Authors: John O'Brien
There is very little traffic on the radios but it appears they are using channel seventeen at the moment.
Whether that changes on a daily basis or they also use others for different communications remains to be seen so I leave one on scan just in case.
I don’t like burning up two sets of batteries at once as I don’t know how long we’ll need to be here but the need to gather any and all information dictates the necessity.
We still don’t know if our assumptions are correct and it could be as easy as walking up to the front door and introducing ourselves.
That we will be introducing ourselves is a given, it’s just a matter in which form.
The shadows are at their shortest as the day transitions from morning into afternoon.
We edge away from our lookout location and set up camp.
Looking around the area, I decide on a slight change of plans with regards to our shifts.
I want someone overlooking the back road in the direction we came and also further ahead.
I send two in each direction to find a concealed spot in which to observe the dirt road.
With two overlooking the camp and two monitoring the radio traffic, there are two left for the night shift.
I should have brought another team but any increase in numbers would mean an exponential increase in sound and smell in the area and leave less at base to accomplish the other things we need.
We’ll just have to make do with what we have.
My anxiety hasn’t lessened any as I don’t have a clue as to how the kids are doing but I feel better being here and at least I’m doing something.
We’ll have a better idea about how to proceed with a few days of observation.
I’m especially interested in how the night goes.
The fences they have won’t stop night runners for long, especially with the length and how close to town it is, but it’s obvious they’ve managed so far somehow.
My initial thought is a night operation but the night runners make this a very risky proposal.
Thoughts circulate in my mind around a multitude of ideas including bringing in an AC-130 and just leveling the perimeter.
My worry leads to all sorts of options but I throw many of them out knowing that sheer firepower may not be the solution here.
With everyone in place, it’s now a waiting and observation game.
Nothing much changes during the day.
We observe people heading into Wal-Mart at one point and emerging again carrying boxes.
They are apparently using the store as a storage facility of some sort.
My guess is food and other supplies.
Several trucks and vans are in the school parking lot but none are used during this first day.
Late in the afternoon, while I am taking a shift observing the camp with Greg, a large red truck drives up the highway from the north and pulls into the gate leading into the parking lot.
Lying on my stomach, I set the binoculars in front of me and shoulder the M-110.
Rotating the scope setting to 20x, I see three men emerge from the cab.
I center the cross hairs on the driver as he swings the door closed.
His upper torso and head fill my sight with the juncture of the hair-thin lines centering on his face.
The silencer on the end makes the barrel a little heavy but not to the extent that I can’t keep it steady.
I feel Greg’s arm lightly touch my arm as my finger caresses the trigger guard.
“Not to worry, Greg, I’m not taking a shot.
Just making myself feel a little better by centering on that asshole’s head,” I say without removing my eye from the scope.
“Besides, it would be a long shot with the suppressor attached.
Still, I’d like to put one in the groin and call it poor bullet drop compensation.”
Greg removes his hand with a chuckle as I follow the three men across the lot where they meet up with several others emerging from the office building.
An apparent conversation is held.
One of the men pats the driver on the shoulder and all of them head inside.
My finger caresses the trigger observing the obvious “job well done” pat on the shoulder.
With the semi-automatic nature of the 110 and the fact that they wouldn’t hear a shot, I could take out at least four of them before they knew what was happening.
This knowledge does little to alleviate the deep-seated anger that rises from seeing the pat.
Job well done my ass
, I think as they disappear into the single story structure.
“Did you notice several of them toting M-4’s or at least some variant?”
My guess is they are AR-15’s picked up locally but we’ll have to assume they’re autos,” I answer.
The afternoon passes on towards evening.
The heat that had built during the day begins to cool as the sun descends to the top of the hills behind us.
The shadows of the trees envelop us as they stretch to the east.
The birds, which have only uttered the occasional call, begin their evening chorus and take flight searching out their evening meal.
Squirrels hop from tree to tree above.
Scratching sounds fill the forest on occasion from the squirrels climbing or descending the trees, their tiny claws gaining footholds on the bark.
Our binoculars pick up a convoy of school buses heading towards the school from the direction of the fields and turn into the lot.
We note the time and count twenty-four armed guards exiting first followed by sixty-three people.
They are followed by another guard contingent who shepherd them into various buildings.
From the gym and classroom buildings, another group of people appear in the open area on our side.
It takes on the appearance of a prison yard with people in the middle milling around and guards on the perimeter keeping a close eye.
“Correct me if I’m wrong, but did they just separate the males from the females after they exited the buses and herd them into different buildings?”
I ask Greg while still observing.
“That’s what it looked like to me.
They took the males into that roundish building and the females into that long, rectangular building,” he answers.
“That roundish building is the gym and pool.
I believe that rectangular building is where most of the classrooms are.
So, they appear to segregate genders?
Interesting,” I comment.
Thirty minutes later, the ones gathered outside are guided into what used to be the school lunch room along with the other prisoners from all of the buildings.
“Guess it’s dinner time,” I say.
“Guess so,” Greg responds.
Following their apparent dinner, everyone is herded into the gym for a short time and then the females are brought back to the classrooms.
There is still no sign of the kids or Gonzalez.
The tower guards are exchanged and, close to the sun disappearing over the hills behind us, the rest of the wooden towers are manned.
The faint sound of generators reach us and the perimeter lights turn on shortly thereafter.
“Okay, time for us to get our own bite to eat and close up shop,” I say standing and brushing off pine needles and dirt.
“Sounds good,” Greg says rising as well.
“We’ll compare notes and times with any radio calls.”
I pull in the outlying guards.
We gulp down our meager dinner while taking a look at the radio logs and compare them with our observations.
We remove the tarp from the windows and the night shift takes over, continuing to watch the camp from the Humvee windows.
We gathered a fair bit during the afternoon but not enough for any pattern to emerge.
The night should prove interesting though.
I’m almost eager to see what happens.
This will make a huge difference in what we do.
If we have to go in during the day, I’m thinking we’ll take the camp first and wait for the buses.
With the guards so close to the prisoners, that will be a risky proposition to say the least.
At no time did I notice the guards separate, which means there is a high potential for collateral casualties.
Maybe we’ll have to take the field out first or a two-pronged attack.
I’m just not sure at this point.
I stay up with the night shift to observe the night activities.
We parked the Humvee so that we can see into the camp from the cab and laid branches across the top to disguise the silhouette.
The vehicles are sealed in case any night runners appear in our location.
If we have to, we’ll start up and leave.
Night descends slowly, blanketing the area first in the blue shadows of dusk as the sun vanishes behind the hills, casting reds and oranges in the sky, deepening to the brilliant orange-red of the sunset as the sun says its goodbye to the day.
Darkness envelopes us as our time of relative safety ends.
With little surrounding light to blanket them, the stars twinkle brightly overhead against the velvet sky.
The camp itself is bathed in the same darkness as ourselves.
I see the gray outlines of the buildings within a field of surrounding blackness.
The perimeter lights cast arcs of light outward to a considerable distance, illuminating the fence and surrounding area in a crisp silver-white light.
The lights leave no areas of darkness except a small area on the west side where the trees have been cut back.
A small gap in the light protection exists.
Not a big one and more of a gray shading than complete darkness, but a gap nonetheless.
However, spotlights, either handheld or mounted, stab out into the area from the towers.
Their lights venture further into the darkness than the perimeter lights reach.
Several very faint shrieks reach our location, seeming to come from further to the south towards town.
The night runners are out.
This is the part that I’m most interested in seeing.
The lights stabbing out from the camp won’t harm the night runners, at least that I know of.
Perhaps it’s the brightness of the lights that keeps them away although our lights in the buildings didn’t seem to bother them in the least.
I focus my binoculars on the area just outside of where the perimeter light boundary is.
Can you see them?
Just on the outside of where the lights reach,” I ask Henderson who is sitting beside me monitoring the area as well.
“I don’t see a thing, sir,” he answers.
“They’re right there.
Five night runners milling just outside of where the light ends on the south end,” I say directing him to where the night runners are.
“Still don’t see a thing,” he says as he reaches for the night vision binoculars by his side.
I don’t understand why he can’t see them.
I distinctly see their gray shapes moving back and forth in a parking lot across the street from the camp.
I certainly can’t see them with the same clarity that daylight affords, but their gray outlines are clearly visible.
“Oh, yeah, there they are,” he says focusing the night vision binoculars on the area I indicated.
“How in the world could you see that?”
“They’re faint but pretty clear,” I answer wondering how bad his night vision has to be not to see them.
I am thinking the light beaming from the stars overhead is enhancing the light in the area.
I grab for another pair of night vision binoculars and the area becomes even clearer through the greenish glow.
I don’t know why the night runners aren’t attacking the fence as I’ve witnessed them do many times before.
They seemed to be relentless in their attacks but here they are just milling around.
Occasionally one bends forward with its mouths agape, apparently issuing its all too well-known shrieks; the shrieks again faintly reach our ears moments later.
One of the night runners steps into the light.
A spotlight immediately focuses on it and a flicker of light emits from the closest tower.
The night runner is flung back into the darkness and the sound of the shot echoes a split second later.
The other night runners turn and flee, vanishing behind a building as they run further into a residential area of town.
My thought is that the night runners have learned not to go close to the camp at night and prefer to find easier meals elsewhere.
An occasional shriek resounds through the night but is not as prevalent as I would have thought.
I am thinking that the people in the encampment may have cleared out an area and have been alert enough to take on any who enter into the light at night.
I am also guessing there weren’t that many night runners here to begin with and the people in camp haven’t seen the hordes we have witnessed.
If night runners were here in the numbers we have seen, those fences and towers would have quickly been overwhelmed.