That wasn’t likely at this point. First squad had already split off from the column and begun setting up the TCP, or tactical check point—a fancy term for road-block—two hundred meters before reaching the town. Sergeant Nguyen, Turville, and their squad would be staying in the town for the first week, acting as the quick reaction force if any problems came up at the other positions. The third squad would be setting up at the head of the dam overlooking the town. Finally, a fourth squad had been assigned the job of effectively acting as the local police force—patrolling the town and its roads.
The tree covered mountains towered over the town, which was small by any standard. To the right side of the road: a short series of red-brick two-story buildings, including the drug store where they’d huddled after the ambush just a few days ago. Next to that, a small, cinderblock watering-hole sported a confederate flag. Ironic, considering West Virginia had split from Virginia in the first place in order to stay in the Union, back in 1861. Across the street, a few small houses, and the river. Beyond the river: more mountains.
Also towering over the town was a huge earthen dam, more than 900 feet high. A small gravel road switch-backed up the sloped face of the dam, leading to a couple of small buildings which would house the security force there. The dam was the byproduct of mountaintop removal—as the coal companies sheared off the top of the mountains, the refuse was washed, the coal removed and the dirt and rock piled up. Behind the dam: some five billion gallons of polluted, bracken water and coal slurry.
Directly across the street from the drug store was an abandoned house that was to be their base of operations. The grey and weathered wooden steps to the door were splintering and ancient, and the clapboards, once white, didn’t look as if they’d been painted since the twentieth century. Delightful.
The pavement was still blackened and buckled where the helicopters had crashed, and two cars which had been destroyed by that fire still sat, abandoned.
Sergeant Nguyen, their squad leader, got out of his humvee and directed the others where to park their vehicles. Out of the nine men in the squad, two would always be on duty at the machine gun mounts in the hummers.
“Third squad, move out,” called Sergeant Nguyen. Turville and the rest of his team jumped out of their vehicles, quickly moving to positions where they had their backs to the house, looking out at the street.
Lieutenant Blake stood in front of them. “All right, gentlemen. You know the deal. You’ll be the quick reaction force for the next week, and then rotate to the TCP. Everyone stays within sight of this building: we get a call, I want you rolling with two minutes, tops.”
Turville kept one ear tuned—they’ve been briefed on what was expected of them about ten times already, but his eye fixed on the family that was, at that moment, coming out of the drug store.
The father was about forty, balding, and had a bit of a paunch. He wore khakis and a white shirt, and was talking with a pretty redheaded woman the same age.
Behind them was Short Girl. Now that it was warming up, she was dressed in a pair of jeans and a light sweater instead of the bulky peacoat she’d worn a week before. Her brown hair hung loose at her shoulders, and the breeze blew wisps of it loose. He hadn’t noticed it the other night—probably because people were trying to kill him at the time—but she had a tiny mole on the left side of her face, just below her left eye.
When she stepped out the door, she let loose a sort of squeal, and grabbed her father’s arm. She pointed at the squad, saying something intently to her father, who looked over at them.
Then she waved at Turville. Oh, hell, he thought. That’s the last thing I need.
The family crossed the street, and the father said, “Excuse me?”
Lieutenant Blake turned around and said, “Yes, sir?”
“I’m Bob Mays. Mayor here. I made the arrangements with your Colonel for where your men would be situated.”
“Oh, yes. It’s good to meet you sir, I’m Lieutenant Blake. We’re just getting the men situated now. I understood we were meeting at 4 o’clock, sir? I’m happy to move it up, if you want, but I’ll need to get our positions straightened out first.”
The man shook his head and smiled. “No, that won’t be necessary. I just came over because my daughter has pointed out that it is one of your men who is responsible for saving her life last week.”
Turville sucked a breath in.
“Oh …” Lieutenant Blake looked confused for a moment, and then made the connection. “Corporal Turville!”
Turville stepped forward. “Yes, sir.”
“Mayor, this is Corporal Jim Turville. I believe he’s the one who helped out your daughter and her friend.”
The man’s grin became even wider, and he reached out and grabbed Turville’s right hand. Short Girl—Rebecca— actually winked at him.
“Son, anything you ever need, you just give me a call. The name is Turville, is it?”
“Uh…yes, sir. Although, I didn’t actually save anyone, I just kind of shoved her over. If there hadn’t been, you know, people shooting at us at the time, you’d have probably been pretty pissed…”
Lieutenant Blake interrupted. “That’s probably enough, Corporal.”
Turville could feel heat in his face. Jim, you are such an ass, sometimes.
“He did, Dad. If he hadn’t pushed us to the ground, I’d have been killed by those metal fragments.”
Mayor Mays wouldn’t let go of Turville’s hand. “I mean, it, son. Rebecca’s going off to college in the fall—well, if we can get the schools back open anyway. I don’t know what I would have done if I’d lost her. You can call on me for anything. Anything at all.”
“Uh, thank you, sir. Um …. I’d better be going, sir, we were just getting the guys in place.”
“Oh, that’s right. Well, I don’t want to interfere with your duty. I will say, I’m glad you men are here. I’ll see you at four o’clock, Lieutenant?”
The Mayor walked away, with his wife and daughter in tow. She had to be at least eighteen, Turville thought. Life just wouldn’t be any fucking fair, otherwise.
He got back in the formation.
Nowell elbowed him in the side. “You’re my hero,” he whispered, then made a smooching sound.
“Kiss my ass,” Turville whispered back.
The Lieutenant wrapped up, then rejoined the humvees. Sergeant Nguyen took his place at the head of the squad.
“All right. Meigs—I want your fire team on security. Turville, you relieve him at 1800 hours; you’ve got the night shift. And next time: don’t talk in my formation. Got it?”
“Yes, sergeant,” Turville replied, as Santiago, Nowell and Tilman groaned. As the formation broke up, he glanced up at the dam. The Lieutenant and third squad were already driving up the face, turning back and forth in the narrow switchbacks. It looked ominous hanging over the town like that. Then he thought of Rebecca Mays, and how she had looked when she winked at him.