Brigadier General Tom Murphy looked up from the report he’d been reading. His aide-de-camp, Lieutenant Aaron Thrasher, stood in the door. Thrasher was a tall man in his early twenties with an immaculate uniform. He would have made a good model for a recruiting poster with his square chin, blue eyes and open, frank look.
“Well, they were accosted by a group of thirty men, calling themselves the West Virginia militia. They were relieved of their weapons and trucks, as well as the relief supplies.”
Tom sat back, his face puzzled. “Let’s go down to the operations center.”
As he stood his phone rang, and he called out to his administrative assistant, “Marissa, hold my calls.”
“But, sir; it’s General Wells.”
“Shit. Hold on.” General Howard Wells, Commanding General of U.S. Northern Command, was many things, but patient wasn’t one of them. This was one phone call he couldn’t put off.
Tom picked up the phone. “General Murphy speaking, sir.”
“Tommy, its Howard. I have good news for you.”
“We’ve located your niece, and had a discussion with Homeland Security. They’re releasing her today.”
Tom unconsciously relaxed in his seat and exhaled. For the last three months, he’d hounded homeland security over the disappearance of his niece, Valerie Murphy. Chief of Staff to the then Secretary of State of West Virginia, she’d been arrested on the first day of hostilities and held without charges.
“Thank God. Is there any way I can reach her?”
“I don’t know anything about that. All they said was they promised to release her and Al Clark immediately.”
“Good, we need him. Things are starting to get a little crazy here.”
“I understand that. How are things going?”
“I was just heading down to the operations center to check, sir. One of our relief patrols was set upon by a group of armed men. They were relieved of all of their equipment. I don’t know any details yet, sir, I’ll let you know as soon as I find out.”
“Relieved of their equipment? What the fuck does that mean?”
“Again, sir, I don’t have any details yet. I’ll get them now, and will get back to you with a report.”
“You’d better get back with me soon, Tommy.”
“Yes, sir. One more thing, sir.”
Tom took a breath. “I’ve got three battalions of the state national guard sitting around doing nothing as prisoners. I’d like to put them to use.”
General Wells grunted on the other end of the line. “Go on.”
“Look, sir. I’ve been saying for weeks I don’t have enough troops here. State and local police have just about vanished, and we’re having a nightmare getting even basic services going. If I can get those troops delivering supplies, then my combat units can act as escorts, or can be forward deployed in the towns. I think it will help.”
A few moments went by before Wells answered. “It won’t look good politically, but I understand the issue. You make whatever preparations you need, and I’ll tell you when and if you can pull the trigger on that.”
“Call me when you have a status on that patrol. And you need to give some thought to what you’re going to do about officers for those National Guard battalions. No way in hell they’ll let the officers come back. Out.”
Wells hung up. Tom placed the handset back in its cradle, then turned to Lieutenant Thrasher. “Let’s go.”
He marched to the operations center, the young Lieutenant half-skipping to keep up. The ops center was a large conference room. Inside, folding tables had been pulled together in two rows with laptops. The operations officer sat at the end, overseeing the battle captains who manned the radios and computers.
“Attention!” called the operations officer as Tom entered the room. Five seconds later, Colonel Richard Todd, the Chief of Staff, entered. Tom had been friends with the six-foot five former college basketball player since their deployments to Iraq a decade and a half ago.
“As you were,” Tom said, and the officers in the room relaxed. “What’s going on?”
The operations officer, a young major, replied. “Sir, we received a call from one of the platoon leaders in 2/16 Infantry. Our relief convoy into Boone County was set upon by more than thirty well-armed men, about two hours ago. We had eight men in the convoy, only light armed. They had to walk into Whitesville before they could call in.”
“No, sir. But they took both humvees, as well as their weapons. They also got two trucks, and all their supplies.”
“What kind of weapons did they get?”
“They had eight M16s and a forty-five pistol. Half a dozen hand grenades. Gas masks.”
“Humvees weren’t armed?”
“No, sir, they weren’t expecting any opposition. Nobody was locked and loaded, and they were surrounded before anyone had a chance to react.”
Colonel Todd looked at him and said, “You know what that reminds me of?”
“Yeah, you don’t need to tell me what it reminds you of.”
They looked at each other, thinking of the three months after the fall of Baghdad, when everything had seemed quiet. Then all of the sudden, the insurgency appeared. Tom had been afraid of that here. He’d been operating as military governor for three months. An unhappy situation to say the least, but he’d finally managed to convene the legislature three weeks before.
Of course it figured that when they finally met, the legislature elected as their governor a man who was currently officially… missing.
Tom had argued with them long and hard to get them to reverse their decision, but they held firm. Finally, he had to go and lobby to try to get the former Congressman, now governor, released. Of course, he knew Clark hadn’t done anything wrong. Clark and Valerie Murphy, Tom’s niece, had both been in Washington trying to negotiate a peaceful settlement to the war when they’d been arrested.
“All right. I want to pull the battalion commanders together. We’re going to have to come up with some new procedures. All of our convoys are going to have to go escorted.”
“We’ve also got those three national guard battalions. They may be back on duty soon; minus their weapons.”
“Look, whoever set this up must have known there was a convoy on the way. They were well prepared, just sitting out there waiting for us. That means somebody gave them the information.”
“Sir, my understanding is that this particular convoy went out because the phone and power lines had gone down, possibly because of the storm.”
“Maybe they cut the lines. How the hell did the platoon call in if the lines were down?”
“Satellite phone, sir, from a store in Whitesville.”
“All, right. Looks like we’re going to have to do some investigation. Who’s on their way out there?”
“A platoon from 28th MPs, sir. We sent two choppers as well, and they’re heavily armed.”
“All right, give me a report back.”
Tom turned around and walked back to his office.
The youthful admin assistant sat up when he called her name. She’d been Governor Slagter’s assistant until January, when Slagter committed suicide. Tom had speculated more than once that the former governor may have hired her for more reasons than her dictation ability, which was middling to poor. For now, she worked for Tom, until the new Governor took his seat—hopefully soon.
“My understanding is that the Department of Homeland Security is releasing two prisoners today—Al Clark and Valerie Murphy.”
“Your niece, sir? That’s wonderful news.”
“Thank you. Find out where they are. I want to talk to them as soon as possible. You know Clark is taking over as governor here, so we can provide official transportation for him. I want to send a chopper to Washington to pick him up. Get Hatfield moving on that.”
In the office, Tom sat down, and his eyes fell on the photograph on his desk. The picture of two smiling men in their prime—Tom and Ken Murphy, in Iraq, a lifetime ago. Ken was gone, and somehow nothing seemed the same.