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.
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.