Chapter 17: Parting Fireworks
Most of the group dispersed to grab their gear and load up, but Kyle and Barry remained behind, moving in for closer counsel. Jack caught Fiona’s eye as she was leaving with the kids.
“Guys, give me a minute here,” he said to the men, jogging to catch up with his spouse. She didn’t turn as he approached.
“Hey, what’s up?” he said, putting a hand on her shoulder. She shook it off and kept walking to the family SUV. Jack wasn’t a mind reader, but he wasn’t oblivious, either. Fiona was mad at him.
She opened the car door, struggling to buckle in Link, who squirmed wildly. Jack let out a sigh, taking over the job of strapping down Link. Porter loaded himself into the seat next to his brother, fidgeting anxiously. Fiona took the drivers’ seat, resting her head on the steering wheel. She left her door open, and Jack stepped into the space.
“Fiona—what is up?” he asked a second time.
“I’m mad at you—that’s what’s up,” she replied, not looking up from the steering wheel.
Jack let out a breath.
“I can tell. What did I do?”
Fiona rested back in the bucket seat, staring at the car’s ceiling, drawing in a breath of her own as she collected her thoughts.
“I guess mad isn’t the right word. That’s not fair—intensely frustrated is more like it. I thought we were going to the hunting land, and then you come back with some crazy old gun shop guy and all of a sudden we’re trusting him with everything? I mean, we don’t even know him very well—do we?”
“Barry? He and I go way back…”
Fiona shook her head.
“Well, he’s just some looney bin gun store guy to the rest of us. I mean, what is that—a ninja sword?” she said, gesturing to the sword slung across Barry’s back.
“That’s a katana—“ Jack started, but Fiona hadn’t really stopped.
“And you come back here and make up your mind about going with him, without even asking. I love you, and you’ve done incredibly well today, but I don’t have a good feeling about this, and especially about trusting everything to Barry the gun shop guy.”
Jack took his time to think carefully through his response. He understood Fiona’s frustrations, but he didn’t need them distracting him or her over the next few hours. He also needed to be careful that he didn’t say anything to make matters worse.
“Look, Fiona, I trust him—I trust that he’s got the property, that we’re welcome to stay and that he’ll help us get there. I also trust that it’s a better, safer place for everyone than our land. You can’t really argue that.”
Fiona didn’t disagree. Jack continued.
“I’m sorry that we changed plans so quickly—I probably should have done that more diplomatically. But really, I think this is a huge blessing for us, and we’d be silly to let Barry drive off into the night by himself.”
Fiona reached out and took Jack’s gloved hand in hers.
“I know, I know. I’m sorry, too—I’m just tired and probably being over protective. If you think this is the best thing for all of us, and if you trust Barry for his word, than I support that. I would have liked you to handle it differently—“
“Yo, Jack!” Kyle interrupted. Jack turned. Kyle and Barry were still waiting.
“You guys done your little lovers’ quarrel over there? Time’s a wastin’!” he joked. Jack shook his head.
“Gimme a minute!”
Fiona leaned out of the SUV, kissing him lightly. Jack drew her into his arms, holding her as tightly as their rifle plate carriers and magazine pouches would allow.
“I love you, babe. You good?”
Fiona stepped back out of his hug.
“I’m better,” she said, kissing him again.
“Quit your smoochin’ and get over here!” Kyle called. Fiona rolled her eyes.
“All right—go knock some sense into him.”
Jack jogged back to where Kyle and Barry were waiting. The two men were mid-conversation when he joined them, but paused and started again to get him caught up to speed. Barry, the suppressed grease gun cradled like a football in his arms, was the first to speak.
“So, I was jus’ tellin’ Kyle here that it’d be smart to have some kind of plan of action before we roll out o’ here. Nothin’ too complex, ‘cuz frankly we ain’t got the time to get everyone up to speed. But we need to set an order of travel, give folks a plan for what to do if we hit a checkpoint and what to do if we take incomin’ fire.”
“Completely agree—do you have experience with that?”
“Only half my time in ‘Nam! Spent a lot of it runnin’ truck convoys through Indian country—hundreds of trips that were a hell of a lot hairier than tonight is going to be. At least I hope.”
“Barry’s a regular pro at this kinda thing,” Kyle added.
“I’d like a bunch more grunts and a couple gun trucks with sand bags and ma deuces in the bed, but I forgot my magic wand at home tonight. It’d best if we could take fewer vehicles—fewer drivers, more security would be better—but I’m going to guess everything loaded in the trucks is stuff we want.”
Jack and Kyle voiced an affirmative.
“All righty, so we’ve got six vehicles, including my Deuce. We’re going to organize into two march units of three vehicles each—we’ll call ‘em Alpha and Bravo units for short. And then we’ll number the vehicles – one, two three—so the lead vehicle will be Alpha One.”
“We’ll keep the vehicles with the kids in the main body of the column, and I’ll put my Deuce up in front. I know the way, and it’s usually best to have the biggest, slowest beast of a vehicle up front. And, if anything needs to get smashed outta the way, I can plow on through. So I’ll be Alpha One.”
“Kyle, like we were chattin’, I think you take the trail position at the rear of the column.”
“And then Jack, we’ll have you in the number three spot as convoy commander. You keep an eye on the vehicles, help out when needed. If possible, let’s have Tex ride with you—that way, you two can act as a sort of security element, if needs be.”
“Gotcha,” Jack said.
“So you’re big boss man of the whole show, and then I’ll be the commander for Alpha, and we’ll have Kyle be commander for Bravo. If things get hairy and we have to split up, we fall back to that. We’ll go quick and try to keep some space in between the vehicles—a three or four seconds of space is good.”
“If we take contact—incoming fire—the best case, we slam on the go pedal and get away from it. If we can’t drive away from the attack, then we’ll probably need to ditch vehicles and get to better cover. If that happens, Jack, you and Tex may be able to lay down some suppressive fire while the women and children get to cover. Sound good?”
Both men replied in the affirmative.
“What about a checkpoint?” Jack asked.
Barry scratched his beard, looking to the night sky.
“We’ll need to play that by ear, I think. Might smash our way through, might try to talk our way through. I don’t really think we’ll be able to pass for some kind of official traffic, but stranger things have happen. I’m hopin’ that we get out of here fast enough to bypass ‘em all. With everything all FUBAR, organizin’ something like that is going to be like playin’ a crossword puzzle in the dark.”
“Makes sense to me,” Kyle said.
“All right then, let’s go over the route and then bring everybody else up to speed. Times’-a-wastin’, but we may only get one shot at this, so let’s do it right.”
Barry spent the next few minutes walking them through the primary and alternate routes to his cabin. Jack was happy to see that the route brought them within twenty miles of the hunting lease—if they ran into trouble, they could make the detour and lay low there. The lease was designated a rally point if something happened along the way and the group was separated.
It was a roughly three hour drive to the cabin, if the roads were clear. Each vehicle had either a GPS or a paper map—some had both. Barry would not divulge the exact location of the cabin, but instead gave them a spot that he said was within a five minute drive of the cabin.
“That way, ya’ll have an investment in helping me get there alive,” he said with a laugh, “but really—if we get compromised along the way, I’d rather have the location of my place a secret, versus plugged into everyone’s GPS and marked on maps,” Barry explained.
Jack wasn’t thrilled about not knowing their exact final destination, but also didn’t want to spend the time, energy and goodwill with Barry to try and force the issue. He doubted the tough old soldier would crack under after hours of waterboarding, so polite persuasion had little chance of success.
“The big question mark will be the roads—there just ain’t too many ways up into the region,” Barry explained, drawing a finger over road atlas that they’d placed on the ground, showing the highway that led to the area.
“If we can’t get up this way, we’ll have to back track around this here—probably take us fifty miles out of the way.”
Barry traced the alternate route out for them.
“Let’s hope we don’t have to do that,” Kyle said.
“We can hope, but we’ll see—might be road blocks, accidents, all sorts of things blocking our way. Worst case, we have to cache the vehicles and ruck in. Hope everyone has on their hiking shoes, just in case.”
Jack remembered the police radio that he’d recovered from Officer Bowman and the collection of radios retrieved from the jihadis.
“Hey—we’ve got a bunch of radios that we could use to monitor traffic—at least it would probably give us an advanced warning of a roadblock.”
“Doesn’t Mike have a radio, too?” Kyle added.
They confirmed that Mike had his own radio, which meant that they had multiple radios capable of monitoring emergency traffic and two capable of transmitting.
With the plan roughly sketched out, Kyle and Jack dispersed to brief the other vehicles and do final checks. Fuel levels were good, loads were secured and the plan was quickly distilled.
Esmerelda was not comfortable driving Tex’s pickup and pulling their trailer, so Tex was unable to join Jack. Mike, who was a passenger in Amy’s SUV, went in his stead. After a quick tutorial on the manual of arms from Jack and Barry, Mike was given the jihadi’s suppressed Uzi and a satchel full of loaded stick mags. The radios were distributed between the newly formed Alpha and Bravo units, along with smoke grenades to be used to signal or conceal a retreat and extra batteries for the walkies.
With everything ready and the vehicles loaded up, the group took a minute to pause and say a prayer over the walkies. Jack offered it, keeping it sincere, short and to the point. He felt some of the anxiety lift from his shoulders as he finished.
“We might actually have a shot at this,” he told Mike, fastening up his seat belt and starting up the Tacoma’s engine. The engines of the rest of the convoy rumbled to life. Each vehicle reported in that they were ready to move.
“All right everyone, we’ve burned too much time up here. Let’s move out. Barry, if you’ll lead the way,” Jack said.
“Convoy Leader, this is Alpha One, not Barry,” the ‘Nam vet corrected. Jack could hear the grin on Barry’s face, loud and clear.
“All right then, Alpha One it is—lead the way,” Jack restated.
“Alpha One has good copy—moving out.”
The convoy eased slowly out of the church’s parking lot, moving into the night and beginning the first few yards of what Jack knew might be a very, very long journey. He hoped it would run smoothly, but knew the odds of having no complications along the way were slim to none. Despite the risks, he knew that this was, by far, their best option and the right thing to do. In the first twenty four hours, the area had already become a literal warzone. It would only get progressively worse as food ran out and people became desperate.
They passed by Guns and Glory, the old shop sitting quiet and still. The convoy picked up speed.
“Hey Bravo Three, let me know when you’re a hundred yards or so past the shop,” Barry’s voice called over the walkie. Kyle was Bravo Three.
Jack shook his head, incredulously.
“Alpha One, this is convoy lead—what the heck do you have planned?”
“Just some fireworks to send us off. No big deal—promise you guys will like it,” Barry replied.
In his peripheral vision, Jack could see Mike tense up in the seat next to him.
“Wait—he’s not going to blow up his store, is he?” he asked. Jack didn’t answer. Instead, he shifted his review mirror so that he could get a good view of the shop.
Kyle called in that he was clear of the shop. A moment later, flames smashed through the front of the shop, blowing out the glass storefront, sending glass flying into the street. Jack saw one corner of the roof rock up and out of place, blown free by the pressure, a pillar of fire erupting in its place. The flash momentarily turned night into day, washing out the light cast by the convoy’s headlights.
As the convoy rumbled away from the burning funeral pyre that had been Guns and Glory, the radio came to life again with Barry’s voice.
“Like I always say—if you can’t take it with you, blow it the hell up!”
Jack couldn’t suppress a smile.
“Kyle, err, Bravo Three you all right back there?” he radioed to confirm.
“I sure am—might have singed my eyebrows on that one, but I’m all right. Impressive work, Barry.”
“Alpha One,” Barry corrected again, “and thank you, thank you. Explosions have always been a passion of mine. Would have liked a better send off for my old place, but sometimes you’ve got to make do with what’s at hand.”
Jack could hear rock music—AC/DC, he thought—playing in the background as the old veteran transmitted.
The vehicles sped away, the burning shop quickly disappearing in the rearview mirror. Mike shifted anxiously in the Tacoma’s passenger seat.
“Jack—this guy is completely crazy.”
Jack shook his head, grinning.
“Yep, he probably is. But I’m sure glad he’s on our side.”