Free Short Stories

I’ve always liked short stories, they are an art unto themselves. Compacting all of the elements of a full-length novel into a fraction of the size is harder than it looks. Some authors start out writing novels and end up with a short story. That’s happened to me but usually I set them aside for a second effort rather than publish them as-is.

The stories you’ll find here came about due to a writing exercise. I wanted to write an individual  story for each character in the jack Randall world but have them cross paths with all of the other characters in the same 24 hour period. Its a nightmare of pacing and timeline issues but I enjoyed the challenge. I’ll keep two up here on this page and rotate them in and out every so often. If a new one should pop up I’ll give everyone a heads-up on the home page. These stories can also be found in a complete book called TIME if you’d rather not wait.

Hope you enjoy them,

Randall

 

Six hours with Larry

            The ringing phone somewhere under the clutter next to his arm shook Larry out of the case file he was currently in and he dug under the layers of paperwork to reach it. The digital readout on the phone told him it was the front desk. He frowned as he reached out and punched the button. Please, not today, he told the phone.

            “Agent Tanner?”

            “Larry, its Karen at the desk. Guess who wants to talk?”

            “No, no, not today, Karen. Please?”

            “She’s asking for you. She won’t talk to anybody but you.”

            “Have Anderson pay her a visit.”

            “She told me she can’t stand him. Calls him a smart-ass.”

            “It’s not even my case,” he pleaded.

            “You know better than that. She’s on line 5-0.”

            Larry grimmissed and ran a hand through his already mussed hair before tossing the file aside and letting the chair fall back to its limit with a heavy sigh. He was trapped.

            “Alright, put her through.”

            Larry braced himself for the nasal twang about to come through the phone. He’d been talking with this woman about once a week for the last few months. Her name was Bertha Hawkins, but she went by Bert to her friends. A group Larry had somehow joined with much regret. She lived out in the Maryland farm country in a single-wide trailer with several cats and a husband who’d come home from Korea with a plate in his head. A small woman, she more than made up for her size with attitude. Even at her advanced age she was not one to back down and was more than willing to get out her favorite shotgun if she felt the conversation called for it. Depending on Bert’s current mood  her husband spent his time smoking and drinking, either inside on an ancient recliner, or in one of the many Ford products parked out on the lawn. None of  the Fords had moved in many years. The farm they lived on had once been over two-hundred acres in size, but bad management and poor decisions had reduced that to a plot just large enough to hold the trailer and another like it.

            The second trailer housed the connection between Larry and Bert, at least on occasion. Bert had produced one son who managed to father twin boys named Daniel and Donald before being shot to death while robbing a liquor store when the boys were only five. The mother disappeared shortly thereafter leaving the boys for Bert to raise. Something she had never asked for, as she had informed Larry on several occasions.

            The boys had received little guidance from her and it was no surprise to anyone when they eventually took up the family business. The petty theft had started in high school and after a stint in juvenile hall they quickly dropped out of school all together. Both brothers soon had short stays in jail under their belts for burglary and dealing in stolen property. During a brief period when they both happened to be out of jail at the same time they decided to move up the criminal ladder and took up bank robbery.

            Like their grandmother they were fond of shotguns and soon developed the signature of blasting the doors of the bank open on their way in. It worked rather well as the patrons and workers of the bank were usually too terrified to think and just handed over the money. After a few robberies they ran into an off duty cop waiting in line. He managed to put a bullet through Daniel’s back as they tried to escape and Donald made it as far as the hospital before he died. That had been four months ago and his brother had since taken revenge on two highway patrolman, hitting one with his car and shooting another in the leg putting both in the hospital for long stays. The local cops were in a foul mood and it was predicted that Donny wouldn’t survive his arrest when it happened. Since one of the banks was in the District, and Larry had a record of successful collars when dealing with bank robbery, he had found himself traveling out to Bert’s trailer to question her. For some reason the old woman had decided that Larry was her guy and refused to talk to anyone else since.

            Larry had spoken long and often with Bert about little Donny, as she liked to call him. Words like worthless, lazy and crazy had dominated the conversations. She agreed that what he was doing was wrong. She knew he had hurt people. She believed he was a drug addict who would rob, steel and assault whoever and whatever it took to get what he wanted. Yet, she was reluctant to turn him in. Larry didn’t want to answer the phone as he knew from past experience that it would most likely amount to nothing in the way of progress and cost him several hours of his time. He glanced at the clock as he got comfortable, accepting the fact that the rest of his day was most likely shot to hell.

            He took a deep breath and punched the button.

            “Hello, Bert.”

            “Larry? That you?”

            “Yeah, Bert, it’s me.”

            “Anybody lisnin?”

            “No Bert, it’s just you and me. What’s on your mind?”

            “Donny’s coming home.”

            “That so?” Larry had heard this one before.

            “Yup, little bastard’s in town somewhere and drunk as usual. Called me up and asked me for money. Believe that?”

            “Doesn’t surprise me Bert. What’s he coming home for this time?”

            “Wants his gear. Says the cops are looking everywhere for him so he’s going to Virginia. Says he’s gonna stay up in the mountains for awhile. He can do that ya know. He’s good out in the woods and stuff.”

            “So he’s just coming home for his camping gear?”

            “What he said. I told him to come and get it. He can stay up in them damn mountains forever for all I care. Worthless piece of shit.”

            Larry sat up and hunted for a clean sheet of paper on his desk. There were two things that were different. Bert had said Donny was in town and she had never given him a location before. Two, the camping gear story made sense. Donny and his brother would often hide up in the mountains between banks.

            “Okay Bert, but why you calling me if he’s heading to the mountains?”

            “Told him I didn’t have any money to give cuz I don’t. Said he’d get some for himself after he picked up his gear. If he’s drunk while he’s robbing somebody he’ll just fuck it up and get himself shot. He’s stupid, but he’s all I got.”

            As usual Bert was worried about Donny and not the people he was robbing. Larry let it go and just plowed ahead.

            “So you want someone out there to pick him up when he comes?”

            “Not just someone Larry, I want you. Don’t bring that smart-ass Anderson with you. Bastard keeps calling me to tell him where Donny is so he can go shoot him. I don’t trust him. Just come get him and take him to jail, at least he’s safe there.”

            Larry stifled an inner groan. The last thing he wanted to do was make a trip out to Bert’s trailer on a Friday night. He was supposed to see his daughter up in Baltimore tonight for the weekend. She was expecting her first child in a few days.

            “Okay Bert, what times he coming?”

            “Hell I don’t know. Whenever he’s done drinking I guess, less he passes out first. Worthless I tell ya.”

            “Alright, I’ll come out. You sure he’s coming this time?”

            “Is what he said.”

            “Okay, I’ll call before I drive up the street.”

            “Alright then, remember; you promised not to hurt him?”

            “I promise Bert,” and a million other lies, he thought. “I’ll see you soon.”

            Larry hung up the phone and drummed his fingers on the desk for a moment before picking it back up.

            “Karen, can you get me Greg at HRT please?

*  

            Larry bounced against his seatbelt as he made his way down the rutted dirt road leading to the trailer. The ruts were worse than the last time he was here and he did his best to keep his speed up and the car on the road least he wind up in one of the stagnant water-filled ditches on either side. The trailer came into view over the tall grass growing up around and through the rusting hulks parked throughout the yard. The trailer and its surroundings were the epitome of every white-trash stereotype he had ever heard. The cars up on blocks. Garbage strewn everywhere. Broken rusting appliances. Piles of beer cans spilling out of the cars. A mongrel dog barked at him from a patch of dirt worn into a circle at the end of its chain and a burn barrel gave off a few wisps of smoke from whatever they had decided to throw in that day. The trailer itself had two colors of shingle adorning the roof and a plywood front porch that listed to one side. Bert stood in the doorway behind the torn screen door.

            Larry parked carefully between two of the cars, pulling in as far as he dared in an attempt to hide the car. He shifted his gun out of his ribs and pulled his suit coat around his considerable bulk before exiting the car. The smell hit him like a punch in the face. He gazed around and examined the windows of the trailer next door before clearing his nose loudly. He couldn’t help it. The place smelled of dogshit, burning garbage and defeat, and would only get worse once he was inside. He steeled himself for it as he walked to the front door, doing his best to see around Bert and into the filthy windows of the trailer. He doubted that Donny had finished getting his drink on, but one never knew. He didn’t wish to meet the business end of a shotgun when he stepped through the door.

            “Hello, Bert. Donny home yet?”

            Bert flicked ashes on the carpet before replying.

            “Hell no. He’s just getting started. He’ll be along.”

            She pushed the door open and Larry took a deep breath before climbing the three steps to enter the dark space. Cats ran out between his legs as he stepped inside and the stuffy interior immediately assaulted his nose. The ammonia from the cat urine was so strong it made his eyes water.

            Once his pupils adjusted he saw that the inside of the trailer had not changed since his last visit. A combination of dirty clothes, garbage, beer cans and dirty dishes occupied every flat surface and the floor. Paths led through the mounded debris, one toward the back of the trailer and another into the kitchen. Larry couldn’t see an unoccupied space on the small counter or table. The sink contained nothing but dirty dishes and a cooking pot with something growing in it. The buzz of flies was thick in the air.

            “Come on in and have a seat.”

            Bert led him down the left path and Larry’s eyes jumped from here to there as several more cats moved around and over the piles. Mostly calicos and mixed breeds  camouflaged by the clutter. He startled himself when he noticed Bert’s husband sitting perfectly still in the middle of the room on a worn recliner, gazing at him without expression. Larry struggled to remember the man’s name as he stared back at him. The two scars on his head stood out in the thin hair. One above the eye was jagged and ugly while the other ran from ear to ear and was ruler straight. Larry tried not to look after giving him a nod and a smile.

            Bert stopped at a couch loaded down with black garbage bags. She pulled two off and tossed them aside, scattering cats and stirring up the flies, before continuing on to the dark hallway. Larry listened for additional footsteps or voices but heard nothing. He stuck a hand behind his back to rest on his Colt Python .357 while he listened. Determining that Bert was alone, he pulled his cell phone from a pocket and tapped out a quick text. He kept the phone in his hand while carefully sitting on the couch. He didn’t lean back. The last suit he had worn here had been deemed unsalvageable after making that mistake and Larry couldn’t afford to repeat it.

            Bert’s husband, whatever his name was, continued to follow Larry’s movements with the same lifeless stare. Larry just returned it occasionally while he took in the room. Feeling a breeze on his arm he looked over to see a hole in the wall of the trailer. It was about six inches around and surrounded by several smaller holes. Larry’s cop brain quickly labeled the source as a shotgun.

            His host returned in time to follow Larry’s gaze. She offered a one-word explanation.

            “Christmas.”

            Larry just nodded as if that was self-explanatory and watched while Bert handed her husband a quart bottle of cheap vodka. It came with simple two-word instructions.

            “Outside, Earl.”

            Earl was his name! Larry shook his head as Earl showed immediate signs of life. He latched onto the bottle and heaved himself to his feet. Navigating the path by muscle memory he was soon out the door and heading for his favorite Ford. His odor lingered long after he was gone. Bert watched him go with a look of disgusted tolerance. Larry recalled that with the farm gone the only income they had was Earls disability check. Without that,  the last Christmas may have been Earls last.

            Bert scrutinized the food and sweat stains on the recliner before pulling an empty bottle out from under the cushion. It was tossed into the nearest pile without fanfare and replaced by her boney ass. She lit a cigarette and clamped down hard on it with pursed lips, taking a heavy drag before flicking more ash on the carper with yellow fingers.

            “So what now?”

            “Well, we wait. Unless you know where he is in town? Might be easier for you if we did it somewhere else.”

            She waved the suggestion away with the cigarette.

            “Boy hates me already. Specially when he wants money. Cussed me out good till I said come and get his shit and go. Ungrateful piece of shit.”

            “I’m sorry Bert.”

            “Wasn’t always like this ya know. Both of um was sweet kids. Little daddy’s boys. Right up till that nigger in the liquor store shot him anyway. Their mother was trash. Started doing meth and just never came home one night. Just as well. Wouldn’t listen to me or nobody.”

            Larry bit his tongue. He’d heard all of this before too. Bert was a bitter old woman. Raised a racist and determined to pass it on. Firmly convinced that the world was against her from day one and more than ready to place the blame for all her troubles on anyone other than herself. Larry hoped this wasn’t the start of another one of her long tirades, but he knew the odds of that were slim once she got started. He shifted to a more comfortable position without leaning back. If he was going to be a captive audience he may as well prepare for it. From his seat he could see out the window and down the dirt road. If Donny decided to show up early Larry would see the dust cloud approaching long before he arrived. There was only about an hour of daylight left. All he could hope for was Donny running out of drinking money early. Hopefully he wouldn’t try to replace it before he came home to his grandmother.  

            Bert continued her rant against the world for the next two hours as the sun slowly set. The story changed constantly. One minute Donny was a good boy who just fell in with the wrong crowd. Then he was a worthless, ungrateful, disobedient child who was destined for prison and nothing else, only to become a boy scout again a few minutes later. Bert pulled a photo album from a pile somewhere and Larry endured a re-telling of the life and times of Donny Hawkins. Donny and his brother in the tub together. Donny with the family dog. Donny riding a dirt-bike. Donny working on one of the Fords. Donny posing with a shotgun. Even a family shot of the whole clan in front of a Christmas tree, Bert with her ever-present cigarette. Then the pictures just stopped. The last thing Larry saw was a newspaper article covering the bank robbery and his brother’s death.

            There were no more pictures after that.

            Bert closed the book with a sigh, finally out of steam. Larry just waited. He knew that if he gave her room to speak she would fill the silence, and he was perfectly content to let her do so.

            “I don’t wanna read another story like that one. That’s why I called you.”

            “It’s the best thing Bert. You’re probably saving his life.”

            She shrugged. “Maybe.”

            They sat in silence for awhile and Larry heard the sound of heavy snoring coming from out in the yard. Evidently Earl had finished his vodka dinner and was now sleeping in off behind the wheel.

            Good.

            Larry’s phone vibrated just as he saw the headlight approaching. He read the text and then watched the light get closer long enough to determine that the approaching vehicle was a car minus a headlight rather than a motorcycle. It was most likely a Ford.

            Larry rose from the couch and pulled the Python from its holster. That got Bert’s attention.

            “Don’t you hurt him Larry, you promised!” she snapped at him.

            “Long as he behaves Bert, he’ll be fine. I want you to answer him when he gets to the yard and then get yourself back in the bedroom.”

            “But…”

            “Just do it Bert! And if I see that damn shotgun of yours you’ll be going in with him. Then Earls check can go to the state instead, understand?”

            Bert mumbled some curses under her breath but wisely kept her mouth shut.

            Larry crept to the entrance of the kitchen and found some cover in front of the refrigerator. Peering through the gap left by the open front door he watched as the car drove right past his and parked in the dogs area with a cloud of dust. The dog scrambled out of the way and barked furiously at the driver. As the dust cleared Larry could just make him out. The profile was familiar after two hours of looking at the man’s photo’s.

            It was Donny.

            He kicked the door of the car open and yelled at the dog before reaching into the back seat. He emerged with a paper bag in one hand and a shotgun in the other. The shotgun went up to rest on his shoulder while he took a pull on the contents of the bag. Larry searched the darkness behind him but saw nothing. The dog continued to bark but for some reason Donny chose not to yell at it again and instead addressed the trailer.

            “Ma?”

            Larry nodded to Bert who frowned at him before answering.

            “In here!”

            Donny stopped to take a final drink before throwing the bottle at the dog. It ducked and the bottle disappeared into the tall grass. The shotgun came down off the shoulder and he held it ready as he approached the door.

            “You alone Ma?”

            “Yeah.”

            Something in her voice didn’t sit well in Donny’s pickled brain. He paused ten feet from the door and took a look around. Larry’s car could barely be seen in the faint moonlight and Donny hadn’t noticed it yet among the Fords.

            The dog stopped barking long enough for Earls snoring to be heard. Donny turned in that direction and peered out into the darkness. Earl had chosen the car right next to Larry’s to consume his liquid dinner. His shape could be seen crammed into the space behind the wheel. Donny stared until he figured out what it was he was seeing.

            Then he noticed the car.

            The shotgun came up and a shell was jacked into the chamber as he spun around on the trailer.

            Two shotgun blasts obliterated the silence of the night. Bert screamed something foul and moved to get out of her seat. She stopped when the barrel of Larry’s Python stared her in the face.

            “Sit your ass down!” Larry ordered.

            A glare of newfound hatred was her only answer.

            Larry listened to the voices outside and looked out the filthy windows to see black shapes moving around the yard. Flashlight beams cut through the dark as the dog barked and a man began to moan in pain.

            “Larry?”

            “I’m okay!”

            “Coming in.”

            “Clear.”

            Greg entered the trailer behind a still warm shotgun. He was dressed in black from head to toe and looked like an alien with the nigh-vision goggles strapped to his head. He took in the situation and scanned the room before walking over to Bert. Pulling a plastic cuff from his belt he stood her up and cuffed her before planting her back in the seat. Another team member came in and cleared the rest of the trailer before standing over Bert.

            “Bastards! You shot my boy!”

            “Relax Bert, he’s fine.”

            She didn’t want to hear it and just continued cursing them. Larry ignored her and walked outside and over to the man on the ground. He was gasping for breath between curses and rolling back and forth on his cuffed hands. One of the men standing over him pulled out a knife and cut his filthy t-shirt open.

            The bruises from the sandbag rounds were large and from the looks of their locations, very painful. The medic probed Donny’s chest and ribs with his hands before pulling out a stethoscope for a listen.

            “Couple of cracked ribs maybe, but his lungs are clear. Should be okay, but he’ll need an x-ray to be sure.”

            “I’m sure there’s a hospital on the way to the jail. If you can clear him he belongs to the troopers now.”

            Donny finally got his breath back and started cussing them. The medic calmly reached out and poked him in the ribs. Donny screamed in pain before quickly shutting up.

            “Hey shithead. These state troopers are going to take you in. Seeing how you tried to kill two of their buddies, I’d think real hard about what I had to say if I were you. Otherwise it might be a long and bumpy ride to jail with those cracked ribs.”

            Donny was just too stupid to take the advice.

            “Fuck you, cop!” He retched loudly but before he could spit at them the medic flicked him hard in the throat. Donny ended up sucking the saliva into his lungs instead and ended up with a painful coughing fit. The medic just shook his head.

            “You can’t fix stupid.”

            He pulled the remains of Donny’s t-shirt up and over his head and face to prevent another spitting attempt before looking up at the troopers.

            “He’s all yours.”

            The troopers moved forward and grabbed Donny by the arms, hauling him to his feet like a sack of garbage. Larry and the HRT members just watched as they loaded him in the back of the cruiser. Once he was secured in the back one of them returned and shook hands all around.

            “Thanks for stepping up so fast boys, and very well done. I’ll be calling Bob’s wife once he’s in his cell so she can tell her husband that we got him. I’m sure some beer will find its way to you.”

            “Well, you just tell him we’re all pulling for him.”

            “Will do.”

            They watched in silence as Donny was driven away. Larry was startled by the dog nudging his hand. He obliged without thinking and stroked its head. He needed a shower anyway.

            “Cant believe I got so close without that dog barking,” Greg commented.

            Larry eyed the dog for a moment before moving his hand behind its head and snapping his fingers. The dog didn’t even flinch.

            “I think he’s deaf.”

            “I guess you’re just not as good as you thought boss.”

            They all shared a laugh at that and the stress of the evening lessened some.

            “Maybe it was your skill that kept that liquor bottle from hitting you?” one of the team ventured.

            “Son-of-a-bitch was close. Missed my head by inches. But they can miss all they want, as long as we don’t. Nice job guys.” Greg answered before turning to Larry. “What’s next for you?”

            “I’m done for the night. I’ll write up my report on Monday. Right now I’m off to Baltimore to see my daughter. Can we meet up Monday afternoon and finish up then?”

            “Sure, have a good one Larry.”

            Larry shook hands all around before heading for his car. He was halfway there when an agent called to him from the trailer.

            “Hey Larry, she wants to talk to you.”

            “That’s nice.” Larry didn’t even slow down.

            They watched with amusement as Larry pulled the fake magnetic civilian license plate from his bureau car to reveal the government one underneath before climbing in. He was soon lost in the darkness, leaving the team to contemplate Earl, who was still sitting in the Ford, just watching.

            Larry left the radio off and let himself relax as he found the interstate and headed north to Baltimore. Traffic was light as it was now well after rush hour. He kept the car near the speed limit and as a result traffic whizzed by him on both sides. He had just passed Fort Meade when a motorcycle passed him at what seemed double his speed. He got a good enough look at the driver to make him smile.

            Just outside of Baltimore his phone rang. He winced as it was most likely work calling and he didn’t want to think about Donny Hawkins any more tonight, but the small screen informed him it was his son-in-law calling.

            “Hello Jason, I’m about twenty minutes from your place.”

            “Well, you better change directions. Pam just went into labor early. We just got to Johns Hopkins.”

            “Really? Doc say how long?”

            “Uhh…if you hurry you might make it.”

            “Oh…damn. Okay, I’m on my way.”

            He picked up the pace and followed the signs to the proper exit. Navigating the streets he quickly found the emergency parking lot and grabbed the first spot he saw. It was a noisy place with a couple of arriving ambulances. They killed their sirens just as a jet flew overhead. Larry bailed out of the car and glanced up to see a business jet that reminded him of his resent trip to Africa. He shook the memory off and found an entrance.

            Skirting around the busy emergency room he made his way to a large bank of elevators. He looked for a sign that would tell him which floor but didn’t see one. A speaker directly over his head started to scream at him as the elevator arrived.

            “Dr. Dayo to trauma one stat. Dr. Dayo to trauma room one stat.”

            The doors opened with a welcoming ding only to reveal a large man dressed in surgical scrubs and a white coat. They collided in the doorway.

            “I’m sorry,” the man apologized without breaking stride. Larry caught a glimpse of his name on the coat; M. Dayo.

            “No problem.” Larry answered. As the doors started to close he shouted a question to the retreating surgeon.

            “Where’s maternity?”

            “Sixth floor!”

            “Thanks,” Larry told the closed door.

            He rode up in silence and when the doors opened saw a small waiting room occupied by his pacing son-in-law.

            “Well?”

            “Anytime now.”

            “You didn’t want to stay with her?”

            “She knows I don’t have the stomach for that, she kicked me out when I turned green.”

            Larry smiled at that. His daughter was type A all the way. She was probably telling the doctor what to do right now. He looked for a seat that was out of the way of Jason’s pacing but before he could sit they were interrupted.

            “Mr. Morton?”

            They both turned to find a nurse had appeared in the doorway as if by magic. She was smiling.

            “Yes?”

            “Would you like to meet your son?”

            “Yes…very much.”

            They followed the nurse to the room to find Pam laying in bed, still covered in sweat but smiling down at a little bundle of pink in her arms.

            “Pam?”

            Pam pulled her gaze from her new baby long enough to see them approaching.

            “Dad, you made it.”

            “Almost.” Larry stepped back to let his son-in-law arrive first.

            “Here, honey. Hold your son.”

            Larry circled the bed while his daughter handed the baby over to his father. They both watched him settle into a nearby chair.

            “Baby’s come with hats?” he observed.

            “Yeah, they do.” Larry answered.

            He leaned down to give his daughter a long hug and a kiss on the head. Just like he did when she was his little girl.

            Sitting back and watching he saw his new grandson latch onto his father’s finger. He turned to see his daughters reaction and was surprised to see her looking back at him with a puzzled expression.

            “What’s the matter honey?”

            “Well…”

            “What?”

            “I’m sorry daddy but…you kinda stink.”

            Larry had to smile.

            “Yeah, it’s a long story. I’ll explain it all later.”

Twelve Hours with Larry, Copyright Randall Wood, 2013

 

Two Hours with Jack

 

The sound of the overhead explosion cut through the sporadic rifle fire and echoed across the city. The soldiers and militiamen alike all paused to gaze up at the sky and watch the crippled helicopter limp to the east trailing a cloud of thick smoke. The radio’s crackled to life with multiple voices crowding an already busy net.

“You’ve been hit!”

“Heavy smoke from the tail rotor.”

“Set it down Bull.”

 “Tail is sluggish.”

“Set it down!”

“Let Six-one make the call!”

“I’ve got the field in sight, gonna try and make it.”

“Smokes getting worse.”

“I’m …I’m losing the tail.”

“Super six-one is going down! Super six-one is going down!”

“Damn it…”

“Hold on!”

Jack shook his head to re-seat his helmet as the he listened to the radio chatter from the crashing helicopter. Rounds still zipped down the alley with their now familiar sound and the Ranger across the alley from him spun to return fire. After a couple short bursts the kid turned and gave him a thumbs-up. Jack just nodded in return. Unlike Jack and his fellow operators, the Ranger wore a standard Kevlar helmet with no communications gear. Jack wore a black hockey helmet that contained both an ear piece and a throat mic. The kid had no way of knowing that another Blackhawk had just been shot down.

The mission had just gotten drastically worse.

Jack turned to look back at the Blackhawk he was guarding. It had come down on upright on the roof of a building only to fall onto its side in a narrow alley leaving the nose crumpled around the two dead pilots in the front. The rotors had shattered on impact sending shards of carbon fiber across the neighborhood. The tail section showed the damage from the RPG that had shot it down and it was now full of bullet holes from the incoming rifle fire. Some Rangers and a couple of his fellow Delta soldiers were attempting to get the bodies free while Jack and a few others kept the enemy fire suppressed as well as their small numbers could. One man was actually digging in the dirt that had plowed up around the nose on impact with a piece of a shattered rotor blade. So far Jack hadn’t seen much progress.

“Where’s the damn convoy?”

“I don’t know!”

Ignoring the radio chatter that had started up again Jack took off his helmet, closed his eyes and let his mouth fall open, listening hard to the sounds around him. The noise of a ferocious fire-fight seemed to come from all directions but eventually Jack filtered out the sporadic weapons chatter and turned his head to the east. The sound of a fifty caliber machine gun going cyclic traveled from left to right. Jack planted his helmet back on his head and pressed down on his throat mic.

“They’re to our east! Traveling south I think!”

“How the…okay.”

Jack saw a head poke around a corner a block down and leveled his CAR-15 in that direction. When it poked out again the familiar outline of the Kevlar helmet was the only thing that saved the Rangers life. Jack waved the man forward and he quickly turned the corner and crossed the road with seven more following.

“Friendlies to the east! Covering fire!”

 Jack pointed to make sure the Ranger across from him shot in the right direction. The approaching soldiers crossed the street one by one and hugged the wall until they got to Jack. There were eight of them.

“Chalk seven”, the lead man yelled.

“Okay, get off the wall before you catch a bullet! You two, I want a SAW there and there. Four more of you cover the road to the south. You two go help in the bird. Yell if you see the convoy!”

To their credit they didn’t ask questions, but then again that’s how they were programed. Jack and his fellow Delta operators had been surprised by the Hoo-rah mentality of the Rangers. They were good soldiers; young, in shape, and fired-up for war. But free thinking was not their long suit. The suppression of everything other than the orders of their officers was contrary to the way Delta operated. Thinking was their number one skill. For the Rangers it was: Don’t think-Just do, while for Delta it was always , think first.  It had been an uncomfortable clash of fighting styles from the start. But the Rangers saw the Delta boys as the pinnacle of their profession and treated them as such. In their eyes Jack was a God of War and they jumped when he spoke.

Jack now watched as they deployed themselves around the intersection. One Ranger had his SAW working soon after he got into position and the rapid fire served to give the others confidence. Two of them kicked in a door down the street and cleared the space before setting up in the recessed doorway. Using hand signals, Jack repositioned three of them until he was satisfied that the rear approach to the crash site was protected as well as it could be. He stood briefly for a better look down the hill to the south. He saw a mass of skinnies approaching. Some of them didn’t even look like they had weapons. He could see woman and children among them. The warlord Adid had told his people that the Americans would not fire at them if they had woman or children with them. Some had already learned the folly of that statement, but most had not. It gave the Rangers and the Delta soldiers some hard decisions. Incoming fire came in from the crowd but Jack could not pinpoint its source.

Jack fired a burst in the crowd’s direction and several of the Somalis’ scattered to reveal a man lying in the road. He had three women sitting around him with their hands covering their ears as he fired in the direction of the downed helicopter. Something tugged at Jacks arm and he examined it to see a hole punched through the sleeve. Cursing, he dropped to a knee and flung a flash-bang grenade in the direction of the shooter. Two of the women were knocked over by the blast but quickly rose to their feet and fled with the third. The gunner rose to follow and Jack cut him down with another burst before he had gone two steps.

“Getting a little crowded over here Tim.”

“I hear ya Jack.” His partner answered from somewhere on the other side of the crash-sight.

“You see the convoy?”

“No, but I can hear em.”

Jack wasn’t sure what that meant so he didn’t bother answering, he checked on the Rangers as one of them fired on an unseen threat down the street. So far the Somalis were keeping a distance but Jack knew that would change as their numbers increased. His radio told him more air support was coming but it took time to reload and fuel the mini birds, and until they had the reloads timed, the men on the ground would be on their own for short periods. It was time the Somali’s would use to get closer.

Jacks gaze caught some motion and he found himself staring in amazement as a cow wandered out into the middle of the street. Bullets danced all around it but it made it unscathed to the other side only to appear again a moment later as it tried to cross again. An old man with white in his afro attempted to cross behind the cow and use it for cover with the barrel of his ancient AK spitting rounds down the road. Jack altered his aim to fire at the man but before he could a Blackhawk thundered overhead with its mini-guns blazing and raked the street. The cow and several Somalis fell as one and the remaining crowd fled leaving several of them kicking and screaming in pools of blood in the dusty street. The scene changed from a teaming mass of hostile skinny’s to a deserted road of death as the dust cloud cleared leaving Jack without a target. He ducked back into the doorway as hot brass rained down on them from the sky.

“Hey Jack?” Tim’s calm voice drawled in his ear.

“Yeah?”

“Maybe we better mark our position better?”

Jack laughed. “Ya think?”

Not wanting to get shot by their own helicopters they needed to let them know exactly where they were. Jack whistled until he had the attention of the Ranger across the street. He turned him around with hand signals and got him working his SAW down the street that Jack was covering. Jack then dug in a pocket and pulled out a panel marker. Nothing more than two feet of reflective orange banner it was used to tell anyone in the air where friendly’s were located. Jack tied it to a brick so the rotor wash wouldn’t blow it away and heaved it out into the road. It landed and rolled, twisting the banner into a ball.

“Shit.”

The Ranger saw what happened and started to rise to go fix it but Jack waved him back down. He pumped a fist instead and the Ranger responded by going cyclic down the road, the SAW spitting lead at a rate of 1100 rounds a minute. Jack took a breath and sprinted out into the street. He flipped the banner back over until it was flat and sprinted back through the flying lead to the cover of the doorway. Doing a quick self-inventory, he failed to find any new holes. He exhaled with a loud groan.

“You okay Jack?”

“Yeah, just stupid.”

“Get that marker placed?”

“Fuck you.”

Tim laughed. “How’s your side look?”

“I got a crowd, maybe half of them armed. You?”

“Small groups. They keep probing.” His answer was punctuated by a three-round burst of fire. “Any luck in the bird?”

Jack craned his neck around for a look down the alley. Someone had pulled the Kevlar floor panels out of the Blackhawk and placed them around the crumbled frame. He spotted a Ranger lying between two of them providing cover for the soldiers inside. The panels blocked Jack’s view.

“None that I can see. The pilots have to be wedged in pretty tight. We’ll need some serious tools to get them out.”

“Shit.”

There was no talk of leaving the trapped bodies of their pilots behind and retreating simply because the thoughts never entered their heads. They kept their focus on the fight. It was a fight they would stay in as long as necessary.

Jack held his breath and squinted against the dust as a little bird made another low pass and fired rockets down the street at the growing crowd. Jack used the dust cloud kicked up by the rotors to hide himself as he crossed the street to the Rangers position. He dropped down behind the SAW gunner and looked up the road.

“What do you see?”

“Buncha skinnies are grouped up around that far corner!”

As if to punctuate the statement a rifle appeared around the corner and fired in their direction. The gunner squeezed off a burst and the gun fell into the road as the arms holding it spouted a shower of blood. Another man ran out to grab the rifle but was also dropped by the SAW gunner. A third man incredibly tried the same thing only to be brought down as well. The Ranger was amazed.

“What the hell is with these people? Don’t they even care?”

Before Jack could reply a woman ran across the street loaded down with four RPG’s. Jack and the Ranger both fired and the woman flopped into the street. To their amazement she crawled to her knees, gathered the RPG’s to her, and dragged them forward. Jack fired again and saw his rounds pass right through her. The woman shivered as the rounds hit her but kept crawling. Jack shot again putting two rounds through her head and she lay still. The RPG’s were coated with her blood and a heavy coat of dust.

“Keep them away from those RPG’s!”

The gunner got to work as several men ran out in the road in an attempt to retrieve the fallen rocket-propelled grenades. He soon had a growing pile of bodies stacking up around the dead woman. Jack searched the other Rangers until he found one with a 203 grenade launcher.

“Destroy those RPG’s!”

The Ranger was just a kid, maybe nineteen at the most, but he shook off his fear and jumped at Jack’s order. Switching his hand from the grip of his rifle to the forward trigger of the grenade launcher he sent a round spiraling down the street to land in the pile of bodies surrounding the fallen woman. Arms and legs were blown into the air and Jack fired into the dust until it cleared and he was sure that the launchers in the street were no longer a threat. Only when it was over did he notice the sounds of the battle behind him. He fumbled for his mic.

“How’s it looking Tim?”

“Busy. We’re taking RPG’s from the east. I got two wounded.”

“Need a medic?”

“No, they’re both still in the fight. We need to shrink this perimeter.”

“I agree. We’re falling back to the intersection. If you come in we can mark all four corners and let the birds work on these crowds.”

“Okay. Call me back.”

Jack pounded the gunner on the shoulder and yelled loud enough to be heard. They were all half deaf from all the noise.

“We’re pulling back to the corner buildings! You stay here and cover for them!”

“Got it!”

Jack waved until he had the attention of the sergeant across the street. After a brief hand-signal conversation he got a nod. The man tapped the man in front of him and they both made a dash up the street. The private following the sergeant jerked to the left and rolled into the dirt. Blood immediately stained the leg of his BDU pants and soaked them. The sergeant ran on unaware.

“Cover!” Jack yelled before sprinting after him. He sprinted across the street and grabbed the screaming man by his arm, dragging him toward an open doorway. Angry rounds zipped past his head sounding like high-speed bumblebees. He was halfway there when his arm was jerked away.

“God-damnit!” Jack yelled as his arm went numb. He dropped his rifle and switched hands, it swung on its strap and wacked him in his wounded arm, getting a coat of fresh blood on the black metal. He dragged the wounded man into the doorway and fell on his ass.

He gazed down at the man’s leg as the blood continued to pump. Slapping his good hand over it he squeezed as hard as he could while he examined his own wound. The Rangers blood was bright red while the blood from his own wounded arm was dark. The numbness was wearing off quickly and the pain was starting. The Ranger was screaming in pain and fear.

“Shut up! Shut the fuck up! You’re okay! I need you to shut up!”

The Ranger bit off his scream and stared wide-eyed at Jack, Jack gave him a nod as he pressed his throat mic tight against his shoulder and called Tim.

“I got two wounded here Tim. Ones an arterial bleed. Send me a medic.”

“Okay. You alright?”

“Some fucker shot me in the elbow. I’m okay.”

“Okay. Will is on his way.”

Will? When did he get here? Jack couldn’t help but wonder but he shook it off. The Rangers leg was still bleeding as was his arm. He couldn’t get proper attention to either one of the wounds by himself, but if he let go of the man’s legs he would quickly bleed out. Jack just grit his teeth and held on.

An RPG whooshed down the street past his position and exploded against the building next door. Jack threw himself over the Ranger as the rocks and dirt rained down over them both. The Rangers outside quickly recovered and poured return fire down the street in the direction it came from. The dust hadn’t even cleared yet when Will came flying through the door, tripping over Jack and sending him sprawling. He quickly got to his feet and slipped off his medic pack.

“Hey Jack,” he grinned.

“About time,” he told the Delta medic.

“Fuck you very much.”

He eyeballed the Rangers leg and nodded at Jacks position. “Keep that pressure on.” He positioned himself over the soldier and pulled a length of rubber hose from his shoulder and tied it around the man’s leg. He then pulled a knife and slashed Jacks sleeve open exposing his wound.

“Took a nice chuck of meat out but looks like it missed the bone. Hold still.” He packed the wound full of kerlex and tied a pressure dressing around it while Jack grit his teeth.

“Feel your fingers?”

Jack nodded. “They hurt.”

“You’re okay.”

Will sliced the Rangers pants open and ignoring his screams planted his knee hard into his leg over the artery before adjusting the tourniquet around his leg above the wound. He nodded to Jack who let go and grabbed his rifle before crawling to the doorway to cover them. He saw that the Rangers had moved back to the corner building as he had instructed. He dismissed the pain in his arm and shot at moving shapes through the cloud of dust. A little bird roared overhead and hosed the street with its mini-guns. Jack used the lull to try to get some of the blood off his hands. He rubbed them in the dirt before whipping them on his pants. The blood came off in thick smears of red mud.

“Shut up will ya! You’re fine.” Will told the young soldier.

“What do you say Will?”

“He’s okay for now but he needs to be extracted.”

“We can load him up when the convoy gets here.”

“The convoy returned to base!”

“What?”

“They got all shot up trying to find us. We’re on our own for a while.”

“Shit…we gotta move.”

“One building east and we’re inside the perimeter.”

Will looked around the courtyard they were in. There were no exits and only half a roof.

“Outside or punch a wall?”

Another RPG whooshed down the street outside and exploded a block away. It was followed by a hail of bullets. Going back out on the street was not a good idea.

“Punch a wall! Hell, you can probably just push it over!”

Will finished the IV he was placing in the Rangers arm before examining the walls again. Construction in Mogadishu consisted of weak bricks or stone held together with equally weak concrete, most of which was installed by amateurs. He looked at the sky to get his bearings before stooping down to pick up a fallen stone. He put his considerable weight behind it and swung at the wall. A large dent and falling mortar revealed the walls true strength. He picked up the rock and did it again, doubling the damage. He was picking it up for a third attempt when the wall flexed back out at him. Stepping back he watched as the wall seemed to tear itself apart in front of them. Soon a sizable hole appeared that quickly framed the smiling face of a sweaty Ranger.

“You knocked?”

“Open this wall up, I got a wounded man for you!”

The Rangers didn’t ask questions, they just doubled their efforts and beat the wall apart with whatever they could find. Will ignored them and checked on his patient before joining Jack in the doorway.

“I think they’re in the building across the street,” Jack informed him.

“Really? Bastards must have found a way in the back.”

Jack jerked his head back as rounds skipped off the doorway. The fire was getting more accurate meaning they had time to aim. Jack couldn’t see where it was coming from. He sent a burst at a group down the street before returning fire drove him back inside. A little bird made a pass down the street parallel to theirs and the rockets kicked up a dust cloud. RPG’s reached up for it but it was like trying to shoot a fly out of the air with a pistol. Jack and Will both peered out looking for targets. The destruction of the wall behind them continued.

As they watched, a door across the street slowly opened and a small hand reached out to grab the frame. It was a child’s hand and they both stared at it openmouthed. A small girl appeared in the doorway, she was no more than four and crying. She turned to look behind her at someone before stepping out into the street. Will fired at her feet to scare her back but the girl just closed her eyes and walked forward. After a few steps she gazed at them and slowly raised a hand, pointing a finger right at them. A hail of lead descended on the doorway and the concrete chipped to dust as the rounds impacted the walls. Jack and Will flung themselves back.

An RPG crashed into the doorway and Jack was knocked flat by the blast. His helmet was gone and his ears rang loud from the explosion. His right leg was on fire but his rifle was somehow still in his hands. He turned to see Will, his face now bloody, screaming something at him and pointing, but he couldn’t make it out. He followed the finger to see the girl in the street, scared numb but still pointing right at them. Another explosion showered them with rock but the girl stayed rooted by fear where she was. Will crawled on all fours searching for his rifle in the debris. Jack was turning away when Will jerked and collapsed. He heard faint voices screaming at him as he spun. He added his own voice to the din as his arm extended and fired the rifle. He watched as the rounds stitched their way across the girls’ chest and her eyes went wide and held his until she collapsed onto the ground. Jack continued to shoot at the building she came from until the rifle ran dry. He felt hands grabbing his legs and struggled to fight them as he reached for another magazine. The hands gripped tighter and he heard his name louder as his hearing slowly returned.

“Jack!”

He spun and saw Will down and bleeding in the dirt.

“Jack!”

He spun again and saw the girl’s body disappear as another RPG exploded against the outside wall.

“Jack!”

The Rangers tugged at his ankle, dragging him away from the door.

“Jack!”

Jack sat up with a yell. The room was black and silent. He was covered in sweat and cold. His hands frantically searched the bed for his rifle.

“Jack?”

Jack gaze fell on the figure of his wife at the foot of the bed. She was gently pulling on his ankle and repeating his name. He swallowed twice and slowed his breathing.

“Are you okay?” Debra asked him.

Jack took a few more deep breaths as he gathered his thoughts. Your name is Jack Randall. You’re alive. You’re in Washington DC. You’re not in Somalia. There is no threat. He repeated it three times to himself in his head before looking at his wife again. He offered her a reassuring smile.

“Yeah…I’m okay.”

“Somalia?”

“…Yeah.”

“It’s been a long time.”

“Yeah, at least a year.”

“Do you need to call Will?”

He considered the question for a moment before answering.

“What time is it?”

“About four.”

“No, it’s too early. Maybe later. I’ll just get up and go in to work early. Get my mind busy.”

“You’re sure?”

“I don’t want to wake up his kids.”

Debra frowned at that but let it go. “Okay, want me to make you some coffee?”

“No honey, I’m okay. Really. You go back to bed.”

Jack got up and bussed her cheek before heading for the shower. She watched him go. Once the door was shut she reached under the bed and pulled out his sidearm. She carefully placed it back in the nightstand exactly where he kept it. She had done what they had advised her to do at the wives of veterans group; Remove any weapons. Stay out of range. Tap him on the ankle as they do in the army when they change shifts for guard duty. Call him by the name he used then. Don’t make him talk if he doesn’t want to.  It had worked with the last nightmare and it worked now. Despite this, she took little comfort from it.

Jack never talked about his dreams and she never pressed him about them. Maybe someday when he was ready he would offer her a look into what haunted him. She was both curious and a little scared of that day coming. She wasn’t sure she wanted to know.

She got back into bed and listened to him in the shower, pretending to be asleep when he eventually emerged. He picked his way to the closet and then on out the door after kissing her forehead. She held her tears until he was gone.

Jack stalked down the hallway toward the kitchen and flipped on the lights. He examined the room closely before crossing it and mechanically performing the coffee making process. Once the machine was going he stalled for a minute and gazed at his hands. The tremors were still there. He knew of a cure but he stalled before eventually giving in. He left the kitchen and entered his study. Reaching in the bottom drawer he pulled out a bottle of scotch. Filling a rocks glass with a couple fingers worth he returned to the family room and selected a chair by the window. The scotch and the falling snow helped calm his nerves and he forced himself to relax. He had a big day planned for today, including a meeting tonight at Fort Mead. The little Somali girl had picked a bad night to visit. He sipped and watched the snow fall.

An hour later the glass fell from his hand and clattered on the hardwood floor stirring him awake. He gazed around remembering how he got there. The clock on the wall told him it was still too early for his wife to be up, but he was already late for work. With a grumble he reached for the phone. It rang twice.

“Sydney Lewis.”

“Hey Syd, its Jack. I’m going to be a little late.”

“Okay, everything all right?”

Jack grimaced as he prepared to lie to her. She had seen the nightmare herself and there was no way he was going to worry her like that again.

“No…everything’s fine.”

Two Hours with Jack, Copyright Randall Wood, 2012