Divided We Fall(9)
Author:Trent Reedy

    “Hold your weapons tight,” Sergeant Kemp called out.

    There were so many protestors. Some were staggering drunk. Some looked mad. Others laughed. It was chaos, and we weren’t even downtown to the real disturbance yet. The tip of the diamond formation reached the crowd. The group parted around us, but they were standing close.

    Too close. One of the guys grabbed the end of my M4’s barrel. I tried to pull the weapon back, but he had a good grip. “Let go,” I said through gritted teeth. What the hell did this guy think he was doing? I wanted to punch him, but I couldn’t let go of the rifle.

    One of my guys came flying past me in a blur. His butt stock nailed the gun grabber in the face. The crack was so loud, at first I thought the rifle’s stock had broken.

    The protestor fell flat on his back, both hands to his face as thick red blood gushed out from between his fingers. “You broke my nose, man!” he said.

    A couple people crouched down around him. Sergeant Meyers wiped the guy’s blood from his weapon. “Never lose control of your weapon, Private. Never,” he said to me.

    People in the crowd screamed with anger. They had been backing up a little, but now they moved forward.

    “Fix bayonets!” Lieutenant McFee called out.

    Oh shit. Bayonets? I had never used a real bayonet. In basic training we’d practiced just with fake rifles with little metal rods welded to the end. The drill sergeants had made us shout stuff like “red blood makes the grass grow green.” Broken Nose Guy’s blood wasn’t growing anything. I absolutely did not want to mess with the bayonet.

    My hand shook as I reached for the pouch on my vest, but I unsnapped it and pulled the knife out. Then I pushed its little housing onto the catch under the barrel of my M4. Now my rifle was kind of like a sword too.

    We moved forward again, holding the ends of our weapons a little higher so the crowd could see the blades. They seemed to get the message this time. They parted and moved out of our way a lot faster. Finally, we stepped out into the middle of South Capitol Boulevard and marched in diamond formation up the street to where it split into two one-way streets.

    One of the distant sirens got louder as a police car sped toward us. Half of its lights on top were smashed, and the windshield was spiderwebbed with cracks on the passenger side. They were driving fast, so I didn’t get too good a look, but the face of the cop riding shotgun was bright, bloody red. He must have been cut up pretty bad.

    The crowd followed us. A rock flew from somewhere behind us and hit the ground a few feet to my left. We turned to face them and spread out at the point where the street split, with no more than a few yards between each of us. We had blocked the road.

    The protestors settled down about twenty yards away, still chanting and shouting, cussing us out, and daring us to put down our guns to give them a fair fight. Someone set off what must have been fireworks — little black cats, probably. At the first crack I jumped and tensed up on my weapon. Good thing I wasn’t on the firing range. I was shaking way too much to hit any of the pop-up plastic targets.

    Specialist Sparrow stepped over to me. “I’ve been hearing some crazy stuff over the radio,” she said. “The police are having trouble keeping the mob from breaking through the barricade around the capitol. Some cops have been injured. I think that last ambulance that went through might have had a cop who was stabbed. There must be four or five platoons in the area, all on this frequency. All bad news.”

    “So it’s not getting any better down there?” I asked.

    She shook her head. “Sounds like it’s getting worse. One Guard squad called in and said fights are breaking out even between protestors. It’s like —” She stopped and pressed the radio handset tighter to her ear, holding up a hand for me to be quiet. She pushed the transmit button. “Last calling station. Last calling station. This is cobra three one. Say again, over.” Cobra was the 476th Engineer Company code name, so she was identifying as the first squad of third platoon. “Roger that. Wait one, over.” Sparrow shot me a tense look and then called out for the lieutenant. “Sir, we got orders coming in.”

    The lieutenant rushed over, took the handset, and called up to higher. He typed some things down on his comm. “Roger. That’s a good copy. Wilco. Cobra three one, out.” McFee tossed the handset to Sparrow, squinted his eyes shut, and pushed his fists against his temples. Then he checked the empty street in front of us. “New mission,” he said. “Governor Montaine is ordering the Guard units to tighten the perimeter until we’ve moved into the downtown area. We’re going in to stop the disturbance.”

    “Finally, we can put an end to this shit,” Sergeant Meyers said. “Show these bastards who’s boss!”

    McFee held a hand up. “Negative. Okay? We’re … You know, this is probably no big deal here. Heading down there to help the police make some arrests or … um … for presence. Kind of … Okay. Anyway. Squad wedge formation. We’re heading straight up this street about a dozen blocks right to the capitol.”

    “I’ll take point,” Sergeant Meyers yelled. “Alpha team back to my left. Bravo back and to my right. Sparrow, stay in the middle to keep the radio close to the LT.”

    The sun was down as we moved off in a big V pattern up Capitol Boulevard. As we moved, the protestors we’d already run into kept shouting and making fun of us. Some of them rushed past, running downtown. We had to let them go. There was nothing we could do about it.

    Blocks and blocks away was the dome of the capitol building. In the growing darkness, red and blue lights flashed on the massive crowd with their protest signs. Beyond that, over the tops of the buildings off to the right, a plume of smoke rose up into the sky, with another ahead and far off to the left. We passed at least two burned-out cars on the side of the road. Four or five businesses had their windows busted. Sirens seemed to blare all around us.

    We marched closer, coming within a block of the real riot. Now that stuff back closer to where we’d landed looked peaceful by comparison. A huge mob of people pressed against the metal barricades that had been set up around the capitol building. They were all yelling, shoving, and screaming. One man was pushed into a woman. Another guy, maybe her boyfriend, shoved the first man, who responded with a hard jab. In seconds, others had joined the fight. Off to our right, a few squads of police with huge clear plastic riot shields and clubs tried to break up a different fight among the protestors. Some of the crowd had moved on the cops, flanking them. A few of them had stolen some of the riot shields. It was like every pissed-off person in Idaho had saved up their anger for years and decided to let it all out tonight here in Boise. This was pure hell.

    The lieutenant finally halted us at the intersection of Capitol and Bannock, right at the edge of the main part of the riot. He held the radio handset to his ear but shouted to us, “Our orders are to hold position here and wait for other units to get into place.”

    It was a sea of chaos in front of us. People held signs: DON’T TREAD ON ME! OCCUPY IDAHO! NO GOVERNMENT SPY CARD! DOWN WITH PRESIDENT RODRIGUEZ! TIME TO THROW OUT THE TEA BAGGERS! Signs with pictures of donkeys hanging from ropes. MONTAINE SUCKS! Signs with dead elephants.

    “What is this protest even about?” I said. “Whose side are these people on?”

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