THE LAZARUS ROOM

BY

ROBERT WALLACE PAOLINELLI

COPYRIGHT SAN FRANCISCO 1995

I

We put our backs to the wind, lit our cigarettes, turned back to the wind and continued on our way. Our pack mule was loaded with small arms ammunition and a sack full of hand grenades. The going was rough, the wind was strong and we'd not had a decent meal in over a week. We had about two pounds of flour, some lard, salt, a box of powdered milk and some leftover cooked beans which we would eat when we stopped for lunch at the top of the mountain pass. We were all in need of shaves and baths; we only washed when we crossed streams or when we got caught in a spring rain squall. But we were on our way back to our base and we were in high spirits--in spite of our condition. We had completed our mission; and now we were on our way home to the headquarters of the lst Battalion, California Volunteers.

Becoming a soldier was the farthest thing in my mind; but now I was a seasoned veteran, a sergeant. I never thought I would be able to do the things I had done, had trained for. But that's all in the past. I have been wounded and I have killed my share of men and blown up vehicles and buildings, fortifications with the enemy within

without compunction.

I decided to join up after the bus I was on was ambushed by a four man hit team of the Christian Militia. Before that ambush I was apolitical and had put the war out of my mind as much as possible; but one day the war came into my life and that changed the course of my life.

I was a student, working on my master's degree and I had worked hard and wasn't going to let the war stop my education. I was on my way back to San Francisco, where I was living and studying, from Roseland, where I had gone to say goodbye to a former classmate of mine of who was moving,and who had invited me up to take whatever books I wanted from his collection, which I would use in my course of study. They were pretty expensive texts and dictionaries which I would be hard pressed to buy. I even had to hitchhike up to Roseland because I couldn't afford the round trip fare. I would be returning with a box of tomes and hitchhiking with such a burden was simply out of the question.

My friend, drove me to the bus station; we said our goodbyes, then he got into his car and headed east for a position in a small college in Iowa. I checked my books at the baggage check, took my backpack on the bus with me, found a window seat in the middle of the bus. About five minutes after our departure I feel asleep.

The road we traveled on was a small, two lane highway, common in northern California. We were heading for the main road, Highway 101. I found out later that a couple of logs had been laid across the road; the bus driver managed to get around them, but a few yards further up another log barrier had been erected. He was starting to slow down because he realized he couldn't get around the barrier; that's when the peace was shattered by bursts of automatic weapons fire. Fortunately the driver was not hit and he managed to stop the bus. Bullets were flying every which way. The window at which I sat was shattered, glass was strewn all over and my head was cut and I was bleeding. My face was covered with blood.

The Christian Militiamen got on the bus. They had 9mm Uzis and they were looking for someone. One of them had some photographs in his hand. they checked everybody--even me--even the corpses.

"They're not on this bus," said the one holding the photographs." His voice was worried. "Are you sure we got the right bus?" he said.

"Let's get out of here," said another voice.

I saw them jump off; one of them spoke into a radio. I could see that they were nervous. I was scared out of my skin. then I heard a motor. A fast moving pick-up truck slowed; the men jumped into the bed and the truck sped off and as its tires screeched more shots were fired; but I had a clear view of the truck and the shots were fired in the air I guess to emphasize their power.

The attackers wore regular army camouflage fatigues. And over their right chest pockets a tag which read Christian Militia; and in place of the letter "t" they had crosses for the "t" in Christian and Militia.

The driver used his radio and described the attack. He then started up the bus, backed it up to a turn out, made a U-turn, and headed back to Roseland. All the while people were screaming and moaning and crying. I had never witnessed such a hell in my life. That scene on the bus is burned into my mind; and I will always remember the faces of the criminals who had attacked innocent people.

Several ambulances were at the bus depot waiting for us. Among the wounded were a mother with an infant; a bullet had passed through the infant's leg and entered the mother's chest. They took her off first. I was taken off last so I was able to see most of the wounded, one of whom was an old man with a big hole in his cheek and I could see his teeth.

Although wounded myself, I was triaged to be treated last; and when my turn came I was seen by a young interne who used his skill to remove embedded glass from my head then sew me up. He gave me an injection of an antibiotic, then a bottle of antibiotic capsules with instructions and told to return to the hospital in a week to have the dressing changed. Then I was released from his care. The police then took my name and asked me some questions and I told them what I could and when the police were finished with me I felt exhausted and, not knowing what to do, I just sat in the now empty waiting room staring at the wall. I don't know how long I was there, but all the time I couldn't get the image of that infant and its mother and the old man's teeth out of my mind. As I've said, until that day I was far removed from the war. I figured the government would take care of the rebellion from the political right and I would continue my education. However, as I sat there I began to get angry; and the longer I sat the more outraged I became until I remember jumping out of my chair shouting: "How dare they! How dare they do such a thing!"

Apparently I went out of my head because the next thing I knew I was being restrained by two deputy sheriffs and the interne who had treated me was saying to them, "Be careful. Don't hurt him. He was one of the passengers on the bus."

"Well he can't be breaking up the place and disturbing the peace."

When I came back to my senses I realized the trouble I was causing and I apologized and asked the deputies to release me, that my anger and outrage were spent and I would cause no more trouble. My head was spinning and I felt nauseated.

The interne took me by the arm and lead me down a corridor and into a small room. It was a kind of day room for off duty hospital personnel. He sat me down in a comfortable chair.

"Would you like a cup of coffee?" he asked.

"Yes," I said,feeling a little better, and glad to be away from the waiting room.

"I'm sure a night's rest will improve your disposition. It must have been quite an ordeal. Every week we get cases of gunshot wounds. But today was the worst I've ever seen it. Those cowardly bastards!"

"Do you know how the baby and its mother are doing?" I asked in a subdued voice.

The interne looked at me with cold eyes. "The mother is dead and they had to amputate the little girl's leg--the bullet destroyed her bone, tore up the muscles. There was no other choice." His chest heaved as he pronounced the clinical information; but I could tell, that in spite of his eyes and his well-controlled voice, he, too, had been touched.

For a moment I sat so still I felt like a piece of stone. All at once, however, I felt my body go limp and I broke down and cried. I could hear the anguished cries of my voice and taste the saltiness of my copious tears as they passed over my lips. The interne tried to console me; but I continued to weep until I could weep no more. When I looked up there were two other people in the room, both of them dressed in surgical greens. One was a woman, perhaps fifty years old or so and the other, a younger woman around twenty eight. The older woman, as it turned out was a surgeon and the younger one a surgical nurse; and as I discovered, they had worked together to save the mother and to amputate the infant's destroyed leg.

The surgeon approached me, sat on the arm of the chair and put her hand on my shoulder. "Are you a relative?" she asked in a solicitous voice. I shook my head. "No; I was a passenger on the bus; I saw the medics take them off; she was so small and still on her mother's chest. And now the mother's dead and that baby will grow up without a leg--her whole life ruined because of those fucking militiamen, and I hate them! Hate them!"

"Maybe you'll feel differently in the morning. You are very upset. Do you live here in Roseland?"

"No; I'm from San Francisco."

"I can have you stay the night in the hospital. I think that would be best." She turned to the interne. "Dr. Bell, please make arrangements for his immediate admission."

"Yes, doctor," he said, and he left the room.

"I want to kill those bastards! Put them up against a wall and shoot them! I saw that baby earlier. She was so sweet and her mother was playing with her, laughing. And when they carried the baby out it was screaming...covered with blood...the mother so pale, all bloody..." I clenched my teeth and shouted: "I want to kill those bastards! Kill them! Rip their guts out!" I was so hurt and angry. I had never manifested such hate in all my life.

"Have you ever killed anyone?" asked the surgeon. Her

question stopped me.

"No. I don't even know how to fire a gun--I've never even had one in my hands. But I'll learn, damnit, I'll learn."

The surgeon got up from the arm of the chair where she had been sitting and went to the nurse and for a couple of minutes they talked in low voices, then the surgeon pulled up a chair close to mine and said:--

"If you're serious, I can help you. The army doesn't think there's enough action up here to send troops; but there is a group of volunteers and I can put you in touch with them if, that is, you are serious."

"I'm serious."

"Good. But first you need to get better. Your wound isn't serious but you've had a great shock and what you need more than anything is sleep.

"But I want to hear about these volunteers. I want to avenge that child and its dead mother."

"Vengeance is a dish best eaten cold," said the surgeon.

"What do you mean?" I asked.

"Right now you are caught up in a lot of emotion--I can't fault you for that. That attack was vicious and a trauma for every passenger. You say you want to avenge that child and its mother. Well, you can't do that without the proper training. Right now you are filled with righteous indignation and for good reason. But will you feel the same way in the morning?"

I felt insulted. "Do you think I'm just a lot of talk? I saw the bodies and the wounded--and I was wounded myself. I'm not saying things of the moment. I'm in this to the end." I said those words with as much conviction as I could muster, for I felt I had to defend my integrity and my honor.

"What's your name?" asked the surgeon.

"Harold Chambers--and you?"

"I'm Cecilia Lodi, chief emergency room surgeon, and this is my daughter, Emily-Rose, R.N. We are connected with the volunteers, and they are a seriously committed lot. And you've got to be serious, too. Not too many have volunteered. People seem to think the government will turn things around--but the government's too damn busy elsewhere. This is a small community and we don't rate high at the Pentagon. Do you read the papers?"

"Rarely," I answered truthfully, for I had consciously avoided reading the papers, and I never watched the television news. I was truly ignorant of current events, except I knew there was a civil war going on; but I had put my head in the sand and went on with my academic studies. But now the war had affected me.

"Well there has been a big battle just east of Las Vegas. Government troops fought a well-organized, highly disciplined unit of the Christian Militia. The militia, or what's left of it is retreating back to San Diego where they came from. According to news reports, they were out to capture Hoover Dam and the atomic proving grounds. They're licking their wounds--but they'll be back. In the meanwhile, the jackals in this area are causing a lot of grief. They are well-armed and they are being supplied from the southland and other places. Moreover, the enemy is forming a unit somewhere down south with the intention of heading north and maybe taking over the San Francisco Bay Area."

"You seem to be well-informed," I said.

"I am. I make it a point to be aware of the times. And so should you. When you are better I will see that you go to a place where you will get yourself some political education and learn what we're fighting for--and not just revenge for the death of that poor woman and the leg of that infant. This issue is greater than that--but it is precisely to counter such acts of terrorism that we are fighting for. Is that clear, Mr. Chambers?"

"Yes. You have made it very clear" I felt I'd just been dressed down, but I had it coming. Everything she said was true. I simply could not get a gun and go hunting for Christian terrorists , satisfy my blood lust and feel better. I had to understand the nature of this civil war and dedicate myself to help win it--with a cool head. Dr. Bell came back.

"Admissions is ready for him, Doctor Lodi."

"Good, very good. So, Mr. Chambers, you go with Dr. Bell. Get a good night's rest and we shall visit you in the morning. And thank you for coming forward. We need people with your determination," and she put out her hand and I took it and we shook hands. When I took her hand I felt that she was a friend. Her daughter also shook my hand, but I didn't feel any friendship from her.

II

I woke up the next morning with a terrific headache; it felt like a hangover. I looked at my wristwatch: it was just six thirty. I needed a couple of aspirin or something for my head, so getting out of bed, and leaving my room, I found the nursing station. One nurse was on duty.

"Hello," she said, "how are you feeling?"

"Terrible," I responded, "I've got a headache that's killing me. Do you have something you can give me?"

"I sure do; Dr. Bell has prescribed an anodyne for you. If you'll just take a seat, I'll get it.

She came back a minute later with a small white pill and a paper cup filled with water. I took them both and drank them down. The hospital was quiet; the nurse was standing by me with a smile on her face looking at me.

"Emily-Rose told me you were pretty shaken about the baby and the demise of her mother."

"Who is Emily-Rose?" I asked, because for the life of me I couldn't remember who she was."

"Dr. Lodi's daughter; you met her last night. She sat by your bed for an hour last night after you'd fallen asleep."

Then I remembered who Emily-Rose was, and I also remembered that when I'd shaken hands with her it was not a friendly shake. "You say she sat at my bedside?"

"That's right.She 's a very dedicated nurse and you are fortunate she has taken an interest in your case."

"Really? She didn't seem any too friendly last night--now that I remember."

"Don't take that personally. Poor thing, she must have been exhausted. Do you know how many operations she assisted yesterday?"

"No; tell me."

"Six--all gun shot wounds and, sadly, the baby's amputation. That's a rough schedule, especially for surgery. Doc Lodi and she worked like demons. We're kind of shorthanded these days.

"Can you tell me anything about the old man who was shot in the face?"

They helicoptered him out, flew him down to San Francisco. He needed an oral surgeon--and we don't have one."

"Will he live?" I asked ingenuously.

"Without a doubt; but, poor guy, he'll have to have several operations, I'm sure."

"Dr. Bell said this hospital gets lots of gunshot wounds. Sounds as if the militia is pretty active."

"It surely is; and the sooner they get rid of them the better. They are nothing more than terrorists--and they call themselves Christians--they're more like devils if you ask me." The phone at the nursing station rang. "Excuse me," she said.

As she spoke, I sat quietly, suddenly aware that my headache was gone. And for that I was grateful. She put down the phone and after writing something down, came back over and joined me, by sitting down in a chair opposite me.

"Emily-Rose said you're thinking of joining up with the Volunteers. Good for you. I hope you shoot a couple of those Christys for me."

"What did you call them?"

"Christys--that's our local name for them. I could think of worse things to call them--but Christys will do. Emily-Rose's fiance was a Volunteer, but he was assassinated--right here in the hospital parking lot. I was off duty that night. I knew Bart, he was a decent young man. He would have been a fine architect--but he gave up his career to join the Volunteers. He'd been in about six months; he was one of the best. He had a few days off and was in town. He'd taken Emily-Rose to the movies, then dropped her off. As he was getting into his car some Christys drove up and shot him. They even left a note. It said that another soldier of Satan was dead. Praise the Lord. They are a sick bunch--really psychos. If you join up be prepared to defend your life at any time. There are people right here in Roseland who by day are common citizens, upstanding members of the community. But at night, they come out with their uniforms and guns and turn into maniacs. Just be careful. Listen, I don't want you to get scared off. It's not easy, I know. But just do the best you can. Now how would you like a shower and some breakfast?"

Luckily I had a change of clothes in my backpack so when I got out of the shower I changed into fresh, albeit wrinkled clothes and rejoined the nurse at the station--but she was gone. "What happend to the other nurse?" I asked the new face at the desk. "We change shifts at seven; Claire's gone, but she did say to give you a cup of coffee, and breakfast will be served at eight. Do you think you can hold out until then?"

The ward was coming alive; other people were on duty and already ambulatory patients were walking about. I walked down the end of the hall and looked out of the window; below me was the hospital parking lot, and as I stared at the parked cars I tried to imagine the assassination of the man called Bart. I always had a liking for architects, and I felt badly that one had been killed. I put Bart on my list for vengeance, too.

I had breakfast in my room and afterwards, I lay back on my bed fully clothed and fell asleep.

III

I was awakened by the gentle shakes of Dr. Lodi. When I opened my eyes she and Emily-Rose were standing at my bed.

"Good morning," I said, it's nice to see a friendly face."

"And good morning to you. I take it you had a good night's rest?"

"I did; but when I woke up I had an awful headache; but the duty nurse gave me something for it."

"I know; I read your chart. How do you feel when you walk?"

"Ok. No problems with my balance if that's what you mean."

"That's what I mean. You are very astute, Mr. Chambers. Now tell me, how do you feel about what you told us last night?"

I swung my legs over the bed and sat up. I looked Dr. Lodi straight into the eyes and then I turned to Emily-Rose and said: "This morning I am more determined than ever to enlist." I saw Emily-Rose smile and nod her head.

"Good," said Dr. Lodi. "I've arranged for you to stay here until after dinner this evening, then you will be discharged and picked up and taken to the Volunteer's base camp. In the meanwhile, rest, sleep if you want; and if your headache returns just go to the nursing station and they'll give you something for the pain." She turned to leave, but hesitated: "Did you have any luggage on the bus?"

"Not really luggage; just a box."

"Give me the claim check, I'll see that it's picked up and it will be waiting for you when you leave this evening. Goodbye, Mr. Chambers."

"Good bye, Dr. Lodi, and thank you for everything you've done--and you, too, Emily-Rose--you've both been very kind to me."

"It's our pleasure, Harold," said Emily-Rose," and with that they both left.

I cat napped most of the morning, ate lunch, then took a two hour siesta. When dinner time came, I was dressed and ready to go. I wasn't very hungry. I was flipping through a magazine when the duty nurse came into my room. "Someone is waiting for you in the hospital lobby. Please stop off at the desk before you leave."

In the lobby was Emily-Rose. My eyes opened wide when I saw her, for she was now dressed in combat fatigues and under her left armpit was a shoulder holster with a long-barrelled revolver stuck in it. I was mildly shocked.

"Why so surprised, Harold?" she asked with a grin on her face. Haven't you ever seen a woman soldier before?"

"Not really--except some R.O.T.C cadets at school; but they weren't armed."

"Get used to it," she said drily. My van's in the parking lot. Let's go. By the way, I've got your box. It's mighty heavy. What do you have in there?"

"Books. But I don't think I'll be needing them--at least not until this war is over."

She nodded and with a wave of her hand I followed her down a long hallway until we got to a door marked EXIT. I was about to open it, but she said, "Stop, wait."

She opened the door slowly and stuck out her head and looked both ways before she opened it more. "Ok, let's go."

She had her hand on her gun and walked close to the wall.

"Is this necessary?" I asked in an impatient voice.

""This is how one stays alive, Harold," she said without turning to look at me.

Once at her van she unlocked the doors and we got in. Before she put the key into the ignition she took out her revolver and laid it in her lap, then she started the engine and as we drove off I asked again, "Is it necessary to keep a loaded gun on your lap?"

She brought the van to a sudden stop. "Listen: You are a recruit, so you might as well start your basic training now. This is serious business and if you are not, then there is still time for you to bail out. My fiance was killed by the Christian Militia right in this parking lot. It happend so fast he didn't even get a chance to draw his weapon--this one," she said, picking up the revolver. Get used to being afraid--but I guarantee you, you'll never get used to it. If you want to stay alive, stay alert. Hone your animal instincts. Do you think I like to live like this? Hell no. And the sooner we can quell these fanatics the better life will be. Get that straight and you might make a good soldier."

She turned from me, put her foot on the gas and drove off. I didn't say a word. Frankly, I was a bit intimidated not only by her curtness, but by the formidable presence of the gun she held in her lap.

I didn't know where we were going. But about a half hour later, after going down narrow country roads and making more turns than I can remember, we slowed until we reached a barrier which stood out sharply in the van's headlights. She blinked her high beams twice and blew the horn three times then waited.

A moment later three men dressed in black and each carrying automatic weapons, were at the van. She rolled down the window and spoke. "Hi Charlie--here's our recruit." The man Charlie shined a small flashlight into the cab onto my face. He held the light long enough for him to see what I looked like and to comment on the dressing which covered my head. "Did he have a training accident?" he asked jocosely.

"Sort of," answered Emily-Rose for me. "He was on the ambushed bus--and now he's a convert."

"You check him out?"

"Certainly; and he comes personally recommended by Commander Omega."

"In that case, welcome, friend. Jose, open the gate." Silently, the man Jose, opened the gate and waved us through. "See you later, Captain," said Jose to Emily-Rose, then he stepped back smartly and saluted.

"Captain? What kind of Captain are you?" I asked.

"Captain of Volunteers, Medical Corps. You'll find out all about me soon enough."

IV

We drove into some trees and followed a gravel road for a few minutes; she drove with her parking lights on.

A clearing with several vehicles parked in a line came into view. We parked. I could see three buildings; one I knew was a very large house; its lights were on but the shades drawn.

The door of the house opened. A man stood at the door. He called out, "Welcome, Captain. I see you have our recruit." His voice was friendly and as we got to the threshold, he stepped aside and we entered into a large room where fifteen men and women (I counted them) sat at a long table. They were all dressed in black and each had a shoulder holster with a pistol.

Emily-Rose and our greeter embraced. "How are you, Uncle Matt? Long time no see."

They disengaged. "Doing ok. Your mother tells me you've been pretty busy. We got a line on those bastards. Now this must be Mr. Chambers. How do you do, sir, I am Matthew Gates, commanding officer of the unit. I want to tell you how much I appreciate your having volunteered. Omega says she trusts you, and that's good enough for me--and your story checks out, too."

"My story? What do you mean, sir?" I asked.

"We make a background check on all recruits; never can tell when some Christy will infiltrate. We can't be too careful in this business. We know something about you:223 Grijalva St, master's candidate in linguistics at San Francisco State University, mother's maiden name, Sokolovskya; no police record, no known political affiliations. We have to make sure, Mr. Chambers. On behalf of this command let me welcome you, and he stuck out his big hand, and when we shook I felt his strength and his sincerity. And still holding my hand, he guided me toward the table.

"Ladies and gents, I'd like to introduce our newest recruit; Harold Chambers. He's a survivor of the ambushed bus. He will be with us for recuperation, first of all, education and training. He's already been on the receiving end of an attack, and I hope that in the near future he'll be out on patrol on the giving end." The group applauded me and I felt a bit shy. He let go of my hand. "Have you eaten, Emily-Rose? How about you, Mr. Chambers?"

"No, Uncle; and I'm hungry."

"Stew's in the kitchen on the back of the stove. Make yourselves at home. And Emily-Rose, put Mr. Chambers in the Lazarus Room until he's fit for duty. That's all."

"Yes, sir," she said. There was a sense of order in the atmosphere yet there was also a sense of camaraderie that impressed me.

I ate a bowl of what I was told was venison stew. It tasted good. I was hungry; but my head was now throbbing and I told Emily-Rose.

"On the way to the Lazarus Room, we'll stop at the dispensary and give you something for your pain."

The house was big and sprawling and the dispensary was at the far end of the house. Emily-Rose turned on a light as we entered. The dispensary looked like a well-equipped emergency room, like a smaller version of the ER back at the hospital, and I commented on this.

"We treat our wounded here when we can," she said, opening a medicine chest and taking out a bottle of pills, which she opened and shook out two white tablets. "Take these; there's water over there," she said, pointing to a sink in the corner. "Use one of the paper cups. Your headache should subside in a few minutes. What you need, too, is sleep."

"In the Lazarus Room, right?"

"Right."

"Why do you call it that? I'm curious."

"It's our little joke. I'll tell you about it--but originally it was no joke. About a year ago we went out on an operation and got shot up pretty badly. We got the Christys, but they got us, too. Mother and I worked all night, here. We had half a dozen wounded and one dead--or so we thought--a head wound. No vital signs. We were too busy with the living, so we put the body in the room at the end of the hall. It was winter so we left the windows open so the body wouldn't putrefy before his kin could come and claim his remains. We had a hard time locating his kin; but we left word for them to contact us. As I said, we had our hands full with the wounded and we almost forgot about our honored dead. In the middle of the afternoon, an orderly was assigned to sweep and mop the rooms. He didn't know a corpse was on the bed. When he walked in, he went up to what he thought was a sleeping man, shook him and said to wake up because he had to sweep and mop and needed to move the furniture and the bed about, and that the room next door was unoccupied and cleaned. The corpse opened his eyes and tried to get up, but he couldn't., so the orderly came to the dispensary and asked for some help to move a man who seemed to be sick and couldn't get off the bed. Mother and I rushed to the room. The Volunteer had his eyes open and was asking for water. We rushed him to the hospital for x-rays. He had a small caliber bullet lodged in his brain. He was operated on and he lived. He's still with us. Anyway, Uncle Matt started calling the room the Lazarus Room and it stuck."

"Kind of grim, if you asked me."

"Don't lose your sense of humor, Harold. In fact, you would do well to cultivate a sense of humor around here; it takes the edge off of things when things get rough."

"I'll remember that. But let me ask you a question: Why are all those people in the front room doing dressed in black, and what did your uncle mean when he said he had a line on the Christys" (I ventured to use their jargon) "who attacked the bus."

"Their dressed in black because they're preparing for a night operation; that gathering is a briefing. If all goes well, they should be back in the late morning. I'm here to treat the wounded--if any. There's a robe in the closet and breakfast is whenever you get up. You're on light duty and don't have to follow the routine yet. Just rest and I'll see you tomorrow. Good night."

As I lay in the bed, I tried to imagine the man back from the dead, which made me think of all the good, innocent people who had been killed on the bus, especially about the baby's mother. Then I got to thinking of that child and tears welled up in my eyes. I turned my face into the pillow and cried myself to sleep.

V

I woke up late. The sun was high. I lay in bed for a long time. I didn't feel like moving. Usually I wake up early, go for a short walk, come back, make some breakfast, and if I have an early class go to school, otherwise I stay home and study. Today my life was different. I was a recruit in a guerilla army, and whatever my life had been, it was no more. I didn't even care about my things in my small studio apartment back in San Francisco. In the first place I didn't have much. I would write to my landlady and ask her to sell or give my things away; that I wasn't coming back. I'd write to the school registrar and withdraw. I looked around the room. I saw my box of books. How did it get here? Nevertheless, they now seemed superfluous.

I became aware of a voice; it came from outside. I recognized the voice: It was Commander Gates'. "Take the prisoners to the stockade; burn their dead; clean your weapons and gear. When you've finished get something to eat and get some sleep. Thank your for a job well done. Dismissed!"

Prisoners? Burn the dead? They must have got back from their night operation. Were there any wounded? I pulled the covers back and slowly crawled out of bed and stood at the window. I saw five men, all blindfolded, dressed in Christian Militia uniforms. On the back of a truck, I saw three, long plastic bags. Body bags? I needed to find out. I dressed as quickly as I could and immediately went to the dispensary; but it was locked. I assumed there were no wounded. I rushed outside just in time to see Volunteers dressed in fatigues, marching the prisoners toward one of the buildings I'd seen last night. Now, in the light of day I saw that it was surrounded by barbed wire; bars were on all the windows and armed guards stood at the door. It was, obviously, the stockade. I just stared. It was all so new to me.

"I"m sure you find it all a bit strange, Mr. Chambers," said a familiar voice behind me. It was Commander Alpha.

When I turned around I tried to stand at attention. He smiled. "At ease, Harold. You'll be a soldiering soon enough. How's your head today?"

"Holding up pretty good. Are those prisoners the ones who attacked the bus?"

"We're pretty sure they are; but you can identify them at before their execution."

"You're going to execute them?"

"We sure are. Without mercy. But first we want to interrogate them. No telling what information they might give us."

"But shouldn't they first have a trial? And I thought that prisoners of war were not executed. At least that's what I've heard."

"You heard right. But these aren't ordinary prisoners and this isn't a war of gallantry or honor. The Christys don't take prisoners--and neither do we. But you'll find out all about that during your program of education. You've got the makings of a good soldier, Chambers, but don't get any notions about honor and all that. This is a slaughter and mercy is not in the scheme of things. But I don't want to burden you with too much. All in due time. Right now I want to get our quartermaster to issue you uniforms and equipment. Then, when you're in proper uniform, report to me after lunch." He turned around and looked about and called out: "Charlene!"

A woman, in her early forties, came sauntering over to us. When she reached us she smiled at both of us. "I'm glad the operation was a success, and thank God, we didn't have any wounded."

"Yep, we were lucky--but I want to introduce our new recruit, Volunteer Harold Chambers. He'll be needing a regular issue. Take him over to your shop and fit him out, then send him up to Jose for weapons."

"Ok, Matt. By the way, when will the new boots arrive? We're getting low on stock.

"I know. I read your supply report. I sent in the requisition weeks ago; but you know we have a low priority. If only those fools at the Pentagon would fully realize the conditions in this area, we wouldn't have to go hat in hand for every damn thing we need."

"Ammo's getting low, too. Especially 7.62 mms."

"I can help you there. I've got a hold on about ten thousand rounds down at the National Guard Armory in Fielding. Maybe tomorrow, when I have a truck to spare you can take a hop down there and haul it back."

"Quartermaster Charlene's storeroom was located on the ground floor of the building directly across from the main house. Inside there were shelves with clothing, boots, helmets, webbing, medical supplies, office supplies and so on. A supply clerk was on a ladder taking inventory.

"I'd like you to meet Harold Chambers, our new recruit," she said to the man on the ladder. "That's Martin Chuzzlewit up on the ladder," she said to me.

I laughed. "Pleased to meet you. Is that your real name?" I asked.

"That's what they call me; but my mother named me Gavin--but since I started to read Dickens' "Martin Chuzzlewit" a year ago, I got stuck with that name. I'm a slow reader. You can call me Marty. I don't mind. And without further exchange, he went back to his inventorying.

Charlene spoke little, but smiled much and I got a good feeling from her. She measured me then gave me a duffle bag and was told to follow her. By the time we were through the process, I had been issued: 3 pairs of fatigues, a black pullover and a pair of black pants and a black watch cap; a soft hot, three T-shirts and shorts, 3 pairs of boot socks, a sweater, a field jacket, belt, suspenders, 2 pairs of boots, a toothbrush, comb, razor with razor blades, towels, wash cloth, soap and soap dish, a webbed belt, canteen, poncho, backpack and an 8 inch, double edged dagger with a scabbard and s small whetstone.

"Get dressed so I can see if you got a decent fit and try on the boots. You'll be doing a lot of walking. They are as important as your rifle."

I looked around for a dressing room. Charlene took out some forms, put them in an old manual typewriter and began to fill them out. After a minute or so she stopped and looked up. "Is anything the matter?"

"Where can I change?"

She answered matter-of-factly: "Right here. Are you shy?" she said, with a light voice and a disarming smile.

I turned red. She laughed. "Fine, I'll turn around." The typewriter was on a wheeled stand; she pushed it around, changed her chair's position and while she continued to type, with her back to me, I changed into uniform and boots as quickly as possible. Admittedly, I was shy. As I was lacing up my boots, Charlene swiveled in her chair.

"My, my, but you are handsome in a uniform," and she gave me one of her warm smiles, and I blushed again. "Walk around and tell me if the boots fit ok."

I walked the length of the long supply room. The botts felt fine. As I turned to go back, I noticed some folded fatigues on the floor with Christian Militia tags above the pockets. "Hey, Marty," I called up to him, "what are 5those for?" I asked, pointing to the enemy uniforms.

"Oh, those. They're for three D operations."

"Three D operations? What does that mean?"

"Decoy, deception and decimation. Ha, ha, ha!" He let out a hearty laugh.

I stood before Charlene. She was back in her original position and was pulling out the forms, with carbon paper from the typewriter. "I'll need your signature, here," she said, making a small x at the bottom of the form. "If we ever ran out of paper, our whole operation would grind to a halt."

The form I signed was an acknowledgement that the prescribed uniforms and equipment had been issued and received.

"Now let's get you into proper uniform. Take out the web belt and the dagger out of your duffle bag."

As I adjusted the belt she said: "You will always go about armed--with whatever weapon you have. Don't ever forget that." When she said that there was a very serious tone in her voice. I hooked the dagger to the belt and felt it against my side.

"Martin Chuzzlewit, come down from that ladder and take recruit Chambers upstairs to Jose for his weapons issue, then take him to the mess hall."

Marty lead me to a long flight of stairs. He pushed a button and waited. "Speak," came a voice from a wall speaker. "Sergeant Chuzzlewit with a new recruit come for weapons."

"Come up," said the voice from the speaker.

At the top of the stairs was a steel door and another buzzer, which Marty pushed. A peep hole in the steel door opened momentarily, closed, then the door opened and I saw Jose, whom I'd seen last night when Emily-Rose and I had arrived.

"Welcome to the armory, Chambers, I've been expecting you. I'm the unit armorer, Jose Velasquez," he offered his hand. He had a light, short grip.

The armory was as long as the downstairs supply room. The windows were covered with iron grating and I could see several security camera monitors on the walls and ceilings. Down the center of the room were several racks with rifles; in an area near Jose's desk were several machine guns mounted on tripods and some small mortars. On the wall were pegs and on each peg hung a pistol or revolver. Everywhere I looked were firearms and other weapons I didn't recognize, but which I would soon learn about.

"How's your head?" asked Jose.

"It's ok, I guess. I get tired easily and it aches."

"it's to be expected. You'll heal with time. Now tell me: what's your preference in handguns: pistol or revolver?"

I didn't know a damn thing about firearms and I told him so. I was almost embarrassed and said so.

"No big deal. You'll learn soon enough, you can count on that. Come with me. I"I've got something I think you'll like," he said, turning to the wall of handguns. He took one off a peg. "Here, see how this fits," he said, handing an automatic pistol to me by the slide.

For the first time in my twenty six years, I had a genuine pistol in my hand and I felt strange. I looked at it, it was black, not heavy and the strangeness I felt turned to a sense of power--power to shoot the bastards who mutilated that baby. I gripped the pistol and pointed it away from the wall toward one of the security cameras and sighted as best I could and pulled the trigger. Nothing happend. Nonetheless, I felt good. "I like it," I said.

"Good, good. It's a regulation 9mm issue--just got it in--taken from one of the Christy prisoners--who probably stole it, who knows. It's your now. Let me get you a shoulder holster and you can take it with you. As for a rifle you get a 7.62 mm M15. When you graduate from basic training and I've got an M16, you'll get it; as it is, they are in short supply--but the M15 is a good weapon. He walked to a rifle rack and after unlocking it, took off a rifle.

He filled out some papers, with my name and the serial numbers of the pistol and rifle and I signed a weapons receipt. "All recruits are required to carry their rifles with them at all times--even to the shitter and the shower. Pistols are optional. You will keep your weapons clean and have them ready for inspection at all times. Same goes for the dagger. Is that clear?"

"Yes sir, " I said.

"No need for that sir business. I'm not an officer--and anyway, we don't hold much for any of that RA crap."

"What's RA?" I was really naive.

"Regular Army. You'll learn. Marty, you taking him to the mess hall?

"Yes."

"On your way stop at the ammo dump and have them issue him some ammo. Well, Chambers, good luck and good hunting. Learn to stay alive. Dead heroes don't fight. See you at the chow hall."

Marty was kind enough to carry my duffle bag to my room, and once there he helped me fit the shoulder holster. We were at the door, ready to leave when he said: "Did you forget something?" And I ingenuously responded, "I don't think so."

"Bullshit. Your rifle. Don't ever forget it. Someday it will save your life--or someone else's. Let's go." His words were to be prophetic.

With my rifle at sling arms, as Marty had shown me, we stepped outside. I fell into step with him; many other people seemed to be going our way, too.

We crossed the clearing, which Marty called the quad, and were under the trees again. A few yards into the trees I could see a structure; Marty said it was the mess hall, but we took a trail to the right and followed it for about five minutes. The trail ended at a barrier of barbed wire, beyond which was a concrete structure, which reminded me of a bomb shelter. On the other side of the barbed wire were two doberman pinschers and two guards armed with light machine guns.

"Howdy, Marty," said one of the guards. Is that the new recruit?"

"Yes it is. Meet Harold Chambers--these jokers are Trevor and Langston--be careful of Langston--especially on pay day; he likes to play cards--I ought to know--I beat him every time, Ha, ha, ha!" burst out Marty.

"Don't believe a word he says, Chambers," responded Langston, good naturedly. There seemed to be a good sense of repartee among these men. "Pleased to meet you, Chambers."

"Same here," said Trevor.

"PLeased to meet you both," I said, and we all shook hands.

"Jose sent us over to pick up some ammo for Harold's weapons."

"Step right in, the store's open and today we have a special "

"What's the special?" asked Marty.

"A case of phosphorus grenades--compliments of the Christys we went after last night. I never saw so many PGs in all my service time. I wonder where those bastards are getting all this sophisticated hardware."

While Trevor held the dogs, we entered the wire and Langston unlocked a thick steel door, put his hand inside and flipped on the lights. We walked down six steps into the bunker. I saw cases of ammunition and hand grenades and what looked like small, slender rockets.

Langston went straight to his work. Opening up a heavy wooden crate, he took out four loaded magazines of 7.62 mm rifle ammunition. 'Hey, Marty, grab one of those ammo belts for Chambers." While Marty held the belt Langston stuffed the four magazines into its wide pockets. "Now some 9mm." From a shelf he took down a large box; when he opened it I saw hundreds of loose rounds. "Let's have your magazine," he said.

"Where is it?" I asked

Langston looked at me and smiled. "Brother, you sure are green. Take out your pistol." I did so. "You see that button?" he indicated one to the rear of the trigger guard, "depress it." I did so and out popped a magazine. I really felt stupid. "Let me show you how to load it ," and he began to take individual rounds and pushed them down on the magazine follower. "Now you finish it," he said. I managed to fill the magazine; it was easy, "Now shove it back into the handle. I did. "This is the safety," he said, pointing it out to me. "Your pistol is now on safe. There's nothing in the chamber, so don't worry about shooting yourself. I need you to sign for the ammo." He prepared a short form on a clipboard and I signed my name.

"That's it, partner. Good hunting," he said, slapping me on the back in a friendly way.

"Jose said the same thing to me: 'Good hunting.' Is that how you see all of this--like a hunting party.

"Hell, yes," replied Langston. "We're after real animals--dangerous ones--and it sure gives me a great deal of pleasure to go hunting--and I hope you get the hunting spirit, too."

I was not used to such talk. I'd been a student; and before that I'd lead a rather quiet, nonviolent life.. All this talk about hunting men did not sit well with me; but I kept my thoughts to myself.

I felt a little awkward when we entered the mess hall,. I was not used to walking around with a rifle and a pistol and a dagger and an ammunition belt filled with loaded magazines in full view. But as I looked around I saw I was not the only one and my self-consciousness soon disappeared. We served ourselves at the food line putting our food into steel trays with depressions. The food looked good and it smelled good, too, and I was very hungry. Having been wounded seemed to have enhanced my appetite. I heard my name called out. I turned; it was a man with red hair; I had seen him at the briefing table last night. "Sit over here," he said. Next to him was the quartermaster, Charlene. She smiled and waved at me to join them.

Marty sat at another table. "I want to introduce myself, Harold, I'm Eddy Marino, small arms instructor and you are my only student. As soon as you are off the light duty list, we'll begin a series of classes on the use of the weapons you've just been issued and when you've achieved a degree of proficiency, I'll start you on various machine guns, grenade launchers and hand grenades. Any questions?" He was very direct.

"Can I start sooner?"

"No way. Alpha says you are to be on light duty for at least another week. I can get someone to teach you how to march and salute," he said, with a sheepish grin, "if you're in such a hurry. Just relax and get to know the folks you're going to fight with--learn all you can. Listen and ask questions--and a piece of advice: No heroics. Be cool and cunning. The Christys are pretty slick and ruthless. They don't take prisoners--least way not in these parts; and when they do they usually torture them. Avoid capture at all cost. They like to use piano wire tightened around the balls--then give a good yank," and he pulled his fists apart.

My blood ran cold and my hand started to shake.

"That's the reality of this business. But I'm going to teach you how to shoot and shoot to kill. Make every shot count."

Charlene jumped in. "Now, Eddy, can't you see he's shaking like a leaf. Enough of your war stories. He just here and he's been wounded."

He turned to her. "This is no church picnic, Charlene, and you know that. If we're to win we've got to be as ruthless as the Christys--and there's no time like here and now in this mess hall for training to begin." He turned to me. "I don't mean to be cynical--it's only the truth. A buddy of mine is now singing soprano--thanks to the Christys--they deballed him, cauterized the wound, then let him go as an example. If you value your family jewels--shoot to kill and don't take prisoners unless ordered to do so."

"Suppose I only wing someone and he's lying on the ground: Then what?"

"Shot him between the eyes, then take your dagger and slit his throat to make sure he's dead, dead--because that's what they'll do to you."

My ravenous hunger suddenly vanished and I began to wonder if I had volunteered in haste. I played with my food, took a few bites, but my appetite was all but gone, while Eddy, on the other hand, finished his lunch with gusto, then said, "I'm going outside to drink my coffee and smoke. See you around, Harold."

VI

Charlene, bless her heart, took the bread and meat off my tray and made a sandwich which she wrapped in a paper napkin. "P{ut this in your pocket; you'll get hungry later on. Dinner's not until 1800. You'll be hungry again before then. Now, tell me, what did you do before you came here?" I gave her a brief personal history, but I somehow got the feeling that she was only making small talk to calm me down.

"He's a good man, Harold. The best we've got. He's been on more operations than anybody else. He's been wounded twice. He's the man from the Lazarus Room. I'm sure Emily-Rose told you the story."

"Yes she did," I said, seeming to perk up from my depressed feeling. "So he's Lazarus risen from the dead. Well I'll be damned."

"What ever he says you listen. He's hard, maybe too hard--but don't anything he says personally. We've all given up a lot to be here. It's a tough life, But if we want to save this country from the fascist Christians and their ultra conservative allies, we've got to be as hard as nail--but only while we train and when we're on operations. All work and no play would make dullards of us all too soon. Say, do you like to dance?"

She went from her apologia of Eddy and the hard life of the volunteers to asking me if I liked to dance without losing a a breath and ended with one of her lovely smiles. I was beginning to like her. "I'm not a great dancer, but I get by. Why do you ask?"

"Well, there's a weekly ballroom dance society dance at the Legion hall in town every Saturday night and my regular partner got hit week before last and is in the hospital. So if you'd care to escort me we could have a good time. I don't think light duty would preclude from dancing."

I was thrilled. It was something to look forward to. After what I'd gone through in the pst twenty four hours a little dancing ought to lift my spirits, and, I'd not been out on a Saturday night date in a couple of years. I was a rather reclusive scholar. "Only one thing, Charlene: I don't have a lot of money and the only clothes I have are my uniforms and the civilian clothes I came with plus one change."

"No problem. First off, you don't need any money and, secondly, you can dress as you please. Admittedly, some of the couples will show up decked out; but by and large it's pretty casual. Folks up here are not de riguer about sartorial propriety. Is it a date?"

"You're on. And thanks. To be very honest, I feel awkward," and I pointed to my weapons.

"You won't have to carry your rifle off base, but it's SOP to have your pistol--and you don't check it at the door, either. I'll ask around and get you a sports coat. We don't like to show our arms in public when we're dressed in civilian clothes."

"This is a very serious group, Charlene; and, to be armed all the time--well, it isn't natural to me. Are we really open to attack at any time?"

"You better believe it. The Christys are out for blood--ours--and that means yours, too. I was a high school biology teacher before the troubles. Some Christian group came to my school one day to speak. That was also before the war. They came with their Bibles and hymns and after a few prayers and hymns, they told the students that unless they all accepted the Lord Jesus Christ as their personal savior, they would all go to Hell with a bullet in their back. When I heard that I stood up and screamed at them. A couple of their goons tried to shout me down, but by then several other teachers jumped in with me and then the students started to shout them down. Some threw books at them. It was almost a riot and the Christians left in a huff. Two days later my husband and daughter were killed when a bomb exploded in our car when the ignition key was turned. That bomb was meant for me, Harold. Those bastards will do anything to achieve their ends. I take it you've been living in an ivory tower cut off from the real world. Well, Harold, welcome to the real world. It's blood, it's vicious--but we shouldn't lose our sense of humor in the process."

"Have you been out on operations, Charlene?"

"I sure have. I've been out a couple of times when they were short-handed. I've killed a few Christys--and wouldn't hesitate to do it again. But Matt needs my supply expertise. I am the best scrounger inn these parts. You see, my father used to own a chain of hardware and construction supply companies, and I'd worked for him over the years--even ran the whole shibang for a while when he was sick. I've got a commission as a major quartermaster extraordinary," she chuckled. "But just keep calling me Charlene. I don't hold much to this rank business--none of us really do--but we're under orders so we've got to show some military correctness--at least on paper and when some Regular Army guys show up for periodic inspections." She looked at her watch. "Hey, I've got to get back to my shop. Join me at chow this evening if you want. See you later, Harold."

VII

As ordered, I went to the main house and reported to Commander Gates. He was in the main room waiting for me. After commenting on my uniform, he invited me to follow him to his office. It was a rather Spartan, ordinary room: A desk, a few chairs, a fileing cabinet, a telephone; and on the walls were maps, some official looking documents in frames and a U.S. flag and a California flag. He sat and bade me do the same. He took out a file folder from the middle drawer, placed it on his desk, opened it. He looked at the top sheet. He had a very serious look on his face, then he turned to me.

"Under ordinary circumstances I would not have agreed to your enlistment--but the circumstances that brought you here were not ordinary. Moreover, Commander Omega has vouched for your earnestness and determination; a preliminary investigation into your background permits me to enlist you into this command. We need all the recruits we can get. Without going into great detail, I can tell you that in a few months things are going to get hot in this neck of the woods. Now let me tell you a few things about the Volunteers. I have a commission from the governor to raise a regimental size unit of volunteers. We get our arms and ammunition and logistical support from the state and whatever castoffs and surplus we can from the Regular Army. We have ranks which correspond to ranks in the U.S. Army; but we are primarily a guerilla force and don't hold to too much army protocol regarding ranks--but when you receive an order you must follow it--without question. But there is nothing chicken shit about this outfit. We don't go in for petty harassment or inspection of canteen cups that regular G.I.s experience. We emphasize marksmanship, camouflage and concealment; map reading and compass work, small unit tactics, boobytraps and mines, when needed, infiltration, hand to hand combat, and every skill to keep us one step ahead of the common enemy--and, most importantly, we learn to stay alive. Dead men don't fight. If we need to retreat, we will. We don't cotton to fighting to the last man--unless we are trapped. Thus far we haven't been trapped and if we stay alert we never will. Our mission is to hit and hit hard, then get the hell out. Speed and precision are our keys to success. Our operation last night was successful because every soldier did his job and did it quickly and in accordance with instructions.

"You will receive all the training necessary to get you into shape and eventually to go out on operations. We operate a lot at night and have lots of night exercises. You will receive the same pay and benefits as a private in the National Guard--but you are not in the National Guard, and you are not a member of the Regular Army. This is a special unit. Have you any questions?"

"What is your rank?"

"According to my commission I am a full colonel--just like Teddy Roosevelt when he organized his Rough Riders, the last volunteer unit of the 19th Century. Ours is the first in the 21st Century."

"Why do I hear people refer to you as Commander Alpha and Dr. Lodi as Commander Omega?"

He smiled. I am the first in the officer chain of command and Dr. Lodi, who is my sister, is the last. She is in charge of our medical unit. So if all of our officers are killed or disabled she is the end of the chain of command--alpha and omega. It's that simple. If you have no further questions, please rise and face the flags and stand at attention. "Before I administer the oath I want to tell you that you can bow out if you wish and there will be no hard feelings. If you wish to take the oath take one step forward."

I took one step forward. "Raise your right hand and repeat after me." I repeated:--

"I, Harold Chambers, hereby swear to defend the rightful government of the United States of America and defend the Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic. I promise to follow the orders of my officers and non-commissioned officers and the orders of the Governor of the State of California and the orders of the President if called into Federal service. I take this oath of my own volition and promise to serve honorably until released from active duty."

"Congratulations, son. You have made a great decision. Generations to come will remember your name and the names of all those who stepped forward to save the country from the fascists and the misguided Christians who have declared war on the United States. I have arranged for you to receive some political indoctrination and some education on the causes of this war. You will have a good instructor. Listen to him and learn. Now sit down and let's get down to some other matters. Omega says you are to be on light duty for at least five more days, which means no jogging, no PT, no nothing to exert you; but you can read, listen and learn much. We do have some ceremonies now and then, so you can be instructed in military courtesies and traditions, and, you can learn to shoot your pistol. I'm sure you have been admonished to carry arms at all times. That is a standing order. I'm easy going about most things--but I won't give an inch on anyone in my unit going about unarmed--and for good reason: You are on duty 24 hours a day and even if you're in town sipping beer and playing pool, be armed. You never know when some scum militiaman will walk in and shoot up the place. It doesn't happen as often as it used to--not since we got organized and our policies established.

"After I dismiss you, I want you to hike back towards the mess hall, pass it on the right and keep going for about fifty yards. There's a small building there; that's our S-l office; see Major Stanley; he'll give you some official papers to fill out, fingerprint you, take your picture and make you an I.D. card and dog tags. Carry the card and dog tags at all times. And after you have finished with Stanley over at the S-l shop, I want you to retire to your room and rest for at least two hours--doctor's orders." He stood up. "I want to thank you for making this sacrifice. If we do our utmost we can rid the land of this scourge and get back to the amenities of peace and freedom." His voice and sentiments were sincere. He stuck out his hand for me to shake. While we shook hands he looked straight into my eyes and for a moment I felt a chill go through my body.

I left and once outside I had to stop and brace my hands on one of the porch columns; my head started to hurt and I felt a little dizzy. So much had happend to me, and I was just beginning to understand it all and the gravity of the oath I had sworn to just a few minutes before. I was now a soldier and my life was different.

Following Alpha's directions, I made my way to the S-l, the unit adjutant. More paper work and meeting new people. With a set of dog tags around my neck and an I.D. card with my picture in my pocket and a handful of copies of my official enlistment papers, I was told to report back to Major Stanley at 1300 hours. I went gladly back to the Lazarus Room for a well-deserved nap. I took off my boots, my ammo belt and dagger, propped up my rifle and lay down on my bed. I kept the shoulder holster on. I would even sleep with it. The minute my head hit the pillow I fell asleep.

VIII

I got up in time for lunch and at the mess hall fellow Volunteers came up to me and introduced themselves. They made me feel at home and asked me all kinds of questions. Their speech was sometimes rough, but their ideals weren't; they knew exactly why they were here and I took strength from them. A little before 1300 I made my way back to the S-l shop and Walked in; Major Stanley was waiting for me. He looked at his watch. "Right on time. Good. Chronologic precision is one of the things we emphasize around here. Please be seated, Chambers." I sat, resting my rifle against the chair.

"I'm going to give you a summary of the history of the rebellion. Please save your questions for later." He cleared his throat, stood up and pulled down a rolled map of the United States. It was a map I had never seen before. It showed the enemy states and enclaves throughout the Union. Major Stanley put his hands behind his back and looking at me began to speak. I felt as if I was back in school and in a manner of speaking I was in school: The school of the soldier, the college of war.

"In spite of indications to the contrary, A democratic President was elected both in 1996 and the year 2000. This did not go well with the reactionary right wing political factions. Between '96 and the turn of the century a new political party came into existence. Two thousand found us with a House and a Senate just about equally divided between Democrats and conservative Republicans who had aligned themselves with members of the third party just mentioned, which called itself the American Constitutional Change Party, a coalition of Christian fundamentalists, ultra-right wing, anti-government fanatics, white supremacists, private militias, and every other kind of disgruntled, wacko citizen blinded by ignorance and lead by self-righteous bigotry and anti-democratic notions which they held to be truly American, but which were more in keeping with totalitarian forms of government. Every kind of psychotic, political scum were organized into the ACCP. It's headquarters was, and still is in Atlanta. It's first party chairman was a former speaker of the house, but he died of a heart attack shortly after its inception--but there were other lunatics who took his place. The ACCP was financed through illegal donations of its corporate adherents and through tithing. The party leaders, with the help of televangelists and Christian radio talk-shows, were able to convince millions of followers that the Biblical instruction of tithing applied also to the ACCP, because the ACCP was going to put God back into the American way of life and He needed money. The Christian media convinced its listeners and viewers to send ten percent of their wages to the local ACCP party affiliate, which in turn sent the money to the party headquarters--but not before it took a healthy cut of its own--which was used for their insidious propaganda and to buy arms, uniforms and the like.

"All over America ACCP offices sprouted up like poisonous mushrooms and with a rhetoric to rival the most vicious tyrants of the 20th Century, the ACCP convinced enough people that the U.S. Government was the enemy of the people, that the government was subverting the Constitution and turning the country into an atheistic state; and that the only way to change that direction was to change the Constitution. Their idea of change was to propose scrapping the Bill of Rights, replacing it with a series of laws which called for the abolishment of all labor unions and the right to strike; the abolishment of public schools which would be privatized and run and controlled by corporations approved by the ACCP; that the values and the teachings of the Old Testament would be at the top of all school curricula; that all non-Christian schools would be compelled to offer Christian education first and foremost at the exclusion of all non-Christian religions; that homosexuality would be considered a felony and punishable by death by stoning or castration and life imprisonment; in the case of Lesbians, that their breasts would be surgically removed and they undergo a clitoralectomy or death; that only members of the ACCP could own firearms--with the proviso that gun owners become members of local militias, which were affiliated with the local ACCP ; that all government entitlements be abolished. A reasonable person would think it inconceivable that such sumptuary laws could be put forth in America; but they were. This insidious third party also proposed that instead of prisons, all prisoners of the state would be turned over to whatever corporations that wanted convict labor; that the convicts would serve out their sentences as workers living in corporate prison factories.

"Believe it or not, Chambers, many people agreed with the ACCP, that such laws were worthy of enactment. That's when the troubles began. Since the Congress was just about evenly divided, the laws put forth by this coalition of fascists were stalemated--all except the abolishment of labor unions and the right to strike. Somehow people got it into their heads that labor unions were obsolete and self-serving. Little however did the people understand the history of the labor movement in the United States and how it was that labor unions had struggled for the 40 hour week, health and vacation benefits and job safety. All the ACCP aligned corporations started pumping money for the passage of this bill. They got their lobbyists into line and gave them enough money to corrupt any politician weak-minded and greedy enough to sell his or her vote. But the labor unions started their own counter drive--and that's when things got ugly and violent. A peaceful demonstration by local unions in Chicago was fired on by anti-unionists--goons funded by ACCP funds. Twenty six union members were wounded, four fatally.. After that, every union member who had a gun rallied, and in spite of police efforts, they attacked the Chicago headquarters of the ACCP, killed all the members inside they could find, then went on a rampage that lasted three days. The governor had to call out the Illinois National Guard and shots were exchanged on both sides.

"Well, needless to say, other labor unions and sympathizers started arming themselves and while the Chicago unionists were at a standoff with the National Guard, a similar incident happend in Boston, then one in Connecticut. All over the country labor unionists were declaring war on the ACCP and both the Federal and state governments seemed helpless to control it. Some National Guard units refused to fire on the unionists. The President was asked to declare a state of emergency; and after some reluctance he did; and in those areas where street warfare had started, martial law was declared. Federalized National Guard and Federal troops were ready for battle in the trouble spots.

"This seemed like a controlled scenario, because all of a sudden units of a heretofore secret militia started to mobilize in the areas not under martial law and several state legislatures met in emergency sessions to debate--as was done back before the Civil War of 1861, secession--mainly the southern states and some in the west. It was about this time that certain elements in southern California took out their old chestnut about splitting the state. The, then, governor, an ultra-conservative Republican and a friend of the ACCP, endorsed the movement. But, surprisingly enough, the movement started to die on the vine until the governor himself decided to move his office and cabinet to San Diego. The legislature met to hold impeachment proceedings; and while that was going on, the clandestine ACCP militias started to come out of the woodwork and set up their headquarters next to the governor's in San Diego. Pretty soon agitators began fomenting trouble of a racial nature in Los Angeles,and bloody battles, not riots, broke out; then some rogue California National Guard units in L.A. mobilized themselves and declared the southern half of the state as New California. They even had their own flag--lots of them ready on the first day of declaration, too; so we can assume that it was not a spontaneous uprising of National Guard units, but a conspiracy by the governor and the ACCP to split California. Their new flag was a white field with a gold cross in the middle and the cross encircled with the motto: "Fire and Blood Settle all Issues." Not very subtle.

"All over the state, people were chosing sides, and when the governor decided to call out the rest of the National Guard to help quell the racial violence in L.A., almost half of the Guard stood fast not wanting to join the fascists. This lead to open warfare between the Guard units; that's when the situation became the turning point for the state. The ACCP militias, combined with the fascist Guardsmen, took control of the south in a blood letting that has not yet stopped. There were many desertions from the regular armed forces to the New California forces; but by and large, all Federal soldiers and sailors in the south remained loyal to the government--except for a Marine battalion which broke out of its Camp Pendleton base and went over to the rebels. As the situation now stands all military and naval bases loyal to the government in the south are under siege. A de facto line has been drawn across the state. The Lt. governor, who remained loyal, became the governor of the north and the president declared all of the southern portion of the state as part of the state of emergency.

"Chaos, tyranny and blood lust were the result of this separation; and taking inspiration from this fascist doctrine, elements in Idaho declared that state a Republic, assassinated the governor and most of his cabinet and ACCP militiamen attacked National Guard armories and Federal installations and, unfortunately, they were successful. One by one half of Arizona, Nevada and Wyoming split along political lines, similar to California. In the south, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and the Carolinas and much of Florida seceded from the union and hauled out the old Confederate flag. The U.S. Congress then declared war on all the secessionists states and divided states, arrested all ACCP members of both houses and abolished the party in all places loyal to the government.

"It was shortly after the declaration of war that all the militias came under control not of the ACCP, but an organization which came out to replace the ACCP. Some members protested this takeover; but the Christian coalitionists had those who protested liquidated and seized absolute control through the medium of the firing squad. The take over was similar to what Hitler did with his original Brown Shirts: when they were no longer needed, after they had done all the initial dirty work for him, he had them killed. History, Chambers, has the oddest way of repeating itself. It was very clear, then, who was the true enemy: The Coalition of Christian Organizations, the CCO, who finally surfaced and let their faces be seen and their names named.

"We have at present in the warring states a situation not unlike that in the Civil War of 1861; however, we find ourselves engaged in what is primarily a religious war. It seems incredible, however, that is the case. And like the Civil War we have our own Copperheads, those living in loyalist areas but who are sympathetic to the CCO. They are naive, if not downright ignorant, for these sympathizers, these new Copperheads fail utterly to see the totalitarian aspects of the Christian coalition and its ugly face of fascism masked by the face of Jesus. One of the CCO pep talk phrases they give to their troops is: "Just say NO! to Satan," of course meaning all those loyal to the Constitution. Another of their propaganda ploys is to broadcast: "We are fighting evil with the Good News and hot lead." So you can see what kind of mentality we are dealing with, Private Chambers.

"The situation here in northern California is, for the moment, a guerilla warfare situation. There is lots of militia infiltration and their chief purpose is to cause mayhem, death and destruction through terror. We also have seeming loyal citizens who are members of the Christian Militia, who by day live and work shoulder to shoulder with us and by night sneak off, don their uniforms of treason and kill innocent people or blow up someone's car, then sneak back home and with blood on their hands, sleep between clean sheets. This enemy is ruthless and unforgiving. The reason we have reluctantly adopted a policy of taking no prisoners is because the Christys don't take prisoners. If you do not kill them, they will kill you--without compunction. We cannot change them, but we can try to eradicate them. Therefore, Private Chambers, your first order is to kill all prisoners--without exception. Don't be sentimental--because they're not.

"Our primary mission is aimed at eradicating the militia and controlling infiltration of troops and supplies. We have a good intelligence system and lots of loyal locals. What happend on the bus you were on is most unusual. The Christys were looking for people, which people we don't yet know. We would never send our people by public conveyance; that's why we decided to take some prisoners and see if we can get them to talk. Maybe they were looking for deserters. If that's the case then their cause is beginning to crack; because once your troops start to desert it means the doctrines are not working. Our day room has a small library; make good use of it; there are any number of books and papers and histories of this conflict. There is also a section of enemy reading material which we try to keep up to date; since you are on light duty, I strongly suggest you take advantage of this time to read as much as you can to fully understand what has happend these past two plus years, because the day you are declared fit for duty, you will begin a most vigorous training and you'll not have much time for reading. It will be tough--war is tough, it is brutal; it makes us worse than animals--but if we do not destroy this pernicious enemy, then democracy and freedom are doomed. If the other side wins, the Constitution loses. That's all I have to say. Do you have any questions?"

"Yes, sir. I remember hearing something about Texas; that they were having a war of their own."

"A good question. You're right: They did have their own war. There was some question about which way Texas would go. They had a big ACCP following in Texas. But the good people of Texas chose democracy and justice over fascism and tyranny. There was, as a result of that momentous decision, an attempted coup in Austin. It was damn bloody, too; but the Texans trounced the fascists. It took about six months of open warfare, but they finally cornered what was left of the rebels at El Paso--and those who tried to flee into Mexico were either shot by the Mexicans or returned to the Texans. Texas sent in its own parachute battalion which was instrumental in turning the tide of the recent Battle of Las Vegas, which I'm sure you heard about."

"Yes, Commander Omega filled me in."

"Good. The rebels are just itching to get a hold of some nuclear weapons--and they'd use them too. We saw some captured documents to that effect."

"How was this unit formed, Major?"

"Our National Guard is stretched pretty thinly, what with guarding the borders and all, they couldn't control the guerilla warfare mainly because they didn't have any training. So the governor sent out a call to all veterans with guerilla warfare training or experience. Matt, that is, the Colonel, is a retired U.S. Army Ranger--he knows guerilla warfare--he's been in a scrap or two--well he volunteered first. But he told the governor he didn't want to create a carbon copy of some orthodox spit and polish RA outfit; he had his own ideas about how a guerilla army should be organized and commanded; that if he were to organize a unit it would be a crack outfit minus all the RA bullshit and petty jealousies among officers and EMs. Well, it took a bit of doing, but in the end the governor gave him a commission to raise a guerilla warfare volunteer unit, and the Colonel would hand pick his troops and train them and indoctrinate them into his idea of what a citizen's army should be. At first we only took veterans from any of the services; gradually, as we got better organized and trained, and had gone out on a few operations, we started taking non-veterans. This is not the only Volunteer unit. There are two others; one is operating down south near the new border and the other is up north near the Oregon border. Lucky for us Oregon and Washington are on our side. But Northern Nevada isn't, and we are trying to plug up the hole that leads from the so-called Republic of Idaho, into northern Nevada thence into California, through which troops and supplies come through."

Major Stanley looked at his watch. "It's just about chow time, son. This lecture is over. But feel free to stop me any time you want if you have any questions or aren't too clear about things. One final note: We may seem casual on the surface, not much traditional military protocols around here; but underneath we are a punctilious group of defenders--the best--we've blooded ourselves more than once and have lost a few. So don't ever take anything lightly. When you're asked to do something, do it. Everything we do is done with a purpose. I understand you were a graduate student. Well, son, consider yourself a Ph. D. candidate: And the dissertation is written with blood--maybe your own. Now let's get some lunch. All this talking whet my appetite.

I picked up my rifle and followed him. Again my head was swimming and I felt like an ignoramus. Where had I been while the country was being torn apart by people bent on destroying the Constitution through subversion masked in the guise of Christian morals and values? I was ensconced in my student's digs with my nose in some textbook; and though I heard about events, I consciously put what I heard out of mind--stuck my head in the sand while the country was falling apart. But I would learn. And now, like Major Stanley, I too, was hungry and fell in step with him to the mess hall.

IX

Emily-Rose was sitting with Charlene and I joined them and a few others. They were in the middle of a conversation and stopped talking just long enough to greet me. I fell to eating because I was hungry. As I ate I could not help overhearing the conversation which was about two Christys who had been held at the county jail awaiting transfer to a Federal facility; they had been apprehended for bank robbery--another tactic the Christys use to terrorize civic life. Before they left the bank, the sprayed the bank with automatic weapons fire, wounding employees and customers. Luckily no one was killed. At the country jail they managed to overpower a guard and killed him, then making their way to the cell block control center, over powered the lax guards, killing one, taking their guns, and, using one as a hostage, took a jail van and made good their escape. The van was found about twenty miles away, abandoned. The guard had been shot and left for dead and the Christys escaped into the hills. The Sheriff was asking the Volunteers for help in recapturing the escapees. I was about to ask a question when a sharp blast from a whistle brought the mess hall to a standstill. I saw our Commander mount a chair.

"Listen up, people. A couple of murderous Christys broke out of the county jail; they've killed two guards and wounded another, leaving him for dead. The Sheriff has asked for our help in flushing those bastards out of the hills. We don't normally enter into police business, but this is a special case. There will be a formation at 1300 where I will then ask for volunteers. That's all. As you were." He stepped down and left.

Immediately the heavy silence which had obtained while Alpha spoke was now broken with the buzz of many voices. I felt a little left out because everyone at my table was going to volunteer, and I for the moment because of lack of training and my head wound, could not; and I said so.

"Don't feel badly, Harold, there'll be lots of other ops. This is more of a manhunt--although it will be a good field exercise, too, albeit a somewhat dangerous one. If you feel you want to do something useful, come over to the supply room. I've got lots of little jobs that need doing," said Charlene.

"She's right, Harold. Don't be impatient. Anyway, you don't even know how to shoot," said Emily-Rose, matter-of-factly.

She was, of course, right; they were both right; but here I was, a soldier in name only and I was itching for action.

At the one o'clock formation I was amazed to see platoons of Volunteers all standing at attention in what I believed to be a strict military formation. There must have been about two hundred of them; and I couldn't imagine where they had come from. Alpha stepped out of the headquarters house. I stood alone in the rear of the formation.

Major Stanley, who had been standing in front of the formation brought his arm up in salute and said: "All present."

He returned the salute. "I'll be brief; you all know by now why I have called for this formation. The Sheriff needs our help and I'm asking for volunteers. To a man every Volunteer in the ranks stepped forward; even I stepped forward as a gesture of solidarity. "Thank you, but we all can't go; someone has got to stay behind to mind the store. I want platoon commanders to accept ten volunteers from each platoon. And again every one in each platoon stepped forward. Then I could see the platoon commanders select every other man and had them step forward.

"All volunteers for this mission will report back to the quad at 1400 in full field gear. Draw ammo and rations for two days. Medical personnel will carry snakebite kits. The Sheriff thinks the Christys are up in the Ogam Canyon area and there are lots of rattle snakes up there this time of year. But we've got our own snake bite medicine for those two serpents will be looking for," said Alpha with a grin on his face, and the entire unit broke into shouts. "While I am gone, Major Stanley is in command. Thank you all. Dismissed."

Men and women went every which way. I stood watching, wishing I could go, too, when I felt a tap on my shoulder. It was Charlene. After the search party leaves, report to me for some light duty assignments, Harold."

"I'll be there," I answered with a smile.

Pretty soon vehicles started arriving and pulling up in a line on the quad. They had come the direction of the mess hall so the camp must be pretty expansive. I needed someone to show me around. The vehicles were painted camouflage colors. Marty came by. "I understand you're coming to help us. Come along and have some coffee and you can watch the action." I followed him. As we stood at the door of the supply room, I saw the Volunteers come in twos and threes and singly into the quad. They wore back packs and were armed to the teeth. I recognized many of their faces and knew a few by name. I saw Trevor and Langston, who saw me and waved. At a few minutes before two, Alpha stepped out on the porch and looked around. An officer I had not seen before was standing in front of the assembled Volunteers. He was a tall man; I could see thick brown hair sticking out from under his forage cap, and he carried two pistols and a small, short-barrelled automatic weapon. He saluted Alpha.

"All present, commander." he said.

"Very well, load em up, Alex," replied Alpha, who descended the stairs and headed for a jeep parked in front of the headquarters.

Alex turned to the Volunteers. "Fall out and mount your vehicles!" was all he said and there was a flash of bodies moving every which way getting into the trucks. In less than a minute they were all seated

I saw Alpha lean over to his driver and say something. The driver pulled out and headed for the front of the column and as the jeep passed the first vehicle in line, it started out and all the vehicles behind followed and they went down the gravel road and were lost in the trees.

X

I spent the rest of the afternoon helping out in the supply room. I got to know Marty and Charlene better and by the time it was time to knock off, Marty invited me to play a game of pool in the day room of his barracks, which turned out to be a former bunkhouse, not far from the mess hall. He told me that there were newly built barracks in another section and that he would take me on a tour the next day. By the time we had played two games, I had a headache and was feeling tired, so I excused myself and with the aide of a flashlight which Marty lent me, I went back to my own room but stopped off at the dispensary to get something for my head. Emily-Rose was there; she was just finishing up her day's work. She gave me one of the small white pills for my pain, then invited me for coffee. In spite of my fatigue, I accepted and she told me to meet her in the kitchen in about fifteen minutes. I then went back to my room and lay down until it was time to meet.

I found her in the kitchen brewing coffee. When it was ready we sat at the kitchen table and for a moment stared at each other in silence. She broke the silence:--

"I want to apologize to you, Harold."

"Apologize? What for?"

"I believe I was too harsh with you in the car the other evening before I brought you here. You were in no condition to understand what I was doing or what any of this was all about. I'm just hard on myself, I guess, and needed to vent and you were available. I'm sorry."

There was no question about my not accepting her apologize, even if I didn't think it was necessary. But I didn't tell her that. I didn't think she had been harsh; perhaps a bit acerbic in her speech, but certainly nothing to apologize for--considering the circumstances. But I was able to see a softer side to Emily-Rose, one I'd not had a chance to see because of the circumstances of our meeting and, of course, her personal experience. I flashed her a warm smile and reached out my hand to her. "Apology accepted." She took my hand and I liked how she squeezed mine in a gentle way.

"Now that we have buried the hatchet, I'd like to ask a favor--if you can do it."

"Name it; and if I can, I'll do it."

"Can you take me to the hospital so I can see the baby?"

"You mean the one mother and I operated on?"

"Yes. And I want to know her name and who her next of kin is."

"I can tell you right away, but why do you want to know and why do you want to see her?"

I hesitated for a moment to collect my thoughts clearly in my mind. "To be very honest with you that child, or rather what happend to her is probably the real reason I'm here. I'll admit I'm still pretty naive about the politics of this war--but Major Stanley did set me straight about a lot of things with his talk--but her mother's death and her losing her leg were the motivating factors for my enlistment. I feel very close to that child--after all, we were both wounded in that attack, we're both victims of this war, and I'd like to meet her kin and maybe become a kind of big brother or honorary uncle to her." All the time I was talking I was looking into my coffee cup. When I finished I looked up and I saw tears falling from Emily-Rose's eyes.

"Why are you crying? Is it something I said?"

She took a paper napkin and wiped her eyes; and while she did she shook her head, no. "Her name is Fiona, and that we know she is now an orphan. We've had the social services department look into the mother's background: She was a single mother, no known relatives; father's name or whereabouts unknown. And the reason I'm crying is because Mother and I have been talking about adopting Fiona--or at least become her legal guardians, and I'm touched that you, also, feel deeply about her. It shows the depth of your character, Harold." She took her napkin once again and wiped her eyes. A sudden surge of affection for Emily-Rose rose up in me; I felt so close to her. I took her hand. "If you and your mother take her, will you let me visit her often?" She burst into tears once again. I stood up, pulled her gently out of her chair and embraced her and for a long time we stood, she now softly weeping and by then my eyes were also wet. Slowly she disengaged from me. "Thank you Harold for holding me; I needed that hug. I don't think I get enough hugs since Bart died. Thank you for being kind. I think Saturday would be a good time to visit Fiona. I call mother and arrange it.

"Thank you, too. I appreciate your help. Just let me know what time. By the way, I need another favor. I need to write some letters and I have neither paper, envelopes nor stamps, and, I don't know what my new return address is; and I don't know where to mail my letters."

"I can give you all the envelopes and stationery you need; and, I've got stamps, too. Come back to the dispensary with me. Your return address is P.O. Box 112, Roseland. Mail is picked up three times a week or whenever anyone is going to town. There's a mail drop in the day room. You have made me very happy, Harold. I'm going to call mother as soon as I get back to my quarters."

"Where are your quarters?" I asked.

"I use the spare room just off the dispensary. You're welcome to visit me whenever I'm in-house."

With stamps, envelopes and paper in my hands, I went to my room, undressed, took and took a shower; I didn't feel tired any more, though. So with my pajamas and robe on and my writing material and a pen, I went to the day room. An hour later I had finished writing several letters; one to my parents, in Hawaii, explaining what had happend to me and why I had enlisted; one to my landlady telling her the same thing and asking her to sell or give away my things, and one to a school chum of mine urging him to come up to Roseland to enlist. Then fatigue hit me again and I dropped the letters into the mail drop, went back to my room and slept.

The next day after breakfast Eddy took me in a small pick-up truck to a pistol range about a twenty minute drive from the main house. First he showed me how to field strip my pistol and instructed me on how to clean it. We then went through a dry-fire practices. When I had practiced enough to suit him, he set out some paper targets at 25 meters. "Now remember, breathe, hold it, and squeeze the trigger--don't pull it. Fire three rounds, then put the safety on and we'll examine the target.

Using what I had been told, I fired three rounds. When we went forward to examine the target Eddy whistled and exclaimed, "Well I'll be damned, you got the tightest group I've ever seen in a tyro. You are a born shooter, Harold. Let's go back to the firing line and confirm your eye. Maybe it was just beginner's luck."

I fired off three more rounds and we examined the target. Eddy shook his head. "I've not seen shooting like this in a coon's age--why just look at the tightness of the group. Let me move the target up a piece and see what you can do."

Admittedly I didn't do as well at 50 meters as I did at 25; nonetheless, my groups of three were tight, and twice I was able to get a round or two right in the bulls eye. We took a break and I stripped my pistol, cleaned it and then we policed up the brass. Before we broke for lunch he had put me through combat shooting stances, fast draw from the shoulder and rapid fire techniques that rattled my head somewhat; but I was having a good time and did not complain about my headache. I cleaned my pistol again and while I was swabbing out the barrel Eddy said:--

"You know Harold, plenty of men are good shots with a rifle, but damn few can hit the side of a barn with a handgun; but you are a natural and I want to congratulate you on being such a fine student. If you do as well with the rifle you will become a sharpshooter. We've got us a shooting team; now and then we have matches. I'd like to invite you to join the team. I'm sure the team members will welcome you too And listen, we've got plenty of 9mm ammo, so I want you to practice as often as you like. I'm telling you, you're good. But don't let that go to your head. You just might freeze up when the bullets are coming your way. After lunch I want you to meet with me and we'll come back here and I'll let you try out some revolvers and an Uzi I took off a Christy a couple of ops ago. Damn fine weapon that Uzi," he said with a grin on his face.

We were back on the range after lunch and I spent most of the afternoon shooting three different kinds of revolvers and the Uzi. At last the moment arrived. "You will now fire a series of exercises for the record. These exercises will go into your permanent record. Do the best you can.

I did better than I had expected. Eddy wrote down my scores on a card and signed it. "You are now qualified to shoot four different kinds of handguns. But that does not mean your schooling is over. We will return to this range again and you will practice, practice, practice, until having a gun in your hand is as second nature to you as holding your pecker when you pee."

I burst into laughter. I had never heard anyone talk like that; but I found it amusing and Eddy laughed along with me. And that night at the mess hall he introduced me to several of the pistol team members. He had even brought along the paper targets to show them and I felt proud of my new-found ability and began to feel a part of unit. Long after the food line was closed, several of us sat at the table drinking coffee and talking about shooting matches and shooting Christys. I still wasn't so sure I could aim and pull the trigger at a living human being the way I did at paper targets; and I said so.

"Set your mind at rest, Harold," said one of the team members. "Before I enlisted the only things I had ever shot

were beer bottles and aerosol cans down at the county dump. But when them Christians start sending rounds your way you won't have time for deciding what's right or what's wrong; all you'll want to do is shoot back to stay alive. The first time I went out on an operation I was shaking like a leaf--no kidding. I had me a few moral scruples about the sanctity of human life; but when some bastard opened up on us with a machine gun and I started eating dirt and pissing my pants, well I only got mad and started to return his fire. I emptied two magazine before I knew he was a goner. Hell, there isn't one among us who didn't have some kind of uncertainty. But don't worry, when you're ready for ops they'll be plenty of us right beside you to encourage you."

XI

After two and a half days the Volunteers on the manhunt were still out in the field and word was that the fugitive Christys had been located, but the terrain was rugged and the searches were exhausted, for they had been relentless in their pursuit, and once they were on the trail they gave their quarry no rest. It had been further determined by evidence found during the search that the two fugitives were not alone; they had been joined by at least three others, or so I had heard. Commander Alpha sent word by radio that a field kitchen was to be sent out so the Volunteers and the Sheriffs could have a hot meal, for all of them had been living on field rations.

I volunteered to go as a KP with the field kitchen. I approached our mess sergeant about going. He was a big man, originaly from Greece, Sgt. Papadakis was his name. He was completely bald and had a large handlebar moustache and he looked fierce; but when I talked to him he wasn't the ogre his height and girth presented. He was a retired restaurant owner and had spent seven years in the French Foreign Legion as an infantryman and baker and he had lots of stories to tell. When I asked him about going he said, "If the major says ok, then ok with me." I found Major Stanley and asked permission to go and he consented. We were expected to be there in time to set up the kitchen and prepare dinner for that evening and breakfast the next day.

I went to Charlene who gave me a sleeping bag and told me that she'd found a sports jacket for me to wear Saturday night. "I hope we're back in time," I said. "If you're not back by six p.m. Saturday, I'll go alone." She gave me one of her warm smiles and wished me good luck.

We were a convoy of two, two and a half ton trucks, one of which had a large water tank in tow. We carried food, field kitchen stoves, immersion heaters and large aluminum garbage cans, utensils, pots, pans and large canvas awnings. We traveled for two hours on paved roads, then pulled off onto dirt roads for about two more hours of the roughest ride I'd ever had. Sgt. Papadakis said we'd be met by guides to take us to the Volunteers encampment. When we reached our rendzvous point, instead of waiting in the vehicles, as I thought we would, all of us were ordered out of the vehicles and Sgt. Papadakis assigned each of us positions and fields of fire. I stuck close to a second cook named Sweeney, who had been in the unit since its inception. "We don't what the situation is, so we prepare for an assumed attack. If the Christys are in this area, they could open fire on the trucks and slaughter us. The guides are late so we hunker down and wait. Keep your eyes and your ears open."

We waited for about fifteen minutes when we heard the sound of an approaching vehicle. I had my pistol at the ready; but I was not alone; eight men were all aiming their weapons toward the sound of the vehicle. I recognized Alpha and was about to stand up when Sweeney pushed me down. "Don't ever do that. Let the Commander's vehicle stop and let him get out. One never knows." Very well, I was a recruit and I followed his instructions, but I did think it a bit paranoid.

Alpha's driver stopped. Alpha stood up in the jeep and looked around. "Good work, men. Fall in!" he shouted. We gathered around his jeep. He looked at me with surprise. "What are you doing here?" he asked. "I volunteered for KP. Major Stanley gave me permission."

"Splendid. Here is the situation, men: The Christys are holed up in a narrow canyon. For all intents and purposes they are trapped. Obviously they don't know this area, otherwise they wouldn't be here. We've been tracking them for all of two days in rough country and since they aren't going anyplace, we can have some hot food, a good night's rest and tomorrow morning go after them and finish the job. The Sheriff and the F.B.I. agent assigned to this case want to take them alive. I'm not sure we can do that. But only tomorrow will tell. In the meanwhile, I want the best dinner you can turn out, Nikos," he said, addressing Sgt. Papadakis.

"We got steaks and I brought fresh bread I baked it myself. Don't worry. How far away we got to go?"

"About two miles. I was late because the road--what there is of it--is rocky; so you drivers be careful you don't bust an axle. Mount up and follow me."

In a trice we were back in the trucks and in not too long of a time we arrived at the bivouac area. The Volunteers looked tired and dirty. They were deployed at the mouth of the canyon and I was told a fire team had hiked in earlier on the heights to block off any attempted escape through the end of the canyon, which I was told exited into a steep ravine.

Many helped to unload and set up the field kitchen and in what seemed like the blink of an eye we were ready to start preparing the hot meal. I was assigned various small, but important tasks and worked as best I could. I even bumped my wound and a seering pain shot through my head; but I gritted my teeth and continued. By the time we were ready to serve I had a splitting headache. I stood in the serving line spooning out buttered peas and carrots. I saw one of our Volunteers wearing a red cross armband. "Just the man I need to see," I said, spooning carrots and peas into his mess kit. "What have you got for pain? My head hurts."

"You're Chambers, the new guy, right?" he asked.

"That's me."

"I thought you were on light duty. What are you doing here?"

"KP. Can't you tell," I said, smiling and plucking the white apron over my fatigues." He chuckled.

"Well, I've got morphine, codeine and aspirin. How bad is the pain?"

"A couple of aspirin will do."

"Ok. Let me get back to my bag and you'll have your aspirins. Say, can I have some more peas and carrots?"

"Certainly," and I gave him another spoonful and he went his way. In a few minutes the medic was back. "Here," he said, handing me a small box, "take two now and then two every four hours if the pain persists. If you're still in pain in the morning, come and see me for something stronger."

The kitchen staff didn't eat until the last of the Volunteers and Sheriff's contingent went through the line. My appetite was good and I ate a big steak and several slices of Sgt. Papadakis' excellent bread and lots of peas and carrots. When we had cleaned up and put everything in its proper place we were dismissed. I got my gear out of the truck, put my poncho down on the ground, unrolled my sleeping bag, took off my boots and crawled in, taking my rifle with me. Although I had not yet fired it, I had asked Eddy to at lest show me how to fire it. He had taken a few minutes and showed me. I'm glad he did. Zipping up my bag and arranging both myself and my rifle in a comfortable position, I fell asleep and, in spite of the circumstances, had pleasant dreams.

XII

Papadakis himself waked me at 4:30 A.M. I was assigned as egg cracker; we had scrambled eggs on the breakfast menu. At six, the troops filed by and I served the toast. By seven we were cleaning and by the time we were loading the trucks, the operation was resumed.

The sheriff himself,, his deputies and the F.B.I. agent and a contingent of our Volunteers, headed into the canyon. The Sheriff had a battery operated bullhorn which he would use to try to talk the escapees and the others into surrendering. Since this was a police matter, our no prisoners policy did not obtain.

The staging are was quiet and tense. The wind was blowing; everyone was on alert. Periodically I could hear the muffled voice of the Sheriff's carried down the canyon by the wind, but I could not understand his words. I was sitting on the back of the truck with my rifle across my lap. I had loaded it. Not in my wildest dreams did I ever think I would use it that day.

Suddenly the sound of gunfire erupted, followed by three loud explosions. I could see black smoke spiraling up and pushed by the wind. I could see Alpha talking on the radio. Then there was more gunfire, lots of it, continuous, then it became sporadic, then there was a long silence and again Alpha was on the radio. I heard him shout: "Medics!" and he raised his hand and pointed toward the canyon. "Move out!"

Who'd been wounded: The Christys or one of ours? Ten minutes later I saw people walking out of the canyon, two had their hands in the air and they were surrounded by deputies and Volunteers, but I did not see the Sheriff or the F.B.I. agent. The two men with their hands up in the air were dressed in civilian clothes. I assumed they were the captured bank robbers.

I saw Alpha on the radio again, then he turned to some Volunteers and in his stentorian voice said, "Sgt. Bernstein, take ten men and stretchers and help carry out the wounded and the dead." I watched the ten Volunteers with stretchers enter the narrow canyon. Some minutes later everyone who had been in the canyon began to file out. I saw three stretchers, one had a poncho over it. I jumped down from the truck and went over to the center of activity. I saw the medic who had given me the aspirin and asked him for a rundown. He told me that the Christys who had been holed up opened fire, then threw hand grenades. We had returned their fire. During the explosions, one of the Christys managed to scale the canyon wall and was now at large. The fire team assigned to guard the back door was now on the hunt for him. One Christy was dead, the two escapees captured and a forth Christy was wounded--and one on the run. The Sherifff and the F.B.I. agent had been wounded by the grenade fragments. Sweeney then came up to me. "Chambers, Nikos want to leave in a few minutes. Report back to the truck."

"Ok," I said and off I went. I was sitting on the back again with my rifle in my lap looking up to the top of the hill at the mouth of the canyon when I saw movement; thinking it one of our men I didn't give it much thought until I saw a man in a Christy uniform kneel and rest his weapon on a rock and assume a fireing position. My stomach knotted. I didn't have time to call out. I lifted my rifle, flipped off the safety and with the Christy in my sights, I squeezed off two rounds. I saw the weapon fall from his hands and a second later saw his body crumble, roll over and plummet to the ground. I was stunned not only by the report and recoil of the rifle, but by what I had done: Killed a man. I was still sitting, but now I was shaking and my head was hurting more than ever. My eyes were wide open and I saw men running toward the body and toward me. Alpha and others approached me.

"Good shooting, good shooting!" called out various voices. Alpha was standing right in front of me; he had his arms folded across his chest and he was looking at me with an intense stare. "Stop shaking, soldier, and get off that truck," he said, in what I thought was a harsh tone. When I was on the ground Alpha's face burst into a grin. "You've saved somebody's life, son. Now do you understand why you must be armed at all times?"

I responded in a tremolous voice: "I understand clearly." My knees were knocking and my head felt as it it was about to split open.

A Volunteer and the medic with whom I'd become acquainted pushed their way through the small crowd in front of me. "You got him clean through the neck twice! Man, have you got an eye," said the volunteer, and he handed me something and added, "here, this belongs to you--spoils of war you might say." What he was handing me was a short barreled revolver, the kind I used to see police detectives use in the movies. It was in a holster.

"Go on, take it," said Alpha, "it's yours; it's kind of a tradition we have. A man can always use a second gun."

I took it. The back of the holster was still warm, the warmth of the man I'd killed. I just stared at it not really sure what to do with it. Alpha could see I was in pretty bad shape. "Ok, show's over, back to your positions," then turned to the medic and said, "You stay with him." The crowd left.

"Does your head hurt?" asked the medic. All I did was nod my head. He fished around in his medical bag and took out a small bottle of white pills. "Take one of these and sit down. Drink plenty of water." He handed me his canteen. I put the pill on my tongue, drank and swallowed. My mouth and throat were dry. I must have drunk half of his canteen.

He sat down next to me and put his arm on my shoulder. "I know you're feeling badly, but don't be. That fucker was aiming to kill. If it will make you feel better he had a light machine gun and had he pulled the trigger a lot of us would have been wounded or outright killed. You saved lives--and that's what this business is all about--saving lives--ours--and we do that by killing the enemy so they don't get a chance to kill us. It's that simple. You've got a mild case of shock. Lie down, I'll get a blanket." "No, not necessary. We're going to be pulling out in a few minutes."

"Ok, up to you. By the way, my name's Eric Stone. And if I ever see you in town I'll buy you a beer, Chambers."

"Thanks, Eric. I'll take you up on that beer."

Sweeney and Papadakis helped me up. "Good shooting, recruit," said our corpulent mess sergeant. "In the Legion, when they honor a hero, they kiss him on each check," so saying, he grabbed me by the shoulders, pulled me to his chest and planted a kiss on each cheek, then stepped back and saluted me. "When you have your birthday, let me know. I bake you the best cake for Sharpshooter. Sweeney, you got that bottle of brandy you not supposed to have in your jacket?" he said with a wink and a grin.

"I imagine I might find one that someone may have put there without my knowledge," he said in repartee.

"Fine. Give this one a snort. He looks pale."

I slept all the way back--in spite of the bad roads. I woke up when Sweeney shook me. We're home, Sharpshooter," he said. Nikos told me to knock you off. We've got plenty of guys to help us unload."

I gathered my gear and trudged off to my room. My head was better; but I was not feeling better. I looked at my sleeping bag which reminded me of Charlene and, picking it up, I went to return it to her. When I got to the supply room however, she was not there, but I saw Jose, who was on his way upstairs.

"How did it go?" he asked. I told im, omitting my sharpshooting. He looked at me with a quizzical look. "You don't look any too good, amigo. Is it your head?"

It was then that I showed him my war trophy. "Do you know how I got this?"

"Tell me," he said, as he rmoved the revolver from its holster and examined it. I told him. He looked up from the revolver. "Hmm, you say you shot twice, which means you need to clean your weapon. Come up to the armory and I'll show you what to do," he said this non-chalantly.

"But I killed a man!" I almost shouted it out.

"Now you are a combat veteran--but you still need to clean your weapon. Don't put a lot of moral importance about blowing Christys away. By the way, this is a pretty good revolver. A Smith and Wesson .38 Special police model. A good piece of iron," he said, handing it back to me. "We've got a few thousnd rounds of .38 special ammo, mostly captured from the Christys--seems they like .38 special. Com'n, let's go upstairs and get you started cleaning."

It seeemd I was the only one with moral qualms. But I had been told that our mission was to eradicate the Christian Militia as if they were some kind of weed. I'd heard that intellectualy, but now I was part of the eradication process and I had to come to terms with that.

While I swabbed out the barrel of my M-14, Jose sat at his desk cleaning my war trophy; and as he sat he talked to me in a soft, even voice:--

"When I was fourteen years old I was a member of a small guerilla band in Central America. I was a farmer's son. All I knew was my family, my village, the fields we worked. I'd had a little schooling; I could write my name and read a little. Then one day government soldiers came to our village, took all males sixteen and older, but leaving the very old, took them out to an old farm, made them dig their own graves, then machine gunned them because our entire village was suspected of harboring rebels who had attacked the soldiers some days before,. Of course that was not true. We were simple farmers. My father was among the dead. My mother told me to flee to the forest, lest the soldiers come back and takes boys even younger. I stayed in the forest for about a week. I was scared, hungry and, most of all, lonely. I decided to return to my village. I waited for night. When my mother saw me she told me to flee, for just as she'd predicted, the soldiers had returned and took all the boys away. They asked about me but my mother told them I had disappeared. ""Go and don't come back. Forget you have a mother, forget this village. Save your life, my son.' Then she gave me an extra shirt, my father's machete and wrapped some tortillas in a cloth , hugged me, then pushed me out into the night.

"Once again I was a scared boy in a big forest. But I knew one thing. I wanted revenge. I'd heard that there were guerillas in a certain place and I went there. It took me a while to make contact, but I did, They took me in, fed me, clothed me, armed me and trained me to fight back--just like we've done for you. By the time I was eighteen I was a veteran fighter with many killed to my credit. I even killed one soldier with my father's machete. Do you think I am immune from feelings? Do you think anyone here gets a thrill out of killing? Sure, guys like to brag, but it's only a coverup for their deeper feelings. I know you're suffering; I suffered, too. We all do. But I had the memory of my father and the men in my village to keep me from feeling sorry for myself. You probably enlisted with a lot of good intentions; and now after killing a Christy you are beginning to have some moral doubts. Is that so?'

His soft voice seemed to have quieted my disturbed spirit. "Yes, you're right, Jose. I was having my doubts, but I was forgetting Fiona and her mother; and you've just reminded me of them."

"Who is Fiona and her mother? Is she your girl friend?"

I smiled. "Not exactly," and I told him about Fiona and how I had wanted to avenge her and her mother.

"There's your icon, Chambers. Keep Fiona's picture in your mind every time you're in the field or you start to get discouraged. And remember: You're not alone and today was only your first. After a while you won't think twice about a dead Christy."

"You're very kind, Jose. I appreciate what you've told me. To be very honest with you, I didn't like you the first time we met. Now I have to apologize for not having liked you."

"Among men it's ok not to like another man; but it is a gift to change one's heart and become friends."

"Thank you, Jose. Please, let me give you the war trophy."

"But it's yours; you earned it under fire. We all claim a weapon."

"I'll get another. No; you take it as an expression of my esteem for you and for showing me how wrong I was about you."

"Ok. I accept your gift. But allow me: A gift for a gift." He stood up, lifted his right boot onto a box, pulled up his bloused pant leg exposing an ankle holster. He undid the Velcro strap and handing the holster to me said, "This is my first war trophy; it's a .380 Beretta. You take it--it's a good ankle gun. It might come in handy for you some day."

We looked at eachother with depth, warmth and understanding. "Pull up your pants leg," he said. Jose affixed the holster. "I'll drop off a couple boxes of ammo to you later. Now let me inspect your rifle," he said with a smile, "after all, you are a recruit--but a damn good shot. Eddy was telling me how well you did with your pistol qualification. You know, we do need a good sniper. When you finish your training, I will aske Eddy to recommend you."

XIII

XIII

th my picture in my pocket and a handful of copies of my official enlistment papers, I was told to report back
0 hours. I went gladly back to the Lazarus Room for a well-deserved nap. I took off my boots, my ammo on my bed. I kept the shoulder holster on. I would even sleep with it. The minute my head hit the pillow I fell asleep.

VIII

I got up in time for lunch and at the mess hall fellow Volunteers came up to me and introduced themselves. They made me feel at home and asked me all kinds of questions. Their speech was som