Bugout! California Part 163 – The Burning Desert

Sam and Erica parked their Jeep behind the livery stable, the other two Jeeps parking next to them.

“You mind if we go to the mine right now?” Erica asked. “I’m worried about Mia.”

“That was my plan,” Sam said. They started walking before the other Jeeps emptied. The streets were deserted, but Sam saw armed warriors placed at strategic points in town. They got to the mine shaft and went inside, Jules and the rest of the group not far behind them.

“Where’s Tex?” Karen asked, coming out of the shadows with Haley.

“Right behind us,” Erica said. “Don’t worry, they’re all right.”

“Where’s Anna gonna be?” Sam asked.

“The room that Susanne used before she got moved outside, I suspect.”

They hurried down the dark shaft, past the large room, which was full of the buzz of conversation.

“You can go in there now if you want,” Erica said.

“No way, I want to get to our daughter first.”

“Our daughter,” Erica said, choking up. “My God, she is, isn’t she?”

Sam nodded as they turned right, heading into the former gun reloading room. It was turned into a children’s play area. Anna was there, with several other women.

“Mommy!” Mia shouted. “Daddy!” She rushed over, hugging them tight.

“How are you, sweetie?” Erica asked, squatting down next to her on the earthen floor.

“I was scared when everybody came down here. Are bad men coming?”

“We don’t think so, honey, but we’ll protect you if they do,” Sam said, crouching next to Erica.

“Glad you’re back,” Anna said, walking over. “Mia’s been on pins and needles. Where’s Garrett?”

“I’m right here,” Garrett said, walking into the play room. Anna rushed to him, hugging him tight. “Wow, you really missed me.”

She pulled back and looked into his eyes, then kissed him gently.

“We should go into the meeting room and report,” Sam said.

“I can go too, can’t I?” Mia asked.

“Yes, you can go too,” Erica said, standing and holding out her hand, which Mia took.

“Daddy,” she said, reaching for Sam’s hand, which he took as they walked towards the main shaft.

“Jules probably unloaded all the info to Ivan, you know,” Erica whispered, drawing a look from Mia.

Sam chuckled. “I want to know what they know, because of all this. If things are too bad, I’ll be taking you two to safety, you know.”

Erica nodded to him as they made their way through the crowd to the front of the room. Jules, Ivan, Ted, Ben, and Tex were chatting in front of the big TV screen. Karen and Haley were sticking close. Sparky and Dana were nearby, listening but keeping mostly to themselves, Cody and Allison doing the same.

“Sam. Erica. How are you?” Ivan asked.

“None the worse for wear,” Sam said. “What’s going on?”

“Simply a precaution,” Ivan said.

“Where are the citizen recruits?” Erica asked.

“They’ve headed towards the border with the armor battalion that showed up here earlier,” Ivan said. “That probably makes us a lot safer here.”

“Yeah, the target is now on the road,” Ben said.

Jules shook his head. “We more important than that force. Enemy knows.” Shelly looked up at him, then moved a little closer, her eyes darting around the rock ceiling.

Ivan chuckled. “Calm down, Jules. We’ll be okay. We’ve got video, lots of firepower, and men all over the place.”

Garrett walked to them with Anna at his side. “I’ve got five hundred mounted men patrolling the area. If we get visitors, we’ll know in a hurry.”

Robbie rushed out of the back section of the intelligence room and made eye contact with Ivan. He nodded, then turned to the others.

“Robbie wants to show us something.”

“Okay,” Jules said.

“I’ll stay here with Mia if you don’t mind,” Erica said to Sam, who nodded in agreement.

Ivan led the way, the others right behind him. The people milling around in the meeting room noticed.

“What’s up?” Sam asked Robbie, who was back beside Morgan in front of his PC screen. Seth and Kaitlyn were looking over their shoulders, Angel and Megan close by.

“Somebody shot cruise missiles at Jacumba Hot Springs.”

“The town?” Garrett asked.

Robbie nodded yes.

“Here it starts,” Ivan said, pulling his phone out of his pocket. He typed a quick text.

“General Hogan?” Sam asked, to which Ivan nodded.

“Is that what you’re afraid they’ll hit us with?” Shelly asked, looking at the devastation of the town on the video feed.

Ivan glanced at Jules and then nodded yes to Shelly.

An alarm went off on Seth’s PC.

“Oh, crap,” Kaitlyn said, rushing over to it, Seth right behind her.

“What was that?” Tex asked.

“That was an alarm from the history program,” Seth said as he stood behind Kaitlyn, who was typing on the keyboard. “It goes off when enemy RFID hits disappear.”

“They’re loading up again?” Ted asked.

“Oh boy,” Sparky said. “Wonder if they’re coming here or going to the border?”

Seth shrugged.

“Where did they disappear?” Sam asked.

“South of Julian,” Kaitlyn said. “They’ve still got a lot of people there.”

“How many disappeared?” Ivan asked.

“Five hundred so far,” Kaitlyn replied.

“No,” Shelly said.

“They probably aren’t coming here,” Ted said, looking at his phone. “Look at the map. We know the western tip of the enemy front is going to hit the border near Tecate. The only way they can go is Old Highway 80, or maybe I-8 if they’re crazy enough.”

“They might come here, though,” Tex said. “There’s more than one way they could go to get on Highway 94.”

“He’s got a point, boss,” Jules said.

“Okay, okay, let’s not panic yet. I’m gonna see if I can get a drone to cover the area.” He walked away with the cellphone to his ear.

“What now?” Angel asked.

“Hang tight and wait,” Ji-Ho said.

Ivan came back in the room. “General Hogan is talking to the Navy base. Hopefully they’ll get a drone over the area.”

“It won’t be just to help us,” Ted said. “There’s a better than even chance that these folks are going to the border to attack Marines.”

“Yes, I made that point,” Ivan said. “Anything else on Jacumba?”

“They only shot three missiles, from the reports I’m seeing,” Robbie said. “They only hit the town. All the armed forces and most of the military equipment was west of there a few miles. Seems kinda stupid to me.”

“It’s terror,” Ted said. “Pure and simple. They know they can’t take out enough of our military to make a difference, since they’re so well-spaced out. They can hit civilians in close quarters like that town, kill a lot of people, and maybe take attention of the fighting force away from their business.”

“This is an escalation,” Sam said.

Ji-Ho nodded. “Yes, I agree.”

“As do I, gentlemen,” Jules said. “Maybe we ought to be getting involved directly.”

“No,” Ivan said. “We sit tight, in this shelter. We have an important job coming up. A job we can pull off. An important job.”

“What’s that?” Angel asked. “What could be more important than killing the enemy?”

“I think I know,” Robbie said. “You want us to take out the UN base after Mr. White and Mr. Black tell us where it is.”

Ivan smiled. “You’re smart, like your father.”


Meyers sat in his armored personnel carrier, watching the laptop screen, which was running the high-res app. He could see all the enemy fighters in detail, the program on auto refresh so he could see movement every twenty seconds.

“We’re not far from the target zone, sir,” the driver said.

“Thank you,” Meyers said, eyes not leaving the screen. “How far ahead are the heavy armor?”

“The tanks are about a hundred meters ahead of us, sir. They’ll be engaging the enemy in minutes.”

“No sign of enemy armor?”

“No sir, but there are a hell of a lot of troops, and a bunch of broken artillery.”

“Watch for anti-tank hand-helds,” Meyers said.

“Will do, sir. See anything about those explosions we saw a little while ago?”

“Nope,” Meyers said. “They might have thought we were still there.”

“Makes sense to me,” the private said. “Haven’t heard more explosions since they’ve been able to see us.”

Meyers nodded, eyes still peeled at his screen. His phone dinged. He pulled it out of his pocket and looked at it, almost losing his balance as he released the hand-holds.

“Jacumba Hot Springs,” he said.

“Excuse me, sir?”

Meyers looked over at him. “They hit the town east of our position with three cruise missiles. Killed a bunch of civilians. Bastards.”

“Oh, geez,” the private said. “From the look on your face, there’s something else.”

“The history program shows enemy RFID hits disappearing south of Julian.”

“That’s a long way to the north. You think they’re coming to join the fight?”

“There’s a base they might be interested in, just outside of Dulzura. We’re trying to get a drone over there to see where they’re going, now that their RFID chips have been shielded.”

The radio scratched to life.

“We’re in position, sir,” the voice said.

“Fire at will, but watch your ammo. Let the off-roaders lead the attack on their infantry.”

“Yes sir.”

“Here it starts,” the private said.

The first line of tanks moved forward. One of them fired into a huge group of enemy troops, killing many in a line and scattering others. Then that tank moved forward, it’s machine gun blazing, other tanks beginning to move. A massive explosion went off right at that moment, under the tanks, blowing three of them up, the others starting to back up in a panic.

“Oh crap!” the private yelled. “They’ve got huge IEDs under the ground there.”

Another explosion went off, taking another tank.

“Tanks – freeze!” Meyers shouted into his microphone. “Use your machine guns to take out as many of the enemy infantry as you can. Off-roaders, come around behind them and fire up those micro guns.”

The private looked at Meyers, eyes full of fright.

“Oh, you didn’t expect something like this?” Meyers asked calmly. “What do you think they’ve been doing for all the days they’ve been sitting here?”

Suddenly there was the sound of jets approaching, and the area around the enemy troops exploded into flames.

“Napalm?” the private asked. “Didn’t know we still used that.”

Meyers chuckled, watching his screen as RFID hits disappeared. Another run of the jets started further back, saturating the huddled enemy fighters with burning gel, the singed flesh smell mixing with the gasoline smell.

“Look, the off-roaders are killing everybody who tries to run away,” the private shouted, as another napalm run started, back past the charred bodies of those already hit. “The enemy isn’t even firing back now. They’re just running.”

“They won’t get far,” Meyers said, picking up his microphone again. “All tanks, back up on the tracks you left on the way in. Go slow. We don’t need to lose any more of you guys. We’re going way wide to pursue the enemy.”

“How far, sir?” somebody asked.

“All the way to Mexico City if we have to.”

His comment was punctuated by another whoosh of fire as the fighter jets spewed death and destruction.


Mr. White was at the wheel of the delivery van, Mr. Black in the passenger seat. “We might make in time to catch,” he said.

Mr. Black chuckled. “I just hear about battle south of border. They have hands full. I bet trucks be late to rental yard.”

“Means we sleep in van, take turns.”

Mr. Black shrugged. “Part of job, old friend, part of job.”

Mr. White nodded. They rode silently for a little while, both tired after eight hours on the road. The drive from San Francisco had been easy due to the light traffic, but there was an APB out on them. They hijacked the van, leaving their Lincoln hidden in an industrial area, way back in Hayward. Sooner or later the man they’d stolen the van from would be discovered. They’d both wanted to gut the guy and throw his body into a landfill, but Ivan vetoed that idea.

“Hey, pay attention,” Mr. Black said. “Don’t stay on I-5, get on the 805.”

“I remembered,” Mr. White said. “Take Highway 52 after that. Don’t worry.”

Mr. Black stared at him a moment, then shook his head. “You take first nap when we park. Too tired for own good.”

“Then maybe you should sleep.”

Mr. Black flashed a wicked grin. “I try, after we get on Highway 52.”

“Funny,” Mr. White said, shaking his head.

“I just mess with you.”

“Yes, that what you always say. Ever since Russia.”

Mr. Black snickered, then looked over at him again. “You think boss go soft?”

“Why, because he wouldn’t let us kill guy in Hayward?”

“That, and group he with now,” Mr. Black said. “Think he come back to business?”

“If he doesn’t, we find work. Plenty business, especially with mess left by war.”

“Can we trust if he become respectable?” Mr. Black asked.

“Wait, you think we should erase boss?”

“I didn’t say that, and don’t you ever repeat again, or I gut you like fish.”

“Then why the question?” asked Mr. White.

“Just thinking about future. Maybe we go back to Europe, if Ivan go straight here.”

“We’re still wanted there,” Mr. White said.

Mr. Black laughed. “Yes, we wanted by bad guys behind this war. They not survive. Trust me, and remember who else wanted, here and there.”

“Ivan hero now,” Mr. White said. “Untouchable.”

“Perhaps yes, perhaps no.”

“Jules went straight. He’s not wanted anymore.”

Mr. Black shook his head. “Not same thing. Ivan’s fortune from crime. Jules rich from centuries-old family business.”

Mr. White nodded, then glanced at Mr. Black and grinned. “Never figure out why he join up anyway. He never in need of money.”

“Rebellious kid, overbearing father,” Mr. Black said. “Old story. Old as hills.”

They both laughed.

“Look, you almost miss again,” Mr. Black said as they neared Highway 52.

“I see, stop worry,” Mr. White said. “Go to sleep now. We on last road. Even trained monkey get there.”

“Then I guess I’m safe,” Mr. Black said, leaning his seat back and putting his hat over his face.

Mr. White grinned, then focused on the road.


Doug and Jorge entered the town of Jacumba Hot Springs on foot, via Old Highway 80. Parts of the town were still on fire.

“Look, the post office is toast,” Doug said.

“So is the resort,” Jorge said, his face lined with worry. “I hope my house didn’t get hit.”

“Would they have been at home?”

“I don’t know, man,” Jorge said. “Doesn’t look like there’s smoke in that direction. Let’s go left on Heber instead of Railroad Street. The wind is blowing that smoke in a bad direction.”

“Yeah, we don’t want to breathe that.”

They continued down Old Highway 80 another block, watching the buildings burn to their left, then turning on Heber.

“Oh no, there is smoke coming from there,” Jorge said.

Doug used his hand to shield his eyes. “I don’t think that’s your street, I think it’s the Methodist Church.”

Jorge just nodded silently, but sped up. “I’ll bet you’re glad your wife left.”

Doug laughed. “She can’t stand me. Probably off with her boyfriend again. Our marriage is a bad joke.”

“You still love her, though, right?”

“I do, but knowing about that other guy ruins it.”

“Why? It’s not like you don’t play around.”

“That was the agreement,” Doug said, “but I didn’t make the choice.”

“If you didn’t want it, why’d you agree?”

Doug was quiet for a moment as they walked

“You don’t have to say anything,” Jorge said. “None of my business. I’m just trying to keep my mind off the worst. It’s not fair. Sorry.”

“No, it’s fine,” Doug said. “You’re the best friend I’ve got, man. I don’t mind talking about it.”

“But you don’t have to,” Jorge said.

“I know. Doesn’t feel like she’s still mine. I can’t get past that.”

“It doesn’t help that you’re having your fun?” Jorge asked. “Seems like you’ve got your cake and you get to eat it too. Sometimes I envy that.”

“I can’t really cheat.”

Jorge looked at him for a moment, not understanding.

“I’m not getting my thoughts out very well,” Doug said. “I can’t have a girlfriend. Not one I might fall in love with, and when you don’t have that, it’s only physical cravings that you satisfy. Afterwards it’s bad. Empty.”

“Why can’t you have a girlfriend? She’s emotionally involved with this other guy, right?”

“I’m still in love with her. I can’t give my heart to anybody else while I do. That’s why I know it’s hopeless.”

“I don’t follow.”

“She gave her heart. She doesn’t worry about it because she doesn’t love me anymore. Not really. Not like a wife.”

“There’s my house, man,” Jorge said, breaking into a run. “Isabel!”

The door flew open, a middle-aged woman rushing out, running towards him as fast as her legs would carry her. They embraced, both crying. Doug looked on, hanging back, tears in his eyes. Jorge’s four children ran out, gathering around their parents, all of them clinging to one another.

Jorge and Isabel talked for a moment, and then she turned and went back inside their house with the children. Jorge walked over to Doug.

“You’re invited for dinner,” Jorge said. “Don’t you dare say no.”

Doug looked at him and nodded yes, wiping the tears out of his eyes.

“What’s wrong?”

Doug looked at him. “Part happiness, part envy.”

“Your wife is safe, at least,” Jorge said.

“Maybe. She doesn’t let me know where she is. Doesn’t return texts or calls half the time. When we’re together she acts like nothing’s happening, but then she huddles out of earshot with her phone.”

“Oh, man, it can’t be as bad as that.”

“I don’t have her anymore,” Doug said. “It’ll be okay. For better or worse, I let this happen, thinking it would keep us together. Let’s change the subject, okay?”

“Maybe you can work it out,” Jorge said. “Come on, let’s go inside.”

To be continued…


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