It had been almost an hour since the buses had departed and the camp was still celebrating their victory. Shorty had led the campers in song for about a half hour and, when his voice finally gave out, a makeshift band of guitar players took to the stage and continued the sing along. It was well after dark now, but Carl could still see folks waving their flags in the glow of the campfires. The lights from the news crews were burning brightly as well. As Carl watched lines of correspondents reporting on the evening’s events he could not help but feel proud. The CNN cameras that had been set up in an attempt to catch exclusive video of a mob scene, had instead spent the last two hours filming a patriotic celebration. Carl had no idea how the next few days were going to unfold but, for the first time since the ordeal had started, he felt hopeful.
As Carl watched the celebration from his chair next to the RC Cola machine, he noticed Shorty walking across the parking lot toward him.
“Howdy partner!” Shorty croaked still hoarse from all the singing.
Carl waved back and motioned for him to pull up a chair.
“It’s been one hell of a night, ain’t it?” Shorty continued as he sat next to Carl.
“You can say that again,” Carl responded.
“You know that was a great idea you had with the flag and the singing.” Shorty noted as he looked over the still growing camp. “We dodged a real bullet this evening.”
Carl nodded. “I cannot help but wonder who tipped off the press. Those news crews knew what was about to happen.”
Shorty reached down into the top of his right boot, and pulled out a pack of small cigars.
“You smoke?” he asked offering the pack to Carl.
Carl shook his head. “No I quit a few years ago, when I had my second kid. I figured I wanted to stay around a while to see them grow up.”
“Good damn thing,” Shorty shot back as he lit his cigar. “It’s a nasty damn habit.”
With that Shorty reached into the top of his other boot and pulled out a small silver flask. He opened it up, took a long swig, and extended the container toward Carl.
“Now not smoking is commendable,” Shorty snorted,” but not drinkin’ or smokin’ is just downright contemptible.”
Carl chuckled, took the flask from Shorty thankfully, and tilted it skyward.
The ranch house looked pale through the night vision binoculars, but it was clear enough. From what the two men could tell there were about four or five people inside. They had seen an older man and woman through the kitchen window, and just a few minutes earlier they had seen a lady that looked like Carl’s wife in the living room.
They had waited in dark of the tree line for about 20 minutes after dispatching Sheriff Motter to make sure that no one had heard the commotion. After realizing that they had killed him, the two masked men had carried Motter’s corps into the woods and covered it with leaves. They were only concerned about getting it out of sight for the moment, because they would be long gone in a couple of hours.
The man put down his binoculars and motioned to his accomplice.
“Looks like they are getting ready for dinner,” he whispered through his stocking mask. “Let’s get this done and get out of here.”
The other man nodded, pulled a back pack off of his shoulders, and unzipped it. Reaching inside he pulled out two 9 mm pistols, chambered rounds in each, and handed one of the to the first man.
They had done this type of thing many times over the years, but this was the first time that they had ever been asked to do it in the United States. Their plan was simple and well rehearsed. They would sneak up to the house, cut the phone lines, and then break in through the kitchen door. They would give grandpa a good beating, hog tie grandma, take the wife and kids, and set the house on fire. If everything went smoothly, which it would, they would be in and out in less than 15 minutes. Once they had Katie and the kids, their instructions were to deliver them to a safe house just outside of Oklahoma City. They would hold them there, until ordered to set them free…or something else. Either way was fine with them. It wasn’t personal; they were just doing their job. After taking one more scan through his binoculars, the first man nodded and they started slowly working themselves toward the house.
Carl and Shorty sat quietly for some time sipping on Maker’s Mark and watching the campers celebrate. Thanks to ample amounts of Lone Star beer, the flag waving had singing had turned into what Carl could only describe as the world’s largest Karaoke party. Someone had plugged a stereo into the PA system on the stage and a long line of crocked crooners were now awaiting their turn to out sing George Strait. The current contestant was in the middle of a horribly off key version of All My Ex’s Live in Texas. After finishing his hatchet job on the song, he took a long swig from what looked like a Wild Turkey bottle, gave the booing crowd a good natured finger, and stepped off stage.
As Carl and Shorty watched from their seats at the station a Sheriff’s car pulled up blocking their view. The driver, an old friend of Carl’s, emerged from the car and walked over to where they were sitting.
“Howdy Carl, you keeping this rowdy bunch under control?” the Sheriff queried.
“How are you Pete,” Carl responded standing up to shake the Sheriff’s hand.
“Doing okay as long as your army across the road stays drunk and friendly,” Pete responded.
Pete and Carl had known each other for about 10 years. Pete Cameron was one of the senior Sheriffs in the area and frequented the truck stop for free coffee and snacks. Carl had an unwritten deal with the local Sheriff’s Department that coffee and donuts were always free on or off duty. Carl saw it as his way of giving back to the community, and the Sheriffs had always reciprocated by hanging out at his place and patrolling the station regularly.
Once, several years earlier, Sheriff Cameron had responded to a burglary alarm at the station, and had arrived to find two local hoodlums leaving the store with their arms full of beer. When he stepped out of his car one of the robbers saw him, panicked, and threw a beer bottle at him breaking his nose. Despite the pain and blood gushing from his nostrils, Pete managed to apprehend both suspects. By the time Carl arrived at the station, Pete had both suspects hog tied and in the back of his car, both writhing in pain from a liberal application of pepper spray. Carl was so thankful he refused to take Pete’s money for fuel for over a year. Soon they had become good friends and Pete stopped by the station every few days to chat and drink coffee.
“I think they are policing themselves pretty well,” Carl responded extending the flask Pete’s way.
Pete politely waved it off. “No thanks buddy, I am actually here on official business,” Pete continued. Carl withdrew the whisky and gave Pete a curious look.
“Someone causing trouble in the camp?” Carl asked curiously.
“No, nothing like that,” Pete responded. “I was actually wondering if you would do me a favor. Deputy Motter out at your place is not answering his radio, and I think the lazy ole’ goat has fallen asleep again. I don’t want to get him in trouble with the office, so I was wondering if you could call your house and have someone go out, knock on the window, and wake his butt up?” Carl smiled and pulled out his cell phone. “You bet,” he replied as he dialed his home number.
Carl stood waiting as his home phone rang and rang. There was no answer. Carl’s smile faded as the phone rang a tenth time. Everyone was supposed to be at home. Someone should have answered almost immediately. Even if they had not, the answering machine should have picked up on the fifth ring; something was wrong. As the phone continued to ring, Carl could see Pete’s demeanor change.
“Where are they?” Pete asked clearly showing his concern.
Carl lowered his phone and disconnected the call. “That’s strange,” he mused. “They are supposed to be at the house, and no one is answering. The answering machine did not even pick up.”
Pete needed to hear nothing more. “The damn line has been cut!” he exclaimed turning and heading for his patrol car. “We gotta get out there fast!” Carl felt is stomach turn. “You’re taking me too Pete,” he blurted as he ran to the car behind the Sheriff. Pete had no time to argue and motioned for him to get in on the passenger side. Pete was on the accelerator before Carl had his door shut.
Shorty watched as the patrol car sped away toward Carl’s place. He took another swig from his flask and then crushed out his cigar on the concrete. “Looks like the war’s already started ole buddy,” he chuckled to himself.
The corral fences around the ranch house had made for good cover and the two men had been able to slip up to the house quickly. Once the phone lines were cut they made their way to just under the kitchen window. The first man raised a small dental mirror up to the window above them and angled it so that he could see inside. It looked as if everyone was sitting at the kitchen table eating dinner. He lowered the mirror and nodded to the man behind him. It was time to get busy.
The two figures crept past the window to the kitchen door, and then stood against the wall. They pulled out their pistols, and then threw their collective body weight against the door. With almost no protest, the door jam splintered and the door flew inward in a shower of glass.
Katie was facing the door and saw it fly opened. She stood and screamed reaching out for her two children. Her father was the next on his feet, a bit disoriented from the invasion he fumbled for the revolver he had laid beside him on the table. Before he could reach for it though the first man shot, hitting him squarely in his right shoulder. Katie’s father fell to the ground in a pool of his own blood. Katies mother screamed and fell to the ground next to him cradling his head.
“Okay, everyone be calm and no one else will get shot,” the first man called out as they advanced into the kitchen. Katie grabbed her children who were both crying hysterically and pushed them behind her.
“Get out of my house!” she screamed at the top of her lungs. “Leave my family alone, please!” she pleaded. In the corner of her eye she could see her father on the floor reaching for his revolver on the ground next to him. She desperately tried to get the attention of the assailants. “My husband will find out who you are, and he will have you arrested,” she threatened realizing how stupid she sounded as she said the words. “You won’t get away with this!” she screamed as the men came closer.
Her father grabbed the gun, but the noise alerted the men to his actions. The first man moved over him kicking the gun from his hand. “I guess you don’t think we’re serious,” he yelled at the terrified family. He pointed his 9 mm at Katie’s father’s head. “It looks like I am going to have to show you just how serious I am. Katie’s father closed his eyes as the man started to squeeze the trigger.
The shot that rang out however, did not come from the assailant’s gun. It came from somewhere behind them in the living room. It was followed immediately by another shot. The first man dropped to his knees and fell across Katie’s father – dead. Katie could see blood racing from a large hole in his back. The second man flew against the refrigerator door and slid down it leaving a trail of blood smeared on its surface. Katie screamed again and closed her eyes clutching her children.
From behind the kitchen door Lanum Tate emerged holding what looked like a .357 magnum revolver. He advanced on the two men at gunpoint, took their weapons, and checked their pulses.
“Is everyone okay!” he demanded as he looked into Katie’s terrified eyes. He realized that they did not know exactly who he was, so he reached into his pocket and pulled out his badge. Lanum Tate FBI, he announced, “is everyone okay?”
“My dad has been shot and needs an ambulance,” Katie cried coming to grips with what just had happened. “Please help us!”
At that moment Lanum saw the reflection of flashing lights outside as several cars sped to a stop at the front door.
“Okay, that is the police, and they don’t know I am here. Everyone be calm, lay face down on the floor, and let me handle this,” he ordered. They did as he ordered, but Katie was in such shock that she found it hard to move her arms and legs. Tate laid his pistol on the ground, held his badge over his head and started announcing his presence.
“Agent Lanum Tate FBI! The area is secure, do not shoot!” At that moment the front door burst open and three Deputy Sheriffs entered with their weapons drawn. “On the ground!” they began yelling. “Get on the ground now!” Agent Tate complied while holding up his badge. “I am an FBI agent and I have secured the area!” he repeated. “Do not shoot!”
Realizing who he was, the deputies put their guns down, and came to his aid. Pete came into the back door shortly afterwards with Carl close behind him.
“Carl!” Katie cried running to his arms with their children. “They shot daddy,” she sobbed into his chest, please don’t let him die!” Carl’s eyes began to well up with tears of rage and relief. “It’s okay baby,” he whispered to her. “Everything’s going to be okay.”
Carl looked up and saw Lanum.
“Agent Tate!” he exclaimed in shock. “How did you know…”
Tate smiled and shook his head. “I didn’t know, but I suspected that someone might try something, so I drove out to have a look for myself. When I got here I found an empty patrol car so I headed for the house. I got inside just in time to stop that one from killing your father-in-law,” he explained pointing to the first dead man.
Carl was at a loss for words. “Thank you,” he fumbled. “Thanks for saving my wife and children.”
Katie started to sob harder and squeezed Carl tightly.
A half hour later, the house was a full crime scene. Pete had roped off the area, and had ushered the entire family to the safety of his SUV outside. An ambulance had arrived as well and paramedics were busily tending to Carl’s father-in-law. Carl sat quietly next to his family trying his best to calm them, and himself, down. After what seemed like an hour, Sheriff Cameron walked over to the vehicle.
“Hey Carl, do mind if I have a couple of words with you in private?” he asked.
Carl paused and then nodded yes. “I will be right back,” he whispered to Katie. “I promise you are safe here,” he assured her. As soon as she released him he opened the door and stepped out. Together Carl and Pete walked past the tape and back into the kitchen.
“Carl, we have run background checks on both of these men and I am very concerned,” Pete explained. Carl did not understand what Pete was telling him. “Do you mean they have criminal records?” Carl asked not sure how to respond.
“No,” Pete responded. “That’s just it. They don’t have any records. Their driver’s licenses are fakes, their fingerprints trace to two entirely different people, and the van they were driving was stolen 3 days ago in Tulsa Oklahoma.”
Carl was dumfounded. “So these guys don’t exist? Is that what you are telling me?”
Pete paused trying to choose his words carefully. “Carl, these guys are not your average criminals. Their van was loaded with gear, and they seem to have been planning this for quite a while. Everything I see here points to a professional job. “
Carl let Pete’s words soak in. “You mean they were assassins or something?” he asked in disbelief.
“I don’t know who or what they are,” Pete responded, ”but if that FBI agent had not shown up in time, my guess from the ropes and handcuffs in their van is that your family would be gone right now.”
Carl’s head was spinning once again. “You mean they were going to kidnap them?” he pressed.
“That’s what it looks like to me.” Pete concluded. “I think that someone who does not like what is happening over at your station wanted to send you a message, and they sent these guys to do it.”
“That is what I think as well,” Lanum responded as he walked up behind them. “I think that this is the same group that vandalized your station and sent your manager to the hospital.”
Carl turned to face Lanum. “So who are they?” he asked again. “Who is trying to hurt my family?”
“I am not exactly sure just yet,” Lanum continued, “but I believe that the same group that sent those protesters to your camp earlier this afternoon sent these guys to your house.”
Pete nodded his head. “Makes sense to me,” he agreed. “But who?”
“Well, I am not sure, but one of my folks at the agency did a little online research this evening, and called me just before I came out here. He told me that several pictures of the protest buses popped up on a far-left website the Bureau has been tracking. In the text below the pictures it noted that the fight was going to “get very ugly tonight.”
Carl did not see the connection. “So what?” he asked. So one of the protesters took some pictures while they were at the camp, and decided to lash out a bit on their web site after we sent them packing. I don’t see the connection with what happened here.”
Lanum paused again. “The pictures were of the buses leaving, so the person that took them was still in your camp. It might have even been one of these guys for all we know.
Carl paused. It was starting to make sense now. Someone had put operatives in the camp and they were the ones causing the trouble. “What is the name of the site?” Carl asked Lanum.
“It is a group called the Agents for Social Justice or ASJ. They are nobodies, but they appear to have links to many more prominent organizations including LeadOn.org.
Carl could not believe his ears. “You mean LeadOn.org is trying to kill or kidnap my family?”
Lanum continued ignoring Carl’s question. “When we find out who in that camp took those pictures, we will know who did this to your family.”
A pickup truck had been parked quietly near the edge of the Lamonte place for about an hour. The driver had been watching the events of the evening unfold at a safe distance. He was angry. This was the second time his plan had failed. Now he was going to have to take matters into his own hands. With his lights off, he pulled away slowly being careful not to be detected. As he drove off he picked up his cell and made a call.
“We didn’t do it,” he said looking into his rear view mirror. “Those amateurs screwed it up big time. I am going back to camp before folks realize I am missing. Tomorrow I plan on finishing things myself.”
The driver hung up his phone, tossed it onto the passenger seat, and reached into his boot top for a cigar.