Sorry. After yesterday, I literally fell asleep at my keyboard. I’ll try to finish my account of yesterday’s actions before I pass out again this evening.
When I first heard the sound, I thought it was a lamb or a kid – you know, a baby goat. The second time I heard the sound, I realized that it was the other kind of kid – a human baby.
The three of us just looked at each other, dumbfounded. We hadn’t heard a baby cry in months. Our brains couldn’t seem to piece together what was happening. The sound was unfamiliar. The setting was unfamiliar. Why would a baby be crying outside in the middle of winter a mile from pretty much any shelter? The combined effect of those circumstances left us like first-graders looking at a Calculus test.
“What was that?” Joseph finally broke the silence.
“A baby,” Sam had figured it out.
“Other than our place and the Hansons’, the closest house has to be a mile away, easily.” I was trying to work out in my head what was going on.
“Let’s go check it out,” Sam said.
“Hold on,” I put my hand on Sam’s shoulder. “It could be a trap of some sort.”
Both Sam and Joseph looked at me like I was a paranoid schizophrenic. Maybe I was, but just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you. Things were strange enough and dangerous enough on a (new) normal day. Throwing a crying baby, in the middle of nowhere, into the mix made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. That was always a bad sign.
“Are you kidding?” Joseph was incredulous. “We have to go help that baby.”
“Guys, we don’t know what we’re getting into here,” I replied. “That baby could be a member of a large group. That large group could overpower us and take everything we have. There are a hundred other scenarios that could be just as bad … or worse. My instincts tell me that something is not right ….”
“Obviously, something isn’t right,” Sam interrupted, “There’s a baby out in the middle of a snow bank somewhere.”
“Maybe,” I agreed. “We don’t know for sure. All I’m saying is, let’s be careful. I want to check it out as much as you do, but I don’t want to get killed or put our family in danger in the process.”
“OK, we get it,” Joseph chimed in urgently. “What do we do?”
I mapped out a plan that got us into the area where we thought the baby was without revealing ourselves. My only problem was that I was much more familiar with the territory to the south of our farm that I was to the north. I tried to remember what was over the hill but came up with nothing.
We ended up following a ridge around to the northwest. We stayed just below the crest of the ridge to avoid silhouetting ourselves and kept as quiet as possible. We stopped every few yards to listen and make sure we weren’t exposing ourselves in some way that we didn’t anticipate. We never heard the baby cry again while we made our way across the road and onto the next farm.
After nearly an hour and a half, we had worked our way close to the center of the section. We reached a high point that gave us a pretty good view of the valley below. I crawled up to the top of the hill with my binoculars to have a look around.
Below me and to my northeast was an old farm house set in the middle of a thick stand of trees. It was difficult to see a lot of detail even though the tree branches were bare. I could see that the house hadn’t been painted in years. It was a weathered, gray-brown color – the color of many abandoned farm houses and out buildings in the area. The front porch sagged. The roof line looked like an old swayback mare. I couldn’t tell if there were holes in the roof or not but I could see broken panes of glass in a couple of the windows on the west side. Those windows appeared to be boarded up with particle board.
The yard was trampled flat. The snow was nearly obliterated.
I didn’t have a good view of the north or east sides of the house but there appeared to be vehicles parked in the east yard. I could see their bumpers through the east end of the front porch.
Dark smoke was drifting out of the chimney.
I carefully worked my way back down below the crest of the hill to where my brothers were waiting.
“Someone’s living there,” I informed them. “It looks like there could be quite a few people. The snow in the yard is all trampled down. There’s a pile of trash on the front porch that looks pretty fresh. There’s a fire going in the wood stove or fireplace. You can smell it if you give a sniff.”
Both of my brothers sniffed the air. The smoke smelled like burning trash and wood.
“I’d like to get a look at the vehicles in the east yard,” I said. “I’m guessing the baby was outside the house somewhere. Maybe the mother stepped outside with it for a bit. The weather isn’t too bad.”
“Those tracks we saw near Hansons’ were pretty much right in the direction of this house,” I continued. “Somehow, the people in this house are connected with the Gunters – of that I’m sure.”
“Any ideas on the connection?” Sam asked.
“Not until we find out more,” I replied. “I want to take a closer look.”
I mapped out a plan for Sam and Joseph to cover me while I went in closer to see what was going on and then started following the ridge line back to the south. I was glad we brought the handheld short-waves along but I was hoping that whoever was in that house didn’t have a scanner.
It took me about an hour to make my way back to the road on my own. Once I reached the road, I started working my way back toward the farm house again. Initially, there was little cover. As I got closer to the house, I used the stand of trees surrounding the house for concealment. As I worked my way through the trees, I made a mental note that the trees that surrounded our houses could be as much of a weakness as they were a strength. I made my way carefully looking for trip wires and booby traps. It didn’t appear that the people in the house had done a lot of preparation but one can never be too careful.
As I worked my way through the woods, I heard the baby cry again. This time the cry was muffled. The baby was inside the house. The crying continued for perhaps a minute – maybe 90 seconds. I could hear shouts from inside the house. Suddenly, there was a shrill scream. The front door burst open a few seconds later and a woman came running out of the house with something in her arms. I was pretty sure it was a baby.
The woman was dressed warmly but not warm enough to be outside. She was wearing thick, fuzzy slippers, fleece pants and a sweatshirt. Her blond hair was in a pony tail trailing behind her as she ran. All this registered in a flash before a man came running out of the house after the woman.
Guess what I noticed first about the man. In his right hand was a revolver. After that, I noticed that he was wearing only boxer shorts and socks.
The guy ran across the front porch and down steps, following the woman. As he ran, he carried the revolver by his side, his arm out away from him and the pistol turned sideways.
Almost reflexively, I flicked off the safety on my AR.
The woman was headed directly toward me. My guess is that she was trying to make it to the woods – maybe to hide. I was nearly invisible in my current location. She couldn’t have known that I was there.
My focus was on the guy that followed her. He was probably in his late twenties or early thirties with a dark mop of hair on his head and a thin growth of facial hair. He had almost no body hair. His complexion was dark enough that I was pretty sure that he was of Hispanic descent. The pieces of the puzzle started dropping together in my mind as I continued to watch the scene unfold in front of me. This guy definitely had a connection to the Gunter girls’ boyfriends.
Suddenly, the guy stopped running. He skidded to a stop on the packed snow in the front yard and yelled after the woman with the baby. I was close enough to hear what he said, but the look on his face registered more than the words coming out of his mouth. When I saw the look on his face, my eyes flicked back to his hands. He was raising the pistol “gangsta” style – turned sideways with his elbow cocked slightly outward. He cocked his head downward and to his right – trying to get a look at the gun’s sights, I guess.
I hesitated for a split second, not wanting to engage an enemy of unknown number and strength. Then, lead started flying in my direction. Some of it passed through the woman and the baby on its way.
I closed my eyes briefly, cursed silently and rolled to my right. I came up in a battle crouch, AR at the ready.
“Engaging,” I said into my radio.
The VOX function transmitted my intent to Joseph and Sam almost as quickly as I put two rounds into the guy with the revolver.
One bullet smashed into the guy’s solar plexus, the other caught him in the throat. He dropped to his knees, the revolver fell out of his hand and he gurgled up about a half-pint of blood onto the trampled snow. The look in his eyes was hollow and blank. He was still alive, on his knees, as I ran toward him.
I smashed the butt of my AR into his face as I ran past him toward the west side of the house. In the back of my mind I heard him topple over into the frozen snow and pictured him on his side, a growing pool of his own blood darkening the snow around him.
My mind was racing. How many people did they have here? How many weapons? How many friendlies? How would we tell?
“Anyone with a weapon dies,” I yelled into my radio. “Stay in position and make your shots count.”
Joseph and Sam weren’t ready for this. Then again, nobody ever was their first time. My first time flashed briefly into my mind. I recalled the blood … and the screams … the sound of the IED’s exploding. We didn’t call them IED’s back then. I don’t think that term was used until the second storm in the desert. We just called them roadside bombs …. Whatever you called them, they could do a lot of damage.
As I put distance between me and the guy with the revolver, I headed for the back of the house. I figured the gunfire out front would draw the inhabitants in that direction.
I was right.
Before I made it to the back of the house, I could hear the crack of Joseph’s AR. I suddenly remembered that Sam had a shotgun and wished that I had traded with him before I came in for close quarters work.
Mental note: Include some slugs in the shotgun load-outs.
Joseph and Sam were about sixty yards from the house with a good view of the front door. I had patterned that same shotgun at fifty yards, with the exact same ammunition that was now in it, just to see what it would do. Interestingly, the FLITECONTROL wad of the Federal law enforcement ammunition held the 00 buckshot together well enough at 50 yards that all but one of the nine pellets landed inside the torso outline on my pattern targets.
Sam would be able to put some pellets in people at 60 yards, but the AR, or some slugs for the shotgun, would have been much more effective from that distance. The 930, loaded with the FLITECONTROL buck, was an excellent close-quarters weapon. Anywhere up to about fifteen yards, the LE132 left a single hole about an inch or inch and a half in diameter. At 60 yards, though, it lost a good deal of its effectiveness.
Contrary to popular belief, most defensive shotgun rounds do not spread out to fill an entire room as soon as they leave the muzzle of the gun. You do have to aim – or point – a shotgun even when using it in close-quarters. The LE132 virtually destroyed anything it hit at CQB (close-quarters battle) distances – that was why so many law enforcement departments utilized it before the crash.
As I hit the steps to the back door, I heard Joseph’s AR crack twice more. Pistol fire – maybe a .38 – responded. Probably a revolver similar to the one wielded by the first guy out of the house.
The old door to the back of the farm house flew off the hinges as I hit it with my left shoulder running full-tilt. The wood was probably close to 100 years old and as brittle as a little old lady’s hip. As the door flew inward, I followed it expecting to enter a hallway. Instead, I entered a room – probably a mud room – that was about ten feet square. There was nothing in the room but a bunch of trash on the floor.
No response from inside the house yet.
The door from the mud room into the house was ajar. I could see through the six inch opening into what appeared to be the kitchen. I moved from side-to-side to get a wider view. The gunfire outside continued.
While I’m not a big fan of breaching and clearing a house by myself, I had managed to get myself into that position. Joseph and Sam were well protected up on the hill. It was unlikely that the pistol-toting, woman-shooting cowards would charge up the hill at them. I just needed to quit my belly-aching and do my job.
Violence and speed of action.
Tremendous violence and extraordinary speed are the tools of the breacher’s trade. Entering a building with little intelligence about the interior and its inhabitants puts the individuals breaching the building at a definite disadvantage. Standard military protocol would call for “softening” up the interior by utilizing flash-bang grenades (when friendlies might be inside) or fragmentation grenades when the breaching force knew that no friendlies were present. I had neither flash-bangs nor frags.
Mental note: Project for D.J. – flash bangs and frags.
Based on the actions of the guy that shot the woman and baby, I didn’t expect to meet anyone that was particularly well-trained or well-armed in the house, but I learned long ago and very painfully: never underestimate your enemy.
I kicked open the kitchen door and assessed the room in a split second.
Empty of people. Empty of appliances. Empty of cupboards. Just a copper tube where the gas stove used to be.
My banging of doors had gotten someone’s attention, though. I could hear heavy footsteps running down the stairs from the second floor. Based on the sound, I guessed that the steps would empty out somewhere near the middle of the dining room. Kind of an odd house design but then a lot of these houses were designed by farmers – certainly not by architects.
The kitchen opened to the dining room through a wide, open doorway perhaps six feet wide. I moved quickly to the side of the kitchen opposite the exit from the second floor stairwell just in time to see another Hispanic-looking guy stumble on the last step into the dining room.
Hands. Sawed-off shotgun. Double-tap.
He went down in a slump, his momentum carried him across the dining room and into the wall opposite the stairway.
Both of my shots appeared to have hit him in the head. The back of it was pretty much gone. The hydrostatic shock of a 62 grain bullet traveling at a little over 3000 feet per second is devastating at that range.
My ears were ringing but I could hear yelling outside that was getting closer to the house.
I heard Joseph’s rate of fire pick up and Sam’s shotgun boom.
The yelling was peppered with a couple yelps and some fairly colorful swearing after that. A few of those 00 pellets must have found their mark.
I grinned and positioned myself with a view of the front door. I was still in the kitchen. From my location on the west side of the opening to the dining room, I could see across the dining room and through a front parlor to where the front door opened onto an enclosed porch. That door was my kill zone. Only one or two guys could squeeze through that door at a time. I felt my chances of being able to engage them successfully were quite good.
“Keep ’em off the back door and pressure them in the front door,” I instructed Joseph and Sam.
Almost immediately, I heard the crack of Joseph’s AR and the smack of the round hitting the back of the house about fifteen feet behind me.
“Careful, dammit! I’m on the west wall.” I figured I’d be lucky if I didn’t get hit by friendly fire.
I crouched low.
“Sorry,” Joseph sounded pretty shaken.
Guys started pouring in the front door about then and things got really busy. I pretty much just focused my fire on that front door and let loose. I’m pretty sure I got four guys before the onslaught stopped.
“How many of them are there?” I wondered aloud.
“We counted six coming out of the house after you shot the first one,” Sam replied.
So, four of those six were down, plus the first guy and the one that came down the stairs. My brain was in overdrive, counting bodies, counting rounds … by my count I was fourteen rounds into my 30-round magazine with six bodies down.
Not exactly conserving ammunition. But then, better to waste a bullet and be sure an enemy was dead than die conserving ammo. I was carrying plenty.
I heard Joseph’s rifle crack again – closer this time.
“The two that came back out of the house are headed for the trees on the south,” Sam gave me an update. “We started coming down the hill when they went in the house. We’re moving in your direction.”
“Do not let those two get away,” I directed.
In answer, I heard Sam’s shotgun boom twice quickly. Probably four shots from Joseph’s AR were interlaced with the shotgun blasts.
“Done,” Joseph whispered so quietly I could barely hear him over the ringing in my ears.
“Good job,” I congratulated them. “I’m going to clear the second floor. Come in carefully. Keep me posted on your movements.”
“Roger that,” Sam replied.
The stair door stood open. I could see the first six feet of a very steep wooden staircase. There was no way I was going to be able to go quietly up those steps. They were going to creak like a carnival ride at a county fair.
I ducked my head and tried to get a look higher up.
Nothing in view. The walls were solid on both sides. No open banister to either side.
Thank God for small favors.
I made my way up the steps as quietly as possible. I stepped on the outside edges where the stringers would still give some support and keep the creaking to a minimum.
As I reached the top of the stairs, there was a horrible shriek. I looked to my left to see a dark-haired woman rushing out of a doorway about four feet away. She was half naked, her blouse mostly torn away, and in her hand was a bloody knife.
Hands. Weapon. Moving.
I didn’t have time to turn my rifle on her before she was on top of me. Rather than try to resist her charge and risk getting sliced up by the knife in the process, I simply used her momentum against her and rolled her over my hip and down the stairs. She landed with a sickening crunch face-first about half-way down the staircase. Her knife clattered to the bottom of the stairs and I could see that her right arm was bent the wrong way at the elbow.
With the knife lady no longer an immediate threat, I turned toward the door that she’d come out of. No movement. There was another door immediately to my right. It had been secured from the outside with a hasp. A padlock dangled from the metal loop on the door jam. The door swung inward. There was no window. I snagged my flashlight out of its pouch on my vest and flashed the light into the room with the momentary switch. No inhabitants. The room was perhaps six feet wide and eight feet long. I depressed the switch on my light until it clicked on. I could see that the room had a pile of clothes in it along with some packages of disposable diapers.
No immediate threat but there was blood in the room.
I started piecing together what had mostly likely happened at the house. The more pieces of the puzzle that fell into place, the less I liked it. A group of Hispanics, a blonde girl with a baby, a small room with baby items in it and a lock on the outside of the door – freshly installed by the look of it. Blood in the locked room. A tattooed Hispanic woman with a bloody knife.
The hair on the back of my neck was standing at attention like soldiers at Kim Jong-Il’s funeral.
At the end of the hall, further to my left, was another door. I could hear noises coming from the room but couldn’t see anything.
The hallway was incredibly tight with bookcases lining one side of its entire length. I slung my AR around to my back and drew my Glock.
The noises had stopped.
I made my way to the end of the hall and sliced the pie around the doorway.
There was blood everywhere. I mean, I’ve seen some blood and gore in my time but this room was almost, literally, covered in blood … with no sign of a reason why.
Then I saw it. The reason why.
A second light-haired girl was on a mattress in the far corner of the room. The only way I could tell the color of her hair … the top of her head was about the only spot on her that wasn’t covered in blood. Even the hair below her ears was drenched in it.
I would estimate that she had been stabbed or cut close to 30 times. Probably not a single one of those knife wounds was fatal, but she’d bled out. If I remember correctly, the average human body holds about six quarts of blood. The room looked like someone had put all that blood in a bucket and sloshed it around. The mattress on which the dead girl lay was absolutely soaked in blood.
What kind of an animal would do this to another human being?
I found out.
The crazy woman with the knife had returned. Her face was smashed. Her right arm was dislocated and she was limping pretty badly. Whatever else she was, she was definitely determined.
She had the knife in her left hand now and she carried it like she knew how to use it just as well with her left hand as with her right.
She made a move toward me. It was slow and clumsy. The fact that she was moving at all was, in itself, amazing.
I stepped to the side and punched her in the bridge of the nose with the trigger guard of my Glock.
Have you ever seen the trigger guard of a Glock? On the front of the trigger guard there’s a small point that protrudes from the lower section of the guard. I’m not sure what Glock’s original intent was with that design, but some enterprising and creative close-quarters combats folks have figured out that the pointy little protrusion of polymer on Glock’s trigger guards is nearly as effective as a set of brass knuckles.
I’ve never had the opportunity to use my Glock’s trigger guard in an actual combat scenario before – only in training against training dummies. No, not the guys with an AFQT score of less than 50. Think of a mannequin. The trigger guard does a lot of damage to three-dimensional training dummies when used appropriately.
You really do not want to see what it does to relatively small Hispanic women.
The woman went down like a bag of rags. I kicked the knife away from her and rolled her over onto her front, pulling her arms behind her.
I heard footsteps coming down the hall and turned drawing the Glock.
It was Joseph and Sam.
“You guys really don’t want to see the inside of this room,” I said as I holstered my Glock.
I pinned the Hispanic woman’s arms together at the elbows and fished a big zip tie out of my cargo pocket. Her right forearm flopped unnaturally. Joseph saw it and dry-heaved a little bit. I fed the zip tie under her arms and cinched it up around her elbows.
“You guys don’t have to watch,” I gave them an out.
Joseph took them out. Sam stayed. Maybe I’ve underestimated him.
“All right, Sam, if you’re going to stick around, make yourself useful,” I said. “Give me some of your zip ties.”
Sam reached into his cargo pocket and grabbed one of his zip ties while I kept my knee in the middle of the woman’s back and a grip on her wrists. With Sam’s zip tie, I zipped her wrists together.
“OK, now two more,” I said.
Sam gave me two more zip ties. I cinched one around her ankles and then used the fourth plastic band to secure her ankles to her wrists.
“That’ll help us carry her,” I said. “You can pick her up like a suitcase.”
I showed Sam how to do it. The woman was only a little over five feet tall and couldn’t have weighed a hundred pounds so she was a fairly light load.
“Carrying her like this … her dislocated elbow is going to hurt pretty bad when she comes to,” I said, “but I’m OK with that. You OK with that?”
I cocked my head toward the dead woman on the mattress.
Sam looked inside the room, nodded and swallowed hard.
“Put her down in the front parlor,” I instructed.
Sam hauled the woman down the steps like he was carrying a heavy suitcase. As he came to the bottom of the steps, he had to duck a little bit and lost his balance with the load. He dropped the woman. She moaned but didn’t come to. Sam looked up at me with a little bit of a grin, shrugged his shoulders and picked her back up.
He might just become a decent soldier with some training.
I wrapped the dead woman in a blanket that I found in the locked room and carried her gently down the stairs. She’d lost so much blood that none even soaked through the blanket while I carried her. At the bottom of the stairs, I carefully laid her on the floor of the dining room.
After that, Sam and I gathered up the woman and the baby from out by the trees and laid them on the floor in the dining room as well.
Joseph came back into the house as we were finishing up. He was as white as a ghost. There was still a little bit of something on his lips from throwing up. He wiped at it with the back of his glove.
“Here’s my plan, guys,” I started. “The ground is frozen too hard. We can’t bury these girls and the baby.”
“What about the Mexicans,” Joseph asked.
“They don’t get buried,” I replied. “They don’t deserve it as far as I’m concerned. Coyotes gotta eat.”
I didn’t think Joseph’s color could have gotten any worse but it did. He looked a little wobbly in the knees.
“Look,” I said, “I don’t know if you figured out what’s been going on here or not, but it’s pretty plain to me.”
I let that sit for a moment.
“I’m not sure how it all came about,” I continued, “but it looks like the two blonde girls and the baby were being held here against their will. There’s a room up there with a lock on the outside of it. Any ideas why a room would have a lock on the outside of it? There’s a bunch of blankets in the room covered in blood and some baby stuff. You getting this?”
I gave Joseph another moment. Sam seemed to be with me so far.
Joseph looked down at the floor, “Yeah, I get it.”
“Like I said, I don’t know how it came about or what all these Mexicans did to these girls – besides lock them up and kill them,” the sarcasm in my voice was obvious, “but it obviously wasn’t good. If you’re willing to shoot a woman and a baby … I’m not going to any effort whatsoever to bury you.” I said it with an air of finality that left little doubt in Joseph’s mind as to what was going to be done with the bodies of the Mexicans.
“So, find some hose and siphon some gas out of one of those cars,” I ordered. “Bring the gas into the house. We’re at least going to give these two girls and the baby a funeral pyre.”
“Leave the Mexicans where they lay – except the guy over there, bring him out – strip their weapons and anything else useful off of them and out of the house” I continued. “This one is coming with us.” I nudged the woman on the ground with my foot. “We need to figure out the connection between the two boys with the Gunters and this crew here.”
Joseph just nodded and headed for the house. Sam went to the cars.
The knife-wielder was starting to come around. I crouched down close to her face. I wanted to be the first thing she saw when she opened her eyes. Her eyelids fluttered and she seemed to be trying to focus.
“Good morning,” I said looking at my watch. It was almost Noon. “Today has been a very bad day for you.”
“Chingate!” she spat through her broken lips. Her face was caked in dried blood. Several of her front teeth were missing and the white of her left eye had turned completely red. She was tough, I’ll give her that. I was thinking that getting information out of her was going to be tough.
“En Español? Bien,” I responded. My Spanish was passable, but not great. I’d spent some time in Central America but hadn’t spoken the language much since then.
She let off a string of swearing, in English, that would have made a sailor blush. At least I knew she could speak English.
I guessed her age at about 40. Even before she, apparently, got into a knock-down-drag-out with the blonde girl in the upstairs bedroom, had a face-to-face meeting with the wooden stairs and took the full brunt of my Glock’s trigger guard she would have looked a little worse for wear. “Rode hard and put up wet,” was the phrase that came to mind.
Her black hair was heavily streaked with gray. What was left of her face was lined with wrinkles. Her skin hung off of her loosely. My guess is she had lost quite a bit of weight over the last few months. She definitely looked older than she was.
I patted her down to make sure she didn’t have any more weapons on her. The pat-down produced a broken crack pipe and a couple rocks in a scrap of tin foil. She had crack but there was hardly any food in the house. Amazing.
Sam and Joseph returned with the haul from the Mexicans’ bodies, the house and the cars.
One of the items was a .50 caliber ammo can filled with tools. Rattling around inside the can with the tools were a few links from a .50 cal belt.
I motioned to the can, “See if you can pull the hood off of one of the cars. It’ll be a lot easier to get her back to the Hanson place on a sled than it will be to carry her.”
Sam and Joseph looked at me, confused.
“The Hanson place?” Sam asked the question on both of their minds.
“Yeah,” I responded, “I want the Gunter girls’ boyfriends to be there when I question her.”
Sam and Joseph looked at one another, back at me and shrugged simultaneously as if to say, “We have no clue what you’re going to do … and probably don’t want one.”
They were right. I had decided that rapists, child-abusers and baby killers could be added to the very top of my list of people likely to experience what happened when I “went off” … well above bullies, know-it-alls and the lazy.