Jules and his team were back on the road, the off-roaders ahead of them by several hundred yards, as they went up and down the hills, watching for more enemy fighters. “No more cover nearby, no?”
“Garrett said that last place was the worst,” Shelly said. “Heard him tell Sid.”
“I heard it too, little lady,” Tex said.
Ted was watching out his window. “Way to early to be relaxing, man.”
Jules chuckled. “Who say relax?”
“They’re slowing down at the next ridge,” Tex said.
“Some of the off-roaders already clear top, go past,” Jules said.
Ted nodded. “I’ll bet the ruined trucks are past this ridge.”
“Hope so, partner.”
Most of the off-roaders stopped just shy of the ridge too, waiting, listening to the engine snarl of the few who kept going.
Jules parked behind Sam and Erica’s Jeep, and everybody got out, heading to the ridge in a crouch.
“Problem?” Jules asked.
Garrett looked back at them. “The trucks are there, and there’s a slight amount of ridge cover to the left.”
“Risky to put off-roaders out there, no?”
“They’re somewhat shielded,” Sam said. “More so than our Jeeps, at least.”
Tex’s brow furrowed. “A little Kevlar ain’t great against a sniper rifle.”
“That’s why we only sent three,” Sam said. “Nothing so far. We might have nailed everybody they sent over here.”
“Think I’ll grab my sniper rifle just in case,” Yvonne said, reaching into the back of the Jeep. She took it to the ridge, getting prone, flipping up the lens caps.
Tex looked over the ridge at the cover. “Hell, partner, that’s not much cover at all.”
“Better safe than sorry,” Ted said, his binoculars in front of his eyes. “We need to check the trucks for booby traps.”
“You said a mouthful there,” Sid said, looking through his binoculars. “We need to check for tracks around those trucks. We might have something to follow.”
The three off-roaders approached the wreckage, slowing down to a crawl. One of them blew up.
“Dammit!” Jules said. “Tell them to pull back.”
“They know, partner,” Tex said, watching as the other two vehicles turned around.
“Land mine,” Sam said. “So much for looking at tracks.”
“What now?” Shelly asked.
“Maybe we should hit the area around those trucks with a few mortar rounds,” Garrett said.
Yvonne fired her rifle, startling everybody, and the ground exploded about ten yards from the broken off-roader. “They didn’t hide that one very well. Saw it through my scope. Start looking at the ground with those binoculars.”
“These aren’t as strong as that rifle scope,” Sid said.
Sam stared down there. “Wish we had an M107.”
“Ji-Ho has one,” Sid said, “but it’s in his rig.”
“I need to move over that direction,” Yvonne said, pointing to the right. “Dirt looks disturbed in a spot over there.”
“Stay below the ridge,” Ted said. She nodded and moved over, getting into prone position again, looking through the rifle scope.
She put her finger near the trigger. “I think that’s one. Let’s see.” She fired, and the ground blew up, the concussion setting off another one a few feet away.
“Hell, they have a bunch of those damn things there,” Garrett said.
Sam stared through his binoculars. “The dirt is loose in several spots, which might be mines. I think we need to short-circuit this.”
Jules eyed him. “What, take chance? Pretty risky, no?”
Sam put down the binoculars and looked at him. “No, I think we ought to drive around the wreckage and find the tracks. No need to look inside the trucks. Hell, they’ll probably be booby trapped anyway.”
“Oh, I get. Yes, we should.”
“What’s wrong with hitting the area with mortars?” Ted asked. “We already know there will be tracks out of here. The folks who were in those trucks didn’t set the mines. We know somebody came by afterwards. Might have been those creeps that we blasted earlier.”
“I got an idea,” Garrett said, rushing over to the Jeep. He came back with his plains rifle. “If those busted trucks are booby trapped, maybe a few rounds with this .50 cal will set it off.”
Jules chuckled, shaking his head. “We need to get upwind of that, no?”
Garrett laughed as he loaded the large cartridge and aimed. He fired, the blast and smoke filling the air. “Damn, this thing kicks like a mule.”
“Didn’t work, partner,” Tex said. “That’s a beauty, though.”
“Want to give it a try?”
Tex chuckled. “Sure, why not?”
Garrett loaded another massive cartridge and handed the big weapon to Tex, who aimed and fired, the recoil taking him back a step.
“Holy crap,” he said, handing the gun back to Garrett and rubbing his shoulder.
“People used to fire these things all day long,” Garrett said. “Buffalo hunters.”
“Don’t get me started on that,” Sid cracked, raising a laugh from his friends.
“You got a point there, I guess,” Garrett said, reloading the gun. He fired again, and there was a massive explosion down below, pieces of truck flying high in the air. The off-roaders rode away as fast as they could as debris landed all over the valley.
Erica smiled. “Bingo.”
“Wow,” Shelly said.
“How much frigging explosive did they put in that damn thing?” Ted asked.
Jules smiled. “Enough to take many of us out if we were close.”
Tex nodded. “You got that right, partner.”
“I’m glad those off-roaders didn’t get hit,” Sam said. “Think we can go down there now?”
“I’d still steer way clear of that spot,” Ted said. “Damn mines will survive a lot more than you’d expect.”
“Let’s get going,” Sid said. “I’ve got a pretty good idea where to pick up the trail.”
“How, honey?” Yvonne asked.
“Staring through the binoculars.”
Doug, Conrad, and Jorge looked down at the devastation that the artillery attack left in it’s wake, all of them on the verge of tears.
Doug’s expression was grim. “We’d better go down there and help.”
“Yeah,” Jorge said. Conrad shook his head in agreement, too shook up to say anything.
“Wait, what’s that squeaking noise?” Doug asked. They all looked at the road in, which was still clogged with cars. A tank came into view, coming over the top of the small hill, next to the road. It was followed by more. By the time the three men got next to the road it was obvious there was a very long column. Meyers was sitting on top of the first tank. It slowed to a stop, and he jumped off. Conrad could tell by his expression that he knew what had just happened.
“So sorry about what happened to your men,” Conrad said.
“We should’ve seen that coming,” Meyers said. “How bad did we hurt them with the air strike?”
“Hard to tell,” Doug said. “The icons are still mostly there, but all that tells us is that their bodies haven’t been burned up.”
“I’ve been refreshing my app every couple minutes,” Jorge said. “Lots of them are still moving around.”
“Well, at least the artillery stopped,” Meyers said. “How many of the marines survived?”
“Don’t have a good number,” Conrad said, “but the losses are significant. Probably close to half.”
“Oh, God,” Meyers said, sitting down on a boulder, trying to keep it together.
“They hit the train several times,” Conrad said, “the last shot hit the artillery ammo before it was all unloaded. That caused a lot of the casualties.”
“Crap, so if that train was later, it wouldn’t have been as bad?” Meyers asked. “I worked really hard to rush that train over here with more artillery shells.”
“Don’t look at it that way,” Jorge said. “After our artillery started firing, the enemy guns slowed down a lot.”
“Yeah, we must have hit their artillery lines a few times,” Doug said. “No other explanation.”
“Well, that’s something, at least,” Meyers said. “We’re going in with the tanks. The US Navy and Marines have decided to ignore the international pressure and go over the border. Enough is enough.”
“Good,” Conrad said. “That’s what needs to happen at this point. I was glad to see those B-1s fly over us, let me tell you.”
Doug looked at the others. “That artillery attack was frightening as hell. I expected to get killed.”
“Yeah, dude, me too,” Jorge said. “So many died, and a lot of them were civilian fighters, not marines.”
“I know,” Meyers said. He turned to the tank. “Go on down and start lining up along the fence. I’ll let you know when we’re gonna move out.”
The tank commander nodded and rolled forward, the others following them across the road, heading towards the break in the wall towards the right.
“When are we going in?” Conrad asked.
“I ought to be getting a call pretty soon.” Meyers looked over at his officers, who were motioning him over. “I’d better go over there.”
“Yeah, go ahead,” Conrad said. “We’ll start working cleanup.”
“Hey, dude, they’re moving,” Jorge said, looking at his phone.
“Where?” Meyers asked.
“Looks like they’re on the way here.”
Meyers pulled his phone out and looked. “Yeah, they are. This is good, in a way. We can tell who’s dead.”
“Assuming some aren’t staying behind to get the artillery going again,” Conrad said.
“The flanks on the far right and far left are starting to move as well,” Doug said, staring at his phone. “We got enough people in those spots now?”
“They’re still arriving,” Meyers said. “Ivan’s recruitment team is back in business, and the citizens smell blood in the water. Of course there’s not enough road capacity for everyone to get there in time.”
“Doesn’t help that the train is blown up here,” Jorge said.
“Yeah, I need to go look at that after I get the tanks and the troops moving,” Meyers said. “Talk to you guys later.”
He walked to the men who were motioning to him a few moments before.
“What should we be doing?” Doug asked. “Body pick-up?”
“Well, somebody has to,” Conrad said. “Let’s go.”
The men got busy, helping the others around them with the nasty task as the tanks continued rolling across the road, going through several breaks in the border fence and parking right inside Mexico.
Anna and Mia were standing on the wooden sidewalk in front of the hotel with Sarah and Susanne.
“The area behind town is filling up,” Anna said, watching the flow of armed citizens coming down the street. “Saw it when I brought the wagon up from Garrett’s place.”
“Why are they all here?” Mia asked.
“They’re coming to help us in the war, honey,” Sarah said.
“Is the war going to be here?” Mia asked, eyes wide as she looked around.
Anna squatted down next to her. “No, we don’t think so.”
“But what if it does happen here?”
“Then you and I will hide where they can’t find us,” Anna said.
Mia looked down. “My mommy told me that before, but they found us anyway. When will my new mommy and daddy be back?”
“Soon,” Anna said. She stood, shooting a glance to Sarah and Susanne.
“Don’t you worry none, sweetie,” Susanne said. “We’ve got a lot of strong people here. It won’t be like what happened at your home.”
“I’ll feel a whole lot better when they get back,” Sarah whispered to Anna. “after hearing that explosion earlier.”
Anna put her finger to her lips, and Sarah nodded in response.
Elmer came across the street with Clem, having to slip through the heavy foot traffic.
“Wow,” Elmer said, getting next to Susanne and putting his arm around her waist.
“Don’t paw me right out on the sidewalk, you old coot,” she said, pushing him away. Sarah and Anna snickered. Mia looked on, not understanding.
“You look worried,” Clem said to Sarah. She shook her head no, nodding down at Mia, who was focused on two of Garrett’s men trying to direct traffic. The sound of a big diesel truck approached.
“Oh, crap,” Sarah whispered as she saw it come into view.
“Don’t worry, that’s the tire company,” Clem said. “Ivan and Ji-Ho were talking to them on the phone earlier. They’re gonna replace the tires on the battle wagons.”
“Did you guys hear from Garrett and the others?” Anna asked quietly.
“Not for a while,” Clem said, “but we did hear from them after the explosion you probably heard.”
“You didn’t hear it in the mine?” Sarah asked. “It was loud.”
Elmer laughed. “If you’re not near the opening, it’s hard to hear much of anything down there.”
“That’s a fact,” Susanne said. “One of the things I liked about it down there.”
“We got your storage rooms wired, honey,” Elmer said.
“Do it right this time?” Susanne asked. “And stop with the honey stuff.”
Elmer shot a grin at the others, then looked back at Susanne. “Okay, honey.”
Chet laughed loud, then covered his mouth. “Sorry.”
Susanne shook her head, rolling her eyes at the same time. “I suppose you won’t shut up about it till I go look. Let’s go.”
The couple started across the street, Elmer’s arm going around her waist again, Susanne smacking it away. He turned back to Clem and grinned.
“Those two are a riot,” Sarah said.
“Susanne’s not fooling me a bit,” Anna said. “She worships that man.”
“Yeah, that’s the impression I get too, now that I’ve been around them more.”
“What was that explosion?” Anna asked.
Chet smiled. “Garrett and that big buffalo gun of his.”
“It’s not that loud,” Anna said.
“They found those blown-up trucks way out in the BLM land, and figured they were booby-trapped. Garrett got the idea to hit it with that big .50 cal. Took three or four shots, then kaboom.”
“Did they run into any bad guys back there?” Anna asked. Clem started to talk, but Sarah touched his arm and nodded down at Mia, who was listening.
“Nothing bad,” Clem said. “They’re just following tire tracks now. They’ll be back before too long.”
Ji-Ho emerged from the mine with Sparky, Ed, and a few others, making their way to the tire company truck.
“I’d probably better get back to work,” Clem said. “Still got to finish wiring up that room for the intel team.”
“I’m hungry,” Mia said.
“There’s some food in the hotel kitchen,” Sarah said. “C’mon, I’ll make us something to eat.” She turned and went into the hotel door, Anna and Mia following.
“Sit at the table, honey,” Sarah said as she was going to the walk-in fridge. “You like tuna sandwiches?”
“Yes,” she said.
“Good, because Clem made some tuna salad last night.” She disappeared into the walk-in for a moment, coming out with a container of tuna salad and the mayo.
“I know where the bread is,” Anna said, opening a drawer under the counter and pulling out a loaf. She looked at Sarah as she opened it and grabbed three plates from the cupboard above the counter. “So, what’s the story with you and Clem?”
Sarah smiled. “News travels fast, I guess.”
“You two together?”
“Kinda, but nothing serious,” Sarah said as she made the sandwiches. “We’re a comfort to each other.”
Sarah’s face turned red, and she nodded.
“Sorry,” Anna said. “Not trying to embarrass you.”
“Oh, it’s okay, really,” Sarah said. “I figure as long as we’re both enjoying each other, what’s the harm?”
“That’s how I feel about Garrett,” Anna said.
“Is that how Garrett feels?”
Anna sighed. “He’d marry me if I gave him half the chance.”
“You don’t want that?”
“Been there, done that,” Anna said. “Still, he’s the best man I’ve had in years. I certainly could do a lot worse. We’ll see what happens after this damn war is over.”
“Well, you’re still young enough. Clem and I are quite a bit older.”
“True, but our circumstances aren’t all that different.”
Sarah nodded in agreement as she put a sandwich plate in front of Mia. “Here you go, honey.”
“Thank you,” Mia said, picking it up and taking a bite. Sarah and Anna stood at the counter and ate their sandwiches, silent for a few moments.
“You’re pretty worried about Garrett being out there.”
She nodded, setting her sandwich down. “That’s the hard thing.”
“You’re in love with him, aren’t you?” Sarah asked.
She looked down at the counter for a moment, then looked back at her, tears welling in her eyes. “Dammit.”
“Strike a nerve?”
“I’ve been trying to keep myself from falling for him,” Anna said. “Not working so well.”
“It’s a nice thing,” Sarah said, “and he’s a good man. Maybe you should just enjoy it for now, and let the future take care of itself.”
There was a low rumble approaching, shaking the ground beneath the building. The two women eyed each other.
“What’s that?” Mia asked.
“Stay here,” Sarah said to her as she ran out to the front. She could see armored vehicles rolling into the large pasture in front of the town. Ji-Ho was talking to somebody on top of one of them, as others filled in the open space rapidly. Sarah went back to the kitchen.
“Well?” Anna asked.
“Military vehicles,” Sarah said. “Tanks or something. I don’t know much about those.”
“Friendly, I hope?”
“Appears so,” she said. “Ji-Ho was welcoming them in.”
“Is it okay?” Mia asked.
“Yes, honey, it’s good guys,” Sarah said. She went back to her sandwich.
There was more commotion outside. The sounds of people talking as they walked past the hotel. Clem rushed in.
“What’s happening?” Anna asked.
“Ivan and Ed want women and children in the mine,” he said quietly, trying not to alarm Mia.
“Are we about to be attacked?” Sarah whispered.
“No, but we’re invading Mexico. That’s why all the tanks, armored personnel carriers, and troop transport trucks showed up. They’re beefy enough to get around the clogged roads.”
“What about Garrett and the others in the back country?” Anna asked.
Clem shot her a glance. “Let’s get into the mine, and then we’ll call them, okay?”
“Is there a fridge down there?” Sarah asked.
“Yeah, as a matter of fact. It’s not huge, but it was nearly empty last I looked.”
“Good, then let’s carry the food from the walk-in down there,” Sarah said.
“Good idea,” Clem said. “I saw some boxes out the back door. Be right back.”
They got the food boxed up in a matter of minutes, and headed across the street to the mine.
To be continued…
Book 5 of the Bug Out! California saga has been published. It’s available in both e-book and paperback!
Bug Out! Texas Book 1 is now just 99 cents in the Kindle Store! Free in Kindle Unlimited! This is the story of Texas Patriots and their struggle against enemies, foreign and domestic, during the Bug Out! War. Chock full of action, adventure, suspense, and romance. Pick up your copy of Bug Out! Texas Book 1 today!
The first of my full length novels has been published in the Amazon Kindle store, available now. For those of you have have been readying the Bugout! series, the story involves George and Malcolm, and is set about seven years earlier. This book R rated, instead of the PG-13 of the Bugout! Series, so be warned. Here’s the link to “Never A Loose End”
Copyright Robert Boren 2017