This excerpt is an unedited bit from my upcoming working titled novel "Dad With a Flamethrower." As Joe Dolio (buy his books) and I have predicted, convoys with escorts will be a fact of life in the US soon. Twitter: @DolioJ
“Confidential sources within the police department are telling me that over half of the officers scheduled today have called in sick. While this appears to be unrelated to the incidents in Red Rock one cannot help but think that officers across the state may be in solidarity with each other. Union president Luis Ocampo said that many officers are actually physically and mentally unable to continuing working. Excessive shifts, sometimes 16 hours long, and no days off since the Big Freeze has taken its toll, he says.”
I stopped the car and approached a small unit of National Guard soldiers huddled around a propane heater on the back of a Humvee. “Is it true what they’re saying about the police?”
A sergeant who was my age answered. “‘Fraid so. We’ve got it easier than they do. They go call-to-call and we just stand around looking mean, for the most past. We can take turns sleeping.”
“But we can’t call in sick. Or quit. We don’t have a union, neither,” a young private said.
“Write your congressman,” the sergeant said. “Folks gonna have to look out for themselves,” he said to me. “You got a gun, right?”
“Yeah. Well, thank you guys for being here.” The sergeant gave a half-hearted wave as I backed off and headed to the car. It was hard to see what kind of deterrent effect these guys were having sitting in an office complex parking lot.
The gas station had an entirely different atmosphere today. It was as busy as it had been but now cars were being routed in through a line of cones. Four employees or volunteer friends/family members in orange vests were working the lot. Two people with holstered handguns directed traffic while two others with rifles stood watch.
When it was our turn at the pump, myself and a mousy woman were pointed to two pumps. “Bizarre that they have men with guns out but the Muzak is still playing, right?” I asked. The woman flashed a nervous smile and turned away from me. Everyone but the guys with guns seemed on edge.
Ordinarily thousands of people moved around each other in their own bubbles, each going their own way. Now people on the streets moved around like cockroaches caught with the light on. One would think with such artificial desolation that encountering another person would be reassuring instead of a thing to be avoided. Emptiness was preferable to others of our species. Comfort was in solitude, not the company of the crowd.
Here and there trucks loaded with goods moved openly through the streets. It was hard to tell if they were moving, evacuating, or looting. As one neared downtown, these sightings became more frequently. Traffic became more reckless. I watched a car stop at a dark intersection, treating it as a four-way stop, be rear-ended by a someone doing probably sixty. The speeding driver abandoned his wrecked vehicle and ran. I waited for several minutes but heard no sirens.
Hugo had his garage open and a fire burning in a metal barrel in the driveway. TV sounds drifted across the cul-de-sac. Two other neighbors stood inside watching, so I headed over.
“You guys wouldn’t believe how weird it is in the city. Like a ghost town but you can see the ghosts moving around.”
None of them replied to me, just nods from two half-turned heads. Hugo’s garage TV was plugged into a portable battery system and an antenna cable snaked along the way to the outside. It was a local news station, but they were filming with an extreme zoom lens from the top of one of the skyscrapers downtown. On the screen I saw a line of Walmart semi-trucks on the Interstate. There were twenty or so of them stopped going back well over a quarter of a mile. They were being looted with apparent impunity.
The picture switched and the main shot became one at ground level, much closer up. The cameraman was clearly on his belly filming through some small hole or gap of a bridge. The convoy had been escorted by several private security cars. Their windshields were now opaque from being shot and bullet holes marred the body and door panels. Guards lay slumped and probably dead inside.
The camera moved around and showed the remains of a spike-strip in the road and shredded tires. So that’s how they stopped them. In front of these was a line of box trucks stopped so as to block the entire freeway as both a roadblock and as receptacles for the hijacked loads.
The camera angle prevented us from seeing the back but the doors must have been rolled up because men were carrying goods up to them. Men ran, towing and pushing pallet jacks full of food or whatever, down the freeway to the box trucks. One such pair went right past the body of a dead guard who lay sprawled on the concrete.
Near the retaining wall, the truck drivers kneeled facing the wall with their hands on the backs of the heads. Riflemen with masks on stood guard. Probably two-dozen non-descript vans were parked parallel to the trucks and were being loaded. “There’s gotta be one or two hundred people involves in this,” Hugo said.
In the smaller picture within the picture the building camera panned to show a lone state trooper blocking traffic at an exit a mile down the freeway. Cars were still getting on at the next ramp but kept moving unmolested. At the far end of this mass-hijacking, more gunmen in pickup trucks held traffic at bay.
“Where are the helicopters?” asked the neighbor who’s name I didn’t know.
“Did you hear the voiceover? Someone is shooting at the helicopters as they try to takeoff.”
“Nobody has the resources for this kind of operation,” I said.
“Except the cartels,” Hugo replied.
“How? This isn’t Mexico. They sell drugs, not food.”
“Just how much drugs do you think they’re selling around here right now? Way I see it, this is a way for them to get food and butt wipe. They need that too. They can sell that food too.”
I could scarcely believe what I was seeing. A large armed group had stopped and seized a massive delivery convoy that had been guarded by no less than a half-dozen vehicles, armed I assumed. Walmart planned this out fairly well and spent serious money on the security arrangements, but not enough.
Pandemonium erupted. Men who seemed to be in leadership roles began shouting and whistling. Fingers circled in the air in the universal sign for “let’s go.” Arm loads of things were dropped. Pallets were left in traffic lanes. Within a minute everyone was in a vehicle. The new convoy of escort and spoil vans fanned out via the next two exits. The feed from the cameraman on the ground went dark after a burst of machine gun fire was heard.
The building camera tried to track the vehicles as they split up. The camera panned around, looking for signs of where each vehicle went but given the oblique angle of the shot the buildings got in the way. Finally in the far distance we saw a Stryker armored vehicle drive the wrong way up an off-ramp. Traffic was light enough that no one hit it and its three companions followed it up. By the time the platoon got to the scene of the crime, it was too late. Everyone but the truck drivers were gone.
The four of us stood in silence watching the soldiers clearing the area and setting up perimeter security. “Where were the cops?” Darin asked.
“Smart enough to stay away,” Hugo replied. “They probably had more guys robbing that convoy than the police have working an entire shift right now. What would even a dozen cops do? Re-enact the shootout from Heat on the freeway. They’d be slaughtered.”
The coordination to pull this off was amazing. I had no idea that the cartel had so many people in the city. As bad as River City was, this was the first time that something that happened in Mexico happened here. Walmart’s corporate security was clearly compromised. To plan this in advance would require knowledge of when the convoy would leave. Trucks and vehicles would have to be stolen and the shooters and labor rounded up. From there, the convoy could be easily tracked as it got closer and closer to the city.
The second order effect of this would be that deliveries would cease for a while until new security measures could be implemented. Hiring a couple armed guards who were used to checking out alarm calls and transporting stacks of cash wouldn’t cut it against real sicarios.
Author Don Shift
Don Shift is a veteran of the Ventura County Sheriff's Office and avid fan of post-apocalyptic literature and film who has pushed a black and white for a mile or two. He is a student of disasters, history, and current events.