Pfand X
Chapter 15

Copyright© 2011 by Lazlo Zalezac

Carl crouched behind the car, trying to be as small as possible. His heart was beating fast. He could hear the blood pounding in his ears. However, that sound did take a backseat to the gunshots that were going off all around him.

He had once heard that a car wasn't really all that safe to hide behind. Most of the larger caliber bullets went through them, but were slowed down enough to really cause damage to the person hiding. His choices of cover had been rather limited, though. Namely, it was the car, a pair of newspaper vending machines, a light pole, or a very small planter. The car had seemed the most substantial of the choices.

He flinched when a hole opened up in the side of the car, near his feet. Clearly, the story about bullets being able to go through a car, was true. He heard a tire pop on the other side of the car. He looked at the other end of the car, where Samantha was crouched. It was only now that he noticed that there were a lot of holes along the length of car, between them.

There were more sounds of gunfire. Samantha duck walked over to him making sure that her head was never visible to the folks on the other side of the car.

She said, "Don't look so worried. We've got the engine between us and them."

"That's good, right?"

"So long as they don't bring out a fifty."

There was a sudden increase in gunfire, and then silence.

The quiet hung in the air like an oppressive fog. Carl looked around, wondering what was happening. The longer the silence lasted, the more confident he was that the attack was over.

Samantha hissed, "Don't move."

"What's going on?"

"I don't know," Samantha answered.

Her eyes were watching the windows and doors that were overlooking their position. She was waiting to see if someone was going to take advantage of their lack of cover on that side of the car. If she had set up this ambush, she'd have placed a person in one of the buildings near their current position.

A shadow moved into partial view. Samantha couldn't tell if it was a curious bystander or a threat. She brought up her pistol, but didn't pull the trigger. A hole appeared in the window. She noted that the glass did not fall out towards the street. Someone on the other side of the car had made the shot. She hoped it was someone on the side of the Pfand who had fired.

She continued to search the area for a threat. There was another spat of gunfire from behind them. It didn't seem to be aimed in their direction. There were no new holes in the body of the car.

"I wonder who owns this car," Carl said idly.

"Be quiet," Samantha hissed.

Carl leaned against the car and looked around. He noticed a guy moving across a window. The man hugged the wall, and was holding up what was clearly a pistol.

Pointing at the window, Carl said, "There's a man with a gun over there."

Samantha's head swung around to stare at the window. She brought up her gun and fired. The glass in the window exploded in a cloud of shards that reflected the light in an almost artistic manner. The pistol sounded loud in her ears. It was seldom that she fired a gun without proper hearing protection.

She said, "Thanks. Next time, just shout 'gun', and point. There's no need to say more than that."

She looked around at the remaining windows. When she didn't hear anything from Carl, she glanced over at him. He was slumped to the ground.

"Shit!"

Samantha reached over and rolled him onto his back. There was a hole in his suit coat. She tore his shirt open and checked the vest. There was a slug buried in it, but it had not penetrated through it. From experience, she knew that he'd have a horrible bruise from the impact. She checked for other signs that he had been shot elsewhere without finding any. However, there was a big bump on the back of his head.

Since he wasn't bleeding, she returned to watching the environment around them for additional threats. There were still occasional shots being fired behind her. She watched the windows and almost shot an old woman who was drinking tea and watching the action. She couldn't believe that people would peek out windows trying to see what was happening during a gunfight.

"Where in the f$%k are the police?" she growled.

By her estimate, they had been pinned down behind the car for at least a full minute. It was hard to tell though since time ran funny in situations like that.

Quiet descended on the street, once again. In the distance, the sound of sirens could be heard. Unfortunately, it sounded like they were headed in the wrong direction. She pressed back against the car, and searched the windows for another shooter.

"Apples!"

Hearing that, Samantha relaxed, but only a little. It was the code word to let her know that everything was under control. But just because they thought things were under control, didn't make it so. They'd all be tense until they got off the street, and into a safe area.

She shouted back, "Bruised banana!"

"Shit."

"Crate coming. Thirty seconds"

The term crate was code for the brown panel van. They were coming to pick up Carl. After almost thirty seconds on the dot, a heavy van drove up, and parked next to the car. Two men Samantha recognized, Mike Speer and Hammond Steward, climbed out of the van. They were wearing their standard disguises: a Nixon mask, and a Carter mask, respectively. There was a story behind their choices, but no one had ever bothered to fill her in on it.

The side door opened. A third man, wearing a Clinton mask, got out. He was looking about, nervously. It was obvious by his body language, that he didn't like being in the middle of a war zone. Samantha stashed her gun in her purse, and tried to look frightened. The masks meant that they were doing an anonymous extraction.

Hammond and the third man stormed over and roughly picked up Carl. Almost dragging him, the two men carried Carl into the van. Mike pulled her along with them, while she pretended to resist. For all intents and purposes, it looked like the pair of them had been abducted off the street, rather than rescued.

Mike climbed into the driver's seat of the still running machine. Once everyone was inside, the van took off at a high speed, even while Hammond climbed up front to ride shotgun. Hammond nodded at his brother, Harmon, who was standing with a group of Waches as they drove past.

Samantha noticed that the police still hadn't arrived. She wondered how that was possible. Then she realized that the police were in on it, and were staying away. Big money must have been involved if they were willing to suffer the kind of news storm that would follow a slow response to a major shootout.

The three men pulled off their masks, once they were out of the immediate area. The dark tint on the windows would make it hard for anyone to see the people inside. Hammond kept his weapon in hand. Mike was busy driving the van. The third man was examining Carl, and was muttering to himself.

"How many of them were there?" Samantha asked.

It sounded like a hundred people had opened up on them, but she knew that couldn't be true. They had just gotten behind the car when they had let loose with a barrage that would have killed them for sure if they hadn't been warned by the foghorn. She had grabbed Carl and pulled him to the ground. Much to her surprise, he had already been diving to the ground.

"Twenty," Mike, the driver, answered.

"Jesus," Samantha said.

"We were lucky," Hammond said. "Only three of our folks were wounded. No one was killed."

"How many of theirs did we get?" Samantha asked.

"Four or five dead, maybe a dozen or more wounded. We didn't exactly take time to make an accurate count," Mike answered.

For a while it had turned into an outright war. Ten members of the Wache, had attempted to end an ambush by twenty well trained men. The ambushers had shot first, but they were aiming at Carl and Samantha. The Waches had opened fire on the exposed backs of half of the attackers. That had been a short-lived exchange of fire, with the Waches having the upper hand.

There had been a period of maneuvering while the two groups tried to out position the other. The Waches had been mostly victorious in that little exercise. The groups were basically equal in size, and the firefight had been intense.

Samantha said, "I only fired one shot, but I know I got one."

"I'm sorry to hear that," Mike said.

She had performed an act that no reasonable person should ever have to perform. He knew that the majority of soldiers in World War II were unable to kill. Many soldiers shot into the ground in front of the enemy. A lot of lead could fly through the air without anyone getting hit. The mind of a humane person has difficulty dealing the the idea of killing another human being. The first shot aimed with real intent, was the hardest. For some, it got easier. For sane people, it never got easy.

"I don't know if I wounded or killed him," Samantha said.

"Don't think about it. It was self-defense," Hammond said.

He knew that his advice was useless, and that she'd have nightmares about it. Nothing anyone could say would change that. He still had nightmares about his first battlefield kill. He had nightmares about every kill after that, as well.

The man examining Carl said, "He's got a minor concussion. He's got a good sized bruise on his chest. I'd say that he got hit in the chest and the impact slammed the back of his head into the car."

"He'll recover?" Samantha asked.

"Yes. He'll be a little sore and dizzy, but he'll be fine."

"I'm glad to hear that," Samantha said relieved.

The van rocked when they took a corner. They could hear the siren of a police car pass them going towards the site where the fight had taken place. They'd find a few of the attackers, but none of the Wache by this time.

Samantha asked, "Where were the police?"

Mike said, "That's a good question. They were conspicuous by their absence. Next time, I fear that we might be going up against the police."

He expected the police to show up at Carl's home, to question him about the gunfight on the street. They knew he was the target, and they'd want to know how he managed to escape. Odds were good that they'd try to take him down to the police station for questioning. Of course, if they got their hands on him, he would probably disappear forever.

"I didn't want to hear that," Samantha said.

One of the hardest things to defend against was a crooked police department. They could run over the innocent who were too law abiding to resist, yet they could rightfully label resisters as criminals. It was a no win situation for anyone who entered their sights. Unfortunately, Carl was now firmly in their sights.

Hammond said, "They were waiting to hear from your attackers that you were dead before leaving for the scene. I'd say that they waited a bit too long. If they had gotten there a little earlier, they could have detained you. That would have been the end of the game, for Carl."

"We're lucky your attackers partied with some hookers, last night," Mike said.

"Our hookers?" Samantha asked referring to the Damensterns.

"No. They were independents."

Hammond said, "Having a drunken orgy is about the stupidest thing you can do, right before a major mission. It is even dumber when you have your party in a hotel owned by the enemy. They had no idea we knew what they were going to do."

They had the whole debauched evening on tape. There were enough comments to have a pretty good idea why the men were there, but not enough details to know when and where they intended to strike. Apparently, the plan was a lot more flexible than anticipated.

Irritated that her first warning of an attack had been the sound of a foghorn going off, Samantha asked, "So why didn't you warn me?"

"Because you can't act for shit," Mike answered.

"You almost blew it, the last time," Hammond answered.

Unfortunately, that was an accurate description of the last time they had gone out, knowing there was someone waiting to kill Carl. She had been so spooked that she had jumped at every sound. The guy sent there to kill Carl, had almost backed out before Harmon had a chance to catch him.

Mike said, "Your reactions are good, though."

"I'm not happy," Samantha said in a low growl.

"We're nearly to the truck wash," Mike said.

Hammond climbed in the back, to help carry Carl out of the van. It was kind of awkward, considering the way the van was bouncing on the road. They wanted to make the transfer from the van to the truck as quickly as possible.

Hammond said, "We've got a truck in one of the cleaning bays. We'll get in it, and it will deliver us to a safe hotel."

"What about Mike?" Samantha asked.

"He's going to take the van to get crushed. It will never be found," Hammond answered.

The transfer from the van to the large truck went like clockwork. Carl woke by the time they got there. He was feeling sick to his stomach, but otherwise he was unhurt. Well, his chest was a little tender. At least they didn't have to carry him to the truck.

The truck drove out of town with Carl, Samantha, and Hammond riding in a space surrounded by mattress boxes. After half an hour, the truck pulled up to a hotel. The owner came out, and opened the doors to a couple of rooms. The truck backed up to one of the rooms with an open door, and a crew of men started unloading mattresses. The fugitives walked between a pair of mattress boxes, and into a room. No one would have been able to see them leave the truck or enter the room.

They hid in the bathroom while the mattresses were unpacked, and the old mattresses hauled out. After the crew had left, closing the door behind them, they stepped out of the bathroom. It was their first chance to examine their surroundings.

This was a rather unique room, for a hotel, in that it had connecting doors to the rooms on both sides of it. They opened the doors on their side of the connecting rooms and settled down to wait, knowing they would eventually have visitors.

Samantha broke the silence and said, "How long are we going to be here?"

"That's hard to say. It all depends on how the police react to the shooting," Hammond said.

"What if they react the wrong way?" Carl asked.

"You two might have to leave the country," Hammond answered.

The Pfand had the infrastructure in place to effectively move them all over the country without being seen. With trucking companies to provide transport and hotels with special rooms, they could travel and sleep in relative comfort.

Carl said, "All of this over a pickle factory? Those assholes shot me!"

It seemed like each time something happened, Carl became even more incredulous that anyone would go to such lengths to keep him from opening his company. The situation had gone from the worrisome to the preposterous. He just couldn't grasp it.

"At least they didn't draw blood," Hammond said.

Carl looked down at his brand new suit. This was the first time he had ever worn it. Now there was a bullet hole in the suit coat. In addition to a hole in his shirt, it was ripped from when Samantha had checked him for injuries. Outside of a slug still lodged in the vest, his protective vest was still functional.

"I hate ruining new clothes," Carl said in disgust. "It's wasteful."

Hammond laughed. "I'll tell the bad guys not to try anything unless you're wearing old clothes."

"I'd appreciate it," Carl said wryly.

Samantha said, "He's feeling better."

Carl said, "I still don't see why this is happening. I mean, all of this over a pickle factory?"

Hammond sat back and thought about it for a minute.

"There's a Lt. Col. Grossman who writes about people in terms of being sheep, sheepdogs, and wolves. He says that wolves eat sheep, as that's their nature. The bad guys that do mean things to people are the wolves. He says that one percent of the population are wolves.

"On the other hand, sheepdogs protect the sheep from the wolves. They accept that there are wolves, and that it is their role in life to protect the sheep. Sheepdogs look for wolves, and anticipate the fight. Grossman says that one percent of the population are sheepdogs.

"Now sheep are a totally different story. They deny that wolves exist, until the wolf comes knocking on their door. Then they are terrified, and paralyzed with fear. That's when they scream for the sheepdog to come protect them. However, when the wolves are not around, the sheep fear the sheepdogs, because they look too much like wolves. Sheepdogs have scary fangs, and can be quite aggressive, but it is their job to keep the wolves at bay.

"Grossman says that ninety-eight percent of the population are sheep. That's where he's wrong. He missed the stags. Unlike sheep, stags don't deny that wolves exist. They don't rely upon sheepdogs to keep them safe. They are ever vigilant in watching for wolves. At the first hint of a wolf, the stag disappears. For the most part, we are stags.

"When Napoleon marched across Europe, there wasn't a single one of us in his path. When Hitler made his bid for world dominance, we were on a different continent. Was it cowardice on our part? I don't think so. It is just a different survival skill than used by sheep, sheep dogs, and wolves.

"The wolves think stags are sheep because they often share the same field. The sheep think stags are sheep because they don't have fangs. Sheepdogs don't trust stags because they are neither sheep nor wolf.

"When a stag is cornered, it doesn't just stand there and bleat, hoping to be rescued by a sheepdog. It will defend itself. It will lower antlers, and try to gore the wolf. It will used its hooves in an attempt to kill the wolf. A stag does not go down gently. That's what we're doing now. We're fighting.

"Repeatedly in our history, we've surprised the wolves when they discovered that we weren't sheep. It is why, when it comes to fighting them, that we surprise them every time."

Carl said, "You're basically saying that most people are sheep and we're not."

"That's right," Samantha said.

Hammond said, "You've got to stop acting like a sheep, Carl. You need to act more like a stag. You have to accept that wolves exist, anticipate them, watch for them, and be prepared to flee or fight."

"You're saying that I'm a sheep?" Carl asked feeling somewhat insulted.

"That's exactly what I'm saying. You keep asking, just like a sheep, why they are going after you over a pickle factory. The answer to that question is meaningless. It is in their nature, just like it is in the nature of wolves to prey upon sheep."

"I don't like the idea of being a sheep," Carl said.

"So stop being one," Hammond said gently.

"How do I do that?"

"Accept that the wolves want to eliminate you. Don't deny the danger. Don't worry about why they want to eliminate you. Take responsibility for your own safety. Sharpen your antlers," Hammond said.

"Isn't protecting us the responsibility of your family?" Carl asked.

He knew that the Waches were the watchmen of the Pfand. He thought of them as security guards and wondered if that wasn't a little unfair. He feared that Hammond was telling him that he was going to be on his own soon.

Hammond said, "Let me tell you a little story."

"Okay," Carl said.

Hammond said, "A long time ago, there was a young guardsman who married a very beautiful woman. She was one of the loveliest women in the whole area, and he was madly in love with her. Of course, a lot of other men desired her, but because he was a guardsman, and armed, none would dare touch her.

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