Fifteen miles south of Medora in the North Dakota Badlands the panorama was nothing short of stunning, otherworldly, ancient, atavistic in a way in its appeal. The late afternoon was cold, near zero, a light wind blowing down from the Montana high plains when the forty-five-foot Newell Motorcoach, towing an open trailer with three rugged ATVs, topped a rise and pulled off to the side of the narrow gravel road.
Barry Egan stepped out, walked a few yards farther up a gentle slope, and raised a pair of Steiner mil specs binoculars to scope out the broad valley that ran roughly north and south through the middle of the Badlands’ Little Missouri National Grassland. In the far distance he followed the tall, razor-wire-topped fence marked U.S. GOVERNMENT RESERVATION: VISTORS BY PERMIT ONLY to a group of buildings low on the horizon to the east.
Another man got out of the coach, dressed like Egan in an elk hunter’s camouflage Carhartts, boots, and stocking cap, and took up a west flanking position down the road. For now he was armed with a .338 Winchester Magnum big game hunting rifle, with three-hundred-grain cartridges that had enough stopping power to put down a grizzly, or even a polar bear.
Egan, a man in his late twenties, was good-looking in a narrow-faced but sincere way; his dark eyes and the thin line of his mouth sometimes showed happiness, and when it happened everyone within shouting distance seemed to relax. All the conflict went out of the air, and people felt good, even confident.
But it was mostly an act, because Egan had been angry for as long as he could remember; at first because his stepfather had come back from the first Iraq war a changed, angry man, who beat on his wife, and then when life seemed to be getting at least tolerable, the old bastard had gotten himself shot to death inside a refinery in Texas, leaving his wife and son to fend for themselves in what was a tough old world.
Like father like son, Egan thought as he lowered the binoculars and turned back to his outriders and grinned. “After all this trouble, doesn’t look like much after all, does it?”
Craig “Moose” Swain, by far the largest of the five operators Egan had brought with him, laughed out loud. He was a former Delta Force corporal who’d gone a little overboard during what was supposed to be a preliminary recon mission in a mountain valley near Asmar on the Afghan-Pakistan border, killing a family of eight, including the father and five brothers, none of them armed. He’d been given an other-than-honorable discharge and had wandered around the Soldier of Fortune, American Firster, and Super Patriot organizations before finally winding up in Bozeman, Montana, where he’d appeared in Egan’s radar, moving in and around the New Silver Shirts, Christian Identity, and Sovereign Citizen movements. A player. A soldier for God.
“Tonight?” he asked.
“Supper time,” Egan said. “Eighteen hundred hours. It’ll be dark by then.”
Moose, who’d loved every minute he spent in Afghanistan, had been scoping a narrow plume of smoke rising in the southwest, lowered his rifle. “That it, Sarge?” he asked.
Egan turned his binoculars to where Moose, with what Egan called his Strike Force Alpha team thousand-yard stare, was pointing, and studied the dark smudge being shredded by the wind, and shook his head.
“Campfire, maybe a cabin fireplace, or something from the Badlands Roundup Lodge,” he said. “Shouldn’t be no smoke from Donna Marie, unless they screwed up.”
“We’d go anyway?”
Like the others he liked blowing up things and killing people. He didn’t know why, none of them could articulate their passion with any degree of clarity, not even Egan, who except for Gordy Widell, their seventeen-year-old computer hacker, and Dr. Kemal, their microbiologist, was the brightest of the lot. But a lot of the people Egan knew growing up in Upper Peninsula Michigan were crazies who hated the government—any government from Washington to the mayor and his cops in Marquette—and knew that it wouldn’t be long before the anarchy that was coming any day would finally arrive and their only way out would be when Adolf Hitler’s grandson came back to lead the resistance.
He’d fit in up there, with the groups in Wyoming and the Posse Comitatus in Montana, in his estimation all of them Jesus-crazy out of their skulls, and with his Team Alpha who he’d recruited and trained over the past ten months and eighteen days.
But the one thing the old man had taught him before he’d gone off to Texas was to be practical. “It sure as @!$%# ain’t easy out there, kid. So if you got any talent don’t give it away. Sell it. A man’s gotta make his way in the world. There’s no free lunch. Remember it.” And he’d cuffed his stepson, already a grown man, so hard on the left ear that to this day Barry was partially deaf, so he always had to turn his good ear toward whoever was trying to tell him something. It was a nuisance, but he remembered the old bastard’s words. And the Iraqis he’d guarded and sometimes tortured at Abu Ghraib thought when he cocked his head like that he was listening to some hidden earpiece, getting his orders from some general back in Washington.
“They didn’t screw up,” Egan said. “We’re going in at nightfall.”
He scanned the horizon out toward what the government called the Dakota District Initiative where supposedly the world’s most secret and most powerful extremely low frequency, or ELF, radio station ever to be built had been under construction for several years. When it was finished, sometime this month, actually this week before Christmas, radio messages could be sent to anyone anywhere in the world, atop or inside mountains, in the deepest gold mines or at the bottom of any ocean where only deep-sea bathyspheres could go.
Supposedly. But Egan knew better, and he was being paid what for he and the others was a fabulous sum of money to destroy the place and everyone in it; to stop, he was told, the poisoning of the entire atmosphere. In reality, the money was only secondary to him. Blowing up @!$%# and killing people was the game. Payback.
Nothing moved for as far as he could see. This was the end of North Dakota’s special elk hunting season to cull the overpopulated herds on government lands, and in the eight days they’d been wandering around out here they’d seen almost no one else. A few other hunters, and one morning a rancher who’d come up to take a look at their license.
Egan had shown the man their permit and the rancher was not happy—he’d never much cared for out-of-staters, hunting permits had always been issued mostly to locals—but he was convinced, and he’d left, not realizing just how close he’d come to dying.
Satisfied that nothing was coming their way in the waning afternoon, Egan and his outriders went back into the motor home that had been custom-designed and outfitted for them down in South Carolina, no expense spared, and shipped to a rental agency up in Billings that sometimes did business with the Posse.
In its original C2 configuration the Newell had three major spaces starting at the front in the salon with seating and dining space for ten people just aft of the driver’s position, with its state-of-the-art GPS receiver, and collision avoidance radar automatically linked to the braking system, as was the FLIR system, or Forward Looking Infrared detector. Behind that was the galley and head plus another small lounge. And at the rear what in the original model was called the Special Villa Section was a large space of pull-down bunks and a long conference table.
All of the interior was done up in marble and thick carpets and stainless steel appliances and expensive leather upholstery with Tempur-Pedic mattresses and wide-screen HD plasma TVs, everything top-shelf. And everything apparently legitimate for seven well-heeled elk hunters.
Egan, Moose, Widell, Dr. Mohammed al-Kassem Kemal, the Sudanese-born Pakastani who was on just about every terrorist watch list in the world, and the two girls, just as bat@!$%# crazy as the rest of them.
Brenda Ackerman, short, dumpy-looking, except for her oval face with wide-open, innocent-looking brown eyes, who’d served on a small-town Mississippi police force until she was eased out when it was suspected but never proven that she had organized an old-fashioned KKK lynching of an elderly black farmer. For a time afterward she had worked as a truck driver and then a roustabout on Alaska’s Prudhoe Bay oil fields, until she’d killed a man who’d called her a dyke in a bar fight and ran to Upper Peninsula Michigan to be with Ada Norman whom she’d met on the Internet.
Ada was a raging skinhead neo-Nazi who believed that Hitler’s grandson was alive and ready to rise up for the cause. At forty-two she was almost eight years older than Brenda, but she’d been trained well by her militia group and could put a respectable pattern on a pistol range target at two hundred fifty inches, firing a Glock 17 at better than one round per second. She was Brenda’s backup driver.
“We go at eighteen hundred,” Egan told them.
The girls at the front of the rig looked up as did Widell from his computer. Dr. Kemal, who hated everything Western because the CIA had killed his parents who’d fought alongside Uncle Osama, had come from the back with a book in his hand and he blinked rapidly behind his spectacles. Like the rest of them he was a very good shot, especially with the Kalashnikov, the rifle he’d been raised with.
“Are we quite alone, Sergeant?” he asked.
“Yes,” Egan said. “Everyone check your weapons and munitions, and get something to eat, could be a long night.”
Widell went back into the galley and released a number of latches that moved the built-in refrigerator, range, and dishwasher aside, revealing banks of computers, radars, satellite receivers, and radio signal detectors that covered everything from high frequency to VHF, UHF, and above into the C and Ku bands used for uplinks. The compact microwave and satellite dishes were concealed in the air-conditioning units on the roof, and everything else was disguised as normal AM/FM broadcast, Sirius radio service, CB, or television dish antennas.
The equipment on board could not only detect signals to and from the Dakota District Initiative headquarters and the Donna Marie experimental coal-seam electrical-generating station, but security alerts from within that would bring help within minutes.
Standing there, Egan thought about his stepbrother Peter who’d been born eight months after the old man had been shot to death in Texas. He’d been the only one of them who’d had the possibility of a normal life. And just shy of his second birthday he’d wandered out of the trailer and had fallen into the creek at the bottom of the hill and drowned. Dead for nearly four hours before anyone realized he wasn’t asleep in his bedroom.
It was a tough old world.
Copyright © 2012 by Byron L. Dorgan and David Hagberg
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