He thought he heard voices!
He was going to put out the fire, but that might give away his position. As it was, using the dry wood produced no smoke, and almost no noise as there was no water in the cells of the branches to pop and hiss when it escaped as steam.
The voices were up on the road, moving west. It seemed from the sounds that it was a patrol, composed of three to five men, moving slowly down the road. He could not make out what they were saying as their voices were in competition with the sound of the river. The voices slowly faded as they moved down the road, and he gulped air as he realized he had been holding his breath, trying to discern what they had been talking about. “Not very professional” he thought to himself, “Lucky for me”.
He poured himself a cup of hot water, adding another teabag, Cranberry Apple this time. Waiting for his beverage to cool a bit, he put everything back in the pack that he wasn't using. He was obviously far enough off the road that he was invisible to those who used it. He still was not 100% comfortable with this but it could not be helped. He settled down and was soon thinking about the events preceding his current predicament.
After sending the code to bug out, he began following the tracks east in the brush that grew thickly on the right-of-way. He had been moving for about 15 minutes when he heard another chopper, coming in low. He had not yet donned the Alpenflage poncho so he stopped moving and tried to get as small as possible. The chopper zoomed by overhead, racing down the tracks and disappeared to the west.
Since he was stopped, he took off the pack and pulled out the parka and one of the bottles of water. He took a long pull at the bottle, surprised by his thirst. He transferred the contents of his lunch bag to the pack and then pinned the compass to his hooded sweatshirt's lapel. The sweatshirt was a darker grey in color and should not contrast too much with the brushy terrain. He removed the Taurus from it’s protective packaging, checked it for function and put it in his pants pocket. It would be difficult to retrieve from under the poncho but that could not be helped. Stealth was the order of the day, not firepower!
He considered discarding his lunch bag, but decided that it might come in handy later if he needed a pillow or a storage container. It was an insulated nylon coated bag, brown in color and about 10 quarts in volume. He secured it to his get home bag by using one of the D-rings had added when he modified the pack.
Next he clipped the Mora knife to his belt. It was a new military surplus model with a plastic sheath, sharp as hell. The Mini-Mag holster with it’s cargo followed next, then one of the water bottles in a homemade carrier. The last item he added was the pouch that contained his fire making tools. Closing up the pack, he swung it up and put it on once again. He then pulled the poncho on and set off through the brush.
He traveled slowly, fighting the brush and moving as quietly as possible. He was however aware, that no matter how quietly he tried to move, the dead branches and twigs covered by this Fall's discarded leaves, still crunched under foot. He had been moving this way for about half an hour when he saw the trestle about 200 yards ahead. He stopped and listened carefully for any sounds that might betray pursuit, but heard nothing. Satisfied for the moment that he was not about to be discovered, he moved out onto the gravel bed of the railroad tracks.
He moved to within what was 50 yards of the trestle and stopped to survey the terrain. Not seeing anything he started toward the trestle.
“I wouldn’t go out there if I were you” said a low voice.
Startled, he froze in place and slowly looked around for the source of the voice.
“I’m over here” said the voice, “behind you”.
He turned to the sound of the voice, seeing nothing. Then, a figure rose up from the ground just to his right, about 10 feet away. It was a man about 5’ 8” and dressed in a make shift Ghillie suit.
“Come on, follow me if you want to live. Quietly!!!” The man turned and moved silently into the brush.
He hesitated at first and then followed the figure deeper into the underbrush. They walked on what appeared to be an old game trail until they stepped into a small brushless area that was about 20 feet from the bank of the river.
The figure pushed back the hood of the Ghillie suit and revealed a face painted in green and brown camo. The man was older than him, 50 to 60ish, and had close cropped hair that looked military in nature. He grinned, stuck out his hand and said, “My name’s Dusty. This is our camp. My camp, now.” He said this last bit with a frown. “ Have a seat.” He sat on a chunk of log that was standing on end and turned to face his host.
Dusty looked hard at him for a moment and then said, “They’re looking for you, aren’t they!”
He was unsure what to say, so he just shrugged and replied, “I guess so”
"They killed my partner you know... they killed Eddie"
“Here’s the deal.” Said Dusty, and began to fill him in on who, what and where. It seems that Dusty and his friend Eddie were homeless Vietnam war veterans, Rangers, who lived here on the river bank. They had served together in the Nam, and after the war, they stayed together, living off the land, not fitting into society any longer. They moved up and down the river to different camps, foraging wild foods and snaring game, as well as fishing. They would go into town upon occasion to pick up their mail and buy some supplies.
Today, as they were getting ready to move east up river, Eddie had left camp about a minute ahead of Dusty. Dusty had hurried up with getting the gear packed, and moved quickly to catch up with Eddie, who was just about midway out onto the trestle.
Dusty was about 50 feet from the trestle when he saw a spray of blood and brains erupt from Eddies head. Eddie crumpled, and fell over the edge of the trestle, but his foot caught and there he hung over the river, bleeding out. Dusty faded back from the trestle and into the brush, seething with anger. He heard the chopper coming in low and saw it hover over the river, near the body. It was obvious that they were trying to ID the kill. A man then appeared on the bridge, dressed in Mossy Oak camo and holding a scoped rifle. He looked over the edge at Eddie, then shook his head in an exaggerated manner to signal the people in the chopper that what ever it was they wanted to know, was not in effect.
Dusty assumed that Eddie was not the target, but had been in the wrong place at the wrong time. This meant the target was presumed to be travelling down this path. He concealed himself on the edge of the right-of–way and waited. The sniper left the bridge and Dusty watched him return to his sniping position. It seems that Eddie was going to be left to hang, at least for the moment.
The sniper had chosen a hide that gave him the best shot as the target neared the center of the trestle. The rifle was silenced, as he had heard no gunshot. “Who the hell are these guys and who are they looking for?” he thought to himself. The chopper rose up over the treetops and moved west down the tracks, and then, 30 minutes later, the "hunted" had appeared!
He was going to miss Eddie.
“Goodbye my brother, I will avenge you if I can.”
The fire was out.
He had fallen asleep, and now waking, he was beginning to feel the cold again. He lay there and listened to the dripping of the trees, the muted rumble of the river, and the sporadic wind that rattled the trees.
He decided against starting the fire again. The thought of someone smelling some smoke seemed to him to be too great a risk. He checked his watch and saw that it was 2:24am. Daylight was still 5 hours away. He curled up under his poncho liner and tucked in the corners. He would have used the space blanket, but the shiny reflective surface was not well suited for stealth, so he left it in the pack, to be used at a later time he told himself.
If he reached an area where he felt it was safe to stay a few days, like C4 or C5, he would build a debris hut and use the space blanket to insulate and water proof the roof. He hoped it would also help against detection by thermal imaging, if they decided to resort to FLIR on their choppers.
He fell back asleep, slightly chilled but too tired to fight it anymore.
Dusty had led him to a vantage point that was well hidden, but gave a view of the hillside where the sniper waited. “See that big tall spruce half way up the hill? He’s to the left about 5 feet and next to that small maple.” He silently cursed himself for not including his compact folding binoculars in his get home bag. He looked very carefully, but could not make out the sniper. Then, he caught a small, out of place movement that could have been a small mammal moving about, but was the sniper shifting position. “He might be a good shot,” said Dusty, “but he is not very good at stealth.”
The two of them quietly made their way back to Dusty’s camp and discussed how to cross the river without being seen. They heard a chopper flying along the tracks, moving to the east. Dusty looked intently at him, and then said: “Man I don’t know what you did, but they really want your ass!” He shook his head and replied that he didn’t have a clue as to why they were after him.
After discussing their options at length, it was decided that it would be best to cross the river by floating across in Dusty’s little inflatable raft after dark. They agreed that to stay here would be bad, as the pursuers might send a team in on foot to look for him. The plan was to cross the river, travel east for a mile along the tracks, and then lay up in one of Dusty’s camps for the night and dry out. The two men talked at length as the sky grew darker, and when it was almost too dark to see, they moved to the riverbank, out of sight of the trestle, and crossed in the raft that was carefully hidden there. The crossing was uneventful, and a little over an hour later, they arrived at the 2nd camp.
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