Tag Archives: Jeep Cherokee

Chapter 37 -Belt Fed Revolution

Upon reaching the camp I noticed things were greatly relaxed compared to the last time I’d been here. The guards around the supply CONEX were still pretty rigid, but the rest seemed to have settled into a mode that spoke of resignation to their new lives. I could recall having seen this when I was deployed with guards that had been in country before Desert Shield kicked off. Sure, they’d still shoot you if you looked wrong, but they probably wouldn’t bother shouldering the rifle; they’d just shoot you from the hip.

I hit the little two-stroke’s kill switch and let our momentum carry us into the center of the camp which was the erstwhile Wal-Mart delivery area. I had to stand there and blink the grit out of my eyes for a few seconds before I could begin to engage in conversation.

“So what’s the plan?”

Starke shot back “You’re the guy with the plan, you tell me?”

Having seen which side of the loop we were both on, we decided to go Dwyer’s office for my after action report. I didn’t have to wait this time. Being escorted directly into Dwyer’s office suited me just fine. I had some questions that needed answers right now.

Dwyer looked up as we entered, appearing slightly surprised to see me. I waved his opener away before he said it “Yeah, I know you didn’t expect to see me so soon.”

Dwyer gestured to the plastic chairs in front of his desk. I stood back and let Starke take the one furthest from the door. As soon as he settled in, I stepped around behind the desk and drew my revolver, shoving Dwyer’s head down onto his desk. Starke regarded me with the same look I imagine he would have if I’d sprouted tentacles and began to dance. I stripped Dwyer’s sidearm from it’s large, ostentatious holster and pointed it at Starke.

“Relax. I’m going to ask the Major here some questions and I think you might want to hear the answers as well.” Starke nodded and held up his hands, leaning back into the chair slightly.

“Not that I don’t trust you, but I’m gonna need to relieve you of your sidearm as well.” Starke drew his 9mm from the shoot me  holster on his leg holding the grip with two fingers. “Now empty it.” I could see the rage building in Starke and I understood it. When you carry a weapon for so long you get used to its presence and for someone to take it from you carried the same feelings that might accompany having a finger removed with a cold chisel and a hammer.

Even though he didn’t like it, Starke ejected the magazine and pulled the slide back until it locked, letting the chambered round dribble down the mag well onto the floor and set the gun on the desk.

I did the same with Dwyer’s gun, a very nice chrome plated Colt chambered in .45 caliber with what appeared to be genuine pearl handles. A show piece I thought as I examined it. The gun fit Dwyer to a Tee.

“So question number one. Who are you working for?”

Dwyer didn’t answer immediately so I placed the revolver at the nape of his neck.

“What do you mean? I’m working for the governor, for the state of Michigan! Who else would I be working for?!” Dwyer wasn’t shouting which was good. I didn’t need to draw too much attention from the bored looking guards outside.

I considered his response for a moment before switching gears “Okay, let me rephrase. You are working for the governor who wanted martial law declared and wants to continue martial law, with the help of the feds. True or false?”

Dwyer began to try and bluster. This didn’t really work for me. Turns out in the new world there are quicker and better ways to get things done, so I drew my Ka-bar and slid my revolver back into the holster. Placing the blade between his index and middle fingers , I drew the edge over the soft web of  flesh there until I saw a little line of red appear.

Dwyer to his credit endured this well a sharp intake of breath the only hint that  he was not enjoying the days proceedings. Starke stood up and began to protest. I didn’t point the gun at him this time, only stared at him until he resumed his seat. I placed Ka-bar against Dwyer’s eye this time and repeated my question.

“Yes, damn it!Yes!!!”  I was glad that the threat of losing an eye was enough to motivate him as I really didn’t want to strip him naked and cut off his balls. “My orders come from the Governor himself! We want the Feds to know their place, but we don’t want them to leave!”

Starke stared at Dwyer now as if he, too, had grown tentacles and joined me in singing a duet of ‘No Greater Love’.

“Terrific. Now that we’ve answered the how full of shit is this guy question, hopefully we can proceed without need of further crude  demonstrations. Agreed?” I waggled the blade of Sweet Louise in front of his face slightly until he nodded. That was impressive considering he had most of my weight bearing down on his neck.

I stood just behind and to the left of Dwyer, letting him raise his head and rub his neck a bit. I was pretty sure that Starke, if he wasn’t on board was at least swinging that way, but I wanted to be able to cover the both of them just in case. There was one tense moment when Dwyer, apparently without thinking, turned slightly away from me and reached toward a drawer in his desk. My .357 was out of the holster and laid against his temple before he had a chance to close his fingers on the drawer pull.

He held his hands up “I just wanted to get the neosporin out of that drawer there” he gestured slightly with his head. I opened the drawer for him and saw that it did indeed have a tube of neosporin along with a compact .380 semi auto located just deep enough inside the drawer that most people would have missed seeing it from the other side of the desk.

I took possession of the little handgun and, wrapping my hand around the grip as I slammed my fist into Dwyer’s face twice in rapid succession. I had opened a small cut on the bridge of his nose and my hand was on fire from the impacts.

“If you have any ice in the other drawer, you just leave it there unless you want me to send you off to meet your gods.” Dwyer nodded and took a tissue from the box on his desk and placed it against the cut on his nose.

The voice in my head was insistent that I kill him, but I knew I couldn’t do that and hope to walk out of here alive. I took a moment to master my emotion and gave Starke a chance to chime in. “So why have we been killing the Feds if we’re on the same side?”

“The Governor considers it an ‘acceptable loss’. Plus there just isn’t a way to get everyone in the comm loop on this. We can’t exactly fake a battle!” Dwyer’s face had taken on a deep purple hue. I guess being made to answer to an NCO is a blood pressure trigger for some people.

I waved Starke back before he could say anything else. “So you sent me out to meet with the militia in the hopes that, what? They’d agree to your little plan and when they showed up you’d just slaughter them?”

Dwyer laughed. “Not entirely. We have a use for the so called Patriot’s but it’s a plan that’s already happened you see. We’ll be sending a patrol along shortly to pick up the survivors.”

“You total piece of shit. I was your bird dog?”

Dwyer regarded me calmly “In a sense. We knew where they were, but not what buildings they were using and it’d be wasteful to destroy the whole town, so we just added a little something to your Jeep.” Dwyer looked like the cat that ate the canary, his smile was wide “their headquarters probably went up in flames moments after you left.” He shrugged and smiled so broadly I thought his head might split open “I mean, I’m no pilot but I’m pretty sure the guns on an A-10 have incendiary rounds, right?”

A slight wisp of smoke wafted out the muzzle of my revolver before I had a chance to remind myself that killing Dwyer would likely mean a full on shooting-war to get clear of the camp. The room stank of gunpowder and quickly of urine and feces as Dwyer’s bowels let loose.

I swung to the door seconds before it flew open, two guards with M-16’s appearing there looking confused. Their confusion was short lived as they saw Dwyer’s lifeless body sitting behind his desk.

I pointed the revolver at the guard nearest me and fired before he had a chance to swing his muzzle toward me. The second guard wasn’t as slow in aiming, but had been about to order me to drop my weapon before I shot his companion. I dropped him with another round, his mouth still working wordlessly as he fell.

Starke reached for his gun then stopped holding up one hand “I’m on your side here, okay? But we have got to get this shit under control now. Just let me handle it and don’t shoot anyone unless you have absolutely have to.”

I nodded and thought if I made it through this, he and I were going to need to have a talk about my definition of ‘absolute’.  Starke took up his sidearm and reinserted the magazine, pausing for a second to grab the loose round from the floor and inserting it directly into the barrel.

“Okay, come on. We have to get to comms riki-tik.” Starake turned and left the room stepping over the bodies, not glancing back to see if I was following him. In the maze of CONEX boxes and regular semi-trailers there stood a small U-Haul style truck with several confused looking guards around it. They’d heard the gunfire, but no one knew where it was coming from or what they should do about it, so they kept their posts, but now in high alert.

One of the guards attempted to challenge Starke, but he stood down as Starke brushed by him saying   “The fuck out of my way before I shoot you in the dick, boy.” The guard and his compatriots chuckled nervously as we rushed the truck.

Starke raised the door of the truck and stepped inside walking immediately over to a gray phone and snatching it off its cradle before anyone inside had a chance to object.

“All civilian section leaders and all NCO E-5’s and above report to command immediately.”

The inhabitants of the commo truck began to ask questions, but Starke shook his head and held up a silencing hand “Command has issued a change of orders. Your squad leader will be by in a little while to explain.”

Starke looked at me and let out a pensive breath. “Let’s go. You have a meeting to lead” and was out of the truck before I had a chance to respond.

I stood there for a moment wondering if it was too late for me to sneak out of camp. Yeah, probably was.

Before I could formulate anything resembling a plan small arms fire erupted around the camp. I turned back to one of the comms techs and told him “if there’s a general order to get everyone moving, issue it now. After that, I expect everyone in here to get suited up and get out there ready to build a wall of lead,brass and flesh.” I paused for a moment the comms tech was a slightly pasty faced and overweight kid who probably spent most of his time playing Modern Warfare instead of learning how to operate a rilfe. To the blank stare I said “How read?”

The kid jumped up out of his seat and pressed a button before responding “Sir, yes sir!” I muttered something about being called ‘sir’ under my breath and exited the trailer, the sound of small arms fire still intermittently filling my ears.

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Chapter 36 -Belt Fed Revolution

It was the worst of injustices. The buckshot had not only taken my windows, but my sound system. I could really go for some Judas Priest right now. Motherfuckers.

I was approaching the turn off to the MVDF when I saw the top of the ramps had been blocked off.  Trucks had been rolled into place and their tires flattened to make them almost immovable. Awesome. Looked like I was hoofing it. I slung my rifle and almost hit the pavement as I got out of the Jeep.

My knee buckled under my weight causing me to flail wildly to try to keep my balance. I managed to stand up by grabbing onto the mirror to take some pressure off my knee. I stood there for several minutes wincing and cursing, waiting for the pain to abate.

I hobbled off to the roadside and sat for several minutes flexing the muscles in my leg, hoping that I’d be able to get underway. I tried several times to walk, but with each step I’d nearly lose my balance as my knee refused to cooperate. I ended up taking the sling off my rifle so I could turn the bipod 180 degrees, locking the legs back toward the stock. This wasn’t exactly the most ergonomically pleasing arrangement, but it made a decent enough cane to help me make it past the trucks at the head of the off ramp.

After clearing the end of the truck I saw something that struck me as surreal. A  large oak pedestal table sat about fifty yards away from the off ramp , complete with chairs. I scanned the area as best I could and noted nothing else that struck me as odd.

I approached the table after a good deal of time passed, hobbling as quickly as it was possible and saw on top of the table a yellow legal pad inscribed with details about myself and my vehicle written on it. I pulled out one of the chairs and sat down, placing my rifle on the table.

I read through the information several times, though there was nothing unusual to be noted about how I was described. Subject is white, approximately 210 lbs, 6’2″ , blonde hair, blue eyes and will likely be sporting a long bushy beard. Expect subject to be driving a Jeep (possibly a Cherokee) or other vehicle recognizable as a technical or specifically well suited to off-road travel (like a Toyota PickUp)–  I scoffed. A Toyota? Not bloody likely!– A side note in a different had been scribbled in the margin. I smiled as I read it he likes revolvers! 

I continued to flip through the legal pad and came across a couple of similar references to other individuals, though these struck me more as the ‘operator’ type of individual by description. Apparently I wasn’t the only bait floating around on this little stretch of the Shit River.

I noted all the descriptions had names at the top of the page then immediately next to it a code name. Great stuff; Snake-eyes, Ace,Wolverine and one called Nightcap. At least they weren’t all comic-book characters. I scratched out my own name and wrote next in its place ‘The Gentleman Caller’. I scratched that out as it was too long a code name and replaced it with ‘Heathen’.

My knee was feeling a little better and I was considering getting underway again when movement caught my attention. I flipped open the  lens covers  and pointed the rifle in the direction of the movement. I took me only a second to find him, a gangly young kid wearing an Army dress uniform which he was buttoning up hurriedly. I maintained my sight picture on him as he turned and appeared to be searching the grass he’d just been in when I saw more movement. I chuckled and shut my lens caps as I saw the kid help a young woman to her feet and get squared away, brushing grass and debris off her back.

My welcoming committee had apparently sneaked off for a little afternoon delight. Hel, I couldn’t blame them: it’s not like there was a ton else to do. Part of me thought I should report the kid for quitting his post without being properly relieved, but I reminded myself I wasn’t part of their military for a reason.

The young couple was saying their goodbyes and taking their time about it. I gave a quick sharp whistle and both heads jerked around to see me sitting at the table. I gave them both a polite little wave and did my best to remain expressionless as the kid hoofed it over to the table, his paramour melting into the scenery, no doubt with a reddened face.

I watched him approach. He had the standard issue side arm and nothing more. Dwyer must have figured they had this place on lock to leave just this poorly armed kid out here. I looked around the area again. Plenty of good hides around here, but if there was a sniper hanging out somewhere he was well concealed and smart enough not to give himself away.

The kid made it to the table and snapped off a hurried salute. “Sorry, sir!”

I laughed “Knock that shit off and straighten your gig line.”

His face went beet red as he bent over to examine his gig line and give his zipper a tug. When he was squared away he looked at the legal pad in front of him and flipped through a couple of pages. I helped him out by setting one of my revolvers on the table and giving him a patient look.

“You’re Finn,sir?” the kid smiled and sat down.

“Minus the sir.” I nodded.

“You weren’t expected back so quickly. I have orders to have you escorted back to the camp. . . without delay.” He smiled sheepishly at me.

“Relax kid, I’m not here to break balls.” I looked over my shoulder “Any chance you can get that moved?” I said indicating the truck blocking my Jeep.

“No, sir. I have an alternate means of transportation though, just wait one while I call it in.” At that he produced a cell phone and hit one button and waited.  He sat the phone down and looked at me “transport will be here in a couple.”

A couple of minutes passed and the kid did his best to make small talk, all of which I ignored. I heard a sound that I first took for a chainsaw motor, but realized it must be a motorcycle as it got closer. I saw the bike, it’s headlight taped WWII style to reduce its signature. Sat on top was Starke, grinning as he approached the table.

Starke didn’t bother with a salute, just gave me ‘the nod’ and asked “You ready?”

“Only if you intend to walk back to base.”

He frowned slightly “Whaddya–”

I cut him off. “I don’t ride bitch. Give me the bike and hoof it back to your camp or go get a car. Your choice. I’ll be right here, waiting.”

I heard him mutter ‘asshole’ as he got off the bike. “Can you ride one of these things?”

I nodded “Since you were pulling on your pecker like you were the first one to ever discover the thing.”

Starke rolled his eyes. “Fine. You drive, I’ll ride bitch.”

“I feel anything poke me in the back and I am going to leave you on the side of the road with a tension pneumo, you read me?”

“Jackass!” he said as I mounted the little bike and kicked it to life.

Starke got on the bike behind me . I felt him give my shoulder a quick thump and I dropped it into gear and headed off to the camp.

It had only been a couple of days and I was already tired of playing messenger boy. I made my plan to get out of the camp tonight, even if I had to cut throats to do it.

Starke tried to say something else but I gunned the little two-stroke motor and drowned him out.

Chapter 33 -Belt Fed Revolution

The town appeared largely empty. There were lights on in a few buildings, especially those nearest the highway, but I couldn’t see movement in any of them. Since I wasn’t doing such a great job of getting noticed by being obnoxious, I decided to act like a typical looter instead.

I saw a gas station-convenience store and decided to make this my target. If I could get gas without being hassled that was a bonus, but I figured if there was a group protecting this town, this gas station would probably be on someone’s priority list.

I shut the Jeep down by one of the pumps and got out, slinging my new rifle over my shoulder. The gas station building was a squat brick affair with a blue metal awning surrounding the top. The roof was designed to keep the rain and snow off while you pumped gas with and had a few flourescent lightbulbs that intermittently flickered away above my head.

I was being watched. I didn’t know where my observer was, but I had definitely gained the interest of the locals. Now I had to hope they didn’t decide to just blow my head off before having a word. I looked around again to see if there were any lumps in the nearest grassy areas that looked out of place, but other than some opportunistic graffiti artist who had painted his or her initials –PLM–on the gas station door and some other things nearby, everything appeared correct in its setting.

I approached the door to the gas station with my head slightly down, keeping my eyes moving back and forth. I reached out to pull open the door to the little gas station building and heard a voice call out in an almost conversational tone.

“That’s about far enough.” said the voice, coming from behind the blue metal awning.

I couldn’t get a fix on the person the voice had come from, but I guessed it was about two feet to my right and above me.

“Funny ain’t it? It’s always the last place you look.”

The voice was silent for only a moment. “Why don’t you get in your vehicle and head on back down the road. There’s nothing for you here, ‘cept maybe a quick an’ nasty death.”

“Aw, but you make this place sound so exotic.” I kept my eyes moving between the awning and the plexiglass windows of the gas station. “There a place around here where I can get some water? Maybe barter for some gas? Famous last words, right? I’m not a looter.

“This is our gas. Everything in town belongs to us now. Get in your truck and get down the road.”

I was pretty sure I was being stalled. The warning wasn’t forceful or threatening enough to make me feel like I was in immediate danger, so I kept watching the reflections in the gas station windows waiting for the real welcome wagon to show up.

“Okay, no problem.” I said. ” Look, let me just get some water for the road. Maybe we can trade? I don’t have much, but maybe I have something you need?”  I grinned when I heard it. The thing about there not being a lot of manmade noise to provide  a screen meant sounds travelled a lot further.

This was especially true when the thing you were trying to screen was a diesel engine that was practically screaming as you accelerated in a blind panic.

I had expected their version of a quick reaction force to at least be subtle. This expectation was shattered when I saw the black Ford F-450 plodding on toward me. Diesel’s were great for a lot of things, but impressive acceleration wasn’t really one of those things.

My new friend on the rooftop wasn’t talking now. I was guessing they figured any single individual that approached their little haven would be shitting themselves by now at the sight of the big shiny black truck coming their way. My pants however, remained unshat. I was in fact pretty confident I could shoulder my rifle and  put a round in the driver of the truck, but I refrained. Such asshattery, fun as it may be, was like to get me killed.

Someone had gone to great expense tarting up the Ford with big chrome smoke stack style exhausts poking up out of the bed and a chrome grille with flames and a skull with red glowing LED eyes. Awesome. I bet if I were looking a the back of the truck there’d be some naked lady mudflaps –with erect nipples–hanging behind the dually’s fender flares.

I made a note to tell whomever was running this show that when you’re trying to make a statement, bullets say it best. I had to decide now how interesting I wanted to make this. I would settle for ‘not dead, but pissed off’ for now.  There was an ice chest next to the gas station door, the large kind that was used to store twenty pound bags of ice. I opened the door and used the lower lip like a step to climb the ice chest and vault myself onto the roof.

The watchman on the roof was alone with just a radio and a Kalashnikov. There wasn’t a lot of room up here and he had remained lying in the prone for concealment. I didn’t have to cover much ground to get to him.

I mounted him and put my knee in the middle of his back placing all my weight there and then evening it out by putting my other knee on his neck. I grabbed one hand and threw a readied zip tie around his wrist. He fought briefly to keep his other hand free, but I shifted my weight from his back to his neck and the additional pressue and subsequent lack of oxygen there took the fight from him.

Once I had him secured, I snatched up his AK and sat my rifle atop the awning. The big Ford pickup was tearing up a field just a few yards distant now making a straight line for the gas station. I ejected the magazine from the AK and extended the bayonet.

The driver of the truck obliged my plan by pulling up almost next to the ice chest. All four doors of the cab were flung open almost as one and people spilled from the inside to take up flanking positions.

I hoisted the AK above my head shouting at them “Geirtýr! Sigr!” and sent the  AK  hurling like a spear through the big trucks windshield, the bayonet sticking nicely in the dash. I ducked as soon as I launched the gun and waited for a salvo to come my way.

“Hold your fire!” I heard someone below yell at the assembled group. “Okay, mister! You let our man go and come on out!”

I laughed . “Lemme think about that for a minute.”

I looked at my captive and shook my head. What was that old quote about doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result?

“You okay?” My captive was red-faced and ready to spit nails I had no doubt, but I didn’t think I’d done him any permanent damage.

“Screw you!” he spat, his face growing redder.

“Noted.” I shimmied  behind him grabbing his ziptied wrists and pulling him up to his knees. There was an unmanly expression of pain and some swearing, but he got to his knees easily enough. I crouched behind him and got him stood up. If some wanna- be- hero had an itchy trigger finger, I’d rather someone else finds out.

As my captive reached his feet, I heard someone let off a three round burst and I yanked my captive back to his knees. Talk about swearing. This guy let off a string of expletives that would have made a drill instructor smile.

I lay on my back and laughed. I yelled out “Nice shooting there, quick draw! Just remeber friendly fire gets returned by friends when you least expect it!”

I heard several voices yelling and one voice responding in protest.

I went through the process of getting my captive stood up again and called out “Okay! Now that we’ve figured out who’s going to be shooting who in the back during your next outing, how about we all be real cool and have a little talk?”

Another voice, calmer, called back “A’right. Come on up to the edge and let us have a look at you.  Jim, you okay?”

“”I’m fine! I ain’t hurt!’ said my captive.

I pulled him close and spoke in a voice only he could hear ” ‘Kay, Jim, we’re going to walk nice and slow to the edge.  Just remember if you get shot here, it won’t be in the back, so you best hope you’ve no enemies down there.”

Jim nodded and we took the couple of steps to the edge. I still hadn’t identified a face to put to the voice. I smiled as I stepped to the edge and pointed at the truck. “See, I mean you no harm. I even gave you his rifle to show my good intentions.”

A man standing by the driver’s door said something in a voice I couldn’t hear, but I got the gist which was I’d ruined his baby. There was a quick heated discussion that took place between that man and the someone still in the cab of the truck.

This went on for a few seconds and ended when the man at the driver’s side door turned and fired several rounds from his shotgun into my Cherokee.

Bastard.

I drew my revolver and thumbed back the hammer. I saw several muzzles raise uncertainly in my direction.

“Hey partner? I’m going to need your insurance information!” I yelled as I tried to make my profile as small as possible behind my meat shield. I heard a couple of chuckles at that and then the man in the cab stepped out on the driver’s side and waved.

He was wearing a giant stetson cowboy hat and black BDU’s. “The fuck is it with cowboy hats now? There’s no cowboy’s in Michigan for fucks sake …”

I was talking to myself but my captive responded “We got cowboys all over these days.”

I  grabbed my rifle, and gave a wistful look over at my second shot up Jeep in less than a month and let out a sigh. I walked Jim up to the edge of the roof over the ice machine and gave him a little push backwards as I took a chance and jumped over the edge first and onto the ice machine.

I made it all the way to the ground before I got rushed and thrown to the pavement. As I was being flex-cuffed I looked over at the man nearest me and asked “What? Are you guys Michigan State fans?”

I thought I heard laughter before things went all grey and fuzzy around the edges.

Chapter 32 -Belt Fed Revolution

I went to bed that night with a stomach full of deer liver and onions, the heart sauteed with carrots, I shared with Starke and his crew who provided me a Guinness Extra Stout to wash it all down. It had been ages since I’d had a drink and I must have been somewhat dehydrated to begin with as the one beer made me drunker than I can ever recall being.

Sleep was fitful. I had dreams of my old life. I dreamt of being late for work and behind on paperwork. For some reason my dream self found this all terrifying, but on waking I had trouble recalling why such  things would be of concern. I rubbed the sleep from my eyes and sat up in a small tent. I couldn’t remember having crawled into the tent the night before or who might have been displaced by my lightweight self crashing here.

At least I had remembered to take off my boots. I rolled out of the little tent and fished out a pair of my new socks and laced up my Cadillac’s.  I needed water, but wanted coffee. It occurred to me I should have checked to see if the CONEX box with the Wal-Mart stuff in it had a French press. I’d sold myself too cheap.

As much as I felt Dwyer’s policies were unfair to the civilians under his charge, I didn’t feel like sharing my small hoard of coffee with them and given Dwyer’s edict of the previous day I wasn’t sure what my status in the camp was. Things weren’t nearly as bad as I expected.

Patrell came by as I was getting my ruck sorted and handed me a small leather pouch. He took one look at me and started laughing. “Rough night, bro?”

“Hel if I know. I slept through most of it.” I replied as I opened the pouch. Inside was a key and a piece of paper. The key had a stylized Ram’s head logo on it which I regarded with some puzzlement. The slip of paper was a small hand drawn map with details on how to access a cache of gasoline stored nearby and a warning not to use more than five gallons.

Patrell saw my confusion and pointed over toward the Wal-Mart parking lot “I got sent out to find your little request. Hope you like it.” I looked in the direction he pointed and saw a 2001 Jeep Cherokee, black with tinted windows and sporting a small lift.

“Foo-ken A, man.” I smiled impressed with his choice “You want a cup of coffee?” Patrell as it turned out went around prepared for situations exactly like this and produced a small camp coffee pot and and a bottle of water to cook it up with.  We walked over to the Jeep and Patrell set up a small cookstove on the macadam and set the water to boil. This kid really did come prepared.

We stood about silently for a bit watching the water heat up. “Hey!” Patrell almost jumped at my sudden exclamation “This thing got a radio?”

Patrell looked at me like I was new to the century. “Yeah man, it’s got a pretty kickin’ system too. I mean, not as nice as my ride back home, but y’know, nice.”

I grinned at him  and asked “I don’t suppose in the effort to get stuff out of Wally-World the CD section was touched was it?”

Patrell shrugged “hell if I know man. Why, you needin’ your country music fix?”

“Eat a dick.” I told him as  I proceeded to look in the Jeep. There was a knock-off maglite secured in the rear. I snatched it up and took off at a run.  Patrell fell in behind me.

“The hell’s so important man?” he called out as we ran for the store.

“Gotta have some tunes!!” I said and laughed as I trotted up to the open entrance.

Dreams really do come true.

****

I didn’t spend a lot of time looking through the music offerings, but I came up with a winning soundtrack pretty quick. Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Motörhead, Sabaton  and much to my surprise Amon Amarth’s ‘Fate of Norn’s’ album. I may only be driving a few miles but I fully intended to rock the entire way.

I started the Jeep, the familiar inline six engine making the right sounds as I put it into gear. I chose Amon Amarth to go in the CD player first and selected ‘Pursuit of Vikings’ as I left the parking lot. The sound system was set up for bass heavy music, but with a bit of fiddling I managed to get it to produce the sounds I wanted.

The Jeep had a nearly full gas tank and a happy Heathen behind the wheel. Now came the part I was dreading. I had to come up with some sort of plan to find the militia group Dwyer was interested in and in the process not get my head blown off by the same group.

I switched CD’s to listen to Sabaton’s ‘Forty to One’, which seemed entirely appropriate, a song about a small force of Polish soldiers holding off the German Wehrmacht in World War II. I drove the Jeep in the same way I would have driven mine, which was to say slowly as I got on the freeway to go the few miles to the town where the militia was thought to be holing up.

I hadn’t come up with much of a plan, but I thought if the briefing I’d received from Dwyer was accurate I might do well just to try and get spotted.  The exit to the town was approaching and aside from being one of the few vehicles I saw on the road, I thought maybe doing something to get myself noticed might be a good plan.

I slowed as I approached the exit ramp and coasted over into the breakdown lane. I was checking for hostiles, but more importantly for my purposes, I needed to get a look at the terrain. The area next to the off ramp looked manageable so I shifted into four wheel drive and did something I’d always wanted to do. I drove off into the little area just to the right of the breakdown lane. Once I’d hit more or less level ground, I floored it.

This Jeep wasn’t as near like mine as I would have preferred, but in typical Jeep fashion it performed without a problem. I accelerated hard, causing the ground– which usually only saw the occasional riding mower– to be torn up, mud flung everywhere. I turned the wheel hard over and did a couple of donuts and did my best attempt at a hill climb toward the areas that ran next to the road.

I stopped when I felt one or more of the tires leave the surface. I’d decided that I’d had enough fun for now and proceeded to slowly climb up out of the little pit.

I made it back to the shoulder and got out to admire my handiwork. I had managed to cover the Cherokee with a good thick coat of mud. I nodded and muttered to myself as I walked around the vehicle checking the tires “Field expedient camouflage? Check!”

I hadn’t heard anything from the town and while I wasn’t exactly sitting there with a pair of Big Eyes I hadn’t seen any potential  hostiles checking me out either.

Okay genius, what now?

Time for plan B. I climbed back into the Jeep and cranked up the sounds. I chose my favorite song by Iron Maiden. ‘Run to the Hills’ and drove into town.

Chapter 31 -Belt Fed Revolution

Dwyer was being very casual about this. “The job comes with a promotion. A big one, too. Congratulations Sergeant.”

Clearly there had been a scramble going on before the meeting. Dwyer pushed sergeant’s chevrons and a name tape toward me. I didn’t reach for either. “How about we restructure this sweet deal ? How about I agree to work on a contract basis?”

Dwyer sat back in his chair and put his hands behind his head.”All right, let’s talk. I can’t force you into this, or more to the point, I won’t force you to do this. I’d rather you were complicit and actively trying to accomplish the mission rather than doing it because you felt coerced.”

At least I had some leverage to work with. Money was worthless so there wasn’t much he could offer me in those terms and I was pretty sure I could feed and care for myself, unlike most of the conscripts wandering around outside this office;still didn’t mean I had to give away the farm. Unfortunately the more I thought about it there wasn’t a lot I wanted or needed. Luckily though my mouth jumped into gear before my brain had a chance to stop it.

“I want a vehicle. Personal use. Jeep Cherokee–oh!– and it has to be a stick.” Dwyer looked to Starke who shrugged.

“Okay we’ll see what we can do.” He leaned forward ready to conclude the meeting.

I let out a sardonic chuckle “Not getting off that easy, Major. I’ll help you with your militia problem, but when I’m done, I’m done. I walk away with nothing more than I brought with me.”

Dwyer’s cheeks puffed up with air as he considered this. I could see Starke watching the Major out of the corner of my eye, but couldn’t get a read on what he thought. Dwyer blew out the breath he had been holding and stood with his hand out “Deal.”

I should have asked him before if he had ever been a recruiter, but I took the chance and shook his hand. Dwyer took a piece of paper from his desk and signed off on the bottom. “Take this to supply. Anything you need, just have them write it here and it’s yours.”

I took the paper and smiled. At the very least I wasn’t going to have to worry about coffee for a while.

****

Starke accompanied me to supply, laughing at some private thought. I didn’t like that, didn’t think it could possibly be good for me, but he wasn’t sharing.

The clerk in charge of supply looked at the paper with wide eyes and waved a hand toward the back of the CONEX box. “Help yourself”.

It turned out there were several CONEX boxes filled with various supplies, some from Wal-Mart, some military issue. I grabbed a can of coffee as the first part of my shopping spree and cackled gleefully. People never learned. I’d have joined the Coast Guard as an E-1 if there had been coffee on offer. Dwyer got screwed.

There wasn’t really much in any of the containers that I couldn’t live without. I took a decent looking compass in a ‘shock-proof’ housing and a small Fiskars hatchet from the Wal-Mart stuff. The real shopping began when I was escorted  into a CONEX box filled with what military gear there had been for the MVDF to salvage.

I took a CamelBak hydration system with an extra bladder and some water purification tabs. I also found a box filled with socks and took several pair. Now I was sure Dwyer had gotten the short end of the stick. A man can never have enough socks.

This particular CONEX box was divided into two sections. I had to pass by an armed guard at the second entrance and  was required to leave my firearms with him before being admitted to the back. I figured if they had wanted to kill or imprison me they could have easily done so by now, so I handed over my revolvers and rifle. It was obvious the guard on the door didn’t share my taste in weapons, smirking slightly as I handed him my .357.

He practically giggled when I pulled out the .500. The Private unlocked the door and shouted into the back “Yosemite Sam, coming through!” I walked through the door after flipping the private off in a dignified manner and was greeted by two more guards armed with M249’s. A row of overhead flourescent’s flickered into life and revealed row upon row of M4’s and boxes of ammunition to feed them.

Although I had used the M16 in my day, I wasn’t particularly fond of the gun as it had always been touchy and maintenance intensive. I was ready to leave when I saw  a weapon case poking out, hidden by one of the guards stood in front of it.  I mumbled an ‘excuse me’ as I pushed between the men in these crowded quarters and was greeted by a glorious sight. Laying inside the pelican case was a custom-built bolt-action rifle. Definitely not military issue. The military couldn’t afford something like this.

I picked the rifle up and held it reverently there in the flickering light of the container. I had only seen weapons like this in gun magazines. The gun was massive, nearly 20 pounds but still felt well-balanced for all its weight. I turned it over and saw the heavy ‘competition’ barrel marked .300 WIN MAG. The stock fitted to it was either an Accuracy International model or a very well done knock off. The case contained a second barrel marked .338 Lapua Magnum and several spare magazines.

Attached to the picatinny rail on the top was a scout sniper scope. I flipped open the lens caps and was rewarded with a glance of a P4 reticle.

In my head I began writing a letter. “Dear Penthouse Forums, I never thought this would happen to me…”

I shook myself out of my reverie and asked the guards where the ammunition for this rifle was stored. They didn’t answer the question so Starke, whom I had totally forgotten had accompanied me yelled at them

“AMMO! NOW! MOVE,MOVE,MOVE!”

The guard on his left jumped and turned around quickly locating 160 boxed rounds of .300 Winchester Magnum and held them out to Starke. “Do I appear to be holding a rifle?! About face, numbnut!”

The guards face was coloring rapidly as he spun around and handed me the ammo with a muttered “Sorry,sir.” I barely heard him. I was busy examining the massive cartridges and not trying to hide the wolfish smile I was sure I was displaying.

To Starke, I said “You guys have a sniper here?”

He shook his head “Don’t think so.”

“Right. You guys can have my .243 and the ammo for it. I qualified expert with my service rifle and was later awarded a distinguished marksman badge…I was scheduled to go to Dam Neck after my deployment to tryout the Designated Marksman course.”

Starke just smiled “It’s yours. Dwyer said take whatever you want.”

I worked the action a few times to make sure the rifle was in good order and walked out of the CONEX box feeling and looking literally like a kid with a new toy. Starke was laughing at me for a while before my perception finally snapped back to the here and now. “What?”

He kept on laughing “Man, I’ve been trying to talk to you for the last 5 minutes!”

“Did I answer you?”

“You grunted once and said ‘uh huh’ a couple of times.”

I slung the rifle over my shoulder and looked at him. “I’m sorry. Did you want to stop and talk about our feelings or are you good?”

“Nah, man I’m good.” he laughed again “So do you want to check zero on that thing or what?”

“Hel yeah.” I started feeding rounds into the magazine.

“Whoa there, cowboy! We gotta get off base first.”

I nodded, not really caring where I shot this work of art only that I get to do it soon.  I muttered “good point” to Starke and continued to load the spare magazines.

****

The delivery area of Wal-Mart was bordered by a small wooded lot. A stream ran through the back of the lot and opened out onto a more densely wooded area. The stream itself was wide, but not deep, coming up to just above my knees as I sank into the soft sandy bottom. I took out my ghillie suit midway across the stream and put it on so it covered me and my ruck.

The detergent-perfume smell of the ghillie suit was anathema to the smells of nature and I needed to get the suit ‘broken in’ once more. I spotted a small copse of trees nearby. The ground beneath the trees was covered with ‘canopy litter’  and I laid down and began to roll over.

Starke thought–from the look on his face–that I had lost my mind and he was going to have to shoot me. I popped up satisfied that the burlap was sufficiently subdued.

I took my ghillie suit off laid it on the ground with my new rifle on top of it. I opened my ruck and got the extra magazines out laying them on the burlap as well. When I opened my ruck I saw John’s bush blanket was still inside. I pulled it out and offered it to Starke.

I laid down on top of the ghillie suit while Starke went off to set up the targets. I placed the recoil pad against my shoulder and cradled the stock with my left arm, placing my left hand on my right shoulder with the web of my index finger and thumb just under and supporting the stock.

The rifle fit as well as any glove I’d ever worn, making contact in all the right places. I reached forward to flip open the lens covers and saw a crisp clear picture. The colors inside my scope seemed somehow brighter and sharper than  those around me.

Starke had liberated a couple of flat cement pavers from the Wal-Mart’s garden section and set one at what I reckoned to be about one-hundred yards. I watched him through my scope as he moved even further down range and set up the second target.

I waited until he returned to insert the magazine and the extra round directly into the bore. Starke laid next to me and pulled out a spotter’s scope while stuffing his ears with small neon orange plugs. I looked over at him and he gave me a thumbs up. I took a deep breath and let it out. As I got to the bottom of my exhalation I heard him say “Send it”.

“Sending” I replied in a voice that seemed quiet even with the ear plugs in. I squeezed the trigger slowly and was surprised when the round was launched downrange. The cement paver turned into a cloud of dust and I felt a strange sense of satisfaction having ‘killed’ the paver.

A few seconds later there was the sound of leaves as though the wind had suddenly come up. Starke was still looking through the scope and laughed. “Nice. You got a nice big sapling to bring home for dinner!”

I looked back through the scope in time to see a tree about 8 feet tall fall entirely to the ground. I adjusted my aim and began trying to set the dope for the other target. From the angle I was at, I didn’t have a clear shot at the second paver and so had to aim for center of exposed mass.

I repeated my ritual and at the bottom of my breath heard Starke say “Send it” again.

I was gently but gradually putting pressure on the trigger “Sending.” I felt the rifle recoil almost before I was aware I’d pulled the trigger fully, but this time there was no explosion of dust.

Starke called out “Miss! High, left.”

I ejected the spent cartridge and slid the bolt home once more “re-acquiring.” I adjusted the scope again and called out “re-engaging”. I heard Starke say send it and didn’t bother to reply as I let off the round.

“Miss! High!”

Starke chuckled tersely.”You scared the crap out of him though, look he’s trying to get concealed!”

I peered through the scope tube once more and saw that while I hadn’t hit my target I had knocked it over. I could see the impact of the round just a couple of inches high in the tree trunk where the paver had stood.

I started muttering to myself angrily.

“What was that?” Starke asked.

“I said that was the shooter,not the gun.”

He barked out another harsh little laugh “takes a big man to…”

“suck it.” I finished for him.

I took two deep breaths and got the call from Starke again. This time I replied and sent the round downrange. There was less dust this time, but I smiled happily as I watched the block explode sending pieces everywhere.

“How far was that?”

“Little over 600 yards.” Starke was setting up the bipod on my old .243 “Think this can reach down that far?”

“Without a doubt.”

Starke grinned and fed  rounds into the magazine. I was looking downrange through my scope and froze when I saw a herd of deer.  I reached over and tapped Starke on the arm. He looked at me wordlessly and I pointed down range. The small herd of whitetail deer was just beyond the area where my last kill was. Starke smiled and took aim.

I hadn’t been on the bolt side of my old rifle before and was a little surprised at how loud it was. I looked downrange and saw the deer flopping on the ground trying to get up.

I didn’t say a word to Starke as I sent another round to finish off the deer. I looked at him, my anger apparent. Starke hung his head and was completely silent.

I stood and gathered my gear putting on my ruck and my ghillie suit over it. Starke started to say something and I snatched the rifle out of his hands. “Why don’t you go back to base? I’ll go clean up your mess.”

Starke said nothing but set to policing the area and when he was finished headed back toward the camp. I have no problems with killing animals. Everyone knows how tasty they are. I have a problem with people that don’t kill cleanly. I had always been of the opinion it was unfair to the animals to hunt with a rifle and whatever hunting I had done before in my life was with a bow.

I walked down to where the deer lay and shook my head. I’m not exactly a mother-earth-let’s-all-hug-a-tree kind of Heathen, but I apologized to the deer for my compatriots action. I hated to see animals suffer. I pulled out Sweet Louise and set to field dressing the deer. If this one had made it to fall it probably would have been close to 175 pounds, but as it was I estimated it at just under 150.

I cut the liver away from the rest of the organs and stuffed it back in the carcass. I touched my Ka-bar to the heart and was rewarded with a spray of blood in my eyes. I sat there and blinked until my eyes cleared and then removed the heart.

I hefted the deer up in a fireman’s carry and headed back to camp.

****

When I made it back to camp I took the deer to the chow line and gave it over to the cook and asked if he needed me to skin it. The cook, a small Hispanic looking man smiled broadly and shook his head no.

The cook summoned two men from the improvised kitchen to carry the deer away.

“Wait! ” the two men turned to look at me. I couldn’t tell if they were Hispanic or not, so I asked “You speak English?” They both nodded. I stuck my hand out and put it inside the deer “Liver and heart are mine. Comprende? The rest is for everybody.”

The men smiled and assured me they understood and took the carcass away. I heard a murmur rising from behind me and turned to see Major Dwyer approaching. I figured my appearance, bloody face and dirt covered ghillie suit must have caused a stir.

When Dwyer got close enough he grabbed my elbow to pull me aside. Speaking in a low angry voice, he said “That’s not how we do things here!”

“It’s certainly not how I do things.” I said as I tore my elbow from his grasp.  “Do not put your hands on me again unless a fight is your intent.”

He demured slightly. “Sorry. But troops have the priority here. Any time an animal is taken, it goes to the troops and whatever is left over goes to the civilians.”

I calmed myself slightly and spoke in a voice barely above a whisper “That’s great. Tell you what: how about you write that up in a memo entitled ‘How to Foment a Rebellion’. I understand that the troops need to eat, but if you’re not providing for the citizens in your charge then what’s the point of this fight? Pretty sure the Feds could do the same thing for them!”

Dwyer made to reach for my elbow again but stopped himself and beckoned for me to follow him away from the line of gawkers “You do not tell me how to run this base. You want to talk about fomenting a rebellion? What do you think you’re doing?! Based on this little interaction alone I could have you tried for sedition and …” he broke off suddenly

“And executed?” I finished for him.

Dwyer’s face was bright red and a vein was throbbing up on the top of his forehead.

“Well shit, go right ahead. you’ve got me outgunned here. Hey, better yet why don’t you deliver me to the Feds? I’m sure they’d reward you– give you a nice position with even– since you seem to be following their playbook so closely.”

Dwyer leaned in close “I want you gone. Tomorrow morning. Do not come back until you have made contact with the militia groups in the area. Until then, you are to be considered ‘persona non grata’ here. Do you read me?”

Dwyer spun around and left me standing there without another word. I thought to myself I’m probably going to have to kill that man. I snorted with a bit of laughter as I realized I had drawn my .357 and had the hammer cocked.

“Soon.”

Chapter 24 -Belt Fed Revolution

I couldn’t remember having had this much fun in ages. Certainly not since gas became crazy expensive. Only the truly wealthy drove for pleasure now, but here I was, ripping through this field, the 33 inch tires on my Cherokee tearing up the ground flinging mud helter skelter. The young woman on the seat next to me was certainly enjoying this. She cried out “Look!” and pointed through the windshield to a pair of bobcats we had disturbed.

I tried to turn the Jeep toward the bobcats but the snow was everywhere and I wasn’t getting a lot of traction. I got us pointed in the right direction and hammered the gas pedal. It was too dark to see properly so I flipped on all of the off-road lights turning the Jeep and the area surrounding it into a small pale blue sun. Motörheads “Ace of Spades” was blaring away on the radio in an infinite loop.

From the passenger’s seat area I heard the sound of a belt buckle unlatch as she leaned over and kissed me on the neck. The song on the radio seemed to get louder in anticipation.

I woke up to near total darkness, my interior voice laughing and mocking at the same time.

Oh sure, it’s not because there’s a chick in your Jeep. That’s all normal. Uh huh. You know it’s not real because there’s a radio. Even your dreams are pathetic.”

I couldn’t really deny what the voice said. My dreams were kind of pathetic, but those were old world dreams. As meaningless now as dreams of dragons.

 There was a candle lantern near my bed, but my eyes were well accustomed to the gloom so I didn’t bother with the light.

I could see a familiar lump at the end of the bed. My ruck had been placed there with my boots lined up next to it. Someone had been busy while I was asleep. My BDU style pants were placed on top of my ruck and neatly folded along with my shirt. They even smelled clean.

I got dressed silently in the dark and sat down to slip my Cadillac’s on. For the first time in a while I  felt pretty decent. My back wasn’t bothering me, my knee hadn’t had much of a chance to complain yet and if my pants were any indication I had even lost a few more pounds. This end of the world stuff wasn’t too bad then.

I tried to sling my ruck, but as I grabbed one of the straps it became immediately apparent that its weight had almost tripled. I thought Stephen might have crawled in there, but chided myself and mumbled into the darkness “He’s far too tall”.

I reached into the pack and pulled out something anyone familiar with military surplus could identify immediately. A spam can. I couldn’t see what caliber it was, but given the guns I carrying I was pretty well assured I didn’t have anything that could chamber the contents of the spam can. I reached into one of the pouches on the back of my ruck and grabbed my little wind up flashlight.

I pressed the button and was rewarded with a watery light from the three LED’s. I couldn’t read the language, but  important stuff was plain. 7.62 something. Mosin? Kalashnikov? I shrugged and pulled the spam can out and laid it on the bed. There were two more in my ruck and I removed those also.

I wasn’t hearing sounds in the house so I assumed everyone else was still asleep. I made my way outside so I could get a fix on the sun and figure out what time it was. I opened the front door and saw Stephen sitting in a plastic Adirondack chair. His head moved slightly at the sounds I made and I knew that he was awake.

Propped up next to him on the arm of the chair was what I took at first blush for some AK variant, but it didn’t look quite right. The stock and foregrip were aftermarket polymer, but the length of the foregrip and barrel gave it away. A Romanian PSL. I had always admired these rifles and this one looked to be in fine condition.

“G’morning.”

“Morning, Stephen. Nice stick you have there.”

He smiled appreciatively. “There’s coffee. I made it the way my dad showed me, but I don’t know if it’s any good.” He gestured toward a blue metal carafe on a table with some coffee cups.

I said my thanks and grabbed up the carafe. It was still hot and I didn’t think it would be polite for me to use it as a coffee cup, so I settled for one of the small ceramic mugs and took a seat.

“Got some people comin’.” Stephen said and pointed toward a small two lane track that was probably a lot of fun on a snowmobile. I leapt to my feet and went inside, grabbing my .243 and hoped the lighted reticle scope still had some power.

I ran out and dropped down to one knee behind some concealing junk in the yard. “Um. . .  ” Stephen began “I invited them.” I looked back at him. Damn kid. He had this cool detachment thing down far better than I did. I looked through my scope anyway and saw people shapes at about 1500 yards.

Stephen held the PSL out to me. “Thought I might offer you a trade. My dad’s PSL for that.” He pointed at the rifle I held. I handed over the .243 to Stephen so I could examine the PSL. I pulled back the bolt and to my surprise a live round leapt out of the chamber. I grabbed it before it could hit the ground and examined it. Oh yeah. I was smiling inside, holding this familiar cartridge, running my finger around the odd rim that was part of its designation. 7.62x54r .

“Well as much as I appreciate the offer, Stephen, I’m kind of trying to travel light.” I winked at him before I realized he probably couldn’t see the expression in the faint light of dawn. “I can’t hump all that ammo around, unless you want to throw in a pack mule.”

He looked a bit disappointed, but handed me back my rifle without protest. “So who’s coming?”

“Couple of the neighbors. I went out last night and talked to ’em while you were sleepin’.” Stephen pulled the magazine from the PSL and reinserted the round I had ejected. “Some of ’em are in pretty bad shape already, so they were happy to come. Johnson’s tried to follow me right then, but I told ’em to wait an’ come  later.”

I cradled my rifle in my arms and sat down on a tired looking deck chair to drink my coffee and wait for the guests to show up.

****

Before Stephen’s neighbors began to arrive I went in the house and woke John. I wasn’t expecting trouble, but I’d rather be on my feet to meet it if it came our way. John was definitely not a morning person. I had to wake him two more times before I left him to stumble through getting dressed.

Stephen was talking to an older couple when I stepped through the door. Conversation stopped and I found all eyes on me, or more likely on the rig I was wearing and the gun I had slung over my shoulder.

The stragglers were coming in at this point so I waited for them to arrive and enjoyed another cup of coffee. Stephen was willing to give way too much for my rifle. I’d probably have traded him for a pound of coffee, but I wasn’t going to mention that.

Only a couple of them carried weapons. I had to wonder at that. Michigan wasn’t exactly known as a gun-shy state, but the few decent people I had seen lately with the exception of Stephen and his clan, weren’t exactly loaded for bear.

When everyone, including John was present Stephen began to hold a meeting. I stood up and introduced myself.

“Morning folks. I’m Finn” I smiled and nodded at the few that made eye contact “This is John.” John still grouchy stepped forward and offered everyone a sullen wave before collapsing onto one of the chairs.

“What’s yer part in this?” One of the neighbors, asked an elderly man with forest of stubble covering his face.

“Nothing, honestly. I helped Stephen out with a problem he had and he’s given us room and board for a couple of nights.” I waited for a further challenge, but the old man seemed satisfied.

The rest of the meeting was all Stephen. He made it clear to those assembled that John and I were temporary guests and we would be leaving soon. I offered what help I could as they discussed logistics and started making plans. More coffee was prepared and I helped myself. I figured it was a fair trade for the work I had done.

I made it around 11 am when the meeting broke for lunch. Stephen was a sight. He began working people individually while they ate, doing his best to swing them around to his way of thinking about issues they had argued over.

After lunch was over people wandered around and examined Stephen’s steading. Stephen let them look around but he wasn’t showing all his cards yet. I had seen him call a couple away from the barn and engage them in conversation as a distraction. I didn’t like the predatory looks on some faces but I chalked it up to people hard pressed to survive, seeing things they desperately needed.

I listened in on some conversations while doing my best to look like I was doing anything other than eavesdropping. I heard some talk I didn’t like, but I kept it to myself for now. The meeting resumed eventually as meetings tend to do. I was largely tuned out, watching a hawk circle on a thermal in the afternoon sun.

“Well, no offense Steve” My attention suddenly focused on the discussion “But I don’t think you’re exactly cut out to be our leader! ” I stood up at this point deciding to interject on behalf of my host. Stephen shook his head when he saw me stand, so I merely crossed my arms and stood there.

“This is my farm. You want to live here? Eat my food? Then you follow my rules. Don’t like it? You ain’t gotta stay.” I rubbed my chin and tried to hide a smirk. This kid was setting the standard for being the big boss. “If you don’t want to follow my rules, you’re welcome to go back home, but know this: once you leave, you’re out. I ain’t gonna take you in when you run outta food or can’t get water. We have to work together now, if we’re going to survive.”

The old man who had challenged me earlier spoke up “The boy’s right. Fer what it’s worth I wouldn’ta invited most of you here if it was my place.” He picked one of the troublemakers out “Dave, we all know you and your lady friend like that Metha-amphetamin shit.  What ‘re you bringin’ to the table Here?” My .357  in hand, I wordlessly  shot Dave in the head across the circle of those gathered. He slumped to the ground his head nearly falling into the small firepit we sat around.

There were screams and someone started crying. The old man looked at me gape-mouthed. Stephen just stared at me.

“Consider that express rehabilitation.” I picked a round out of my pocket to replace the one I had just fired. “Trust me. You don’t want or need people like that in your group. If you want to make it through this with half a chance everyone here needs to be healthy and willing to work.” I wasn’t telling Stephen that Ol dead Dave there was one of those I had heard talking about what they could take to sell.

I looked at the woman who had been standing next to Dead Dave and took aim once more. I fired and she flopped to the ground a few feet away, dead, but making a weird low-pitched whining sound with her last breath. I looked each of those still gathered in the eye. “You’re welcome. People say that. Usually after others thank them for the favor they’ve just received?” The old man laughed and spat “He’s a dirty fucker anyway! ” That was close enough to thanks for me.

“You can also consider that a statement on how serious is your situation if you’re in doubt of your hosts word.” I looked around and saw shocked faces still doing their immitation of a goldfish. “My name is Finn Arngeirr Sigurdsson. I killed these people. I’m happy to leave my fingerprints and a DNA sample if that will make you feel better, but trust me–no one is going to come along to punish me for that” I gestured toward the two bodies.

My ears were ringing a bit from the .357 but I heard the old man’s wife ask “What’d he say?” The old man flapped a dismissive hand at her and replied ” He said he’s some sorta Viking.” he looked at the two corpses “he was right about them at least. He did us a favor.”

The old man stood and offered me his hand “Thanks much Mr Viking.”

The old-timer didn’t see me roll my eyes at that as he retook his seat.

Stephen restarted the meeting after my little display and smiled as he asked “Anybody got any questions?” This kid was a natural.

Chapter 16 -Belt Fed Revolution

We drove in silence for a while until John’s nature got the best of him and he began talking again. Most of it I could apply my active listening skills to, by nodding my head and giving non-verbal encouragement. Amazing that people pay to learn how to do that. 

I answered a few questions, keeping answers brief and giving yes or no responses when possible. I didn’t really like to talk about myself. I didn’t think anything about me was that interesting and the bits that were I felt it best to keep to myself.

When I couldn’t evade I tried to misdirect. It was clear John wasn’t going to let go asking me about what I did for work. I wanted to say “What does it matter?” but I could tell he was in a fragile state of mind yet and I might need him as a meat shield soon, so I tried to keep him engaged.

“I used to read a lot of books” I offered in an attempt to change the subject. John’s brows knitted together and his head tilted sharply to one side. I was going to have to pick up some treats for him next time I stopped. “Most of the books I read,at least the fiction ones were about the apocalypse” John laughed at that. “Yeah, I know” I continued “Anyway, most of those books all talked about how highways were choked with cars and bodies of people fleeing from whatever had caused the collapse.” It was early morning sometime– still dark out– and I reached down and flipped off the Jeeps lights to make the point.” I guess most of those guys weren’t thinking of an ‘apocalypse’ where people were too broke to bother dragging their cars out to block up the highways.”

The change in light wasn’t a huge one. Without using the Jeep’s “off-road” lights the illumination coming from the headlights was best described as anemic. We cruised along at 55 mph never needing to dodge any cars simply because there weren’t any. John seemed content with that bit of attention turning to look out the window as we drove.

“It’s not cool you know.” John said interrupting the silence of several long, glorious minutes.

For those few minutes he was quiet I forgot he was there.I almost swerved off the road when he spoke. “What’s not cool?”

“Changing the subject. I’m just trying to get to know you, y’know? I mean fuck sake, it’s not like I want to get in your pants if that’s what you’re thinking!”

Honestly it wasn’t. I was thinking as I always did of my grandfather. You got to know him by being around him, not through interrogation. All through my adult life, more like since I had turned twelve, I dreaded the “what are you doing” conversations. Every adult I met would ask “so, you’re in school right?’ No. I run a company that provides protection to foreign dignitaries and VIP’s overseas. Of course I’m in school; I’m 12. Now can I get back to my video game?

This of course turned into a “what’s your major/what do you do for a living” conversation as I got older. For that brief time I was in the Marines I really enjoyed not being asked that question. Everyone knew what they were doing and nobody cared what anyone else was doing so long as they didn’t get blown up near them.

I closed my eyes and took my hands off the steering wheel as I accelerated, willing the Norns, those weavers of fate to snip the thread of my life and save me from having this conversation one more time. When it was clear they weren’t going to oblige me, I sighed and said “I was a social worker, by profession.”

He scoffed “A social worker? You?” he laughed “Okay, go on, pull the other one.’

“It’s true” I said a bit defensively, already regretting my decision to open my mouth.

He cast a skeptical glance my way “Why would you want to be a social worker?” I favored him with a look of my own “You’ve known me for all of a day and you want to start making judgments about people? Really? That’s where you want to go with this?” He considered this for a minute and then started laughing like a kid who’s just heard the word ‘boobies’ for the first time in his life. “Well you have a point there, Mister Finn.”

The sun had just started to break the horizon to the east casting a pale purple glow in the inky sky overhead. I saw a blue sign on the road side that said there was food and gas up ahead and decided to risk it. I looked back to John and told him to get ready just in case.

****

I let the Jeep coast up the off ramp wanting to make as little noise as possible. the Jeep sat idling as I looked around. Nothing looked immediately out-of-place. I was even getting used to there being no other traffic to deal with, but something just felt off. I thumbed back the hammer on my revolver and kept scanning. I had just about decided that I was being overly paranoid when I saw some reflected light coming from the roof of the gas station I was going to check out.

I put the Jeep in gear and it jumped forward causing the big off-road tires to chirp as it did. John looked panicked but was keeping quiet. At least he’d figured out that much. I was short shifting the Jeep as I entered the on ramp trying to build speed as quickly as I could.  The rear window exploded behind us as I put it into 5th gear and an instant later I heard the rifle’s report. The inline 6 was screaming now as I stood on the gas, the Jeep doing the best it could to gain speed. I turned to look at John “You okay back there?” He nodded and kept looking behind us for signs of pursuit. Well if nothing else, I thought, I figured out how to make him be quiet.

We were down the road about a 1/2 mile when John finally asked “What in god’s name was that?!” “A warning.” I chuckled a bit. “I saw the shooter’s scope. He gave himself away–intentionally I think–and gave me a second to react.” John took a drink of water and spat a bit out the window. Combat dry throat. He was adjusting pretty well.

We had gone almost 10 miles when the Jeep started to sputter. The fuel gauge was reading empty. I pulled over onto the shoulder and got out to get one of the Jerry cans out of the cargo area. As I came around the back and popped open the lift gate I noticed the trail leading back toward the town. I dropped to my knees muttering a curse and hoping this wasn’t what I thought.

My fears were confirmed as I examined the skid plate that covered the Jeep’s gas tank. Two good-sized holes had sprouted there with drops of precious gasoline hanging on to the ragged edges of the metal. I had my rifle in hand and started walking back toward the town before my words rang in back in my head. A warning. That’s exactly what it had been. Anyone that could hit a moving target like that could have hit me just as easily if there had been a shot. If I approached on foot, that’s exactly what I would be giving them.

I turned back toward the Jeep, John’s constant chattering finally cut through my anger. I stared at him until he quit talking. “Get in the Jeep.” I was glad I didn’t have to repeat myself. I think I would have shot him if he didn’t obey.  I looked through my supplies for something I could plug the holes with. I ended up cutting the rubber floor mat and rolling it as tight as I could then jamming it into the bullet holes. I wished for some plumber’s putty or even some JB Weld, but I didn’t carry anything like that in my bug out bags.

I emptied the last Jerry can into the tank and got back on my knees to look at the skid plate. It took a few seconds, but eventually I saw the gas begin to seep out. I cursed some more as I got behind the wheel and hoped that the Jeep would fire. The engine cranked uselessly for about 5 seconds before it roared back to life. I floored it. I got up to speed as quickly as I could and began issuing orders for John to start getting pieces of gear out of the cargo area. We made it almost 30 miles before the Jeep started coughing and the fuel gauge was again reading empty. The engine died and I put in neutral, coasting until we lost all our momentum.

I put the Jeep in gear and got out, taking my bug out bag with me. I wished now I had kept the .338 Lapua. I’d love to show it to the sniper that killed my Jeep.  As I gathered the things I thought I would need and doing the math in my head about how much weight I could carry I began to sing softly Iron Maiden’s “Run to the Hills”.

The words of a long ago drill instructor came back to me at this point. The only easy day was yesterday. I slung my rifle and started walking.

Chapter 15 -Belt Fed Revolution

The truck stop was about the same as we left it. My Jeep had remained intact and at first glance I didn’t see anything missing letting me breathe easier for a few minutes. I unslung the .338 and tried to hand it off to one of the truckers. “Well now, that’s fine Finn, and nice of you, but I can’t just let you give this up especially considering how you helped us out.” He told me to wait a second and took the rifle back to his rig. I turned to John and prepared to make my goodbyes.

“Well, ” was as far as I got before John cut me off. “Look, Finn–uh, I’m sort of S.O.L. here now that my truck is done . . .” he looked at me as if expecting I would know what to fill in here. I obliged with “Yeah?” Somewhat uncharacteristically for John he looked down at the ground, embarrassed as if he’d been caught stealing apples off the neighbors tree. “Well, I don’t have anything keeping me here and I was kind of hoping I could, you know . . .” I didn’t. Mentally I was trying to cut to the chase so I could see what he was after, but the closest thing I could figure is he was getting ready to pitch me a time-share in Florida. It had been a kind of long day. “Shit. Look man, I want to go to Canada, okay? I don’t have a truck anymore and I could use a ride!”  Ah, there’s the chase I told myself.

“John, it’s not that I’m against offering a hand in help, but . . .” I tried to think of a nice way to say ‘I’m done here’ but kept coming up blank. ” My Jeep is packed full. I really don’t have room for a passenger and, well. . .” John looked at me inquiringly “I’m kind of done here . . .” Even in my time as a social worker and all the hard luck stories I’d heard I’d never actually seen a grown man give me the puppy dog eyes. Damn it. I love dogs.

I was grateful to be interrupted by the trucker to whom I’d given the rifle coming back with a gift for me. He held out the little black rectangle along with a whip antenna and a 12v power cord. “This little CB won’t let you hear us on our sideband models, but you may at least be able to get some news from folks out there.”  I don’t really know what it means to feel happiness, but relief and gratitude seemed to be good substitutes that most people translated that way. “Thank you. I hope this won’t leave you short?” The trucker just laughed “Naw, man. You gave me that rifle so I can reach out and touch someone just as easily. Fair trade!” We both had a laugh at that and shook hands before parting company.

I had almost forgotten John was waiting for me. I turned around and saw the same heartsick look a dog gives when you scold it for chewing on the linoleum. “Fuck me runnin…yeah okay. Let me go see if I can move stuff around. But I’m not going to Canada. You can ride along with me as far as my gas holds out.” John dropped his salvaged belongings he had carried back from the truck and shook my hand pumping it vigorously. I was worried if he kept this up my arm might literally be ripped off and no way was he driving my Jeep. I took my hand back, somewhat forcefully. “You need to go talk to your buddies here and see if they have any gear they can spare you.  See if anyone’s got some shoes you can use” I lifted my pant leg to show my Cadillac’s, a pair of leather jump boots, my only other souvenir from my time in the Corps.  I pointed at John’s thin soled shoes that the other truckers seemed to favor as well. “We have to hoof it and those aren’t going to last for more than five miles.” John disappeared and I went to sort out the Jeep, shaking my head as I went.

***

I had finished sorting out the Jeep, mainly by pushing stuff over the back seat into the cargo area when John returned. He gave me a very detailed map of Michigan and for himself a few spare cans of food and a couple of bottles of water. No one had any shoes to spare for him.

I got in the Jeep and reached back to open the rear passenger door. John, puppy like stood at the front passenger door looking at me expectantly. I returned his look, waiting for him to get the not too thinly veiled hint. I pointed at the back door and told him to get in. “Why do I have to sit in the back?” he was whining.

“Because I keep the gear I need next to me so I can get at it in a hurry. And because if we meet any unfriendly types, I expect you to take my shotgun and send them off to meet their gods.” I was getting pissed. “Suck it up, Nancy. It’s this or get out and you take your chances here.” When it was clear I wasn’t going to give in, he shut the door and took my shotgun wedging it between his foot and the floorboard.

I let out the clutch on the Cherokee and swung around sticking my hand out the window to wave goodbye to the few truckers that came out to see us off. I didn’t really like the idea, but I got on I-196 to head north. I knew there was a big state park up that way, but it was far enough away that I hadn’t bothered to look at the map just yet. I figured at best if the roads stayed clear and I didn’t have to stop I could make about 200 miles with the gas I had on hand. I hoped that would be enough since I planned to get off the interstate as soon as possible and push my luck with state and county roads.

John caught a case of the ‘Chatty Cathy’s’ as I drove and began telling me his life story. For the most part I ignored him and kept scanning the road for signs of trouble. I was half listening to John, waiting for an interruption in the stream of verbal diarrhea that was flowing out of him when I noticed something he had kept repeating. “John?” He stopped and tilted his head at the sound of my voice. Guy had to be part beagle, I swear it. “You keep saying partner. Are you gay?” He laughed and slapped the back of my seat “You’re pretty quick there! I think I only said my ex-boyfriend’s name about 100 times!” I looked at him in the rear view “Given the fact I killed several men today and am still a free man, I don’t think I need to tell you things have changed.” His head tilted to the other side and I wished for a rolled up newspaper.

“Of all the things I could possibly spend time caring about, your sexual preference is near the bottom of that list, but I’m not everyone else. Get me?” He looked puzzled for a moment “What do you mean?” he asked.  “John, there are no more police as far as I can tell, no courts, no lawyers, nobody is going to come to your defense and make others treat you as an equal. Dig?” the puppy dog look was replaced with one of indignation. I stopped him before he could get on his verbal bike and start in on me “I don’t care. Who you screw is your business as far as I’m concerned. But also as far as I’m concerned who I kill is my business; I’m guessing there are a whole bunch of folks out there think the same now. Mommy isn’t going to come around and make everyone play nice. I’m not saying don’t be who you are, but maybe dim the light a little, yeah?” John sat back against the seat and stared out the window in silence. Apparently I had gotten through to him.

I took the map and began looking for a place to get off the interstate and find my way to a side road. I knew a fight was coming. Now, hopefully, John knew as well. People weren’t going to be “accepting” like they had been when they had the possibility of legal sanctions facing them. “John?” Silence. I pulled out my hammer from beneath my shirt. “You see this?” He looked at it and nodded. “This is Mjolnir, John. The hammer of Thor.” I pressed on. “I’m a Heathen, as in not Christian.” Huffily “And?” 

 “I don’t advertise it, John. I’m still going to be a Heathen and worship the gods and my ancestors, but I don’t go around telling people–usually– because they grew up with things being a certain way.” He nodded slightly so I continued “Remember how Jews and Muslims were treated here? Well, how do you think people are going to react to this? People want homogeneity. Everything needs to be the same or the thing that’s different needs to be removed. Last thing I want now is to get my ass burned at the stake or beheaded or whatever people are going to do to those who are different. There’s a fight coming. If there’s a fight, let’s win.”

I couldn’t tell if I had reached him. I put the hammer back under my shirt and John sat back and returned to staring out the window.

A short time later I heard him say mostly to himself “Let’s win.”