Liberty Unit: Caretaker of Station 64

Updated: Aug 12


I received an encrypted message from my handler, Colonel Wilson — “Exit #64” — code to proceed to the pre-determined location on the rural outskirts of the city. There, I’d find my orders in a lockbox on the second level of the outbuilding. Under no circumstances was I to come in contact with the property’s occupants.


No further information was provided.


*****


My eyes were opened, but my brain didn’t register a thing―other than the pain.


It took several seconds of searching through an impenetrable mental fog until I finally remembered my name: Paul, Paul Knox. But that was it.


Where am I?

I closed my eyes tight, held them closed, and opened them. Darkness. No, blackness would be a more appropriate description―a total absence of light. Laying on my back I looked for a waypoint, a landmark, movement, anything to orient my senses. Nothing. Other than the pain that captured my undivided attention—aching, throbbing, it ran from the back of my head, up around to the top of my forehead, and down into my right eye.


Am I bleeding?

The dull penetrating pain was familiar, like the time my unit was hit when I had been thrown from the transport vehicle, lost my helmet, and whacked my head. I remembered wiping my eyes, and the first thing I saw was through a halo-haze of dust and smoke was motor oil on my glove. But it wasn’t oil; it was blood, my blood. From that moment forward, my helmet was always secured. That had been a long time ago.


Where am I?

I attempted to lift my arm to check my head for a cut but couldn’t. My arms were pinned. Thick straps were wrapped around my forearms—they were tight and had no slack, no room for movement at all.


I slid my hands back and forth, reaching, searching for something, anything—and found only cold, smooth metal with a rounded edge. I’m lying on a steel table.


Am I conscious, or am I dreaming?

I winced, hoping it would help. It didn’t. The pain was real. Very real. Which meant I must be alive. I tried to lift my head, and like a bolt of lightning, pain shot up the center of my back and into my temples, as if someone had rammed their knee into my spine. My back, my shoulder, my right quad felt like someone punched me with brass knuckles. Everything hurt.


Why can’t I move?

I ordered myself to calm down―to breathe through my nose. Hold it in. Let it out. Slow down your heart. Think.

What’s that smell? Cleanser, antiseptic?


Am I in a hospital?

I was cold. I didn’t feel a blanket or sheet on top of me.


Think. The last thing I remembered was running from the tree line toward that barn, but it ended there.


What’s that?

Someone’s there. Walking slowly toward me?


“HEL-LO!” I coughed, deep and loud. My throat dry. I needed water.

 

“IS ANYONE THERE?”

I couldn’t see a thing. I was now officially ticked off.


Is something burning?

No, it’s tobacco? A cigar?


“WHO’S THERE?”


I remained still, listening, but all I could hear was a low hum of mechanical equipment. An air conditioner? Generator? Computers?

 

My leg was killing me. I was cold, blind and couldn’t move. Not good.


Think. What had happened?

The big brown dog. I remembered that dog barking. Man, I hate dogs. Sara loved them, as did my daughter Emma. She especially liked the little ones. When she was twelve, she tried to convince me she’d take care of it. But I was stubborn and didn’t let her get one—another regret.


Now I remember that big―no huge―dog had been pacing the length of old chain-link fence in the back yard of the farmhouse. That dog was a beast. I bet that’s its name. That’s what I would’ve named it: Beast. 


It must’ve caught my scent or spotted movement when I approached the rear of the house. It had gone nuts, insanely throwing itself up against the fence, racing back and forth. I could see its teeth from the perimeter tree line. I thought it was going to jump the fence, or more likely, bust right through it.

 

I retreated slowly into the dense line of white pines that surrounded the property’s western edge. I remember it was late afternoon because the shadows from the massive pines stretched eastward a least fifty meters to that big red barn.


Beast calmed down after a few minutes and dutifully patrolled the fence line. I had crouched low onto the ground staying out of sight and checked to see if anyone would come out of the house. No one did. The house was quiet, the blinds drawn. I could see the small covered back porch with wooden steps leading into the dog’s fenced-in pen. But I wasn’t going anywhere near that dog. I needed to get into that barn. Col. Wilson said I’d find my orders inside.

 

But how do I get to it without Beast freaking out? I decided I’d take the tree line away from the house at a thirty-degree angle and get as close as possible. Then I’d make a run for the barn. Beast had settled down and had gone back into his pen.

 


I remembered pulling my field binoculars from my go-bag and checking the house and the barn. Nothing. No movement. Doors and windows were all shut and covered. The reading showed fifty-seven meters to the side barn door. That was a long way run out in the open. But what choice did I have? I knew if I ran and Beast went nuts again, it would alert whoever lived in that house. The good news was that I was downwind. That’s probably why Beast was quiet.


Dogs are trouble. There had been a pack of rabid feral Kuchi shepherd dogs that had surprised me years before when my unit was transferring comms equipment just south of Kabul. One of those mean shepherd dogs almost ripped my leg off. Its jaws wouldn’t release no matter how many times I hit it with the butt of my rifle. Thank God for Kensey. He finally shot it right through the neck. The pack would have taken me down if it hadn’t been for him.


I’d waited long enough—enough waiting.


Just do it.

The last thing I remembered was running through the tall grass toward the barn door. I had made it about twenty meters. I remembered nothing after that.


Did I fall into an old well?

What was that? My eyes burned. White fire raced through my nervous system. I felt the heat of the lights on my face. As my vision cleared, the shape of someone moved toward me, slowly coming into focus. 

 

“Good, you’re finally awake,” a man said in a low, hoarse voice. He coughed, down deep in his lungs, and coughed again—a smoker.

 

“Where the hell am I, and why am I strapped to this table?”


“I had to immobilize you so you wouldn’t hurt yourself any more than you already did.” 

The smell of tobacco was strong as he moved closer and put his hand on my shoulder.

 

“Rest. We’ve got a lot to discuss before I get you on your way. But for now, close your eyes. I gave you something to relax. You’ll be fine. I have some work to do, and then we’ll talk.”

 

I tried to lift my head again. The pain immediately returned, but this time it was muted. I gave up trying to move, realizing it was pointless.

 

“Now, now. Relax. I mean it,” he said. I felt the cold, end of a gun barrel as it touched my right temple. The feeling was familiar. I learned a long time ago that you should be polite when someone places a gun to your head.


His face came into focus. He was much older, had a short snow-white crew cut and deep-set wrinkles in his forehead. There was an unlit cigar blunt in his mouth. But it was his eyes that caught my attention―as if the smoke from his cigars had seeped into them, creating a hazy grey-blue color. He looked tough, but I’d taken down bigger guys than him.

 

He pulled the gun away from my head. “The Colonel told me you’re stubborn,” he said.


I felt the prick of a needle in my upper arm.

 

And that’s the last thing I remembered.


*****


I lifted my chin off my chest. It felt like the Budweiser Clydesdales had trampled me. I was sitting in a thick wooden chair that must have been bolted to the floor because when I tried to move back and forth, but it didn’t budge. My right wrist was handcuffed to the chair’s arm. In front of me, the old guy with the cigar just sat there, staring at me with those cloudy steel eyes and smiling.

 

“How ya feeling?”

 

Suddenly, into the room ran that beast of a dog. I tried to move away but the chair held firm. He was huge, like a leaned-out, musclebound bear. He put his nose in my face, sniffing wildly. I turned my head away. His breath smelled like he’d just finished eating a skunk. He backed away and sat obediently next to his master.

 

“I’d like to introduce you to Princess,” the old guy said.

 

“You’re kidding me? You named that thing Princess?”

 

“You betcha, son. She’s my baby. Princess, say hello to our guest.”

 

Her big brown eyes stared right through me. She growled, kind of like a strange smile that showed off her front canines. Drool oozed from her jawline and dropped to the cement floor. The old man patted her head, “Good girl, now go lie down. He’s in no shape to play with you.” Princess walked over to an old mattress lying in the corner and laid down, keeping her eyes locked on mine. 

 

“Okay, where am I, and who are you? What the hell happened?”

 

“Soon,” he said. “For now, I need you to listen.”

 

“I know you’re thinking about how you are going to get out of those cuffs, take me down and find some way to pry Princess’s jaws off your throat. But you and I are on the same side. I can ensure that you are in no condition to take a run at me. Justine spent a couple of hours patching you up. You were in bad shape when we brought you in.”


“Who’s Justine?”


“My wife. She’s back in the house cooking us some chow.”

 

I looked down at my thigh wrapped with a thick white field dressing extending from my knee to my groin.

 

“We’ve got a lot to talk about. For now, just listen.”

 

I’d had enough. I started to stand, and immediately Princess, or Beast, whatever it was, sprang up and lunged toward me. The only reason she didn’t tear into me was the old guy held her back by the collar. She let out a ferocious bark and a series of growls. Then the old guy hit me square in the gut with a punch that left me gulping for air.

 

“You are stubborn, aren’t you? Let’s see if you can get this straight. I’m in charge. You’re in my place and will follow my rules. You need to sit still and listen.”


“What is this place?”


“Liberty Unit Station #64. It’s off the grid. Underground and known only to a select few. That’s all you need to know. For now.”

 

I gathered my senses and worked to catch my breath. His right hand grabbed my throat. I struggled to breathe. I could feel the veins in my neck about to burst, and my face started to overheat. I tried to move, but his grip was like a vice.

 

“Now, are you listening? You’re here because you are supposed to be here. It wasn’t a choice. The Colonel sent you, but you screwed it up. I don’t have the time or energy to mess around anymore. Got it? Blink if you want to breathe again.”


I did.

He released me, and I gasped, filling my lungs as the white sparks dissipated.


“Okay, let’s get started. You’re my guest while I set you up.”

 

“What happened? The last thing I remember is I was headed for the barn. Then everything went dark.”

 

“You fell into one of the station’s man-traps. They’re designed to protect the perimeter. They don’t kill you, but they mess you up pretty bad. I was told you were out there, thanks to Princess.” He patted her on her bowling ball head.

 

“Okay, what about my leg?”

 

“You don’t remember?”


“No.”

 

“Well, I can’t help you with that, other than to say that when we found you, the leg was pretty bad. I imagine it happened earlier.”

 

I thought about it. I had watched my car burn from the highway ditch and felt the pain, but likely didn’t realize the extent of my injury. My mind had been in another place. I had followed the Colonel’s protocol. I must have landed on something when I rolled out of the car before it hit the bridge stanchion.

 

“Yep, you were pretty messed up when we found you in the hole. Most of those bandages are covering deep scrapes that had gravel embedded in your skin. Justine cleaned them out, but your thigh was bad. She patched you up and gave you a shot of tetracycline to ward off any infection.” He paused, then continued. I remained silent. “I’m not expecting you to thank me, but at least lighten up. You’re wound a little tight, aren’t you?”


Something about the old guy told me he was legit—likely connected to Col. Wilson. I just hadn’t expected it to go down this way. Dropping off the grid would require help, but I didn’t think I’d be locked up in some underground cellar.

 

At that point, I began to take in my surroundings. My eyes had finally adjusted to the bright light shining on my face. Four large flat-panel monitors were lit up on the wall above a pair of desks with laptops and keyboards. They had security camera footage, each monitor had four browser windows open, making it sixteen camera views of the property.


“So, Knox, you ready to get started?”


“Who are you?”

“I’m Cap, the caretaker of Liberty Unit Station 64. I’m a friend of your father.”


“My father? He’s dead. Died in a hunting accident when I was eighteen.”


“No, sir. He’s alive and well―went dark two decades ago. Just like you’re gonna do right now.”



THE END.



 



Chauncey “Cap” Mackay


Caretaker of Station #64―a Liberty Unit safehouse in Hiram, Ohio. Former Vietnam Army Sergeant First Class, served with Paul Knox’s father from 1968-1970. Cap is a warrior and a natural leader of men. A fun old guy in his early seventies, with a heart as big as his personality. Not too serious unless you push him too far. Strong, tough, and street smart, he will surprise you with his knowledge of “things.” He’s a voracious reader of military biographies and strategy and models his tactics after the ancient Romans. He was raised in Erie, Pennsylvania, by devote Quaker parents. His ancestors migrated from Hamilton, Scotland to New Jersey in the late 1600s. He joined the army when he was sixteen. He prefers fighting with his fists as he learned to box in Nam and traveled the world with the U.S. Army Boxing Team after the war. His knuckles are deformed due to the punishment he has inflicted on others, and his cauliflower ears look as if someone pulled them off his head, struck them with a hammer, and glued them back on. He smokes cigars, drinks beer and single malt scotch. He fishes and hunts whenever he can. He loves dogs, big ones, almost as much as he loves his guns. He carries a Smith and Wesson .357 Magnum 38 special 8 round revolver with a walnut handle and stainless-steel frame. He’s an expert trapper of beaver, raccoon, and muskrat. He’s married to Justine, 34 years old, his third wife―Filipino. He met her at a Kentucky gun show. She carries a Beretta PX4 Storm 9mm with a custom baby grip. She is a talented equestrian and champion bowhunter. She drives ATVs, loves to water ski, and drinks tequila. She’s an incredible cook, her specialty being smoked blue crab with lime, habaneros-chili, and lemongrass mayo.


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