company” phone from his other pocket and punched in the speed dial number and hit send.
“We’re secure. What’s the job?” came the familiar voice.
“We need a man at the hospital to get eyes and ears on one fourteen alpha and one fourteen bravo. Alpha may be arriving later, while bravo should be arriving by ambulance in a few minutes. We also need to get the Cloud up ASAP, with tasking to follow. Can you handle that?”
“I am going to be a little bit late.”
“I’ll pass it on.”
“Thanks.” Timms disconnected the call and put the phone back in his pocket.
He waited a few more minutes in the parking lot, recovering as best he could. As he backed out of the parking space, the tire crushed the phone he had left behind it. As he turned on to Collins Ave, he could see three police cars and one ambulance in the street. He drove slowly past them with the slow moving traffic. He could not see anything down the alley, as the body of the ambulance was blocking his view. He pulled into the parking lot and entered the building, going straight into Jason’s flight control room for the SilkCloud drone.
“Where are we?”
“Hey boss. We’re up and flying. We’ll be in the area in 3 minutes.”
“Good. Your task is to follow one fourteen alpha wherever he goes. He is still in the truck across the street.”
“What about bravo?”
“She is on her way to the hospital. Don’t ask. I think this is going to significantly change their day, and there might be a slip up.”
“OK,” Jason responded dryly.
“Just don’t lose him. Record everything.”
“Just like normal, boss.”
“Yeah. Just like normal, except this won’t be a normal day.”
Everything they had done thus far had not produced any more leads. Today had been no different. Drew had gone through his normal routine to shake tails, and left the truck in its normal parking space in the parking garage. The surveillance team had been delayed in getting into position by a minor traffic accident they had been involved in. The only difference was Drew did everything at an earlier time period than usual. He went to the hospital as expected, and found out his twin sister had died of a heart attack. Drew had not done anything unexpected, except make a strange phone call from a pay-as-you-go phone that had been purchased two years previous and never used until that moment to another pay-as-you-go phone that had been purchased three years before and never before used until that day. Otherwise he drove straight home to his small ranch. Neither of the phones used for that short phone call had ever been found.
Timms had made his way out to the D&D Ranch an hour before Drew arrived. He had parked his truck well down the road beyond a bend where Drew would not see it when he was approaching. Timms had removed the rear wheel and tire and put them in the back of his truck, and installed the spare. He let the air out of the spare and punctured the original. He then made his way to the home of Drew and Doreen by foot. Jason had been keeping him apprised of Drew’s whereabouts. Timms broke into their home by entering through an unlocked window.
Timms knew from the multiple “sneak-&-peeks” his team had done on the ranch, that they left their windows unlocked, so he already knew he could get in without any issues. He situated himself on a nice comfortable recliner in the living room, facing the front door. He would confront Drew the moment he walked in the door, his internally suppressed custom Ruger MK 22/45 resting on the arm of the chair. He would have Drew dead to rights if he tried anything, but he didn’t expect a grieving man to be ready to fight.
Timms heard Drew arrive on the gravel driveway. After a few minutes, Drew had not come in the house. Timms became a bit nervous, wondering if Drew had figured out he was there. No, he couldn’t know. How would he know? Just then he heard the engine of an ATV start up. He slowly got up and moved towards a window that faced Drew’s Man’s Shed. He realized that that is where Drew’s gun safe was, and Drew may be getting ready for a fight. Timms observed the building from back in the room, where Drew would not be able to see him. Just then, he could see Drew drive out of the building on the ATV in the direction of the bulk of the Ranch. Timms reached for the collar of his RealTree camouflage tee-shirt, grabbed the ear bud connected to the phone in his pocket and put it in his ear.
“Talk to me.” Timms said.
“He’s going west on an ATV,” Jason came back, watching the large man riding an ATV with the camera on the SilkCloud IV es drone aircraft that was circling at just 3000 feet.
“OK. I am going to grab the other ATV and follow far behind. You are going to have to keep me in the loop on what he is doing and where he is. Don’t let me get too close.”
After nearly two hours of tracking Drew driving around in aimless wanderings of his ranch and a part of the neighboring ranch, Jason was finally able to report that Drew had stopped and dismounted. Timms was about 200 yards away on the other side of a small rise, and decided to walk in to keep from giving away his position with the ATV’s engine noise. Jason guided Timms to within 50 yards of Drew’s position just beyond a tree line.
“Jason? You’re off this task now. RTB,” Timms whispered into the microphone.
“Umm…Roger. Returning to Base,” Jason said with disappointment in his voice.
Timms removed the ear bud from his ear and disconnected the call. He drew his Ruger and made sure the safety was off. He moved the last 50 yards in a slow crouch. He paid careful attention to his shadow and any sound he was making. He didn’t know what gave him away to Doreen this morning, but doing the same with Drew would certainly get him killed. Just as he came to the edge of the tree line, Timms could see the ATV and Drew laying behind a scoped rifle. He was just twenty five yards away.
He took a long look at Drew laying behind the rifle. Timms had assumed that Drew was out here to commit suicide, but it appeared he was hunting instead. It didn’t make sense that a guy would go hunting just a few short hours after finding out that his last remaining relative was dead. He surmised that Drew must have been one tough cookie to be able to quickly work through such a trauma. That, or he was just cold hearted. Either way, it spelled trouble for Timms. He really wanted to interrogate Drew. Drew was his last link to the extremist cell in the area. They had no other leads. But dying at the hands of a man who was either amazingly emotionally tough in the face of lost family, or a cold hearted bastard with the same fighting genetic code as his sister who had damn near killed him this morning made his decision a little easier. He also had to consider that Drew had nothing left to live for. Timms no longer had any hook to coerce Drew with - no family, no improprieties, no public embarrassments, no better life, nothing. Prison wouldn’t scare him. Interrogating him would be a completely wasted effort.
Timms pushed the button that turned on the compact red dot mounted on the top of his Ruger. He was not going to take the chance of making noise by closing the distance, only to be mule kicked again then pummeled to death. No, he could easily hit Drew in the skull at 25 yards. He lined up the glowing red dot on the back of Drew’s head. He took a shallow breath as he took up the minimal slack in the trigger and then pressed the trigger back.
The sound of the special subsonic 22LR bullet passing through the suppressor and out of the barrel barely made a sound. In fact, the louder sound was the metal on metal bolt cycling and making contact with the chamber when it loaded the next round. The shot was so quiet that he could even hear the bullet smack the back of Drew’s skull, killing him instantly.
Timms approached the lifeless body. When he was about six feet away, he put two more bullets into the man’s head, just to be sure. Timms took a deep breath, and actually felt a little bad about what he had done. It was such a waste of resources. He really needed Drew and Doreen to get to the real extremists. These two had obviously been pawns, and now they had died for their transgressions. It was also the first time Timms had intentionally killed someone from the Executive Transparent List, which was a list compiled for the President, of terrorists and extremists that could be captured or killed (as required by the situation in the field) at the discretion of field officers. Drew and Doreen had been added to the list by Timms only days after he determined who they were, and they had been approved by higher authority. He didn’t like doing things this way. He felt that most people deserved due process, but not at the expense of him dying to make sure they got it.
Timms looked down at the magnificent rifle Drew had been about to use. It had a long bull barrel, free float railed forearm, an adjustable precision stock, and was sitting on a bipod. He looked out in the direction the barrel was pointing and saw a small movement in the distance. “What the hell…”
Timms rolled the heavy body away from the rifle. There was only some slight blood spatter on the shooting mat, so he didn’t bother to clean it up. He laid down behind the rifle and adjusted his eye to the scope. He rotated the rifle just a little bit to bring the target back into view.
“HOLY SHIT! It can’t be!” Timms was beside himself. He took his face away from the rifle and looked over at the pale lifeless face of Drew, eyes still open. “I’m sorry. That would have been a real trophy around here. Very illegal and immoral, but a back-slapper for sure.” He sincerely meant it when he said it to the dead man.
Timms put his cheek back on the riser and thumbed up the dial to raise it about a quarter of an inch, since his cheeks were not fat like Drew’s. He put the crosshairs of the scope back on the beautiful, and quite large brown bear. Timms was not an avid hunter, but he knew it was very rare for this area, and certainly one this large. It had a light brown, almost tan coat and blackish feet. It had adapted its coloring well to the area. He could see that the bear appeared to be eating something. As he focused in, it appeared to be plastic of some kind.
He started rotating the rifle around to look for where the bear had acquired its gains, and that’s when he saw the man come out of the tree line below. He was one of the Livestock and Agriculture Recovery Department agents. They had sent some eighty plus agents out this morning to a neighboring ranch to do a recovery and collection under the Livestock, Agriculture, and Paper Products Act, for not bringing the livestock to market and paying the required taxes on them. They had used his facility this morning to do the briefing and make the transfers from the buses to the SUVs. The man was obviously deserting his post. He was supposed to be doing the work of the United States, not out here in the wilderness.
This was no good, but it was also excellent, Timms realized. He had the right to kill any deserters on sight. The Desertion Act had been instituted just over a year ago due to far too many police, military, and government employees suddenly not showing up for work. Much of this behavior began after the passage of several new federal laws following the re-election of a contentious president. These desertions were preventing the government from properly functioning, and offering monetary incentives in the face of very high unemployment (officially 21.8%, but realistically 49.2%) did nothing to keep these people on the job. This spawned the one page Desertion Act, which allowed for the immediate death (by any means) of any member of a government office who left their position without due notice and for good reason.
This circumstance certainly qualified as desertion: this man, still dressed in his issued tan uniform was far from his assigned duty. But what was even better was that Timms could use the illegally possessed gun of a known extremist to kill this deserter, and it would be blamed on the grieving domestic extremist Drew Broussard, who took the loss of his sister too hard and killed a federal agent acting in the line of duty. It was genius. It would save his whole day. Hell, it would make his whole year. The government would pour money, manpower, and technology into his office and area. It would give him far more resources to find the extremists and terrorists in Region 6-2.
He put the crosshairs on the man and worked to anticipate each movement. His target was moving and almost 300 yards away he estimated. Drew had a bullet drop compensation chart (BDC) glued to the inside of the eye piece scope cap showing where to place the crosshairs for various distances. Timms lined up the crosshairs according to the BDC and got ready to take the shot. He slowed his breathing and took up the slack on the trigger. He had timed the forward and up and down movement of the man as he walked. Exhale….squeeze….
The clean break of the two-stage trigger sent the titanium firing pin into the primer of the cartridge, igniting the power and propelling the 75 grain round out of the barrel at nearly 3-times the speed of sound. The bullet impacted the man from behind sending him immediately to the ground. Timms fired another round into the body about a second later, just for good measure. He looked through the scope and could see the man’s lifeless body laying half curled on a bag of what appeared to be trash.
“That’s where the bear got the plastic,” he said aloud, followed by, “Oh shit! The bear!” Timms suddenly realized the bear could ruin his plans by eating the man, and with him the evidence of the crime. He quickly swung the rifle back to where the bear had been. It wasn’t there. He looked over the top of the scope to see if he could pick up movement with his wider visual field, and he did. Moving in the opposite direction, he saw the bear enter the tree line at a full run. Even after the bear became invisible in the trees, he could still tell it was running, as he could see the tops of the trees swaying as the bear was crashing into the small trunks.
Timms stood up and surveyed the scene. He grabbed the ear bud hanging on his shirt and put it in his ear and pressed the appropriate speed dial button.
“We’re secure…Ready for orders,” came the reply after one ring.
“Clean up on isle 3. Jason will give you the coordinates. Everything goes back where it belongs as though it never left. Alpha and vehicle disappear along with all coin in the safe. We gotta hurry on this one.”
Timms took a deep breath. The thoughts of half a dozen SilkCloud drones and half a dozen more covert teams brought a thin smile to his face. He was going to root out these extremists and help get America back on its feet. Right now, Timms was on top of the world knowing that a lucrative promotion was going to be in his future. Even when things went wrong, they always turned out right, and today was a perfect example.
Drew’s back had been aching for over an hour from sitting in the same position. Not only that, but he was starting to get stir crazy from the long hours of doing nothing. The conversations had grown stale by 2am, and he was just bored. His body and his mind were not created to do this job. He did it anyway because it kept meat on the table. When he saw his opportunity to get a break from the monotony, he jumped at the chance.
“Hey! Ders George. Ima gonna go see whut new stuffs he got.”
“You ain’t got no money to get nuttin, Drew,” Doreen chirped.
“Da hell I don!”
And with that, Drew was unceremoniously out the door. He had never taken orders (or good advice for that matter) from Doreen and certainly was not going to start now. He bounded down the sidewalk as fast as his numb legs would take him. Doreen watched him disappear around the corner, unsure when he might return. She put the binoculars back to her face and continued her surveillance of the old RVS distribution center. The sixteen plus acre building was over 700,000 square feet and sat on more than 60 acres. When it was originally constructed, it served the entire six state region of convenience store pharmacies with every product they carried. As the economy started to falter, and the National Health Care Act (better known as O’drama Care) started to take effect, certain medicines became more difficult to get, while others were in very short supply or not available at all. Even many common over-the-counter medications became difficult to obtain. This started a series of high profile violent robberies and burglaries of the RVS chain stores and other similar stores they competed with.
Doreen was now looking through her twenty power Sony Digital Recording Binoculars (DRBs) at the consequences and fallout of the legislation passed without any votes from the opposing political party. The windowless steel facility was encircled in a double row of twelve foot high chain link fencing topped with razor wire. RVS had only installed one row of fencing as a deterrent after the robberies and the American Health Authority (AHA) installed the second row, as well as the razor wire on both fences, when they took over the facility after RVS declared bankruptcy. The AHA continued to use the facility for its intended purposes for nearly a year. But when the pharmaceutical and medical supply companies took their business outside of the US, refusing to sell their products at fixed pricing, eventually the AHA no longer had any use for the facility, at least not for its intended purposes.
It had been believed that the Domestic Homeland Security Agency (DHSA) had then acquired the right to use the facility from AHA and was doing so in a nefarious nature. Publicly, the building was still funded by the AHA and had their acronym on the outside. Drew and Doreen had been requested to watch the facility at given intervals and document any comings and goings. They were paid either in sides of beef or silver coin, which they considered a perfect situation. The two assumed that others watched the facility when they were not, or that there was intelligence to which they were not privy that indicated when the facility should be watched. On previous occasions when they had conducted surveillance on the RVS facility, the most they ever noted was the occasional government passenger vehicle or SUV entering, and later exiting, though the “Deliveries” gate. This activity was besides the normal “employee” traffic that entered through the front gate of the facility, of which they had compiled extensive documentation and photography of each vehicle, its tag, and the occupants. They didn’t know if this information would ever amount to anything, but at least they had a baseline of data to work from. Any new vehicles or personnel would be easy to spot. Yet after all these months of surveillance, they had never seen any activity to back up the rumors.
Doreen took a quick glance at her watch then went back to the binoculars. It was 7:07am, and George always arrived an hour before his store opening of 8am to conduct his “l‘economie de la debrouillardise” business (also known as “Systeme D,” or to Drew it was simply the Black Market), and only with people with whom he was familiar. George was very familiar with Drew. Drew had worked for George many years before when George had a profitable hunting and sporting goods store. Last year, George had been forced to downsize his store when 90% of the firearms, 75% of the ammunition, and some 25% of his hunting and sporting goods products had been outlawed by Amendments to the National Firearms Act.
George had seen the writing on the wall and sold off his entire inventory of what would become contraband arms, ammo, and supplies, to a dummy LLC just a week before the amendment was signed into law. George had continually listened to far too many people falsely believe that there was no way such an Amendment would get passed by congress. George knew differently. He had historical precedence on his side. He tried many times in vain to show people that the government was not working in the best interests of The People, and that they had already removed their Natural Born Rights through previous legislation, and would certainly do so again when the time was right. He would even provide documentation when people didn’t believe him.
George would pull out his binder and show them the laws: The National Firearms Act (1934), which restricted access to certain types of guns and equipment and levied a hefty tax and registration system; the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act (1968), which restricted interstate trade of certain guns, mandated a minimum age to own handguns, and established a national gun licensing system; the Gun Control Act (1968), which restricted ownership of any gun by certain persons, established the FFL system, restricted importation of various guns, and created marking requirements; the Firearm Owners Protection Act (1986), which did the exact opposite of what the title stated, and instead restricted citizens from owning machine guns manufactured after a certain date, and established the national background check system, and above all was signed into law by the erroneously loved Ronald Reagan; Gun Free School Zones Act (1990), which eventually led to multiple mass killings with guns at several schools around the nation; the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act (1993), which also had no effect on actual crime, but instead created red tape for citizens and retailers by forcing an expensive national background check before purchase of any marked gun from a dealer; and the expired Federal Assault Weapons Ban (1994), which further restricted access to certain types of guns by citizens. But people just wouldn’t listen to reality. “Oh, that would never happen again,” they would say.
George was no idiot. The harassment by the BATF(E) of his original store, before recently consolidating with a near bankrupt hardware store where he now conducted business, only hardened his resolve that the government would (and eventually did) remove, through draconian and tyrannical legislation, the Natural Born Rights of The People. Seven years previous, George recruited his assistant store manager, Darvin Watts, to help him create another dummy store. He did this for two reasons: George trusted Darvin who started working for him at age 15, and Darvin had recently been diagnosed with an inoperable congenital heart defect and was only expected to live a few more years at the most. George’s wife had chided George for taking advantage of Darvin, but George would have none of it. All that was required of Darvin was to sign the paperwork and answer the BATF(E)’s questions. For this he earned $1500, plus $100 every time the BATF(E) made a visit, plus another $25 each time FFL paperwork needed to be processed; all of this was on top of the salary and benefits he already received as an Assistant Manager, and Darvin didn’t have a problem with any of it.
George started by establishing a LLC in a state that did not require the members or owners to be listed in the public record, and did not require annual filings. This gave George an anonymous LLC with which to work. Darvin then acquired the requisite EIN and Resale Tax certificate for the state in which the business was conducted, which was different from the LLC. From there he used Darvin to establish the FFL to go with the LLC, and being that Darvin was a fine, upstanding 22-year old with no criminal record, the FFL went through without a hitch. They established a store front on the edge of town at a storage facility with offices for rent in the front. It was very inexpensive space considering none of the 11 available office spaces had been rented for over a decade, mostly because they were too small for most businesses. The owner was just pleased to have a little extra revenue, especially since the rent was paid in cash one year in advance, every year. George then had a sign made to put on the glass door that read:
FFL Transfers $25
HOURS OF OPERATION:
Mo, We, Fr - Noon-5pm sometimes
Tu, Th - 8am-noon otherwise
Sa, Su - never open so don’t ask
If we are not here, try back tomorrow.
If we are not here tomorrow, call us
It was never George’s intention to be open for regular business, but to only serve as an established place to make FFL transfers if needed at a later time. Friday Firearms actually did a fairly decent business doing mail order FFL transfers, which gave Darvin some extra income. To satisfy the BATF(E) visitations, he made sure to purchase a few guns from a distributor and keep them on hand in the safe. It tended to annoy the Feds, that no one was ever around when they came to inspect. They would call the 877 number and wait 15 or so minutes for Darvin to arrive. After Darvin’s unreported death a short 19 months later (he had been sent out of state to an in-care hospice facility to die in peace and comfort, 100% paid by George), George would send any one of half a dozen other young men (Friday Firearms employees) he had recruited to deal with the BATF(E), each whom earned $100 for the 30 or so minutes of work - Darvin was simply unavailable, and the men knew what they needed to do.
When George realized that the new draconian gun laws were going to pass, he immediately transferred all of what would a week later become contraband illegal firearms to Friday Firearms LLC using one of the hundreds of previously created sales/receiving forms and checks signed by Darvin before his death. The actual transfer was nothing more than a paper push, and the actual firearms, ammunition, and banned sporting goods went into a storage facility registered to a blind Trust. When the BATF(E) came to collect Georges 122 now illegal guns, he could produce a legal sales receipt dated before the ban, to a legal FFL dealer who’s owner, unbeknownst to the BATF(E) was long dead. The BATF(E) put out a warrant for Darvin, but he was never captured. The day of the passage of the Amendment, George immediately went down to Friday Firearms and changed to sign to read:
CLOSED DUE TO THE
SAFETY OF AMERICANS Amendment
George was now selling his guns, ammo, and other items (all considered illegal per federal laws) for silver and gold out of the back office of his combination store. He couldn’t sell them any other way since all US currency was now electronic only. The Homeland Equitable Liberty Pay (H.E.L.P.) cards that had been issued to every person with a social security number (including children to keep track of gift monies) tracked all income, ependitures, items purchased, taxes collected, and the legality of each transaction. This lack of tangible money allowed “Systeme D” to flourish in the US. It was more common within “Systeme D” for the average person to use black market obtained Chinese Geuld Yuan, which were fully backed by Chinese Gold, but George would not accept these on principal.
George was surprised that seventy-five percent of his “Systeme D” sales were for ammo. The new laws mandated that all ammunition manufacturers must load center fire ammunition with degrading primers and/or powder for civilian sales. This prevented stockpiling of large amounts of ammunition since the ammunition would only fire consistently for about six months. The government had considered serializing ammunition, but found it so cost prohibitive that it would put manufacturers out of business. This created a huge black market for surplus ammunition and any ammunition that was created before the new laws went into effect, as the day the new laws were passed, every available box of ammunition and reloading components were scooped up nation wide in just under 20 hours, most at highly inflated prices (for the time.)
By the time Drew returned forty five minutes later, Doreen could see he was carrying his usual shopping bag from the convenience store and a six pack of cola. As he hopped in to the back seat of the ‘94 F-250 4x4 Crew, she reached for the wireless remote to the updated stereo system and turned up the music. Playing was 2 Live Crew’s Ghetto Bass, which though completely grating on Drew and Doreen’s nerves, served a valuable purpose, or so they were told.
“Wud’ya get?” she asked, already back to peering through the binoculars, ready to document the regular employees that would be soon arriving.
“Same as usual, jus double dis time.” After a brief pause he asked, “wanna cola?”
“I dun tole you, I don drank dat poison with dat new fake sugar.”
“Suit yoself woman!”
“Ima gonna go get me a real bev’rege,” Doreen said with sarcasm.
“Bev’rege? You been goin’ ta charm school or sum’n?”
Doreen put the binoculars in Drew’s lap, lowered the volume on the radio with the wireless remote and exited the rear door of the Ford. Within seconds she was out of sight. Drew checked his watch and pulled out the tablet computer to make sure it was on the right application for documenting what he saw. He picked up the binoculars and started to make notes on the normal, do good, early arriving employees. They didn’t bother recording them any more, unless they saw something unusual, and then it was just a simple press of the record button on the top of the high dollar optics. Over all of their observations, they could now determine the basic patterns of each employee. They knew which ones were very consistent in arriving, and those who would be late and unable to properly manage their time.
For ten minutes, Drew made notes on the normal parade of employees arriving at the facility. Documenting each under their associated code names in the application on the tablet. So far, at two minutes till eight, everything was occurring as normal at the facility and Drew could hear a siren approaching from a distance. It had to be a fire truck or an ambulance with its continuous wail. Police rarely let their siren wail unless they were involved in a pursuit of some kind, or were responding to some other grave emergency, neither of which were rare these days, except this early in the morning. He needed to push the distraction out so he could be sure to catch the principals of the RVS facility arriving. With few exceptions, they always arrived within one minute either side of 8am.
Just as a police car passed by on the street in front of his surveillance spot, he watched “NoteBook,” the CEO of the facility, turn in to the parking lot. He made his notations as he pondered the surprise of the passing police car. As it went by, it had also appeared to be slowing, and the siren was extinguished seconds later. Though he couldn’t see it, he realized it had stopped on the same block or next one down the street. He wondered what was going on, but could not neglect his post. He then could hear at least two more sirens approaching in the distance. Something was definitely going on near his surveillance position, just out of sight. He watched “Big Bird,” the executive VP of sales arrive just 20 seconds after “NoteBook.” Making his notations, there were only two people left to arrive “Blue Jay,” the Director of Operations, who should arrive in less than 90 seconds, and “Magnum,” an executive secretary who was always late by up to one hour.
He realized he should be documenting the police car going by, and whatever else was coming down the road. Later, he would insert a new entry just before the “NoteBook” arrival entry. Still peering though his binoculars at the main gate, he saw an ambulance and two more police cars go by and extinguish their sirens just seconds after going out of sight.
“Whut da hell is goin’ on?” he said aloud, taking a quick glance at his watch, “and where da hell is Doreen?”
A knot quickly formed in the pit of his stomach. Doreen had never been gone this long to get her caffeine fix. (At least one of them shopped in the area with their HELP card to establish some base reason for being in the area if they were ever questioned.) It had only been a few minutes, but it had still be longer than usual. He took a quick look over his shoulder to see if she was returning the back way to avoid whatever was happening on the street, which would certainly take her a little longer. Nothing. He went back to his binoculars. Nothing. “Blue Jay” was late and Doreen was late. He took a quick glance at his digital notes and quickly found that in eight months of watching, “Blue Jay” had never been more than one minute late. It was now three minutes after 8am. Drew thought to himself, ‘maybe the police had blocked off the street for an accident and “Blue Jay” was stuck on the other side. Maybe Doreen was rubbernecking.’ He just kept watching and wondering. Finally, at seven minutes after 8am he recorded “Blue Jay,” the Director of Operations arrive in his 6-month old Chevrolet Silverado 4x4.
Drew documented the late arrival in the tablet as well, then went back and added the police and ambulance arrivals to his chart. While making the changes, he continued to glance up to see if “Magnum” was arriving or not. He now expected Doreen at any moment since “Blue Jay” had gotten beyond whatever was going on in the street. Just as he set his tablet computer down, he could see in the distance three busses entering through the “Deliveries” gate. He quickly put the binoculars to his face and depressed the record button to try and get more information. All he could tell was that they were of the MCI style, solid white, and no noticeable markings anywhere. All 3 busses followed nose to tail and were driving straight for the side of the building with no signs of stopping. Drew was aware from previous surveillance that there were a pair of roll-up doors at ground level that were adjacent to the normal loading bays. He could only assume they were going to drive the busses directly into the building through one of these ground level doors. Sure enough, all three busses disappeared into the side of the building.
He needed Doreen here now. Normally one of them operated the binoculars, and the other documented the goings on in the tablet. Now Drew was doing both, and the knot in his stomach was not going away. The rap music was driving him nuts. He started the diesel engine and turned the music off. He wasn’t speaking, so it wouldn’t matter. He took a quick scan around for Doreen, then mounted the Sony DRBs on a small tripod in the middle of the floorboard. He peered through and focused them on the “Deliveries” side of the building. He decided to let the DRBs free record what was going on. He removed a pair of compact 8x21 binoculars from his jacket pocket and continued monitoring the main gate, occasionally glancing over at the “Deliveries” gate.
After a little less than ten minutes passed, he could hear a siren wind up and then the Ambulance passed back by in front of him. A couple of minutes later, two of the three police cars slowly rolled by with no extra occupants, neither with their lights or sirens operating. But still, Doreen had not returned. He knew that whatever had happened just out of his view had happened to Doreen. He just didn’t know what, and he couldn’t stop watching the new happenings at the old RVS facility. Three busses pulling in was a big deal, and Doreen was a tough old gal. He loved her as much as a person could love another, but there was nothing he could do to help her. He would find out what happened soon enough.
Eventually at 8:31am, Drew was able to document the normally late arriving “Magnum” finally showing up to work. Then at precisely 9am, he witnessed the oddest thing he had ever seen. A convoy of SUVs and Vans were exiting the side of the building where the busses had disappeared earlier. Once they were beyond the “Deliveries” gate, they scattered in all directions. Something serious was going on, that much Drew was certain, and it probably wasn’t good. Once the parade of vehicles had exited, he waited to see if the Busses would exit as well. While he waited, he couldn’t help but think about Doreen and what must have happened to her.
‘There were three police cars and one ambulance. They had all responded code 3 (lights and sirens). Police responded like this to unknown injuries. Had she been hit by a car? No. He never saw a wrecker or anything else that would indicate such an event, and there was no excess traffic in on the street. Had she had another one of her fainting episodes? Maybe, but those happened very rarely, and only now when she was sick with something. Was she sick?’ He wondered to himself. He didn’t think she was sick. ‘What else could have happened? Could she have tripped and smashed her face again? Maybe. But would that elicit a response from three squad cars? Maybe she had been mugged? No, that was not very likely; too many people knew neither of us had any money, and you can’t use someone else’s HELP card with their imbedded biometric sensors.’ He realized that he just didn’t know what happened, but he would find out soon.
After waiting 15 more minutes, and not seeing the busses exit, Drew disassembled the DRBs from the tripod, collapsed the tripod and put it in its bag, removed the micro SD card from the DRBs and inserted a fresh one from his pocket. Then he placed the DRBs and the tripod into the Pelican case on the floorboard. He inserted the DRB’s micro SD card into the tablet computer, making sure none of its Bluetooth or WiFi ports were open and downloaded the data to the tablet. He double checked that the content had actually transferred, then securely erased the micro SD card. He removed the card and then reinserted it. His next step was to transfer both the video from the DRBs and his documentation log back onto the micro SD card, but only after is was first encrypted, then put into a separate encrypted folder. This took him few minutes, but was now routine. He removed the micro SD card, put it in its tiny waterproof case and snapped the hasp closed, putting this in his pocket. Finally, he securely erased the data from the tablet using a custom application, and put the tablet in the Pelican case with the DRBs and closed it.
Drew moved to the front seat, taking his breakfast bag with him. He put the truck in gear pulled out of the parking lot and turned left on Collins Ave. The slowness of the acceleration of the old diesel assisted him in looking for signs of Doreen or what might have happened too her. Passing by both of her normal routes as well as the shop he knew she was going to showed no signs that he could perceive. At this point she had just disappeared, but most likely had left in the ambulance. Drew followed his third choice of routes through the city to get back to the parking garage. The route took him through multiple choke points to catch anyone trying to tail him, and also used these routes to lose any tails.
After driving for fifteen minutes and 4 miles to go less than one mile from their morning surveillance spot drew pulled into the parking garage and drove to the top floor of the four story structure. He assembled his four month old pay-as-you-go-phone and called the only number he was allowed to call from that phone, ready to let them know he had abandoned the surveillance early because of new developments, and that the package needed to be picked up earlier than usual to be analyzed due to something important being on it.
“Hey buddy, been waiting for your call,” came the answer after just 2 rings.
“Yea…well…I got delayed and won be able to make da show,” Drew responded.
“Are you sure you can’t make it?” came the unknown voice.
“Ima sure. I still gots to tend my cattle.”
“OK. Maybe next time then?”
“Sure. Next time.” Drew ended the conversation.
He disassembled the phone and stuck the battery in his pocket. He drove the truck back down to the second level and parked it in its normal spot. He put the disassembled phone parts in his shirt pocket, picked up his breakfast bag and untouched 6-pack of cola, removed the encased micro SD card from his pocket and exited the truck, locking the doors as he left. He walked down to the other end of the garage to the trash can. With the tiny SD card pinched flat between his fore and middle finger on his right hand, and his breakfast bag in his left, and the 6-pack squeezed under his armpit, he deftly disposed of the trash while at the same time pushing the SD card deep into the cigarette disposal sand tray that rested on top of the trashcan. Anyone who may have observed him would only have seen a man supporting himself while he threw trash away.
Drew continued walking while removing the thin leather driving gloves he had been wearing since 8pm the previous night, and stuck them in his back pocket. He stopped at an older midsized sedan parked in a reserved space on the third level, opened the door and got in. He located the keys and pulled out of the parking garage. Minutes later, the ever-present bedraggled homeless beggar lady who panhandled near the entrance of the garage retrieved the micro SD card from the cigarette tray, as well as the pelican case from the truck. She placed the pelican case in the trunk of an adjacent car and reassumed her spot at the entrance to the parking garage, politely asking people to give her food to feed her children. She put the SD card in the bag with her donated discarded food from passers-by. In less than ten minutes, she would be robbed of her entire food bag by a young vagrant man who would ensure that the SD card made it to the proper people. They were both paid well (anonymously in silver rounds) for their covert actions, and the constant requirement to maintain their poor appearances and to always be on standby for immediate action.
Drew took a circuitous route through the city, just to be sure he was not being tailed, on his way to the county hospital. He would find out what happened to Doreen and give her a hard time about it for weeks to come. If she had done something stupid, like tipped over her shoelace and broke something, he was going have a difficult time not laughing out loud at her. He pulled into the ER parking lot and made his way inside. He went to the reception desk and inquired about Doreen. After some confusion on the part of the receptionist not being able to understand what he was saying, they finally got things straightened out. He presented his ID to confirm their relationship, and he was directed to a small unoccupied waiting area.
Twenty minutes passed before a doctor finally came in to talk with Drew. Drew quickly sensed that there was something seriously wrong. He could tell by the way the doctor was presenting the timeline to him that the condition of Doreen was grave. Doreen was it. She was the last of his family. There was no one else. His heart started racing just as the doctor started to conclude his timeline:
“…and I’m sorry to say, there was nothing more we could do for her.”
Drew drove the thirty minutes back to his small ranch in a complete daze. Just hours ago, it had been theirs, but now it was just his. Doreen had died of an apparent heart attack. How was he going to manage, he didn’t know. Maybe he would finally sell to Mr. Numrey, who had for so many years been trying to buy his small ranch. He didn’t have anyone to pass it on to, so why not? Over time, he would just get further and further behind on the upkeep without Doreen to help. It would probably be better to sell now. Drew was distraught and his mind was wandering. He was thinking silly and sane at the same time. A little hunting would help to settle his mind.
Drew pulled into the D&D Ranch, and drove down the long driveway. It was not near as long as most of the driveways around, but their home, his home was not visible from the road. He couldn’t go into the house right now knowing Doreen would never be inside again. He would bury her in the family cemetery over in the southwest corner of the Ranch. He headed to the Man’s Shed. He entered and Doreen’s presence was still everywhere here too. He started to break down. He hated crying, and did all in his power to stop it. He immediately walked to the safe and put in the combination. He opened it and removed the custom AR-15 heavy target rifle he bought from George just before the new laws passed.
He was supposed to have turned in nearly every rifle and pistol he owned to the Firearm Recovery Team, but had decided not to. They were his, and he was keeping them, at least as long as he was alive. He reached into his coat pocket and retrieved the four boxes of Hornady .223 75 grain hollow point ammunition he had purchased from George this morning. The three ounces of silver, now worth a little over $1200, he paid for the 4 boxes of unregistered ammunition was a bargain. The ammunition had been purchased wholesale before the ban by George for $15 per box, and the silver Drew used to purchase the eighty rounds had been purchased at $4.20 per ounce at the turn of the century. Drew definitely got the better end of the deal, but the best part is that they were able to conduct business without the government having any say so in the matter.
Drew opened a box and loaded up a 20-round magazine. He put the rest of the ammunition in the safe and closed it. He slapped the magazine into the mag-well and pulled the charging handle, letting the bolt carrier slam a round in the chamber. He thumbed the selector to safe and proceeded to slide the 24” long bull barrel into the ATV gun carrier. He pulled the start cord and the old Yamaha fired right up. He removed the pay-as-you-go cell phone pieces from his pocket and threw them into the smoldering double barrel heater along with five new pieces of wood. He grabbed his hydration pack from the shelf, filled with basic essentials in the event he got stuck out in the field, and drove the ATV out of the Man’s Shed, still thinking deeply about Doreen.
He decided to hunt on a section of the Numrey Ranch (he had a lifetime invitation to hunt any open season predatory animals) where he almost always got a kill, and just maybe, he would run into Mr. Numrey or one of his children and could open the conversation about the possibility of selling his land. He slowly drove around his ranch and a corner of the Numrey Ranch for almost two hours, but it didn’t take his mind off of his loss. He just couldn’t shake it. Doreen was gone. She was actually gone…forever! It hurt him. The tears were starting to well up as he approached his best hunting position overlooking one of Numrey’s small open-sided barns in an open area that was built to offer protection to the horses in that section. It was a great location that attracted all types of wild animals that also used the building for shelter from time to time. The nearby shallow creek also attracted a lot of wildlife.
He shut off the reliable ATV that had his own custom version of a camouflage paint job. He withdrew the coveted heavy target AR-15 rifle from its ATV gun case, unfolded the bi-pod and set it on the ground. He removed his pack and laid it across the front rack of the ATV and opened the hard case on the rear rack and withdrew a rolled up foam pad. He unrolled the green yoga pad on the ground and set the rifle on it. He removed his jacket and hung it on the handlebars. He made the two steps to the mat and looked down into the narrow valley that was only about seventy five feet below his elevated position, and could see a black trash bag sitting in the open. It appeared that its contents had been partially strewn about. This was a good sign.
How the trash bag got there, he didn’t know, but there was a really good chance that a predator of some type had recently dug through the bag that had not been there yesterday. He laid down behind his rifle and took a couple of deep breaths. This was so he could start making shallower breaths, but also served to help him drown out the background thoughts of Doreen’s sudden death. Peering through the scope, he started to take short and shallow breaths while peering at the trash bag and trash around it. He could tell that something had definitely dug through it. He started to think like the animals that might enjoy such a find and started to move the crosshairs across the terrain in search of a target.
Drew took about 30 seconds to methodically search the open-sided barn in all of the usual spots animals liked to lay up. When he couldn’t find anything, he continued his search. After a few seconds, he was quite surprised by what popped up in his crosshairs. It was certainly not what he expected to see, not by a long shot. What was he going to do? This presented a real moral dilemma for him. He could do what his heart told him to do, and take this rare opportunity, likely to be rejoiced by his neighbors, but he would be breaking laws on so many levels; or he could not take the shot, and maybe just observe for a while instead, and would have to live forever knowing that he probably made the wrong choice, never being able to tell a soul that he passed on the opportunity.
He resigned himself, with great pleasure, to exploit this very rare chance. He wasn’t looking for accolades from his neighbors, but he would certainly get them. And like him, they would not care that much of the rest of the world would look upon his actions as immoral and illegal. He looked over his scope with his bare eyes at this glorious chance to make sure it actually existed. It did. Strangely, the black area near the feet appeared to be burnt areas. ‘Odd,’ he thought to himself. He put his eye back behind the scope. His focus became sharp; his breathing shallow with a slow tempo. He fixed the area between the crosshairs and the 1st mil-dot on the vertical bar of the mil-dot reticle of his scope on the area just between the shoulder blades, and slightly to the left of the spine. He knew the range to the target, and he knew the bullet drop for the ammunition he was using. His prey, completely oblivious to his presence was moving slowly, as if being cautious for some reason…and there was good reason.
The tan was blending well with the background. Drew had to double check his placement. He moved his left hand under the stock of the rifle to provide better support. He flicked the safety to the fire position and took up the first stage on his custom trigger. Taking one last short inhale, he was ready to send the bullet into his target when he had completed his exhale, which would bring the reticle back to the exact shot placement he desired.
The suppressed .22 long rifle bullet entered Drew’s brain from behind, and his death was instantaneous. His face fell off of the rifle stock and his finger released the trigger. He had been focused on his amazing luck, and doing what needed to be done to make a clean kill. He had temporarily forgotten about Doreen in these few moments. His hunting expedition had done what he intended it to do. He had never heard the person come up behind him. Drew may have been better served staying in his Man’s Shed and drinking his sorrows away for the day. He would be meeting Doreen far sooner than he ever imagined.
“Oh no!” she whispered quietly to herself; Jo frantically felt over her body for it. It wasn’t where she remembered, or was she remembering incorrectly? Her mind was still racing beyond her capacity to process the information, and her heart was pounding in her ears. She couldn’t stop or even slow down, so feeling around for it was more difficult. Regardless of how important it was, she could not go back if she had inadvertently dropped it somewhere. Even if she could go back to look, there is no chance she could find it anyway.
The branches were lashing at her face and body as she fled through the forest. How far had she gone? She couldn’t be sure. She had to just keep going! She found it ironic that her peanut lighter, a trusted source of life giving fire, was what she was desperately searching her body for considering she had just escaped a serious fire that claimed the lives of most of her fellow co-workers, and at least one armored military vehicle and its crew. Her body took over stress relief duty and she began laughing at the strangeness of her current circumstances. She slowed her pace and then finally took a seat in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by nothing but trees in every direction, and continued to pat her hands over her body in search of the silvery bullet.
Her laugh turned to giggles as she finally looked at herself for the first time. Her breathing began to slow as she took stock. Her black tennis shoes had a light dusting of white ash on them, and one of the shoe lace ends from the right shoe had been singed and was curled back with a hard nodule now replacing the original plastic on the end of the shoelace. The outside edge of the sole on her right shoe was also partially melted, but still intact. Her black socks also had a dusting of ash, dirt, leaf fragments, and pine needles stuck in them. The bottom of the right pant leg on her tan coveralls was well blackened on the outside up about four inches from the bottom.
How she did not get burned, she could not understand. She had been surrounded by dozens of people engulfed in flames, and the grass was on fire as well. She had been looking at the man walking next to her, mostly because his body stench was wafting downwind into her nose, when she saw a black shimmering ball coming down from the sky in her general direction. Jo didn’t know what was going on, and ducked down just before it impacted the hard ground beyond her. She could hear the “whoosh” of the object as it passed nearby over her head, followed by a loud crash, which sounded something like glass breaking. Then she could immediately feel the searing heat as the fire consumed nearly everything (and everyone) around her. As people started going in every direction, she was pushed over to the ground from her crouching position, and trampled on several times. When she was finally able to get up, she was horrified by the dozens of people on fire, running, rolling, screaming, and writhing on the ground engulfed in flames. Feeling under attack, she immediately started running for the cover of the their vehicle convoy parked 100 yards away on the gravel driveway.
She saw a black Ford Expedition near the rear of the column of vehicles that she figured she could slide under, about halfway between two of the armored military vehicles that had come with them - armored vehicles that were supposed to protect them from harm, which obviously was not working well at this point. As she ran out of the burning grass licking at her ankles, towards the Expedition, she dodged burning bodies and hurdled dying hulks. Just before reaching the vehicle, she heard one of the military vehicles start to fire its full automatic gun in short bursts. Jo could see the muzzle flashes in her peripheral vision. Something was definitely wrong.
She quickly reached the vehicle and easily slid under it. She had only been there a few seconds, and was evaluating her options when she noticed a soldier crouch between the Expedition she was under and the vehicle in front. At nearly that exact moment she heard another “whoosh” overhead quickly followed by a sickening crash of glass breaking. The screaming was instantaneous. After only a few seconds, the soldier (which she only recognized as a soldier by the boots that he or she wore and the camouflage pants that she could see from her limited view beneath the SUV) started running.
She assumed that if the soldier was running away from the same area she was in, that she had better run too. She slid out from underneath the SUV on the opposite side from which she entered and began running towards the distant woods. Everything after that was a complete blur to her. She felt as though she had covered the mile long distance to the woods in what had to have been record time. Just as she entered the tree line, she took a quick glance back to see if anyone else was behind her. No one was there, but in the distance, she could see that the armored military vehicle in the middle of the row of vans and SUVs was blackened and on fire, as were several other vehicles parked in front of the armored truck, and there were black lumps of people all around the outside of the vehicles. The other two armored vehicles were near the very large ranch house where they were supposed to have been conducting a search and seizure.
There was also a huge burned area of grass with dozens black lumps scattered within its ring of death. The most disturbing sight were the burned bodies that were outside of the large black circle, and the black lines of burnt grass that led to the bodies with the small circles of brunt grass surrounding the now lifeless mounds. It looked like the inverse of a child’s drawing of the sun, with radiating lines of sun rays flowing out from the main sun, indicating where burning men had fled the impact zone, their burning clothes catching the grass on fire in the path they had followed, and ending at their final resting place. There were at least a dozen such men who had fled for their lives, some leaving longer sun rays than others.
The remainder of her coveralls were in good condition. She had a scrape on the palm of her left hand, and she could feel a slight burning on the back of her head. As she continued patting her body in search, she came across the familiar feel of her CRKT Folts Minimalist neck knife resting between her breasts. The comforting feel of the two inch long Bowie point fixed blade knife with its sculpted dark green colored resin handles and deep finger grooves gave her pause. She immediately felt more relaxed with the realization that it was still where she left it. ‘But where did that damn lighter go?’ she wondered.
She continued her search and self-examination as she sat in the woods. She found the wound on the back of her head, and it felt tender to touch. She spread her hair to get a better feel. It was slightly raised, and maybe scratched a bit, and there was a noticeable feel of wetness. She brought her hands down and inspected them for signs of blood, but none was present. Instead it appeared to be oil. She decided that she must have hit the back of her head on the underside of the SUV at some point. She also concluded that as a result of her rail thin figure that she was lucky not to have been burned on the underside of the SUV. It had only been turned off for a few minutes when she slid under it for cover. There had been so much heat from the fire, that she had not felt any hotter for the few seconds she was under the vehicle.
“Of course!” Jo shouted much too loudly. She immediately ducked down and started listening and searching for anyone who may come running through the forest after her. Her heart was racing again with the realization that she may have just given away her hard fought position - thrown away in a moment of excitement. As she continued to listen and scan the woods for danger, she fingered the neck knife, tracing its features, feeling the Kydex style friction lock sheath, then finding the neck cord holding the knife to her body. That’s when she was able to feel the small peanut lighter. Earlier that morning she had taken it out of its normal place in her right front pants pocket and threaded it on the parachute cord used for hanging the knife around her neck. She had moved it because she was wearing the coveralls over her normal clothing, and would have reduced access to it had she left it in its normal place. Hanging from the knife’s neck cord, it would be more accessible if she needed it. She had learned this lesson the hard way in the past.
Jo removed the knife from her neck and held it in her hand. She slipped one end of the parachute cord from the quick adjust toggle and slid the peanut lighter off of the cord. She then replaced the cord back into the adjustment toggle. She held both items, one in each hand. Then she began to sob. She tried to cry quietly, but she was both overjoyed and overwhelmed. So much had already happened in her life, and here she was sitting in the woods after surviving yet another traumatic experience. She had been raped at seventeen, administratively discharged from the Marine Corps after less than two years, had lost her entire family, had a 10-year drug addiction problem, lived on the street for 12-years after losing her home to foreclosure, had been unable to hold a job, and now this. At least she had her knife and lighter, which were now being drenched with her tears.
She was not crying because she felt sorry for herself. No, she had done that enough in her life. It was definitely from stress. The same kind of stress that just moments ago had her laughing. Her emotions ran quick now. She had learned some years back that she couldn’t let her emotions get the best of her. She had to deal with them, then move on. But this was different. With the exception of the rape, she had brought every other adversity in her life upon herself, until today. Today was not her fault, and she had just witnessed dozens of people burned alive. People she had just shared a vehicle with. People who were her fellow co-workers, even if she had only just met them two days before. She and the fellow agents had just been attacked, she just didn’t know why. No, this was not her fault, and she had every right to be crying right now.
After she felt mostly relieved, she hardened herself and wiped her face dry with the sleeve of the coveralls. Jo started to walk, but stopped herself. She didn’t know where she was, and therefore didn’t know exactly where to go. The very few things that she did know were that she was in the woods near a very large ranch house that she was supposed to have been using as a base of operations to find the livestock the owner had not registered, paid tax on, or brought to market as prescribed by the Agriculture, Livestock, and Paper Products Act. She had been informed of her task only this morning from her new boss who had also given her, and thirty or so other agents, the tan coveralls she was now wearing, after arriving on a bus from the city after a three hour ride. It was painfully obvious that someone did not want her, or her co-workers, at the house, so she couldn’t go back there. It would help if she knew which direction that was.
She needed to orient herself. Because they had arrived at the ranch house in the late morning, she remembered that the rising sun was on her right side as they rode in the van down the long dirt road. She had boarded the white van just shortly after getting off the bus in a small town some 20 minutes ride from where they turned onto the very long dirt road, and had been driving generally west on the small farm road since she remembered that the sun had been reflecting off of the driver’s side rearview mirror into her face for part of the drive. That meant that she was at least 20 miles southwest of the town, and more likely double that. There was just no way she could walk that far without food and water. She was already near starving as it was, which is why she took the low paying government job to begin with. She could vividly recall the full page ad in the city newspaper:
“JOBS FOR PATRIOTIC AMERICANS
Assist your government with instituting, enforcing, and maintaining new legislation passed by Congress.
Immediate openings for:
NO EXPERIECE NECESSARY. Interviews conducted daily.
Must be willing to travel. We provide all transportation.
New hires receive a cell phone, clothing, and food allowance.
Government Employee Benefits are available after 180 days.
For Interviews, Contact:
Domestic Homeland Security Agency (DHSA) Division of Personnel
Interviews conducted from 9:00am to 3:00pm at any local bus station, library, or civic center in your area.”
While waiting in line for her interview at the substantial library, which had been a 45 minute walk, she realized that they seemed to only be hiring men at the time. At least half of the over 200 people in line in front of her that early morning were women; some had even brought their children with them. She noted that only women and the occasional drunken man would exit the building, all appearing quite upset. She correctly guessed that they were either not accepting women to the positions, or they were only accepting certain types. She couldn’t take the chance. She quickly grabbed another one page application from a nearby table and started filling it out. This time, she omitted the “Anna” of her first name and added an “e.” Now she was Joe Lee Bolton.
Everything about the name was correct except for the replacement of the “e” for the “Anna” following Jo. Everyone that knew her called her Jo anyway. She could easily pass for a man. Her long term homelessness and drug abuse had turned her once striking 5’8” figure and near runway model face into a gaunt, dirty, average looking “person.” The long term cocaine use had also served to reduce her once perky B+ breasts to barely A cup - she didn‘t even wear a bra any longer. Her voice was deeper than average, due in some part to her drug smoking. Her short hair style, cut on the streets without aid of a mirror, added to the overall effect. For the first time, she actually considered being mistaken for a man to be a good thing. And it worked, even though no mention was ever made about being male or female during the interview. There was not even a box to check on the application, which was probably due to the Gender Equality Act that eliminated gender specifications from almost all forms of employment and benefits, public or private. It still didn’t eliminate discrimination, even within the government. If anything it made it worse since there was no longer any way to document what gender worked where, and in what ratios, since it was illegal to ask about gender.
Now she was dealing with the strange consequences of having masterfully negotiated acquiring the job of a man. She just shook her head and continued to work on evaluating herself and her situation. She grabbed a stick about 18” long and drove it into the ground standing straight up in a mostly sunny spot between some trees. She marked the end of the shadow cast by the stick with a small white rock. Water was going to become critical soon, but she was unsure of how to locate it in this hilly terrain. She needed to make it a priority. She chose a direction and started walking away from her shadow stick, taking care to pay attention to small details so that she could find her way back to the stick.
Her old Marine Corps training was coming back to her. She had grown up in a big city, and lived in a big city the entirety of her 35 years, with the exception of her short stint in the military. During this short time in her life she had spent the majority of her Marine Corps career in the rural country side. Boot camp had been a huge shock to her system, along with much of the follow on training, but all of it had served her well over the years. She realized that here and now was going to be the time when that past training would serve her best. She continued to walk for about 100 yards, constantly searching for useful items, game trails, water sources, or anything that might assist her survival. When she felt she had gone far enough, she did an about face and returned to the shadow stick. She continued these outward walks in four different directions, always returning to the stick.
After these short walks, she concluded that the general area she found herself in was completely unremarkable and had very little variance. She was only able to perceive a slight grade drop going in a consistent direction. Now she just needed to figure out what direction that was. Finally back at her shadow stick, she placed a new rock at the new position the shadow had moved to over the course of the 45 or so minutes that had elapsed since placing the first rock. She pulled the stick out of the ground and laid it between the two rocks, connecting the “dots.” She then stood with her feet together and her toes just touching the edge of the stick on the ground. Her heels were facing the hole from which the stick had been removed from the ground. Now she knew for certain that she was facing north, and that to her immediate right was east. With this information, she was able to determine that the slight slope in the earth was trending northeast - the direction she wanted to go; the general direction of the distant town.
This was currently working out better than she had hoped. The tree canopy was far to dense to give the ability to pick a distant point of reference in order to keep on a straight course. The slope of the terrain, provided it did not change directions, gave her the frame of reference she needed. She could also use the sun to double check her direction of travel and the trueness of the slope. She faced northeast and made note of how the sun felt on her neck, right ear, right cheek and exposed right arm. She also noted how her shadow cast on the ground away from her body when facing the direction she wanted to travel. Jo figured that the sun’s reference would be good for at least an hour, maybe two. She started to walk.
She continued to scan for anything of use as she walked, always taking great care to continually check her direction of travel. Her mind would jump in and out, moving from the task at hand to various memories of her life. Most of her thoughts centered on her short Marine Corps career, one of the best times in her life, and the recent events that got her into her current situation, though certainly not one of the worst events in her life, but traumatic none the less. Occasionally, her thirst would seep in and take control, but she was able to suppress it and get back to the mental work she really needed to focus on.
“Improvise, adapt, overcome,” were the words that rang in her ears, not just today, but over much of her previous life. That nasty drill instructor yelling them at her and her company constantly was how she still heard them, she just left out the “maggots!” part of saying, or any of the other derogatory endings the colorful and demanding drill sergeant liked to use. It was these words that helped land the job that got her here when she adjusted her application at the last minute; it was these words that helped her overcome the horrible recovery period following the end of her drug addiction two years ago; and it was these words that helped her every day of her 12-years of living on the streets. These same words had even helped her after the fact when she would have adverse feelings about being raped as a teen.
After nearly an hour of walking down the very slight grade, she came across a trail of some kind. It was well worn and crossed her path in a north-south direction of travel. She studied it, trying to determine what type of animals may be using it. She was a city girl, she didn’t know animal tracks, and it wasn’t something they had really taught her in the Corps. Well, they had a little during her fortunate to be accepted into Survive, Evade, Resist, Escape (S.E.R.E.) course, but that was a bad memory that right now that she didn’t want to visit. The trail was wide and easy to see, so either it was traveled by some monstrous rabbits, or some much larger animals.
Even in the city, homeless animals created trails - not so much visible trails on the concrete, but consistent paths from one area to another. She noted that it was very rare that any of them wandered aimlessly. She knew that this behavior in animals was their survival technique. They used their trails to get from where they sleep, to where they eat, to where they drink. They were consistent patterns that she had used herself on the streets to avoid danger and basically do the exact same things that the animals did.
This trail represented an animal’s survival. But what kind of animal? She certainly didn’t want to follow the trail of a bear or something, right to its den, or worse its dining area. ‘Were there even bears in this area?’ she wondered, having no clue to the answer. She knew that this trail led to an animal’s food, water, or shelter - all three things she needed. But which way led to water? Water was more likely downhill than up, and north was going downhill. North was also much closer to her intended path. Now the choice was either keep heading northeast or follow the trail? She didn’t know how far the trail went before reaching resources, what those resources might be, what kind of animal(s) she may encounter, or if the trail even continued north or eventually headed off in a direction that she did not want to go. There were so many unknowns.
She suddenly realized that her decision to walk northeast was also a complete unknown, and had no better known prospects than taking the game trail. All she knew about walking northeast, was that somewhere out there, at least 20 miles distant was a town; she would be dead before she could walk that far without food, water, and shelter. She immediately made a half-left turn and started following the game trail through the woods to the north. With her mental commitment to take the trail and abandon her other route, she felt relief. Following an established trail freed her mind to wander, but she was still keeping an eye out for resources and signs.
‘What exactly happened today?’ she questioned. Too many things just were not adding up the more she thought about it. ‘Why were there so many agents? Why did so many of those agents appear downtrodden (including herself)? Why had they been handing out bats and axes, and why were the drivers carrying liquid-filled glass containers? Why had she been required to not talk to any of the other agents until this morning? Why were there only men? Why had they been required to wear these amazingly cheap coveralls; didn’t the government have better resources for their federal agents? Why were the vehicles so old? And for the love of God, why were the military there to protect us?’ She did remember that the military were not supposed to do such things, though she couldn’t remember why. ‘Had the laws changed?’ she wondered. It still didn’t seem right to her. ‘Then, we got fire bombed. How did that happen? Why did it happen?’ So many questions, but no answers.
She had been so excited to just have a job after more than 5-years of joblessness, even though it was only going to pay the national minimum wage of $64.20 per hour. Once she had been on the job for 180 days, she would receive benefits and be able to tend to some of her long-term her health issues. The previously mandated National Health Care Act (O’drama Care it had also been called) had only served to keep her from getting help for her medical problems. “The Panel” had determined that her health issues were caused by her own negligence due to heavy drug use and she had been summarily denied treatment. Her friend Alice had told her that the real reason she was not receiving help was due to her not being “a productive member of society.” Alice said that she had also been denied after having been on unemployment for more than two years. Sure she could go to any emergency room for free, but unless her problem was critical, the staff let her and other non-critical patients to languish in the waiting rooms until they were either fed up waiting and left, or were eventually seen almost a day later, only to be sent packing with no real treatment. Government Employee Health Benefits would change that, since they had a completely different health care system. She wouldn’t be denied, wouldn’t have long waits, and would actually get the proper treatment for her issues. Government Employee Health Benefits were as good as private insurance was 20 years ago.
She was also told that her job would be helping the country, helping the poor, and would serve to indirectly enforce the laws of the nation. She felt very patriotic about her new position. It was her way of making up for the disastrous Marine Corps career, where she had also felt a patriotic sense of self. She was proud to be able to serve her country again. She was proud to be able to help feed the many hungry people in America, including herself. She felt that it was an honor to be part of the new DHSA Livestock and Agriculture Recovery Department, which would serve as a directly responsible unit for helping to keep affordable food on the tables of Americans. She just could not fathom why anyone would resist such good works from their government. But still, something just wasn’t right, she could not put her finger on what that was.
Just ahead Jo could see that the trail came to a fork at a rather large tree. When she arrived at the fork, it was more of a “T” than a fork, with the left trail suddenly going down steeper terrain, and the right trail going on relatively flat, and possibly even uphill terrain. Since she had only been walking for a couple of hours, she used the shadows to determine that the right fork went generally east by north east and the left fork went more north west by west. Based on what she was looking at, the left trail in her mind had a better chance of leading to water since it was noticeably heading downhill. Even in her darkest days of drug addiction, when she would go without food for days, and sometimes more than a week, or shivered behind a dumpster or in a building’s exterior alcove, she always drank plenty of fluids, generally water from an unlocked tap behind an electronics store in a seedy strip mall. She took the left trail and started down the grade. She so hoped water would be near. Her cotton mouth and the burning corners of her lips were beginning to take over her thoughts. She didn’t yet have a headache, but that couldn’t be far behind.
This new path wound down the hillside. At this point she could see that there appeared to be large hoof prints off to the sides of the trail on occasion. They didn’t appear to be horse tracks, at least not shoed hooves. Maybe they were cows. ‘Were there any other animals that had this type of hoof shape? Were they even hoof prints,’ she wondered? After a few hundred yards down the trail, there was a flat spot that was quite wet. It was all rocky hard ground, but it was definitely wet. As she stopped to inspect, she could see that just above and below the two foot diameter wet spot on the trail, that there was a very thin line of moisture. She touched the wet line that was no wider than her thumb and smelled the ends of her now moist fingers. It smelled fine. It appeared that only this small area was moist, ‘but why,’ she wondered? ‘Where had it come from?’
Trusting her survival instincts, honed over a decade in the concrete jungle, she worked her way above the wet spot. She could hear the squish of moist ground under the dead leaves and grass. Ahead she could see the earth move upwards in a steep grade. The distant ground and underlying rocks were glistening and shimmering in the intermittent sun that was being moved by the gently blowing leaves.
“Water!” Jo quietly exclaimed. The water was flowing out of the rocks and trickling down the sloped face where it disappeared under the leaves and grass a few feet down. Straddling the tiny stream of life, Jo moved up to the rock face. The water stream was so minimal that it clung to the rocks. Without some new idea, she would be relegated to licking it off the rocks, which she was certainly not against doing, but she wanted to drink water, not lick at it. She placed her fingers on the rocks and smelled the wetness. There was no foul odor. She touched her moist fingers to her dry tongue, and could perceive no foul taste. The moisture on her leathery tongue was almost exquisite. She quickly ran through her options: She didn’t have a container; she could lick the rocks; sponge the water with clothing and wring it out, or use a some string to create a temporary faucet. She quickly removed her knife from around her neck and pulled off the twenty-eight inches of parachute cord that held it around her neck. She put the knife in her pocket and took one end of the cord and tried to figure out a way to get it to attach to the rock face. There were small cracks, but none large enough to get the cord in easily. She looked around the immediate area for a small stick to use to force the cord into a crack. She located one and used her knife to quickly whittle the end of the stick to the proper size. She place the end of the cord over a crack and used the stick to force the cord in.
With the cord laying against the sloping surface, she could see it immediately soaking up the water along its length. She pulled the end of cord away from the rock face, and it immediately began dripping. She was satisfied it would work. She left the cord to rinse. It had been hanging around her neck for years, and was caked with body oils and salts. She had occasionally taken the time to wash it, but she couldn’t remember the last time the cord had been bathed. A few minutes would do. Having found a primary source of life, she relaxed and rested against the sloping ground and allowed her eyes to close. She used the time to congratulate herself on making good decisions, for once. She knew there was still much more to come. She wondered how she would get back in touch with her new boss. Jo had not yet received her free phone that was promised in the want ads for the job - it was not mentioned during the interview, and she forgot to ask. She was more than a three hour bus ride away from the main DHSA facility in the city. Where would she find the bus? The last one had dropped her off, along with her co-workers at a stark windowless facility outside of the small town where she got into the van earlier this morning. What would she tell her employer once she got back? She would figure these things out after she got out of these woods.
Jo snapped awake from her unintended nap. She didn’t know how long she had been sleeping, but the sun was in a noticeably different position than when she had first closed her eyes. She felt her overwhelming thirst and tried to lick her lips. Her dry tongue only stuck to her chapped lips. She squatted down below the attachment point of the cord and lifted the other end out of the water. The fresh water was streaming off at a drip rate nearly fast enough to be a continuous stream. She held the end of the string above her open mouth and started to let it fill with the invigorating liquid. Suddenly the water stopped. She looked and noticed that the slight dip in the cord was now dripping water and that where her fingers grasped the cord was also diverting the flow of water away from the end. As she moved her hand, the drip moved. She tried to position herself under the drip, but it was elusive with the long moving cord.
“Improvise, adapt, and overcome, private Bolton!” rang in her ears. She picked up another small dead stick and quickly carved a sharp point on one end with her Minimalist knife. She cut off the other end to where the stick was about a foot long. She stuck the sharp end into the cord about three inches from the bitter end. She then stuck the blunt end of the stick into a crevice in the rock face so that the stick was pointing at a downward angle and was holding the cord away from the rock, but not allowing any inadvertent dips. The end of the cord was dripping water at a fast rate. The support stick added to the flow with water also now running down its length. She dropped her head under the flow and partook in the luxury for several minutes, stopping only to catch her breath.
“Aye, Aye Sir!” Jo murmured aloud, and started to cry again. She was on an emotional roller coaster. She wouldn’t feel so overwhelmed if this had happened in the city- an environment she was intimately familiar with. Until recently, she had lived full time on the streets of the city, creating her own mostly invisible trails of repetitiveness. She knew where she could find food, drink, shelter, and if desired human companionship. She even knew how to get arrested so as to spend the night in a warm jail and get better food if required. But out here, it was so much different. Nothing was going to come easy. She was going to have to work so much harder for every step of her survival. In the city, she relied on other people’s cast offs. Dumpsters were packed full of useful items. A simple plastic bottle, old blanket, or perfectly good thrown out food could be had in a matter of minutes. But out here, the resources and their availability were much different. All this work for a simple drink of water! She still had to find or make some form of shelter today before the cold night set in, and hopefully food as well.
Getting up and brushing herself off, Jo walked back down to the wet flat spot on the trail, and started down the trail to investigate. After traveling about 150 yards down the trail she came to a small pond. She could see where the spring she had found was helping to fill this pond. It was obvious that much game used this pond to drink from. She could see all types and sizes of prints in the moist ground around the edge. She realized that she could have far more easily drank from this pond, but there was a one hundred percent chance it would have made her sick without filtering or boiling the water first. Since she didn’t have a filter, and no container to boil water in, the spring was a far better source. The little bit of S.E.R.E. school she had completed taught her that she could also dig a hole adjacent to a water source and allow water to filter through the nearby earth to create drinking water, but this ground was too rocky to dig deep enough without tools.
What was even more interesting to her was what she was able to see in the distance. There was a small clearing in the trees beyond the far edge of the pond. The elevated area of the pond overlooked a valley of sorts below. In that valley she could see a building in a large clearing. It looked like a barn or small covered livestock pen. She didn’t know since she wasn’t a rancher. ‘Why did they assign me, of all people - a city girl - to the Livestock and Agriculture Recovery Department?’ The thought just suddenly popped into her head. It appeared to be a mile or two away, and she felt this was her best bet for quick shelter. She hoped there was some hay inside, and maybe some feed of some type that she could render and eat. Who knows, maybe she would be lucky enough to run into a rancher and he could get her back to the small town. ‘Wouldn’t that be some good luck, for once?’ she wished.
She headed back up the trail to the spring. Now she was riding high. She had water in her system, was about to get more, and was likely to have adequate shelter tonight. Two out of three wasn’t bad, and she had two of the most important ones given her current situation. The parachute cord faucet was still doing its job when she returned, and she ducked down and took in multiple mouths full to the point of feeling bloated. She jerked the cord out of the rock face, threaded the soaking string back through her knife’s sheath and hung it back around her neck. She checked her pocket for the presence of her peanut lighter, and started back down the hill. With any luck, she would put her peanut lighter to use tonight.
The trail ended at the small pond, and she made her way around the edge to the clearing on the other side. She found that the small pond was emptying into a twelve inch wide, one inch deep creek that was flowing down hill directly towards the building in the clearing. Only a few feet down the hill she came across a small clearing in the trees that was obviously manmade. Three of the trees that had been cut down long ago were gone, but their intact and still rooted stumps had been carved into chairs. New limb shoots were growing out of the lower parts of the chairs indicating that no one had used them for some time. There was a small rock fire pit centered between the chairs. Inside the pit she dug out an old coffee can. At first she was excited, but upon inspection found it had several bullet holes in the sides. Someone had taken the time to fashion a wire loop handle for it, so at least it could carry anything she found along the way. She sifted through the ashes and found melted blobs that had once been aluminum cans (one of which tossed into the coffee can), and a few bent nails that she also kept. She also picked out a couple of pieces of well bunt wood fragments that would act as coal, or if necessary as a charcoal filter.
The sun was getting lower and so she kept moving down the hill parallel to the nearly straight creek. She could see the building for most of the way down. Once she reached the flat bottom of the valley floor, she noticed that the trees were shorter, more bushy, and spaced much further apart, and that the creek made a sharp turn to the south. At least she knew where it was, and could return to it if she didn’t find another water source. She could easily see one hundred yards or more, and at times much further. This gave her the occasional partial view of the building, which definitely looked more like a barn of some kind with at least one open side. She came upon a translucent piece of plastic tarp wrapped around the base of a small bushy tree. It looked very dirty, but her bigger concern was sun rot, which would make the plastic brittle to touch or move. She reached down and grabbed an edge and pulled on it, fully expecting it to break. But it didn’t and the entire piece of plastic came free of the tree.
As she opened it up, she quickly noticed the four inch triangular shaped hole almost in the middle of the trapezoid shaped heavy plastic drop cloth. She realized that it occurred when she did not carefully remove the plastic from the base of the tree. If she had some duct tape it would be an easy fix. If she was in the city, she would find some discarded duct tape in a dumpster and fix it. But now she just had to deal with it the way it was. It was an awesome find with a ten foot long side and was about eight feet wide. She would be able to use it for shelter out in the field, or wrap herself in it to retain some warmth. She could even make a greenhouse effect tent out of it if she found the right place to use it. She shook off the loose dirt then spread it out on the ground. She started to fold and roll it up as tight as she could. ‘Where did this come from? There is really nothing out here…or is there?’
She quickly looked up and scanned the area, the sudden realization that she had not been paying close attention to her surroundings. Maybe there was more around than she realized. Even though it was more open in this part of the woods, she still could not see anything but trees. She finished rolling up the plastic and slid one end down inside the coffee can, taking care not to catch the plastic on the metal turned in by the bullets passing through it. The other end stuck out of the top of the can a little, but it would not interfere with carrying the container. She continued on in her original direction, taking care to pay better attention to her surroundings.
Just as she came to the clearing she could see what might be a real gem in the distance, about halfway between the edge of the trees and the building. It was probably five to six hundred yards to the building, and the black plastic blob was just sitting there in between. ‘Could it actually be a bag of trash? Way out here?’ she thought with excitement. It almost felt like home. There were almost always treasures in trash. From this distance, she could not tell how old the bag was, but it looked completely intact. She could tell that it was open and appeared to be laying on its side with some of it contents spilled out on the ground, possibly caused by wild animals.
‘Wild animals!’ she shuddered. She would not be able to defend herself against much with her two inch long knife, or even her fists and feet for that matter. If wild animals had opened that bag up recently, and removed some of the goodies, they could still be nearby, maybe even in that barn thing. She had been having a streak of good luck since this morning’s horrible luck. Jo was still feeling lucky. She remembered the words from her well worn and compact pocket Bible that she always kept in her left rear pocket. It had been given to her by the Collins family, who were her sponsors and mentors when she went through her long drug recovery process two years earlier. They had taken the time to show her the Way, introduced her to Jesus Christ, and from the day that she finally saw the light, Jo was a changed person. She had been doing everything right, and had been looking for work ever since. The DHSA job was her first since becoming drug free.
She quietly recited the words of Psalms 23:4 from memory as she reached back to feel the small paper book through her coveralls:
“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.”
With that, she walked forward, eyeing the bag and darting her eyes left to right looking for dangerous animals. Occasionally she would peer behind her to make sure no fearsome predators were stalking her. Her heart rate started to rise as she could discern a recognizable clear plastic bottle with the red and white label that at one time many decades before denoted one of the potent ingredients it once contained as part of its snake oil formula. She couldn’t believe her luck. If that was an actual intact and useable cola bottle (without bullet holes) she was going to be able to vastly extend her range. With this great luck, she wondered if it was too much to ask that it had a useable cap with it? There may even be some edible food in the bag.
She was almost floating as she neared the bag, almost within reach now. “Thank you Jesus!” she exclaimed aloud. It was definitely a two liter cola bottle and there was more than one! She was already running through her mind how to get them filled with water from the very shallow creek, how to secure them, carry them, and get herself out of this situation and back to the city and her new job. Maybe she would even get a promotion for surviving the whole ordeal, or at least a commendation; metal of valor; keys to the city; something!
The overwhelming and intense burning pain ran through her upper body just as she started to bend down for the bag. It was like nothing she had ever experienced before. Child birth was a cinch compared to this pain, especially since she had had epidurals for both of her children. Unable to control her descent, she slumped to the ground in a pile, partially crushing the garbage bag. She could hear the crack just as she hit the ground, followed closely by another crack. She was intimately familiar with the supersonic crack of high powered rifle fire from her days in the Marine Corps, shooting thousands of rounds through her M-16 rifle, as well as her time on the streets under the constant barrage of gunfire.
Her mind went into hyper overdrive as she lay in the dirt, starting to have severe difficulty breathing. She knew she had been shot, but could not fathom why. She could feel her heartbeat racing in her head. She tried to move but nothing seemed to work. He breaths were getting more shallow with each rise in her chest. She could feel the warm blood running down the side of her chest. Focusing her eyes was quickly becoming difficult. She coughed and blood splattered out. Jo went over the last few moments leading up to this new crisis in her life:
‘My luck had been going so well.’
‘Had a knife and lighter’
‘…There were bottles……’
‘…….. tarp for cold………..’
‘…………bucket for carry bullets………’
‘……………drinked well strings………………’
‘………………no dangerous furs…………………’
‘……………………impro, adap, over, priv……………..’
‘…………………………God save queen………………….NO!’
1st Lieutenant Carlton Smith couldn’t believe how long the driveway was to this ranch. They were only two miles in and already the visibility was near zero as the dust from the many vehicles on the dirt drive were creating a mini sand storm to drive through. He had heard during the briefing that it was 14.2 miles long, winding, hilly, and consisting of all dirt and gravel once they turned off of the rural farm road and passed through the cattle guard. He had also learned from intelligence reports that this was not the main entrance, but a secondary access to the ranch. The main entrance was just a little over 1.5 miles in length, but the entrance was heavily barricaded with highway dividers. The other drawback to the main entrance was that the column would be forced to drive through the small community adjacent to the ranch, which might alert the ranch owners of their impending arrival.
The other fact that struck Lt. Smith was the sheer size of the ranch. At over 117 square miles, and broken into 27 separate sections, it was hard for him to grasp how a single family could come to own so much land. There were also multiple homes, barns, and other buildings scattered throughout the ranch, but their objective was the main house which was huge at 7500 square feet. Lt. Smith did the quick calculations and determined that he could fit eight of his 930 square foot apartments into this one ranch home. If he could live with his wife and child in 930 square feet, why did someone else need eight times that much space for just four people? He also figured that he could fit almost 6 of his hometowns of New Haven, Connecticut, within the area of the ranch. He just couldn’t understand why people with such wealth would be causing such big problems.
It wasn’t his job to figure it out, he realized. His job was to protect the civilian task force that was being sent in to liberate the resources, most specifically the estimated 3600 head of cattle that had not been registered under the new state and federal regulations. He was again dumbfounded as to why someone would intentionally not file the simple paperwork and pay the measly 7.5% tax per head, and why they would not bring their livestock to market when the new federal law stated that they must.
Lt. Smith started to become bothered the more he thought about it. When the economy started to quickly decline, prices on most all foods, fuel, and other essentials skyrocketed. A pound of ground beef went from $4.50 a lb to $10, to $20, the suddenly to $50 per pound in the course of just 2 years. The government passed the emergency Agriculture, Livestock, and Paper Products Act, that fixed the prices of most foods and paper products, and made it mandatory that growers, producers, and manufacturers bring a specific percentage of their products to market at a fixed price, as well as register their crop production and livestock counts, and pay a small tax on each head or bushel. Lt. Smith considered it a favorable solution that kept food on the tables of hungry Americans. He just couldn’t grasp why someone, especially someone with such means as the Numrey‘s, would knowingly bring trouble to themselves like this?
Lt. Smith considered himself a Patriot and an Oath Keeper. He had always taken the time to instruct those under his command about making good choices and upholding their Oath’s to the Constitution. When speaking of the Oath’s they each took, he would liken it to marriage, ‘Men; when you joined this military, your married this great country. She is your eternal spouse; you swore an Oath to protect and defend her, and that is what I will expect each of you to do - for the remainder of your lives, gentlemen!’
He knew that it was wrong for the military to take police action on US Soil. He had asked his commander why his Striker force had been tasked with this protection detail instead of the local or county police force. Major Cup, in his best staff sergeant’s demeanor and voice (considering he had been a staff sergeant before becoming an officer) and with his easy to identify Minnesota accent said,
“Lieutenant! We have orders! They are passed down to me and I delegate them to you! It is your job to follow them, NOT QUESTION THEM! Damn it!”
“With respect, Sir…” Lt. Smith started to say, but was cut off.
“Lieutenant! I don’t like this dog and pony show any more than the next guy. But the fact is that in this sector, we have people who have taken it upon themselves to break the law. And in breaking those laws, they have killed most of the local police, or frightened them away, and have killed many of the civilian task force personnel sent in to uphold the laws and collect the taxes, based on those laws!”
Pausing for a moment, the Major continued, “They’re fucking killing cops, Lieutenant! All of them! Cops with families who were just trying to uphold the fucking law! They are killing civilians who were just doing their job! Killed damn near all of them too! They are murdering them and destroying public property with illegal high powered 50 caliber rifles and banned military style rifles!”
Realizing he was starting to lose his composure in manner not befitting his rank, Major Cup calmed himself and finished his lashing of Lt. Smith, “That Oath you are always going on about with your men, did you forget that you took it as well? We are fighting domestic enemies, Lieutenant. You do remember the domestic enemies part of that sacred Oath, right? Well, these people have decided to withhold food from the plates of Americans, and taxes from the government that pays your damn salary, and kill our countrymen to boot!”
The Major, and the Lieutenant standing at attention, stared at each other for few seconds, each sizing up the other’s resolve on the matter. The Major finally broke the stalemate, “I am already pissed off today, Lieutenant! Don’t make it any worse for me, or I will be sure to make things worse for you. You’re worrying about nothing. If there is going to be trouble today, when they see those Strykers…they’ll back off. Now get out. Dismissed!”
Lt. Smith had not been expecting such a response from the Major. He was actually glad to be helping the task force with their duties to keep affordable food on the tables of his fellow Americans, as well as maybe rout the aggressors, who he also considered to be domestic enemies for withholding their livestock and breaking the laws that helped others. He was just wanting to double check the Constitutionality of their actions to make sure what he was doing would not be looked down upon at a later date. Promotions didn’t always come easy these days, mostly due to the requirement of increased pay for promotions, and the Numreys holding out both food sources and tax the revenue that could turn into a potential future pay increase for him, hardened his resolve to help the task force with their duties. Reinforcing his commitment even further was learning that these wealthy ranchers and their sympathizers were actually killing police and other citizens just there to do a job and uphold the law. He guessed the Major just had a serious case of male PMS today.
As the column drove around a bend in the long driveway, Lt. Smith took the opportunity to account for all of the vehicles since he could see them partially clear of the dust cloud. There were 13 SUVs and vans, which his superstitious upbringing considered unlucky, and 3 Strykers, which brought the total to 16 - an even number, and not 13, so all was good in his estimation. All of the SUVs and Vans were several years old, not one or two years old as he was accustomed when working with agents of the government. It also struck him odd that the few task force members he met at the second briefing, held to determine the route of the convoy and rules of engagement (ROE) for the Stryker unit, were not of the sort he expected. Two of them were heavily tattooed, and he thought he recognized a gang tattoo on one of them. The other member seemed slightly disheveled, as though he had just awakened from a nap and not taken the time to straighten himself and be more presentable. He also noticed that a rear seat passenger in the van in front of his Stryker, which was in the middle of the 16 vehicle convoy, that keep looking back at them appeared to be missing a tooth and looked unshaven. But he admitted that it was pretty hard to tell with all of the dust floating around, as well as caked onto the back of the van’s windows.
It also bothered Lt. Smith that his Strykers only met up with the task force column a mere ½ mile from the entrance to the ranch. In the end, the task force column and the Stryker column met up and within seconds of the predetermined time, and blended together in motion. The whole operation went far smoother than he had anticipated, and it gave him solace that he was at least dealing with professionals, regardless of how they appeared. He was told at the strategy briefing that the two columns would stay separate for as long as possible so as not to draw attention. Even the task force column was broken up until just a mile before the entrance to the ranch.
Lt. Smith reckoned that his column was certainly going to be a force to be reckoned with if anyone decided to screw with them. In fact, he considered it a foregone conclusion that no one would be stupid enough to try and engage them or the task force during the commission of their duties. The trailing rear security Stryker was equipped with the CROWS II remotely operated weapons system .50 BMG machine gun, while Lt. Smith’s Stryker was equipped with the MK19 Full Auto 40mm Grenade Launcher. The lead Stryker was equipped with the M230 30mm cannon adapted from the Apache helicopter. They also had many other tools at their disposal for combat of just about any type, including thermal vision, snap shot, and acoustic devices, as well as proven tactics to win battles. He seriously doubted that civilians had anything in their arsenal to deal with his Strykers, especially since he didn’t have an worries about IEDs.
The officer giving the intelligence briefing had also indicated that they would come to a rise in the driveway about 8.2 miles from the objective, that would allow them to see the large ranch house and possibly develop more intelligence before arrival. The intelligence he already received was based on topographical map data the intel guys used. Concluding he was nearing this point on the route, he became disappointed when he recognized that it was going to be unlikely that he would be able to see anything beyond about 100 feet, as the enormous dust cloud generated the seven vehicles in front of him obscured nearly everything. ‘The damn intel pencil pushers didn’t take the 16 vehicle dust storm into account, did they? Assholes!’ he thought to himself. Not only that, but the same dust storm that obscured his vision of the ranch home also allowed the occupants to easily see them coming. ‘Intel ass wipes!’
“Peters! Slow’r down a bit. I want to see if we can clear this dust cloud enough to see the objective at the top of this rise,” Lt. Smith addressed Corporal Charles Peters over the internal communications system.
Corporal Peters obliged without making any acknowledgement. He had worked with Lt. Smith long enough to know when he needed to speak and when he didn’t. Corporal Peters was a native Alaskan, and had joined the Army just 2 years before as a private. He was smarter than most with an IQ above 140, and had used his mental skills and outdoor experience to quickly move up the ranks, even receiving a meritorious advancement. He had dropped out of high school at 16 and received his GED at 17. He scored 1422 on his SAT, but never went to college, instead settling for the natural college provided by God and Mother Nature. He joined the Army on a whim, expecting it to be a challenge, but had since been quite disappointed with his decision. Just one more year, and he would be out and could return to Alaska.
Lt. Smith had specifically chosen Corporal Peters to drive the command Stryker due to his quick thinking, natural driving abilities (on and off road), and tactical prowess. Occasionally, Lt. Smith would seek out Corporal Peters’ advice in private on certain matters. Corporal Peters took it upon himself to stick close to Lt. Smith. He could see that the Lieutenant had a strong will to do what he thought was right, but Peters knew the reality: that the Lieutenant was mostly misguided, and most of that was due to his northeastern progressive schooling and upbringing. Peters understood, especially through the Lieutenant’s perversions of the Constitution during his pep talks, that at some point Lt. Smith may do something stupid, based on his warped sense of freedom and Liberty, and Peters wanted to be there to stop him if it happened. In the 14 months that Peters had been with Lt. Smith, the Lieutenant had only been 100% upstanding, but Peters knew that that could change in an instant.
As they topped the crest of the low hill, Corporal Peters had managed to drop back about 150 meters, and the dust cloud was not nearly as bad as when they were only 50’ behind the van in front of them. The slight breeze had also helped in removing much of the churned up driveway. The girth of the Numrey family ranch house was quite easy to spot, placed squarely on the military crest of a prominent hill in the distance. Its deep red color set starkly against the light tan background of the hillside. Though most of the ranchland thus far had been thickly covered with many trees of various species, the area around the ranch house for a good square mile had been completely cleared of trees. It was actually quite a beautiful sight from just over 8 miles away.
Lt. Smith pressed his eyes against the eyecups of the new generation gyro-stabilized optics and increased to the maximum magnification and started making mental notes of what he saw as the Stryker stated down the hillside. Seeing something in person is far superior to satellite images and grainy or blurred photographs. He could make out several vehicles parked on the west side of the home in front of the 4-car garage. He also noted that the driveway ran parallel to the front of the home about 200 yards from the front before making a sharp turn up hill to the garage. Just as they descended below the sightline, Lt. Smith thought he saw almost a dozen people standing on the front porch. The intel report made no mention of any other places where the home could be seen, except where they broke into the clearing about one mile before reaching the home, and so he couldn’t recheck to be sure. He couldn’t take any chances, and had to assume that they had been spotted, and may meet with armed resistance, since the intel briefing had suggested that it was a 100% likelihood that the occupants would be armed with banned light infantry style weapons.
It wasn’t so much that Lt. Smith was worried about being killed by small arms fire, but instead that his men did everything in their power not to kill the occupants if at all possible. This was not so much because Lt. Smith did not want to kill the occupants (he was really itching to get more trigger time on the MK19 if someone were dumb enough to try and engage them), but that after several reconnaissance flyovers of the ranch, they had not been able to locate the 3600 head of cattle, nor the other livestock they expected to be there. They were certain that the Numreys had not brought their livestock to market, as the Agriculture, Livestock, and Paper Products Act had mandated that all markets be monitored both electronically and with government “observers” to ensure government mandated fixed pricing was adhered to and taxes were properly collected. They also knew he could not have moved them by the roads to another location, as the Roadway and Interstate Camera Surveillance Systems, also mandated by the ALPP Act, had not found any unauthorized movements of livestock. No, they needed to keep the family alive so that they could find out the whereabouts of the livestock.
Lt. Smith broke radio silence, “Golf twenty-one Bravo, Golf twenty-one Bravo, this is Golf twenty-one Alpha, over.”
“Roger, Golf twenty-one Alpha, this is Golf twenty -one Bravo, over.”
Lt. Smith addressed the lead Stryker‘s commander, also knowing that the security Stryker was listening in, “Golf twenty-one Bravo; stop the column at the base of the driveway as it parallels the front of the objective. Break. This will place us nearly 50 feet below the objective, so make the necessary adjustments to account. Break. I believe we were spotted by the occupants. Remember, this ain’t the Sand Box. We need these people alive if possible. Over”
“Golf twenty-one Alpha, this is Golf twenty-one Bravo; Roger. Out.”
“Golf twenty-one Alpha, this is Golf twenty-one Charlie; Roger. Out.”
Lt. Smith was not concerned with breaking radio silence, as he fully believed that no one would be stupid enough to engage his Strykers with small arms. Rich people were not rich because they were dumb. He was also fairly confident that the Numreys did not have a way to listen in, nor decode their encrypted radios. So it really was not a big deal.
As the column broke into the open just under a mile from the front of the ranch house, Lt. Smith was struck by the beauty and grandiose of the ranch house and the surrounding property it overlooked. The home appeared to be of log construction, in a wood that appeared to be a deep red color. The lower level was mostly set back into the hillside, with only the front wall exposed and a small triangle of the side wall where the earth tapered away. He was confused since the intelligence report had indicated the house was constructed of masonry. The house definitely looked like log construction. ‘Intel pukes. What are ya’ gonna’ do? Kill them when I get back, that’s for sure!’ So far as Lt. Smith was concerned, it was a dam log house, and probably the most gorgeous one he had ever seen (not that he had ever really seen one before.) Though he really wanted to use the MK19, he silently hoped he would not have to put 40mm grenades into the structure. It would be such a waste.
As they turned west to parallel the front of the house, the Strykers continued to scan for threats. Lt. Smith had already noticed that there were no people visible outside of the home, and that all of the cars he had seen about 12 minutes before were still there. The occupants had obviously fled inside, and were probably right now saying their good bys, or more likely trying to hide evidence. With some eighty plus task force agents about to arrive, he was sure nothing would stay hidden for long. As the Strykers came to a stop, he decided to do a quick thermal scan of the area, and began to look into the device starting from the west, and moving in a clockwise motion. Just as he got to the southeast and was about the scan the hill behind them, Corporal Peters came over the internal comms system, “L.T. Take a look at this shit!”
Lt. Smith abruptly stopped his scan and opened his hatch and peered out at the humanity flowing out of the SUVs and Vans. They were all dressed in Tan, Blue, or Grey coveralls as had been briefed. Each color represented a different “agency” affiliation: Tan was newly formed Livestock and Agriculture Recovery Department (L.A.R.D. was fitting), Blue was for the Revenue Recovery Service, and Grey was for the Security Services, which dealt with illegal firearms and other contraband.
What Lt. Smith saw was not what he expected. Many of the “agents” had unkempt hair, tattoos, or amazingly wrinkled coveralls. Once the last man exited the van his Stryker had been following, he could clearly see that the rear passenger did in fact have a missing tooth and was probably 5-days unshaven, on top of having shoulder length, stringy, salt and pepper colored hair that appeared to have not been washed in two weeks! Lt. Smith looked left and right, and four out of every five “agents” looked out of place. As he looked and observed them attempting to get organized, he couldn’t help but think that it appeared that this was their first time doing the job.
Lt. Smith knew that the government was hiring all types to try and stop the hemorrhaging of job losses. The official unemployment was only 21.8%, but the Lieutenant knew the real unemployment was actually 49.2% according to ShadowStats.com, and many of those who had jobs were employed by the government in some way. He realized that nearly one third of the population had simply dropped out of the workforce altogether, and were living on some form of welfare or disability, but you would think the government could find better people than this!
Well, it wasn’t his job to judge. It was his job to protect them and ensure they got the job done they came to do. If all went well, the Numreys would peaceably surrender, the livestock would be located, and his detail would end in 24 hours when relief came to take over care of the house, land, and livestock by the Ranch Recovery Team. In his mind, it was tempting to stay in the exceptionally large house with his men for the night, but he was not going to violate the Third Amendment. No, they would use their Strykers for the night, or camp on the lawn if they so choose. Anyway, there were only six men total since no actual troops were in the troop bays of any of the Strykers. The cutbacks to the military had been severe in recent years, and much of the new money was being funneled into the Domestic Homeland Security Agency and the various other agencies it controlled. The Strykers themselves, with their armor and heavy arms were deterrent enough he judged, as did the command. Now that he though about it, ‘why wasn’t the DHSA here instead with their fancy new black HSRV (homeland special response vehicle) armored vehicles?’ he thought to himself. It didn’t matter now, since he was already here. He would certainly pose that question to command when they got back.
“L.T? Are you seeing this?” Peters came over the internal comms system again.
“Two vehicles forward.”
Lt. Smith rotated to look forward and saw the more clean cut of the agents handing out what appeared to be bats and axes to some of the other agents.
“Don’t you think knocking might work better? You know we are covering you right?” the lieutenant yelled to one of the men.
“These are for doing searches,” one of the men yelled back.
“Really? Did you ever consider just asking?”
Laughing, the man replied, “Asking? These people are breaking laws we asked them to obey. They are not paying their fair share of taxes they were asked to pay? They are shooting at people like me, and maybe you. Do you really think they are just going to voluntarily tell us where they have hidden everything?”
The man turned away without waiting for an answer.
Lt. Smith had to agree, but he still thought that asking was worth a shot. It was going to be a sad shame to see such a beautiful home destroyed from a search. Search?
“HEY! Do you have your warrant for the search?” Lt. Smith suddenly realized there had been no discussion of a warrant at any of the briefings this morning, and there were no police in this bunch. ‘Someone had to have thought of it, right?’ Smith thought to himself.
“No. As per the ALPP Act, we use a ‘seed.’ That’s what we have,” the man shouted back.
Quickly searching his memory for the familiar acronym, Lt. Smith fumbled for the place in his mind where he had stored the recent information on C.E.D. (pronounced inappropriately as ‘seed’), which stood for “Constitutional Executive Decree.” It was a Supreme Court ruling following the passage of the ALPP Act, that basically stated that any executive of government (Mayor, Sherriff, Governor, and/or President) could write a Constitutional Executive Decree for search and/or seizure of property relating to the ALPP Act, or of any other person property considered to be aiding in the hiding of ALPP Act property and/or taxes, without any oversight by a judge or any other entity.
“That’s right! I remember now. I just wanted to make sure everything was legal!” Lt. Smith yelled back to the man who was already 50 yards away waving backwards at the Lieutenant.
Corporal Peters was steaming. He could see what was actually happening. That idiot Lieutenant of his was just a New England dolt, who’s progressive higher education probably made him even stupider that he was before. Lt. Smith somehow embraced the idiocy that equality can be legislated and insanely believed that just because a law was passed by the government and approved by the judicial system, that it was “Constitutional.” (Like the Federal Reserve Bank is no more ‘federal’ than Federal Express, and certainly is not “Constitutional”) Well it wasn’t. It never would be! This had to stop! Here they were, the military on US soil, on private property, protecting a bunch of thugs about to enter a home without a properly issued warrant, who he doubted were employees of the government in any capacity, and they were probably all about to be complicit in the murder of a family who just wanted to live free of unjust laws.
“Fuck it!” Corporal Peters said aloud.
With lightening speed, he was formulating a plan to stop this insanity before it reached a point where he would not be able to forgive himself for allowing tyranny to happen on his watch. He had to neutralize the Lieutenant somehow, hose down the “agents,” and not die by the hand of the other two Stryker crews. He was illegally (per unconstitutional law) carrying his personal side arm, a Glock 35, in a concealment holster in his waste band. He preferred not to use it if possible, but didn’t see any other option. He still didn’t know how to deal with the other Stryker crews, but he was running out of time. He would cross that bridge when he came to it.
Corporal Peters started out of his seat and was beginning to draw his Glock. He could see the Lieutenant’s lower body in the commander’s hatch. He was going to have to compel him to duck down inside for a moment. Peters wanted to get a clean head shot, as the noise of the firing gun would be heard outside. He would have to be quick - quick to kill, quick to get on the comms system, and quick to get on the MK19. Just as he put his hand on the grip of his Glock, he heard a “Whoosh,” quickly followed by muffled crash, then lots of screaming men.
“Holy Shit! Peters get the fire extinguisher and get out there!” yelled Lt. Smith, awestruck by the sudden fireball to his left. He didn’t see what happened, but was jolted by the rush of air being sucked into the fireball and the sudden bright light of the fire. By the time he got his head turned, he saw a 50 yard wide by 75 yard long area of dry grass and men in coveralls burning. More than half of the agents were on fire, and the others were scurrying in all directions, but most of them were heading for the cover of the Lieutenant’s centrally located Stryker. The smell of the gasoline was burning his nose as was the horrible smell of burning flesh. But the screams of men burning alive was the most repugnant to his senses. He was starting to get overwhelmed and wretched on the side of the Stryker.
With a mouth full of acidic morning breakfast flavors, Lt. Smith called out again, “Hurry the fuck up, Peters! Where is that damn fire extinguisher?”
Having no idea what had happened, or what awaited him, Corporal Peters had put aside his desire to relieve Lt. Smith of his command, and instead was focusing on putting out whatever fire existed outside the safety of the Stryker. He had already retrieved the fire extinguisher and was dropping the rear hatch as the Lieutenant was yelling at him a second time. As the door opened, he was greeted with the strong smell of gasoline, and at least 3 “agents” rushing into the rear of the Stryker as the door came open, with more following close behind. As he turned the corner, he could see the bodies burning on the already singed ground. By the pattern, he could see that whatever happened had an east/west trajectory, and had emanated from behind them.
Quickly looking to the east to scan for dangers, he saw the small incoming fireball heading straight for him. As in the early days of youth baseball, his eyes and mind quickly worked out the trajectory and likely landing spot for the “catch,” and knew his Stryker was in the impact zone. Not wanting to catch this particular ball, he dropped the fire extinguisher and started running due east as fast as he could, scanning for the fireball, while more unwary agents flooded into the troop bay of the Stryker. At the moment the fireball struck the rear of his Stryker at the top above the open door, he had already moved eastward almost 90 feet and was behind a Ford Expedition, an in front of a Chevy van, clear of the impact zone.
Lt. Smith had rotated rearward to see his Corporal exiting the Stryker. He noted that he was standing at the corner surveying the carnage. He was about to yell at him again, but realized the horror his Corporal was quickly having to absorb, he hesitated. Just then he noticed that Peters started sprinting to the east and a split second later noticed the ball of fire coming at him. With the same basic human ability to quickly calculate trajectory, time remaining, and impact probability, Lt. Smith’s conclusions were the same as Corporal Peters’. The difference being that Corporal Peters was going to be able to clear the impact zone and he was not. For that split second before impact, Lt. Smith considered the absurdity of his imminent death from a what appeared to be a medieval device against a $5 million piece of the worlds most modern armored transport vehicle; ‘bested by a ball of fucking fire likely hurled from a wooden catapult’ he thought to himself in the last seconds, followed by his mind filling with scenes of the coyote being bested by the roadrunner.
Just as he made the feeble attempt to duck behind his open commander’s hatch for cover, the 20lb glass ball, of which was filled with 15 lbs of a gasoline-detergent mixture inside of a rubber bladder with a burning cloth wick attached, impacted the upper rear of his Stryker. The heavy glass ball shattered on the edge of the Stryker, splitting the bladder and spewing a now burning gelatinous mixture inside the rear troop area of the Stryker, down both sides, and a large flaming portion flying over the top and onto several vehicles parked ahead of the command Stryker. The burning globs stuck to the vehicles and to the many agents who had sought shelter in, or near the command Stryker. Their cheap, Chinese made cotton coveralls instantly igniting and the super-heated cotton gluing itself to their skin. The seventeen agents that had taken cover around the central command Stryker following the first fireball attack were now engulfed in flames and writhing about on the ground.
Corporal Peters, expecting still more incoming rounds looked back at the now flaming command Stryker. The five agents who had fled into the back just after opening the hatch, and an unknown number that entered as he dropped the fire extinguisher and ran from the vehicle were surely dead. The entire troop bay was engulfed in heavy fire. Lt. Smith was dead for sure. The open commander’s hatch was acting as a chimney, and fire was rising fifteen or more feet from it. He was certain that the lieutenant would not have had time to extricate himself in the less than 4 seconds it took for the medieval mortar to make its impact from the time he had first seen it and ran for cover himself. The scene somewhat reminded him of the rocket stove he kept in his storage unit, except that this one was much larger and cost million of dollars and instead of wood for fuel, it was fueled by gasoline, detergent, and the human flesh of what he considered tyrants. Fitting, and one less thing he was going to have to take care of himself.
As he peeked around the rear bumper of the van, he could see the remaining dozen or so unscathed agents darting about in random directions, trying to hide as best they could from the next barrage. He saw that the lead Stryker had already moved up the hill towards the house, presumably to take cover near the home. There were a couple of agents attempting to chase it down, but to no avail. He couldn’t around wait to find out, as he was still in the open, and turned to run to the security Stryker which had started firing at the eastern hill shortly after the first mortar had landed in the Numrey’s front yard, taking out over half of the agents in the process.
He had to get in that Stryker, and they had to move to adequate cover. Just before he made it to the buttoned-up Stryker, it lurched rearward as it started to back away from the remaining column of vehicles, its remotely operated .50 BMG machine gun still chewing up the trees and dirt at the top of the eastern hill. His adrenaline pumping, and the pain in his chest already unbearable, he sprinted as fast as he could to the Stryker so as not to lose contact. He knew that the Stryker driver would be able see him approaching (if he were looking through the driver’s port instead of the rear camera monitor.) Corporal Peters had to get his attention, and he had to get inside. The next ball of flaming death could be on its way any second. And with the accuracy he had witnessed so far, he had to assume they had a coordinated and experienced fire control and aiming system, complete with spotter ready to drop serious pain on him at any moment.
He removed his Glock and grabbed the barrel and began pounding on the front of the Stryker with the butt of the handgun, its plastic grip and magazine rapping on the hull was much quieter than he expected. He needed the driver to look forward. With the sudden stop of the Stryker, Corporal Peters was forced to take evasive action to avoid impaling his chest on the front armor plating. He only managed to slow himself and get one step to his left, not enough to keep from striking the tapered nose plate on the corner with his right side, sending him tumbling. He just managed to clear the large off-road wheels as the Stryker lurched again, but forward this time. He quickly jumped up and started rasping on the side hull as the Stryker started to move past him.
“Hey! Its Peters! Stop! Stop Damnit!” he yelled hoping someone would hear his pounding over the whine of the diesel engine and the blasts of the 50 BMG turret. He knew he would not be able to run along side the vehicle for long, partly because he was becoming winded, and also because the Stryker would soon be moving at a pace far faster than his legs could churn to keep up. But the Stryker again came to a sudden stop and the 50 BMG stopped firing. The commander’s hatch quickly popped open, and Sergeant James Masinov peered out as if expecting something else.
“Damn, Peters! We thought you became a crunchy! Hurry up! Get up here and inside!” Sergeant Masinov yelled to him.
Corporal Peters climbed up on the security Stryker and entered through the vacated commander’s hatch. Quickly assessing the situation, he yelled out, “I’m in! Roll! Roll!” and he buttoned up the commander’s hatch behind him.
The Stryker, piloted by Private First Class (PFC) Chris Hallilund quickly accelerated and started bounding over the mostly smooth terrain. Peters and Masinov silently switched positions, and Sergeant Masinov assumed the commander‘s seat again. It was not normal for lower ranking enlisted men to be the commander of a Stryker. This was usually reserved for officers or more senior non-commissioned officers (NCO). However their were occasions (this was one of them), where lower ranking NCOs would be the commanders of individual Strykers. For today, one of the three Strykers was commanded by an E-4, this one by an E-5, while Peter’s now destroyed Stryker had been commanded by the only officer of their small contingent, who was now deceased due to recently being over cooked.
In reality, Corporal Peters was a sergeant also. He had received his letter of promotion just a few days before, which gave him all of the privileges and responsibilities of the rank, but not the pay. On their remote temporary base, he did not have access to new sergeant’s patches and insignia, and no one else seemed to have any spares for his uniform. He should have been the commander of Stryker 21 Charlie, but Lt. Smith had asked him to pilot him one last time.
Once they were resituated, Masinov began his quick and terse report, “we’re moving to support 21 Bravo. And until you came knocking, we were suppressing to the east, but never located any tangos. Everything is operational,” concluding his report.
He then quickly added, “did you see that shit? That was some real World of Warcraft shit, I tell ya’!”
“Saw it? One of those damn things almost landed on me! The only reason I am alive is that I was exiting and saw it coming in. I ran like hell. The Lieutenant’s fried! We’re it, Sergeant” Peters reported. “Did you call it in yet?”
Even though less than two minutes had elapsed since the last round fell on the command Stryker and only about 4 minutes since the first round came in, it was common for enemy contact to be called in to command. “What d’ya think I should fuckin’ say, Sergeant? We’re under attack by a 9th century Viking catapult? Hell, we didn’t even figure out what it was until a few seconds ago when Hal saw the one hit your Stryker, and we still weren’t sure! For all we know, they are using a big ass sling shot or something to launch those things. I’m not going to be the one to call in that we were bested by ancient technology; not unless I have to, and I don’t have to!” Masinov exclaimed.
The whole time Masinov was speaking, Peters had moved in front of a non-descript panel and pulled a small tool kit out of his cargo pocket. The tools were rolled in tan canvas, which he laid out on the troop seat next to him. It had individual pockets sewn in with a small tool inside each pocket. None of the tools themselves were remarkable, but it was obvious that each of the mini-tools had been chosen for a reason. “Fair enough.” came the retort from Peters.
“Hey Hal? Put this thing in a good position so we can cover each other. Get as close to that house as you can. I doubt they will fire bomb their own house.” Peters would have preferred the cover of the heavy woods to obscure themselves from any spotters, but he knew they needed the mutual support of the other Stryker, and right now, the house was their best bet.
“Roger, Sergeant” acknowledged PFC Hal.
“Did Bravo call it in?” asked Peters, as he started to remove the 6 screws holding the flat cover plate on the wall, with one of the tools from his tool kit.
“Fuck no! What’s wrong with you, man? Nobody’s callin’ that shit in! And what in the hell are you doin’ to my Stryker, Sergeant?” Masinov was becoming exasperated with Peters, also wondering why he was removing a panel he had never even noticed before.
Peters started, “Look, we have to figure this out, and we only have a few seconds to do it. There is no telling if they are going to send another one of those things at us. The Lieutenant is dead, most of the agents are dead and the other ones are scattered. It is obvious to me that this whole thing is some type of a big set-up, and now we are wrapped up in it.”
Speaking over Peters, “Hal! Go another 20 meters and stop.”
“Roger,” came the reply from PFC Hallilund.
Having never stopped speaking, Peters went on, “We need to make a plan and put it into action. We have to do it right now!”
Peters paused while he pulled the plate off of its mount and placed it aside, then placed the tool used to remove its screws back into its pouch. He then removed a Robertson driver from its individual pouch. Behind the non-descript plate he removed was a bunch of wires and cables. There was another small box inside with wires going in and out. Corporal Masinov was listening while peering through the commander’s ports scanning for dangers.
Corporal Peters started to remove the square head screws holding the cover on, and continued, “Do you remember all of those Liberty conversations we have had over the past year or so? Do you think what we are doing here is right? Do you think those scraggly looking assholes were actually agents acting in a legal capacity?”
Peters continued without waiting for answers to his statements posed as questions, “Do you think those ‘seeds’ are actually Constitutional? Do you think the American people are going to view us a saviors or tyrants for such actions? The choice is now.”
“What the hell are you sayin’?” Masinov demanded.
Peters finished removing the square head screws from the cover on the small box and removed the lid revealing more wires and printed circuit boards. He placed the Robertson screwdriver into its individual pouch in the took kit, and then removed a small pair of needle nose pliers. He reached into the box with the pliers and placed them on a ribbon plug going into a circuit board.
Peters turned to Masinov, “It’s amazing the things you can learn from mechanics and electronic techs during a few drunken poker games.”
“We start making things right. What is happening in this country is wrong. You know it’s wrong; I know it’s wrong, and the great people of this country obviously know it’s wrong. It is time for us to take this golden opportunity and get on the right side of this situation and the Constitution.”
Peters was resolved. He knew that Sergeant Masinov would go along once he could better explain. He also knew that Hal and the two others in 21 Bravo would be open to doing the right thing. They had all had plenty of conversations on Liberty, Freedom, the Constitution, Politics, and Revolution for Peters to know their true hearts. He was making a command decision, even though he wasn’t in command.
Squeezing the handles of the pliers, he gently removed the plug from the electronic control board for the onboard transponder that sent out position reports to command and other Strykers. He then removed the plug that controlled the IR Stobe system, and finally removed the plug that controlled the communications system. He realized that they would have to devise some way to make the other two operational Strykers appear to have been completely destroyed , but that was for later.
“We’re dark….and we’re free,” Peters quietly stated. “Congratulations Sergeant! You just became the proud owner of a $5 million dollar Stryker. The question is, can you use it to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States?" Pausing to wait for Masinov to turn and look at him, Peters continued, "Now, let’s get those two assholes pounding on Bravo’s hull in here and find out the truth, while I disable the other transponder!”
Masinov glancing down at Peters, “What the….”
Low crawling the final 50 meters to his primary over watch position, Kolin Dennison was contemplating his options. What he knew for sure was that David Numrey had requested a “pot luck lunch” over the marine VHF radio channel 72, which was a pre-established brevity code for the impending arrival of what had been dubbed “overtakers” who would be expected to arrive within minutes. He knew from past experiences with overtakers that they usually arrived in several vans and trucks, each with 5-10 people armed with rudimentary weapons such as knives, bats, and Molotov cocktails, along with 2-3 erroneously named local police in typical cruisers there to protect the overtakers and their dirty deeds; they were not actual police, but were instead replacements for the original local police who had either left voluntarily or been killed in other actions, and had been provided by the complicit state government, and funded by a federal government agency tasked with “domestic“ security. Fortunately, these replacement police were usually untrained and lightly armed - at least considering what they were about to come up against, Kolin surmised.
It had long been established that the overtakers were nothing more than a hodgepodge of homeless, derelicts, and petty criminals used by various government officials to do the dirty work of forced evictions of those the government deemed needed to go for one reason or another. They would truck in the overtakers from the city, let them do their business, then later confiscate the property for unpaid taxes, or code violation, or any number of other made up infractions. The replacement police took the opportunity to loot the homes as payment for security services rendered since they felt that their employers never paid them enough. It was fine with them, and the overtakers seemed happy enough. If overtakers died or disappeared during an “eviction,” it wouldn’t matter since no one would miss them anyway.
When the call from the Numrey Ranch had been received, Kolin and his quick reaction team were loaded and ready to go in just 2 minutes. As pre-arranged, they had mounted their 4-wheel ATVs, avoiding the roads, and arrived at their rally point 400 yards to the east of David’s home on the back side of a hill in another 4 minutes. He and his team had quickly dismounted and moved up the hill, fanning out in a well rehearsed and silent movement towards their initial over watch and possible ambush positions just 200 meters from what they expected to be their objective. Just 50 meters from their expected positions, they all dropped to a low crawl and moved the final distance with stealth, so as not to be detected.
Kolin’s 8-man team was a man short. David Numrey was not only the 9th man on the team, but also the team’s leader. David had been designated as the leader because he had the most military and combat experience, having served in an unnamed special group that went around the world solving problems, including what David referred to as “some seriously dirty work“ in the Balkans. But since his home was now about to be under siege by the overtakers, as second in command of the team, Kolin became the team’s leader by default. Being short one man was not going to be a big deal since their sniper team, call sign “Jumbo,” could operate as a two man team with the spotter also providing security if needed. “Jumbo 31,” the sniper team’s normal security man simply moved over to Kolin’s “Box Cutter” fire team to replace the missing man.
Crawling the last 10 meters, Kolin checked his ICOM M88 marine VHF radio to be certain it had been switched to channel 69 and depressed the transmit key,
“Garden Hose, Garden Hose; Box Cutter. Over.”
Garden Hose was the call sign for the second fire team that should be arriving from the south in support of the mission to take out the overtakers and their overseers. They came in from the south to take advantage of the sun being at their backs, yet in the eyes of the overtakers. Garden Hose had acknowledged the call for a “pot luck lunch” on channel 72 only seconds after Kolin had done so, and Kolin was now following procedure and establishing contact on the lower powered channel 69 to be sure everyone was going to be in position.
Kolin quickly heard, “Box Cutter, Garden Hose. 60. 100. Over.” Acknowledging that the South team had arrived, were 60 seconds from being in position, and were a complete team.
Kolin responded within one second, “Garden Hose, Box Cutter. Roger. 10 minus 1. Out.” Indicating that they were 10 seconds from being in position and were short one man.
As he continued to crawl up the hill, Kolin quickly went through a mental check list of what the two teams were carrying for this operation: Jumbo Actual, the sniper of team, was armed with his personal AICS Remington 700 .338 Lapua Magnum Sniper Rifle, 65 rounds of ammunition, his Sig P220 side arm, maybe a spare magazine, and two homemade 20 second smoke grenades. Jumbo 21, the spotter of the team, was carrying his LWRC REPR .308, seven 20-round magazines, a Sig P220 and 3 spare magazines, and two home made smoke grenades. Jumbo 31 carried the exact same equipment as 21. The rest of Kolin’s Box Cutter team were all similarly equipped with commercial variations of the M4/AR-15 rifles with individual preferences for optics, 210 up to 360 rounds of ammunition loaded in magazines each, various 9mm, .40 or .45 caliber side arms and spare magazines each, and one homemade smoke grenade each. Every man also had on some form of ballistic protection.
Thinking of the equipment of the Garden Hose team, brought a tight-lipped smile to Kolin’s face. What they lacked in logistic compatibility, they easily made up for in fire superiority. Many of the weapons they carried had been procured through winning action field pickups, or through outright theft before leaving their government posts. That is how the Garden Hose team’s sniper, and team leader, Jacob had come to possess the Barrett M107A1, its BORS and Nightforce scope, 20 spare magazines, thousands of rounds of .50 BMG match ammunition, of which nearly 2000 rounds were the MK211 multipurpose Raufoss (armor-piercing, explosive, incendiary ) ammunition. He had “liberated” it from the military armory he worked in along with several other custom built sniper rifles, accessories and ammunition just before he walked off the base, never to return. His civilian counterpart at the armory had made the suggestion just before leaving himself with a trunk full of equipment, leaving out of an unmanned side gate on the base. It was said that Jacob had washed out of the Army’s sniper school twice from an inability to master the stalking portion of the course. He had been given a second chance after nearly acing all of the shooting portions of the course, both times. His spotter possessed one of the other fine sniper weapons Jacob procured from the Army.
Many of the other members of the Garden Hose team had assorted weapons of the former (and still) Communist countries, most of which they “found” lying next to suddenly dead bodies. However, there were two members of that team that had what Kolin considered “specialty” weapons. One of the two women on the team carried a modified KRISS. It started out as a civilian version - semi-automatic .45 ACP with a 16” barrel, but had since been modified to fire full auto and the barrel had been shortened to a mere 9” with the end threaded to accept a suppressor, which Carla carried on her battle belt in a pouch until needed. Carla was an ex-police officer from a nearby town (one that had left voluntarily after the state began putting undue and unconstitutional demands upon the police forces) and acted as the security element for the sniper team. She was known to take no mercy on the “replacement” police who, in her eyes, were subverting the country and more importantly, the Constitution. Everyone liked her, especially because she was a great shot and ruthless on top of it.
Darius was the other member of the Garden Hose team that had a specialty weapon. He carried a modified RPK that had a custom free-floating extended forearm and articulating bi-pod attached to it, instead of the bi-pod being on the end of the barrel as originally designed, which adversely affected accuracy. This variation of the AK-47 came standard with a heavy 22” long barrel that allowed more sustained accurate fire. The rifle had also been modified back to its original design to fire full auto when necessary.
Darius himself was a very large, yet gentle looking man at 6’7” and 340lbs. Appearing to only be in his early to mid 20’s, he could have easily been a defensive lineman for a professional football team (and maybe he had been), but it was obvious he had a military background of some sort. No one knew for sure since he barely spoke after his wife and two small children had been killed by fire bombs laid into a neighboring house by overtakers that his family was visiting at the time. This was one of the very first takeovers to occur during the early days of the war with rogue government agencies, and Darius was away at work at the time. He was never able to forgive what happened to his family.
As part of the Garden Hose quick reaction team, Darius carried ten 75 round Chinese drum magazines on his substantial body in a special vest carrier, built by one of the wives of the community. These magazines were loaded with Chinese surplus 7.62x39 ammunition, which came with brass cases and a steel core bullet, which had been considered “armor piercing” and banned for import many years before. With the bulky drum magazines stored in large pouches all over his body, he looked formidable in size. The drums stored on his back would be accessed by other team members if he ever needed them. He also carried a Glock 21 and 10 spare magazines.
The most ominous weapon though was the 13” specially made Bowie knife he carried in a custom drop leg leather sheath. After every action, he would sling his RPK and remove the knife from the sheath and carefully walk through the carnage looking for victims. You could easily see that he never took the time to clean the knife of blood after use. The grooves of the antler handles, the entirety of the blade, and the leather sheath were well stained with the blood of its victims. The only part of the knife that was devoid of blood was the very thin, oft sharpened cutting edge that glistened against the background of the orange stained blade. Others paid dearly for the death of his family by the tip of his knife, while Darius wore an expressionless face and dealt death with a soft and diminutive touch for such a large man. Someone once commented that Darius appeared to be gently killing his prey with soft (yet very deep) slashes of a neck, or a slow push of the blade into the chest cavity, as though he were intentionally trying not to frighten his victims while he was finishing them off.
Kolin also knew that David was well armed and well equipped inside his home. The 2-story 7500 square foot ranch house was made with insulated concrete forms (ICF) and 6” of reinforced concrete for all of the exterior walls. Almost the entire lower level of the home was set back into the hillside, with the exception of the front wall, half of which was also sheltered by earth. This made the entire bottom floor virtually bullet proof, and the entire house was fireproof as the roof was also ICF and metal.
Besides David, his very capable wife of 25 years was at his side, along with his 3 sons and their wives, and his 2 daughters, all of which were crack shots and had been tactically trained over the last 6 months. Also at the house would be David’s younger brother by 2-years, Dan who served as the ranch foreman, his wife, and their two children, all who trained with David’s family. They would each be wielding M4/AR-15 variants and AR-10 variants. If it came to shooting, he knew they would be shooting from well back inside the house to conceal their positions.
In Kolin’s mind, this gave them a 3 front advantage. With the overtakers focusing on the house, they would not suspect two other flanking and ambush elements ready to launch an attack at their weakest moment. This is how they had done it several times in the past at other homes under siege, and had overwhelmingly prevailed each time. Kolin’s team would be tasked with taking out the overtakers, while Jacobs’s team would take out the replacement officers and disable the vehicles. David and family would clean up anyone who got too close to the house and any stragglers. Nothing needed to be discussed, they already knew what to do.
As Kolin crested the hill, reaching his over watch position, the thin smile immediately dropped from his face. Even though the high placement of David’s home gave an 8 mile warning of vehicles coming up the long dirt driveway of his families 75,000 acre ranch, the overtakers had already arrived and were disembarking the vans. But this was the least of Kolin’s worries. Instead of the normal 3-5 vans full of people, there were at least a dozen, and they all looked to be at full capacity. Worse still was the fact that instead of commandeered police cruisers occupied by inept and incompetent replacement police, there were three armored vehicles, each with a turret mounted weapon system of some type. Kolin was an ex-Air Force MP 15 years past, so did not recognize the vehicles.
Kolin’s mind was racing. He knew that their past mistakes would come back to haunt them, and today was the day payback was being rendered. Kolin had argued at length with David and The Council on the ill conceived idea of allowing overtakers and replacements to flee the battle ground or surrender in past engagements. He had argued that leaving living witnesses would provide their enemies valuable intelligence on how to counter what they were doing in the future. It had been a policy of The Council, and thereby the community, to “allow” any overtakers or replacements to flee the area once confronted by the quick reaction teams. Kolin had vehemently argued to The Council that they should bring in a blocking force to prevent the escape of anyone, and that all be eliminated since they were the aggressors against the community’s Natural Born Rights. In Kolin’s mind, when the overtakers decided to take property by force, and in some cases killing the property owners, all while the replacement police stood by and allowed it to happen, he felt they were more than justified in eliminating everyone who participated in such attempts. Kolin had been overruled on every point, and was also reprimanded.
Kolin knew that the loss of the Numrey Ranch would devastate the community since David’s cattle and crops provided nearly 75% of all the food, and 100% of the reserve water supply. He knew it would do no good now to tell The Council and David, “I told you so!” No, now he needed to save his team leader and family, as well as the Numrey Ranch. But how?
“Garden Hose Actual, Box Cutter Actual! What are we looking at?” Kolin called directly to Jacob over the VHF channel 69 in an almost frantic voice.
He knew that Jacob would by now be looking through the Nightforce scope on his Barrett sniper rifle, identifying the targets as well as ranging them at the same time.
“Box Cutter, Garden Hose Actual! That’s heavy armor with 20 or 30 mm guns! No Go! Salt Shaker! Out!” Jacob replied in a calm and quick, staccato voice.
Kolin knew then and there that Jacob’s specialty Raufoss ammo could not penetrate the armor or at least not have enough desired effect to keep them from training their large guns on the house or their teams. He also knew that he could not, or at least should not make any more transmissions. “Salt Shaker” meant that it was suspected that their communications were at least being monitored, and at worst they were being DF’d (triangulated by direction finding (DF) electronics on their transmissions).
Kolin surmised that by using marine VHF radios in the middle of the country, away from any significant water sources (the local lake 13 miles away not withstanding), that there may be a chance, however small, that whomever was in those armored vehicles may not be monitoring the marine frequencies. He knew that the more common FRS, GMRS, CB, and HAM frequencies would be the more likely monitored channels.
Kolin gave the “retreat” hand signal to his team, and they began to back down the back side of the hill. He switched his radio to channel 9 (this was done because all Marine VHF radios are set to scan channel 9 and 16 by default, and in some cases one other channel of your choice, so 9 was chosen as the “all stations” emergency channel), keyed the transmit button, and began using personal call signs to relay his urgent message, remembering the wise words of Robert Heinlein (“If a grasshopper tries to fight a lawnmower, one may admire his courage but not his judgment”) as he spoke:
“Check-Check. Lampshade, this is Candyman; Pot luck lunch is a no go; Too many insects at the park today; pack up; don’t forget the bug spray. Over!”
“Roger. Out,” was the terse and simple reply from David.
With that, a message was relayed to all involved - Both teams were to immediately exit the area and meet at a pre-designated rally point to cover the retreat of the Numrey family from the Ranch. It also notified the “mortar” team to prepare and launch their special counter measure. It was just by chance that one member of the community, Mr. Chunky as he liked to be called, was a past Punkin’ Chuckin’ champion in the torsion division. His device, which at the time was capable of hurling a pumpkin over 1100 yards, was modified and pressed into service as a mortar device.
Mr. Chunky had recently modified his device to hurl a 20lb homemade Molotov cocktail nearly 800 yards. While the teams were crawling up the side of their respective hills, Mr. Chunky and his team had been moving “Chunk Master IV” the 4 miles from his home shop to a position 700 yards away behind a small hill, and spent a few minutes aiming it based on previously established targeting data for the area and past “experience.” They had several pre-made glass balls that had a rubber bladder filled with the gasoline-laundry detergent mixture fit inside. They had done extensive testing to determine what would work and not break during the massive acceleration of launch. They finally found that by installing a heavy rubber bladder inside the thick glass ball and then pouring the mixture into the bladder, that it would survive launch, along with a deeply padded launch cup; then the heavy glass would break on impact, rupturing the rubber bladder and igniting the mixture which would spread in a 50 yard diameter from the impact site.
Mr. Chunky and his assistant Chunky Jr. loaded the first round on the pre-charged and reinforced torsion arm. Jr. lit the fuse and both ran back to the end of the extended release line.
“3, 2, 1!”
With a loud “TWANG” and a following “Woosh,” the round was sent flying. Without words, Another 2-man team was quickly preparing another round, while Mr. Chunky and Jr. were engaging the electric winch and firing cable to send another round to the target. Jr. hopped in the truck and nudged the device by a tiny amount to send the second round slightly more north of the first round, hopefully to impact the vehicles sitting in the driveway. Within two minutes, they were set to launch. They could now hear gunfire from the vicinity of the ranch.
“3, 2, 1!”
The second round was sent flying. The six-man mortar team detached “Chunk Master IV” from the truck, piled in and left the area, returning to the community and the meeting place of The Council. As they drove the 4 1/2 miles back to town, Mr. Chunky couldn't help admiring how smoothly his mortar team had operated. From the time they heard the first call on channel 72, until this very moment, not a single word had been uttered amongst the team members
Just as they arrived, they saw a fleet of ATVs coming down the street towards them. Chunky Jr. could easily make out Darius from 2-blocks away, as he made the 700cc ATV appear as child’s toy under his massive body, with drum pouches hanging off his body in all directions. The man was simply hard to miss. But Darius was not who he was looking for. He could make out Mr. and Mrs. Numrey on their Polaris side-by-side Ranger RZR, so that was a good sign, even though they looked very unhappy, and he could see the two quick reaction teams on more than a dozen ATVs merging together from two separate streets onto the main street. That’s when he saw her.
Chunky Jr. was so excited he exited the truck before it came to a complete stop in front of The Council building. Though she was riding on the back of an ATV piloted by one of the quick reaction team members who’s name he didn’t know, and almost 100 yards away, she felt closer to him than that and he started running down the street. He could see Allison Numrey pounding her fists on the back of her chauffer, urging him to go faster. She jumped off the back of the ATV and they met in an embrace and long kiss in the middle of the street filled with zooming ATVs.
Jr. had his hands wrapped around her upper body under her arms and around her slung AR-15, as well as her armor plate carrier and magazines and pouches. The various hard points digging into his skin and muscles didn’t bother him in the least.
“You made it!” Chucky Jr. exclaimed.
“Barely! I will never leave you again!” Allison started crying, burying her face in his chest.
At 17-years old, Allison was the youngest Numrey. She was only at the ranch that day to retrieve some of her personal belongings after getting married to Chunky Jr. the previous day. At the time Chunky Jr. was moving their furniture and belongings into their new home. Allison was on her way out of her old front door saying her good bys on the front porch when her father noticed the dust cloud caused by the cars on the dirt driveway several miles in the distance, at which point he called the family back in the house and made the ominous call over the VHF.
“I think we lost the Ranch,” Allison continued to cry, mostly from the release of stress.
“Don’t worry Allison, we’ll get it back. We’ll definitely get it back,” Jr. assured her.
“Damn right we’ll get it back,” Kolin flatly stated as he passed by the two of them on his way into The Council meeting, writing in a small notebook as he walked.
His voice getting quieter as the distance between Kolin and the couple increased, they could hear him ask one of the townsmen over the hum of a few still idling ATVs, “Hey Jimbo! Tell me about those anti-armor things you said you know how to build…”