Authors: Robert Schobernd
In twenty minutes, we passed through a fifty-foot stand of mature trees to another clearing; it matched the description Everett gave us. We moved back ten feet and took positions behind a dense, fully leaved deciduous bush. The luminous dial on my old wind-up wrist watch showed the time was twelve minutes past two a.m. I whispered to Richard to try to nap and I'd wake him at four. I counted six cabins beside the barn. All six had roofs at a steep enough angle to accommodate lofts inside. Usually that would be where children would sleep. From where I sat, it appeared they'd been built haphazardly with no logical pattern to their placement.
At six, Richard gently placed a firm hand on my shoulder and pulled me from a shallow, uneasy doze. He pointed through an early morning mist at a single male figure as it stumbled through dawn's half-light to an outhouse.
Close to my ear, he whispered as he pointed, "I saw dim light in that building on the far end a little after you went to sleep. Then seven women went to the outhouse. Two of them had guns, guarding the other five. I'm sure I recognized our women, so this is the right place. After they finished, lights were lit in that building in the middle. I imagine they're up early to cook breakfast because of the smell of wood smoke."
I threw him a thumbs up in the shadowy, subdued light, blinked and rubbed the sleep from my eyes. My butt squirmed on the rough ground, and I settled in to wait and watch.
Shortly after five, another male made the trip to the outhouse. Ten minutes later, three more women and a gang of kids from toddlers to teens made the walk to the stinky two-holer shack.
Near six, a woman left the kitchen and stopped at a brass bell the size of a large watermelon mounted on a vertical post in the yard. She clanged it four times. Over the next ten minutes, two men, a women and the gang of children of all ages hurried to the kitchen for breakfast. The sun poked above the horizon to our right. We reassessed our position and agreed to stay where we were.
The thought of breakfast caused hunger to set in. I pulled two strips of jerky from a pocket; Richard did the same. As we chewed, several big mongrel dogs appeared at the kitchen to eat the first of the morning food scraps tossed by a young woman I didn't recognize. They barked, snarled and fought over the offered food. To my dismay, a big tan colored mongrel sniffed the air and wandered in our direction. It stood at the edge of the clearing and snarled and then barked lightly. I tossed the half piece of jerky I'd been eating toward the dog. It jumped to the side before lowering its head to sniff the object. In one gulp the meat disappeared. The dog was silent but continued to stare in our direction.
The pack of dogs had dispersed. Molly stepped from the kitchen to dump more scraps onto a large round metal pan, and they quickly raced back to the feeding area and began their fight routine again. Our dog lost interest in us and trotted off to join the fray amid the promise of more food.
I motioned to Richard that it was time to leave. No one had gone to the barn, so it didn't appear anyone would be leaving anytime soon.
We tromped back to our horses and gave them water from canteens we'd left on the saddle horns before we quenched our thirst. Instead of going to the main road, we cut through a field overgrown with weeds and trees thirty-feet high to the next private lane. That home site was desolate, also. The house that had stood there was a charred ruins, and the barn and outbuildings leaned sharply; they were in the process of falling down. I guessed no one had lived there for the past forty years. We figured our wandering had put us three-fourths of a mile from the enemy.
At our camp, we told the group what we'd seen. Morgan immediately pointed at Everett, "Then we don't need that sneaky little bastard any longer."
Richard and I nodded in unison. No one in our group moved to stop him.
Morgan frowned and was red faced as he turned and walked to where a rope secured the prisoner to a small tree. Everett's hands were tied behind him and he was still almost naked. He received a harsh kick in the ribs as Morgan un-sheathed his knife. He reached down to grasp the rope tied to Everett's neck and then cut it loose from the tree.
"You murdered my family and good friends, you worthless piece of shit." With nary another word, he pulled Everett along behind him and disappeared deeper into the woods. The prisoner limped as he begged and stumbled along. He knew what was coming to him and stammered pleas to live. Wildlife noises quieted as Everett begged for his life and then screamed until it was cut short in mid-breath.
We all suspected what Morgan had in store for Everett and accepted it. The Law of Retaliation we'd adopted demanded an eye for an eye, and a life for a life. We didn't need fancy lawyers to confuse the issue and tell us right from wrong and inject a ton of maybes and what ifs. No one spoke until Morgan returned to our clearing. When he sat, we resumed the conversations his actions interrupted.
Richard and I slept most of the day amid the subdued noises made by fifteen other people, dogs and horses. After dark we again rode toward the enemy camp. Our whole entourage followed behind. Everything we'd brought was tied down as tight as practical to prevent banging and clanging that might alert an enemy member who couldn't sleep and had moved outdoors. We turned off the main road onto the third lane with the intent of establishing our base in the clearing around the burned house. The horses were muzzled, and the dogs were on the wagons on short leashes. The dogs were used to running free and didn't like being tied down, but each was assigned a handler to keep them quiet.
Everyone understood there would be no cooking fires built until our mission was achieved. The sight or smell of smoke close-by would alert our enemies of our presence. As I prepared to leave, I told the group, "We're going to reconnoiter, but if you hear gunshots, come running. We'll have been seen, and we'll be outnumbered."
Two sentries were scheduled on two-hour shifts throughout the remaining hours of darkness. The rest of our people were snuggled in for the night when Richard and I again set off. The time was three-o-three a.m.
We reached the edge of the enemy camp at three-forty. The previous morning's routine was repeated as the captured women were rousted early to cook breakfast. Later, the bell rang to announce food was ready.
At eight, children played in the clearing. The kidnapped children from our dead friends’ camp held back in a separate, close group and appeared numb and dejected by what was happening around them. Once again only two men were seen. After breakfast, the captive women came and went, always under the scrutiny of their armed captors. As the sun climbed furtively over the tree tops, several captive young women were directed to an iron kettle twenty feet from the nearest building. Each carried an armful of clothing and bedding. Two other captives carried water in plastic buckets from a well to the smoke-blackened pot. A large rank of split firewood stood a short distance away.
A short, fat woman hit Merriam across the buttocks with a stout stick and yelled, "Get your worthless ass over to the woods and haul kindling to start a fire. And if you try to run off again, Charlie and Norell will beat you and screw you till you can't walk; it'll be even worse than the last time. Now get, you lazy heifer." She swung the stick again, but Merriam evaded the blow and scurried across the open ground toward us.
Merriam entered the woods twenty feet to the right of where Richard and I lay. Cautiously we inched across the ground toward her. She heard or saw us and flinched noticeably; I whispered, "Merriam, it's Tom Jacobs. Keep working and don't stop to look at me." She was startled and stared at me. Then she saw Richard and lunged toward us.
"Stop!" I put both palms up and whispered loudly, "We're here to get all of you, but not right now. How many men and women are there?" She stopped five feet from us.
Her grin of jubilation faded when I said not right now. "There's two men and five women and two female teenagers here plus eight of their children."
"How many are gone."
She thought for a few seconds. "Nine men, two women and two male teenagers."
"Don't stop working, keep gathering sticks. How long have they been gone?"
A voice yelled from the clearing. "Where the hell's that kindling? Hurry up, Bitch or you'll get another ass whipping."
Merriam grabbed more sticks as she spoke, "Three days, they're expected back soon, tonight or tomorrow I hear. One man left by himself and hasn't returned, but they don't seem too worried because he's done that before."
"How many prisoners are there?"
"Us and two other women. The men force us to have sex with them every night. Please, get us out of here. The women are as brutal as the men, and those damn teenagers are the worst. One of them is queer."
Shouting erupted behind Merriam. Two of the guard women pushed and kicked Molly and another young woman, then laughed and congratulated each other for the harsh treatment.
I said, "We'll come for you after the others return. Don't warn the others now, but you'll all have to escape to the far woods when the shooting starts. We'll be back, I promise."
The fat woman yelled again for Merriam to bring the kindling. She started our way in a huff. Merriam stood with an armful of sticks and hurried back to the clearing. She tried to evade the mean bitch but got whacked anyway. When all eyes were off the edge of the woods, Richard and I crawled away until we could stand.
Instead of going back to our camp, we circled to the west staying far enough back to avoid detection by the enemy. Ninety degrees over from where we'd been, we found a suitable site where the enemy could be watched twenty-four-seven. On the way back to our camp, we discovered an area where old, rusty farm equipment had been abandoned over the years. That would be the spot where sentries could meet to relieve each other instead of stumbling around near the enemy camp looking for their spot. We headed back.
We got back at ten-thirty and explained the situation at the enemy camp to our group. Volunteers were solicited to spy on the enemy up close; we needed to be aware when the missing members returned. Those guards would relieve every four hours. My son-in-law, Mitch, took the first watch. I drew a circle in the dirt and showed the people assigned to that duty where to watch from and the junk equipment area where they'd relieve each other. All nodded. Mitch said he'd finish the current four-hour shift and stay on until four that afternoon.
Richard and I ate, then grabbed our bedrolls and crawled under one of the wagons to sleep in the shade.
Later, I vaguely heard thunder in the distance before I dozed off again.
A loud boom of thunder woke me initially. Right behind it, a cracking bolt of lightening hit nearby. I looked at my watch, twenty minutes before four. Rain suddenly poured down. I looked out from under the wagon; tarpaulins had been attached to the sideboards of the wagons and stretched tight to stakes in the ground. Many of our group huddled there to stay dry, but wind driven rain surged in on one side to dampen those closest to that edge.
The intensity of the downpour subsided after fifteen minutes to a light, steady rain. Five minutes later, Mitch and his relief rushed into our camp and sought me out.
"They're back." He blurted as he breathed heavily from running. "They rode in about thirty minutes ago. Two wagons, ten men and two women. There were two horses and three cows tied behind the wagons. I couldn't tell what was on the wagons, but they had a lot of stuff under tarps." His numbers matched what we expected: eight adult males and two teenagers made ten males from a distance. Everett would have made eleven.
We all gathered close together under another tarp hung over two taut lines stretched between two tree branches.
"We have two choices. The first is to attack now before dark. The second choice is to wait till morning when everyone is getting up. In the morning means those raunchy bastards will abuse their captives again tonight."
There were loud murmurings of approval, and I heard a lot of nows spoken.
Morgan spoke above the crowd. "Tom, why don't you and Richard discuss how you'd implement each plan of attack and tell us the best option? I'm in favor of now, if it's feasible."
A steady, heavy rain, not a downpour, beat incessantly on the tarp. Richard and I stood aside and discussed pros and cons of each timeframe for long minutes. Finally, we agreed on the action we'd take. It was risky, but a dawn raid gave no clear promise of success either. Now won because everyone in the target camp would be tired at the end of a long work day or from riding the final hours of a multi-day trip. The rain that had driven everyone inside was the deciding factor in our favor.
I addressed the group, "We'll go now under cover of the rain. Six of you will be with Morgan. Paige will lead another team of six. Mitch and I will go as a team as will Richard and Bryon. Our two man teams will slip into the cabins with silenced weapons while they still have lanterns lit. We'll try to take them by surprise and kill them inside the cabins quietly. If you hear shots, be ready to return fire."
It took the better part of thirty minutes to gather weapons and rain gear. The two-man teams carried silenced MP5s and several people in the six man teams cradled silenced rifles in their arms. Everyone wore Army issue camouflage clothing. Carmen carried a backpack filled with medical supplies and an M16. Our dogs were left tied under the wagons with their jaws muzzled; if only left tied, their howling at being left behind could set the dogs in the enemy camp into a wild frenzy and put their keepers on edge.