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Totem Lake, British Columbia
Wednesday, January 3
"Watch out, Mad Dog. They're coming your way. Five rebs and a dog."
"Ten-four," said Rabidowski. "Alpha Two?"
"Here, Sarge," answered a voice from the radio plug in his ear.
"Up a tree by Picture Rock."
"Got 'em in your 'scope?"
"Affirmative. Torches moving north. Looks like the rebs are on your tracks."
"I've shot the camp. I'm moving out. If they break off, follow me. We take no action unless they start it. Alpha Two, how's your line of fire?"
"Easy pickin's," said the marksman up the tree.
"Positioned. Loose the dog and he'll jump the rebs from the bluff."
"Ten-four. Moving out."
The Mad Dog looked more like a soldier than he did a cop. To probe deep into this wilderness of forest and snow, he wore "winter cam" over his ERT uniform: hooded white anorak with baggy white pants tucked into mukluks affixed to snowshoes. His face whitened with cam stick was masked by a white balaclava sunk in the hole of the hood, from which protruded night-vision goggles harnessed over his eyes. Beneath the parka he was sheathed in "the beast," his tactical armored vest hung with Velcro pockets stuffed with weapons: tear-gas canisters with a mask, Thunder Flash or Flash Bang grenades, a stainless steel knife, and a 9mmsemiautomatic SIG/Sauer pistol. The Voice Private Radio attached to the beast scrambled communications so no one could intercept. In one gloved hand the Mountie carried a lightweight, aluminum-alloy Colt AR-15 assault rifle, with thirty-round magazine and flash eliminator.
White on white in the shroud of night, the Mad Dog was a ghost moving across the snow.
"Trouble, Surge! It's coming. The rebs just loosed their hound."
The trouble had actually begun with a Christmas tree. The land on which the tree stood was registered to Herb McCall in the Prince Rupert land title office. However, for at least ten thousand years prior to the first colonial registrar stepping ashore, Indians had claimed the same land. In 1763, looking west toward his new colonies on the east coast of North America, King George III—the same king who later lost many of them in the Revolution—gave the Indians a nod, and acknowledged they possessed all land west of the Atlantic watershed, and "should not be molested or disturbed in the Possession of such Parts of Our Dominions and Territories as have not been ceded to or purchased by Us." No European grasped what lay beyond the Rockies. The Spanish didn't explore the West Coast until 1774, and Captain Cook didn't arrive until 1778.
The Royal Proclamation of 1763 remains in Canadian law.
In 1849, to stop American expansion north, Britain declared Vancouver Island a crown colony, followed in 1858 by British Columbia. The first governor, Sir James Douglas, signed treaties with natives on the island. He was undermined by Joseph Trutch, land commissioner, who saw natives "as bestial rather than human," and assumed "uncivilized savages" had no rights. Therefore, the crown owned all land, so not another treaty was signed with Indians in B.C.
Smart move, Joe.
In 1871 British Columbia joined Canada. Ottawa pushed Indians onto reserves which today cover 37 percent of the province. In 1887 chiefs from this region demanded back the land. Premier William Smithe refused: "When the whites first came among you, you were little better than the wild beasts of the field."
So there matters stand today.
Called "the river of mists" by the Gitxsan Nation, the Skeena surges westward through rock-ribbed canyons cut in the Coast Mountains to empty into the Pacific at Prince Rupert just below the southern tip of the Alaska panhandle. Totem Lake, inland, was Herb's summer place, and where McCall tradition was to take the grandkids to cut the Christmas tree. And so, two weeks ago, Herb had driven the brood east along the Skeena on Highway 16 to Hazelton, known for the greatest concentration of totem poles in the country, and a heavily forested region the Gitxsan consider hallowed, where he'd branched north to Kispiox, beyond which there was nothing but three hundred miles of logging and trapping camps all the way to the Yukon border.
The private road to Totem Lake was blocked by cut-down trees.
Enforcing the barricade was a native militant with a rifle.
While the brood gawked wide-eyed, Herb stormed out of the car. "You're trespassing," he fumed. "This is my land."
The kerchief-masked militant leveled the barrel at Herb's navel. "My fathers have always owned this land," he said. "We were here before your fathers were even in Europe. We didn't arrive in a boat, white man. Now get off our land or I'll shoot."
Herb had hightailed it to the New Hazelton Detachment of the RCMP, where he'd demanded the Force "throw those terrorists off my land." The worst blizzard of the year had delayed response, but finally on New Year's Day the O.C. of the detachment had reached the barricade blocking Totem Lake road.
"Stay where you are," one militant yelled when the cop stepped from his police car.
"RCMP. Here to talk. Who am I talking to?"
"We are the defenders of sovereign unceded Gitxsan land. Any attempt to invade us will be viewed as an act of war. You're the Gestapo of the New World Order. None of us are coming out except in body bags. And we're not here to play."
To emphasize the point, another rebel swung an AK-47 hidden by the barrier up into the air and discharged its thirty-round clip in three seconds.
Outgunned, the officer in charge had retreated to summon reinforcements from E Division Headquarters in Vancouver. The next day saw a Force chopper whup around the lake, sent aloft to determine how many rebels were in the camp, but that flight had provoked gunshots from below which riddled the Jet-Ranger with holes and almost killed the pilot. So now, in winter camouflage, the H.Q. emergency response team had infiltrated the woods under cover of a moonless, starry black night, skulking along the drop of a ten-foot bluff, dog master and Wolf up on the ridge, Mad Dog below beneath the overhang, marksman having angled off to scale a sniping position. Trudging forward alone and downwind, the sergeant had neared the rebel compound to photograph its layout with a Startron lens, snapping the tepee and sundance circle encrusted with snow, snapping the dug-in bunker and foxholes, and finally, screened by a stand of lakeside firs, snapping the tarps under which the natives were huddled tonight, beating drums and wailing chants.
Then the wind had changed and the hound begun to bark.
Forcing the Mad Dog to backtrack along the bluff.
As five armed rebels emerged from the tents to see what had riled the hound.
Trailing it on a leash north to the fresh snowshoe tracks.
And now releasing the hound to savage whoever wore the shoes.
While they tromped after.
The Mad Dog turned to meet this threat. Magnifying starlight thirty thousand times, his night-vision goggles lit an iridescent green landscape, revealing the hound closing fast with glaring eyes and gnashing fangs, bounding in a fierce attack locked on his throat, while breath plumed from its jaws in ragged puffs.
"Call it, Sarge!"
"Just the dog. Take 'im out."
The whip crack of the sniper's shot shattered the brittle night, the .308 slug zooming in from somewhere to the Mad Dog's right, slamming the hound broadside to spray the bluff face beyond with dark green blood, a hollow-point boat tail ricocheting off the rock with a pinggg! but no sparks.
The hound dropped dead.
Because these rebs were bush men, the Mad Dog went to ground. He knew they knew the hound was launching an all-out direct attack, and sure enough, the lead pursuer was aiming his AK-47 to trigger a burst along the dog's trajectory. Stumbling aside in his awkward snowshoes, the sergeant dove behind a frozen waterfall cascading over the bluff. The ice exploded into spears hurled in all directions, chunks tumbling from the machine-gunned falls to smash around him like fumbled crystal. The Mad Dog almost impaled himself on a stick jutting from the ice rink under the chute when his body armor deflected it past his throat. Prone, he sighted the lead pursuer along the barrel of his AR-15.
"Bravo Three, drive 'em back with grenades. Alpha Two, hold fire."
"Don't look," the earplug warned as the cop up on the bluff lobbed the first percussion bomb in front of the natives below, the blinding burst and blaring blast of the Flash Bang taking them by surprise, a concussion akin to being bombarded in the trenches of World War I. Using his hand as a shield, the sergeant glanced down at the rink beneath his face to protect his eyes, the glare of this explosion too bright for the light-compensation ability of the gen-3 goggles he wore, and found himself face to flesh with a horror under the ice.
The stick wasn't a stick.
It was a jutting arrow.
"Fire two ... Fire three," warned the cop above lust before Bwammm! ... then Bwammm! blew two more Flash Bangs closer to the rebels. Like flashbulbs, the sear of each bomb exposed the naked white corpse frozen supine under the ice.
"They're on the run. All but one. Watch out, Bravo Three!"
"He's mine," said the Mad Dog. "Don't shoot, Alpha Two."
Blinded by the fight and targets in its glare, and obviously under attack by better armed forces, four of the five were scrambling away toward the bunker as the fifth swung his automatic up to machine-gun the edge of the bluff. Son of a Yukon trapper raised in the woods, the Mad Dog could take the eye out of a squirrel with a .22 at one hundred feet before he was six. The left sleeve cuff of the Red Serge tunic at home in his closet displayed badges for distinguished marksmanship: a crown cresting crossed revolvers over a crown cresting crossed rifles. A man of repressed violence, the Mad Dog lived to kill: hunting grizzly bears at Kakwa River, wolf packs near Tweedsmuir Park, elk on Pink Mountain, and punks with the ERT.
But not tonight.
Unless he must.
Orders from above.
This reb crouching in profile made it an easy shot to hit the AK-47, breaking his wrist as the gun snapped back and discharged its rat-a-tat-tat over the heads of the fleeing four. Undaunted by pain and fueled by rage, the militant switched the gun to his uninjured hand and whirled in the sergeant's direction.
"Sic 'im!" ordered the Mad Dog as bullets began to spit.
The brindled snout of a German shepherd poked over the ledge above, then, fixed on his quarry, the dog was in the air, a powerful leap from one hundred pounds of purebred muscle and bone that jumped the gunman and pummeled him to the snow. No one trains better attack dogs than the Mounted Police, a Mountie and his dog the stereotype of the Force, Wolf graduating first in his pack at the Dog Training Center at Innisfail, Alberta, so by the time a shouted command unlocked fangs from a savaged arm, the gunman who stumbled away in retreat was tattered, torn, and disarmed.
"Alpha Two, Bravo Three, cover me," said the sergeant.
The ice beneath the rigid falls was protected from snowfall by the overhang. Having unscrewed the Startron lens, the Mad Dog wedged the camera into a bullet cleft in the frozen chute so the aperture pointed down. Using time exposure, he fanned a flashlight back and forth to paint the rink with light to photograph the naked body buried in the ice.
The arrow jutting from his chest angled out of his heart.
Both bare feet were cut as if from running for his life through the bush.
Handcuffs locked his wrists together in front.
Now healed over, his right ring finger was missing a phalange.
Severed above the Adam's apple, the naked man was missing his head.
Posted October 27, 2008
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