Chapter 24: Only the Beginning
Jack keyed his radio, calling back out to Tex.
I’ve got two kids in here...not sure exactly what to do with them. Kyle is…he’s not hurt, but he’s, uhh, out of action at the moment.”
“Copy. Are we going to radio the rest of the group? Want me to come in there?”
“I’ll make the call. You wait out there, for the time being. We still need to clear that outbuilding.”
Jack switched frequencies, radioing out to the other half of group. Fiona answered, relieved to hear from him. They’d made it to the neighbor’s cabin only a few minutes prior—to Jack, it seemed like hours had passed since he’d seen his wife and kids, but in reality, much less time had passed. He briefly relayed what had happened and then hashed out a rough plan. Jack, Tex and Kyle—if able—would secure the vehicles, the perimeter, wrangle up supplies and clear the bodies. The rest of the group would wait until morning to make the trip to the cabin.
“Do you feel safe there?” he asked Fiona.
“I think so. The neighbor guy seems nice enough, for a backcountry hermit being woken up in the middle of the night by our sorry looking group. He’s letting us set up in one of his barns for the night—it’s not the Ritz, but it’s a blessing. The kids are already settling in to get back to sleep, thank heavens. Mike is pumping Barry full of some pretty serious pain meds so he can get some rest, too. We’re setting up watch shifts, the neighbor has three big dogs and we’ve got Rambo, too—if anyone tries to get close to this place, we’ll know.”
“Perfect. One of the bad guys got away, but he’s wounded and I think he’s probably going to lay low for the night. Keep an eye out for him, though—he’ll be armed and dangerous. We’ll get to work here and then coordinate picking you up in the morning,” Jack said. He remembered the thump on his borrowed helmet during the firefight and took it off to inspect the damage. Something had embedded itself in the helmet’s Kevlar surface. He drew his knife and dug around for the object while he spoke.
“Jack—do you think we did the right thing?” Fiona asked. Jack had been trying to avoid the question himself. They’d chosen to fight back instead of flee—it wasn’t the wrong choice, but it had led to horrible consequences.
“We did what we had too—what they forced us to do,” he finally said. He couldn’t help but be angry at the scum; they had forced his group’s actions. They’d taken Barry’s cabin, attacked them on the road and were in the process of robbing them of everything they had. Blood was on Jack’s hands, but it was blood that he’d been forced to draw in order to keep himself, his family and his kids alive.
Finally, he pried the object free from the helmet. It was a full metal jacketed bullet from a pistol—nine millimeter from the looks of it, fired from the Taurus PT-92 they’d kicked from the dead woman’s hand. It’d zipped through the cabin’s exterior wall and into the helmet. It was clean enough to reload and shoot again. He breathed out a long breath of relief, thanking his Maker for once again watching out for him. He slipped the bullet into his pocket.
“Ya—we are fine over here,” he said, making a note to come up with an excuse for the gouge on the side of the helmet, “We’ll keep in touch. You guys do the same. Check in at random intervals.”
They said a quick goodbye, and then Jack stowed the walkie’s handset. He checked the batteries—two bars of power. They’d likely need to switch out batteries before the night was over. He had one spare set in his plate carrier’s admin pouch.
He prayed things would be quiet for the rest of the group and that they’d actually manage to get some sleep. There would be no rest for him over the next several hours. Not yet. Jack wasn’t sure how much strength he had left to accomplish any of the dozens of tasks they needed to, but he’d at least try. He searched through one of his cargo pockets and found an extra strength 5 Hour Energy. He downed it in a single gulp, hoping the caffeine boost would help, even just a little. He’d lost track of how much caffeine he’d chugged over the past several hours, but he needed every extra bit of energy he could muster.
The check-in done, he needed to sort out the kids and get Kyle quasi-functional. He didn’t feel entirely comfortable leaving Kyle alone and he wanted to distract him by keeping him busy. He also didn’t want to solely rely on Kyle to watch his back—not now, not in his present condition. That meant all three of them would be working together, which also meant they’d be leaving the two kids alone in the cabin.
Jack checked in on the two kids, still cowering in the bathtub. Thanks to him, they were orphans; the dead woman in the front of the cabin was likely their mother. He could not, in good conscience, get rid of them, whether that was dumping them on a neighbor’s doorstep or giving them a bag of supplies and sending them packing—they were his responsibility, like it or not. He told himself that under his care, they would almost certainly live a safer, better life than with whatever parents or relatives they’d had in the group of Neo-Nazis. It helped, a bit.
“Hey—don’t worry, we’re friends,” Jack said, trying to sound reassuring as he spoke to the older of the two. He looked maybe seven or eight years old. The boy glared at him, suspicious, angry and frightened. He said nothing.
“We’re here to help. I just need you to wait in here for a little while, so we can make sure it’s safe for you to come out,” he said. The children had not seen their mother’s death, though they had certainly heard the gunfire, the flashbang grenade and the yelling and commotion afterwards. They were young enough, Jack thought, that perhaps he could simply lie to them and tell them their parents ran away. Or someone else killed them. Maybe it would work—Fiona would know what to do.
“Stay in here,” Jack said, hoping that they would listen. He closed the door behind himself.
Kyle had given up sobbing and was now staring blankly into space. Jack sighed. He crouched over his friend, shaking him.
“Kyle, man, snap out of it. I need your help,” Jack said, jostling him. Kyle broke from his stupor, grabbing Jack’s arm tightly, almost in a panic.
“What is it?” he said, looking wildly around. Jack held him back.
“It’s ok, Kyle. We’re ok. Calm down. We’ve just got to check the rest of the property and get things situated.”
Kyle seemed to gather himself.
“Oh, ok. Sure. What can I do?” he said.
“Help me move, uhh, that?” Jack said, nodding to the woman’s dead body a few paces away.
They spent the next several hours piling up the bodies on the edge of the property, recovering weapons and moving the vehicles off the road and to the cabin. The RPG launcher was found behind a stack of plundered bins sitting on the front porch of the cabin, with its collection of rockets alongside. The suitcase of grenades was next to it, open. Several of the frag grenades were missing, and they hadn’t turned up on the corpses of the dead skinheads.
“Think that old guy has ‘em?” Tex asked.
“Unless they’re on the folks down at the road,” Jack said, though he doubted that was the case. It was a pretty safe bet that the old guy was Barry’s friend-turned-enemy. He’d probably pocketed a few of the frags earlier—if that was the case, then they were all lucky to still be alive. If he’d have lobbed one of those on the cabin’s doorstep…well, none of them would be there talking.
“More reason to go after him,” Kyle said. Jack couldn’t argue the point. They knew the old guy was injured, but not how severely, or what his next move would be. Did he care enough about the kids to try to come back for them? Would he flee and come back with reinforcements? Try some suicidal revenge attack? With frag grenades in hand, he could, if he wanted to, waltz up to within throwing distance and toss them in through the cabin’s windows and wipe out everyone inside. That wasn’t something that Jack wanted to live in fear of.
They searched the big steel outbuilding in haphazard fashion. The padlock on the building’s garage-style door had been blown off by the skinheads, so they just threw it open and spotlighted the interior of the building with their flashlights. It was unoccupied, but filled with row after row of industrial shelves, lengthy workbenches, machine shop tools, a heavy duty hydraulic lift and more. A small tractor with a front loader and backhoe attachment was parked towards the rear of the shop, and an ATV with an OD-green paint job parked alongside that. One corner of the building had outfitted with a simple, military-style living area with four bunks, footlockers, rifle racks and a wood burning stove.
“Barry wasn’t kidding around, was he?” Tex said, pointing to a very well equipped reloading bench, and the towers of ammunition cans contained in a trio of storage cabinets nearby. Jack noted stacks of boxes marked Sten Parts Kits, and wooden crates marked with stenciled Russian.
Outside, they found a large metal box alongside the steel building. Jack recognized as a generator—probably propane. He saw a single 500 gallon tank behind the cabin, but guessed that Barry would have a larger underground tank buried somewhere nearby.
Between the steel building and the cabin lay the woodshed, stacked full of seasoned firewood—enough for a long, cold winter. Jack breathed in the smell of the hardwoods. It too was empty.
Behind the steel building lay a mechanical graveyard, final resting place to the rusting remnants of two deuce and a half’s, a trio of old pickups, a moving truck, a faded ‘short’ school bus, a collection of rotting cargo trailers, the gutted corpses of two Willy’s Jeeps, a dead tractor and a half dozen other, mostly military-esque vehicles that Jack didn’t readily recognize.
Tex cursed quietly on seeing the vehicles—it’d taken them long enough to clear the skinheads motley group of vehicles, and now they faced a small fleet of wrecks that looked eerily creepy in the twilight. There were so many potential hiding places—so many little nooks and crannies someone could wedge themselves in. And, with hand grenades and a bit of ingenuity, the old Nazi could have turned any door or trunk into a deadly booby trap.
“Come on, let’s get this over with—carefully,” Jack said. They spent a long while clearing the vehicles—checking inside, under and on top of them. They were on edge, keeping an eye out for anything.
“Man, I thought Barry’s hobby was guns,” Tex said after they were satisfied the vehicles were empty.
“Guess he’s a man of many interests,” Jack said. He certainly hoped the vehicles were more than gradually deteriorating eyesores.
With the vehicle graveyard cleared, they did a quick walk of the perimeter, again seeing nothing.
Satisfied that the cabin’s immediate area was free of any threats, they turned their attention on retrieving their vehicles, still stranded out on the road. Not wanting to leave one man on his own, all three decided to make the hike back to the road and begin ferrying vehicles back to the homesite.
Jack checked on the kids before leaving. The younger was asleep in the bathtub, using one of Barry’s worn bath towels as a blanket. The older half awake. Jack brought them pillows and a real blanket and gave the older a candy bar he’d found in the jumble of gear.
“Still not safe for you to come out yet. Stay put—get some sleep if you can.”
The kid had no response, but took the candy bar.
Jack took the towels and used them to hastily mop up some of the blood spilled across the front room. The ancient, dirt-filled rug had soaked up most of the gore—Jack rolled that up and dragged it outside.
Barry had told Jack the secret to starting up his deuce, and the old beast roared to life without hesitation, despite a few bullet holes in its front grill. Tex’s Chevy pickup started up as well, but with considerably more problems—it was dumping smoke by the time they parked it at the cabin. The other vehicles started up without trouble.
They quickly gathered up some of the supplies that had been thrown across the road, but exhaustion was conspiring against them. They could barely walk, let alone stoop over to pick stuff up. It was all non-critical things—clothing, mostly—that would be there in the morning, when they regained their strength.
Then, finally, driving the last of the vehicles back, they were finished for the time being. It was 5am—they had a couple hours before first light. They checked in on the kids—both were now asleep. Jack and Tex carried them two kids over to the bunks in the steel outbuilding. It was larger, solid, without windows to lob grenades through and with better cover.
They checked in with the other group—Mike and Brooke were on watch and all was clear over there. Then, they agreed to take turns on watch—two awake, one asleep.
Both Jack and Tex insisted Kyle take the first rest shift. They let him sleep clear through to sunrise while they half rested while scanning the surroundings.
Jack took the nine millimeter bullet from his pocket, rolling it slowly through his fingers, considering it. Two inches lower and it would have struck him in the face and killed him instantly. Or, if he’d let Tex or Kyle use the night vision and gone without, it could have zipped right through his brain. What if it’d been the old guy’s Kalash instead of the handgun—would the 7.62x39mm bullet have punched through the helmet’s Kevlar? It’d been so very close.
Again, he’d been lucky—and his enemies had not. He couldn’t help but wonder why. Was it truly random, dumb luck? Or was it divine intervention? Was he being preserved for some greater purpose? What trials, trouble and death lay ahead of him?
The nine millimeter bullet rolled back and forth between his gloved fingers. It held no answers for him, and neither did the slowly breaking morning light.
Transitioning the rest of the group from the neighbor’s place back to the cabin went smoothly. The neighbor—Marshall—greeted them at the front of his property, riding atop a horse, with a lever gun thrown over his shoulder and a six shooter strapped to his hip. A pack of three big black, brown and white dogs followed him wherever he went. Jack thanked him vigorously, offered him anything he could want in gratitude and invited him to join the rest of the group at Barry’s place. Marshall turned him down, even after the warnings about the injured, armed and dangerous Nazi on the loose in the area. He did accept a spare walkie to keep in touch.
They spent the better half of the next day resting—desperately needed rest. Jack could not sleep—when he closed his eyes, he saw the boy he’d been force to shoot, Kyle gunning down the others, or the orphan’s mother’s cold dead eyes, staring up at him from the floor. He was jumpy, wired, half expecting a gunshot to ring out at any moment. He wondered how long he’d be like this. How long would he be on edge? How long until he no longer saw death when he closed his eyes?
Barry gave them more to look around for the old guy—Oswald, or Ozzie was his name. They were places that Ozzie should not have known about, but that deserved inspection anyways—concealed foxholes dotted around the perimeter of the property and what Barry called the bunker—a simple concrete block bomb shelter hidden beneath the steel outbuilding. It had bunks mounted alongside the walls, LED lighting, shelves of #10 cans of food and a very basic kitchen and bathroom area. All were empty.
Jack, Kyle and Mike hiked out into the forest and retrieved Amy’s body. They retrieved the weapons of the dead skinheads, but left the bodies—they weren’t going anywhere, and none had strength to move them around for the time being. Kyle retrieved his tomahawk from the log, cleaning it of blood and gore in the stream near their temporary camp. The hike back to the roadside, carrying Amy’s body, was oddly surreal and quiet.
With Barry’s direction, they started up the tractor and used it to dig a grave on one corner of the clearing around the cabin. Kyle was not particularly religious, but he asked Jack to offer a few words and a blessing. Brooke led the group in a hymn. Kyle stood on, watching quietly, AR slung over his shoulder.
Afterwards, the adults gathered in the steel building—the workshop, Barry called it—to eat a simple meal. Kyle asked for some time alone at his wife’s graveside. Mike and Esme took their turns standing watch. Jack and Tex talked with Barry while they ate, planning on how to fortify the cabin and how to go about hunting down Ozzie. Brooke did her best to entertain the kids, including the two orphans, while Fiona fiddled with one of their radios, trying to get in a signal—any kind of signal.
“I’ve got some old chain link, pre-cut for the cabin windows somewhere around here. It’ll only take a couple minutes to get it nailed up into place, and then we’ll have some protection against thrown grenades. Then, we can start stackin’ up the sandbags and getting’ dug in,” Barry said, waving at one of the nearby shelves, weighed down with boxes and boxes of empty sandbags.
“Hope ya’ll enjoy diggin’. We’ll be doin’ a lot of that—or I guess I should say, you’ll be doin’ a lot of it,” Barry said with a chuckle, gesturing to his injured leg. Rambo was at his bedside, resting her head on Barry’s stomach.
“What else can you tell us about Ozzie?” Tex asked. He too, had come to the conclusion that they needed to make sure the escaped skinhead leader no longer posed a threat to their group, or anyone else in the area.
“Well, he’s a tricky old bast—“ Barry started, but Jack held up a hand to interrupt.
“Kyle will want to hear this—hold on a second,” he said. He keyed his walkie, calling out to Kyle. There was no response.
He tried again, nothing.
“Mike, Esme—do either of you see Kyle? He was at Amy’s grave,” he radioed. Tex rose up, checking the bunk that Kyle had claimed for his own.
“His bug out bag is gone, Jack,” the former linebacker said.
Mike and Esme radioed back in the negative.
“Barry, if you’ll excuse us,” he said, and then he and Tex were off, throwing on their battle gear and bringing the long guns. They mustered up enough energy to run the distance to Amy’s grave. Kyle was nowhere to be found.
“Kyle! Kyle!” Jack shouted, cupping his hands over his mouth to help the sound project. Tex strode down the hillside, crouching and examining a muddy patch. Tex had years hunting under his belt—if anyone in the group could track, it was him.
“Foot print, right here. And here’s another one. He was headed down this way—looks like he was moving fast, too,” he said.
Jack swore again.
“Damn fool went out on his own!” he said in frustration.
“Do we let him go? Or try to track him down and bring him back?” Tex asked. Jack struggled for an answer. Then his walkie crackled to life again.
“Jack—honey—you need to come listen to this,” Fiona said. Jack could hear urgency in her voice.
“The radio? Can it wait? Kyle just—“ Jack asked, but Fiona cut him short.
“No—get over here, now. This sounds bad. Really, really bad.”