Line in the Valley, [part of] chapter 6
This is absolutely the last excerpt of Line in the Valley that I can release. Any more than this and I’ve given too much away. Hope you enjoy it, and as always I appreciate any feedback. Thanks guys.
Links to all others chapters are below:
“Reds this is Red 1, lock and load.”
Vehicles commanders acknowledged. Nunez called “Barney! Lock and load!” to his gunner, then grabbed his driver’s M4, yanked the charging handle and slammed a round into the chamber. He and Doc Corley loaded their carbines and stowed them, muzzles down. They had just weaved through the police checkpoint north of Arriago, the line of departure for their mission. The town was two miles ahead, out of sight on the other side of heavy brush.
The vehicles moved slowly. They had driven blacked out since leaving Edinburgh and slowed even more to get through the mass of police and military vehicles at the checkpoint, but from this point they could speed up. The rest of the convoy would take a while getting through, but Nunez’s platoon wasn’t waiting for them. The other vehicles would stay behind on the road anyway, and would have plenty of time to set their positions while Nunez’s platoon dismounted and walked into Arriago.
The drivers increased speed to thirty miles per hour, driving in the dark with a tiny amount of moonlight. The highway lights had been out for almost twenty miles. The lead driver had a good view through his night vision, but everyone else was doing nothing more than following the hazy outline of the humvee to their front.
Nunez checked his GPS. Quincy’s vehicle should hit the dismount point, half a mile north of Arriago, within a few minutes. He checked his handheld radio, which was jammed into a pouch on his left side. One last time, Nunez made sure his magazines were rounds-down and pointing right in the mag pouches. He slapped the forward assist on his carbine and made sure the red dot sight above his scope was on, checked his weapon and helmet lights to make sure they were in “safe” settings and wouldn’t be turned on by accident. Everything was in its place, he was ready.
The vehicles slowed, then the humvee ahead of Nunez’s swerved hard right. Nunez’s driver, Private Conway, said “Shit!” and spun the steering wheel to follow the other humvee’s move. The shadow of a car floated by on the left. Nunez was looking at it when the right side of the humvee bounced over something lumpy.
Bones crunched. The scent of decomposing flesh exploded in the humvee. Barnes, in the gun turret, said “Aw, fuck! What was that? That stinks like fucking crazy!” The men inside reacted in disgust, covering their faces and gagging at the rotten stench. Conway said, “God damn Sarge, what is that?”
Nunez blew outward, tried to get the imagined taste of maggot-infested corpse out of his mouth. All he managed to do was get a nose full of his own stale breath. He said, “You just hit a dead person,” as he grabbed the platoon radio handset.
“Red 1 this is Red 4, we need a heads up from your driver if you pass something in the road. We almost hit a car, and we ran over a dead body.”
“4 this is 1, roger that. Correcting that problem now.”
Nunez stuck the handset back on its mount. “Get a little more distance between you and the humvee in front of us.” Conway backed off. Quincy called out two more burned vehicles and four bodies during the next two minutes before he announced, “This is 1, we’re stopping at the dismount point.”
Nunez acknowledged. The convoy slowed and crept to the grid Nunez had marked on his GPS. No lights shone in the distance.
“Reds this is Red 1, no lights are on in Arriago.”
“This is Red 4, roger. I’ll call it up.”
The humvees eased to a stop. Nunez turned his dismount radio on and popped his door as Doc Corley got out on the other side. Nunez told his driver and gunner, “You guys stay cool, listen to Sergeant Allenby and stay the fuck awake. We might be screaming for help real soon.”
His men gave quiet assurances that they’d stay sharp. On both sides of the humvee soldiers jogged past Nunez, headed up front. Nunez dropped in behind them and keyed the mike on his radio to report, “Rapido 6 this is Red 4, we just hit our dismount point. How copy, over.”
“Red 4 this is Rapido 6, good copy.”
As he jogged forward the platoon formed two columns, just as they had been told during the mission brief. They would advance into town with one column on each side of the road, Quincy leading the column on the right, Staff Sergeant Burrows leading the column on the left. Nunez would stay about two thirds of the way back in the left column and was responsible for all the reporting to Captain Harcrow.
Nunez jogged to the front of the left column and spoke to each soldier, making a quick roll call, then did the same thing for the right column. Everyone was in place. He jogged to Quincy and whispered, “We’re accounted for.”
“Cool. Let’s roll.”
Quincy waved his arm forward. The signal was repeated down both columns as the soldiers began their move. Nunez fell into the left column as the men broke into a speed walk. He held his weapon in close, muzzle down, looking everywhere into the darkness and seeing nothing. If the enemy had another ambush waiting outside town, the platoon might lose a lot of guys.
The troops up front broke into a slow run, just faster than a shuffle. Nunez had already been hot and sweaty from the summer night humidity, but within fifty meters of starting the run he felt a layer of sweat cover everything. He and the others had been without a shower for days, and he could smell his underarm stink as he bounced down the road.
Ahead of him a few soldiers mumbled something unintelligible. Nunez was pissed at the breach of noise discipline until the smell hit him, causing him to mutter “Fuck!” like everyone else. His column weaved to the right around another body. Nunez caught a quick sight of it in the moonlight. A fat old woman on her face with her knees bent under her, hands clasped behind a hollowed out eggshell of a skull. Something inside her head bounced a dull reflection into Nunez’s eyes. He held his breath until his boots cleared the halo of stained pavement around the body, then forced himself to breathe normally again.
A man ahead stumbled, but kept his footing. Darkened structures lined both sides of the highway. Muzzles came up to cover the structures as they passed. Each one was an ambush waiting to happen. The town stayed silent at the platoon’s arrival, until a few dogs barked from a safe distance. Nunez wondered if the dogs were looking for bodies to eat.
The right column jogged around a burned-out truck. The faint aroma of charred flesh hit Nunez, nowhere near as bad as the choking stench of the dead woman had been. He recognized the smell, this wasn’t the first time he had been around it. The others didn’t seem to react.
Quincy’s breathless voice huffed over the radio. “Red trucks, halt your move. Red trucks, halt and establish security.”
“Red 3 roger.” Nunez heard brakes squeak as 2nd platoon’s humvees stopped less than fifty meters behind them. If the rest of the company was sticking to the plan, third platoon should be stopped about a mile to their rear, second platoon halting just behind first platoon’s vehicles to dismount their soldiers and run into town behind Nunez’s platoon.
The column slowed to a fast walk, then stopped. After five seconds everyone took a knee, faced outward and peered out into the night. A voice on the radio whispered, “Red 4 this is Red 1, come to me.”
Nunez rose to a crouch and shuffled to the front of the platoon. Quincy was on one knee at the front of the right column, looking through binoculars. He handed them to Nunez and whispered, “The maintenance convoy is about four hundred meters ahead. I don’t see any activity around it.”
Nunez took the binoculars. Straight down the road he was able to make out the silhouette of a five ton truck and two humvees ahead of it. The five ton was at an angle, nose pointing to the right side of the road, tailgate down. Nondescript clumps dotted the street. Even though Nunez couldn’t make out the shapes from this distance, he knew what they were. He handed the binoculars back to Quincy and keyed his radio.
“Rapido 6 this is Red 4, we have the convoy in sight. We’re holding our position until White catches up.”
“Rapido 6 roger.”
A harried voice jumped on the radio. “Red 4 this is White 4, we’re almost to you.”
Nunez rogered. In the distance, above the dull whisper of wind noise, Nunez heard the thumping of helicopter blades. Far south, on the other side of town. He looked into the sky, knowing he wouldn’t see them. The helicopters flew blacked out, lights visible only through night vision devices. Nunez keyed up again.
“Rapido 6 this is Red 4, we hear rotors. Can you confirm our air support is on station?”
“Red 4 Rapido 6, roger that. We just established commo with them on the air frequency.”
Boots slapped concrete to the rear. Nunez looked back down the lines of soldiers and heard the noise slow and stop, but couldn’t see second platoon.
“Red 4 this is White 4, we’re caught up to you.”
“Roger. The convoy is less than half a kilometer ahead.”
Quincy stood up and motioned upward. The platoon rose as one. Quincy gave the signal to move out. Nunez stayed on his knee, waiting to fall in to his spot in the left column. He keyed up as his soldiers walked past.
“White 4 and Rapido 6 this is Red 4, we’re moving to the convoy.”
Nunez looked back until he saw second platoon. They were in two columns, just behind first platoon. Nunez sidestepped into his column and moved out. The highway widened to three lanes. The men spread out, one column on each side of the street. The platoon passed short blocks of run down restaurants and convenience stores. The scent of dead fires followed them. The black outline of a five ton truck rose from the darkness, a hundred meters ahead. Nunez looked up as they passed a street sign: Nogales and 5th.
Arriago was silent. Nunez’s platoon slowed as they approached the five ton. Quincy keyed the radio and said, “White 1 this is Red 1, we’re stopping at the convoy, flow around –”
“St-stop, motherfucker! Halt!”
Two platoons of soldiers dropped flat onto the street. The noise sounded like thunder in the dark. Nunez popped his head up, wanting to yell at the point man to shut the fuck up.
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