Tuesday, February 22, 2011

For The Greater Good 17


CHAPTER SEVENTEEN


    The day started way too early for Rick, he sat up with a splitting headache. Brenda stood over him with her hands on her hips, glaring down.

    ”Ugh, I feel like shit.” He said.

    “Serves you right.” She replied coldly, and added, “By the way, Hal and Paul are here to see you. Now, even though I don’t like you getting that drunk, after hearing what Hal said, I guess I can understand it.” She said, her tone warmed as she smiled.

    “So, you forgive me?” He asked.

    “Yes, you big jerk, I forgive you.” Brenda replied and handed him a cup of coffee and some Excedrin.

    Rick took the coffee and the pills. “Thanks babe…I got so excited last night. I have to tell you it was weird, I honestly think that Herb was there with me. No lie.”

    “Really?” She said, and then sat on the bed, trying not to get too close to him and his alcohol breath.

    Paul came in and poked his head inside, “Hey man, get your ass out of bed, we’ve got work to do.” He said smiling, knowing that he would torture Rick as much as he was tortured last night.

    Rick smiled and then shot him the finger. Rolling out of bed and heading to the shower, the cold water blasted him wide-awake. Stepping out, dressing and walking into the kitchen, he met Hal, Paul and six of the guy’s, along with Brenda, Christine and the girl’s. Evidently, Paul had three of his guy’s that came over to his house, like Rick had three that stayed with them.

    Taking another cup of coffee and some fresh tortillas, he laid out how they would start. “Let’s have a look at the motel…what’s the name of it again?” He asked Hal.

    “The Windwood Resort.” He replied.

    “Ok, let’s check that out and then we’ll know what it’s going to take to set it up. After we do that, we’ll start an inventory on the weapons.” He looked at Brenda and Christine, “I thought you guys had to work today.”

    “Well…it seems that words has gotten out about your ‘find.’ I took the day off, so did Brenda. We want to help you get the camp taken care of.” Christine said.

    “Our camp, that’s cool, I like how that sounds.” Rick said as Paul nodded and smiled. “Ok, let’s get started.”

    Everyone piled into Rick and Hal’s truck and Paul’s Jeep and drove out to the Windwood Resort. The resort, which was just a fancy name for a decent motel, was perfect. Rick left his truck on the aircraft-parking apron at the rear of the motel. Standing outside, they all had a great view of the mountains and ski lifts. Walking over to the runway, Rick judged the width to be about forty feet; he’d have to walk off the length when he got the chance.

    Hal opened the main office and front reception area and the lounge. The dust on everything made it clear that nobody had been there for a while. Hal found the room keys and handed them out to everybody. “Let’s open the rooms and let them air out. When we get the power turned on, then we can get started with the laundry.” Everyone fanned out and opened the rooms, and windows, leaving the sheets on the beds.

    Rick picked two ground floor rooms for himself, one for his personal use and the other for the reloading and weapons cleaning. He called the guy’s to gather around. “I want you to put some tape on the doors, and write your name on the room you choose. What you’ll do is share a room with a buddy on the other shift.”

    The fellows went about that chore, after that they all went over to the bunkhouse. Again, they opened the doors and windows. The bunkhouse would be ideal for a large gathering as it would hold about seventy or so people. The beds were hand built bunk beds, and before that day they would have had TV and other electronic forms of entertainment.  

    As they finished up, a small truck pulled into the lot. The woman who got out went over to Hal, who then came to Rick. “Rick, this is Miss Linda.” He said, introducing him to their new Dorm Mom.

    Miss Linda smiled and shook Ricks hand with a grip that was as firm as any man’s. “Hi Rick, where would you like for me to start?”

    Rick scratched his head. “Miss Linda you can start anywhere you’d like.”

    “Fine with me, I’ll start in the kitchen.” She said, and then disappeared into the motel.

    “I think you’ll find that Miss Linda will have this place ship-shape in no time.” Hal commented.

    “I want to get these boys on a schedule as soon as possible. What I’d like from you is a list of folks that need help in their gardens. We’ll have twelve guys here, so we can take a few hours each day and help others with their harvest. That will still leave us with plenty of time for weapons and skills training.” He said to Hal.

    “That would be great. I’ll pass the word around and have some names for you shortly.” Hal replied.

    “I don’t think we can do too much more without electricity, so let’s head over to the gun shop and start inventorying.” Rick said to Hal and the guys.

    Brenda and Christine stood off to the side. “What would you like for us to do Rick?” Christine asked.

    “You might want to check with Miss Linda and see if she needs any help with anything.” He replied and then added, “Or you can come with us over to the gun shop and help out there.” They chose to come to the shop with everyone else.

    The caravan arrived at the Herb’s shortly thereafter. “Brent, do you know where the others on our team are?” Rick asked.

    “For the most part, yeah.” He replied.

    “I know where some of our guys are.” A young man from Paul’s team interjected.

    “What’s your name?” Rick asked.

    “Jon.”

    “Ok, why don’t you and Brent go and find them. Tell them to get their packs and weapons, and you take them to the camp.” He said and flipped his keys to Brent, “Take my truck. Unload your stuff and meet us back at the house, ok?”

    Rick motioned for Paul to follow him down into the hole. “Wow, this is amazing.” Paul exclaimed, “I wonder how long it took Herb to carve this out and stock it?” He asked.

    “I remember a boss of mine years ago, he had this saying, ‘How do you eat an elephant?’” Rick said to Paul.

    “I don’t know; how do you eat an elephant?” Paul replied smiling.

    “One bite at a time.” Rick said, and then grinned. “Herb has been here for well over thirty years, so if he worked on it little by little, over the years this is what he made…pretty impressive isn’t it?”

    Very impressive.” Paul replied, shaking his head in amazement.

    “Hey Rick, I’m going to get some engineers and get started on turning on your power.” Hal said, and then left.

    “Yeah, we’re going to the school. You won’t need us for this.” Christine said. Brenda and the girls left, walking the few blocks to the schoolhouse.

    “Hey what’s this?” Paul asked, reaching up to the top of one of the head tall stack of crates. Lifting a rectangular Remington box, and knocking over smaller boxes that were piled on its top. “Looks like a Police rifle. Hey, lift me up, I think I spilled something.”

    Rick made a stirrup with his hand and Paul climbed on top.

    “Cool, there are two more rifles and scopes with mounts and bases.” Paul smiled like a kid at Christmas.

    “Excellent, I’ll get those scopes mounted. I have to go through the Garands and make sure they are battle ready.” Rick said to Paul who sat on top of the crates. “What I’d like for you to do is to take charge of the AR-15’s. You know that weapon better than I do, I’ll do the Garands and the sniper rifles.”

    “That works for me. So how do you want to assign weapons to the guys?” He asked.

    “We have six on each roadblock and shift, right? So, I’d like to have three AR-15’s and three Garand’s for each team. We’ll have two guys qualify for the sniper rifles.” He said and then added, “I think that Thomas really likes his shotgun, he might not want to change, we’ll see.”

    “I want one of the Remington’s” Paul commented.

    “Good, if you shoot better than the other guys, then no problem.” Rick said smiling, as Paul flipped him the finger, and then continued poking around on top.

    “Here’s a box of radios and batteries.”

    “Radios, like the am/fm kind?”

    “No, walkie-talkies, the low power type used for hunting. There’s also a huge box of cleaning stuff.” Paul said.

    “Excellent, let’s get started on counting the ammo.” Rick said, as Paul slid down off the crates, landing on the ground with a thud.

    The two started calculating mentally, it soon became apparent that their mental capacity was dwarfed by the large amount of materiel. “Hey Winston, get me a paper and pencil, would ya?” Rick hollered up to the few guys milling around, bored by doing nothing.

    The paper and pencil dropped into the hole.

    “Ok, where were we?” Rick said to Paul.

    “We have almost thirty one thousand rounds of Garand ammo, with en blocs and bandoleers…and sixty thousand rounds of 5.56 for the AR-15’s.” Paul said, rattled off the numbers as he physically counted the boxes and their contents. “Here are some binoculars, spotting scopes and magazines for the pistols and AR-15’s.” He added.

    “Hey Winston, we’re going to pass some rifles and ammo up to you guys. I want this stuff to go into Paul’s Jeep.” They started with a dozen each of the Garands and the AR-15’s along with their ammo and magazines. “Let’s leave the rest of this stuff until we get the camp set up.” Rick added.


    Two days later, the camp was taking shape. For the first time, Rick, Paul and the twelve-team members slept overnight. Paul had set up his room on the other side of the ‘reloading room’ that was next to Rick’s. Miss Linda had hot coffee and breakfast ready to go at 5.30am. Everyone was exhausted from reconfiguring the resort to a military styled encampment. Hal’s engineer’s had worked wonders, and generously gave their time, energy and expertise, to do so much in a short period of time.

    Rick had slept in later that the usual 4.30am wake up. It was quarter after 5am when he got out of the shower and dressed. He was the only one awake, with the exception of Miss Linda. Making his way to the cozy restaurant, they shared coffee and fresh bread with jam.

    “You tell me when you’d like to eat, and I’ll have it ready.” The tidy woman with graying brown hair said to Rick.

    “Let’s have breakfast at 5am, lunch at 12 and dinner at 5pm…is that alright?”

    “That’s fine with me.”

    “What do you need these boys, I mean men…to do for you?” He asked, catching himself in referring to his men.

    “If they’ll bring down their sheets before they head back to the front lines, that would be a great help. I’ll make sure that they are washed for the next group that comes in.”

    “Very good, we’ll start that today.” Rick said as a large mud splattered truck pulled onto the aircraft parking area and stopped.

    The driver got out, and came over to the restaurant. “Is Mr. Martin here?” The man asked, his features and dress indicated he was more comfortable in the woods felling trees, than behind a desk.

    “I’m Rick.” He said, shaking the loggers calloused hand.

    “I’ve got those log’s you wanted, where would you like me to put them?” He asked.

    Rick and the logger walked outside to his truck and the dozen or so six-inch logs and four eighteen to twenty inch logs, which measured about fifteen feet in length each. “Beautiful, how much do you think the big ones will weigh?” He asked.

    The logger removed the stained and weathered baseball cap, scratching his head. “I don’t know, maybe four or five hundred pounds each.” He replaced his cap and asked, “What do you plan on doing with them?”

    “Exercise.” Rick said, smiling. “The smaller ones we’ll use to build our backstops for target practice. Let’s put them at the end of the runway, just drop them on the ground.”

    “Exercise, huh?” The man laughed, “Glad it’s not me using those for exercise, their heavy sons-o-bitches.” He started his logging rig, and drove to the end of the three thousand foot runway. Twenty minutes later, the logs were off loaded with the truck’s built-in claw arm.

    Everyone eventually came out of their rooms and stood around on the apron, wondering what all the fuss was about. Rick said nothing, they would find out soon enough.  

    “Ok, today you guys will go back to the lines. I know we haven’t started with our rifle practice, and that will have to wait until you come back in three days. I want to thank each of you for the help and hard work in getting this place together.” He said to the moans of displeasure from the guys. “Winston, you take my truck and our guys back to 50 and Jon you take Paul’s jeep and guys to 55. Tell everyone, I expect them to be back here no later than 11am.”

    The group broke up, showered and had breakfast, and then took off to their respective lines. Rick and Paul took some tools and walked down to the pile of logs and started to build the backstops. The replacement troops arrived about 10.30am and started milling around.

    Rick and Paul went over, addressing the men. “Ok, here’s the schedule. “Rick said to the attentive guards, “We are going to do this every day. First, you’re up at 5am…you’ll shit, shower and shave, then be at breakfast no later than 5.30am.” He said, looking at each man. “At 6am, we head to some local farms to pick crops. We’ll do this until 11:30 or so, and then we’re back here for lunch at 12.” He paused and added, “From 1pm until 5pm we do weapons training and conditioning…you’ll spend the rest of the evening having dinner and reading. We’ve got books on combat, weapons and the military sciences. Lights out at 9pm.” He looked at each one again, “Any questions?”

    A number of hands were raised, “When do we get our rifles?” One troop asked.

    “What’s your name?” Rick asked.

    “Marty, Sir.”

    “Marty, you’ll get either a Garand or an AR-15. I’ll train you on the Garand’s and Paul will train you on the AR-15’s. Everyone will get the 1911 pistols and we both can train you on them.” Rick answered, and added, “As you become comfortable on those systems, then I’ll offer some training on reloading ammo.” He said, pausing, “Now, we have a couple of Remington Police sniper rifles…two of you will get those, however, you’ll have to qualify for them.”

    Paul looked at Rick; his facial expressions questioned his comment.

    “Yes, you too.” He replied to Paul’s unasked question.

    Another hand was raised. “Mr. Rick, why do we need to pick crops? I mean, we already spend a lot of time on the front lines.” He asked.

    “This will be our community service. Now, I know that working on the front lines has been boring and tedious…however you and I both know that will change. So while we have the man power, let’s help out the community with their harvest, ok?” He replied. “I want you to find your rooms, get your stuff squared away and help us out with building the target backstops.”

    The next few hours were spent finishing the backstops, marking ranges off for their shooting distances and then a late lunch. That afternoon, Rick took six men and Paul the other six, and they began breaking down each weapon, cleaning them thoroughly of the waxy, greasy dark brown Cosmoline coating. Rick explained each part, and the how-and-why of the Garand system. After he felt they were somewhat comfortable with the weapon, they headed out to the range.

    The poled backstops were complete and set up with enough targets for six shooters. Starting off at fifty yards to zero their weapons, they switched with the other six to do the same. Each man went through about a hundred rounds to familiarize himself with his weapons operation.

    “Ok, now let’s see who can hit a target.” Rick said, and handed six inch circular orange pieces of cardboard to each. “Go and hang these up, make sure your name is on them.”  They did as he ordered and returned to fire eight rounds at the circles. After the cease-fire was called, they went and retrieved their targets, proudly handing them to Rick. The next six did the same. Rick looked at each target, unhappy with their results. “Only a couple of you put all eight rounds into this huge circle,” He said waving the target around, “so, I want six of you to stand in front of me.”

    Slowly six guys formed up in a line, directly in front of Rick.

    “You six are going to take that log to the other end of the runway.” He ordered, pointing to the huge length of timber. “Now…move it!”

    The guys looked at each other and then went over to the log, bending down they tried to organize themselves for the task. Slowly they lifted the log, groaning and grappling the monster. Once up, they all tried walking down the runway, dumping the log twice within the first fifty feet. As they moved down the runway, the other six smiled and chuckled, thinking they escaped their friend’s fate. “You guys…” Rick said to the others, “take the other one down too…move it!”

    Their smiles faded quickly as they followed the same pattern of the first six, grunting, yelling at each other and dumping the log. Finally they got it together, and lugged the beast down the asphalt runway.

    Rick and Paul quietly walked along behind them. At the end of the runway, they all were sweaty and covered with bark dust. Dumping the log unceremoniously, they bent over, trying to catch their breaths. “Now, I want you to run down to the other end of the runway, get your weapons and run back to my office…you do not want to be the last one back, now go!”

    The twelve started off at a jog, they were becoming winded quickly. Gathering their rifles, they found a second burst of energy and raced back. Now they were really tired. The last man back, Terry looked at Rick, expecting the absolute worst.

    “Terry, you get to police up the brass. I’ll have a couple of buckets for you, one for the 5.56 and the other for the .30 cal. However, you can do that after a shower and chow.” Rick stood with his hands on his hips. “Men, this is how it’s going to be from here on out. You shoot shitty and I’ll run your asses until they fall off.” He said, and then added, “We need marksmen, not spray-and-pray shooters.” He said. “You’re dismissed…go shower and then get some chow. We’ll talk afterwards, ok?”

    Everyone hobbled to their rooms and took long hot showers. Miss Linda had a marvelous meal of steamed corn on the cob, fresh green beans, and tomatoes with warm baked bread. They all sat in the restaurant, ate and talked. Miss Linda went from table to table, refilling their iced tea, enjoying the atmosphere and everyone’s company. After dinner, Rick led the men to the reloading room.

    “Let’s get your weapons cleaned. You’ll find everything you need in here, make sure that this stuff stays here. Also, here are some of the books that I told you all about before.” Rick said, as a father would talk to his sons, “You’ll find that other soldiers have gone through a lot worse than what we will…some of the battles in World Wars 1 and 2, Korea, Viet Nam, Iraq and Afghanistan were horrific. I want to make sure that whoever we face, that we’ll be prepared for them...and will defeat them.” He said, smiling to each man, “Light’s out at 9pm. Good night.”

    The entire group resounded as one, “Good night Sir.”

    Rick and Paul stepped outside. “I’m going to spend the night with Brenda tonight. You’re in charge…I’ll see you at 5am.”

    “Good night.”


    The next day mirrored the previous one. Their accuracy started coming along, not as well as Rick would have liked, but better than the day before. The ranges for the practice increased, and the size of the targets decreased, forcing them to focus on their technique and form.

    On the third day, Rick made a slight change. “Paul, you and Kenny will stay behind when we go to pick crops.” Rick said to the two. “You both have shot consistently better than the group, so I am going to have you both put some rounds through one of the sniper rifles.”

    Paul and Kenny, both smiled broadly and tapped fists with each other proudly.

    “Now, you’re going to break-in the bolt gun.” Rick said and explained, “You’ll take your pack to the fifty yard mark and use that as your bench rest. You’ll fire one round and then clean the bore, breech to muzzle, and then fire another round. You’ll do that for ten rounds, and then you’ll shoot two rounds and clean. Do that for twenty rounds, next is five rounds and clean, do that twice. The total number of rounds to break in the barrel is fifty.”

    Kenny’s eye questioned the process.

    “When they cut the grooves into the barrel, there are minute pieces of metal that need to be honed down.” Paul said to Kenny, and turned to Rick, “Thanks.”

    “Hey, you earned it, fair and square.” He said smiling, “Now by the time you get finished, I’ll have the reloading equipment set up. We only have a thousand rounds of match ammo, so we’ll need to reload. Herb thought this one out too, he gave us a chronograph. So, we’ll chrono the rounds after break-in and use that information to duplicate the match ammo.”

    Paul and Kenny nodded.

    “There are some books on the art of sniping. I was looking through them and I’ll tell you, it’s not a simple subject; you’ll have your work cut out for you. Now, that being said, your needs will be slightly different than the rest of the group. It’s going to be up to you to put your kits together and to train on the mil-dot rifle scope.” Rick said, offering up the challenges to learn the difficult sniping skills.        

    By the end of the third day, the guys wanted to be back on the front lines with their new weapons and aching muscles. That’s how it was, three days and they were ready to go back, one day on the line and they were ready to come back to camp again. It was a love-hate relationship. Morale soared as they all came together as one large team, instead of four groups of six. The people in town also noticed, as the guys picked crops quickly and efficiently, wanting to get back to camp and the rifle practice, physical workouts and the challenges that Rick set before them daily.


    The dog days of summer were upon everyone. Rick sat in a chair on the aircraft apron reviewing the group’s progress. In the two weeks since they had started camp, their marksmanship and physical fitness improved dramatically. Every man was able to hit a four inch circle at two hundred yards consistently. The sniper teams, Paul and Kenny, Winston and Jared were hitting the same four inch circle at four hundred yards and making killing shots on man sized targets at six hundred. Rick was pleased as he sat enjoying the sun and a cigar; however, they needed to go to the next level.

    “Paul, bring your teams over here.” Rick said. The four men came over and took a knee. “You men are going to Winchester tonight.” He said to the small group. “I want you to take a day or two and move around on the outskirts of town. I need intelligence on what’s going on in there. I don’t want you to make any contact, or take any shots, unless you are fired on…this is just a sneak and peek mission, understand?”

    The four nodded. “Are we going after Winchester?” Paul asked, meaning an attack with the entire group.

    “Do you remember Pepper Wayne?” Rick asked Paul.

    “Yeah, of course.”

    “Pepper felt that he was being watched, right? So we attacked, before they had the chance to attack us…I’m tired of defense, it’s time for some offense.” Rick said, and then added, “Under no circumstances are you to say anything to any of the guys. I don’t want word getting out.”

    The four nodded and accepted their assignment.

    “You’ll leave as soon as you have your gear ready…I want you all back here in two days.”

    The four nodded, tapped fists with Rick and walked away. An hour later they were on the road. The Jeep passed Thomas on his motorcycle as he was heading back to camp. Rick stood as Thomas pulled onto the apron.

    Taking off his helmet and extending the kickstand to the bike, he stated. “We have some people at the front lines.” He waited momentarily and then continued, “Two men, one woman and six kids. They are beat up pretty bad, but nothing that needs hospitalization.” Thomas said.

    “Go on…what have they told you?”

    “It seems that the woods are full of folks who are trying to get away from the cockroaches. They’ve been beaten up pretty bad and are on the verge of starvation.”

    “What about the cockroaches? How many are there?”

    “One of the men told me that they come and go. He said that sometimes there are close to a hundred, sometimes there are fifty, however the group that’s seems to be in charge numbers about twenty or so.” Thomas said, and added, “The twenty that control the town are the worst. He said they think nothing of shooting someone, or torturing, or…well, you get the idea.”

    “Yeah.” Rick took a deep breath, “Ok, here is what I want you to do. Go back and take one of those refugees, find and make contact with the others…tell them to pass the word around that it’s ok to come up to the line and make camp behind us. We’ll protect them.” Rick ordered, “After you do that, I want you to come back here and report in.”

    “Gotcha.” Thomas said, and started putting his helmet back on, “I just saw Paul and the snipers heading to the line…are we doing anything?”

    “I’ll let you know.” Rick said, his anger bubbling from the news of Winchester.

    Thomas left in a burst of speed, his tires leaving a black mark on the asphalt tarmac. The group on the firing line saw Thomas arrive, and then leave. They came over to Rick, their curiosity aroused. “Nothing’s changed, for right now. Finish up at the range, make sure your weapons are spotless…and get your packs ready to move out.” Rick ordered, and then walked to the restaurant.

    Miss Linda stood at the window, wiping a coffee cup with a hand towel and watching outside. Rick opened the door; the small brass bell tinkled announcing his entrance. “Hey Miss Linda, how’s the coffee?”

    “Old…if you have a few minutes, I’ll make a fresh pot.” She said, and went behind the counter, busing herself with the coffee, “I’ll join you, if you don’t mind.”

    Rick sat in one of the booths, his arm draped over the side, gazing outside and thinking about how they were going to go about an attack. His mind was a hundred miles away, as the coffee cups and carafe was set on the table. Miss Linda sat across from him, bringing his thoughts back to their reality. “Anything you want to talk about?” She asked, sipping her java.

    He looked up at her, after shoveling a spoon of sugar into the black liquid, “I need your help.”  

    “What can I do?” She quickly replied.

    “First of all, I need your absolute assurance that you won’t say anything to anyone, and that means even Brenda or Christine when they come over to shower.” He replied, watching her eyes.

    “You have my word Rick. Besides I haven’t said anything about what I’ve seen going on here to anyone.” Her eyes telegraphed her truthfulness.

    “Oh? So, what have you seen?” He questioned.

    “Come on, I see the way you’re training these boys.” She said, and smiled and continued, “You’re not training them to be guards…are you?”

    Rick smiled, “No, no I’m not.” He replied and continued with his original request, “We are starting to get some people over from Winchester. Thomas said they have been beaten, and worse. I’m going to need some food to take to the lines. We’re offering to let them come behind our lines for protection.” He asked.

    “Well, it’s about time. I’ll have some pots of food ready to take over, I’m thinking that if they haven’t eaten; then fresh vegetables and rice and beans should be filling and nutritious.”   

    “That would be great, and I do appreciate your word on the matter.” He said, relaxing in the seat and sipping some coffee.

    “Now, what about Winchester?” She asked.

    “I think that we are going to thin out the cockroaches a bit…they are getting too bold and too close to us here.” He said.

    Miss Linda nodded, as his intent was perfectly clear. “I need to start putting some things together for those folks…it’s a crying shame they have to go through all that.” She said, in a sweet southern accent, and then left Rick to his thoughts.

    Thomas arrived in the evening, heading directly for Rick, who was sitting in a chair on the tarmac, deep in thought and trying his best to relax. “Well?” Rick questioned.

    “We made contact with some folks camped down on the valley floor. Same story as before, they’re scared and beat up. They are passing word to come up to our lines.” Thomas said, removing the shotgun from around his back and propping it against his motorcycle.

    “Did you say anything to them about coming here permanently?”  Rick asked.

    “Yeah I brought it up, but they all said they want to go home.” He replied.

    Rick thought for a moment and nodded. “Good….that’s good.”

    “Rick.” Miss Linda called from the open door of the restaurant. “I have some things ready.”

    “Excellent.” He looked over to the team who slowly started gathering around. “I want a couple of guys to take my truck and the food Miss Linda has, to the lines.” He said. A dozen hands raised instantly. Rick picked two, and flipped them his keys and went over to the restaurant. Miss Linda had two bushel baskets of fresh corn, a basket of tomatoes and another with green beans. She had laid out two large steel pots with about fifty pounds of uncooked rice and beans.   

    The team made quick work of loading the truck. “You two stay at the line tonight; make sure you have your packs and rifles.” He said, and added, “I want you back here at first light…we still have vegetables to pick.”

    The group looked at him, questioning why they had to help with the harvest.

    Rick read their eyes and offered, “Paul and his scouts aren’t back yet. It’s business as usual until we hear from them.” He turned to Thomas, “You can stay here tonight and help out tomorrow.”

    Rick had an impossible night sleeping, tossing and turning, he just couldn’t get comfortable. Finally, he was able to doze off for a few hours, as his mind let go of the impending conflict. The morning broke, not the usual crystal clear skies, but a high thin overcast. Standing on the tarmac with a cup of coffee in hand, his truck and the two team members arrived back from the front and confirmed what Thomas had reported.

    The men filtered out of their rooms and to breakfast, they all looked like they hadn’t slept very well either. It was as if they were being propelled forward, the camp and their training was now boring and uncomfortable. Forcing himself to take the men and pick vegetables, he welcomed the diversion. Mindlessly they walked down the rows, filling baskets and thinking about their training. Were they ready? How many would get hurt or die? Did he do all he could in preparing them? Rick stopped, remembering what Brenda had said, about being brought here and squashed like bugs. Smiling at her comments, they finished the field and went back to camp, feeling confident.

    The men milled around after lunch. Rick put Thomas in charge of them for a workout. They moved logs, and then ran. Afterwards, they broke up; the day had vanished after the seemingly torturous morning. Now everything hinged on Paul and the scouts. Thomas came out of the reloading room with a box.

    “Rick, maybe we should issue the radios.” He said.

    “You know something; I haven’t even tried them out. I completely forgot about the radios.”

    Rick and Thomas opened the boxes and filled the small handheld transmitters with their batteries. “The box says they have a quarter-mile range, let’s see if that’s right.” Rick said, as Thomas walked down the range to the one hundred yard mark.

    “Check one-two-three, do you hear this ok?” Rick said in to the microphone.

    “Fine Sir.” Thomas replied, his voice crystal clear. He turned and went to the three hundred yard mark.

    “Check one-two-three, do you hear this ok?” Rick repeated.

    Thomas nodded, “Fine Sir, sounds good so far.” Thomas said, the tall muscular young man turned, heading to the boxes stated range of four hundred yards, or a quarter-mile.

    “Check one-two-three, do you hear this ok?” He repeated and looked down range at Thomas.

    “We’re starting to break up a bit, but other wise I can hear you fine, Sir.” Thomas replied.

    “I hear you fine, too.” An unfamiliar male voice said through the walkie-talkie.

    Rick’s eye widened and he stared at the receiver, and then looked at Thomas, who shrugged shoulders. “Who am I speaking to?” Rick said to the voice.

    “Colonel Bill Walters, United States Air Force.” 

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