Wednesday, February 23, 2011

For The Greater Good 19


CHAPTER NINETEEN


    The hot, humid day seemed to go on forever. Rick mulled over the information Paul and Winston had given, and had a general idea of what he wanted to accomplish. As he thought further, he formulated a specific plan. Gunny Winters merged his Marines with Rick’s men, and it didn’t take too long for all of them to start to gel as one team. Paul, Winston and their spotter’s had some rest, however, they were too excited and nervous to get much sleep. Later on, they formed up with Lance Corporal Evans and were on the range, getting some final trigger time in.

    Rick squinted in the bright mid-afternoon sun as he stepped out of his room, somewhat confident in his plan. He knew better than to be overly confident, as there were still a lot of unanswered questions and uncertainties.

    Gunny Winters saw Rick standing out on the tarmac watching their training and walked over. Rick was impressed with the Gunny, and really liked him as a person and as a patriot.

    “Well? What did you come up with?” Gunny asked.

    “Come on in, tell me what you think.” He replied, and then walked back into his room and over to the maps and notes which were spread out on his crisply made bed.  “Here’s what I’m thinking. We should time our attack for noon, or until those guys that are gathering food come back into the hostage area for lunch. We’ll start by taking out the three guards that will be with the hostages who are gathering water. When we take them out, the snipers will go ‘weapons free’ and take out the guards on the rooftops.” He said, pausing and then continued, “After that, we’ll go through town and take the rest of them out.” He said, and looked at the Gunny for his comments.

    “Ok, pretty good. Now, instead of just going after the town, you should start at one end and work towards the other, driving them to a point where you can hammer anyone who tries to escape. Classic ‘Hammer and Anvil’ maneuver.” He said, using his fingers to draw a line in the direction he would recommend.

    “Gotcha, I like that. How many guys do you think would be needed at the anvil?” Rick said, pleased at the Gunny’s recommendation.

    “Six should be plenty. Now, what are you going to do if you take the town?”

    Rick paused for a moment, “I haven’t given that much thought, I just figured we’d thin out the bad guys a bit…” he replied, his thoughts now focused on the possibility of occupying the town.

    “I need to call in and make a report.” Gunny said.

    “You might want to keep them in the dark about what we’re doing tonight.” Rick commented, leaving his previous thoughts behind.

    “Why would I want to do that?”

    “What if they change your orders, and make you all stay behind?”

    Gunny thought about that one for a minute, not saying anything, just nodding.

    “Sometimes it’s easier to ask for forgiveness, than permission.” Rick said to him with a wry grin.

    Gunny Winters smiled at the comment. He would make contact with Raven One and be retransmitted to General Perry at Cherry Point. His report would be accurate, without giving information on their attack.  

    The team finished their practice and drills, and made doubly sure they all had enough ammo and supplies. Every man cleaned his weapon thoroughly. Their joking and cavorting, wound down to silence and introspection. It was evening, and time to move out. Rick passed out pairs of walkie-talkies with their earphones. The snipers left first; they would be driven two miles from town and stalk in the rest of the way.

    The remaining team loaded into two trucks. It was almost midnight when they drove to the roadblock. As they passed through the opened barricade, Rick slowed and parked, staying in the truck. The guards came over to the truck, and were definitely jealous of their cohorts. However, they knew what was required and that they could be called on at anytime to join in the fray.

    Rick drove slowly down the ridgeline with Jared following close behind in the International Harvester. Thomas followed the trucks on his motorcycle. They dismounted about two miles from town and quietly walked along the road until they reached a railroad track crossing. They followed this track until they were into the town perimeter. Once inside, they quietly stalked to the park, where the prisoners would be led to gather water. Sitting in silence beside the bushes off the trail, each man was camouflaged with olive drab and black make-up. They blended in perfectly.

    The sun rose. It would be another hot day. The water in the nearby stream bubbled along the rocks, creating a calming and almost hypnotic sound. It mesmerized Rick as his mind wandered, thinking about the time spent in the blast zone bunker, and the water that he and Melissa had to drink. Everyone quietly ate their MRE’s in silence. All of their eyes focused on the slightest movement and all of their ears picked up the faintest sounds. They could hear some people yelling in the distance. Everyone sat still and listened as the unidentifiable Latin language filtered through the trees.


    Paul lay prone beside a small bush on the side of a hill. Scanning the buildings slightly below, he had his targets aligned in the scope. Keying the talk button on his transmitter, he spoke softly, “Winston, I have two, and the other guys are coming back.” 

    It was dry in the valley. The trail where the prisoners would be led was dusty and covered in footprints. Ricks thoughts were interrupted with the transmissions between Winston and Paul. “Mr. Martin, they’re coming.”

    “Roger.” Rick replied quietly into the handset.

    Rick looked at the team and silently he mouthed, “They’re coming.” Their team was split into two groups, with the main body sitting about fifteen yards behind and completely out of sight. Rick and Thomas were next to the trail. Ricks mind and nerves went into hyper-drive in anticipation.

    “Come on bitches, we don’t want to spend all day doing this.” The shirtless and tattooed man said to the girls he was leading. The sounds of their feet shuffling along the dusty graveled trail were somewhat muted.

    The lead guard reached a point directly across from Rick. Standing up, his motion surprised the thug. Rick had his pistol raised and fired from point blank range into his head. The cockroach didn’t go down immediately, as he tried to raise his AK-47. Rick fired again and this time he dropped like a stone. Thomas fired his shotgun three times into the two rear guards, silencing them.

    Rushing out onto the trail, the stunned and scared women who were carrying the water buckets stood frozen looking at the camouflaged man coming towards them. “We’re here to help you.” Rick stated.

    The rest of the team moved out to the front of the woods and began rushing, from cover to cover, protecting each other as they made their way towards the city center. Rifle fire from the snipers echoed through the trees as they opened up on their targets.

    The girl who was first in line, her dirt streaked face cracked a brief smile, as she stepped over to Rick and hugged him. “Thank you…please don’t leave us with them.” Her eyes, filled with fear, spoke volumes.

    “Look, I want you all to hide in here for a while, until this thing is over, ok?” He said to her. “I’ll send someone down in a bit.”

    “Martin, this is Colonel Walters…what’s going on down there?” The Colonel had picked up their transmissions and spoke to Rick through his earphones.

    Rick pressed the single earphone with his index finger trying to hear more clearly. “Colonel, I’d like to talk with you, but we’re kind of busy right now. If you’ll hang around, we can talk later.” Rick said into the transmitter, as more rifle fire from the snipers echoed through the woods.

    “Roger…is that weapons fire I’m hearing?” The Colonel asked.

    “Yeah, look I have to go…out.”   

    The freed women prisoners didn’t need any more encouragement from Rick; they moved quickly off the trail and huddled beside the dry bushes.

    Rick holstered his pistol and ran towards the wood-line, with his Garand at the ready. Pausing at the edge, he saw his guys a block over, and he headed towards them at a sprint. Fully automatic gunfire was coming from some of the buildings, their bullets whizzing overhead and impacting into buildings and stalled cars with deadly metallic thuds. Rick found the Gunny crouched behind a dead vehicle and scooted over to him. Looking up carefully, he noticed puffs of light gray smoke from an automatic weapon coming from the second floor window across the street. The gunman’s angle was away from them, firing down the street.

    Taking a quick glance up and down the main boulevard, he saw a shirtless gang banger against the side of a building firing at them. Rick popped up and yelled, “Hey Asshole!” He then crouched down just as quickly. Bullets tore through the sides of the car.

    “What the fuck are you doing Martin?!” Gunny Winters exclaimed.

    Rick looked at him, “Hey…now you’ve been shot at.” He said grinning.

    “You’re an asshole, you know that?” He replied.

    “Yeah well, you gotta love me though…right?” Rick smiled and chuckled, then added, “Cover me.” He stood, firing towards the enemy and sprinted across the street to the building where the gunfire from the second floor was coming from.

    “Martin, damn you!....Covering fire!” Gunny yelled to the Marines. They were now fully engaged. Their weapons added to the already high volume of fire, ripping and shredding anything and everything that could possibly conceal an enemy.

    Rick paused in the doorway of the brick two story office building. Reloading his empty Garand, he started to go inside. The Gunny ran up to and stood behind him, ready to follow. Bullets impacted the brick façade, sending red dust puffs and bits of debris into the air, the two quickly entered the building and paused, making sure they were clear. Automatic weapon fire was hammering away from the floor above.

    Rick and Gunny went up the steps, taking two at a time. The second floor was the home office for a lumber company. The all-glass office lobby was empty. Rick quietly opened the door, as more automatic weapon fire came from inside the office of the President of the company. Rick hoped there wasn’t any sort of bell or device which would let someone know they were inside.

    Taking a deep breath, Rick moved the handle of the heavy wood door slightly, it wasn’t locked. Quietly and gently, he pushed the elongated handle down, and just a stealthily he cracked the President’s door open. Through the inch wide crack he saw a woman standing against a wall, behind a large walnut desk. The woman, her mouth covered with gray duct tape, had her hands bound. Noticing the movement of the door, she looked over at Rick; her eyes were wide in fear.

    “How many?” Rick silently mouthed.

    The woman raised her bound hands slightly, her index finger indicating ‘one.’

    “Where?” He silently asked.

    With the raised index finger, she pointed to the far wall.

    “Get down.” He mouthed.

    The woman slid down, as Rick quickly opened the door and entered with his rifle raised. The Garand, due to its overall size wasn’t the preferred weapon to clear rooms with, but once inside, it was as good as any other weapon. Rick fired three tines, hitting the man who was focused on firing out onto the street. The high velocity heavy bullets slammed him up against the opened window. He dropped, crumpling onto the floor in a lifeless heap.

    Rick and Gunny cleared the room, and went to the woman. “Are you alright?” Rick asked.

    She nodded yes, her blue eyes opened wide as saucers.

    “Martin, I’m not used to this…we do things differently than you.” Gunny Winters said.

    “Then go back and do what you’re used to. I’ll take care of her, ok?”

    Gunny nodded and quickly left the building, Rick heard him shouting to form up the men and go through the town, as they were trained. 

    Rick started to tear the tape off of the woman’s mouth, it didn’t pull off easily. Her eyes closed in pain as it gripped her skin. “Ok, I’m just going to rip it.” He said, quickly pulling off the tape before she could acknowledge what he was doing.

    “Thank you.” She said, moving her mouth in all directions, working out the sting from having the tape removed. .

    Rick brought her hands up and cut the nylon bands. The tight handcuffs made her hands a slightly different color than her wrists due to the cut off of blood flow. “What’s your name?” He asked.

    “Maggie…Maggie Mueller.” She said, massaging her wrists. The red haired and slightly over weight young woman replied with a smile.

    “I’m Rick…Rick Martin.” He said and smiled, “Nice to meet you Maggie Mueller. Now, you’re going to stick to me…like glue, understand?”

    She nodded excitedly, “Where are you from?” She quickly asked, and flinched as the intense weapons fire from the Marines and Rick’s men started taking their toll on the enemy.

    “Don’t worry, that’s our guys. We’re from West Virginia. “He replied and added, “Do you want your town back Maggie Mueller?”

    “I want my life back.” She quickly replied.

    “We all do. Come on, let’s get out of here.” Rick said, leading her through the office waiting area and down the stairs. Maggie had a fist full of Rick’s shirt as she followed. They reached the ground floor and stepped outside. Rick looked up and down the street. The weapons fire was diminishing.

    Gun fire was heard from the other side of town, and then through his earphone, “This is Anvil…we got three.” 

    “This is Paul, we’re clear…and have five. No, make that six down”

    Rick took the transmitter from his pocket, “Make sure everyone is accounted for.” He commanded.

    Gunny Winters walked down the street towards him, weapon at the ready. He waved an all clear. Rick started walking towards the Gunny, feeling the tug of Maggie’s hand still on his shirt. “How many?” He asked the Gunny.

    Gunny started to mentally calculate the dead. Given any other time, he could have counted his swings from a golf game in the same manner. “I count eighteen.”

    Rick looked at Maggie, “Eighteen…is that right?”

    “I…I think so.” She stammered, and began to cry. Holding onto Rick she sobbed deeply. The street was empty of Winchester’s residents, but filled with junked cars and debris, like the other dead towns Rick and his team traveled through. The team began to emerge from their firing positions, standing guard in the street, eyes on the surrounding buildings. Rick lifted Maggie from his chest, “We’re not finished yet Maggie.” He said and then shouted to the buildings, “People of Winchester…you can come out now!”

    Across the street, a door slowly opened and an elderly woman stepped outside. The emotionless woman, who looked as if she hadn’t bathed in a month, slowly walked towards Rick. Standing in front of him, she eyed him from head to toe. “Thank you.” She said, her small voice crackled with thanks.

    Rick smiled, his white teeth contrasting the camouflaged green make up. He held out his arms to her, beckoning her over to him. The woman embraced him and began to cry, a tearless soft sob, as her tears were used up along time ago. Looking up at him, “Please don’t leave.” She whimpered, and then buried her head back onto his chest.

    The street began to fill with people coming out from their captivity and hiding places. Rick noticed a young girl peeking out from beneath the curbside storm grate. The youngsters face was black with the grime and grease from the drainage system. Rick smiled at her, and gave a gentle wave, “It’s ok, you can come out now.”  The girl disappeared and then reappeared with her friends, kids all about the same age. Rick and the Gunny went over to a heavy circular manhole cover near the grate, and pried it off, exposing a half-dozen filthy kids, with smiling faces.

    The town’s people emerged and embraced the soldiers; it reminded Rick of some of the images he saw when the towns in Europe were liberated during World War Two. The kid’s who were inside the storm drain, started climbing out into the light. Rick smiled as white kids, black kids and an Asian boy nervously grouped themselves together, not fully understanding their freedom as of yet. The girl who first caught Ricks attention came over, and looked up at him. “Hi, what’s your name?” He asked.

    “Suzie.” The grime covered girl, no more than eight or nine replied.

    Rick hugged her, “I’m Rick. Hey Suzie, would you do me a favor?”

    She nodded.

    “There are some girls in the woods over there, “He pointed to the park, “Would you go and tell them it’s ok to come out?”

    Suzie looked at him, her eyes giving away the deep seeded fear inside, she did not want to leave. Rick saw this instantly and countered, “Ok, don’t worry about it.” He held her again, and spoke to one of his guys, asking him to go get the women. The crowd was overcome with the joys of being set free; they hugged and kissed all of the team and each other. Eyeing the mix of people, Rick noticed a few things. First of all there weren’t any males older than ten and secondly, all of the women and kids bore scars, bruises and other physical injuries. He wondered about the emotional scars he was sure they carried as well.

    Ricks arm was pulled on hard from behind. Turning around, the elderly woman had his forearm, her face which moments ago expressed joy, was now angry and scared. He leaned down as she whispered into his ear, “One of them has a gun and is trying to slip away.” She said and added, “She is behind us.”

    Rick looked at her and nodded. He casually walked through the crowd, circling behind everyone. Eyeing the group in front, he picked her out immediately. The Latino gang member, dressed like her captives, had women positioned in front and along her sides. She moved slowly, sideways towards the buildings edge. Rick waited until they were directly in front of him. Reaching out and grabbing her by the hair on the back of her head, he pulled her head back and shoved his pistol hard into her back. “Drop your weapon, its over.” He said into her ear.

    The woman stood stone-still, and then released the pistol; it fell onto the ground with a metallic thud. The hostage’s immediately stepped away, looking back angrily at her. Rick led the woman, his hand still gripping her hair tightly, and the pistol now pressed against the base of her neck. They moved to the side street where she was trying to affect her escape. Turning the corner and moving less than ten feet, he shot her once in the back of the head. There was no emotion to the execution, just two sounds, one of the pistol shot and the other of her dropping to the ground.

    Rick turned, pressed behind him was Maggie. “You didn’t need to see that.”

    Yes I did…she was one of the worst.” Maggie replied, looking at the woman lying on the sidewalk, blood oozing from her head and running into the gutter.

    The crowd scampered at the sound of the pistol shot, taking cover behind all of the soldiers. Rick walked out, with Maggie shadowing his every step. “It’s over.” He said to them. “I want all of these dead cockroaches lined up in the street.” He said to the Marines and the crowd. They immediately started dragging the dead bodies and lining them up side by side. Those who were silenced on the roof tops, were tossed down, landing with sickening sounds on the walks below. It took a while, but all nineteen were finally lined up and accounted for.

    “Take a good look at them…they won’t bother you any longer.” He said, and then added, “Make sure nobody is missing.” The crowd circled around each of the dead, recalling the horrors they had inflicted upon them. Some were kicked and some were spat on. Finally it sunk in to them, their captors were gone, and they could now face their freedom. After the crowd had the time to view the dead, Rick asked, “Is there someplace where we can talk?”

    One of the women said, “Maybe we could use the school?”

    Rick nodded and was swallowed up in the throng, following the joyous and hurting group to the brick elementary school a few blocks away. They went into the schools cafeteria. Rick stood on top of a table, gaining their attention. “This isn’t over yet. We still have to deal with those trucks that come to pick up the stuff they’ve stolen.” He announced, as the room suddenly became very quiet. “Can anyone tell me when they’ll be coming back?”

    “Any time now.” An anonymous voice called out.

    “Mr. Martin, the place where we set up the ‘Anvil’ would be an excellent ambush spot.” David said. David and a couple of his team were with two Marines, who made the ambush on the escaping gang members. The Marines and their new brothers nodded.

    “Is that the road where the trucks come in?” He asked one of the women. She spoke briefly with David and then confirmed it was the same.

    “Ok, Gunny…if you’ll take the guys and get it set it up, I’m going to hang here for a little security. Make sure you let me know when the trucks start to arrive.”

    “Sure thing.” Gunny said, and then without a word he took the team along with the snipers to the ambush spot.

    Rick stood alone in the crowd. “Can someone tell me where your men are?”

    The mass of survivors looked at him, a blonde in her early twenties said, “The ones who were lucky enough to escape, are probably in the woods outside of town.”

    He nodded, “How many of you all, do you think have been killed?”

    “Hundreds.” Another female said quietly. “They targeted the men and boys…” Her voice trailed off in pain, and then continued, “After the men left, they did to us pretty much what they wanted to.”

    Rick nodded, “Ok, I know that this is tough, but I need someone to go to where the others are and tell them it’s ok to come back.”

    The blonde who spoke previously said, “I’ll go.”

    “Excellent. Now, do you know how to use this?” Rick lifted an AK-47 from the pile of weapons of the dead gang members.

    “No.” She replied, and stepped closer, her eyes on the weapon.

    Rick gave her brief instructions on the rifles usage, and then sent her on her way. Speaking into the walkie-talkie, “Gunny, I have a woman, blonde and wearing a red t-shirt, she’ll be carrying an AK…she’s heading out to let the folks in the woods know that it’s ok to return…don’t shoot her.”

    “Roger that.” Gunny replied with a chuckle.

    “Martin, this is Colonel Walters, can you talk now?” Raven One was monitoring their conversations.

    “Hi Colonel…we have just taken the town of Winchester. We are expecting some ah, others to arrive…after we deal with them, then we’ll be pretty much in the clear.”

    “Martin can you give me specifics?” Raven One asked.

    “I’d like to Colonel, but my batteries aren’t that strong right now and I need my radio to talk with our…welcoming committee.” He paused and then added, “One of Gunny’s men has a much better radio…after this is finished I’ll be more than happy to give you all the details you want.”

    “Roger that…by the way, you wouldn’t be looking for three trucks coming towards your town would you?”

    Ricks ears perked up at the comment. “Do you see them?” 

    “Yes, they are about a half mile from your, ‘welcoming committee.’”

    “Shit…Gunny do you copy this?”

    “Sure do, and they are now coming into view.”

    “Gunny, don’t kill the trucks…we need them.” Rick said, cursing as he rushed out towards the ambush area about a half a mile distant. Running down the sidewalk in the late afternoon sun, he hadn’t reached the end of the block when the first volleys of sniper fire sounded, taking out the truck drivers. By the time he hit the second block, the violence increased exponentially, it was truly a mad minute as the team caught the enemy completely by surprise, and slaughtered them. Reaching a clearing; he heard and saw the gunfire, which decreased and was now sporadic. Single shots echoed, silencing any of the wounded who might have tried to escape. Taking a deep breath and slowing to a walk, he realized that the women survivors had followed him, and were strung out along the sidewalk behind.

    Turning, he stopped the women. “It’s over, there’s nothing more to see.” He said, knowing from his past what the scene would look like. He felt there was no reason to subject them to any more trauma. Rick started to slowly walk back to the school, the kid’s walked beside him as did Maggie.

    They went back into the school cafeteria. The sun was descending towards the far horizon, creating a late afternoon glow. The school windows were small, which made it fairly dark inside, even during the bright afternoon. One of the women had a gas lantern stashed; she retrieved it and fired it up. Rick stood in the center of the cafeteria and looked at the clusters of people sitting huddled together. “I want to talk with you all…but I’d wait for a little while until more folks get here.”

    Slowly the assault team started filtering back into the school, they were still on their adrenalin rush from the attack, as they joked and back slapped each other. Rick noticed that his men and the Gunny’s were now becoming a solid unit. The Marines had accepted his guys and with their combined baptism of fire, that put every man on the same level. Rick went over to them, offering congratulations, shaking their hands and bear-hugging each.

    Gunny Winters finally came into the school, walking up to Rick. Shaking his head, “That went too easy. We caught them completely off guard.”

    “Good job Kyle.” Rick said, hugging the Gunny, “How are the trucks?”

    “Bloody, but operable.”

    “Excellent. I’m sure they’ll come in handy.”

    “I’d like to know where they got the ‘six-by’s’.” He said, using the slang for the large six-wheeled heavy duty transports.

    “Hey, I wasn’t kidding…they’re working for the government.” Rick answered, and then added, changing the subject. “Our guys seem to be getting along very well.”

    “They’ve become brothers in arms. Without question, your guys are eager to learn and I don’t think anyone shirked from combat.” He said, “Pretty brave lads you’ve got there. Heck if we had matching uniforms, you’d not be able to tell them apart.”

    The blonde with the red t-shirt ran back inside and went over to Rick and Gunny. “Well, I found a bunch of people. They are sending out runners to tell the others. They should start arriving anytime.” She said, catching her breath and holding the AK across her chest. The girl’s attitude changed immensely since she left, she exuded confidence and empowerment.

    “What’s your name?” Rick asked the smiling young woman.

    “Marilee.” She replied with a burst of enthusiasm, the first in months.

    “Nice to meet you Marilee.” Rick said and with the same emotion shown to the soldiers, he bear-hugged her, “Good job. Why don’t you take some folks and go outside…make sure that the people who are coming, know where we are.” Rick said, and then waved a couple of his guys over to go with her.

    The former prisoners attitudes changed immensely. Their chatter grew as each person talked and became more at ease. However, it would take more than a school cafeteria and protective soldiers to ease the pain and suffering inside their hearts and minds, it would take time.

    The cafeteria began to swell with people arriving from their hiding places and refugee encampments. Finding their friends which made it through the ordeal, they gathered in small groups.

    Rick felt the time was right. We waved Thomas and his Marine big-brother over. “I want you to get your motorcycle and go to Davis. Find Hal and Mary Beth and tell them what has taken place. Tell them to send someone to the hospital and have medical personnel sent here ASAP. Also, have Hal and Mary Beth bring some of the guys down here, and make sure to bring some food. These people look pretty hungry.” Rick then turned to the Marine, “Take a couple of guys and our trucks and head over to 50 and 55. Load them up and bring them back here, we’ll set up our roadblock on the outskirts of town.” He said, handing him his set of keys. “Hey Thomas, don’t screw around…get there and get back.” The pair took off, grabbing a few of their team to carry out his orders.

    Rick stood in the midst of the cafeteria. “Ladies and gentlemen…may I have your attention, please.” He said loudly, and waited for the talk to subside. “My name is Rick Martin and we are from West Virginia.”

    Before he could continue, applause from the filled cafeteria erupted.

    “Thank you. Standing in the corner over there…, “He pointed to the Gunny, who clearly didn’t like being in the spotlight, “That is Marine Corps Gunnery Sergeant Kyle Winters and his men. The Gunny and his guys are from Cherry Point, North Carolina.”

    More applause.

    “Folks, I want to talk with you all for a few minutes. I know you are all excited about what has happened here today.” He said and paused, “However, as nice as it is to have your town back…your work is just beginning.” The room was silent, “Now comes the really hard part.”

    Rick slowly eyed the entire group. The female ex-prisoners and the kids sat next to one another, in the rows closest to him. “You see, now you have to figure out where you go from here, and there aren’t too many choices either.” He said, taking a deep breath and exhaling loudly. “When we first came here, our original intent wasn’t to take the town over; it was just to open up some space between us and the cockroaches. Well, as you can see it didn’t work out that way.” He said smiling.

    The crowd applauded.

    “So, how do we know that you’re not going to do the same things that the National Guard and the government did to us?” An unidentified male voice called out from the sea of faces.

    Rick looked around trying to figure out who asked the question. Walking over to the large pile of weapons which were taken from the dead gang members, he reached down, picked up an AK-47, removed the magazine and emptied the chamber. All eyes were focused on what he was doing. Walking over to the general area where the comment was made. “Who said that?” He asked.

    “I did.” The man said nervously, standing up.

    “Here’s why we won’t be like the National Guard or the government.” Rick said, and handed him the assault rifle with its magazine. “Do you know how to use this?”

    The man shook his head no.

    “Not a problem…we’ll teach you.” He said, and then made his way back to the front of the cafeteria. Turning to the crowd, he continued, “Now as I was saying, you have some hard decisions to make.” He paused momentarily, “You are going to have to decide how to run your community. The way I see it, you have three choices.”

    The crowd sat silently, listening to every word.

    Rick held one finger in the air, “Choice number one, would be to do nothing. By that I mean, each of you go his or her separate way. Those that have enough food might make it through the winter…those that don’t have enough food, won’t.” He paused, giving them time to comprehend that choice. “With choice number one, you’ll probably not have adequate security, health care or schooling…it will truly be every man for himself.”

    The crowd said nothing.

    “Choice number two, would be to bring in the military and have them run things for you.”

    The elderly woman Rick had encountered outside spoke up, “I don’t think that we’d like that.” She said, and looked over at Gunny, “No offense intended Sergeant.”

    “None taken Ma’am, we don’t want that either.” He replied. As their eyes turned back to Rick, Gunny motioned to his radio operator. Whispering into his ear, “Childs, turn on your radio…and have Raven One record this.”

    Childs quietly spoke into the microphone, making contact with Colonel Walters. He relayed the Gunny’s request and then left the transmitter open.

    “Now, choice number three is to do what we are doing in West Virginia. You see, before that day, a few people got together and talked about this very thing. They made plans and when they came out from their shelters, put them into action.” He said, pausing briefly, “You see, in West Virginia, we have electricity, food and security.”

    The crowd stirred excitedly.

    “In West Virginia we are organized…every person has a house and enough land to grow their own food. We even put your first crop into the ground for you.” He smiled and asked, “Now which way sounds the best?”

    The crowd responded enthusiastically “Number three.” 

    Rick laughed, “That wasn’t really fair was it? I set you all up for that.” He said chuckling and then turned serious, “Look folks, like I said before, this isn’t going to be easy…if you plan on surviving and growing as a community and as individuals, then you’ll have to make some adjustments from what you’re used to.”

    “Tell us more about West Virginia.” The elderly woman asked.

    “What’s your name?” Rick asked.

    “Amelia Livingston.”

    “Nice to meet you Amelia.” He paused and turned to the crowd. “In West Virginia, everyone works together. We all have our jobs to do for the community, and if something needs to be done, folks volunteer to help out…it’s pretty amazing.” He replied.

    “Tell us about getting a house and food.” A female asked, as others tried to ask questions at the same time.

    “Why don’t we do this; if you have a question, raise your hand and when I call on you, give your name, ok?” He said to the female, identified as Barbara. “As we all know, there are plenty of vacant properties. Now, we have formed groups, which we call committees, and these groups work together to make sure that everyone has a place to live and then they coordinate with the ‘Farming Committee’ to get the land tilled and planted. Food is your most valuable asset. Not only do you need to grow your own, but you’ll need to process it for storage. We offer help with every phase of your production.”

    Hands shot up throughout the entire cafeteria.

    Rick pointed to a man in the back, “My name is Wilkes, Fred Wilkes, most folks just call me Wilkes.” He said and continued, “What laws do y’all follow?”

    “Good question Wilkes, we follow the Constitution of the United States and the Bill of Rights. I’ll add that we follow their original intent, and not the bastardized version that’s been shoveled to us.”

    Wilkes looked somewhat confused.

    “Ok, let me explain. The First Amendment is about freedom of speech and freedom of the press. One of the reasons the Founding Fathers put this in was to ensure that everyone has the freedom to talk about their political leaders both verbally and in print. It seems that now, well, I say now, but before that day, you could talk politics all you wanted to, except a month before an election and then you couldn’t print anything negative about a candidate…that’s unacceptable and a load of crap.” He paused again, “I don’t think that anyone now will argue the Second Amendments right to keep and bear arms.”

    The crowd agreed, nodding affirmatively.

    “Let’s look at private property. It used to be that your property was, well…yours. The Supreme Court decided that your property could be taken by a corporation for a hotel or a shopping mall or for whatever reason. That’s wrong and it’s unacceptable.” He stated and added, “Now there will always be issues about eminent domain, and if we are talking about roads or bridges and the like, I don’t think that anyone will argue that point, but to just take over someone’s property for a commercial enterprise…no.”

    Hands shot up and waved.

    “My name is Candace.” The woman said in a brusque manner, “What about a woman’s right to choose.”

    Rick shook his head knowing that this might come up. He rubbed his close cropped hair and responded. “Choose what Candace?”

    “Choose to do what ever she wants to with her own body.” The woman stared angrily at him, preparing to bring up all of the venom from her past.

    “Are you talking about tattoos or something like that?” He asked, knowing what she was referring to and wanting to draw it out into the open.

    “No, you know what I mean, a woman’s right to an abortion.” She snapped.

     The crowd was now becoming uneasy at the debate, shifting in their seats at the divisive issue.

    “Do you need an abortion Candace?” He replied, as the crowd chuckled. “Look, I know what you are talking about. I’m just messing with you.” He said and taking a deep breath, “There were about one hundred to a hundred and fifty million people killed on that day. Every life and every child is precious. I don’t think that you’ll have an issue with terminating a pregnancy over a medical emergency.” Rick said, “But you’re bringing up a subject, that quite honestly, is irrelevant at this time.”

    “Irrelevant! That’s bullshit.” She spouted.

    “No, it’s not bullshit either, we’re talking about the survival of the community, and you’re bringing up future issues…which I’m sure will be addressed, but there has to be a time and place for it.”

    Candace nodded, and asked another question, “So, what about me? What rights do I have?”

    “I don’t understand your question.”

    “I’m a lesbian.”

    “Well congratulations on that.” He said, as the crowd erupted with nervous laughter, “Candace, I don’t think that anyone here gives a rats ass what you do in your house or your bedroom…and if they do, then they have too much time on their hands.” He commented, as the crowd chuckled, “Let me make this perfectly clear…we do not care about the color of your skin…we do not care what your sexual preference is…nor whether you worship Jesus, Mother Mary, Moses, Buddha or some oak tree in the woods. That is irrelevant to the survival of the community.” He said, pausing to look at every person in the room, “What is relevant; is how you act towards your neighbor. What you do in, and for your community is what’s important.” He said to the now silent room. Rick walked around, their heads turning and eyes following. “Look folks, the social issues that we are talking about are always contentious. Let’s take religion for example, I believe in God, and I don’t expect you to do the same as me. I figure that He is big enough to draw you to Him, if that’s what He wants to do.”

    Candace stood again, making some in the crowd roll their eyes at her questioning. “So, this isn’t a right-wing, conservative Christian fundamentalist organization?”

    Rick laughed at her statement, “No Candace…however, I have to say this…in all seriousness…if you follow a religion where it’s demanded that you convert the entire world to your brand of faith…and if the folks who choose not to convert are then labeled infidels and worthy of death…then that religion is not acceptable, and will not be tolerated.”

    “Do you mean Muslims?” Amelia asked.

    “Yes, I mean Muslims.” He replied and explained, “Look you can take a community with Protestants, Catholics, Jews and atheists, and they’ll get along just fine. Now, throw into the mix a group of Muslims with their Sharia Law, and you’ll have problems.”

    “But that’s discrimination!” Candace exclaimed.

    “Of course it’s discrimination Candace.” Rick said and continued, “One of the meanings of the word discriminate is to make a choice….Candace you discriminate.” He replied.

    “I do not!”

    “Really? When was the last time you invited a guy to your home? Especially a guy, with a Confederate Flag and a NRA bumper sticker on his pick-up truck?” He said smiling, as the crowd laughed.

    Candace smiled, she got the point.

    “There is a community of Muslims in Michigan. We know this because we’ve had folks come from that area seeking refuge. The Muslims in Michigan, with their Sharia Law make all the women wear burka’s…” He looked at Candace, “Would you like to wear a burka?”

    She shook her head no.

    “Let’s suppose that you went to Michigan and said, ‘Hey I’m a lesbian, what are my rights?’ How long do you think that it would take them to string you up in the town square? Or, to stone you?” He said to her, and continued, “Folks, that is not acceptable. This is a big country, they can go wherever they want…except here.”

    The group nodded, and some applauded.

    Hands were again raised.

    “My name is Bob.” The man with graying hair tied into a ponytail said. Someone in the crowd chimed in, ‘Hippie Bob.’ Bob smiled at the comment. “I understand about the Constitution and the Bill of Rights…but, what other laws do y’all enforce?”

    Rick chuckled as he saw right through his question. “I suppose that you are talking about marijuana?”

    Bob nodded yes with a smile.

    “Well Bob, you are going to have a set amount of land for you to grow your food. If you wanted to have some pot plants, we don’t have a problem with that.” He responded and added, “Just keep in mind that pot and alcohol is for adult consumption.”

    “What about ‘other’ things?” He asked.

    “By ‘other things’, do you mean heroin, cocaine and methamphetamines?”

    He nodded, suddenly feeling somewhat sheepish at the question.

    “Then we’ll take you out back and put a bullet in your head.”

    “Whoa Rick dude, I’m not saying that I do any of that stuff.” He replied, holding his arms out.  

    “Then you’ve got nothing to worry about, right?” He replied, smiling.

    “I can’t believe that we’d allow the death penalty. It’s barbaric and inhumane.” Candace shouted out.

    Rick looked at her and asked, “Ok, so what would you like to do? You are going to spend a lot of time and effort growing food. Are you going to take your food and give it to some murderer, rapist or pedophile?” He asked and then continued, “Candace, there aren’t any jails…yeah we could just let them go, but the reality is they would just go someplace else and do it again. There has to be limits. I’m sure there will be lesser offenses; we’ll deal with those when they come up.”

    Again hands shot up.

    “My name is George McLeod. You are assuming that we can survive based on future food production. I don’t know if you’ve got any farming experience, but we’re in the midst of a killing drought. I’ve got five hundred acres and I don’t think there’s enough viable crops to feed twenty people, and the ground is as hard as rock.”

    Rick looked at the farmer, “George, where does the rain come from?”

    George looked at him. “God?” He questioned quietly, shrugging his shoulders. You could tell by his tone what he was unsure about his answer.

    “I want share something with you. On that day, we were about a mile inside the nuclear blast zone which was set off in Baltimore.” He paused, as the room stirred audibly, “That’s right, a mile inside the nuclear blast area. When we came out of our shelter, it rained.” He took a deep breath as his memories were starting to flood back, “It rained that night, and every night since. It seems that everyplace we have gone, it has rained. I have talked with farmers in Maryland and West Virginia who have told me that the yields from their crops this year, are greater than anything they have ever seen in their lives.” He paused and added, “That’s no exaggeration either. Now, my wife said to me a few weeks ago, that she didn’t think that God would have brought us to this place, to squash us like bugs.” He said to the enjoyment of the crowd. “So…we are going to take it on faith that God isn’t finished with us yet…we’ll do our jobs, and let Him do His.”

    “Rick I’d like to say something.” Amelia Livingston said. “You don’t know me or my family, do you?” She asked him.

     “No ma’am I don’t.”

    “My family has been in this valley since the early 1800’s. I have about three thousand acres, mostly for raising horses and pasture. If you’ll let me keep my home and some land for my own personal food, I’ll give my property to the community.”

    “Wow, Amelia that is incredibly generous of you.”

    “It is for the greater good, don’t you think?”

    “I think it is definitely for the greater good.” Rick said, stepping over to the elderly woman and hugging her.

    More hands were raised.

    “My name is Estelle Guevara.” The girl about twelve years old said in faltering English. “My Poppa wants to know about us.” The girl said, obviously the spokesperson for her family, who were standing along side of her.

    “Are you asking this because you’re here…illegally?” He asked.

    “Si, I mean yes.” She quickly replied.

    He nodded, “I understand. Ok, I figure there are three kinds of people who come to America.” He replied as Estelle translated in rapid Spanish to her father. “The first type of folks who come here, do so to become Americans. They go through the legal process to become citizens; they work hard and enjoy all of the benefits from this country. This type of person gives up their former countries citizenship. Now that’s not to say they give up their identity, but they become new citizens in a new country, learning and speaking the language of America, which by the way…is English.”

    Estelle continued to translate to her Poppa. When she finished her translation, she looked back at Rick.

    “The second type of person who comes to America, does so not to become a part of this country, but to work and send home money to their family. They are not interested in becoming citizens, nor do they care about learning the language or following our laws. They are here for the money only.”

    Estelle continued to translate.

    “The third kind of person, comes here to do nothing but to continue their criminal enterprise. They aren’t beholden to any country; they only care about selling their drugs, or running their gangs.”

    Estelle quickly translated, and finished, looking back to Rick.

    “My question to you is this, which type are you?”

    Estelle rapidly spoke. Her father looked at Rick and held up his index finger, “Numero uno.” He said to Rick, bypassing Estelle.

    “Good, because that is the only one which is acceptable.” He said. “What is your name?”

    Estelle started to translate, but her father understood. “Hector.” He said smiling, and then began to introduce his family, “Estelle…my son Juan and my wife Lucia.” He quickly replied and then patted Lucia’s belly, saying something which Rick only understood by the motion.

    “Are you pregnant?” Rick asked Lucia.

    She nodded yes, smiling nervously.

    “Excellent!” He applauded, as did the entire group. “Hector, I’m sure in time we’ll have some tests for you to become a citizen, so you should learn the language and become part of the community. We’ve got no problem with that.”

    More hands rose, but Rick was tired of answering questions, and wanted to wrap up the meeting. Rick held his hands up and said, “Folks, look we are starting over. You have a tremendous opportunity to build your community, the way you want to.” He said and paused, “Now, will there be problems? Of course, no one said this will be easy…and no one is saying that you have to do things the way it was done before. We have always been a creative people, we’ve designed and innovated a way of life that the free world was envious of.” He took a deep breath, “However, we got lazy. We allowed the politicians and corporations to sell us out. Our once productive way of life, went down the toilet. We became more interested in buying ninety cent underwear at Wal-Mart, than in making things ourselves.” He commented, and continued, “The products and innovations that we became known for, before that day, were our weapons systems. I know there is a real place for weapons systems, but that shouldn’t take the place of manufacturing products for everyday life and not just things to kill folks.” He said, and then walked through the crowd, their eyes on him, “We have to get back to creating and building. To do that, we need to start thinking outside of the box. Unlike our Founding Fathers, we have the knowledge from our recent past to guide us. Eventually, we’ll have computers and electricity. It’s just a matter of time…and in the mean time, we farm, and we organize and lay the ground work for our society and community to grow.”

    “What do you mean, thinking outside of the box?” Someone asked.

    “Well, let’s use an example, ok?” He said and looked around, “Bob…I’ll use you as an example, alright?”

    Hippie Bob smiled and nodded.

    “Do you remember when we had the medical marijuana debate’s? Some states said it was ok and then the government came out and said no, overriding what the folks in those states had voted on. Anyway, during that time the pro-pot folks purported that cannabis was probably the best plant on planet earth…heck, according to them you could have probably built the Space Shuttle out of the stuff.” He said, as the room chuckled. “Now, you have an opportunity to prove it.” He said, pausing as Bob thought about his comment. “Instead of just sitting around and smoking the stuff, why don’t you figure out how to remove the fibers from the plant…and then make thread. Take it to the next level and loom those thread’s into cloth, and finally make something that folks can wear.”

    Bob and the group nodded at the example. 

    “That is just one idea. Think about everything we use and what we’ll need…instead of complaining, figure out how to improvise, adapt and overcome the situation.”

    No hands were raised, as everyone thought about what was said.

    “I sent some guys over to West Virginia. Hal and Mary Beth and some medical staff will be coming over, and I expect them fairly soon, so everyone hang tight. When Hal and Mary Beth get here, they’ll explain further how they set everything up.” Rick said, finishing his talk.

    Gunny Winters looked at Childs, tapping him on the shoulder, motioning for the radio microphone. “Raven One, did you get that?” He asked.
“Every word…we’re processing it now.” Raven One replied, and then disconnected the transmission.  

    Rick walked over to the Gunny. “Pretty good speech Martin.” The Gunny commented. “Do you really mean it?”

    “Of course I mean it.”

    “So the thing about a house and land?” Gunny questioned.

    “Absolutely, and that includes you too Kyle. You, and your men, and that Colonel up there,” He pointed to the sky, “and his men. We’re all in this one together.”

    People started coming up to the pair, encircling them as they introduced themselves. Estelle Guevara came alongside and pulled on Ricks arm. Looking down at the thin black haired girl, she reached up on tip toes and tried to whisper into his ear. The noise of the crowd made it hard for Rick to hear her.

    “My Poppa says he knows where there is food.” Estelle said.

    Rick looked at the girl, and then over to Hector standing next to her. Hector nodded at Estelle’s comment. “Let’s step outside where we can talk.” Rick said to them and grabbed Gunny Winters by the arm leading them all outside. Following the group were a few of the small kids and Maggie, who had somehow found a yellow legal pad and pencil. They went over to a picnic table and in the last of the remaining daylight, Rick asked, “So what’s this about food?”      

    Hector started speaking, his broken English was quickly translated by his daughter. “My Poppa says that he knows where the um, bad men, take the food.” Estelle said.

    “Go on.” Rick replied looking at Hector.

    Hector looked at his son Juan, and nudged him to speak. “Juan you have to tell them.” Estelle said urging her older brother.

    Juan looked down at the ground, seemingly ashamed.

    “Juan?” Rick questioned. “It’s ok, you can tell us.”

    The teenager looked at Rick and then over to Gunny, “I know where the cock-a-roaches take the food and pharmacy and the women.” Juan said, his English not as fluent as his sister.

    “We’re listening.” Gunny Winters replied.

    “There is a town near here, called Berryville. They take the food there.”

    “How do you know this Juan?” Rick asked.

    Juan shuffled his feet, as his father nudged him again and in Spanish told him to talk. “The bad men, the cock-a-roaches, they take me and try to make me slave for them.” Juan replied, and continued, “I ran away during the night and came here. My family and I hid in the woods.”

    Rick rubbed his chin as he processed what Juan was saying. “Go on.”

    He nodded, feeling more at ease, “Like I say, the men, they take me to this town…Berryville. In this town, they gather all the food and stuff they take from the peoples, and put it on trucks and then give it to the Arabs.”

    “Trucks? Like the ones we took this afternoon?” Rick questioned.

    “No” Juan replied searching for the correct word, “Trucks, like tractor-trailer trucks.”

    “Ok, so how many of these tractor-trailer trucks do they have?” Gunny asked.

    Juan looked up in thought. “Maybe thirty of them.”

    “Thirty tractor trailers with food?” Rick commented, and Juan nodded. Rick looked at Gunny. “Thirty trailers of food would feed these folks for a long time.” He commented and added, “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?”

    Gunny nodded.

    “Then let’s go and get some food.”

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