Authors: L. Douglas Hogan
The first person she spotted appeared to be a civilian taking cover behind the building that sat along State Street. Then she noticed several people to the southeast side of the street, shooting in the same direction. Jess shifted her position to a location in the room that would give her the best cover and vantage point. It was at that point she saw a line of United Nations vehicles tactically parked to the north of her position on Taylor Street. Jess immediately startled, stumbled backwards and tripped over an office chair. Gathering her senses, she ran for the roof-hatch access door, pulled down the ladder, and climbed onto the top of the building.
Jess, now able to watch everything that was transpiring, watched the gunfight for what seemed like an eternity. In the back of her mind she knew that it wasn’t but a few short minutes. Then the shots ceased and she heard a male voice yell out in a foreign language. This phrase didn’t resemble English in any way, as one may recognize discernable words from French and Spanish languages. This sounded more Russian or Romanian. She then saw several men, in black fatigues, running towards the civilians with their full-auto weapons trained on them. The civilians were coming out from behind buildings and trees with their hands on their heads. The armed men, what Jess perceived to be United Nations soldiers, continued to yell at the civilians as they pointed their weapons at them. They forced the civilians to the ground, about ten in all, and aggressively restrained them using disposable plastic zip cuffs. From there, they marched the men to Taylor Street, where the convoy was parked, and secured them in an armored windowless bus.
Jess watched ever so carefully, taking mental notes, as she was trained to do. At times she thought her heart was going to pound out of her chest. It was beating so hard that she could even hear it through her ears. She felt her face and ears were flush with blood. Her adrenaline levels were high and she felt helpless. She knew that there was nothing she could do, now or then.
As the convoy’s drivers returned to their respective vehicles, the engines began to roar. They turned left down State Street, all but two vehicles. One of them was an armored truck sitting along Taylor Street that did not resume with the rest of the convoy, and the armored bus, which did a three-point turn to head back down Taylor Street to the north.
Staying on the roof, she followed the bus, running corner to corner, until she returned to the back side of the courthouse. When she perceived the bus was heading towards the Mississippi River, she gazed towards the bridge in utter dismay and terror. Parked there, on the bridge from Missouri to Illinois, was a convoy of armored black and white United Nations busses, HMMWVs, and escort vehicles. Under the bridge, as far as her eyes could see, heading north up the river, was a fleet of UN tugboats and shipping-container barges.
Jess, now afraid, ran back to the access hatch and began her rapid descent down the stairs. It was too late for her to realize that she should have checked her “six” on her descent to the floor. The last thing she saw as she turned around was a young man, in black tactical fatigues and a blue helmet, as he struck her forehead with the butt-stock of his weapon, rendering her unconscious.
Gorham, Illinois, October 23
Ash was usually the first person to wake up, as his two dogs enjoyed nudging his face first thing in the morning. He enjoyed lying there in the fall morning and sniffing the moisture in the air. There was something special about it that made his morning brighter. Maybe it was reminiscing about the way he and his father used to wake up early and drink coffee just before they went out to the taxidermy shed. He didn’t mind being a taxidermist with his father, but he did enjoy his dogs. He had a natural way with them and that connection is what drove him into working as a canine trainer for Jackson County Sheriff’s Department.
On this particular morning he was awake before his dogs went through their morning ritual. Something about what Nathan and Todd had seen excited him.
Every member of the SIHG had their own house in the small country town. Each claimed a house after it remained vacant and was determined to be available. The only rule was that they all had to be within hearing distance and line of sight.
“I wonder where those barges were headed,” Ash said to himself, “and what is in those containers.”
Ash threw the blankets off his body and jumped out of bed as if in one motion. He had a bad idea that he knew would probably get him in trouble. He wanted to ride north, along the river, to see what he could find out about those barges. He knew that the idea to do it as a group wouldn’t be approved, so he wrote out a letter and stuck it on the guard-shack door when he knew the patrol would be away.
Ash saddled a horse and began his long trek north. Both his dogs were running alongside him, which he didn’t mind, but he preferred having them keep watch over the group. On this occasion, he thought it would be best to have the extra security along for the ride.
The rest of the group went about their daily routines, except that this time, Nathan was handed a piece of paper with scribbles on it. Zig’s wife, Karen, was on watch at the time Ash departed, and she handed Nathan the note.
Nathan grabbed the note from Karen’s hand and read it out loud: “Gang, headed north to gather intel on river convoy, Ash.”
“When did you find this?”
“A couple hours ago. It was attached to the guard-shack door.”
“Why didn’t you wake me up earlier?”
“I don’t know. I guess I figured he could take care of himself and you already have enough on your plate,” Karen said.
“This ain’t good,” Nathan exclaimed. “I’ve got to get Todd and Denny together. Hopefully Ash is safe and he hasn’t been hurt or, worse, killed.”
Nathan rode to the northwest checkpoint and approached Todd. Before his horse came to a stop, Todd was asking, “To what do I owe the pleasure?”
“Funny,” Nathan said, and continued, “Ash took off early this morning. Apparently he left a note on the guard-shack door that he was headed north up the river to spy on the tugs and their contents.”
“You gotta be kiddin’ me,” Todd said.
“Grab your horse. We need to head north too if we’re going to have any hope of keeping him out of danger.”
“What about my relief?” Todd asked.
“Don’t worry about that right now. This is urgent and we’re wasting time waiting on a relief.”
Todd unhitched his horse from the fence and they rode together back through town to the northeast checkpoint.
Once they were within hearing and shouting distance, Nathan yelled for Denny.
“Mount up. Ash has left and headed north. I’ll feed you more info on the way.”
Without hesitating, Denny was shouldering his rifle and jumping on the horse before Nathan was even done talking.
All three men headed back through the north side of town and along the way saw Denny’s sister, Heather. “Find Zig and tell him we had to head north after Ash. Talk to Karen, she knows more,” Denny said with a commanding voice.
Some four hours later, Nathan, Todd, and Denny were in eyesight distance of the Illinois/Missouri bridge over the Mississippi River. From their position, just off of Kaskaskia Street, they could see a UN barge docked at the boat ramp on the south side of the bridge. There were many houses they could use to take cover, but even being here with horses was a dangerous idea. People were starving and two horses could feed a starving family a chewy meal for quite some time.
Nathan, Todd, and Denny looked about to make sure nobody was watching, then walked up a little hill to the back side of an abandoned house. They walked their horses up the back porch and into the house. Upon leaving the vacant residence, they shut the back door and proceeded down the tree line along Kaskaskia Street, guns at low-ready.
As they proceeded forward, they began taking mental notes and documenting certain details and observations. They only saw one UN vehicle and one barge from their position. The barge had about twenty-five shipping containers labeled V, and was sitting there with two armed guards in black BDUs. The UN vehicle was an armored bus parked adjacent to the barge, just off Kaskaskia Street. The Mississippi flowed southeast at this location and there was a train track with cars on it that hadn’t moved in years.
“I’m thinking we should use those train cars as cover and move alongside the river until we can get a better vantage point,” Nathan said.
“I don’t like the idea of armored busses,” Denny muttered.
“Me either,” Todd retorted.
“Guys, I don’t like the smell of this either, but if Ash is here, he could be with them. Both of you are patriots and you know there’s nothing good coming out of the United Nations. It’s run by thugs, tyrants, and dictators.”
“You could have just said tyrants,” Denny said. “It kind of embodies the whole definition.”
“Okay, look,” Nathan said as they sat motionless with their silhouettes resting against the trees. Both men trusted Nathan and knew he had a plan up his sleeve.
“If we come out of this tree line where the woods meet the tracks, we can watch all three angles where we would be vulnerable. I’ll take point; Todd, you take flank; and Denny, you watch our six.”
“What’s the plan once we reach the destination?” Denny asked.
“Once we get within two hundred yards of line of sight on those guards, we will crawl under the cars and use the wheels for cover. We will each have the cover of a wheel and be close enough to each other to take simultaneous shots.”
“Any questions?” Nathan asked. Both men kept their silence. Todd seemed a bit nervous, but Denny was as solid as a rock, as usual. Nathan perceived Todd’s nervousness and said, “We’ve got this, boys. Easy peasy lemon squeezy,” Nathan quoted from one of his favorite movies to lighten the mood.
Nathan, Todd, and Denny proceeded forward in that order and crept into position. Once they were within the designated distance, Nathan gave the hand signal for stop and get down. They were now low-crawling under the train cars and moving into position. All three men situated themselves behind the cover of a train wheel and remained ever so still.
Jessica regained consciousness and found herself in what appeared to be a dark room. It was humid in the room and stank of body odor and human waste. She lunged to her feet and began feeling her body for her belongings. She heard voices and could only make out shapes. She was not alone and perceived that she was being held captive.
“Easy,” a male voice said from the darkness.
“How long was I out?” Jess asked.
“Not sure. Can’t see who’s awake and who’s asleep in here. I know you were tossed in here not long after we were.”
“We?” Jess asked. “Where are we and what’s going on?”
“Do you want the long version or the short version?”
“Throw me a bone, here. I have nothing,” Jess said.
“Well, the long and the short of it is that we were out there resisting and now we’re in here.”
“Where’s ‘here’?” Jess asked.
“We’re being held in shipping containers docked near the bridge in Chester. You were brought here by a UN troop and deposited with us. We’re prisoners now.”
“How many of them are out there?” Jess asked.
“I’m not too sure anymore. We’ve been eavesdropping on the soldiers outside. Not all of them are foreign, at least as far as we can tell. Some of the voices use perfect English.”
“What have you heard so far?”
“Well, from what I can make out, they’re staying docked here until they can root out any resistance, disarm them, and fill these containers. There’s only thirty or so of us in here now, and by my estimations, they could probably cram in over two hundred.”
“Oh Lord, why is this happening?” Jess sighed.
“I’m not the Lord, but I’m betting one of two scenarios. One, the United States has been invaded, or two, they were invited here.”
“Either way’s not good,” Jess replied, “but we can’t just lie down. There’s got to be something we can do. Did you happen to see where the weapon cache is?”
“Nope. Didn’t get a chance. We were outnumbered and outgunned when we surrendered our weapons.”
“You surrendered your weapons?”
“Didn’t have a choice. It was that or death,” the stranger said. “By the way, I’m James.”
“Glad to meet you, James. I’m getting out of here, and when I do, I’m not surrendering.”
“Then you’ll be killed. We’ve already lost one in front of the courthouse.”
“Yeah, I watched your little escapade from the roof of the courthouse. Real classy, by the way, dropping your weapons and putting your hands over your head. Way to defend liberty, James,” Jess remarked.
About that time, there came the sound of gunfire from outside the container. There were only three near-simultaneous shots then silence.
“Sounds like they killed some more civilians,” James said in a saddened voice.
“I don’t know,” Jess replied. “Those gunshots were Colt rifles. I’d know that sound anywhere.” There were a few moments of silence as everybody in the container listened for more action.
Jess broke the silence. “Those shots were consolidated, as if synchronized.”
“What are you talking about?” James asked.
“My research has shown that Colt weapons are not the weapons of choice for UN troops. I’m guessing something’s going down out there.”
Jess had the idea that if she started banging on the wood panels and yelling at the top of her voice, she may just get a response. What kind of response, she wasn’t sure, but she figured if there were enemies outside, she was already contained, so what was there to lose?
Jess began beating on the walls of the container with the palms of her hands and started screaming, “Help! We’re in here!” Jess was joined in chorus by everybody in the container. The sound was heard and other shipping containers came alive with the sounds of screams for help.
Nathan, Todd, and Denny remained motionless after they took their shots dropping both guards. All three of them shifted their positions to the cover of the opposing wheels. They trained their sights on the armored bus and waited. Nathan noticed movement in the driver’s seat of the vehicle. “Guys, we’re going to have to lure them out.”