“The engine turns over, but at least one of the motor mounts is toast,” Cody said, getting out of the driver’s seat.”
“So, what does that mean?” Allison asked.
“It means we blow it up and catch a ride with somebody else,” Cody said. “Grab your belongings.”
She nodded, and they went into the bedroom to grab their stuff, racing out the door with it.
“Not road-worthy?” Tex asked.
“Nope,” Cody said. “Broken motor mount.”
“There’s some explosives in my rig,” Tex said.
“There’s some in here, too, in the middle storage compartment. Perfect placement. We should grab the ammo and mortar rounds out and use those to blow her.”
“I’ll help you,” Tex said. They got to work. Morgan approached Allison.
“Put your stuff in our rig,” Morgan said.
“Okay,” Allison said.
“Think Cody is up to driving? Robbie’s a mess.”
“Probably,” she said. “I know how to drive these rigs too.”
“Good,” Morgan said, walking with her. They entered the coach.
“He took off walking with Stacey and Justin,” Morgan said.
“Were they all old friends?”
“Justin was part of Robbie and Gil’s group,” Morgan said. “Stacey was on the fringe of that group. He worked with Robbie at Ted’s restaurant.”
“Oh,” Allison said. She stashed the possessions in the cabinet above the pull-out queen bed towards the front of the salon. “This okay?”
“Sure,” Morgan said. “This is horrible.”
“It was a successful mission,” Allison said. “We’re going to lose people. We’ve been lucky so far, but that won’t last forever.”
“Wonder how much this damaged the enemy?” Morgan asked.
“Good question,” Allison said. “The enemy had a much worse night than we did. You see any of the news reports?”
“Yeah, before the battle started.”
They heard diesels starting up.
“Dammit,” Morgan said. “I hope the boys get back here fast. We need to split.”
“Want to go find them?” Allison asked.
“Okay…wait, here they come.”
“Good,” Allison said.
Cody poked his head in the door. “We need to leave. Fire up the engine.”
“I’ll do it,” Robbie said, walking up behind him with Justin and Stacey.”
“I’m going back to my rig,” Stacey said. “Take care, man. We’ll talk later.”
“See you soon,” Justin said, walking to his rig. Katie rushed out to meet him, throwing her arms around him.
Robbie nodded, then climbed the steps and got behind the wheel. He fired up the engine, and then shook for a moment as the tears came back.
“Oh, honey, I’m so sorry,” Morgan said, hugging him as he sat in the seat.
“I can’t believe he’s gone,” Robbie said.
“You want Cody to drive?”
“No, I can handle it,” Robbie said. Allison stepped out for a minute, then came back.
“We need to move this down the road a little so Tex and Cody can blow our rig.”
“You got it,” Robbie said, shaking himself out of it. Allison sat on the couch as Robbie backed up, watching his mirrors. When he was far enough away from the line of trees, he made a sweeping turn back to the road and got on, going as far as the first clearing. The two coaches that were there already had moved onto the road. Jules and Ted’s coaches came up behind him, beeping the horn for everybody to move further away.
“Hope we don’t have problems getting out of here,” Morgan said.
“Me too,” Robbie said. “It bothers me that Ivan didn’t know about those tanks. There could be more waiting for us before we get to the highway.”
“Hope not,” Allison said.
The line of coaches stopped and waited. After a moment there was a huge explosion, lighting the sky behind them, catching the nearby trees on fire. There was a knock on the door. Allison opened it and Cody rushed in.
“Let’s get out of here,” he said.
“You want him to drive?” Morgan asked Robbie.
“No, I’d rather drive. It will keep my mind off things.”
“Hey, dude, if you need me to take over, just say the word,” Cody said. “So sorry about Gil and Tisha.”
“I know, thanks,” Robbie said. “Glad you guys survived. Could’ve been different.”
“Tell me about it,” Allison said.
The coaches rolled down the dark road like a long train. Robbie’s eyes darted to the sides and the mirrors often, half expecting to see a tank’s cannon pointing at them.
“Do we know where we’re going?” Allison asked.
Cody shook his head no. “Not yet, but we’ll hear from Jules soon, I’m sure.”
They rode silently for a while through the winding dark road, heading for Highway 4.
“We need to know which way to turn when we get to the highway,” Robbie said.
“Want me to send a text to Jules?” Morgan asked.
“Yeah,” Robbie said.
She pulled out her phone, and it dinged with a text message, along with the other phones in the rig.
“There it is,” Cody said. “Get on Highway 4 going east. We’re taking I-5 north after that.
“They’re moving us up to Sacramento already,” Robbie said. “I’m surprised. Thought we had a lot more to do around the Bay Area.”
“Maybe not, after the patriots started their rebellion, and the enemy bases got abandoned,” Morgan said. “Wonder what happened to the women they were holding?”
“Nothing on the news about bodies so far,” Allison said. “Hope they’re okay.”
“There’s the highway,” Robbie said, making a right turn onto it. He sped up, and they were off.
Saladin was in the elevator with three of his men and two of Daan Mertin’s guards, heading below ground, enduring a tense silence. The doors opened into a basement hallway with gray cement walls and plumbing running along the ceiling.
“This facility is four levels deep,” Saladin said. “What is its purpose?”
Daan’s guards looked back at him silently.
“You can’t speak to me?” Saladin asked as they walked out the hallway towards the left.
“Answer the question, infidel,” one of Saladin’s guards spat. Saladin shot him an angry glare, and the man looked down, like a child scolded by his father.
The first guard opened a door on the left side of the hallway and walked inside. The second guard held the door waiting for Saladin and his party to walk in. He pulled the door shut and stood next to it just inside as the others walked down the short hallway to another door. It opened when they got there.
“Saladin, how are you?” Daan asked, extending his hand. Saladin took it reluctantly, half a smile on his face.
“Nice rabbit hole,” Saladin said.
“How’s your caves at Capitol Reef?” Daan asked, smiling.
Saladin chuckled. “I guess we both deserve that, don’t we? I’m sorry, my friend. We need to work together.”
“Don’t say bury the hatchet,’ Daan said. “Come, I’ve got food lined up for us. Only the best.”
Saladin’s men and Daan’s guard looked at each other with relief and sat in chairs by the door as their bosses went into the next room, which was lavishly furnished, not a hint of gray cement or plumbing anywhere to mar the effect.
“I wasn’t able to contact you on the way here,” Saladin said. “I had others telling me you couldn’t be reached. What happened?”
“Minor problem,” Daan said. “Some of Ivan’s people took out our communications facility in Nortonville. We’re back to normal cell phones now. Use the old numbers.”
“Those aren’t secure,” Saladin said.
“That’s okay, we own the system now,” Daan said. “Hell, we’re running the whole state, at least from an infrastructure standpoint.”
“It appears you’re losing control, from the news reports I’ve seen. The UN is ready to pull out completely unless their safety can be guaranteed.”
“Tell me something I don’t already know,” Daan said. “We are working to get control of the Bay Area back, and we’re making some progress in east San Diego County as well. Once we have these areas shored up, we can consolidate our power in the other areas. We must have the pipeline of fighters reopened in San Diego county. That is the most important piece right now.”
“I agree. You don’t have enough forces, even if the UN stays. We need that supply line re-opened along I-8.”
“Yes,” Daan said, “and don’t worry about the UN. They’ll stay and increase their forces. If they don’t, my counterparts in Belgium will pull their funding. They’re having a real problem since the US Government became unreliable.”
“What happened to the counter-demonstration program?” Saladin asked. “I saw a news report that the main hub of that activity got taken out last night.”
“UC Santa Cruz,” Daan said. “Yes, it got hit by reactionaries last night. Most of it was burned to the ground. That wasn’t our only facility. We have several other campuses that are up and running. Real progress takes time, though. It’s a long-term effort.”
“Hope you did something about Dean Wilson,” Saladin said.
“He’s underwater, somewhere between San Francisco and Alcatraz,” Daan said.
“You never got the professors back, did you?”
“No,” Daan said, “not that it matters. Ivan has no reason to hold them at this point, but he will just out of spite. We know one of them is already dead for sure.’
“Yes, I saw the video. Ivan is entertaining, I’ll give him that.”
“I wasn’t entertained,” Daan said, “but no matter. We did hurt him last night.”
“Oh, really? How?”
“We took out two of those ridiculous battle wagons he has, and killed one of the crews,” Daan said.
“You can’t track them now, though, can you?”
“Since our satellite access has been cut off, we really needed that communications center. We’re limping along now, but we don’t have the capabilities that we need, until we can replace that center.”
Saladin laughed. “Don’t tell me, let me guess. You haven’t been able to track the remaining motor homes after the battle last night, and now you have no idea where they are.”
“We still have video cameras up all over the state,” Daan said, his smile starting to crack away.
“But you haven’t seen them yet, have you? They might be right outside this facility.”
“I wish they were,” Daan said. “Let’s not get back into old habits. We’ve got real problems to solve, and if we can’t work together on them, we’re gonna lose. Is that what you want?”
“I’ve got so many sleepers in this country now that we’ll never lose completely,” Saladin said. “We could just lay low, bide our time, make the infidel think they’ve won, and then start up our attacks again.”
“The leadership in Belgium will never sit still for that. They’ll cut your funding and stop your operations. The enemy might expose your forces eventually, you know, without any help from EU leadership.”
“The chips?” Saladin asked. “They have to break them first.”
“Rumor has it they’re well on the way to that. I personally think they’ve already broken them, based on some of the attacks Ivan has made.”
“That’s not possible,” Saladin said.
“Actually, it’s very possible, and it’s partly your fault,” Daan said.
“I thought we were going to work together,” Saladin said. “Now you’re blaming your own failures on me.”
“We need to be honest with each other, without the testosterone getting in the way,” Daan said. “We’ve both been outsmarted repeatedly by General Hogan and General Walker. We need to get better.”
“We killed Walker, remember?” Saladin asked.
Daan chuckled. “You participated in his sacrifice, by which he saved the real prize.”
“Oh, that again,” Saladin said. “You really think some retired IT executive is going to be our undoing?”
Daan sighed and sat down, picking up a phone on the table next to him. “Bring in the food.” He put the phone on the receiver and motioned for Saladin to sit next to him.
“We need to have a long detailed chat, so we might as well eat and be comfortable.”
The door in the back of the room opened, and a man in a chef’s outfit pushed a cart in, stopping at a table and unloading the covered silver trays. He lit burners under some of them, and then pushed the cart back outside.
“We’ll eat in a second, but I want to finish a point,” Daan said.
“Go ahead,” Saladin said. “I’ll try to keep my testosterone in check.”
They smiled at each other for a moment, Daan looking like he didn’t want to talk. He looked down, then looked back up at Saladin. “There’s something about Frank Johnson that I never mentioned to you.”
“Uh oh. I’m not going to like this, am I?”
“No,” Daan said. “Frank Johnson designed the system that were using for the RFID chips.”
“What?” Saladin asked, eyes widening. “When were you going to tell me this?”
“I hoped never,” Daan said. “I expected your forces to make short work of Walker and Hogan’s operations. I didn’t think Frank would have enough time to work the issues.”
“If he understands the system, how much work is really involved?” Saladin asked.
“Quite a lot, actually,” Daan said. “He has to break the encryption, for one thing, just to get access to the signal. Then he must break more encryption to get to the payload of the message. Then he has to hack into our systems and steal some data on our personnel.”
Saladin was silent for a moment. “You think he’s done it, don’t you?”
“I suspect he’s getting close,” Daan said. “It’s possible that Ivan and a few people in Hogan’s command have just gotten lucky.”
“There’s no such thing as luck,” Saladin said.
“Yes, there actually is,” Daan said, “but luck doesn’t happen repeatedly.”
“I need to run the hunt for Frank Johnson personally,” Saladin said, looking down for a moment. “That’ll take me out of California. We think they’re in Colorado right now.”
“There’s two other problems,” Daan said.
“Okay, what are they?”
“First, we need you to run the forces in East San Diego county. The leadership there is poor. They need to be whipped into shape, so they can be successful in opening I-8 to traffic again.”
“As I said earlier, I agree with that. I’ll go there after this, but what about the Bay Area? Ivan is giving you a hard time.”
“We have a new shipment of UN Peacekeepers on the way, to populate a new base in Davis. Once they’re here, we’ll make short work of Ivan’s troublesome little band.”
“Ivan is more than troublesome. I saw the news reports. The people up here are rebelling, just like they did in LA and Orange Counties. He’s a master at stirring them up.”
“I’m planning a surge with these UN forces, and remember one important thing.”
“What’s that?” Saladin asked.
“UN Peacekeepers don’t have RFID chips,” Daan said.
Saladin was quiet for a moment, thinking. “I’ve still got roughly sixty thousand of my people up here. I need to take them south with me to work the southern problem.”
“That would be my suggestion,” Daan said.
“Consider it done,” Saladin said. “I’ll give the orders tonight. Was that the two problems?”
“No, that was only the first problem,” Daan said.
“I’ve gotten intelligence on the southwest team,” Daan said.
“From whom? Is this just another rumor?”
“No, I don’t think so,” Daan said, face grim.
“Well, are you going to tell me?”
“George Franklin has joined Hogan’s team. He’s with Frank Johnson right now.”
Saladin froze. “What?”
“You heard me,” Daan said. “I know of your history.”
Saladin sat back, thinking, a smile washing over his face. “I broke him, you know. Turned him into a babbling idiot.”
“He’s recovered,” Daan said, “and he’s got a crazy friend.”
“What crazy friend?”
“Malcolm Davis,” Daan said. “Ever hear of him?”
“No,” Saladin said.
“I suggest you do some research on both of those guys, because when you’re done in San Diego County, they are your next task. We need Frank Johnson dead. You’ll have to get through those two guys to do it.”
“Give me a preview at least,” Saladin said.
“Come, let’s get our food, and we can continue talking.”
Saladin nodded, and they got up, walking towards the food table. They filled plates and sat at a large table in the middle of the room, covered with an ornate tablecloth with fancy place settings.
“This is exquisite,” Saladin said after taking a bite of lamb.
“Glad you like it,” Daan said.
“So how do you know that George Franklin has recovered? Intelligence?”
“No, it wasn’t a recent development. He’s been back for a few years.”
“How are you so sure?” Saladin asked.
“He and Malcolm have been busy. They took out Jason Beckler and Sadie Evans, and then took on a guy named Sailor Boy. Then they had a tussle with the family of Red Dagger.”
“I have heard of these people,” Saladin said, “American serial killers, correct?”
“Yes,” Daan said.
“This is not like war,” Saladin said. “I can defeat police.”
Daan looked at him for a moment, making Saladin uncomfortable.
“You think George Franklin will kill me,” Saladin said, setting his silverware down.
“I didn’t say that,” Daan said, “but you’d better not take this lightly. I mean it. We may have our differences, but we need each other. If either of us are lost, the operation in the western US is over. The eastern US will fall as well.”
“Where did you get this intelligence?” Saladin asked.
“One of the militia groups, formerly based in Williams, Arizona.”
“I don’t trust them,” Saladin said. “We’ll just have to fight them after this war is over.”
“I agree, but that is a discussion for later,” Daan said.
The door burst open, one of Daan’s lieutenants rushing in.
“What is it, Stephan?” Daan asked.
“Ivan the Butcher is on TV again. Would you like the screen turned on?”
Daan and Saladin glanced at each other, then Daan looked back at Stephan. “That won’t be necessary.”
To be continued…
Bug Out! Texas has just been published in the Kindle Store! 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