[This excerpt from my 2003 novel “Enemies Foreign And Domestic” takes place two weeks after a false-flag sniper attack on a packed football stadium, one week after all semi-automatic “assault rifles” are banned, and a few days after a prominent anti-gun Senator from Maryland is assassinated.]
Virginia Attorney General Eric Sanderson was in his favorite place, standing in front of a bank of television cameras. There was nothing he loved better than being in the public eye, and today he was taking personal credit for pushing through a brand new anti-terrorism program.
While his aides gave him a countdown to air time, news producers were shoving five dress-uniformed chiefs-of-police around behind him like movie extras, framing the television shot for the best effect. These medal-wearing law enforcement officials went along passively with being grabbed and pushed like stage props: they were also aspiring politicians, and they cheerfully suffered the indignity of the moment as fair trade for the television face time.
It had not been a simple matter for Sanderson to pull together a television-ready demonstration gun checkpoint team in 48 hours, but he had done it. He had the gift, he was going places and all of the important people knew it. Doors opened themselves magically in front of him as they had all of his life, from Harvard Law up until today, because success was Eric Sanderson’s birthright.
Now it was 11:59 AM on Friday, and a dozen television cameras were bore-sighted on his powdered face and perfectly coiffed hair. Behind him and the police chiefs, spreading across the west-bound lanes of I-64 in Norfolk, Virginia State Troopers were directing cars at a walking speed through channels of orange traffic cones. Randomly selected vehicles were being directed onto the shoulder of the highway to park and await inspection. Desert camouflage painted Humvees at each end of the control zone provided the military bookends commanding the scene and framing the camera shot.
A careful television viewer might have noticed fully automatic M-16 assault rifles slung on the shoulders of the half dozen camouflage-wearing National Guardsmen posted evenly along the hundred-yard length of the control zone. Unseen were the dozen Norfolk Police SWAT Team members concealed around the area with their own sniper rifles pointing outward, protecting the publicly-gathered VIPs from the fate of Senator Randolph. Unseen were the three police helicopters orbiting high above with their zoom video cameras scanning the surrounding neighborhoods. Unseen were the Glock and SIG pistols beneath the suit jackets of the undercover Virginia State Police bodyguard detail located just off camera on both sides of the Attorney General, looking stern and almost Secret Service-like with their sunglasses, earpieces and coded lapel buttons.
Standing behind a podium jammed with a cluster of microphones, Sanderson began his prepared text at exactly 12:03 PM, precisely timed to give TV producers and mid-day news anchors a chance to begin their shows and then cut to him as the “live and local” breaking news story. Besides all of the local network news affiliates, several of the national cable news channels were also present, preparing to send his words and images of his highway checkpoint program nationwide from coast to coast. Already his staff had been approached by producers from several network news shows to schedule interviews. One weekly show was already referring to him in a promotional piece as the “national gun safety crusader.”
Down the front of his podium there was a printed sign:
“Good Afternoon. On behalf of the Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia, and at the direction of President Gilmore, I’m here in Norfolk today to announce the launching of a new anti-terrorism program. On the highway behind me you are seeing the very first of Virginia’s ‘Firearms Inspections Stop Terrorism’ mobile units, working to ensure the safety and security of all Virginians.” Sanderson paused to give the cameras a chance to pan across the checkpoint area.
“Beginning with the Stadium Massacre twelve days ago, we have all witnessed an unprecedented outbreak of domestic terrorism, much of it, tragically, originating here in Tidewater Virginia. Fortunately, the true home-grown militia origins of the Stadium Massacre were discovered, otherwise we might have placed the blame for that atrocity on our Muslim countrymen, as the conspirators had obviously intended. The Stadium Massacre, as horrible as it was, would have been even worse if it had been falsely blamed on an innocent and too often maligned segment of our diverse multicultural society.
“The Stadium Massacre was caused by the easy availability of assault rifles in America. Since the passage of the Schuleman-Montaine Firearms Safety Act that flood of weapons has been stopped, but, realistically, we know that there are militantly reactionary segments of our society who do not intend to comply with our new firearms safety laws. The sniper rifle murder of Senator Geraldine Randolph on Tuesday, the day the new law went into effect, is an indication of the lengths that a small but extremely dangerous number of gun fanatics will go to in order to sabotage effective gun safety legislation.
“We have also seen a local wave of firearms-related violence, such as gun store arson attacks, and the drive-by machine gun shooting of a mosque in nearby Portsmouth Virginia. The very location of this checkpoint where I am speaking today is itself less than one mile from where militia leader Mark Denton’s car bomb exploded, before he had a chance to plant his terror bomb in the Norfolk federal building. As we know, Denton was also transporting a virtual arsenal of assault rifles and high powered cop-killer bullets when his bomb exploded prematurely on the highway, taking the lives of five innocents.
“So today I am announcing that the highways of Virginia will no longer provide a safe avenue for terrorists to transport their illegal firearms and explosives.” Sanderson pounded his own fist on the podium for effect. “Starting today, mobile FIST units will be in operation around the Commonwealth of Virginia, and they will soon be adopted by other states as well, beginning next week with Maryland. These FIST units will provide much-needed security to all of us, by preventing terrorists from getting a free ride on our freeways.
“Now I am asking all of the decent, law-abiding citizens of Virginia to assist our law enforcement officers by cooperating fully when you come upon a mobile FIST unit. Courtesy will be returned to our cooperative citizens, and only a few moments of your time will be required if you are asked to pull over for a brief inspection. I’m confident that the good people of Virginia will consider showing this cooperation to be an opportunity for them to play their own part in our ‘war on terrorism.’
“Additionally, I wish to assure those of you in our immigrant community that FIST units are not intended to harass or intimidate you in any way. The Commonwealth of Virginia respects and welcomes all of our hardworking immigrant population, regardless of their technical documentation status. FIST units will only be looking for illegal firearms, and not for immigration papers.
“I would like to remind my fellow Virginians that all semi-automatic rifles are now illegal, and should have been turned in for destruction already. Also, I would like to remind the hunters of Virginia, and I am proud to say that I am one of that group, that tomorrow, Saturday at midnight, the transportation of sniper rifles will also be forbidden. This is according to President Gilmore’s last executive order, which he made under the provisions of the Patriot Act based upon an ‘imminent terrorist threat.’ A sniper rifle is now legally defined as any rifle with a magnified telescopic sight. After midnight tomorrow, it will be a felony punishable by five years in federal prison to transport a sniper rifle on the highways of the United States.
“Since the Stadium Massacre and the assassination of Senator Randolph, both crimes committed using scoped sniper rifles, we find ourselves in dangerous new territory, unfamiliar to law-abiding Americans. As I said, I am a hunter myself, and I am aware that many Virginia sportsmen will perhaps feel that they are being unfairly burdened by this law. But since this war of snipers and terrorists has been brought to us by a handful of gun fanatics, all of us must now unfortunately share in the burden of increasing security, for the benefit of all of our society. So you hunters, don’t forget to take off those scopes by tomorrow night! There’s still plenty of time to get to the range and practice with those old iron sights before deer season starts next month. I’ll be at the range doing just that myself, and I don’t think it’s too much to ask as our own small contribution in the war on domestic terrorism.
“Now I’ll take a few of your questions.”
An older male reporter called out, “Attorney General Sanderson, how many FIST teams will there be and where will they be located?”
“I think for rather obvious reasons I can’t discuss all of the operational details of the program, but there will be plenty of FIST units, you may be certain of that. Enough to do the job.”
Sanderson pointed to a middle-aged African American reporter next.
“Will the FIST units use racial or ethnic profiling in determining who they are going to pull over and search?”
“No, the FIST unit commanders will select cars completely at random, in accordance with constitutionally tested precedents.” Sanderson did not even crack a smile as he uttered both of these blatant lies.
A reporter in the middle of the gallery called out, “Are you going to run for Governor next year, or the Senate?” and Sanderson replied, “I plan to serve the people of Virginia to the best of my ability.” When the same reporter called out again, “Is that a yes?” Sanderson ignored his question and pointed to a perky young blonde reporter who had been waving her hand frantically.
“Mr. Sanderson, isn’t ‘FIST’ a rather… harsh name?”
This question drew chuckles and guffaws from the other reporters, and from the police chiefs still dutifully standing shoulder to shoulder behind the Attorney General. But Eric Sanderson didn’t laugh, instead he pounded his own fist down hard on the podium, and the sound boomed through the microphones.
“Is the FIST program harsh? You’re damn right it’s harsh! We intend to be very harsh with domestic terrorists, illegal militias and criminal gun runners! Very harsh!” He brought his tightly-balled fist up in front of his chin for effect and held it there, suddenly aware in that instant that it would be on the front pages of tomorrow’s papers across Virginia, and that he had just created the six-second sound bite that would sweep him into the Governor’s mansion, and then onto the U.S. Senate. His harsh visage slowly melted into an avuncular smile, and finally he brought his hand back down and gripped the sides of the podium.
“Now before I go, I’d like to remind everyone about the new toll free and totally confidential illegal firearms tip line: 1-855-GUN-STOP.”
Sanderson pointed to the number displayed across the front of the podium just beneath the cluster of microphones. “You can serve your state and your country by calling this number if you have knowledge of anyone in possession of semi-automatic rifles of any kind. Calls which result in arrests for possession of assault rifles will be rewarded with up to $5,000 for each illegal rifle which is recovered, so you can serve your country and yourself at the same time, if you know anyone who is holding onto an illegal assault weapon.
“And wives, if your husband is still holding onto an assault rifle, ask yourself: is it worth it to your family to have him sent to prison for five years? For the good of your whole family, get rid of those illegal semi-automatic rifles now! You can’t be sure who knows about them; they’re probably already listed on several data bases, and it’s only a matter of time until they’re found. So for your family’s sake, get rid of those illegal assault rifles now!
[The following scene occurs shortly after the sniper assassination of the Virginia Attorney General.]
Brad was driving his red pickup with Ranya in the passenger seat next to him as they crossed the five-mile-wide I-664 James River Bridge-Tunnel from Newport News back into Suffolk. It was a little after four on the warm Sunday afternoon when they passed back onto the northern shore of Suffolk County, almost within sight of the burned ruins of the Edmonds house. Neither one of them spoke of it, although they both stared in that direction.
Driving back down they had been listening to the local news on AM talk radio. The latest shock to hit Tidewater was an accidental police shooting. Either Virginia Beach Police or an FBI team—it wasn’t clear which—had shot a man in the head at a traffic stop. The man, whose identity had not been released yet, had been pulled over in his black full-sized pickup truck on Laskin Road, and misidentified as a possible suspect in the shooting of Attorney General Sanderson.
The driver had been shot in the head through the windshield, with either a police or FBI assault rifle or submachine gun. This had happened two hours ago in broad daylight, in front of numerous witnesses, some of whom were already angrily calling in to the radio talk shows. Apparently the police and FBI undercover agents had been seen whooping it up and “high-fiving” over the bleeding body of the man they had thought was the sniper. According to witnesses who were calling in, no firearms or weapons were recovered from his vehicle.
Brad and Ranya were in a grim mood, the magic of their afternoon aboard his sailboat Guajira already shattered. The news of the man’s death hit Ranya with another spiritual hammer blow. She felt personally responsible, because instead of pursuing her for Sanderson’s murder, the police had killed an innocent person. Her stomach knot twisted another turn tighter, but of course she couldn’t share this secret pain with Brad, who had no idea that she had been Eric Sanderson’s executioner.
In a few minutes they would arrive back at Crosby’s Boatyard in Portsmouth, where she had left her Yamaha the day before, and then they’d return once again to Brad’s boat with both vehicles. She was looking forward to wrapping herself around the bike and snapping it into gear, using its clutch and throttle to fly over the highway at three-digit speed. She hoped the wind blast and the onrushing pavement might clear her mind of its accumulation of guilt, pain and fear.
“I need to get gas,” Brad told her, and he pulled over onto the exit lane for Hoffler Boulevard. The exit ramp cut through a break in the wall of pines alongside the highway, then curved off out of sight to the right and sloped gently downward.
“Oh crap, what’s this?” he said, braking quickly.
Ranya bolted upright and buckled her seat belt. There was a police cruiser on the side of the ramp just beyond the trees, and a cop was standing in the middle holding up both hands, blocking Brad’s truck and two cars in front of him.
“Checkpoint!” Ranya said. “It’s one of the FIST checkpoints, it’s got to be!” The FIST program, the brainchild of Virginia Attorney General Eric Sanderson, was intended to stop the transportation of illegal weapons. Sanderson had come down to Norfolk to announce and promote the program on Friday, he had been shot and killed Saturday morning, and Sunday afternoon they had driven straight into one of his FIST checkpoints. There just seemed to be no escaping his reach, she thought.
Thank God she’d left her .223 caliber single-shot sniper pistol hidden back on Guajira! But she still had her father’s gift to deal with: the .45 caliber pistol was in her pack on the floor.
Hopefully they would be able to slide through the checkpoint unmolested. The police would readily verify that the pickup carried no long guns of any kind. On the other hand, Ranya was sure that if the pistol was found, its serial number would be called in to some national data base, and she would be taken aside and cross-examined closely. She would be questioned about the legal ownership of the gun, leading to more questions about her recently murdered father. She would be questioned about Brad, about their relationship, their destination, what they were doing together…
Maybe they would be questioned separately, and there was no way to know how such a split interrogation session would turn out. Should she admit to the police that she had the pistol if she was asked, or deny having a firearm in the car and hope it wasn’t found in a search? Fear constricted her throat, instantly turning her mouth desert dry yet again. But at least she didn’t have the scoped .223 pistol with her. It would have linked her to Sanderson’s death as neatly as a signed confession.
She had to tell Brad that she had a gun. While they still had time, they had to quickly get their stories lined up, in case they would be questioned separately.
“Brad, I’m sorry I didn’t tell you, but I’ve got my .45 with me. What should we do?”
“Ahh…crap. Okay, it should be all right. I think they’re just looking for assault rifles. I hope.”
The exit ramp made a slight right then left “S” curve as it descended through brush down to Hoffler Boulevard. Halfway down the ramp, parked along the right shoulder, there was another police car, then a line of eight or ten civilian cars and SUVs, then two more police cars. Orange traffic cones divided the wide asphalt ramp down the middle. Police and camouflage-clad soldiers were walking alongside the row of parked cars; some of the cars had open doors and trunks. A single slow-moving motorcyclist was being waved past the line of cars to proceed on his way, a fact which Ranya noted with great interest. Obviously, the police did not think a motorcyclist could be concealing a banned semi-auto or sniper rifle.
Two hundred yards away at the bottom of the ramp, parked off to the left in the weeds and facing uphill towards them, was a desert-painted Army Humvee.
“Damn, look at that!” said Brad. “The Humvee’s got a machine gun on it. I’ve never seen that before, not in Virginia.”
She said, “I’ve seen them up around DC sometimes. They put them near the Pentagon and Reagan National during security alerts. They were there all the time after 9-11.” A helmeted soldier’s head and torso was visible, sticking out of the Humvee’s roof behind the pintle-mounted machine gun.
“They picked a perfect spot for a checkpoint,” said Brad. “I didn’t see anything until it was too late. I wonder if they’re checking every car, or if they’re letting some pass around? I wonder if they’re going to hassle us?”
“A thirty year old white guy in a red pickup truck? What do you think, Brad? They’re not looking for guys named Mohammed down here; they’re looking for guys named Bubba.”
“I guess we’ll find out in a minute.”
* * * *
The young father in the white Acura, the second car from the front of the line, said, “No sir, I won’t open my trunk, not without a warrant, and I do not ‘consent’ to be searched.”
The even younger Virginia National Guard corporal standing outside his driver’s side window looked around, confused. This situation had not come up before. Could this guy just refuse? Was that allowed?
The holdout’s young wife said, “Martin, please, just do like he says. Don’t make trouble; the girls are frightened.”
“Honey, it’s the point of it. This is still America, and there’s still a Constitution.”
“Daddy, why are there soldiers here? Is there a war?” asked seven year old Danielle from the back seat. Her four year old sister Ashley, next to her in her booster seat, sucked her thumb, afraid without knowing why.
“No sweetie, there’s no war. The soldiers are helping the police to look for some bad men.”
“That’s right, sugar plum. Criminals.”
Another man walked up to their window. Martin Powell could not tell if he was from the military or the police: he was dressed in black from his helmet to his boots, with no badge or insignia in sight. The man in black rapped on his driver’s side window with the steel muzzle tip of his black submachine gun. “Open up! Get out! Now!”
“Officer, do you have a warrant? What’s your ‘probable cause’ to search our car?” Martin Powell was trying very hard not to show the fear he felt, holding onto the wheel to keep his hands from visibly shaking. He hoped he did not sound as afraid as he felt. He remembered reading about the Eagle Scout in Maryland who had had his face shot off by an FBI agent after a mistaken traffic stop. Powell had not yet heard about today’s accidental police shooting in Virginia Beach of the man in the black pickup truck. His wife could not stand listening to the news or talk radio, and they played soft rock music instead.
“My probable cause is you’re an asshole who refuses to give consent for a search, that’s what! Now get out! Out! Out!”
* * * *
ATF Special Agent Alvin Bogart was already having a bad day, and now he was angry enough to chew up barbed wire and spit out nails. He was angry because it was Sunday afternoon, and he was pulling the absolute shit duty of all time manning a FIST checkpoint, instead of kicking back on his recliner in his den with a cold Budweiser in his hand, watching the Ravens play the Eagles. For this he had become a Federal Law Enforcement Agent?
He was angry because he was pulling his second consecutive day of twelve hour checkpoint shifts, which really meant a fourteen hour work day, only with no overtime pay like the State Troopers were raking in. And worse, he knew that he had to do it again tomorrow and the next day and it looked like forever. If he had wanted to pull this kind of shit duty, he would have joined the Border Patrol, like his brother Daryl!
He was angry because he had to walk around all day in full tactical gear in almost 90 degree heat, including his Kevlar helmet and black body armor including heavy rifle plates, carrying his MP-5 as if they were expecting a head-on terrorist attack right here in Hicksville Suffolk Virginia. This had been at Sanderson’s direct orders. Sanderson, that preppie douchebag who was not even in his Federal chain of command. Sanderson, who had never sweated like a pig beneath heavy body armor and tactical gear on a hot day in his life. Just for this alone, Bogart was glad that Sanderson had had his head blown off on the golf course yesterday!
But unfortunately, the FIST checkpoints had not died with the Virginia Attorney General; instead they had been ramped up. And Bogart was extremely angry because earlier today he’d heard through unofficial federal law enforcement back channels that a brother ATF agent had been killed in the line of duty last night, shot in the neck by some punk-ass redneck during a gun raid not three miles from here.
And now Alvin Bogart was positively livid because this curbside Alan Dershowitz in the piece-of-crap Acura wanted to give him a lecture on the 4th Amendment, consent searches, and probable cause. As if he needed to hear that shit! Like all ATF men, Alvin Bogart held a special burning hatred for “Constitution fanatics.”
“So, you refuse to give voluntary consent for a search of your vehicle, is that correct?” Bogart smiled pleasantly at the man in the car.
“Yes sir, that is correct. Under the 4th amendment of the Bill of Rights of the Constitution…” The driver’s side window was rolled halfway down. Turned slightly sideways, ATF Special Agent Alvin Bogart had casually slipped the small can of pepper spray from his tactical vest unnoticed, and then he snapped it up and sprayed Mr. Martin Powell, U.S. citizen and taxpayer, straight in his shocked face.
As Martin Powell screamed and dug at his eyes, Bogart snaked his arm down inside the half open window, grabbed the handle, and jerked open the door. While Powell’s wife and daughters screamed both in terror and from the effects of the pepper spray being released inside the car, Agent Bogart grabbed Powell by his hair and shirt and pulled him halfway out, until he snagged up on his seat belt. Bogart unsnapped the belt, and then used both hands to jerk Powell all the way out onto the asphalt, where his head landed with a satisfying smack.
* * * *
Active duty Navy Lieutenant Commander Ira Jacobson was sitting in his mint-condition 1973 red Mustang Mach One just behind the Acura. He was not in uniform, returning from a visit to his mother’s house in Alexandria. His ship, the Burke class destroyer Winston Churchill, was at the Norfolk Naval Base. He was the ship’s Operations Officer.
He had sat patiently in the line awaiting his turn, fully intending to cooperate. But seeing the black-uniformed policeman, (if he was really a policeman, it was hard to tell), abuse the civilians in front of him was getting him steamed. When the black-clad policeman had maced the interior of the car Jacobson couldn’t believe it; he clearly heard a woman and children screaming!
When LCDR Jacobson saw the man in black pull the driver out of his car and slam his head down onto the ground, it was time to take action. LCDR Jacobson would have intervened automatically if he had seen a Chief Petty Officer abuse a junior sailor even half as severely; he’d write the Chief up for Captain’s Mast in a heartbeat! For assault! So Navy LCDR Ira Jacobson, not in uniform, stepped smartly out of his red Mustang. It was his nature and his training to take action, to render instant decisions and intervene in such a situation. LCDR Jacobson did not skate away or tap dance around when dealing with out-of-control junior personnel, and he did not shrink from his perceived duty today.
“Just what the HELL do you think you’re doing to that civilian?” he barked, using his strongest officer’s “command voice” to impose order and gain control of the situation.
ATF agent Alvin Bogart was kneeling on Martin Powell’s chest, one hand around his throat, getting ready to pepper spray him again with the other.
The other ATF agent was at the uphill end of the line of cars when he saw and heard the fracas. He was working with a Virginia State Police K-9 dog handler and his German shepherd, searching the trunk of a Volvo.
Six National Guardsmen and women and three other state troopers were spread out along the line of cars and past it in both directions, directing traffic and generally trying not to be jerks, avoiding actually searching the cars as much as possible. None of them wanted to be there. The two ATF agents were the gung-ho ones, pushing them to search more cars, in order to find contraband weapons.
None of the state troopers or soldiers was certain about what had happened in the white Acura to cause the driver to be pepper sprayed and pulled out, but they assumed an illegal weapon or maybe drugs had been spotted: after all, that’s what they were there for. Suddenly they saw a tall civilian with short black hair jump out of a red Mustang and go after ATF Special Agent Bogart, yelling something. Bogart’s ATF partner shouted, “Turn the dog loose!” to the K-9 handler. He promptly did as he was told, pulling the 100 pound beast back short on his leash, crouching down close to his canine partner to direct its attention, aiming the dog like a missile, and releasing him with the command “Hansie! Attack!”
The German shepherd cleared the thirty yards to Jacobson in a blur and knocked him down from behind, biting him viciously on the buttocks and in the groin area. Ira Jacobson screamed, Martin Powell was still screaming, and Powell’s wife and little girls in the car kept screaming as shocked state troopers and soldiers converged on the scene of the melee.
From Bogart’s first rap on Powell’s window, to the dog attacking LCDR Jacobson, only sixty seconds had passed, but they had been a long sixty seconds! The next sixty seconds were going to be far, far longer.
* * * *
Just behind Jacobson’s red Mustang, ninety year old Luke Tanner’s hands were locked in a death grip on the steering wheel of his cream-colored 1986 Cadillac Eldorado. His teeth were grinding, his breath was short and labored, his heart was racing, and his skin was so flushed that the liver spots on his bare arms were nearly invisible.
The last time that Luke Tanner had seen that black uniform and peculiar black coal-scuttle helmet in person had been seven decades earlier. It had been in the Ardennes Forest in Belgium, trying to hold out against the 6th SS Panzer Army during the defining days of his life during the Battle of the Bulge. Tanner had fought regular German Wehrmacht across France, and he’d fought the Waffen SS in Belgium, and he still held a burning hatred for them even many decades later.
But he had never imagined that he’d see the goddamned black uniform of the SS here in America! Then he watched as a young man was pulled from his car by the storm trooper, and he saw his head bounce off the pavement, he heard a lady and children screaming, and his hand fell to the seat beside him.
He’d lost his wife Edna in 1997 after almost fifty years together. She had been dragged to her death alongside her own Buick, the victim of a botched carjacking in Richmond. After that, Luke Tanner always kept his old Government Model .45 caliber pistol under a folded newspaper on the seat beside him, with a round in the chamber. He didn’t know what the particular legality of that was, and he didn’t care: a man had a right to defend himself, law or no law. It was the very same .45 automatic he’d brought back on the hospital ship in 1945. Every year since then he had fired it at the National Guard Armory range where he knew people, then he cleaned it and reloaded it with fresh bullets. He’d never fired it or any gun in anger in over seventy years.
The last time Luke Tanner had fired a weapon at anything except paper targets had been around frozen Ettebruck, Belgium in 1944, and it had been at a goddamned Nazi storm trooper in a black SS uniform. Who could ever have dreamed that seventy years later, Nazi SS storm troopers dressed in black would be running loose right here in Virginia? Certainly not Luke Tanner. All those good men of the 28th Infantry Division had died in the Ardennes fighting the Nazis, and now here they were again, in the flesh!
Then a brave young fellow got out of a classic red Mustang in front of Luke and proceeded to give the SS Nazi hell for what he was doing to that man on the ground. Good for him! But an instant later a dog, a big German shepherd no less, had that fellow on the ground thrashing like a whirlwind and biting him to pieces, and then more soldiers and police were hollering and screaming and running from all over!
Another of those black-uniformed Nazi SS storm troopers ran past Luke Tanner’s Cadillac and began kicking the man on the ground with his black boots, and that’s when Luke Tanner had seen enough. Too much! The 28th Infantry “Bloody Bucket” Division had not killed all those goddamned Nazis in France and Belgium just so they could regroup here in America! Luke Tanner had always considered every day since December 23rd of 1944 to be a gift from God, a bonus day, springing from the pure dumb luck which had for unknowable reasons deserted so many better and more deserving young men than him. December 23rd of 1944 was the day that he earned a Purple Heart, a Bronze Star, and a trip home all during one more fight near Ettebruck, Belgium.
He’d lost his left eye and part of his stomach over there, and more recently he’d lost his wife, and that was enough. To Luke Tanner, it was not going to be worth living in America another year if the last vestige of freedom was going to be lost too. What had all those guys died for in France and Germany and all across the Pacific? And then Korea, and then Vietnam, and all those other God forsaken places? What for? What for?
Somebody had to teach the youngsters how to fight Nazis, and Luke Tanner figured he knew about as well as anybody. There just weren’t many of his generation left who’d had the good fortune to still be alive so many years after those bitter-cold never-forgotten days at the end of 1944. He wrapped his leathery old hand around his heavy slab-sided Colt .45, thumbed back the hammer, opened the door all the way, and stepped out into the bright sunshine.
The police and soldiers and Nazi SS storm troopers were all busy, focused on the tangle of confusion beside the white Acura when Luke Tanner walked up along the red Mustang, his .45 held down beside his right leg, hammer back, safety off, finger on the trigger. When he’d picked up that .45 and thumbed back the hammer, the last seven decades cleanly disappeared. But no one paid any attention to the frail-looking old bald man with the thick black-framed glasses, in the yellow short-sleeve shirt. Not until he unexpectedly grabbed one of the Nazi SS storm troopers by his black shoulder strap.
ATF Special Agent Alvin Bogart spun part way around, saw yet another civilian interloper and yelled “Now what the hell do you want, grandpa?”
Luke Tanner, chronological age ninety, and the survivor of many deadly skirmishes and battles with Nazis as a much younger man, smiled unexpectedly and said, “I want to see you dead, Fritz!” He held Bogart off with his once-again strong left arm still gripping the black shoulder strap, quickly raised the pistol from behind his leg, and fired once.
The .45’s report was like a cannon, sending off shock waves through the huddle of police and soldiers. Bogart was hit upward between the eyes. His Kevlar helmet contained his brains, but did not prevent a shower of blood and tissue from flying back out all over Tanner, making it appear that he had been shot himself. Then Bogart went down, dropped like a pole-axed steer, police were screaming “GUN!” and drawing their pistols, soldiers were trying to unsling their M-16s from their shoulders, and Luke Tanner, still smiling, aimed again at the other Nazi SS storm trooper who now stood in wide-eyed mute amazement seven feet away. Tanner fired one-handed, aimed and fired again, as the ATF agent tried to raise his submachine gun, which was snagged by its sling on his body armor and magazine pouches. Then the second ATF agent went down, his wound unseen, acrid gun smoke bitter in everyone’s noses, all ears ringing from the .45’s steady barking in their midst.
The second ATF agent was still rolling away slowly as Tanner continued to fire at him on the ground, until his eight rounds were expended and the empty .45’s slide stayed locked to the rear. He was surrounded by police and soldiers who were all falling back away from him, some running, some seeking cover behind cars, but for the moment it was a “circular firing squad” with police and soldiers and civilians in their cars all around him, causing them all to hesitate, until finally a state trooper took careful aim with his service pistol and fired.
Tanner was hit several times and sat down hard, then fell onto his back staring up past the clouds, blinking at the sun, his empty .45 fallen from his hand at last. A soldier leaning over him heard the old man whisper: “I got ‘em Sarge, did you see me kill them Nazi bastards?” The young soldier could not see who the blood-covered old man was talking to, he could not see in himself Luke Tanner’s last platoon leader, Sergeant Alonso Delvecchio, who was killed in action on Christmas Day of 1944 by a Nazi sniper’s bullet. That was two days after Tanner got his “million dollar wounds” and was evacuated from the battlefield at last; to go home, to live, and to remember.
* * * *
By this point the soccer mom in the forest-green Ford Excursion SUV two cars behind the Cadillac had seen and heard too much, and finally her stunned brain somehow reconnected to her frozen limbs. She switched the ignition back on and in one fluid motion turned the wheel sharply to the left, threw the shift into drive, and stomped hard on the gas pedal. Her giant SUV clipped the Toyota in front of her, spinning it sideways, then ran straight over two National Guardsmen, crossed the exit ramp and headed down the bushy slope towards Hoffler Boulevard, bouncing and picking up speed with every yard. The soccer mom’s mind was operating in an unfamiliar emergency crisis mode; she was on automatic heading for the safety of her three car garage like a crazed doe fleeing before a forest fire.
* * * *
Down at the bottom of the ramp, Private Hector Ramirez was still standing on the middle bolster of the Humvee, leaning back against the ring cut through the roof when everything went crazy up at the line of cars. When the shooting broke out, he had reflexively leaned forward and shouldered into his M-60 machine gun, sighting up the road, but could make no sense out of the “lucha-libre,” or free-for-all fight.
Since hours before, Private Ramirez had been content to accept the duty in the Humvee with the machine gun. For one thing, he remembered how to load and fire the ancient M-60, unlike most of his squad. But mainly he knew he had been given the machine gun duty because his English was very bad, muy malo. Terrible in fact, lo peor, the worst. Sergeant DuBois didn’t want him searching the cars with los policias and dealing with the public because he could not understand rapid southern dialect English; and he could not communicate well in English in any case.
Private Ramirez’ lack of English skill was understandable. After all, he had walked across la frontera into Arizona for the third and final time only a few years before. Then by the grace of all the saints, he had been granted amnistia along with millions of his countrymen living in El Norte. A little later a cousin warned him that the amnistia might be taken away, but that there was a program where if he joined the gringo army, he would be guaranteed full gringo citizenship in only two years, and then he could bring up his mother and the rest of his family. And, in fact, that is exactly what happened.
Gracias a Dios he had been given the answers to the tests before the Army boot camp, or he would have been rejected. But Ramirez more than made up for his lack of Ingles with an abundance of enthusiasm, always shouting “Sir, Yes Sir!” in boot camp the loudest, whether he understood the question or not. His uniform was always perfect, he had the fastest times on the runs, and his Sargentos had put him in front of the Compania to carry the flag on their graduation day. Army boot camp had been a high point of Hector Ramirez’ short life.
So he’d spent the day leaning against the hole in the roof of the Humvee, sitting, standing and trying to stay awake, until all hell had suddenly and without warning broken loose, with people screaming, dogs barking, and now guns firing!
Hector yanked back on the cocking handle of his machine gun and got ready to fire, but was unable to find a target: all he saw were policias y soldados. Anyway, his orders were to just make a show, a demonstration he thought they had said, to be the “blocking force.” Ramirez understood “fuerza bloquear.” It meant that he must keep anyone from escaping from the checkpoint. He understood that mission well enough! This was something he had grown up seeing routinely as a small boy on the roads back in Chiapas. But today, although he had 200 cartuchos of ammunition in the green steel box next to his M-60, he had never expected to fire even one bullet of it.
Suddenly an enormous dark green truck roared out from the line of cars behind all the fighting and shooting, and drove straight over two of the members of Ramirez’s squad, smashing them down! Then it drove faster and faster down the hill directly towards him. And he was the blocking force, to prevent the escape of the terroristas!
He sighted directly at the onrushing windshield and fired a prolonged burst, causing the truck’s windows to explode. The truck veered back toward the highway ramp, and it was still trying to escape as far as Ramirez could tell, so he followed it with his machine gun’s front sight, firing continuously until it crashed into a police car at the bottom of the line. But when Hector took his finger away from the trigger, the maldita machine gun continued to fire without a pause, as if it had a mind of its own, so he raised the barrel to fire safely up and over the hill.
* * * *
A hundred yards away, halfway up the exit ramp, Sergeant Ashante DuBois of the Virginia National Guard was crouching behind the trunk of the cream colored Cadillac, while down the hill Private Ramirez raked the line of cars with 7.62 caliber machine gun fire. The rounds snapped as they passed, and with every fourth shot a red tracer flashed by. Then the windows in the Cadillac blew out, showering her with a thousand tiny glass fragments. The Mexican had gone totally insane with panic!
Sergeant DuBois knew that it was up to her to protect the civilians still hiding in their cars the only way she knew how. She laid her M-16 rifle along the left rear trunk of the Caddy, pulled back the charging handle to chamber a round, aimed carefully at Ramirez and pulled the trigger. Nothing happened. Sergeant DuBois turned the rifle on its side and looked at the selector switch, turned it to “semi,” and began to pepper Ramirez with fire as more 7.62mm tracer rounds cracked past her up the hillside and over the highway behind them.
* * * *
Back up at the top of the ramp Brad and Ranya had watched events spiral out of control in disbelief, but when the M-60 on the Humvee opened up on the big green SUV and the tracer rounds started flying past, the policeman in front of them finally ran for cover behind his cruiser. Brad noticed he was a Suffolk cop, and not a state trooper like the rest of them doing the searches down the ramp. He threw his pickup into reverse and burned rubber fishtailing backwards up the ramp, then threw it into forward and took off down I-664.
In another sixty seconds they were a mile and a half away, and Brad took his foot off the gas pedal. There was no remaining sign of the inexplicable mayhem they had witnessed during those two mad minutes on the Hoffler Boulevard exit ramp, except for the adrenaline still pumping through their blood, and their intensely focused memories.
* * * *
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