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Operation SERF, Part 5 (Chris Sullins, December 29, 2008)
“Thanks for meeting with me, Colonel Barry,” Scott said to the officer seated across from him. The two men were alone in the Colonel’s office within the wire of Fort Knox. “I had hoped we might have the commanding general here for this meeting as well.”
“Scott,” said Colonel Barry, “it’s just going to be you and me today. Anything you say to me I will pass on to the general. I know the general appreciated the information you gave us regarding Colonel Gordan. But, just to be up front with you, our future meetings are just going to be the two of us.”
“Does that mean that we can’t count on any armor from you?” asked Scott.
“That’s one thing I always appreciated about you,” Barry said, “just business up front. So with that let me just say to not read anything into that particular decision for now.”
“So you guys are going to sit on your hands and see how this plays out from the sidelines?”
“Scott,” said Barry. “It’s that kind of pushing that just never played well for you on the Hill. Sometimes you need to play the politics for the appearance in the game itself.”
“I didn’t have time to play the game with them and I have even less time for it now,” Scott said. “This nation is going to completely pull itself apart if we don’t act now. We could already be in Indianapolis and Chicago putting a stop to one piece that’s about to break off.”
“Most of us,” began Barry,”and this just isn’t us at Fort Knox want to stay put a few more days and let the civilians figure their end out first. Outside of the East Coast most of the cities are secure and there’s no active threat coming from outside CONUS right now. But, we have a very vocal minority who are wondering if the leprosy has gone too far already. They want to stay completely hands off on the civil side, but do want to set out and secure our own resources right now. Those of us in the middle don’t want to be stuffing a sausage casing outside the wire if another cow hits the fan. No matter which direction it comes from.”
“Jesus,” Scott said. “DC and Manhattan are in ruins and the official back-up sites have been actively locked out of communication. No one is paying any attention to the line of succession among the survivors. The civilians have completely disregarded their own COG plan. We have different shadow governments around the country vying for authority with cabinet members and agency heads assassinating each other. Don’t you see a coup happening here right before your eyes? Help me go get the President. We can at least use the figurehead of office as a starting point for this country to rally around. Please help me.”
“Thanks for making my case,” Barry said. “This is exactly why the general doesn’t want to roll tanks into two different cities in an attempt to locate the President. Cities which I might add are completely calm right now.”
“The President is probably being held under duress right now,” began Scott.
“He looked fine to me in his speech last night,” interrupted Barry. “The TV is working again and there are even commercials on it…”
“I’m the one who had the President moved before the bombs went off in DC,” Scott cut back. “He wouldn’t have survived otherwise. I haven’t been able to communicate with him since then. What I do know is there’s a fifth column that’s come out into the open up north right now. They’re very well organized, using the authority of federal and state agencies, and already taking control of the local population. There’s something similar happening across a large part of the southwest all the way to the West Coast.”
“We’re aware of what’s going on up north,” said Barry. “We also know what’s happening in the southwest under altogether different leadership. All of our communication and intel hasn’t cut. Knowing this doesn’t make any difference in our position. That still leaves us the problem of three shadow governments trying to give us orders. And, if we initiate active intervention at this point, we could end up assisting the greater of the evils in the long-run.”
“But it has been said,” Scott said,”and I quote ‘Evil prospers when good men do nothing.’”
“Save it,” said Colonel Barry.
“How can rescuing your Commander in Chief and restoring the President to the full power of his position assist evil?”
“That’s the point, Scott,” replied Barry. “How do we really know he even needs rescuing? And, with everything that’s been going on should we be restoring him to full power right now?”
“I don’t know if he needs rescuing, but at least the President could be a starting point for fixing things.”
“You’re going to need to bring me something,” said Barry, “in regard to the President needing our help because right now all you’ve got is a communication issue with him. By the way, if you could move him, then why not move him somewhere you could control in the first place? Why not send him straight south?”
“I could only warn of the threat to him, not pick his destination once in motion,” replied Scott. “After he was on the ground, we ended up with two signals. One is him and the other is a ghost. Both have been maintained the entire time.”
“So who did that?” asked Barry.
“I’m fairly sure Mond had a hand in at least part of that,” Scott said.
“Oh, yes,” said Barry with a smile,”the mysterious Mond you keep warning me about. The man you said is more of a threat to this country than any faction by itself. As far as we can tell, he has a few traitors helping him and a few drones. I’ll be honest with you; we fail to see the greater threat he poses. But, anyway, thanks again for pointing out Colonel Gordan to us.”
“Ok,” said Scott without missing a step. “What can you tell me about Gordan and his use of the drones?”
“He was able to have some re-armed and re-fueled,” said Barry. “None of the military sites he once accessed will re-service them if they return. We also don’t know how many other drones have been repositioned around the country.”
“How many were launched locally?”
“He launched a high altitude drone and two heli-drones,” replied Barry. “We don’t think those have been used anywhere yet. We had reports of others operating across the southwest. Some of those have been falling out of the sky when they couldn’t re-fuel. A few the Air Force shot down. If it’s not joint-owned in the air, it’s mostly being removed now. That much we could all agree on.”
“Those local drones could be waiting anywhere right now,” said Scott.
“I guess we can pray for more bad weather,” said Barry. “Thanks for visiting. We’ll talk again. I’ll have the Sergeant show you out now.”
* * *
“Dad,” the bearded man in his twenties said after he entered the front open area of the log home, closed the front door, and stomped the snow of his boots. “The French are here.”
The other bearded man in his early fifties barely lifted his eyes from the book he was reading as he sat on the large leather couch with his legs stretched across a primitive style wooden coffee table in front of a large soap-stone woodstove set a couple feet out from the log and glass wall. A fire danced behind the glass on the stove door from a log that had been put in a few minutes before. A long black stove pipe went up past the upper loft landing and through the roof. The man turned another page within a very dog-eared black and white cover soft cover edition of “Tao Te Ching” by Lao Tsu. The son who had just entered sat down on one end of the couch.
“They’re not far behind me. They’re with the guys on the other sled. Can you do me a favor?” asked the younger man.
“What would that be, Daniel?” said the father.
“Please don’t get all Yoda with these guys,” replied Daniel. “We have a good case and a chance to make ourselves heard outside of Michigan.”
“Do you really think that the reason they have come here has anything to do with our case?” the older man stated more than asked as he closed his book and gently tossed it onto the table.
Before Daniel could answer the front door opened and a group of men came in one by one and also began shaking the snow off. Most of the men wore heavy camouflage coats and hats. Two other men wore gore-tex coats in brighter shades, one red and the other yellow. It looked as if a group of hunters and a pair of skiers had all made reservations at the same vacation lodge. After coats were removed all the men wore various styles of sweaters and long sleeve sweatshirts. One of the visiting pair removed a hard-shell case from his backpack, opened it, and took out a small digital camcorder. The other visitor took off his boots and walked over to the two men sitting on the couch.
“You must be Josiah Shroud,” said the man as he came to a stop next to the older man on the couch. “I’m Phillipe Granger and this is my cameraman Jacques Lance.”
“Granger,” said Josiah and offered a handshake which was reciprocated, “how appropriate.”
“You’ve heard of my work?” asked Phillipe as Josiah motioned him to sit on a matching leather chair that was set at a right angle to the couch.
“No,” replied Josiah as they both sat down. “I just like the name. How was your trip here? What kind of delays did the attacks cause you?”
“We had just landed at O’Hare in Chicago when news of the attacks came,” said Phillipe as his cameraman came by and circled the group to get a good angle before mounting his camera on a lightweight tripod with extendable legs. “The martial law kept us in our hotel two extra days, but we were still able to get our ride up here until the road stopped in town. We left word at the tavern you had written us about. The dog sled ride was quite exciting. We had never done that before.”
“That’s just how we get around up here once winter has come,” said Josiah. “How was travel south of here? We had heard there were checkpoints.”
“Yes, there were still many checkpoints until we got to your town,” said Phillipe. “We had travel papers from Homeland Security and this made things easier for us.”
“Yes, I’ll bet it did,” said Josiah. “I’m wondering why you still bothered to come here rather than change plans and head for the East Coast to cover what’s happening out there instead.”
“As you can probably imagine,” began Phillipe,”things are very bad there right now. Since the first report of the bombings on the capitol building and the exchange building it also now seems that there were multiple dirty bombs -- some kind of radiological weapons. Jacques and I weren’t really equipped to handle a story like that. We’ve heard that tens of thousands of people living in both DC and NYC are already very sick. Travel papers alone won’t protect us from something like that.”
“No they wouldn’t,” agreed Josiah as Phillipe looked around the room and then toward the bookshelves along one wall of the great room not too far from them. Some of the titles were large enough on the binders to be read from where they were seated. Phillipe looked down at the single book on the coffee table.
“You have quite a collection,” commented Phillipe. “Many religious and historical texts from around the world.”
“These books are just my personal favorites,” said Josiah. “We also use these when we teach world history to our home-schoolers.”
“This will dove-tail nicely into our interview,” said Phillipe. “How many children do you have living here with you?”
“Only a dozen of school age right now,” answered Josiah.
“They are all yours?”
“None of them are mine,” said Josiah. “They’re children of nieces and nephews. My grandchild –-Daniel’s son— is just a baby. I need to clarify that Daniel’s family is the only one living in this house with me. We have some other families members scattered around the property in their own homes. We give out our books as needed to them and also to non-family members across the county.”
“Yes, that is what we are here about –the property and the controversy. Can you tell us more about the land here and your family living on it?”
“The land was all bought by me within the last 20 years. My wife and I started with only 50 acres and it grew from there. Even before she died we had built up hundreds of acres and started encouraging our extended family to move out here,” said Josiah. “This included the wives and husbands of my brothers and sisters and any of their in-laws who wanted to live here. Some of them also bought their own land. Everyone has their own house who wants one.”
“The court records we read said you have personally amassed nearly 4000 acres. How were you able to buy this much land?”
“Easy,” said Josiah. “Michigan’s economy had collapsed; there were few jobs north of Lansing, and a lot of unemployed individuals and bankrupt companies who needed to sell over the last 10 years.”
“But this still took money to do. How were you able to this at a time when so many other investors were already over-extended?”
“I bought and sold gold at the right times,” said Josiah. “This allowed me to buy land at the right time; when it was very cheap because others got in at the wrong time. They were grossly over-extended and when either they or their bank came up short I was there with cash and coin. There were plenty of auctions around me where I was the only one who showed up. I did all of this without a single loan from anyone. It is all bought and paid for.”
“But there is the issue of back property taxes,” stated Phillipe. “This has led to your difficulties with the county and the state.”
“There is a county in name only here,” said Josiah, “which in reality provides absolutely no services to anyone still living here. It is completely bankrupt. There are no county or township employees here. Someone from Lansing –a state government bureaucrat— files paperwork once a year and sends me a letter to the tavern in town marked ‘general delivery’ because there is no regular federal postal service to this area. Those letters always claim that I owe them back property taxes. Taxes, which I might add are at the old 2010 rate and have never been reassessed.”
“This led to your legal challenge in court in Lansing?”
“Yes,” said Josiah, “and I wouldn’t call it a real court or even some place where due process is actually practiced. My first so-called hearing included the same bureaucrat sending me letters who also sat on the same side of the table as someone else with the title of ‘Hearing Mediator.’ There was no one I would even consider a judge at that first meeting. I don’t think those two people could even pass a bar exam let alone get a law degree. When I attempted to work out a deal with them on a currently affordable rate per acre, they would just refuse. When I asked about speaking with their supervisor, the ‘Hearing Mediator’ said she was where the buck stopped. I wasn’t satisfied with that so I filed a petition against them in the State court just a few blocks away from them that same day. Those of us who no longer have a court system functioning within our home county are allowed to do that now. But to make a long story short, that court held a pre-trial meeting without even serving me notice, changed the date of the hearing up and then held proceedings without me even being present. Next thing you know I get another general delivery letter notifying me of hundreds of thousands of dollars in back property taxes and fines.”
“So you are not able to pay this?”
“That’s not even the main issue here,” replied Josiah. “This entire process wasn’t even done legally right in the first place. This was the way things are done in some banana republic –not in this state, the country— I grew up in. When it’s done like that it’s just amounts to theft by the government. Now, secondly, since this is a property tax issue and I want to make sure I have your attention here, Phillipe…”
“Yes, you do.”
“If the point of paying property taxes is to support the local government and for that same local government to provide services to the residents who pay those taxes, then tell me this: where are my local services?”
“Do you want me to answer that question?”
“Yes, Phillipe, tell me what local services you’ve seen since you arrived here?”
“I haven’t really been here long enough to know.”
“Well, there aren’t any here,” stated Josiah. “My son and the other guys will take you on a tour of the area tomorrow and show you this for a fact. But let me tell you there’s a lot missing that use to be here ten years ago. We use to have plowed roads this time of year. In fact, we use to have functioning roads. But, I guess there’s not much use for roads if there’s not going to be local police, fire, and ambulance vehicles using them. No school buses for the kids either. In fact, don’t even get me started on what happened to our schools here over the last ten years. We’ll just stay on common basic infrastructure which everyone uses."
"We have no law enforcement outside of a State Police post. But there’s no need for local cops and keeping a county 911 call center staffed after the phone lines and the cell towers get pulled up and every gas station closes except for one in the county. Add this to shutting off all natural gas lines and then the electrical grid for this and many of the counties around us. How is that supposed to maintain business or to even provide for the general welfare of the people who live here? Why is that although this state has nuclear power plants and wind farms all along Lake Michigan that all the electricity gets sent off to Grand Rapids, then Lansing, the other cities along I-94 and ends in Chicago? The only place still even on the grid near here is Traverse City.”
“Well, those were private utilities and the economy was very poor,” said Phillipe. “Can you really blame such government and business decisions made during a severe global depression?”
“That I understand,” agreed Josiah. “Really, I do. But if that was the case, then why didn’t we see our property taxes reduced accordingly and as quickly? Why is it that although we have been reduced to subsistence living even by 19th century standards that I haven’t seen my property taxes reduced to less than a dollar an acre? Why is it that when I saw banks and corporations have all their liabilities wrote off and pension plans, both private and public, declared null and void with no further legal obligation, that my back taxes couldn’t be forgiven as well?”
“I can’t really answer that.”
“Of course, not,” said Josiah. “And neither could anyone in a third world kangaroo court in Lansing without officially confirming the big theft from the people of this country that’s going on…”
“Dad,” interrupted Daniel politely.
“This is exactly the same thing which happened to small landowners throughout history,” Josiah began again. “You’re French, you’ve heard of the feudal system?”
“That’s what’s happening here right now,” said Josiah. “We’re being taken right back down the road to serfdom again. And I’ll tell you that when you take free men, back them against a wall, and try to force them into chains that will always lead to…”
“I see no monarchy here,” said Phillipe during the gap provided by Daniel,”no king ruling over you. You have elected representatives…”
“Oh, please!” interjected Josiah. “Our official polling station is in a school in the next county. We don’t even have so much as a county drain commissioner to vote for any more. But, you know what? Thanks for leading us into that one. Tell me what politician do I really have who represents me? The ones we elect at the state level who once they get to Lansing never come back here or the ones at the federal level who were never from this state in the first place? Most of these people are the kids of the politicians who gave tax breaks to their buddies who then looted the money from this state and this country and now neither of whom are anywhere to be found. Tell me how is it that I got stuck with their bill for the past twenty years when I saved my own money and never took a thing from any of them in the first place? Never.”
“Dad, let’s take a break.”
“I would hardly say you are a serf,” said Phillipe. “Please and I don’t wish to offend you on this, but maybe it is you who has simply over-extended not unlike those you bought from previously? Maybe it is you who should sell some land now? You mentioned the history of feudalism, but didn’t the nobles also have to sell their large estates when they ran short of gold?”
“Such nobles were usually forced into that position by the betrayal of their fellow nobles,” replied Josiah. “History has also shown many an honest man who arrived in that same position, who was caught in such a snare, that it was consciously rigged by another party years in advance for that very purpose. Then as now the commonly accepted rules were changed by design of the elite while the honorable men were still playing the game in order to trap them and take their pieces completely off the board.”
“Are you saying there is some larger conspiracy to deprive you of your land?”
“Yes,” answered Josiah. “That is exactly what is happening right now with me and this land. I am saying that I am being deprived of my privately-owned property by another party. Even if I came up with all the tax money or ten times that year after year in perpetuity, they would still want me and my entire family removed from it. I can’t even start on how bad this really becomes as far as inheritance of this property by my children under the current laws. That is a separate set of laws governing money and property, but the end result is still the same: to take private property.”
“But for what purpose is this all being done?”
“Isn’t it obvious?” continued Josiah. “They want all the people gone from here. They want us all re-settled somewhere else like the first tribes who lived here. Given what we’ve heard going on over the last few days, I don’t think a reservation is what they have in mind for us. No, not some place even half that nice. They want to put us all in some kind of gulag or concentration camp…”
“Tell me this, Phillipe,” said Josiah,”why bother sending you here at all? What even makes this a story in France and the EU?”
“I work for a world news service and I go where I’m sent by the company,” said Phillipe who seemed to stammer a little out of confusion before recovering. “You contacted our short wave radio program desk and we were assigned. Didn’t you want someone to come?”
“Yes,” replied Josiah. “You and Jacques have traveled many thousands of miles during a dangerous time. You are our honored guests. I think this would be a good time to take a break for the day since you will be with us through tomorrow.”
“Thank you,” said Phillipe. “I’d like to ask one more…”
The front door burst open with a slam against the wall which jolted the other men sitting around the great room from their quiet observation of the interview. A man in a black leather coat and topped with a fur hat didn’t do the ritual of boot stomping but quickly pulled down a brown neck gator that had been over his mouth and goatee.
“Josiah!” the man yelled. “Some federal agents have killed your niece’s family!”
* * *
The Michigan State Police trooper sat at the round table in the center of the tavern across from the leader of the gray-clad gunmen who had killed the two men, woman, and child in the truck the day before. A lit oil lamp was on their table and off to one side. The other men dressed in gray stood with their backs against the bar and faced the men at the table. Five other Michigan troopers stood spread out along one side of the open floor area closer to the entrance.
The tension had been immediately palpable to the handful of other patrons in the tavern soon after the MSP troopers entered. These customers had all shuffled around the officers and out the front door while the bartender had made his way through an interior door at the other side of the bar away from the gray men. Two lit oil lamps on the bar counter and some solar-powered lights along the walls kept the interior of the tavern visibly above mood-lighting level.
“Do you have your verbal statement from yesterday in writing today?” asked the trooper seated at the table.
“No, Trooper Browning,” replied the gray leader. “I really haven’t had time to get to that yet.”
“But you have time to be here,” stated Trooper Browning.
“This is the closest thing we have to an ops center right now,” said the gray leader.
“Yes, I heard you guys just helped yourself to the rooms upstairs,” said Trooper Browning. “Rooms that were already occupied by the bartender and his wife.”
“They didn’t need all three,” said the gray man. “Maybe I’ll get some time tonight and I can write down a statement and leave it in an envelope here for you to pick up tomorrow. Do you need anything else?”
“I really need you to write down something now,” insisted Trooper Browning.
“I don’t have any paper,” said the gray man. “There isn’t even a napkin in this place to use.”
“That’s fine,” said Browning. “I brought some paper for you and a pen, too.”
“I’m not going to do this now.”
“That’s what I figured you’d say,” said Browning.
“And you still made the trip back into town today.”
“There were a lot of problems with that scene yesterday,” said Browning. “I mean saying that there was a gun fight, ‘an exchange of fire’ I think is how you sent this out over the radio, had taken place wasn’t even the beginning of what had really happened out there.”
“It was the beginning of what then?” asked the gray leader.
“The beginning of a lie,” said Browning. “The beginning of you and your men covering up a murder. A cold-blooded murder of those two men, that woman and that little girl.”
“I can’t believe you would say that to me. What makes you say that?”
“Everything,” replied Browning. “Everything about that scene points to a murder and the false staging of weapons after the fact. Would you like to know about the weapons themselves?”
“Sure. Tell me.”
“We have one 300 Winchester Magnum bolt action rifle,” began Browning. “The rifle was definitely bought by the father of the driver of the truck many years ago from a local FFL who went out of business. But it hasn’t had a bullet shot through it in recent memory. A rifle that was unloaded at the scene. A rifle with a 5.56 bullet key-holed sideways into the butt-stock with a matching key-hole in a plastic gun case we found left open beside the truck at the scene. Would you like me to continue?”
“Well, how were we to know he was pointing an unloaded weapon at us,” said the gray leader flatly.
“We have one 44 mag revolver,” continued Browning,”stainless with a nice scope on top left on the seat next to driver. It had two empties inside the cylinder which did smell like they were fired off yesterday. Even if I completely ignored that the driver was shot in the back of head, there’s still a problem with the source of the revolver.”
“What’s that?” asked the gray leader as he drummed his fingers once on the table and appeared bored.
“The original owner of the revolver made a report at our post first thing this morning after the control order was lifted,” began Browning. “He told me how four men dressed in gray came at the beginning of Sunday services, roughed him up at the door, took his weapon, and told everyone they had violated the control order. He gave me a good description of each of you, your weapons, and your vehicle.”
“Well, he had probably sold that to the driver who was shooting at us yesterday. They were probably friends and he just wants to get us in trouble,” the gray man who was holding the belt-fed machine gun at low ready over at the bar counter said loudly. The gray leader didn’t glance back, but straightened up in his chair before leaning forward.
“The young guy has a point,” said the gray leader nodding back toward the bar. “It sounds like someone is just making up a story to cause trouble here –to harm the working relationship between our agencies.”
“Ok,” said Browning as he also leaned forward and began to look more aggravated than the gray leader. “Two things I need to say there…”
“Go right ahead,” said the gray man.
“First off, the relationship between our agencies,” said Browning. “I don’t even know what federal agency you really work for. Some voice from Homeland Security in Chicago and some other person from MSP in Lansing who I’ve never heard of both contacted our office over secure lines and told us to render assistance only to the bearers of new red CAC cards. Less than an hour later, sixteen guys in four vehicles, including the four of you, all show up flashing those red cards and passing out some DHS letter. That DHS letter signed by some assistant sub deputy or other in Chicago puts you in authority over a joint security operation which is apparently taking place nationwide right now. Now second thing, let’s get back to that pistol. The owner of that pistol was my brother-in-law and that happened at my place of worship while you had me sitting on checkpoint on the highway. Now I don’t know what your big operation is all about, but I can put two and two together when it comes to a murder and that’s exactly what you guys did yesterday.”
“They violated the control order,” began the man with the belt-fed.
“Shut up!” yelled the gray leader at the table. “We’re the ones in charge here. He can make all the accusations he wants and it’s going nowhere. Nowhere.”
“You’re right,” said Browning. “I found that out already today. I called my brand new commander in Lansing and I even went through an old DHS phone book and found their number was the same as the one that had just called us from Chicago. I even called that one, too. Both people told me the same thing: to keep cooperating with you even though things appeared confusing right now and that there was a terrorist element deeply rooted within this area. Twenty minutes later all my outside communication, both my secure line and my radio repeater are down.”
“I guess that should tell you enough about getting with the program right now,” said the gray leader as he sat back and smiled smugly.
“It tells me you’re a son of a b-tch and there’s some evil sh-t going down,” said Trooper Browning before he stood up quickly, kicked the chair back, drew his pistol, and pointed it at the still seated and calm gray leader. “All of you drop your weapons, you’re coming with us!”
The other five State troops had taken the cue at the kicking of the chair and had drawn their pistols as well and were pointing them over at the three gray men at the bar counter who had yet to react. The man with the belt-fed at low ready flinched, but neither raised nor dropped his weapon. Everyone looked at each other silently for a moment.
“Just knock it off,” said the gray leader as he raised his other hand from beneath the table with his fingers firmly around a grenade. “Don’t you guys get it? We are in charge. You were told that already.”
“Sh-t!” exclaimed Browning before he looked back over at the other troopers behind him. “Stay back! He has a grenade and the pin has been pulled.”
“All you had to do,” said the gray leader as he slowly stood up,”was to take your place on the totem pole one notch above the other rednecks around here. All you guys had to do was keep the public under control and you would continue to get paid. We’d even had jobs for you after we all moved on from here.”
“Put it down,” said Browning quickly who then noticed the gray leader smile. “No, uh, I mean put the pin back in it.”
“You still just don’t get it,” said the gray leader as he stepped around the table and took slow deliberate steps toward the trooper. “You can solve a tiny crime scene, but you still can’t see the big picture. All you guys had available today to arrest us with was your handguns. Who do you think removed your rifles and shotguns earlier this year? You guys have no real authority left; you’re meter maids. Now tuck tail and get the f-ck out of here.”
“Everyone, out!” ordered Browning to the other troopers behind him and they each backed out the front door with weapons still drawn. “Out!”
The door swung closed on its own on a hydraulic hinge as the last trooper exited. The gray leader pinned his grenade and walked over to the other gray men at the bar counter. He put the grenade in a side pocket on his pants, picked up a bottle of whiskey and took a long drink. One of the gray men seemed to shake off a shiver and the other with the belt-fed set his weapon up on the counter.
“Is that thing real?” one of them asked.
“Of course, it is,” the gray leader replied. “What use would it be if it wasn’t?”
“You had the pin pulled?”
“Shut up,” said the leader. “Quit asking stupid f-cking questions.”
The six troopers gathered in the snow-covered street next to their state-issued SUVs and the gray team’s SUV. Josiah and Daniel Shroud approached the troopers. The rest of the Shroud clan men were around the corner from the tavern with the French pair. A group of women were further down the block by another fifty yards.
“Browning,” said Josiah gruffly. “Where are they? Why aren’t they in your custody?”
“Joe,” said Browning,”the guy threatened us with a grenade. He would’ve blown us all up in there.”
“Did he put the pin back in it?” asked Daniel. “Was it their boss who had the grenade?”
“I don’t know,” said Browning. “I didn’t wait around and see. Yes, the guy in charge had it. I don’t know who I’m supposed to call about this. I don’t know how I can get more help here right now. Those guys are out of control.”
“You had your chance,” said Josiah, “now it’s our turn. Danny, come with me.”
“Joe,” said Browning as the two men walked to the tavern door. “Joe!”
“Stay out of this,” said Josiah after he turned back toward Browning and held up one finger. “This is a family matter and it isn’t up for outside discussion now.”
“Danny,” said Josiah as they both approached the closed door. “I don’t want you to shoot unless one of them is going for his weapons. Keep in mind these guys are probably wearing body armor. I’m going for their boss right off when we get in. Go to my left when we get in there and don’t step past me. I intend to fire the first shot.”
Josiah swung the door open hard but its full range was completely caught by the hydraulic hinge before it even hit the wall and he continued in for a few feet before coming to a stop. He only heard the movement of air as his son swept up to his left and then the door began to gently swing closed on its own again. All four men were facing away from them and toward the mirror behind the bar counter. The angle was such that the Shrouds didn’t cast a reflection in it. Likewise, the rather subdued sound of their entry hadn’t garnered the gray men’s attention. Josiah had a pump action shotgun already raised and his son had a semi automatic pistol in a two-handed grip in front of him. The lack of immediate response from the men in the bar coupled with the elder Shroud’s intent forward focus brought a sense of surrealism to the younger Shroud. He could see the men in front of him, his handgun, and even the figure of his father out of the corner of his eye all at once.
“Unbelievable,” said Danny in a strained excitement that constricted his voice and gave his spoken observation the decibel status of subscript more than title.
“Who’s in charge here!” shouted Josiah as a call to attention rather than a question.
“I’m in charge here,” yelled the gray leader as he quickly straightened up. He turned around and added “What’s it to you?”
The first blast erupted from Josiah’s shotgun and sent a slug through the gray leader’s right eye and out the back of his head. The slug smacked sharply into the mirror behind the group and was immediately followed by a wide fine misting of blood in the air, narrow splattering of brains, and a single horizontal crack across the entire glass which grew from the gore-caked black hole. The thunderous exclamation of the first shot was followed by the relatively minor punctuations of the rear-racking of the pump action and the empty plastic shell bouncing and rolling on the floor to the right of Josiah. The sound of a completely renewed deadly potential was made as Josiah slid the action forward and chambered another slug.
The next blast followed only a second after the first as the other three men began to turn around. The only man to the right of the leader had been turning in place counter clockwise and was raising his bull-pup rifle which had been at his right. Josiah’s second slug entered through his left bicep and into the left side of his chest when he was at three quarter turn. After the gray leader had crumpled almost straight down to the floor, this man would seem to whirl by comparison and drop over top of him.
The third man who had been to the leader’s left had turned fully around at the same time as the second man who had been shot. He had fumbled for his bull-pup rifle when Daniel began rapidly firing his handgun. Daniel started at the center of the man’s chest and then walked the shots up the torso as he remembered his father’s advice and the man seem to just jostle and shake. Daniel’s last two shots took off the man’s right ear and punched a hole in the right side of his neck before he dropped to the floor gurgling and twitching. Daniel’s pistol was automatically locked back over an empty magazine as his father ejected his second empty shell and pumped a third live round.
“Don’t shoot me! Don’t shoot me!” yelled the remaining man in gray who had been standing to the far left of the other three. His belt-fed machine gun had sat untouched on the countertop. He moved further to the left with his hands up.
“Keep those hands up,” ordered Josiah as he moved toward the last man with his shotgun still raised. “Danny, check those men.”
Daniel ejected the empty mag from his pistol and let it drop to the floor. He was shaking slightly from a rush of adrenaline as he lifted a full mag from his coat pocket, inserted it under the grip, and released the slide forward. The two men his father shot were completely motionless, but the third man he had shot was not. That man moved his jaw mechanically, almost like a toy nutcracker, turned his eyes toward Daniel and seemed to deliberately blink twice at him. Then the man’s jaw stopped moving, his pupils fixed onto some point in the distance, and his eyelids remained open over a blank stare. He, too, was now motionless.
“They’re all dead now,” Daniel said.
“Drop your gear right there where you’re standing,” said Josiah told the survivor as he kept him covered with the shotgun. “Then you’re coming outside with us. Danny, go open the door.”
Daniel walked halfway across the floor toward the door before he stopped and leaned against the table for a moment.
“Danny?” said Josiah as the gray man dropped his tactical vest on the floor.
“I’m ok,” Daniel replied before he started walking again. “I just felt dizzy for a second.”
“You’ll be ok,” said Josiah as Daniel got to the door and kept it open.
“Now move,” Josiah ordered the gray man. “Out the door.”
The three men exited the tavern and were immediately met by a small crowd made up of the extended Shroud family, male and female, the state troopers, and the two foreign men, one with his camera running. Although most of the downtown’s businesses had been abandoned, there were still some habitable apartments on the second floors of the buildings. Some of those residents were now standing along Main Street.
“Tie him up like we talked about,” Josiah said to two of his men as he lowered his shotgun and they took hold of the lone man wearing only a gray uniform. The two men tied their captive’s hands with duct tape behind the back and then completely encircled the man’s upper body with a long single sticky strip which kept his elbows against his sides. “Let’s take him down to the lake.”
“Joe,” said Browning as he walked with the group as it moved down the street and was joined by a dozen other people from town. “Joe, what are you doing?”
“We’re going to finish carrying out justice here,” said Josiah. “I hadn’t really expected any of them to survive the fight. If they had made it out to the street instead of us, they would’ve been shot down on the street like the rabid dogs they are. But just in case we had one or two live past that, we were still going to finish this.”
“Joe, what are you going to do?” Browning asked as they approached the frozen over lake right next to town and the French men also walked right along next to them.
“We’re going to do what a functioning society does with its murderers, its child killers,” said Josiah. “We’re taking it upon ourselves to manage what our state can’t do anymore.”
Most of the crowd remained at the edge of the ice as the two men led the gray man out onto the ice first. The three of them stopped at a hole in the ice cut just large enough for a single man to slide through the surface. A cinder block stood on one if its smaller narrow sides next to the fresh opening over the water. A yellow tow strap was looped through the heavy block. Josiah had followed the first three men half of the way out onto the ice until Browning caught up and grabbed him by the sleeve of his coat next to his left elbow.
“You can’t do this!” shouted Browning. “He should be my prisoner for a trial!”
“Are you kidding me?” Josiah shouted as he yanked his arm free, stopped and turned to meet Browning. He still held his shotgun at the center of the weapon with his right hand and continued to tilt it downward, not in a threatening manner. “Trial? Who’s going to conduct a trial on him? The people who sent him here?”
“We’ll find a court,” Browning said. “We’ll hold him until a legitimate authority can convene a hearing.”
“How can you be so blind?” Josiah said before turning his head to the two men standing with the third. “Put that tow strap around his neck.”
“Oh my god! Oh my god!” yelled the man in gray as he ran a few yards back toward land and then slipped and fell.
“Don’t do this, Joe,” said Browning as the two men began dragging the bound crying kicking man across the ice back toward the hole. “You’re just going to kill him in cold blood. This isn’t self-defense now.”
“This is real justice,” said Josiah. “Not the bullsh-t mock trial he would get if we turned him over to anyone. Who are we kidding? There wouldn’t even be a trial. Stand him back up!”
“Dad!” Daniel yelled from the crowd onshore as the two men stood the third back up and put the loop from the other end of the tow strap around his neck and cinched it. “Maybe we should just hold him prisoner.”
“Don’t you lose stomach now,” Josiah yelled back toward shore as murmurs and talking grew among the crowd. “None of you had better. G-d d-mn it. They killed Judy’s family. Four people were killed. These four all need to pay.”
“For the love of Jesus,” began Browning as he and Josiah began another round of yelling back and forth at each other. Daniel continued periodically yelling for his father from shore and was ignored.
Judy forced her way through the crowd and silently strolled unnoticed past Josiah and Browning as they continued to argue their own points of law, criminal justice, and then began to debate the extent of societal decay in their lifetime. She walked up to the three men standing out on the frozen lake. The two older men who were familiar stoic relatives to her flanked the young stranger in gray who looked terrified and was only a few inches in front of the hole in the ice.
Judy met the gray man’s gaze and stared into his eyes quietly for a few seconds before she used both hands and grabbed the upper front part of his gray uniform jacket. In a single motion she pushed him backwards over the hole and he dropped in. The man let out a short scream before he plunged straight down into the cold water. This was immediately followed by the sound of a splash and some water jumped back up and out over Judy’s boots. The man’s head quickly bobbed up completely above the surface and he let out a gasp. Judy immediately bent down and tipped over the cinder blocked which hit the man in the side of the head while his mouth was still open from the exhale. The block went straight down as the man took a deep breath in and then he was pulled beneath the surface with it.
Judy remained on one knee looking at the calm water in the hole for a few more seconds, then stood up and walked back toward shore. Josiah and Browning silently looked at her from their same spot halfway out on the ice. Judy walked by them without a word and with her eyes straight ahead. Likewise, as she stepped onto shore at the center of the standing crowd they parted in half in front of her except for the two French men. They barely took a full step off to one side of her.
“Get that f-cking camera out of my face,” Judy said as she looked at the lens and then pushed the camera aside with the back of one hand and continued walking without a change in pace. Daniel vomited behind her in the center of the open space and right across from the Frenchmen.
END OF PART 5
Operation SERF, Part 1
Special note from Chris Sullins: If you’ve enjoyed reading this story, please consider making a donation to the oftwominds.com website. Charles Hugh Smith has graciously provided space for it on his website for your reading enjoyment. Although it’s from a genre outside the commentary and other essays which usually appear on OTM, I thank Mr. Smith in presenting this to a far wider audience than I would have been able to do on my own. He has done this in the spirit of the First Amendment and in the fine tradition of experienced writers supporting new writers. I give similar thanks to those people who’ve also linked from their websites and/or emailed friends and family.
This story has been written “on the fly” with each part appearing as time permits. The number of parts and when it will “end” has not been determined. This is a work of fiction and any resemblance to persons or events in the past, present, or future are either out of sheer coincidence or due to the cyclical nature of history. Please bear with me on minor technical errors as we continue to follow the unfolding situation along with some symbolism in what I would like to call a “Strategic Action Thriller”.
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