Xu to Kill
As the tracker stooped to investigate the United Nations name tape, his three comrades joined him.
“Careful not to destroy any sign,” the tracker warned.
None of the three remaining men in the small group knew anything about tracking – other than it seemed to be relatively easy to destroy sign if you didn’t know what constituted sign. The three men froze in their tracks to avoid destroying that which they didn’t recognize.
Inside the nearby maintenance shed, Xu Guan had been sorting through the supplies to locate materials to make snares. He had found a roll of wire and a pair of side-cutters. As of yet, he hadn’t found anything to use for bait. Xu Guan paused in his preparations to look around the shed. As he did so, Xu Guan was certain that he heard voices outside.
Xu Guan looked around the shed for a hiding place, quickly realizing that hiding was probably useless. The shed was small. Although he had attempted to cover his digging, anyone searching for him would certainly notice the evidence.
“No, better to seek out than to be sought out,” Xu Guan realized as he began to develop his strategy. “All warfare is based on deception.”
Xu Guan moved quickly, grabbing up the shotgun and stuffing his pockets full of shells. He wriggled back out of his hole and replaced the barrel. Once the barrel was back in place, he climbed on top of its neighbor and then onto the roof of the building. As he approached the roof’s peak, he flattened himself and peered over. As he had guessed, four men with what appeared to be military uniforms and military rifles were moving in the direction of the building. The lead man’s head was down as he scanned the earth.
“He must be a hunter,” Xu Guan tried to quiet his breathing and slow his heartbeat. He had spent many of the hours of his youth in a similar position looking for food to feed his family.
As the four men approached the building’s door, Xu Guan lost sight of them. He heard the lock rattle as they checked the door. Then, he head footsteps as they rounded the corner of the building to the back where the barrels sat along the building’s wall. Xu Guan could hear footfalls in the soft dirt and nothing more. Abruptly, the movement stopped. They had spotted the barrel that sat over his rabbit hole, Xu Guan was sure of it.
Noiselessly, Xu Guan slipped over the peak of the roof onto the opposite side. He could hear footsteps again. They were returning to the front of the building. Xu Guan crabbed toward the back of the roof.
The tracker was deciding what to do. It seemed obvious that someone – perhaps their quarry – was holed up inside the maintenance shed. The door remained undisturbed but there were signs of dirt movement near the rear of the building. It seemed that there was the distinct possibility of a camouflaged entrance in the area where the dirt had been moved – perhaps a tunnel of some sort.
Retreating back to the woods, the squad of four kneeled behind a deadfall for concealment.
“We don’t know who, if anyone, is inside that building,” one of the men said what they were all thinking. “How hard do we need to try to find this guy?”
The four men had been sent after one of the few survivors of their group’s attack on a nearby military hospital. The hospital had been occupied by U.N. forces with ample supplies making it a doubly attractive target – eliminate a number of U.N. “invaders” and reap the benefits of their supplies. It had simply been too much to resist.
The attack had been largely successful. They had lost a few men with a few more sustaining injuries, but they had taken the hospital and its supplies and killed every U.N. solider with the exception of a handful who escaped. Their current quarry was one of those escapees.
“The Governor wants him alive,” the tracker interjected.
“Yeah, I know, but what if we can’t find him?” one of the others responded. “What if we have to kill him?”
“You know what if,” the tracker replied.
Among the four men, the tracker was the only one with a military background and the only one with the discipline to stick with a mission whether the Governor demanded it or not. The other three were just as likely to abandon the mission as they were to complete it … threats of violence from the Governor or not.
Technically, the Governor was not a governor. He had merely instituted himself as the leader of a group of refugees who had joined forces to survive. The Governor had cemented his role as leader through violence. He arrived one day with a handful of seedy looking characters who literally beat everyone else into submission on his behalf. The Governor and his minions lived like kings taking whatever they wanted whenever they wanted it and forcing the other inhabitants of the high school building where they resided to work for them as if they were indentured servants.
The tracker had worked himself into a position on the periphery of the Governor’s inner circle. After losing his family and struggling to survive for several months, things had just started to go his way.
“You guys run like rabbits if you want to,” the tracker challenged, “I’m seeing this through.”
The three men looked at one another. Two of them locked eyes.
“I’m out,” the first informed his counterparts.
“Me too,” the second agreed. “I’ve had enough of the Governor.”
The tracker looked directly at the third man, “You going with them?”
Conflict was obvious on the man’s face. After a moment’s pause, he said, “Nah, I’ll stick with you.”
“You two beat it, then,” the tracker waved his hand in the direction opposite the hospital.
“Good luck,” the two men said in unison as they rose to their feet.
Twin shotgun blasts exploded within a single second. The two deserters’ faces disappeared in a red mist. The tracker and his remaining companion hit the dirt looking for cover.
Xu Guan broke open the breach of the old shotgun as he ran in a low crouch toward a new position of cover.
“Not bad for a rusty old gun,” Xu Guan smiled momentarily.
One of the empty shells popped out. The other remained stuck in the shotgun’s chamber. Xu Guan flicked it out with a fingernail and replaced the two empty shells with two more like them. Xu Guan had never seen 00 Buckshot before, but he liked its effects at relatively close range. One of the men was still screaming but the other was deathly silent.
The tracker rolled over and pushed his dead companion away in disgust. Most of the man’s head was missing. Brains and blood had spattered everywhere. The second of the two deserters was writhing in pain a few feet away. A quick look revealed that a chunk of his skull and jaw were missing. In the tracker’s opinion, the man didn’t have long. In the mean time … he could provide a necessary diversion.
With a heave, the tracker hefted the man to his feet and gave him a shove in the general direction of the shotgun blast. What was left of the man’s instincts kicked in and he took a few halting steps toward the maintenance shed.
A third blast broke the silence and knocked a hole in the nearly dead man’s mid-section the size of a baseball. The man took one more reflexive step and then plowed face-first into the dirt. He slid a few inches leaving a trail of blood, guts and brains.
Crouching, ready to sprint, the tracker listened for the sounds of a reload. Off to his left he heard a click and then the creak of rusty metal. Paying no attention to his still-living comrade, the tracker took a read on the sound, scanned quickly and then sprinted for higher ground and better cover.
A blast filled the tracker’s ears as pellets sprayed the back of his legs. It was painful but not debilitating. As he dove for the cover of a large cottonwood, the tracker felt someone coming up quickly behind him. A fifth blast echoed through the woods and propelled the man past the tracker and onto the ground beyond the tree he was using for cover.
“Ungh … I’m hit,” the man moaned.
“Me too,” the tracker replied, “but I think it’s just bird shot.”
The other man rolled over onto his back. There was a chunk missing from his side. Two of his lower ribs were obviously broken and protruding from the gaping wound.
“What the …?” the tracker’s voice trailed off. “He must be mixing bird shot and buckshot.”
The tracker rolled his pack off of his shoulders and reached inside for his first aid kit.
“Here,” he offered his wounded companion a military compress, “put pressure on it with this. I’m going to try to take this guy out.”
The tracker inhaled deeply and then rolled across a few feet of ground to a fallen log.
The tracker’s wounded comrade was making gurgling noises.
The tracker forced himself to ignore the sound and low-crawled to the far end of the log. He peered down toward the maintenance shed through the tangled root ball.
“Where’d he go?” the tracker wondered.
Suddenly, a twig snapped behind the tracker. He whirled, thumbing the safety on his AR-15 as he did so. As he turned, he realized that he was a fraction of a second too late. A short, slender Asian man in a U.N. uniform was pointing a double-barrel shotgun at his head from only a few yards away.