Authors: W.R. Benton
I figured, by looking at my map, we had only about two miles to the highway. So I called out a compass heading to Kerr and then turning to Kelly, my medic, I said, “You keep track of our pace. It should only be two miles to the highway.”
We had no difficulty reaching a small hill, easily seen from the highway, so I had six poles cut and stuck firmly in the ground. I sincerely dreaded this task, but saw no way to avoid carrying out my orders. The Russians would only understand brutal reprisals and this was as brutal is they come. Once the poles were in place and secure, I had the prisoners tied in place using wire and not rope.
“Scott!” I called out.
“I want you to speak for me. Now I know you don't like this, but translate my words and then you can move down the back trail and keep watch.” I handed Dolly's leash to Sandra.
He thought for a moment and then said, “Okay, and I appreciate you taking my feelings about this in consideration. I am firmly against this act as being cold-blooded and in violation of the articles of war for most civilized nations.”
“I'll not argue with you, but since you'll translate, tell them they are to die because the Russians have taken to burning captured partisans.”
Scott spoke and the Russians grew pale and more than one had large eyes. One spoke and then Scott said, “He wants to know how he is to die.”
“No!” one prisoner yelled, “You should not do this thing. We are simple soldiers and not responsible for the killing of any partisans or your people.”
“Oh, but it's okay for your people to burn my countrymen to death or spray nerve gas over areas populated by civilians? I'm sorry you are caught up in the actions of both nations, but you will burn to death, and in just a few short minutes.”
The Russian yelled something and when I turned to Scott he said, “He called you a bastard.”
I took a five gallon gas can, moved to the first man and drenched him from head to toe. While pouring gas on the man who spoke English, he spat in my face and said, “You are a sonofabitch!”
I wiped my face clean, moved to the next man and covered him in gas, too.
Finally, I said, “Scott, move to the back trail and guard. As soon as you leave, I'll end this mess.”
As soon as Scott was out of sight, I said, “You, the one who speaks English, tell the others they have one minute to pray, because in two minutes you'll all be standing in front of God.”
“Go to hell, Yankee, because there is no God!”
“If there is no God, Russian, then there is no hell either. You now have 45 seconds.” I replied as I looked at my watch, taken off the wrist of a Russian Colonel I'd killed years before.
I pulled a piece of paper from my pocket, folded it and lighted the end with an old lighter. As it flared, I heard two or three of the Russians praying. Still watching my watch, when it indicated a minute had passed, I tossed the burning paper to the nearest man.
With a loud
the gas ignited. I watched in morbid fascination as the flames moved down the line from man to man. I noticed it burned almost clear and was tempted to extend a hand to see if the flames were there. However, the look of horror in the doomed men's eyes told me the flames were there. Men began shrieking in pain and terror as the flames licked and bit at their flesh. Clothing burst into flames, and all of them began an almost comical dance as the fire consumed their hair and melted their flesh. Then, one by one, the screeching ceased and all movement ended. Six brave soldiers of the rabid Russian bear were now dead.
I said a short prayer for the men I'd killed, wiped my eyes clear of tears, and then said, “Let's move, because I want to be with the Colonel by the end of the day.”
Sandra neared, handed me the leash to Dolly, and said, “I know what you did was hard on you, because inside you're a kind man.” Then she touched my cheek.
My eyes watered again. I fought back tears, and said, “A kind man doesn't burn innocent prisoners of war in reprisal for atrocities his enemies commit. This war has turned me into something I don't want to be, a cold-blooded killer.” I scratched Dolly's ear, knew the nasty deed was done and added, “May God forgive all of us, on both sides, for what we've done. Place some booby-traps and let's get ready to move.”
The smell of burnt flesh was strong as the flames rolled skyward, with the smoke dark and the charred remains hanging loosely on the badly blackened poles. I'd followed orders, but at what cost to me emotionally? I now had to live with the fact I'd burned six helpless men to death, and there isn't a more horrific way to die.
“Let's move, folks, we've miles to cover.”
As we began to move my medic, Kelly, leaned to the side and puked.
The Colonel looked weak as he walked around the 55 gallon oil drum where the Russian map was laid out on top. His hands were behind him, his head down, as he gave serious thought to what Corporal Scott and I had told him. Scott was now gone, but he'd read all the intelligence we had, and informed the Colonel of the contents.
Finally, he turned to face me and said, “We must prevent the Russians from using nerve agents because of the potential to cause a large number of civilian fatalities. Granted, there are fewer people now than when the fall happened, but even the loss of a single life is too much. We need to hit them, and hard, too. I want you to continue to Pearl, but once in place, try to take out costly items. Hit their petroleum and gas storage areas, supplies, vehicle motor pools, and if you can, take a train or two out as well. That'll be all.”
I knew I'd just been dismissed, but I asked, “Colonel Lee, are you ill?”
“I have some minor pain is all.”
“Would you mind if my wife looks you over? She may be able to help you with the pain.”
Shaking his head, Lee replied, “No, John, I have cancer, and less than a year to live. I have pain medicines, including morphine, but I've not needed it yet. Upon my death, or when I am unable to continue my work, I have requested you be promoted to my leadership position.”
“I'm sorry to hear this, sir.”
“No more than me, I assure you. Now, enough talk about me. See to your mission and do it now.”
I saluted and replied, “Yes, sir.” I then did an about face and left the building.
My squad was outside and gathering gear. Rations were collected to replace those consumed, and ammo and other needs were being seen to, which pleased me. Joyce was cleaning her sniper rifle and Silverwolf was putting an edge on his knife. It was comforting knowing I was leading a professional bunch that took minimum supervision. The men who handled the bikes were still with us, not sure what their orders would be.
“All of us, including the bikers, are to continue to Pearl and complete our mission. While I know most of you are tired, I suggest we all eat, rest and we'll leave in an hour.”
Pearl was once a nice small town a few miles east of Jackson and it was quiet compared to the big city, with a much lower crime rate. I'd spent a lot of time visiting my grandparents there and knew the area well. I'd also dated a few girls from the small town, had enjoyed talking with most of the occupants, and it presented a small town atmosphere. Now, however, it was a ghost town, with most of the people sent to gulags, dead, or in the resistance. I selected a dense patch of trees and brush by the Pearl River to establish our main camp. Then, taking the men with the bikes, I'd hidden our supplies at night in different locations near the town. Once the gear and supplies were buried, I ordered the men to return to the Colonel.
Gathering my people in close the first night, I said, “We'll all pull guard, two people at a time, and no fires, unless the weather turns super rough. We're just a few miles from the Jackson International Airport, so air traffic will be heavy. If the Russians hit us, follow the Pearl River south and we'll meet at about five miles distance. Corporal Kerr, later tonight you and I will check the area for threats to our security. Keep in mind to the north of us is highway 80 and to the south is interstate 20, so we've many secondary roads around us. Our best chances, if we have to escape and evade, are the river. If you want to eat, do it now.”
“Gag me.” Joyce said with a grin, “Russian rations are bad enough hot, but they're pretty nasty cold.”
“Well, that's all we have right now, so it's Russian or nothing.”
The rest of the evening was quiet and Kerr left with me at 2200 hours, moving almost dead east. Our faces and hands were camouflaged, so if we ran into Russians, we'd never pass for civilians and the Russian weapons in our hands made it clear we were here to fight. There was no traffic at all and in town the only vehicles I saw was an occasional motorcycle. When I neared the old Pearl police station, I noticed many men walking in and out of the building. There was a tank parked outside in the driveway, and two guards near the entrance.
We made our way to the elementary school and junior high school, finding both in use as barracks for the Russians. Both facilities were big, but I only counted 4 guards at each. They must have felt secure with a large number of men inside, not realizing sleeping men took some time to wake up and respond. It was obvious to me the Russians had poor security at Pearl, and we'd hit some nice targets over the next few nights. It took until almost dawn before we located their fuels storage area and it was in an old semipro baseball field. I saw a lot of flexible rubberized fuel bladders, just right for some well placed explosives. The bladders were huge and the resulting explosion of just one would claim them all.
It was nearly two hours before sunrise, so we took a shortcut I knew through some trees. As usual when moving, we did so slowly, covering our flanks, front, and rear. Looking forward, I saw a couple of men with a dog moving right for us and they were outlined by distant lights. If not for the dog, we could have just slipped into some brush, only the dog worried me a great deal. The guards would probably walk right by us, except I knew the animal would smell us and alert the handlers. I decided to wait and see what the dog did, then take the German Shepherd out first, and finally the men. I disliked killing a fine animal that reminded me of Dolly, but survival comes first.
About twenty feet from us, the dog alerted and looked right at me. I didn't think the animal could see me, but the dog handler said something to the other man and guns were made ready. I pulled my pistol as I prayed the dog wouldn't be released. I watched as the handler reached down to release the animal, so I fired once, dropped the dog, and heard Kerr open up with his Bison.
The Russian on the right shrieked, grabbed his face and with good reason. Kerr's Bison sub-machine gun had sent bullets up the man's right leg, blowing flesh and blood out behind him. Then the bullets continued on, striking him with lead all the way to his head. When his head was struck, it flew apart, sending skull shards and blood high into the air. As the man fell, all that remained of his head was a fine carmine haze from flying blood.
I fired two shots from my Russian pistol and the other man was struck in the middle of his chest. Two long crimson fingers flew from his back and then he dropped without making a sound. As his body twitched and jerked, his central nervous system shutting down, we moved forward to strip the men of anything we might need. It was then I noticed the snow falling.
“Hurry and grab what we need.” I said and then took the dead man's weapons and ammo. He carried a portable radio, so I took it, hoping Scott could listen to Russian transmissions. I then added, “Quickly, because someone must have heard our gunshots.”
“I'm rushing the job. I hated the dog dying.”
“I can kill an enemy soldier in a minute, but love animals. The dogs was the only innocent here, but he had to die. No way he was a pet.”
Kerr suddenly gave me a serious look and replied, “We're pretty stupid to be talking while deep in Injun country.”
I gave a dry chuckle and said, “Uh-huh, and we both know it. Let's cut the chatter until we return.” We knew better than to talk.
It was dark and still snowing less than five minutes later, as Kerr said, “Vehicles on the road on the east side.”