Monday, August 5, 2013

7 - The Snake Hunt


Brad built a lean-to of kindling and tinder in the small firebox of the old Glenwood cook stove. “Don’t make’em like this anymore” he thought as he arranged his material carefully. It had belonged to E’s great great great grandmother Barbara, a short, tough woman who was hardened in the depths of the depression back in the 1930s. It had been under a pile of “family heirlooms” as gramps had described it in the back of the first family barn. Elbow grease and a steel brush had taken away its age and high temperature paint had restored much of the old stoves original luster. There was a stack of small sized fuel in the wood box up against the kitchen wall. A quick, short cooking fire would be all he needed for morning coffee for himself, Bill, Marion and E. Along with healthy portions of bacon, scrambled eggs and home fries with onions. It would be a long day; a good breakfast would get them off to a solid start.

As his fire caught and he slowly fed it, E was busy cutting the strips of bacon and turning new potatoes into home fries. Fresh eggs were already a the basket in the kitchen pantry.

Running her hand over the stove’s broad surface above the fire box, she felt it was almost ready. She got her cast iron skillet, crisscrossed the bottom with her freshly cut strips of bacon and waited just a bit more. Brad was busy setting a coffee pot on the back of the plate making his “world famous” cowboy coffee – one of the morning luxuries they were allowing themselves this morning.

E had just placed the skillet on the plate when Bill and Marion walked through the door.

“Morning mom, dad. Ya know, nothing smells better that bacon first thing in the morning!” Bill’s mouth was already salivating. Marion smiled and just shook her head. “Always thinking of your stomach!” she chided.

“Morning guys – pull up a chair, breakfast will be on in about ten minutes or so.” E was flipping the bacon and getting ready to add some of their farm’s butter to the drippings for the home fries and eggs.

As Brad pulled out his chair, Bill looked at him – “Got a plan for today?”

“Pretty much” replied Brad. “We’ll look in on the kids at Docs then “interrogate” our guests. See if we can get some intel on just what the hell is going on with this band of raiders. They just keep on coming – and they’ve had a rough time of it. It speaks of desperation or some bigger plan. It just doesn’t feel like a “normal” band of raiders if there is such a thing. Afterwards, we’ll go out to the rise and see if we can pick up their trail and follow it for a ways. Maybe we can get some idea why they’re here and how they have gone undetected for so long. Going to be a long day I fear.”

“Sounds like a plan Brad – head out around seven? That should give us time to pack a kit and tack up?” Marion was already running her list in her head – gear, weapons, food – it was just how she was built and one of the things that made her a good deputy.

Brad checked his watch – five thirty AM. “Yep, timing sounds about right.”

With that, E set a hot plate of food in front of Marion – “Ladies first!” she said with a grin. Plates for Bill and Brad followed quickly with E eating her meal out of the skillet. Mugs of strained coffee were passed around with fresh cream to take the edge off of Brad’s brew.

Breakfast was quiet, each lost in the thoughts of yesterday and their speculations of what would come their way today. Their meal over, dishes were put is a shallow wash tub in the corner of the kitchen – the twins would take care of cleanup after lunch. The damper on the firebox was closed insuring some coals would be available to start the evening’s meal.

Jo came running through the kitchen’s screen door – “Gram, OP18 seems to be taking fire! Comm check was fine at the midnight changeover, dead this morning. OP 17 and 19 can hear a fire fight going.” Jo was the daughter of Jan and Ted – and her Comm Officer. She was clearheaded, tough and calm in shitty situations – which this surly was. This was not the way E wanted to start the day!

The OPs were laid out is a simple pattern – OP1 was in the very northeast corner of the county, OP12 - OP13 in the southeast, OP24 – OP25 in the southwest, OP36 – OP37 in the northwest with OP 48 finishing out the northeast corner of the county. OP 18 was due south – nearly13 miles away, just north of the river, nearly two hours away with Sam’s best efforts! The county was divided into four “quadrants” – each about 12 miles square. Quad 1 in the NE, Quad 2 in the SE, three and four finishing the county out and the SW and NW respectively. Each Quad was then divided in quads, each roughly six miles square and following the same pattern as the county with a command center roughly in the center of it that housed a response team. This meant that once a team was assembled, they were within about three miles of any situation that might arise. The layout was simple, clean and quick to bring up “on line”.

“First things first!” Brad said, an edge to his voice E hadn’t heard in a while. “We need to secure our southern border! E, get your quadrant commanders on the line, then patch in their quadrant commanders! I want the response teams for 2-2, 2-3, 3-2 and 3-3 geared up and on station in 30 minutes! “

E turned to Jo – “Go!!” and she was gone. Within 10 minutes all quadrant commanders were on-line and the response teams had been notified – they would report back as they hit their quadrant bunkers.

“E – head to the command center, when your team is on line – fill them in on the last 12 hours. Let’s bring up the response teams for 2-1, 2-4, 3-1 and 3-4 as well. That will give us 12 miles of muscle. Make damn sure they realize this is NOT A DRILL! Have Bill follow up with each and every quad commander and response team commander to make sure they’re on station! I’m going to take Marion and head to 3-2’s command bunker, find out what the fuck is going on. We’ll clear OP18 one way or another! If things don’t go well for us remember – security first, prepare for a total response then kick the shit out of them!”

They’d had that conversation a number of times in the past. E took command, directed their resources and the flow of battle. She simply had a natural talent for it. Brad went to the battle, took on-scene command and fed her intel to make the best use of their defense forces. There were risks for both of them. If their luck ran out – the survivor would stand, fight and then take revenge for all that were lost.

“One more thing – take Willie to the command post. She needs to learn what you know. She’s a shooter, we need her to be a thinker as well. And tell Fred to stay the hell where he is – I suspect he and Doc will see some business out of this!” Brad gave E a long hug, a deep kiss . “Grab your go-bag Marry; I’ll meet you in the barn in 5!”

Talking over, Brad strapped on his gun belt, one his grandfather had worn. In the holster was a Colt SA .45. The loops on the belt filled with spare ammo. In the gun rack by the door was the Winchester 94 .45 saddle carbine that had seen him through some rough times already.

The plate carrier was from a generation earlier, but the 3/8 inch steel plates were relatively new. While they would provide no protection from a high velocity round – he was much more likely to get into a shootout with a raider and his pistol. Plates front and rear provided the best protection available given today’s circumstances.

His shoulder bag held minimum rations for three days, a couple of compasses, med pack, survival kit, couple water bottles and a host of items that had migrated to the bag over the years.

“Don’t forget your slicker – being wet’s a bitch!” E reminded him. Smiling he grabbed his baseball cap, rain slicker and bedroll from their place on hooks by the door. Finally – his “Ray Bans” – hell, few folks even remembered a long-since extinct manufacture of high quality sun glasses. He had found a stash of six pairs in his father’s trunk years ago. E shook her head and smiled! “What!?” asked Brad – “They make me look cool!!.

A final kiss for E, and he was off to the barn.

If he could have watched Marion ’s preparations in her and Bill’s bungalow – he would have thought she was his dance partner. A combined plate carrier and tac vest carried the same steel plate front and back, six magazines for her aging M4 and another six magazines for her Glock 21. Her shoulder bag was similar yet different. It could easily see her through 3 days in the field. She preferred her Stetson cowboy hat to a ball cap and a rain parka to a slicker. Yet, the similarities bred of the mission before them demanded that their gear was very similar indeed.

Even though Bill was headed to the bunker with E, he had the same kit on – tac vest and plate carrier, his AR10 with three mags, a Glock 17 and six mags, a shoulder bag, rain parka and a cap – Detroit Tigers if his memory served.

Marion headed off to the barn and Buck, Bill to the command bunker – hell of a way to start the day she thought.

Brad was already saddling up Herfy – a roan colored stallion with a broad streak of determination - when Marion walked in and pulled out Buck. They worked in silence, running hands over their animals looking for hot spots, bruises, cuts – then taking a pick and checking their feet as well. If a vehicle broke down on the road – spare parts may well fix it. Have your horse pull up lame – that might well be the end of the horse, leaving you stranded a very long way from home.

Finished, Marion and Bill saddled both horses and mounted them. They took off for the Docs at a slow canter. It was going to be a long day (maybe multi-day) no need to tire the horses needlessly. Brad had initiated a defensive perimeter, if there was a force about to encroach on their county they were in for a harsh welcome. It would take them a couple hours to reach 3-2’s command bunker and their animals would need all their reserves when they got there.

E had entered the command bunker, kicked on the generator and brought their full comm system to life. In this mode, the comm center provided all power needed to power up every phone on the net. Conference call capability was on line and Jo quickly informed her that all quad commanders and those 2-1 through 2-4 and 3-1 through 3-4 were on line. The response teams for 2-2, 2-3, 3-2 and 3-3 were on station with the remaining answering the call.

Response teams were 8-person fire teams. The team had two heavy weapons – typically AR10s or similar size, caliber and capacity. Over the last few decades quite hodge-podge of weapons had developed. Each heavy weapon operator was accompanied by a ammo bearer – and least in years gone by that was their purpose. In today’s world ammunition was too precious to expend in fully automatic mode. The ammo bearer still carried additional ammo for the heavy weapon and also provided security for the position as well. The remaining six members were kitted out virtually the same as Brad, Marry and Bill. Typical load out was six magazines for both their primary weapon and their sidearm. All had tac vests that doubled as plate carriers, all with the same steel plates. Take a round from a sidearm – you’d bruise but live. Take a round from an AR or AK – pretty good chance you would be added to the cemetery just outside of the county seat.

The call up put eight fire teams on-line for a total of 64 fully armed shooters. In the event of a full-on assault, they were a pretty stiff “speed bump”. For a lightly armed probe – they were death.

E looked at the county map, picturing in her mind’s eye the face of the various quad commanders. Quad One to the northeast was commanded by Doug Flanders. She could see his edged face and stark features. She had known him for over 50 years and had actually dated him for a bit in high school. Rick Symington had just taken over Quad Two in the southeast – hell of a greeting for a new commander. His uncle “Bull” had brought him up and turned him into a tough young man and a seemingly fine commander. “He may well get a chance to prove that” thought E. Quad Three in the southwest was “manned” by Sheila Johnson, another classmate and Fred’s grandmother. “Looks like Sheila’ll be family soon enough!” E thought. And finally the man she depended on to review the county’s defenses and give a hand with tactics – Tony Sampson commanded Quad Four to her northwest.  He had been another high school sweetheart and she’d been his prom date for his Senior prom.  It was a good team, tough and tested (Well, except for Rick – but he’d been through the last couple raids with Bull, E was sure he’d step up!)

“Morning folks, formalities first! Report!”

“Quad One Command post up, fire team for 1-2 in the bunker available if needed!” Doug’s voice was clear and solid.

“Quad Two Command post up, all fire teams for 2-1 through 2-4 in their bunker!” “Sounds like Rick’s head is in the game.” E mentally noted.

“Quad Three Command post is up, all fire teams for3-1, 3-3 and 3-4 are in their bunker and available. Fire teams for 3-2 are headed for OP18, they have been silent since 0600 this morning. They are ordered to report from the OP when they reach it.” Sheila’s voice held the same calm E had heard through any number of engagements throughout their lives together. She was tough minded and determined. E was glad to have her in charge of Q-Three this morning.

“Quad Four Command Post is up, fire team for 4-1 is in the bunker available if needed!” Tony sounded like the rock he was. Intense yet calm and ready for anything.

“Thank you everyone. Here’s our status as of – (glancing at her watch) – 0630.”

“Last night, Willie and Fred came under fire around 19:30 as they reached “The Rise”. Their purpose was to look for raider scouts – they found two. The first raider shot Fred in his upper right thigh. Willie engaged him and killed him. A second raider than made an appearance and was promptly killed by Dough Thorton who was whitetail hunting in the area when he heard the initial shots. Fred is in the hospital with a fairly sizable flesh wound. Doc expects him to be on limited duty for a couple of weeks but there is little danger from his injuries.

OP18, about 4 clicks south and east of “the rise” failed to make their comm check at 0600 during shift change. At 0605 OPs 17 and 19 heard a firefight coming from the direction of OP18. The rest, as they say, is history. Brad and Marion are headed that way, Sheila has a fire team on the way. We have no idea what this means, but as history has taught us all, it is better to error on the side of caution. Questions?”

“Hearing none, I’d like you all to stay on line while I have Jo do a comm check with our southern OPs. Jo, start with 17 and 19>”

“OP 17 – status!” there was clearly an edge in Jo’s voice.

“Negative contact – the firefight is sporadic in the direction of 18, it does not seem to be changing location. Our relief has arrived, we all plan on staying put until told otherwise! 17 by.”

“Roger 17, thank you. OP 19 – Status!”

“Negative contact – the firefight seems to be getting closer to our position thought it is sporadic. Our relief is onsite – we will all remain until told otherwise. 19 by.”

“Roger 19, thank you. OP 13 – Status!”

And so it went – 13 through 25. The only contact reported was that heard by 17 and 19, OP 18 remained non responsive.

“Quad 3 – Shelia, you have an ETA on your fire teams?” E probed her commander for an update.

“Quad 3 – we should be hearing from them any time E. Will let you know as soon as contact is made.” Shelia’s voice showing some of the tension everyone was feeling.

While E was bringing up her command structure – Brad and Marion tied Buck and Herfy to the posts outside Doc’s office and headed in to check on Fred and fill them all in on the morning.

“Doc, how’s the patient?” Brad asked, taking a welcome second cup of coffee that was offered by Sandy.

“He’ll live. His thigh is going to be sore for a bit, but nothing life threatening. We’ll keep it clean, watch for infection – but I’m not expecting trouble.” Doc sensed there was more coming.

“Good to hear Doc. Wish I could say the same.” As Brad filled Doc and Sandy in on the morning so far – he could see Willie and Fred were taking in the conversation as well.

“Willie – you need to head to E. I want you in the command center with her, there are things there you need to learn.”

Willie opened her mouth to protest – Brad was having none of it. “Not a request, not open to discussion either. You’ll be in E’s seat soon enough, you need to see how it’s done now – today. Get your ass in gear!” the edge in his voice got Willie moving in a hurry. Bending over he gave Fred a solid kiss – their first after “coming out” as it were. “Love you!” she said. “I love you too Willie – keep your head in the game out there!”

With that Willie geared up and was out the door and headed to the command post at a light jog.

Brad turned to Fred – “We may well need you here. Doc, if you need him, patch him as best you can and use him as needed. I have no idea whether you will see casualties or not, but I suspect we’ll know shortly. I’d be ready as soon as possible. I also want you both to tac up. I’d really be pissed if a raider snuck through and put a round through your ass! Vests, side arms and rifles available. Right frickin’ now! Clear?”

“Will do, you and Marion stay focused out there; I don’t want either of you on a slab tonight!” Doc and Sandy were already heading towards their gear. They handed Fred his vest and sidearm as well and by the time Brad and Marion were mounted Doc and Sandy were prepping for whatever casualties might be headed their way.

“Ready Marion ?” Brad asked, moving Herfy into a quick canter. “Right with ya boss!” Marion said as she and Buck joined him.

“What the fuck are we headed into and what is really going on . . .??” Brad’s gut told him that there was a Shit Storm comin’ . . .

His gut couldn’t even begin to know what was headed their way . . . .

UPDATE:  Minor story line corrections  8/27/13