After wrapping things up with the police, Carl and his family loaded into Lanum’s truck and headed back to his FBI office. The events of the evening were still spinning in their heads, and the ride was very quiet. Carl was furious at what had happened. His wife and children could have been taken or even killed. Just the thought of it made his skin crawl.
After a few moments Carl reached over and grabbed Katie’s hand squeezing it tightly. Katie returned the squeeze and laid her head on his shoulder. In the dim light of the cab, Carl could see the tear lines still etched on her face. No matter what happened over the next couple of days, one thing was clear. He had to protect his family.
Before they had departed the ranch, Lanum had made arrangements for Katie, the kids, and her parents to stay at the FBI facility. It was not very big and there weren’t many creature comforts, but there were a couple of cots, some sofas, and showers. Lanum had also arranged for all night security. Carl agreed to the plan simply because he did not have a better one. Whoever had attacked his family could still be out there, and he wanted to make sure that they were safe.
“Now you guys will be fine at my office,” Lanum announced breaking the silence. “You will have a place to sleep, and bathrooms with showers. It’s nothing like home, but it will only be for a couple of days until I can get something else arranged. The outside doors are dead bolted and no one, I mean no one, will be able to get in or out unless we want them to.”
Carl nodded his head. “I can’t thank you enough Lanum. You saved my family from God knows what, and I am in your debt.” Carl paused awkwardly. He did not want to offend Agent Tate’s generosity, but could not help but wonder whether it was Lanum the FBI Agent or Lanum the Texan that was helping them out. “You know Lanum, something else is bothering me a bit.”
“Yeah me too,” Tate responded not waiting to hear what Carl had to say. “I think that what happened tonight was an inside job.”
Agent Tate’s comment completely derailed Carl’s train of thought. “An inside job?” he responded trying to get his head around the thought. “You mean someone at the camp is doing this?”
Lanum shook his head, “I am not sure but I have a strong hunch.”
Carl’s interest was piqued. “Well who do you think it is?” he asked.
“I have no idea, but I think that I can figure it out with your help,” Lanum continued. “I want to show you something when we get to the office.”
After spending about a half hour getting the kids tucked into their beds, Katie and Carl walked into their makeshift bedroom in Lanum’s office. Katie plopped down onto the small couch that Lanum had thoughtfully made into a bed for her, and began to cry once again. “Carl, baby, what would those men have done with us? I mean, if Lanum had not shown up would they have killed us? Would they have killed our boys?” Carl sat down beside her and gave her a long reassuring hug. “Honey I don’t know what might have happened, but I do know that thanks to Agent Tate, you guys are all safe and sound now. That is all I care about.” Tears streamed down Katie’s face. “But what about you?” she continued. “What is going to happen to you?”
Carl truly had no idea what to say. He knew that his place was back at the station with the two thousand Texans that had come to join him. He also knew that he had to finish what he started. He squeezed her tightly a second time and kissed the top of her head. “I’ll be okay sweetie,” he assured her. “I have about two thousand friends at the station watching my back.”
Katie was clearly unimpressed by his feeble attempt to console her. She pulled away from him, wiped the tears from her face and looked at him sternly. “Carl…before you go back to that station and play Davey Crockett or whatever you are going to do, just remember that you have two boys who need a father…not a martyr.” Carl smiled and looked deeply into her watery eyes. “No Davy Crockett,” he assured her, “I promise.” Carl held Katie in his arms until she fell asleep, and then laid her down on the sofa and pulled the covers up over her shoulders.
Carl walked back out to the main office and found Lanum busy at one of the computers. Lanum saw him walk out and motioned him over.
“Hey Carl, come over here and take a look at this,” Lanum said nodding toward the computer. Carl sat down next to him and looked at the screen. It was a picture of the buses that had carried off the protesters earlier that day.
“Is this that website you were telling me about?” Carl queried. “Agents of Justice or something?”
Lanum nodded. “Agents for Social Justice,” he corrected. “This is the site that posted pictures of the protest literally minutes after the buses disappeared.”
Carl remembered their earlier conversation. “So these pictures had to be taken by someone in the camp, right?”
Lanum was transfixed on the screen. “Yeah, but there is something else about these pictures that’s bothering me, and I cannot put my finger on it.”
Carl and Lanum sat in silence looking at the photo for several minutes. It clearly showed the buses pulling away, surrounded by flags and cheering Texans. As Carl looked at the scene, he could once again feel the exuberance of the moment. It had been a great show of unity, and a feeling that he would remember for the rest of his life. Oddly enough however, the more he looked at the picture, the more he was troubled by it as well. Lanum was right…something was most definitely wrong.
All of a sudden, Lanum sat straight up in his chair breaking the silence. “It’s over their heads! That’s the problem! This damn picture is being taken from over everyone’s head!” Carl looked at the picture again and instantly felt somewhat stupid for not seeing it earlier. The picture had clearly been taken from four or five feet above the crowd. Then it hit him. It had to have been taken from the stage. The angle was perfect.
“It’s the stage,” Carl announced to Lanum. “This picture had to have been taken from the stage!”
Lanum rocked forward in his chair and looked a Carl. “How many folks were on the stage when all this was happening? I expect it was loaded with flag wavers right?”
Carl paused and thought back to the moment. Everything had happened so fast, most of the encounter had been a blur to him. Then he remembered. He had looked at the stage at one point in the ordeal, and had only seen Shorty and a few of his crew on the platform. In fact, he remembered seeing Shorty singing into the microphone while two of his cowboys waved flags next to him. “You know,” Carl mused, “I can only remember seeing Shorty on stage…yeah Shorty and a couple of his crew.”
“Who’s Shorty?” Lanum pressed.
“Oh, that’s just his nickname; I think he told me that his name was Billy T. Winslow or something like that,” Carl explained. “He and his crew were the first group to show up after I went to the press.”
Lanum continued to dig. “How well do you know this Shorty fellah?”
Carl paused for a moment collecting his thoughts. “Well I supposed I don’t really know anything about him other than the fact that he and his boys drove down from El Paso as soon as they saw the news report. He has been a real leader though…pretty much organized the entire campsite. He assigns duties, organizes watches, and had has collected a lot of information from the campers.”
Lanum listened intently. “What type of information?”
Once again, Carl felt as if he was being left behind in the conversation. “Well I don’t know…where they were from, how many in their group, what kind of firearms they had brought with them, how much ammunition, that kind of stuff.”
“What has he been doing with all that information?” Lanum asked. “Do you know?”
Carl felt himself becoming defensive. “Well…I suppose he’s been collecting it so that we know what kind of…you know… capability we had in case things went badly with the Feds.” Carl felt awkward saying this to Lanum, but continued anyway. “Shorty felt like we needed a full list of all our ammo and firepower so that we would know how to best…I don’t know….use it if we had to.”
Lanum was unshaken. “So Shorty knows where everyone in the camp is from, how many guns they have, how much ammo they have, and where in the camp it all is?”
Carl was clearly flustered, but trying hard not to show it. “I suppose that you’re right but…”
“And you really don’t know him from Adam when it gets right down to it.” Lanum interrupted.
Carl paused feeling embarrassed and nodded in agreement. “No he showed up on day one with a truckload of gear and cowboys and…well…just took charge. I figured he was just trying to be a good neighbor.”
Lanum looked back at the screen scratching his chin. “And he was on stage when all this was happening?”
Carl felt defensive once again. “Yeah, but how could he have taken a picture without someone else seeing him?”
Lanum chuckled, trying to be polite. “Carl my friend, how many folks do you think were out there snapping digital photos and sending them to their wives and girlfriends?Hell, he could have taken a dozen pictures and no one would have noticed. If what you are saying is true however, and they were the only ones on stage, then one of them must have taken this picture.” The weight of what Lanum was saying started to hit Carl. He had been so thankful for Shorty’s leadership that he had never once questioned anything he was doing.
Lanum stood up and stretched. “Well first thing tomorrow I am going to find out a little more about your Mr. Shorty.”
Carl pulled up to the Fill n’ Fuel about 3 in the morning. The camp was quiet, and despite the glow from about 200 camp fires, things were dark and peaceful. Carl walked into his office and shut the door. It had been the longest day of his life and he was exhausted. He plopped down into his desk chair, and rocked his head back for a moment. He could not get Katie’s tear soaked face out of his mind. How could someone want to hurt her or his children? Could Shorty really be a spy? Carl’s head began to spin. In just 36 hours his 30 day notice would be up, and he had no idea what was going to happen. Would it be war, or just some type of Waco stand off? Would his campers turn tail if shooting started? Where was Clifford? Why was the Governor’s office treating him like a leper? Carl felt like his head was about to explode with questions. How he longed for the simple days, when his only concern was the price of diesel. God how he wished it all was nothing but a bad dream. After a few minutes, his exhaustion got the best of him and he slipped into a deep dreamless sleep.
The next thing Carl heard was someone banging on his office door. The sun was bright and the room had already heated up to well over 80 degrees. He jumped up from his chair, wiped the sweat from his forehead, and walked to the door. A young boy that he recognized from the camp was standing there wide-eyed.
“Mr. Lamonte,” he panted as if he had been running, “they’re here!” Carl did not understand what the boy meant. “Who is here son?” he asked. The boy pointed down the access road. “The black cars… they’re here!” He paused and swallowed trying to catch his breath. “There are a lot of them too!”
Carl grabbed his binoculars and ran across the street, hopping up onto the stage for a better view. Most of the camp had been alerted and several hundred Texans had moved to the front of the camp for a look as well. Carl raised his binoculars and looked down the access road toward the highway. There, off in the distance, was a neat row of black SUV’s. They were a few miles away, but Carl was able to count about 25 of them. Behind the SUVs he could see a couple of large black vans, and what could only be described as an armored personnel carrier. Carl could also make out a group a three or four men standing in front of one of SUVs looking at what appeared to be a large map spread out on the hood. Carl swallowed hard as he surveyed the scene.
“Well old buddy looks like the Federales have found the Alamo!” a familiar voice rang out.
Shorty walked up next to Carl and slapped him on the back. “I reckon that’s just the first batch of them,” he continued giving Carl a big toothy grin. “My guess is that there will be a couple of hundred by tomorrow afternoon.”
Carl lowered his binoculars. “Well I guess we know that they weren’t bluffing.” he replied trying not to sound too nervous. Shorty looked at Carl for a moment as if sizing him up and changed the subject. “Hey buddy, I heard about what happened out at your place last night. It’s all over the camp this morning. I’m real sorry ‘bout that.”
Carl tried his best to keep his voice from wavering. “Yeah … thanks,” he responded.
Shorty paused for a moment to look through his binoculars. “You know, if you like I can send a couple of my boys out to your place tonight to keep an eye on things. Hell I’ll do it myself if that’ll make you feel better.” Carl looked at Shorty and smiled. “That’s real nice of you Shorty, but I have made other arrangements.”
Shorty looked at Carl curiously. “Oh I got ya, you’re keeping the family hold up somewhere. Did you take them to a friend’s house or somethin’?” Shorty’s curiosity would not have bothered Carl in the least just a day before, but after his conversation with Lanum he felt extremely wary. “No,” he replied, “but they are safe.”
“So where you got ‘em stashed?” Shorty pressed.
Carl paused. He could not tell if Shorty really wanted to know, or if he was just trying to get a reaction. “They’re safe Shorty, let’s just leave it at that,” he responded.
Shorty looked off into the distance and nodded his head. “Probably the right thing to do,” he noted. “You can’t be too careful when it comes to protecting your family. You’re smart to not tell me where they are…even if you do trust me.” Shorty looked at Carl, “You do trust me right?” Carl’s face flushed. Shorty’s question had caught him off guard, and he was having trouble finding the right response. “Sure, I mean, why wouldn’t I?” he replied awkwardly.
Shorty changed the subject and motioned to the line of Feds off in the distance. “Those fellahs out there mean business and they are going to be paying us a visit sometime tomorrow.” Carl regrouped a bit, and tried to make conversation. “Well I think we have them out numbered about 15 to one. I’m not sure that they are going to try anything right away.” Shorty sighed. “The truth is, they got themselves more fire power in those SUVs than all these cowboys combined. Most of these good ‘ole boys came out here with hunting rifles, pea shooters, and antiques. Even the few folks with decent guns, may not be willing to raise them against another human being. Shootin’ a person is a lot different than baggin’ a buck.”
Shorty reached into his boot, pulled out a cigar, and lit it. “Nope, my guess is that half of these fellah’s will turn tail if shooting starts. The fact is, when those boys are ready to come, they’ll ride right through the middle of camp.” Carl felt a gnawing in the pit of his stomach. Regardless of whether or not Shorty was a spy, he was telling the truth and Carl knew it.
At that moment a Hank Williams ringtone broke the silence. Carl watched as Shorty reached into his pocket and pulled out his cell phone. As he flipped the top open to answer, a flash of reflected sunlight caught Carl’s eye. It was a reflection off of the lens of the cell phone’s camera. Seeing this was all that Carl needed. Shorty had to have been the one. His cowboys had been busy waving flags; they could not have taken the pictures. No…it had to have been Shorty. As Carl stared at the phone, he could hear his heart beating in his ears. He needed to get to Lanum’s office fast. It was at that moment however, that he realized Shorty had quit talking and was looking directly at him. “What’s wrong ‘ole buddy, you look like you’ve seen a ghost?” Shorty asked in a low serious voice. “Is there something you want to tell me?”
Carl tried to regain his composure. “Um, no, I just remembered that I need to run a few errands. I will stop by and we can talk later.” Before Shorty could reply, Carl jumped from the stage and headed for his truck. He knew it was Shorty and, after that episode on the stage, he was pretty sure Shorty knew he did.
Carl found himself back at Lanum’s office a half hour later. It was Sunday and the only person there besides his family and Lanum was a security guard. Carl told Lanum about his conversation with Shorty and the line of black cars. Lanum listened intently saying nothing the entire time. When Carl finished, Lanum motioned him over to his computer.
“I have been doing some checking on your buddy Shorty,” Lanum said tapping the computer screen. I didn’t find anyone named Billy or William Winslow, but I did find this in our criminal database.” Lanum backed away from the screen so that Carl could see. What he saw sent a cold shiver down his spine. It was a picture of Shorty. Beside the picture was the name Michael “Shorty” Williams.
Carl was stunned. “How did you find this?” he asked. “You’ve never even seen him!”
“But I have,” Katie’s voice chimed from across the room.
Lanum spun around in his chair and gave Carl a big grin. “Yep, Katie and I have been doing a lot of snooping around today. It seems as though she has a great eye for detail.”
Katie stepped up beside Carl and smiled when she saw his look of surprise. “What did you expect? These jerks tried to kill my father and kidnap our children. Did you think I was going to pass the time knitting a sweater?”
Lanum did not give Carl a chance to respond. “It seems as if our friend Shorty has several warrants out for his arrest. They are mostly for environmental terrorism, burning SUVs, killing cattle, things like that. It all looks petty until this last warrant. It seems that he is wanted by the Dallas police for kidnapping and attempted murder. It also appears that he is ex-special forces. Perhaps he started his career with the CIA and has since gone free agent.”
Carl gave Lanum an embarrassed look. “I am pretty sure that he knows we are onto him too.”
“What makes you so sure?” Lanum queried.
“I am not a good liar,” Carl confessed. “He tried to get me to tell him where I had taken Katie and the kids this morning, and when I didn’t he clearly got suspicious.”
At that moment there was a buzz at the door. Lanum handed a twenty dollar bill to the security guard, and motioned for him to go open the door. “I ordered some pizza a little while ago.” Lanum informed the room. “I hope pepperoni is good with everyone…”
At that moment a shot rang out through the headquarters and the security guard flew backwards over a desk with blood gushing from his back. Lanum reached for his gun, but before he could draw it, a figure appeared from around the corner holding a large caliber revolver. It was Shorty.
“Now everyone stay calm,” Shorty ordered, “and we will be done real quick like.” Shorty shifted his gaze to Lanum. “First off, I would like you to finish skinnin’ that pistol, lay it on the ground, and push it over to me with your foot.”
Lanum laid his weapon on the floor and kicked it toward Shorty. “Just what do you hope to accomplish by holding a Federal Agent at gunpoint?” Lanum growled as Shorty picked up the pistol. “I hope to get paid,” Shorty chuckled as he swung the gun toward Lanum and fired. Katie screamed as Lanum dropped to the ground clutching his leg in pain.
“You see,” Shorty continued, “I could care less about your little war, but the folks that hired me care about it…a lot. And they have paid me handsomely to ensure it goes their way.”
Carl pushed Katie behind him. “Who the hell is paying you?” he demanded.
Shorty swung his pistol toward Carl. “You got no idea what you’ve started do ya ‘ole buddy? You really have no idea!” Shorty could not contain his amusement and let out a deep belly laugh.
Carl felt a rarefied form of anger surging through his veins. “Well why don’t you enlighten us!” he shot back.
Shorty’s disposition changed instantly. “You, ‘ole buddy, are not in a position to be making any demands,” he growled. “Now here’s what’s going to happen. I am going to take your wife and kids on a little ride. You, ‘ole buddy, are going to head back to the station, crawl up on that stage, and tell everyone there that you have cut a deal with the Feds and that the standoff is over. You will tell them that if they do not clear out within’ 24 hours, the black vans are going to come in and start arresting everyone in sight.”
“And if I don’t?” Carl hissed.
Shorty smiled and looked at Katie. “If you don’t, then I start mailing your wife and kids back to you a piece at a time until you change your mind.”
Katie began to sob. “You will take my family over my dead body,” Carl spat back in rage.
Shorty smiled. “Well I have a plan for that too if that’s the way you want to roll,” he chuckled cocking his pistol. Katie screamed as Carl braced for the shot. At that moment a figure emerged from around the corner behind Shorty. It was Carl’s father-in-law and he was holding a baseball bat. With a swing that would have made Jose Canseco jealous, he sent Shorty flying across the room. The force of the impact caused Shorty to drop his revolver and Carl lunged forward grabbing the gun.
Shorty came to rest with his back against the office wall. He was dazed and had blood oozing from the left side of his head. Carl stepped over him and pointed the gun at his face. “Now you move one muscle…’ole buddy…and so help me God I will finish the job,” he yelled. Shorty responded with a groan as he tried to focus his eyes on the gun barrel. “I guess that I am in a position to make demands after all!” Carl continued. “Now I want to know who sent you and what they are planning!”
As Carl spoke, Lanum struggled to his feet. He was bleeding badly from his right inner thigh, but was conscious. He limped over toward Carl and sat down. “Give me the gun Carl,” he ordered. “If you shoot this bastard, it’s murder. If I shoot him, it’s community service.”
Carl handed the gun to Lanum. “You need an ambulance,” he observed looking at Lanum’s bloody leg.
“I’m okay for now.” Lanum responded keeping his focus on Shorty. “Now suppose you tell us exactly who sent you.”
Shorty reached up and dabbed the blood on his head with his finger. “You know, all of this is useless don’t you? Do you think it’s just me? There are over 100 plants in your little camp just waiting on the word,” he laughed. “You have no idea who you are dealing with.” As Shorty spoke he moved his left hand behind his back where Lanum’s gun had fallen. “This thing is already over and you boys are too stupid to know it!” he continued. “I pity you both.”
Shorty grabbed the gun and swung it forward toward the two men. In a second Lanum fired three shots squarely into Shorty’s chest killing him instantly. Lanum wasted no time. Kneeling over Shorty’s body he started fishing through his pockets. Finding his wallet, he put it in his pocket. “I am going to call for support in about 5 minutes.” Lanum explained. ” That will be enough time for you to get your family out of here and back to the station.”
Carl was in shock. “What about your leg. I can’t leave you here!”
Lanum gave Carl a stern look. His face was pale from blood loss and pain, but Carl could tell that he was in charge of the situation. “Carl you cannot be here when the cops come. I want you and your family out of town.”
“What about you,” Carl asked again. “What are you going to do?”
“Don’t worry about me,” Lanum replied. “I am going to get this leg patched up and will call you as soon as I can.”
Once again, Carl had no idea what to say. “Lanum buddy I’m sorry about all this.”
Lanum waved him off. “Get your family and get outta here. I am going to dig through this guy’s stuff and see what I can find out about these other plants. You got a fight coming tomorrow and we need to find out who they are…now get your family back to the station and stay put.”
Carl realized that Lanum was right. He needed to get back to the campsite as soon as possible. Shorty’s crew would notice him missing soon, and he needed to get back in case things got ugly. He looked at Lanum and smiled. “Thanks again buddy,” he said.
Lanum looked at Carl and grinned. “Go on, get out of here. You’re just making me bleed more.” As Carl started to turn Lanum grabbed him by the arm. “And by the way Carl, just in case you were wondering…I have chosen sides.”
Ok…so another chapter…
When I read this, I tuned out the rest of the world. Damn fine readin’.
Thanks BiW! Glad you stopped by. I had to break the last part into two chapters because it was just too long. Final out next week sometime.
More fun for my Christmas reading. You have learned how to keep us in suspense, Chuck. Stay happy and well, my friend, during this season for joy.
Great twist and great story.
I don’t care if it contains “vitriolic rhetoric”, violent imagery or guns. I am not a Gun Fearing Wussie, and I don’t get the vapors at harsh language and I especially don’t like to be lectured to by noodlebrains who are drowning in their own hypocrisy.
Final chapter on its way.
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