Tuesday, February 22, 2011

For The Greater Good 18


    The Combat Sent aircraft cruised at slightly over 22,000 feet, on a racetrack route covering Virginia and northern North Carolina. The four engine jet hummed along, its noise muffled to a gentle vibration inside.

    Colonel Bill Walters sat in one of the leather recliners, eating a peanut butter sandwich and deep in thought. Taking a deep breath, he mentally recalled how excited everyone was after they found that large group in Kansas. However, when they put their men on the ground to make contact, and finding out they were nothing but a bunch of White Supremacists, the disappointment was felt throughout the remaining forces. He shook his head in disgust, “How much longer before we’ll have some form of government? Or, will we ever have one again?” He asked himself silently.

    General Barker’s back was against the wall, they had to align themselves with someone and soon. The General also made no bones about acting President Engstrom; he and his group of Iranian/UN advisors would be their absolute last resort.

    Bill recalled their conversation the last time he had met up with the General at Malmstrom. The General commented that if the military stepped in and formed a government, then they would become the enemy. History had proven that time and time again, and they already had too many enemies in the world, without isolating the remaining civilian population.  

    The stress and depression of their situation was felt throughout the entire military. More than anything, they all wanted a return to some sort of normalcy. Normal times, what a strange and seemingly impossible goal. Bill exhaled slowly as he thought about Renee’ Wilson and their faltering romance. It wasn’t due to anything the he or she did, it was just the entire situation which compounded the problem.  

    Finishing his last bite, he wiped his face and mentally checked back in after his thirty minute break. “Have we picked up anything at all from Mt. Weather?” Colonel Walters asked his crew.

    “Nothing Sir. I’d say that they have abandoned Mt. Weather, and are running everything from Michigan.” Sergeant Washington said, without looking up from his monitor.

    “Sir, since we’ve spotted those truck convoys last week, it’s been dead quiet down there.” Another voice replied, referring to the Mt. Weather underground command facility.

    “I agree.” The Colonel stated and then spoke into the intercom, “Major Miller, how much fuel do we have?”

    “About three hours Sir, we have a scheduled refuel with Tango One over North Carolina.” The pilot replied.

    “Sir, may I make a suggestion?” The Communications officer asked.

    “Go ahead.”

    “Maybe we should try our next circuit below this cloud cover. I know that our systems can pick up signals and images through the clouds, but if there is a weak signal, then we might miss it.” He offered.

    “Ok, let’s do that.” He said, and then asked the pilot, “Major Miller, I’d like the next circuit to be under this cloud cover.”

    “Yes Sir. These clouds are between seventeen and eighteen thousand Sir, I can go to sixteen thousand, but our fuel window will definitely narrow.” He replied back.

    “That’s fine, you should contact Tango One and let her know.” Colonel Walters commanded.

    The aircraft made a gentle descent below the thin high clouds to sixteen thousand feet and continued their present course.

    “Ok people…I want everyone focused. Leave no stone unturned, if there is anyone out there I want to know about it.”

    Thirty minutes later, they finished their southern leg and turned north. Everyone followed up on every signal and image they came across, all turning out to be dead ends. Settling into their routine, the mind numbing tasks of staring at computer monitors began to take it’s toll on their eyes and ears.

    “I have something.” The Communications officer stated.

    All eyes turned from their monitors and back towards the Comm.

    Colonel Walters stood by silently, waiting for an update.

    “Ok…Sir, I have a very low power signal. It comes and goes, and sounds like two guys talking on walkie-talkies.” Comm said and added, “Here, I’ll put you through.

    “…three, do you hear this ok?” The unidentified male voice said and was quickly followed by, “Fine Sir, sounds good so far.”

    Colonel Walters quickly asked, “Do we have a fix on their position?”

    “No Sir, it seems that wherever they are, the signal is bouncing off the base of the clouds.” Comm stated, and was followed with confirmation from four other operators.

    The Colonel closed his eyes and tried to focus on any more of the unidentified conversation. After a few minutes, “Check one-two-three, do you hear this ok?” and the reply, “We’re starting to break up a bit, but other wise I can hear you fine, Sir.” The signal the Combat Sent was receiving weak and sporadic, Colonel Walters took a gamble that he could be heard, and said, “I hear you fine, too.” He looked at Comm, his eyes wide in anticipation of contact.

    A few moments later, “Who am I speaking to?” the male voice asked.

    “Colonel Bill Walters, United States Air Force.” He answered and then replied, “And who am I speaking with?”    

    “Rick Martin.”

    “Well Mr. Martin, it’s good to talk with you…what’s your situation?”

    “My situation? Well…I’m standing here talking to you.”

    The entire aircraft erupted in nervous laughter. Colonel Walters chuckled, “Ok, Martin…” He said smiling, and went on, “I mean, what’s the situation like where you are.”

    The communication was silent for a few minutes.

    “Martin, are you still there?” Colonel Walters asked.

    “Yeah I’m still here, I don’t know you, or who you’re working for.” Martin said flatly.

    The conversation turned cold. “Mr. Martin, like I said to you previously, we’re US Air Force.”

    “Do you work for that uh, temporary President, what’s his name….Poindexter?”

    More laughter from the crew. “You mean, acting President Engstrom? No…we are not, and I repeat, not involved with their government.” Colonel Walters said, trying to emphasize his seriousness. “Look Martin, where are you located?”

    The line was silent for a moment, “We’re in West Virginia…how about you? Where are you?”

    The Colonel looked at his crew, releasing the transmit button, he said to them, “Try to get a line on this guy.” He then spoke into the microphone, “We are heading north over southwest Virginia right now, and are at sixteen thousand feet.” He said and then added, “Martin, I’d like to talk with you further, but your signal is bouncing off the cloud cover and we might lose you…can you give me a closer location to your position? We’ll come over and talk without being interrupted.”

    The speaker was silent. “Martin are you there?” Colonel Walters asked. Static came from the headset.

    “Davis, West Virginia.” Rick Martin said, his voice garbled from the static.

    “Martin, give us some time, we’re heading over to you…stay on the same frequency.” The Colonel said. He then spoke to the crew, “Let’s get a vector to Davis, West Virginia, and Major Miller, let’s make some time getting there.”

    Rick looked at the silent walkie-talkie and shook his head in confusion. Now was not the time to initiate something like this. Thomas walked over; he had listened to the entire conversation. “Sir, what do you make of that?”

    “I don’t know Thomas…I don’t know. You heard him say that they were coming this way, so I’m sure we’ll talk in a little while.” He said and continued, “Right now, we have more pressing matters at hand.” He said, looking at his watch, wishing that Paul and the scouts would get back.

    Miss Linda made a pot of coffee; Rick took his cup and went back outside, sitting in his chair on the tarmac, the radio on his lap.

    “Raven One to Mr. Martin, do you copy?” The unidentified voice said through the receiver clearly.

    “I’m here.” Rick said, his eyes scanning the sky for their aircraft.

    “Glad we found you Mr. Martin.” The Colonel was back on the line.

    “I still don’t see your aircraft.”

    “We’ll be over you in a few minutes.” Moments after his statement, the noise from a high flying jet reached the ground.

    “I hear you…ok, I see you now.” Rick said, “You know the folks here had some bad experiences with the National Guard…are you with them?” Rick knew the Guard had disbanded; he wanted to get the Colonel’s reaction.

    “No, from what I understand the National Guard is no longer a factor.”

    “You are correct Colonel. The government is now using the Arabs and gangs like MS-13 to do their business here.”

    “Well, that makes sense.” The line went silent for a moment, “Martin, I see that you are on a three thousand foot runway. We won’t be able to land, as our aircraft is too large, we’d tear it up. How about we come down, so you can get a closer look at us.”

    “I’d like that Colonel and too bad about not being able to land…the coffees fresh and I sure would like to talk with you about…that day.” Rick said, losing sight of the aircraft.

    The aircraft turned and dropped down close to the deck north of town, and then made a low level fast flight over the camp. The team and Rick stood outside, cheering wildly as the large gray four engined Combat Sent blistered along the runway and then climbed sharply. The smell of its exhaust tainted the air.

    “Hey Colonel…you know since that day, I’ve only had a few moments of real excitement…this was one of them, thanks.”

    “No problem, glad to have made your day.”

    “It looks like your aircraft at one time was a Boeing 707, is that right?”

    “It was many years ago. Martin. I’ve got some friends that would like to talk with you face to face…they can land on your runway. How long will you be there?”

    Rick chuckled, “I’ll be here for another day. I look forward to meeting with you guys.” He replied.

    “Their call sign will be Raven Two…look, we have to leave now, this low altitude stuff is chewing through our fuel. I’ll be around if you want to talk further.”

    “Take care Colonel.” Rick said, and walked inside the restaurant to refill his coffee.

    “Ok people, what do we have?” The Colonel said to his crew.

    “They have functioning wind generating power systems, Sir.” Sergeant Jefferson said, and then added, “I count at least two dozen buildings with power.”

    The craft erupted with excited chatter about their new contact. Colonel Walters turned to Comm, “Get me General Perry at Cherry Point.”  

* * * * *

    Marine Air Corps Air Station, Cherry Point, North Carolina was one of the bases where the remaining military was consolidated. This sprawling base, set along the low eastern North Carolina coast, which was before that day solely Marine Corps, is now a blend of Air Force, Navy and Army units.

    “Sir, you have a call from a Colonel Walters, he said it’s important.” The slender and attractive Corporal Perez said, and left closing the General’s door.

    “Thank you Corporal…” General Perry said, and picked up the receiver, “General Perry.”

    “General…Colonel Walters, Raven One.”

    “Hi Bill, how are you?”

    “Fine Bob…hey we just made contact with a group in West Virginia…I’ve got a good feeling about this one.”

    “I’m listening.” Robert Perry said.

    The Colonel went through the sequence of events about their findings and conversations. The General and the Colonel finished their conversation. Pushing his intercom button, “Corporal would you get me Gunnery Sergeant Winters, please.”

    Fifteen minutes a knock on the General’s door. “Enter.” He replied.

    “Gunnery Sergeant Winters, reporting, Sir.” The rock solid Marine stood at rigid attention, his cap tucked neatly between his arm and side.

    “At ease…Gunny I have a mission for you.” The General stated. “We have made contact with some civilians in West Virginia…it sounds like they have organization, and maybe this could be the start of a rebuilding…” The Generals voice trailed off. “Anyway, I want you to hand pick a squad, and go check them out.”

    “Yes Sir.” The Gunnery Sergeant replied, noticing the anxiety on his Generals face, “Are those our only orders Sir?”

    “You are to observe…that’s it.”

    The Gunny looked at the General; they had gone down some tough roads together and knew each other well enough that verbal communication wasn’t always needed.

    “If you are fired on, you have permission to go weapons free.” The General replied to his Gunnery Sergeants unasked question.

    “Yes Sir.” Sergeant Winters replied.

    “One final thing Gunny…I want you to take Lieutenant Sykes with you.”

    “Sir?” The surprised comment sprouted from the lifelong Marine.

    The General took a deep breath and explained, “Do you now which way the Lieutenant swings Gunny?”

    “I have my suspicions, Sir.” He replied.

    “So do I, but we don’t have definitive proof do we? You and I know, that identifying and weeding out those people that lean towards acting President Engstrom’s Arab/UN cluster-fuck is getting tougher and tougher….so take Sykes and have your radio operator keep his microphone open, I want to listen in.”

    “Yes Sir.”

    “You’ll have less than an hour to get packed and loaded up…there will be an Osprey waiting for you on the flight-line.”

    Gunnery Sergeant Kyle Winters left the General’s office, starting off at a fast walk and then jogging to the barracks. The mid-thirties Marine would celebrate his fifteenth anniversary with the Corps this fall. He loved and hated every minute of it. Since that day, his group practiced and drilled continually for the combat which never materialized. Most of the base’s soldiers started drifting towards lethargy and some into out and out depression over their isolation. The Gunny and his team fought those issues with hard physical work and drill.   

    Entering the barracks, he barked orders excitedly. They all loaded their packs and checked their weapons and equipment…then moved off at a run to the flight-line. 1st Lieutenant Sykes waited beside their helicopter-aircraft hybrid, the V-22 Osprey. Twenty minutes later, the Osprey lifted off, heading full speed towards Davis, West Virginia.

* * * * *

    Rick nervously paced the tarmac, his mind filled with thoughts of the contact with the Air Force Colonel and his scouts. Looking at his watch, he felt uneasy about the upcoming meeting of whomever the Colonel said would be coming. He could take the Colonel at his word, but then again, he could be lying and this could be a government set up.

    The men gathered around as he waved them over. “Thomas, take my truck and park it in front of my room. Make a firing position behind it, and then open up some firing positions on the second floor.” He said, and looked at the remaining team, “You guys spread out and keep hidden. Now we have gone over situations just like this one, you know my signal…right?”      

    They all nodded and knew what to do.

    The first sounds of the Osprey arrived before the aircraft was sighted. Rick spoke with the pilot on his walkie-talkie and told him where to set down. The Ospreys twin rotors slowly moved from the horizontal position to slightly less than vertical as the craft slowed, and then to the vertical, landing like a helicopter on the tarmac.

    Rick stood alone on the tarmac, his Garand slung across his back as the door opened and the muscular Marine stepped off, followed by his squad then finally the Lieutenant. Smiling, he stepped closer to the approaching Gunnery Sergeant, his hand extended. “Rick Martin.”

    “Gunnery Sergeant Kyle Winters…pleasure to meet you Sir.” The Gunny introduced his team and finally the Lieutenant.

    “Welcome to West Virginia fellows…it’s good to meet you all.” Rick said, shaking every soldier’s hand.

    The Gunnery Sergeant looked around the base and with a practiced eye, noticed the opened windows on the second floor and the parked truck. “Looks like a nice place you have here.” He said cautiously.

    “Mr. Martin, I see that you have unauthorized and illegal weapons. “ The Lieutenant said, noticing his rifle and pistol. “You have been ordered to turn those in or face arrest.” He said.

    “Unauthorized weapons? You’re kidding right?” Rick said, and smiled smugly.

    The Lieutenant’s face indicated that he was not kidding. “Gunnery Sergeant Winters, place this man under arrest.” Lt. Sykes ordered.

    Gunny Winters grimaced and shook his head, then noticed the red bandana which somehow appeared in Martins hand.

    “Gunnery Sergeant Winters, I am ordering you to place this man under arrest!” Lt. Sykes commanded again.

    “I wouldn’t do that Sir.” GySgt. Winters countered, and added, “Unless I miss my guess, if that handkerchief that’s in Mr. Martins hand hits the ground, we’re all pretty much dead.” He countered to the Lieutenant, as the Gunny’s squad looked around nervously, mentally calculating where they would have to return fire if the Lieutenant got them into a shooting match.

    The radio operator, Lance Corporal Childs, had his radio on and the microphone open. He was told that the General would be listening. “Lieutenant Sykes, you have a call from General Perry.” He said, handing the handset to the angry red faced Lieutenant.

    Lt. Sykes listened to the General, “Yes Sir…yes Sir…yes Sir.” His voice trailed off. Handing the phone to Rick he briskly commented, “The General wants to talk with you.” as he turned and jogged towards the Osprey, disappearing inside.

    Rick held the handset and looked at Gunny Winters, “What is this, the Marine Corps version of a conference call?” He said smiling. “General…This is Rick Martin.”

    “Mr. Martin, my sincerest apologies to you and your men. We have had a difficult time in weeding guys like Lieutenant Sykes out. I’m sorry, it was the only way we would have definitive proof.” General Perry said.

    “Apology accepted General.”

    “I think you’ll find Gunny Winters and his men to be straight up.” He replied and added, “May I speak with Gunny Winters please?”

    Rick handed the phone over. GySgt Winters listened and handed the phone back to LCpl Childs, who closed the connection.

    “Sykes is out of here…let’s unload the Osprey.” He said to his team. They all moved to the Osprey and brought out their gear, moving away from the V-22 which was now starting its engines, slowly turning the massive propellers. The smell of jet engine exhaust was intoxicating to Rick, memories from a distant past, well before that day. The Osprey’s enormous propellers slightly tilted forward, the craft gained speed and lifted off, moving out of sight across the valley.

    Rick looked back to Gunny Winters, “Let’s try this again…welcome to West Virginia.” He said and smiled. Turning to his men in their positions, and whistling sharply, he waved his hand over his head, the signal for all clear.

    Ricks men came out from their positions and started towards the Marines. Introductions were made as the prior tensions vanished. “Are you men hungry?” Rick asked.

    “We’re Marines, we’re always hungry.” One soldier commented and smiled.

    “Excellent, look we normally eat at 5.30, but I had Miss Linda set some chow aside for our guests.” He said and looked at the Gunny, “Y’all are spending the night, right?”

    “Sure, I guess.” He replied back, unsure about the invitation, and not wanting to impose.

    “Thomas, take the men over to the Bunk House.” He said, and turned to the soldiers, “Now look, I want you all to make yourselves at home. We have chow three times a day, hot showers and clean sheets. If you need anything, anything at all, you just ask…ok?”

    The Marines were taken back slightly, and then feeling relaxed, followed Thomas to the Bunk House. Rick and the Gunny brought up the rear, with Gunny’s head swiveling around the camp and the layout in their valley. Rick gave him a quick rundown on their location, the ski resorts and the town.

    When they stowed their gear, everyone walked towards the restaurant. Rick stopped them at his room, “This is my room, and next to me,” he opened the door, “is our reloading room and cleaning gear. Feel free to use anything here, just return what you take.”

    One of the soldiers went over to the single stage reloading press and the components which were neatly arranged on shelves. “Do you reload for bolt guns?” He asked, looking at a load chart for the sniper rifles.

    “Yeah, we have a couple Remington Police rifles that we load for, and the multi stage presses are for our Garands and the AR-15’s.” Rick replied to the satisfaction of the soldier. “Come on, I want to introduce you all to Miss Linda.”

    It was a surreal experience for the Marines, coming out of their isolated base and into an honest-to-goodness restaurant. Miss Linda had watched from the large picture window and had the booths and tables ready for the soldiers. “Welcome to our home.” She said smiling. “Tonight I have chili, steamed corn and fresh tomatoes.” She said and turned to a Latino soldier, “and some fresh tortillas.”

    “Suarez will follow you like a puppy dog for those.” One of his buddies joked.

    Miss Linda left and quickly returned with bowls of steaming food and filled glasses with ice water, ice tea or coffee. Seeing that the men were inhaling her food, she smiled and then left, occasionally returning to refill their chili, fresh tortillas and a bowl of homegrown jalapeno peppers for Suarez.

    Gunny Winters and Rick sat across from each other in a booth. “So, what’s your story Mr. Martin?” He asked.

    Rick gave him a brief rundown from that day to the present. “And you? Where were you on that day?” He asked.

    “We were attached to a Marine Expeditionary Unit. “He said and paused, “We all were on a ship about four hundred miles off the coast of Florida. We stayed at sea for another month and then were assigned to Cherry Point, North Carolina. Cherry Point is a multi-force location for remnants of Marines, Navy, Air Force and some Army units.” He said.

    “What about Norfolk?” Rick asked.

    The Gunny paused and looked up from his meal, “Norfolk is…gone.” He answered, “You didn’t know that?”

    “No, I don’t really know what was hit besides Baltimore and Washington DC.” Rick said, sipping his coffee.

    “A lot of our bases and cities were destroyed.”

    Ricks eyes grew wide. “You’re kidding me!”

    Gunny shook his head, “No, they weren’t the small Hiroshima bombs either. They estimate that their yields were about a half a megaton each.”

    Rick’s stomach hurt from the news, “Jesus…do they have an estimate of causalities?”

    “Not officially, however they guesstimate over one hundred and fifty million…not including the earthquakes and now we have a massive drought, so famine is just around the corner.”

    Rick thought for a moment, realizing how fortunate they were. “How is North Carolina?” He asked.

    “Dry and hot…we haven’t had a decent rain since I’ve been there.” Gunny replied and asked, “So, what’s your goal here?”

    “To live free, and in peace.” Rick said, then added, “However, in order to do that, we’re going to have to go through some shit.”

    Gunny’s eyes widened at his comment, he nodded. “Peace and freedom isn’t easy is it?”

    “No it’s not, especially when we’re talking about our home turf.” He said, and then stood. “I’ll let you all finish your meal…I’ll be outside if you want to talk further.” He smiled and then left, finding his chair on the tarmac. Rick sat and watched the sunset, savoring the quiet and his time alone.

    The Marines filtered out of the restaurant and headed for the Bunk House. GySgt Winters noticed Rick sitting alone on the tarmac, he walked over. “Trying to figure out the world?” He said and smiled.

    “No, just my little slice of it.” He said, smiling back. “Gunny, what are your orders?”

    “We’re here to observe…that’s all.”

    “To observe?” Rick said, surprised at his comment. “Well, maybe tomorrow you’ll have something to ah…observe.” He paused and added, “Breakfast is at 5.30…it should be a busy day, get some rest. By the way, with our nightly rains, and this mountain air, you’ll sleep well tonight…see you in the morning.” He said and left the soldier alone on the tarmac.

    Kyle Winters sat alone and within a few minutes his mind swam with thoughts about their new contacts, and this place. Looking up at the billions of stars, thoughts of Marine Corps life, and their isolation, vanished. Suddenly the Marine felt tiny, surrounded by the mountains and the horizon to horizon star filled night sky.

    The pre-dawn sky was another symphony of colorful light. Rick stood on the tarmac waiting for the Marines and his men to get up and go through the three S’s. Gunny Winters was the first one out of the Bunk House. Rick smiled as he stood on the rain washed asphalt tarmac, stretching and embracing the day.

    “Man, you weren’t kidding about sleeping good. I don’t think I’ve slept that well in years.” He said to Rick.

    The Marines slowly exited the Bunk House, smelling the clean brisk mountain air. They joined up with Rick’s men and descended en masse to the restaurant. Miss Linda had expected them, and had huge stacks of pancakes and hot coffee ready.

    Rick stood on the asphalt pad, looking at his watch, knowing that Brenda and the girls should be showing up for a hot morning shower, as well as Paul and the scouts. Brenda didn’t disappoint, arriving with the girls being towed behind the bike.

    “Daddy!” Emmy said, jumping out of the trailer and running into Ricks open arms.

    “Hi sugar pie, how are you?” He said, kissing his petite daughter.

    “I’m great…I missed you.” Emmy said, wrapping her arms tightly around his neck.

    “I missed you too sweetie. How’s school?” Rick asked, fully knowing her reply.

    “Great, I love everything.” Emmy exclaimed, as usual.

    Rosa walked over, trying not to be as emotional as her sister. Rick wrapped his arms around her. “And how are you?” He asked.

    “I’m good Poppa.” Rosa said, her dark sultry eyes gleaming as she hugged and kissed him on the cheek.

    “Miss Linda has pancakes today.” He said to his daughters. Emmy licked her lips and lit off towards the restaurant, followed by Rosa, leaving Brenda standing in front of him. Rick thought she was stunningly beautiful in her surgical green garb. They hugged and kissed. “We have some guests.”

    Brenda looked at him, “Would it have anything to do with the jet that flew over yesterday?”

    “Yes and no, the Air Force folks in the jet sent over some Marines from North Carolina.” He replied, “Come on I want to introduce you to them.”

    She shook her head, “No, I haven’t showered and look like I just got up.”

    “Ok, so get showered.” He said laughing, and patted her on the behind, following her into his room, and placing the motels ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign on the outside door handle.

    Inside the room, Brenda turned and embraced her husband. “So, what are you planning Rick?”

    He took a deep breath, answering, “I don’t know yet, I’m still waiting for Paul and the scouts to get back.”

    “Get back from where?” She asked, their intimate moment disappearing.

    “I need your word that you won’t say anything to anyone, ok?”

    She nodded yes.

    “I sent them to scout out Winchester two days ago…I expect them back anytime now.”

    Brenda looked at him, her eyes questioning.

    “If we can, I’d like to spread out our lines to give us a bit more distance from those cockroaches.” He said and added, “I’d like to just go in and kill a few of them.”

    “Kind of like Pepper Wayne’s place?” She replied.

    “Yeah like Peppers.”

    “Hmm…too bad I won’t be able to come along. I remember that night under the pine tree.” She said, moving closer to him, “Our first night together…that was nice.”

    “It was better than nice.” He said, and kissed her.

    Rick and Brenda went to the restaurant and he introduced her to the Marines, Emmy and Rosa had already met everyone. Brenda had a quick breakfast, then gathered the girls, and pedaled off.

    The entire group of men was on the runway doing calisthenics as Rick walked over to them. Pausing for a moment, Gunny asked, “Care to join us Martin?”

    “I’ve had my exercise for the morning.” He replied smiling.

    “Yeah I see” He replied sarcastically. “You’ve got a good looking wife and some great kids.”

    “Thanks.” He replied back.

    “Hey Mr. Martin…your daughter Rosa…is she…” Suarez started to ask, but didn’t know whether his questions was too personal, his voice trailed off.

    “Rosa is Nicaraguan. We rescued her from the cockroaches. She was in a group of four women who were kidnapped…she was the only survivor.” Rick replied to Suarez. The group’s physical activities came to a halt, as they wanted to know the details. “A group of six cockroaches, attacked a checkpoint with AK’s, grenades and RPG’s…then they took those women. When Paul and I got to them, three of the women had been raped and mutilated, Rosa was next. Anyway, we took them out…it then that I found out this group was working for the government and the Arabs.”

    “Say what?” Gunny Winters asked.

    “You heard me correctly…the cockroaches are MS-13 types. They have been given territory, in exchange for food and other commodities which they give to the Arabs who are assisting our government.”

    “And you found this out, how?” He asked, incredulously.

    “He chopped off a couple of their heads…and one of them told him what was going on.” Thomas said to the Gunny. 

    Gunny Winters looked at Rick, surprised and shocked at the man who welcomed them into his camp, and was able to commit such a brutal act.

    “What can I say…I was pissed off. Don’t tell me you all don’t know about this?” He asked Gunny, whose eyes were still wide at the news of his brutality.

    “Hell no. We knew about the Arabs in Michigan, but didn’t think that they were this organized.” He quickly commented.

    “They are.” Rick commented and continued, “My other daughter, Emmy…we rescued her from a pedophile.” Rick added.

    “Jesus, she’s such a sweet kid…what happened to him?” Gunny asked.

    “If there were buzzards around, I’d say that he was buzzard bait…he’s rotting over on the Potomac.” Rick replied and added, “What you see here at this camp and in this town is not what’s going on in our country…and we aren’t playing by the Queen’s Rules either.”

    Rick had barely finished his comments when Paul and the scouts arrived in the Jeep, parking on the tarmac. Without saying another word, Rick started towards his snipers. Gunny Winters and the soldier who had questioned him about the reloading setup following close behind.

    Paul and his group got out of the Jeep, their faces still covered in camouflage paint. Paul smiled at Rick, and then looking at Gunny Winters and the other Marines.

    “Hey…we’ve had some developments since you’ve been gone.” Rick said and introduced the snipers to the Gunny and his crew. “So, what did you find?” He asked.

    Paul exhaled loudly, and then spread his map on the hood of the Jeep. “Winchester isn’t as small as you’d think. There are a lot of houses on the outskirts of town. I’m pretty sure that they are empty. “He said, using his finger to move around the map, “The cockroaches have this seven block area inside town locked up pretty good. They have shooters on tops of the buildings and in windows. This is where they have the people herded together.” Paul said, showing the location in the center of town.

    “How many do you think there are?” Rick asked.

    “It’s kinda hard to give an exact figure. The males like to run around without their shirts on, so we used their tattoos as identifiers. I come up with sixteen, Winston comes up with eighteen.”   

    “You mean that sixteen to eighteen of these…cockroaches have taken the entire town captive?” The Gunny asked, surprised.

    Paul nodded, “Yeah, you see, if anyone gets anywhere near the boundary of this area, “Paul used his finger again to show on the map, “ Then they get shot, but not a killing shot...they wound them and then beat the living shit out of them, then they kill them and two others picked at random…pure terror.” Paul replied to the horror of the Marines. “By the way, there are some wounded coming here...they were loading up the truck as we were leaving.”

    “Ok, so are there any routines they follow?” Rick asked, not fazed by the news of their terror, he had expected something like that.

    “Yeah, during the day, a group of them go around to the houses and take what they want. They’ll pile it on the front sidewalk. In the evening, a group of three military transports come into town and load up the goods. They have about thirty guys in the trucks. After the trucks are loaded up, then they’ll have their own fun with the prisoners…and leave a little after midnight. Last night they took two women prisoners with them.”

    Rick thought for a moment, digesting the information. “Anything else?”

    “Yeah, there is another pattern. Around noon, the guys who are taking the stuff from the houses, come back into this seven block area, and have lunch. Also at the same time, three cockroaches escort six or so women, to this creek,” He pointed to a small wooded area, “the women get water for them.”  

    Rick thought about Paul’s information, his mind starting to formulate a plan. “Those three who guard the women, how are they set up?”

    “Well, they are armed with AK’s, like the rest of them, and they have two in the rear and one leading the line of women.” Paul replied. Winston nodded, confirming his information.

    “Where are your firing positions?” The soldier who expressed interest in their reloading asked.

    Paul showed two areas on the map. “Winston will set up here, and I’ll be here.”

    “What are your shooting distances?”

    “Winston’s maximum area is five hundred and fifty yards, and mine is seven hundred and forty five.” Paul replied.

    Ricks eyes widened, “Shit…you’ve only practiced out to six hundred yards.”

    “Don’t worry, the extra one hundred and forty five yards will put my trajectory drop at about…”

    “Thirty two inches, given a three hundred yard zero.” The soldier said, smiling to Paul and Winston. 

    “Yeah, that’s right…I’ll just practice some more.” Paul replied and smiled confidently.

    As the group finished up, the old International Harvester truck pulled onto the tarmac, Jon the driver, honked the horn and got out, sprinting towards Rick and the team. “We’ve got some wounded, Mr. Martin.”

    Rick and the team jogged over to the truck. Sitting in the bed of the pickup were four bloody and beaten people, thee kids and one adult male. Rick walked around to one of the kids, a small boy about nine or ten who was holding his arm and sobbing softly. Looking at his arm, it was obvious that it was broken and his shoulder was dislocated. The adult male had a compound fracture on his left leg, the white bone jutting out of a bloody mass of muscle tissue. Moving over to another child, a girl about five or six years of age, she looked at him, fear in her eyes. “I sweetie, we’re going to help you.” He replied, it was the only thing he could say.

    She tried to smile, her left eye swollen shut in a purple and black bruise.

    “They knocked all of her teeth out.” Jon commented and added, “And then they whipped the soles of her feet with electrical cable.”

    Rick lifted the blanket exposing the girls feet, her swollen and bleeding tiny feet, now useless for walking. He reached out and took her hand, lifting it to his mouth and kissing it gently, as a tear came to his eyes. Looking up at Jon, “Get them to the hospital now, and don’t dick around. When you are finished, get back here.”

    Jon nodded and jumped into the cab of the truck, firing up the engine and pulling out.

    Rick tears faded as his anger took over, looking at Gunny Winters he barked, “So now how do you like observing!?” He bitterly spewed, and then stormed off.

    “Hey what the fuck?” Gunny said his arms held out, questioning, “What did I say to him?”

    “Don’t take it personal Sir, he’s just pissed. Give him a few minutes and he’ll be alright.” Thomas replied, watching Rick march out to the ranges target holders.

    Gunny turned to Thomas and barked, “I’m not a Sir…I’m a Gunnery Sergeant.” He said.

    “Gunny, he acts like you, when you get pissed.” Suarez commented, taking the heat off of Thomas.

    “I don’t act that way.” He replied defensively.

    “Yes you do.” Suarez said, all of the Marines nodded in agreement, “When Gunny gets pissed, that vein in his head sticks out…then you better watch out.” He said chuckling to Thomas.

    The team watched Rick stop at one of the targets, pull his pistol and in rapids succession fire off three magazines of ammo. He walked back to the group and up to Gunny Winters. “I’m sorry for spouting off at you that way…it’s not your fault.” He said holding his hand out. Gunny took his hand and Rick pulled him in giving him a bear hug. “Who the fuck knocks the teeth out of a little girl like that?” He said and then turned to Paul and Winston. “You guys get cleaned up and get some chow…then I want you to rest. You’re going back out tonight…only this time; we’re not sneaking and peeking.”

    Paul and Winston nodded excitedly and started to walk off.

    “Gunny, since we’re here to um, observe…I’d like to go with the snipers to observe.” The inquisitive soldier asked.

    Before the Gunny could reply, Rick looked at his name tag, “Evans, why should I let you go with my guys?”

    “Because I’m a scout sniper.” He said confidently, as Paul and Winston stopped, looking at him.

    “Do you have your weapon?” Rick asked.

    Evans nodded.

    “Then you have my permission. He quickly replied as the Gunny nodded yes. “Now Evans, you have a lot more training than my guys. Although they are good shots, they have no formal sniper training. Between now and tonight, would you help them out?”

    “It would be my pleasure Sir.” He said, quickly joining up with Paul and Winston, walking off to the rooms.

    “Gunny, my guys are good marksmen, but don’t have the training that you all do. Would you take them and give a little training?”

    “Damn straight, I’d love to.” Gunny asked and then added, “What are you going to do?”

    “I’m going to clean my pistol, then plan an attack on Winchester….we’re going to kill some cockroaches.”

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