Brad and Marion turned their backs on the dead raiders and headed back to the OP. Looking at the OP shift commander Marion said “Take care of our guests. And get me Hank – now!” The commander nodded at one of the shooters who took off at a trot to get Hank. Brad picked up the hand set and pushed the ring button . . .
“Command – OP 19”
“OP 19 – Command, Go” The response immediate and terse.
“E – nothing good on this end. There are two – repeat two – remaining recon squads of raiders in our county. Only reason we know about this on is that they went a bit cowboy – it was NOT part of their mission. They were to observe and report only. Here’s the thumbnail. This crew was responsible for moving up 82, there are also raider scouts coming up 21 and 151. Their purpose is to observe river crossings, estimate our fighting strength, inventory any equipment they see and report the level of resistance that could be expected. Copy?”
“OP – Command, I fucking copy! Damn it, why are we totally in the dark on this? We have two more raider scout patrols in our county – confirm!” E felt the surge of adrenaline throughout her body. “Not good, not good . . .!” she thought.
“Command – OP, confirm. It gets worse E. The same probe is going on with our neighbors to the west, coming up 63, V18 and P Ave. All six scout parties are in place, I say again, they are in place. Copy?” Brad’s mind had not stopped running this situation since the first 30 minutes into their interrogation. Six raider scout parties – thirty raiders, somewhere in their county and watching all movements in their county and India38 just to the west. . . . not good!
“OP – Command. Roger that, I’ll warn Chet ASAP. Why do I get there is more here?” E could feel a cold chill begin to go down her neck. This was way too much effort and exposure for just a simple “snatch and grab” raid – something bigger was coming.
“Roger that E – there’s more. Our intel was right on the 50 or so raiders coming our way. And, they were chewed down from around the one hundred or so that were in the party when they first started. What everyone missed was that the sacrifice is purposeful – to keep everyone focused on them while the remaining raiders found their way north. They are focused on six bridges across the river, the three in India37 and the three in India38. Each raiding party is company strength – I say again, company strength, approximately 100 raiders each. Total of 300 raiders for India37 and 300 for India 38. 600 all tolled that’s two full Battalions. E. Copy?” Brad had a hard time wrapping his head around that number – they hadn’t seen a raiding party that size since the reinforced raid that killed Richard and Catherine back in ’75.
E’s blood simply ran cold – 600 raiders? She gathered her breath and focused on the problem at hand. Her fears could wait, her questions could wait – what she needed now was time.
“OP – Command. Understood. Two Battalions. When does the party start?” E was already picking response teams – estimating travel times.
“E, our guests said the preliminary target date is the 1st – September 1st. They were to gather intel and report on our general strength and movements around the bridges until then.” Brad could see why India37 and India38 were chosen for the probe. Sparsely populated, filled with farming communities – they probably thought they would have a pretty easy go of things. They were wrong, of course. But, on a map, from a distance – he could see how they could be so mistaken.
“Roger that Brad – September 1st. That’ll give us two weeks – they’ll regret that. Any other tidbits? Why take the bridges? There has to be a purpose for that – did these assholes know why? “ There was just a nibble of fear – true fear – at the back of E’s mind. Quite a commitment to take six bridges, there had to be a reason!
“You won’t like it E . . . they have friends coming, and lots of them. Two full Regiments of raiders – six Battalions stocked and ready to move in St Louis. As soon as they get word that the bridges are secure – they’ll be heading our way. And they mean to own us E – body and soul.”
E’s heart turned to ice. Two full regiments . . . . six Battalions . . . . eighteen hundred additional “Sons of Missouri” – “No Mercy” raiders. They were looking at nearly twenty five hundred raiders – looking to “own” them – in every sense of the word. “Fuck Me!” E shook her head and refocused.
“OP – Command, roger that . . . roger that. First things first, let’s find the rest of the fucking recon group, cut the next crew’s vision a bit. We have a couple of days to ramp up and get in to position to take these assholes on. Perhaps if we can grind them into the ground, secure the bridges and make it painful enough – we can change their minds down there in St. Louis just a bit.” “First things first!” E thought.
“Brad, I going to move the response teams from Q1 and Q4 your way. I want double teams in each OP from this point on. One up, one in the rack in full gear. Next I want you to send out a couple of patrols, nice and quiet – find these assholes, then we’ll deal with them. We need some survivors to confirm this intel. They can join their friends once we have full confirmation across the board. And, I want this done yesterday! Clear?”
“Command – OP, yes Ma’am, clear. Double teams, one down, one in the rack – full gear. Patrols will go out as soon as the OPs are doubled up. Confirm intel, no need to keep the sources around once confirmation is complete. Marion and I will stay here for now – make sure things roll out ok. E, another thought. The other raider scouts are here, somewhere. If I were them, I’d take a good, long look around. We need “eyes up” – I’d suggest getting Willie on the water tower ASAP. Get the “nests” manned in the other water towers as well. Let’s hope the get sloppy.” Brad was running the location of the water towers through his head – there were six in total, one in each of the county’s small communities. Each gave probably a 3-8 mile view around each town and that’s where these guys would be – watching what was going on.
“Roger that Brad, good idea. Let me get the ball rolling here, check back in 30. Command out.” And with that, they both got to work.
“Hard to believe.” Hank stood quietly in the corner of the OP. “Been a long time since anyone even gave us a second glance. Why now? What the hell is going on?”
“The raiders we took knew time tables, general plans – but not the “whys” of the operation. Looking at them, I suspect details were not their strong point. I’m hoping we can grab a couple of the company commanders that are headed our way – they should have a much better level of intel for us. I want you to find the remaining scout patrols. Should be two out there somewhere, one to the east and one to the west. Find them and silence them. Grab any gear they have – they have to be getting the information back to St. Louis some way. We put eyes up, they should help. We need this done yesterday!” Brad was already spinning through the “what-ifs” of the coming fight. “Shit!” he thought.
“Roger that, Brad. I’ll take my team – grab one from Rick and we will find these assholes. Any need to chat with any of them?” Hank really didn’t care one way or another, but wanted to make sure Brad had the choice.
“You heard what I know – confirm it with each raider scout team. Once you’re done – plant ‘em.”
And the conversation ended – Brad left to insure the response teams were rolled out and Hank went to make contact with Rick, secure a team and go hunting.
Distance and technology worked in E’s favor. Everyone was either on foot or on horseback. Had motorized vehicles been used, the raider’s presence couldn’t have been kept “quiet” as it were. It also meant that the raiders coming to secure the bridges would have a hard time making a “dash”. While animal power was slow – it was reliable. She had some time to get her troops moving!
“Bill – get ahold of Doug and Tony. Fill them in . . . nah – easier way. Bring everyone – everyone up on the comm. Quad Commanders, OPs and see if you can patch Chet in as well, may as well not have to repeat myself more than once. I’m going to hit the head, have them ready in fifteen. Willie, you’re with me.” E headed out of the comm center towards the head, Willie in tow. Bill got to work.
“Doesn’t sound good Grams –not good.” Willie had pick up the headset that E had handed her while she got Brad’s report. “You want me on the tower?”
“Yeah – that I do. With Fred down and probably needed at Doc’s anyway – you have a spotter you can work with?” E knew Willie had been teaching Fred to be her spotter, but a medic was worth more today than a spotter.
“Yes Ma’am, not problem – I’ll take Matt, Fred couldn’t replace him yet anyway – even if he was fit.” E pictured the skinny, red headed kid. He looked a lot like his grand dad did on their first dance Tony had asked her to. It seemed forever ago. “Besides, he’s as good a shooter as I am, you’ll get two for the price of one. Mind if I take a security team as well, this could get dicy.”
“Sounds like a plan – I want you up within the hour. Take a couple night scopes – maybe these guys will get sloppy when the sun goes down.” Willie nodded and headed for the door while E continued on to the head. “Duties” done she went back to the comm room.
“Everyone online Bill?” E fitted the headset, took a seat and looked at the map spread before her on the table.
“They’re here E.” Bill said and with that E began. She relayed all the info she’d gotten from Brad. She heard the occasional curse, a mumble here and there, responded to pointed questions as they arose . . . it was a fast hour. But, by its end – people were moving, gear was being drawn, plans were being refined and the most precious ally of the “Sons of Missouri” was lost . . . surprise.
“Any final questions? . . . . . . hearing none, I want a check-in every hour on the hour – without fail. If you come under fire or engage the raiders at any time – put out an all-call. We have four KIA here today folks – at the hands of these assholes. When they say “No Mercy” – that is exactly what they mean. I intend to return the favor. Chet . . . I feel like I’m steeling your thunder here. Do you have anything to add?” While E had a clear idea of the path forward, it would be a wasted effort if Chet didn’t sign on. And, the reality was, he was responsible for the defense of his county as she and Brad were of theirs. They had been lifelong friends and Chet had been sheriff for about as long a Brad.
“Wondering if you were going to give me a chance to talk today E.” Chet replied, just a bit of kidding in his voice. “No problem from this end – just damn glad you stumbled onto these guys. Your rollout is just what we’ve planned for since ’75 – no surprises here. The number of raiders coming though – gotta tell ya E, sounds like it’s going to be bad. We notified our response teams while you were filling me in, I’ll have “eyes up” within the hour, double response team across the southern half of the county and I’ll put three teams out looking for our visitors – we’ll find them. I’m good here E, no worries.” And he was. Chet had tremendous respect for Brand and E, been through a couple bad scrapes with them and knew that both he and E would do their best to take on these assholes.
“Roger that Chet, thanks. Any last questions? . . . . Hearing none, time here is 17:00, first check in is 18:00. Quadrant commanders, I’d like you all online at 18:30 for an update – Chet, shall we do this together?” E waited for his response – though she was pretty sure he’d go along.
“Sounds good E, will make sure we can patch in all our Quad commanders as well at 18:30. I have nothing else.”
“Roger that Chet – folks, we’re done. First come check in 60 minutes, don’t be late. Will talk to all commanders for India 37 and India38 at 18:30. E out.” And with that – their first war council was done.