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Chapter 14: Tyrants of the Suburbs
Jack couldn’t shake the feeling of loss that fell over him as his neighborhood’s entrance slipped from view in his side mirror. The hard work that he had put into his home, the well, the solar array, the garden and the other things that they were leaving behind weighed heavy on his mind. It was his home, too, and it felt like he was saying goodbye rather than leaving for a few days. He hoped that they would be able to return in a day or two, once order had been restored and the rule of law reinstated, but at this point, that was only blind hope.
Jack flipped on his truck’s radio, tuning into the local station that had been running off-and-on since the attacks began. It was not broadcasting at the moment, either conserving power or just unable to broadcast for some reason. It was late afternoon, and Jack imagined they would broadcast again closer to dusk.
The group’s world band radio had been able to pick up a BBC broadcast the previous evening and listen into sporadic updates throughout the day. The news had been ominous: war was spreading over the globe, with exchanges between Iran and Israel, North and South Korea and likely many others. The U.S., the world’s longtime police force, had been knocked down and the thugs and tyrants of the world were taking advantage of the opportunity.
Last he’d heard, America’s military might was mobilizing to assist allies and wage counter-attacks, with the Secretary of State assuming the office of President. That the Secretary of State was in charge spoke volumes of how serious the situation was: all those who came before her in the line of succession were missing and likely dead. The Secretary was not even on U.S. soil—she’d been on a diplomatic mission to China when the attacks were launched. Jack had not heard whether she had been moved since then, and could not help but wonder how much hospitality the Chinese would show.
Beyond the little that they had heard over the radio and personally witnessed, Jack could only guess at what was happening in the wider world. If full-scale war had broken out in the Mideast and Asia, he worried at how fast and how far it would spread. The U.S. would come to Israel’s aid—would Russia side with Iran? Would the conflict spill over to other nations in the region? In Asia, would the Chinese get involved in the fight between the two Koreas?
Jack shuddered at the thought of a rapid escalation beyond the horrors that had already occurred. New York and D.C. lay in radioactive ruins, the nation’s technological backbone was under attack by hackers and small groups of well-armed guerrilla fighters were rampaging through the suburbs. All that paled in comparison to the terror of a full-scale nuclear war. One day ago, that had seemed a remote possibility; today, it was entirely too plausible.
The clock had finally ticked past the twenty four hour mark since Jack had first learned of the attacks. Twenty four hours, but it felt like an entirely different lifetime. It’d been a constant barrage of real and potential threats to his group, a roller coaster from bad to worse. In those twenty four hours, he’d been in two separate gunfights and killed seven or eight men, and could only thank his maker that he and his friends had made it through unscathed.
He was utterly drained and exhausted, emotionally and physically, the activity of the day and little rest combining to sap him of his strength. Jack was an office worker, not some special forces operator used to running for days on no sleep and little food. He was tired, moving forward largely through force of will, and knew the others were in the same boat.
The drive to Tex’s house was fortunately a fairly short one, but it did intersect with the one of the area’s major roads. A strip mall with a supermarket, gas station and a handful of restaurants lay a mile to the east of the intersection. Mike had driven through that area during his fateful flight to the Rourke homestead, and had related that it had looked largely abandoned, save small crowds waiting outside the grocery stores. They could only hope that was still the case.
Jack felt strange driving down the familiar county road. He’d driven it literally hundreds of times over the years that he’d lived in the area, but this time it felt different, almost foreign. His eyes were working overdrive, scanning for new sights or potential threats. A car travelling the opposite direction approached and Jack went white knuckled on the wheel, ready to swerve to avoid the vehicle if it made an aggressive move. The car passed by harmlessly.
“Just an average person out travelling on the road. That’s what roads are for, right?” Jack told himself. He was getting jumpy, but two gunfights in twenty four hours would do that to a man. His mind was looking for threats everywhere. More traffic passed by in the opposite direction and Jack had to mentally tell himself to stay calm as each approached.
The caravan of vehicles rounded a bend in the road and the main intersection came into view. The traffic light blinked yellow.
“I am going to shield us in the middle of the intersection. Keep going—I will catch up.” Jack radioed, accelerating a bit to break away from the group. He slowed quickly as he entered in the intersection, coming to a stop right in the middle, partially blocking it to any oncoming traffic. Jack scanned in either direction—a cluster of five vehicles, a mix of import cars and SUVs, were traveling in from the east but still a quarter mile off. The strip mall was out of view around another bend in the road. Jack edged forward, blocking the vehicles path of travel. The maneuver would have been better with two trucks—one for each direction of travel, but Jack hadn’t thought through it beforehand to coordinate.
Jack watched in his mirror as his caravan approached and then raced past him. They were through the intersection in a matter of seconds. The oncoming traffic was still a ways off and had started to slow, unsure of what to make of the pickup stretched across their lanes. Jack accelerated away, catching up with his caravan and moving back into the lead position.
Tex’s neighborhood was a half-mile up the road, a gated community that was still in the midst of development. They were designer, custom homes on small-ish, treeless lots—very nice but not exactly Jack’s style.
He made the turn into the neighborhood’s entrance and found himself facing a roadblock manned by four men—two with shotguns, one with an AR-15 and the fourth with an SKS rifle. They wore regular clothes—jeans, polos and buttons ups—but with the addition of a belt of shotgun shells or a shoulder bag of ammo and a N95 particle mask or a paint respirator. The breath masks hid their facial expressions, though their visible eyes did not look happy to see him. Hastily made cardboard signs read “Residents Only” and the classic “You Loot, We Shoot!”
Jack stopped, smiling and waving to the men. None returned his greeting; they just stared at him with cold, tired eyes.
“Uhh, Tex, need you to get up here and help with the welcoming party,” Jack radioed, pulling his pickup off to the side. Tex’s diesel truck roared in, his toy hauler trailer in tow. Two of the guards neared his vehicle enough to have a conversation, but kept ten or so paces back. The other two kept in place, physically standing in front of the gate to the development.
Jack couldn’t clearly hear the conversation that followed, but could tell that Tex was losing his temper with one of the guards. After a minute or so, the guards seemed to be done talking, stomping back angrily to join the others in forming a physical barrier in front of the gate. This did not look like the warm welcome they had been expecting.
The radio crackled to life.
“Guys. Bad news. They won’t let everyone in—just my family, by decree of the all-powerful HOA.”
Jack stared incredulously at his walkie.
“Wait, are you serious?”
“Yep. They are jittery as heck the warnings about the bio and chem weapons, and the fallout from the nuke attacks. So they’ve putting a quarantine in place. Sounds like something went down here last night, too, but I couldn’t get any details.”
Jack smacked the steering wheel in frustration.
“You can’t sweet talk them into letting us in for the evening? What about Esme?”
“I know one of these guys, he was a fairly decent dude, but he wouldn’t budge when I asked if we could all pass. Just us.”
“So, they think we might all have the plague, but they’ll let you in and not us. That makes no sense.”
“It’s an HOA, Jack. They never make sense. So, now what?”
Jack thought about putting his Noveske AR pistol to use once again and solving the problem through judicious use of superior firepower, but that was clearly not the wise or moral course of action.
“We could help out with protecting the neighborhood, since that’s what they seem to be interested in.”
“I tried. Said we had a paramedic too and nothing.”
“Could we buy our way in? Trade some of the jihadi firepower? Or some of the cash.”
“Might work, but these guys are scared for their lives. Not sure if they are in the bartering mood. Let me check.”
Jack rolled down his window so that he could hear this exchange better than the last.
“Hey, I can pay you guys to let my friends in! Ten k—each. They just need a place to stay. I can guarantee that they won’t cause trouble and none of us are sick. What do you say?”
The man who seemed to be the lead guard, the one with the AR-15, responded quickly.
“Nope. Non-negotiable, Tyler! ‘sides, that cash isn’t good for much more than wiping now!”
“Your friends need to get outta here,” one of the other men shouted, pointing to the road for emphasis.
Jack sighed, thinking through their other options. They could head directly to the hunting lease, though all were exhausted, the afternoon was getting late and the conditions of the route unknown. They could start the drive and try to find some place along the way to camp out should they get delayed. Or they could stick with the original plan of finding a local place to hunker down for the evening.
Kyle and Amy MacNab’s home was a fifteen minute drive away in normal times and the direct route required crossing the Interstate and the location of the terrorist’s bomb and ambush. It was likely still complete chaos. There were alternative routes, but they were miles out of the way. The Blackwell home was an obvious no-go, and they’d just left the Rourke home for fear of a counter attack from the jihadi guerrillas.
Aside from the group’s homes, there were a handful of people from their church that Jack felt would at least provide a welcome driveway if they showed up on their doorstep. Two were fairly close by. There was also the church building itself—the chapel had a large parking lot and a grassy field behind it that could serve as a temporary camp.
Then there was Barry’s gun shop, only a mile or so from Tex’s neighborhood. It was an older, standalone brick building with a gravel parking lot out back. Barry had an older camper trailer and a Deuce and a Half military truck that he kept parked there, but otherwise there was plenty of space. Jack had lost track of the number of times that Barry had told him to give him a shout if he needed help. He felt like the wiry Vietnam vet would probably be good for his word, though he couldn’t be certain.
Jack didn’t feel particularly confident about any of the destinations, but they didn’t have a ton of options at this point. They were essentially refugees.
Regardless of which destination they tried for, there was the possibility of splitting the group up, with Tex returning to his home and the rest of the group heading elsewhere. That would allow the Ryan family time to rest and gather some more supplies from their home, but with the added complication of needing to regroup before heading to the retreat.
“How much stuff are you talking about picking up at your place, Tex? Could you do it pretty quickly?”
“Some more of our food storage, some camping gear, fishing stuff, stuff for the kid. My cowboy hat. Probably fifteen, twenty minutes to grab it and load it up,” Tex radioed back.
The guards at the gate were clearly starting to lose their patience, so they did not have a ton of time to sit around and plan their next move. Tex’s home had been their best, first option, and it appeared to no longer be viable for the whole group, at least not without some trouble. Jack felt inclined to just say screw it, pop a few caffeine pills and make for the bug out land, but he was nervous about trying that journey with the whole group so worn down. They needed a new plan of action, and they needed it fairly quickly.