Saturday, December 11, 2021

The Last Casualty


The Last Casualty


The Car     

      The twisters had devastated a ten mile wide, two hundred mile long swath of heavily populated land wiping out entire towns and causing hundreds of human casualties before it was over.

      It was inevitable that immediately after the storm passed looters began to pick away at the carcasses of decimated homes and businesses like vultures. They were part of the ugly and all too human side of disasters. At a time when so many people came together to aid in the rescue and recovery of their community, crimes of opportunity turned honest, desperate people into thieves.

      Such acts have become more frequent and brazen and the looters have become more aggressive and violent. Rioters and looters don’t back off easily just because the authorities show up. Emergency responders are constantly being attacked by the looters as they try to do their jobs.

      Trooper Stone had been fifteen miles away, just outside of the edge of the strom's track where the destruction was greatest. He had lost seven members of his immediate family. They all lived directly in the massive path of the F4 tornado. He was on the phone with his brother and heard him scream as the house he was hiding in with the rest of the family was reduced to splinters. He didn’t have time to grieve. Instead he focused on the work he had to do. He was a trained military veteran and a state trooper and those were the skills he would need now. He would have to deal with the situation at hand before he could stop and cry.

     Currently, he worked with local and state law enforcement and emergency management agencies. He was directly involved in securing local businesses with buildings that had been structurally damaged but remained standing with inventory still inside. His team was often in place before the debris had stopped falling; looking for survivors, spotting for fires, fallen lines or gas leaks.

      He often encountered mobs of looters rummaging through the open walls of local businesses. He considered them scum, parasites feasting on the corpses of communities, businesses and homes.

      Protocol stated that they shouldn’t engage if possible, just clear and secure targets. Catching looters meant running them down which meant risking your life catching a guy with empty hands. The team's arrival usually made them scatter like roaches. The ones arrested were those stupid enough to run straight into their arms. The sad souls that ran into Trooper Stone were lucky if they ever ran again. Rather than instruct them to get on the ground he greeted them with a swinging baton and a knee to their groin. He would hit them even after he had them in cuffs just for good measure. They would probably get off easy in court he reasoned. So he passed his own sentence while he had them.

The Truck

      “Juke” Saunders was in his truck chasing close behind the tornado’s path. He was certain that it was going to roll over the entire town. He was a member of the local fire brigade, trained in first aid with a heavy duty custom painted pickup that could haul a house. He knew the roads and country as good as anyone could. He never hesitated to respond in an emergency.

      He put in seventy-two straight hours working with the local first responders. He assisted the medical staff in caring for the patients with serious wounds. After that he lifted, loaded and transported anything and everything that would fit in his truck. It was knowing that everything he did was helping save lives and families that kept him going. If there was something to be done he was the first to take the job.

      As usual, every time he worked as a volunteer he would work until the work was done. He caught quick naps and drank one continuous cup of coffee trying to make a dent in the tasks to be done to get people back on their feet It was obvious that the work needed after this weather beating would be going on for months. Noticing his exhaustion, Juke was ordered to go home for forty-eight hours by his bosses.

      The roads were littered with trees both whole and in pieces. Juke’s route home took him on a long and winding path when one after another detour took him an even longer way around the normal route. A huge number of warehouses and an airport were obliterated and a carpet of broken pieces from all the items they once held covered the landside. Hundreds of homes had been destroyed just a few miles from the clear, untouched homes and streets where he lived

      A glint of light off a bright object a short distance from the side of the road caught Juke’s eye and he slowed to take a closer look. He discovered a pile of boxed and bagged packages with familiar logos on them piled in a peculiar fashion. The pieces of a wooden pallet were close to the parcels. Dozens of assorted UPS, FedEx and Amazon packages were clustered together. Several large transport facilities nearby were destroyed by the twister. The parcels were obviously debris from one of the warehouses that landed in a funny sort of clump and were almost dry and intact.

      There were collection sites in a clear town just a few miles from his home where people turned in articles that survived the storm in hopes they would found by the owner. He decided the parcels were worth salvaging and he tossed the dozens of packages that he collected into his truck bed. He hoped the roads would be better closer to the center.

The Intersection

The Truck      

     Driving slowly and carefully on his way home Juke approached an intersection where a state trooper’s car was sitting with his headlights on. Juke slowed down until he was sure the car was stopped. He accelerated and slowly drove past giving a friendly wave to the trooper behind the wheel. Once past the intersection he checked his rearview mirror and was surprised when he saw the trooper’s car pull out and come up behind him. 

The Car

      Trooper Stone was parked at an intersection that led to a badly damaged mall preventing traffic from entering until a truck with barriers arrived. He checked his gun again as he kept his vigil. There could still be some individuals hiding in the mall waiting for an opening to slip away home. 

      He noticed a brightly painted pickup truck slow down as it approached the intersection even though there was no stop sign. The driver looked at the patrol car  as though unsure about driving past. Trooper Stone suddenly sensed the driver seemed spooked by the patrol car.

      As the truck passed in front of the car the trooper noticed the large heap of boxes with logos and packaging that told him those packages didn’t belong in a private vehicle. Trooper Stone cursed under his breath as he started his car. Turning the corner he pulled behind the truck, turned on the lights and pulled the truck over.

The Last Casualty

      Juke was confused when the trooper’s lights came on and he was being signaled to pull over.

      “Fucking looter!” Stone cursed out loud. He checked his gun again before muttering to himself lowly. “How the fuck did he slip out of the mall with that load?”

      Stone was angry as he stepped out of his car but as he looked at the pile of stolen contraband he also noticed the expensive piece of truck this looter was driving. It didn't look like he needed the money... the money he wasn't going to be getting by stealing this load. Stone was in a rage by the time he approached the driver’s window. In a loud and commanding bark Stone demanded Juke hand over his license and registration. Juke smiled and leaned towards the glove box as he started to ask why he was being stopped and to explain his curious load.

      Stone cut him off again and demanded Juke’s papers in a voice that was far beyond what would be reasonable. Taken aback, Juke reached for his glove compartment both bewildered and frightened by the trooper’s demeanor. He saw Stone’s hand rest on the grip of his service weapon.

      Juke reached in and nervously felt around for his papers. It was when Juke was startled and tried to catch the gun that fell out of his glove compartment that Trooper Stone started to draw his weapon. 

      It was when Juke, in a panic, picked the gun up off the floor and started to turn towards the officer to explain that the first of six shots ripped into his body.

      Trooper Stone began pulling the trigger before shouting, “Looter! Drop the weapon!”

      Juke was dead before he ever got the chance.

      The last casualty of the storm.

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