Blood in the Hum Vee
BLOOD IN THE HUMVEE
Virgil Mars blinked his eyes several times hoping to drive the blurriness away. It was dark and the only streetlight was too far away to help him locate the driveway to the BAM Manufacturing facility on the northeast side of Cincinnati. Thick fog swirled all around him. Dark trees lined his side of the street making his task more difficult. Then, he saw it. The entrance was worn gray asphalt that blended in quite well with the dead grass and the darkness. Slowing his ancient Chevrolet Corsica, he turned into the driveway and parked on the far side of the guard shack. A couple of pole lights illuminated the parking lot leaving areas near the guard shack enshrouded in darkness.
Can’t these miserable people afford decent lighting, he inquired of the night as he took his lunch box and a book from the trunk and walked slowly toward the shack? Stumbling on the curb, he answered his own question, “Apparently not.”
Slapping his baseball hat on his head—the one with the BAM Security emblem stitched to it—he walked around the building and entered. “What’s going on Willard?” he asked.
“Welcome to British Armored Manufacturers, maker of the finest armored vehicles in the world,” Willard proclaimed while exhibiting his usual pleasant smile as he greeted Virgil. “Our equipment has been proven by insurgents in Iraq to withstand bullets, bombs and mines.”
Virgil looked at the old man and smiled. “I don’t know about the bombs,” he replied as he stowed his lunch in the refrigerator. “I heard BAM is going to start repairing vehicles damaged in Iraq,” he added. He sat down in a rickety chair. The clock on the wall read: 10:55 PM. Five more minutes and his tour of duty would begin.
“That’s what they say,” Willard said thoughtfully scratching his head. “In fact, they brought two Humvees in tonight. They were covered with tarps.”
“Did you actually see them?”
“Of course,” Willard announced proudly. “They’re sitting back in the warehouse near receiving and shipping. Looks like they have been in a real war.” Arising from his chair, he silently cursed his arthritis. “How is your diabetes, Virgil?”
“Still there,” Virgil complained. “It’s bothering my eyes something awful.”
Willard gathered his books, newspaper and lunchbox. Walking to the door, he turned to face Virgil with a concerned look on his face. “Better get it checked. You might go blind, or something.”
“I will see the ophthalmologist Friday,” Virgil assured him. “Have a good night.”
“You too,” Willard said. “Don’t forget to check out those humvees. Jess told me that several marines were killed in one of them. Armor piercing bullets went right through the doors. They want to try and reinforce the armor so it won’t happen again. That’s why they brought them here so we can see what went wrong.”
After Willard left, Virgil went through his nightly ritual of filling out his daily report as he always did. Taking his cell phone and keys, he locked the guard shack and walked across the parking lot to the warehouse. This building, he knew, was one of seven that BAM owned in the area. The warehouse was used to store parts with which armored vehicles were made. Now, mutilated ones were stored here.
Virgil only saw two employee vehicles in the parking lot. Beginning his routine patrol of the warehouse, he saw nobody and wondered if they weren’t sleeping in one of the offices. As he walked through the warehouse, he saw all kinds of parts that were used to make armored vehicles that BAM sold to everybody including the US government, private enterprises and to other foreign countries. Chile was a big buyer.
As Virgil patrolled the warehouse he realized how enormous it really was. Three flatbed tractor and trailers were parked end to end across the warehouse floor waiting to be loaded. Twenty Chevrolet Suburban vehicles were waiting in line to be shipped somewhere.
The warehouse was silent and toward the rear, it was dark. Virgil pulled his six-celled MagLite flashlight from its holder. Where were the employees? That question puzzled him. In the rear part of the warehouse everything from surplus parts to boxes of toilet paper was stored. Even with an advanced inventory system, nobody knew for sure what was back here. Virgil wasn’t sure he wanted to know.
Only a few overhead lights were on and some of the aisles between tall gray shelves that reached up to the ceiling were dark and foreboding. It was dismal and just a little scary, Virgil decided. He avoided most of the dark aisles on his way to check the rear door. It was the wise thing to do.
After checking the rear door and locking it—he had warned the employees many times to keep that door locked—he followed the wall passing more dark aisles and even darker corners where ominous and dangerous creatures might lurk. Then, ahead of him his flashlight revealed something else that brought back memories he would rather forget. A couple of overhead lights shone down on several humvees painted the color of desert sand. They waited proudly to be shipped off to foreign shores. Then something more terrifying caught his attention and pulled him in its direction.
Four humvees were parked near the others. These were the ones that had seen the heat and frustration of war. As he neared them something pressed against his chest, he felt nauseated and his breathing quickened. Forty steps away, he had the first vision as clear as if he were watching everything on HDTV.
He was inside one of the humvees, behind the wheel and they were driving down a dusty street in Baghdad with shattered buildings and rubble all around them. Looking at a young soldier next to him, he warned, “Be on your toes, Pete. I feel something wrong here.”
Surrounded by two-inch, thick steel plating he felt as if he were driving his coffin down that street. Even a one hundred degree temperature could not drive the chills away. Cramped as it was inside the rolling coffin he felt as if he were steering a monster that had a mind of its own. Then the inevitable happened.
Virgil jerked himself out of the stupor just as he stumbled on a piece of wood on the concrete floor. Falling face down on hard concrete he shielded his head with his hand. Only his nose touched the floor hard enough to hurt. Feeling something warm and wet on his lips, he put his finger to his nose and when he pulled it away, held it in front of his face, it was covered with blood.
Blood, he recalled, blood in the humvee.
In a flash he was back in the humvee again on the streets of Baghdad. Mortar shells burst in front of their humvee sending clouds of sand and barrages of stones at the vehicle. “Ambush,” he screamed.
His companion grabbed a microphone from the dash and warned the others in the convoy behind them. This routine patrol, like many others before it, had turned deadly.
Virgil could hear the chatter of machine gun fire and the resulting ping of steel tipped bullets on the humbee. Bullets bounced off the windows leaving little cracks in the bulletproof glass.
“What are they using?” Virgil turned to Pete and yelled, “Tell the others to get out of here. They have artillery and a couple of bullets just penetrated our skin in the back. That can’t be.”
Virgil realized with a great amount of alarm that insurgents surrounded them and they were well armed. He also knew that they should be safe from the bullets that were now peppering through the armor plating. Except, the bullets were penetrating all of the humvees like hawks flying through clouds.
The armor plating was failing. What were they going to do? Looking in his side mirror he could see the vehicles behind him taking hit after hit. Then, the missiles came screaming at them from tall buildings and alleys.
Virgil stood up holding a white handkerchief to his nose. As he stumbled toward the awesome vehicles he realized they were more familiar to him than he had thought. Glancing at the handkerchief, he saw that it was soaked in blood. That didn’t matter anymore though. Only the humvees mattered. They meant something to him.
Closer and closer he walked toward them dreading the final encounter. He had to find out the real truth about them. Why had the armor failed this time when it had rarely failed before?
Ugly wounds were clearly visible on four of the humvees where bullets had penetrated the doors and even a couple of the windows had shattered.
“Amazing,” Virgil whispered. “Nobody survived that onslaught.”
Walking closer, his teeth almost chattering from fear and apprehension, he touched the first vehicle feeling the coldness of the metal. Before he could withdraw his hand, he felt his skin tingle and he was drawn to the vehicle like a magnet to steel.
Images and sounds populated his mind. Men screaming, guns roaring and the sounds of dying nearly paralyzed his mind. Amazed by the construction of the vehicles he held onto it as if it might be a part of him. It was true, he thought, it had been built with great deliberation to protect the soldiers. When he was finally able to pull away from the cold metal he felt the tingling subside. Standing by the passenger window he peered through smoked glass. Bloodstains were everywhere and bullets had smashed the computer and GPS system.
Walking around to the driver’s side of the vehicle, he put his hand on the door handle and felt the tingling sensation return. Thousands of needles pricked his skin, but he couldn’t let go. The damned thing was part of him. Darkness approached and he thought he might faint. Forcing himself to act, to force the dizziness away, he opened the door even though his every instinct told him not to do it. He had to know.
What was happening to him? Was this real or was he dreaming? As Virgil tried to find a balance between real and unreal, between dreams and awareness, he wondered if anything in life was real.
Inside the vehicle—he peered into the interior like a young boy staring with curiosity into a dark cave—everything looked vaguely familiar. A metal console divided two black bucket seats. Steel armor plate divided the front compartment from the rear area.
Reluctantly, he opened the door and climbed inside. It was as cold as an ice cave inside the humvee even though the ambient temperature was over ninety degrees. He didn’t want to be here except he felt as if he might not have a choice. This was tied to his visions, in some way except he wasn’t sure how. He felt cramped. Since he fell into an old well when he was a kid, Virgil had been afraid of tight spaces. He was even more afraid inside the humvee. His father had eventually found him and pulled him out of the well. There was nobody here to pull him out of the humvee.
“You led us into an ambush, Lieutenant,” a cold, inhuman voice said. “You know you did.”
For a moment, Virgil reckoned he was just imagining things, except when he pulled his attention away from the fact he wasn’t totally in control of his fate, never had been, in fact, he turned his head and stared into the lifeless gray eyes of Pete McCall.
His pallid face was cold as a slab of polished marble and his mouth was turned down in a frown. Virgil grimaced upon seeing his lifeless face.
“I tried to warn everybody except everything happened so quick. What are you doing here, Pete?”
“Setting the record straight, placing the blame where it should be. Isn’t that the reason you are here, Virgil, to set the record straight and place the blame where it should be?”
Virgil tried to get his facts straight, clear up the confusion and find his way through the fog except insanity kept getting in his way. Why was he here? Nothing made sense. He didn’t know why he was here or how he got here. The last thing he remembered was being lost in a fog, in his old white Corsica and an urge as strong as an ox telling him he had to find BAM. He had found it and now here he was. Then he remembered, somewhat vaguely, walking into the personnel office and getting hired as a BAM security guard. Perhaps he had been hired to set the record straight, except he couldn’t remember much about his previous life.
“I did my job. I did what I was ordered to do,” Virgil said. “I didn’t know it was an ambush until we were under so much fire.”
“If that is true then you should have pulled us out of there at the first sign of trouble.”
“I tried, Pete,” Virgil insisted. “They shot up the trucks in back of us and we couldn’t go anywhere, except forward. There was nowhere else to go.” He knew it was the truth.
His eyes had drifted away from the man next to him and were focused instead on the other three armored vehicles parked near him. They were in worse shape than this humvee he was now in. Nobody could have survived that onslaught, he reminded himself. The devastation the vehicles had suffered was remarkable.
“We have to know,” the voice said from somewhere distant. “It’s up to you. Redeem yourself, if you can. Avenge us. Let us rest in peace.”
Virgil turned his head to address Pete. He was gone.
Shocked, he placed his hand on the console and felt the tingling again. It was as if magnetism or current were flowing through his entire body. “I will,” he whispered staring off into the distance at nothing at all. “I promise.”
Dazed, he climbed out of the vehicle and stood on the hard concrete floor wondering what had happened here, if anything at all. Had he suffered a concussion when he fell on the floor? Was he dreaming?
Knowing little of his own past, he felt focused, no, directed to his mission. He knew what his mission was now just as sure as he knew he would never see the sun rise again. He must find out what caused the armor plating to fail.
Sabotage, could that have been a possibility?
Virgil walked away from the vehicles aware of what he must do. Turning around to look at them once more, to see if he had missed anything, he was shocked when he saw eight dark phantom-like shadows emerge from the humvees and disappear into the darkness of the warehouse.
Ignoring the silent invaders, he walked back toward the humvees. Something had caught his attention.
A large caliber projectile had penetrated the door on the driver’s side just below the door handle toward the center of the door. The hole was the size of an orange. Looking closely, examining the wounded metal he discovered that the steel plate was only half the thickness required by the government contract. He had studied the manual, the contract and the specifications on the humvee. Normally, an aluminum plate was sandwiched between two one inch steel plates. This was not the case. Slowly, he surmised what must have happened.
Tidbits of information flowed through his mind as he tried to put it all together as if he were solving a crossword puzzle. These humvees had not been designed for duty in Iraq or any other war zone. He was almost certain of it. They were lightweight armored vehicles used by the US, Mexico and other countries for domestic use such as protection for the diplomatic core. He recalled that many of them ended up on the border with Mexico. How did they end up in Iraq? Who could have made such a horrible mistake?
Although he did not know where the knowledge came from, he was positive that these vehicles were tracked by the vehicle identification number (VIN) and by a special inventory number. Pulling a small black notebook from his shirt pocket, he copied the VIN information for four of the humvees. As if he were following a roadmap, he knew instantly where to find out what he needed to know. He had to find a computer.
As Virgil started walking toward the front of the warehouse a dark shadowy figure stepped out from the shadows. “The office has what you seek. We have to know.”
No longer afraid or disturbed by this presence, he hesitated for only a minute and then walked toward the office where he knew several computers were located.
On his way to the office, through dark areas of the warehouse he looked for employees and saw none. He supposed they might be catching a few winks in a dark corner. So much the better for him, he thought.
In the office at the front of the building he recognized his old cubicle and his computer. Had he worked here, in this office, at this desk at some time in his past life? Entering codes in the computer, he was able to access information, blueprints, specifications and contracts. Even as he worked feverishly to find what he needed to know he wondered how he knew the passwords, software and where certain documents were located. He did know. He knew a lot and that fact should have disturbed him. However, it didn’t bother him at all.
After searching through dozens of documents, drawings and plans the terrible truth hit him like a bolt of lightning. It was as plain as day. Someone had changed the product codes, switched VIN numbers and diverted the low-key humvees to Iraq where they had caused the deaths of several American soldiers. The real armored humvees had been shipped to Venezuela. Some bastard had made a nice profit. But, who had done such a thing?
He knew there was a traitor in the company and he had to find him before he could cause more young Americans to die. A killer was working in the office and they didn’t have American interests in mind. Working quickly, Virgil corrected all the mistakes so this would not happen again. Amazed because he was able to work at a blazing pace that allowed him to scan and correct dozens of documents, he sighed and sat back in his chair staring at the screen.
“What is his name? Who is it?” The voice was nearby and cold.
Virgil wasn’t alarmed. The voice was familiar. Glancing up into the face of one of several dark figures that stood around him, he filled his lungs with fresh air and pecked at the keyboard. The answer was here and he had to find it.
“Pete, his name is Joel Fischer. He’s a shipping clerk. How could someone like that know how to do all of these things?”
“He is an agent, a terrorist from Venezuela. His real name is Jose Valena. That is only one of many names he uses.”
“How do you know?”
“We were looking over your shoulder. His name is on several documents. The CIA has information on him. The FBI has a warrant for him.”
“What do we do now?” Virgil knew the answer to that question as well as he knew why he was interested in the humvees and the fallen soldiers.
“Kill him,” Pete declared with a ghostly voice. “Leave that much up to us. He’s out there on that dock now sleeping. It will be over before he awakens.”
Before Virgil could protest, they were gone. He shut down the computer and headed for the dock knowing justice was about to be served.
Virgil arrived in time to see three of the dark figures grab Joel Fischer, pull him away from his desk against the wall and slam him on the hard concrete floor. His head struck concrete and dazed him. Virgil heard a diesel engine roar to life and heard creaky metal rattling. Turning his head toward the humvees he saw the one he had sat in roaring toward them with body parts hanging loose and dragging the floor. Before Joel knew what happened the vehicle plowed into him at thirty miles an hour knocking his broken body on top of his desk. Virgil heard bones pop and saw blood on the floor, splashed on the wall and it ran from his head pooling on the floor.
They stood for a long time looking at the mess. The humvee was sitting three feet from the dock looking as if it were waiting for a truck to back up to the dock and haul it away. The police would think that the humvee had somehow started, or someone had left it running and it got out of control.
“It’s over,” Pete said. “He took your password and user name when you left the company. The National Guard called and you answered. Joel was already working here and knew your habits. At night, when nobody was around, he prowled in the office looking for passwords and other information. Do you remember now?”
He had to know. Now it was all clear, the letter from the National Guard informing him that he was being called up to go to Iraq. Before he realized what happened, he was in command of others on the deadly streets of Baghdad riding in a humvee he had designed.
His muscles tightened and he wanted to scream when he realized what had happened. “I’ll never see Jean and my two little girls again, will I?”
For a long silent minute, none of the others spoke. “We’re all square now,” Pete said. “Come, we all have to go. We can’t stay any longer. All our loved ones will find us shortly, when their time comes.”
Images flashed through Virgil’s mind, a tranquil feeling washed over him as he followed the others through a nearby wall and into another universe. “I’m dead,” Virgil whispered. “Some of that blood on the humvees was mine and that blood has been avenged by the blood of the one who caused our deaths.”