E and Brad both hit the head, grabbed a couple sodas from the vending machine and headed to the Jeep. “Hang on a sec E, let’s make a quick press check and bring the M4s up to the racks. Been a strange enough trip already – I’d like a little extra insurance.” Brad had already drawn his Glock, turned so the muzzle was pointed at the small berm along the edge of the parking lot behind the Jeep and gently eased the slide to the rear looking to insure a cartridge was in the chamber. E was simply a mirror – checking her weapon as well. As they reholstered both automatically reached for their mag holders to make sure they felt their spare mags and that they were inserted pointed the right direction.
This quick check done Brad moved to the rear and popped the rear gate and lifted the window. There was a steel box mounted behind the rear seats that had the unit’s response gear – their M4s, their vests, gas masks, spare mags and an extra ammo can with both .223 and .45 ACP JHP rounds. There was assorted other gear meant to enable the crew to respond to a broad range of “incidents”. Brad lifted the lid and grabbed one of the M4 handing it to E – then took the second for himself. Both reached for a PMag, each loaded to full capacity and “locked and loaded”. Then each grabbed a second mag sticking them in their inside jacket pockets. The lid was closed and secured along with the rear window and gate. Once back to the front seats, each weapon snapped securely to a mounting bracket directly above driver and passenger making for easy access should the need arise.
“You want to drive? It’ll give me some time to give a friend of mine a call – I think he might fit what your gramps is lookin’ for.” Brad had been thinking about Hank for the past two days and was pretty certain he was exactly the type of man Earl was looking for.
“Sure, no sweat. I’ve had some thoughts as well, think I’ll make my call tonight after the dust settles.”
As E started the Jeep and headed for 94 on her way to 169 she picked up the mic –
“Control – Demon 62, how copy?”
“Demon 62 – Control, 5x5 - how me?” It was Linda – as usual.
“5x5 Linda – again, you’re workin’ again? Going to have to chew my old man’s ass out and tell him to give you a break! Tell him we’re rolling – taking 169 north to 95 and then into Cambridge. We expect to get there around noon – then we’ll see if we head back to Brad’s house for the night or wait until morning. “
“Sounds good E, I’ll pass the info on, stay safe – control out!”
“Will do – thank you, Demon 62 out,” E hung the mic up as she saw the turn for 169 North. And they were on their way.
Brad turned to E – “The fellow I’m calling is Hank Johnson. He was a squad leader in my rifle platoon during my last tour and we seemed to just “fit” together. He was due to punch out last month, he’s just married – I’m hoping he’s still looking for a job, he’d be a solid addition to our team.” Brian was digging his phone out while he spoke and watched for E’s reaction.
E shook her head – “Nope, sounds like a plan. Mind putting it on speaker – then we have two sets of ears hearing what he says – might make it easier to relay info to Gramps!”
“No problem – let’s see if Hank’s home. Actually – Gramps said your sister had been to the BWCA? Hank lives near Ely, beautiful country, honest to God, beautiful country.” Brad’s thumb flew across the face of his smart phone, rolling through menus and bringing up his contact list. He flipped his thumb “up” spinning the screen watching for the “H”s to appear. He stopped the display and then slowly spun up Hank Johnson, touched the phone symbol and “speaker” button and listened for the phone to ring . . . .
“Johnson!” A thick baritone voice came out of Brad’s phone.
“Hank . . . . Brad, how ya doin’ bud!? Brad had always felt a true closeness to Hank. More than that of a “band of brothers” – it was good to hear his voice.
“Brad?? Hey asshole – how you doin’?? Damn, it’s been what – 9 months or so since we rotated back? What the hell are you doin’ now-a-days? I kind of lost track of you once you punched out!” Brad could hear the excitement in Hank’s voice – another thing he liked about Hank – the guy could get pumped about virtually anything!
“Living in Iowa – just took a new position as a county deputy! Imagine that – me a sheriff’s deputy!”
“No shit! A sheriff’s deputy?? They did a background check – right?? And they still hired you?? Man – they must truly be desperate!” Hank chuckled a bit at his own joke.
“Yep – they knew full well what they were getting – still offered me the job! Say, you remember early last summer in Africa during Ramrod, we were on the comm net listening in as one of our snipers waxed Kaheir?”
“She was the little girl, right? Nailed him then her spotter got waxed on the way to the extraction LZ . . . what the hell was her call . . . Demon? Demon something? Right?”
“Who the hell you callin’ a little girl asshole!” E felt a quick pang as she was reminded yet again about Deke – and let it go.
“MMMmmmmm – Brad . . . you goin’ through puberty again or is there a little girl sitting next to you?” Hank was truly shocked to hear a voice that sounded familiar. Everyone in their squad had listened to the hit, the move to the extraction LZ and the call for support. She’d sounded like a tough woman when she called for support – the ongoing sound of a firefight could be heard every time she pressed the mic. Yet, she hung in, killed bad guys and made it out with her recovered spotter. You couldn’t ask for much more given the circumstances.
“I suspect you’re gonna pay for that last crack Hank . . . Hank – meet E, E this is one of my very few friends – Hank!” Brad took care of the initial introductions and waited to see how either would respond – Hank was first.
“Nice to meet you little girl – E is it? Well, if you’re riding with Brad, you’re in good company!”
“Good to meet you too asshole . . . oops – Hank! I suppose if you have Brad’s recommendation – you’re worth getting to know!” There was a smile in her voice that both Hank and Brad heard.
“Hank, I have a proposition and thought of you. How’s the job huntin’ going in the north woods?” Brad had an idea how it was going, the economy was generally in the shitter. In rural America – shades of the ’30 could be felt.
“Honestly, not worth a damn Brad. There’s a possibility of some guiding in the BWCA this spring and summer – but it looks like it’ll be pretty hit and miss. Cheryl’s put out feelers for next school year – but there just isn’t much call for High School English teachers in today’s world. Frankly, it’s looking pretty frickin’ grim Brad.
“How do you two feel about Iowa?” There was just a bit of a smile in his voice. There was a long-running “feud” between Iowans and Minnesotans as to which was the best place to live. Being genuine Minnesotans he knew both he and Hank would eventually take some light ribbing about their home state.
“Well, I suppose other than hell, there may be worse places to live! Is there some reason I should consider Iowa as a place to live?” Hank knew Brad well – and knew that if an offer was made he’d move, period, just on Brad’s say so.
“I need a platoon leader and a small arms trainer – you interested?” Brad waited.
Hank was more than a little surprised at the offer and the position. Platoon leader? Small arms trainer? What the hell was going on? “You serious Brad? What, you building, an army?” There was just a bit of a smirk in his voice.
“Yes, as a matter of fact – I am. And, as “Uncle” used to say, I’m looking for a few good men – you’re my first call. So you interested? Base salary is $60K and a house on an acreage is included (he hoped – he had been told to build an army, right?). Can I count you in?”
“This is straight up, right Brad? If anyone else was talking to me right now, I’d hang up and call the FBI. This is legit, on the level, legal – a no shit offer?” Hank allowed some of what he’d just heard to settle in just a bit.
“Hank, it’s an honest offer, fully legal and you’ll be working with some class folks. I really want you to say yes Hank . . . .” Brad let the offer hang out there yet again.
“Brad, given what is available around here, this is truly a no brainer. We’re in. You have details?” Hank’s brain slipped into high gear – telling Cheryl, packing, moving . . . hell, they hadn’t even fully unpacked yet from their move to Ely.
“Hoping to be on a call to my boss late this afternoon – I’ll call you so we can move this forward. Bottom line, get packing – I want you moving next week at the latest. That doable?” Brad, like Hank, was spinning tentative schedules in his head. He felt like there was little time to waste.
“Brad, can’t think of a thing in the world to slow us down. I’ll break the news to Cheryl and get the ball rolling on my end. I look forward to your call tonight! And Brad – thank you. This is a bit of a life saver for us!” Hank could feel his old energy flow back in. The past few month struggling to find work had been taking its toll – and this felt much better!
“We’ll see if you thank me or not. But I can’t think of anyone else I’d rather sign on right now than you. Talk to you soon, and thanks Hank!” And with that Brad ended the call and looked at E. “One down!”
E smiled. “Sounds like a good guy, I’m looking forward to meeting him. Let’s give Linda a call, we’re only about 20 minutes out. Her number is . . .” Brad punched in the 10 digits on his smart phone, listened for the ring and punched “Speaker”.
“Franks!” A sharp toned voice came from the phone’s speaker.
“Hey sis, you got your shit together?” E barked back at her sister while Brad listened in.
“E!! You comin’ to my rescue? Dad and Gramps called BEFORE the butt crack of dawn this morning and said you and your new partner were headed my way to take me home! What gives?” Just trying to rest up from her week in the BWCA had taken enough out of Linda that she’d done little in the way of paying attention to the world around her. Their drive down to Cambridge from Ely, unpacking her gear and getting that first good meal in her had taken virtually all of yesterday and this morning. She was surprised by Gramps’ and her dad’s joint phone call at around 4Am this morning. While it was no secret in their family of Gramps’ concern about “the slide”, she had been on the side of “there, there gramps – it’s going to be fine”. Given the shit going on in Minneapolis this morning – she found her confidence failing; perhaps there was more to Gramps’ theories than she first thought.
“It’s a long story; we can fill you in when we pick you up. Grab your gear, we’re about 20 minutes out. I don’t want to dick around – just pull in, load your gear and head out. Can we do that?” There was just a touch of urgency in E’s voice that was easily conveyed to Linda.
“No problem sis, I’ll be waiting. I’m just watching some of the news feeds from Minneapolis. No idea what the fuck is going on there but this little girl of a reporter is right in the middle of it telling us things are going to hell! No shit lady! Unreal E, unreal”. Linda was already moving to the bedroom she and Ross had shared gathering her things while she was chatting with E.
“Keep packin’ sis, see you in a few.” And Brad punched the “End” button on his keypad and put his phone back in his pocket.
Linda grabbed the last few item along with her day pack, cell phone and water bottle and sat it all next to the front door. She and Ross sat on his couch while they watched the events unfold a mere 45 minutes south in the middle of a city that had been without reliable power for well over a week. It was a city on the brink and everyone knew it.
Sally’s cell awakened her a little after 3AM. Her boss was on the line rattling off how the city was about to implode and he wanted her and her crew downtown on the double to catch it for the morning broadcast. He was placing calls to Joe her camera guy and Liz who handled the truck, the feed to the studio and insured that what was said on camera was eventually seen by a couple million people while they drank their morning coffee.
She got up, hustled through her morning routine and was out the door in record time. She punched up the police scanners on her smartphone app and was appalled at what she heard. It seemed like the folks had finally had enough. Reports of looting, broken windows, overturned and burning cars were rolling in on all frequencies. It looked to be a full news day. The prospect of physical harm never entered her mind – only her desire to get as close to the story as possible.
She found Joe and Liz at the truck and ready to head out. Throwing her gear behind the passenger side seat she climbed in and Joe headed up 35E towards Hennepin Avenue and a dozen or so blocks south of the river. Eventually the set up in front of the Hilton, Liz established comm and Joe brought up the cameras – both remote controlled on top of their van and the on-air camera that would record and feed Sally’s reports.
Their first on-air report and quick interview with a few locals aired on the 6AM morning show. They had posted regular updates throughout the morning. It was fast approaching her 12PM feed. What had begun as a “demonstration” at the entrance to the financial and restaurant district had grown to a mob. To those watching the news feeds every half hour since the first at 6AM – the change in mood was stark. The raw anger shown in the 10:30AM report was stunning. By 11:30AM those interviewed were simply enraged at the inaction of the city, the state and the feds. They were out of food, out of money, had tolerated the near total loss of power for nearly a week and were simply out of patience. The observer hundreds of miles away could see the danger, sense the danger and easily realized it was time to get the heck out of dodge.
But the news crew was like the frog placed in a kettle of cold water. They had no sense that the pot was near boiling. They would soon learn a very hard lesson . .. .
“Liz, you have the feed linked?” Sally spoke into her handheld mic – listening for a reply from Liz.
“Roger that Sally, they have you 5X5 – solid audio and video. Remotes are also fully linked in and we have you and your “guests” on camera.
“Thanks Liz – Joe, how’s the lighting and frame?” She wanted to make sure shadows were kept to a minimum and the crowd gathered around here could be seen when Joe panned out. The crowds had been growing since her first report. She had noticed a change in “tone” but truly felt like she and her crew were in little danger. Hell, they were on national TV for god’s sake!
“Two minutes Sally!” Liz gave her a head up and she turned to see a couple men looking to talk to her. “Can I help you?” she asked.
“Been watching you all morning – I expect there’s a bunch of folks out there watching what you sayin’?” Their gaze was direct and both of their faces were hard.
“We hit about 3 million with the noon broadcast – why?”
“One minute Sally . . .” Liz spoke again.
“Cause we got a message for the government – and we want to make sure they hear what we say. We thought you might be able to help us out . . .” They were looking over Sally, Joe and the broadcast truck.
“Stick around – I’m on in a few seconds . . .” Sally turned towards Joe . . .
“Sally . . . in 3 . . . 2 . . . 1 . . .” and Joe points at her, the on-air light goes solid and Sally is brought into the noon news panel.
“Now an update from our on-scene crew in Minneapolis. Sally – what’s the latest?”
“Thanks guys, it’s been a long morning here in the Twin Cities. We’ve been in front of the Hilton since early today watching this crowd become more and more agitated. As the entire nation knows this city has been essentially powerless for over a week. The couple of hours power is restored each day only makes people angrier. Our conversations with all parties in central Minnesota that provide power to the city seem to indicate that old equipment, dated transmission lines and increased power usage have combined into a near “perfect storm” that has done real damage to the power grid in the Minneapolis area. The truth is that it may well be months before this situation is resolved.”
“Sally – Norm Simons here – just how is that going to play out with the citizens of Minneapolis?”
“Norm, I have a couple gentlemen here that have agreed to be interviewed this morning. Let me put it to them and see what they say.” Sally turned and motioned the two men who had walked up to her to come into camera view. Pointing her hand-held at them she asked . . . “It’s been a couple of weeks since this city has seen reliable power. How is that affecting you and your families?”
“It’s bullshit lady – that’s what it is. We are citizens of Minneapolis. We pays taxes, has jobs, work hard – and for what? I ain’t had no running water in my house for 6 days. Can’t flush no toilet, have to travel to the fire station and haul home water. We been told that there will only be one meal every day at the local church. Our stores have been empty for almost a week. We supposed to wait while the government sits on their asses?? We had it lady . . . we had it!”
As the man grabbed her arm, pulled her in front of him and pulled a large pistol from under her coat Sally realized that the water in the pot was boiling. She knew in her heart she was well and truly fucked . . . .
Looking into the camera her captor looked at a nation . . .
“You . . . all you out there . . . government, cops, brothers and sisters. We been patient . . . but our kids are hungry. We’ve waited . . . but we ain’t had no lights for weeks. We asked for help . . . . and got shit in return. We been telling folks that things need changed . . . ain’t shit changed. We been thinkin’ and think maybe you all don’t think this is serious . . . that we serious . . . we here to tell you that THIS SURE THE FUCK IS SERIOUS!!!
Sally heard the snap as the primer ignited . . . . the last sound she would ever hear. Joe was simply captured by the scene he was filming – unable to move. A couple rounds to his chest insured his feet would never move again. Liz attempted to get out of her chair and move to close the door to the van. A pair of shots to her face made her attempt mute. And in less than 10 seconds the nation was forced to recognize that the country had changed . . . . and that dark days – darker than they could even imagine – were coming.
“Demon 62 – Badger, you there E?”
“Roger that dad, right here. What’s up?”
“How far you out right now?”
“Can’t be more than 5 minutes – why?”
“A reporter and her crew were just murdered – on air during the noon news broadcast from downtown Minneapolis. I want your asses outta there ASAP!!”
“Understood, will contact you when we’re underway. Demon 62 out!” E and Brad simply looked at each other . . . .
Three minutes found them in the driveway of Linda’s friend. She met them at the door, nearly hysterical at what she’d seen on the noon news broadcast. E and Brad gathered her gear, Linda and Ross parted with a kiss and promises of calls later in the day. Within 10 minutes of the original radio call, E was back on the radio with her dad.
“Badger this is Demon 62, Linda is onboard and we are headed back to DT. Things here seem quiet – any news on what the state’s response is going to be?”
“Demon 62 – Badger. Sounds like they’ve about to bring the hand of God down on the city. The National Guard has been called up, the same Marine battalion sent into DC is loading up for the Cities. I suspect they will be made an example of – full martial law, heavy handed responses and more than a few civilians killed in the process. They want to make a point – and they will. No idea how this will settle out but it won’t be pretty. I want you to get to the factory, make sure it’s secure and then sit in on our conference call this afternoon. Have you had a chance to call Tony yet – I know you were thinking of asking him to join us?”
“On my list dad, just not gotten to it. Brad offered a position to one of his squad leaders this morning – hope Gramps is serious about all this because he’s headed our way. As for Tony, I’m pretty sure he’ll sign on, will try to catch up with him tonight.”
“Sounds good to me – Brad is lead on this, if he’s ok this this guy and signs off on Tony, I’m fine with it. Have Brad in the meeting as well. I have 12:30, let’s plan on 15:30 for the call – may as well bring Linda in too – time for her to earn all that tuition I’ve been paying out!” Just a bit of humor came across the speaker as Linda listened in.
“Roger that Dad, we’ll be on-line at 15:30. Demon 62 out”
And so the die was cast . . . and the players would play out their parts in traditional manner. Citizens pushed to the absolute limit would push back – some in the criminal act of murder and others is petty ways. A government would act to crush resistance at the first sign of trouble and turn that event into a focal point that would act to drive “the resistance” even harder. Gone was reason, gone was discussion, gone was compromise. In three senseless murders and one grand oppressive response – “the slide” gathered steam.
It would be a dicey summer ahead . . .