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After suffering a brutal attack from assailants who may have been linked to the director's death, Jake enlists an elite team of "broken wings"—damaged-goods agents...
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After suffering a brutal attack from assailants who may have been linked to the director's death, Jake enlists an elite team of "broken wings"—damaged-goods agents like himself who have been frozen out of the FBI. Equipped with a state-of-the-art airplane that serves as a mobile lab and headquarters, this secretly funded rogue squad of expert mindhunters is going to do what the Bureau can't or won't: follow the trail of evidence, no matter where it leads, no matter whom it implicates.
But it doesn't take a profiler to realize early on that Broken Wings has sequel written all over it.
My name is Jake Donovan. I see into the minds of psychopaths, sometimes into their souls.
No, I'm not a psychic, though I dearly wish I were. I'm not a psychiatrist or a priest, since my interest in redemption is limited and my belief in rehabilitation virtually nonexistent. It is because I am a profiler, the FBI's pioneer in that arcane discipline. I have come by my insights through ex-perience, natural gift, and the study of the work of the leading experts in their own disciplines, whom I have sought out in their final places of residence — the maximum-security penitentiaries and death rows throughout the United States and the world.
Profiling was why I now found myself here, on direct orders from Mount Olympus, otherwise known as the Seventh Floor of the Hoover Building, in this remote forest of west-central Wyoming, almost midway between the Bighorn and Wind River mountain ranges. The area took its name from the stream, called Owl Creek, that served as the line of demarcation between us and them. I could see it from the sniper position on a high ridge above our campground, protected from return fire by dense foliage. Just below where I was standing, the spotter of a two-man sniper-spotter pair from the HRT — the Hostage Rescue Team out of Quantico — attired in woodland camo, maintained an intense gaze through eight-power Steiner binoculars down at the ramshackle ranch house that served as the focal point of the enemy camp.
The siege was in its eleventh day, without any sign of resolution. Beyond the creek, some fifteen or twenty
militia/survivalists were holed up in a small compound that included the ranch house, a stable, and a barn. Their leader was Gene Claude Sickenger, owner of the compound and self-proclaimed commander in chief of the Wyoming Defenders. On our side of the creek was an ever-growing contingent of local, state, and national law enforcement officers, increasingly dominated by a detachment well familiar to the others and going by such appellations as Big Brother, the Five-Hundred-Pound Gorilla, the Stealer of Thunder, the Sucker of All Air Out of Rooms, or, simply, the Federal Bureau of Investigation. My employer.
An outer perimeter kept the encamped media at bay. Their participation could only complicate the issue.
I'd been on scene the previous four days, living in one of the campers that looked like the back lot of a particularly seedy carnival, tripling on a bunk with two guys from the Hostage Rescue Team on the midnight-to-eight and eight-to-four watches. Only Roger Greene, the SAC — special agent in charge — brought in from the Denver Field Office, the nearest large field office, to be the on-site chieftain, got choppered to a motel at night. And since I, dispatched from headquarters, could do no better than further complicate his already stress-laden life, Greene felt no obligation to make me feel comfortable or wanted.
Life is tough enough, I kept thinking. And I am too fucking old to be living like this. The big, macho HRT guys might get off on this back-to-nature movement, but as far as I was concerned, showering with a hose and crapping in a Porta-John gets old real fast. Toni practically had to threaten me with loss of visitation to get me to Eric's father-son Scout sleep-away.
All in all, I was no happier being here than Roger Greene was to have me. I was already freaky about the fact that the longer I was here, the more I was neglecting all my other bread-and-butter cases, cases whose outcome I might be able to affect. I had a set of dead prostitutes somewhere up in the north woods, three missing schoolgirls in Georgia, a serial poisoner in Florida, two entire families slaughtered in Idaho with similar signature elements, and a guy in New York City who claimed to be the original Zodiac killer from San Francisco. But when the director of the FBI, the Honorable Judge Thomas Jefferson Boyd, tells you to drop everything and get your butt out to Wyoming, you go. I was trying to keep up as best I could by phone and laptop with Peter Sutherland, my primary relief. But I didn't have the materials, the staff, or the concentration span here, and I was terrified people were going to die as a result of my lack of hands-on attention.
Roger Greene held court and counsel in an RV specially outfitted as a mobile command center. He even had an indoor john. When I went over there for the ten-o'clock status meeting that morning, Greene was sitting behind the desk, in front of an ordnance map of the area, already in heavy conversation with Gordon Abel, my opposite number on the tactical side. Not a good sign. Abel was the HRT's ASAC (pronounced a-sack, for assistant special agent in charge), and theoretically we were equals, but it was only a theory, since Abel commanded thirty-five special ops agents on-site, while I was here representing the behavioral side by myself. The abstraction of the organization chart quickly gives way to the reality of the field.
"Good, you're here, Jake," Greene declared. "Gordon and I were just talking."
"I could have been here for the beginning if you'd told me we were meeting earlier," I said.
Greene responded with a look one gets from severe indigestion. It is not an uncommon expression among SACs and it covers a wide variety of situations.
"Anyway, we both agree we've taken this reactive phase past the point of being productive."
"Productive?" I repeated, dreading the implication.
"We're not accomplishing anything," Abel clarified. "They've got plenty of food, plenty of supplies stockpiled, and they can sit here till hell freezes over if we let them."
"If we cut these creeps a pass," Greene went on, "you can bet we're going to be repeating this all over the damn place."
"A pass to do what?" I asked. "Gordon just said it: they're not going anywhere."
"That's just the point. The longer they resist our demands to surrender, the more ineffectual we look. These people are wanted for multiple counts of federal bank robbery, extortion, weapons charges."
"But not, so far, murder." The dread rose.
"Don't put that past them," warned Abel.
"Believe me, Gordon, I don't. But why make them into murderers? I'm not even convinced this siege was necessary. Sickenger wasn't exactly a recluse. He could have been picked up and arrested on any of his trips into town before the barricade situation even began."
"That was before I was called in," Greene said dismissively. "So it's ancient history. Let's just deal with the problem at hand."
"That's what I'm trying to do." I fought to tamp down the anger.
The SAC rose and swept his arm in the direction of the bulletproof window as he spoke. "This isn't the Louie Freeh era any longer where we're going to sit out the Montana Freemen for months and commit manpower and budget to an open-ended proposition. Director Boyd's slogan is 'zero tolerance,' and he's going to want to see some results. We've exhausted every peaceful option without accomplishing a goddamned thing. I'm giving Gordon the go-ahead to launch a raid tonight."
I struggled to contain the twisting knot in the center of my gut, already radiating out to either side. "Excuse me, sir, but you haven't exhausted any peaceful option."
Greene's head suddenly seemed to snap back. "Excuse me!" SACs are not accustomed to insubordination. But he wasn't my SAC, and damned if I was going to roll over so these guys could show Thomas Boyd how big his raganias were.
"These people don't accept the authority of the United States government," I said. "They've declared themselves a provisional power."
"All the more reason to cut 'em off at the knees," said Abel. "You can't reason with them."
"Yes, you can! If we deal with them the way they perceive themselves, if we approach them and offer to negotiate, one sovereign power to another, they'll realize they're being treated with respect, that they're going to get their message out. That's what they really want: to be taken seriously. I think I could get them to surrender and face trial with the expectation of making their political statement. They're contained and isolated here, but they've got radio and television. Let's go proactive and use that. We can get out of this without bloodshed. Unless we insist on backing them into a corner."
"If you negotiate with these guys, you're just legitimizing them," Abel protested, his jaw working defiantly, hard enough that his mandible was outlined against his cheek.
"No more so than getting a child killer to confess by offering a face-saving scenario. It's a means toward an end. These are deeply paranoid types — look at how they're worried about the United Nations coming in and taking away their guns. With a paranoid subject, you've got to downplay the show of force. It just feeds into his paranoid construct. It's the same with a paranoid group."
Abel sneered. "Or maybe you've been cooped up here long enough that you've developed the Stockholm syndrome. Maybe you've started identifying with these folks."
"Okay, you can stuff it now, Gordon." I started toward him, but Greene held up his hand like a traffic cop. "How do you know what's going on in their heads?"
"I have a pretty good idea," I said. "We don't know if Sickenger's glad or sorry he's in this. But let's apply some common sense. The one thing we can count on is that he wants to get out of it with dignity. It's very simple: we can either give that to him, or withhold it."
Greene drummed his fingers on the desk. "How long would these 'negotiations' take."
"I can't tell you that right now. Let's see if they'll let me into their compound. If I can deal with Sickenger face-to-face — "
But the SAC cut me off with a flick of his wrist. "I'm not risking a hostage situation. Especially not one as high-profile as you."
"I'm willing to take that chance."
"Well, I'm not."
Abel had the assurance to once again weigh in. "You may be the Bureau's media poster boy." He turned to Greene as if I were no longer in the room. "You know they call him the Mindhunter, 'the FBI's modern-day Sherlock Holmes.' "
"What's that got to do with anything?" I snapped.
"Exactly nothing," Abel snapped back. "An armed standoff is a different kind of animal."
"Then why did the director send me here?"
Abel grunted. "You'd have to ask him that. Maybe that touchy-feely stuff works with your serial killers and rapists, but you're not gonna sweet-talk this guy into giving up.
If you were Sickenger and had your choice of calling all
the shots and having the world's media focused on you, or
surrendering and spending the next fifteen or twenty years in a ten-by-twelve-foot cell, which would you pick?"
"So you're saying our only course is to go in and kill everyone?"
"No," Abel responded with exaggerated patience, as if trying to get a point across to a contrary two-year-old. "We're dealing with a poisonous snake. And if you can cut off the head of the snake, the rest of the fucker isn't going to give you a whole lot of trouble."
"Absolutely wrong!" I shot back at him, though I knew I was overplaying my hand. "I assume you've both read my assessment. We're not dealing with apocalyptic, suicidal types like David Koresh and the Branch Davidians at Waco. Yes, Sickenger is a paranoid opportunist. But don't think that means his followers are all gofers. He's recruited expert shots, people capable of making bombs. We know they're willing to commit armed robbery. You go in and kill Sickenger, it's just going to piss off the rest of them and make them take revenge, just like your men would do if Sickenger whacked you."
Abel seemed to recoil, then quickly caught himself. He eyed me warily, as a lion eyes an impala. "When was the last time you actually used your gun in the line of duty?"
The question surprised me. "A while. Detroit, probably. When I was a backup on the SWAT team." When I came out of the coma after the Black Diamond case, I was left with a tremor in my right hand and wrist, which, among other effects, made my shots tend to pull to the right whenever I fired. In the culture of the Bureau, that made me a "broken wing." And though they make a big deal over the dedication and sacrifices made by all those who carry the badge, we all know what happens to broken wings in nature. The Federal Bureau of Investigation is no less a survival of the fittest.
I'd desperately wanted this discourse to avoid degenerating into a pissing match. Now it had become about me rather than what I had to say. And that, I knew, was the one way to get out of this mess without a bloodbath.
I focused my attention squarely on Greene. "I've been a hostage negotiator."
"And a very effective one, from what I understand," Greene noted.
"I'll know when, and if, it's time to quit. But it's not now! Each of these situations has its own natural evolution."
"Point taken," he continued, the embodiment of conciliation. "But this isn't your typical hostage standoff that drags on for sixteen or twenty hours. We've been here eleven days and we're not making any progress. Jake, I appreciate what your saying. But if these people are perceived to be jerking federal authorities around, every two-bit survivalist or militia leader is going to have to prove himself by thumbing his nose at the FBI. I can tell you this is the thinking at headquarters. We should just thank God there aren't any hostages or children to worry about."
There was a knock on the RV door, then it opened. A large black man in his late thirties stepped in, six-two or -three, broad and solid, dressed in the standard HRT assault uniform of black T-shirt and utility vest and black cargo pants with large flap pockets on each leg.
"Good," said Greene. "Jake, you know Trevor Malone..."
We nodded to each other. Malone was the real thing of which the Gordon Abels of the world would always be pretenders. As soon as I saw Malone I knew that Gordon Abel, the administrators, the forces of career, of public image, of budget, of judicious allocation of personnel, had won the day.
"Not only is Trevor as good as anyone in tactical ops, he's an expert on the militia/survivalist movement."
Abel could now afford to turn diplomatic. "I think the consensus is this has gone on long enough," he told Malone for my benefit. "Under current conditions, we can't justify this stalemate any longer."
Malone said nothing. I tried to read his eyes.
Greene asked him, "What have you worked out?"
With a graceful economy of motion, Trevor Malone moved to the ordnance map. Greene moved aside to accommodate him.
"We'll stage the raid just before dawn, which means we'll begin at oh five fifty hours. This gives us the optimal conditions of darkness, most of the targets will be asleep and disoriented. The first thing they'll hear is a chopper overhead, and while their attention is distracted upward, we'll move in on all three buildings simultaneously, setting off flashbangs as we breach the doors and/or windows with Avon rounds and/or Foamex, depending on the individual situation. I'll be leading the strike on the ranch house."
"That all sounds good to me," Greene declared. "Gentlemen, I guess that about takes care of it."
It hit me with the same impact as it does every time I get a call that they've found another kid's body: the battle had been lost, and there wasn't a goddamned thing I could do about it.
Behind the semicircle of campers, trailers, and Porta-Johns was a small clearing. That afternoon, I sat cross-legged on the ground in my grimy khakis, as far away from the toilets as I could, and punished the keys on my IBM laptop, pounded the hell out of those little plastic squares in anger and frustration. It had all come down to this. I had lost the bureaucratic war and I was responding with the defeated bureaucrat's ultimate weapon: the memo.
I sat there, tapping away, marshaling every bit of reasoning, logic, history, analysis, anything. I had a feeling about this one, and the feeling wasn't good. I'm from Montana, where things are a lot more basic than in most of the rest of the country. A blizzard can roar suddenly out of the north with killer fury upon the unsuspecting. So you develop an instinct for the sudden and violent.
When I finished, I sent the file through the portable printer they had in the state-police trailer. It came to twenty-two pages. Then I strode back to the command post and dropped it on the desk. Roger Greene was sitting behind the desk, talking into the receiver of one of the three telephones. He looked up and cupped the mouthpiece.
"Please read this before you make your final decision," I said tersely. We held eye contact for a long moment, the gulf between us unbridgeable.
I was alone in the camper, lying on the bunk and contemplating the quiet and the stillness and the dark. At times like this when the inner gnawing began in earnest, I yearned to have my family around me — Ali and Eric, even Toni. It was my own damn fault I'd let her realize she could get along without me, and these were the moments — quiet and dark and alone — when I replayed, over and over, all the blown and ill-conceived moves we'd both made over the years.
An explosion jolted me to my feet. I was aware of commotion and confusion around me, of screams and shouts, a chopper buzzing overhead.
I pulled on some jeans and a T-shirt and raced outside. I could hear gunfire from the direction of the Defenders' compound. Stumbling in the dark, I scrambled up the hill toward the upper sniper post, hoping that from there I could figure out what was happening. I knocked into thin trees, and brambles tore at my legs. Rocks skittered out from under my feet.
Finally I reached the position above the snipers. "What the hell's going on?" I asked the spotter, a guy named Tom Yamaguchi.
"Point man stepped on a booby trap on the porch, probably a trip wire."
"Fuck!" It was just the kind of thing I'd been terrified about. "Who started shooting?"
He shrugged. "Your guess's good's mine." He handed me a radio earpiece and a pair of ITT night-vision binoculars. All the while, the sniper Jeff Lanier held his rigid prone position, monitoring the action from his own earpiece, peering intently through the twelve-power Nikon scope of his Remington 700 BDL, and searching for a "cold shot," should need and opportunity coincide.
I trained my binoculars on the front of the ranch house. Two other agents in helmets and night-vision goggles, holding up polycarbonate shields, were using their other arms to pull away the downed point man, or what was left of him. I didn't know what had been in that booby trap — plastique, black powder, a couple of grenades, or a stick of dynamite — and it didn't matter. Events had taken over. The whole thing now had an ugly inevitability as agents behind them laid down a withering barrage of covering fire to suppress the shots coming from inside the house and stable.
Trevor Malone and his team fixed gas masks in place. Together with the black helmets and goggles, these made the men look like giant insects, or invading aliens from a sci-fi horror movie. Without waiting for the bullets to stop, Malone raised his left arm and signaled his group forward, up the steps of the ranch house, retracing the fatal path of the point man. The guy had guts, I had to say, epitomizing navy SEAL legend Roy Boehm's universal two-word definition of good leadership: "Follow me!"
"On the front porch," I heard him report over the radio. I saw the team member beside him set off a tear-gas charge and lob it through the window. The whoosh crackled as static in the background. It had apparently been decided beforehand that they wouldn't clear the house with gas cartridges lobbed in from outside. Greene had ruled out chancing another Waco-type fire.
Defenders began trickling out of the house, all carrying rifles.
"Lay down your arms!" Malone ordered through the amplifier built into his mask. A few of the men raised their hands above their heads, dropping their rifles. A few more seemed to hesitate, from what I could see, and Malone's men immediately intercepted them.
"Where's Sickenger?" Malone asked the Defender closest to him. Either there wasn't any answer or I couldn't hear it through his helmet mike.
But it didn't matter, because within another moment Gene Claude Sickenger himself emerged from the house, dressed in green combat fatigues and carrying a scope-mounted rifle.
"Mr. Sickenger! Put down your gun!"
Sickenger's head darted from side to side, as if he was evaluating his options.
"Put it down! Now!" Malone had his Steyr assault rifle trained right on Sickenger. He had to know that in any head-to-head shoot-out, he was going to die.
He whipped around, shouldering his rifle. But instead of pointing it at any of the raiders, he aimed it up at about a seventy-five-degree angle.
"Fuck!" yelled Tom Yamaguchi into his microphone. "Trevor, he's going for the chopper."
Muzzle fire erupted from Malone's rifle. Almost simultaneously, Sickenger collapsed on the wooden porch floor in a heap, as if the bones had suddenly been removed from his legs.
A single .308-caliber, Federal, 168-grain, match-boat-tail slug entered Sickenger's head precisely, in the tiny region just above the upper lip but below the base of the nose. Malone would have known that to assure an instantaneous cessation of motor activity, he'd have to penetrate the medulla oblongata — the lowest section of the brain stem — and had keyed on the most direct and foolproof route.
What I now fervently hoped but did not expect, what Roger Greene and Gordon Abel expected and counted on, was that with their leader dead and their cause lost, the rest of the Defenders would fold.
Please God, let me be wrong!
For a moment I wasn't sure. But then it was like one of those nightmares where you know what's going to happen but you're powerless to prevent or stop it. Through the night-vision lenses I saw four more men emerge from the ranch house — each carrying a handgun, rifle, or shotgun — just where Sickenger had come from. Tears were streaming down their red faces. Malone's team fixed their weapons in firing position in case the men resisted. Just beyond where Tom Yamaguchi stood, his partner Jeff Lanier tensed, following the action through his rifle scope.
Then in one fluid motion, without having to communicate with each other, all four gunmen instantly turned on the raider closest to them. It showed planning, organization, a determination that if their leader was taken, they would go down fighting, making a statement for the world to hear.
God help us, I was right. Another FBI agent had just died in front of me. I felt sick. Lives were being wasted!
"Ron Pearl's down!" Yamaguchi shouted into his mouth-piece.
Before he had finished the sentence, Malone and the two other agents with him had mowed down all four of the Defenders. From the same door, two more ATF members emerged and reported, "Building secure."
"My God," said Yamaguchi quietly. Lanier eased up slightly on the trigger.
The final toll was two agents and six members of the Wyoming Defenders dead, including Gene Claude Sickenger. One of the four Defenders who had opened fire on Ronald Pearl survived his wounds, but two other Defenders were killed while aiming at the raiding team breaching the stable. The lone Defender in the barn was also wounded, though expected to recover.
But I didn't think I ever could.
The firestorm of public and media reaction was immediate. By Sunday, it dominated debate on the public-affairs talk shows. Had FBI agents provoked the attack? Had they made killers out of cheap thugs and elevated them to the level of martyrs? Had the agents been arrogant and overconfident? Had they cold-bloodedly assassinated Gene Claude Sickenger because he and his kind had become annoying? Had nothing been learned from Ruby Ridge or Waco?
Amid the outrage, the allegations, the conflicting charges, Attorney General James Maxwell Hewitt called an after-action evaluation conference in his conference room at Justice for Monday morning. Director Boyd, SAC Roger Greene, and ASAC Gordon Abel attended. Neither Trevor Malone nor I was invited.
When I asked my SAC, Neil Burke, a decent guy who was directed to attend the meeting, why we weren't there, he informed me that "it wouldn't be a productive use" of our time.
Copyright © 1999 by Mindhunters, Inc.