Chapters 1-4 can be found HERE.
Chapters 5-8 can be found HERE.
Chapter 9-12 can be found HERE.
Chapter 13-16 can be found HERE.
By E. J. D’Alise (Disperser)
Copyright 2004 – 2013
Toni hesitated for a moment, and then lowered her gun.
“No. In fact, he helped us . . . on one occasion. Sorry; it just brought back bad memories.”
Ed stepped aside as Toni walked up to Guy.
“Never got the change to thank you,” she said, extending her hand.
Guy seemed taken aback, but then shook Toni’s hand. His smile returned as he answered. “It was my pleasure. I’m glad to see you found this place.”
With that, everyone visibly relaxed; except me. Seeing Toni shake Guy’s hand made me uncomfortable. She seemed more open with Guy after just a few minutes than she had been with anyone here even after a few months.
Was I jealous? After my speech last night, I had no right to be jealous; I had no right to have any feelings at all. My mood darkened, and as we headed for the planning room, I concentrated on clearing my mind, and on getting rid of the vague irritation I felt. Whether the irritation was with Toni, Guy, or myself, I could not be sure.
The planning meeting went well. Two hours of looking at the maps, learning what Ed knew of the Cardinal’s men and their tactics, and coming up with a what seemed a workable plan, complete with a couple of what-ifs in case things did not work out well.
Ed’s group numbered sixty three people, but of those, only forty were available for any action. The rest consisted of support staff, including eight that served as protection when the main group was away.
I had given serious thought as to how many people I would want to use in any action. I had settled on twenty, counting me. The hard part had been coming up with the names. Toni and Jim had not made the list.
All the patrol squads would go except mine. That made the first nine people an easy choice; they were already used to heading out to meet threats. The remainder included Ted, our mechanic, JB and Albert, two of our carpenters, Frank and his brother Joel, our farmers and garden tenders.
The choice for the last five was tougher. Jack and CJ both worked with Dr. Carlin, and while not married, they were a couple. I did not like bringing them out together, but they would be used as sniper support and as medical personnel in case anyone needed attention.
The other Frank was one of our cooks, and he helped John with the radio equipment. Vince was one of the two armory people who performed regular maintenance on our weapons. The other was his brother George. George walked with a limp, the result of a severe beating he received from a small roaming band. Both brothers had joined us after we interrupted George’s beating, rescuing them. The small band had not survived the encounter.
The last choice for the assault team was Josh’s dad, Joshua. The man was an accomplished shot, but his main skill was hand-to-hand. He was one of two full time instructors. He was a bit on the older side, but in better shape than most. I had never asked, but I assumed he had an Army background. Perhaps even Special Forces.
He had joined us for the planning, and he and Ed seemed to establish an instant rapport. I guessed Ed was ex-Army as well.
As the meeting wound down, Sandra and Norma brought in soup and sandwiches. We had a fairly large store of flour in our freezers, and Ed’s people were very appreciative of the fresh bread. The group split up in different conversations as we ate. Ed, Joshua, and I continued talking around the finer points of our plans.
Jim settled into a conversation with Greg and Elly, and I noticed Guy and Toni were chatting slightly apart from the group.
I kept looking their way, but they seemed absorbed in their conversation. It was distracting, and I had to force myself to concentrate on my own conversation. Half hour later Ed, Greg, and Guy left. We had settled on a pre-dawn meeting a few miles outside of town.
As we closed the door, Jim and Elly headed off toward her room. There was no need to keep her under guard, so I assumed it was social. Joshua headed off to one of the classes, and that left Toni and I. She helped jam in the last of the braces, and turned as if to say something, but changed her mind. She grabbed her rifle, and headed off.
I headed to the common area, and there used the intercom to call a group meeting in a half hour. That gave me time to grab a coffee, and try to calm my emotions.
~ ~ ~ o o o ~ ~ ~
The room was packed. Except for our snipers on the tower, everyone else was there. With Ed’s people in the vicinity, there was no need for patrols. Besides, I wanted them rested for action the next day.
As I walked in, I noticed the only open chair was beside Elly. Jim was on her other side. Lindsey was sitting by her sister, halfway around the table. As I made my way to the chair, I pondered on the significance of the change. Had Lindsey been told not to sit by me anymore? Or had Elly grabbed the seat without knowing about Lindsey’s preference? Jim would have told her, so I assumed I had fallen out of favor.
“Article One is in effect.”
I opened the meeting with what was on everyone’s mind. Elly leaned over to Jim and whispered in his hear. Jim reply also came as a whisper. I assumed by the look Elly gave me when he finished that he had explained what Article One meant.
I proceeded to give a summary of the plan we had worked out with Ed. I did not go into details, explaining that I would cover specific with the people that joined the operation. I took a deep breath.
“The following people are going to be part of our attack.” I read off the names, sometimes pointing at the person. There was a brief silence when I was done, and I continued. “If those of you I called would please stay, we’ll discuss details after the meeting. The rest of you, if there are no questions, this meeting is over.”
Jim was the first one to get up. He was about to ask a question when I interrupted.
“Article One means no discussion, but if you must know, you are the leader in case anything happens to me.” I looked around the table, and then continued, “The decision for who goes was not an easy one. I tried to balance tactical needs with other requirements.”
I rested my hands on the table, leaned forward, and tried looking irritated enough to discourage additional questions. A glance around the room, and I noticed Toni standing.
“What ‘tactical’ reasons do you have for excluding me? What if I want to volunteer in the place of one of the others?” She spoke in a calm voice, but there was an underlying edge belying her emotions.
“Perhaps you are not clear on the provisions of Article One. This is not a matter subject to debate.” I infused more annoyance than I felt into my answer, hoping it would deter further questions.
We stared at each other for a few moments when Joshua interrupted the silence.
“Immunity and no children.”
“What?” Jim and Toni uttered the question almost simultaneously as they turned toward him.
“Joshua,” I started, “I don’t . . .”
“They have a right to know,” continued Joshua. He turned back to Toni, “All of the people on the team have immunity. No one on the team has any young children. You have Lindsey.”
The room was quiet as many eyes turned my way.
“I’m going to post Article One on the wall so that we can all be reminded of what it says,” I said in a low voice.
“Fine,” I continued, “now you know part of the criteria. It is not open for argument. The meeting ends now. The attack team stays, and thank you everyone else for coming.” I sat and grabbed my water. After a few moments of hesitation, everyone but the attack team filed out of the room.
Elly looked like she wanted to stay, but a nod from me, and Jim escorted her out. They reached Toni who had paused at the door. I tried to read Toni’s face, but she turned and headed out ahead of Elly and Jim. He was the last one out, and he closed the door behind him.
I looked around the room. I saw some worried looks, and some determined faces.
“The plan we have,” I said in a voice steadier than felt, “involves minimizing the risk of any casualties. Still, there are risks since we don’t know exactly how our enemy will react. I’ll turn the floor over to Joshua so he can brief you on the details.”
Joshua rolled out the maps we had used earlier, and got into the details of the plan. I was attentive for a few minutes, and then my mind wandered. Toni, Lindsey, and Jim figured prominently in my thinking. I was slowly distancing the people that mattered to me most. Was that what I really wanted?
The attack team ate dinner as a group, and we had the cafeteria to ourselves. This was by design, as I did not want to burden the members with undue emotions that may arise from seeing friends and family. They had said their goodbyes earlier. Now I just wanted them to get some fuel, and a good rest for the ordeal ahead. Except for the few rations we would carry, this was likely the last regular meal we would have for at least 24 hours, and possibly longer.
We met Ed’s group a few miles outside of town. We had followed a creek that meandered through the countryside, its lower elevation keping us from prying eyes.
While waiting for the dawn, the two groups intermingled, breaking up into smaller groups. Taking a small break from last minute reviews of the plans, I got to thinking about the ease with which these people meshed with each other. Watching them sitting there, chatting, reminded me how much people craved social contact.
These two groups seldom interacted with anyone new. The majority of encounters they had outside their own camps had been with hostiles, and usually involved deadly force. Ed’s approach broke off my musings, and I turned to meet him.
“My scouts tell me they have two patrols out. We’ll probably deal with them first.” He looked around, half smiling, and looked a lot like a father overseeing his children.
I envied him. I judged Ed to be a capable fighter, and as ruthless as anyone needed to be in his position. But he also had a rapport with his people that I had not been able to achieve with the people back at the compound.
Whereas I distanced myself from everyone, Ed was friendly and casual in his everyday dealings. But I suspected his orders would be followed quickly and unquestionably. As we walked back to meet Joshua I wondered if this was a reflection of his personality, the result of his army training, or perhaps a little of both. I made a mental note to ask him how he dealt with the responsibility of putting people in harms way.
Within a few minutes we broke up in prearranged groups, and group leaders synchronized their watches. The numbers of groups was determined by the number of functioning watches we had. All of the watches we used were either self-winding, or the kind you wound by hand. All electronic watches had long since stopped functioning for lack of fresh batteries. It was surprising how few mechanical watches were left.
The groups headed off one by one. Ed and I were in the same group, numbering twenty men. We took a direct line to the town, spreading out as we got to within a mile or so, heading to positions Ed’s people had scouted over the last few days.
It still amazed me how Ed’s group could move undetected. None of our patrols had even come across evidence of them being in the area. It underlined the difference between our two groups. Our strategy was totally focused on defense, and we were civilians. For all my planning, even with Joshua’s help, we were still a group of civilians playing at being soldiers.
As much as I congratulated myself for my strategic abilities, for the most part we took simple precautions designed around the compound being a fortress. The problem was that it could just as well become a prison against a larger and more experienced force. In my defense, I rationalized that up to now we’d never had to contend with a large, organized enemy.
I watched the group fan out. Most of Ed’s people were soldiers, and they operated as an attack force. I was still unsure of their background, their goals, and what motivated them. And I still wanted to know about their logistics. Ammunition weighs a lot, and food is bulky. He had not mentioned a base, but it could not be too close, or we would have gotten wind of it. During our meeting I had offered supplies, but they were politely refused.
Without us taking note of it, darkness gave way to light, and the sun got closer to cresting the horizon. We could have used cloud cover, but we had factored in the sun into our planning. We approached the town from the East, keeping the sun in our enemies’ eyes. I checked my watch. In a few minutes the patrols would be engaged and hopefully eliminated. It was meant to be a noisy affair, with some grenades and heavy caliber fire, all of it designed to get whatever troops were in the town outdoors.
~ ~ ~ o o o ~ ~ ~
The town’s original population had numbered 1800 people. A county road skirted the eastern and northern sides of the town. Railroad tracks cut through the town passing next to the now empty grain elevator. The town was nearly 1.5 miles per side, and had a large overgrown park marking its southern edge. We estimated the current population at around 400 people.
Some were original residents, but the now-deceased gang had brought in the remainder. The majority of the houses stood empty, their owners long dead or gone. You could tell which houses were occupied because most had cultivated gardens. Fruit and vegetables were essential staples, and most grew their own. They grew more than they needed as part of their payment to whatever gang happened to rule the town.
Along with Ed, and a young man who almost never left his side, I made my way to a position with a view of the main street through town. Like most other towns, the street was mundanely called Main Street.
Also like most town, this small rural Illinois town had a number of churches. Easy to find, they were generally the largest buildings, and the best constructed. The attached houses were also usually large and well appointed. Ministers lived better than most of their flocks.
The Cardinal’s men had moved into a large brick home next to one of the older churches in town. Ornate, and still in excellent shape, the church was over a hundred years old. It sat at a corner formed by Main Street and one of the eight cross-streets. As large as it was, the house would not have room for all of the Cardinal’s men. Many would be scattered throughout the town, and we hoped the sound of gunfire would flush them out.
Our team would take the initiative. When we fired, all groups would open up. Our plan was to get most of the Cardinal’s men with the first few volleys. After that, it would get down to house-by-house, and possibly hand-to-hand, fighting. I hoped the number of survivors would be low enough that they would surrender. We did not want to get into hand-to-hand combat in buildings housing a mix of hostiles and townspeople.
We heard the first shots south of town, probably a mile out. Shortly after, a more intense firefight could be heard close to the West end of town. The initial shooting ended less than ten seconds after it had started. Then sporadic gunfire could be heard from those locations.
If everything went well, those were our troops firing into the air, making it appear both engagements were still underway. Shortly after the first shots were heard, armed individuals had exited from the house next to the church, as well as from a few other houses we could see from our position. This was our only uncertainty.
We had no way of knowing if all of these armed men and women were with the Cardinal, or if some were townsfolk coming out to see what was happening. We figured only troops would be armed, as it was unlikely the Cardinal’s men would have allowed armed citizens, but we could not be certain.
Some locals could have been pressed into service as local peacekeepers, and they may have been issued weapons. We agonized over the issue, but in the end, we could not take chances. Still, our plan was to wait a few minutes. We theorized the Cardinal’s men would make their way to the church, presuming that was where the commanding officer was staying. The locals would likely stay next to their house and family.
In fact, most of the armed individuals we could see were cautiously making their way toward the church. Their movements indicated some training, as they kept low and went from cover to cover. A few remained by their houses.
They would not be shot, at least until we knew for sure who they were.
We did not worry about isolated individuals; we just wanted to get the main group. Just then, a man walked out in front of the church, buttoning his jacket and shouting orders.
I nodded to Ed, and we opened fire. The man was the first to fall, and many of those around him were struck by at least two bullets each. The individuals making their way to the church were a little harder to pick off, but within a minute or so, most lay still or were pinned down. The shooting stopped.
At rough count I estimated we dropped about fifty people. Fourteen more had been out on patrol. That left another twenty to twenty-five troops still alive. If they were organized, and in good positions, they would be a formidable force to overcome.
The End (well, not really, but The End for now)
Chapter 20 can be found HERE.
~ ~ ~ o o o ~ ~ ~
Astute persons might have noticed these doodles, and correctly surmised they hold some significance for me, and perhaps for humanity at large.
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. . . my FP ward . . . chieken shit.