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The War – Episode 23

December 20, 1:37 AM Mountain
Tucson, Arizona

Major Chism listened to Captain Davis’ report over the radio.

“How many are there, over.” she said into the handset.

“We shot four of them, and two ran back into the building,” Davis answered, “There may be more, over.”

“What’s your status, over,” Chism said.

“We have one Whiskey-India-Alpha, but it’s minor,” Davis replied, “We’re watching all the exits we can find. We need resupply in seven-six-two, but all other ammunition is good, over.”

“Roger,” Chism said, “Once the November Golf elements come on line, we’ll get you what we can. Can you clear the building, over.”

There was a pause, then Davis answered. “Negative,” he said, “I’ve only got a squad with me and one vehicle. Can’t cover all the exits and still have enough to clear, over.”

“Roger, we’ll send what we can to keep them contained,” Chism said, “but it may be a while, over.”

“Roger. They’re not going anywhere except on foot, and I think I can keep them in the cathedral, over.”

“Anything else, over.”

“We don’t have any grenades. They’d make clearing the building a lot easier, over.”

Chism nodded. “Understood. Will advise when more resources become available, over.”

“Roger, out.” Davis said.

Chism put down the handset and felt her shoulders droop. “How long until the National Guard comes online?” she asked.

Tech Sergeant Braun, who sat at one of the desks on the other side of the trailer, peered at his screen and said, “The Public Affairs company says they’re assembled at their armory. They should be here soon. The armor and MP companies are still getting their people together. Probably won’t see them until tomorrow morning.”

Chism cursed under her breath. “We need people and guns now, not in a few hours,” she muttered.

Travis looked at the map thoughtfully, then said, “The police might have some flash-bangs. Those’ll be better than nothing if Davis wants to try and clear the cathedral.”

Major Chism pulled her cell phone from the front pocket of her uniform, then punched in a number written on a sticky note affixed to the map. It took two attempts before her phone connected and the call went through.

“Quinones,” a gruff voice said at the other end of the line.

“John, this is Holly Chism over at the National Guard CP,” she said.

“Got any good news for me?” the police captain said, “All I’ve got is two helicopter pilots who won’t fly below a thousand feet without somebody on board to shoot back.

“Got some soldiers up from Huachuca, and we’re pretty sure they’ve got the bastards cornered over at the cathedral,” Chism answered.

“Right. After somebody shot at my chopper, I sent some of my tactical people over there. Ought to be arriving any time,” John said

“Good. Our man on the ground says they’re stretched thin, so having a few more people to maintain a perimeter will help,” Chism said, “You wouldn’t happen to have any grenades, would you?”

“Hold on,” Quinones said, then the line went quiet as he put his hand over the phone. After a moment, he came back.

“We’ve got a few crowd-control devices we can send over. Will that work?” he said.

“It should,” Chism replied.

“OK, I’ll have one of the cars swing by and grab them on the way over there,” John said, “By the way, was that your machine gun everyone heard?”

“Yeah,” Chism said, “They’ve got one on their vehicle, and they loaded it before they left.”

“Sweet,” Quinones said, “Hope they put it to good use.”

“Tell your people that their contact at the cathedral is Captain Davis. He’ll fill them in and put ‘em where he needs them,” Chism said.

“Will do.” Quinones replied, “What did your man do with the staff?”

“Staff?” Major Chism asked, a sinking feeling hitting her stomach.

“You know, the priests. There’s always somebody at the church,” Quinones said, then his tone changed, “Aw, shit!”

“Davis didn’t say anything about seeing anyone else. Do you think?” Chism said.

“Well, we’ve either got a hostage situation, or…” Quinones said.

“Or the sons of bitches killed them,” Chism muttered, “Wonderful.”

“I’ll shake loose as many people as I can and get them over there,” Captain Quinones said.

The two ended the conversation. Chism blew her breath out and sank into a chair.

“Well, it’s better than nothing,” Travis said.

“At least they shouldn’t be able to break the perimeter without being seen,” Major Chism said, rubbing her eyes with the heels of her hands, “Now to get enough people over there so that Davis can get his people inside and root them out.”


 

Captain Davis crouched behind the police SUV as he and its driver, Lieutenant Grayson, talked. Grayson wore gray fatigues with yellow patches, and had a carbine slung across his broad chest.

“Captain said that once we were sure we had all of them here, he’d pile on,” Grayson said, his blue eyes scanning the front of the cathedral.

“And until then?” Davis asked.

“Well, there are four of us, and after Ulzana picks up those noise makers y’all wanted,  and gets here with his people, that’ll make eight,” Grayson said, “We’re all shooters, or what’s left of the shooters.”

Davis nodded. “OK, we’ve got the back and the south side covered with the Stryker and my people. If y’all can keep watch on the north side and here out front, we can at least keep them from disappearing again,” he said.

“Yeah, I think we can handle that,” Grayson said, turning to look at the cathedral, “Kinda thin, though.”

Davis started to speak again, but his radio squawked.

“Six, this is Echo-Seven-Whiskey. There are four civilians inbound to your position, over.” Sergeant First Class Wilson reported.

Davis was keying the microphone to answer when several people walked up to the rear of one of the trucks parked on the street and stopped. They were all carrying guns, but were careful to keep their muzzles pointed skyward.

Davis moved his hand from the microphone to the pistol grip of his rifle, but did not lift it from its muzzle-down angle.

“What do y’all want?” he called out in a deep tone.

One of the civilians, a heavy-set, middle-aged man wearing a baseball cap and a tan jacket, walked a few steps forward. He kept his hands up at his shoulder with his palms forward, and seemed to be taking care to not make any sudden moves.

“I’m Bob Taylor, and we’re some of the volunteers from over at the convention center,” he called out, “When we heard the shooting over here, we thought we’d come over and help out.”

Davis looked over at Grayson, who shrugged. “We’ve got civilians manning checkpoints and guarding stuff all over town,” he said quietly.

Davis thought for a moment, then stepped out from behind the SUV. “Thanks,” he said walking forward slowly, “Does anyone know you’re here?”

“Rick McCoy was calling in to the police to tell them we were on our way over,” Taylor replied.

Grayson keyed his handset and called into the police command post. After a few moments, he gave Davis a thumbs up.

“All right,” the Captain said, “we appreciate the help.”

Davis stepped over to Taylor, putting his hand out. He took it and gave it a firm shake.

Davis motioned all four of the civilians over to the SUV, and gave them a quick rundown on what had happened in the last half hour or so.

“So we’ve got an unknown number of people, all armed, holed up in there,” he concluded, “We’re going to keep them here until we have enough people to clear the building.”

“Works for me,” Ramon said, “I had enough of clearing buildings in Mosul.”

Davis nodded, then said, “OK, my people have the back and this side. Lieutenant Grayson and his crew have the front. That covers the main entrances, but we need someone to watch the north side. Can y’all take that?”

All four civilians nodded. Ramon thought for a moment, then asked, “We don’t have a radio. How will you know if we see something?”

“We’ll hear the gunfire,” Davis said with a smile.

The small, dark-haired woman, who Taylor had introduced as Jennifer, snorted at that. All of the civilians picked up their weapons and started heading up the street. Davis watched both the building and the small group as they made their way up the block and then turned down the street next to the cathedral.

“Think this is it?” Grayson said as he looked over the facade of the church.

“I hope so,” Davis said.



 

Stefano pulled the pin out of his last bomb. The tripwire he had strung across the hall at knee height vibrated for a moment, then stilled. The tall gunman turned and walked quickly down the hallway into the cathedral’s annex.

“Anything?” he said to Rodrigo. The shorter man shook his head and put down the stolen police radio.

“No, jefe,” he said, “I think the battery’s dead.”

“Well, between the explosion, that idiot Armando, and a damned tank shooting at us, every cop in Tucson must be on his way,” Stefano said bitterly, “and now we’ve lost the trucks and the heavy guns.”

“What’re we going to do?” Rodrigo asked.

“There’s a parking garage across the street,” his commander said, “We’ll get there and see if we can steal something.”

He thought for a moment. “How is he?” he asked.

“Not good,” Rodrigo replied, “He lost a lot of blood.”

“Leave him,” Stefano said, “Make sure he’s dead before we leave.”

Rodrigo looked down for a moment, then lifted his head and met Stefano’s hard gaze. “Yes, jefe,” he said, “I’ll make sure.” He walked into the room where they had laid Armando and kneeled down next to the man.

The heavyset man was dopey with pain medication, but opened his eyes when he heard Rodrigo come in.

“Armando, we’ll be leaving soon,” Rodrigo said, “What can I get you?”

“I’m staying?” Armando asked. The pain in his leg from the shattered bone and where the tourniquet bit into his thigh had lessened with the injections of narcotics, but he knew he would not be able to put any weight on it.

Rodrigo nodded grimly. “You can’t be captured,” he said slowly.

“Leave me my gun and a grenade,” Armando said, “I’ll make sure I take a few with me.”

Rodrigo pursed his lips. He had planned on giving Armando another pain shot and opening his tourniquet, but letting him go out like a man would work just as well.

He leaned the stricken man’s rifle against the wall next to him and pulled a grenade out of his thigh pocket. After looking at it for a moment, he put it in his friend’s hand.

“Don’t forget to pull that pin when they come for you,” he said, “I’ll see you in paradise, my friend.”

Armando nodded his thanks and closed his eyes as Rodrigo stood and walked out of the room.

Stefano and the remaining men waited for him when he walked into the kitchen. He nodded to the leader, who wordlessly picked up his pack and walked toward the door.

 


 

Ramon took a few minutes to place his people so that there were two sets of eyes watching every window and door on their side of the cathedral. Luckily, there were several places to put them where they could observe both the main church and the outbuildings next to it without being completely exposed. He put himself at the center of the long block facing the church complex, using a column in the parking garage as cover.

From his vantage point, he could see all but one of the ornate wrought iron gates which led out of the cathedral’s grounds, as well as the blown-open door on one of the outbuildings. He looked down at the street and saw Jennifer’s shadow from where she had settled on the second floor. He cursed to himself for not having her break the light before getting into position, but without a radio, there was nothing he could do.

He had put her up there because he had seen what she could do with the rifle she carried, and it made as good a spot as any for a sharpshooter. It was less than one hundred yards to any spot on this side of the complex, but nothing said the terrorists would come that way. He knew she could hit anything she could see on the roofline or even in the two towers at the front of the building, and that was probably good enough.

He looked the other way, but could not see any sign of Bob or Rene. He took a moment to look around at his own surroundings, then looked back at the hole where a door used to be. He tensed when he saw movement in the doorway, and a man carrying a backpack and a rifle come through. Ramon slowly brought his carbine up to his shoulder and eased the safety off.

He sighted down the barrel of his gun as several more figures moved out into the shadows and walked silently down the side of the building toward the gate. Movement at the corner of his vision showed Jennifer’s shadow moving slightly as she saw them as well.


 

Stefano slipped through the kitchen door as the last of Rodrigo’s men walked out into the dark alley. The path to the street was narrow, but it was only a few yards past the gate to the parking garage, and from there they would quickly be on their way south.

Rodrigo, weighed down with his pack, came to the gate. He fiddled with the latch for a moment, then the gate gave a slight squeal as its right half swung out over the sidewalk. Stefano quickened his pace, wanting to push the men across the street and into the safety of the garage. He was just passing the first of the men when he saw a flash from across the street.


 

Ramon aimed at the short man at the front of the shadowy line of figures. He put his finger on the trigger as he saw him start to open the gate to the street. He slowly eased up on the slack, then felt the trigger break and the recoil of his first shot. Above him, he heard the roar of Jennifer’s rifle as she also opened fire.


 

Something slammed into Stefano’s chest, and he went to his knees, trying to breathe. In front of him, his men were shooting at the parking garage, but two of them fell almost immediately. He tried to shout to Rodrigo, but could not get any sound to come out of his throat. He looked for his subordinate in the flash-lit gloom, but then saw his body lying on the concrete next to the gate, a pool of blood flowing out from underneath him.

Stefano reached for a grenade in his thigh pocket, but fumbled when he tugged at its opening. He hung his head down so that he could use his eyes to guide his hand in doing something he had done hundreds of times. Around him, he could dimly hear his men screaming and the thump of their rifles. His hand closed around the grenade, and he pulled it out. He brought his head up as he lifted the grenade to his other hand, and saw that all but one of his men were down. As he pulled the pin from the grenade, the top of that man’s head lifted away in a spray of dark blood, and he fell bonelessly to the ground.

Stefano let the grenade’s handle fall away. He heard it ping as it hit the wall next to him, then fall onto the walkway. He hugged the grenade to his chest, and was surprised at how wet the front of his shirt was. As he waited for the grenade to detonate, he whispered, “Allahu Akhbar!”


 

The grenade’s explosion was almost muted to Ramon’s ringing ears after he had emptied his magazine at the men slinking away from the Cathedral, but he ducked down when he saw its flash. Above him, Jennifer’s rifle barked one last time, lighting the alley with its muzzle flash.  He heard Bob and Rene fire off the last few shots in their magazines, then the only sound he heard was the echo of gunfire traveling down the street.

 


Other episodes can be found here.  The rest of the story can be found in Escort Duty, available now at Amazon.

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