RUN TO FREEDOM
I hope to have my fourth novel, “Run to Freedom,” published before the end of this year. It is a prequel to my first three novels, “Justice Beyond Law,” “Justice without Mercy,” and “Shades of Justice,” which are all about Jack Brandon. “Run to Freedom” delves into Jack’s family’s past and takes readers to a place they’ve never been before in the three previous books — Russia. Here’s the prologue. Thoughts and comments welcome!
When he was a kid in Saint Cloud, Minnesota, Johnny Brandon loved riding trains. He loved everything about trains. They opened a window peering beyond the structured world of school, church, family, and neighborhood. Looking out the window of a moving train and listening to the clickety-clack of the wheels speeding over the rails that narrowed to nothingness in front and back of the train promised a new adventure could start at any time. You couldn’t tell. It was as near to traveling in time as you could find in 1910 in the Midwest. Now he would be glad to travel back to the certainty of a life he could count on.
Lieutenant John Brandon stared through the clear circle in the frosted window he had rubbed. Outside, the bleak, frozen, forested land of Siberia swept past as the train from Vladivostok laden with supplies for the White Russian Army of General Kolchak sped along. In another hour they would be in Irkutsk. Lieutenant Brandon knew the area around Irkutsk was especially dangerous and started on his rounds to make sure his platoon of the 332 U.S. Infantry Regiment was ready for action. His platoon had drawn train-guarding duty for the last three months. Once back in Vladivostok they were scheduled for a change in duty assignments.
Lieutenant Brandon had volunteered for train-guarding duty. Big mistake. It came with endless coldness, bad food, and long periods of boredom with sudden deadly fire fights when bands of Red Army Communist soldiers managed to tear up sections of the track and stop the train. His platoon and other units of the Polar Bears managed to fight off all the attacks and the trains eventually got through but not without costs to the Polar Bears, a self-appointed nickname for the Regiment. Most of the men were from Wisconsin, Michigan, and had a small percentage from Minnesota. Many of them could speak some Russian, German, or Polish. Most had been too young to have served in France but when President Wilson decided to support the democratic Kerensky revolutionaries in their struggle against the Bolshevik party of Lenin, John Brandon and thousands of others found themselves on troop ships going to fight an unknown war in a frigid environment they had not prepared to fight in.
Most of the men in Brandon’s platoon felt they were being treated unfairly. The war they were ready to fight was over. Not even the field grade officers could explain why they were riding trains across Siberia’s frozen landscape. It was clear their hearts and minds were not in this backwash of questionable American interests.
Lieutenant Brandon was halfway through checking his platoon of train guards when the engineers sounded the alarm and applied the emergency brakes. Brandon knew it would take a half-mile to bring this train to a full stop. By that time they would hit whatever caused the engineers to try and bring the speeding train to a stop. He yelled for his men to hang on and get ready for action. Nothing could be seen outside. The blowing snow and the late afternoon darkness made it impossible to see.
Lieutenant Brandon felt the train derail. He estimated they were moving at least 40 miles an hour. At that speed, several cars behind the two locomotives would leave the track and overturn. The car carrying his platoon was two cars behind the coal tender. Even before the car overturned he heard an explosion, followed by raking small-arms fire.
At least half of the platoon was struggling to its feet and moving toward both ends of the car to get out and set up firing positions to protect the platoon first and then the train. Lieutenant Brandon and his platoon sergeant, Sam Reilly, managed to get firing points set up. Nearly all the platoon was in action. Only a few were too severely injured in the crash to make their way out. The railroad embankment provided good cover for the riflemen and the machine gunner. Brandon thought, The overturning of the car might save all our lives. Most of the firing was coming from the rear of train, where the valuable equipment was carried.
The attackers were mounted and racing up and down the right-of-way. The Polar Bear riflemen armed with the bolt-action 1903 rifles. The boys from the Midwest could shoot. The Springfields were the best rifles they had ever been issued. Several horses were down. In the light of the flares fired from the train Lieutenant Brandon saw a mass of infantry emerging from the forest. The cavalry was only a probing attack. He called to Sergeant Reilly to bring up his half of he platoon. He wasn’t going to lose his entire platoon in a fight to the death over an overturned rail car. When the platoon was together, he moved them back into the forest.
The accurate fire from the platoon’s rifles turned back two waves of mass attacks. Lieutenant Brandon gave the order to fire one more magazine on the next attack and fall back into the forest and evade west down the tracks to Irkutsk. The next attack came after a new barrage from some horse-drawn field artillery. The wedge of attacking infantry broke through the thin line of Polar Bears. Few members of the platoon were able to fall back and escape to the west.
A sudden, heavy snowfall masked the battle area. Lieutenant Brandon saw Sergeant Reilly go down with a fatal wound. He turned to move deeper into the cover of the forest, when he was knocked down by a blow to his right thigh. Scrambling on all fours he managed to find a dead fall of two down trees and crawled under cover. The fight for the train was over. Surviving was the next mission.
It was now snowing so hard he couldn’t see anything. The wind strengthened to a gale force. The whole battle area was obscured by a swirling, white cover. Lieutenant Brandon lying between two fallen trees could hear the shouts of Red Army soldiers and an occasional gunshot and explosion. They will kill all the prisoners, wounded or not, he thought. I’ve got to lie still. I don’t think my leg is broken or any major arteries were severed. If the bleeding stops and I don’t freeze to death, I can live through this. I’m already covered with snow. My tracks and blood trail must also be under snow cover. The Red Army officers will call off the attack and use the soldiers to load up the supplies they want. There must be a trail or road close by for tractors and horses to pull wagon-loads of supplies away from the ambush site. I won’t freeze. It’s 20 degrees Fahrenheit. My winter gear and this snow cover will keep the worst of the cold out.
Brandon was dozing when he was awakened by something moving in the snow by his hiding place. He lay still. Listening he heard a snuffling sound and Russian voices. Then he felt the snow being brushed away. He reached for his .45 Colt but couldn’t manage to get it out. As he struggled, he heard a Russian voice saying, “Over here. This one is alive.”