Traitor Kline–opening chapter

There.  Tucked among the grapefruit, palm-sized thin black polycarbonate–someone had left an old flip-cover cell phone.  Lewis darted his eyes back at Captain White, who looked down at the list in the grocery cart.

Do it.

Lewis backed a step, reached a hand behind him, probed where he’d seen the phone, bumped loose a grapefruit, shifted left–there it was.  He grabbed it, watched the grapefruit roll toward the captain, bounce off the cart’s back wheel.  White and that stooge Bailey spun around but by then Lewis had stuffed it in his back pocket, dropped his arms to his sides, casual, nothing to hide.

“Sorry, Sir,” he offered, retrieving the grapefruit.

“Jesus, Lewis,” said White.  “Make yourself useful and go get eight bags of oranges.”

“Yes, Sir.”  He returned the grapefruit to the stack, dislodged another one that took aim at White’s foot.

“This look like a bowling alley?”

“No, Sir.”

White picked it up, sent it flying back.  Lewis caught it.  When White and Bailey turned toward the refrigerated greens, Lewis slid around the side of the grapefruit display and headed for the oranges.  He’d been doing a bajillion pushups every damn day but eight bags of oranges still felt heavy, not like they’d feel to White, his arms thick as firewood, his chest like some comic book hero.  Lewis wished he weren’t so damn skinny.

At least his beard matched the others.  Shaggy, springing out at their cheeks and down their chins enough to snag yellowjackets mid-flight.  In a week or two–after they struck–the Patriots United Militia of America would all be clean-shaven.

Lewis would give anything not to be there then.

Maybe, just maybe that cell phone would be the means.  If he didn’t get caught–and didn’t get the hell beat out of him, or worse.  He set the oranges on the floor, leaned down as though to tie a shoe, quickly transferred the phone to his right front pocket, where it wouldn’t be as visible through the fabric.

If he connived some chance to make a call, if the damn phone even worked—to whom?  Certainly not 9-1-1.  Try telling some jaded dispatcher the long story that put him in this mess.

What’s the nature of your emergency, Sir?

How about the loss of his soul?  Marinated in anger, drilled to kill.

If he triggered a law enforcement response, many would die.  He would likely die.

“Beg your pardon, Captain White,” he said when he reached the other two.  “I need to use the latrine.”

“You can wait until we’re done.”

Of course.  PUMA soldiers went nowhere alone.

“Yes, Sir.”

If he couldn’t try the cell phone here, he wouldn’t be able to use it at all.  Especially not at their compound out of range in the canyons west of Ellensburg.

What if he turned and bolted from the store, sprinted who-knew-where until his guts burst, as long as it was away?  But they’d catch him, they’d get the hell out before anyone with a badge could show up, and that would be the end, of course.  Not just an escape, but a permanent exit.  Bye-bye, cruel world.

The phone was his only hope, although if some crazy-ass ring-tone suddenly blared out next to his crotch, he had no idea how he’d explain it to White.  He’d have to hand it over.

They moved through the meats and canned goods.  White’s slate-gray eyes seemed aware every direction.  If someone lobbed a can of soup at them over the top of the aisle he’d not only see it, he’d catch it, leap above the top of the shelving, and put a dent in someone’s skull.  They picked up five-pound bags of rice, black beans, kidney beans, split peas, boxes of energy bars—and five bags of disposable razors.    In the magazine section, a Rhino .357 pointed off the cover of Guns and Ammo. two of those plus a Gun Digest into Bailey’s cart.

“For you and the other soldiers—you ought to be reading.”

“Yes, Sir.  Thank you, Sir.”

It would be rotten to drag his father into this mess, but who else?  His father knew about combat, always used his head, figured stuff out when everyone else panicked.  Not that Lewis heard about any of it from his father.  Other soldiers—U.S. Army Special Forces—they talked up his father at reunions and parties.

At the register White rang a little bell to summon the cashier.  “Pick yourselves a candy bar.”

Lewis put the closest one into Bailey’s cart.

“Thank you, Sir.”

White paid from a roll of cash.

“The latrine, Sir?”

“What the hell.  We’ll all go.  Long ride back.”

In the stall Lewis grunted a couple of times, added a groan for extra effect, managed to loosen the bowels.  Finally White and Bailey left.

The cell phone was not locked.  It did not have one of those tiny keypads.  Knowing White would storm back any moment or send Bailey to do the same, Lewis fumbled with the number pad, cursed when he messed up and had to start again.  They’d catch him for sure if he tried a voice call.  He moved his fingers quickly, didn’t bother spelling every word.

His father would get the idea.  If he read it.

More likely he’d see the strange incoming phone number and delete the message and that would be that, all this trouble for nothing.  Lewis took a breath, cleared his mind, began entering the numbers at the end of the message, the most important part for getting his ass away from the band of idiots he’d gotten himself mixed with.

The bathroom door swung open, banged against the wall.

“What the hell you doing, Kline, camping out?”

Lewis swung the arm with the cell phone behind him.

Did White see it?  A quarter turn and he’d be looking through the crack on the side of the stall door straight at Lewis in all his crap-posture glory.  Lewis brought his other hand back, transferred the phone to it, gave a split second look at it down low next to the wall, enough to see and touch the “send” button, then dropped the phone behind into the toilet.

Like an idiot.  He had fucking panicked.  He hadn’t finished the numbers.  No one would find him, not his father, not anybody.  Even if White left–which he showed no intention of doing–he couldn’t risk the time it would take to retrieve the phone and imagine if White saw him hunched over with his hand in the toilet as though to swish around his own shit.  Funny, yeah.

On the return trip White exited the freeway, parked the pickup close to a shopping mall not yet open.  They sat on a bench in the sun outside the entry, looked across acreage of a nearly empty parking lot.

“That it?” asked Bailey.

“Just watch,” said White.

Ten minutes later an armored truck entered the little lot in front of the bank, stopped parallel.  The driver exited.  From a distance they could see he carried a pouch.

“Soldier Kline, see how if you’re standing on that island under the hedge maple you can see everything in front of the bank, the whole mall parking lot, across to the trees on the south side?”

“Yes, Sir,” said Lewis.  Which direction could he go, when the time came?  North instead of south, perhaps, get his ass in the Burger King at the street corner, mix with the crowd, duck into the bathroom before White came looking, shit, put on a cap and start flipping sausages.

“Soldier Kline, I want you to think of all the ways this mission can go bad,” continued White.  “What’s one?”

“Both guards get out.”

“They won’t do that.  It’s not part of their protocol.”

“So both guards get out.”

White nodded his head.

“That’s why you’re the trailer, Kline.  Make sure you game it.”

Back on the freeway an hour from the bank, over Snoqualmie Pass onto the east side of the Cascade Mountains, White leaned across the front seat, removed an envelope from the glove compartment, handed it to Lewis.

“Open that envelope and read what it says.  Loud enough so Bailey can hear it, too.”

It was addressed to the Wenatchee World.  Inside, the letter had been typed, including words X’d out.  Of course–no computers or electronics at the compound.  The feds would find them.

For immediate release

Effective immediately the Patriots United Militia of America, otherwise known as the PUMAs, warn U.S. citizens against doing business with any bank larger than a small community or regional variety.

The PUMAs have declared multinational banking syndicates antithetical to the values of a free people.  The days of international corporations controlling governmental agencies to repress citizens worldwide without consequences soon will come to an end.  Action will be taken against an unnamed large bank as well as governmental enablers.  Because the PUMAs respect innocent and uneducated citizens, we urge all people to withdraw their money from large banks and to cease all commerce with them.  Do not be caught in the crossfire.  The PUMAs also encourage so-called “elected” representatives to examine their consciences.  Ask yourselves if your actions conform to the Constitution and the principles of the Declaration of Independence.  Representatives who speak and act against the present tyranny of government will be spared, but those who serve as toadies for corporate and governmental domination will be subject to elimination.  The PUMAs hereby warn citizens that it will be extremely dangerous to associate with tyrannous representatives.

Other freedom-loving militias–now is the time to act.  Are you mere Keyboard Commandos or are you the real deal?  Prove it.

“Wow, Captain White, that’s awesome,” said Bailey from the back seat.  His beard was more brown than red, with a short blonde crew cut atop his head.  “How long do you figure ‘til it’s a full-bore revolution?”

Yeah, sure, tomorrow.  Fucking numbskull.

“Hang on, Bailey,” said White.  “It took years of resistance and small actions before the original American Revolution began, and I expect some years to pass before we reach critical mass this time.  That’s why we must succeed.  I expect us to inspire the local militias who’ve been waiting for their cue.  We’re the head of the hammer.  Wake up, people!  You’ve been anesthetized.  Time to take back our democracy.  You ready for that, soldiers?”

“Yes, Sir.”

“How soon, sir?” asked Bailey.

“Soon.  There’s another one in there for the Seattle Times and another for the Spokesman Review.”

“I’ll get them for you, Sir,” offered Lewis, and before the captain could object Lewis had pulled from the compartment a small stack–two letters and a warranty for tires that he put back.  A smaller slip of paper fluttered to the floor and reflexively Lewis picked it up, his eyes unable to avoid a glance.  A vehicle registration for Henry Baker.

So you’re Henry Baker.  Captain White Sir.

Whatever that meant.  Or the truck belonged to Henry Baker.  But White wouldn’t be so stupid, driving someone else’s truck.

Burning under the glare from White/Baker/whoever-the-hell-he-was, Lewis shoved the registration back in the glovebox.

“They can’t say we didn’t warn them,” said Bailey, oblivious in the back.

“Exactly,” agreed White, half-staring at Lewis, half-staring at the road.

“Sorry, Sir,” said Lewis.

“I trust you two,” said White.  “That’s why I bring you on these trips.”

“Thank you, Sir.”

“These hills are crawling with turkeys,” he said.  “Did you know, Soldier Kline, your dad and I bagged plenty of ‘em?  Did you know how highly we regarded him in Special Ops?”

“What?”  Lewis felt as though the air had been knocked out of him.

“Oh, yes, soldier, believe it.  I know your father, know him well.  We wanted his helo.  Taliban never hit it.  He had a sense about the RPGs and the SAMs.  We’d scorch through the air and all the sudden he’d drop us like a stone on some lip of land and we’d haul ass and off he’d go, night black as hell, no moon, gone like a phantom.”

He caught his breath but felt queasy, dizzy.  Was that why White had recruited him so heavily?  It had been a year since he’d responded to a blog post White had written.  Now none among them had any web presence, no cell phones, nothing.  They did not exist.

“You’re a talisman, Kline, a piece of your old man.  Combat will do that to a man, make him superstitious.  You’ll find out soon enough.”

 

Traitor Kline: Indoctrination 101

I’m currently 48,000-plus words into revising Snoqualmie Pass, a thriller featuring middle-aged helicopter firefighting pilot Ed Kline whose adult son Lewis disappears after being swept up by a right-wing militia.  Here’s an early scene.  

Lewis sat in the middle of the classroom, same place as always, a dozen PUMAs around him and Captains Green, White, and Red sitting facing them from the front.  Green had written the day’s warrior saying on the whiteboard.

“When one has nothing to lose, one becomes courageous. We are timid only when there is something we can still cling to.”

 Indoctrination 101.  Perfect.  Just so he wouldn’t look like some damn disciple staring at the captains and panting to hear the daily wisdom, he scanned the room.  Men wearing identical button-down khaki shirts over white tee-shirts, army green cotton canvas trousers, black work boots, white cotton socks, beards, haircuts performed a week ago by Doyle who’d drawn the lowest card after a long day of labor.  On plywood walls more warrior quotes plus topo maps and highway maps.  A collage of photos of them training, a group photo two months old.  Through the doorway across the hall a barracks devoid of dust and debris.

They had already done thirty minutes of exercise, followed by a five-mile run, and although they’d taken showers the night before the scent of sweat tinged the room still baking from yesterday’s heat.  They had performed their morning house chores, too, and eaten and cleaned after breakfast.

Captain Green–very tall, white beard like the hairs on a corn husk, brown eyes behind deep sockets–rose from his desk on the left and pointed to the words on the whiteboard.  Standing on the side of the room, Hernandez raised the camera, its red light indicating “record.”

“How’s that quote apply to us, gentlemen?” he asked in a high-pitched voice.  “Be prepared to answer in 20 seconds.”

You’re trying to empty us.  But Lewis knew he’d better have a different answer than that.

“Soldier Nelson,” Green called after the time had ticked by.

Nelson stood at his desk.  “Captain Green, sir, we have surrendered our old lives.  We have given ourselves to a just cause.”

“Thank you, Soldier Nelson.  Soldier Doyle.”

Nelson sat and Doyle rose.

“Captain Green, sir, we have no contacts beyond our brothers in this room.  We are the head of the hammer.”

“Thank you, Soldier Doyle.  Captain White, you have the floor.”

Another Tuesday PUMA profile followed.  This time Soldier Beckham joined the captains at the front.  White paced back and forth, wheeled a sudden quarter turn, stared them all down one man at a time like the glory of God almighty and then wielded his preacher’s voice.

“When I think of Soldier Beckham, how like all of you he played the game, honest, hard-working, and the big two-ton shaft he received for his troubles, it burns my heart with anger, shapes my hands into fists.

“Beckham did well in high school, went to college, went to work for a little lumber mill, a loyal employee, missed three days of work in 12 years and then boom!  The mill goes bust.  He and his wife and their girl had a house, couldn’t make the mortgage, the banks repossessed it, and the next thing you know, they’re living with his in-laws at their house and not his own.  Twelve years of work–gone, worse than nothing, because now he had a bad credit rating.  Eventually the stress robbed him of his wife, robbed him of his daughter, and Beckham found himself alone.”

Lewis tuned out the rest of the speech, recalled how two weeks ago he’d stood at the front, facing men who’d taken up arms and prepared to kill.  White painted him as the college-kid-with-no-prospects, thanks to politicians in cahoots with multinational corporations.  Lewis knew he was a symptom of something bad and maybe White diagnosed the cause.

But Lewis no longer endorsed the cure.

Later, after a stop at the armory, Lewis and the rest of Red Squad stood in an arc at the shaded edge of a Ponderosa Pine forest, squinting at Captain Red, who stood in a clearing with the sun behind him.  On the west edge a false building front with windows and a door.  In front of it an old white Plymouth Voyager.

“Variation B, Soldier Wilhelmson–what is it?”  A lump of Red Man chew in the left cheek made Red’s face appear lopsided.  His light brown beard hung several inches below the chin, pointy and uneven, like a torn rag.

“Law enforcement…Captain Red, sir…public or private, or fire or paramedic personnel visible within the area, including the mall parking lot.”

“Correct.  The response?”

“Abort.  Sir.”

“How?”  Red spat in front of him a stream of brown juice.

“By calling my wheel’s loose, sir.  Or if it’s Soldier Kline, he’ll say your wheel’s loose.

“Correct.  Be vigilant.  Stupidity will get us into a mess, but it won’t get us out.  Where we’re goin’ Captain White and I have studied, and that time of mornin’ you most likely won’t have any loose wheels, but you must assume Variation B to be present until you’re certain it is not. ”

“Variation C, Soldier Ferguson–what is it?”

“Captain Red, sir, guards are down, a man steps out the bank.”

“Correct.  Our response?”

“Elimination, sir.”

“Correct, regrettably correct.  Why?”

“Could be a plainclothes officer.  We cannot take a chance.”

“Correct.  Reds, in case you have not heard, Captain White has taken steps to warn people away from multi-national banks.  Everyone in that building should know exactly who they’re givin’ their money to.  They’ve been told it’s risky to be doing business with that kinda outfit.  Now we understand most folks won’t pay no attention to the warning, ‘cause nothin’s happened yet.  That’ll change.  But most folks have enough sense to stay inside if they hear gunfire.  Someone steppin’ out into it…that’s someone who’s either a threat or hopelessly stupid.  Chances of Variation C are less than 20 percent.  However, we’ll game that scenario first.”

“Now Soldier Kline, I never thought I’d see so many variations by the guard in the cab.  I don’t know what you’re gonna cook up today, but you keep challenging us.  Red squad members, assume your positions.”  He spat again.

How about the variation where I just walk the hell out of here?  Good-bye, loony bin.  But then–hello, electronic surveillance perimeter.  That was a problem.

After lunch, the same routine–The World According to Captain White.  

“The federalistas are selling you out with illegal treaties.  When the fat boys holler jump, they jump, and when they say crap on your workers they assume the squatting position in due haste, right over the United States Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, the words of our Founding Fathers.

“What kind of government does that to its own people?” White raised his voice.  “That’s no damn democracy!  It makes my blood boil.  Someone has got to stand for those 10,000 workers next door to us and the thousands more in our own state.  Who will stand for them?”

“Pumas!” the men called in well-rehearsed unison.  Lewis mouthed the word but gave it no voice.

“Someone’s got to stand for the millions whose factories have been shuttered, whose farms have been swallowed.  Who will stand for them?”

“Pumas!”

Blah blah blah.

“Soldier Lewis, I asked you a question.”  Captain White and everyone else in the room was staring at him.

“Beg pardon, Sir.  Could you repeat the question?”  Damn–White noticed everything.

“I can, soldier, but I don’t see why I should.  I’ll come back to you.  Be ready when I do.  Soldier Marquez, what have we learned in regard to these treaties that our false representatives have used to cheapen our lives?”

““Sir, only local citizens have the right to establish or agree to treaties or laws that directly affect them.”

“A basic truth, Soldier Marquez.  And now Soldier Kline, a chance to redeem yourself.  What is the legal definition of local?”

“Sir, an area not to exceed 50 square miles.”  

“Indeed, Soldier Kline.”  White took several pensive steps toward the left side of the room, then stopped and spoke in a weary, pained voice.

“Once again, the federalistas exceeded their authority.  And the states went along with it, and the counties, and even if Soldier Beckham’s community didn’t agree, even if they were most definitely and most profoundly affected, they…did…not…have…a voice.

“‘Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes, but when a long train of abuses and usurpations evinces a design to reduce their citizens to absolute despotism, it is the right of the citizens, indeed, it is their duty, to throw off such a government and to provide new guards for their future security.’  I ask you all, who will stand, though the cost be as dear as life itself, to throw off such a government?”

“Pumas!”

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