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Chapter 9: Meet the Enemy
Jack was torn. On one hand, he too felt the surge of adrenaline and warrior’s desire to saddle up and ride out in hopes of saving the seemingly outmatched local police forces. On the other hand, he also realized how difficult their situation was. They had only a handful of adults with varying degrees of training and a flock of young children to tend to. At best, they could spare two or three people to send out to help—one needed to stay with the children, two needed to guard the neighborhood perimeter. Kyle had relayed that the attack was taking place on the Interstate, which meant any rescue party would have a several mile journey over streets that were almost certainly jammed up to a varying degree. If there was still a gun battle going on when they arrived, the rescue party would have no way of communicating or coordinating with any surviving officers on scene. The potential for a friendly fire situation was high. And, if the police were already overwhelmed, would two or three of his people be enough to sway the tide?
Jack cursed under his breath. Really, they just were not in a good position to render aid. Not enough people, not close enough to the battle site, with little to no intelligence about the situation and no good means of communication with the officers.
Still, Jack felt the pull. Despite it all, he felt the duty to help, regardless the cost. But he also knew he couldn’t give into that desire. His children and his friends needed him alive. It was heart wrenching. Jack slammed his palm against the old oak tree he was taking cover behind and keyed the push-to-talk button on his radio.
“Kyle, I want to run out there and fight as much as you do, brother. But we’re in a terrible position to render aid.”
There was silence on the other end of the line for a moment, before Kyle responded.
“I know, man. I know. The cops are calling the retreat. It sounds like there are two squad cars inbound to assist—hopefully they can pick up the survivors and bail out of there.”
“That’s better aid than we can render. Can you pick up any details about the attackers?”
“Not much. Sounds like they are firing from concealment—one of the cops was calling out that they were wearing hunting camouflage. Several reports of fully automatic weapons, and we’re catching the sound of some in the background of the radio chatter.”
The hunting camouflage was surprising. Living in the South East, the various hunting camo patterns—Realtree, Mossy Oak and others—were part of the everyday attire for many locals, and nearly every outdoorsman had a set for deer season. If the attackers had been part of a large foreign military unit, then they would likely have been in a military garb, not the uniform of rednecks and sportsmen. At this point, still not even 24 hours after the initial nuclear attacks, Jack doubted that those local rednecks and deer hunters would have gone crazy enough to start setting off truck bombs and ambushing responding officers.
“Kyle, I think the ambushers may be some kind of terrorist or paramilitary group,” Jack relayed over the walkie.
“We were thinking the same thing. Truck bomb fits the M.O. Haven’t seen any parachutes, so this ain’t a full-on Red Dawn-style invasion yet.”
Jack cursed under his breath again. Armed, dangerous and aggressive enemy guerrilla fighters operating in his area.
“All right. Security just got even more urgent for us. We’ve got bad guys within a few miles of here and apparently the local police are in full retreat. They’ll call in the cavalry and rally some kind of SWAT unit or the National Guard, but who knows how fast that response will come. And, on top of that, there are probably a lot of scared, wounded people that are going to dump off the freeway into our area. We’ve got our game plan formulated—now we need to finish putting things into place.”
Jack and Tex switched guard responsibilities again, leaving Jack and Fiona free to head out and pre-position the vehicles. By the time Tex and Jack had completed the swap and Jack had returned to his home, the battle between the police forces and ambushers sounded like it had ended. Over the radio, it was apparent that the police had taken heavy losses and were scrambling for help to go back onto the scene and look for the wounded.
Jack and Fiona loaded into the vehicles—Jack’s Tacoma and Amy MacNab’s Explorer—preparing to head out. The vehicles were each stocked with a tank of gas, a storage tote full of nonperishable food, several gallons water, an assortment of basic camping gear and an ammunition can with spare rifle ammunition. Before leaving, Jack confirmed the plan with Kyle.
“You still think it’s smart to drive these perfectly good trucks, full of perfectly good supplies and leave ‘em out in the woods?” Kyle asked. He’d finished one of the spike strips and was putting the finishing touches on the second. They were simple in construction – spare sheets of plywood with a random assortment of large nails and screws driven through at regular intervals and rope drag-handles added on one side. Crude but effective.
“Yep, it’s a risk, but we all agreed that it was a smart enough risk to take. If the entrance of the neighborhood is cut off and we need to retreat, these will be our express ticket out of here. And they’re not doing us a heck of a lot of good sitting in the driveway, either,” Jack said, gesturing to the collection of vehicles parked around his home. In addition to the two vehicles chosen for caching, they also had Fiona’s Nissan Pathfinder, Kyle’s Ford F150 and Tex’s Chevy K10 diesel pickup. Tex also had his Polaris RZR ATV stored in the back of his toy hauler camper trailer—it only seated two, but, being fast, agile and very off-road capable, it was definitely a valuable asset to have around. The Pathfinder could seat up to seven, Kyle’s King Cab F150 could seat five in the cab, and the old Chevy could fit three, which gave them enough seating capacity for the seven adults and five children in the group. The Explorer and Tacoma that they were caching had a total seating capacity of twelve, though it would be a tight squeeze. Either way, they would have enough vehicle space to transport all of the group’s members, with ease.
“But, you know the plan—if we can’t hide the vehicles well, we’re going to turn around and come back. We’ll try to maintain regular radio contact,” Jack said.
“Stay safe out there, man.”
“You too. Hold down the fort here.”
The two shook hands. A few feet away, Porter was hugging Fiona tightly.
“Hey little man, your mom and I will be right back. No worries. We’re just running around the corner,” Jack said.
Porter looked up at him—Jack caught the glimpse of tears forming in the seven year old’s eyes, but he was bravely trying to hold them back.
“I’ll make sure Link stays safe until you get back,” Porter volunteered, his voice cracking from worry. Jack hugged his son tightly.
“You’re a good boy, son. You’re doing really well—I am proud as heck of you. You really don’t need to worry. Look at mom and I—we’re armed to the teeth! Nobody is going to mess with us.”
Porter laughed at that, and then was called into the house by Esmerelda to help with watching the younger children. Distracted, he scampered off.
Jack opened the door of the Explorer for Fiona, helping her load her AR and day pack into the cab.
“All right, you remember the plan. If we run into trouble, we turn around and go home. If we need to bail out of the vehicles, I will call out ‘ditch’. If we get shot at—which I don’t think we will—and you know which direction it’s coming from, call out ‘contact’, followed by the direction. Keep an eye out and stay close behind,” he explained.
“Yep—I’ve got it, love. Let’s get going,” Fiona said with a slightly nervous smile.
They started up the vehicles, and, after a brief wave to Kyle, headed out. At the neighborhoods entrance, they paused before turning, Jack scanning either way up the road. It was empty at this point—a hopeful sign.
“Vaya con Dios,” Tex called over the radio.
“Always. Be right back,” Jack replied.
They accelerated quickly, turning off Jack’s street and onto the through road. They sped up quickly towards their turn off, a back road a mere half mile up the road. They zipped around the corner in a matter of seconds.
The back road they turned onto was a curving, low-traffic side road. It travelled in an east-west direction, with a small community church and a few older homes built up on the north side of the road and undeveloped, forested land to the south—the forest that bordered the Rourke homestead. Two miles down, the road joined up with a moderate sized subdivision of newly constructed homes, but the residents of the development preferred to use other roads with more direct access to shopping, highways and the Interstate.
A quick drive down the road, there was a long, narrow clearing in the forest to the south. The clearing sat directly across from the community church, which had an empty parking lot and no signs of life.
“Here’s our turn off,” Jack radioed, feeling the prickle of nervousness that came when trying to do something in secrecy.
“I don’t see anyone—do you?” Fiona asked.
Jack scanned around one last time.
“I think we’re clear. Let’s go,” Jack said. He slowed and turned off the road, driving his Tacoma down a slight hill from the road and into the clearing, the four wheel drive handling the ruts and bumps with ease.
The clearing was shaped vaguely like a jug, with a short, narrower entrance and a wide body. The shape was one of the reasons Jack had selected it for their hide site. Driving into the clearing, they were able to angle their course to one side, quickly moving out of the field of view available through the narrower entrance. Now, behind the cover of thick forest, the trucks were no longer visible from the road.
Jack scanned the tree line for a spot to park the trucks and found a good candidate.
“Let’s circle around,” he said, pulling the Tacoma around to face the clearing’s entrance. Fiona did likewise with the Explorer.
“I’m going to clear a spot for us to back in. I’ll need you to get out and cover.”
“Gotcha,” Fiona replied.
“Homebase, we’re doing good. Do you read?” Jack radioed, unfamiliar with the exact radio lingo used by actual armed professionals. They should probably come up with call signs of some variety—but that would have to wait. Any comms were good comms for now.
“Read you clear, bud. We’re good here,” Tex replied.
Jack retrieved a golok-style machete from his pack and headed to the tree line, hacking away at a cluster of large bushes. Fiona kept a watchful eye, AR-15 held in a low-ready position. After a few minutes work, Jack had the brush cleared and piled to one side.
“All right, I’ll back the trucks in. Almost there,” Jack said. He backed the Tacoma in first, driving back as far into the forest as he could before parking it. Then came the Explorer.
“Ok, come on back here,” Jack called to Fiona, who retreated from the open view of the clearing and back into the forest. Slinging their rifles, the couple combined their efforts to move the bushes back into place, covering the opening that the vehicles had driven into. Then, they retrieved the camo netting and spread it over each vehicle. To add further camouflage, Jack spread armfuls of fallen leaves and vegetation over netting and propped fallen branches along the vehicles’ sides.
“Looks pretty good,” Fiona said approvingly. Jack took a dozen paces back to survey the job. It wouldn’t stand up to close scrutiny, but, given the thick forest, it would do a good job of masking the vehicles at a distance.
Jack took radioed an update back into the homestead, and then the couple took a moment to drink water, get their bearings and gather themselves together.
“Well, did you ever think we’d be doing something like this, babe?” Jack asked, stashing the machete inside its sheath lashed to the side of the Camelbak military line daypack he’d brought along.
“What? Hiding our car in the forest, just in case? No, love, I can’t say that I did. But I’m glad you did,” Fiona said, sipping from the Camelbak reservoir in her pack. Jack took a moment to look at her—his wife, in combat gear, with a war belt on her hips and an AR-15 in hand. It was so very different from the fashionable mom attire that she usually wore.
“Well, only sort of thought through, obviously. This isn’t the ideal plan, but it’s the best I can come up with. You know, I’m making this up as we go along—I wish that I’d figured more of this out beforehand,” Jack said.
“There was no way anyone could have anticipated this. And really, you did everything you reasonably could to prepare us for something like this—normal life had to be lived. I can’t imagine what this would be like if we didn’t have our act together like we do,” Fiona replied.
“We’d probably be pretty panicked…and this is only 24 hours into this mess. We’ll see how the next few days unfold.”
Jack checked his gear quickly to make sure that nothing had been lost while working. Four rifle magazines in his chest rig, plus two in a drop-leg rig on his left thigh. One pistol magazine on his chest rig, plus two in the drop-leg rig. Glock 17 with Surefire light still in its drop-leg holster. Five-inch fixed blade knife still in place behind his right kidney. Other gear still in place in his pockets and his pack. He was ready.
Fiona performed a similar check over her gear and then gave the thumbs up signal.
“All right, babe. Let’s double check things here and then get home,” Jack said.
“Sounds good, love.”
Jack checked the doors to the vehicles one last time. Locked, alarms on. Both were recent year model vehicles, with modern security systems and numerous anti-theft measure that made them very difficult to hotwire. Jack wasn’t overly worried about the vehicles getting stolen—the real concern was that someone would find the vehicles, bust out the windows and steal the gear inside. None of the gear was critical, but it would certainly be missed if taken.
“We’ll have to come back and check here regularly. Maybe set up some kind of perimeter alarm. Someone could set up camp in the clearing and eventually stumble on these,” Jack mentioned.
Next, the couple crept back towards the edge of the forest, scanning out over the clearing. Jack checked for tire tracks over the grass and weeds, but couldn’t spot anything that was particularly identifiable. Then, they crept towards the back road and set up in a prone position that allowed them to observe the road.
They watched for several minutes, with a half dozen different vehicles passing by and no causes for concern. The area was quiet and peaceful, the songs of birds and the rustling of wind in the trees a calming contrast to the chaos happening in the world. Satisfied, the couple snuck away from their observation point and began the hike back towards their home.
“Homebase, we’re on our way back. Should be there in ten or fifteen,” Jack radioed.
The hike was fairly easy. Jack had made the journey a few times before—he enjoyed exploring the forest with his boys—and knew the way well.
“So, what’s the plan when we get back?” Fiona asked as they walked.
“Finish up the neighborhood entrance. If the other guys haven’t yet, I want to make up some ‘You loot, we shoot’ signs. Then, I think we need to slow the pace down a bit and get some rest.”
“Sounds good to me.”
A few minutes out from the house, the distant wail of a siren broke through the forest’s ambient noise.
“You hear that?” Jack asked.
“I do—what do you think that is? Police?”
They paused, waiting for a moment to listen, ears turned in the direction of the sound. It was growing closer. Jack keyed his radio.
“Hey, any visual on whatever is attached to that siren?”
They waited a minute for a response.
“Uhh, hey guys. Ya—it is an ambulance. Coming our way. We’re checking it out,” came Amy’s eventual reply.
Jack and Fiona started moving again.
“Think it’s anything?” Fiona asked.
“Could just be passing by,” Jack said.
The radio crackled again with Amy’s voice.
“Guys, it’s Mike! He’s here!”
“That’s awesome! We’ll be there in a minute,” Jack said. Excited, they quickened their pace, jogging down the rough trail that led to their backyard. Soon, they emerged onto the lawn, happy to be back home.
“Hey, we’re here. This is us in the back,” Jack called into the radio, wanting to ensure no one was startled by their arrival.
“Guys! Help, now!” someone bellowed at the front of the home, the cry filled with urgency.
Jack and Fiona broke into a run, AR-15s in hand. Jack led the way, pausing at the edge of the house, shouldering his carbine before popping out from behind cover.
The ambulance was parked in the front of their house, the rear doors thrown open. Mike Blackwell, disheveled, uniform stained with blood, stood at the doors, wrestling to help unload someone from the back.
“Mike!” Jack yelled, slinging his rifle and hurrying in to assist. Mike and Kyle were unloading an injured man from the back of the vehicle. Jack stepped in, moving to help bear the weight. The man had a makeshift tourniquet and a pile of bandages wrapped around his left thigh, but what caught Jack’s attention was full set of Realtree camouflage the man wore and the olive drab chest rig on top of that. The man was vaguely Slavic in appearance, pale and appeared unconscious. Handcuffs had been locked around his wrists.
Jack hesitated for a moment, watching as Kyle and Mike carried the man’s limp form by.
“Hey Mike—I think that’s one of the bad guys.”
“Damn straight it is!” a deep voice boomed from behind him. Jack turned to see a large black man in the tatters that remained of a police uniform, holding a bandage to a badly bleeding shoulder. The right side of his face was charred and raw, his eye swollen shut, right eyebrow and part of his close-cropped hair singed clean off, ear a ragged mess. Despite his injuries, the officer stood straight and firm, a look of steely determination in his one good eye.
The officer sized Jack up with a glance.
“And you, Mr. Doomsday Prepper, are going to help me keep that terrorist scum from dying on us.”