The Union Creek Journal

A Chronicle of Survival

Archive for the tag “national guard”

Ariela’s Escape

A huge explosion shook Ariela awake.  Instinctively, she rolled out of bed and hit the floor.  She waited silently for a moment getting her bearings.  This wasn’t Afghanistan.  She was in her little house in Nebraska.  The explosion didn’t make sense.

Ariela low-crawled to the dresser where she left her sidearm at night.  She reached up and grabbed the familiar Beretta, automatically checking the load.  Full magazine and one in the chamber.  Safety off, ready to go.

As a Marine, Ariela had gotten in trouble more than once for carrying her M9 in Condition Zero – loaded, round in the chamber and safety off.  In her opinion, it was better to receive an Article 15 than it was to end up dead because you were fumbling with your safety while someone was trying to kill you.

Fortunately, Ariela was an exemplary Marine in virtually every other sense so her company commander had overlooked the infractions.

There was a reddish glow coming through Ariela’s north window.  Her bedroom was tiny – barely big enough for her single bed and dresser – but it had two windows.  The north window allowed a nice breeze to enter the room in the spring, summer and fall.  The west window allowed it to pass through.

Ariela raised her head just above the window sill.  There was a huge dust cloud in the general vicinity of the armory.  She could hear secondary explosions and small arms fire from her location nearly two miles away.

“They didn’t wait,” she whispered.  “Whoever they are, those survivors didn’t wait for us to attack them.  They attacked us.”

Ariela found herself filled with a certain degree of respect for these people.

“They must be former military,” Ariela speculated.  “If we had attacked them, we would all most likely be dead.”

The next thought that popped into Ariela’s head brought an evil grin to her pretty face.  Enrique was at the armory.  He and the rest of the local crew would have been loading the trucks and getting ready to leave on her command.

Suddenly, it seemed, the Enrique problem had solved itself.

“Sometimes that happens,” Ariela chuckled aloud.  “Problems left alone often have a way of solving themselves.”

Of course, Ariela realized that she would need to verify.  “Trust, but verify,” pithy advice from one of her ITC instructors.

Ariela had been the third female to participate in the Marines’ Individual Training Course, the seven-month course designed to produce the Marines’ Critical Skills Operators.  It had been the crowning achievement of her life.  The Marines had only started allowing females to participate in Assessment & Selection the year before.  Two females before Ariela had been selected to participate in the ITC.  Both had washed out before Phase Three.  Ariela was the first female to complete all four phases.

Then, during an extended leave for her mother’s funeral … the crash.  Ariela was left stranded in Nebraska with no communication.  As far as she knew, the Marines had been shut down – along with every other department of the federal government – when the U.S. went bankrupt.

Ariela snapped back to the present as another secondary explosion ripped through the frosty morning air.  She could see the column of fire from her window.

“Must have ignited the propane tank,” Ariela thought as she began getting dressed.

Five minutes later, Ariela was fully dressed and armed with an M4 and her Beretta.  Her short, dark hair barely stuck out from under her boonie hat.

Twenty-five minutes after that, Ariela was scouting the area around the armory.  The place had been leveled.  Whatever had been used for the initial blast must have had the power of … Ariela caught a whiff of ammonia.  Of course, farmers with anhydrous … these people were not only competent, they were resourceful as well.

“Make use of what you have at hand,” Ariela recited the maxim as if she had learned it only yesterday.

From her vantage point, Ariela could see uniformed individuals advancing on the remains of the armory.  They all appeared to be wearing U.S. military uniforms but the uniforms were unmatched.  Some had more recent ACU’s or MCCUU’s.  Others wore the old Woodland BDU’s and still others wore the Desert BDU’s from the First Gulf War.

The uniformed troops systematically cleared the remains of the armory and killed anyone they found still alive.

“Ruthless,” Ariela whispered breathlessly.  She was slightly taken aback by the survivors’ absolute lack of mercy.

As Ariela watched the remainder of the operation, her admiration grew.  Some of the participants obviously had no military training but they followed what appeared to be a strict protocol, regardless.

Eventually, the group roared off with three still-mobile HMMWV’s, two Deuce-and-a-halfs, a Dodge pickup and a Ford Excursion.

Ariela stayed in place for another hour watching for movement.  She scanned the hills around the armory.  She scanned the houses.  Most had been burned to the ground and were uninhabited.

After about an hour and a half, some of the local citizens started to come out of the woodwork.  Ariela needed to blend in.  Most of the citizens had guns.  Ariela wouldn’t have to ditch her weapons.  She did, however, need to get out of her MCCUU’s and into some civilian clothes.

Ariela scanned the houses around her with her binoculars.  A man and a woman slunk out of a house about 100 yards away in the direction of the armory.  Ariela guessed the woman to be about her size.

After a quick recon, Ariela decided the house was empty.  The front door had been left unlocked.

“Not smart,” Ariela grumbled.

Inside, Ariela quickly found the couple’s bedroom and closet.  She dug into the bottom of the woman’s dresser drawers to find clothing that the woman hadn’t worn in some time.  Ariela found a stack of coats hung in the back hallway and selected one of the most generic that she could find.  It was a man’s coat – Carhartt – and only a little too large.  Nearly everyone in the area owned a similar coat.  Once Ariela felt sufficiently gray – as though she would blend in with those around her and go unnoticed – she exited the house and headed for the armory.  She imitated the pace and movements of the other civilians around her, trying as hard to blend in with her actions and movements as she had with her clothes.

As she reached the armory, Ariela could see that the civilians were picking it over without argument.  Everyone had reached something of a balance.  Things were in short supply.  You might have to do without a little bit but it was better to share with your neighbors than to shoot them or be shot by them.

“Amazing!” Ariela pondered the implications.

Although Ariela wasn’t there to scavenge food or supplies, she picked up an item here or there to hide her true actions.  She was looking at faces and body parts trying to find Enrique.  In all likelihood he would have been in the HQ room, Ariela reasoned.  He was probably sitting in that Aeron chair with his feet up on the commander’s desk while everyone else humped to get ready for the attack.

Ariela spit in revulsion and slowly made her way toward the back of the east end of the building.  The devastation was complete.  There literally was not a wall left standing on the back half of the building.  If Enrique had been in the commander’s chair when the blast hit … he would have been nearly obliterated.  Ariela resigned herself to trying to find a piece of him.

As she sorted through the rubble, Ariela picked up a few items.  Suddenly she stopped.  Protruding from a pile of broken concrete blocks was a hand.  The hand had rings on every finger.  Enrique always had loved his bling.

Ariela tugged on the hand.  The crumbled blocks grated against one another and toppled to the side.  Along with the hand came an arm.  Ariela turned over the arm to find a panther tattoo.  Enrique’s pride and joy.  Oh, how he loved to flex his fat forearm to make the panther move.

“What an idiot!” Ariela had hidden her feelings about her cousin for so long, the phrase passed her lips involuntarily.

Ariela removed the rings from the fingers and tossed the arm aside.  There was no sign of the body under the same pile of rubble.  However, Ariela did come across a skull fragment nearly embedded into a piece of concrete block.  Attached to the skull fragment was an ear.  In the ear was a one karat diamond stud earring.  Another sure sign.  Enrique frequently twisted the earring when he was thinking – or doing what passed for thinking when it came to Enrique.

Ariela was sure of it.  Enrique was dead.

Of course, along with Enrique went the National Guard armory and its resources … and a few members of Ariela’s extended family.

“So much for that part of the plan,” Ariela groused, focused on the loss of resources.

As she turned to investigate the motor pool, a black Cadillac Escalade pulled up.  Ariela knew before he stepped out with his guards, it was her uncle, Fernando.  No one else would be burning gas and driving an Escalade these days.

As the civilians around her started to scatter, Ariela scattered with them.  She hadn’t decided whether it was better for Fernando to think she was dead or know that she was alive.  Keeping him in the dark, for the time being, was probably the most advantageous Ariela decided.

Ariela made her way back to her small house, grabbed her bug-out bag, packed a few more things in her Marine-issue duffle bag and headed out through the back door.

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Februay 10, 2015: Monkeys

I finally had a chance to tune in to some short-wave radio over the last couple days.  Although the weather is still wintry, it would seem that the world is starting to see some sprouts of recovery and re-growth.

From what I can tell, China is leading the way on the international front.  Reports seem to indicate that they were not hit as hard by the crash as were North America, and Europe.  For some reason, I haven’t been able to find out much about the other areas of the world.

It sounds as though Chinese troops, under the United Nations’ crest, will soon be boots on ground in many of the harder-hit countries like the U.S.  No one seems to have much more factual detail beyond that, but there is plenty of speculation that the Chinese forces will essentially be repo-men, disguised by the blue U.N. helmets, looking to gobble up any remaining assets to collect on the debts owed them.

Certainly plausible.

The densely populated areas of the northeastern U.S. were hit hardest here in the states.  The less-populated areas around the cities seem to have fared a little better but were overrun, in many cases, by looters in the mass exodus from the more metropolitan areas.

Destruction in rural areas of the country, like ours, has mainly been limited to larger towns and smaller cities.

Remnants of the old U.S. government are trying to pull together a new, provisional government based in Portland, Oregon.  I haven’t figured out whether that’s a good thing or not.  Too many remnants of the pre-crash government will simply lead us right back to where we were a couple years ago.

It’s like the story of the monkeys.

Scientists put five monkeys in a cage and hung a banana on a string.  Beneath the banana, the scientists put a set of stairs.  The monkeys could climb the stairs to reach the banana.

Every time a monkey climbed the stairs and touched the banana, the scientists would spray all of the monkeys with cold water.  The scientists did this for several days until the monkeys in the cage stopped climbing the stairs.  The scientists then stopped spraying the monkeys with cold water.

Eventually, the scientists removed one monkey and replaced it with a new monkey.  Shortly after the new monkey was introduced into the cage, it began to climb the stairs to get the banana.  The rest of the monkeys immediately attacked the new monkey, preventing him from climbing the stairs to the banana.

One by one, the scientists replaced each of the five original monkeys with new monkeys.  Each time a new monkey was introduced into the cage, it would attempt to climb the stairs to get the banana.  Each time the monkey was attacked by the other monkeys as it attempted to climb the stairs.

After all five of the original monkeys had been replaced, the scientists replaced one of the new monkeys with another new monkey.  None of the monkeys in the cage had ever been sprayed with cold water when attempting to reach for the banana.  Nevertheless, when the new monkey attempted to climb the stairs, the rest of the monkeys attacked him.

Why?  Because that was the way it “had always been”.  None of the monkeys knew any different.

I’m more than a little concerned that the remnants of our government involved in putting together a new government are like the monkeys.  They just don’t know of a better way to govern than the way that drove us to the brink of extinction in the first place.

The fact that China has taken the lead in re-forming civilization frightens me even more.  They weren’t exactly a bastion of civil liberty before the crash.  I can only imagine how their surviving leadership views the new normal.

Is it possible that the sprouts of recovery seen creeping from the rubble of society were the seeds of tyranny sown before its collapse?

As if I didn’t already have a hundred problems.

Speaking of a hundred problems, have you heard the saying, “It’s what you don’t know that you don’t know that gets you”?

I have this feeling that there is a lot we don’t know that we don’t know about Hernandez’s organization.

One thing we do know is that there were multiple outposts.  We know that one of those outposts is just a few miles to our south.  We know, from Pete’s questioning, that Daniel informed that outpost of our existence and location before he was taken into town.  We know Daniel was around long enough to get a pretty good look at our defenses.

We don’t know how many outposts Hernandez had.  We don’t think Hernandez was killed in the attack on the armory – at least Pete’s detainee was pretty sure that Hernandez was not there, personally.

Hernandez seems like a guy that keeps his hands clean, letting others do the heavy lifting and dirty work.  So, it seems quite possible that he’s still around.

We don’t know how many members of Hernandez’s gang were not at the armory when we attacked it.  I’m sure there are other things we don’t know that we just weren’t smart enough to ask before we disposed of our source of information.

Time for a pow-wow between Pete’s family and my family.

On the good news front we were able to “liberate” a fair amount of vehicles, equipment and supplies from the motor pool at the armory.  Hernandez’s troops had obviously been loading supplies into the trucks in anticipation of their attack against us.

We mainly recovered weapons and ammunition, but also a few cases of MRE’s, a number of water coolers and a several ALICE packs filled with battle supplies.

We also ended up with three 6.5 liter turbo diesel HMMWV’s – two up-armored with turret-mounted M2E2 .50 caliber guns and one with an ambulance van – and two Deuce-and-a-halfs.  Both of the HMMWV’s with the .50’s were loaded up with twelve 100-round cans of ball ammo on belts.  In the back of one of the Deuces were another fifty cans of .50 caliber ball.  We also found ten cans of M962 SLAP armor-piercing ammo with tracer rounds interspersed.  A thousand rounds can go through a M2 pretty quickly but it was still a nice find.

In the same Deuce we found about 18,000 rounds of 5.56 ammo loaded in 30 round magazines and packed in “Tall .50” ammo cans.  Someone knew what they were doing when it came to packing ammo.  I store my own 5.56 exactly the same way.  Of course, before we hit the armory, I had nowhere near 18,000 rounds.

There were also twenty M4’s – the newer version with the three-round burst setting and ACOG sights.  We found a half-dozen Beretta M9’s in a locked box in the same Deuce.  Next to the Berettas were three night-vision cases … complete with NVESD Gen III+ devices and helmet mounts.

Score!

There were a number of odds and ends like helmets, web gear, body armor and the like but none in significant numbers.  Most likely it was just the gear for the vehicle’s drivers and co-drivers.  The rest of the gear was probably in the armory when we sent it skyward.

At first I wasn’t sure what we were going to do with all of the weaponry but then I realized that Hernandez is quite possibly still out there and several of his outposts definitely are still up and functional.

Finding a use for all my new toys will not be one of my hundred problems.

Ariela’s Choice

Ariela woke to a coldness that told her that the fire in the wood stove had gone out.  It wasn’t the first time that she’d slept straight through the night and let the fire go out in the last few weeks.  She breathed out heavily watching the fog from her breath disappear into the cold air of her little bedroom.

“I wonder how cold it got in here last night,” she mumbled to no one in particular.

Despite everything that was happening, Ariela had been sleeping well.  She was working hard during the day and often late into the evening.  She was frequently so tired by the time she reached her small house at night that she went directly to bed.  Helping her cousin, Enrique, was wearing on her.  Usually Ariela could manage four solid hours of sleep no matter what the conditions.  It was a skill she had learned as a Marine.  Sleep and eat when you can.  You don’t know when you’ll have a chance to do either again.

Enrique was becoming more and more of a problem.  Ariela believed that Enrique, in his heart-of-hearts, was entirely beyond redemption.  He was selfish, depraved and corrupt in every way imaginable.  Every day Ariela regretted her decision to help him manage the National Guard armory.

They had an agreement – Enrique and Ariela – that she would help him as long as he didn’t lie to her.  Ariela was sure that Enrique had lied to her.  She could see it in his eyes.  She couldn’t prove it, though.  A woman of her word, Ariela was hesitant to break her promise without absolute proof of Enrique’s deceit.

“Perhaps Uncle Fernando would advise me,” Ariela thought as the slipped out of her sleeping bag and slid her feet onto the cold, oak floor next to her bed.

Enrique was Fernando Hernandez’s oldest son, but Ariela knew that he was something of a disappointment to his father.  What Ariela couldn’t figure out is why Fernando had entrusted Enrique, who had never proven himself even remotely reliable, with the monumental task of managing all the armory’s resources.  The conundrum worried her more than a little.

Ariela had grown close to her uncle Fernando – technically Fernando was a third or fourth cousin, Ariela wasn’t exactly sure of the number – over the years.  He had taken her under his wing when her father left and Ariela always felt that she had been something of a favorite among her innumerable cousins.

Going to Fernando to discuss breaking her agreement with his oldest son might be pushing things, though, Ariela reasoned.  She would have to make this decision on her own … and live with the consequences.

As Ariela shuffled to her tiny living room to fire up the wood stove, she considered her choices.

Continuing to help Enrique was almost out of the question.  Just being around Enrique made Ariela’s skin crawl.  Not only was he a worthless human being but his physical advances were growing in intensity.

Breaking her agreement with Enrique would most likely have dire consequences, however.

“What if ….”  Another thought came to Ariela.  She couldn’t believe it had even entered her head.

“What if Enrique was to have an ‘accident’,” Ariela murmured quietly.

Ariela’s sharp, military mind began to turn over the possibility to consider it from all sides.

An accident was not all that unlikely.  Fernando currently had Enrique preparing to attack a group of survivors several miles to the east.  From what Ariela could ascertain, they had taken out one of the eastern outposts – the one that had not responded to radio contact for several days – and tortured the sons of Fernando’s sister, Marta, eventually killing the older boy and his mother.

Ariela knew Marta well – she was a venomous snake of a woman – but could not picture her two boys.  Supposedly, the younger boy, Daniel, had somehow escaped and made it back to town.

Ariela looked vacantly at her cold oatmeal.  Perhaps she could use Daniel somehow to orchestrate Enrique’s accident.

If Enrique fell victim to an accident, Ariela rationalized, the resources of the National Guard unit would naturally fall to her as second-in-command – unless Fernando suspected that she had a hand in Enrique’s death.

“Somehow, I must have no connection,” Ariela barely tasted the cold gruel as it crossed her lips.  “Somehow, I must be nowhere near Enrique when he is killed.”

Ariela pushed the problem of Enrique’s death into what she liked to refer to as her co-processor.  She had always been very good at multi-tasking.  Ariela would often visualize pushing a problem or a question into a special compartment of her brain and frequently wake up the following day with a solution.  She had been able to do this as long as she could remember.  More often than not, the solution had come to her during her morning shower in the old days.  Now that morning showers were pretty much a thing of the past, the solutions would often come as she walked to the armory.

“How fitting,” Ariela thought and smiled.  Ariela thoroughly enjoyed irony.  The walk to the armory was enjoyable despite the cold.

“Ariela, get over here!  We have to get ready.” Enrique shouted.

“Ready for what?” Ariela asked.

“We’re going to attack those bastards that killed Marta and Ricky tomorrow!” Enrique was literally writhing with excitement.

Ariela’s skin started to crawl again.

“What do you need me to do?” Ariela remained calm.

“Help us plan the attack,” Enrique said simply as if Ariela should have read his mind.

Enrique showed Ariela hand-drawn maps based on information from Daniel, Marta’s surviving son.  It appeared that they would be attacking a farm in the eastern half of the next county that sat low in a valley, obscured by trees.

The more Ariela studied the map the less she liked what she saw.

The dense trees indicated on the map made attack by vehicle nearly impossible.  They would either have to expose themselves for nearly a half mile if they approached from the east or run straight down a fatal funnel of a driveway if they approached from the west.  Vehicular approach from either the north or the south seemed impossible due to the density of the tree cover.

Daniel had noted that there were numerous defenses in place.  Tangle wire.  Booby traps.  Security cameras.  Military firearms.  Observation posts.  It was as if these people expected to be attacked.

Ariela didn’t like this one bit.  Normally, military advantage went to the high ground.  There were other factors, however, that could provide just as much – maybe more – advantage.  Whoever these people were, they seemed to have made the most of their surroundings.

“Enrique, these people are ready for an attack,” Ariela began.  “Look how the trees give them natural protection.  Look at all of the defenses that Daniel has noted.”

“They killed Marta,” Enrique was in a panic.

“OK, I get it,” Ariela kept her voice low and calm.  “We are duty-bound to avenge her death.  Do you want to die in the process?”

Enrique’s eyes nearly bugged out of his head as he waved his hands.  “What about all this … this National Guard stuff?”

“The ‘stuff’ is nice,” Ariela agreed, sarcasm in her voice, “but we need people who know how to use it … and understand military tactics.”

“That’s why you’re here!” Enrique screamed.

“I need some time to think,” Ariela was ready to snap Enrique’s fat neck.

“We don’t have any time,” Enrique continued on his tirade.

“If we rush in without a good plan, we’ll just end up dead,” Ariela stepped closer to Enrique.

Enrique stepped back reflexively.  He’d never seen a look on Ariela’s face like the one she had just given him.

“Enrique, here’s what I’m going to do,” Ariela began.  “I’m going to take these maps and notes back to my house and review them.  I’ll come back tomorrow with a plan.  In the mean time, I want you to get everyone together and start getting ready for … for a war.  That’s what this is going to be.”

Ariela quickly wrote down a list of tasks that filled an entire page.

“Make sure all of this is done by the time I get back here tomorrow,” Ariela ordered.  “I’ll be back around Noon.  We’ll review the plans with the crew and then mount up after dark.  Our best chance will be to hit them early in the morning while they’re still, hopefully, asleep.”

Ariela snatched up the map and notes and stalked out of the armory leaving Enrique with his mouth agape.  She had little hope that the well-prepared band of people they were about to attack could be caught unaware.

“That little bruja …” Enrique was furious.  “Who does she think she is ordering me around?”

Nevertheless, Enrique quickly assigned tasks to the 40 or so gang members hanging around the armory.  Ariela’s list was long and even with 40 people working all night Enrique wasn’t sure they could get everything done by Noon the following day.

Ariela took her time walking back to her little house.  The air was fresh and it helped her think.  Not only did she have to come up with a battle plan … she had to come up with one that would get Enrique killed and keep her alive.

Ariela had made her choice.  Enrique would die in battle.

Ariela

“Son of a…!” Enrique Hernandez cursed the radio and kicked the leg of the metal desk on which it sat, stubbing his toe.

“This radio is a total piece of crap!”  As he limped around the room, Enrique continued to mumble curses under his breath.

Enrique had been trying to reach one of his remote outposts for three days with no success.  While he had little training on the AN/PRC-150 radio he was using to communicate with his troops, Enrique couldn’t believe that it was all that difficult.

Before the troops were sent out, each was assigned a single frequency in the 1.6 – 60 MHz range.  A daily check-in time was established to ensure that all was well.  The group that had followed a family of survivors to the eastern edge of the next county had missed their check-in three days in a row now.  Enrique assumed that there was something wrong either with his radio or the radio at the remote location.

“Maybe the batteries in their radio died,” suggested Ariela Guttierez.

Normally, Enrique would have paid close attention to what Ariela had to say – not because he was interested in what she had to say, but rather because he was interested in her.

Ariela was Enrique’s cousin … once or twice removed, he couldn’t remember.  They had grown up together – played together as children, gotten into trouble together as teens and joined the military at almost the same time.  Their military careers had taken different paths, but Enrique preferred not to dwell on that.  Ariela had scored well – nearly perfect –  on the ASVAB test giving her the pick of occupational specialties and supplementary training.  Enrique had been stoned when he took the ASVAB test and fared much more poorly both in terms of test score and military occupations.

“Shut up, you stupid …” Enrique’s voice trailed off as he looked into Ariela’s amazing eyes.

“How could anyone be so beautiful?” Enrique wondered.

“I’m sorry, Ariela,” Enrique apologized, quickly. “I’m just upset about the radio.”

“I know, Enrique,” Ariela’s voice was like honey.  “It’s OK.  You’re under a lot of pressure.  Can I help?”

“If you can get this damn radio to work …” Enrique paused.  His abuela had taught him not to swear around women.  “If you can get this radio to work, you’ll probably save my life.”

Ariela grinned.  She didn’t believe that Fernando would kill Enrique if he was responsible for the radio’s failure, but there was a remote possibility.  Fernando allowed very little room for failure.

Ariela pulled back the aluminum-framed chair in front of the big metal desk and sat down.  The handwritten list of frequencies sat next to the radio.  Ariela punched in the first frequency on the radio’s keypad and pressed the transmit button on the handset.

“Troop One, this is base.  Com check,” Ariela was all business.

“You loud and clear,” a thickly-accented voice replied.

Ariela punched up the next frequency on the list on the radio’s keypad.

“Troop Two, com check,” Ariela continued her test of the radio.

“Troop Two, here, five-by,” came the response.

“Enrique, I think the problem must be on Troop Five’s end,” Ariela suggested as calmly as she could.  “Troops One and Two are just as far away and they’re responding to a channel check.”

Enrique stopped himself before he swore again in front of his female cousin, “Maybe their batteries are dead … just like you said.”

“The cold is hard on the DC power units for these radios,” Ariela continued.  “Maybe they haven’t kept it in a warm enough place.”

“It would be just like those idiots …” Enrique pulled back before he went into another tirade.  Enrique’s father had told him many times that a good leader never lets his emotions get the better of him.

“Should I send a scouting party out to check on Troop Five?” Ariela asked.

“We’re running short on people back here,” Enrique mulled over the idea.  “Who do we have that we could spare … and that wouldn’t get lost or freeze to death out there?”

Shortly after Enrique’s father, Fernando, had taken over the National Guard headquarters, Enrique had been put in charge of its administration.  Enrique knew that his father was testing him.  Enrique also knew that it was a pass/fail test.  Failure most likely meant Enrique’s death and perhaps the deaths of many of his friends and relatives.  Fernando had never put this much responsibility on his son’s shoulders before.

Although Enrique wasn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer, he knew when he was in over his head.  Enrique would never have admitted it to anyone, but he knew  he could never handle the responsibility of running the show at the National Guard headquarters without some serious help.  His cousin Ariela was a natural choice.  Not only was she incredibly pleasant to be around … almost distractingly so … but she was also incredibly smart and the only one in his circle of family and friends that Enrique knew of that had military experience.

Ariela realized early on that she would have few prospects after graduating from high school if she stayed in her little Midwestern home town of 20,000 people.  She was a top-notch athlete in high school, lettering in track, cross country and volleyball all four years.  Growing up in Fernando Hernandez’s extended family, Ariela was also mentally tough.  With the possible exception of Fernando’s oldest son, Enrique, there was no choice.  Everyone in Fernando’s family; everyone that worked for Fernando had to be mentally tough.

In her junior year of high school, Ariela developed shin splints.  However, it was only after her coach noticed the swelling in her shins and forced her to stop running that Ariela even considered slowing down.  Pain was simply something that needed to be set aside to do what needed to be done.

Ariela’s performance, despite her shin splints, dropped only a fraction.  Even her coach hadn’t noticed much of a change.  It was not until Ariela’s coach saw her remove her tall socks one day that she saw the swelling and addressed the problem.

“Ariela,” her coach sat down next to her on the bench in the locker room, “your shins are terribly swollen.”

“Yes,” Ariela blushed at being discovered.

“You can’t run like that,” the coach continued.  “You’ll injure yourself permanently.”

“But coach ….” Ariela couldn’t imagine telling her uncle Fernando that she had stopped running.

“No ‘buts’ about it, Ariela,” I’m benching you until you heal up.  “The rest of your life is far more important than a few cross country meets in high school.”

Tears began to well in Ariela’s eyes, “I must be tough,” she thought.  She looked at the ceiling and blinked away the tears in her eyes – a trick she had learned from her mother.

“Yes, coach,” she said quietly.

“Now, get some ice on those shins,” Ariela’s coach instructed, “and schedule yourself an appointment with the doctor to make sure there’s no permanent damage.”

Ariela sighed.  Members of her family did not go to the doctor unless they had a life-threatening injury or illness.  Shin splints certainly didn’t qualify.

When Enrique approached Ariela to assist him at the National Guard headquarters, she was curious.  Although she had not been a part of Fernando’s plan to take over the guard headquarters, she was aware that he had done so.

“What about the guard members?” Ariela had asked, innocently.

“All of them are AWOL,” Enrique embellished the half-truth.

“All of them?” Ariela was incredulous.

“They went home to their families – to protect them,” Enrique continued his enhancement of what had actually taken place.

“Oh,” Ariela scrunched her beautiful face into a scowl.

In the Marines, Ariela had worked, unsuccessfully, to develop “the look”.  The Look was intended to intimidate and demonstrate that you had no fear of a potential enemy.  Ariela was simply too feminine and too beautiful.  It wasn’t that she feared potential enemies.  It was just that no one could believe that a woman as beautiful as Ariela could do harm to another human being.  In typical Ariela fashion, this meant that Ariela worked doubly hard on her combat skills.

“If I cannot prevent a fight,” Ariela reasoned, “I will prepare for many.”

Ariela also recognized that her disarming looks could be one of her greatest advantages.

Now, as Enrique all but begged her to help him manage the National Guard headquarters, Ariela’s combat-trained and combat-honed mind smelled a rat.  Something just wasn’t right about all of the National Guard troops going AWOL.  Ariela could understand some of them leaving to protect their families, but not all of them.

After two tours in Afghanistan, Ariela could look into a person’s eyes and tell whether they would run or fight.  She’d met most of the members of the local guard units when she came back from her second tour.  Several of them had the “run look” about them, but many were combat veterans who had already proven that their colors didn’t run.

“I will help you, Enrique,” Ariela agreed, “on one condition.”

“What?  What?” Enrique was practically panting.

“If you lie to me, we are done,” Ariela was matter-of-fact.

Enrique knew his cousin was serious.  She was rarely anything but serious.

“So sad for such a beautiful girl,” he mused.

Ariela put out her hand, “Are we in agreement?”

Enrique took her hand, shook it and lingered just a bit too long.  Her hand was so delicate yet so vibrant and strong ….

Ariela pulled her hand back and gave Enrique her fiercest look.  Nothing more was said.

January 15, 2015: Q&A

Yesterday’s Q&A session with Marta, that’s the Mexican woman we brought back from the farm to the north of the Hansons’, was quite enlightening but not because she said all that much.

We were pulling the sled along the trail that had been trampled down between the Hanson place and the farm to the north.  As we came over a small rise, we almost literally bumped into the Gunter girls’ boyfriends.  At first, they looked frightened – like a little kid caught by an angry parent – then they noticed Marta on the car-hood sled behind us.  I could see recognition in their eyes and then … an even deeper fear.

I knew there was a connection.  My next job was to figure it out.

“Where you boys headed,” I asked.

Their mouths moved, like the lips of a fish out of water, but no sound came out.

“Cat got your tongue?” I was grinning and evil grin.

I could see they were thinking about running.

“Where you going to run to?” I asked.

More fish-mouthing.  The looks on their faces were priceless, like, “How could this guy know we were planning to run.”

“This isn’t my first rodeo, boys,” I assured them.  “I’m pretty sure you’re going to be familiar with this next part yourselves.”

Those poor boys didn’t know what to think at that point.

“Get down on your knees and cross your ankles one over the other,” I ordered, “put your hands behind your head and inter-lace your fingers.”

They knew the drill.  It was obvious they’d been through this before.

“Sam, Joseph, zip-tie their wrists and ankles,” I said.

Sam was nearly out of zip-ties so I gave him a couple of my own.

Once the boys were secured and lying on their sides in the snow, I turned my attention to Marta.

“Tell me, Marta,” I began, “how do you know these boys.”

She was as mute as a stone statue but her eyes showed something – fear maybe … perhaps concern.  I was beginning to get a sneaking suspicion.

I looked at Marta and then at the boys.  I squatted down and got close to each of their faces.  Despite Marta’s battered appearance, I was pretty sure there was a family resemblance.

“Looks like we have a little family reunion on our hands,” I said to Sam and Joseph.  “I think these are Marta’s boys.  The ages are about right and there’s a definite family resemblance.”

Sam and Joseph looked from Marta to the boys and back again.

“I think you’re right,” Sam said, a glint in his eyes.  He was getting it … playing along.

“Well, let’s see if we can get people to talking at this little reunion,” I smirked.  “Who wants to tell us how the three of you ended up here in our neck of the woods?  I’m guessing none of you grew up nearby.”

Not a word.

I gave some consideration to my next move.  The pawns were in play but perhaps the queen was the way to go.  A mother’s love … and desire to protect her young.  That might very well be the strongest thing we had going for us.  Then again, what boy could stand to see his mother … hurt.  I didn’t particularly relish hurting women or kids but the rules of the game had changed – the ‘new normal’ and all – and these three had decided to play.

I decided to start with the older boy.

“Here’s what’s going to happen,” I began, “I’m going to ask a question.  The three of you will have ten seconds to answer the question – truthfully.  If you don’t answer, or if I think you’re lying, Chico, here, is going to lose a finger or a toe.”

Angry glares from the Mexicans.

“David, you can’t do that,” Joseph intervened.

“You want to?” I asked.

Joseph turned as white as a ghost, “Certainly not!”

“I guess it’s me or Sam, then,” I replied.

The younger boy spoke up, “You don’t know who you’re messing with!”

“Shut up!” Marta lashed out at him.

I squatted down and put my face closer to the younger boy’s, “You’re right, son, I don’t know who you are.  Do you want to tell me?”

His eyes were watery with fear.  I wasn’t sure if he was afraid of me or something … someone else.

“OK, Q&A time,” I said.  “Question one: Why are you here?”

None of them jumped up to give me an answer.  They were tied up, of course, so none of them could jump up but you know what I mean.

“Ten … nine … eight,” I started counting while I looked at my watch.

“Mom!”  The older boy was getting nervous.

“Seven … six … five,” I kept the count going.

“We came with the Gunters!” the older boy screamed.

“I know that,” I said flatly.  “That doesn’t tell me why you’re here.”

“Four … three … two,” I pulled my Benchmade from my pocket and flicked open the blade.

“Wait!” the younger boy was starting to cry.

“One,” I finished my countdown.

From behind his back, I grabbed the older boy’s left pinky finger.  I ran the blade of my knife around the base of the finger as the boy screamed.  I could hear Joseph dry-heaving.

“Is she watching, Sam?” I asked.

“She’s shutting her eyes,” he replied.

Crack!

With two quick movements, I snapped the older boy’s pinky at the joint between the finger and the hand and sliced through the tendons – just like cutting off a hog knuckle.

The kid screamed for a second or two and then passed out.

The younger boy was vomiting.  Good thing he was laying on his side so he didn’t aspirate any of the vomit.

Holding the finger by its base, I walked over to Marta and ran the tip of it over her face.

“Your boy can live without his pinky,” I said.  “How far are we going to take this?”

Her tough exterior was cracking.  I could see she was holding back sobs.

“Time for finger number two,” I said.  “This one will be easier on him.  He’s passed out.”

I walked back in the older boy’s direction.

“Please, stop,” it was barely more than a whisper.

I stopped and turned around.

“You ready to talk?” I asked.

“Si … yes, I will tell you what you want to know,” Marta had seen the light.  “They will kill me but perhaps they will spare my sons.”

“Well, Marta,” I started, “as you can see, I’m willing to do whatever it takes to protect my family … or a couple girls and a baby that I don’t even know.”

I looked her in the eyes.

“Yes, you are very scary,” Marta said, “but el Patron is ….”  Her voice trailed off.

“Let’s start there,” I suggested.  “Who is el Patron and why are you here in my neighborhood?”

“We are … were here to set up a base of operations for this area,” Marta was matter-of-fact.

“What kind of operations?” I probed.  “Don’t make me drag it out of you.”

Marta opened up after that.  She explained that she had been a part of a gang before the crash.  They had been drug dealers, for the most part, with a little bit of grand theft and intimidation thrown in here and there.  After the crash, el Patron – AKA Fernando Hernandez – had an epiphany.  His drugs were pretty much worthless but he could provide security to those who were willing to pay his “taxes”.  For those unwilling to pay his taxes, security suddenly became a major issue.

She and the others had recently moved into the abandoned farm house – a couple weeks after the Gunters showed up.

Her sons, Ricky and Daniel, had been friends with the Gunter girls before the crash.  Daniel had met Janelle, the younger Gunter girl, at a youth retreat put on by my parents’ church.  The two had grown close – maybe not quite boyfriend/girlfriend but close, nonetheless.  Ricky, the older of the two boys and the more opportunistic, had befriended Jamie Gunter shortly thereafter.

The Gunters, with their supply of food, had quickly become targets for Hernandez’s gang.  Ricky and Daniel had been tasked with infiltrating the Gunter family and finding out what quantity and type of supplies they had.

When the Gunters bugged out, Ricky and Daniel bugged out with them telling Jake that their mother had been killed and that they had nowhere else to go.

Now, the really scary part … Marta and her counterparts had military-grade coms equipment that they utilized to keep in touch with Hernandez.  We’d missed it in our search of the house because it was kept in the root cellar.  We didn’t even look for a cellar.

Amateur mistake.  Not like me at all.  Usually, I’m thorough to the point of anal retentive about those kinds of things.  The combination of a murdered baby and two young women must have thrown me off my game.

The coms equipment had come from the local National Guard unit – sort of confirming some of my fears about the members of the guard units going rogue.

Bad … very bad.

National Guard

Enrique Hernandez flexed the muscles in his forearm.  He loved to watch his panther tattoo move when he flexed.  The flexing panther gave him a feeling of power and stealth.  In reality, Enrique was neither particularly powerful nor stealthy.  His walk was more of a shamble.  His portly frame moved with the all the grace of a washing machine falling down a set of stairs.  A panther he was not.

Nevertheless, Enrique fancied himself as something of a stud.  Strangely, very few around him would argue the point.  Enrique’s power came not from his physical strength but rather from his family.  Purely by the chance of birth, Enrique had been born into a Mexican family prominent in the Midwestern drug trade.  Enrique’s father, Fernando, literally ruled the drug trade in his region.  He was the king of his domain and those who dared to question his position or authority usually ended up dying horrible deaths.

The crash had changed the drug trade in ways that even Fernando had not imagined.  As wise and worldly as Fernando was, he didn’t recognize the signs of the government’s collapse and the devaluation of the dollar until almost too late.  Virtually overnight Fernando’s empire of cash turned into an empire of crash.  Most of Fernando’s customers still had cash but cash had no value.  Fernando was sitting on a vast empire that required electrical power, over-the-road transportation, modern communications and an ability to turn his customers’ cash into more product.

By July of 2014 virtually none of that existed.

Never one to panic, Fernando calmly reevaluated his position.  He recognized that the drug trade, previously his primary business, was now merely a sideline, if that.  What people needed now – like they needed his crack before the crash – was shelter, water, food, power – if he could supply it – and safety.

Fernando commanded an army.  That army communicated via cell phones, however, and the cellular networks were dead.  That army frequently took much of their payment in drugs, previously, but now there were things higher on their priority list.  The army was still a resource, Fernando reflected, but it needed a new communication network and a new source of compensation.

The answer, Fernando decided, was quite literally sitting in a highly unlikely place.  Enrique, Fernando’s oldest son, was sitting in the headquarters of the 189th Truck Company at that very moment.  The 189th was Enrique’s National Guard unit.  Enrique was the company clerk.

Early in Enrique’s life, Fernando realized that his first-born son was not cut out to be his successor.  A firm believer in the principle that life gives no one a free pass, Fernando gave his son a choice.  He could go to college and learn to run some back-office aspect of his father’s business or he could join the military.  Enrique chose the military with dreams of elite units and clandestine operations.  The U.S. Army, in a flash of brilliance, recognized that Enrique didn’t quite have the constitution for active-duty special operations and instead slated him in an administrative MOS in the National Guard.

This frustrated Enrique to no end.  He was convinced that his exceptional talents were being squandered.  The more he thought about it, the angrier he got.  While most people would simply have put in their time and ended their service, Enrique grew bitter and began to look for ways to get back at Uncle Sam.  As company clerk he soon discovered that he was in a position to skim supplies sent to his unit.  It was an opportunity too good to pass up.

About a year after Enrique assumed his role as company clerk for the 189th, he put his skimming scheme into practice.  As supplies were sent to his unit, Enrique scanned the bills of lading into his computer and digitally altered them, reducing item counts.

He had suggested the scanning as a cost-saving method after his third monthly drill.  Ironically, he had been awarded an Army Achievement Medal for this cost-saving initiative.  Typically, the inventory lists that accompanied the bills of lading were routed to the NCO in charge of each of the different areas receiving supplies.  While routing them digitally, rather than making photo copies, in reality saved very little actual expense, it was the thought that counted in Enrique’s company commander’s mind.  So, Enrique was rewarded with an AAM for his “creative thinking with an eye toward cost savings”.

As Enrique learned how the supply chain worked, once supplies were delivered to his unit, he devised a plan to skim supplies off of any delivery that contained items useful to his father’s enterprise.  Although Enrique’s unit was not an infantry unit, they occasionally received orders of ammunition, small arms repair parts and MRE’s for field exercises, weapons qualification and maintenance purposes.

The 189th was also associated with two National Guard firefighting units that regularly received medical supplies.  These were quite beneficial whenever one of Fernando’s men was in need of medical attention but wanted to avoid local medical facilities for one reason or another.

This was Enrique’s way of getting back at Uncle Sam.  Over the course of his five-year term as the 189th’s company clerk, Enrique estimated that he had re-routed in excess of a quarter million dollars in supplies.

Now, as Fernando considered his post-crash options, his less-than-stellar son suddenly became a linchpin in his strategy.  With the resources of the three National Guard units under his control, Fernando was certain that he could re-establish his empire – not based on drugs, but rather based on daily essentials such as shelter, water, food and security.

As rioting and looting escalated and fewer Guard troops reported for duty each day, Fernando shared his plan with his son.  Enrique grinned from ear-to-ear as he listened.  Never before had he felt so needed by his father – so useful.  As this plan developed, Enrique realized that he might truly have the opportunity to succeed his father as the heir to the Hernandez Empire.

There were a few wrinkles in the plan.

First, while it had been relatively easy for Enrique to reroute supplies before they had been secured by each of the NCO’s in charge of the individual units of the company, once those supplies were secured they were very difficult to access … at least under normal circumstances.  As fewer and fewer troops showed up for duty each day, Enrique realized that he could make himself more and more valuable to the company commander simply by showing up for duty.

As the weeks following the crash wore on, Enrique essentially became the company’s XO – Executive Officer.  The lieutenant who had previously been the XO had gone AWOL in early July.  The First Sergeant didn’t show up after the first of August.  The company commander was so busy filing reports that he turned all of the dwindling day-to-day operations over to Enrique even though he was only an E4.

Enrique now had access to all of the various secure areas and all of the vehicles in his own unit as well as the 181st and 317th Engineer Fire Fighting Teams’.  The heavy trucks were his.  The HMMWV’s were his.  The armory was his.  The medical supplies were his as were all of the food rations.  Enrique had access to fire trucks, ambulances, deuce-and-a-half’s and a handful of armored HMMWV’s, two of which were outfitted with .50 caliber machine guns.

The plan was in motion!

A second roadblock to the plan’s completion was the remaining troops who continued to report for duty.  Most of them reported simply to receive the MRE’s that were rationed out in lieu of pay.  For many, this was the only food keeping them and their families alive.  Their duties were primarily related to firefighting.  The city’s firefighters had been overmatched by the number of burning houses and buildings and were unable to keep up.  The National Guard troops assisted as much as possible.

Fernando saw two possible ways around the roadblock.  The first was to simply take control of the National Guard units by force.  While this was his natural inclination, he realized that the second option had some definite benefits.  If he could enlist the remaining National Guard troops in his plan, their skills could prove invaluable.  While his current “army” was good at distributing crack and meth and roughing up or killing people who didn’t pay, they lacked many other skills that would be necessary to rebuilding his empire.  The National Guard troops would have many of those skills but they would need convincing.

Fernando called in his top people the old-fashioned way – word of mouth.  Thirty-five of his most trusted people were invited to his ranch.  Although Fernando wasn’t totally prepared for what the crash did to his business, his ranch was still well-supplied.  He had surplus food stored.  He had an Artesian well.  Diesel generators provided necessary power.  To most of the individuals who showed up for the summit in early September, Fernando’s ranch was a relative paradise.  They ate and drank to their hearts’ content.

After a day of feasting and drinking, Fernando pulled the group together on his patio.  His son, Enrique, stood by his side.  His two younger sons, Armando and Eduardo sat in chairs nearby.

“Ladies and Gentlemen,” Fernando began ceremoniously, “I have gathered you here to discuss a grand plan – a plan to return our business to prosperity.”

The group of 35 murmured quietly as they looked at one another with curiosity.

“As you know,” Fernando continued, “the drug trade is all but worthless.  The economic crash caused by our government’s idiotic policies has ensured this.  They did more to damage our trade by their ineptitude than they ever did through law enforcement.  Many still desire our drugs but their money is of no use to us.”

A number of the members of the group were unsure what the word “ineptitude” meant but they nodded their heads in agreement.

“With every trial comes an opportunity,” Fernando fancied himself a bit of an orator and enjoyed taking common quotations and making them his own.  “We have the opportunity, now, to reinvent ourselves – to rise from the ashes of this crisis even more successful than before.”

“My son, Enrique,” Fernando gestured grandly with pride, “has been quite instrumental in my plan to revitalize our network.  His role at the National Guard unit has proven invaluable.”

Fernando continued to lay out his plan for the next twenty minutes – ensuring that Enrique received plenty of credit.  After all, Fernando reasoned, the day would come when he would pass on and Enrique would most likely have to run the business.  Any credibility that Fernando could provide Enrique today would be more than helpful in the future.

After Fernando completed his speech he paused, “Are there any questions?”

A woman named Marta raised her hand.

“Yes, Marta,” Fernando recognized her, “what is your question?”

“Patron,” Marta began.  Fernando preferred that his underlings address him in this manner.  “I understand that we can no longer profit from the sale of drugs.  How will we profit by providing food, shelter and safety?  Money is worth nothing now.  Is it not the same problem?”

“Right you are, Marta,” Fernando encouraged her.  “Each of you will be compensated for your work by receiving food, water, shelter – if necessary – and supplies for your family.  In the short term, we will utilize the resources from the National Guard units to ensure that we remain strong.  Our strength will allow us to provide protection from looters and thieves to those who contribute willingly to our cause.  We will do what is necessary to those who will not.”

“For the time-being,” Fernando continued, his voice increasing in volume and tempo, “my primary concern is for each of you and your families.  I want to ensure that you are cared for.  A time will come when, together, we will be able execute the remainder of our plan.  That is when we will see the true fruits of our labors.”

Fernando’s group of followers cheered.  Visions of wealth and ease in a not-too-distant future filled their minds.

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