Excerpt From Chapter One of Dragon's Fury - Trodden Under
Volume Two in the Dragon's Fury Series by JeffHead
Copyright 2002 by Jeff Head, All rights reserved

March 20, 2006, 17:55 MST
Outside of Foothill Mall
Denver, CO

As Sandy walked out to her car with her three children, she couldn't help but notice the chill in the air. The weatherman had forecast dropping temperatures and perhaps a late winter/early spring snowstorm for later tonight and tomorrow, and it looked like they might be right. But, none of that mattered. Her husband's birthday was tomorrow and she had just finished shopping for his presents. He was going to take the day off. What a wonderful day it would be, enjoying Troy's celebration there at home with their three young children. The kids would be so happy that "Daddy" was home.

She was glad that he would be home too. With the grave conditions that the nation faced, it would be so reassuring to have him there. Though the attacks and horror seemed far removed from them here on the outskirts of Denver at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, still Sandy knew people on the east coast who had witnessed the fire and destruction of some of those attacks a few days ago and who personally knew people who had been killed. She and Troy had watched the news reports many times in sober contemplation. They had even witnessed some of the impact and consequences of those attacks here in Denver over the last couple of days with the increased security around the Capitol building and the airport.

"Apparently they're even extending it out here to the suburbs," she thought as she exited the mall parking lot on the east side, away from the mountains and passed two military camouflaged HMMWV's that were pulling into the parking lot as she left.

"I've never seen the National Guard out here before," she thought as she crossed onto Pearle Avenue in route to the freeway that would convey them to their subdivision a couple of miles to the north.

"But I'm glad they aren't taking any chances," she said out loud as she looked into her rearview mirror and saw one of the vehicles pull across the entrance, blocking it as the first few flakes of snow blew in a brief flurry between her and the mall.

As she turned onto the entrance ramp to the freeway and lost sight of the mall, she didn't know at the time that she, along with a few others exiting at that same moment, were the last ones who would leave the mall safely that afternoon.

March 20, 2006, 17:59 MST
Outside of Foothill Mall
Denver, CO

Manuel wished he could have interdicted that last vehicle that had just left the parking lot. The more of these soft Americans he could catch the better. But he was disciplined and knew that the mission parameters did not allow for it at this point. He would do nothing to risk the mission with any premature "antics". No, the mission would kick off at precisely 1800 hours just as he had planned it with his team leaders, and would then proceed from there. They had twenty-one minutes before the helicopters would arrive and extract them, and they had to make the absolute most of every one of those minutes in executing the operation as planned.

Manuel figured he had the resources and the people to do so. Ten HMMWV's, all purchased separately over the last several months from various dealerships in the intermountain west. All driven to Denver after their purchase and housed in various large storage units where they were painted camouflage to match the local National Guard units. Each of these vehicles now contained five camouflaged and heavily-armed men, each of whom knew his part to the tee.

One of those units, an ambush and blocking unit, was taking up position on the freeway median by the underpass where Pearle passed over I-225. It would interdict the inevitable "response" sure to be sent by local authorities. Another blocking unit was taking up position one-quarter mile down Pearle in the opposite direction at the other major intersection that fed the mall on that side. Each of these units had one individual dedicated to a Rocket Propelled Grenade (RPG) launcher who would make use of the twenty weapons each vehicle carried. The man serving as backup to the RPG launcher would operate a Stinger missile launcher each of these units also carried if it became necessary. The other three men provided security by way of two M-16 assault rifles and a 7.62 mm sniper rifle. The local authorities would have their hands full trying to get past these units to the mall, and that was the entire idea.

In the parking lot, Manuel watched as his accompanying unit pulled across the entrance they had just used to enter the parking lot. The same thing was happening at all four parking lot entrances to the mall. These blocking forces would be used initially to contain the civilian vehicles inside the parking lot where they could be engaged. Later, if required, they would engage any police units that got past the initial ambush and blocking forces. Each of those four units contained a similar weapons composition as the units out on the freeway and down by the major intersection, except no sniper rifle was employed. The security personnel for these units all had M-16 assault rifles.

Manuel now proceeded towards the front of the mall and the primary entrance, converging with another unit proceeding towards the other entrance to the mall on this side. Two more units were converging on the backside of the mall, towards the two major entrances there. Manuel's unit, and all of the units converging on the mall itself, contained a light, 5.56 mm machine gun, which one of his men was now mounting on the top of the HMMWV through a hatch that had been cut into the top for that purpose. Each of these weapons would make use of the over 5,000 rounds that were in belt-fed boxes on the floor of the HMMWV. They would be used for direct fire support at the front of the mall and then later in the parking lot. The assault vehicles also contained an RPG launcher and three M-16 assault rifles with numerous hand-grenades and a large satchel of C-4 plastic explosives.

As their vehicle pulled right up onto the sidewalk leading to the mall entrance and skidded to a stop twenty feet from the doors, departing shoppers scrambled to get out of the way. Two of them, an elderly man and his grandson, were too slow, or perhaps just in the wrong place at the wrong time, and were crushed as the vehicle skid over them. The backlit digits on Manuel's digital watch turned over to 1800 as the vehicle came to a stop. As it did, Manuel quickly clicked the hand-held mic he carried twice to indicate that all units should commence the operation as planned.

March 20, 2006, 18:00 MST
Main entrance to Foothill Mall
Denver, CO

Officer Frank Acosta was on patrol duty in the front entryway to the mall this evening. He typically enjoyed duty at the mall because it rarely required more than the apprehension of an occasional shoplifter or the arbitration of youth arguments. As Manuel's vehicle slid to a stop outside the entrance, Frank noticed the movement out of the corner of his eye through the glass doors and turned to see what was happening. For an instant he was frozen as he saw what appeared to be a National Guard HMMWV outside and two National Guardsmen jumping out of the vehicle with assault rifles. His right hand automatically went to his holstered pistol and unsnapped the retainer. With his other hand he keyed his lapel-mounted mic and said,

"Control, dispatch"

Almost immediately there was a response, "Go ahead, this is dispatch."

Frank began to respond, "Dispatch, Officer Acosta here, I've got a National Guard HMMWV loaded for bear at the main mall entrance. Two soldiers are ..."

... and then everything hit the fan.

Manuel's man at the machine gun on top of the HMMWV began laying down fire directly through the glass doors, sweeping the weapon and its steam of lethal bullets across the entire mall entry hall. Immediately, there were the agonized screams of the wounded mixing with the screams of the terrified, breaking glass and ricocheting bullets.

Frank's training kicked in and he instantly threw himself to the ground while pulling out his service pistol. He rolled towards an information kiosk for cover. He was trying to bring his weapon to bear on one of the men coming through the door. As he watched a fleeing young teenage girl fall to the floor in a limp and bloody heap after being stitched across the back by machine gun fire, he yelled into his mic.

"Officer needs assistance, automatic weapons fire at the front ... "

But that was as far as he got.

Manuel had noticed the officer dive to the floor and roll towards the kiosk as he came through a door off to Frank's left. While Frank was frantically trying to bring his pistol to bear on Manuel's man to his front, Manuel calmly fired a three-round burst into Frank's side from thirty feet away. He then walked directly over to Frank's thrashing body, kicked the pistol away and fired two rounds into Frank's head.

The initial attack was having the desired effect of driving the shoppers back into the mall. Manuel was sure that the same thing was occurring at the other three mall entrances as he heard the firing from those assaults echoing up and down the main mall corridor to his position. Manuel and his comrade quickly cleared the few small stores here in the entry way, killing all the civilians left in the entryway and tossing hand grenades into each of the stores before entering them and eliminating anyone they found alive. Within ninety seconds, their entrance was cleared. A third man entered the mall and came through the entry hall with the C-4 while the machine gunner on the HMMWV turned his concentration on the parking lot and sidewalks behind them.

Moving carefully, with Manuel and the others providing cover up and down the main corridor of the mall, he moved toward the supporting columns at the end of the entry way and set the package next to one of them. Once there, Manuel came over, knelt down and quickly keyed his hand held mic three times. Within fifteen seconds he had three single keys back, informing him that all three other teams had successfully cleared their entry halls and placed their charges. Manuel keyed his mic twice more, counted to three and then set the charge for forty seconds. He and his two men then quickly exited the mall, all the while watching the C-4 charge they had left next to the support column. At twenty-five seconds, they climbed back into their idling HMMWV and the driver immediately backed out of the mall entrance and screeched to a halt in the parking lot some two hundred feet away.

As Manuel's vehicle came to a halt, a tremendous explosion rocked the front of the mall and a cloud of dust and smoke shot out of the entrance towards the parking lot. Debris rained down and a portion of the front of the two-story structure collapsed. Almost simultaneously, three similar explosions erupted from the other three entrances to the mall, with similar effects.

Manuel looked at his watch ... 18:03.35.

"Three and a half minutes ... excellent," thought Manuel as his team now took up positions around their HMMWV and amongst the vehicles surrounding it. They began to concentrate on anyone coming out of the emergency exits of the now burning mall and any vehicles or persons they observed nearby, indiscriminately shooting them down and using the RPG 's to create burning infernos and hulks of any occupied vehicles trying to escape. As they did so, Manuel heard the first sirens approaching.

March 20, 2006, 18:04 MST
I-225 Underpass outside Foothill Mall
Denver, CO

A rising volume of gunfire was occurring at the parking lot exits of the mall, and coming from the vicinity of the mall itself. Through the increasing flurries of snow, Hernando could hear the intensity of the various team's firing as they concentrated on the increasing number of vehicles and persons frantically trying to get to the parking lot exits, and as the assault teams cleared the entry halls in the mall. A few RPG explosions were heard as well, and then, just a moment ago, the tremendous explosions of the C-4 as all four charges went off within a second or two of each other. Smoke was now pouring out of the mall and the rate of fire was picking up as the four assault teams set up in the parking lot and began targeting vehicles and people there. Approaching sirens could be heard in the distance.

"OK compadres, any moment now and it will be our turn. Be ready." Hernando told his team as the sounds came closer.

"Sounds like two or three over there on the other side of the mall and several coming up the freeway."

As he said this, several flashing lights come around the curve in the freeway one half mile to the south and east of them. His orders were clear: engage the responding units as they pass on the exit ramp. Do not announce your presence prematurely ... ambush as many as possible before they stop to engage you.

Sure enough, here came four local police squad cars. Their dispatcher had routed them together as they responded to calls from security personnel and officers at the mall. In their rush to get to the mall and in the shadow of the underpass, they did not notice Hernando's team at all. All four turned off their lights and sirens as they took the exit. Hernando's RPG launcher was kneeling right next to him tracking the lead vehicle, with the launcher extending over the hood of the HMMWV. As that vehicle got about half way up the exit ramp, Hernando patted his man on the shoulder and an RPG rocketed towards the lead car, just as the officer driving that vehicle, who was clearly visible, turned and stared wide eyed towards his impending doom and towards Hernando's team. Just as he raised his radio microphone to his mouth in a vain attempt to issue a warning, the RPG punched through his door and exploded, creating an instant crematorium for him and his partner.

Immediately, Hernando and one of his men began raking the other three cars with fire from their M-16's. One of these, the second in line, veered to avoid the raging and careening wreck in front of him. As it did so, it caught the rear bumper of the vehicle in front of it, and flipped right up onto its top, sliding down the embankment of the exit ramp and coming to rest no more than twenty yards from Hernando's team. Hernando and one of the others poured fire into it for a second or two until it was clear that the two officers inside were dead.

While this was happening, the RPG launcher had lined up on the last vehicle and fired another round. That vehicle had fish-tailed off the road and was just coming to rest with its back facing the ambush team when the RPG entered the trunk and exploded, sending the trunk lid spiraling wildly seventy-five feet into the air and creating another inferno inside that vehicle.

Within a few more seconds it was over. One officer in the last vehicle had gotten out of the wreck and returned a few rounds of ineffective pistol fire before being cut down by Hernando's sniper. All seven other officers were killed in their vehicles. While this was occurring, Hernando's RPG launcher and the other security man had successfully engaged an ambulance and a fire truck that were responding to calls from the mall. They were following several hundred yards behind the police cars. Those two vehicles were now burning hulks, their occupants either dead or dying, and the smoke from their wreckage now adding to that of the police cars.

After this action, Hernando's team began engaging, indiscriminately, every vehicle on the freeway. Very quickly, for hundreds of yards in either direction of the underpass, the freeway became littered with destroyed and burning vehicles, and the bodies of their occupants.

March 20, 2006, 18:08 MST
On I-225 southeast of Foothill Mall
Denver, CO

As his vehicle approached the mall, Lieutenant Gary Douglas was becoming more alarmed by the moment. The radio traffic was filled with short-lived, frantic cries for assistance and calls of "officer down". He could clearly see the huge cloud of smoke billowing from the vicinity of the mall over the top of the berm along the side of the freeway as they started around the sweeping curve that led to the exit off the freeway to the mall. There was also smoke rising from the vicinity of the freeway itself where he knew those four local cars had last been heard from. The hairs stood up on the back of his neck as that thought sunk in.

"Pull it over Charlie! Pull it over in the ditch right now!"

Deputy Charles Duncan pulled their Tahoe over and rapidly came to a halt as the other two Sheriff's Deputy vehicles with them followed their lead. Lieutenant Douglas grabbed the binoculars he kept in the glove compartment and the Ruger Mini-14 rifle from the rack in the back as he got out.

"Lieutenant, why are we stopping here?" one of the other deputies asked as he got out of his vehicle and hurried over to the Lieutenant's side.

"Doyle, take a look at that smoke coming off the freeway there around the bend. A few moments ago four squad cars went barreling around that corner towards the mall ... and no one has heard from them since. Tell the others to set up a perimeter right here clear across the freeway. Stop all traffic here. Then, you come along and catch up with me and let's do a little recon," answered Douglas, "Just make sure you stay low for God's sake."

Lieutenant Douglas kept low to the earth on the side of the berm as he made his way forward about a hundred yards. Finally, he reached a point where he could just see around the bend to the exit ramp. What greeted him was a scene of destruction and carnage. Another hundred yards in front of him was the burning wreckage of a fire truck. Beyond that were several wrecked and burning cars and over on the exit ramp were the burning remains of the police cars. There were a number of bodies strewn over the median and up the sides of the freeway where people had tried to escape. A few people were still moving behind vehicles. One of them noticed him and began waiving frantically to him for help. Shots rang out and that individual slumped over and fell to the ground. This caused the Lieutenant to notice the camouflaged HMMWV down by the underpass, less than a half mile away, from where the fire was coming from. He also noticed he was in their line of sight.

Immediately he realized he needed to move back a hundred feet so he could place the side of the berm marking the curve on the freeway between him and the individuals by the underpass. Slowly and quietly he did so. When he was within thirty feet of his objective, his friend and fellow county deputy, Doyle, came into the line of fire from around the curve. The Lieutenant quickly made hand motions for Doyle to get down and to go back, but it was too late.

Back beneath the underpass, Hernando was attracted to movement beyond the burning fire truck. He saw what looked like a state patrolman just coming around the bend.

"Rodrigo, there, beyond the fire truck." he yelled to his sniper as he also noticed the other officer, a little closer to them and very low to the ground moving away.

Rodrigo turned, sighted in on the first officer who was beginning to crouch down and fired.

Gary Douglas heard the small "SNAP" as a bullet passed by him at supersonic speed. He heard the audible "THUD" as that bullet impacted and watched as his friend fell backward and hit the ground.

"Damn!" exclaimed Gary as he dodged and weaved the thirty feet to his friend.

Another bullet passed near him, and then another, the audible "crack" of the rifle following hard on the heels of the bullet's passage. He picked Doyle up by the collar and dragged him around the bend far enough to be out of the line of fire. He noticed the trail of blood from his friend as he set him down and quickly ripped open his shirt and removed the kevlar vest that had been perforated by the high-velocity bullet. As he applied compression to the wound high on Doyle's left breast, he keyed his mic.

"Dispatch, officer down on I-225 approximately one half mile east of the exit ramp! Need medical assistance immediately. Setting up perimeter here. We cannot get to the mall. We have several tangos at the underpass of I-225 and Pearle. See if Air-1 can get a look at these people."

"Acknowledged. Will advise all units. Backup units, EMT and the Sheriff are all converging on your location. Air-1 will be over your location in thirty seconds. I will divert him to make a pass above the underpass. Dispatch out."

Gary could hear the helicopter now as two more deputies came up and one of them took over for him in tending to Doyle's wound. Looking up and around, he located the sheriff's office helicopter as it came in at about 1000 feet.

"Air-1, this is Douglas. What can you tell me about those tangos under the bridge."

"This is Air-1. We've got them. There appear to be four or five ... wait! One of them just fired some sort of RPG at a civilian vehicle approaching from the north. Ah! They've destroyed that vehicle. ... Okay, we're back on the tangos ... clearly four of them ... no, there's a fifth coming out from behind that HMMWV ... wait! he's got a ... hold! ... we're going to be busy here."

Douglas had scurried on his stomach to where he could get a line of site on the underpass. As he did, there was a loud "WHOOSH" and a cloud of backwash smoke billowed out from the underpass. A small missile rapidly rose from that position to Air-1 and impacted the engine of the helicopter. The helicopter immediately lost power and began to gyrate and oscillate widely as it fell, burning.

"Mayday! Mayday!! This is Air-1. We're going down! ..."

The transmission cut off as Air-1 impacted into a subdivision across the freeway producing a brilliant fireball and small black mushroom cloud that rose into the sky on that side of the freeway.

"Dispatch, Douglas here. The tangos just shot down Air-1! Advise all air units to stay well clear. They used some kind of shoulder-fired missile. We're going to need heavy support here to move these guys, I repeat, heavy support."

With that, the Lieutenant and two of his deputies began using their Ruger Mini-14 rifles to trade fire with Hernando's men.

March 20, 2006, 18:13 MST
Orchard Subdivision, Near Foothill Mall
Denver, CO

Eldon Hightower ran to the berm. There were five of his friends with him and his next-door neighbors were right behind them. He and the first five were armed with their hunting rifles. A Sheriff's helicopter had just crashed into some houses in their subdivision with a resounding explosion after passing over their heads in a fiery, wildly turning and fatal descent. It had been shot down by some form of surface to air (SAM) missile and Eldon took just a second to look back and be sure that it had crashed well clear of his own home and family in Orchard subdivision ... the place he called home. Eldon had been in his backyard staking out the location of a new sprinkler system he planned to put in this summer when all of the shooting and explosions had started taking place over by the mall. Upon hearing all of the firing, he had run to the berm overlooking the freeway just in time to see the attack on the initial responding squad cars from the HMMWV beneath the underpass. Eldon had not hesitated. He had served as a Ranger in the Army for eight years. He ran home and grabbed his hunting rifle, a Savage .308 with a 4X12 scope, and started back for the berm. As he did this, he had called out to friends and neighbors who were also coming out of their homes to see what was going on.

"Terrorists are attacking the mall!" he'd cried, "Get your rifles! They're taking out the police on the freeway as they arrive. They need our help!"

Many who heard Eldon quickly ran back into their houses and began calling the police themselves, adding pressure and traffic to an already tied up circuit. But several others had done just what Eldon suggested, and had in turn, as they dashed towards their homes, called to others to do the same. Wives and children were fearfully asking what was going on as husbands and older brothers ran into their homes, grabbed their hunting and assault rifles and handfuls or boxes of cartridges and ran out their doors.

Now, Eldon and five others were the first to arrive back at the berm and take up positions along it. They began firing on Hernando's men under the bridge just as Lieutenant Douglas and his deputies opened fire from up the freeway.

Eldon's next-door neighbors, Sean and Sarah, were running just behind Eldon and the other five men. They had heard Eldon's call when they came out of their house after all of the explosions and firing started. Sean worked as a local volunteer fireman, and his wife was a nurse at the area clinic. Upon hearing the unmistakable sounds of gunfire and seeing Eldon running towards his on home and gathering as many neighbors as he could, Sean and Sarah had turned towards each other for just an instant and stared. An unspoken understanding passed between them and they rushed into the house to get their first aid packs and started off behind Eldon at a dead run. They arrived at the berm just as Eldon was instructing his five friends.

"Stay low to this berm. Fire your rifle and then roll over a few feet before firing again. Shoot at their muzzle flashes and at that HMMWV. If we provide enough direct cover fire, the officers down there, and hopefully the Guard, will be able to take these suckers out."

Eldon had lived in the Orchard subdivision for ten years. He had moved here and taken a job after getting out of the service because he figured it was the right mix of good work and proximity to the hunting and fishing which he enjoyed. The environs of Denver had never disappointed him in either regard. Even though Denver was a growing high-tech and cosmopolitan community, it was still a big city on the edge of the Rocky Mountains and a lot of hunters like Eldon lived here. And each of them had a high-powered rifle similar to the one Rodrigo was using over at the underpass ... and they all knew how to use them. Others simply enjoyed exercising their 2nd amendment rights on weekends at shooting ranges. Either for fun, or for matches, these individuals were also proficient shots.

Now, here at Orchard Subdivision across I-225 from Foothill Mall, the real purpose of the 2nd amendment to the U.S. Constitution regarding the right of the people to keep and bear arms was made clearly manifest. As Sean and Sarah set up a first aid station that quickly evolved into a trauma treatment area just fifteen yards behind the crest of the berm, a hot and viscous firefight developed between the residents of Orchard subdivision and the terrorist team by the underpass.

March 20, 2006, 18:16 MST
I-225 underpass outside Foothill Mall
Denver, CO

It was time to go. Hernando knew that in a few short minutes, the helicopters would be coming to extract them all. The trouble was, Hernando and his two remaining men were completely pinned down and were not "going" anywhere. For the last several minutes, the amount of fire being directed at them had increased tremendously ... some was coming from the officers down the freeway where he was sure the local authorities were gathering their forces to try and push past him. But that was the plan, and he was prepared to handle that until he had to leave.

No, what was pinning him down and had killed Rodrigo and his RPG launcher was the increasing fire coming from the direction of the berm over by that subdivision. A heavy volume of well placed, directed fire.

It had started right after they had shot the small helicopter down. Sporadic at first, it had grown to a fevered pitch very quickly and had now killed two of his men, wounded another and incapacitated their HMMWV, their ride out of here. They had fired many RPG's in the last few minutes towards that berm in an effort to break up the volume of fire. Hernando was sure they had killed a number of those people over there ... but the rate of fire and the numbers of people didn't diminish. They both just kept increasing. He was sure there were no less than a hundred people over there firing on him now.

"Where in Diablo's Hades did they all come from?" he muttered to himself as he clicked his hand-held radio three times in quick succession, and then repeated that signal four times to inform Manuel that his team was in deep trouble. "How could they mobilize such a large force so quickly?"

He heard another unmistakable "thud" of a hit to the body behind him and turned in time to see his backup RPG launcher, the man who had shot the helicopter down, fall back with a bloody, puckered hole in the center of his forehead. Crouching low, he moved to the support pillar for the underpass behind their HMMWV from where his last man was still firing. This man was wounded in the thigh and had applied a tourniquet to slow the bleeding. As he tried to take cover, Hernando felt a stiff "tug" at his own shoulder and fell down. When he tried to get up, he noticed the blood pouring down his shirt from a ragged wound high on his shoulder where a high velocity bullet had passed through and shattered his collarbone. He knew that the pain would start any second. The bullets were coming more rapidly now, scores of bullets impacting all around them.

Hernando painfully reached into the opposite pocket of his camouflaged jacket with his good hand and pulled out his electronic transmitter. It had been brought along for use during their departure in the helicopters, to activate a demolition charge of C-4 in their HMMWV and destroy it in an attempt to insure their security. Each team had one. Now Hernando knew he was going to have to use his before the helicopters ever got there. Talking to his last remaining team member, Hernando said, "My friend, we have done all we could. These gringos didn't get past us eh? We took out a lot of them too. That helicopter of theirs going down was a sight to see! But, I am afraid we are not going to make it. What do you think? Should we go out together in a last flash of glory?"

Hernando noticed that no more weapons fire was coming from his friend. Turning his head to look toward his position, Hernando was greeted only by the flat, vacant stare of the dead

"Such a shame," thought Hernando. That was his last conscience thought as he pressed the button on his transmitter and his mortal world ended in a hot, fiery flash, not unlike those his team had been dealing out to others over the last ten to twelve minutes.

March 20, 2006, 18:20 MST
Parking Lot of Foothill Mall
Denver, CO

Over in the parking lot of the mall, in front of the now ruined main entrance, Manuel heard the four Bell Ranger helicopters approaching. That sound diverted his attention from the rising cloud of smoke he had just seen mushroom up from the direction of the underpass of the freeway. He had heard the signal from Hernando indicating he was in trouble and unable to comply with the egress. That had been followed less than thirty seconds later by the explosion Manuel recognized as the self-destruction of Hernando's blocking team HMMWV.

"That was an incredible volume of fire over there," thought Manuel, "Too bad Hernando my friend. You will be missed. You were one of the best," was all Manuel could allow in passing for his friend and compatriot. If he survived, there would be time enough later to properly mourn the loss.

Manuel had received similar signals from the blocking team at the intersection of Pearle, and from the parking lot entrance team closest to them on the other side of the mall. Those had occurred one after another a few moments before Hernando's signal and there had been no other signal from them, just a lot of firing, a few explosions and now nothing. Manuel assumed the worst. Through those signals and sounds, Manuel had tracked his enemy's movements towards him.

Manuel ran over the figures in his head, "Three teams unaccounted for and probably down. Two teams on the other side of the mall still fully engaged and unable to break off and withdraw. Four teams now converging on this position."

He had cleared an area for the helicopters to land and established a final perimeter for defense for when they loaded. Manuel had already keyed a code to the helicopters waving one off ... there would be no one to board it anyway and it was senseless to bring it down under such circumstances. Manuel would try and use that last helicopter as his eyes above the fray.

Then the other three helicopters were landing and men were boarding their designated aircraft. Each of the helicopters had been painstakingly painted to match local TV station helicopters in color and even in designation numbers. Each of them had been legally purchased over the last five years by legitimate "front" firms, financed through multiple "blind" accounts that were the mastermind of financial personnel in the employ of Hector Ortiz's Caribbean friends. Tracking those accounts back to their real source would prove impossible. Each of the helicopters had been reported "stolen" by their "legitimate" owners the day of the attacks on March 15th. The confusion and massive amount of investigative work required for the attacks themselves had hampered sufficient attention being directed at these individual thefts to tie them together in time.

Now, as they loaded, Manuel and five others provided the final security and directed several bursts of fire at approaching Sheriff's vehicles, squad cars and a couple of national Guard HMMWV's that were now entering the parking lot on this side of the mall and trying to converge on his position. When he felt he had gotten their attention and they stopped and took cover, he motioned to his men and they all boarded the last helicopter, which immediately rose, at a very high rate of ascent into the increasing snow fall in the air. Hernando carefully waited as several vehicles converged on his abandoned HMMWV's. When the first three vehicles pulled up to them and Hernando could see the figures of men with assault rifles getting out through the snow, he pressed all of the self-destruct transmitters simultaneously. The resulting explosions caught these three vehicles and their occupants inside the blast radius and caused the others to stop and take cover at a safe distance.

"That should hold them up for another few minutes," he thought. "At least until they get their Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD) people in to check out the wreckage. By then, we will be far away from here."

Manuel keyed in the last order on his mic and all four helicopters, flying at just over one thousand feet towards the west, immediately split apart and dropped below five hundred feet. They then embarked on their own weaving and diverging paths to the northwest, west and southwest towards the mountains and their separately planned escape routes.

March 20, 2006, 18:21 MST
25,000 ft and ten miles west of Foothill Mall
Denver, CO

"Sky-watch, this is Bolt-cutter, I have four tangos diverging and heading for the mountains on the deck, dropping below angels one."

The flight of two F-15C aircraft had just taken up position to the west of the mall and well up into the overcast. They had been vectored there from their duty station covering the Denver International airport by their AWACS controller, Sky-watch. Each F-15C was armed with four sidewinder air-to-air heat-seeking missiles and four Sparrow air-to-air radar-guided missiles. Their rules of engagement (ROE) had been clearly communicated while en route. Track the targets by radar, let the tangos clear the subdivisions and then take them down at the first opportunity where their destruction would not harm innocent civilians on the ground. Bolt-cutter transmitted to Sky-watch.

"Sky-watch, Bolt-cutter will track and engage the two northern-most targets designated tango-1 and tango-2. Sword-man will track and engage the two southern-most targets, designated tango-3 and tango-4. How do you copy?"

"Sky-watch copies four by four. "

As the helicopters made their way towards the mountains and desperately tried to use the steep, narrow canyons to help cover their escape, they began to approach landscape that was less and less inhabited. As they flew over steep foothills, or barren washes, where no dwellings were located, one by one they were each turned into twisted, burning and exploding masses of wrecked metal, wire, fiberglass and flesh by the missiles from Bolt-cutter and Sword-man.

Bolt-cutter had no problem destroying both tango-1 and tango-2, but was drawn off to the north while destroying tango-1, placing him out of range to support Sword-man. Sword-man had to make a wide swing to the south to target tango-4 when it came over terrain compatible with his ROE. After firing and destroying tango-4, he planned to circle back and take out tango-3. But tango-3's flight path kept it over inhabited terrain, right into one of the many canyons leading up into the mountains from the foothills. In fact, that canyon itself was heavily built up with some of the most expensive dwellings in the Denver metro-area, well up into the mountains. By keeping below the ridgelines on either side of the canyon, tango-3 disappeared from Sword-man's, Bolt-cutter's and Sky-watch's radar. The overcast they were flying in made any visual tracking impossible for the fighters.

This was no accident. Tango-3 was Manuel's helicopter and he had personally laid out the flight plan to maintain its flight over inhabited territory right up into the mountains. Other teams had opted away from this, feeling that to do so would make it too easy for citizens to track their progress by sight and sound for too long. Manuel had been less afraid of the civilians than he was of the AWACS and any American fighters that might interdict them in time, and he had urged the other team leaders to do likewise. But the need to separate during their egress and the feeling of the other team leaders that a direct and quick flight to relatively rugged and uninhabited terrain was best had dictated otherwise

"To their destruction," thought Manuel as he noted the loss of each of the other helicopters. These local Americans, despite the surprise and destruction, had reacted quickly.

As Manuel's pilot gained a little altitude and dashed through a low divide, they passed out of the lavishly built-up canyon filled with expensive dwellings into a larger, but more rugged and less inhabited one. Staying just below the cloud level, they zigzagged and weaved between canyons along their escape route. With every passing minute, Manuel's planning was vindicated by the very lives of the seven men with him. They would be the only members of the attack on Foothill Mall to escape alive.

March 20, 2006, 18:45 MST
Parking Lot of Foothill Mall
Denver, CO

As the snowfall steadily increased, Lieutenant Gary Douglas surveyed the scene in front of the main entrance to Foothill Mall. Between here and the battle out on the freeway, he had lost three deputies killed and another injured. Two of those deaths had occurred right there, where the remaining terrorists had left their Hummer's after boarding their helicopters and leaving. One of his vehicles had rushed to the scene with two local police cars as the helicopters took off to try to prevent their escape and see if there were any wounded that they could take into custody. In the rush and intensity of the moment, they had not even considered booby-traps. It had cost his deputies their lives, along with four other officers from the local police department. It was not something any of them would soon forget when dealing with such attacks.

But, as bad and as heart wrenching and painful as the deaths of his deputies were for him personally, they were nothing compared to the carnage in the mall or its parking lot, or out on the freeway or over at the major intersection on Pearle. Carnage that was almost impossible to comprehend here in suburban America ... unless you had experienced it yourself as the Lieutenant and so many others had here today.

"These bastards came here to kill as many civilians as they could," he thought, "And they succeeded, my God how they had succeeded!"

There were twenty-three dead terrorists here around the mall, including the five that had been killed out on the freeway. Police officers and their second SWAT team (the first SWAT team had been ambushed over at the intersection on Pearle) had wounded and captured three more on the other side of the mall. Lieutenant Douglas was certain that they would not have killed many terrorists at all, and that they likely would not have captured a single one, if those citizens in the subdivision and a number over at the intersection had not gotten involved and helped. The amount of fire that subdivision had rained down on the terrorists over on the freeway had prevented their escape and had saved deputies' lives. The Lieutenant was certain of it ... even if it had cost a number of those civilians their own lives in the process.

Over at the major intersection on Pearle, the owner of Pearle Sports and Guns had reacted quickly upon hearing and seeing the terrorist blocking team open fire just up the street from his store. He had opened his store to citizens and later police officers to make liberal use of his inventory of rifles and ammo. The resulting volume of fire had created similar problems for the terrorists on the other side of the mall as the terrorists had experienced by the underpass. There too, a good number of those civilians, including the owner of Pearle Sports and Guns, had been killed

"God bless them and rest them," thought the Lieutenant, "it makes me proud to be an American."

He did not really want to know how many civilians had been butchered here in the parking lot, or in the mall. But it was his job to find out just the same. It looked to be several hundred people dead, and an equal number injured. A few people were coming out of the mall now, as the fire department fought the fires and as it was clear that the danger of being shot down while trying to escape was past. Gary could not help but note how pitiful few were coming out.

At least they had been able to prevent all of the terrorists from escaping here, and apparently the U.S. Air Force had gotten a lot more. As he reflected on this, the Lieutenant could not help but again think of the help rendered by those brave citizens. Those terrorists at the freeway and at the major intersection would have surely kept his men, the local police and the few National Guard who responded in time from disrupting their plans if those armed citizens had not become involved. Armed citizen involvement in this overwhelming circumstance was something Lieutenant Douglas would never forget.

From dispatch and from other officers and civilians over the last few minutes, it was now apparent that the attack here on Foothill Mall was not isolated. It was now all over the news networks that another mall south of Salt Lake City, and the Los Angeles International Airport, had also been attacked in similar fashion. The Lieutenant knew he did not have the time to worry about or consider that now. There were still too many people needing help here and too much work to be done before he could even consider finding out more about those attacks ... and before he did, when he was finally done here, he was going to go home and hold his wife and children for a long, long time.