Bugout! California Part 105 – Santa Cruz

Tyler, James, and Ryan were on horseback, with Garrett and about thirty of his men. They were on their way to intercept the four icons they saw coming south from Barrett Lake, riding through the desert with its low ridges and dry river beds. Nobody had been able to raise Ed, so they all assumed he was being held by Black Crow.

“You guys did a good job breaking these horses,” Garrett said.

“Thanks,” Ryan said. “They’re barely even winded.”

“Seriously,” James said. He glanced over at Tyler, who was looking at his phone screen as he rode, struggling to keep the horse under control. “You want us to stop for a sec, chief?”

“Chief?” Tyler asked, looking up. “I just saw what we thought we’d see. They’ve started back towards the north.”

“How fast?” Garrett asked, his horse snorting as he slowed to get next to Tyler.

“About the same speed as before,” Tyler said. “I think they’re on foot, but they’re moving pretty quickly. We’re a few miles behind them.”

“Wonder how close we have to be for them to hear us?” James asked.

“We’ll want to slow down when we get within half a mile or so,” Garrett said. “We’ll still be moving faster than they are.”

“That’s easy,” James said. “The short-range app should buzz us at that distance.”

“Roughly,” Garrett said. “Wonder if the hills out here will make any difference in range?”

“Good question,” Tyler said. “This is peer to peer, so we might have some problems. Might be line-of-sight. I think I’ll need to go by the long-range app to keep track of how close we really are, just in case.”

“If it were flat, we’d be seen,” Ryan said.

“True that,” Garrett said. “Remember they might be up high enough to see us once we get close. They could be on one of the hills.”

“And we’re taller, since we’re on horseback,” James said.

They continued at a good clip, keeping their thoughts to themselves for a while, the tension and anticipation rising.

“Wonder how far along the battle wagons are?” Ryan asked.

“They’ll beat most of my guys to Descanso,” Garrett said. “They’re going to stop outside of town and wait.”

“Good idea,” Ryan said. “Those battle wagons aren’t indestructible, and they can get overrun.”

“Yep,” Garrett said. “You been watching the Williams place too, right?”

Tyler nodded. “No enemy hits anywhere near there so far. I see some movement from Julian down to Descanso, though.”

“How much movement?” Ryan asked.

“Several hundred fighters,” Tyler said. “I already shot a text to Sam and Ji-Ho.”

“You don’t look very worried about that,” James said, looking at Garrett.

Garrett chuckled. “We’ve got two thousand men riding there, and there were only about three hundred men there to begin with. If we see a couple thousand men coming down there, I’d be worried.”

“They don’t have that many man anywhere near here,” Tyler said. “Glad we kicked the UN out of this region. They don’t have chips.”

“You sure they’re all really gone?” James asked.

“Pretty sure,” Tyler said.

Garrett had an uneasy look. “Hope that’s the case. Sam told me that they’re all up north, trying to salvage martial law in that part of the state.”

They rode silently for another hour or so, the sun beating down on them, their horses getting tired.

“There’s a stream up ahead,” Tyler said.

“Good,” Garrett said. “Let’s water the horses there. How close are the enemy now?”

Tyler looked at his phone. “Just under a mile. We don’t want to for break too long. Quick rest and drink, and then we need to get moving.”

They made it to the stream and dismounted, bringing the horses close to the water. Garrett pulled out his phone and sent a text, then read his screen, shielding it from the sun with his hat.

“Our main forces are making good time to Descanso,” he said. “And the five hundred-man group is already at Barrett Lake Road. They’re waiting for us to take the four and rescue Ed. Our scout has seen the enemy forces. They’re dug in. Good thing we sent them with some mortars.”

“I just got a reply from Sam,” Tyler said. “They’re on Japatul Road, not too far south of I-8. They’re looking for a place to park until the cavalry arrives.”

“When do your men get there, Garrett?” James asked.

“It’ll be a few hours. Wish we had enough horse trailers to move them all there.”

“Are all of them on horseback?” James asked.

“No, we’ve got about four hundred in vehicles,” Garrett said. “They’re with the battle wagons. Not enough to do the job.”

“We should get going,” Tyler said. “The horses have drunk all they’re going to.”

“Yeah, I agree,” Garrett said. The group mounted up and rode forward, Tyler riding one handed, phone in his free hand. When his phone buzzed, he held up his hand and slowed down. Garrett nodded, his own phone buzzing.

“This is pretty accurate, according to what I see on the long-range app,” Tyler whispered. They rode slowly, heading up to a ridge.

“Stop,” Tyler whispered. “Best snipers, follow me.”

Garrett nodded, sending a couple of his thirty men forward with long rifles, joining them himself. Tyler, Ryan, and James led them to the ridge. They snuck up to the edge and looked over.

“Dammit,” Tyler whispered. “There’s Black Crow and four Islamists, but Ed’s not with them.”

“Crap, man, they probably killed him already,” James said softly.

“Or something else happened to him,” one of Garrett’s men whispered. “He was blasting around in the back country on that hovercraft. He might have crashed it.”

“You’re right,” Tyler said. “Let’s take these guys out. One shot each.”

“You don’t want to question Black Crow?” James asked.

“Shoot him in the leg,” Tyler said. “We’ll see if we can get some info out of him before we gut him.”

James’s eyes opened wider as he looked at Tyler.

“What?” Tyler asked.

“That’s harsh, man.”

“He’s been responsible for the deaths of our people,” Tyler said. “He might have been the reason we got ambushed in Julian. You ever consider that?”

“He’s right, James,” Ryan whispered, aiming his rifle. “C’mon, we’ve got a job to do. I’ve got Black Crow. I’ll wound him. Kill the others.”

The men aimed, carefully, Tyler watching. “On my mark.”

They held their breaths.

“Now,” Tyler said. Five shots rang out almost in unison, all the men slumping to the ground. Black Crow screamed in pain, clutching his right shoulder.

“Why’d you shoot him there?” Garrett’s man asked.

“He’s right handed,” Ryan said. “He won’t be able to shoot.”

“Yeah, but he can run,” James said, nodding towards him as he got up and started running. Ryan fired again, hitting him in the left thigh, bringing him to the ground.

“We’d better get down there quick, before he goes into shock or bleeds out,” Tyler said.

“Yeah,” Garrett said. They rushed back down to their horses, and then all thirty-five men rode over the ridge and down to the enemy bodies. Tyler, James, and Ryan rushed over to Black Crow, who was barely conscious. Tyler frisked him for weapons, pulling a small auto pistol out of his pocket and tossing it away.

“He’s clean,” Tyler said. He turned Black Crow onto his back. “Where’s Silver Wolf?”

Black Crow grinned at him through the pain, his thin features and pockmarked skin shining with sweat. “Wouldn’t you like to know, you wannabe paleface.”

Garrett stuck his spur into Black Crows thigh wound, causing him to scream in pain. “I didn’t hear you.”

“Damn, dude,” James said. Tyler shook his head no at him, then turned back to Black Crow.

“I’ll ask you again. Where’s Silver Wolf?”

“He went to the happy hunting ground,” Black Crow said.

“Where is he?” Garrett asked, poised to dig the spur in again. Black Crow tried to spit at him, blood spewing out with the saliva, landing on his belly. Garrett dug in again, and he screamed bloody murder.

James got up and walked away. Ryan stayed there, watching, his face showing mixed emotions. Tyler glanced at him, then back at Black Crow.

“How long have you been against us?”

Black Crow laughed. “Why should I tell you anything? I’m done anyway. Unless you’ve got a chopper at your disposal, I’ll bleed out long before you can get me out of here.”

“Why’d you do this, son?” Garrett asked.

“I’m not your son,” he spat.

“No, but I’m your chief,” Tyler said. “So is Silver Wolf. At least tell us why.”

“You wouldn’t understand,” Black Crow said, his breath laboring now, sweat pouring off his face.

“Try me,” Tyler said.

“We could’ve used this opportunity to get our land back,” he said. “All of it. We could’ve teamed with the Islamists. They aren’t all that different from us, you know. We’ve both been wronged by the white man.”

Garrett laughed. “Are you kidding me? You planning on converting to Islam? Because if they win and you don’t convert, you’re dead. You’d just be changing one dominate culture for another.”

“They are warriors,” Black Crow said. “Like we used to be.”

“You are one mixed up son of a bitch,” Ryan said. “Can we shoot him and move on? We have a whole lot of Islamic warriors to kill.”

Black Crow laughed hard, turning to a cough, blood leaking from the corners of his mouth. “What do you have, about forty guys? There’s hundreds coming for you, and another thousand sitting north of there, getting ready to hit your little stronghold at the Williams place, and that stupid western town.”

Garrett laughed. “We’ve got five hundred mounted men closing on the enemy forces at the highway, and another two thousand heading for Descanso, you idiot.”

Black Crow’s eyes opened wide.

“You’re beaten,” Tyler said. “Honor your ancestors and tell us where our chief is.”

Black Crow started to cry, as his breath slowed down even more.

“C’mon,” Tyler said.

“All right, if you agree to end me quick.”

“Agreed,” Ryan said.

“We don’t know where Silver Wolf is. I never found him. He probably crashed that stupid hovercraft of his somewhere.”

“So why were those guys coming down here?”

“To pick me up,” he said. “They were going to make me a general.”

“That’s what they told you?” Ryan asked, shaking his head.

“Screw you,” Black Crow said. “Kill me. I did what you asked.”

Ryan pointed his gun at Black Crow’s head.

“No,” Tyler said. “I’ll do it. Stand back.”

The others left. Tyler pulled his pistol, as Black Crow shut his eyes and tensed up. Tyler fired.


Ted and Haley rushed into their coach, which was already in siege mode. Brianna had her gun in her hand, eyes wide with fear. “Thank God you’re back.”

Stacey had his gun ready to go, when all of them got buzzed with a text. Ted read his phone. “Shut down the engine. Jules thinks they might just drive by, unless they hear us.”

Stacey nodded and rushed to the driver’s seat, shutting down the engine as the other coaches around him did the same. Then it was silent.

“Turn out the lights,” Ted said. Haley got close to him, putting her arm on his back. “Don’t worry, honey. We know how many there are and we’ll see them if they make the turnoff.”

“I know,” she whispered. “Just scared.”

“Gather around and I’ll display the app,” Ted said. “I’ll have to refresh it every few seconds.”

Haley rushed over there and pulled the coffee maker away from the wall. “Here, prop it up against this.”

Ted nodded and set his phone down. All of them watched the screen, Ted hitting the refresh button every ten seconds.

“They’re passing the turnoff,” Brianna said.

“Yeah, thank God,” Haley said.

“We aren’t out of the woods yet,” Ted said. “They just went by the back entry to the winery. They might still turn in through the front.”

“There’s not that many,” Stacey said. “We could take them.”

“We could,” Ted said, “but they’d get a call out, and we’d have to leave before we’re ready to hit the Mertins plant.”

“Okay, I can see that,” Stacey said. “Sorry.”

“Don’t be sorry,” Ted said. “Always be thinking.”

“They’ve passed the main entrance,” Haley said.

“So it would appear,” Ted said. “We’re probably safe, but it’s going to be a long night.”

“You going to monitor them?” Haley asked.

“Damn straight,” Ted said. “We need to know where they go.”

Everybody got buzzed by a text message. Haley looked at her phone. “Jules just sent an all clear, but said we need to keep lights off, be quiet, and watch the apps.”

“Should we leave this in siege mode?” Stacey asked.

“Yes,” Ted said. “It won’t hurt anything. More headroom too.”

“Maybe we should stay here tonight, instead of going to the house,” Haley said.

Ted looked at her and nodded yes.

Brianna shot a glance at Stacey. “You two want to use the bedroom?”

“No,” Haley said. “You might as well stay in there.”

“All right,” Brianna said. “Let’s go back and get some sleep, Stacey.”

He nodded and followed her, both still carrying their guns.

“Sorry,” Haley whispered. “Hope you don’t mind.”

“It’s the right choice,” Ted said.

“We can share the convertible sofa,” Haley said softly.

“I’d like that,” Ted said. They got their bed set up in a few minutes.

“Thank you,” Haley said softly as they got undressed for bed.

“For what?”

“Everything,” she said as she climbed under the covers. He joined her after a moment, and she snuggled up close. “This okay?”

“Yes,” Ted said, putting his arm around her.

“We can, you know,” she whispered. “I can be quiet.”

“Let’s wait,” Ted said. “You mind? I’m still pretty stirred up.”

“Okay,” she said, watching him as he refreshed the screen on his phone. “Where are they now?”

“They’re almost to Santa Cruz. Now why would they be going there?” He switched to his text app and sent a message.

“What are you doing?”

“Sending a text to Jules, asking what he thinks,” Ted said. His phone buzzed.

“He got back that fast?”

Ted chuckled. “Yeah. He’s already talking to Ivan about it.”

“You don’t think they’ve got bad guys coming in from the Pacific, do you?”

Ted shot her a glance. “That’s the first thing I thought of. Not much of a harbor there. Just pleasure boats. The harbor does go some ways inland, though. Look.” He showed his phone to Haley.

“Looks like someplace they wouldn’t want to be,” Haley said. “They could get attacked from two directions in there.”

“Yeah,” Ted said. His phone buzzed again. “Jules again. Ivan got visuals via a satellite feed. It’s not military vehicles. They’re in commercial trucks. They’re trying to hide themselves.”

“Does he want us to do anything?” Haley asked.

“We’re the closest assets, so he’s putting us on alert.”

“What does that mean?” Haley asked.

“He wants my phone someplace where I can be woken up in the middle of the night,” Ted said. “Let’s try to get some shut eye.”

Haley smiled at him. “Can I have a kiss?”

“Think that’s wise?”

“I don’t care,” she said. “Come here.”

They embraced and kissed, and then it was like a damn bursting.

“Wow,” Haley said. “That was something.”

“Gonna be hard to sleep now,” Ted said, his breath coming fast.

“Then let’s stop,” she said. “We’ll just cuddle, okay?”

Ted nodded, giving her a peck on the forehead.


The battle wagons were parked along Los Terrinitos Road, among the trees surrounding several abandoned mini-ranches.

Sam and Erica walked over to Ji-Ho’s rig. Trevor and Kaylee were in there with Seth and Kaitlyn. Megan and Angel were walking up.

“You heard?” Sam asked Ji-Ho as he entered.

“Yeah, no Ed,” Ji-Ho said. “Hope he still alive. Be hard to find.”

“Seems pretty strange that his phone isn’t working,” Trevor said.

“I know,” Erica said. “I’m worried sick.”

“Where’s the cavalry?” Angel asked. “Getting close to dark.”

“Two hours to the south, if they can keep up the pace,” Sam said. “They’ll have to slow down when it gets dark.”

“They can’t be anywhere near the roads,” Erica said. “Too many of them. It’d raise attention for sure.”

“It might anyway,” Seth said. “We could probably take on the enemy with who we’ve already got.”

“Too risky,” Ji-Ho said. “Things go wrong. Battle Wagons not that hard to break. Only four hundred men to fall back on. They have over thousand men between Descanso and the road down from Julian.”

“Yeah, and more getting ready to leave from Julian, from what I’ve been seeing,” Sam said. “We have to wait. This is not going to be an easy battle with them, either. The enemy will have better weapons.”

“Yes yes,” Ji-Ho said. “Sam right. Wait. Make sure. Lower risk. Remember what happen in Julian.”

“That was different,” Angel said.

“Why do you say that?” Erica asked.

“I’ll lay you ten to one that Black Crow guy helped the enemy with the ambush,” Angel said. “Think about it.”

Erica looked down, then up at the others. “You’re probably right about that.”

“This was not your fault,” Sam said, “and besides, he wasn’t even with our group in Julian, remember? He was with the group you were in, off in the alternate location.”

“We all knew about the battle there,” Erica said. “He could have made phone calls.”

“Not matter now. Black Crow dead,” Ji-Ho said.

“Where’s Garrett’s guys?” Angel asked. “I thought they’d be right next to us.”

“They close,” Ji-Ho said. “In huge pasture, just before this road. Maybe four hundred yard.”

“Okay, makes sense,” Angel said. “They’ve got about seventy vehicles.”

“Seventy-two,” Megan said, smiling.

“Let’s go back to our rig,” Sam said. “We’re too close to the enemy to be far from our weapons systems.”

“Yeah, good point,” Trevor said.

Everybody but Ji-ho left the coach, heading quickly back to their rigs.

Sam opened the door to their coach and followed Erica inside. “Should we be in siege mode?” she asked.

“Yeah,” Sam said, “since we’re going to be here for a few hours. Send a broadcast text out about that, okay. I’ll get ours set up.”

She nodded and sent the text. Sam watched out the window of the rig as the electric motors in the other coaches whirred to life, armor plates moving into place, guns rising from the tops. Then there was gunfire, bouncing off the first coach in the row.

“Dammit,” Sam said, pulling down the sight and scanning, other coaches doing the same. “Where’s that coming from?”

Trevor’s coach fired a burst of fire from the mini gun.

“I feel like we’re sitting in a tin can,” Erica shouted, picking up one of the M60s. “I’ll be ready at the slits, but if it gets too crazy, I’m going out there.”

“Me too,” Sam said. “Text Garrett’s guys.”

“Doing that now,” she said.

To be continued…


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