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The USMC--United States Militia Corps--needed cash. Fast. The cost of waging war against the federal government was high, and funds for new arms and recruits were low. Like the storm raging over the desert of eastern Washington, there wasn't going to be anything subtle about their efforts. Time didn't allow it.
Two days earlier, one of the thirty militiamen involved in "Operation Tax Rebate" had gotten into the foyer of the Rone building at Wills Creek wearing a FedEx uniform and carrying a parcel for a nonexistent employee. While the puzzled guards checked and rechecked their staff list, the militiaman took note of the laser ports on the ground floor above the protective steel-bar mesh wall. The ports were angled so that once the antiburglary circuits were activated at day's end, the resulting lasers would produce a crisscross thicket of beams through which no one could pass without setting off the alarms. He'd reported this to his major, Lucky McBride, who adjusted the operational plan for "Tax Rebate" accordingly.
McBride was now on the rain-pelted highway driving a ten-wheeler Mack truck hauling a tarpaulin-covered wide load heading east out of the Cascade Mountains, toward Spokane. The Mack looked as if it was bleeding steam in the downpour, its tires spitting up a dirty cloud of rain and pebbles from the road's gravel shoulder. McBride's co-driver, Neilson, saw a tricolored blur in his side mirror.
"Son of a bitch!" he said. "Federals on our tail. Looks like the state patrol." The militia referred to all police, state or otherwise, as "federals."
"I see them," McBride said calmly. Without turning hishead, he told his three men in the adjoining sleeper cab directly behind him to keep their heads down. The cruiser pulled abreast of the Mack's cab, its flashers on, the trooper's voice coming out of the miniature bullhorn on the patrol car's roof.
"Where's the fire?" he asked McBride. There was an enormous streak of lightning to the east followed by an artillery roll of thunder.
"We're haulin' a Cat to Wills Creek," McBride shouted. "Local dam . . ." The thunder drowned out his voice momentarily. "--has sprung a leak. They want us to shore it up real quick 'fore she breaks. You want to give us an escort?"
"You betcha," said the trooper obligingly. "Move to the center line. Get off that messy shoulder."
"Will do. Thanks."
"Man," quipped McBride's co-driver, "you've got balls. I'll say that for you."
"Lucky McBride," said Brock, one of the three in the sleeper. "That's what he is. We're running behind time 'cause of a flat tire, and he gets a federal to run interference for us. Incredible!"
"Yeah," one of the other militiamen said. "But what're we goin' to do when we stop at Wills Creek and the fed asks where the dam is?"
"And," McBride's co-driver added, "what happens when he sees what's under the tarp?"
McBride smiled. "He'll be surprised."
McBride's luck held, however, and at the Wills Creek turnoff the state trooper wished him all the best and sped off, continuing east on Highway 90. The lightning was getting worse, a long fork of electric-blue in the moonless night momentarily illuminating the high desert sagebrush as far as the eye could see. The landscape was scarred here and there by deep coulees, ravines that had been gouged out over the eons by ice and which up to now had lain dry after the long, hot summer. A moment later a barrage of thunder rolled over them, the wind picked up, and the edges of the tarpaulin flapped furiously behind them. It made Norman Cawley, one of the men in the sleeper, nervous. He'd joined the militia, like so many others, because he was fed up--no, furious--with the federal government for caving in to all the damn global free trade treaties. An apple grower from around Wenatchee in central Washington, he'd seen the orchards in the biggest apple-producing state in the union go down the drain because the government was allowing the Chinese to dump produce below cost on the U.S. market, intentionally undercutting American growers. Independents like himself, who had worked hard all their lives, saw the price plummet from forty dollars a ton to ten. Farmers had gone broke all over, ripping out their trees, and meanwhile all they read and heard about was how the rest of the country, especially Bill Gates and all the other computer whiz kids on the West Coast, were living high off the hog. Biggest problem those yuppies had, so far as he could see, was getting their morning latte at Starbucks. Cawley had eventually told his wife he'd had enough. For the first time in his life he publicly protested, joining the throngs in November '99 in the "Battle of Seattle," rallying against the World Trade Organization, another damn U.N. new world order bureaucracy. 'Course the protest had no effect. There were lots of arrests, and a fed in full black body armor at Sixth and Union fired at him, the bullet hitting him in the chest. He'd collapsed, thought he was dying. It turned out to be a huge welt caused by a new device, a plastic-coated pepper spray bullet that exploded on impact. But he thought he was dying. So when he heard about "Tax Rebate," he joined up. But there were things the militia hadn't explained, and it bothered him. "Still don't see why we had to wait for a storm," he said now.
"It'll help cover our arrival," McBride answered.
Neilson laughed. "Arrival. Yeah, I like that."
Renowned for being able to maintain his equanimity as H hour approached, McBride smiled.
"Huh," said Cawley. "I thought it might be because of the cell phones."
"How do you mean?" McBride asked.
"Well, you know. Lightning might knock out their cell phones so they can't raise an alarm."
"No." McBride slipped the Mack into tenth gear. "Lightning has to hit the cell tower, the actual transmitter, to do that. But you don't have to worry about cell phones anyway. With the stuff they're working on, cell phones are verboten. Same reason you can't use your cell on an aircraft. It'd screw up the whole operation. They've got a shield built around the whole building. Stops any signals from entering or leaving."
"Huh," was Cawley's only comment. McBride had clearly done his homework, but then Cawley, known as "Worry Gut" among his fellow militiamen, thought of a flaw in McBride's plan. "Okay, but if there are no cell phones allowed, what about their regular phones? You know, land lines? They could raise the alarm that way." McBride flipped up the brown leather cover on his watch.
"That, my friend, will be taken care of in about six, seven minutes. Couple of our boys up ahead are going to cut the lines. The building'll be completely isolated, even more than it is now. That's what they get for being greedy, having situated so far out to get lower power rates from Grand Coulee Dam."
Cawley was only half listening, intrigued momentarily by McBride's watch. "Why do you have that cover?"
"What? Oh, that. I used to work at sea--fishing boat out of Seattle--before they gave the Indian fishermen--"
"Fishers!" put in one of the men in the backseat.
"Not fishermen. Let's be politically correct here, boys."
"Before they gave the Indian fishermen more rights than us," McBride said bitterly, "like killing whales for ceremonial purposes. If we did that, we'd be put in jail."
"That's 'cause we're white," Neilson said pontifically.
"You got that right," McBride replied.
"So," Cawley pressed, "the watch cover?"
"Oh yeah." McBride smiled at his own lapse from his usual good humor. "Well, the leather cover protects the glass face from getting all scratched up from drag cables and the like. And it cuts down on any reflection."
Cawley nodded. "Wish I had one."
"Tell you what," McBride told him. "We pull this off, Cawley, we'll have enough money to buy a watch cover for every militiaman in the country."
"That's over five million guys," one of the others said.
"A drop in the bucket," McBride quipped.
Posted December 25, 2009
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