Chernovsky was invited to Paul Seraph’s house to discuss ‘Lessons Learned’ from the recent engagement.
Paul lived in a 1955 vintage ranch house on the south side of town, east of the big cemetery.
Chernovsky walked from his apartment above the dollar store. The snow was ten inches deep and still falling. The wind was brisk enough that the snow drifted as it fell.
A few hardy citizens were shoveling snow by hand but not a motorized vehicle could be heard running even though it was nine in the morning. That included snow plows.
Chernovsky plodded the half mile to Seraph’s house and a gray-haired woman who Chernovsky pegged as Paul’s wife let him into the enclosed front porch.
He stomped the snow off his boots. Seeing “outside boots” lined up next to the door, Chernovsky took his off and entered the home stocking footed.
The woman asked him if he would like a cup of coffee. Chernovsky said it would be a treat.
Seraph was in the sunroom on the southeast corner of his house. There was another man speaking with him, somebody Chernovsky thought of as being the same ‘vintage’ as Seraph. There was also a thirteen-year-old boy entertaining himself playing a game on a smartphone.
Paul introduced Chernovsky to Rick Salazar. Rick had cross-country skied into town.
Paul did not beat around the bush. “We were lucky. We were not prepared and we escaped getting whipped.”
Rick started to object.
Paul bid him stop. “We can save a lot of time if we don’t candy-coat things. Let’s speak plainly. Rick, you had first crack the thugs. What has to change so you can turn back future raiders before they get to the city of Eaton Rapids.”
“Wow. Throw us under the bus.” Rick said. "By the way, how did you know they were thugs and not legit?"
"Did anybody show you a badge or any kind of credentials?" Paul asked. "Of course not. Because they did not have any." Paul was a former cop and a gaffe like that would be glaringly obvious to him.
“Look. We all have different missions. I don’t want invaders bursting into the city. You don’t want them rampaging over Kate’s Store. Our goals aren’t identical but they do overlap.” Paul said.
“You forget that I have to worry about gangs coming south on M-99 and north out of Jackson on M-50.” Paul said.
Paul had large scale, topographical maps laminated to poster board. The maps were propped up against the now-useless, large screen TV.
“If you can plug the dike and keep gangs from Delta Township and Grand Ledge out of Kate's Store then I won’t have to deal with them. That means I WANT you to be successful.” Paul said.
"Well, for one thing, it would grand to have a few hours warning before we had to deal with raiders." Rick said.
Chernovsky let the older men talk. He had nothing to add.
“Don’t forget it is not just Delta Township and Grand Ledge. We are going to get people marching out Old Lansing Road and turning left.” Rick said. “That doubles the number of people we will have to fend off.” Rick was pointing at the map that covered the terrain between the center of Eaton Rapids and Billwood Highway,
Chernovsky cleared his throat. “What kind of numbers are we talking about?”
Paul ticked the numbers off on his fingers. “Ten-thousand in Oneida Township, basically the City of Grand Ledge. Thirty-five thousand in Delta Township and maybe another twenty-thousand in Lansing who might scatter this way.” Paul said.
“Roughly sixty thousand?” Chernovsky said. “No way can we stop them.”
“Its not as bad as it sounds.” Paul said. “I figure a third of the people fleeing Delta Township will come this way. The others will go north and west.”
It remained unsaid that none of the people fleeing Delta Township would head east, that would take them into Lansing.
“So we are still talking ten thousand from Delta Township alone.” Chernovsky said.
“We are talking a base population of ten-thousand. Realistically, gangs are young men and that is who we really need to worry about.” Paul said.
“The question still stands, ‘How many’?” Chernovsky pressed.
Paul looked over at Rick who was more of a numbers guy.
“Five percent.” Rick said. “Males between ages fifteen-and-thirty are ten percent of the population. Figure half join gangs to survive.”
“Call it a five-hundred-to-one-thousand.” Rick concluded, the upper estimate adding in the numbers from outside Delta Township.
Chernovsky got up and looked at the maps. “Why wouldn’t you try to shut them off here?” Chernovsky said pointing to three choke points that throttled north-south traffic in and out of Eaton Rapids.
The Grand River snaked back and forth as it traveled from south-to-north across Eaton County. Chernovsky splayed his right hand with a finger on each bridge and his index finger pointing at the first road that completely avoided the river. That road continued north through the heart of Delta Township in an unbroken line.
“You know how to read maps?” Rick asked, surprised.
“Sure. I had a crazy uncle who used to hide five dollar bills when we camped as a family. He marked where they were on map and then cut us loose to find them.” Chernovsky said. "I sure liked finding that money."
Paul regained control of the meeting. “That is where I was heading.” Paul said.
“Rick, you would have a fighting chance of holding your own if you had advance warning. What do you think of putting observation posts where they can monitor incoming traffic. At least then we would have time to katy-bar-the-door.” Paul said.
Chernovsky looked at the map. “How many people live between Eaton Rapids and Billwood Highway?” Chernovsky asked.
Paul shrugged and looked over at Rick. Rick said, “Maybe two thousand. Depends on how many went to the big city.
“What is five percent of two thousand?” Chernovsky asked.
“One hundred.” Rick said.
Looking at Paul, Chernovsky said, “If you and the City of Eaton Rapids can hold the bridges on M-99 and Waverly, I can hold the roads west of that with 100 fighters.”
“Well, get that out of your head.” Paul said. “We are 99% sure that Kate’s Store, Pray Church and the neighborhood north of Eaton Rapids city limits are clean. The other 1200 people, we don’t know.”
“If we are lucky you will get enough volunteers to man an observation post on the road west of M-99.” Paul said. “OBSERVATION posts.”
The rest of the After-Action-Report was even uglier.
Paul had grossly overestimated the ability of his shooters to physically move around. Paul was physically fit and could jog or bike five miles with no apparent effort. The same could not be said of the shooters at Slocum Drain.
The one-inch-at-one-hundred-yards marksmanship the shooters bragged about was pure fantasy.
The plan was OK but it put Paul too close to the line of fire.
The multiple layers of defense worked well. The barriers on the bridge turned the moving convoy into a line of stationary targets.
The siting of the ambush worked well. Clear fields of fire for the defenders and setting up at a higher elevation than the hostiles put the hostiles at a disadvantage.
Having advance warning so shooters could select positions with cover worked well as did having enough time to laser distances. In fact, if there was one single factor that allowed Seraph's men to succeed, it was the luxury of advance warning.
Having two groups of shooters who could work the hostiles over from right angles relative to the hostile’s formation worked well in spite of the shooter’s limitations.
Nobody could find fault with Chernovsky’s performance although Paul would have preferred Chernovsky had used both magazines.
Chernovsky defended himself saying, “I would rather play within my limitations and do it very well rather than over-reach and fail.”
Then Chernovsky commented "I had a few hummers fly overhead. I think you may have forgotten I was a mile downrange."
Paul winced. It had completely slipped his mind that he put a man downrange of firearms capable of killing men seven miles away. There was a long learning curve ahead of them and it was all steep.
This was the first time Rick had run into Chernovsky. If you didn’t know a little bit about Chernovsky, he could be a little bit off-putting. For one thing, the man floated on a cloud of testosterone vapors like the Charlie Brown character Pigpen. Chernovsky didn’t sit, he sprawled. Some of it was due to his size. The other part was character, he was going to claim as much floor-space as possible.
“You know,” Rick said “I think this might be a good time for you to tell me a few things about yourself. Paul told me you played college ball...”
Hunter Chernovsky grew up loving all things football. Most of all, he loved playing linebacker.
Hunter got a scholarship to attend a Division II school. He was a realist. Linebackers from Division II schools rarely get recruited by the pros.
Hunter loved the make-a-plan, execute-a-plan tempo of football.
Hunter loved the freedom his position gave him. What is odd about football is that most of the players on the “offense” are dedicated to defending a few “skill” players while most of the players on defense hunted and killed the ball carrier. Linebackers are the defensive player with the most discretion in how and where they play than any other player on the field.
And nobody on his team was more dedicated at finding and killing the ball carrier than Hunter.
Hunter loved the dynamics of the game. He loved noodling out the offense’s intended play. He loved it when the quarterback called an audible seconds before the snap because the QB knew, he FEARED that Hunter had figured out the play.
Perhaps most of all, Hunter was jazzed when he saw that fear in a quarterback or running back’s eyes just before the hit. It was not that Chernovsky was cruel or liked to inflict pain. It was because that is when he knew he had done his job.
Graduating with a degree in Exercise Science, jobs were limited. He enrolled at the community college and took auto repair classes. The best thing about auto repair was that it was counter-cyclic. The worse the economy gets the more folks are willing to spend on repairs if it kept them out of a new car payment. Another advantage of being a mechanic is that the skill is portable. He could get a job anywhere.
Hunter scratched his itch for the physical by teaching power-lifting and conditioning classes at one of the local gyms. Because some of his clients participated in more than just football he found himself paying more and more attention to them.
As a football player he used to dismiss basketball and hockey as frenzied chaos but his views evolved as he watched more films so he could understand the physical demands placed on the players.
He was particularly enchanted by hockey as a metaphor for life. Only in hockey does a team play in degrade mode with one or more players in the penalty box. Hunter was fascinated by how a team’s style of play needed to change the instant they went down players. Teams that could not adapt lost.
“You are hired.” Rick said when Hunter slowed down.
“Beg your pardon?” Chernovsky said.
“You are hired.” Rick said. “How would you like to lead the defense of Kate’s Store?”
"On one condition." Chernovsky said.
"What is that?" Rick asked.
"That my men have freedom to engage the invaders in addition to 'OBSERVING' them." Chernovsky said.