Thursday, September 6, 2012

Eastern Curtain - Chapter 3

The sun was beginning to sink behind the distant jagged mountains on the horizon; soon enough an ocean of stars would illuminate man and beast below.  As night blanketed the plains of the borderland, it was as if the riders had entered another realm.  The dark sky was like a threadbare sheet that was unable to fully contain the majesty that was beyond it; a billion shining stars pierced the thin black veil overhead.
The borderland stars shared little resemblance to their brothers over the cities and suburbs; those stars were dull and bleak, unable to compete with the synthetic sights and sound that man had garnered in the concrete arena far below.  They were stifled by smoke and pollution and errant neon irradiation, but not these stars.
The borderland stars were innumerable and full of life; they twinkled and danced and glimmered and sometimes even streaked across the sky with unspoken power and urgency, as if they were delivering some celestial decree to the far side of the universe.  If the borderland stars were charged with exalting the ocean of darkness as they charted their course through it, they succeeded with unrivaled splendor and beauty.
Reese and his riders anxiously gathered the last of their gear and made the final preparations for tonight’s ride; they were ready to move on.  His scouts had located the abandoned farm several miles to the north of Viejo Guerrero early that morning; they relocated to it for the remainder of the day, not wanting to overstay their welcome and be discovered by a party of narcos searching for their missing amigos.
Yes sir?”
“You and Wash want to scout again tonight?”
“Always do.”
“I thought so.  Go ahead and get out in front of us, we’ll be leaving before long.  Stay about midway between the highway and the river; there’s nothing to speak of between here and Laredo except for one tiny villa and we can easily skirt around it.  I expect an uneventful night, but keep your eyes open.”
“Always do, sir.”
As he watched Wash and Pagan gallop away to the north, the last vestiges of daylight disappeared and the darkness enveloped them.  After Reese stowed the last of his supplies on his horse, he gently rubbed her head and whispered reassuringly into her ear.  With her lips still closed, Asha nickered softly in response as her ears pricked up in his direction; her spirits were high in anticipation of the ride, the day at the farm had left her restless.
He pulled the night vision goggles that had been resting snuggly on his helmet over his eyes.  The darkness around him was immediately replaced with a barren gray-green landscape.  As he climbed atop Asha, she snorted excitedly; the loud purring sound began to infect the other Araloosas and they snorted in response.  Within several moments, the entire herd was aroused and infected with Asha’s energy.  The horses paused and the men turned to face Reese as he whistled for their attention. 
“Alright gentlemen, we’re about two, maybe three days shy of Nuevo Laredo; we’re in no hurry, so let’s take it slow.  Outside teams, I want you in echelon formations – maximum firepower on the flanks; Wash and Pagan are already out front so I want the inside teams to focus on our rear.  Let’s do some quick com-checks and then saddle up.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Pagan and Wash scanned the plains with their thermal imaging, or FLIR, goggles for signs of interlopers.  The goggles were dialed in for the narrow temperature range of the borderlands so that any anomalies could be easily identified.  The plains were a dull blue for as far as they could see; the occasional small orange and red blur would scamper about somewhere in the distance, the likely culprit a hungry armadillo or opossum searching for a late meal.  Thermal imaging was vastly superior to night vision on the open plains because of the contrast of the cool nights and barren landscape and the warm heat signatures of the soldados and the engines of their vehicles, or the occasional opossum.
Viewing the borderlands through the FLIR goggles was surreal and otherworldly; the rangers were familiar with and used to the green hues of night vision, but the colorful heat images were vibrant and impressive.  The FLIR goggles afforded them the ability to scout a large area quickly and with confidence; no warm-bodied creature on the plains could escape their all-seeing gaze.  The pair trotted slowly across the psychedelic landscape and occasionally bantered back and forth on their private radio channel.
“Hey, Wash.”
“Go ahead.”
“Ever ate gator?”
“Come back?”
“Gator.  Ever ate it?”
“Wow.  Missing out; chicken of the stream.”
Wash ignored Pagan and continued with the patrol.
“Hey, Wash.”
“Go ahead.”
“Ever ate possum?”
“Wow; sheltered life Wash.  The other other white meat.”
“Pagan, let me tell you this: I knew a possum one time that lived in a dead horse. He lived there until he flat ate himself out of house and home; there ain’t no way I’m eating something that’ll live in a dead horse or eat his own house.  Just ain’t Christian.”
They rode on in silence for a while longer as they listened to several coyotes yip and howl to each other from opposite side of the Rio Grande.  Pagan enjoyed the subtle art of annoying Wash when no one was around; Wash would never admit it, but he enjoyed it to.
“Hey Wash.”
“Go ahead.”
“Ever ate armadilla?”
“Ah hell Pagan, those things can give you leprosy.”
“What?  All I ever got was heartburn.”
“Pagan, I know you’re half Venice Cajun and half East Texas oil trash, but you ain’t got to live like that anymore brother, you’re a Texas Ranger.”
“Why you gotta bring my kin in on this?
Wash could not contain himself any longer and erupted in laughter; Pagan tried to maintain his composure but failed miserably as he began to chuckle along with his friend.
“Seriously though, you’ve ate all that?”
“Everything except the turtle-rabbit; I don’t want no leprosy.”
“Wait, look; over there.”
“That doesn’t look good, Wash; better call Reese.”
Wash switched channels on the radio before speaking again.
“Go ahead Wash.”
“We got a situation up here.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The gentle side to side motion of Asha’s slow gait was almost enough to put Reese to sleep.  The supple leather was much more comfortable than the makeshift wooden saddles they had been forced to use in Afghanistan.  He was so engrossed in his thoughts that he almost did not notice Holt quietly trot up beside him.
“Any word from the rangers?”
“None yet.”
“Hopefully it will be a quiet night.”
The two traveled north in silent contemplation for a while as they each gazed out across the grainy green landscape.
“How did it go last night with our narco?”
“Barrett is one of the best interrogators I’ve ever met.”
“What did he do to the poor guy?”
“He just talked; it was pretty impressive to watch.  It took all last night and part of this morning, but he cracked the guy.  By the end of it, he thought we were going to leave him tied to that tree.”
“Wait, we didn’t leave him there?”
“Of course not, we’re not like them; there’s a chopper en route to extract him now.  They’ll take him back to Austin and put the screws on him again to see if we can get anything else, but I doubt there’s anything left to tell.”
“So what did he know?”
“Not much that we didn’t already know; he’s just a foot soldier.   All he knows is who’s directly over him, and they’re in Nuevo Laredo; our drones had already located what appeared to be a lot of activity there, so he really just confirmed that for us.”
“A cavalry of gringos can’t just ride into Nuevo Laredo, how are we going to get in?”
“Haven’t got that far yet.”
Reese’s radio crackled to life with the sound of the ranger’s voice, “Reese.”
“Go ahead Wash.”
“We got a situation up here.”
“Tell me about it.”
“We’re at the outskirts of a small villa; maybe two, three dozen huts.  There’s an SUV here, engine is still hot.”
“Believe so; we’re watching them drag what looks to be a teenage male out of the villa towards their vehicle.”
“Sounds like they’re recruiting; how many hostiles can you identify?”
“Are you able to engage them all?”
“Permission granted to engage, or you can wait for reinforcements; your call, ranger.”
“Engaging now.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Wash and Pagan kept their distance and eased along the western edge of the villa.  Perched atop their leopard-spotted stallions, they could gaze over all but the tallest of the mesquite trees around them.  Shrouded by darkness, they guided the Araloosas around the small poblado until they discovered a pile of rubble that afforded them cover and an unobstructed view of their targets.
As they dismounted and took up position behind the small outcrop, they watched the confrontation in the villa unfold less than two hundred yards away.  The boy was nowhere to be found, but now they had another victim.
She looked to be very young, perhaps not even in her teens but she could have been older; malnutrition in the borderlands was rampant and often stunted the growth of the impoverished children that lived there.  She pleaded for help between sobs as she was dragged away by her hair, but the villagers could only stand helplessly by and watch in horror.  An old man, unable to contain his anger any longer, feebly rushed the nearest soldado.  The soldado effortlessly sidestepped the old man and slammed the butt of his rifle mercilessly against the back of his head; he collapsed in a motionless heap on the ground.
“You ready?”
“Now’s our chance.”
“Count it out.”
“Three, two, one-”
Crack-crack!  Crack-crack!  Gore exploded out of the back of the soldado’s head and onto the shocked villagers that were standing nearby; he toppled lifelessly over the old man that still lay at his feet.  The girl shrieked in pain as the soldado that had been dragging her was hit twice in the center of his chest; he stumbled backwards and fell in the dirt, his tightly clenched hand taking a wad of her hair with it.  The girl crouched low and began to hastily crawl towards the old man.
The two rangers silently panned in opposite directions to the two remaining narco soldiers; a second volley of well-aimed, suppressed double-taps from their M4 carbines dropped their adversaries where they stood.  Suddenly, the driver’s door swung open on the SUV and a man emerged, cursing violently and brandishing his rifle at the villagers.
“Got him?”
“Got him.”
Crack-crack!  The final hombre staggered mid-speech in the direction of the villagers and fell headlong to the ground; a small plume of dust billowed up from around him as his blood seeped into the thirsty soil.
The stunned crowd was either frozen motionless as they stared at the carnage that surrounded them or sending tearful praises skyward for their unexpected liberation.  A man rushed to the back of the idling SUV and released the frightened boy; the boy flung his arms tightly around the man as he pulled him to safety.  Wash and Pagan watched as the girl helped the battered old man to his feet.  With a sweeping motion of his hand, he silenced the villagers; with help from the girl, he staggered forward several steps and called out to the darkness.
Mis salvadores! Por favor, mostraos!”
Wash nudged Pagan and whispered, “Would you listen to that Pagan, you’re a salvador!”
“Well I reckon I am.”
Mis salvadores! Por favor, mostraos!”
Wash checked the channel on his radio and then spoke into the microphone, “Hostiles neutralized; what’s your position, Reese?”
“I’m guessing about a mile south.”
“Well keep them ponies at a trot; I think we just made some new friends.”
“Roger, on our way.”


  1. Thanks for the chapter 3. As usual I enjoyed it. Keep up the good work.
    Papa Mike

  2. Forgot to ad. I just bought your Novelet "Flashback" Just to show you I have all your books. Your good.
    Papa Mike

  3. Thanks Pop!
    I really like how flashback turned out. If people like it, I may write a book or 2 in that setting. I need to get a better cover for it.