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Last Man at Arlington
By Joseph DiMona
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1973 Joseph DiMona
All rights reserved.
At 3:15 P.M. Monday, October 15, 1973, Stephanie Spaulding looked into a small eye of death and didn't know it. The eye was a Lee-Enfield submachine gun with a four-power telescopic sight mounted.
The young man aiming the gun from a prone position in the brush, feet outspread combat-style, was Allen Lowell. He had watched Stephanie enter her chauffeur-driven Lincoln Continental in front of her red brick mansion near Pound Ridge, had watched the chauffeur slide into his seat, the door clicking shut, and the car suddenly throb to life and move out of the driveway and onto this road beneath him.
Allen was thinking he had never killed a woman, outside of Vietnam. He didn't know if he could do it.
Now the limousine glided toward him. His scope moved to the back seat and a face came into view, almost frighteningly large in the finder. The cross hairs he placed on her forehead by instinct, observing nothing of the fragile beauty, the deep-set eyes, the fine upcurving nose, the luxuriant black hair that tumbled loosely around her shoulders. At that moment she was saying something to the chauffeur, her green eyes lively, then laughing at whatever he said in return.
She would die, Allen thought, without knowing why, which was the death she deserved. He squeezed the trigger and imagined her head exploding, the skull fragmenting, the laugh dying with her soul.
A moment later the Continental was safely past and Allen stood up, unscrewed the stock of the Enfield, buried the two pieces in his knapsack, and stepped out on the road to hitch a ride. A motorcyclist picked him up and he roared into Pound Ridge, hanging on. He got off at the station and caught the next train to New York.
At Grand Central he went to the information desk and met, on schedule, a young man in a tan sweater and levis. He gave him the knapsack.
Excerpt from a letter to Allen Lowell, postmarked Toronto, October 18, 1973:
... everything set, but unable to get white stuff. Even if we could, it would be difficult to get it across the border. Hope your plan works.
Beyond the little hill on which the camera crew stood, was a desert. But this was not Nevada, it was an iron mine in upstate New York, and the desert was man-made.
Thousands of tons of gritty refuse, the finite fragments of pulverized rock after iron ore was removed, were gushing into a wilderness gulch from a spout which could be seen far in the distance.
It was weird, that spout. You had the feeling that eventually it would fill this gulch—as other gulches had been filled—overflow the hill, tumble into other valleys and ravines and fissures until all was finally smothered in the endless desert of refuse.
"See what they did over there," said the man from Reynolds Chemical. "It didn't work."
Allen Lowell, the film editor with the crew, turned. Five hundred feet behind them he saw an enormous mountain of this same sand with a brave sprinkling of shrubbery on top. But the shrubbery was dead.
The Reynolds man told him what had happened. "They got these pollution freaks raising all kinds of hell up here, so they tried to show them that a mountain of sand with green shrubbery fits right into the beautiful scenery."
"But it didn't grow?"
The Reynolds man laughed. "Nothing grows in this stuff. It's cancer."
They waited in the sun for Harry Andrews to arrive with the explosives. Meanwhile, the Reynolds man had clambered down the hill, leading the wire from the blasting machine to a spot in the sand about eighty feet away. "Can you see me?" he shouted to the cameraman.
The cameraman stared through the viewer of the Arriflex motion picture camera and saw a man in a blue helmet, faded jeans, and dusty cowboy boots, holding a wire. He moved his eye from the viewer and yelled, "OK! Watch the shadows."
There was a grinding noise as a Ford pickup truck made its way up the hill behind them. It stopped and Harry Andrews climbed out. He was a big broad-shouldered fellow with a green kerchief around his forehead to soak up the glistening sweat. He went around back and pulled out some foot-long clear plastic cartridges filled with a white explosive called "chemite," the newest explosive in the industrial field. He threw one carelessly toward Allen Lowell who caught it against his chest easily. A cool one, thought Andrews.
Allen looked down into the gulch where the Reynolds man stood waiting in the sand, then threw the cartridge of explosive as high as he could in the air.
"Holy Christ!" said the cameraman.
Underneath, circling warily like Willie Mays with his life at stake, the Reynolds man stared into the sun and saw a slim tube dimly tumbling toward him. It plummeted into his hands and he barely hung on. He breathed heavily a minute, then trudged through the sand to the group on the hill. "That was hilarious," he said to Allen.
"It's safe. That's what the demonstration is all about, isn't it?"
"You still can't afford to screw around." The Reynolds man was getting angrier by the minute. Allen said nothing. The Reynolds man said, "Why don't you go back to town and hop the first plane out of here."
But Harry Andrews was trying to smooth things over. "I started it, Jim. I threw it to him first."
"Idiot!" the Reynolds man said bitterly, then he turned back to the test spot. He had been against this stupid film from the beginning, but the men at his office said an actual test film to show how safe chemite was would sell the product. Maybe so. But who believes film?
And how safe was it? Unlike "water gel" and other standard explosives, it was not too stable, that was certain. At any moment that little stick could turn into an unstable freak ready to go off right in your hands.
Now he was here risking his life in the rear end of an iron mine four hundred miles from home showing some idiot camera crew how to shoot explosives. Lesson one, today: they blow four types of chemite plus one dynamite. Lesson two, tomorrow: they shoot bullets into chemite, set it on fire, hack it with a cleaver, to show it won't go off accidentally. Not on your life!
An hour later Allen Lowell watched closely as the Reynolds man with the chemite cartridge squatted in the sand next to a green flag. Far to their left was a dynamite stick under a red flag. Farther down under other colored flags were three different types of chemite, all designed for different industrial purposes.
Allen Lowell memorized every move. The Reynolds man took a small pocketknife, cut a three-inch slit in the side of the cartridge, and then stabbed a primer deep into the gelatin explosive. The fuse was fast-burning primacord with which he now threw a half-hitch around the cartridge, then led the fuse back about eight inches and threw another half-hitch around it, relieving the pressure on the primer so it wouldn't pull out. He stood up and led the fuse back to the main wire leading from the blasting machine on the hill, and connected it.
A few minutes later he was safely back on the brow of the hill, hovering over the blasting machine, a gray box with two red buttons and a fail-safe switch. The sun beating down on his face, he looked up at Greg Miller, the director, and said, "I buried the stuff deep enough to throw up some sand. But you'll have to keep it in frame. The wind will blow it to the right."
"We got it," said Miller. "Let's go."
The Reynolds man went through the time-honored blasting ritual. Standing up, he cupped his hands beside his mouth and yelled: "FIRE IN THE HOLE!" Then he turned in other directions and shouted the same words. The shouts echoed over the surrounding areas, meant to warn itinerant strangers, workers, and vehicle drivers. But Allen Lowell was thinking, how dangerous can it be? The explosive is way out in the sand in a gulch. He had seen stuff like it a hundred times in combat.
But then the Reynolds man was clicking the switch, and pressing down on both buttons, and the flat sand, serene and glittering quietly in the sun, suddenly rose in a massive upheaval of earth and fire and smoke. A sound like a clap of God's hands reached Allen's ears and momentarily stunned him.
Jesus, that harmless little cartridge packed a wallop! That chemite was something else. The Reynolds man was staring at the cameraman. "You get it?"
"Perfect," said the cameraman.
In the silence, Allen decided it was the right time to apologize to the Reynolds man. He said to him, "I'm sorry. That could have been you out there."
"You're bloody damn right." The Reynolds man got wearily to his feet. "Let me tell you something, fellow," he said softly. "The first thing we learn about one hundred percent guaranteed safe explosives is that they kill. The second thing we learn is they kill us."
They blew the other shots at the other flags, then rode back in a company car to a yellow wooden two-story hotel in the center of Largo Falls.
When they came down to dinner in the small dining room with the flowered wall paper, the proprietor told them the young film editor had checked out. Miller was angry. "He can't walk out on a job without permission. We're paying him."
"It's just as well," said the Reynolds man. "We may all live longer. That boy is strange."
The director said, "We've hired Jeff Bolton twice as a free-lance, and both times had trouble. But he has talent. And—" he stopped.
The Reynolds man looked up.
"He's cheap," Miller said with a shrug. "He has trouble getting jobs so he works for next to nothing."
Allen Lowell drove his rented car to Syracuse, the nearest city with an airport, then flew back to New York. He was a man who did not smile often, but he had to smile thinking of the look on that character's face when he had pitched him the explosive. An impromptu idea—but it had worked. Harry Andrews had watched that soaring explosive as if hypnotized.
In New York he checked into the Holiday Inn on Ninth Avenue under the name Bolton and a few minutes later had opened the project kit—drills, bits, picks, more than he would ever need. The boys in Toronto were taking no chances.
Or so they thought. For they could not know, would not want to know, would never know what they were really into.
Excerpt from Allen Lowell's diary ... entry October 22, 1973:
Tonight the years of study began to pay off. I took two simple picks from the kit and went up to Carson's room in the Waldorf. Nobody around. I placed one pick in the lock and pushed upward and then moved the other pick around below until it clicked. No problem. Door opened and I took care of his passport.
Left a Kennedy half-dollar on his bed, according to plan.
Took a walk on Ninth Avenue around midnight and saw what I fought for. Derelicts, drug addicts, muggers, colored whores, pimps ... the parade of civilization 1973.
... Sometimes when the darkness is in me I want to kill Williams first, to rip and stab him. But that would be too kind to him. I want him to suffer longest, for he deserves it the most.
Two hours later. I am still up. Can't sleep. I'm so excited!
I have just read what I wrote above and realize I sound like a sadist. I am not a sadist. I am a soldier who can think.
The men in black robes sat nine in a row and looked down impassively into the well of the Supreme Court where a red-faced, immaculately dressed Southern attorney pleaded a civil rights case.
Behind them were soaring Ionic columns and red velvet drapes and a simple clock near the ceiling giving justice a time frame. George Williams, Deputy Assistant Attorney General, Justice Department, walked into the back room behind the banks of spectators and took in the panorama before him.
The justices of the Supreme Court sat behind a mahogany bench on a raised dais. Beneath them was a long simple table at which a court stenographer sat, and on either side smaller tables presently occupied by the attorneys for the state of North Carolina and the federal government. Off to one side sat the clerk of the court and one of the marshals.
Tension filled the court as the Southern attorney made his points in an angry style, but then the hands on the clock reached one and the Chief Justice reached for his gavel and struck it sharply. "I'm sorry to interrupt your argument, Counsel, but it is now time for recess. The court will reconvene at two thirty."
Williams hurried down the aisle, flashing his identification to a marshal, and intercepted John Newhouse, one of the government attorneys. John smiled at him. "You just come in?
"You should have heard corn mash and grits giving me hell. He feels we should be out of the civil rights business for good."
Both of them were now making their way to the cafeteria. Newhouse asked Williams what brought him there.
"I want you to come to dinner tonight. You and Susan."
"I'm going to quit my job."
Newhouse said nothing until they had bought sandwiches and sat down at a table. Then he said, "Look, we've argued this out before. Administrations change. The Democrats will be back some day. Meanwhile, there's a job to do."
"But Internal Security?"
Newhouse smiled. "Your trouble is simple. You're too good! The Republicans want you where you can help them. Why not? It's their department."
Williams sipped his coffee and said quietly, "I liked it better in the Civil Rights Division. I don't mind compromises. Life is compromises. But I was doing something there."
His quiet voice did not fool Newhouse; Williams could be close to rage but he would never show it. Newhouse said, "So what do you expect me to do at dinner. Encourage you to quit?"
Newhouse took a bite of pecan pie. "I'd be too lonely, George," he said. "You're the only other fuzzy-headed liberal in the department."
Sarah Williams answered the front door. "Susan called," she said to Newhouse when they joined her in the living room. "She'll be a little delayed. She's taping Senator Buckley, and the senator was an hour late."
Susan Gray, Newhouse's current romance, was a girl known in Washington as a wit, with a television show in which she lanced egos with enthusiasm.
"Poor Buckley," said Newhouse. "She'll carve him up in fillets."
"But can you carve fillets out of ham?" asked Sarah as she led them out onto the patio.
Tonight was short on small talk. Newhouse was anxious to return to the subject he and George had discussed at lunch. He was convinced Williams should stay on at Justice. "After all, George," he said, "we're the last of the refugees from the Kennedy days. But we're all over government and we're needed more than ever now to keep the Nixon crowd from running wild."
By now Susan had arrived, an attractive auburn-haired girl with a rather sharp nose, hair that was too short, a pink dress that was decidedly too short, and tongue that was much too quick. Dinner was served and the evening was politics as usual. Not until one o'clock, when Newhouse and Susan were leaving, did George Williams see the envelope on a table in the foyer.
He took the letter into his den, poured himself a brandy, and opened the envelope.
The letter was typed and unsigned. It said simply:
November 22, 1973, is the tenth anniversary of our late President's death. For reasons which you will fully understand we will observe this anniversary with the death of the following:
Jesus! Williams' mind was in a turmoil. The letter was still open before him when his wife came to the door. Immediately she saw that he was upset. "What is it, George?"
He started to hand her the letter, then thought better of it. He returned it to the envelope and stuffed it back into his pocket. "Just some Justice Department business. But nasty."
"That doesn't sound right, George. We don't get Justice Department business at home."
"This time we did."
She looked at him probingly. "Well, if you're in this kind of a mood, I'd better get to bed before the storm breaks."
"It's one of those things, Sarah. I just can't talk to you about it."
"I understand. But don't take everything so seriously. No one is going to die."
Sarah walked down the green carpeted hall to their bedroom, a very worried wife. She knew George Williams. That look on his face had told her everything. Another crisis brewing, another period when she might as well be invisible.
Excerpted from Last Man at Arlington by Joseph DiMona. Copyright © 1973 Joseph DiMona. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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