Chapter 22: Regrouping
Jack took a quick survey of the group and what little they’d been able to bring in their retreat from the convoy. It wasn’t much. Esme had been the only one with enough presence of mind to grab a bug out bag on her way out. Jack had personally helped the Ryan family pack their bags, so he had a good idea of the contents—a poncho, fire starting kit, fixed blade knife, small water filter, six thousand calories of food, a first aid kit and so on. Thirteen people and one bug out bag between them. Not good.
Jack had the kit he carried on his person, but in terms of survival gear, that was a couple of knives, a few lights, a pocket survival kit and a spare protein bar. With small children, two injured adults and minimal survival gear, escaping and evading in the woods for a few days was not a viable option.
Weapons-wise, they were better off. Kyle had his AR, Mike had brought along the suppressed Uzi and satchel of mags, and Jack, Tex and Barry all had their weapons as well. Somehow, even managing two young children and nursing her broken arm, Brooke still had her trusty side-folding Ruger 10/22. Esme and Fiona had forgotten their rifles in the rush, though Fiona still had her war belt, pistol and spare magazines. Jack hadn’t seen Amy’s AR and assumed it had been lost in the retreat as well, though her web gear and the spare mags that it held were intact.
Tex and Fiona—at her insistence—moved off to guard the impromptu rest point’s perimeter. Jack handed over his AR, which was set up similarly to the one Fiona had left behind. Jack hoped that she wouldn’t need to use it, but they couldn’t be sure the skinheads wouldn’t attempt to track them down and continue the fight.
Before heading off to guard duty, Fiona explained to the best of her knowledge what had happened on the road. Kyle and Amy had been guarding the rear of the convoy, Tex the front. Two men—owners of the gruff voices Jack had heard—had walked up on Kyle and Amy, yelling and waving guns. Someone had shot first—Kyle, she guessed—and then the bullets started flying; first, the two skinheads, and then more, from the front of the column. It had been a confused, panicked rush away from the vehicles. She’d grabbed one kid under each arm and made for the forest, with Kyle and Tex lobbing smoke grenades and exchanging fire with the enemy.
“Make sure to have that face looked at,” Fiona instructed, a feeble attempt at a joke as they parted ways.
“Hey, I thought you liked scars,” Jack tried quipping back. Neither laughed, but instead smiled weakly. They held hands, lingering for a moment. Then Fiona left, heading after Tex to find a good vantage point for an improvised observation post.
Brooke and Esme were doing their best to comfort the small children, who were a combination of exhausted and frightened out of their minds. Jack stole a moment to check on his two boys, Porter and Link. They were sitting together on a log, Porter with one arm comfortingly wrapped around his younger brother’s shoulder. His eyes went wide when he glimpsed the blood spattered across his father’s face.
“Just a little nosebleed,” Jack said, taking a knee by his sons.
“Were you picking your nose again?” Porter joked, managing a weak smile. Jack smiled back, impressed with his son’s resiliency. He would need it in the weeks and months to come.
“You caught me, little man.”
He reached out and hugged both his boys, happy to be reunited with them and thankful they’d escaped unscathed. Jack excused himself, leaving Porter in charge.
Mike was busy wrapping a splint around Barry’s broken leg. Barry was scratching his dog’s head absently, scanning the forest with his night vision goggles. The old warrior looked up at Jack as he approached.
“You’ve gotta get back up there, Jack-o. Finish ‘em off,” he said emphatically. Barry slipped off his helmet and the attached night vision goggles and handed them over. Jack took the offered helmet, holding it loosely at his side. He scanned over the group. All were exhausted to the point that they could barely stay on their feet. So was he.
“I don’t think we’re in much shape to throw ourselves back into a fight,” he said. Barry huffed impatiently.
“Well suck it up, because right now is the best chance we’re probably goin’ to get to clear that scum out.”
Jack took up kneeling position at Barry’s side.
“What do you mean?” he asked.
“Look—those Hitler groupies aren’t going to be able to resist looting our trucks. No chance of that. But they can’t move the vehicles, at least not with my truck in the way. If the engine ain’t all shot to hell, it’s got a hidden killswitch you gotta engage before the ignition will work. They’re not going to find it, so it ain’t goin’ nowhere. And with my truck in the way, none of the other vehicles are gettin’ by.”
“So, they’ve gotta move all that stuff out on foot. And my guess is they’re probably not going to leave it all sittin’ out in the woods for too long. They’ll at least look over it quickly and see what they can grab. So we know where they’re going to be and when they’re going to be there. Badda-bing, you got yourself an ambush.”
“But won’t they expect that?”
“So what? It’s not like they’ve got enough people that we can’t sneak up on ‘em in the dark.”
Jack realized that the same could probably be said of their position, if the Neo-Nazis had followed their retreat and tracked them through the woods. They could be out there now, watching, moving into place and readying themselves for a final attack. The thought sent shivers up his spine.
He shook his head.
“Look, we’ve got to get everybody else to safety. We’ve got almost nothing in the way of survival supplies—“
Barry held up a hand, cutting him off.
“That’s my job, Jack-o. I’ll take care of the brood. I know one of the neighbors—a real old bird who lives a couple miles down the road. He won’t have much to share, but he’ll give the women and children a place to stay for a little while. I’ve got a couple caches we can hit, too. You go get some, I’ll hold down the fort here.”
Jack didn’t respond, pondering over the revelation.
“What’s in the caches? Anything we can use?”
“A month worth of food for two people, survival equipment, a Sten gun, ammo and mags. Useful stuff. It’d help keep us alive, but it ain’t going to change our situation.”
“Look, you and I both know we gotta re-take the vehicles and the cabin at some point. We’ve got no real hand to play, otherwise. And now—right now—is our best option. We wait longer, they’ll have all our loot on their side, they’ll have time to re-group and fortify. Maybe time to come lookin’ for us. We’ve gotta hit ‘em now—right now.”
Barry was right. Without the vehicles, without the supplies and without the cabin, they were nothing more than refugees. Where would they go now if they turned tail and ran? Try to hike out and enlist the help of the local lawmen? They were miles from any kind of town where there might be a law enforcement presence. And even if they could track down someone, there was little chance that a local deputy would or could do anything to actually help them out. How many other gangs were out there, taking what they wanted during the chaos and anarchy? How many murders had happened in the last twenty four hours? How many people had been robbed?
Jack didn’t delude himself into thinking that the situation would get better over the next few days, either. If anything, with the system collapsing, a tide of refugees spreading out from the cities and World War Three at their doorsteps, things could only get worse. Much worse.
They needed their vehicles and they needed the cabin, and they were on their own in solving the problem. It was that simple.
Even if it was just a quick hit and run attack, if they could just pick off one or two more of the Hitler worshipping scumbags and liberate one of the vehicles, it would be a huge improvement on their current situation. It would also buy the women and children some time and opportunity to make their escape. They had force multipliers—a machinegun, suppressed, fully automatic weapons, body armor, a pair of night vision goggles—and, if they attacked now, they had initiative. It was their best option, and while risky, the odds were in their favor.
“Barry, that’s crazy. We barely escaped that last fight—“ Mike started saying in protest as he finished up the bandage. Kyle’s voice, calm and controlled, interrupted from a few paces behind them.
“When are we heading out to finish those bastards off?” he asked.
Jack turned to look at his friend. The grief had been cleared from his face, replaced with a mask of stone cold murderous intent. Kyle was going back to fight, and Jack doubted he could talk him out of it if he tried. He wouldn’t need to. He sighed, knowing the gravity of the decision. They would fight.
“We leave in two minutes. You, me, Mike and Tex. Barry is going to lead everybody else to a cabin down the road, where we’ll meet up afterwards. Let the others know and round up whatever spare AR mags you can find,” Jack said. Kyle grunted in confirmation, walking past them and getting to work.
“Jack—are you crazy? I can’t leave my family out here alone!” Mike said, panicking. Jack glared at him.
“They won’t be alone, Mike. I can’t make you come with us. But you’ve got to trust me. Barry is right—this is the best chance we’ve got.”
“How about we get out of here and go get help! How about we take Amy’s body and bury it! How about we don’t do something completely suicidal to try to get ‘payback’ for what they did! This is crazy!” Mike protested, jabbing his hand wildly for emphasis.
“Whatever, Mike. Sit this one out. Barry will need the help,” Jack spat back. He snatched the suppressed Uzi from Mike’s hands and relieved him of the satchel of spare magazines. Mike surrendered them without a fight.
“Look, you guys don’t have to do this—“ he said.
“Ya, we do, Mike. End of discussion.”
Infuriated, Mike stormed off. Jack watched him leave, shaking his head in disgust.
“Good to know he’s got my back, huh?” Jack muttered to Barry. The veteran ignored him, moving into tactics.
“Have Tex take up an over watch position with the RPD. You and Kyle move in with the hush puppies.”
Jack was going to ask what a hush puppy was, but Barry handed over handed over his suppressed grease gun. Jack took the clunky old weapon in his hands. It felt odd—heavy, outdated—compared to his AR.
“You’ll want that. There’s an IR laser on the side,” Barry said. Jack found the small boxy laser, latched to a small piece of rail that had been fastened to the side of the receiver.
“Visible when you’ve got the goggles on. Hard to aim the thing otherwise,” Barry explained.
Jack donned the helmet, taking a moment to adjust its straps before sliding the PVS-14 goggles down into place. He knew the familiar green tint to expect, but had never before worn a pair. He was surprised at how far he could see and how well he could make out small details. With the goggles on, there was indeed little way for him to use conventional rifle sights. He found the pressure switch for the IR laser and pressed it. The beam arced out, painting the side of a nearby tree.
“Got it figured out?” Barry asked.
“Yep,” Jack added. Barry ran him through the grease gun’s simple manual of arms and then handed over spare weapon’s magazines—six, fully loaded, plus the one in the gun. Jack squeezed the magazines into the two empty rifle mag pouches on his plate carrier. It wasn’t a great fit, but it would work.
“These might help, too,” Barry said, removing a pair of cylindrical grenades from his load bearing gearing and passing them over.
“Flash bangs,” the old vet explained. Jack stowed them in a pocket.
Jack put a hand on Barry’s shoulder.
“Wish you were coming with us,” he said.
“Me too. This leg o’ mine ain’t exactly up to runnin’ and gunnin’ at the moment. You’ll do fine without me, though. The wrath of God is on your side, Jack-o. Fear no evil.”
Jack finished up his goodbyes with Barry, getting directions to and a description of the neighbor’s cabin before parting. Then, Fiona was at his side and holding him close. She’d heard of the plan from Kyle.
“Be careful,” was all she said. Apparently, she was getting used to her husband dashing off into battle every few hours.
“I will be.”
He kissed her softly, hoping that it would not be the last. He left her with the AR-15 so that the group would have at least one long gun amongst them.
Tex had finished his parting words with his family, and now waited in the wings with Kyle, both ready to move. Jack joined them.
“Blackwell is staying behind?” Tex asked, gesturing to Mike, who stood off to one side with his family, not making eye contact with them. Jack handed Kyle the suppressed Uzi and magazines.
“Yep. He’ll have to live with that,” he said, matter-of-factly. Nothing else needed to be said.
Before parting ways, the group gathered for a brief prayer. Tex offered it, asking for blessings on both parties. Jack hoped it would help. Then Barry, using a stout stick for a crutch, limped off into the night, the group trailing behind him. Porter, holding his mother’s hand, waved sadly to Jack as they left. Jack struggled to offer smile and waved back. Mike walked at the end of the column, carrying Amy’s dead body across his shoulders.
As the group left, the three men quickly reviewed the plan and the rough details. It was a hastily coordinated plan, but it was the best they had. They would sneak back to the road together and then Tex would take up a fixed position with the RPD while Kyle and Jack moved in on an angle in a V-shaped sort of ambush. They estimated the enemy had four to six remaining fighters, and figured they would either surrender or flee after the loss of a few more. Whoever had the M60 was designated as their primary target, though they suspected he would not be strolling around in the open.
Finishing, Tex hefted the old Soviet machinegun, shouldering it with a grunt. Jack flipped the night vision goggles into place, the night coming to life in a green glow.
“All right then, who’s ready to go kill some Nazis?”