Amy stood anxiously next to an old log cabin that had been refitted as what could generously be called a convenience store, while the Howard family stocked up on snacks inside. A tiny home made from a shipping container stood nearby with a large American flag mounted to its side and waving lazily over the roof.

She looked at her watch, noting that it was now twelve minutes since she had left Alex. “You’re two minutes late,” she said softly.

Suddenly there was a low rumbling in the distance. She felt instant disappointment when she realized it was coming from another direction. A pair of large trucks in green camouflage drove up and blocked the road leading to the campground. “What are you doing?” she shouted to one of the drivers.

“This road is closed,” he said, opening his door. A woman stepped the passenger side and disappeared behind the truck.

“You can’t do that!” Amy said, walking up to him. “There are people on the way here who need help!”

“Please step back, ma’am,” he said, standing in her way.

“Look, Sergeant Baker,” she said, reading his name tag, “my boyfriend is a cop. He was up at the campground looking for campers who might be in the way of the fire.”
The man relaxed and pulled a radio from his belt. “What’s his name?”

“Alex Rideout,” she said. “He’s with the Colorado Springs police department.”

“And what’s your name?” Baker asked.

“Amy Pacer.”

“Delta,” he said into the radio, “be advised there is a police officer named Alex Rideout near the site performing search and rescue, over.”

“Understood, over,” a female voice replied.

Amy watched the woman and two men from the other truck place orange and white barricades several feet beyond. She then had a sickening thought. “The fire department is on its way. Are you going to let them through?”

“No need, Ms. Pacer,” he said, “we have our own fire crew on the way. Please wait in the store, and I’ll let you know when we find him.”

“What did he say?” Harvey asked her when she returned.

Amy froze, unable to answer. The shop owner standing behind him, a kind elderly man who had introduced himself as Ed, was casually holding an automatic rifle.

“Don’t mind Ed,” Harvey said, reassuringly. “He’s with them.”

“This is just a little added protection,” Ed said, smiling.

“Protection from what?” Amy asked, staring at the rifle.

“I was hoping you could tell us,” Harvey said.

“He told me that they’re just here to fight the fire.” As if to prove it, rotors from a helicopter grew loud overhead and receded in the direction of the campground.

“That’s weird,” Harvey observed.

Amy was still fixated on the rifle. “Can you please put that down, Ed?”

“I have my orders,” he said.

“Where are Toni and the kids?” she asked Harvey after forcing herself to look around the store.

“Back room, with the other one.”

“The other one? What other one?”

“Please stay calm, Amy,” Ed said. The smile was gone.

“They’re fine,” Harvey said, oddly unfazed.

A radio behind the desk burst with static. “We’re all clear!” Baker’s voice said.

Ed shouldered the weapon put it behind the desk. “Sorry to scare you,” he apologized earnestly as the children joined them, followed by their shaken mother and a young woman who bore a striking resemblance to Ed. “Both me and my daughter Lindsay.”

Baker entered the store. “Ms. Pacer, Mr. Rideout is okay,” he said, and turned to the Howards. “You’re all free to go.”

“Thank God,” Toni said.

“We would appreciate you not saying anything about this,” he added.

Harvey eyed his sidearm. “Can you tell us what ‘this’ is, Sergeant?”

“You didn’t tell them?” Baker asked Ed, who shook his head. “The country is under attack,” he told Harvey, “and this is part of the battlefield.”

Baker was gone when a familiar blue sedan rolled past the remaining truck and up to the store. “Alex!” Amy yelped, and ran outside.

“Hi!” Alex said as he parked. She hugged him as soon as he got out of the car.

“You’re very late,” she said into his ear.

“Sorry about that. I was interrogated at a roadblock by a tough Air Force cop.”

Amy let Alex go and stepped back. “They said you saved someone.”

“A wounded hiker at the last campsite. It wasn’t too serious.”

“How are you feeling?” Amy asked.

“Good,” Alex said, “I’m glad you’re okay. I was worried about you.”

She glanced back at the store. “It got a little tense, but I had the easy part.”

He paused, looking concerned. “What happened?”

“Some… miscommunication.”

“Like what?”

“Nothing.” She shook her hair nervously. “Did they tell you what’s going on?”

“You mean what we saw at the campground?” Alex asked.

Amy nodded. “And why. We were told that the country is under attack.”

“That’s what I heard too,” he said.

“Did they tell you who’s behind it?”

He almost imperceptibly flinched. “They’re still figuring it out.”

She glared at him. “Really?” He was clearly holding something back.

“The helicopter was shot down by a drone,” Alex said.

“And?” Amy asked.

“It wasn’t one of ours.”

She thought about the implications of what he said. “Did they find the drone?”

“They wouldn’t tell me anymore, except they don’t know whose it was.”

She pulled her phone from her pocket and held it in front of him. There was still no signal. “Did they have an explanation for this?”

Alex said, “I asked if the drone might be blocking it somehow, but they said they didn’t think so.”

Amy frowned. “Not a lot of help, were they?”

He shrugged. “We should go back now. Why don’t I drop you off at home? Then I’ll check in with work and see if they know what’s going on.”

She cocked her head in the direction of the store, thinking of Ed. “You might already have a lead. In there.”

Amy anxiously watched through the store window while Alex talked with Ed. After five minutes, Alex made a call from the landline Harvey had used to report the crash and fire. A gust of wind gave her a chill as another helicopter flew overhead with a pair of large tanks hanging from its sides.

Alex emerged from the store just as she finished zipping up the windbreaker she had kept in the car.

“What did Ed say?” she asked him.

Alex shook his head. “Ed doesn’t know much, but he’s good at making up the difference.”

“What does that mean?”

“You know. Making it up.”

She stared at him, disbelieving. “But he was under orders, right?”

“More like a strong request, but he thought so.”

“What about the department?”

“As I expected, they want to brief me in person as soon as possible.”

“Is everything… okay?” She had been unable to bring herself to use the phone with Ed nearby.

“I read between the lines that nothing is obviously wrong, so officially ‘yes’.”



© 2018 Bradley Jarvis