Line in the Valley, chapter 2


Chapter 2 of book three in my series. Other chapters can be found below:

Looking for honest critiques. Hope you enjoy it, and thanks.


Chapter 2

Sergeant First Class Jerry Nunez kicked open the humvee door and stepped out onto the pavement. As he stretched his cramped muscles, all the old, familiar aches and pains hit. Riding for hours in a humvee wearing full gear had always been hard on his knees, shoulders and lower back. Nunez had spent countless hours stuffed into humvees on convoys and patrols in Iraq and Afghanistan, and didn’t miss those missions or places. He took his helmet and body armor off and laid them on the seat, then grabbed his M4 carbine and headed toward his platoon leader’s vehicle.

Lieutenant Rodger Quincy stood stretching by his own vehicle. His first words to Nunez were, “I don’t believe we’re doing this shit, Jerry.”

“Me neither, Lieutenant.”

“Jerry, quit calling me ‘Lieutenant’. When the kids aren’t around, just call me Rodger,” Quincy said to Nunez, his platoon sergeant.

“Sure thing, LT.”

Nunez and Quincy slung their carbines and walked toward the main doors of the mall. The parking lot was jammed with humvees and utility vehicles, many with sleeping soldiers draped over hoods or scattered around them. Police cars from several different departments, some as far away as Victoria and Corpus Christi, were parked around the military vehicles.

Except for the police cars, the scene looked almost like every forward operating base Nunez had ever been to overseas. But this wasn’t Iraq or Afghanistan. It was Edinburgh, Texas, well within the borders of what was supposed to be the safest, most well-protected country in the world. And the soldiers weren’t there for a training exercise, and weren’t on their way to some foreign country. They were there because the United States of America had been attacked.

Nunez agreed with Quincy; he couldn’t believe this was happening, not here. When he reenlisted in the National Guard after the terrorist attack in Houston, he had expected to be back in Afghanistan within a year. He had not expected to be mobilized for what was happening on the border, whatever the hell it was.

Nunez had been patrolling his beat two nights earlier when news of the border attacks first broke. He and his partner watched the initial reports on CNN. Local reporters repeated what little they had been told by the few refugees brave enough to stop and talk at highway rest stops and gas stations. But the reporters hadn’t been able to make sense of it. Traumatized survivors sputtered wild stories of masked men in black mowing down women and children in quiet neighborhoods, police cars shot to pieces, bombs exploding in fire stations.

The first calls from the National Guard had come in that night. An unofficial mobilization order trickled out to thousands of soldiers, including Nunez. He went home from work early, loaded his jeep while arguing with his wife Laura about following the order even though there was nothing on paper to back it up, and headed out.

Laura was furious, sick of Nunez leaving her and the kids alone every time the Guard needed him to do a dangerous job somewhere in the world. After his close call with death at the hands of terrorists in Houston two years earlier, she decided he had done enough. Iraq, Afghanistan, the attack in Houston, and now this, were too much to ask of her and their children. She didn’t want him doing one more dangerous job or responding to one more call up of troops. When he left the house she warned him she wouldn’t be there when he came back.

He believed her, but he didn’t have a choice. He couldn’t ignore an order to respond to attacks in America, in Texas, just hours from home. It didn’t even matter if the official orders were never cut and he wasn’t paid. He couldn’t sit this one out. If his troops were going, and were going to be in danger, he was going with them. He told her he’d call when he had the chance, kissed the kids, and drove away.

Nunez and Quincy stopped at the main doors to the mall, gave the guards their information and headed toward the Apple store, where an intelligence briefing was about to be held. Nunez was amazed at the way a once-regular shopping mall had become a military base. But Edinburgh was less than twenty miles from the border. Once word of the attacks on the border spread, the city effectively shut down. Any family that was able headed north to Corpus Christi, Houston or San Antonio. Refugees forced out of besieged border towns were stuffed into every school in Edinburgh. The owners of the one mall in town offered to let the National Guard use it as a base of operations. That would prevent looting, but the shop owners must have thought the soldiers themselves would steal what was left. Nunez noticed the merchandise was gone from almost every business, hidden in storage somewhere.

Every store they passed had been taken over by a Guard unit. Sears, the largest, was occupied by the 56th Brigade Combat Team headquarters. The smaller shops had been taken by battalion commanders and their company commanders. All the makeshift command posts were beehives of activity. Junior sergeants and lower enlisted set up maps and butcher block paper on walls and checked connections on radio antennas, preparing for the hurricane of activity that would follow their units’ commitment to the coming operation.

“Fuck, I wish the food court was still working,” Quincy said as they walked past all the closed junk food places. “I want a smoothie.”

Nunez pulled out his notebook and pretended to make a note. “I’ll tell your driver to get right on that, sir. ‘Lieutenant Quincy wants a smoothie.’ Any specific flavor?”

Quincy looked like he wanted to say something smart-alecky, but all he could come back with was “Asshole.” Then he asked, “You get ahold of Laura yet?”

“No Rod, I haven’t,” Nunez said, looking a little down. “She wouldn’t answer my calls or return any texts, and the phones don’t work down here so I can’t even try anymore. And I forgot my phone charger and ran the battery out. But, whatever. She’ll be there when I get back. Or she’ll divorce me. I’ll live either way.”

“It won’t bother you if Laura divorces you?” Quincy asked.

Nunez looked down and drew a long, slow breath. He thought of his beautiful red headed wife, and their son and daughter who looked just like her. He had almost lost them before. He and Laura had teetered on the edge of divorce more than once over the years. Sometimes his determination had saved the marriage, more often hers had. Once they were so close to ending it that he packed his things and moved in with a friend. That had given him one whole day of a false sense of relief. But the thought of his wife married to someone else and his children being raised by someone else, like the ex-wives and kids of a million cops he knew, made him want to cry. So he went back, cried in front of his wife, and she cried with him. He moved back in and they stayed more or less stable, without any discussion of divorce, until he walked out the door with his gear and headed toward the Texas border.

The last few years had been a hard road for Nunez. He had been sent to Iraq early in the war, and spent a year riding a humvee down scarred, bomb-ravaged highways, cringing every time they passed an abandoned car or pile of trash. He had dreaded every convoy, but made it through his year whole and safe. His unit had a few wounded, no deaths. He went home, shook off the anxiety of the war, and spent two years back on the streets of Houston. But then new orders came, this time for Afghanistan.

In Iraq, Nunez was never in a big firefight. In Afghanistan, he was in huge battles. In Iraq he never lost a soldier. In Afghanistan, his orders had cost a close friend his life. In Iraq, every mission he went on was a success. In Afghanistan, he felt like he had lost the most important fight he had ever been in. He came home physically fine, but Afghanistan left a mark that he knew time wouldn’t erase. He got out of the Army, pledged himself to his family and job, and moved on.

What happened a year later changed Nunez’s life. It had been a November afternoon that he’d never forget. Houston SWAT officers screamed on the radio as they were engaged in a brutal, close range firefight with a terrorist cell at a mosque. Nunez had charged straight into the fight. That decision almost cost him his life.

He was nearly killed several times during the fight, but was on his feet when it was all over. He had beaten the grim reaper again. But there was no celebration because, as it turned out, the wars he fought overseas and at home weren’t as big a threat to his life as they were to his marriage.

Nunez made it through Iraq and Afghanistan without a divorce, but his actions the day after the terrorist attack almost killed the marriage. He had rejoined the military, against Laura’s express wishes. He half expected her to leave him that day. She stayed, but it had been close.

Nunez considered Quincy’s question, It won’t bother you if Laura divorces you?, and knew two things: first, he honestly didn’t know if he would still be married when he got home. And two, losing his wife would tear him apart.

“Bother me?” Nunez asked. “Nope.”

“You’re a liar,” Quincy responded.

Nunez nodded and gave a hopeless shrug. “Yup.”

“Well, good luck. Let me know if you wind up single, I’ll take you to pick up some nasty, disease-ridden strippers in Beaumont. They’ll make you feel better.”

Nunez smiled. “That’ll work, Rod. Hook me up with some woman who’s so disgusting even her herpes have AIDS. It’s like you looked into my soul and saw all my hopes and dreams.”

Nunez’s group was almost there. Other company commanders and platoon leaders, along with their platoon sergeants and a few squad leaders, came from different spots around the mall and converged on the Apple store. Nunez saw a few dozen soldiers already inside, and when the others got in there it would be pretty well packed. But when he made a quick estimate of the numbers, it didn’t seem that there were enough leaders to represent a full strength brigade combat team.

Nunez and his company’s leaders bumped their way through the doorway into the Apple store. The Sergeant First Class about to give the intelligence brief had a Rand McNally map of south Texas spread out on one wall and was reading from a small green tactical notebook. Eight large satellite images of what looked like small towns were plastered above the map. The soldier had no computer, there would be no PowerPoint presentation. This looked like it was going to be a bare-bones affair, not like the complicated briefings intelligence soldiers gave to senior leaders overseas.

The intelligence sergeant, Lacey, looked about thirty-five years old, wore a Combat Action Badge over his US Army name tape and had a 36th Infantry Division combat patch on his right shoulder. He was stocky and medium height, his light brown hair a little long, face overgrown with stubble. Nunez guessed he had been called up so quickly, like the rest of the soldiers in the room, that he hadn’t had time to get a proper haircut. He looked like he hadn’t slept for days. Lacey waited for the last few soldiers to trickle into the Apple store, then began his briefing.

“Good morning, gentlemen.” He looked at his watch. “I mean, good afternoon. Sorry, I’ve been awake a long time. I’m Sergeant First Class Lacey from the brigade intelligence section, and guys, I have a shitload of information to give you. I’m winging this whole briefing, so you’ll have to bear with me. If I fuck something up or miss something important, call bullshit on me so I can get it straight and find the information you need.”

He yawned, turned away and rubbed his eyes. When he turned back he said quietly, “Whoops. Sorry.” Then he picked up his notebook and put his finger on a page.

“Alright, quick roll call. The only soldiers in here should be company commanders and below. Battalion staff and higher are getting a separate briefing from my lieutenant. If there’s a few people missing I won’t hold everything up for them. You guys can fill in anyone who couldn’t make it.” He looked at his notebook again. “Okay, from 118 Cav, do we have reps from Headquarters Troop?”

Hands went up and a few “Hooahs” sounded.

“Alpha troop?. . .Bravo?. . . Charlie?” Responses sounded from each unit’s soldiers. Lacey went down the list for each battalion, all five in the brigade. Nunez and his group answered for Alpha company, 4th battalion of the 112th Infantry Regiment.

“Alright, good enough. Let’s get started. If you guys want to take your uniform tops off, get comfortable, have a seat on the floor or tables, go right ahead. Just don’t fall asleep. This briefing isn’t going to be some blow-off waste of time. Everything I’m about to tell you is no shit, life and death fucking important. Your soldiers’ lives, and the lives of a whole lot of Americans on the border, depend on you taking in what I’m telling you, processing it, and acting on it the right way.”

A few soldiers sat on the floor or jumped up backwards onto tables. Lacey looked around the room, and Nunez saw that his gaze was right around shoulder level. He was looking at combat patches, taking note of how many combat vets were among the soldiers in the room.

“I see that most of us have been somewhere and done something before today. That’s good, because we’re going to need veterans for what we’re about to do. And guys. . . I hate to say this, but this is going to be way different than what we did in Iraq and Afghanistan. Different, and worse.”

Lacey paused to take a drink from a plastic water bottle, then screwed the cap back on and set the bottle aside. “Okay gentlemen,” he said, looking over the room again. “Here’s what’s up. I know you’ve been watching the news, and the rumors have been flying like crazy, but most of what you’ve heard and almost all of what’s been reported has been complete bullshit. Here’s the actual situation.”

Lacey ran his fingers through his hair. “Friday night, two nights ago, right around 2200 hours local, all the police in eight border towns were wiped out. And I mean, completely wiped out. All the city cops, all the deputies, all the state troopers, and we think all the constables. And their families.”

Heads turned, while mumbled gasps of “holy shit” and “Jesus fucking Christ” floated around the room. Nunez bit his lip. He had gone to Iraq with several soldiers from units near the border. Some of them had been small-town cops. The names came up from his memory: Arellano, Zavala, the Haynes brothers, maybe a dozen more. Good soldiers, all of them. He wondered if they were dead.

Nunez and Quincy looked at each other, and at their company commander, Captain Harcrow. To their sides the two other platoon leaders, Lieutenants Campbell and Belding, and their platoon sergeants, Beall and Quiran, stayed silent. Lieutenant Belding was new, having received his commission within the last two years. He had never deployed. Campbell and the platoon sergeants were Iraq veterans. Nunez didn’t know any of them well.

When they were called up, the company was so understrength that almost all the its soldiers were consolidated into Nunez and Quincy’s platoon. The one other lieutenant, Campbell, had been thrown together with the one other platoon sergeant, a former Marine infantryman named Beall. They had been given command of the soldiers from other, even more understrength units in other battalions who had been sent to fill out Nunez’s unit in Round Rock, outside Austin. Belding and Quiran were sent from two different infantry companies outside San Antonio. They didn’t know each other, or the men from other units that had trickled in and been placed under their command, or anyone else in the company.

Nunez was lucky to have Quincy as his platoon leader. He and Nunez had first served together years earlier in Afghanistan. At that time, Nunez was the platoon sergeant over then-Corporal Rodger Quincy. Quincy was black, tall, and built of solid muscle. He had played college football and could have pursued a career in professional sports after graduation, but never considered it. His father, who settled down with his third and last wife relatively late in life, had been a Marine in Vietnam. Quincy was going to be either Marine or Army infantry, and that was all there was to it. The National Guard offered him a good deal, so he signed up.

Quincy’s reputation was established three months into their Afghanistan tour. One day after a bomb attack and ambush on their convoy killed three soldiers, Nunez led a charge to a compound where the Taliban had fired at them from. When they reached the door Nunez ordered Quincy to go in first. Quincy didn’t complain or hesitate, he just did it. Or at least tried to do it.

When he kicked the door in a Taliban machine gunner shot him through the thigh and helmet, barely missing his skull. Quincy was knocked out cold. Nunez picked up Quincy’s machine gun and led the charge into the compound himself. Until the compound was clear and he walked back outside, Nunez thought Quincy was dead. He would never forget the relief he felt when he found Quincy alive. And never stop questioning his decision to order Quincy through the door first.

Quincy recovered, applied for officer candidate’s school and found his way back to Nunez’s platoon as the platoon leader. Quincy was only twenty-six now, much younger than Nunez’s thirty-nine years. Quincy was single and under assault by so many awestruck women he had to choose the best two or three to sleep with every month. Nunez, on the other hand, had been married almost ten years and had two kids. Quincy worked with at-risk teenagers in his hometown of Beaumont, Texas, Nunez was a cynical cop in Houston who put those teenagers in jail. Quincy was an Adonis. Nunez was small, thin, not bad looking but basically unremarkable. But their shared wartime experience bonded them, and they were close friends as well as superior and subordinate.

The intelligence sergeant went on with the briefing, saying, “And guys, that’s not all of it. The initial reports are that most of the mayors of those towns are dead, along with a shitload of the firefighters, although their families apparently aren’t. The same thing happened with the municipal court judges, except for the judge from Curran’s Pass, ‘cause he was on vacation in Galveston when all this crap went down. All this happened between here,” he said, pointing on the map at Roma, “and here,” pointing at Brownsville. “Those two cities, Roma and Brownsville, have not been attacked. That might be because there’s such a strong federal government presence in those cities, but we don’t know for certain. Brownsville is a lot bigger than any of the cities that got hit, and that might have something to do with it.”

Lacey unscrewed the water bottle cap while he was speaking and took another drink. The liquid was dark, and Nunez figured he was overdosing on caffeine in an effort to stay awake. Lacey flipped a page in his notebook and said, “The night the killings happened, just about every surviving person from those eight towns decided to pop smoke and haul ass. Although that decision came after a little prodding. Some refugees said bad guys went house to house banging on doors, telling people to get out or they’d be killed. Locals were encouraged to tell their family members and neighbors to leave as well. Then when they got moving out of town, the bad guys stopped random cars headed out of town, pulled the people out and set the vehicles on fire. There are a few reports of bad guys shooting the people they yanked out, but most reports are that they were just made them get out and burned the cars. We think that was done to make it harder for help to make it in, but we don’t know for certain.

“Remember that all the reporting we’ve gotten has come from refugees getting the fuck out of Dodge. There have been no cell phone or land line calls from any of those towns since that night. Some residents of those towns called family in other cities to say that the shit was hitting the fan. Those calls either were cut off or ended abruptly and there was no further contact. We do know that no calls are getting through now. We think the cell towers and landline interchanges have been destroyed, but you know what that means. Think in one hand and shit in the other, and see which one fills up first.”

Lacey walked closer to the map and pointed to the highways leading away from the border. “As of Saturday, maybe early afternoon, police have had checkpoints set up on these roads, two to five miles north of each city’s limits. Before anyone asks why the checkpoints are so far away from the targeted cities, I’m going to ask a question. Where are the cops in here? If you work in law enforcement, please raise your hand.”

Nunez raised his hand, along with several other soldiers in the room. He looked around at the other cops, checking for familiar faces. He didn’t know any of them.

Lacey pointed and said, “You. Sergeant, uh, Nunez. If you’re a cop on duty in one town, and you hear a cop from another town screaming for help, what do you do?”
Nunez answered, “I go help him. No matter what.”

Lacey responded, “Right. That’s what we expect you guys to do. And that’s what officers from other towns and counties and state troopers did. But apparently the guys who hit the border cops expected the same thing, and they prepared for it. So what happened, and this is confirmed, is that twenty-six officers were ambushed and killed hauling ass into these eight cities. In two cases, other officers were killed responding to calls for help from the first officers who were ambushed. We know some civilians tried to help the officers, and some of them were killed as well, but we don’t know the number. We do know that anyone who tried to get close to those officers was at least shot at, so nobody’s even tried it since then.”

Nunez spoke up abruptly. “So you mean those officers are still out there on the road? Nobody’s recovered them?”

“That’s correct,” Lacey answered. “Nobody has been able to recover them so far. Some of them are in view of the checkpoints, but anyone who approaches gets shot at. Nobody right now has the ass to fight their way to those bodies. I can almost guarantee that will be our first mission when we head into those cities. And it won’t be only those bodies we’re recovering. Most of the refugees have said there are shitloads of dead civilians all over the towns, and some on the roads.”

God damn, Nunez thought. Things must be really fucked up if the cops down there can’t even get to the bodies of their friends.

Nunez looked around, seeing the anger on the faces of almost everyone, not just the police. Lacey held up one hand and said, “But guys, don’t get so wrapped around the axle about the bodies that you miss some real important background details. Did anyone ask how the bad guys were able to carry out these ambushes? The fact that so many officers were successfully ambushed within such a short time suggests to me that bad guys had spotters further up on the highways, identifying targets for the ambushers. And this couldn’t have been an afterthought, not if they were already in place when the first cops tried to respond. They showed up with that plan ready to execute. In other words, these guys don’t seem to be stupid.”

Lacey turned away from the map and looked at his notebook again. “Now, our enemy,” he said. “I wish I could give you some information that’s worth a damn, guys, but we don’t have shit right now. There’s been a stream of refugees pouring from the border for the last two days, and the police have tried to get information from them. We’re getting bits and pieces of what they’re hearing, but it’s a bunch of confused shit so far. A lot of it has been contradictory, like some of the descriptions. Most of the reports are that the bad guys are Hispanic, but some reports have said they’re white, some that they’re black. One witness swore they were Vietnamese. The common threads from the reports have been that these guys roll around in SUVs, carry military rifles and wear military gear. And they speak Spanish.”

Lacey made eye contact with several soldiers before he spoke again. “I don’t have to tell you that this is a hell of a big deal, gentlemen. All the first responders in eight towns are gone. All the people who could pick up a phone, call the cavalry and say, ‘Hey, we’re under attack by such and such guys, this is what they look like, this is how many there are, this is where they are’, are dead. Any officials who could be a threat to this enemy force, whoever they are, have been neutralized. But Roma and Brownsville haven’t been touched. So what does all this mean? We don’t know yet. We’re trying to figure it out.”

Lacey turned and tapped one of the satellite photos. “One big question mark we have is about Curran’s Pass, right here. Someone in that town fought back. Refugees reported a huge gunfight inside the town somewhere, maybe around midnight Friday night. Of course the witness stories don’t all add up, but we think the firefight went on for about half an hour. We have no idea who fought back, or if it had any effect.”

Someone toward the back of the room spoke up. “Sergeant, are these cartel guys doing all this crap? Who the fuck are these people?”

Lacey’s answer was less than definite. “Well, it sure as hell sounds like cartels. Who else would have the ass to pull something like this off? And even if it isn’t cartels, how would whoever this is be able to do it without the cartels knowing about it, and at least giving tacit approval? But on the other hand, it sure seems to me that this would hurt their business. They couldn’t do all this shit and expect easier flow of drugs across the border.”

Lacey ran his finger along the border on the map. “The affected area is well known for drug and human trafficking. The cartels run the area, and we know they have their hands into all kinds of criminal enterprises, on both sides of the border. You don’t have to be a master of intel to know that, it’s common knowledge. And we know that federal law enforcement has a lot of that area under surveillance. So one of the first things we asked when we got here and met with local cops was, ‘What did the feds’ surveillance see before all this shit kicked off?’ And the answer surprised us. I guess it makes sense now that I’ve had time to think about it, but before this happened I had the impression that cameras were covering every inch of the border. As it turns out, the cameras are only covering specific areas previously identified as heavy drug trafficking routes. And we’re told that there was no increase in activity along those routes in the week before the attacks.”

Captain Harcrow raised his hand. “Sergeant Lacey, what about camera surveillance in the affected cities themselves? Haven’t we gotten anything useful from that?”

“Sir, there isn’t any camera surveillance inside the cities,” Lacey answered. “As it turns out, the federal government doesn’t have cameras watching what goes on inside each border town. If there are security cameras around, they either belong to the city governments or private businesses, and we don’t have remote access to them. When all this started, the federal government sent up high altitude aircraft to get imagery. I haven’t seen it yet, but as far as we know the aircraft aren’t seeing anything other than bodies laying around the towns, and abandoned or burned cars. My guess is that these guys are staying indoors during the day. We’re hoping we get access to drones for real-time surveillance, but it hasn’t happened yet.”

Harcrow responded, “Well, fuck. So what do we have in our favor, I.S.R.-wise?” I.S.R. was a term usually used only overseas, and meant intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.

“Captain, right now our only sources of intel are human intelligence reports and what we hear from the media. And when I say human intelligence, I’m using the broadest possible interpretation of the term. The reporting we’re getting isn’t formal, isn’t vetted, and so far isn’t being collected and analyzed in any organized way. The police have been overwhelmed with evacuees and can’t take the time to write reports like they normally would. All the cops are doing is taking brief statements from people at checkpoints, writing notes and passing them up their chain. We’ve established a shared command post at the Edinburgh PD station with the state police and we’re hearing the reports they’re receiving, but there’s no quality control process in place to make sure any of this reporting is worth a fuck. Right now we could be getting a bunch of bullshit reporting from people intentionally trying to mess up our response.”

“Is that likely?” Harcrow asked. “Do you think we’re getting lied to by whoever these people are?”

Lacey rubbed his face. “No, Captain, I don’t think so. My gut reaction is that we’re getting honest reporting. But that doesn’t mean it’s true. You know, some people are making mistakes, misinterpreting what they see, or reporting stuff they only heard but have no firsthand knowledge of. But I think they’re reporting what they honestly believe.”

“And what’s the media getting that we can use?” Nunez asked.

“The media’s getting about the same thing that the police are getting. We have guys who have been ordered to watch local and national media reporting twenty-four hours a day, and notify us in case something major comes up. Any important information we get from the media will be sent out to you ASAP.”

Lacey took another drink, then his face lit up and he slammed the water bottle down. “Holy shit, I almost forgot,” he said. “Speaking of the media, don’t expect any intrepid reporters to go forcing their way into these towns at the risk of their own lives, or any of that crap. The reason is that a media van, one of those with the satellite antennas, came from Corpus Christi and drove into Morenitos. That news crew hasn’t been heard from since they passed the police checkpoint outside the town. Cops at the checkpoint heard gunfire in the town after they lost sight of the van, and nobody’s heard shit since then. There are rumors that the TV crew was feeding live video back to their station and that the news people watching it saw them get ambushed and killed, but the station refuses to make any comment on that. My guess is that they don’t want to shake up anyone’s family until they have confirmation.”

“What about news helicopters?” Nunez asked. “Haven’t they made flights over the area?”

“One helicopter from Corpus tried it the first night,” Lacey said. “They went over Morenitos, looking for the media van. Somewhere over the town the helicopter got hit by ground fire and got the hell out of there. Nobody on the helicopter was injured and the helicopter wasn’t badly damaged, but the crew said they took tracer fire from several directions. It sounds to me like the bad guys were triangulating their fire, you know, making a coordinated effort to bring down the helicopter. It wasn’t random harassing fire like we saw overseas. The air space over the affected towns was shut down after that. There have been a few flights by Navy search and rescue helicopters from Kingsville around the perimeters of some affected towns, but they haven’t seen anything that helps us. The Navy is being real careful about where they let their helicopters go, they don’t want one to go down where the crew can’t be recovered.”

“Sergeant Lacey,” another captain asked, “is that the only air support we have? Just Navy SAR birds? No Apaches or Kiowas?”

“Sir, we have Apaches on the way. A battalion of National Guard Apaches at Ellington in Houston has gotten orders. There are twenty-four Apaches there, but six were down for regular maintenance and four others failed preflight inspections. They’ll be here tonight-ish. But they’re not going to be worth much when they first get here. Their support package of spare parts and crew chiefs has to be flown in by Chinooks or C-130s, and that hasn’t been arranged yet. On top of that, the birds don’t have any armament at their station, the only thing available is thirty millimeter ammo from Fort Hood. That’s supposed to meet them at the Brownsville airport sometime tomorrow. Maybe we’ll get Hellfires and rockets for them at some point, but even if we do there’s an absolute ‘no air strikes’ rule in effect. Once they’re in the air over the affected areas, they’re pretty much just going to be armored observation platforms.”

“And fixed wing support? Air National Guard F-16s from Houston?”

Lacey shook his head. “We’re working that issue. But no promises.”

“Well, shit,” Hacrcrow said. “Okay, so we know for the moment we have no air support. Next question. Sergeant, what’s the plan for us? How are we going to be committed?”

Lacey gave a Don’t look at me gesture, hands up and eyebrows raised. “Sir, that’s the question of the year. Since yesterday the goal has been containment of the incident, which is why the first Guard troops here were fed to the police at the checkpoints in ones and twos. All they wanted at first was bodies, no attention was paid to keeping units together. Just after midnight this morning someone figured out that we were degrading the effectiveness of the entire force, and managed to get the state disaster response people to at least keep company sized units together.”

Lacey looked around and asked, “Does this sound familiar, guys? It should. This is the same shit they do to us when we deploy overseas. Our battalions get piecemealed out and can’t function like they’re supposed to, so all we can do are force protection missions instead of full spectrum operations. This time, there isn’t anyone else available to do the full spectrum missions, just us. But they’re still parting out companies as they become available, and I guess they’re just hoping that little problem will work itself out later. Bottom line for you combat arms guys, expect your battalions to be split up and tasked as individual companies. I can’t give you any better news right now.”

A voice in the room groaned, “Geez, that sucks.”

Lacey said, “No shit.”

A captain from one of the Cavalry troops, spoke up. “Alright, we know this is a huge shitstorm and it’s going to be a fucking mess, but what do we do? What’s the first step?”

Lacey held his hand up again. “Hey sir, I can’t tell you what to do. Those orders have to come from your commander. All I can tell you is what we know, and what we don’t. And I suppose I can also tell you this. Forget rumors about the big Army coming to the rescue. They’ve been ordered to keep their hands off. Posse Commitatus is in effect. The federal government says this is a criminal matter that should be handled by law enforcement and Guard troops. We’re just here to assist law enforcement. I hope the regular Army is at least spinning up in case things get worse, but the federal representatives have been very clear about this. This is a crime, not a war. Emergency teams from the FBI and DEA are responding, plus FEMA, but they won’t enter the affected towns until we establish a presence.

“As far as directly confronting whoever these people are, that’s all on us. And because we’re just here to assist law enforcement, we can’t carry more than one magazine per rifle, no weapons larger than a 5.56 millimeter, no explosives, and no armored vehicles. That comes from General Landers, commander of the Texas National Guard. Your commanders will lay all that out to you.”

The room erupted with loud exclamations of “That’s bullshit!” and “Fuck that!” Lacey held up his hands and yelled over the noise, “Hey guys, don’t shoot the messenger! I’m not saying those rules are my idea, I’m just telling you what to expect. I know it sucks, and I guarantee you that if I roll into one of those towns, I’m going to have more than one God damn magazine. Like I said, your commanders will lay the rules out to you, then it’s up to you to decide how much you can get away with. But they give the orders, not me.”

The room quieted. The Cavalry captain gave a smirk and said, “Yeah sergeant, I know a little bit about where I’m supposed to get my orders from. I think I saw on TV once how the chain of command works. What I’m asking you, since you know the overall situation better than we do, is what are we doing about this? What’s our response?”

Lacey smirked back, “Well Captain, if you asked the people you’re supposed to, they’d probably tell you the first step is for the nearest available unit to go on a recon mission into one of the cities. When they get into their target city and report back to us what they see, we formulate a response. Until then, we’re just operating on guesses.”

“So which of us is the nearest available unit?” the captain asked, without the smartass tone this time.

“None of you are,” Lacey answered. “This shit started Friday night. A maintenance company had already reported for drill Friday morning in Cuidad Irigoyen, about forty miles north of the border. Those guys are at about two thirds strength, and have vehicles and weapons ready to go. They’re the first unit tasked for a recon, into Arriago. They were supposed to start their mission yesterday, but nobody was able to get ammo for them until today.”

Jesus Christ, Nunez thought. He jerked his hand into the air and blurted, “They’re sending an undermanned National Guard maintenance company with no heavy weapons, unarmored vehicles and one magazine per soldier into this shit first? When do they start their recon?”

Lacey looked at his watch. “If they kept to the timeline, they hit their start point about thirty minutes ago, Sergeant Nunez.”

24 Responses to “Line in the Valley, chapter 2”

  1. 1 Aesop

    Mongo like. Want rest of book!

  2. 3 Hutch

    Yes, please. All the rest, right away, that’s a good chap.

  3. 5 Doug

    Great Story! Can’t wait to read more.

    • Thanks Doug. I attended a writer’s conference this weekend and got a couple of good bites, so who knows, maybe I’ll find a traditional publisher after all.

  4. 7 Steve

    I liked your writing. I once read a book online where you could read the whole thing but the last chapter was missing until you paid $3.00. Then you could download a PDF with the whole book.

    I would do something like that for your book.

    You said that New York reviewers did not like your book. I live in Utah and maybe it is more of a regional thing. There are Latino people everywhere. I know a fair amount of Spanish. It is interesting to know about how people think and view the world.

    One thing I wonder about is how did the gangs get such a hold in Mexico. Could a thing like that happen where I live? I once read the report of some Mormon fundamentalists living just south of the border who opposed the gangs and the bad guys went to their house and killed two of the men. Why in a place where such things can happen would people live in houses that are so weak defensively? Does the presence of such evil people require a new architecture and social order? What is the story of the Mexican town where people threw out the police and took their guns and are now guarding their town themselves. There is a lot of material that could be explored.

    So keep writing and do not pay much attention to those East Coast people.

    • Steve,

      I don’t think the Hispanic part is what turns people off, I think it’s the military part. I met an agent this weekend who told me the publishing industry might like military fiction, but their target audience is usually liberal females who aren’t interested in that genre. So even if it’s the best mil fiction ever written (which I know it isn’t), it’s still a hard fight to get it pubished.

      As far as Mexico goes, it’s a mix of factors. I think the biggest factor is that so many Mexicans condoned the drug sales, because it brought so much money. By the time the whole thing went bad the cartels were so powerful they couldn’t be dislodged.

  5. 9 ljhord

    I second the comments of Aesop, Hutch & Doug! Outstanding!

  6. 11 spemack

    As always, I’ll gobble up anything with Jerry and the boys. The dialogue between Jerry and his Lieutenant reads good, sounds and feels real.

    Also, the hunt for disease ridden strippers reads well. Very to true to form.

    The briefing, to me atleast, seems to drag. Bad stuff. More bad stuff. And then more bad stuff. Oh, and have some more bad stuff. Oh, and the Feds are writing us off. Oh yeah, here is some more bad stuff. I feel like it could be a lot more effective if the Lacey just did a quick and dirty “Shit’s bad all over, we got an understrenght unit moving to contact now, everybody just hang tight. Oh, and the Navy is being lame.”

    That being said, still reads good. Can’t wait to read the rest.

    • 12 Gene (Aggie, Class of '70)

      As one born in Brownsville, lived in Harlingen, Hebbronville, Laredo, etc. I can almost SEE the terrain if not the towns. I keep expecting to hear a report on Fox any day now!

      Keep after it, Chris. You WILL get there!

    • Mack,

      I thought about shortening that briefing, but I didn’t think I could really paint the picture without that information. The reader needs to know that eight towns were attacked, emptied and sealed off; aircraft aren’t flying over, except high-altitude recon that isn’t seeing anything; many people have been murdered; commo from the towns has been disrupted; the regular military can’t get involved; and the first unit heading in, shouldn’t be heading in.

      I’m not sure how to substantially shorten that without sacrificing necessary info. I’m about to submit this story to an agent I met this weekend and went over it again last night, and I did shorten it up a bit. But I didn’t remove anything significant. Will have to think this one over.

  7. 14 delftsman3

    whats the timeline on this book being published?
    Those East Coast twerps don’t seem to know their business very well if they are panning great writing such as this, just on the basis of the lead charactor being Hispanic. A hero is a hero, no matter his ethnicity.

    I’m poor, so I tend to have to wait until the books I want to read show up at half-price books, but I’m going to look for this series at the first retail bookstore as soon as I can.

    • Delftsman,

      Not sure which avenue I’m going to pursue for publication on this one. I met a couple of very interested agents this weekend, and I’d prefer to get this out through a major publishing house. However, I’ve met very interested agents before and it didn’t work out, so I’m not holding my breath. I’m fortunate to have a small independent publisher standing by if I want to go that route.

      I don’t think the Hispanic protagonist is a problem. One agent even told me that would be a huge boost, since there aren’t that many in books.

      Thanks for the comments, and I hope to have my book in a retail store as soon as possible.

  8. 16 M. A. Baxley, Jr.

    More, please… !

  9. 17 Matt Green

    If you decide to do like another blogger named Marko Kloos has done, and put it up on Amazon, he also sold to people as a pdf file, through paypal. i know it’s not the national pub houses, but I know how slow they can be, and risk averse to trying out new writers (believe me, I share your frustration).

    Sounds like you’ve got some nibbles from real agents, and then they have to get the houses interested. Maybe a paperback original, like Larry Corriea’s first? Good luck, keep the faith, and I’ll be waiting to read more, whatever format it comes out in. it’s got my interest, and it’s very readable.

    St Paul

  10. 19 Mikey

    When I first read the sample chapter of “Proof of Our Resolve”, I couldn’t get over to Amazon, download the Kindle for PC thingie, and get that book fast enough.

    Now, after reading the “Line in the Valley” appetizers, I’ve got that familiar excitement that one gets when just starting to crack open what’s looking to be another great story… so… come on, put it out there. PDF. EPUB. Whatever, just take my money!

    I’m also seeing a killer action movie here.

  11. 21 tierlieb

    I made a point not to read other critiques beforehand to avoid just repeating them. Sorry if some things are redundant:

    First of all: I like it – good introduction to the situation. Details coming in only after questions, which makes me feel I am keeping up. And a nice background for Quincy.

    But the description of Quincy comes a bit surprising. It breaks the flow of information on that cool thing that is happening right now that I want to know more about – at least so it feels to me. Same for Nunez’ thoughts about divorce beforehand. Now if Nunez was tired and sleepy like Lacey (I feel with him, well done!), I would get this as some stream-of-consciousness thing, maybe triggered by some impressions along the way and in the room – but it might also qualify as not needed to advance the story.

    Also: Without checking again, if I remember correctly, there are a bunch of people in the briefing, but talking are Nunez, his boss and “some voice from the back”, which, to me, makes the remaining people seem like background decoration – imho they deserve the same amount of detail as the other speakers or the immersion does not work as well.

    • Tierlieb,

      Got your points. I’m not sure where else I can plug that background information into the story, and I did feel like it was a little awkward myself. Thanks for pointing it out, I’ll have to play around with some ideas.

      About the other voices in the room, that was an attempt to keep the focus on the main characters and not invest in other people who aren’t going to be central to the story. But if it feels unnatural, I’ll have to go back and take another look.

      Thanks Tierlieb, I appreciate your feedback.

  12. Hi Chris, I too like the story. It does have a good grip to it. I don’t know where it is going, ok so far. A thought though, I read somewhere that there are some 4 million Muslims in this country, there could be some collaboration or what ever there.

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