The group moved along the highway at an easy pace, scanning the area around them. Bill thought to himself that what he saw ahead him probably could have been a normal scene before the…whatever, happen. The thin Colorado air was still brisk but he knew it would warm to comfortable, shirtsleeve, weather. The light breeze from the northwest smelled of the impending spring and the fresh growth it would bring, and hawk rode the thermals hunting over the prairie.
Bill laughed at himself. Normal, what a word to use; the sky, the weather, even the world didn’t really care about electronics, computers, or schedules. But there was nothing normal about him riding down an out of the way highway on a horse, carrying a gun, to mediate an introduction between a powerful rancher and a group of refugees. My how the Fates can throw you a curveball.
Buildings ahead made him focus more closely on what he was doing. Como itself sits about a quarter of a mile northwest of the highway and Bill had to ride half that distance before he could clearly see anything in the town.
Mimicking what he had watched the other men do on occasions where they expected trouble, he gave the shotgun in the scabbard a tug to ensure it wouldn’t bind if he needed it in a hurry. Once he could make out details of the town itself, he reined his horse to a stop on the side of the road. He pulled the binoculars, the same ones he had used to watch this group previously, from behind his saddle. A slow scan across the buildings showed no signs that anyone was around. Even though he couldn’t see everything, he was surprised there were no signs of life; Doug’s group should be here by now. This wasn’t part of the plan and he hadn’t talked with James about what to do in a case like this. After a moment’s hesitation, he wheeled his horse and trotted back to the others.
As he neared, he could see Fred standing next to the wagon with a rifle propped atop a sideboard. Fred lifted his head from the scope when Bill approached.
“Don’t look like they’s anyone around.” he said. “You see anything?”
Bill shook his head, “Nope so, now what?”
James thought for a moment. “They were on foot with a mess of crumb crunchers so they may just be running slow. Let’s get Jeremiah up here then I want you two,” he said, indicating the pair he spoke to, “to go check it out. Hell, I wish we had brought a couple more mounts, this musical horse thing is start’n to get old.”
Jeremiah was waved forward and the swap done. Fred explained to Bill how this recon was going to happen and the two moved off.
Como sits at the base of the largest geographic feature in the immediate area, with Little Baldy Mountain bordering the southwest flank of the town. The pair rode to the highway, backtracked a couple hundred yards, and then swung towards the elevated ground. They rode through the sparse trees until they were within a few hundred feet of the town.
“Tie the horse off and grab your shotgun.” Fred said. While both men crouched, Fred gave Bill a quick lesson in tactical movement. “Alright Billy, this aint the kinda lesson I’d like to be doing on the fly but when life gives you lemons and all that jazz… We’re going to be moving up there and hopefully not get dead. I’ll go first, you follow. Now when I say that, I don’t mean we’re gonna be a momma duck and duckling, we’ll leapfrog. I’ll move up to a position of cover; cover means something big and strong between my soft, fleshy, important parts and where I think a bullet might come from. Once I get there, I’ll scan then you’ll move up. Rinse and repeat. That place looks pretty empty and I think the threat level is pretty low so it’s a good place for a first time go.”
Fred scratched a crude rendition of the streets before them on the ground. “We’ll start here and move this way,” he said, pointing with a stick at the diagram. “This building is that big white one. If we’re going to find people, I’m betting it will be there. If they are smart, they’ve got someone on overwatch there since it’s the only place over one story tall. Keep that in mind as you move; try notw to move where you can be seem from there and you sure as Hell don’t wanna stop where they have an open line of sight on you from that roof.
“We will move in short dashes of about five seconds each. This is kinda a quick stealth operation so try to be quiet. There are a couple hand signals you should know.
“First, this,” Fred held his arm out, elbow bent, knuckles skyward and his fist clenched, “is ‘Freeze’. That means no moving, no sounds, just freeze. Next,” Fred said as he extended his arm and swung it down in a chopping motion, “is me telling you I want you to move the direction my hand goes. Just like a traffic cop this,” he extended his arm, palm facing away from his body, “means ‘Stop’. Just a couple more and we’ll get moving.”
Fred held his arm out with his fist clenched and thumb pointing downward, “This isn’t one you’ll see in the books but it works. This means ‘Eyes on target’. Flash a finger for however many you see. Now, this doesn’t mean bad guys necessarily, just people. ‘course if they are shooting atcha, that makes ‘em ‘bad guys’. This last one is pretty Hollywood for the two of us but if I stick my hand up in the air and move it in a circle like this, it means ‘Rally’ or ‘Come’er’. Now, run through those for me.”
Bill parroted the signals back and after a couple minor corrections, Fred was happy. They did a quick gear check and moved out with a short dash from the trees to the first building.
Over the next thirty minutes, the pair moved around the town as Fred had outlined. The buildings in Como had been abandoned as things got scarce. And, while Como hadn’t been a ‘large’ community since the Gold Rush days, the vacant buildings were eerie. Almost as if to mock a generation of B movies, a pair of crows called out and fled as the men progressed towards the multistory Como Depot & Eating House.
Fred signaled Bill to join him when they reached the large building that had been converted into an upscale B&B and restaurant. In a low whisper, he showed Bill that this position offered good views of the front and one side of the structure. Bill was to watch these aspects and respond appropriately if he saw people. Fred was going to enter through the back and clear the building.
Fred moved off and Bill waited. As soon as the former Special Operations Warrior was out of sight, Bill lost all sense of the man. He could hear no sound or anything else to indicate where Fred was.
Ten minutes later, Bill was sweating so much he could hardly hold the shotgun. Where was Fred? Had he found anything? What was taking so long?
Bill had convinced himself Fred had been attacked (even though the only sound he heard was that of the wind) and was just starting to stand and begin his rescue when the front door opened. He quickly ducked behind the pickup he was hiding behind and brought the shotgun up.
“Bill, it’s me. It’s alright, there aint nobody here. I’m com’n out.” Fred called out the open door.
Bill lowered his weapon as Fred walked from the building, his weapon at the low ready. He made eye contact with Bill and turned around, closing the door.
“I guess we’ll count this as training,” Fred said. “We best get back to the wagon; we’re burning daylight.”
They gathered the horses, rode them through the town, and met James and Jeremiah where the group had split up earlier. Fred gave a brief after action report, concluding by saying, “Billyboy is turning into a proper operator. You give me a solid week and the barrister will be a top notch wingman.”
Bill smiled. As much as he hated nicknames, the praise was welcome.
“Well boys, we better get moving,” said James. “Those folks are probably on the road somewhere within a few miles of here. We need to find them soon and get them squared away before it gets dark. I don’t like the idea of trying to get back through that gate in the night; too many itchy trigger fingers.” With that, they moved out. They resumed their earlier marching order; Bill in the front, James and Fred on the wagon, Jeremiah as the sweeper.
The men had turned off the spur road from Como and had been moving northeast for half an hour when Bill spun his horse and galloped back to the wagon. He pulled up and gestured towards something both James and Fred were already looking at; a plume of smoke that was building in intensity as they watched.
The light breeze blew the pillar of smoke directly at them. Even though it was at least two miles away, the smell of burning wood and plastic was clear. From its location, it was obviously in their path.
Realization flickered across James’ face, “The only thing that can be is that ranch just off the highway. It’s a big place and I wouldn’t be surprised if folks had holed up there. I sure hope those refugees we’ve adopted didn’t have anything to do with whatever is going on there.” By this time Jeremiah had joined the group. “We better go see if we can help. Be careful though and don’t go rush’n in; we don’t know what’s happening there or if there is trouble.”
As if on cue, the faint sound of gunfire reached to the men. The shifting winds carried snippets of screams and explosions. None of these were good things.
The men urged their horses on. Fred and Jeremiah quickly outpaced the wagon but when the source of the smoke could be seen, cantered off the roadway and waited for the wagon.
Ahead and off to the right side of the roadway, a huge log structure was ablaze. The flames crawled over what was obviously a covered entry way and pushed from windows in the building’s lobby. Several individual cabins and a pair of large barns dotted the property.
While the men watch, one of the smaller cabins began to burn. Flames appeared suddenly, shooting up the wall opposite the men.
“What the…” Jeremiah began. He cut himself off as a motorcycle speed into view. Two people sat on the dirt bike, one driving, the other one reaching back into a crate and removing a bottle. With the bottle in hand, the passenger slapped the driver on the shoulder and the bike wheeled around to make another pass at the same cabin. When the bottle shattered against the building, fire jumped to what was obviously more fuel.
The wagon arrived as the bike speed away from the inferno. Fred took in the rest of the scene. He could see several bodies laying in the drive in front of the main building. He could see a white van, two dirt bikes, and a big sedan, driving around the buildings and firing into them. Three or four people on foot also laid fire into the structures.
Return gunfire came from various openings in the two burning buildings. The people defending the structures fired much slower and while he could occasionally hear the sharp crack, it was obvious they were mainly using shotguns. He shook his head, knowing that the attackers were safe as long as they stayed out of range and waited for the fire to do its work.
“You know anyone down there?” Fred asked James as the older man stepped off the wagon.
James shook his head, “It was some city folks that opened that dude ranch a few years back. They put a bunch of money into the place and made it into a premier spot for the rich and famous. Can’t say I recognize any of those vehicles down there neither. Those people in the buildings don’t stand a chance with those shooters out there.”
Fred agreed, “Gimme that 7mm and let me see what I can do about some of that issue. James, you setup here in case they break towards Fairplay, Bill and Jeremiah start moving towards the ranch that way.” He threw his AR and two spare magazines to Bill, “Move quick and stay low. If you approach from this side, you’ll be sheltered from the majority of the Tangos. When you get in range, open up on them.”
It was clear that Fred was keeping James back from the fight but James knew better than to argue about it. He nodded and the men moved off.
Fred sprinted forty feet down the road and dropped down next to a fence post. The terrain was too uneven for him to go completely prone so he took a knee and leaned into the post. It took him only a moment to find a rock solid position and he lined up his first shot.
The motorcycle with the Molotov Cocktails had stopped and it looked like the passenger was igniting another of the bombs. Fred thanked the Gods of War; the angle the riders had stopped at presented him with a face on target.
Firing the weapon for the first time, Fred didn’t know what to expect from the high velocity round. Unsure of what range the rifle was zeroed at or how much drop to expect in what he guessed was a 320 yard shot, he held the crosshairs just over the head of his target. In fact Ricky, blessed with the eyesight of youth, had zeroed the rifle at 200 yards and the flat shooting round dropped less than Fred had expected. This meant it was not a center mass hit.
The round punched through the neck of the driver, deflecting as it shattered his right clavicle. The bullet was still moving at over 2,000 feet per second as it exited at a downward angle into the chest of the man who had just successfully ignited the firebomb. The force of the impact slammed his body backwards, shattering the gasoline filled bottle over the men, the bike, and the two remaining bottles. All were quickly consumed.
Of course, Fred didn’t know all that. He fired, watched the fireball engulf both men, and when it was clear they presented no further threat, he moved on.
Jeremiah and Bill had covered half the distance to the cabin when the bike exploded off to their right. Both men went flat in the dirt, unsure if they were being targeted. When it was clear they weren’t, they continued toward the main building.
Through the scope, Fred saw a grey haired man step from the door of the burning cabin and aim a shotgun in Bill and Jeremiah’s direction. Hesitation but a moment, Fred fired a round into the wall two feet above the man. As desired, the man dove back into the cabin.
Bill and Jeremiah reached the main building and began working their way to the front where the majority of the dismounted attackers had collected. They each seemed to have found a bit of cover that allowed them to fire on the lodge in relative impunity. The white van had stopped in this area though the other motorcycle and the car prowled the rear of the building near the cabin.
Fred’s attention was drawn again to the cabin as the same man stepped onto the porch and crouched. Swinging the shotgun back and forth, finding no targets and drawing no fire, he waved his hand at the open door behind him; a door that had smoke seeping from its top edge.
Three people crawled onto the porch behind the man and Fred’s mind provided the soundtrack to their coughs and obvious distress.
Just then the large, black, sedan roared around the corner of the other cabin and raced towards the group on the porch. Fred swung the Remington at the car and fired the two remaining bullets as fast as he could work the action, more instinctive shooting than proper aiming. He didn’t know where the first round struck but the second round shattered the passenger side front window and the vehicle swerved off and stopped thirty feet from the burning cabin.
While Fred was engaging the vehicle, Bill and Jeremiah found themselves in a place that put them perpendicular to the assaulters. The older man leaned to Bill and whispered, “You take the guy on the right and I’ll go left. Shoot’m then move up to where they are.” A grim faced Bill nodded and took aim.
Jeremiah’s shot startled Bill but not with catastrophic results. The assailants were so focused on the building that they didn’t realize they were being fired on from outside the perimeter until it was too late. Bill was able to bring his rifle back on target and fire round after round into the man crouched next to the tractor. As he ran, he continued firing and the bolt locked back as he ducked down next to the bloody remains.
Jeremiah also killed his target and made it to cover. Instead of firing on a corpse, he switched his aim at the white van and the man standing next to it. This man caught on quickly to the fact that he was in the line of fire, the bullet holes appearing in the body of his vehicle being rather persuasive. He spun around the front of the vehicle and started firing a large handgun over the hood in Jeremiah’s general direction.
The other men attacking the lodge heard the shots and soon joined in firing on Jeremiah. The pallet if cinder blocks he hid behind stopped the incoming rounds but he was pinned down. That was when he heard the sound of a motorcycle approaching.
Fred saw the second cyclist as he raced past the cabins in the back and along the side that Jeremiah and Bill had approached on. As the bike sped towards his friends, Fred tried desperately to stop it.
A modern rifle scope is an amazing tool. It allows man to see details at distances that would be impossible unaided. But that vision has a limited field of view, especially as the magnification of the scope increases. Even then, swinging the rifle to hit a moving target causes a blurring that can easily disorientate a shooter.
With the rifle scope at maximum magnification, 10x, Fred could only see an area roughly 4 feet wide. He quickly spun the adjustment out to the minimum zoom of 3.5x and nearly tripled that area. Catching the image of the bike he held it and began firing. None of his rounds connected and the rider surged ahead, directly towards Jeremiah.
The man on the bike saw the figure crouched behind the cinder blocks and raised the Tec-9 in his left hand. He maneuvered the agile bike past the tractor and squeezed the trigger.
At least, he tried to. A 55 grain bullet struck his back, destroying his left scapula and bursting the head of the humerus like an overripe melon before continuing on into the prairie. If the following two rounds hadn’t done the same to his skull, he would have known unbelievable pain. As it was, he died before he hit the ground.
Jeremiah and Bill found themselves looking at each other over raised weapons. The ranch hand smiled at the lawyer, and spun back towards the men still firing.
In the lull, the driver had jumped into the white van. He now slammed the gas pedal down and flew across the driveway. It was only as the three remaining shooters dove into the van that anyone realized the firing from the house had stopped.
Bill and Jeremiah both fired at the van as it sped away, back towards Jefferson. It was Fred, still at the fence line with the scope held to his eye that saw a group run to the largest barn. The small cluster of people he had seen leave the cabin had made it to the back door of the lodge where they met several others. This mass of bodies was what he now saw making a break for it.
Fred knew he couldn’t reach them from where he was. Jeremiah and Bill were on the opposite side of a burning lodge and weren’t even aware of these people. He just hoped their intentions weren’t aggressive.
The sound of a horse made him swing the rifle to the road behind him. It was an unnecessary move and he lowered it as he watched James’ horse jump the fence. “Crazy old man,” Fred mumbled to himself as James rode at full gallop towards the barn.
As his horse returned to the Earth, James thought to himself, “This is crazy, old man.”
But, he was committed. He had a gut feeling that A. The ‘bad guys’ were high-tailing it the other way in that van, B. The folks bolting for the barn were either going to tool up for round 2 or flee for the hills, either of which was bound to get somebody hurt, and C. He had seen children in that group. It all added up to the fact that he needed to talk with these people. He just really hoped nobody decided to shoot him.
The living are higher than the lifeless, and the thinking are higher than those that can merely draw breath.
Marcus AureliusMechanical Issues