My Work

Medicine Gun

This is a work of short fiction. The names, characters and incidents portrayed in this short story are entirely fictional and are of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual events, locales or organizations or persons living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

 

This story is dedicated to my friend, John Gregory Herring, aka “Spotflare” (1947-2020)

“Keep your nose in the wind and your eyes along the skyline”

 

It was the waning days of late summer in the year of our Lord eighteen hundred and forty-eight when ‘Red-Tail’ Jack Patterson came down from the Little Belt mountains for his annual visit to the Medicine Gun trading post near the mouth of the Judith river. Coming down into the low country on his three year old roan mare, the mountain man was a spectacle to behold. Everything he wore was self-made (except his tanned buckskins, which he had traded for with the Cheyenne) from his knee length Grizz coat to his red fox and muskrat hat, to his knee high Elk boots trimmed in the finest beaver fur. Resting in a tanned leather scabbard was his trusty fifty caliber hawken rifle while two fifty-caliber pistols were mounted on either side of his saddle horn. Tucked into his belt cross draw was another pistol, this one with a custom short barrel for a wider spread at close-range, along with his fourteen inch drop point knife with a antler horn handle rightly named “Annabelle.” He also on occasion tucked a razor-edged pipe hawk in his belt he had taken off a Crow brave last year after the bastard tried to steal his horse.

The owners of the trading post, Otis and Prudence McSween, were overjoyed to see Jack return since in the thirteen months he had been gone there had been countless rumors of his death from any number of french trappers, wagon train masters and Army scouts alike. As was the custom when Red-Tail visited, before he was ever allowed to put his feet underneath her supper table, Prudence handed Jack a large piece of homemade lye and mint soap, scissors, a small hand mirror and a towel and pointed him toward the creek to bathe.

“I love ya’ like a brother Jack, but My God! Me and Otis smelled you long before we saw you!” Prudence exclaimed, smiling.

Jack slapped Otis on the back and let out a hearty laugh as he took the necessaries from Prudence and headed to the creek whistling an old church hymn.

When he showed up an hour later, the couple did not even recognize him.

“My God, you look like a new man Jack Patterson!” Prudence exclaimed, smiling as she grabbed him by the arm and pulled him inside to the dinner table. Typically Jack would take offense at somebody calling him by his Christian name but Prudence McSween was the closest thing to family Jack had, so she could rightly call him whatever she pleased as long as it was not late for supper!

“So how many this time Prudence?” Jack asked, smiling as he sat down at their large maple dinner table as she poured him a steaming cup of coffee.

“Well, let me see.” Prudence replied, holding the coffee pot with a dish towel and looking up at the ceiling as if she was reading off an invisible tally sheet.

“Three at last count: cree war party, grizz attack and drowned in the Powder river.” Prudence replied with a wise smirk.

Prudence was a tall, handsome wisp of a woman, not yet thirty with dark, raven hair past her shoulders and soft, sad brown eyes. She and Otis had lost their twin daughters to the pox three years prior and the sorrow still clung heavily to her soul. Jack shook his head and laughed heartily as he enjoyed the regal comforts of having good honest white folks for company, a roof over his head and real coffee to drink.

“The Powder this time, huh? Last time it was the Milk, wasn’t it? And Cree? Hell, last Cree indian I saw was Rutting Pony. He tried to marry me off to his humpback sister for two horses and a pistol, can you believe it!”

The comment caught Prudence and Otis totally off-guard and they looked at one another in total shock and then busted out laughing so hard they both had tears in their eyes.

After finishing their coffee, Otis helped Jack unload the few black bear, mule deer and elk pelts from his mule as Prudence cooked up a dinner of venison backstrap, mashed potatoes and fresh squash from her garden. As they ate and talked about local news, Prudence took stock of Jack, whose full Christian name was Johnathan Obadiah Patterson. He was somewhere in his thirties and had deep set blue-grey eyes that often twinkled when he laughed. He had got the name “Red-Tail” not from the hawk as many thought but from his temper. Three years prior at a gathering near the Musselshell, ‘Coon-Eyes’ Jim Grady, a man of fearsome low-reputation and character, accused Jack of poaching beaver on his patch and a fight ensued. After the fight ole’ Coon-eyes actually in fact resembled a coon with both of his eyes blackened courtesy of Jack. After that day Johnathan became known as “Red-Ass” Jack, which later was changed to “Red-Tail” so as not to offend Prudence McSween, the only white woman in the territory Jack cared about not insulting with foul language and bad manners.

To their delight, Jack stayed on and helped Otis and Prudence with several jobs around the place including patching the roof, building a smokehouse and planting a fall garden. On the afternoon of the fourth day however things took an unexpected turn. While working in the garden Jack noticed one of the flea bitten dogs Otis had kept looking up the trail as if annoyed by something. Never one to ignore an animal’s instincts, Jack walked up past the barn to take a look. There, about fifty yards up the path was a skinny and winded grey mare with a man slumped over in the saddle. As Jack looked closer he could see a small pair of arms wrapped around the man from behind. A child! With his protective instincts telling him to run to the horse and help the man and child, his hard taught experience told him to stay put. This could easily be a trap. Besides the riled up injuns, there were bad outlaw elements around these parts since the wagon trains began coming through regular. Slowly backing up off the trail, Jack pulled his pistol and took a knee behind a tree. He sat there for a long minute listening and looking. After deciding they were indeed alone, Jack slowly walked up to the horse with his pistol cocked and trained on the slumped rider.

“Hello there on the horse! I say Hello!” Jack yelled out several times.

The horse was so exhausted it did not so much as flinch at Jack’s approach.

“Easy there girl, easy…” Jack cooed as he gently walked up and put his hand on the reins.

Immediately Jack could see the saddle covered in fresh blood with the slumped man in the saddle unconscious but alive, if not barely. Peering around the side, Jack could now see the child was a little girl around the age of eight, her wheat colored hair and little round face burrowed into the back of the man, whimpering softly like a wounded animal. Jack double checked that the child was not wounded and once satisfied started leading the horse toward the barn. By this time Otis had heard the commotion and came out running with rifle in hand to help.

“We got us a badly wounded man and a scared child here” Jack yelled as Prudence came out the door of the trading post wiping her hands on her apron.

“My God! Bring them both inside now!” Prudence demanded as she quickly went inside and began clearing the table.

Jack gently tried to pry the child’s arms away from the wounded man but the child was not having any of it, letting out a shriek of pure terror.

“Child, you are gonna have to let go so we can help him” Jack pleaded.

After a brief tug of war and the child finally relenting out of exhaustion, Jack gingerly lifted her off the horse and carried her inside to an anxiously awaiting Mrs. McSween who then took the child into their bedroom. After that Jack and Otis went to work lifting the man out of the saddle and into the house.

“Damn this feller’s lost a lot of blood!” Otis remarked as they laid him down.

“We need to find these holes and start pluggin’ em’. Otis, help me turn him over and get these clothes off of him.” Jack commanded, taking out his knife and cutting the bloodied shirt and pants off the man.

As Jack began to examine the man right away he counted two bullet holes high in his chest and one in his stomach. He could not find one exit wound. After a couple more minutes of searching the man let out a soft whimper,  took a wet gurgling breath, whispered the name “Celia-Anne” and then died right there on the table.

Otis and Jack both stared at the man for a long moment and then removed their hats out of respect.

“Not much we could have done. He had been shot in the lung twice and had lost too much blood.” Jack said softly.

As Prudence walked in from the back bedroom holding the child to her shoulder, her eyes met Jack’s and he gently shook his head that the man had passed. Quickly Prudence turned back around and shut the bedroom door behind her while softly singing a hymn:

 

My hope is built on nothing less

Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;

I dare not trust the sweetest frame,

But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.

On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;

All other ground is sinking sand,

All other ground is sinking sand.

 

Jack went through the man’s pocket’s respectfully looking for any clues as to his identity. All Jack could find was a worn brown leather wallet with three U.S. dollars which he promptly handed over to Otis.

“Who do you think he is Jack?” Otis asked, looking concerned as he pocketed the money.

 “Well, he’s not a trapper and he’s not a scout. Judging from his haircut and clothes I’m guessing he’s a pilgrim that got lost or separated from the wagon train, maybe.”

“But why would somebody shoot a pilgrim with a child? You think injuns done this?”

Jack shook his head. “I doubt it. And since he still has his wallet, I don’t think bandits did this either. It’s peculiar.”

Otis and Jack then proceeded to wrap the body in a blanket and bury the man behind the trading post in a little makeshift cemetery Otis had created for folks who had died while passing through, either from sickness or being murdered by injuns.

“We don’t even know this feller’s name for a marker.” Otis said, wiping his brow after shoveling the last of the dirt on the grave.

“The Good Lord knows him and I guess in the end that’s all that really matters.” Jack replied, his gaze fixed on the mountains in the distance.

A week passed and although the girl still had not spoken, Otis and Prudence slipped right back into their roles as loving parents. They had taken to calling the little girl “Celia-Ann” and she seemed to cotton to it just fine. Prudence sewed her some right handsome dresses and in the evenings after supper all three of them would go for a walk down by the creek while Jack watched from a distance on the porch smoking down his pipe. One evening Celia decided to pick a small bunch of yellow and blue wildflowers for Jack.

“Well that is right nice of you young lady! Thank You!” Jack said, smiling as he kneeled down and took the flowers.

Celia looked at him for a long moment, her little blue eyes twinkling with delight. Jack could see she wanted to say something but just couldn’t bring herself to do it. Instead, she cracked a smile that could break your heart and ran off into the house with a giggle, her sun kissed hair bouncing with every step.

“Someday that girl is gonna start talking and when she does the world better watch out!” Jack said out loud laughing to himself as the sun disappeared behind the little belt mountains and somewhere out in the valley the soft purr of a whip-poor-will floated on the evening breeze.

The next day Jack headed out early to go hunting. With fall quickly approaching the Mule deer and Elk would be active in the valley timber below the snowline and he intended to take advantage of it.

As he was heading out Prudence came out the front door in a rush.

“Wait! You can’t go without taking a lunch!” she exclaimed smiling, handing Jack a small red handkerchief tied up with a hunk of jerky, a sliced onion and some homemade goat cheese.

“Much obliged Mrs. McSween.” Jack replied, tipping his hat.

As Jack rode off he smiled to himself. If any of his old mountain buddies could see him now he would be the laughing stock of the territory. Packing a lunch in a handkerchief to go hunting for the day? Whoever heard of such foolishness! But that’s what living indoors does to a man. Still, Jack may not have wanted to admit it to his buddies or even to himself, but he was fast growing accustomed to these small little pleasantries of life.

Prudence watched Jack until he disappeared around the bend and under her breath uttered a small, earnest prayer for his protection and return.

After about an hour of riding, Jack got off the main trail and headed south. Although he intended to do some hunting, that was not all he intended to do on this outing. He had decided to satisfy a curiosity he had about the man who died bringing Celia to safety. Where had he come from? Jack knew he had most likely been part of a wagon train going west to Oregon. It was the only logical explanation of why an eight year old white child would be out here in this wilderness with a man who was obviously not a trapper. The only problem was the trail the wagons took was over a hundred miles to the south. So the most likely explanation was the pilgrims had gotten lost or separated and went looking for help. The question was why had the man been shot? and by whom?

Although Jack knew the trail would be cold and almost impossible to track, he followed his gut instincts and backtracked south-east. It did not take him long to find something. Stopping at a small spring to fill his flask and let his horse drink and graze, he spotted smoke on a ridgeline to the southwest. Jack ruled out injuns. Injuns did not make big fires for all to see like white men did, they were smarter than that. No, this was most likely eastern tenderfoot pilgrims. Being cautious, Jack decided to make a big circle and approach them from down wind. As he got closer he began to smell their clothes and their cooking. These men had been on the trail for some time judging from how loud they were stinking up the countryside.

Coming within a hundred yards of the camp Jack left his horse in a small stand of ash and maple trees and crept up within earshot of the camp. Taking a knee in the high grass he sat there with his Hawken rifle and watched and listened.

There were three of them, all of them with decent, well-fed mounts.

“How long is that rabbit gonna take to cook? I’m so damn hungry I’m ready to eat it raw!” One of the men complained.

“You watch your mouth young’un! Yeah, you eat this meat raw and you’ll wish you were dead!” An older man replied sitting by the fire, turning the meat in a pan with a fork.

After a few minutes the man cooking by the fire divided up the meat between each of the men.

They all ate like they were starving except the older man who had done the cooking. He restrained himself and ate like a civilized man, savoring the taste.

“How much longer do we gotta stay out here Boss? Pearson and his daughter have either been scalped or are bear turds by now!”

“We stay out here until we find them or find proof they are both dead, it’s that simple.” Boss replied

“That Jake Pearson was stupid to argue with the prophet like he did. He should have just given up his daughter to marry when she turned twelve like all the other families in the wagon train agreed.”

The man called Boss stood up to stretch and looked over in Jack’s general direction. Jack could see clearly he was heeled with a pistol and a large knife.

“We’ll rest up a few more hours and then ride North. An Army scout told me there is a trading post near the mouth of the Judith. It’s possible he could have made it there.”

As the three men settled down for a rest Jack shook his head and cursed under his breath. This beat all he had ever seen or heard. A grown man marrying several twelve year old girls? What the hell was going on? And why did they call that man a prophet? Were they some kind of church? Jack had more questions than answers about who exactly these people were but he knew one thing for certain: These were the men responsible for that man’s death and they were about to ride to the trading post and find Celia. Jack simply could not allow that to happen. Jack crept back to his horse and thought about a plan. Judging from listening to these three talk, only the older one, “Boss” , had much experience with killing. The other two, were just hired pups. The simplest plan would be to just to ride in there with his three pistols and kill all of them in one fail swoop. But it was also damn risky. Better to divide and conquer and pick em’ off quietly, one at a time, using fear as his primary weapon, just like the injuns did. He pulled his Crow pipe hawk from his saddle bag and stuck it in his belt.

Jack waited an hour to let the three men get good and relaxed and then crawled into the high grass not fifteen yards from the camp. He quietly unsheathed his knife, reversed his grip and made several short, quick calls with his mouth that sounded like prairie dogs humping. At first the men paid no attention and then Jack increased the volume and then two heads popped up in unison. Jack smiled to himself. This was going to be fun.

“What in the hell is that?” one of the young pups exclaimed.

“Sounds like a horny prairie dog” Boss replied lazily, uninterested.

“Well they need to shut the hell up!” the kid replied, laying back down on his bedroll.

A few minutes passed and then Jack started up again, increasing the volume.

“Sonofabitch!” The kid yelled out as he got up and stormed toward Jack in the high grass with his pistol drawn.

“I’ll shut you up you little squeaking bastard!”

The kid came bounding through the grass like a pissed off bull elk and stopped within three feet of where Jack was crouched. Jack could now see the kid’s face clearly. He was no older than seventeen, tall and lanky with a baby face and large, scared eyes. Jack doubted he had ever killed a man in his life. Jack let him walk right by him and then in one swift motion came up behind him like a mountain lion springing a trap. With his left hand Jack covered the boy’s mouth and with his right brought his fourteen inch blade down in a plunging motion into his heart. The boy died with a soft gurgle and his eyes wide with horror as Jack gently set his body down in the tall grass. It had all taken less than ten seconds.

Wiping the blade on his pant leg, Jack then made a semi-circle around the camp and waited. When neither of the two men moved, Jack quickly walked over to the other young boy who was lying down on his bed roll with his back to him.

“Did you kill that noisy bastard Seth?” the boy asked with his back turned

“No, but something killed Seth” Jack whispered back, smiling like the devil himself.

As the boy jumped up in fear Jack closed the distance with a razor edged pipe hawk in one hand and a .50 caliber pistol in the other.

“Oh Christ” was all the boy could choke out as Jack brought the pipe hawk down into the boy’s skull with a wet splitting sound, the boy’s blood and brains spilling out into the dirt like thick, black oil.

In all the commotion Boss sprung to his feet and while he was cussing trying to cock his pistol Jack shot him clean through the right knee, sending him crashing down to the ground screaming like a banshee.

Jack casually strolled over and kicked the man’s pistol out of his grasp.

“You sorry bastard!” Boss yelled out in pain.

“Bushwhacking three innocent Christian men! You will burn in hell for this!” Boss spit in anger, his eyes like two red coals.

Jack stood there watching him squirm in agony for a long moment and then drew Annabelle from her sheath and walked over.

“Go ahead! slaughter me like you did those two innocent boys!” Boss spit through yellow, cracked teeth.

Jack kneeled down in front of Boss and in one quick jerk grabbed the man’s hair with his left hand, turning his face so it was inches from his.

“Innocent? You want to claim you and these boys were innocent Christian men? What kind of Christian men hunts and kills a father trying to protect his eight year old daughter from some sick bastard wanting to marry and bed her?” Jack stared at the man with pure hatred.

“The great prophet will deliver this world!” Boss cried out as he writhed on the ground laughing hysterically.

“This is for Celia and Jake Pearson.”

Jack then scalped the man in one quick motion with his knife, the scalp peeling off the man’s skull like ripe melon. Smiling, Jack then proceeded to stuff the bloody pulp of hair into the man’s mouth until he began to choke on it.

“Maybe that will shut you up for a few minutes.”

After gagging and retching for what seemed like forever, the man finally spit out his own scalp and began yelling in pain at the top of his lungs once again.

“Keep yelling like that and you’re gonna attract injuns, most likely Blackfeet, who will take pleasure in roasting you alive for sport.”

Jack shook his head in disgust as he turned and leashed the three horses to his and then gathered all the men’s weapons and stowed them on the trailing horses.

“Oh God! Please shoot me, please mister!” Boss pleaded and cried like a child as Jack mounted his horse and turned North.

Jack refused to look at the man as he rode out of the camp at a slow walk.

When Jack arrived back at the trading post that afternoon, Otis, Prudence and Celia were all waiting on the porch.

“My, my, where did you get those three fine horses?” Prudence asked, walking up with her eyes wide.

“Oh, The Good Lord just dropped them in my lap,” Jack replied with a smile.

Otis walked over and unsheathed one of the captured rifles and then glanced up at Jack with a smirk.

“The Good Lord is mysterious like that I reckon.” Otis replied as he began removing the saddles and feeding the horses fresh hay.

Jack walked over to Celia and kneeled down and gently touched her on the nose, making a funny face.

As Celia let out a long belly laugh at his silliness Jack smiled and a deep sense of satisfaction washed over him like he had never known in his life.

Home had finally found him.

 

The End.

 

 

Thank You For Your Service

 

This is a work of Short Fiction. The names, characters and incidents portrayed in this short story are entirely fictional and are of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual events, locales or organizations or persons living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

 

The old man stood in front of the full length mirror admiring his military uniform. Though it has been over sixty years since he had last worn it, surprisingly it still fit him fairly well. That was most likely because he was now at the same weight he was at twenty years old, a buck fifty! The old man smiled at the thought as his liver spotted wrinkled hand carefully checked the three rows of ribbons and medals that adorned his left breast. Satisfied all was in order, he then put on his cover (his hat) and carefully centered it low over his brow. Taking a deep breath, he glanced at the picture of his late wife and his two married sons he kept on the dresser and then turned and walked out his front door.

A small black SUV waited at the curb with the back door open.

The old man gingerly crawled into the vehicle and after buckling his seatbelt, the door automatically closed.

“Please place your thumb on the green keypad in front of you” a stern female AI voice commanded over the vehicles speakers.

The old man grudgingly complied and after a series of beeps the doors locked and the vehicle pulled away from the curb with a mild electric hum.

“Good Morning 310654, this trip to the Hunger Mandate Processing Center will take precisely five minutes and thirty four seconds. Enjoy the ride and Thank you for your Service.”

The old man stared out the window at the passing city scenery but in his mind he was a million miles away. Full color mental images of his late wife and two grown sons filled his thoughts as did holding his new infant grand-daughter at the hospital three months ago. The old man wiped a tear from his eye. These were the things he wanted to remember today, not this sad, despicable place.

“We have arrived at your destination. Please watch your step when exiting the vehicle.”

The old man waited for the door to open and then carefully got out. As the vehicle hummed away the old man looked up at the industrial grey skyscraper in front of him, The Hunger Mandate Processing Center.

“You there! Do you have business inside the center?” a Sentry in full grey battle rattle approached him, his attack robot dog by his side.

Before the old man could answer the cop produced a retinal scanner and in seconds had every piece of information he needed.

“310654 you have a priority tasking inside the center, come with me!”

Before the old man knew what was happening he was being forcefully escorted inside the building by the sentry, the robotic dog emanating a low growl the whole time as they walked. When they entered the building the cop pointed to a bank of red elevators on the far wall.

“Priority tasking is Elevator 32, it’s straight ahead, you can’t miss it. Thank you for your service.”

As the cop walked away the old man considered making a run for it. He could walk right back out that door, turn a corner, jump into a cab and be gone. Of course they would track him down in due course, a dozen cops in full battle rattle armed with stun batons ready to “tag and bag” him back to the Hunger Mandate Processing Center.

No, he had made up his mind. He was going through with it. Besides, the survival of his family depended on it.

The old man made his way over to Elevator 32 and pushed the green button. A few seconds passed and the doors to the elevator parted open. As soon as the old man was inside the doors closed and a woman’s stern voice asked for him to stand still for a full body scan. The elevator lights dimmed and a series of green lasers began scanning the old man’s body in a grid fashion, going up and down from his head to his feet several times. When it was done the lights came back up to full power and the woman’s voice came over the speaker:

“Scan confirmed. Thank you for you cooperation and Service.”

It took another full minute before the elevator doors finally opened at their destination.

“Priority Tasking 310654, Please follow the green arrows on the floor.”  A female voice announced out of a loudspeaker on the wall.

The room was dark and cold and the only thing visible was the flashing green arrows. The old man gingerly stepped out of the elevator and followed the flashing arrows around to the right, down a large ramp and onto a large metal platform with the word STOP HERE! in flashing red lights.

The old man peered into the vast darkness around him as mechanical whirling noises filled the cavernous room. And then, suddenly, without warning, a large spotlight from above blinded him and a woman’s voice boomed out of a series of loudspeakers around him.

“310654 according to the body scan you have Stage 3 Pancreatic Cancer, inoperable. Life Expectancy, 124 days, are you aware of this?”

“Yes I am” the old man said with confidence.

“And is this council to understand that you wish to take advantage of our Legacy Waiver Benefit today?”

“Yes, that is correct” the old man replied, staring straight ahead.

“Just to clarify, your Combat Veteran status gives you the Legacy Waiver option which provides the opportunity for you to Sacrifice your Body for the Greater Good and in doing so exempt both of your sons from having to sacrifice themselves when they reach the current Terminus Age of 81, do you understand this?”

“Yes, I understand.” the old man’s voice cracked.

There was a long moment of pause.

“310654 This council accepts your great Sacrifice to the New People’s Marxist Republic and Thanks You for your Great Courage and Service! Please know that every part of your body will be processed and used for nutrient rich food to feed the multitude of starving foreign workers across our great land! This Council Thanks you for your Service!”

The old man closed his eyes. “God please forgive me.” he whispered.

The spotlight went dark and the platform was lowered into a small, sealed concrete basement room where an odorless nerve agent was pumped in.

In just under 70 seconds the old man was dead and his body removed by a large mechanical robot arm and dumped into a waiting semi-trailer with hundreds of other “Sacrifices” which were then taken to a processing plant where the bodies were skinned, gutted, boiled and refined by chemical reverse osmosis into a vanilla flavored protein powder with the trade name “YUM”.

Yum could be mixed with water or taken alone by the Tablespoonful.

One serving provided 2,000 calories and 20 grams of protein.

THE END

The X-Code and the Genie

 

casablanca

 I.

Casablanca -German Abwehr HQ – 1942

 

Lt. Bernard E. Stokes of the Special Operations Executive or SOE had massive internal bleeding from a brutal interrogation session when his captors sat him down at a table in front of his MK III radio set.

After a few minutes  Stumbannfuhrer (Major) Hans Gruedell of the Gestapo came into the room smoking a french cigarette. Gruedell was your proto-typical German officer. Slim and tall, around six feet two with sharp, angular features and sandy blonde hair.  After taking a seat across from Stokes, being careful to avoid the blood and vomit, he handed over two pieces of paper.

The first was his one time pad and signal plan copied from a silk handkerchief the Germans had found sewn into Stokes pants. It contained the times, frequencies and three-letter call signs Stokes used to communicate with his handlers back at Baker Street. The second piece of paper was a message the Abwehr wanted Stokes to transmit. The Major offered Stokes a cigarette before lighting up another. Stokes declined.

“Lt. Stokes let me be clear on some things before you begin to transmit that message.” The major spoke pristine English with just a hint of Bavarian.

“We know your specific teams fist or style in addition to knowing your specific duress signals, so please do not insult us by trying any so-called shenanigans in trying to alert your superiors in London to our presence or I promise you the beating you just received will seem like gentle love-taps. Are we clear?”

Stokes looked up at the Major through his one eye that was not swollen shut and nodded in the affirmative.

“Wunderbar” the Major replied smiling while looking at his watch.

“The next transmission time is at 6:32 precisely, I believe, that gives us right at five minutes, so prepare yourself Lieutenant.”

Looking at the message he was about to transmit with his one good eye, several things ran through Stokes’ mind. The first was that his long-held suspicions were now confirmed. The Moroccan SOE circuit definitely had a mole in their ranks. His capture 12 hours ago was not because of bad tradecraft or even bad luck, he had been set up by somebody in their cell. This suspicion was further confirmed by what the Major had just said “We know your specific teams fist and duress signals?” How the hell could they have known that information unless it had been reported to them?

The second thing was this message. It was a piece of pure disinformation from start to finish. It stated a high-ranking Abwehr agent would be in Casablanca for a highly secretive meeting three days from now and that this would present a perfect opportunity for a “snatch and grab.” This was nothing but an attempt to lure more SOE agents in for the express purpose of interrogation and torture.

Stokes coughed up more blood, this time with small pieces of lung mixed in. He could feel his body wanting to shut down, but he also knew he had to warn London somehow before he died. As he prepared to transmit the message, the Major hovered over him, watching him like a hawk. Stokes suddenly became dizzy and his head flopped down on the table with a loud “Whop!” in a performance that would have made Hollywood proud. The Major panicked and quickly walked out of the room to fetch a Doctor, leaving Stokes alone. Stokes seized this moment. He quickly changed the dial to the emergency frequency and the three-letter call designator and transmitted the following one letter: ” X”.

He then changed the frequency and call sign back to the original just as the Major came back in with a beady eyed and bald Nazi Doctor. The Doctor opened a small black bag and removed a syringe and promptly gave Stokes an injection and a curt slap in the face.

“That should keep him alert for the next 30 minutes or so, after that he is beyond medical help. If you wanted more use out of him, you should have not let your goons beat the goose shit out of him. Heil Hitler!”

The Doctor raised his hand in a quick salute and walked out. Stokes gave a faint smile hearing that, because although he knew he would most likely be dead in the next hour, he also knew he had done his duty despite the enemies best efforts. “For King and Country…” Stokes muttered as he felt the amphetamine injection kick in and he began clicking off the message.

———————–

London, Noresby House, 83 Baker Street (SOE HQ)

 Major Peter Reynolds, The on-duty watch officer, had just poured his second cup of tea when one of the young portly girls who monitor the North African frequencies burst into his office waving two pieces of paper frantically. Upon reading both, Reynolds immediately got up and walked to the watch safe. Slowly Turning the tumbler with the combination, he opened the thick safe door, moved the Loaded Webley Revolver to the side (a safeguard in all SOE safes) and broke out the Duty Officer Emergency Procedures (DOEP) Binder and started going down the Standard Operating Procedure list.

“Get on the Phone and Wake Everybody Up.” he snapped to the girl as he walked back to his office looking at the binder.

“Everybody sir?” The girl asked with a quizzical look.

“If they have a pulse, wake them up” Reynolds replied curtly. Sitting down at his desk he turned to the red divider labelled “X”:

Upon receiving the pre-designated one one letter code “X” on the designated NAC (North African Circuit) trouble frequency (7133.766) and verifying the three letter call sign (XPD). Complete Circuit Penetration and Compromise of Network and Agents must be assumed. The following steps are to be taken with much haste:

  1. Contact NAC’s on following frequency: 7145.894 and three-letter designator:  VBW.

  2. Transmit ONLY the Following Code: X9

  3. Repeat this Transmission in (4 ) minute intervals for precisely One Hour (15 Transmissions Total)

  4. Receipt Code is: H9. Under Duress Receipt Code is: P9.

  5. All Agents Must Be Accounted For within 12 Hours from First Transmission.

Reynolds quickly got up from his chair and yelled for the Chief Radio Operator. A fair-haired and freckled Lieutenant, not barely 21, came running from behind a bank of radio’s.

“Follow these instructions verbatim Lieutenant, if you have any problems, come directly to me, understood?” The Major handed the boy the instructions. He could see fear in the Young Boy’s face as he scanned over the papers.

“Yes Sir!” the boy replied, trying to look competent.

The Major smiled at the boy’s effort.

“It will be alright son, just keep focused on the task at hand and work the problem” The boy nodded and ran off to his station.

By that afternoon, Reynolds staff had done everything possible to warn all SOE agents in the North African Circuit of the compromise. Reynolds yawned and checked his watch. It was a quarter past 8 in the evening. Reynolds had been up for close to 30 hours straight. He could barely keep his eyes open. He seriously considered collapsing on his small office couch instead of making the 15 minute drive to his home in Epsom when his phone rang. A woman’s voice on the other end politely told him that his presence was requested at #10 Downing Street immediately. A Car had been dispatched and would be picking him up in fifteen minutes. Reynold’s drowsiness instantly disappeared.

Arriving at #10 his credentials were verified by the two Armed guards outside. Upon walking in, he was greeted by an attractive young woman who led him down a hall to a heavy-set of mahogany doors. Knocking once, a gruff voice on the other side boomed “Enter!” As Reynolds was led into the room, he was immediately greeted with the smell of  thick cigar smoke and French cognac in the air. Reynold’s noticed there were three men in the room. His boss, The Minister of Economic Warfare and Head of the SOE,  Roundell Palmer, was sitting by a large window in a plush leather chair, a glass of cognac in his hand. Another man, an American, whom Reynolds did not recognize, sat beside Palmer. And in the middle of the room, Sitting on the corner of his desk, a cigar in one hand and a large sifter in the other, was the British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill.

“Come in Major.” Churchill’s said as he got up off his desk. He met Reynolds half-way across the room and shook his hand.

“So good to finally meet you.” Churchill said. His handshake was firm but Reynolds noticed his eyes were tired and full or worry.

“Thank You Prime Minister.” Reynolds replied.

“Can I get you a drink?” Churchill asked, making his way over to a rather large bar set up on the opposite wall.

Not wanting to be the odd man out in this crowd of professional drinkers, Reynolds replied

“Yes Sir, please, Whiskey and Plain Water will be fine.”  Churchill poured Reynolds drink and freshened up his own.

Reynolds walked over to accept it, trying not to make it too obvious he was suspiciously eyeing the man sitting beside his boss. Churchill smiled at Reynolds.

“Before we continue, Major Reynolds, I  suppose I should introduce you to our American cousin. This is Colonel William Donovan of the Office of Strategic Services.”

At his introduction, Donovan got up from his chair and shook the Major’s hand. He was a large man with massive hands and an infectious, Irish smile.

“Major, it’s a pleasure.” Donovan said.

“Alright, now that we have the introductions and pleasantries out-of-the-way, let’s get down to brass tacks.” Churchill said as he motioned for both men to sit down.

“Minister Palmer has just briefed me on the recent unfortunate events in Casablanca.”  Churchill said as he took a seat behind his desk.

“Yes Prime Minister, we have taken all appropriate measures to warn not just Casablanca, but all of our North African Networks of the compromise.” Reynolds replied, looking nervously around the room.

“And what of the agent who sent the warning, Stokes, was it?” Churchill asked, his eyes dead focused on Reynolds.

“We have had no further communications from Lt. Stokes Prime Minister. Unfortunately we fear he has been killed by the Gestapo.” Reynolds replied.

“And the message that proceeded the warning? What do you make of it?” Churchill replied.

“Well Sir, we obviously have to view it as pure fiction. It is my belief, as I have shared with Minister Palmer in my initial report, that Stokes somehow was able to transmit the warning code “X” before transmitting this message under duress, which would of course render the entire message moot.” Reynolds replied.

Minister Palmer leaned forward in his chair and cleared his throat.

“The Message also confirms our long-held suspicion that we have a mole in the Casablanca cell. The Germans knew of our cell’s specific “fist”, or way of transmitting morse, in addition to knowing the specific duress signals. Those signals are routinely changed, so the only way they could have known is somebody in the network told them.”

Churchill sat back in his chair, digesting the information. He drew on his cigar and the tip became a cherry red ember, then he exhaled the blue-gray smoke to form a large cloud that hovered over the desk like a rain cloud. He then nodded his head toward Donovan for him to take the floor.

“The Prime Minister has filled me in on all the details of your problem gentleman and I think I may have a solution. The way me and my fellow associates at the OSS see the situation is that you need to do two things here to get things rolling again in Morocco, because shutting down Operations is just not an option with things set to kick off in November with Torch. The first is to flush out this mole in your network. The Second is to strike back at the Gestapo and the German intelligence apparatus for this heinous act. Would you all agree with that summary?” Donovan’s eyes twinkled with excitement.

Both Palmer, Reynolds and Churchill all nodded in the affirmative.

“What I have in mind is to insert a three-man team into Casablanca via airdrop. One of mine and two of yours. I have a man specifically geared for this type of work. He trained with the newly formed Army Rangers in Northern Ireland and has been working with the Polish Resistance ever since. His name is Captain Logan Chandler.”

“Colonel, I have no problem with a mission of this type but if I may ask, what do you have in mind for striking back at the Abwehr?” Palmer asked.

Donovan shot a glance over at Churchill and smiled.

“As luck would have it, a very fortunate event has fallen right into our laps. A French Diplomat who is now in exile here in London has a niece who works for the Vichy French Interior Ministry in Casablanca. She is a former lover of my deputy in Bern, Allen Dulles. Through some very hard work on the part of Mr. Dulles, this young woman has turned into a very valuable asset and has been feeding us treasure regarding all German activities in North Africa for two solid months now via coded letters she sends to her uncle here in London once a month.” Donovan took a breath and took a long drink of his whiskey, letting the information sink in with Palmer and Reynolds.

“That is some amazing stuff Colonel.” Reynolds remarked, a thin smile on his lips.

“Oh, hang on to your hat, because I have not even got to the good stuff yet.” Donovan replied, looking at Churchill again with a cheshire-cat grin. Churchill smiled back and toked on his cigar.

“Our French Asset can give us a profile of the Gestapo Major who had Lt. Stokes executed and has provided us with the code name and description of the mole inside the Casablanca network.”  You could have heard a pin drop inside the room at that moment. Palmer and Reynolds looked at each other dumbfounded.

“So you see Gentleman, we will be sending this team in with everything, and I do mean everything, they are going to need to get your Casablanca networks up and running again and also put some serious hurt on the huns!” Donovan smiled as he looked around the room.

Churchill stood and raised his glass.

“I do believe this calls for a toast gentleman.” All three men stood and raised their glasses.

“Down with Hitler.” Churchill exclaimed in a loud voice.

The sound of the three men’s voices repeating the phrase echoed loudly in unison and could be heard by everybody at #10 Downing Street that late evening in 1942.

————————————-

RAF Tempsford Airfield (SOE/OSS Staging Area) 

Captain Logan Chandler walked into Briefing Hut #2 to find the other two members of his team waiting on him. Chandler was  just over six-foot with a stout frame, nearing two hundred pounds. His Scots-Irish roots gave him his dark hair, eyes and complexion which had him mistaken often for a Frenchman. He wore “sterilized” common green GI fatigues with no name-tape or rank. On his web belt he wore a Government issue 1911 Pistol in a cut-away flap holster and a Fairbairn/Sykes OSS Dagger. Both men stood as Chandler approached. The first man was a small and skinny with round wire rim glasses and resembled a book-keeper in fatigues. His locks of reddish hair added to his boyish looks.

“Corporal Archie Squires, Communications and Linguist.” Squires saluted as Chandler approached. Chandler returned the salute and shook hands.

“How is your German Squires?” Chandler asked.

Mein Deutsch ist sehr gut Sir, es hat einen Hauch von München Akzent Ich habe gesagt worden.” Squires responded with a huge smile. Chandler smiled back.

“Very Good Squires! A Munich accent will come in very handy!”

 The second man was bigger, with blonde hair and light blue eyes full of mischief.

“Sgt. Peter Blakely, Explosives and Aviation. I can blow anything up and fly anything with wings should the need arise.” Chandler smiled at the remark.

“That may come in very handy Sgt.” Chandler shook hands with Blakely and asked both men to be seated.

Behind Chandler was an enlarged map of French Morocco plus several aerial reconnaissance photos.

“This Operation has been named BLACKJACK and is being pressed forward at the very highest levels of Government, so I will not waste your time with bullshit. This is a find and kill mission, pure and simple. You have both been briefed as to the particulars, but I will go over the plan in some broad strokes. Our cover identities and documents have us listed as French laborers from Lyon. I know you both speak French but it would also be prudent to work on your Lyonese accent and also be knowledgeable of the history of Lyon in general. I would not put it past some asshole Vichy Gendarmerie or SS stooge to ask you questions if he feels suspicious.” Chandler picked up a long wooden pointer near the board.

“We will be dropped twenty odd miles outside Casablanca, where we will then rendezvous with a member of the French Resistance in Morocco. He will then transport us to a safe-house near the town of Settat, here.” Chandler pointed to a small red dot on the map.

“Our plan as it stands right now is to stay clear of all SOE network safe-houses. As you all know, the warning signal for total compromise of the network, the X-Code, was transmitted after Lt. Stokes was captured and subsequently executed. HQ received receipt of the code by all agents in country and as of this morning we were notified they had all made it out of Morocco without incident and are en route to England as we speak” Chandler flipped the board over where several black and white head shot pictures were displayed.

“OK, so on to identifying this fucking mole. Counter-Intelligence has cleared all five SOE agents working in Morocco and Algeria. The only agent that has not been cleared, is a French asset that was recruited six months ago that goes by the code-name of GENIE.”

“As you can see we have no picture and we obviously cannot wait for the agents to return to England to give us a description. Luckily, we have an ace in the hole. A source that was developed within the Vichy Interior Ministry in Casablanca has told us the mole is indeed a woman, a french national around the age of 25 to 30. Dark Hair, Dark eyes about five foot seven in height. The source also added this woman has had musical training at the Conservatoire International de Musique in Paris.” As Chandler took a break and got a drink of water, Lt. Blakeley raised his hand.

“Captain what of the other target, the Gestapo Major, can the source help us find him too?” Chandler nodded and picked up the pointer.

“Yes. Our source has verified that this man, Major Hans Gruedell.” Chandler pointed to a photo on the board.

“Was indeed the officer who had Lt. Stokes executed. Apart from that we know he has been attached to the Abwehr operations in North Africa for some time. Hitler as you all know, has severe distrust of his own Intelligence agency, so he keeps his SS and Gestapo goons close by. Concerning Gruedell’s location, we are fairly certain with some help from the local French network that we should be able to locate him. It has also been suggested by Command that if we do get the chance to kill more than one Gestapo, SS or Abwehr officer other than just Gruedell, we should be prepared to do so, which is where your explosives come in, Mr, Blakeley.”

 Blakeley nodded with a big smile.

“As far as our exfil plan, we have worked up a primary and contingency. Our primary exfil will be a French Freighter named The Tourterelle or The Turtle Dove, she will depart Rabat one week from tomorrow at midnight. Our contingency will be to steal a plane at one of the local airports. I have the name of several contacts in the French network that can help us in finding one. Being there are three of us, I hope you can fly a transport or something with three seats Blakeley. So Gentleman that is the plan in a nutshell. Any more questions?” Both men shook their heads no.

“Well then I suggest we all get some rest. We are set to be wheels up in just under 12 hours if the weather holds.” Squires and Blakeley both got up and  shook hands with Chandler and left  for the barracks.

So many thoughts raced through his mind before a mission. Had he thought of everything? Had he prepared adequately? He let out a long sigh and before walking out the door said a quick prayer:

“Dear God, please don’t let me screw this one up.”

ca

II.

 Twelve Miles West of Setaat, Morocco

 

The sound of the lumbering transport planes engines faded into the distance as the three agents landed without incident under deployed white canopies in the soft, brown desert sand of French Morocco at a quarter past four a.m. local time. It was a  clear moonless night and millions of stars appeared as pin pricks in the thick black curtain of night. After a compass heading and a few miles of hiking, they all arrived at the road to meet their contact. At 0600 as dawn was just beginning to break, Chandler saw the faint glow of headlights in the distance. All three men drew their pistols and held them behind them. The van gave the pre-arranged signal and flashed it’s headlights three times on approach. Chandler kept his pistol behind his back as the van slowly rolled up. The driver rolled down his window. Chandler asked the driver the code question to verify his identity.

“Excuse me what is the name of a good French restaurant in Casablanca?”

“That would be Le Cyne Blanc monsieur. The Absolute best in French Cuisine!” The driver replied stoically.

Both men smiled at each other and gave a nervous laugh.

“Captain Logan Chandler.” Logan reached through the window and shook hands with the driver.

“Henry Toulere at your service, Captain.” The man replied.

“Let’s get going shall we, this road get’s busy very soon.” Chandler nodded and all three men jumped into the back of the van.

 Toulere was a thirty year old Parisian that had joined the Resistance the day after the Germans invaded France. He had jet black hair and dark eyes that showed the maturity of a man twice his age. He was dressed as a construction worker and the van was full of tools and materials to contribute to the charade. Looking at Toulere’s hands, Chandler could tell right away he was a seasoned operative. He had taken the time to rough up his hands with sandpaper and smear paint on them.

“The devil is always in the details.” Toulere said smiling, noticing Chandler looking at his hands.

“I have all the equipment and weapons you requested at the safe house. We also have another van that you can use to commute to Casablanca.” Toulere said, looking at Chandler as he drove.

“All your papers are in order, yes?” Toulere asked.

“Yes, everything has been triple checked for accuracy. Our forgers are top-notch” Chandler replied.

“Yes, they are top-notch because of our intel. The Germans just started using a new kind of ink on identity cards last month. Between the Gestapo and The Gendarmerie, I am not sure which one is a bigger royal pain in the ass!” Toulere responded with a laugh.

“I will introduce you to the rest of the team this evening. In the meantime, best to stay out of sight in the house. Get some rest.” Toulere replied. Chandler nodded in agreement even though the adrenaline was pushing him to get cracking right away.

They drove through the small farming town of Setaat, which like most of the older town’s and villages in North Africa, consisted of a town square with a public water well in the center. The outlines of the old buildings in the diffused morning light reminded Chandler of an oil painting he had seen a few years back in London. The safe house sat a few miles out-of-town on a hill which overlooked the entire area. Being there was only one road in and out, a person could stand on the front porch and see who was coming from either direction for miles.

“La douceur du foyer.” Toulere said smiling as he turned off the engine.

“Very nice.” Chandler replied.

The house was a bone white, two-story late 19th century french colonial affair. In the front of the house they had planted several small olive trees, shrubs and flowers. Walking up to the porch, Chandler noticed a pair of mixed breed hound dogs laying in the soft, black dirt.

“Our early warning system.” Toulere said, grinning as he petted both dogs.

“I have prepared two rooms upstairs for you and your men Captain, follow me, I will give you the nickel tour.” Chandler and his men followed Toulere inside the house.

Walking in, Chandler noticed the front door had been reinforced and two deadbolts installed.

“This place was donated to us by a prominent French businessman’s family. He was killed by the Nazi’s early on in the occupation for aiding the enemy.”

“OK, to the left is the dining room and study and to the right is the kitchen.” Toulere said, guiding the three men through the large house.

“We typically have our meetings here in the kitchen or study. Our resident chef, Ethan, typically cooks dinner for us every night depending on what is going on. Come on upstairs and I will show you where you will be staying.” The four men walked up the stairs, the old wood creaking under their weight.

“So, this is my room here, next room is Ethan and across the hall there is Celia, and next to her the last two rooms there are yours. Unfortunately, there is only one bathroom upstairs, it’s  at end of the hall, down there.” Toulere pointed down the hall and then opened the door to The first room and turned on the light.

“Lieutenant Squires and Blakeley, this is your billet.” Chandler said matter of factly. Both men quickly moved into the room and began unpacking on the two beds.

 Toulere and Chandler walked into the next room.

“Did I understand you to say there is a woman staying here?” Chandler asked as he unpacked his gear.

“Oui, Celia Devereaux. She has been with us since the beginning in Paris. You can meet her tonight. Until then, I will leave you to get settled and get some rest. Dinner at Eight?” Toulere asked smiling.

“Sounds good.” Chandler replied.

“I am really glad to be helping you Captain, maybe we can make a difference, aye?” Toulere asked, extending his hand.

“I sure hope so Henry, I sure hope so.” Chandler shook his hand and smiled. When Toulere left, Chandler took his boots off, set his 1911 on the side table and collapsed on the bed. The last thing he thought of before drifting off was the name of that woman Toulere had mentioned; Celia Devereaux.

———————————–

12 Rou Karachi, Apartment 365 , Casablanca

 The young woman lay in bed frustrated.

She had been awoken by the bright morning light piercing its way through the window like an unwanted guest. Her lover had forgotten to close the blinds again on his way out to work this morning.

“So typical of that self-centered asshole.” She thought. Huffing like a child, she threw back the covers and stomped over to the window naked and shut the blind. An opaque, comfortable dimness fell over the room. She reached into her purse and moving aside the small Walther .32 Pistol, found her gold cigarette case and lighter. Both had been a gift from her lover. Just one of many in the past few months. She reached to her neck and fondled the heart-shaped  diamond pendant he had given her two weeks ago when they drove up the coast for a weekend holiday. Lighting the slim french cigarette, she smiled as read the inscription on the cigarette case out loud:

“To Anna From Hans, Always”

She really had this one wrapped around her finger she thought to herself. As she got up to go to the bathroom, she paused as she passed the dresser mirror. She admired her dark, raven hair and unusually tall frame, tossing her hair to one side, she looked at her profile and examined the curves of her thighs and the suppleness of her skin.

For a brief moment she got lost in a daydream. She went back to her grandmother’s farm near Orleans where she spent her childhood after her parents both died of typhus. It was a place of refuge, a soft, green, lovely place, away from all this war and hatred. She remembers her Grandmother waking her up in the middle of the night in 1940. She had just turned 18. The Germans had invaded France and would be here soon her Grandmother told her. She was to go to Paris to live with her cousins “until all this passed”.

 “No! I want to stay with you granny!” She had cried.

Suddenly, she was shook back to reality when she saw her lover’s spare uniform cap on the corner of the dresser. The Silver death’s-head Skull below the nazi eagle stared back at her mockingly. It’s black eyes as dead and lifeless as her lover’s had been the previous night.

————————————-

Setaat Safe House

 

Chandler awoke to several people’s laughter coming from downstairs. For a moment he was confused. He quickly grabbed his pistol and listened. His room was pitch dark, save the light coming from the hallway underneath his door. Gradually he realized where he was and what he was hearing. Getting up, he slid on his shoes, stuck the gun in his small of his back under his shirt and made his way to the bathroom where he washed his face and got himself presentable. Making his way downstairs, Chandler could tell there was quite a few people in the kitchen talking, almost all of them French. Making his way into the kitchen he saw Squires and Blakeley sitting at a table eating with Toulere. Another man and a woman were over by the stove cooking.

“Ah, Captain, you are finally awake! We were wondering if you were dead up there!” Toulere said smiling.

“Please have a seat and join us, are you hungry? We are having Ethan’s famous lamb stew.” Toulere asked.

“Yes, starved, thank you.” Chandler replied, still a bit groggy. The woman who was over by the stove came over and brought a huge bowl of steaming stew and sat it down in front of Chandler.

“Bon Appetit” The woman said smiling.

“Captain Chandler, may I introduce Celia Devereaux.” Toulere said as he helped himself to more stew. Chandler stood up to shake the woman’s hand.

“A Pleasure Miss Devereaux.” Logan gently kissed the woman’s hand.

“I just love American courtesy! You French brutes should take a lesson!” The woman gushed.

Chandler was immediately taken with the woman’s beauty. She was rather tall for a French woman, at least five foot seven or eight. She had raven black hair that was drawn back into a tight pony tail and dark hazel eyes. She was wearing a powder blue dress that accentuated her athletic frame and gentle curves.

 “And lest I forget, this is our resident chef and explosives expert, Ethan.” Toulere said, still eating.

Chandler shook hands and greeted Ethan, his thoughts still on this beautiful woman in front of him.

“Now everybody, let’s eat, so afterwards we can drink!” Toulere exclaimed, smiling.

“Spoken like a true Frenchman!” Ethan replied laughing. The rest of the room howled with laughter at the remark also. For the next ten minutes, not much was said as the group literally inhaled the pot of stew. Toulere was one of the first to finish.

“Ethan, as always, that was delicious my friend. Now, on to my favorite part of the evening; Let us all retire to the study for some whiskeys and brandy!” Toulere exclaimed as got up from the table, letting out a small belch.

Everybody finished up their bowls and slowly one by one, made their way into the study. Chandler was taken a back by how large the room was. In one corner sat a polished Steinway grand piano and on every wall was an eight foot tall book-case filled with hundreds of leather-bound volumes. Chandler found a seat in a leather easy chair as Toulere handed him a whiskey and soda and then poured one for himself. Squires and Blakeley sat on the sofa, both looking full and content as ticks. Toulere soon brought them over their drinks. After a few moments, Ethan and Celia made their way in, Toulere pouring them both a brandy. With the room full, Both of them sat at the piano bench.

“So Captain, I think this would be a great time to hear your plan so we can all coordinate our efforts.” Toulere said taking a drink.

“Certainly. The first order of business as you all know is identifying and eliminating this mole in the Casablanca cell. This person sold out one of our best agents, Lt. Stokes, which resulted, we believe, in the Gestapo executing him.” Chandler paused and took a drink.

He noticed Celia watching him intently from across the room.

“What can you tell us about this mole Captain? Henry told me you had some type of description?” Celia asked.

“Yes. From a source that has been cultivated inside the Vichy Interior Ministry we know the mole is a woman, age 25 to 30, with dark hair and dark eyes. Is around five foot seven in height and goes by the code name of ‘GENIE’. We were also told she studied music in Paris.” Chandler replied.

“That is certainly some good information Captain. I think with these details we should be able to find your mole. After all, Casablanca is not that big of a city to hide in.” Toulere replied, that infectious smile still on his face.

“And what about the second part of your mission? Something about finding a Gestapo Major who had Lt. Stokes executed?” Ethan asked from behind the piano, smoking a cigarette.

“Yes. Our source has told us he is most likely still in Morocco, so again, if you could use your contacts on the street to help locate him, that would be a huge help.” Chandler replied.

“Of course! We will use any and all resources to help you locate this bastard mole and this German piece of shit!” Toulere exclaimed, draining his second glass of whiskey.

“Celia, how about some music to lift our spirits?” Toulere exclaimed, giving her a wink from across the room.

“Oui.” Celia replied.

Soon the rich and somber tones of Chopin’s Nocturne in E Flat began filling the house.

Chandler was amazed at the acoustics of the old house, it was as if each note reverberated into the wood and came back in tune. Blakeley and Squires sat on the couch mesmerized. The potent combination of whiskey and music casting a familiar spell. Chandler even caught himself being pulled under by it all. The sheer beauty of Celia Devereaux combined with the skill in which she played was amazing. Wait. Chandler’s mind suddenly began racing. The mole has skill in music? Could that mean skill in playing the piano?  He could feel the blood hot under his skin. Dark Hair, Five foot seven? Chandler sat up in his chair. He could feel the pistol against his back. He was tempted to slide his hand behind him and grip it, but he didn’t. Chandler made the effort to keep his face calm. He could see Toulere looking at him out of the corner of his eye. Act natural. Remember your breathing. His thoughts raced as to his next move. Should he try to warn Blakeley and Squires? He could see both of them were now half-drunk and oblivious to what was going on. The song was nearing it’s end. Chandler could feel sweat popping out of his pores on his back. He casually wiped his sweaty palms on his pants. The music stopped. Suddenly, he was jolted out of his thinking by applause in the room. Celia was standing at the piano, giving a bow and smiling. Wait, where were Toulere and Ethan? They had moved. Chandler glanced to his right and noticed Ethan behind the couch where Blakeley and Squires were sitting, both of them unaware he was behind them. Chandler could feel somebody was behind him also. He casually set down his drink to get up and turn around while at the same time moving his right hand behind him to grip his pistol. That is when he felt the cold steel barrel of a gun to his head.

“Now, Captain Chandler, there is no need for that.” Toulere said, reaching down and taking Chandler’s pistol.

“Just sit back down and relax.” Toulere came around in front of Chandler, a P-38 Pistol levelled at him. To his right Chandler saw Ethan, armed with a Sten sub-machine gun, disarming Blakeley and Squires as well.

“Well I’ll be damned!” Blakeley spoke up.

“You piece of shit French turn coats!”

“Lieutenant, that will be quite enough.” Chandler replied, his stony gaze levelled at Toulere standing in front of him.

“OK Gentleman, that is quite enough with all the gun play, put them down.” Celia spoke as she walked over to the bar and refilled her glass of brandy. Toulere and Ethan both dropped the muzzles of their weapons. Celia came over and sat across from Chandler. She sat her drink on the side table beside her and retrieved a cigarette from her engraved gold cigarette case and lit it with her lighter.

“Cigarette Captain?” Celia asked, holding the Cigarette case toward Chandler.

“No thanks.” Chandler growled.

“So I imagine right about now you are a tad angry and confused.” Celia said, dragging on the cigarette and exhaling the smoke.

Chandler said nothing, his face growing redder by the minute.

“So what should I call you, Celia or GENIE?” Chandler snapped, his eyes white hot with hate.

Celia, Toulere and Ethan all let out a loud laugh.

“Oh my Captain, you are confused, aren’t you!?” Celia exclaimed, her face animated with concern.

“You killed one of our agents you traitor bitch!” Chandler yelled, coming up out of his chair in rage.

“Easy there Captain!” Toulere exclaimed, again levelling the pistol at his head.

“Please Captain! Let me help clear some things up.” With that, Celia reached up with her hand and gently pushed Toulere’s pistol barrel to the floor.

“Put the gun away Henry.” she said in a hoarse whisper, her voice sad and tired.

“I want to show you something Captain.”

She reached over and handed Chandler her gold Cigarette case.

“Captain, would you please read the inscription on that case aloud?” Chandler snapped the case away from Celia, still giving her a hard look. As Chandler’s eyes began reading the inscription, his whole countenance changed.

“What does it say Captain?” Squires asked from across the room, a look of concern and confusion on his face.

Chandler shook his head in disbelief.

“It says To Anna from Hans, Always.”

“Who the Fuck is Anna and Hans?” Blakeley exclaimed, his face red with anger.

“I am Anna, Lieutenant.” Celia said as she stood up and ground out her cigarette in the ashtray on the side table. Chandler was still shaking his head in disbelief as the puzzle pieces fell together in his mind. Chandler looked up at Celia.

“And Hans would he Major Hans Gruedell of the German Gestapo here in Casablanca, yes?” Chandler asked.

Celia smiled as she took a drink of her brandy.

“You would be correct Captain.”

“Wait a fucking minute! You mean Gruedell, the same hun we are here to kill?” Blakeley exclaimed.

“The very one Lieutenant.” Celia replied, still staring at Chandler.

“That still does not explain how Stokes was betrayed.” Chandler asked, returning Celia’s stare.

“Well Captain, before I get into that, I think you and me are going to need another stiff drink, do you mind?” Celia offered Chandler her glass. Chandler got up from his seat and took her glass. He walked over to the bar and refilled his glass with whiskey and Celia’s with brandy, all the while Toulere watching him like a hawk. Handing the drink back to Celia Chandler sat back down.

“OK, so tell me the story Anna or Celia or whoever the fuck you are.”

“First things first Captain. Your Lieutenant Stokes is alive. Gruedell did not have him killed after he transmitted that fake message. He figured he might need him for something later. He is being held in a Gestapo jail outside Casablanca.” Celia spoke matter of factly with no emotion.

“Bullshit.” Chandler raised his hand like he was brushing away a fly.

“Our source in the Vichy Interior Ministry confirmed his death.” Chandler spat.

Again, Celia, Toulere and Ethan laughed loudly in unison.

“Your so-called source in the Vichy Interior Ministry is a German double-agent Captain. She is the one who betrayed Stokes and has been feeding the OSS and SOE command a bullshit supper for months.” Celia lit another cigarette. Chandler wanted to speak, to give some kind of rebuttal, but he couldn’t, he was dumbfounded.

“How do you know all this?” Squires spoke up from across the room.

“I am Major Hans Gruedell’s lover, one of the most senior members of the Gestapo and Abwehr in North Africa. I have access to his mind, his conversations and paperwork, that is how I know.” Celia said flatly.

“The source in the Interior Ministry was developed by one of Donovan’s top agents in Bern.” Chandler replied, still trying to shoot holes in this crazy story being presented to him.

“Yes. a Mr. Dulles, correct?” Ethan spoke up this time, walking from behind the couch with the Sten gun.

“Correct.” Chandler replied.

“Yeah, Dulles was the target of a disinformation program by the Abwehr. They exploited a relationship between a French diplomat Dulles was friendly with and the Diplomat’s niece working in the Interior Ministry. It took them six months, but they were successful.” Ethan laid down the Sten and got a cigarette out of his shirt pocket and lit it.

“How come you did not notify HQ of this? Why are you just telling us this now!” Chandler asked angrily, his face beginning to get red again.

“Think about it Captain. Your entire North African circuit was compromised. We were not about to transmit this information to HQ only to have it fed back to the Germans and then get hunted down like dogs and killed! No, the only way we were going to do this was face to face, with the team they sent, like we are right now, and even then, we were taking a chance that your team were part of the deception too, sent here to kill us, so you can see why we were being so cautious” Celia took a final drag of her cigarette and crushed the butt.

Chandler shook his head and looked at the floor.

“I’ll be damned.” he said softly to himself.

“It’s a textbook disinformation program guys.” Chandler said looking at Squires and Blakeley.

“The Germans fed us all these details about Celia down to her being a music student to further convince us she was the mole so we would kill her, no questions asked!” Chandler got up and walked over to the window, still trying to absorb it all.

“You said that Lt. Stokes is alive. Do you know where he is?” Squires asked.

“Not only do we know where he is, we have developed a plan to break him out.” Toulere replied smiling, walking over to the couch and sitting down, slapping Squires on the back.

“And as you say in America ‘To put the cherry on top’ of all this, Celia has developed a plan to not only kill Gruedell, but also the traitor vichy bitch at the Interior Ministry. It is a two for one deal, no!” Toulere laughed at his own joke, slapping his leg.

Blakeley got up and walked over to the window with Chandler.

“What do you think of all this Captain?” Chandler stared out the window blankly, as if trying to divine an answer from the darkness.

“It a crazy business we are in Blakeley. It’s not black and white like they tell you in training. It’s much more complicated than that.” Chandler replied. Squires walked over and joined them, feeling as if he had to close ranks. Celia, Toulere and Ethan all sat down on the couch together, holding hands.

“So, Captain Chandler. there it all is. We are offering to help break your man out of jail and in addition kill a high-ranking Gestapo officer and a German double agent who has been feeding your OSS and SOE high command a steady diet of bullshit for the past few months, what do you say?” Celia asked smiling.

Chandler continued looking out the window for a moment. He then turned around and faced them, a look of concentration on his face.

“First things first. Give us our fuckin’ guns back. ” Celia smiled at that and nodded for Toulere to give them their guns.

“Next. Celia, you show me you plan from start to finish. Toulere and Ethan, take Blakeley and Squires here and show them all your hardware and explosives.” Chandler walked over and extended his hand to Celia.

“Do we have a deal?” Celia stood up and shook his hand with a firm grip. Chandler was again impressed at her self-confidence.

“I have one question before we begin Captain.” Celia said.

“What’s that?” Chandler replied.

“How did your HQ in London know that the message Lt. Stokes sent was dis-information fabricated by the Germans?” Celia eyes were wide waiting for the response.

“Oh that was easy, he sent the X-Code before the transmission.” Chandler replied.

Celia laughed and looked at Toulere and Ethan in disbelief.

“You have no ideal how much that drove the German’s crazy! Gruedell talked about it for days!” Celia exclaimed.

Chandler smiled at that and fished a cigarette out of a pack in his front shirt pocket. Celia promptly lit it with her gold pencil lighter.

“Well, let’s see if we can’t manage to aggravate these German sons-of-bitches a little bit more, whatta you say?” Chandler asked, looking at the whole group, his eyes gleaming with excitement.

Toulere let out a wild French yell and soon the tension and anxiety were replaced by excitement and joy. Lt. Stokes was alive and Major Hans Gruedell and the lying vichy bitch were soon going to die.

It was a good day for the OSS and the French Resistance.

sten

III.

Setaat Safe House

 

Miss Celia Devereux and Captain Logan Chandler sat on the couch in the study and marvelled at the hilarious spectacle before them. Not thirty minutes prior, the tension in the room had been palpable. Each team unsure of the other’s motives and unsure of what to do next. Guns had been drawn, accusations made, and emotions running dangerously hot. But thankfully, cooler heads had prevailed and now, Toulere, as was his fashion, had taken up his role as court jester and being just shy of fall-down drunk, was on the piano leading the whole team in a terribly out of tune, but charismatic chorus of La Marseillaise with Ethan, Blakeley and Squires all arm in arm, swaying to the music. Celia reached over and took Chandler by the hand and led him into the kitchen where they both sat down at the table.

“It’s too noisy in there. I just wanted to tell you I will be leaving soon. I have to meet Gruedell tonight at the Apartment.” Chandler looked over at Celia. Damn she was a beautiful woman. Her hazel eyes were soft and round. Her mouth perfectly shaped and inviting. The thought crossed his mind to kiss her, but he soon discarded it. They had a mission to both plan and execute and besides that, a man’s life hung in the balance.

“I don’t know how you do it Celia, sleeping with that monster…” Chandler remarked. Celia smiled and reached into her purse. She took out the small Walther pistol and checked that it was loaded.

“Every time I am with him, I have to remind myself of the reason why I am doing it.” Chandler could see a deep sorrow sweep over her face. He hesitated in proceeding further. Sometimes dredging up the past was not wise. Celia sensed his sensitivity to the subject.

“It’s OK, I don’t mind. Both my parents died of typhus when I was four. I was raised by my Grandparents on a farm outside Orleans. It was an idyllic, simple, country life. My grandmother had been a teacher and she taught me science, mathematics, languages and music. My grandpa taught me everything else. He had been a soldier in the Great War, so I learned about guns, knives, boxing, hunting, you name it. He even taught me how to hot wire a car. My grandpa died of a heart attack when I was fifteen, so after that I had to help my grandmother take up the slack around the farm. When the Nazi’s invaded, my grandmother sent me to Paris to live with cousins, thinking it would be safer. After a few months there, I made some inquiries about her and I found out she had been rounded up with the rest of the farmers in the area and sent to the camps in the east.” It took a moment for what Celia was telling Chandler to sink in.

“Are you saying your family was Jewish?” Chandler asked, his mouth half-open in disbelief. “But Devereux is not a jewish name!” Chandler asked, amazed.

“Oh Captain, you know when you are in the Resistance you to have at least three nom de guerre’s, right?” Celia smiled, a twinkle in her eye.

“So what is your real name?” Chandler asked, smiling back.

“Let’s save that for another conversation, shall we?” Celia replied, a playful tone in her voice.

“You have to admit Captain, the irony is just so poetically profound! Sometimes I am not sure what is the best thing about what I am doing with Gruedell. The fact that he is in love with a Jewish girl and that I am a spy with the Resistance and he is unaware! It’s hilarious, no!?” Celia laughed out loud and then lit a cigarette.

“You have been full of surprises Miss Celia Devereux, that is for sure!” Chandler replied, smiling. “

So tell me about Toulere and Ethan, how did you meet?” Chandler asked, lighting a cigarette of his own.

“They were in the same Paris Resistance group as my cousins when I joined. When both my cousins were killed in a Gestapo raid in 41′, they became my family.”

Suddenly Celia’s face became serious again.

“You know we all have lost somebody in this God-awful war, but those two men in there have lost everything.” Chandler noticed tears welling up in Celia’s eyes.

“Hey Celia, I’m sorry to bring all this up…” Chandler said, trying to apologize.

“No, its important you know these things so you know the kind of people you are working with.” Celia said flatly, wiping the tears away quickly.

“Toulere had a wife and two sons. He and dozens more of the Resistance in Paris had their families moved out of the city for safety when the Germans invaded. Somehow the Gestapo got an informant inside the group and found out the location of where the families were hiding and killed all of them. Thirty six women and children murdered in cold blood….” Celia’s eyes were wet again, staring at some distant place past the wall in the kitchen.

“Son-of-a-bitch!” Chandler cursed.

“And Ethan…poor Ethan. We found him in a gutter, starving, left for dead by the SD.” Celia was sobbing now.

“That poor kid had to watch his entire family be slaughtered in front of him because they were Communist. So when our bosses offered all three of us a chance to come to Casablanca and work, we all jumped. Paris had become too dangerous. It is riddled with traitors and informants and has too many bad memories.” Celia suddenly looked at her watch.

“Oh Shit!” She jumped up from her seat, went over to the sink and washed her face.

“I’ve got to hurry or I will be late. If I am not there when he arrives, he might get suspicious. I will see you tomorrow afternoon and we will work out the plan, yes?” Celia asked as she grabbed her purse off the table.

“Sure, you bet.” Chandler replied.

“Au Revoir Captain.” Celia said smiling as she walked out of the kitchen.

“Au Revoir Miss Devereux.” Chandler replied. “God Speed to you.”

Chandler awoke the next morning with his head feeling like a frozen pineapple.

“These damn French, it happens every time…” he muttered to himself as he crawled out of bed, slipping on his trousers.

He could hear the familiar clicking of the telegraph in the next room as Squires talked with London. As Chandler walked to the bathroom praying there were some aspirin in the cabinet, Squires came out of his room.

“Ah, Sir, you’re up. Perfect. We just got a message from HQ. They wanted to know the status of the mission.” Chandler kept walking to the bathroom.

“The status of the mission is there is no mission yet Squires, you know that. We sit down tonight with Celia and the others to plan it out.” Chandler shut the door to the bathroom as Squires tried to follow him in.

“But sir, what do I tell them then?”

“Tell them our Resistance contacts are currently busy with subversive activities, as is their mandate, and we are in a holding pattern as far as planning the mission. As soon as we have details we will let HQ know.” Chandler slammed the door this time as if to put a period on the conversation.

When Chandler made his way downstairs he was surprised to find Toulere and Ethan sitting at the table eating and talking.

“Good Morning Captain!” Toulere said with vigor.

“Good God, I forgot about you French! You people can drink like fishes!” Ethan and Toulere laughed at the remark.

“Would you like a omlette captain?” Ethan asked getting up.

“No, just coffee thanks.” Chandler sat down with Toulere.

“Last night was a real party, aye!” Toulere said smiling.

“Yeah, I guess you could call it that.” Chandler said smiling as Ethan sat a steaming mug of black coffee in front of him.

“Today, I thought we could go over weapons and explosives and tonight when Celia gets back we can go over the plan in detail.” Ethan said as he sat back down. Chandler shook his head in the affirmative as he sipped his coffee.

“Sounds good. Do you have a place around here where we can shoot and not draw attention?” Chandler asked.

“Oui, Toulere and me found a real nice spot about ten miles from here, very secluded and private.” Ethan replied.

“Sounds perfect, but let’s play it smart and only bring one sten and one welrod to practice with, everything else stays in the cache spot. I will gather my guys and meet you at the vehicle in half-an-hour?” Chandler asked, looking at both Toulere and Ethan.

“Perfect!” Toulere said getting up from the table.

“Ethan you get the guns, I’ll bring the beer!” Chandler slowly shook his head as he rubbed his temples and muttered under his breath.

“Beer? You gotta be kidding! These damn French are gonna be the death of me.”

———————————

 Ten Miles South of Setaat Safe House

 The small, green clearing Toulere and Ethan had chosen was a few miles off the main road in an orchard of olive trees.

“You sure the man who owns this orchard won’t report us to the krauts when he hears the shooting?” Chandler asked Toulere as they drove up.

“Positive Captain, he is a trusted friend of the Resistance.” Chandler nodded as he wiped his forehead with his handkerchief. He had forgotten how hot North Africa could be this time of year. It was barely noon and already the rancid alcohol was seeping out of the pores of all the men, making it smell like a brewery. Ethan walked downrange with Squires and put up a few makeshift targets with tin cans. When they returned, Toulere began walking the men through the hardware.

“For security reasons we only brought the one sten and one welrod and a little ammo to practice with.”

The rest of the day the men spent practicing with each of the guns. Squires was the one with the least trigger time, so all the men gave him tips they had learned in the field.

“With the Sten, don’t fire a burst when one shot will do, remember, less is better!” Chandler told him.

“With the welrod, I have learned to aim just a tad high if they are more than twenty feet away. Remember, if from the front, shoot them in the face, if from the back, aim for the base of the skull. Our aim is to sever the spinal cord and cut out all motor function.” Ethan told him, pointing to the appropriate areas on Toulere’s head as he explained and Toulere doing his best impression of a dead nazi all the while.

Chandler looked at his watch. “Let’s head home, Celia should be back soon and we can start going over the operational plans.”

————————————

Setaat Safe House

Celia  arrived at the house around eighteen hundred and Chandler wasted no time laying out the operation that was to take place the next night.

“Before I start I want to go over our escape. As most of you know, we were set to catch a French freighter in Rabat two days from now. Since the freighter’s schedule cannot be altered at our beckon call, Command has provided a London Express Transport. The landing strip designated ‘GARBO’ will be used and the plane will be on the ground at 2345.” Chandler rolled out a map of the city and surrounding area.

“Garbo is here and the jail is here.” Chandler circled the two locations in red.

“Celia, HQ has green lit the assassinations of Major Gruedell of the Gestapo and the double-agent at the Interior ministry, their code names are HAMMER and STAR, respectively. You are certain you can kill both of them and then link up with us at GARBO in time?” Chandler asked without looking up from the map.

“Positive Captain.” Celia answered flatly.

“OK, so the assault on the jail is as follows. Guard strength is estimated at four to six. Stokes is the only prisoner so we don’t have to worry about freeing anybody else. We go in quick and quiet with the welrod’s and only go loud with the sten’s if we have no other choice. Squires and Ethan will pull security at the front while me, Toulere  and Blakeley go in and get Stokes, understood?” Everybody nodded their heads.

“I am not sure what kind of shape Stokes is going to be in, so we have to be prepared to carry him out, understood?” Again everybody nodded their heads.

“We leave at 2200 Celia, we will expect you at GARBO at 2340.” Chandler looked at Celia earnestly.

“I will be there Captain.” Celia replied.

“You know the plane can only stay on the ground for five minutes, so if you are not there by 2350, you will be left.” Chandler looked at Celia seriously.

“Understood Captain.” Celia replied again, this time giving him a playful wink.

“Anybody have any questions?” Chandler asked looking around. Everybody shook their head no. Toulere raised his hand.

“I vote since the mission is not until tomorrow night, and this very well may be our last night on earth, we all get drunk and have a party.” Toulere said with a smile, walking over to the piano.

“I second that motion.” Ethan said laughing, going over to the bar and pouring drinks.

“I think you better grant their request Captain or you may have a mutiny on your hands.” Celia said laughing as she got up to get a drink.

“Can I get you something Captain?” Celia asked.

“Yeah why not, Whiskey neat.” Chandler replied. Celia brought the drink over and sat beside Chandler.

Both Celia and Chandler drank in silence for a few minutes as Toulere, Ethan, Squires and Blakeley blew off some steam singing at the piano.

“So what are our odds Captain, honestly?” Celia asked, looking at Chandler seriously.

“I say 70/30 in our favor. We got a good group of people and surprise is on our side.” Chandler replied taking a long drink. Neither one of them spoke for several moments. Only the sound of the men’s laughter filled the room. Ethan left the room and came back with a framed picture of De Gaulle he had hidden in his room. He propped up the picture on the piano and Toulere burst into another horrific but patriotic rendition of La Marseillaise as everybody else joined in.

———————————–

323 Rue Socrates, Apartment 114, Casablanca

The next day Celia kept to her regular schedule and then around seventeen hundred headed to STAR’s apartment. Celia was amazed at how fast she remembered how to pick a lock. In under fifteen seconds she was out of the hallway and into the flat. Glancing at the clock on the wall as she entered, Celia estimated the woman would be home in ten minutes or less. The place was clean and neat.

“Just like a German” Celia muttered under her breath.

The woman obviously lived alone, judging from the clothes in the closet and the amount of food in the cupboards. Celia looked over the layout, trying to decide the best hiding spot. A linen closet just off the main hall would suffice she decided. Checking to ensure the welrod was loaded, she carefully slid off her shoes and then slid her body into the closet and closed the door. Five minutes passed and then Celia heard a key inside the front door lock. Celia heard footsteps and a shadow pass the door. She then heard the woman in the kitchen, keys jangling on the table, the refrigerator door opening. Celia quietly opened the closet door and slid her slim body out. Walking heel-to-toe down the small hallway, Celia slowly turned the corner into the kitchen. The woman continued to put up groceries for a few moments until she felt Celia’s presence behind her. She slowly turned around to face her.

“I am glad they sent a woman to do it.” The woman’s words fell out of her mouth as Celia pressed the trigger.

The pistol burped the spent gases in a “pfttttttt” sound as the nine-millimeter round entered right below the woman’s right eye, sending a spray of blood and brain matter out the back of her head painting the white and yellow cupboards behind her in a visceral red mist. The woman’s body crumpled to the floor with a light thud. Celia waited a few seconds and then loaded the welrod again. Stepping over the body, she pressed the muzzle to the womans temple and shot her again. Celia calmly stuck the pistol in her purse and walked out of the apartment heading for her place, four blocks away.

———————————–

12 Rue Karachi, Apartment 365, Casablanca

Celia glanced up at the clock. It was ten minutes after ten. They would be on their way to the jail right about now, she thought to herself. Celia had been waiting for the past five hours for Major Hans Gruedell, aka HAMMER, to show up. He typically arrived somewhere around ten o’clock every night, like clockwork. No matter, she was not going to panic, she thought to herself. She wanted to take her time getting ready. This was a special night. A night of reckoning. She double checked her hair and makeup in the mirror and made sure to wear the new red dress Gruedell had bought her the previous week. As she walked out of the bathroom she noticed the picture on the dresser of her dear Grandmother looking at her. Celia felt herself wanting to cry and then she noticed the pre-loaded syringe of tranquilizer and the Block of Explosive with a timer laying on the bed and the sadness she was feeling turned into a smile. She wondered if Captain Chandler would be angry with her for taking those things without permission as she loaded a fresh magazine into her Walther.

————————————–

Gestapo Jail, Five miles Outside Casablanca

Chandler and the rest of the men were posted up the street from the jail watching.

“We hope to be in and out in under six minutes. Keep the engine running and be ready to move in a hurry.” Chandler told Ethan and Squires, giving them both a serious look and a smile. Chandler, Toulere and Blakeley were all dressed in black with black watch caps. Each of them had a welrod pistol and a Sten slung across their chest. Chandler peered out the small window in the back of the van ensuring the coast was clear. The streets were empty and quiet.

“Ok, let’s move”. All three men burst out of the back of the van and cleared the distance to the jail in seconds. All three men drew their welrod’s.

“Toulere, you get the door.” Toulere quickly opened the door and Chandler and Blakeley went in. As they entered, a German soldier was napping at a desk, Chandler fired one round, hitting him just right of the nose, crumpling him to the floor. Chandler quickly reloaded. Another set of double doors led into the jail. Toulere tried opening them but they were locked.

“Blakeley, slide over and open them.” Chandler whispered.

Blakeley slid over the counter like a cat and opened the door. The three men proceeded down a small flight of steps that led down a long hallway. Chandler was in the lead and he could hear two Germans talking up ahead around a corner. He quickly threw up two fingers and then readied his pistol. As they turned the corner two soldiers were smoking and talking, Chandler shot the first one in the side of the head and Toulere the second, both of the bodies dropping on top of one another in a dull thud. Chandler reached down and patted the soldiers finding a silver key ring on one of the belts. The hallway continued for ten more feet and then dead ended at a single cell. Chandler found the key and opened the door. As the door swung open, the smell almost knocked the group down.

“My God!” Toulere exclaimed putting his hand up to his face. Expecting to find a corpse, both men entered the dark cell. Chandler used his torch to search and there in the corner, next to a bucket of his own shit and vomit, lay an emaciated Lieutenant Stokes. He was covered in rags, his skin a series of blisters, cuts and sores. His hair was long and he was unshaven. Chandler gently lifted him up off the ground. Chandler noticed the bastards had cut off his right ear.

“Bout time you showed up Captain, I was seriously thinking of filing a complaint.” Stokes whispered weakly, his lips so badly chapped, they were bleeding. Chandler smiled at the remark.

“Let’s get you the hell out of here Stokes.” He was so light Chandler had no problem picking him up like a child.

“I’m gonna carry him to the van.” Chandler told Toulere as he slung his sten across his back and started out of the cell. Toulere ran ahead ensuring the coast was clear. As they exited the building, the streets were still empty. Blakeley met them at the back of the van, opening up the door.

“Jesus Christ! Is he alive?” Blakeley whispered, his eyes wide.

“Oh yeah he’s alive, even cracked a joke earlier.” Chandler responded as he gently laid Stokes in the back of the van on a blanket.

“Let’s get the hell out of here.” Chandler said as everybody jumped into the van. Chandler turned around and took one last look at the jail and then hopped into the driver’s seat and sped off.

—————————————

12 Rue Karachi, Apartment 365, Casablanca

Gruedell arrived at the apartment at 2235 carrying a dozen red roses and a bottle of schnapps.  Celia was sitting at the kitchen table drinking red wine.

“I was about to give up on you.” she said smiling.

“I am sorry my darling, work intruded. To make it up to you, I brought you this…” Gruedell replied smiling, laying the roses and schnapps down on the table and leaning over and kissing Celia.

“How beautiful, let me get a vase.” Celia got up and walked to the kitchen cupboard. Gruedell walked into the bedroom and began undressing.

“I am going to take a bath. I feel filthy.” he called out. When Celia heard the bathroom door shut and the water begin to run, she walked over to her dresser and opened the drawer. She removed the welrod pistol, a roll of thick packing tape, a pair of handcuffs, a pair of leg irons, a hammer, a hacksaw and the pre-loaded tranquilizer injection.

She then went into the kitchen and got a chair and brought it into the bedroom. After everything was staged, she sat on the bed and waited. After ten minutes, she had forgotten how vain and self-absorbed this son-of-a-bitch could be so she figured she better entice him to move things along. She walked over to the bathroom door and in a deep, throaty voice called out:

“My Darling, please hurry up, your Fräulein is so hot, moist and ready…” Celia had to choke the words out they made her so nauseous. She was so glad the charade would end tonight! Through the door, Gruedell could be heard giggling like an adolescent schoolboy.

“Oh my! Well in that case, here I come!” Celia backed up away from the door and stood to the side. Gruedell burst out of the bathroom, naked like some horny wildebeest, his manhood erect and his eyes wide and lustful, the steam from the bath pouring out around him like some demon escaping from hell.

Celia quickly jabbed the needle into the side of his neck and injected the dose of tranquilizer. Gruedell shrieked like a wounded animal.

“You fucking bitch! What was that!” He grabbed the side of his neck and then turned toward Celia to attack. Celia raised the welrod pistol toward him. He took two steps and then his legs turned into limp spaghetti.

“What the hell?” Were the only words he muttered before he collapsed, his head hitting the wood floor with a slap.

When Gruedell came to he was gagged and taped to a kitchen chair, his hands handcuffed behind his back and his feet in a pair of leg irons attached to the chair. Celia sat across from him smoking a cigarette.

“How do you feel my darling?” Celia asked with contempt, smiling through the hazy smoke.

Gruedell responded with a grunt through the gag, his eyes bleary and unfocused from the drugs.

“I want to show you something.” Celia said getting up from her chair and bringing over a small box and some pictures.

“Hey! Pay attention!” Celia slapped him hard, his head rotating to the left with spittle and blood shooting out on the floor.

“This is a picture of my dear Grandmother who raised me, her name was Anna also.” Celia held the picture up in front of Gruedell’s unfocused eyes.

“You nazi pigs sent her to the camps to be gassed.” Gruedell’s head bobbed as he went in and out of consciousness. Celia slapped him again. She was angry now. She opened up the small box and removed a yellow Star of David holding it up in front of his eyes.

“And this you make us wear like branded beast.” Gruedells eyes wavered, his head still bobbing up and down. She slapped him again, this time harder. She then walked over to her desk and opened up a drawer and removed some papers. Sorting through them, she found the one she wanted and walked back over to Gruedell.

“See this!” Celia held up the document in front of Grudell. His eyes struggled to read the fine print, but when he finally did, his eyes grew wide with amazement.

“That’s right you nazi pig, all this time you have been in love with a jew!” Celia turned the paper around and looked at it. It was her original birth certificate, stolen from the Orleans registry and replaced with a fake one before the Nazi’s arrived.

“Anna Louise Weigel, Religion: Jewish.” Celia said out loud with pride. Gruedell could be heard cursing through the gag, his eyes wide and red with anger. Suddenly something boiled up in Celia that she could not control and in a blur she picked up the hammer, grabbed his now flaccid penis, stretched it out on the chair and hit the head of the organ as hard as she could.

Gruedell screamed through the gag, making a pitiful mewing sound, like a dog slowly dying. Blood and pieces of yellow cartilage splattered all over Gruedell’s stomach and legs as thick, almost black blood oozed out of the wound and dripped off the chair. After a few minutes of listening to Gruedell’s suffering, Celia glanced at the clock.

“Time to get this show on the road, Sturmbannfuhrer.” She picked up the Walther laying on the desk and curtly rapped Grudell across the head with the barrel. The metal split the skin down to the bone and blood sprayed on the wall. The blow knocked him unconscious again, and Celia satisfied with the silence, lit another cigarette and prepared for round two of this wonderful night of overdue reckoning.

————————————-

Ten miles from GARBO Airfield

Chandler did not see the Gendarmerie checkpoint until he crested the hill.

“What the hell?” Chandler muttered under his breath.

“That was definitely not here when we left.” Ethan exclaimed from the back.

“Either they got wind of the jail break. or this is just a random security search. Ethan cover up the weapons and Stokes with that blanket, everybody else get your ID’s out.” Chandler stuck his 1911 under the seat.

“If they want to search the van, we are gonna have to kill them.” Toulere spoke from the passenger seat as he did the same with his pistol.

“I count two cars and five men, three of them with machine pistols, do you see the same?” Chandler asked Toulere.

“I do.” Toulere responded.

“Everybody be calm and let me talk.” Chandler said as they rolled up to the line of cars being checked. It only took a few moments before a Gendarmerie officer in full uniform and strutting like a peacock came up to the window. Chandler rolled down the window and spoke.

“Good Evening Officer.”

“Routine security check. identifications please.” The officer was a typical Vichy stooge, an SS wanna-be, trying to look and dress the part of his German masters. As Chandler handed him the ID’s, the officer shined his flashlight into the van, first looking at Toulere and then looking into the back. Chandler noticed the other four officers in a group watching. He glanced over at Toulere and then gripped his 1911 with his right hand.

“Where are you coming from at such a late hour?” the officer asked.

“We work construction. We had a big job and worked late today.” Chandler responded.

The officer again shined the light in the back of the van.

“What’s wrong with your friend back there, is he drunk?”

“No, he was hurt today at work, fell off a ladder, we are just now on our way to take him home.” Chandler noticed two of the other officers start to walk over.

“We are going to need to search the van.” The officer said flatly.

“But sir, we have a sick man that cannot be moved.” Chandler’s voice was virtually pleading with the officers.

“No matter, please step out of the…” As the officer reached to open the door, Chandler swung the pistol out of the window and shot the man point-blank in the face.

In the same moment the two officer’s that were walking up drew their machine pistols and fired, the rounds piercing the windshield and engine block. Chandler ducked down in the seat while Toulere quickly exited the van, firing rapidly with his pistol while moving toward a ditch, his rounds hitting both of the officers in the legs and stomach.

“Blakeley and Squires, disperse!” Chandler yelled as Ethan collapsed  on top of Stokes. The van door burst open and Blakeley and Squires, both armed with Stens, came around the van. The two remaining officers had taken position behind their cars, one-armed with a MP-40 and the other with a pistol. The wounded officers on the ground fired at Toulere in the ditch when Chandler raised up and fired through the windshield, hitting both of the officers in the chest, dropping them.

One of the officers taking cover behind his car fired a burst at Chandler with the MP-40. Coming around the van, Blakely saw the man firing at Chandler and squeezed off a three-round burst with the Sten, the rounds catching the officer in the neck and head, dropping him in a wet thud. Squires broke right to engage the remaining officer behind the car.

“I surrender” the officer yelled throwing his gun down and raising his hands.

Squires and Blakeley brought the officer out from behind the car with his hands raised.

“Captain you OK?” Blakeley yelled. Chandler raised up from cover and peered over the dash.

“Yeah, I’m OK”

“Ethan you and Stokes OK back there?”  There was no reply, only the labored breathing of Stokes, covered in Ethan’s blood.

“I think Ethan is Dead, Captain.” Stokes said weakly.

Chandler reached behind him and felt for a pulse on Ethan. Nothing.

“Shit!” Chandler exclaimed as he kicked the door open and got out. He walked around to the back and opened the door, pulling Ethan’s lifeless body off of Stokes.

“You hit Stokes?” Chandler asked looking him over.

“No, I’m fine.” Stokes responded.

Chandler turned Ethan over and saw where two of the rounds fired through the windshield had caught him in the neck. Chandler closed Ethan’s eyes and then walked over to the ditch.

“I think Toulere’s dead too Captain” Squires said as he walked up. Chandler knelt down and turned Toulere over. A round had caught him in the top of the head.

“Yeah, he’s gone.” Chandler muttered.

“What do we do with this one Captain?” Blakeley asked, looking at the Gendarmerie officer who was quietly praying.

 Chandler calmly got to his feet, walked over to the officer and shot him in the back of the head. Blakeley and Squires both jumped back in shock.

“Now come on and help me move Stokes to one of these cars, the van’s engine block is shot to hell.” Chandler voice was calm and even.

“Captain! What the hell! That guy surrendered!” Squires exclaimed, almost crying.

Chandler laughed walking back to the van.

“Surrendered? What the hell does that have anything to do with it? He was an enemy agent and had seen our faces, we had no choice!” Chandler said flatly.

“Now come on and help me get Stokes into that car, we got a plane to catch!”

——————————

Outside Gestapo HQ, Casablanca

Major Hans Gruedell awoke from a groggy and disoriented state to a state of extreme pain for the second time in an hour, this time sitting in the driver seat of a car. His head and groin hurt and while he wanted to reach and feel either one, he realized with horror that his hands had been taped to the steering wheel. He looked over beside him and there sat Celia, smiling, smoking a cigarette.

“Hello lover boy, how do you feel?” Celia asked.

“What the hell have you done to me?” Gruedell asked, trying to twist his body to get his arms free.

“I wouldn’t move around too much if I were you, you are in a very fragile state.” Celia replied, smiling.

“I went ahead and wrapped your dick, or what was left of it, in gauze and gave you a coagulant so you would not bleed to death before we could have our little fun.” Gruedell looked at Celia trying to understand what she was talking about and then he looked down.

Gruedell realized that not only was his squashed penis wrapped in a layer of gauze but also he was totally naked and taped above his crotch were two, one pound blocks of Comp B-Explosive with pencil detonators inserted with a clock timer.

“OH…MY…GOD….Celia, what have you done?” Gruedell asked, his voice cracking with fear.

“Well, to put it simply, I have made you into a Bomb Hans, a rather large human, dickless, bomb.” Celia smiled at how funny that sounded and finished her cigarette, throwing the butt out the window.

“What do you plan to do?” Gruedell asked, his voice low, his bottom lip trembling.

“Plan to do? Oh I won’t tell you that Hans, that would ruin the fun, let’s just say it is gonna be a real blast!” Celia laughed at the remark as she reached over and turned the timer to two minutes and flipped a red switch.

“Now just in case you were thinking of trying to reset the timer or mess with it in anyway, I have set a secondary switch. So don’t even think about that, OK sweetums?” Celia gave Gruedell a hard, evil look and then got out of the car and walked over to the driver side and opened the door.

“Celia, whatever you are thinking about doing, we can discuss…” Gruedells voice trailed off as he watched Celia reach down into the floorboard and retrieve a broom handle that had been cut to length. Suddenly, Gruedell looked up and realized the car he was in was pointed directly at the entrance to Gestapo headquarters.

“Burn in hell you nazi piece of shit.” Celia said as she placed the cut broom handle on the accelerator, pinning it to the floor. The engine revved with raw, angry horsepower as Celia backed up from the curb and then popped the transmission from neutral into first gear. Gruedell shrieked like a teenage girl as the car peeled off at high-speed, it’s engine roaring like low, rolling thunder. Celia turned around and walked calmly down the sidewalk, lighting another cigarette as the car crashed into the building, a cacophony of breaking glass, twisting metal, screeching tires and loud screams of panic filled the once peaceful night.

As Celia rounded the corner to her waiting car, a huge explosion lit up the Casablanca night, as shards of metal and glass and parts and pieces of dozens of Gestapo and SS officers that ran to the car to help free Hans were dispersed all over downtown in a glorious nazi meat shower.

————————————

GARBO Airfield

Chandler and the team arrived in time to light the  signal fires needed for the plane to land. Chandler and Blakeley got Stokes out of the back while Squires loaded up the equipment and weapons. As soon as they were on board the pilot asked Chandler how much longer he wanted to wait.

“Give her two more minutes.” Chandler replied over the drone of the planes engines.

As Chandler was about to pull up the ramp, he saw headlights coming. As the car got closer it stopped and out popped Celia, running flat-out for the plane. She hit the ramp and Chandler grabbed her by the hand and pulled her aboard. Once inside Chandler gave the all clear sign to the pilot and the engines could be heard revving to full power. Celia quickly glanced around the cabin and saw Stokes but did not see Toulere and Ethan. She quickly turned to ask Chandler a question, but the look in his eyes told her what she wanted to know. Chandler just shook his head, a tear forming in his eye. Celia grabbed him and hugged him tight, burying her head into his shoulder and letting out a sob. Chandler looked over and saw Stokes looking at them both, tears flowing down his cheeks as he mouthed the words “Thank You.” extending his hand. Chandler reached out and shook it, still holding Celia tight as the engines roared and the plane banked north for England.

THE END

 

Forever and a Day

 

In memoriam of the 77th Anniversary of D-Day

The flak was ungodly and the pilots had no choice.

They green lit the stick going way too low and way too fast.

When Hank left the plane he was upside down looking up at his deployed canopy as fountains of orange and red tracer rounds zipped by him in brilliant ropes of light. The ground looked like it was on fire there was so much activity and Hank’s heart raced as he saw nowhere to land there wasn’t a German gun flash. Suddenly there was a loud explosion above him as a C-47 was cut in half by a flak burst, as the nose of the plane sheered away, the fuselage tumbled to the earth and Hank watched in horror as the stick of paratroopers inside were engulfed in flames and came tumbling out like burning embers being carried away on a stiff breeze. Hank turned his head away and prayed as hard as he ever prayed in his life.

Hank hit the ground hard, the impact so violent it knocked him out cold. He awoke to the sound of a German twenty millimeter flak gun popping off like a typewriter fifty-yards away. He wasn’t sure how long he had been unconscious, it could not have been more than a few minutes. Instinctively he reached for his rifle but it was gone, along with all his ammo, his sidearm and even his damn jump knife and canteen. All he had in his pockets to invade fortress Europe was a cricket clicker and three half melted Hershey bars.

Moving away from the flak gun, Hank shimmied and bounded through the bocage toward what looked like a farmhouse in the distance. Arriving on the outskirts of the farm Hank was met with the challenge word of “Flash!” Without thinking he responded “Thunder!” and two other paratroops appeared out of the thick brush, Pvt. Thomas and Perry, both from Hank’s stick.

“Well if you ain’t a sight for sore eyes!” Pvt. Randall Thomas exclaimed slapping Hank on the back. Hank smiled and shook hands with both men.

“Please tell me you know where the hell we are” Hank whispered looking at Thomas and Perry intently.

“No goddamn ideal.” Thomas replied, taking a drink from his canteen and then offering it to Hank.

“Well at least you both got your rifles!” Hank replied, eyeing the two M1 Garands.

Perry laughed and handed Hank his .45.

“Don’t worry, we lost our leg bags too.” Thomas replied.

“So what’s this farm?” Hank asked.

“It’s crawling thick with krauts, I counted at least a platoon in there.” Perry answered, adjusting his helmet.

“Most likely using it as a resupply point for AA ammo. No way we can take that on. I heard trucks just beyond those trees, I say we find that road and follow it until we find a road sign so we can get our bearings on where the hell we are and find our unit!”

Without waiting for an answer, Thomas took point and bounded over to a drainage ditch which ran beside the farm and almost all the way up to the road. Perry nodded for Hank to take second position and he bring up the rear since all he had was a pistol. They maintained tactical spacing and moved as quietly as they could through the knee deep water. Reaching the road, Thomas gave the hand signal for the rest of the element to find cover while he scouted if it was clear. Hank took a position behind a tree that gave him good visibility of the road in both directions while Perry went prone in the brush. Just as Thomas was about to reach the other side of the road and give the signal to cross, the sound of a truck engine could be heard rumbling their direction. Thomas gave the signal to find cover. When the truck was about ten yards away suddenly the night lit up like the fourth of July and all hell broke loose. Perry came running up beside Hank.

“What the hell is going on?”

Hank heard the familiar sound of Garand’s and a .30 Caliber Browning and smiled.

“Sounds like some of our boys decided to get into the war!”

The firefight was over in under a minute and soon Hank saw a total of six men step out of the bocage onto the road to investigate the truck.

“Flash!” Hank yelled at the top of his lungs down the road.

Suddenly the squad got low and trained their muzzles in Hank’s direction.

“Thunder! Show yourself!” a voice replied from the squad

“Hundred and First, we’re coming out” Hank yelled

Hank, Perry and Thomas immerged from the thick brush out onto the road and slowly walked toward the lead man in the squad.

Hank immediately saw the subdued bar on the helmet and saluted and sounded off.

“Private Parker, Able Company 502nd, Lieutenant.”

As Perry and Thomas sounded off Hank recognized two of the men from Charlie Company 502nd, Roselli and Davis. As Hank went over to shake hands he heard the Lt. identify himself.

“Lt. Winters. Easy Company, 506th. You men are sure a long way from your drop zone!”

“I think we all are sir.” Thomas replied with a laugh.

As Hank walked past the truck shot all to hell, he saw the dead German driver, shot through the temple. Walking around to the back was six more dead soldiers, all of them killed before they could exit the truck.

“Not a bad piece of shooting if I do say so myself.” A trooper with a Browning .30 caliber over his shoulder said smiling.

“Yeah well I nailed the driver!” another trooper replied with a smirk.

Everybody got quiet as Lt. Winters approached.

“OK, this road is busy tonight so police up weapons and ammo and let’s move in two tactical columns to the farmhouse. Thomas, Parker and Perry, welcome aboard. You’ll be attached to me until we find your unit. Parker, be sure and grab a Kraut rifle and some ammo until we can find you a replacement.”

“Yes sir” Hank replied.

Hank walked over and picked up a K98 and an ammo pouch from the back of the truck and slung it over his shoulder.

As the squad bounded toward the farmhouse in two tactical columns Pvt. Hank Parker said a prayer and thanked God for getting him this far. He knew he had a long way to go yet, but this was a good start in the big scheme of things.

 

THE END

 

The Last Good Chance

 

This is a work of Fiction. The names, characters and incidents portrayed in this short story are entirely fictional and are of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual events, locales or organizations or persons living or dead is entirely coincidental.

 

Tuesday

 Detective First Grade Jimmy Boland took three steps into the Tipsy Gent saloon at a quarter past one in the afternoon and stopped dead in his tracks. The owner and Jimmy’s mentor, Tommy Donovan, seated on his elevated perch behind the bar, looked up from his sports page and with his bifocals on the end of his nose, studied Jimmy intently.

 “What the hell you doin’ here this time of day?” Tommy asked with his mouth slightly ajar, confused.

Tommy was sparsely white headed and a good twenty years older than Jimmy. As he got closer to seventy, Jimmy could see all those years working the mean streets as a beat cop catching up with him. Two bullet wounds, one back surgery, a complete knee replacement, a fractured skull and numerous concussions had left him not as mobile and sharp as he used to be, but he could still make a mean Bull Shark if you asked him.

 Jimmy ignored Tommy’s question and just stood there, looking around the bar like he was dazed.

 “What in the hell is wrong with you boy-o?” Tommy asked, taking off his glasses and straightening his posture.

 “It just occurred to me that I have never been in this bar before five p.m, ever in my life.” Jimmy replied.

Tommy stared at him like he had a screw loose for a few seconds and then went back to his sports page shaking his head. Jimmy sauntered around behind the bar, grabbed a bottle of Glenfiddich single malt and a glass and took a seat.

Without looking up from his paper, Tommy said. “You may not have answered my question about why you’re here at this hour but by your choice of drink, I think I can guess.” Jimmy poured himself a liberal three fingers, and took a long swallow.

“So you gonna wait for me to ask like a schmuck or are you just gonna tell me?” Tommy said looking over.

Jimmy took a deep breath and looked at Tommy.

 “Yeah the bastards canned all of us. A hundred years of combined service between us and they fired us for doing exactly what they trained us to do.” Tommy took off his glasses and gently placed them on the bar. He then got up and retrieved a whiskey glass and walked over in front of Jimmy and poured himself a snort.

 “What does it state on your paperwork?” Tommy asked, not looking up.

Jimmy pulled a sheaf of folded papers out of his inside jacket pocket and threw them on the bar.

 “Discharged for non-cooperation in an ongoing IA (Internal Affairs) Investigation of abuse of office and gross professional misconduct of Police Detectives First Class Murphy, Duran, Kearns and Boland.” Jimmy replied, shaking his head in disbelief.

Tommy picked up the papers and skimmed over them.

 “Since you were not fired for misconduct you kept your severance and your pension.” Tommy stated, pursing his lips together and nodding in amazement. Jimmy looked at him with tired eyes.

“What the hell is that look for?” Tommy laughed and then downed his drink in one go.

 “Whatta you mean what’s that look for? You fuckin’ kiddin’ me?” Tommy replied, pouring himself another snort.

 Jimmy reached in his coat pocket and pulled out a pack of Camels and his USMC zippo.

 “What Tommy? Explain yourself please.” Jimmy asked, lighting a cigarette and then grabbing one of the silver ashtrays that sat stacked at the end of the bar.

 “You all were fired, yeah, but you kept everything you worked for, including your reputation intact, so who gives a shit about this IA dog and pony show bullshit?” Tommy replied, a huge grin on his face.

Jimmy exhaled the pale grey smoke and shook his head.

 “I don’t see it that way Tommy, I see it as a kick in the nuts from a group of backstabbers I busted my hump for. Hell, most of the people in that room made rank off my collars.” Jimmy exhaled loudly, crushed out his cigarette and ran his hand through his thick brown hair. His pale blue eyes were dim and puffy from lack of sleep.

Tommy replaced the cap on the bottle of scotch and put it back behind the bar. He then turned around, took a deep breath, placed both hands flat on the bar, leaned down and looked Jimmy square in the eye.

 “Pride is a son-of-a-bitch boy-o. It can cloud your perception of things, so let your old friend Tommy Donovan break it down for ya’. The case IA had on you four was paper thin to begin with. A bunch of fucking hearsay with no evidence, no CCTV, no phone video, no recordings, no wire-taps, nada, nothing. The only card those bastards in internal affairs had left to play was to threaten you four with termination if you didn’t rat on each other. You all kept your mouth shut, so they fired you, but union rules still apply. No proven misconduct means you keep your pension and benefits. You just got an ace of diamonds for your river card for a fuckin’ royal flush boy-o!” Tommy laughed again and slapped Jimmy on the back hard.

Tommy fished a cigarette from Jimmy’s pack and lit it.

 “I thought you quit?” Jimmy asked with a smirk.

 “Yeah I did but sometimes certain situations call for a celebration relapse.” Tommy replied, smiling.

Jimmy laughed. Tommy was a fucking hoot.

 “Let me tell you something Jimmy. I gave twenty-five years of my life to this city as a cop. It cost me everything I hold dear. My health, my marriage and my relationship with my only son, Logan, who chose the streets and drugs to his mother and me. But that’s the sacrifice. That’s the price you pay for doing this damn job, you understand what I’m saying to you?” Tommy looked at Jimmy with tired eyes filled with tears.

“Shit Tommy, I’ve known you for a long time now, and that’s the first time you ever mentioned your son.” Tommy took a long drag on his cigarette and exhaled the pale grey smoke into the air.

 “Some things you keep locked away deep inside, hoping they will fade away like the tide, but of course they never do.” Tommy replied, looking out the window toward the street with a blank expression.

 Jimmy got up and hugged Tommy’s neck. He loved him like a father and hated to see him in pain.

 “OK Jim, enough of this hugging bullshit!” Tommy said, crushing out his butt and gently pushing him away.

“Guys come in here gonna think the place has turned into a damn gay bar!” Tommy said smiling. Jimmy laughed and patted him on the back.

“Are we still on for poker Sunday night?” Jimmy asked as he headed for the door.

 “Hell yeah, I still gotta win back that twenty bucks I lost to you last week!” Tommy answered as he re-opened his newspaper to the sports section. Jimmy just smiled as he put on his Ray-ban’s and walked out the door.

Jimmy got home a couple hours later to find fellow ex-Detectives Mike Murphy and Patrick Kearns sitting on his back deck drinking his expensive german lager.

“Been calling you non-stop” Mike said agitated.

“My phone died” Jimmy replied, lying his ass off.

 “Why the house call? What’s the emergency?” Jimmy asked, cocking an eyebrow.

“Patrick has a problem he wants to discuss with you.” Mike replied, cutting his eyes over. There was a lengthy pause and Jimmy noticed his grass in the backyard was looking a little brown. He made a mental note to turn the sprinklers on that evening.

“OK, let’s go in the house if you don’t mind. This neighborhood has ears.” Jimmy replied while he collected the empty beer bottles on the table.

Walking through the patio door to the kitchen he tossed the empties into the trash while Mike and Kearns followed him in. Before Patrick had a chance to speak Jimmy spun around to face him.

 “So how much do you owe and to whom?” the bluntness of Jimmy’s question froze Kearns in his tracks.

 “What the hell are you talking about Jimbo?” Kearns replied, trying to look dignified.

 “Come on Patty, don’t pull that shit, I know that look.” Kearns was quiet for a long moment, looking like a kid who had been busted stealing bubble gum.

“Super Bowl was supposed to get me square.” Kearns replied, keeping his head down.

“Unfucking believable!” Jimmy threw up his hands and walked into the living room over to his corner bar and poured himself three fingers of whiskey and took a long swallow. A bright green neon sign above the bottles of rum, tequila and vodka flashed “Jim’s Place.” Mike and Kearns followed him in and sat down on the couch. With his back to them at the bar Jimmy asked again in a calm voice.

 “One more time Patrick. Who do you owe and how much?” Kearns cleared his throat as if the answer was going to come out sideways.

“A hundred K to Nikolai By Saturday” he replied.

Jimmy spun around with his eyes wide as saucers.

“You owe a hundred thousand dollars to the Russian Mob and you come to me?” Jimmy’s mouth was so dry he could hardly talk. Sensing Patrick needed backing, Mike stood up and walked over to the bar.

“Jimmy, Patrick really needs our help man.” Jimmy downed his drink in one go.

“No Mike. What Patrick needs is a fucking undertaker.” Jimmy replied looking at him with an icy stare. Kearns got up and walked over to Jimmy, his head bowed in reverence.

 “Jimmy I know I fucked up, I do, but if you could just talk to Nikolai and see what could be worked out? I just need some more time to put it all together.” Jimmy took a long, deep breath and rubbed his temples.

 “There are no ‘working out’ things with these people Patrick but I’ll see what I can do. No promises though.” Jimmy filled his glass again and stared into space.

 Kearns nodded his head, breathed a deep sigh of relief and in a low voice whispered “Thanks Jimmy.”

That night Jimmy didn’t sleep.

 This thing with Kearns was a big problem. Paddy boy was as loyal as they come but he was never that smart and he just could not understand that with the Russian’s you did not work out “payment plans” or “deals.”

 You paid what you owed or body parts got broke or severed, both on you and the people you cared about. Jimmy considered squaring the debt out of his own money, but taking a hundred thousand out of his ‘retirement fund’ he had vacuum sealed in his garage wall put a serious dent in his retirement plan. The money would have to be replaced if he did it, and being a realist, he knew Patrick was not good for it.

That meant another job and with IA still up their ass, it was risky. So what to do? Jimmy could not walk into a meeting with the Head of the Russian Mob in Boston asking for leniency on a friend’s hundred thousand dollar debt without offering something in return.

Just before dawn broke Jimmy made his decision on what he had to do.

 

Wednesday

Nikolai Petrov had been sitting in his darkened office staring at a picture of his late mother for over an hour now. From a very young age he had accepted that death was as much a part of life as breathing. It was the Russian way of things. As he traced his mothers picture with his finger a tear escaped which he quickly wiped away. Watching his mother die a slow and painful death from ovarian cancer in a filthy, understaffed Soviet hospital outside Moscow had left a scar, a raw, nasty scar on his soul.

Nikolai remembered watching her writhe in agony on the yellowed sheets as a picture of Premier Brezhnev stared down uncaring from the wall.

“Those fucking Politburo cocksuckers with their fancy new hospital in Kiev and all the modern western drugs and here we are in this rat infested hovel treating cancer with aspirin!” His father said as they drove home after their evening visit.

Nikolai remembered with clarity watching his father talk and smoke at the same time. It was a Russian art form. The staccato rhythm of his words were like venomous barbs that when combined with the pale grey cigarette smoke resembled a dragon breathing fire at his enemies.

Two weeks later they buried his mother in the same cemetery as his grandfather who had fought in the Great Patriotic War. He did not cry at the service. He emulated his father in that respect and ate the pain, digested it down deep inside of him to give him fuel for the struggle that lay ahead. Before the memory could stab any deeper, there was a knock on his door.

When Jimmy pulled up at Nikolai’s club Trance, he was so damn jittery he had to take a xanax to calm down. After waiting fifteen minutes for it to kick in, he walked inside the club. Like all night clubs it looked unimpressive in the daytime. Amazing what you can do with lighting, Jimmy thought to himself. After asking to see Nikolai, he was searched and then escorted up to the office on the second floor.

 “Jimmy Boland! As I live and breathe!” Nikolai said, smiling as he came out from behind his desk and shook hands. Dressed in an impeccable John Phillips grey suit, Nikolai had not changed one bit since Jimmy saw him a decade ago. He had retained his muscular physique and though pushing fifty, had the waistline of a twenty year old vegan meth head.

 “Still a single malt man?” Nikolai asked as he walked over to a stocked bar cart.

 “Your memory is as sharp as ever.” Jimmy replied, smiling. Nikolai poured Jimmy and himself two liberal fingers each of top shelf scotch.

“My memory is sharp for things that matter Jimmy” Nikolai replied handing him the glass.

 “To your Health” Nikolai toasted in Russian. Jimmy raised his glass and took a long swallow. Nikolai walked over and took a seat on a black leather couch and invited Jimmy to do the same.

 “The club is amazing” Jimmy said smiling, trying to make small talk and flatter a bit.

“Yes. We just re-decorated and added a new sound system. You and a lady friend must come on a Saturday night as my guest. VIP lounge, dinner, drinks, everything my treat.” Nikolai replied, smiling.

“That’s very kind of you Nikolai” Jimmy said, rubbing his hands together, thinking of a way to broach the delicate subject.

“Listen, Nikolai, we’ve known each other for quite a while so I am not going to disrespect you by wasting your time and blowing smoke up your ass.” Jimmy made a point to keep eye contact with Nikolai even though his coal black eyes were intimidating as hell.

 “Patrick Kearns owes you a hundred grand. He asked me to come speak with you to ask for more time but I am not as naive or stupid as my friend so this is what I have to offer. Promise me nothing happens to him or his family and me and my crew will go to work for you recouping the money owed while at the same time ripping your competition apart just like the old days.”

 Jimmy kept eye contact for a long minute as absolute silence filled the room like grey vapor. Jimmy could literally see the small cogs and wheels turning behind Nikolai’s cold dark eyes. Schemes within schemes, plans within plans. Angles intersecting with hidden agendas with one mantra and an absolute final goal: self-interest and lucrative profit.

Nikolai kept the stare for a long moment and then smiled and leaned forward to retrieve a silver cigarette box from the coffee table. Opening it, he removed a russian cigarette and lit it with a gold zippo. After exhaling the pale, blue smoke his gaze fell upon Jimmy like a raptor about to devour a meal.

“It’s true we have known each other for a long time Jimmy, so in the interest of time, I will dispense with the bullshit. When you and your crew of corrupt pigs worked for me back in the day you were useful. You did things for me nobody else could do because of the singular reason that you had a badge. Now, I hear you and your crew have been fired from the department. Put out to pasture as it were by your internal affairs. So what makes you think you can still be of use to me?”

Nikolai’s gaze had become icy laser beams now. No emotion. No sentimentality, all business. Jimmy swallowed hard but did not miss a beat in his response.

 “Because even though we don’t have badges anymore we still have the two most important things: contacts and information, both within the department and out on the street. Twenty years working the gutter gives you a lot of angles if you know how to play them.”

 Nikolai pursed his lips and laughed.

“As always Jimmy, you shine when under pressure.” Nikolai crushed out his cigarette in a black marble ashtray, got up and walked over and sat on the edge of his desk.

 “Hundred grand is a lot of fucking money Jimbo. You think you can recoup all that in one job?”

 Jimmy stood to his feet.

 “Trust me when I say that we can. I have an account from the old days I am going to cash in.” Nikolai  took a seat behind his desk and folded his hands together as if he was praying.

 “Typically I would want details but since this is you I am gonna do this. Just like the old days I will provide you any logistical support you need for the job. Vehicles, weapons, etc. Also, you have my word Kearns nor any of his family will be touched but I am gonna need the entire principal amount by Sunday noon. If you can do that I will forgive the ten grand vig and me and Kearns will be square.”

Before Jimmy could think about it, he stepped forward and shook Nikolai’s cold hand.

 “You got a deal.” As he was walking to his car Jimmy’s heart began thumping like two jack rabbits fucking. It had worked. He had bought some time. Now all he had to do was go rip off a bunch of armed to the teeth coked out gang bangers. No big deal, Jimmy thought to himself. We got this.

Thursday

The next morning Jimmy called a meeting at the storage unit over in Chelsea. As the crew filed in with sleepy eyes and grande cups of coffee, Jimmy was trying to play it cool even though he felt like at any moment he was going to shit himself.

 “Alright, we don’t have a lot of time so I’m gonna cut to the chase. Saturday night we are gonna hit a Southie Point Dawgs stash house in Telegraph Hill. Estimated take is half-a-million plus.”

 You could literally hear the oxygen being sucked out of the garage as everybody’s sleepy eyes suddenly grew large as hen’s eggs. Before anybody could pick their jaws up off the floor, Jimmy continued.

 “Before any of you start bitching that this is too quick of a notice to do a job this size, Nikolai has agreed to provide all logistics and front any expenses. If we do it right, we can be in and out of there in less than five minutes and if the take is good enough we can not only square Kearn’s debt, but also walk out of there with a nice payday for each of us to pad our retirement.”

A few moments passed and Kearns, looking like death defrosted, stood up with tears in his eyes.

 “I don’t know what to say to everybody except thanks.” Everybody nodded until Mike, in true Irish fashion said

“I tell you what you can say Paddy Boy; promise everybody here that you will never make another fucking bet in your life!”

 Raucous laughter could be heard all the way to the street from inside the storage locker.

Friday

Jimmy checked his watch and yelled “Lunch! check your weapons!”

 He made his way out of the shoot house to a set of picnic tables where he removed the magazine from his HK-416, ejected the round in the chamber and placed the rifle gently in the standing gun rack. He then removed his Level IV vest and helmet, mopped his brow with his shirt sleeve and drained a cold bottle of water. He was completely knackered. The crew had been running breach and clear drills since seven this morning and overall Jimmy was impressed. None of the men had lost their edge. Other than being slightly out of shape, Jimmy felt confident that everybody would do their jobs.  After lunch they had another briefing to keep things fresh.

“First things first. I greased our old friend Captain Delaney for Saturday night, so we should not have any noisy patrols investigating gunfire if these assholes get any rounds off. Also, we got lucky with the location of this stash house. It is parallel to a commercial park with around ten businesses close together, so there will not be a lot of civilian traffic to get in the way and worry about. Estimated number of bad guys is going to be somewhere in the neighborhood of six to eight. Figure three to four out front and four inside.”

Jimmy pointed to a spot on the white board where the stash house had been meticulously drawn.

 “If it was me I would post my outside security here, here and here with a possible overwatch position here.”

Mike laughed as he removed a sandwich from his cooler.

“Correct me if I am wrong, but these are coked out gang-bangers Jimbo, not the Taliban. These numb nuts would not know an overwatch position from the missionary position.”

 That drew a round of laughter from everybody.

“Point taken, but let’s keep this in mind on the approach, OK smart ass?” Jimmy replied smiling, shaking his head.

“What kind of hardware these boys typically carry?” Duran asked with a mouthful of pastrami.

“Best I can tell from recent UI (undercover informant) reports is AK’s and assorted small arms like Mac-10’s. Let’s not forget these guys move weight for the Sinaloa cartel, Nikolai’s biggest competition, so we have to go in there expecting they will be rolling heavy.”

Jimmy flipped the white board over to reveal an assignment list, timetable and another drawing of the AO.

 “OK so to recap, Duran is gonna be on Overwatch with “Leroy” (Leroy was the nickname of a Remington 700 Sniper rifle) to cover our ass and provide security. Number one is Mike as breacher with the shield and ram, me as second and Kearns as third. Timetable will be as follows: 12:45 Duran is dropped off two blocks from the location to setup here.” Jimmy pointed to a red x on the white board drawing, an elevated spot roughly two-hundred yards diagonally opposite from the house.

 “The great thing about this perch is it will allow coverage of almost the entire house in the event we have anybody wanting to squirt out the back.” Duran interjected.

“The Van will then post up here out of sight of their hawks until he is in position.” Jimmy pointed a blue x on the board.

“If he is able to take the shots without raising alarm, Duran will take out as many sentries on the outside perimeter as possible. Either way, as soon as we get the all clear over the radio, we move in to execute. Remember: Stealth is the name of the game. All weapons will be suppressed so let’s not make any unnecessary noise. As an added precaution, everybody police up their brass if rounds are fired. The ammo is clean and from a random lot but we still don’t need some forensic nerd shaking our tree. Also, as we discussed. there is a good chance they will all be wearing a vest, so put two in the dome and put your man down. OK, so if there are not any more questions, go home, get some rest and we meet at the storage locker ten p.m. sharp tomorrow night.”

Saturday

On the way over to the storage locker Jimmy’s hands were sweating so bad he had to wipe them on his pants twice. He went through his mental checklist for the tenth time in an hour. He felt confident but as always he had the pre-op jitters. Nikolai had called earlier that evening to make sure everything was still a go.

 “I want to reiterate our agreement Jimmy. You leave no witnesses” Jimmy was silent for a moment.

“Hello? Did you hear what I said?” Nikolai’s voice had an edge to it now.

“Yeah I copy.” Jimmy replied. The  line went dead and the tone hung in Jimmy’s ear for a long minute before he hung up the phone.

The dodge work van came to a stop at the drop-off point at precisely 12:45 on the nose. Jimmy took a glance around, The streets were bare, as expected. Duran’s sniper nest lay on the roof of a massive refrigerated warehouse.

 “See you on tha’ flip” Duran said as he exited the van with Leroy slung over his shoulder in an extra large Adidas bag.

To make it look official, Duran was dressed in workout clothes so to the casual observer, he was just another dude going or coming back from the twenty-four hour gym a few miles up the road.  Duran quickly made his way to the side of the building where the service ladder to the roof was located. As soon as he disappeared around the building, Mike drove the block then turned right into a narrow alley and killed the lights.

Jimmy adjusted his wireless earbud, checked the mic level and then pulled his black balaclava over his head where just his eyes were showing and then topped it off with his kevlar helmet. Everybody else followed suit. Six minutes passed and Jimmy’s earbud crackled to life.

 “In position, I got three tango’s on a roving patrol all wearing vest at two-hundred yards. Clear shots on all of them. Give me the count and I will take them out.”

 Mike let out a whistle as he started the van.

“Damn. Duran has not lost his touch.” Jimmy smiled as he pressed his mike.

 “Roger. We are rolling your way now, give us ninety seconds and let em’ fly.” There was one squelch for a reply and a minute and a half later the first 168 grain HPBT round exited Leroy’s barrel at over twenty-five hundred feet per second with the sound of a delicate whisper.

As the van turned the corner for the final approach to the house Jimmy rolled down his window and turned on his situational awareness radar full blast. It was dark and quiet. No vehicle or pedestrian traffic. Hell, there wasn’t even a dog barking. Whoever had decided on the location for this stash house was smart. It was a ghost town. Must have been somebody from cartel accounting Jimmy thought to himself because no street gang banger was this damn smart.

Before the van rolled to a stop the sliding door opened and in one seamless motion the entire stack took shape. Mike took point followed by Jimmy and then Kearns bringing up the rear. Each man covered their own sector as they moved heel to toe, like a deadly black viper going in for the kill.

As they approached the front door of the house Jimmy spotted all three of the lookout’s bodies lying dead in the grass spread about twenty yards apart. Having to step over one of them to reach the front door, Jimmy noticed he was a young kid, early twenties, hispanic with half his face missing.

Once they were in position at the door, Mike checked the exterior for wires and booby-traps and then tried the knob. Right away he gave the hand signal it was locked and barred from the inside. Jimmy whispered into his mike

 “Breaching now”

as Mike swung the small battering ram like Conan. It only took two swings and the door and metal bar came away from the frame and crumpled like crepe paper. Immediately Mike tossed the ram aside and retrieved the kevlar shield from his back and drew his suppressed Glock from his holster while Jimmy tossed in a flash-bang grenade which filled the room with ear splitting POP! and a brilliant bright light like an arc welder.

After a count of three Mike charged in with Shield held high and Jimmy and Kearns in tight formation behind him. The front room was empty save a card table with empty beer bottles, ashtrays full of half-smoked blunts and a couple of folding metal chairs.

To the right was an entryway into what looked like the main hallway and kitchen.

“Moving right” Mike announced

 “Covering left” Jimmy replied.

 As soon as they rounded the corner into the kitchen earsplitting gunfire erupted. A tall, skinny white kid with a MAC-10 and a blue bandanna tied around his head fired wildly from the far corner.

 The .45ACP slugs slammed into the kevlar shield with a loud thump as all three men instinctively got low and returned fire. Mike, Jimmy and Kearns all fired simultaneously with their weapons. The kids’s head exploded like a melon and painted the beige walls behind him with a pink spray and brain matter as his limp body collapsed to the floor with a thud.

 “Son-of-a-bitch!” Kearns yelled from the rear.

 “Anybody hit?” Mike asked.

 “I’m Good” Jimmy replied.

 “I just shit my pants but I’m not hit, thanks.” Kearns replied, smiling.

 “Brass, everybody police it now” Jimmy reminded the crew.

When they were done finding all their spent rounds Mike cleared the rest of the room and then turned around to go down the hall.

 “Watch these doors” Mike called out as they started down the hall, walking heel to toe in unison. As soon as they came to the first bedroom on the right a commotion could be heard inside the room.

“Looks like we got a squirter trying to crawl through the side window” Duran called over the radio. A few seconds passed and the earpiece crackled to life again.

“Tango down” Duran called out over the net.

 Jimmy smiled and shook his head.

 “Duran has not lost a step.” Mike reached down and tried the doorknob. Locked.

“You wanna do the honors” Miked asked, looking at Jimmy with a smirk.

“Gladly” Jimmy replied. Jimmy took two steps back and delivered a front kick right behind the doorknob. The door was flimsy and the doorknob lock a joke. Jimmy’s foot went clean through the door while the lock flew into two different pieces. Mike quickly took his position in front and entered the room quickly. Nothing. Empty. Not a stick of furniture.

“Clear” Mike yelled out as he turned around to continue down the hall.

As they came to the next bedroom door Jimmy could hear voices speaking in staccato Spanish inside. This was it. The target. The epicenter. The Holy of Holies: The count room. All hell was about to break loose Jimmy thought to himself. These fucking cartel soldiers are going to fight to the death to protect this money because if they lose it there bosses are gonna kill them anyways.

As Mike lined up on the door and Jimmy got ready to kick it in, suddenly a voice called out in heavily accented English from the other side.

 “Hello? amigos! There is no need for any more people to die here today. You want the money, yes? We will gladly give it to you. Our only request is that let me and my compadre walk out of here alive.”

 There was silence as Mike gave Jimmy a quizzical look. Kearn’s was shaking his head violently mouthing the words

 “It’s a fucking trap!” Jimmy thought about it a minute.

 “OK, here is the deal. You lay down your weapons and lay face down on the floor. We come in, clear the place and once we have the cash we let you go.” Another long period of silence as the two cartel members discussed things in spanish. Finally the same voice replied.

 “Amigo how can we know you will do what you say?” Mike laughed to himself and Jimmy smiled. “You don’t but I don’t think you really appreciate how badly you are really fucked right now. I Have a sniper outside your bedroom window ready to blow your asses back to Sinaloa and a team of guys out here itching to paint that room you are in with your brains so what say we cut through the bullshit and get this over with!” Hushed voices could be heard talking.

 “OK, we are laying down our guns and getting on the floor.” The man replied. Two minutes passed and Mike pointed to his eyes with two fingers and then pointed to the frame of the door. He was going to look for tripwires to make sure these fuckers were not inviting them into a booby trap. Mike slowly turned the knob and cracked the door and peered up, to the side and down. After giving the thumbs up he stood aside as Jimmy delivered a front kick which sent the door flying back on its hinges.

Inside two hispanic men were lying flat on their stomachs with their arms spread. One fat, one thin. Two AK-47’s lay on the floor beside them. A Large desk with two digital money counters, rubber bands and a notebook lay on the desk. Some loose bills, no more than a few thousand dollars was scattered on the desk as well.

 “Keep your head down and do not look up!” Jimmy ordered. Kearns quickly walked over to the desk and started rifling through it, frantic.

“Where’s the money! Where the fuckin’ deniro?” Kearns asked excitedly, his eyes big as saucers. When neither of the men answered, Kearns quickly walked over to the fat one and put the tip of the suppressor in his ear.

“Last chance El Gordo, where the fucking money?”

The fat man began whimpering and cried out “The closet behind the desk!” Kearns smiled and walking over to the desk, unstrapped his carbine and then opened the closet.

 Inside were a dozen brown cardboard boxes stacked on top of each other to the ceiling. Kearns quickly grabbed one and put it on the desk, removing the lid with the numbers “125K” written on top, a huge smile spread across his face as he reached in and pulled out three bundles of cash wrapped gangster style with rubber bands.

 “Fucking jackpot!” Kearn’s yelled as both Mike and Jimmy let out a whoop.

It took under five minutes to load all the boxes and guns in the van with Kearns and Duran having to sit on top of some of them to ride. Before they pulled away Jimmy ran back into the house. Walking back to the count room the two cartel soldiers were sitting up talking when Jimmy walked in. “OK, so you let us go now, yes?” The skinny one asked in broken English looking up at Jimmy.

 “I’m sorry amigo, but I had to promise a very dangerous guy that I would leave no witnesses and send a message to your organization.”

As Jimmy pulled out his suppressed Glock the Fat man began crying out “But!, But! We did not see your face! Please! Plea…”

El Gordo’s sentence was cut short as the first round hit him an inch to the left of his nose, blowing out the back of his sinus cavity and brainpan with a swoosh. The skinny one fell sideways trying to escape but it was of little use as Jimmy pumped two into the side of his head, pinning him to the carpet and staining it a deep crimson. Reaching down he collected all his brass and slipped it in his pocket and then walked out of the house as quietly as he had come.

The crew drove parallels for half an hour to make sure they were not being followed and finally arrived at Duran’s bungalow near Winthrop for the count. Jimmy and Kearns finished the count at a quarter past two in the morning. Mike and Duran both passed out thirty minutes after sitting down. They both had earned it. As the final stack of bills ran through the counter, Jimmy plugged the amount in the calculator for the final tally. His mouth got dry and his throat tried to close up a little when he started to read out the total:

 “Nine Hundred and sixty three thousand dollars.” There was silence in the room. Silence like in a church. Nobody spoke. Nobody moved. Nobody breathed for what seemed like minutes.

  “Christ Jesus and the Saints” Mike whispered to himself. Kearns laughed so loud he woke Duran and Mike up.

 “After we pay Nikolai that is two-hundred and forty grand each” Jimmy said hoarsely, barely able to talk.

He quickly took a drink of beer to wet his throat then let out a “Holy Shit!” that could be heard for two blocks. Duran went over to the cabinet and pulled down a bottle of Irish whiskey he had been saving.

“This calls for a toast gentleman” Duran said, sitting down four shot glasses and filling them liberally.

 “To the Four Horsemen of the apocalypse” Jimmy said holding up his glass with a huge smile. “May they forever ride!”

Sunday

Jimmy awoke to this cell phone ringing the next morning.

“Just dropped off the cash to Nickolai” Kearns said in an exhausted voice and hung up.

Jimmy in turn hung up the phone and mumbled “Thank God” as he fell back to sleep.

By six p.m. that evening he was sufficiently rested and after a shower and some  dinner felt like a new man. After watching the evening news where the top story was a “Gangland massacre” in Telegraph Hill he decided to begin work on stashing his new loot. The garage wall was stuffed with somewhere around $3.5 million, so he considered hiding it in an old standby: Inside the Refrigerator. Jimmy had lost count how many times they had searched drug dealers’ houses and found the guts of a refrigerator stuffed to the brim with cash.

 The trick was replacing the rubber gasket sealant around the door you bad to break to get the cash inside. He chose the refrigerator in his man cave versus the one in the kitchen mainly because it was older and he did not want to rip apart his brand new stainless steel Maytag. As he was diving into the project his cell rang. It was Mike.

 “So what time are we doing this? Same as usual?” Immediately Jimmy remembered it was his turn to host poker night.

 “Oh Shit” was all Jimmy could say.

“What? You forgot?” Mike asked laughing.

 “Yeah, I guess so, hell it’s not like I have not been busy!” Jimmy replied, heading downstairs to his man cave.

“No worries Jimbo, I’ll bring everything, just have the table ready! See you in an hour.” Before Jimmy could answer Mike hung up.

In short order over the next two hours Duran, Kearns and Mike showed up, all with their arms full of beer, whiskey and munchies.

An hour into the game and Jimmy realized Tommy had not called or shown up.

 “Since when was Tommy Donovan late for poker night?” he asked out loud. Everybody shrugged.

 “Tommy is getting old Jimbo, he may have just forgot who knows.” Mike replied, counting his chips. Jimmy called Tommy’s cell. Straight to voicemail.

 “Shit I hope the old fart did not have a stroke or something.” Jimmy thought to himself.

 “I’ll try him again in half an hour” Jim said in passing as he began to deal the cards. An hour and a half later Jimmy’s doorbell rang.

 “My God Tommy, I have been calling! What happened?” Jimmy asked as Tommy Donovan slowly walked into the front hallway. Right away Jimmy could tell something was off. It looked like he had been crying.

 “Come on down to the basement and let me get you a drink, all the boys are here.” Jimmy said, leading him down the stairs. When they got down to the man cave everybody was immediately concerned about Tommy.

 “What the fuck happened to you Tommy?” Mike asked, standing up. Tommy remained silent and stoic. Jimmy sat him down at the table and poured him two fingers of Jameson’s. Tommy turned up the glass and downed it in one go. He then wiped his mouth and ran his hand through his white hair.

“I just got back from the Coroner’s office” Tommy said, his voice cracking. The entire room went deathly quiet.

 “To identify my son’s body.” Huge tears rolled down Tommy’s red cheeks as he reached over and poured himself another snort.

Jimmy swallowed hard, put a hand on Tommy’s shoulder.

“What happened Tommy?” Duran asked leaning in at the table.

Tommy downed the drink and then looked up and stared into Jimmy’s eyes.

 “He was killed during that shootout in Telegraph Hill last night.”

 Jimmy’s heart shot up into his throat while all the color drained from his face. Mike tried not to react and turned and walked over to the bar. Duran and Kearns just sat there, wide-eyed and dumb founded.

 “I didn’t know you had a son Tommy!” Kearns replied, his mouth still agape.

 Tommy just kept his eyes on Jimmy, his bloodshot pale blue eyes as chilly as a January morning.

“Yeah, he would have been twenty-two next Thursday.” Tommy replied.

Jimmy just shook his head, patted Tommy on the shoulder and walked over to the bar with Mike.  As Mike and Jimmy’s eyes met, one thought kept jabbing itself into their mind like a splinter: Does he know?

Jimmy walked behind the bar to grab another bottle when a thundering gunshot rang out.

Instinctively Jimmy ducked down behind the bar.

 “Jesus Tommy! What the hell!” Kearns could be heard screaming.

Jimmy moved to the end of the bar and peered around the corner. Tommy was sitting casually at the poker table with his Colt 1911 in his hand. Kearns was standing with his hands high in the air and seated across from them was Duran, slumped backwards in his chair staring at the ceiling with the back of his head blown out.

Jimmy craned his neck around the bar and saw Mike on the floor in the corner, his eyes wide.

 “Sit down Paddy boy” Tommy said in a calm voice, directing him with the barrel of the pistol.

 “Mike and Jimmy! You two assholes come over here and sit down!” Tommy yelled out. Instinctively Jimmy reached for his cell but realized he had left it in the kitchen. He then quickly began to grab the small .380 he had stashed behind the bar when Tommy yelled

 “And I know about the hideout piece behind the bar Jimbo, so don’t even think about it.” Jimmy’s heart sank as he placed the gun back on the shelf and then walked over to sit down with Mike.

“Listen, Tommy, whatever is going on we can help you man, just put the gun down…” Jimmy was quickly interrupted as Tommy pointed the pistol at his face.

 “You got some balls Jimmy, some real huge balls. Still trying to con me even now! After all this!”

Tommy’s gun hand began to tremble. “Whoa! What the fuck Tommy! Con you? What are you talking about?”Jimmy replied in his best, surprised bullshit voice.

 Tommy shook his head in disgust.

 “Let’s begin with this: Kearns, the degenerate gambling piece of monkey shit that he is, owed Nikolai a hundred grand and you decided to get the four horsemen back together and go rip a gang of drug dealers for the money. Sound right so far?” Tommy replied, his eyes laser beams of ice.

The room was quiet.

“See the problem is that the gang of scumbag drug dealers you massacred in that house included my son Logan. He was the kid you popped in the kitchen with the MAC-10, remember?” Tommy held out his phone with a crime scene picture of Logan dead on the kitchen floor.

 “So you want to keep lying to me now Jimmy?” Tommy asked, keeping the pistol trained on him.

“OK, Tommy, you’re right, we killed your son. But not on purpose! We had no idea he was part of that crew, no ideal whatsoever.” Jimmy pleaded.

 Tommy shook his head in disgust and leaned back in his chair, keeping the pistol level on Jimmy.

 “Why did you have to kill Duran Tommy?” Jimmy asked looking over at Duran’s corpse.

 “Self-Defense. Don’t you see the gun in his hand?” Tommy replied.

Jimmy shook his head. “You’re losing it brother. He’s not fucking armed!” Jimmy replied.

  “No problem, I have a throw-away in my truck, we’ll just plant it on him.” Tommy replied with a smirk.  Jimmy’s mouth fell open.

 “What? Does that offend you Jimmy? I thought that was Corruption 101 shit for the Four Horseman!” Tommy spat, his eyes wide with anger. Jimmy stared at Tommy for a long moment.

 “I would be really careful throwing that word ‘corruption’ around Tommy. It’s not exactly like you were snow white when you had a badge.” Jimmy replied. Tommy leaned forward and slammed his fist down on the table with a thud.

 “Yeah I may have shook down the occasional dealer so my family could go on vacation or my son could have braces,  but I wasn’t a greedy criminal with a badge, murdering and stealing at will like you and your crew!”

While Tommy was distracted talking, Kearns had gradually positioned himself behind him. Thinking he had the drop, Kearns moved to snatch the gun but Tommy was one step ahead of him and turned and fired, hitting Kearns high in the chest, right under his throat. The blast sent Kearns reeling backwards, with the bullet exiting out the back of his neck painting the walls behind him with a wet splash of crimson mist. Kearn’s was dead before he hit the ground.

 “Shit! Why did you have to shoot him Tommy!” Mike yelled, jumping out of his chair to check on Kearn’s. Tommy stood up and glanced over at Kearn’s body and then walked over to the bar as if nothing had happened.

“Because the son-of-a-bitch would have killed me if he got my gun! Another clear cut case of self-defense.” Tommy replied self-righteously.

 “You have lost your fucking mind Tommy.” Jimmy spat in disgust. In the silence they could all hear a loud pounding upstairs as SWAT made entry into the house.

As Tommy was busy at the bar, pouring himself a drink and mumbling to himself incoherently, Jimmy got Mike’s attention. He mouthed the words it was now or never. With Tommy’s back to them, Jimmy and Mike rushed him like two linebackers, Tommy tried to spin around with the gun but Jimmy controlled his arm while Mike grabbed the half-full bottle of Jameson’s off the bar and knocked the gun out Tommy’s hand with a wallop.

 Once disarmed Tommy began to buck wildly. Jimmy was surprised at how strong Tommy was for his age. Even though he had a good 20 plus years on him, the old man was still a street fighter at heart. As Jimmy was positioning an arm bar and a take down, Mike picked up the gun and placed it against Tommy’s temple.

“You going to settle down or am I going to have to fucking kill you Tommy?” Mike asked out of breath.

 “You morons don’t get it do you? I don’t give two shits about dying. In fact I welcome it. But I was hoping to kill all of you bastards before I went.”

About that time the door to the man cave busted open with a loud crack and in rushed several armed men clad in black with balaclavas covering their faces. Instinctively both Jimmy and Mike raised their hands and before MIke could drop the gun three rounds hit him high in the chest, spinning him off to the right like a pinwheel.

 Jimmy could hear himself yelling “Don’t Shoot! Don’t Shoot!” in the chaos as Mike’s body crashed to the floor with a loud thump beside him. Jimmy’s mind went into freeze frame and as he was studying the expression on MIke’s face as he died, a question pierced his mind like a high beam through a fog bank. Why had they not announced themselves as Law Enforcement? Why had they not given commands to drop the gun?  Why were SWAT using Suppressors?

The chaos and stress had made his mind like molasses in the winter time. As he was raising his head to look around, somebody hit him hard over the head and things went dark. The last thought Jimmy had as the blackness swallowed him up was that those guys did not have helmets or SWAT ID on their vest.

Jimmy woke up with a splitting headache handcuffed to a metal chair. He could taste the familiar metallic flavor of dried blood in his mouth along with nauseating bile. He tried to gather up enough saliva to spit but was unsuccessful. As he rotated his head around to see where he was he realized his left eye was swollen shut. What he could see out of his right eye was definitely not home, maybe a warehouse or garage? The smell of rust and old motor oil permeated the place.

“Hello? Where the hell am I?” Jimmy yelled.

Suddenly, a door opened off to his left and light from what looked like an office illuminated the warehouse. Immediately Jimmy knew where he was. He was at the docks at one of the dozens of shipping container facilities. As Jimmy squinted his eyes to try and see the figure walking toward him, lights came on in the warehouse with a loud thump, revealing several armed men dressed in black surrounding him. The next voice Jimmy heard made his heart sink into his stomach.

“Jimmy Boland, as I live and breathe!” Nikolai said smiling as he walked over and pulled up a chair.

Jimmy smiled back like a fiend, revealing bloody, chipped teeth.

 “Why am I not surprised to see your ugly face here Nikolai?” Jimmy replied, shaking his head. Nikolai chuckled.

 “Why are you not surprised? I will tell you Jimbo, because like you I am an opportunist and when I see an opportunity, I pounce!” Nikolai reached into his jacket pocket and retrieved a cigarette case and took out two, without asking Jimmy, he lit them and put one of them into Jimmy’s mouth. Jimmy inhaled and exhaled the smoke like a pro, his eyes like icy laser beams on Nikolai the whole time.

“So when you discovered Tommy was out on the street asking questions about who murdered his boy, you made sure he found out it was us who pulled the trigger and then encouraged him to come get revenge because it was a really convenient way to kill off all your loose ends and get ALL the money from the heist, not just what was owed to you, right?” Jimmy exhaled more smoke and then spit the cigarette toward Nikolai like an out of control rocket.

Nikolai watched the cigarette land harmlessly well short of his feet, politely stamped it out and then looked up at Jimmy and smiled.

“Once again Jimmy, you have proven why you are such a great Detective. You see all the angles!”  Nikolai stood up and crushed out his own cigarette and nodded to the goons behind Jimmy.

 “Wait, before you go, you have to tell me. No way you were alone in all of this, there were way too many moving parts. Who was your inside man at the Department?” Jimmy asked, looking intently at Nikolai with his one good eye bloodshot and swollen.

 Nikolai smiled and motioned toward the office from which he had entered. The door opened and out stepped Captain William C. Delaney, Boston Police Dept.

 “Me and the Captain here have been partners since the good ole ‘days Jimmy. In fact, he was the one that suggested I approach you twenty-five year ago!” Nikolai smiled like the cat that ate the canary as Delaney walked up.

 “Son-of-a-bitch” Jimmy muttered to himself. One of the goons undid his leg shackles and stood Jimmy up.

“Thanks to Captain Delaney here we found all the money you had stashed in the walls of your garage and house. We also found the stashes at Kearns, Durans and Murphy’s place.” Nikolai replied.

“Oh how nice of him.” Jimmy spat.

 “Delaney you always were a backstabbing cocksucker.”

The Two goons turned Jimmy around to face an open shipping container of which to Jimmy’s horror were the bodies of Tommy, Duran, Kearns and Mike, all covered in white lime and wrapped in thick sheet plastic. Jimmy tried not show any fear when he saw the large piece of plastic on the ground obviously meant for him, but fear boiled out of him nonetheless.

 “So you’re shipping us all off to Russia huh Nikolai?” Jimmy asked as the goons moved him inside the container.

 “Yes. It’s for the best.” Nikolai replied.

 “You know I only did this job to help a friend. I figured it was my Last Good Chance to do something good in my life.” Jimmy said, looking at the bodies.

 “In the end we are all punished for our kindnesses my friend.” Nikolai replied as he motioned to the goon with his hand. The gunshot was loud as it echoed off the inside of the container. Jimmy’s body slumped to the deck like a sack of bricks and the goons began covering him with lime and wrapping him in plastic.

Container #456732 was loaded onto a transport ship bound for Murmansk later that day.

THE END

 

The Final Letter

I first met Percy Ingovoll at a saloon called the ‘Devil’s Watering Hole’ outside of Cisco, Texas in the fall of Eighteen Hundred and Ninety. I had just been discharged from the U.S. Army Calvary after spending five miserable damn years in Mexico hunting renegade indians and mexican banditos.

I had six months worth of Army wages in my pocket and was well on my way to an epic drunk and maybe a poke or two with some of the sportin’ girls when a gunshot rang out behind me at one of the poker tables. Looking over my shoulder I saw Percy Ingovoll holding a smoking Remington Single Action with a local gambler and lowlife name of Wally Steven’s sitting across from him with his face and head damn near missing. Before anybody could begin to ask questions, Percy walked over to Wally’s corpse and held up his right arm. Rolling back Wally’s shirt sleeve he removed an ace of diamonds.

“I want everybody to see why this bastard got killed. He’s a cheat!” There was a low murmuring among the crowd as Percy held up the card for all to see.

Percy then removed his hat and began raking the large pot of cash in the middle of the table into it. About this time, the bartender, a barrel chested Irishman with a thick brogue and even thicker mustache produced a sawed off 10 Gauge from behind the bar and cocked both hammers. To this day I don’t know why I decided to intervene. Maybe it was the fact I did not like seeing a man shot in the back or maybe I just did not like irish bartenders, but before you could say boo I skinned my Model 3 and walloped that bartender upside the head with its heavy barrel, knocking him out cold.

Upon hearing the commotion, Percy instinctively spun around and drew down on me.

“Whoa partner!” I said laying my Model 3 down on the bar next to a collection of the bartenders bloody teeth.

“This fat Irishman was about to shoot you in the back, I just helped him change his mind.”

A wide grin came across Percy’s face as he eased the hammer down and holstered his gun.

Taking a look behind him to check for any more would-be bushwhackers, he approached me at the bar.

“Appreciate what you did.” he said, extending his hand and introducing himself. I shook it and returned the courtesy.

“Logan Chandler. Originally from Lampasas.” I replied.

After talking for a while, four men, all half-drunk and armed approached and began asking questions about the toothless, unconscious bartender. Percy quickly grabbed my arm and led me outside.

“Listen, both Wally and that bartender are locals and I am just some stranger from out of town. These peckerwoods are all drunk as hell and it won’t take long before they decide to lynch both of us for fun and split up the money I got on me. Whatta’ you say we haul ass out of here before that happens?”

Hearing the men getting more riled up and drunk in the saloon it did not take long for me to agree with Percy’s wise suggestion.

The night was clear and cold, with a three-quarter moon and a breeze from the east carrying the smell of rain. We decided to ride south for a few miles and then checked up off the trail into a small stand of cedar trees and waited to see if we were being followed.

“So why did you do it?” Percy asked as we watched the dark trail behind us.

“Do what?” I replied.

“Whack that big Irish bastard across the head that was gonna shoot me.” Percy spat tobacco juice and glanced over at me.

“Hell I don’t know, I guess I just don’t like seeing men get shot in the back.” My answer must have amused the hell out of Percy because he laughed like I had just told the funniest damn joke you had ever heard.

We rode a few more miles up the trail and finding a small creek, decided to make cold camp for the rest of the night. The next morning I was awoken to the smell of bacon and Percy feeding our horses with a bag of oats. As I wiped the sleep out of my eyes Percy came over and poured me a cup of coffee.

“Did you hear them coyotes yippin’ it up last night?” he asked smiling as he squatted down by the fire like an indian to tend the bacon.

“I would not have heard a damn buffalo crash through the woods last night I was so tired.” I replied. Percy smiled.

“You think them boys at the saloon are still looking for us?” I asked sipping my cup.

“Hell, I bet them boys are more worried about nursing their hangovers right about now.” Percy replied turning the bacon over with a fork.

“I don’t know, you did kill a man.” I replied looking at him sideways.

“Shit! The day it is a crime in this country to kill a card cheat or whack a surly bartender will be the day I move to Mexico permanently!” I could tell Percy was still half drunk as he stood up to stretch his back and wobbled some.

In the daylight I realized he was taller than I thought, with long, lean, muscled arms that resembled thick braided ropes. His hair was sandy brown with hints of red and the week’s worth of stubble on his face was burnt amber like the mid-day sun. He had eyes that were a strange deep shade of green, almost the color of fresh cedar with small specks of brown.

After finishing our bacon and coffee we broke camp. As I was rolling up my bed roll, Percy walked over and handed me a hundred dollars.

“What is this for?” I asked looking at the money.

“For saving my ass last night.” Percy replied smiling.

“Shit Percy this is too much!” I said shaking my head handing it back to him.

“The hell it is!” he replied pushing my hand back.

“Besides, I got plenty more where that came from.” Percy replied with a wink.

He then cinched up his saddle straps and got on his horse. I did the same and we both rode out of the woods to the main trail.

“Well Percy, what do you plan on doing?” I asked looking both ways up and down the trail.

“Oh, I don’t know, maybe head over to Abilene for a friendly game or two and then catch a train to New Mexico. A friend of mine just opened a saloon near Four Corners and invited me to help run it. How about you?” Percy asked as he placed a chaw of tobacco into his mouth.

“I was thinking of riding south to my old home place in Lampasas, see who I can find.” I replied.

“Well hell, why don’t you ride with me over to Abilene and at least let me treat you to a nice meal and a bath? I sure could use the company.” Percy replied smiling.

I thought about it for a second, looking up the empty trail and watching the trees sway in the gentle breeze. Hell, I knew there was nobody in Lampasas waiting for me. Both my folks died from scarlet fever five years back and my younger sister, Clara, had gotten married and moved to California with some tin pan chasing his dreams of riches.

“Sure, why the hell not!” I replied, reigning my horse west toward Abilene.

After going a few miles, and listening to our horses fart in rhythmic time and watching some buzzards circle high above us, Percy spoke up.

“So if we are going to be traveling companions, we best know a little bout’each other in case one of us are killed. That way we can say something meaningful at the funeral.” I smiled at the odd comment without looking at Percy.

“Okay, where do you want to start?” I asked.

“Were you ever married? Have any children?”

“Came damn close to getting married once to a gal in Durango. She was mexcan’ of course and did not speak a word of English, but damn that gal could….”

My story was interrupted by several gunshots up ahead of us a piece. We both spurred our horses and as we came around a wide right bend in the trail we spied a covered wagon about a hundred yards ahead of us under attack by three men with mask on horseback. The wagon had come to rest near the side of the road after both of its horses had been killed. Near as I could tell there was one person inside the wagon returning fire with a rifle at the bandits as they circled.

“Whatta you say we even up the odds pard?” Percy said pulling out his repeater from its scabbard.

Before I could reply that maybe we should find cover before engaging three armed men in the open, Percy let off three quick shots, none of them finding its intended target, but all of them letting the bandit’s know our location.

“Dammit Percy!” I said spurring my horse into the brush off the trail. By the time I had dismounted and pulled my Winchester, the bandits had decided not to fight it out and hauled ass, leaving a plume of brown dust in their wake.

“What are you doing down there in the brush?” Percy asked me, sitting tall and smiling from his horse.

“You crazy sumbitch” I spat, mad as a wet hornet.

We both were cautious approaching the wagon, as nobody had shown themselves yet.

“Hello! In the wagon there! Don’t shoot! We both come in peace!” Percy called out.

Nothing was heard in return. We stopped ten yards shy of the flap and Percy dismounted while I held his reigns .

“Hello in the wagon!” Percy called out again.

This time we could both hear somebody inside breathing hard. Percy drew his pistol and pulled back the flap. There laying down inside was a man of around thirty with dark blonde hair. His face was pallid and his sky blue eyes were bloodshot and haggard. He had one hand on his stomach with blood leaking out around it and in the other hand a cocked Double-Action Colt Army.

“Help me, I have been shot…” the man whispered weakly.

Percy turned and gave me a concerned look and I quickly dismounted and jumped up into the wagon.

“Whoa there partner” I said trying to soothe him.

Before looking at the wound, I carefully took the Colt out of his hand and let down the hammer, placing it back in the man’s holster. I then moved his bloody hand aside and examined the wound. The Bullet had entered three inches right of his naval. Rolling him over slightly on his side, I could not see or feel an exit wound.

  “I’m so damn cold.” the man said looking at me with scared eyes as sweat poured from his forehead and his teeth began to chatter.

Percy climbed up beside me and gave him a drink of water from the canteen while I looked around for something to make a dressing out of. Rummaging around inside the wagon, I could tell right away the man was a tin pan. Picks, pans, shovels, spades and other digging implements littered the back of the wagon. Finally finding an old shirt, I began ripping it up into strips for the dressing. The blood was almost black and I knew right away he had been shot in the lower bowels, which was never a good sign. I dressed the wound best I could, trying to staunch the bleeding.

“You keep your hand here as tight as you can.” I told him plainly. He nodded while his teeth chattered so violently I was scared he would chip a tooth. I covered him up with my wool blanket from my bed roll and then me and Percy went outside to talk.

“We gotta get him to a Doctor Percy. He’s burning up with fever.” The man was loudly mumbling incoherently about something while we talked.

“Since when are we responsible for bushwhacked travelers?” Percy asked with a confused look on his face.

As I was thinking up a keen response the man yelled out with a concerning tone so much that me and Percy both immediately jumped back up in the wagon. The man eyes were large and he was pointing to the back of the wagon as if his life depended on it. Through chattering teeth he mumbled:

“In the trunk, please hand me the small leather satchel in there.”

Not thinking anything of it I went over to the trunk and opened it and retrieved a small, well-worn brown leather bag. As I was about to hand it to him Percy intercepted me.

“Let’s see what he is so anxious to get at.” Opening the bag Percy found ten soup can tins with a piece of cloth stuffed down into them.

“Whatcha got in here partner?” Percy asked smiling looking over a the man, who by now had a look of extreme anxiety on his face.

As Percy removed one of the cloths covering the can, both his eyes and mine almost popped out of our heads. Inside the can were dozens of chunks of gold as big as a man’s thumb.

“Holy shit on a shingle!” Percy said laughing.

As a huge grin began to spread over my face I will never forget how loud the sound of that Colt’s hammer was when it was cocked. Me and Percy turned around at the same time to see the wounded man had drawn down on us and that anxious look had turned into one of pure anger. The smile disappeared from Percy’s face as he looked at me and said

“Well Damn Logan! Don’t you wish now you had disarmed the sum-a-bitch!”

After me and Percy had stared down the barrel of that cocked Colt for a long few seconds with our hands in the air, the man motioned for us to hand over the bag, which we did. Once the man had the bag he motioned with the gun barrel for us to get out of the wagon. Standing there with our hands up, Percy had the presence of mind to state the obvious.

“Looks like to me you are in quite the pickle feller. Yeah, you have your gold, but you are also gut shot and dying. Without someone helping you to a Doctor, you are certainly going to lie there and bleed to death.”

Percy’s words hung in the air for a long few seconds while the wounded man surmised his terrible situation with a look of agony and anxiety I have yet to see duplicated on another man’s face since. The miner took a deep breath and spoke.

“You get to me a Doctor and I will give you one can.”

Immediately me and Percy did the math. There were at least a dozen chunks of gold in that can, each chunk weighing around 6 ounces, maybe more. With gold currently at around twenty dollars an ounce, one can was worth around fourteen hundred dollars minimum. With around ten cans in the bag, this gut shot miner had around fourteen thousand dollars in his possession.  No damn wonder those bandits were after him so hard!

With his arms still raised in the air, Percy, to my absolute horror, began to haggle with the miner.

“I think the going rate for saving a gut shot tin pan is two cans.” Percy replied with a straight face.

“The fact that you would argue with a dying man holding a gun on you shows your character sir.” The miner replied, glaring at Percy.

Un-phased by the insult, Percy continued in the horse trade.

“Still, being things as they may, you need us more than we need you.”

Seeing my chance I gently moved over next to Percy and whispered.

“Percy, let’s take the one can and get him to a Doctor.”

The look Percy gave me reminded me of the look my mother used to give me when she found me in my fathers tobacco. Pure scorn and anger. Before he could reply I continued.

“The man’s dying Percy! Now let’s stop farting around and get going!”

Percy finally relented.

“OK tin pan. One can paid right now and we will get going.” Percy switched his gaze from me to the miner. The miner shook his head in disgust and took out one can and handed it over.

“By the way” the miner said through gritted teeth.

“In case I die on the way to town my name is Arthur Wingate and I have relatives in St. Louis. I would be much obliged if you contact them.” Percy shot me a confused look as if the information had confounded him.

We rode into the town of Abilene an hour later with Arthur Wingate barely clinging to life but damn sure clinging to his Fourteen Thousand dollars worth of gold and that Colt revolver.

Not seeing a sign for a Doctor’s office, Percy asked a man crossing the street where we might find one. We were directed to a fine-looking home not far out-of-town.

“Charles A. Kirkpatrick, MD.” a sign read outside a ranch style affair with a white picket fence and gate. The yard was well manicured with several rose trellis’ by the front steps. With me on one side and Percy on the other, we walked the wounded man up the steps and Percy banged on the door with a bloody hand. The curtain on the front window parted and the door was quickly opened. A balding man in his fifties with wire rim spectacles and bushy black eyebrows that resembled two caterpillars crawling across his head answered. Taking one look at the miner he motioned us inside. We dragged the miner through the entryway and parlor into some type of exam room.

“Get him on the table over there.” the Doctor instructed us brusquely.

The room smelled of antiseptic and mint. As we laid him on the table the Doctor felt the miner’s pulse on his neck and then went over to a cabinet and started preparing some kind of injection.

“Anna!” the Doctor called out loudly.

Immediately a large, round-faced woman with auburn hair who looked to be around forty or so entered the room. She was tying a large white apron around her ample waist as she approached us.

“You gentleman may wait in the parlor”  she said as she herded us out the door and shut it behind us.

The parlor, which sat just off the entrance hall, was decorated with fine china, a Persian rug and a large love seat upholstered in a pattern of dainty yellow roses.

“Damn! The Doctoring business must pay good!” Percy remarked looking around at the room. As we both sat down on the love seat I took notice of a large painting hanging on the wall opposite. It was a duel between two large man-of-war sailing ships.

“Battle of Baltimore – 1814” read the gold-plated inscription below it. As I stared at the painting I felt Percy’s heavy head collapse against my shoulder. It did not take long for my head to collapse the other way as both of our bodies surrendered to exhaustion.

Two hours later the Doctor was shaking us both awake.

“Your friend is alive. I got the bullet out but he lost an awful lot of blood. If he doesn’t get an infection in his colon, he should survive. He should stay here for the next few days so I can keep an eye on him.”

Me and Percy both got to our feet and followed the Doctor into the exam room where Wingate lay asleep.

“I just gave him a large dose of opium tincture so he will be asleep for the rest of the evening. Please feel free to come back in the morning.” With that the Doctor began to escort us to the front door. Before we walked out of the room. Percy stopped.

“Say, that leather bag he had, where is it? He would want us to take it with us.” The Doctor eyed Percy suspiciously.

“Well Mr. Wingate informed me and my wife that the bag was to stay here under our supervision until he was ready to travel, and when I give my word to a patient, I keep it.” Percy smiled back at the Doctor and just nodded his head. Before leaving I extended my hand to the Doctor.

“We appreciate all you have done Doc, what do we owe you?” The doctor smiled wearily.

“We can settle the bill when the patient is discharged.” I nodded understandingly and me and Percy turned around and walked out of the door.

Riding into town it did not take Percy long to say what I knew was on his mind.

“So when do you want to rob the good doctor and his plump wife?” I did not even look at him when he said it. I let a few moments pass just to aggravate him.

“Hey, shit for brains! Did you hear what I asked? When do you want to go get that fourteen thousand dollars just sitting in that sawbones house waiting on us?” We were just coming into town and I stopped my horse.

“Percy you really expect me to go along with you robbing an honest miner of his find? Hell, the man already gave us over a thousand dollars just to bring him to the Doctor! You remember that?” Percy stopped and swung his horse around to face me.

“Logan if you honestly think I am gonna give up an opportunity like this you are crazy! There is enough gold sitting in that house to set you and me up for life!”

It felt like I was talking to a brick wall.

“I will have no part of it and I will not stand by and watch you rob him either, so I am just letting you know.” Percy stared at me for a long minute as I returned the stare.

“You’re serious!” Percy asked, his mouth open.

“Damn right I am serious. We already got Seven hundred dollars worth of gold each! Shit man, be happy with that!” I spurred my horse and headed for town, leaving Percy sitting on the side of the road confused and angry.

Being alone that afternoon, I felt good about things for the first time in a long time. Instead of killing and maiming I had helped to save a decent man’s life, and had been rewarded handsomely for it. Perhaps this is something I could do on a more regular basis I thought to myself. Riding this strange wave of euphoria I decided to get a haircut, shave and a bath and then went next door to the tailor’s and bought me a brand-spanking new outfit. I had to laugh at the tailor when he asked me what I wanted to do with my old clothes.

I  told him to promptly “burn them” and without missing a beat he replied “My thoughts exactly sir.”

Suited up in my new duds I went to the hotel and had a steak dinner complete with peach cobbler for dessert and then got me a room with a big soft bed where I slept like the dead. At breakfast the next morning however, Percy was nowhere to be found. My first thoughts to where Percy might be scared the living shit out of me I don’t mind telling you. I imagined in my mind’s eye the miner and the good doctor and his wife laying dead in pools of their own blood with Percy riding hard for Old Mexico with that brown leather satchel in tow.

It did not take long however for the reality of Percy’s plight to be revealed.

Walking down main street, I spotted his chestnut mare tied outside the city jail. Shaking my head with disgust, I walked over, took a deep breath, and entered the jailhouse. A man in his fifties with a head of white hair and a matching waxed handlebar mustache sat behind a desk with a name placard that read “Arthur T. Roberts, City Marshal”. The marshal did not get up when I entered and made sure I saw the double barrel ten gauge in his lap.

“Yes sir can I help ya?” he asked, eyeing me suspiciously.

“Yes, I have come to fetch my friend, Percy Ingovoll, I believe you have him locked up in your jail.” The lawman grinned and took his boots off the desk.

“If you are referring to the gentleman whom was trying to fight the entire saloon last night, yes we have him.” There was a long pause as the lawman continued to size me up.

“OK, so let’s have him.” I said impatiently.

The lawman gave a smirk and reached over on his desk and picked up a piece of paper. Taking time to remove his spectacles from his front shirt pocket, he then studied the paper.

“He is scheduled to go before Judge Tillford at 10 o’clock this morning.” The lawman answered.

“For fighting in a saloon?” I asked.

The lawman stood up. He was a tall, gangly man with long slender arms and almost no waist to speak of. I also noticed as he stood he wore a tie-down rig, which told me he fancied himself a gunfighter.

“Disturbing the Peace, Drunk and Disorderly and Destruction of Private Property are charges we take very serious here in Abilene, Mr.? I did not catch your name.”

The atmosphere was getting tense so I decided to cut through the bullshit and talk a language all  corrupt lawmen know. Money.

“I did not give my name. How much are the fines for those three charges?” I asked. The lawman’s expression turned smug as he walked over to the gun rack and stowed the ten gauge.

“Well, let’s see for those three charges plus court cost, and the cost of stabling the man’s horse, let’s call it what we took off him in gold last night as payment in full.” He reached into his shirt pocket and laid out four thumb sized gold nuggets wrapped in cloth. My temper flared at that moment and I felt like the top of my head was gonna blow off.

“That seems a bit excessive since that gold is worth well over seven hundred dollars.” I replied, my face feeling hot and most likely the color of crimson from anger.  The lawman walked over and sat on the edge of his desk. He removed makings for a cigarette and began rolling one up.

“Well sir, it very well may seem excessive, but that is the price if you want to walk out of here with your friend this morning. Of course you are more than welcome to let him have his day in court but let me caution you, Judge Tillford is not as lenient as I am.” The marshal smiled a shit eating grin as he lit his cigarette with a match.

“And by not as lenient you mean more expensive?” I replied looking at him coldly. The marshal shot me a look of pure cruelty through the haze of smoke. I thought for a brief moment before I spoke again since my anger was at the fine point of boiling over.

“Very well, let’s have him then.” I said. The marshal hesitated as if he had not heard me and then stood up, making a big show to pocket the gold. He then slowly reached over and retrieved a set of keys.

A few minutes later he returned with what was left of Percy. My mouth fell open when I saw him. Percy literally looked like death warmed over. Both eyes were black and swollen and his lip had been split in several places. A deep gash on his scalp was leaking blood down the side of his head and to top it all of he could barely walk.

“My God! What the hell happened to him?” I asked taking hold of Percy’s arm.

“Like I said he tried to fight the entire saloon.” The Marshal responded non-chalant. Percy gave me an incredulous look that confirmed that statement was pure bullshit. As we left the marshal handed me Percy’s gun belt.

“If you or your friend make trouble around these parts again, I am going to do more than fine you next time, is that understood?”  I was so mad at that point I did not even turn around to acknowledge the smug bastard. Once we were out the door and to our horses I asked Percy if he was alright to ride. He nodded that he could and I followed along as he swayed back and forth in the saddle like a drunkard.

“What the hell happened!” Dr. Kirkpatrick exclaimed as me and Percy came through the door.

“Your town marshal’s handiwork” I replied angrily.

“Oh my God! Bring him into the exam room” The doctors wife came running from the parlor and took Percy’s other arm as we both helped him up on the exam table. Wingate sat up in his bed as we came in.

“Bandits?” Wingate asked with a weak voice.

“No, worse, the town law.” I replied sarcastically.

“Ain’t nothing worse than crooked law.” Wingate fumed, his face turning three shades of scarlet.

“Looks like they broke two ribs and fractured his arm. He has a slight concussion and this cut on his scalp is gonna need a couple of stitches too.” I walked back over and gripped Percy’s hand.

“Hang on pard, Doc is gonna put you back together.”

The next day Percy was awake, but only for a little while. As I was sitting there next to Percy Anna came in to check on him. I suppose she could see the concern on my face.

“His body is repairing itself, we just need to let him rest.” She told me checking his pulse. I walked out on the porch where Wingate was sitting in a rocking chair smoking his pipe.

“How is he?” he asked through the blue-grey smoke. I shrugged and leaned up against the porch post.

“Don’t you worry yourself Logan. I once seen a man get the living shit kicked out of him by three other miners for poaching a claim. They worked him over good with shovels. He did not get out of bed for a damn week. He could take only broth and water. But you know what? After a week and a half he got right up and went back to work. Of course he did not learn his lesson too well and a week later he was shot dead for poaching another man’s claim. Some men are just dumb beast.”

I had to laugh at Wingate. The man always had an entertaining story to tell, even if it was depressing as hell.

Early the next morning before sun-up somebody shook me awake. Looking up through bleary eyes I saw Percy standing there.

“We need to talk.” he whispered.

I pulled on my pants and followed him quietly through the dark house and out to the front porch. The early morning was cool and damp and the smell of honeysuckle floated on the air while a Whip-poor-will cooed from a tree out in the yard. Percy sat down in a rocking chair and lit a coal oil lantern on the table beside him. I could tell he had something serious on his mind.

“We need to get Wingate and get the hell out of here come first light.” Percy said matter of factly, sitting back in the chair. I gave Percy a puzzled look.

“What are you talking about? Why? I thought you might want to get back at the son-of-a-bitch marshal for what he did to you!” Percy shook his head.

“You don’t understand Logan. That marshal knows everything about Wingate and his gold.” I stared at Percy for a long moment, my mouth agape.

“Wait a minute, so is that the reason they questioned and beat you like they did? They think we are all in cahoots or something?” I asked amazed.

Percy nodded.

“Yep they think we know something. And the reason they think that is what happened out on the trail when Wingate got shot. Us accidentally finding him being ambushed out on the road and driving those deputies away that were trying to kill him was proof to the marshal that we are indeed in cahoots! Can you believe it!” Percy leaned over and lit the cigarette with the flame from the lantern.

I put my head in my hands. This was just too much for my foggy brain this early in the morning.

“So why not just me and you cut and run and leave Wingate to deal with this Marshal by himself? I mean you said the other day we are not responsible for helping every poor pilgrim we come across, right?” Percy sat forward in the rocking chair and looked at me.

“Normally I might agree with you, but now, like it or not we are involved in this thing up to our necks and we owe it to Wingate to get him somewhere safe. It may not be the smartest move, but it is definitely the right one.”

A half-hour passed and the soft light of dawn begin to break. I went into the kitchen to put some coffee on and then went and woke up Wingate. After Percy had explained everything to him and we agreed the best thing to do was leave town as soon as we could, Percy asked Wingate a question that made me do a double-take.

“That marshal knew an awful lot about you Wingate. How is that, being you are not from around here?” Wingate let out a long breath and shook his head.

“I sure am sorry you boys got mixed up in this thing.” Wingate said looking at us.

“Enough of the bullshit Wingate. Answer the question!” Percy said flatly.

“The claim in which I found the gold belonged to the Marshal’s brother. He was killed in a saloon brawl in Austin almost a year ago. When his claim came up for sale at the land office I snatched it up and began mining it. Of course this was before anybody knew the man had a will and had left the claim to his brother, the Marshal of Abilene, Arthur T. Roberts.” Wingate said lighting his pipe.

“Well I’ll be damned!” Percy said getting up out of his chair.

“It all makes sense now. He thinks you cheated him!” Percy exclaimed.

“Yeah what caused the confusion was Roberts had not filed the will with an attorney or any next of kin, he had left it with a whore in Austin he frequented. Once he died and the whore came forward to a judge, the land and mine had already been sold to me, so the marshal had no legal recourse, so he resorted to trying to rob and kill me out on the road when you boys found me the other day.” Wingate replied.

“Why the hell didn’t you tell us this earlier?” I asked.

“I did not want to get you boys anymore involved than you already were, I guess.” Wingate said looking at the floor sheepishly.

“Well there’s one thing we know for sure. That marshal intends to kill you to get that claim.” Percy said matter-of-factly.

“Yeah and the only reason he has not done so by now is because you are here, at the Doctors house. I reckon at any moment he is going to ride out here to arrest you for something and then take you back to that jailhouse and kill you for any number of reasons” I replied.

Wingate leaned back in his chair and took a deep breath.

“Hell, there ain’t no way the three of us can hold off that marshal and all them deputies he has! What should we do?” I asked, my eyes wide.

“Only thing to do is to take the fight to the marshal before he brings it to us. We kill the head of the snake, the rest will die.” Percy replied, his eyes bright and focused.

A smoky silver haze floated just above the ground while two whitetail deer, a doe and a spike buck, grazed on the lush green grass. Uncertainty and fear coursed through my body at that moment like no other time in my life. Glancing over at Wingate I could tell the same was true for him.

“So we go in there and kill him? That is our plan?” Wingate asked looking at both of us. There was a long pause.

“That or we wait and let him come out here and kill you, which sounds better Wingate?” Percy asked, still looking at the deer grazing peacefully.

After breakfast and a long discussion with the Doctor, it was decided all three of us would go into town that evening and murder the Marshal. I could tell the Doctor was troubled by our plan.

“Doctor if I am killed, I am signing off ownership of the claim and the gold I currently have in my possession totaling fourteen thousand dollars worth to be equally split three ways between You, Percy and Logan.” Wingate said as he signed a piece of paper and slid it over to the Doctor.

“Would you please witness this Doctor?” Wingate asked.

The Doctor put on his spectacles and read over the document. After reading it he paused for a long moment and took off his spectacles.

“Mr. Wingate are you sure this is what you want to do sir?”

Wingate paused for a moment, thinking.

“I am sure.” he replied.

“I would like to ask one more thing.” Wingate said as he stood up from the table.

“If I shall be killed in this mis-adventure, I would like my body to be shipped back to Missouri and be buried next to my mother and father in our family cemetery outside of House Springs. Here is a hundred dollars to see to the cost.” Percy, me and the doctor all looked at one another with a sense of sincere sadness.

Then Percy did something shocking and totally our of character.

“You can count on me Wingate!” the two men shook hands and smiled as if they were long lost brothers.

That evening as we were preparing to leave, the doctor and his wife asked us into the parlor.

“I called all of you here to make a suggestion that I think can solve your problem much simpler than your current plan.”

As the doctor said this his wife entered with a freshly baked apple pie. A smile spread across Wingate’s face as he realized what he was about to say.

“You intend to poison him!” Wingate said jumping up from his seat like a man who had been touched in the head.

“Indeed we do. Anna has dosed this pie with enough hemlock to kill five men easily.” The doctor replied with a sly grin.

I sat back and admired the simplicity of the plan while Percy just shook his head in amazement and poured himself a brandy.

“Anna will deliver the pie first thing tomorrow before lunch and I expect you shall have the desired result shortly thereafter, depending of course if he eat’s it right then or later that evening.” The doctor’s tone was both proud and strangely enthusiastic.

After the meeting, we all moved into the dining room where Anna had prepared a lovely fried chicken dinner with all the trimmings. Everybody ate and drank until they were full as ticks. It was an overall jovial occasion. When we were finished, Wingate, now fully drunk, stood to make a speech.

“This day has truly turned out to be a surprise. I thought for sure it would end with me either being wounded or killed.” Wingate grew more unsteady on his feet as he kept talking, slurring his words so badly it drew nervous laughter from everybody in the room.

Suddenly I began feeling light-headed and dizzy myself, even though I had not touched a drop of alcohol. As my heart began to pound in my chest at the thought that was forming in my mind, I remember seeing Wingate collapse on the floor in a heap and hearing the loud thud his head made when it hit the oak planks. Looking over at Percy I noticed he had collapsed sideways in his chair, his tongue rolling out of his head like a sick dog.

“What the hell?” was all I got out before the world turned upside down and then went black as midnight.

When I awoke I was lying in the exam room with my head busting wide open from the most terrible headache I had ever known. Looking over to my left I saw both Percy and Wingate lying in a bed together like they were asleep. Suddenly two men’s voices could be heard.

“So why is this one still alive?” I heard one of the men ask.

“Not sure, he ate the same as the rest.” I suddenly felt nauseous like I was going to throw up.

“Oh Jesus Anna! Come help us with this one!” One of the men called out.

“Turn over on your side Logan.” a woman’s voice instructed me curtly.

After I had retched, Anna wiped my mouth with a moist washcloth and then patted my head with it. As my eyes adjusted, I saw that we were not alone in the room. Standing there at the end of the bed was Dr. Kirkpatrick and Marshal Roberts. As I tried to raise my arm to draw my gun, I realized my arms were bound with leather straps and I was not even wearing any pants, much less a gun belt.

“Now now Logan, you need to take it easy.” Anna whispered. My blood was literally boiling in my head I was so mad.

“What the hell have you done!” I yelled out with a hoarse voice. Anna looked at me with abject pity and then turned around to her husband.

“Can’t we spare him?” she asked.

“Afraid not darling, he knows too much.” Dr. Kirkpatrick replied coldly. Anna gave a pouty look.

“Now Marshal our deal stands, we get all the gold and you get the deed to the claim, correct?” The Marshal gave her a look of disgust.

“Yes Anna, that was the deal.” The Marshal walked over to the bed where Wingate and Percy’s bodies lay.

“As for Mr. Chandler there, I figure a good story to tell the judge is these three had a falling out about the gold and Logan murdered them over it. Of course you two can be key witnesses as you saw the whole thing happen in your dining room, correct?”

As those words hit my ears a lightning bolt went through my entire body. Pure, seething anger emanated from every pore. As I jerked at the restraints the doctor and his wife backed up from the bed.

“Logan! You need to settle down!” The marshal yelled taking out his pistol to whack me.

“You murdering, corrupt bastards!” I yelled out, spittle flying from my mouth in a rant. After a minute of my temper flaring I was spent, the poison in my body completely zapping me of all energy and willpower.

“So he will hang then?” The Doctor asked, setting the brown satchel containing Wingate’s gold on a table to inspect the contents.

“Oh yeah, the judge won’t hesitate on this one.” The marshal proudly replied looking at me.

“A double murder over gold? That is about open and shut as you can get in these parts.”

Hot tears rolled down my cheeks as I turned to look at my best friend’s dead faces as one of the marshal’s deputies lifted me from the bed and handcuffed me. A flood of memories washed over me. Percy’s infectious laugh. Wingate’s wild mining camp stories. I remembered them all. As Anna watched from the window as I was loaded onto a horse, I was reminded when me and her helped carry Wingate into the house after he had been shot. I remember the Doctor taking such care sewing up Percy’s head after the Marshal had beat him. Now both Anna and the Doctor had murdered the same men they had cared for all these weeks in their own home!

Greed truly infects men’s and women’s souls and turns them into heartless beast.

Arriving at the jail I was told it would most likely be tomorrow when I would be hung because they had to build a gallows and those things took time. I asked for some paper and a pencil to write a letter to my next of kin, trying to explain things.

I hope whomever reads this letter will seek out justice for me and my friends, Percy Ingovoll and Arthur Wingate. These men were murdered in cold blood by City Marshal John Roberts, Doctor Charles A. Kirkpatrick and his wife Anna Kirkpatrick.

Please let truth and justice avenge us!

Sincerely,

Logan Chandler

The End

 

Ruffian

Missouri – 1868

 

Thick grey rifle smoke hung in the treetops like early morning fog as an eerie silence fell over the Missouri creek bottom. The incessant forest chatter of birds and squirrels had stopped on cue as if God himself had directed nature’s orchestra to stand witness to the wanton deeds of man. As quiet as water running over rock, Tate Davis slowly crawled out from the thick, tangled undergrowth and took a knee. He was dressed in woolen butternut brown trousers, a frayed grey woolen shirt, stolen black knee-high Federal cavalry boots and a sweat stained brown slouch hat. On his belt he wore two rifle ammunition pouches and two tie-down Navy Colt revolvers mounted cross-draw. His face was smeared with burnt cork and in his arms he cradled a well-used Spencer carbine with sixteen notches carved into the stock in roman numerals. Taking a quick look around he gave a short fox whistle and over a dozen men dressed similar emerged from the brush around him and took a knee.

“OK boys, two of you get mounted and collect the stragglers, the rest of you get down there and strip them of everything they got. If you have to finish any of em’ off, use your knife, we don’t need anymore shootin’ this morning!”

A series of low grunts followed as a dozen burly outlaws set out down the slope to loot the dead and finish the dying. Out of the dozen or so miscreants slouching down into the crimson killing field, Newly Davis was the youngest. He was a tall, scrawny orphan of fifteen from Scots-Irish stock with hair the color of brick dust and blue grey eyes that were wise beyond their years. His father, Cole Davis, had fought with the Tenth Missouri and had fallen at the Battle of Pea Ridge in sixty-two’ while his mother in a fit of grief had taken to moonshine and during a bender went blind and wandered into the woods at night during a blizzard.

It took three days to thaw her body out for the burial. At the funeral, the preacher had asked Newly if he had any kin that could take him in. When Newly replied he only knew of his Uncle Tate Davis, the preacher’s face went ghostly white as if the very words of his uncle’s name were some kind of evil incantation that would bring forth destruction and debauchery.

Newly knew Uncle Tate had a reputation as a southern loyalist and guerilla bushwhacker and ever since the war ended he and dozens others like him had been continuing to carry the fight to the Federals by robbing trains and banks as if Appomattox had been nothing but a bad rumor.

“Hell, it’s gonna take longer to pilfer these boys than it took to ambush em’!” Tate said with a smile as he spit indigo colored tobacco’ juice on a span of yellow and orange leaves that littered the creek bottom.

“How many you reckon Uncle?” Newly asked, looking around at the scattered bodies.

“I count ten men and twelve horses.” Tate replied matter of factly as he pilfered a saddle bag.

“Who were they?” Newly asked as he took a knee and studied a corpse who had been shot just under the right eye.

“No account bounty hunters by the looks of em’. Now get your thumb out of your ass and help me strip these boots! The sooner we get done the quicker we can get the hell out of here!”

By the time all the bodies were looted, it was dusk and the two men who had went after the straggling horses had not returned.

“Well shit fire” Tate spat.

“Poe and Newly, you come with me and help find these boys. The rest of you break camp and head south-east. We’ll catch up with you.”

The sun was beginning to set as three riders followed the creek bottom west until the tracks took a detour. Tate watched Poe cut sign with a mix of scrutiny and admiration.

“You part Cherokee that right Poe?” Tate asked. Poe nodded his head as he kept his eyes on the trail. He had long black hair that seemed to grow directly out of his dusty bowler hat with a hawk feather in it.

“It’s damn spooky the way you people can track!” Tate said shaking his head as he packed his pipe. Poe never acknowledged him, like a hound dog on a scent, he just kept moving forward down the trail.

As they came to a small clearing Poe suddenly stopped and dismounted, kneeling to the ground.

“Four riders came from the west and met our two men right here. There was a scuffle, then six riders rode back west.”  Poe said looking up at Tate with a frown.

“So you are saying four men came and took our two men west toward town?” Poe nodded as he mounted back up.

“Well shit fire and save the matches!” Tate exclaimed, taking off his hat and rubbing his forehead.

“It’s that damn blue belly town on the Kansas border!” Tate spat.

He gazed west toward the horizon for a very long time, the gears in his mind turning over every possibility. Suddenly, without notice, he reigned his horse around to face Poe.

“How far you reckon the boys have got?”  Poe looked back east and rubbed his chin.

“The way those boys travel together, no more than an hour.” Poe replied.

“Good. You ride on back and fetch them and get back here as quick as you can, understood?” Poe nodded and in a cloud of dust, he was gone.

“Uncle! What is going on?” Newly said, his face confused. Uncle Tate took a long pull from the canteen, then tilted his hat back on his head and gave Newly a sly grin.

“We are going to ride into that town tomorrow and bring back our men!” Newly’s face went white.

“But Uncle that town is full of federals and bounty hunters! Besides, they most likely will have hung them before we get there!” Tate ignored the comment and dismounted.

“Unsaddle your horse and make a fire, let’s have some coffee while we wait.”

It was pitch dark by the time Newly got the fire and coffee made. It was a cold, clear moon less night as he wrapped his blanket tightly around him and let the mug of coffee warm his hands. Uncle Tate had begun cleaning his weapons by firelight which Newly took keen interest in.

“Uncle why do you carry two revolvers on your belt and two on your saddle?” Uncle Tate cracked a grin at the question, pleased with his curiosity.

“During the war we often fought from our horses, especially on raids. Having two loaded revolvers on your saddle gives you that much more firepower.” Newly nodded thoughtfully as he drank his coffee with vivid  images of a wild band of bushwhackers storming through a Federal camp at night, guns a blazing.

“When’s the last time you serviced your weapons son?” Tate asked, interrupting his dream.

Newly skinned his Colt and looked it over. “Not sure  it’s been a while I spose’.” Tate threw a small black leather pouch over to Newly.

“That’s yours to keep.” Tate said as he peered through the bore of his Spencer.

Newly opened the pouch and took out a small square can of oil, a cotton rag and a two-piece push rod.

“A gun is only as good as the man carrying it. Take care of it and it will care of you when called upon” Newly nodded as he proceeded to clean and oil the revolver.

After Tate had finished he broke out a bottle of rye, took two long swigs and then handed it over to Newly with a smile.

“Here, this will put some hair on your balls!”

Newly hesitantly took the bottle. He had never tasted whiskey except in peppermint cough syrup his mother had made when he was young. As the stout rye hit his throat Newly immediately begin to gag.

“I’ll be damned! Don’t waste good whiskey boy! That’s a mortal sin!” Uncle Tate exclaimed laughing. Newly handed the bottle back to his Uncle and quickly ran into the bushes to vomit. Tate shook his head and laughed as he took another long swig and began singing out of tune:

“O I’m a good old rebel,
Now that’s just what I am.
For this “fair land of freedom”
I do not care a damn.
I’m glad I fit against it,
I only wish we’d won,
And I don’t want no pardon
For anything I done…”

To avoid further embarrassment, Newly decided to walk a fair piece into the woods so his Uncle could not hear his retching. Walking to where the campfire was barely visible behind him, he bent over behind a tall pine and waited for his guts to empty themselves. Suddenly, out in the dark, he heard a twig snap. Raising his head slowly, he stared into the direction of the sound. It was a pitch black night with no moon or a star shining and he could see absolutely nothing.

As he was about to chalk it up to an animal, he heard another noise, this one closer and off to his right. With the hair standing up on the back of his neck, he quickly knelt down behind the tree and drew his Colt. Several things ran through his mind at once. He could yell out to Uncle and warn him, but warn him of what? What if it was just an animal? Uncle would really think him a fool! He could make a run for it, but if it was soldiers or law out there, they would surely just cut him down. What should he do? Newly quietly put his back against the tree and tucked in his legs, making himself as small as possible. He brought his Colt up to his chest, his thumb resting on the hammer.

Working up the nerve Newly carefully peered around the tree. Staring out into the dark void of night, Newly’s eyes became large as hen’s eggs as he watched a yellow lantern float four feet off the ground through the fog. As his eyes adjusted to the darkness he could just make out the shape of a man holding the lantern. Slowly other men began to appear around him. In all he counted five men spaced out in a skirmish line moving his way.

Newly’s mind and heart raced in a staccato rhythm as his stomach knotted up and bitter bile began to make it’s way up into his mouth. He quickly thought it out. There was no way he could make it back to camp and warn Uncle before these men closed distance. No, he had to do something, and fast! Without giving the matter another thought, Newly took a breath, cocked the hammer on the Colt, stepped out from behind the tree and took aim at the closest lantern and fired. Without waiting, he fired again. His ears rang like church bells as adrenaline raced through his veins like hot lava.

“Take that you federal bastards!” he yelled, surprised at how crazy his own voice sounded.

He was running hard toward the camp fire now, his heart feeling as if at any moment it would burst out of his chest. He could see Uncle scrambling for the horses in the dim light. A bullet cracked the air by his right ear, then another kicked up dirt in front of him.

“Run boy! Run!” Uncle Tate yelled, firing off a quick volley with his Spencer.

Finally making it into camp, Newly jumped on his horse so fast he almost fell off the other side. He reigned his mare around as Uncle Tate mounted up. Bullet’s cracked the air around him like a swarm of hornets as Newly instinctively got low in the saddle and spurred his horse.

They were moving away from the campfire now at a steady clip, Newly let the mare find it’s way in the dark since he could not see more than three feet in front of him. The campfire and the sound of gunfire grew more distant as Uncle Tate finally caught up and took the lead. They rode hard for what seemed like an hour before they stopped to rest the horses by a small creek.

They both dismounted and kneeled down beside the trickling stream to fill their canteens.

“It will be dawn in a few hours, they won’t try to track us in the dark. They will make camp and continue at first light.” Tate whispered into the dark as he looked behind him.

Newly’s head was still rattled, the adrenaline searing through his body. Tate gave Newly a fatherly look of concern as he splashed some cold water on his face.

“You did well back there nephew! I have seen grown men shit their pants in scraps smaller than that! You definitely have your daddy’s hot blood in your veins!” Tate slapped Newly on the back as he dried his face. Newly smiled with bravado and tried not to show how green his stomach still felt.

They rode south in the creek until first light and decided to rest the horses in a thicket of water oaks.

“There is a small community not far from here called Redbird we can re-supply and hole up for a few days.” Tate said as he helped Newly remove his saddle.

“During the war we used it as a meeting spot when we got separated. If I had a dollar gold piece I would bet you that Poe will be there directly.” Newly took out a piece of venison jerky and chewed it slowly.

It sounded risky, stopping somewhere with a posse on their ass, but Newly didn’t want to sound yellow so he kept quiet. After resting a couple hours they got back on the trail and rode southeast for half a day up into the lower hill country, arriving in the community of Redbird in the late afternoon.

The place looked like it had been there for hundreds of years and who knows it might have. A collection of half a dozen cabins overgrown with green moss with amber soot stained windows. On one of the porches sat a frail, elderly woman with one eye in a red shawl smoking a corn cob pipe.

“Wat you’s want here?” the old women asked as we approached. Before Newly or Tate could answer, the profile of a large man appeared in the doorway of the cabin. He wore a long unkempt dark beard, a tattered sweat stained flop hat and in his hands a double barrel ten gauge. You could have heard a grasshopper fart as he spit tobacco juice off the porch.

“No trouble Ma, it’s me Tate Davis and my nephew Newly. I used to hole up here during the war with Captain Quantrill.” The old woman peered at Tate and Newly with her one good eye before tapping the porch loudly with her walking cane made out of knurled red hickory, the signal for the man at the door to come help her up from the rocker.

The man slowly eased her down the porch steps to the horses where she lifted a hand to shade her eyes.

“Yep, I see ya now! Sure I knows ya!” the old woman cackled.

“Apologies for the cold reception, thought you might have been yankee law. Jess already had to kill three of the bastards a few months ago. Got em’ buried out yonder in the garden. Make right nice fertilizer them damn yankees!” The old woman cackled loudly again prompting Big Jess to smile revealing three yellow broken teeth.

“Take ye’ horses to the barn, young Samuel will care for em’.” The old woman motioned with her hand to the large barn at the end of the lane.

“Then you’se two wash up and come on inside and we’ll have some supper.” the old woman said matter of factly as Big Jess helped her back up to the porch.

After handing the horses off at the barn to Samuel, a one armed young man in his mid-twenties Tate and Newly made their way down to small trickling branch to wash up and then back up to the cabin. The sun was getting low in the western sky and somewhere out in a stand of hardwoods a great horned owl called out.

Knocking on the cabin door Tate was curtly told by a stern female voice inside to remove their boots and hats before entering. Once they had done so, Big Jess opened the door and ushered them in. Newly got the strange sensation of being back home as the smell of fried pork chops with apples and the slightest hint of jasmine growing in the window filled his nostrils. A nice size fire crackled in the fireplace as a hanging pot of water boiled, the steam adding moisture to the dry mountain air.

Newly watched a raven haired beauty of around eighteen going around the table filling glasses with buttermilk as Grandma curtly instructed Uncle Tate to come sit next to her at the head of the table. Newly found a place on the other end next to Big Jess and a hair lipped boy of three or four with the pretty girl taking the seat across from him. Once everybody was seated Grandma whacked the cabin floor several times with her stick like a judge’s gavel.

“Before we say tha’ prayer to tha’ good Lord, I want to introduce my famlee’. I’m Ma Baxter, my son, Big Jess you’se already met. His daughter, Annabelle and my grandson Eli.” Newly said hello to everybody and tried to steal a glance at Annabelle but could not work up the courage. If he had looked he would have seen her blushing. All of this did not escape the eyes of Big Jess who grunted in disapproval.

After a lengthy prayer where God was thanked for everything and then some a hearty meal of pork cops with tart apples and onions, mashed potatoes, fresh garden green beans and cornbread was enjoyed. Newly and Tate ate like starving men, each of them going back for seconds. During the meal Ma Baxter questioned Uncle Tate and Newly on the kind of trouble they were in. Uncle Tate explained about getting separated from Poe during an ambush by yankee bounty hunters. It was agreed they should stay on in the community and wait for Poe and his men in exchange for work.

“You and the boy can sleep with Big Jess and Eli in his cabin next door” Ma said squinting at Newly with her one good eye.

“Who else lives in the community?” Uncle Tate asked.

“Two more families, one of them takes care of the stables and the other runs a small general store. Both men were wounded fighting for the cause and I took them in after the war. Them and their families are as good as gold I tells ya’.” Ma Baxter replied.

After supper Uncle Tate and Ma sat on the porch smoking while Newly helped Annabelle clean up inside. The evening air was cool and crisp, with the faint smell of rain and honeysuckle on the breeze. Out in the yard, Big Jess pulled Eli in a small wooden wagon while he giggled with delight.

  “If you don’t mind me askin’ Ma, where is Eli’s father?” Tate asked. Ma was silent for a long moment, puffing on her pipe, considering her words. Tate sensing he had crossed a line began to apologize.

“I’m sorry Ma…” Ma waved her hand in a dismissing motion and spoke.

“Three years ago a group of no-account Kansas red legs rode in here and raped Annabelle. When I tried to stop em’ they whacked me upside the head with a rifle butt and put out this eye.” Ma pointed to the wrinkled empty socket.

“Big Jess was out hunting at the time. I don’t think he’s ever forgave himself fer not bein’ here.” Ma slowly shook her head as if the memory was an annoying insect inside her brain.

“Well I hope them red leg bastards got what they deserved.” Tate said as he lit up another cigarette. Ma cut a glance over to Tate.

“Frank and Jesse James made sure all those sons of whores died slow, painful deaths, you can be sure!” Ma replied, a satisfied grin on her face.

By late afternoon of the next day Uncle Tate and Newly had already cut a cord of wood, cleaned the stables, shoed four horses, patched a roof and killed and dressed a deer and half a dozen rabbits for a stew.

“If they keep working us like this I don’t think I’ll make it nephew!” Uncle Tate said as he took off his hat and wiped his brow with the back of his shirt sleeve. Newly smiled as he sat down beside him on the porch.

“Oh come on old man it ain’t that bad of a trade! Home cooked meals and a soft feather bed for a little work?”

About that time Annabelle came out of the cabin with two glasses of lemonade. As she handed the glasses off Tate saw her give Newly a smile. After she had went inside Uncle Tate laughed.

“What’s so funny?” Newly asked

“I think good cooking and soft beds are not the only reason you like it here.” Newly gave a toothy smile, looking like the cat who just ate the canary.

Later that evening after supper when everybody was on the porch visiting and drinking coffee, two riders approached. About the time Uncle Tate reached over for his rifle Big Jess sounded off from across the way.

“It’s the James Brothers.” Uncle Tate stood up from his chair with a big grin on his face. As the riders got closer Tate slowly made his way down.

“While I’ll be damned!” Newly watched in amazement as the two riders dismounted and began laughing and hugging, carrying on like long lost brothers.

“Them three right there used to be thick as thieves during the war, sure nuff'” Ma Baxter said as she smoked her corn cob pipe smiling, watching the men,

“Quantrill used to say if he had a division of men like em’ he could win the war in a month.” The old woman spit out a piece of stray tobacco as she eyed the three men.

Directly the James brothers and Uncle Tate made their way up to the porch. After Frank and Jesse both came over and hugged Ma Baxter’s neck, Uncle Tate introduced Newly.

“This here’s my brother Cole’s boy, Newly. He’s been riding with me for a spell now.” Newly extended his hand out. Both Frank and Jesse shook it. Newly was surprised at how short Jesse was.

“You listen and watch close now boy. Your uncle here was one of the best damn soldiers I ever served wit.” Frank James said as he struck a match off his boot and lit a cigarette.

“Yes sir” Newly replied. Big Jess appeared with a some more chairs and a bottle of rye and glasses.

“I’m turning in, now you boys don’t get too drunk or loud, you here?” Ma Baxter said as she patted Jesse on the shoulder and walked into the cabin and shut the door.

About half way through the bottle of rye Uncle Tate caught the brothers up on the latest news. As Uncle told the story about the ambush and getting separated from Poe, Frank’s expression grew dim.

“What’s wrong Frank?” Tate asked smiling. Frank shifted in his seat and gave Jesse an uncomfortable look.

“Two days ago we came across eight men hung on the trail. The yankees put a sign on one of them that read that they were confederate bandits. One of them was Poe. We thought you knew pard, I’m really sorry.”

Uncle Tate’s face went a ghostly white as he stared into the distance. His eyes growing damp, Tate quickly got up and walked off the porch. Several minutes passed before Frank walked down to talk with him.

“I was supposed to meet back up with them…” Tate said before his voice cracked.

“I know Tate. It’s not your fault. These damn yankees are flooding the countryside like a plague worse than they were during the war.” Tate shook his head in disgust.

“Well those Sons of bitches that hung him are gonna pay, I tell you that!” About that time Jesse walked down and put his hand on Tate’s shoulder.

“We know how you feel Tate but taking on them Federals one on one is suicide.” Tate shot Jesse a hot glance.

“You mean to do nothing?” Jesse laughed loudly.

“No! Hell no! What we mean is there is a better way to hurt these bastards than the way you’re thinkin’!” Tate gave Jesse a puzzled look and took another drink.

“Frank, just what in the hell is he trying to tell me?” Frank leaned in close and put his hand on Tate’s shoulder.

“He’s talking about stealing the bastards money! A whole shit ton of it!”

The three men talked until morning and over breakfast it was decided Tate would ride with the James brothers to a bank in Gallatin. After their meal Ma Baxter took Tate aside.

“Why don’t you leave Newly here with us while you go up north? Him and Annabelle have really taken a shine to one another and he could be a big help to around here.” Tate smiled as he watched Newly through the kitchen window.

“You know these last few years I think I forgot to just let him be a kid and enjoy life.” Ma Baxter patted Tate on the back.

“You done a good job caring for him, but now you need to let him be a man and find his own way.” Tate nodded as he gave Ma Baxter a hug.

“Just make sure and come back to us you here?” Before a tear could slip out of her eye Ma quickly turned and went back inside the cabin.

After he had finished his chores Tate pulled Newly aside.

“You’re gonna stay here while I go up north with Jesse and Frank.”

Newly gave his Uncle a confused look.

“How long you gonna be gone?” Newly asked.

“No more than a few weeks, maybe less.” Newly weighed Tate’s words for a long moment.

“Well you know me and Annabelle aim to be married soon.” Tate smiled.

“Yeah I figured on that. Don’t you worry, I will be back before the wedding.” Newly smiled and then a look of worry came over his face.

“You sure you won’t need my help?”

Tate smiled and put his hand on Newly’s shoulder.

“I’ll be fine nephew don’t you worry. You just concern yourself with getting married, you hear?”

Uncle Tate, Jesse and Frank James left for Gallatin that afternoon. The weather was clear but Jesse predicted sleet and snow by late evening.

“We should make Gallatin by late tomorrow afternoon if we don’t dally.” Frank said after they were down the trail a few miles.

“You gotta watch this one Tate, he’s worse than ole’ Captain Quantrill was about making good time.” Jesse replied smiling.

Frank ignored the jibe, and the three men rode in silence for a while with Jesse every now and again whistling a sad ballad. They crossed the Missouri river that evening via a rope barge and camped on the other side for the night. The next morning the weather had taken a turn with sleet and strong winds out of the north.

“Lucky we only got a short ride ahead of us.” Frank said through chattering teeth as he bundled a blanket around his shoulders.

They rode into Gallatin one by one so as not to draw attention and met up at the saloon shortly after. The town was larger than Tate remembered it, with three saloons, two hotels and one of the largest mercantile stores he had ever seen. After finishing their beers, they mounted up and slowly rode single file down to the Daviess County Savings Association.

There was not much traffic on the street when Frank dismounted and walked to the window to take a look inside. The lobby was spacious with two ornate barred teller windows and a door leading to the back offices. Frank could see only one teller working and two men in the back.

Seeing that the lobby was empty, Frank gave the signal it was time to move.

Frank pulled up his handkerchief to hide his face and drew his Colt while Tate and Jesse did the same. Opening the front door to the bank the three masked men filed inside and Frank quickly locked the door behind them while Tate drew down the blind to the window. Jesse then casually walked over to the teller window and sticking his Colt through the bars yelled:

“This is a robbery! Nobody move!”

The  teller, a man in his late twenties, put both hands up and asked not to be hurt.

Frank walked over to the other teller window and putting his Colt through the bars and yelled:

“Where is the manager? I need the manager to come open this door right now!”

When neither of the two men in the back moved, Frank looked at Jesse and nodded.

Jesse cocked his Colt and put it to the teller’s head.

“If the bank manager does not come and open this door in the next three seconds I am going to paint the inside of your office with this man’s brains. One….Two!”

“OK, I’m coming! Please don’t shoot for God’s sakes!” a pale fat man in spectacles and a plaid three piece suit waddled from one of the back offices with a set of keys in his hand.

Hearing the door unlock, Frank quickly moved through pushing the fat man against the wall with a thud while Tate found the other man and brought him out of his office.

“OK where is the safe?” Frank asked.

“It’s in my office! I will open it, just please don’t hurt anybody!” The fat man whined.

Frank followed the fat man back to his office while Tate and Jesse held the other two at gunpoint.

As Jesse waited on Frank a recurring thought kept going though his mind. This teller in front of him looked a lot like a man he had been looking for named Samuel P. Cox. Cox had been the leader of a yankee militia that was responsible for killing Bloody Bill Anderson, Jesse’s close friend and mentor during the war.

“What’s your name?” Jesse asked the teller.

“John Sheets” the man answered, looking down at the ground.

“Bullshit! Your name is Samuel P. Cox isn’t it?” Jesse replied, raising his voice in anger.

“What the hell is going on up there?” Frank yelled from the back office.

“Nothing I can’t handle!” Jesse replied.

“No sir it is not, my name is Captain John Sheets!” the man replied.

“Oh you’re a Captain now are ya?” Jesse laughed.

As the fat man finally got the safe open Frank threw him aside to begin emptying the contents in a bag. Except there were no contents to empty. The safe contained nothing but some loose papers and ten dollars in loose cash.

“What the hell is this?” Frank asked, his eyes wide.

“It’s been a slow month.” The fat man replied, beads of sweat on his upper lip.

In a flash Frank reared back and whacked the fat man upside the head with his pistol, causing him to fall to the floor and whimper like a whooped dog.

Suddenly a gunshot rang out from the front of the bank. Thinking the law had breeched the front door, Frank got low and took cover behind a desk.

“Jesse! What’s going on up there?” Frank yelled.

There was a long moment of silence before Tate finally answered.

“Jesse shot the damn teller!” Tate yelled back.

Frank came out from behind the desk like a bull to find the teller laying on the floor in a pool of blood and bone with part of his face missing.

“That sonofabitch was Samuel P. Cox Frank! The same bastard who killed Bloody Bill!” Jesse yelled out smiling like madman.

Frank slowly shook his head in disbelief at his younger brother.

“Where’s the money Frank?” Tate asked.

“There was no damn money!” Frank replied, his face red with anger.

“We need to get the hell out of here! That shot had to attract the law!” Tate said.

“Get those two tied up and gagged and let’s get the hell out of here!” Frank said giving Jesse a go to hell look.

Tate quickly tied and gagged the two men and walked out into the lobby. Before opening the door, Jesse peered out the window.

“I don’t see any law out there!” Jesse said excited.

“Let’s go before they surround us!” Tate replied, his eyes wide.

Without another word Frank busted out the door with Tate and Jesse behind him. Immediately a hail of gunfire began pouring from every surrounding building.

Out of the three, only Jesse made it to his horse, with Frank and Tate digging in behind a watering trough. As Frank and Tate returned fire, Jesse managed to mount up and ride hard out of town in a cloud of dust, bullet’s zinging around him.

Frank and Tate watched helplessly as their horses were shot one by one.

“Bastards!” Frank yelled as he fired toward the building across from them.

“What are we gonna do Frank?” Tate asked, reloading.

“Only one thing to do!” Frank replied yelling,

Without hesitation Frank rose up from behind the trough and ran to the nearest alley way, a bullet taking his hat off in the process.

Tate watched in amazement as Frank disappeared out of sight.

Running like a scalded dog, Frank ran to the next street over and found a saddled horse tied to a hitching post. Without hesitation Frank untied and mounted the mare and rode hard out of town, the gunfire over on the next street echoing loudly.

With Jesse and Frank gone and his ammunition running low, Tate examined his options. He could either make a break for it or get captured and hung. It wasn’t a hard choice.

As soon as he rose up to make a run for the alleyway, a bullet caught him in the hollow of the shoulder, spinning him like a top into the street.

“Damn you!” Tate yelled as he crawled back behind the trough.

Images of his nephew Newly on his wedding day ran through Tate’s mind as he gathered up his strength for one more try for the alley. His vision blurry and this breath coming in short gasp, he mumbled Newly’s name and made a break for it.

As soon as he was clear of the water trough a rifle bullet hit Tate high in the temple and he was dead before he hit the ground in a thud.

“I got the bastard!” a deputy named Sears yelled as he stepped out from the dentist office across the street.

“Is it Jesse James?” one of the other shooters asked from down the street.

Sears quickly ran over to Tate’s body and kneeled down to look.

“No, it’s not him. Not sure who this bastard is.”

 

The End

 

A Border Reckoning

canyon

I.

Northern Mexico, 1901

This land is desperation and hardship.

Everywhere the cracked red earth springs forth thorny trees and plants that are reflections of it’s violent resilience, as if creation itself is nodding its weary head to the inevitable conclusion of the despair that surrounds it.

In a canyon named resortes rojo, a large black seep in a red rock wall drained slowly down into a watery pool creating an oasis in multiple stands of juniper, cottonwood and pinyon trees. Shaded from the tortuous sun, this place is a momentary reprieve for both the sparse resident and weary traveler alike, including four Texas cowboys and forty-three head of stolen mexican mustangs. As the horses watered behind a well-made thorny picket line and the men set up a small overnight camp, a pair of young dark eyes hidden in a small cave far above them watched their movements intently.

The eyes belonged to a fourteen year-old lipan apache boy, wiry and tall for his age, his muscles stretched over his long frame like taut steel cables while his clay colored skin was already rough-hewn, his pores blasted by relentless sand and wind, the moisture of  youth crucified long ago. His coal-black hair was shoulder length and unkempt, his bangs long enough to partially cover the crimson-purplish scar on the left side of his face that began dangerously close to his eye and ended at his chin.

As the boy traced the long scar with his finger, in his mind flashed the image of the man who had put the scar there two years ago. The man had whispered into the boy’s ear like some deranged drunk lover that this was going to be a“forget me not” scar, a warning never to steal from him again. The boy remembered the bastards holding him down as the red-hot blade seared deep into his face, the smell of his own burnt flesh still fresh in his nostrils and nauseating him to this day.

 The boy waited until well after sundown until the men were fast asleep and snoring like a pack of hogs, save a sentry armed with a repeater perched on a high shale ledge overlooking the camp. With a three-quarter moon overhead, a broad carpet of soft white light enveloped the red canyon walls and created luminous shadows that danced in the firelight like mischievous children. The boy moved quietly, always in a deliberate fashion until he was out of the canyon and atop his bay mare, Cricket. He then raced back to the band of lunatics he called family who were camped several miles away on the western side of Montana del lobo.

Upon entering camp the boy reported what he had witnessed to the leader of the group, a mexican army deserter named Diaz. It was Diaz who had found the boy wandering the western tablelands weeks after the Texans had murdered the boy’s family. Often at night the boy considered how the smallest choices can often make the biggest impact in ones life. If his father would not have insisted he go hunting that morning, the boy would have joined his ancestors that day as well. When he returned from the hunt late that evening with a doe and sow pig hung over the back of his horse, he found the entire camp had been rode through and burned. His father and uncle had both been shot through the head and strung up upside down on a tall cottonwood with their arms hacked off and their eyes gouged out. Their dick and balls had been cut off and stuffed in their mouths. His poor grandmother had been stretched over a wagon wheel and then set on fire with coal oil.

It took the boy a while to find his mother, the bastards had drug her away from camp with a rope around her neck. She had been gutted like a pig, the four-month old  fetus inside of her that had been the boy’s sister had been ripped from her womb and impaled on a sharpened paloverde pole made into a roasting spit. The charred remains of the fetus and the bloody black umbilicus hanging from it were a grim reminder that human life was cheap here, and regardless of age or innocence, held no sentimental place of reservation.

Diaz quickly called a haphazard council and an ambush was planned for just before dawn, only a few hours away. The groups number currently stood at ten fighting men, with one man injured. The boy was not counted and considered a half-ass scout at best. Their real scout, a Comanche named Parsons, had taken the boy under his wing and when out on the trail, showed him how to cut and read sign.

Tick, a black french creole from the swamps of Louisiana had been wounded in the leg during a mail-coach robbery a few days prior and was laid up and useless for fighting. The rest of the men were petty thieves save two white men. Grissom, a former US Army cavalry Sergeant and Spoon, a cow puncher from New Mexico. After the meeting had broken up, the boy walked over to Diaz’ shanty where he found him sitting outside cleaning a German mauser by the light of a lantern.

“You reckon these cowboys are the ones that killed my folks?” The boy asked.

“That was over two years ago kid, I seriously doubt it.” Diaz replied without looking at him.

The boy studied Diaz by the light of the lantern. He had a large flat face with a squashed nose and large black eyes. His hair was long and greasy.

“If you want to shoot one of the bastards, I will let you, makes no difference to me, so long as I get 30 horses out of the deal!” Diaz smiled widely, proud of the good fortune that had seemingly fell into his lap. The boy tried smiling back, but just looked down at his feet awkwardly, unsure of how to feel, but feeling anger and loneliness all the same.

After a small supper of beans and tortillas, the boy laid down by the fire and drifted off to sleep. He dreamed he was at a river, him on one side and his family on the other. His father was motioning for him to cross but he was scared. The current was too swift. His father kept calling out to him but he could not hear his words for the roar of the rushing water. A hawk called above him and when he looked up, the sun blinded him. He tried to see his father once more and then suddenly, he was awakened with a swift kick to his side.

The boy rose suddenly from his blanket, his fist raised to fight to find Spoon laughing. He was a tall thin white man with a shaved bald head and a black handlebar mustache flecked with grey. He said he had hired on to work for a rancher near Roswell but got into a fight in a saloon and during the scuffle, shot and killed a whore and a local banker named Peterson.

“I Did not mean to kill that whore.” he said in a mournful tone.

“But the banker? Well hell! Who gives two shits about a banker!”

He often bragged there was a five hundred dollar bounty on his head in New Mexico and Texas, but nobody believed him.

“Diaz says you can come along to help us drive them horses back, we leave in an hour, so be ready.”

Spoon handed the boy a New Service Colt revolver and gun belt. The boy took the rig gingerly as if he was handling a basket of eggs.

“Took that off one of those teamsters on that mail run. Damn fine Weapon.” Spoon smiled at the boy and spat in the dirt and clamored off toward his tent with a gourd of tizwin in his hand.

The group rode out well before dawn. It had gotten much colder, so the boy imitated Grissom, who had tied a handkerchief around his face to block the cutting wind. As they neared the mouth of the canyon they found a shallow wash with waist high banks where some sparse cholla and whitethorn were growing to park the horses out of the wind.

As Diaz quietly hobbled the stock, Grissom unholstered a Winchester carbine from his saddle rig and handed it to the boy.

“It’s loaded but here are some spare shells anyways.”

The boy tucked the shells away and slung the carbine across his back. Grissom held a finger up to his lips for the boy to be quiet from here on out and then nodded his head toward the top of the cliff for the boy to lead the way. The pair crawled on all fours almost the entire way until they found the entrance to the small cave, both of them praying aloud that no rattlesnakes or mountain lions had moved in during the night.

The boy carefully peered down into the dark abyss of the canyon. The warm orange light from the campfire had died down some, but still reflected off the red rock walls and revealed the three sleeping cowboys. The sentry, now fast asleep like his friends, sat on top of a large rock promontory that overlooked the horse corral, his hat tipped down over his eyes and  a carbine laid across his lap.

Grissom pointed where he wanted the boy to take up a rifle rest to cover the cowboys while he moved to a place where he could cover the sentry. The boy copied Grissom as he removed one of his boots to use as a rifle rest. As the boy sighted down the carbine he noticed movement down below. It was Parsons. He wore no shoes or hat and had his face and body completely smeared black with axle grease. His bow was slung low across his back with a quiver full of arrows, and a large bowie-knife strapped to his leg.

The boy watched Parsons slip through the mouth of the canyon, using the shadows of the tall rocks along the flanks.  Parsons closed the distance between him and the lookout and stopped, kneeling behind a set of large rocks with pinon scrub. He took the bow from his back and notched an arrow. As the boy’s eyes were trying to focus in the low light, the small cane arrow had already flown, its flight short and straight with the only sound being a sickly wet slap as the arrow found its mark right above the sentry’s adam’s apple.

The man suddenly dropped the carbine and put both his hands to his throat as if he were choking, his eyes wide and scared, frantically searching for a reprieve from the pain. Blood sprayed from the wound like a fountain, covering the brown earth and rock like some ancient mayan sacrifice.

The indian quickly closed with from behind on the man’s position, taking control of his convulsing body and bringing him down to the ground behind the large rock. A few moments later, Parson’s appeared like a ghoulish specter, slowly lurking toward the campsite like some strange night creature of mexican fairy tales.

His knife, covered in blood, looked black against the backdrop of the eggshell moonlight.

“Cock your rifle boy.” Grissom whispered as the pair both drew a bead on the three men below.

Parsons stopped behind a boulder and whistled, stirring one of the cowboys awake. Before the poor soul could get the sleep out of his eyes an arrow pierced his right eyeball with a swoosh. The boy jumped as Grissom shot the second cowboy through the chest as he was bringing his pistol from underneath the blanket.

With that Parsons let out a yelp and charged the remaining cowboy with knife in hand. The young cowboy panicked as he tried to get the gun out of the holster laying beside him, but it was too late. Parsons was already on top of him, the cowboy managed to let out one blood curdling scream, before Parsons delivered the death-blow, sinking the knife deep into the boy’s heart.

Parsons then stood and raised his bloody knife to the night sky, his profile illuminated by the campfire, he let out a guttural yelp that originated from a place deep within his soul. This was revenge. A deep seeded hate that boiled out like a wildfire consuming the countryside. It was a familiar sound the boy had heard many times from war parties of neighboring clans when they visited upon the white eye the same pain they had caused. The boy had to restrain himself from joining in, but this was not his hunt. this was not his kill. That day still awaited him.

Parsons went around and collected scalps from each of his victims, the four bloody pieces of matted hair and skin the only reminder of these cowboys short and meager existence in this brutal place. Grissom and the boy made their way back down to the arroyo where Spoon sat asleep in his saddle, half drunk, and Diaz sat smoking a cigar, watching the Dawn begin to break with the purplish light spreading over the canyon like a familiar blanket.

“We heard Parsons hoop and holler so I guess he got his scalps?” Diaz asked the boy. The boy nodded and Diaz grinned.

“Alright then, let’s go get them horses!” Diaz remarked with his toothless grin.

When they arrived Parsons had already looted all the bodies, and took one of the dead cowboys mounts, a fine, tall black stud for his own. Spoon noticed the new carbine Parsons was now cradling like a newborn babe in his arms.

“Whats that you got there Parsons? A New repeater? What’s that writin’ on the side of it there?” Spoon asked. Parsons held the gun up with bloody hands, not really sure what Spoon was talking about.

“Looks like an inscription. ‘J.T.’,must have been the poor bastards initials.” Parsons nodded indifferently and slid the carbine back in the saddle scabbard.

By the time they drove the herd to the far side of montana del lobo the boy and his mount were exhausted. Tick had made some much-needed repairs to the horse corral and was waiting for them when they arrived, waving his hat and yelling them though the gate.

That night everybody got drunk and celebrated. Parsons had ridden over to Valle Azul and traded a horse for food and a case of mescal. Diaz hooped and hollered, firing off his revolver wildly. Grissom broke out a fiddle and started sawing a lively tune. Tick, with a half bottle or better of mescal in him, hopped on one leg like some strange carnival act, flailing around to the music in a wild display of grievous tomfoolery, finally collapsing face first in a drunken heap.

Spoon and the boy sat by the fire, watching Parsons clean and examine the new carbine he had taken off the murdered cowboy.

“Well Parsons you feel better now you killed them boys that killed your family?” Spoon asked.

Parsons stopped polishing the rifle and looked at Spoon through the crackling floating embers of the fire. There was complete silence between them. After a while Parsons went back to polishing the rifle.

“Damn indians, you can never figure them.” Spoon commented as he spit into the fire.

After a moment he got up and stumbled to his tent where almost immediately the lantern went dark and snoring could be heard.

II.

The next morning the boy awoke to a gunmetal grey dawn and the smell of frying bacon and coffee. Grissom’s coarse voice soon broke the morning peace.

“Come on and get yourself some of this boy, we got a long day ahead of us.” Grissom snorted.

As the boy slowly made his way to the fire Spoon appeared out of his tent, looking as if he had been bushwhacked by road bandits and squinting at the new day as if the morning light were a pack of unwelcome solicitors banging on the front door of his brain.

He stumbled out to the jakes and disappeared there for a considerable amount of time. Soon Diaz appeared, looking disheveled but jolly.

“Change of plans. Me, Spoon and Tick will take 30 head to the trader. I want the boy, Parsons and Grissom to take the remaining head up to that bastard Colonel Parker to trade for guns and ammunition.”

Grissom cussed under his breath and headed for the corral saying something about being a wet-nurse to savages. By the time the boy was saddled up and ready to ride, Parsons and Grissom were already leading the string of ponies out of camp.

The boy trailed two mules to haul their return load of guns, both of them stubborn and ill-tempered animals. The triplet of riders and beast rode east with the sketch of pale blue mountains floating ahead of them with a set of small scribbled valleys in between twisting like a constrictor with no pattern or design.

They camped in a small stand of cottonwoods near a trickling creek at sundown and early the next morning started off on the final leg of the trip where narrow winding valleys and red stone cliffs gave way to a never-ending stretches of white soda flats where the boy thought they might never see water again but Parsons managed to find a small spring where they all drank like fishes and the horses drank so much they laid down in a small stand of pinon and cottonwoods and slept for an hour.

They rode the rest of the day across the flats until sunset when they finally pulled into a silver mining camp that set at the base of some low pockmarked foothills covered with cholla and palovede called ‘El lugar de las aguilas’ (The Place of the Eagles).

Grissom led the horses down a crowded street of miners and drovers to a corral that sat at the back of a two-story clapboard building marked ‘oficina and cantina’ Parsons dismounted and nodded for the boy to do the same. The boy felt eyes from all directions studying them.

They tied their horses and waited for Grissom to join them. As they entered through the saloon doors, the sweet stench of whiskey, sweat and body odor was overwhelming and the din of drunken men’s voices drowned out all reason.

Grissom made his way to the bar, navigating around crowded tables of miners playing poker with consumptive whores loitering like buzzards. Above the bar a stuffed mountain lion sat watching the carnival scene below with indifference.

“Whatta you have?” The bartender asked. He was a large white man, at least six feet tall with an ox blood-colored boulder hat and arms like pine knots.

“Three rye” Grissom responded. The bartender wiped his brow with a rag and poured out one drink.

“You can stay but the two savages have to go, Colonels orders.”

Grissom paused, taking stock of what he had just heard. Grissom looked at the bartender with slight contempt and then drained his drink in one go. He turned to Parsons and nodded for the door. Parsons grabbed the boy by the arm and led him to the door. Grissom then nodded for another drink.

“Need to see the Boss, got horses to trade.” The bartender again wiped his face and brow as he poured the drink.

“Upstairs, last door on right.” Grissom downed his drink and laid a crisp five dollar bill on the bar and set the glass on top of it.

As Grissom topped the stairs, a thin sickly mexican whore, scantily clad was leaning on the railing.

“Ola cowboy.” Grissom ignored the woman and kept walking. The small corridor reeked of cigar smoke, kerosene and sex.

At the end of the hall sat a bald squat man with a long black handlebar mustache cradling a double barrel ten gauge.

Grissom nodded to the man.

“Here to see the Colonel?” the man asked plainly.

“Yeah, got horses to trade.” Grissom replied.

“Surrender your weapons” the man said bluntly, holding out his gnarled hand. Grissom handed him his Colt. The man stuck the revolver in his waistband and rapped on the door.

“Enter!” a deep voice called out from the other side.

The guard opened the door and nodded to Grissom to enter. Colonel William Frances Parker, United States Army retired, sat behind a large custom rosewood desk with his feet propped up smoking a large cuban torpedo cigar.

Parker was in his late-forties, with reddish blonde hair cut short and a neatly trimmed mustache. His steel blue-grey eyes seemed to look beyond the measure of men, seeking their unspoken agendas.

It was said he had fought with General Crook in the apache wars and actually shook Geronimo’s hand at his surrender. The room smelled of cedar and sandalwood. A large bookcase containing several thick volumes on the History of the Roman Empire and Roman Military Tactics sat in a corner with several framed military commendations and awards populating the wall around it.

Grissom’s eyes were drawn to a custom-made cedar gun cabinet with an etched glass door that took up one wall entire. It contained a Krag ’92, ’95 Winchester and a ’97 Winchester Pump 12-Gauge. A large painting of a four masted Man of War engaged in close quarter cannon battle with a brass plate stating “The Great Nile Victory, 1798” hung behind his desk.

Grissom also noticed the Colt 1900 Pistol which lay underneath a two week old newspaper from St. Louis.

“Sgt. Grissom! Well I’ll be damned!” Parker’s feet quickly came down on the floor with a thud as he stood, limping on his left leg as he came around the desk.

“I heard you were killed in a skirmish near Juarez last year!” Parker extended his hand and Grissom shook it with a soldier’s firmness.

Grissom laughed. “Yes sir, I heard that one too, but here I am, alive and well.” The Colonel let out a hearty laugh and slapped Grissom on the back.

“So you are Sergeant! So you are! Remind me again, when did you get out of the Army?” The Colonel asked, limping his way back around to his chair behind the desk.

“Around two years ago sir. Was at Fort Duncan the majority of my tour.” Parker struck two matches and re-stoked his cigar while studying Grissom closely through the blue smoke.

“Fort Duncan, nothing short of the devils asshole!” Parker shook his head and closed his eyes, as if trying to dissuade the memories from lodging in his brain.

“Have a seat Grissom.” Parker motioned his hand toward a chair.

He then opened a desk  drawer and removed two glasses and a bottle of single malt scotch whiskey. He poured a finger in each glass.

“To your health sir!” Parker said as he downed the drink.

Grissom did the same and smiled.

“That’s fine whiskey Colonel.” The Colonel poured each man another.

“So Colonel is it true what I heard about you? That you killed ten Comanche in a skirmish in ’96 up at Fort Stockton before being wounded in the leg?” Grissom asked.

The Colonels face grew dim.

“Yes Grissom it’s true. But the part of the tale they leave out is how we lost eight good soldiers that day. Those damn Comanches were thick as flies…” The Colonels voice drifted off, his grey eyes staring off to a place beyond the horizon.

“So Grissom, what brings you to my fine camp?” The Colonel asked, coming back to reality.

“Horses, Colonel. I have ten good ponies I would like to trade for rifles and ammunition.”

The Colonel paused.

“Horses? How many head?” The colonels eyes studied Grissom now as he took a long drink.

“Ten Head, all good stock.”

“I see. Well I won’t ask where the stock came from because as you know I run a fairly loose operation here.” The Colonel gave a sly smile and Grissom nodded to the implied notion.

He knew the Colonel had set up shop here three years ago, at first trying to buy out some very lucrative mining claims and then when that failed, burning out the miners and their families and hijacking their claims with his hired army of ex-saddle tramps and mercenaries.

He had also used his shady connections in the Army Ordnance Supply chain to find out railway delivery schedules so he could conveniently rob Federal weapon supply and payroll trains and blame it on Mexican bandits or Apache war parties.

“Who you running with now Grissom? You still with Diaz and his band of cut-throats? Why you have not took my offer to hire on with me is beyond everything! I will be running all the rackets in this province soon and before long, all of Northern Mexico! If I am lucky, all the small-timers will have to kick-up to me or get planted, it’s that simple.”

The Colonel looked at Grissom solemnly, waiting for a response. Grissom just smiled.

“I kinda like my freedom Colonel, after a decade of Army life, not having to answer to somebody is nice for a change.” The Colonel laughed heartily.

“Answer! Hell boy, we all gotta answer to somebody one way or another! Now Let’s go take a look at that stock and see what we can work out.” The Colonel finished his drink, stuck the Colt in his flap holster and made his way to the door.

Timmons, the guard stood when the Colonel walked out and went before him downstairs clearing out the drunks and dregs. The entire saloon went into a low hush as he made his way through the crowd, each man eyeing him with a sense of fear and reverence.

Parsons and the Boy were sitting outside on a bench sharing a piece of venison jerky when the group came out. As they passed, the boy’s eyes met the Colonels and his blood ran cold.

Those same eyes belonged to the man who had cut his face two years ago! The boy felt heat from the top of his head to the soles of his feet. It was like liquid fire cauterizing his insides. The boy feared he would burst from the hate growing inside of him.

So many thoughts raced through his mind. He could kill him right here. He had his revolver. No, there were too many guards around. Too many witnesses. But hell, maybe he wanted a lot of witnesses, so these folks would know what he did. Best to stay calm. The boy steadied himself and took a breath.

As the Colonel passed the two indians, he eyed them wearily.

“These two indians are with me Colonel.” Grissom motioned for Parsons and the boy to stand up.

The Colonel stopped and inspected the two indians with a face of disdain and scorn.

“How old is this kid? The Colonel asked Grissom.

“Somewhere’s around fourteen I think. We found him wandering in the desert a year or so back. Said his family got killed by Texas bandits.”

The Colonel turned his head to the street and spat and then turned and stared at the boys face.

“Murdered huh? How awful! Lot’s of bandits and cut-throats here about doing all kinds of evil.”

As he was about to walk off, the gleam of the Winchester Parsons cradled in the crook of his arm caught the Colonels eye.

“Nice Winchester you got there indian, may I?” Parsons looked at Grissom who quickly nodded his head for him to comply with the Colonels request.

As the Colonel turned the rifle over in his hands, the inscription shown in the bright sunlight.

“J.T., is that your initials indian?” the Colonel asked, his grey eyes staring a hole through Parsons now. Parsons looked away and shook his head no.

“None the less, it’s a very nice rifle, can I buy it from you? Say fifty dollars American?” Grissom’s mouth dropped open about the same time as Parsons.

Before he could think about it, Parsons accepted the offer.

“Excellent!” the Colonel replied, grinning from ear to ear.

“Timmons, Pay the man!” Timmons promptly reached into his pocket and counted out five ten-dollar bills to Parsons and took the rifle.

“OK Gentleman, show me these horses!”

As Parsons, Grissom and the boy took the lead toward the corral, Timmons suddenly rapped the boy upside the head with the butt of the Winchester, sending him to the ground with a thud.

In the same moment the Colonel presented his Colt Automatic from his holster, and calmly shot Parsons in the back of the head, the explosion of the gunshot piercing the evening stillness. The bullet exited right above Parson’s right eye, sending a mottled combination of grey matter mingled with blood spewing out into a wide cone, most of it ending up in Grissom’s face and eyes.

Parsons went limp and dropped like his backbone had been snatched out of his body. Grissom blindly grabbed for his revolver like a man groping in the dark for a life line but remembered in a hurried flash that he had been disarmed earlier by Timmons.

“God-dammit Colonel! What have you done!” Grissom yelled.

As Grissom wiped the brain and blood from his eyes, he realized at least five rifles were drawn down on him. The boy lay knocked out cold on the ground, the back of his head bleeding with Timmons standing over him gloating.

“Colonel! What the hell is this about!” Grissoms face was red now, spittle flying with every word.

“What this is about Sgt. is a cold-blooded bushwhack. This here carbine belonged to one of my best men, James Tobin or “J.T.” as it is inscribed right here on his gun.” The Colonel grabbed the rifle from Timmons and held it up like evidence in a court room.

With that the Colonel walked over to Parsons body as it lay crumpled on the ground, reached down and removed the fifty dollars from his pocket.

“You and your band of cut throats murdered four of my men for a bunch of mexican mustangs! I should just shoot you like I did this damn indian, but you served your country and deserve to be hung like a white man I suppose. Go fetch that worthless drunk of a sheriff and tell him to come put these two in the jail for the night.”

The Colonel spit and stuck the Colt back into his waistband.

“What about the boy?” Grissom asked.

“He did not take part in it, let him go!” The Colonel looked down at the boy on the ground and spat on him.

“No I can’t do that Grissom. This boy belongs to a group of lipan we tried to kill off a while back. You see that scar on that little bastards face?” The Colonel pointed to the boy’s cheek.

“I gave that little sumabitch that scar and warned him and his family not to stick around this country. But did they listen? Hell no!” The Colonel spit in the dirt and walked away.

Directly a drunk mexican wearing a floppy brimmed hat and a thin hammered piece of tin fashioned to resemble a sheriffs badge came and collected Grissom and the boy. The mexican prodded the pair with a carbine across the street to a makeshift jail in an old run down clapboard building that had once been a freight warehouse.

The “cell” was nothing more than an oversized freight cage that smelled of stale piss and rat turds. Grissom laid the boy down on the bottom bunk and covered him with a threadbare blanket.

“That bastard Colonel killed my family.” The boy’s words were groggy but still filled with anger.

“Yeah kid I know, he has killed a lot of families around here.” Grissom took off the boy’s boots, then removed his own and jumped up to the top bunk and laid down.

“We gonna hang tomorrow?” The boys question hung in the air like thick smoke.

“Yeah kid, we are.” Grissom answered, trying to choose better words that might comfort him but giving up.

III.

The next morning the sunlight spilled through the small narrow window in the cell and Grissom was awoke by the clanging of keys as the hungover sheriff struggled to open the cell door. The boy swung his feet down to the floor and started putting on his boots.

“Colonel wants to talk to the boy.”

The mexican swung the ten gauge around on Grissom as he waited on the boy to get to his feet.

The sheriff placed a pair of handcuffs on the boy and then prodded him across the street with the carbine. The boy noticed a wagon load of lumber and several men building a gallows in an empty lot across from the jail. The sound of hammers and hand saws contributed to the usual morning din of a mining camp waking up.

As they came to the top of the stair Timmons met them.

“I got him from here.” The sheriff grunted and handed Timmons the handcuff keys and retreated back downstairs to the bar and his waiting bottle.

Timmons grabbed the boy by the shirt, knocked on the Colonels door and opened it. The Colonel was busy shaving in a gleaming white porcelain basin. As Timmons seated the boy, the Colonel watched in the mirror.

“Leave the key with me Timmons.” The Colonel watched as he placed the key on the desk. The boy gazed around the room intently with his focus finally settling on the gun cabinet.

Rifles and ammunition with no lock and a glass front door? How Silly the boy thought. He then noticed the Colt pistol laying on the desk, The same pistol that had killed Parsons and most likely his father and uncle too.

“You are thinking If I could only get to those guns, I could kill that son of a bitch, aren’t you boy? I don’t blame you. Hell, I would be thinking the same thing.” The Colonel paused talking as he carefully trimmed below his lip with the straight razor. While outside on the street several teamsters could be heard loading a freight wagon.

The boys gaze stayed on the Colonel, the hatred pouring out of him in fluid waves of heat. He imagined breaking free and taking the straight razor from him and in a flash opening up his throat. The Colonel washed his face and as he dried off with a towel walked over to the window to gaze at the bustling town below.

“This place was a spot in the road when I got here. Nothing but a couple of run-down shacks and some whores. Now look at it! Because of me hundreds of men have jobs. Their families have food, clothing, housing, a future.”

The Colonel shifted his hard  gaze to the boy.

“I warned you and your family to stop stealing from me and move on, but they didn’t listen. So I cleared them out and made room for progress!”

The boys face grew red. His heartbeat racing like a rabbit.

“You gave us no choice! For centuries my family hunted these lands and then you come along and in a day say it is all yours! You murdered my pregnant mother and put my unborn sister on a roasting spit you sorry bastard!” the boy’s anger spewed out of him like a fountain.

The Colonels face changed expression as the boy’s comment seemed to truly shock him. Anger was replaced with melancholy.

“I had no ideal they did such a barbarous, heartless thing! Those bastards!”

The boy sensed the Colonel was sincere in his sentiment and his anger begun to simmer down. The Colonel came closer as if to shake hands with the boy and offer an apology, and then suddenly in a blur, the Colonel delivered a powerful right hook into the boys jaw, knocking him backwards out of his chair and sending two of his teeth flying out of his mouth in a bloody mixture of spittle.

“You goddamn savage! I am gonna put you all on roasting spits before it is all over with!” The Colonel stood over the boy with clenched fist and a crazed look in his eye.

The boy lay dazed on the floor, the taste of blood and copper in his mouth, the Colonel’s words a distant echo as if he was underwater.

“Damn your soul to hell you worthless son of a whore!” The Colonel kicked the boy in the ribs, knocking the air out of him in a whoosh.

The boy groaned and tried to roll away like a wounded animal, searching for a reprieve from the pain. Before the Colonel could kick him again suddenly Timmons bust through the door,  an expression of fear and excitement all across his face at once.

“Colonel we got visitors!” Timmons was so excited he stumbled over his words like an excited child.

“A half-dozen armed men led by a Mexican bandit!”

The Colonel regained his composure and walked over to the window to inspect the street.

“Well, the Lord is certainly being gracious to me today! Instead of hanging two pieces of thieving shit, I get to hang the whole damn gang! That’s Diaz and six of his cut-throats from Wolf Mountain!” The Colonel laughed heartily, his face turning red as he slapped his desk in exclamation.

“Timmons round-up the boys, I will try to get all these bastards gathered in the saloon so we can take them all in one go!” Timmons nodded his head and spun around and headed out the door.

“You just lay there and bleed you little bastard, I will be back to finish you off right and proper.” The Colonel eyed the boy on the ground as he stuck the Colt in his holster and retrieved a Winchester shotgun from the gun cabinet, loading up the tube and sticking extra double aught shells in his pockets.

The saloon and the streets were already cleared by the time the Colonel walked outside with Timmons and four other men. Diaz and Spoon were waiting patiently still on their horses.

“Well, isn’t this a pleasant surprise!” The Colonel grinned like the devil himself. Timmons stayed at the Colonels side as the four other men fanned out evenly to the left and right, each of them armed with a rifle.

Diaz seemed to ignore the Colonel and the men. His gaze instead focused on an upright pine coffin sitting on the saloon’s porch. In it Parsons body stared back, half of his head missing, one eye staring lazily upwards at the sky as his black matted hair lay plastered against his pallid skin caked with blood. Around his neck they had hung a wooden sign with the words “Murderer and Horse Thief” in big white letters.

Seeing Diaz was unable to speak because of his anger, Spoon spoke up.

“We hear you got two of our people Colonel, we came to get em’ back.” The Colonel laughed as he brought the Scattergun around to bare on the two riders before him.

Reacting, Spoon drew the Schofield revolver that lay in his saddle holster and before he could cock the hammer the Colonel fired, the big shotgun roaring to life like a sleeping dragon, the buckshot tearing horse and rider apart like paper being ripped apart by a strong breeze. Spoon was knocked clean out of his saddle, landing three feet behind where his horse had formerly stood, his chest opened like a bloody cavern, pieces of rib bone and marrow littered the dusty street. Spoon’s poor horse lay terribly wounded after the affair. It was crying in pain and trying to get his front feet under him to no effect when the Colonel pulled his pistol and mercifully shot the mare through the head.

Diaz’s horse had bucked wildly when this occurred, throwing him clean and landing the mexican in the street on his ass. As Diaz got his feet, at least a dozen guns pulled down on him, including the Colonel, who had ejected his spent shell in the Pump Winchester and racked a fresh one.

“Don’t twitch a fuckin’ finger you worthless piece of shit or you will end up exactly like your friend over there.” The Colonel’s voice was angry, but dead calm and focused.

“Timmons, go on over there and get his gun belt and make sure the sumabitch ain’t got no hideout guns or knives, you know how these fuckin’ mexicans can be.” Timmons casually walked over, holstering his gun and patting Diaz down. After finding a small knife in his boot, Timmons unbuckled his gun belt and threw it all on the saloon porch. Diaz stood there smiling.

“You want my boots too Colonel? They are nice ones, belonged to one of your cowboys I believe.” The Colonel’s brow furrowed at the jibe.

“I am gonna hang you Diaz. You and your buddy Grissom down there in my jail are gonna hang together and twist in the wind momentarily.” Diaz laughed heartily.

“Go ahead and laugh you toothless sumabitch. In about ten minutes you are gonna be laughing with the devil in hell.” The Colonel motioned for the surrounding men to take him and tie his hands and feet.

As the men were taking the rope to tie him suddenly one of the men’s head exploded like a ripe cantaloupe hitting rock, the rifle shot ringing out above them. The boy had managed to free himself from his handcuffs and had now took up a firing position in the Colonel office with a Krag Rifle.

At this Diaz ran and dove into a small alleyway beside the saloon. Suddenly it sounded as if the whole town exploded in gunfire at once. Some men fired wildly at Diaz while others fired at the office windows above.

About this time, more shots rang out from down the street at the jail. The Colonel and his men had not accounted for all of Diaz’s men before the shooting started. Half a dozen of them had taken up positions near the jail and had bushwhacked the drunk sheriff and freed Grissom.

Now Grissom along with six mexican bandits including the black creole Tick, all armed with Repeaters and bolt-action rifles, were moving on the saloon. The Colonel seeing this yelled for Timmons and retreated back into the saloon.

“You go kill Diaz, he’s out back there somewhere unarmed!” The Colonel yelled at Timmons.

“I’ll go kill this damn apache kid and then we can take care of Grissom and the rest of those damn cut throats!” Timmons nodded and headed for the back door of the saloon.

Just as Timmons reached the back door it busted open and Diaz came through blasting with a revolver. The first shot caught Timmons in the neck, and the second caught him above the right eye, sending his brain pan all over the brand new pianola the Colonel had just had delivered from St. Louis.

“Fucking Bastard!” The Colonel screamed in fear as much as anger. He let loose with the shotgun on Diaz from about ten feet away, the top half of Diaz virtually disappeared in a spray of pink mist and gore, with the bottom half of his body folding up on the floor.

Winded, the Colonel took a deep breath, reloaded and began to climb the stairs to finish the kid. Suddenly two of his men busted through the saloon doors, one of them gut shot and the other shot in the arm.

“Where the hell are the rest of the men!” The Colonel yelled.

“Dead!” One of the men blurted out as he made his way to the window with his revolver and began firing.

“God damn all you!” The Colonel yelled as he charged upstairs. As he was about to kick down the door suddenly several shots rang out through the cedar door, splinters flying wildly into his face. The first shot hit the Colonel low in the gut and the second hit him in the right arm, spinning him to the floor.

“Sumabitch!” The Colonel cried out. With his shotgun on the floor, he tried to pull the Colt in his waistband, but his arm would not work. Downstairs shots rang out as the Mexicans closed in on the two defenders in the saloon.

The Colonel watched as Grissom and a black man busted through the saloon doors and cut his men down at close range with revolvers. About that time the Colonel’s office door swung open and the Indian boy walked out, holding a Krag Rifle.

The boys eyes burned like two pieces of hot ember. The Colonel lay there, blood pooling on the floor from his wounds. Grissom, Tick and three of the Mexicans had found the good whiskey and poured themselves a drink as they watched the show unfold upstairs.

“Go Ahead Boy, Here I am! Get your Revenge!” The Colonel yelled wildly, spit and blood flying from his mouth.

The Boy calmly walked up to the Colonel, dropped the rifle and reached down and picked up the Colonel’s Colt. A look of disgust filled the Colonel’s face as he watched him.

“You worthless Savage!” The Colonel yelled. “I Fuckin’ Despi—” before he could finish his sentence the boy fired three rapid shots into the Colonel’s head, sending brain and gore flying all over.

The boy looked at the body a while before finally spitting on him. He then calmly stuck the Colt in his waistband and made his way downstairs and out the saloon doors. Directly Grissom came out.

“The boys cleaned out the freight office.” Grissom said looking at the boy. The boy never blinked, just kept looking ahead like into a dream only he could see.

“We got around ten thousand far as I can tell in cash money plus rifles, ammunition and fresh horses and mules.” Grissom continued looking at the boy, hoping for a response. Directly, the boy reached into his shirt and pulled out a two small sacks.

“You can add this to the booty too, found it under the floorboards in his office.” Grissom took the sack from the boy and looked inside. Grissom’s eyes widened as he poured out chunks of pure silver, some of the rocks as large as a baby’s fist.

“We are heading to Texas if you want to come along.” Grissom asked, his eyes still wide from the silver. The boy  walked out into the street and looked up into the blue sky, squinting at the bright sun. There in the sky, the boy saw a huge river, a river as large and swift as the Colorado.

Immediately the boy felt a familiarity about this place and then he realized it was the same river from his dream the other night. As he watched the water roar past he quickly realized he was not alone, his entire family was there, including a small girl he had never met before.

“Who is this?” the boy asked his father, pointing to the small girl by his mother’s side. His father smiled and placed his hand on the child’s head.

“This is your sister, Princesa Margarete.” His father replied smiling.

The boy’s heart swelled and a happiness he had not felt in such a long time washed over him like a summer rainstorm. Before the boy could say anymore, his family turned and walked away into a sweet, glowing light that climbed upwards into the sky. As the boy dried the tears from his face, he realized something that made his heart glow even more; This time him and his family were not separated by the river, they were all together! The boy laughed to himself and shook his head, he had never felt so happy, alive and content as he did this day.

The Mexicans soon came out of the saloon, carrying with them whatever was not nailed down: crates of whiskey bottles, blankets, pictures, lamps and rifles. By now, some of the miners and teamsters were making their way back into town from their hiding places in the mines and hills, all of them treading carefully, surveying the dead in the street.

“You coming along kid?” Grissom asked as he began walking toward the horses with the Mexicans.

The boy gave Grissom a long look, his eyes damp from the vision. Wiping the tears away, the boy smiled and said aloud.

“Let’s go to Texas”

The End

 

The Partisan Ledger (Part I)

As the morning sunlight filtered through the arbor window and warmed the hardwood floors in our kitchen where our two cat’s Axl and Chesty napped, I paused painting my models long enough to grab my wife Leah as she walked by to give her a smooch.

“You better not have paint thinner on those hands mister!” she said smiling as she kissed me. I moved my hand to her tight bottom and gave it a squeeze. She gave me one of her classic smirks and then continued on her way down the hall to put up laundry.

“Guess that means no afternoon delight for me.” I said to myself feeling rejected.

After finishing the painting on the Soviet Mig-15, I placed it gingerly on a drying rack next to a F-94 Starfire and F-86 Sabre. My Korean Air War collection was coming along quite nicely. Deciding I had spent enough time on my “de-compression” hobby for the day, I headed into the bathroom to wash up. On the way there our Dachshund Mosby, who typically lays in a coma like state twenty-two hours a day by the fireplace, began barking intently looking out the patio door that leads to the backyard.

Normally I would dismiss his barking since ninety-five percent of the time it was squirrels that were the object of his annoyance, but his tone concerned me. It was not his typical snappy bark, but a low guttural growl. Telling Mosby to stay I slipped out the patio door and walked down beside the shop where Mosby had been looking. Standing there for a few minutes with all my senses alerted, nothing stood out. As I turned around to head back into the house I heard the crunch of leaf litter under foot behind me and before I could spin around something solid and hard hit me in the back of my head.

Time stopped as Elvis softly crooned in my ear as I fell through open space grasping for anything to break my fall.

“We’re caught in a trap
I can’t walk out
Because I love you too much baby…”

When I landed I was sitting in one of my dining room chairs in my living room, my hands and feet zip tied and my head feeling like a frozen cantaloupe about to split. Four black clad goons with sanitized uniforms stood staring at me. They were armored up with G-36 rifles and their faces hidden by balaclavas and sunglasses. If I had to guess they were UNDOD, United Nations Department of Disarmament. They were the street enforcers of the new Communist regime whose motto said it all:

“A friendlier, united, Dis-ARMED America.”

Most of them were foreign PMC’s from Europe with a large contingent of Chinese military “advisors.”

“Where is my wife?” I mumbled with a thick tongue as blood trickled out of my mouth and down my chin.

The bastards had split both my lips and a few teeth felt loose in their sockets.

“Let’s start with you telling us where your pirate radio site is located asshole.” One of the goons growled in a thick Eastern European accent as he stepped toward me flexing his gloved fist.

“Let’s start with you showing me a search warrant shit-stain” I replied smiling, knowing full well that these communist bastards didn’t have one and didn’t care.

As I was congratulating myself on my quick wit, I caught a glimpse of myself in the living room mirror.  My teeth were pink from blood and with the one swollen shut eye I kind of resembled Rocky Balboa when he was getting his ass beat by that seven foot Soviet monster.

About that time a snappy right cross knocked me silly for a moment and everything went pinhole black and then slowly came back into wide focus.

“You hit like a bitch.” I slurred, half conscious.

The lead goon smiled at my bravado and then nodded to one of his team mates who slipped into the back of the house and came back with Leah. They had gagged and zip tied her hands behind her which did not prevent her from trying to kick and scratch at them like a feral cat.

I smiled to myself when I heard her muffled words of “Get your hands off me you commie dick-less wonder.”

God how I loved that woman.

The goon questioning me snatched Leah by the back of the hair and as she cried out in pain through the gag I put all my strength in busting those zip ties and coming out of that chair to bite the bastards face off but the goon closest to me gave me a smart pop to the face stopping my efforts cold.

“I’ll ask one more time and then instead of beating you into hamburger we’re all going to take turns tag teaming your wife while you watch.” The goons all cackled like a pack of hyenas.

Leah’s eyes narrowed and resembled two burning embers as she stared down the bastards with pure venom.

“Do that and you all die slow deaths, I promise you.” I made eye contact with the son-of-a-bitch and kept it until he looked away.

The lead goon slowly shook his head as he looked to his buddies in disbelief at my courage.

Although my voice was hoarse and weak and my heart was pumping kool-aid like I was running a marathon, rage fermented in my veins like boiling lava as I imagined biting through that bastards jugular.

A voice over the goon’s radio interrupted my daydream.

“Yeah it’s a negative out here boss, we searched everywhere, there’s nothing here. No guns or radios.”

The boss shook his head in disgust.

“10-4, Secure search.”

He then nodded at his cohort to cut me and Leah loose.

“Looks like it’s your lucky day asshole but don’t think you’ve fooled us, we’ll be back and when we do and find something we’re gonna plant you and your bitch out there in that garden.”

I slowly rubbed my wrist from where the zip ties had cut into my skin and as nonchalantly as I could and in my best Clint Eastwood voice looked up at him and said:

“You sure like to talk a lot.”

As he made a step toward me and I was rising up our of my chair to swing my best haymaker Leah stepped in between us and let loose with a verbal salvo.

“You’re nothing but a bunch of dick less commie stooges! All of you! Coming in here threatening us and trampling the rights of free men and women for your Chinese stooge and marxist whore in Washington! You all should be ashamed of yourselves!”

I smiled at the gumption of my wife while preparing myself for another four on one beating but was relieved when I saw them all turn around and walk out the door.

Before I could get up Leah ran to the back to check on the animals which had taken refuge under our bed. Axl, Chesty and Mosby seeing that the coast was clear busted out of our bedroom like escaped convicts. Mosby in true fashion after coming over to me jumped up on the couch to look out the front window and gave a few “Never come back here again asshole!” barks.

Leah then began doctoring my split lip while placing a frozen bag of lima beans from the deep freeze against my swollen eye.

“Real tough men they were! Beating on a man whose hands were zip tied! Cowardly assholes!” Leah’s eyes continued to glow like coals in a fire.

Fearing she might black my other eye, I tried to calm her down.

“What in the world are you smiling at Logan! Those cretins beat the stuffing out of you, threatened to rape and murder us and pillaged our property!” Leah’s voice was cracking with adrenaline and anger. I gently touched her chin so that our eyes met.

“Because sweetheart this is the struggle. Right here, right now. I know it’s not pretty, but ask yourself: what did they find? Nothing! What did they accomplish? Nothing! Yeah they made some idle threats toward you and got a few licks in on me but I promise you this: when the time is right, we will get a few licks in on them.”

My words hung in the air for a long moment as she stared into my eyes. Finally she smiled and her normal color returned to her face as her breathing settled and the small little crinkled lines around her eyes disappeared. I gave her a kiss and we hugged and held each other for what seemed like ten minutes.

After dinner I walked out to the back of my property and set half a dozen old tires on fire with some gas. The solid black putrid smoke rose into the air and was visible for miles around. When radio silence was mandatory this was the best way to communicate locally. It let all my people know I was OK and that a meeting was needed the following day at our agreed upon location. I had learned this method (The “haji smoke signal”) from a former D-Boy who had been deployed in Somalia. The militias and warlords there communicated across the city of Mogadishu with this method with great success the day of the Blackhawk Down incident.

As I stood there watching the black smoke drift up into the sky Leah came up behind me and put her arms around me.

“Don’t you miss the good ole’ days of the internet, email and facebook?” she asked, snuggling her head on my shoulder.

I laughed. “Not one damn bit” I replied.

Since the new regime takeover two years ago all media, including internet and television were tightly controlled, monitored and censored by the State. Sure you could still use it but privacy and freedom of speech were now a distant memory.

The Resistance went analog old school and never looked back.

Radio waves, dead drops and good ole fashioned spy tradecraft developed and perfected by the OSS and SOE during WW2 and the Cold War had served us well.

“Better dead than red.” Leah whispered as she hugged me tight.

I placed my hand on her arm and squeezed and prayed to the Almighty above that it would not have to come to that.

The next morning I jumped in my Polaris Ranger and met Gary at our contingency location, an old abandoned moonshiners cabin six miles off an old logging road.

I had known Gary for about fifteen years. He had originally moved to the area from Washington state and after doing eight years in the Army with two tours in Afghanistan had begun a successful logging business. He was a big bear of man, over six foot and two hundred fifty pounds who always wore denim or canvas overalls with a can of copenhagen snuff in the front pocket.

As soon as Gary saw my face he began cursing.

“I don’t believe this shit! This is it! We have to retaliate! I know the perfect spot for a textbook L ambush…”

As I dodged Gary’s spittle and attempted to calm him down I found out more bad news: The goon squad had hit four other houses on the mountain besides mine that same day, including Old Man Jackson, an eighty-eight year old Korean War Vet that lived by himself.

“Bastards shot his little dog and made him take down the American Flag he had at his front door. The old man was beside himself with anger and grief.”

I shook my head in disgust as I stared out into a clearing behind the cabin. Two whitetail deer, a doe and her fawn were grazing near the tree line.

“It’s obvious they are grasping at straws. Right now they have no ideal of our organization. Hell they thought I was in charge of the broadcast!”

A broad grin came across Gary’s bearded face.

“Combine that with them bullying everybody and anybody on this mountain and that tells me they have zero intel and their only play is to try and draw us out into a fight on their terms.”

Gary nodded thoughtfully as he scratched at his beard.

“So what should we do?”

“First thing we do is shore up our support base. I want you to go up there personally and talk to all these people. It is imperative we keep open communication and let them know we are here for them. In return all that we ask is that they keep their eyes and ears open. Second, we need to be more mindful of OPSEC, keep an eye out for strange vehicles and people and especially drones and pass it along verbally to everybody else.”

Gary nodded in the affirmative.

“What are you going to do?” he asked

“I’m gonna go into town and nose around a bit.” I replied, looking up at the dark rain clouds rolling in from the east.

“You going to go by and see Jasper?” Gary asked starting the four-wheeler.

Jasper was our tech guru and in charge our or mobile radio program, The Partisan Ledger. He was indeed “the wizard” behind the curtain.

“No we all need to maintain radio silence and steer clear of meeting or talking with any other members for now. If you do have contact, make it brief and tell everybody to lay low and wait for instructions.”

Gary nodded as he cranked up and sped off down the mountain trail.

I continued watching the deer for a few more minutes as the first big drops of rain started to gently slap the leaves of the trees.

Taking my time going down the mountain and ensuring I did not have a tail, I arrived in the town of Cooper’s Mill twenty minutes later. With a population of just under five hundred people, Cooper’s Mill was one of those places that time had forgot and none of the locals really seemed to care. Not seeing any strange vehicles or faces I parked and headed over to the hardware store which in Cooper’s Mill was also the local coffee shop, gun store, autozone, grocery store and rumor mill all rolled into one.

Walking in I fully expected to find the same half a dozen grizzled old men drinking coffee and telling tall tales but instead only found the owner, Bill Carlyle behind the counter with his old hound dog Rusty stretched out in front of a pot belly stove. Seeing me come in Bill came out from behind the counter. Bill was pushing seventy-five but had always been in decent shape for his age. So as soon as I saw him limping toward me I knew what had happened. As I shook his hand he looked at the state of my face and smirked.

“So the bastards made a house call to you too huh?” Bill asked with a look of anger.

I was so frustrated and mad I couldn’t answer. With my lips trembling Bill guided me to a chair and poured me a cup of his strong coffee.

“So what happened?” I asked, my face red with anger and my eyes moist with despair.

“Oh they came in here asking me all kinds of questions about gun sales and when one of them tried to go through my accounting books and I tried to stop him he whacked me upside the head with his rifle.” Bill pointed to the bandage above his eye.

“Needless to say all he left here with was a notebook full of old receipt carbons from 2017.”

“Those commie bastards!” was all I could say, my breath coming in short spurts.

“Now don’t get yourself all worked up son.” Bill said as he reached over and patted me on the arm like a father.

“Where is everybody?” I finally asked calming down.

“They are all holed up at home scared out of their minds I imagine.” Bill replied sipping his coffee. The rage continued to ferment inside of me as my mind raced.

“What about Gene what has he done about all this?” I asked.

Gene Pritchard was the local Sheriff and had been a vocal critic of the UNDOD’s tactics since all this began, refusing to enforce any “federal guidelines” when it came to “public safety.”  Bill shot me a confused glance.

“You mean you haven’t heard?” My eyes got wide and my heart began to pound in my chest.

“Gene and his entire family were arrested the other day and the rumor is they were taken to some kind of camp east of here. I don’t really know what to believe anymore.”

Bill stared out the window with a look of hopelessness and anger as the rain began to fall in big fat drops on the tin roof of the store.

 

 

The Partisan Ledger (Part II)

When Jasper busted into the B-hut carrying a load of firewood in his arms the two young boys with black hoods over their heads popped to attention like he was a three-star General. Jasper smiled to himself as he walked over and fed the wood into a potbelly stove.

“Sorry about the hoods fellas, it’s a standard security precaution.”

The two boys stood silent and still.

“Cold as a witch’s tit in a brass bra ain’t it?” Jasper joked, rubbing his hands together for warmth.

Not sure how to respond, the two boy’s continued to fidget and shiver in place. Seeing this Jasper let out a laugh.

“Damn, you boys look about as nervous as a cat in a room full of rocking chairs!  Here, both of you come over here and sit yourselves down in front of this stove so you can get warm!”

Jasper guided them over to two chairs and sat them down. He let the fire warm them for a few minutes before he spoke.

“So you are both Bill Carlyle’s grandsons are you?”

“Yes sir” The larger of the two boy’s spoke.

“I’m Grant and this is my younger brother Patrick.”

“Your grandpa is a damn good man. Shame what happened to him the other day at the store.”

The boys stayed silent.

Jasper smiled at how respectful and smart these kids were. Bill had raised them from the ages of three and five when both their mother, Bill’s only daughter and her husband were killed when a drunk driver hit them head on I-40.

“So what can I do for you boys?” Jasper asked.

Jasper knew all along why the boys were here, hell it didn’t take a mind reader to know they wanted payback for their grandpa getting roughed up. Problem was, Bill already told Jasper when the resistance began over a year ago that he did not want his boys involved in any fashion no matter what happened. He just could not afford to lose them. They were, quite literally, all that remained of the Carlyle bloodline.

“Well sir, we um heard that you know some people that are um, organized and well we would like to join up to fight if we could.” Grant nervously rubbed his hands together and rocked slightly in his chair.

Jasper took out a can of snuff and got a pinch.

“How old are you boys?”

“I’m seventeen, be eighteen in four months.” Grant replied.

“I’m fifteen” Patrick replied nervously.

Jasper leaned back in his chair and studied the two boys intently. After a while the silence made Grant nervous.

“Look, I know you might think we’re young and stupid but…”

Jasper interrupted him.

“No, I don’t think you’re stupid Grant. I think you want revenge for what happened to your grandpa and rightfully so.”

Grant leaned forward in his chair.

“So we can join!”

“Sorry bud, your Grandpa does not want you and your brother involved and that’s the end of it.”

“What do you mean he does not want us involved? Shouldn’t that be our choice? I mean it’s our lives.” Grant asked.

Jasper stood up and cleared his throat to signal that was the end of the meeting.

“Appreciate you boys coming by. The man who picked you up will drop you off outside of town.”

“Please sir, there must be something we can do!” Grant pleaded

“Actually Grant there is, there is something you and your brother can do for us.”

Jasper could sense the boy’s excitement in the air.

“You can keep your eyes and ears open at all times and if you see or hear anything out of the ordinary, tell your grandpa straight away, OK?”

There was a long moment of silence and then the boys turned to walk out the door. Before they did, Peter stopped and spoke.

“Me and my brother will be back to join you eventually. I love my Grandpa but he has to understand that some things in life are worth dying for because to live without freedom is a death in itself anyways.”

The kid’s words hit Jasper like a solid right hook and he stood there speechless as those two brave brothers walked out of the hut into the cool night air.

 

 * * * * * *

 

Eighty eight year old SGM R.C. Jackson, US Army (Retired) sat inside his screened in back porch drinking coffee staring at a framed photograph of his late wife Kathleen (Kat) holding their dog taco. Teardrops fell onto the picture as the old soldier glanced back and forth between the photo and a small grave in the back yard marked with a small, simple wooden cross. Taco had been a sweet little feisty chi-weenie that had been R.C.’s only companion since Kat passed away eight years ago from breast cancer. As R.C. watched a group of thunderheads roll in from the east, the previous days hellish events came flooding back with crystal clear clarity.

A blacked out suburban with government plates rolled up to the house at half-past ten in the morning. Taco not used to visitors went absolutely nuts barking and running around the house in a mild panic. As is the standard routine when R.C. had the rare visitor or unwanted solicitor, he quickly grabbed taco and put him in his bedroom and shut the door. R.C. then put on his Korean War Veteran Army cap with his rank and CIB (Combat Infantryman’s Badge) displayed and went outside to greet the visitors.

As R.C. walked out his front door he took time to straighten his American Flag which had become tangled around the pole. Before he could turn around, a voice boomed out of a loudspeaker.

“Put your hands on top of your head and turn around slowly to face us. “

Confused by the command, R.C. turned his head to look and got blasted with another order.

“Put your hands on top of your head NOW!”

R.C. smirked and slowly obliged. When he had turned around he was surprised to see a man in a black mask wearing sterile (no unit patches) multi-cam camouflage, body armor and carrying an assault rife R.C. had never seen before heading toward him.

“For somebody dressed to storm the Reichstag you boys sure are a scared of an arthritic old man!” R.C. laughed.

“Are you armed sir?” the man asked gruffly as he began patting him down.

“Not at this very moment” R.C. replied with a bewildered look.

“A yes or no will suffice. You can put your hands down now.” the man replied stoically.

“So what can I do for you?” R.C. asked, a look of impatience on his face.

“Do you have any weapons or contraband material in the house?” the man asked

Figuring these three goof balls were UNDOD, and recently reading about the latest crackdown on civilian ownership of firearms by the newly formed “Commission on Public Safety and Well Being”, without hesitation R.C. gave a very firm and resounding “No!”

The man motioned for his partners waiting by the car to come over.

“Regardless we are going to have to search your house and property for weapons and contraband so please step aside…”

R.C. bristled and stood his ground.

“Now wait a damn minute. You are on my property without my invitation and without any probable cause as far as I can see. I know you don’t have a warrant, so what is the meaning of all this?”

 The goon shot R.C. a hard glance and then answered him impatiently.

“This area harbors an armed guerilla group that operates a pirated radio broadcast. We need to ensure the local populace is not supporting them.”

“And you think I am supporting them? I’m eighty-eight years old son! If you think I’m part of some damn resistance group you and your friends here are dumber than a bag of hammers.”

One of the goons pointed to R.C.’s cap.

“You’re a military veteran with combat experience I see.”

R.C. nodded with pride.

“Uh-huh, sure as hell am. Used to stack them chinese commie zipperheads like cordwood. Does being a man who served and defended his country automatically make me a suspect for being a guerilla?”

The lead goon started moving toward R.C.’s front door.

“Now wait a damn minute! Regardless of who you work for or what authority you think you have, a group of armed and masked thugs can’t just barge into somebody’s private residence like this! Who is your commanding officer? I demand to speak with him right now!”

Without hesitating the goon closest to R.C. swung the butt of his rifle into his stomach with a thud, causing him to fall to one knee and vomit.

As R.C. wiped his mouth with his sleeve and tried to catch his breath, he watched the goons stroll up his sidewalk. As two of the goons busted into the house the third one paused at the flag pole, studying it intently.

“Come here old man.” The goon called over his shoulder.

R.C slowly hobbled up the sidewalk to find the  goon staring at the flag with contempt.

“According to regulations I could take you to a re-education camp for flying this piece of capitalist, racist shit, you know that? Take it down right now and don’t ever let me see it again!”

R.C. shook his head in disgust as he took the flag down and put it in his pocket, still out of breath from the gut shot.

As the third goon opened the door to go inside R.C. watched as the other two assholes ransacked his living room like a pack of rabid monkeys.

Suddenly taco’s shrill bark could be heard through the bedroom door.

“That’s just my little dog, let me get him out of your way before you go in there.” R.C. wheezed in a weak voice.

As R.C.  was about to step into the house, one of the goons yelled at him to stay where he was at until the “search” was secured.

As the lead goon opened up the bedroom door taco busted out as expected. R.C. called him over but taco was too excited to listen. He made a loop around the couch and came up behind one of the goon’s and nipped him in the back of the boot. Without hesitation the goon drew his sidearm, turned around and fired and in an instant taco’s skull exploded sending brain and bone fragments all over the carpet.

“You sonofabitch!” R.C. yelled out as he ran over.

“That will teach you some respect and manners old man.” the goons sneered as he holstered his pistol.

R.C. picked up taco’s limp body and held it close to him in a state of shock. He could not believe what was happening. He pulled a blanket off the couch and gently wrapped his body in it and cradled it close.

After ransacking the other two bedrooms the goons came out with a smirk and their hands empty of any “contraband.”

“Remember what I told you old man. I don’t want to see you flying that piece of shit flag anymore. The new flag of the regime is the only acceptable flag to be flown. Read the handbook and follow the instructions or next time we visit you can take a trip to prison.”

The soldier took out a small paper manual and threw it down on the couch next to R.C.

R.C. looked at the book and then looked up at the goon with a cold stare.

“I wipe my ass with your commie manual you murdering piece of shit.”

The goon smiled at him for a long moment before walking out the door.

After they drove away R.C. sat in silence holding taco’s body close for over an hour. Several thoughts ran through his head all at once. Why did he let those sorry excuses for human beings trample over him and murder taco like that? Why didn’t he do more to stop them? R.C. shook his head as the tears came like a flood.

Taco, the only thing he had left to connect him to Kat, was gone. He cursed himself as an old impotent fool.

R.C. placed taco’s little broken body in a shoebox with his favorite chew toy and buried him that afternoon out in the yard.

Later that day Frank Tanner, R.C.’s nearest neighbor came by to bring him some fresh squash from his garden. As R.C. told Frank what had happened Frank just shook his head in disbelief and disgust.

“I’m glad they left me alone.” Frank said in his mountain twang. Frank lived alone with an old red bone hound dog in a small two room log cabin so they did not bother him.

R.C. knew Frank was kin to one of those guerilla’s those goons were hunting, so he was sure news of all this would get back to them soon enough.

A peel of thunder suddenly shook R.C. from his painful recollection and his eyes popped wide open. The rain began coming down in buckets and as the temperature dropped, R.C.’s arthritis began to throb and he decided to go back inside. Once he had placed the photo of Kat and taco back on his bedroom dresser he went over and laid down on his bed to read a while and relax. It wasn’t ten minutes after he had cracked the book open a strangely familiar voice broke the silence.

“What in the hell are you doing Sgt. Jackson? You mean to tell me you are just going lay there and mope like a damn woman all day?”

R.C. was so startled by the sound of the voice he almost fell out of the bed. When he got to his feet he could not believe his eyes. Standing there at the door was his best friend, Sgt. Paul O’Sullivan decked out in his dress uniform.

“What…what the hell is this?” R.C. muttered, rubbing his eyes, confusion all over his face.

“This ole’ buddy is what the top head shrinkers down there at the VA might call a ‘Post Traumatic Incident’ brought on by all that bullshit yesterday by them asshole commies but in reality it is just an old friend dropping in to say hello.”

Paul smiled his toothy, goofy grin as he walked over to the dresser and examined himself in the mirror, the sound of his boots on the hardwood floors echoing through the room.

“But, but you were killed at the Chosin over seventy years ago! I was right next to you when you got hit!” R.C. yelled out his eyes wide like a madman with disbelief, his bottom lip quivering uncontrollably.

“Now, now don’t get yourself all worked up and excited! Your blood pressure will get all out of whack! Sit down and relax R.C.!” Paul motioned with his hand for R.C. to sit.

“I must be finally going crazy.” R.C. muttered to himself, sitting back down on the bed holding his head in his hands.

Paul walked over and sat on the bed next to R.C. The smell of freshly shined boot leather, starched cotton and Bay Rum after shave filled the air around him.

“My God, it’s really you!” R.C. said looking up with tears in his eyes.

“Of course it’s me you old fart! And you’re not going crazy either so settle down! I got a message for ya’ from Kat.”

R.C’s eyes got wide as saucers.

“A message from Kat? You saw Kat Paul? Is she here? Where is….” R.C.’s voice faded off as he frantically looked around the room for his one and only love.

“No I have not seen her and no she is not here. All I can tell you is the message I was given.” Paul took out a Lucky Strike and lit it with his silver 3rd Infantry Division Zippo.

A thick cloud of pale grey tobacco smoke hung in the air as R.C. quickly fanned it away with his hand.

“Well what’s the message?” R.C. said excitedly.

“She told me to tell you to follow your heart and it’s time for you to let ole’ Jolene out of the bag.”

 At that very moment R.C. was awoken by one of the loudest peels of thunder he had ever heard. He rose straight up out of bed like he had been shot. Swinging his legs off the bed he sat there for a moment and got his bearings, the rain thumping on his metal roof like an orchestra.

“I must have dozed off and was dreaming!” R.C. said aloud.

“It was just a crazy dream!” R.C. laughed as he got up to go to the bathroom.

As he was walking out of the room something on the dresser next to the picture of Kat and taco caught his eye. Walking closer he saw that it was his Silver 3rd Infantry Division zippo.

“Now how the hell did you get out here?” R.C. thought aloud as he picked up the lighter. He knew this had been in his shoebox of mementos at the bottom of the closet. He was positive it had been at least ten years since he had seen it.

Suddenly R.C.’s heart started thumping and small beads of sweat formed on his forehead. The dream! Paul and the Lucky Strikes! R.C. stood there in a state of shock and wonder and just for a quick moment, he thought he could smell cigarette smoke.

“Sgt. Paul O’Sullivan you wily son of a bitch!” R.C. whispered under his breath.

The dream was real. The message from Kat was real.

R.C. knew now exactly what he had to do.

 

To Be Continued…

 

The Partisan Ledger (Part III Finale)

 

This is a work of Fiction. The names, characters and incidents portrayed in this short story are entirely fictional and are of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual events, locales or organizations or persons living or dead in entirely coincidental.

A Special Thanks to NC Scout for his technical advice and guidance. You can contact him HERE for training.

 

As Jasper returned from the dead drop site he caught a glimpse of himself in his rear-view mirror. My God! Who is that burly, homeless looking bastard! Jasper realized to his horror that he had morphed into some kind of half-ass version of tom hanks from castaway. It was no wonder. He had not shaved or had a haircut for over eight weeks. He had been living as he had always wanted; alone, off the grid and self-sufficient. But to be honest, Jasper had never minded being alone, in fact he preferred it. Crowds and towns made him nervous. The peace of the woods and the gentle sounds of the forest truly put him at ease. In the hours he was not tinkering on the equipment, he typically spent building simple game snares and reading. He had caught three rabbit’s so far, perfected his grandfather’s rabbit/rainbow stew and was working his way through the Gulag Archipelago for the third time.

After driving back to the site and walking the perimeter twice he stopped and admired his technical and tactical handiwork. He had stretched a homemade version of ATACS green camo netting twelve feet high over about a sixty-foot square piece of heavily wooded real estate. Concealed within this square was his sleeping quarters, his Dodge Ram Pickup, which in the bed set all the equipment and supplies needed to broadcast the partisan ledger radio program.

First was his power sources: Four 35aH sealed lead acid batteries charged by a 2200 Honda power inverter generator connected to the radio by Anderson Power Poles. Second was his Primary radio: a 100w Icom 706mkIIG with a MARS CAP mod which freebands the radio so it can transmit on any frequency with a LDG-100 auto-tuner placed on top. Third was his antenna: A crossband sixty four foot dipole in the 4 to 6 mhz range powered by RG-8X coax cable.

Satisfied the equipment was tip-top, Jasper took a load off in the “captain’s chair” and reached down beside his chair in a small cooler and got a cold beer. He sat there drinking his beer and listening to the sounds of the woods and the quiet hum of the generator. Many a night he had dozed off to this exact same sound but he would not be dozing off tonight. No, tonight at 2100 hrs, the partisan ledger radio program was going live for the fourth time this year, and he could not wait!

 

 *  *  *  *  *

 

It had been three days since I found out about Sheriff Jim Pritchard and his family’s arrest. Unbeknownst to my old friend Bill Carlyle, Jim had been working with us since the beginning. Passing along valuable intel and running interference with other LE agencies when needed. But now he was locked up and being interrogated by God knows who, most likely FBI Counter-Terrorism which under the current regime was equivalent to the East German Stasi in scope and tactics.

As I sat at the kitchen table drinking my morning coffee from my monogrammed mug the size of a viking flagon, I mulled over what to do next.

“When there is no clear option, it’s better to do nothing.” said Erwin Rommel.

But could I afford to do nothing right now?

On top of all of this was the psychological irritation of wondering if Jim had indeed already given up names. Was the UNDOD’s painful house call to me and the half a dozen other citizens on this mountain four days ago a result of Jim? What about Gary? Due to strict radio silence I had no way of knowing if he had been picked up.

My mind raced and played the odds both ways.

It was highly unlikely that Gary had been nabbed. The reason I could say this with some certainty is because I was still sitting here. I knew from historical record that when an occupying force dismantled a resistance network they did it thoroughly, quickly and without mercy.

As far as the actual radio site, I could breathe easy.

When we began this thing it was agreed the actual location of the site would always be in rotation and never fixed. We also decided to keep it compartmentalized so no one person, except Jasper, would know the location. Consequently Jasper’s location would always be in rotation also so no one would know where to find him. Add to this all active electronic counter-measures would be taken to erase his digital and analog footprint.

Add to this that Jasper had contacted me via dead drop giving me GPS coordinates and a broadcast time (2100) for tonight.

As I sat at the table playing through the scenario’s in my mind I heard a car horn honk twice out near the road. Mosby, awakened from his coma like state, came alive and ran to the front window to investigate and growl menacingly at the trees swaying in the wind. Knowing the signal, I called out to Leah.

“The gossip pony express is here!”

“OK, I’m a coming!” Leah replied from the back bedroom.

Since the internet and all other digital means of communication had been compromised, Leah’s social circle had improvised by trading information the old fashioned way. Once a week Leah’s close friend Anne Brady would make the rounds via a four wheel drive Honda Pioneer side-by-side to about half a dozen homes passing pertinent info and of course a few pieces of juicy gossip. Anne had worked out a signal with each house. With us she would honk twice and then drive on up.

Typically these little weekly visits took upwards of an hour, with Anne often coming in for coffee and me evacuating out to the shop to work on something. But this time was different. Leah was not outside five minutes with Anne before she returned.

“You are not going to believe this.”

I looked up into my wife’s face to discern whether or not she was about to hit me with some more bad news. She was calm and half way smiling. A good sign.

“Anne just told me that Julie Pritchard and her two kids were just released from that camp and are back home!”

“Did she mention Jim?” I asked quickly.

Leah shrugged. “Nope”

“We need to get over there.” I replied getting up from the table.

“We should stop and get her a few groceries first. With everything going on she is going to need some help.” Leah remarked as she walked over to the table in the hall to retrieve her purse.

We were both out the door and in the truck in under three minutes. I did a couple of loops down some county roads to ensure I did not have a tail while Leah checked for drones and aerial surveillance. We were clear.

We stopped for a few essentials and then drove out to the Pritchard place west of town. Jim and Julie had built this beautiful log cabin home by themselves over fifteen years ago. Situated on over thirty acres of lush, unspoiled farming land passed down from Jim’s grandfather, the Pritchard place was one of the nicest homes in Roxboro county.

Getting out of the truck we were both met by Jim’s two redbone coonhounds, Daisy and Dixie.

“Hey girls! What have you been up too?” Leah asked, kneeling down letting them smell her.

I reached into my jacket pocket and brought out some of Mosby’s treats I had brought from the house, Smelling the treats, both of the dogs immediately left Leah to come investigate me. I gave them a treat each and a scratch behind the ears.

“You been taking care of the place you two?” I asked.

I heard the front door open as Julie came out on the porch.

“My Gosh, this is a surprise!” she said walking down the front steps to greet us.

Julie and Leah were the same age and had known each other their entire life. Graduating the same year at the local High School, they had both played on the same Volleyball team that had won the State championship twice in a row.

An inch shorter but athletically built like Leah, Julie was dressed in a pair of yoga pants and a simple Nike t-shirt with curly shoulder length blonde hair pulled back in a pony tail.

Her and Leah hugged for a long while, both of them letting out soft whimpers as they embraced.

When they were done Julie turned to me with damp eyes and a smile and gave me a hug also.

“Y’all come on in, the kids will be excited to see you!”

I grabbed the bag of groceries from the back seat and followed Leah and Julie into the house with dixie and daisy hot on my trail looking for more treats.

Once inside Julie led us to the kitchen where I sat down the groceries.

“You guys did not have to do that!” she said smiling at Leah.

Suddenly, from down the hall Tyler and Kayli, ages five and seven, charged me and Leah like a Comanche war party.

“Hey there Tyler!” I braced myself as the five year old who was built low to the ground and solid as a locomotive like his daddy jumped into my arms.

Seven year old Kayli followed close behind jumping into Leah’s arms.

“Hey there Princess!” Leah said with a huge smile on her face.

After a good bear hug, Tyler began pulling me into the playroom at the end of the hall where he had came from.

“C’mon Logan, let’s play!” he yelled loudly

“Tyler! Be nice!” Julie warned from the kitchen

As he led me into the play room I saw on the floor where he had constructed a massive land battle with small army figures.

“What’s this Tyler?” I asked kneeling down

“It’s a war” Tyler replied seriously

“Who is fighting who?” I asked

“This side is my daddy’s army” he replied pointing to a large group of figures.

“And these are the bad guys who put people in jail!” he said, pointing to another group, his little face contorted with anger.

“Well who is gonna win Tyler?” I asked cutting my eyes over to him

“Logan you know my Daddy always wins!” Tyler replied smiling

I smiled and grabbed the little rascal and gave him another hug, my heart literally bursting inside of me with emotion.

After playing a few more minutes I walked back into the kitchen to find Kayli coloring with crayons at the dining room table and Leah and Julie at the kitchen table talking over coffee.

“Did he wear you out?” Julie asked smiling pouring me a cup of coffee as I sat down at the table.

I just smiled and shook my head.

“Julie has been telling me all about the past few days, boy it’s crazy” Leah said sipping her coffee, nodding her head and directing me with her eyes to a yellow legal notepad that sat between them on the table.

Sipping my coffee I casually looked down at the notepad.

Julie’s Writing:  The day we were arrested Jim said they would most likely bug the house. He said be careful what I talk about when I came home.

Leah’s writing: Really? OMG! How is Jim?

Julie’s writing: They let me see him before I was released and he was fine. They separated us when we got in there. They put me and the kids in a small room with three beds and a bathroom. It wasn’t great but it was clean.

Leah’s writing: Did they question you?

Julie’s writing: Yeah. They sent this chinese woman in with a British accent. She did not introduce herself. At first she tried to soft soap me to make me think she was my friend, but when I kept my answers short and vague she got really pissy, started threatening to take my kids away and all this other crap. I just kept my head and played it cool. They never touched the kids.

Leah’s writing: What kind of questions did she ask?

Julie’s writing: At first they were pretty general like do you know anybody who has a grudge against the Government? Stuff like that. Then they got more specific like Do you know any armed guerillas? Are you aware of a pirate patriot radio station? If so do you know it’s location? Of course I said No to all of it.

While I was reading Leah and Julie kept chatting away to fill the air the way woman can only do. When I had finished reading, I picked up the pen and began writing.

Do you think they re going to release Jim soon?

Julie’s writing: I don’t know. Jim’s smart, so I hope so.

Do you think they questioned Jim the same way as you or worse?

Julie’s writing: Not sure. I only saw him the day we got arrested and the day we got released and he looked the same, no marks or bruises. I did not get to spend any time with him to ask anything, just a hug and kiss goodbye basically. But when he hugged me he whispered in my ear to give you a sim card he had hidden in the baseboard in the kids playroom. He said it was very important.

My eyes got wide and my heart began to pound as my mind began to calculate the odds of betrayal.

If Julie had flipped and was trying to set me and Leah up, she was doing a piss poor job of it. She had alerted us about the possible bugs in the house and had not asked me any detailed questions. As far as this sim card went, yeah it could contain malware and a trace program but it was obvious from the house call the other day they already knew where I lived so what would be the point in trying to jam me up with a sim card unless they thought I would be stupid enough to take it to the actual radio site?

No, I quickly deduced Julie was on the level and Jim was indeed trying to pass along legit intel to me. Again I started to write.

Where is the sim card now?

Julie’s writing: In your right hand coat pocket. I slipped it in there when I hugged you earlier.

I looked up to see Julie smiling like the cheshire cat from Alice in Wonderland.

Me and Leah said our goodbyes to the kids and when we all walked outside to the truck and were a good distance away from the house Julie whispered to both Leah and me.

“They put a hood over all our heads when they arrested us so I am not sure where this place is at. I do know we crossed two sets of railroad tracks and were on a gravel road for a while near the end because I could hear it pinging underneath the van.”

I nodded and she gave me and Leah a final hug.

“Don’t worry yourself Julie. Jim’s tough. I’m sure they will release him soon. In the meantime I will work on finding this place.”

It only took us ten minutes to get home as I gunned the gas, anxious to see what was on this sim card. Leah made coffee and then went into our bedroom.

“If it’s bad, I don’t want to know” she said before closing the door.

Playing it safe in the event the sim did have malware, I found an old android tablet in the closet and popped the sim in. After a quick virus scan, I clicked on the directory. twenty-seven pictures? What was this?

My heart sank as the viewer loaded the first picture.

It was Gary Evans meeting with several UNDOD thugs.

I glanced down at the date stamp. Jim would be arrested the day these pictures were taken and the next day UNDOD made the house calls.

Nausea began to build in the pit of my stomach as bitter bile slowly inched it’s way up my esophagus.

I clicked the arrow for the next picture.

Same meeting with Gary now pointing on a laptop screen while UNDOD thugs closely watch from behind. The bastard was giving them directions for their raids.

Next picture: Gary laughing with said thugs. He must have told one of his raunchy jokes.

I quickly got up and ran to the bathroom and vomited. After rinsing out my mouth with Scope and washing my face I walked back into the living room and stared at the tablet. Hearing me puke, Leah came out of the bedroom to check on me.

“I guess I don’t have to ask if it’s bad.”

I was so pissed I could not speak.

She turned around and went back into the bedroom.

Thought’s raced through my mind in a heated frenzy.

Why did Gary do this? It obviously wasn’t against his will judging from the jovial and relaxed mood of some of the pictures. But more to the point what happened that made Jim suspicious of Gary in the first place? I was hoping the answer was on that sim card.

I went into the kitchen and found my bottle of Talisker single malt, put two ice cubes in a tumbler and poured two fat fingers and downed it in one go. I then Poured myself two more and went back to the tablet.

After scrolling through a couple more pictures of the same meeting the date stamp skipped back five days. The first picture was of a group of a half a dozen or so young high school and college age kids at what looked like a back yard meeting of some sort. Scrolling to the next frame I recognized one of the kids in the group as Gary’s eighteen year old son, Eric and the backyard they were in as Gary’s. The next picture was of the same group of people standing behind a red flag. At first I thought it was a five star Chinese flag but then I saw the writing on the bottom: Roxboro County ANTIFA #409. The next couple of pictures included Gary’s wife, Barbara with a short Chinese official in glasses and five UNDOD masked thugs included.

It was clear that Jim had some how got wind that Eric was involved with ANTIFA and digging deeper found out the whole family was involved.

I held my head in my hands not wanting to believe what I was seeing in black and white.

Gary and his entire family were active members of a regime supported chapter of ANTIFA right here in Cooper’s Mill. It was common knowledge the regime was using ANTIFA chapters all over the country to recruit high school and college age kids for their “Youth Brigades” to help pressure their parents and friends into becoming loyal party members.

I had seen one of ther pamphlets a while back. It talked about all the “benefits” of being a party member and the responsibilities that went along with it including informing on any “dissenters” (an act which carried with it a large cash reward) that would threaten the stability of the “people’s” party.

Jim had sent me verifiable proof of treason by Gary and his entire family.

It made me sick to think about but I had to act.

It was my duty. But I could not do it alone. I was going to need help, and with Jasper off floating in the ether taking care of the radio broadcast, my only other choice was Leah.

My mind quickly devised a plan.

Walking into the bedroom I found Leah lying in the bed reading.

“We got a fox in the henhouse?” she asked, cutting her eyes up at me.

“Yeah, it’s Gary and his entire family.”

Without me saying a word Leah got up from the bed and began getting dressed.

For the second time in a week I thanked God above for the strong woman he had given me.

After getting dressed in a black fleece jacket, A black Nike cap with a braided pony tail pulled through the back and Merrell hikers Leah walked out to the garage where I was loading up the Polaris with gear for the trip.

“So what’s the plan?” she asked

“We need them all together in one place to make this work, so I think our best option is to show up at Gary’s house unannounced. Our story will be that Julie has told us where the camp is that Jim is being held and we need their help to break him out.”

“What if they have other people there?” Leah asked

“We either restrain them or kill them, depending.” I replied curtly.

“Depending on what?” Leah asked, her eyes wide.

“Do I really need to answer that Leah?” I asked, cutting my eyes.

Leah stared at me for a long moment, her eyes growing moist.

“My God Logan, did you ever think it would come to this!” she whispered.

I held her close and comforted her and after a couple of minutes gently took her head in both my hands and stared into her eyes.

“Look, I know this is tough, but we are going to have put away the emotion and tears from here on out. We don’t have time for it. Remember, we didn’t want any of this. Gary made that decision for us.”

She nodded her head  as she took a deep breath and dried her eyes with her jacket sleeve.

“OK, I’m ready.”

Calculating that all or most of our weapon hide sites that Gary knew about (about a third of them total) had been compromised, we drove out to one of my half a dozen contingency hide sites that only I knew about. After thirty minutes of digging I found the three PVC Pipe capsules sealed with aluminum tape. I took out a Glock 19 for her and a Sig 220 for me. I then took out two suppressors, an AAC for the Glock and a Gemtech for the Sig. Opening another pipe I took out extra mags and ammo to go around for both of us.

Finally, in the event this thing turned into a sideways goat rodeo I took out my modified Yugo PAP M92 AK Pistol, re-installed the pistol grip and brace (it would not fit in the pipe otherwise) checked the battery in the Burris Fastfire II red dot then took a bandolier of eight mags and stuck it all into a double Head tennis racket bag. I also took a small duffel and filled it with a stun baton, a tazer, OC spray, Ka-Bar knife, roll of duct tape and flex cuffs.

After a quick oiling and cleaning of all the weapons, I handed the Glock to Leah.

I was happy to see her handle the weapon like we had trained. Immediately dropping the mag and pulling the slide back to lock, she eyeballed and then physically checked the chamber to ensure it was empty. Handing her a magazine, she inserted it and hit the slide release, ramming home the round with a snap.

With her trigger finger at high register she extended her arms and eyeballed down the taller fiber optic sights, targeting a pine stump ten yards away.

“You remember shooting with the elevated sights?” I asked

With a “Pftttt!” Leah squeezed the trigger, sending a 147grain Corbon hollow point into the pine stump, the action of the pistol cycling quiet as a church mouse.

“Yeah I think I got it.” she replied with a smile

We stayed off the main highway using mostly logging roads and half-ass game trails to approach Gary’s house from the east.  I had modified the Polaris with a muffler silencer and spark arrestor so we were quiet as a baby mouse pissing on cotton on our approach. Killing it, I parked in the woods, around thirty yards from the house.

I unzipped the duffel and handed Leah the Glock and took out my Sig.

I then took out my AK pistol and slung it over my back and slung the bandolier and other duffel over my other arm.

“Make Ready” I whispered to Leah.

I quietly charged the Sig, flipping up the thumb safety as Leah charged her Glock.

“I’ll take point, just follow five steps behind. When we get there, just follow my lead and act casual. I have no ideal how we are going to be received. Either he is going to play along or go Defcon One. Either way, remember our plan and what I told you.”

Leah nodded nervously.

“Hey! look at me!” I whispered.

“It’s going to be OK, just follow my lead.” I reassured her.

She took a deep breath and nodded.

As we began making our way up to the house, I could hear music from inside. Closing the distance to the tree line I could see that Gary’s truck and Barbara’s Camry were in the driveway and the garage door was open. Doing a quick scan I could see no movement outside of the house and all of the windows and curtains were closed tight. At this point all that I could hear was the music, which as I got closer I could now tell was some kind of symphony or opera?

Making the decision the coast was clear, we broke past the tree line to the sidewalk that led up to the front door. Remembering they had DSL, I looked up to see where the phone line split and came into the house. Motioning for Leah to stay put I walked around to the side of the house to the junction box and taking out my Emerson Commander I cut all the lines going into the house, severing the land line and DSL connection. As I stood there next to the house. I could hear the music very clearly now. It was not an opera or a symphony like I had initially thought. It was the Soviet National Anthem being blasted at high volume.

Walking back around the house, Leah joined me and we walked up to the door. I rang the doorbell and stepped back and to the side, moving Leah back with me. I had my Sig behind my right leg with the safety off and finger at high register. The music volume was turned down and I could hear movement in the house. Suddenly the deadbolt turned and the door opened.

Instinctively I prepared to bring the gun up.

It was Gary.

I quickly concealed the pistol behind my thigh.

“What the hell?” The look on Gary’s face was one of pure surprise and fear.

Before I could reply he hurried me and Leah inside and shut the door.

“What are you two doing here! It’s really stupid of you to show…”

I raised my left hand up to interrupt him.

“Gary, we had no choice. Julie contacted us and told us she had the location of the camp where Jim is being held. We need to gear up and get ready to go now.”

Gary stood there dumbfounded. Like a deer in headlights.

Then he noticed the guns.

“Wait…why are you two armed, How did you…?”

Again I interrupted him, this time bringing up the Sig.

Gary’s eyes got big as saucers.

“Nice music you were jamming to Gary. Is that your new family anthem?” I asked with a smirk, my eyes drilling holes straight through him.

All the color drained from his face in an instant and his bottom lip began to quiver like a child.

“Is anybody else in the house besides your family?” I asked quietly

Gary shook his head no.

“Where are Barbara and Eric?”

“Upstairs in their rooms.” Gary answered, looking down at the floor.

“You need to tell them to come down here right now and bring their cell phones with them. If you try to warn them in any way you get the first bullet. Clear?”

Gary nodded nervously.

“Barb! Eric! Can you guys come down here please!” Gary yelled.

“Who was that at the door?” Barbara asked from upstairs.

“Nobody. Can you please come down here now.” Gary replied, a look of terror on his face.

“Hey Dad, the internet is not working” Eric yelled from upstairs.

“Don’t worry about that right now Eric! Come downstairs now!” Gary yelled.

Footsteps could be heard upstairs and then doors opening.

Leah moved past me to a better position in the hall to cover them as they descended.

Eric was the first one to come bounding down the stairs, closely followed by Barbara.

Eric was tall lanky and pale with wire rimmed glasses and shaggy brown hair. You could tell he was one of these kids that spent every waking hour in front of some kind of digital screen instead of outside in the fresh air and sunshine.

“What’s more important than the internet not work…” Eric stopped in mid-sentence at the bottom of the stairs when he saw  Leah.

“Both of you, hands where I can see them.” Leah commanded

Both Eric and Barbara reached for the ceiling, their mouths agape and all the color draining from their faces at once.

“Now I want you to walk toward me Eric, very slowly. Barbara you stay still and  if you make any sudden moves, your son dies, do you understand me?” Leah asked, her eyes staying squarely on Eric.

“Yes! Please don’t hurt him!” Barbara yelled back, her voice cracking.

Eric obeyed the command, slowly walking toward Leah with his hands high. A look of complete surprise and fear on his face.

“Where is your cell phone Eric?” Leah asked when he was three feet away.

“In my back pocket” He replied, his voice trembling.

“OK, turn around and back up to me slowly.” Leah commanded, the Glock centered on Eric.

Eric obeyed.

“OK Stop.” Leah commanded as she removed the iPhone from Eric’s back pocket.

“Now I need you to go over and face that wall in front of you, keeping your hands on top of your head.” Leah commanded.

Eric obeyed.

“Now Barbara, where is your phone?’ Leah asked.

“In my right hand” Barbara answered, her voice cracking.

“OK, come to me very slowly with your hands high. No sudden movements.” Leah commanded, her Glock now centered on Barbara.

Barbara was in her late forties with shoulder length curly brown hair. She worked as a CPA and had that pasty, pale look just like Eric.

When Barbara was a few feet away Leah commander her to stop.

“Set the phone down at your feet and then join your son on the wall over there, your hands held high.”

Barbara obeyed and Leah picked up the phone.

“Join your family over there, hands high Gary” Leah commanded.

Gary obeyed.

Leah took out both phones and did a quick once over and then gave me a quick nod.

They had made no calls or text or done any activity online (via the 4G network) in the last ten minutes.

Once Leah had them all covered, I unslung the gym bag from over my shoulder and walked over and sat it on the dining room table, taking out three Flex-cuffs. I then walked over and cinched the cuffs up on each one of them. After that I did a quick pat down for weapons, finding nothing but a pocket knife on Gary.

“OK, all of you go sit down in the dining room.”

“Please Logan, you don’t have to involve my family in this…” Gary pleaded as he walked past me.

“Gary, you and your family already made that choice.” I replied.

Once everybody was seated I proceeded to show them the evidence on the tablet. Every one of them went three shades of green as I scrolled through the pictures of their treachery.

 

*  *  *  *  *

 

SGM R.C. Jackson, USA (Retired) gently reached down and picked up Jolene. She was heavier than he remembered, but hell time put’s weight on all of us right?  R.C. chuckled to himself as he brought the 1903 Springfield A4 up to his shoulder and sighted through the 4-15×50 Leupold mil-dot scope. He had replaced the original M84 scope over twenty-five years ago for a hunting trip to Montana with an old platoon buddy. He could hit with the M84 but he found he needed a bit more than 2x magnification to make ethical shots on mule deer and antelope!

Plus he never cared much for the M84’s reticle, which was a heavy post with a thin crosswire, but he had learned to hit with it, that was to be sure. His longest recorded kill was a Chinese officer at 429 yards, which by today’s sniper standards is chicken feed, but back then in Korea, men died for yards, sometimes feet, and the distance between front lines sometimes ran as little as under a quarter mile.

He ran his hand along the smoothness of the wood and worked the bolt a few times to check the mechanics. As he did this he caught a whiff of the Hoppes gun oil he had lubricated the action with and suddenly he was eighteen again! He felt young! Alive! Virile! and without a doubt, ready to do some killing! R.C smiled at the thought, knowing his one true love Kat had told him to do this one last thing before he came to be with her forever in heaven, and he always kept his promises.

R.C. may have been old, but he was still a soldier and he had been busy the last few days doing recon. In particular, keeping up with the frequency of patrols by the same group of assholes that had punched him in the gut, tore down his flag and murdered his dog taco. R.C. had memorized the plate number of the assholes tahoe that day and now after a few days of observation and patience he had been able to put together a patrol schedule of sorts. For one reason or another, the UNDOD made regular patrols past R.C.’s house and up the road a few miles to another home where they often stopped for thirty minute intervals. This would be where he would strike. There was a hill with good concealment across the road from this house with a decent line of sight of around three hundred fifty yards, which R.C. felt comfortable with. He named it Hill 255 after the Pork Chop.

R.C. checked his watch. The patrol would be coming by the target house in around an hour. R.C. mounted up on the four wheeler and hit the electric start. Before punching the gas he did a quick mental checklist. Rifle, check. Ammo, check. Scope Dope card. check. Sidearm, check. Prostate pill so he would not be needing to piss every five minutes, check. Buttoning his M65 Woodland Camo Field Jacket and adjusting his Korean War Vet hat with his CIB proudly pinned on, he thumbed the gas and took off down the road to Hill 255.

 

 *  *  *  *  *

Me and Leah followed the three traitors out to the garage to fetch shovels and then to the back yard for grave detail.

 Gary’s plea’s for mercy continued to drone on.

“Please Logan! I did all I could to not to give them anything useful!” he blabbered, snot rolling down his face.

“And by ‘not anything useful’ you mean when you gave them directions to my home where that group of masked thugs threatened to rape my wife ?” I asked with a smirk.

“No! I knew they would not find anything at your place! That is why I sent them there!” he replied, a shocked look on his face.

“You’re pathetic!” I replied.

“Please Logan! At least spare Eric!” he screamed.

“Start digging asshole.” I was beyond listening anymore.

Surprisingly eighteen year old Eric was the only one not blabbering like a baby.

“Dad shut up begging and conduct yourself like a proud member of the party!”

Me and Leah both laughed out loud at that remark.

“A proud member of the party, huh? Wow that is some solid gold bullshit right there!”

Eric stopped digging and glared up at me and Leah smiling.

“You arrogant capitalist pigs! You both know you’re going to die today right?”

“Shut up Eric!” Barbara yelled out beside him, her curly brown hair matted with sweat and her eyes bulging and wild looking.

I walked over in front of him.

 “How exactly are we going to die?” I asked.

“Because once a week the UNDOD area commander comes by the house for coffee and today is one of those days! You’re fucked!”

As if on cue the sound of a truck engine could be heard coming up the road.

I quickly deduced what I had to do.

“Not as fucked as all of you.” I said.

I raised my pistol and shot Eric in the bridge of his nose from six feet away. Instantly Barbara began yelling like a banshee and I quickly walked over and popped her in the back of the head. Gary stood up as I approached and began whimpering like a scared animal. All I heard was a rush of wind in my ears as I raised my pistol and shot him twice in the head, his body going slack and dropping to the ground with a thud.

 

 *  *  *  *  *

 

R.C. had finished setting up on the side of the hill with good concealment and a clear line of sight. From this position he could see the driveway, the front door, the garage and the fence gate that led to the back yard.

Since laying down prone was too hard on his back and legs, R.C. had decided to use the gun mount on the handlebars of the four wheeler. He had shot from this position many times while hunting white tail deer in the past and felt comfortable with it. Using a large piece of camouflage netting and a little common sense, he fashioned him a sniper’s canopy that along with the scrub and tress, helped him blend into the side of the hill perfectly.

R.C. double checked his range to the driveway with his Leupold rangefinder. Three hundred seventeen yards. The front door and garage door were three hundred forty-seven yards. Glancing up at the tops of the trees where he was at he saw there was very little wind and down at the driveway almost no wind. He also took into account the hill he was on was not that steep, so downward angle would not be a major factor in his firing solution. Glancing down at his dope card for the scope, a three hundred yard hold was the first vertical dot below the crosshair since he always zeroed this rifle at 200 yards. Since these assholes were wearing body armor he was going for cranial T head shots today. For ammo he chose a 168gr Hornady BTHP load he had shot with this scope before all the way out to five hundred yards with 1MOA results. Opening the bolt he punched down 5 rounds and loaded the sixth in the tube and closed the bolt. He had three stripper clips in his coat pocket in the event he needed them. He was hoping he would not. There were a total of three assholes down there, so six rounds would be more than enough if he did his job.

R.C. had been in position for about twenty minutes when a truck engine came rumbling down the road. On schedule and on time just like good communist, the tahoe pulled into the driveway of the home and parked. R.C. mounted his rifle and found his targets in the scope, adjusting the magnification. To his surprise, there was a fourth person in the vehicle, a short chinese man with glasses. R.C. zoomed in. He had never seen this guy before, but he was definitely a bureaucrat of some type. R.C. smiled behind the scope. This was a bonus! He was going to get to kill more chinese communist! Today was going to be a good day!

R.C. took a couple of deep breaths and settled in. He decided even though the bureaucrat was a tasty target, he was going to go for the goons first. Taco’s death demanded it. Checking the wind, he let the mil-dot float above the first target’s head and then slowly brought it down where it was resting right above his shoulders. With the three goons in a semi-circle talking with the bureaucrat, R.C. pressed the trigger. As soon as the bullet left the barrel R.C. instinctively worked the bolt, slamming home another round and quickly choosing his next target. Seeing the goons head disappear in a pink mist R.C. smiled as he set the dot on the next set of shoulders, adjusting slightly for the target reacting to the report and instinctively kneeling and lowering his height by several inches. Trigger press. Rifle report. Work the bolt. Get on target. Not seeing a hit for the second shot, R.C. slowed down and took the scene in. The bureaucrat dived for cover underneath the vehicle while the other two goons started firing blindly in R.C.’s direction, the report of their G36 rifles drifting up the hill.

 

*  *  *  *  *

 

“My God Logan! You killed them all!” Leah’s exclaimed her eyes wide.

“Yes I did, now find some cover, we got company outside and I don’t think they are friendly.”

I went to the fence gate to have a look. Peering through I could see It was a UNDOD vehicle alright with three soldiers and what looked like a Chinese official of some sort.

As I considered my next move suddenly one of the soldier’s heads exploded in a pink cloud of bone and viscera with the report of the rifle echoing down the hill like thunder.

On command the Chinese official dove for cover underneath the vehicle while the other two soldiers began firing wildly in the direction of the sniper’s shot, which seemed to be coming from across the road somewhere.

I quickly summed up the situation.

A sniper had decided to engage this vehicle for whatever reason. Maybe it was a coordinated ambush? Maybe an assassination attempt on the chinese official? I had no clue. What I did know is I had to take advantage of this chaos.

I unslung the M92 AK Pistol from my back and disengaged the safety. While the two soldiers were firing blindly across the road I opened the gate, went prone and took aim with the red dot at the nearest soldier about fifteen yards away. With his back toward me, I centered the dot high, near his neck and fired three rounds. The soldier crumpled like a lawn chair, with the rounds impacting around his spine.

Seeing his partner go down, the remaining soldier realizing he was surrounded did what I expected; he told the official under the truck to get in, they were leaving!

Not a good decision.

 

 *  *  *  *  *

 

R.C. did not have time to kick himself for the missed shot on the second goon before something totally unexpected happened. The soldier he fired at crumped and dropped as if he had been shot from behind? What the hell was going on? Not having time to play through the possible scenario’s, R.C. kept on mission. The remaining goon had stopped firing and had retreated to the cab. R.C. then saw movement on the right, it was the Chinese official scrambling out from underneath the truck! R.C. quickly got on target, dropping the first dot on the center of mass being the man was not wearing body armor. He squeezed the shot. Impact. Center punch right above the sternum. The man’s entire body cavitated and then dropped like a stone to the pavement.

R.C. worked the bolt and transitioned for another shot, but he did not have one from this angle. The solider had jumped in the driver’s seat and was preparing to skidaddle.

Damn.

 

 *  *  *  *  *

The shot that killed the Chinese official opened up his back like a meat cleaver. As soon as his body dropped the driver started the vehicle and dropped it in reverse. I knew I had to act. I closed with from the left side, since the passenger door was still open, it was my best chance. The sniper let off another round that impacted the driver side somewhere. Encouraged, I raised my weapon and let loose, putting rounds toward the driver in quick pairs. To my surprise the vehicle was not armored and the AK rounds chewed up the glass, some of them making it through and hitting the driver. Wounded, the driver managed to put the tahoe in reverse and gunned it straight across the road, through the barbed wire fence on the other side and into the field, slamming into a tree violently, the sound of crunching metal and the smell of burnt rubber and smoke filling the air.

Not wanting to let up, I continued to close with and fire on the vehicle, changing mags as I went. As I crossed the fence and made it into the field, I could see the vehicle was on fire in the back. I made a right hand semi-circle around to the driver’s side. With the windshield shot out I could see the driver inside, badly wounded. As I closed distance and was around ten yards from the vehicle, the driver side door creaked open. I took a knee and drew down. A bloody hand reached out and grabbed the outside door frame and the goon pulled himself out. He was a bloody, mangled mess. As I was about to walk over a shot rang out and the man’s head exploded like a ripe cantaloupe.

I looked up toward the hill and waved. I heard a four wheeler engine start up and soon I could see a man in a camo jacket making his way down toward me. About that time Leah crossed the road and came over, her eyes wide.

“My God Logan! Are you OK?” she asked out of breath.

“I’m fine babe.” I replied.

The man pulled up in front of us on his four wheeler and killed the engine.

Immediately I saw his Korean War Veteran cap and remembered the story Gary had told me.

“Are you R.C. Jackson?” I asked

“Guilty as charged” R.C. replied “How did you know?”

“I heard about what happened to you.” I replied

“Yeah, well I took care of that problem.” R.C. said looking at the burning wreck.

“I can see that.” I replied.

“Listen son, we all need to get the hell out of here, I am sure another patrol will be coming around here real soon.” R.C. replied.

“Yeah I have a four wheeler stashed in the woods right over here, follow me!” I replied.

R.C. cranked his rig and followed us over into the woods. Away from the road, I introduced myself and Leah and told him about the radio site.

“You can follow us there if you like, you have more than earned it!” I said smiling.

R.C. sat there a moment and thought about it.

“Hell son I did not think I would live this long, so sure, I will follow you!”

R.C. followed us up into the mountains and after crossing two swollen creeks we arrived at base camp.

Jasper had coffee and a fresh pot of his rabbit stew on when we arrived and we all ate around the fire sharing the many stories we all had to catch up on.

Jasper was more angry than sad to hear about Gary and his family’s betrayal but the news about Jim being locked up really got him steamed.

“We are really going to let them have it tonight!” Jasper said fuming.

“You know Jasper I think we should devote part of tonight’s broadcast to R.C. here. An 88 year old Korean War Vet Sniper who took up arms against the communist aggressor a second time! Quite the story!” I said smiling.

R.C. shook his head

“No, I don’t want any special recognition Logan, I did what I did today to keep a promise to somebody I love.” R.C.’s voice cracked and his eyes got teary.

I got up and went and sat next to him.

“I know you did R.C. but you know what? All of us fight not so much because we hate what is in front of us, but because we love what is behind us more.”

R.C. smiled, a tear rolling down his weathered cheek.

“That’s G.K. Chesterson.”

“Yep, one of my favorites” I replied smiling.

And so it was at twenty one hundred hours that night these four battle hardened partisans went live over the air to encourage tens of thousands of other partisans across the country to stand up and fight their communist oppressors.

R.C. Jackson’s sniper story became legend among the partisan community and three bloody years later after the war was won and the communist regime defeated, a statue of R.C. Jackson was erected at the exact spot he fired from on Hill 237.

The inscription read:

“For my dearest Katherine. I kept my promise. I fought the good fight. I’m coming home.”

The End