Sunday, February 5, 2012
Near Crandon, Wisconsin
Doug had washed up in the bathroom, wishing for a hot shower instead of the bowl of warm water that Brenda had provided. Changing into ‘road clothes’—cargo pants, layered shirts—generally clothes that were comfortable for hours in the car. He hurriedly packed his things as the kids ate breakfast. Matt was outside, topping of Doug’s gas tank with precious gasoline. He gave each of the kids a quick hug, and slipped a dark chocolate bar in front of each—gaining a huge smile and a larger hug. Brenda was busy making a couple sandwiches for the road.
“How far can you make it today?” she asked. “Barring the unexpected of course.”
“I need…rather, I’d like to meet up with a couple of suppliers on the way back south. One in Green Bay. Another in Sheboygan. After that, back to Des Moines and corporate. Then, home. So, long answer for ‘no idea.’”
“Not sure about either Green Bay or Sheboygan…” Brenda said, looking at him skeptically.
“I know,” Doug said. “I’ll try to call ahead, assuming that I’ll have coverage. If I can’t get through to them, I’ll have to go with Plan B.”
“Drive on through.”
“Stopping sounds extraordinarily risky,” Brenda said with eyebrows raised, out of earshot of the kids.
“I think any travel is, Bren. Can’t stay here though,” he said, thinking all the while that Regent just might come looking for him. That wouldn’t do.
“OK. Gassed up and good to go,” Matt said as he came inside, shaking off his wet hat. “Hope you like driving in the rain.”
“Beats driving in the snow,” Doug replied. “I should get a move on.”
“Here’s your lunch. Two sandwiches, a half-dozen boiled eggs. Two bottles of water and some of Ronnie’s home made potato chips. Salt and vinegar.”
“My favorite,” Doug said. “Home made?” Again, Doug was astounded by the transformation.
“They’re better for you,” Brenda said. “We know what’s in them,” she said, making a point of it.
Doug was getting ready to shake Matt’s hand when a radio on his belt chimed three times. Matt’s brow furrowed instantly as he retrieved it.
“Two,” he replied.
“Heavy fire. North edge of Crandon. Multiple heavy weapons. Civilians down,” Doug heard. He recognized the voice as that of Nate Delacroix. “Deploy to…” the radio went to static.
“One,” Matt called back. He was greeted by silence. He repeated his call.
“Under fire. Pulling back,” Nate said. Doug thought his breathing sounded labored. “Deploy to County G, advance with caution to Range Line on North Lake. Regulars are deployed east on Glen and holding. Second unit is advancing south on Pence and Town Line. Enemy force headed north and east—east side of Clear Lake.”
“Three heading in,” another voice spoke. Jess Mecklenburg. Jess should probably have been sleeping, Matt as well.
“Three, go to Range Line and Town Line and hold,” Nate instructed.
“Affirm,” Jess replied.
“Gotta go, babe,” Matt said to Brenda, giving her a quick kiss.
“I’m going with you,” Doug said, deciding so on the spot. “Give me a minute.”
“Doug, you can’t…” Brenda started, before Matt cut her off with a wave of his hand.
“Sure he can,” Matt replied calmly.
Two minutes later they were out the driveway. Doug had his M-4 and a half-dozen magazines in a vest. “I take it this isn’t normal,” he asked.
“No. Two things are very wrong here. First off, Nate is way outside of his patrol area. Second, we’ve never had any organized force this big this far north. You may well have need of that rifle. Here’s the map,” Matt said, tossing Doug a map of the area.
They drove quickly toward County Road G, north of Crandon. Doug could see smoke rising from the town, blowing off to the east in the rainy sky.
“Shit,” Matt said as he stopped the truck.
“Two in place,” he said into the radio.
“Three is holding, two minutes ahead of second unit.”
“Stand fast,” Delacroix replied. “First unit is holding east of the trailer park.”
A few seconds went by. Matt pointed out where they were; where Jess had stopped, where the ‘regulars’ were positioning themselves, and where the ‘enemy’ forces were believed to be.
“Estimated enemy force, twenty men,” Nate replied. “No friendlies,” he added.
“No hostages,” Matt translated. “Let’s get into the field.”
They left the truck, Doug awkwardly putting on his load-bearing vest. Matt handed him a spare helmet. “Stay close,” Matt said.
Doug’s heart was racing as they got off the road, south of Range Line, and made their way into the trees and wet brush. Doug hadn’t noticed, but a home just north of Range Line was burned to the ground. Another home was a scant hundred feet to the east. They ducked down behind and earthen berm. The helmet promptly fell off his head. He adjusted the strap to keep it more or less in place.
“Two thousand feet that way, more or less,” Matt said. “Watch your ass. Stray rounds can get you just as easily as not. Let’s move up,” he said. “You know how to provide cover fire?” he asked, pausing.
“Yeah. We trained to,” Doug said, shouldering the rifle and peering to the east.
“Just try not to shoot me in the back.”
Matt took off before Doug could respond, heading to the north side of a small house, south of the road. He waved Doug ahead, peering around to the west side of the house. Doug advanced quickly. An open field greeted them, with trees beyond.
“OK. Same thing, more real estate to cover. I’m going to those trees…that one on the right that’s down. Cover me to the south. Other side of those trees is a rail line,” Matt said. They heard automatic weapons fire from the southwest. “Other side of the tracks, we’ll have a few cabins. Those are on the east side of the lake. We’re going to skirt those and position ourselves at the north end of the lake. Enemy should be advancing north along the west shore. Friendly unit to the south is herding them north. Second unit should be in position on the north and east, boxing them in. Got it?”
“Yeah,” Doug said. His heart had slowed considerably. He felt…alive. This was different than training, but the same sharpness surrounded him. Matt took off at a sprint as the distant weapons fire continued. Doug was still panning to the south, rifle in position, as Matt flagged him forward.
The meadow seemed to claw at his feet as he tried to run across it. His boots were soaked and heavy, pants clinging to his legs. After an eternity, he made it to Matt’s position.
“You OK?” Matt asked, not looking at him, but continuing to look to the west.
“Yeah. My boots are like lead though.”
“Wrong gear for this. Learn from it,” he said as he took off again. He soon was nearly out of sight. Doug followed, and heard the weapons fire much more distinctly. No longer muffled, the low chunk-chunk-chunk of a heavy machine gun seemed only yards away. Higher-pitched weapons, Doug recognized were a mix of AK-47’s and M-16’s.
“Two in position, north shore of Clear, southeast of Pence Lane,” Matt radioed. It was only then that Doug noticed he held a small, plastic-encased map of the area.
“Second unit holds the tree line west of the clearing, approx one hundred meters west of the lake,” Jess replied.
“Two, advance west and south to shoreline and engage,” Nate ordered.
“Affirm,” Matt said before turning to Doug.
“OK. Crapshoot on what happens next. I’ll be five meters from the shoreline; you take a position five meters east of me. Do not fire without orders. If I fire, consider yourself free to follow. Got it?”
“Yes,” Doug replied. Matt took his position and waved for Matt to do the same, directing him to a tall row of trees. The gunfire grew louder…including the low, regular thumping that he could feel in his chest. Doug knelt behind the largest tree he could find. The base was more than three feet in diameter.
A pause in the shooting gave Doug the opportunity to look towards the south, just as mud and wood spattered up toward him from directed fire. He involuntarily swung back behind the tree to try to hide. He looked over at Matt, who was prone, behind another tree. Matt motioned him to get down as more of the tree was blasted away. He tried to get as flat as he could as more rounds hit around him, now aimed toward Matt’s position as well.
Doug didn’t see where the enemy fire was coming from at first. He heard Matt’s rifle from his left as the woods to the east of the clearing erupted. The second unit opened up with dozens of rifles firing toward the south of his position. Finally he brought his rifle up to position and peered around the tree. Two men were advancing, leapfrogging around each other toward Matt. Matt’s view though, was blocked by brush. More men trailed behind, some appearing wounded. Doug quickly took aim on the lead man, in cover behind a tree. The man was struggling to load a magazine when Doug fired. The first, and then the second just behind, were hit by two bursts from Doug’s rifle. Both men collapsed in screams, writhing on the ground. Matt moved up to Doug’s position. Doug found his magazine empty, surprisingly. The firing ended by the time he replaced the mag. Jess Mecklenburg appeared from the woods on the east, advancing with thirty or forty men. Most were in farm clothing.
“You hurt?” Matt asked.
“Don’t think so,” he replied, before realizing an adrenaline rush had taken over.
“Side of your head. You’re bleeding from under your helmet.”
Doug hadn’t noticed. He took the helmet off and found the right side of his head bloody, along with his shoulder. He felt something stuck in his hair, just above the ear. A large splinter had hit him, slicing his scalp. He pulled it, and felt a tug on his scalp as he did so. He stared at the six-inch piece of wood as his shoulder and shirt were coated in blood. He heard someone call for a medic as Matt made him lie down and applied a compress to his head. He looked south and saw that the men from the second unit had surrounded the downed enemy. None appeared to be alive. A young woman in uniform appeared from somewhere. His head began to throb.
“That should do it, Mister Peterson. Got you all cleaned up and patched back together. Nineteen stitches. You’re pretty lucky,” the young medic said.
Doug barely remembered being helped to one of the nearby houses. Two other men were being treated for gunshot wounds. Both would be transported to a hospital. He was still a little shocky. He’d never had an injury remotely like this before.
“Thanks. Much appreciated,” he said.
“You’re going to need to rest for at least a day. I cleaned out the wound as best as I can. Are you current on tetanus? ”
“Yeah. Had a shot last November,” the side his head felt like he’d been hit with an axe.
“Good. That’ll help. I’d like to get you an IV of Penicillin G. That OK? No allergies?” she asked as Matt came into the room, carrying Doug’s rifle and his own. “We’ll have to transport you to the clinic, unless you have someone who’s had medical training.”
“My wife can do it. She’s had EMT and paramed training,” Matt replied. Doug could not have been more surprised. “We’ll get him to our place. He’s not from these parts.”
The young brunette was surprised, not knowing quite what to say. “Oh, I’m sorry. I thought you lived here.”
“Iowa, actually,” Doug said. “No allergies. I do have some topical antibiotics in my travel kit. Should I use them?”
“Those are fine for some things, not a wound like that one,” she said. “Deputy, is your wife current on her certifications?”
“OK. I’ll get your supplies,” the slim woman said. “Getting thin on this stuff. Another month and we’ll be in trouble.”
One of the locals delivered Doug back to Matt and Brenda’s. The young man was around twenty, and was instructed by an older man not to say anything, just deliver Doug and his equipment. Doug noted that the young man had a military-type utility jacket, pockets bulging with used brass shell casings. Some littered the seat and floor of the ancient Blazer.
Brenda met them in the driveway, already aware that Doug had been wounded. He hadn’t thought to ask how exactly. He guessed that she was patched into the local CB radio network.
“This way, Robbie. Thanks for helping,” Brenda said to the young man.
“Glad to help, Missus Bowman,” he said as he carried Doug’s rifle and vest into the house. Doug was directed into the dining living room.
“You’ve had quite the morning,” Brenda said. “Lucky you didn’t get your fool head blown off. What hit you?”
“Chunk of a maple tree,” he replied as she examined the wound.
“Someone did nice work on your scalp. Couldn’t do any better myself.”
“I had no idea you knew anything about stitching people up.”
“I was training to be a volunteer firefighter last year. That also meant training to be an EMT. I took the paramedic courses first,” she said, checking out the contents of the small box that Robbie brought in. “Let’s get you out of those muddy clothes before I get you settled in. Robbie, can you go out to Doug’s SUV and grab his green bag?”
“Yes, ma’am,” the young man said, disappearing instantly.
“His Mom was in training with me. Sweet kid.”
Robbie reappeared with Doug’s overnight bag. “Thanks, Robbie. Doug you go get some dry clothes on and get washed up a bit. You’re not leaving today anyway,” Brenda said.
“You got it,” Doug said, rising slowly. The mornings’ workout illustrated just how physically unfit he was.
“Robbie, if you wouldn’t mind, would you take Doug’s rifle out to the garage and get it cleaned up?”
“Sure. Is the kit still up in the cupboard?” He replied.
“Should be. Thanks.”
Doug made his way to the bathroom, getting a look in the mirror for the first time. The right side of his head was swollen; a row of stitches an inch above his ear. Dried blood covered his neck and jaw. His dress shirt was ruined; jacket covered with mud and blood.
He stripped down to his shorts, washed up in cold water, which didn’t bother him nearly as much as it would have earlier in the day. He dressed in jeans and a long sleeve t-shirt, and pulled on some delightfully dry socks.
“You look a little better,” Brenda said. “Here. Drink this,” she said, handing him a mug of orange juice. “Head over to the recliner. You’ll take your IV there, all right?”
“Thanks. Sure,” he replied. “Thanks for having that young man clean my rifle. I’m sure it was a mess.”
“I was taught to keep things clean, especially if your life depends on them.”
“Good lesson,” he said. “Where are the kids?”
“I sent them up north with Jess’s wife and kids. If something was coming this way I didn’t want them around.”
“Has this…happened before?” Doug asked as Brenda swabbed his arm with an alcohol wipe in preparation of the IV.
“Not like this. It’s never the same way twice.”
“You’ve…had the kids hide before?”
“Hide? Yes. This was ‘evacuate.’ We’ve had them do that before, too. Twice,” Brenda replied as she inserted the needle and started the drip. The bag hung from a hook attached to a floor lamp next to the recliner. “I was listening in on the radio during the fight. You OK…mentally?”
“I think so. Still trying to process it. I think I killed two men.”
“You need some time alone?” she asked quietly.
“No, I’m OK. It was…instinct. Without thought,” Doug said. “They were coming at us, leapfrogging from tree to tree. I think one of them was probably responsible for this,” he said, pointing to his head. “He had a different kind of rifle. Bigger. Heavy. Sounded different,” he said, recounting the fight in his mind. “I looked around the tree and they were coming. I fired. That’s all. I know I hit them…. Matt couldn’t see them from where he was…I hit them in the guts. I heard them scream…and it was over. Matt came over to me. That was it.”
“Matt said you did very well. He was impressed,” Brenda said. “He is not easily impressed.”
“So I gather,” Doug said as Robbie came back in, carrying Doug’s rifle.
“All cleaned up. Refilled your mags too, sir.”
“Thank you. You didn’t have to do that,” Doug said.
“You killed the guy who shot at my sister. Yeah. I did have to,” the young man said, shaking Doug’s hand. “Thanks.”
Doug nodded, not having the faintest idea of what to say.
“Doug? Are you awake?” Brenda asked.
“Just. Didn’t plan on nodding off,” he said. His head throbbed.
“You didn’t get any sleep last night, or did you forget?”
“Seems like a week ago.”
“Here’s some soup and one of those sandwiches I made you. Eat up.”
“Uh, no. They’re going to be gone overnight,” Brenda replied a little awkwardly. “How are you feeling?”
“Pretty good. My head feels twice as heavy, though. Is Matt home?”
“He went to bed around ten. You were sawing logs. I took the IV out and you didn’t even stir.”
“Does he still pull a shift later?”
“No. They’re all standing down. Eagle River will take care of themselves tonight.”
Doug heard someone in the next room. Matt entered, carrying a cup of something steaming. “I heard my name mentioned. How’re you doing?”
“Pretty well, I think. How did it go after…”
“Twenty-six enemy dead. Nine survivors. Some from Milwaukee, some from Kenosha. Couple from all the way down in Gary,” Matt said, taking a sip from the mug. “Four civilians from Crandon. Two from the grocery, two from the machine shop.”
“Damn,” Doug said.
“You got credit for two of the bad guys. Nicely done,” Matt said. “You got the ringleaders.”
“They were just the ones coming at me…at, us.”
“Well, you ended up with some serious street cred with the locals.”
“You up to heading out tomorrow?” Matt said, thoughtfully changing the subject.
“Yeah. More than ever, I think.”
“Hon, the news should be on. Do you want to listen? I’ve got to get this bread in the oven,” Brenda said from the kitchen.
“Yep,” Matt replied. He flipped on a small radio in the living room, just as the ‘chime’ from the network sounded. Both men leaned toward the radio to listen.
No sound came from the radio.
“That happen often?” Doug asked, still straining to listen.
“No,” Matt answered, switching to another frequency.
“…in Chicago late last night, where negotiations have reportedly broken down between management and labor at Agnew Middleton, the agricultural super-giant. Inside sources have stated that corporate reorganization of domestic production operations will take in excess of eighteen months, throwing production estimates and the larger commodity markets into further chaos. Key market analysts stated ten days ago that petrochemical shortages would cause further dramatic increases in food costs almost immediately. Private security forces have been seen at numerous grain elevators, food processing plants and distribution centers in Illinois and Indiana.”
“You know anything about that?” Matt asked.
“That it’s no surprise. No fertilizer, no fuel to get into the fields, whammo. Instant shortages. RNEW was…is being marketed to help alleviate the shortages,” Doug said.
“…in Crittenden County. National Guard forces, already stretched thin, are struggling to contain the riots in adjacent Shelby County. Two neighboring counties have been sealed off to prevent rioters from entering. The glow from urban fires is visible from more than twenty miles away. The President again today, asked for calm.”
“In international news, Syria continued their push into northern Lebanon, despite heavy Israeli opposition. The Secretary of State has reportedly asked Israel to stand down as a coalition force is considered for the region. Israel responded by condemning American inaction as numerous medium range missiles targeted Tel Aviv. Rescue efforts are still proceeding at the Knesset, damaged yesterday in a missile attack. President Moshe Ben-Artzi was seen at the Israeli Defense Force headquarters earlier today, not in hiding as had been reported earlier today. Reports have not been confirmed that Ben-Artzi participated directly as a pilot in a recent bombing mission against Syrian ground forces.”
“Imagine any of our recent Presidents getting away with that,” Doug said.
“Or having the balls to try,” Matt replied.