Consequences - Chapter 4 - 5Chapter 6
By Susan Callaway
Dodging an increasing number of abandoned and burned out cars, the convoy approached the town rapidly, leaving the main highway at the first opportunity. The side road took them near the damaged bridge, and Charlie could see that a massive train wreck had been the cause of it. The HumVee could possibly have mounted the siding and crossed the tracks below the wreck, but the other vehicles in their wake could not have done so. The only other crossing was on the other side of the bridge, beyond the commercial district.
Jeff, who was now driving, turned again onto a road that paralleled the railroad tracks and slowed significantly. Ahead was a blind curve with a large manufacturing building jutting into the bulge. It was the best route they could find on the map and with the limited scouting information they had, since they didn't want to go anywhere near the roadblocks on the highway and just needed to get across the railroad tracks as quickly as possible.
Bradshaw spoke into the radio, ordering the other vehicles to drop back and maintain a little greater distance between them. Tension was high, and Charlie realized he was sweating hard... the bile backlash of fear harsh in his throat once again. He had no desire for another shooting war, but there didn't seem to be much choice here.
The boys and Cathy had been settled on the bedrolls in the middle of the cargo area behind the seat. As their supplies dwindled, there was more room, and the Sergeant had decided they would be safer there than in the seat. They slept quietly in the afternoon heat, and Charlie turned his attention to his rifle. They all had a pouch full of extra loaded magazines, and nobody needed to check again to make sure they had a round chambered.
They were as ready as they were going to get.
Rounding the first part of the curve, the hummer took a solid hit in an armor plate just below the driver's window. Everyone was thrown forward a bit as the brakes were applied, and they got a glimpse of a road full of nasty tire spikes ahead. Someone had fired just a few moments too early, and blown the trap. The shooter was not visible, and there were literally hundreds of places from which he could shoot down at them without exposing himself. Impossible to know if there was one shooter or dozens. They all held their fire, since they had no targets, and they heard no more shots fired at them.
Reversing gears screamed as the hummer backed up, then turned and fled back down the frontage road. The convoy reached the highway and turned east, then stopped when there was no pursuit from the town. The open ground was both an advantage and a disadvantage, of course, since the goblins in town could see which way they went as easily as they could see any movement to follow them.
Bradshaw's jaw was tight and his brow furrowed, but he showed no other emotion. He'd very much doubted that all the bandits were drunk, and he hadn't shared plan B, hoping that it wouldn't be necessary.
Much as he hated the fact, there was a personal enemy in that bunch, and they knew he was near because they'd recognized the hummer. The road spikes told him that his old nemesis from the Nebraska National Guard was in charge, and he knew that man would do anything he could to kill all of them.
He was not apt to make another mistake like the last one. And they were not going to make it past this town unless Colonel Millwright was taken out and his bully boys neutralized.
A sign just off the highway announced a private RV park and fishing spot a few miles south of town, visible in the near distance - inviting with trees and a small lake. They needed to camp for a while, and it looked like a defensible place, so they turned in and approached cautiously. Bradshaw didn't like the fact that there was only one way in or out, but their options were as limited as their time.
The main building had been looted and burned, and there were several abandoned vehicles in the lot, but the camping spots near the lake were mostly clear. The convoy pulled into a circle, ignoring the usual camping site lines. They dismounted after a thorough search of the out buildings and the tiny woodlot, discovering nothing but a single corpse and an old dog that had died from a bullet between the eyes. It was impossible to determine what had happened to all of the other people, or why the vehicles had been abandoned intact. Just one more pebble on a mountain of mysteries.
Charlie checked out a nice camper rig, and got Cathy settled into the bed. The boys were simply wild to run and climb, so he took them to a nearby play area and watched as they enjoyed the slides and swings. He knew that the deep sand would sap their excess energy quickly as they ran back and forth.
Preparations were started for an early supper. They hadn't taken time for a regular meal all day, and everyone was suddenly very hungry. Charlie volunteered to be the cook, while Bradshaw and most of the others sat a little apart, discussing the day and the current problem. Two were on guard, but everyone kept alert with their rifles close at hand.
"Colonel Millwright?, Jeff said. "He's one bad hombre." He looked away from the others, remembering stories told by some Nebraska folks who had joined their refuge in the last few weeks. Evidently, he and a big crew of criminals and former guardsmen had turned rogue within days of the final breakdown of civil authority.
"I know you guys don't like it," the Sergeant said, "but there really isn't much else we can do. I'll take one man with me, and do my best to find and eliminate Millwright. If we can cut off the head of this snake, the rest of them won't present us with too much of a problem." John nodded, knowing he had drawn the short straw for this mission. It didn't seem to bother him.
No word on how he planned to take Millwright out, and nobody asked. They didn't have much to say, but though they plainly didn't like Bradshaw's plan B., he hadn't asked for their opinion and they knew better than to argue with him when he'd made up his mind. Several of them grinned at John, wishing they were going instead, but they knew he was the best choice.
Silence reigned for a little while. Then Bradshaw asked a man named Fred to take his team and make sure the parameter of the camp was secure. Jeff's team would relieve them as soon as they'd eaten, and they could trade off every four hours after that until he and/or John returned - or they decided they weren't going to be able to make it back, whichever came first.
Charlie called them to eat the simple meal, then took a plateful into the trailer to feed Cathy while the men outside watched the boys.
Cathy was sitting up, and he was overjoyed to see her make eye contact and even give him a wan smile. He helped her to the toilet, and watched while she washed her own face and hands, grateful there was still water in the tank of the camper and enough battery power left to move it.
She sat and began to eat, a little shaky and hesitant, but clearly coming around. She said, "thank you" a few times, but didn't speak otherwise - only turning her head to look out the door when her sons howled with laughter. The big block of ice that had encased his heart for so long began to melt, and he suddenly felt so weak he was glad to be sitting down beside her.
Even though she wouldn't eat much, he encouraged her to consume as much of the "sport's drink" as she could tolerate. She patiently swallowed until she could take no more, but he was encouraged to see that she'd gotten down most of the liter bottle and knew it would restore much that had been lost from her system over the last week.
Twilight was long and colorful from the smoke that hung over the town, but soon the bed rolls came out and no time was lost getting into them. The boys were snuggled with their mother, and Charlie placed his bed in front of the trailer door, making sure his rifle was exactly where he needed it to be.
He didn't know when the Sergeant and his partner had left, but he said a silent prayer for all of them, with a special prayer of thanksgiving for Cathy and her recovery. He hoped she could be spared further shock, but he knew now that she was stronger and more resilient than he'd dared to expect.
Bradshaw was no longer young, and his body had been given a number of serious insults over the years, but the younger man had to work hard to keep up with him. John grinned about it occasionally, and kept on moving, thinking that the bad ass Colonel was about to regret the afternoon's error in a big way. He'd almost had them, and if he knew the Sergeant, he wasn't apt to get many more chances.
Night found them half way to the edge of town, a sliver of moon giving them all the light they needed. Night vision glasses were clipped to their helmets, and there wasn't much in the way of rough ground ahead of them anyway. It would have been easier walking on the road, but they'd have been far more visible then of course.
Fires in the residential areas continued to burn, but they seemed to be more smoke than fire now. John mentally reviewed the map he'd memorized, and tried to think where the rogue Colonel would set up his headquarters. The old National Guard building was the most likely place, but there were other possibilities and he had no real idea what intel Bradshaw might have that he hadn't shared. He wasn't worried about it... he'd know when he needed to know.
Stopping at a flood control ditch, they carefully climbed down and walked further south along the dry watercourse. Distant gunfire could be heard occasionally, but there were no moving vehicles or people anywhere they could see.
John touched Bradshaw's shoulder lightly when they reached the street that led to the Armory on the outskirts of town. Climbing out of the ditch on the other side, they melted into the shadows like ferrets on the hunt, stopping at the official chain link fence only long enough to make good use of the heavy cable cutter John had carried. Then, after crawling through the cut wire, the tool was abandoned to reduce the weight of his pack.
They came to a 6 foot retaining wall, and took a breather while they looked over the large sprawling installation beyond the storage lot on the lower level where they had entered. Few vehicles were on the lot behind them, and only two sat in front of what looked to be the administration building nestled in a crescent of smaller structures and trees. The concrete of the parking lot reflected the warm moonlight faintly.
"Bingo," John thought. " But he wondered how they could cover the 200 yards of bare concrete unseen. A diversion would work, but then Millwright would KNOW they were there. He would be expecting Bradshaw to try this, of course, and he'd be ready. No guards in evidence, but John didn't expect that. Too obvious, and too vulnerable. At least the ordinary guard soldiers would be vulnerable.
Bradshaw started to move, and John followed along the wall until they came to the end at a driveway. Close by was one of the small buildings, door hanging open and windows broken. He could see others beyond it, but no details were discernible in the shade cast by the many trees around them.
Gliding silently from tree to tree, and building to building, John constantly consulted a small electronic device, hoping to spot surveillance or alarms before they tripped them. Twice they came close, and several were passed with a wide margin, but they were both drenched in sweat by the time they reached the back of the main building. It wasn't likely that the Nebraska National Guard had more sophisticated electronics than they did, but anything is possible.
John hoped they were not going to attempt to enter the structure, always a much more difficult task, but it was obvious what was needed. John placed another device on the electronic combination lock of the back door and, after a few seconds with a tiny thing that looked like a remote control, the light on the lock went from red to green and the door opened easily. The back up generator was powering the doors, but not the big array of lights that would normally have covered the place inside and out. Of course that was just fine with John... darkness was their friend.
Both men slipped on their night glasses as they passed inside, watching the tiny displays of the alarm detectors carefully. They found the security room easily, quiet and empty as a tomb, and the same device that had opened the door lock turned off the whole system. Not that they quit looking at their alarm snoopers, of course. Back up and redundant systems are an old military standby.
But this time, one was all there was, it seemed. No other surveillance devices or nets were discovered, and the continued quiet seemed to indicate that their presence had not yet been detected.
Silently, they walked the hallway leading to the front of the building. Doors on either side, a few standing open, led to empty, dark offices and one large conference room with a massive table in the middle, all smashed to splinters. Nothing else seemed out of place, but the savagery of the destruction of that table sent cold spikes down John's neck. He remembered some of the horror stories about the mad Colonel, and wished he'd never heard them.
This was all much too easy and he seriously feared a trap, but he would have gladly followed the Sergeant into hell itself, so he kept on walking.
A large suite of offices branched off to the left, complete with a lobby and a receptionist's desk. A single dim light shone behind the glass door of the office designated for the facility commander, and it stood slightly ajar as if to invite them in. It swung silently as they entered after flipping up the night glasses, and neither of them was surprised to hear someone gruffly say, "Well, you did come after all."
A big man sat in an office chair, behind a massive desk, but John could see immediately that something was very wrong here. The voice had not only been gruff, but weak and breathy. The figure in the chair was slumped to one side and seemed to waver in the pale light of an emergency lantern that had been placed in front of him on the desk. The smell of blood hit the back of John's throat, and he suddenly knew the man in the chair was dying. That didn't make him any less dangerous, necessarily, but he didn't feel so trapped all of a sudden.
Bradshaw didn't say anything for a few moments, but his first words were a big surprise to John, who knew the terrible history between these two - or at least the last part of it.
"Hello, old friend. I'm sorry it has come to this, but it seemed you never wanted it any other way." The Sarge paused, then continued. "I tried to tell you that your own actions would someday bring you to death and destruction."
The Colonel shook his head slightly, his expression hard to read. He was breathing harder, and the smell of blood was strong. He closed his eyes, and pressed his fleshy lips together for a moment, swallowing hard, but obviously unable to call up enough strength to say anything more.
A door slammed in the distance, and the faint sound of pounding boots could be heard between the rough breaths of the dying man before them. Bradshaw took a good sized bundle from his pack and turned a dial, then placed it on the floor in front of the desk. They turned and left the room without another word, but John knew that the Colonel had taken his last breath before the door closed behind them. After all the horror he'd inflicted, he'd simply bled out in his own office.
Quickly retracing their path to the back door, they slipped out into the night and then ran for the retaining wall, knowing that the security system was out. John knew what to expect, but they had barely gotten behind the wall when the night exploded into fire and sound that blinded and deafened them both for a few moments, sending a cloud of smoke and debris that would have cut them to ribbons if they'd been in the open.
The explosion leveled the main building, and the rest of them were soon burning brightly. A few men staggered out of buildings on the edge of the compound with their clothing in flames, and nobody noticed two shadows that merged with the night and crossed the back of the abandoned base to the hole in the fence.
John labored to follow Bradshaw, and he wondered to himself just what had happened. But he'd done his job. He wasn't much of a soldier, all told, but he was an electronic genius and had never come across a system he couldn't jam or shut down. He was glad tonight had not been any exception.
Dawn had broken, but for the first time in a long while Charlie hadn't awakened with the first light. Even a former Marine occasionally reaches the end of his endurance. So, it was with some confusion that he woke to shouts of joy. Rolling out of his tangled blankets, he saw the Sergeant and John staggering into camp looking dirty and rough, but very happy indeed.
Just like the replay of a bad movie, Charlie saw the blind curve and vacant factory building came into sight. Cathy and the boys were flat in back again, though not sleeping this time, and everyone looked grim. Nobody had any idea what to expect.
They crept up to the point of yesterday's attack and then came to a stop just beyond it. The spike strips were tossed off to the side, and a makeshift barrier of saw horses and 2x4s spanned the road instead. Weatherbeaten old men armed with farmer's rifles and shotguns were guarding it . They were obviously not bandits or goblins, but they didn't look welcoming.
Bradshaw stepped out of the hummer with his hands high, leaving his rifle behind but clearly armed with the holstered pistol. He stood still and let the men look him over, wondering what they thought about the faded camo and combat gear, not too much different than many of the bandits had worn. He was clearly not a cop or regular military, and right now even they were not apt to be too welcome much of anywhere.
A middle aged man in overalls and a straw hat stepped forward of the barrier. He wasn't exactly pointing the rifle at the Sergeant, but he wasn't exactly NOT pointing it at him either. His gaze bored into the vehicles, and then froze on the hummer as Cathy got out with the boys. Charlie didn't want to let her go, but she was adamant and would not be held back. She just stood there silently, waiting for whatever might happen. Somehow, her intuition had insisted that this was necessary for everyone to understand each other before there was a tragedy.
"Who are you, and what do you want?" The man directed his question to Cathy, his voice gruff with resolve, but the suspicion was fading from his expression and Bradshaw slowly lowered his hands. The old man lowered the muzzle of the rifle at the same time, and everyone took a deep breath.
"We were rescued from a city in Iowa," she said, her glance taking in Charlie and the boys. "These men have saved our lives." She went on gazing into the old man's eyes, but had nothing more to say.
The Sergeant moved slightly, drawing the man's attention and said, "We just need to get over the rails and back on the highway. We're going to our place in Wyoming. Would you please let us through to the crossing?
The man looked thoughtful, and then rubbed tired eyes as he made up his mind. "You see," he said in a whole different tone of voice, "we're sort of in a bind here and maybe you folks could help us." He almost smiled as he said it, but they could all see that he was suddenly very near to tears.
"Many of our young men are still overseas in some Islamic rat hole or another, and this town has been torn apart by all these filthy criminals who crawled out of the cities when things crashed. They've killed a lot of our folks, and there wasn't much we could do about it, but we've just learned that some women were taken captive and are being held down town. It may be a fool's errand to rescue them, but we'd sure like to try and 8 more men might just get the job done."
By now the barrier had been moved aside. Everyone had dismounted from the vehicles and all were gathered around the HumVee. The townsmen moved closer, most slinging their rifles, but the ever vigilant Mutt and Jeff kept their guns at the ready, scanning the surrounding buildings and open spaces carefully as they casually took opposite sides of the street .
"We can't stay here in the open," said Bradshaw, and the old man nodded. "Follow us," he said, and went to an old pickup truck that had been parked in an alley.
Bradshaw's group remounted, and the rest of the townsmen piled into the truck bed, rifles back in their hands and at the ready.
The old truck pulled out and went west, then abruptly turned left onto a light industrial park. Another turn took them toward a shipping dock complex under two of the buildings, and they snaked around several abandoned 18 wheelers and assorted loose trailers until they were all parked in the gloom at the bottom of the ramp. The trucks and trailers topside were evidently being used as a screen because there were none in the underground area that was bordered on both sides by closed shipping doors.
Inside the office portion of one building, maps, sketch pads and pens or markers littered a big conference table. The building evidently had its own generating plant because some women with hot coffee and sandwiches appeared rapidly as they settled into the room. One older lady led Cathy off to find a rest room, and the boys were engaged with paper and markers at another table soon after they came back.
This time, Charlie took a chair at the council of war, having left the last of his reluctance and self doubt at the old RV park that morning. He and his family had been rescued, and now it was time to pay that debt forward if it was at all possible.
The lead elder introduced himself as Luke Benson, a local farmer and county commissioner. Each person around the table introduced themselves, but only Bradshaw added a few words to indicate his former occupation and experience in the Marine Corps.
Luke said that most of the people in town had evacuated to the farms and were probably safe out there, but that his wife had been in town with him when the goblins hit and they'd been separated in the madness. She had been worried about a group of people who had insisted on staying in the old church and she might have tried to reach them. He hadn't seen her since.
Looking at the maps while this was going on, Charlie compared the topographical to an excellent detailed street view, and was delighted to see one of the new aerial view sort as well. Within a few minutes he was more familiar with the layout and features of the town than most of those who had lived there all their lives. For this was Charlie's gift. He had a photographic memory and perfect recall of it. He seldom had to look at a map a second time to know exactly where he was and how to get to where he needed to be - or to direct others to a desired destination. His memory worked just as well for other things, but was especially keen for maps and the geographical features of any landscape.
His eager study of the maps had not gone unnoticed. The Sergeant grinned, probably remembering Charlie's talent, and then turned to address Luke again. Charlie smiled too and relaxed into the nice chair, swirling the dregs of his coffee in the thick mug.
"Where did you say you thought the women were being held, Luke? Sarge said. Luke just wrung his hands and told them that his son Jake had gone out last evening to see if he could locate them. But he had not returned and was feared lost.
Bradshaw probably was not aware of the fierce look on his face and the eager tilt of his jaw, but it was not lost on anyone else in the room. The townspeople murmured to each other, casting hopeful glances at the newcomers. Nothing had been promised yet, but nobody really doubted now that the attempt would be made.
The morning seemed to be going by too fast to measure, but by 10 AM they were ready. Extra radios had been brought out, batteries and function tested, and pouches loaded with anything else they thought they might need. The boys wandered from group to group, alternately being cosseted and scolded, but enjoying all of it until, too tired to go on, they fell asleep at their mother's feet and were carried off by loving hands for a nap out of the bustle.
Charlie stood beside a large window in an empty office and watched the clouds in the south rising to fantastic heights, trailing showers and lightning across the prairie. A deep black bank of clouds on the horizon promised serious rain later. Cathy stood silently beside him, obviously not happy that he was going to leave without her, but accepting his desire - his need - to "pay forward" his debt to Bradshaw and the others. Charlie and two others had been chosen to do the scouting, to see if they could locate the women being held captive. She knew that Luke's son, who had gone on that mission the night before, had never returned so the risk was not small.
The jeep had been chosen for this mission, and the man made cavern echoed slightly as the men shouted to each other over the sound of the engine and the occasional bursts of thunder. Bradshaw had just given the order for the recon team to mount up when a lone man came in out of the rain. He was soaked to the skin, and his long hair hung in strings around his face, but there was no menace in him. He was young, not obviously armed, and wore the typical jeans and t-shirt, moving with fluid grace.
Luke and Bradshaw stepped forward together, and Luke took the young man's hand as it was extended wordlessly. "Did you find them? Luke said.
Turning to the Sergeant, Luke introduced the newcomer as his only son Jake.
"Yes, Pop, I found them. Was pinned down for a while, but finally got away." Jake was clearly almost exhausted, but excited with his news. "They're in the Manor House Motel on Main and 2nd St.," he said. "Those guys are starting to come off their drunk, and they're getting real ugly. We got to DO something fast!"
"Did you see your mother? Luke said sharply, but Jake just shook his head. "I couldn't get close enough to see anything much, but I know that's where they are... the ones who are still alive anyway... They took the women from the church and killed everyone else" His voice trailed off and his eyes burned with hate. Luke put his arms around him saying, "These men are going to help us rescue everyone possible. We've got to let them get going."
Bradshaw nodded, and then turned to address the three men in the Jeep who had been ready to go looking for the women. "This changes everything, now that we know were they are. Hold on a moment and we'll all be going with you!"
"Saddle up! he shouted to the rest of the convoy. They'd all actually been ready to go, so it was only a few moments until all three vehicles roared up the ramp and headed out into the sporadic rain. Charlie had returned to the HumVee, and was now the navigator in the front passenger seat. Mutt was behind in the truck with his team, and Jeff brought up the rear in the Jeep with his group.
The wrecked and abandoned cars on the streets made progress very slow and Bradshaw noted that the gutters were already flowing from the passing thunderstorms. When the main rain hit, the streets would soon be flooded and travel would become even more hazardous. He hoped to be done and out of the open by then.
A block from the motel, they left the vehicles. Sarge sent two of the men to scout further on foot. They needed a better idea of what they were getting into. They had seen no signs of guards or watchers on the way in, but that didn't mean they hadn't been spotted. They just had to take the chance that the enemy was either too drunk or too hung over to mount a watch.
He was very worried that the bandits were being led by Emmanuel Perez, Millwright's demented lieutenant, as implacable an enemy as had ever lived. His serious lack of intelligence had always kept him in the shadow of his evil master, but his skill with any sort of bladed weapon was legendary among those who knew him. Bradshaw was as sure as he could be that the knife wounds Millwright had died from had been inflicted by Perez. Nobody else could have gotten close enough to the old tyrant anyway, but why Perez had killed him was a whole other unanswered question. He figured he's probably never know.
The scouts returned quickly, moving fast through another cloudburst. Jeff climbed into the back seat of the hummer to give Sarge report, and the other man returned to the Jeep where he had been before. Jeff's soggy clothing dripped on the seat and the odor of sweat and wet leather was heavy for a moment while he caught his breath.
"Not too many guys outside the Motel," he said. No telling how many inside, really, but they're still pretty drunk and very loud. I heard women screaming too, and wanted to go in there real bad, but here I am." He looked very grim, and took a second to swallow hard. "Lots and lots of doors, of course, being a motel. It's going to be a nightmare to clear the place of goblins without killing the hostages! The main building with the office, cafe and store are pretty messed up, but I didn't see any signs of fire. We could blow the place for a diversion, but I'm not sure what good that would do. They are just too screwed up to be predictable at all.
The Sergeant nodded, and then shared his fears about the identity of the goblin leader. Jeff took a deep breath and held it a moment, jaw tense and eyes very wide. "Oh God," he said, and swallowed hard again. Charlie had never heard of Perez, of course, but he felt the hair on the back of his neck rise in response to the fear demonstrated by the others.
"A personal challenge to fight might bring Perez out," said Bradshaw. The others looked at him silently. They certainly didn't have anything better to offer, and they knew the Sarge understood their enemy the best. What they didn't have was anyone even remotely qualified to take the crazy criminal lieutenant on in hand to hand combat. The did know that he would not agree to anything but knives.
"Sniper shot when he comes out?" Jeff suggested. "Maybe we could get him to come out?"
Charlie cleared his throat, and the others looked at him curiously. "Ah, are these guys like a gang outfit? How would they react if a rival gang came along and challenged them?"
Bradshaw just shook his head. "Not enough of us for that, but you did give me an idea Jeff. Hmmmm, I wonder where all of the big guns and vehicles from the Armory went to... Sure wish we could see this burg from the air."
His eyes went immediately to a tower on a building on the block just beyond the motel. If they could manage to remain undetected and get up into the top of that structure, they might be able to see better, and they'd be in a much better position for sniper fire too.
Speaking to Luke on the radio, he soon determined that there was a way up the tower, probably locked, but not impossible to penetrate as the building was quite old. He also said that he thought the National Guard vehicles and guns had been loaded onto the train that had derailed east of town. He would send a group of men to determine if any could be recovered. Bradshaw instructed him on placement of any he was able to salvage, cautioning him to take great care not to be discovered by the bandits.
The pickup truck was left with one man as guardian of some very special ordinance. Mutt patted it as he set it up on the back of the truck and hoped to have the chance to use it. The HumVee and the Jeep went around several blocks to the big old church with the tower. It didn't look as tall when they got to it, but it was obviously the tallest structure in town and would give them some advantage anyway.
Getting into the tower was a matter of breaking one lock and climbing a long winding staircase to the top. The old clock mechanism occupied a closed area in the center, and a narrow window on each of the four sides let in plenty of light. Luckily the one on the side facing the motel had been broken out recently, so they didn't need to do anything but set up their equipment and wait. Monsoon rain and heavy wind came with the black clouds as three men were finding other rooftops around the motel to establish sniper points.'
The Sergeant shook his head and muttered to himself, while Jeff adjusted the scope on his big battle rifle to get a clearer picture of the most likely target. The rain and wind made a good clean shot almost impossible, he knew, but he'd do his best. Charlie looked out over the downtown area, trying to spot anything that might help them. They all had field glasses, and Charlie had a powerful spotting scope, temporarily mounted on the ledge of the old tower window. Something drew his attention to an old grain silo and feed mill on the far western edge of town, but he didn't have time to think about it much.
Suddenly, a car came out of the motel parking lot and stopped in front of one of the rooms. Everyone in the rescue party came to instant attention, and Jeff got serious about his aim. Lady luck might visit them, but she wouldn't stay around to give them a second chance.
A small, dark man in a rumpled uniform staggered out, several other men crowding out behind him. Bradshaw touched Jeff's shoulder, and the sniper grew very still for just a moment before the rifle spoke. One man in the group fell, but it was not the right one, and the rest scattered fast. Two went back into the room, and three entered the car which sped off to the north. The Sergeant spoke into the radio, and a few moments later the car was hit with something rather larger than a bullet and came to rest in flames against the burned out hulk of a truck about a block away. Small arms fire was heard for a moment, but there was no movement from the wrecked car. The SMAW had come in handy, and their placement of it had been pure blind luck.
A stream of men came out of all the rooms, but nobody on the rescue team could see that as anything but a good thing. Gunfire rattled from many directions, and the drunken men in the street began to fall like bowling pins. They couldn't see anything to shoot at, of course, but that didn't stop them from shooting wildly into the surrounding buildings. That had to be stopped as quickly as possible, since the motel rooms behind them might be filled with hostages.
The snipers placed their shots carefully, in spite of the rain and wind, and the bandits in the street were quickly all accounted for. That left an unknown number still in the rooms, and the women were still hostages. While the situation had improved some, the telling point would be the presence of Perez. If he was dead in that car, the rest of the goblins might be killed or convinced to surrender. If Perez was in that room, a successful rescue was far from sure.
The radio signaled an incoming report, and the Sarge heaved a big sigh of relief to learn that Perez was almost certainly dead. He really ought to go down there to make a positive identification, but he doubted that there were two men here who would fit the description. Perez had a face that would stop a clock, full of old scars from knife fighting.
The rain intensified, and the afternoon began to grow dark. Luke had not been able to salvage any of the National Guard trucks, but they had a good number of guns and lots of ammunition. They had gathered a dozen men from the farms, and agreed to surround the motel to rush the buildings as soon as everyone was in place. There just wasn't any other way they could see to effect the rescue now.
Leaving Jeff in the tower, and at least three others on various rooftops around, the men assembled behind the old church and out of sight of the motel. Rain fell in sheets, and everyone was soon drenched, but their spirits were high and their resolve rock solid. The older men arrived and gave sandwiches and hot coffee from thermos bottles to the young warriors. A few men took a quick smoke in the doorway of the church, trying to stay out of the wind while Bradshaw and his team leaders conferred with Luke.
Then, after a quick huddle to be sure everyone knew their part, each man carefully made his way to an assigned position and waited for the signal to attack. Lightning once again began to flash through the storm clouds, and the rain continued. Charlie pulled the hood of his poncho over his face and checked again to be sure his rifle was covered. He hoped this would be over soon because he was just as exhausted as he'd been the day before and he didn't know how much longer he could go on. But he knew that he'd gone on much longer than he'd ever dreamed was possible, even back in the city, so he put it out of his mind and waited patiently, just as they'd taught him in the Marine Corps years ago.
He almost didn't see the signal anyway. A blinding flash of lightning and instant crack of thunder mostly covered the sound of the opening volley of gunfire. Charlie joined others rushing the motel rooms, kicking in the doors if they were locked, and taking out any resistance. There was surprisingly little, but the shock of seeing the condition of the women they found was more sickening than the toll exacted by having to kill their despoilers. It was all over very quickly, with a few men detailed to make sure all the goblins had been accounted for. Then the task of helping the women out to the waiting vehicles began. Nobody knew exactly how many women had been taken alive originally, but only 11 were found in the motel rooms. Luke helped with bowed shoulders and grim face, knowing his wife was not among the survivors.
Through the rest of the afternoon and evening, the men checked out all the other motels and buildings in the town, finding nothing more than widespread destruction and many corpses, fortunately mostly goblins - except for the men and children in the old church sanctuary. It was sorrowful and crushing work for the townspeople.
A restless night's sleep in the old shipping center had been followed by a quick breakfast and brief good-bye speeches from the town elders. They would ever be grateful for the help they'd received, but they declined to follow the Sergeant and his party to relative safety in Wyoming. They were resolved to rebuild their town and resume their lives the best they could.
Bradshaw, Mutt and Charlie, with Cathy and the boys in the HumVee, led their little convoy across the tracks and back onto the highway at the crossing north of town early the next morning. They still had a long road home.
I look forward to your comments.
This is fiction. Any resemblance to actual people or places is purely unintentional.
It is a work in progress and may change or be published later.