The Brigade - Opening Chapter
[Books make very good Christmas presents. Hint, hint.]
I. “I’ve Had Enough of What Ain’t Right!”
Bleed, bleed, poor country!
Great tyranny, lay thou thy basis sure,
For goodness dare not check thee.
Wear thou thy wrongs, thy title is affear’d …
-Macbeth - Act IV, Scene 3
“I’ll do it,” said Zack Hatfield.
“Do what?” asked his friend Charlie Washburn.
“Kill them,” said Hatfield. “I’m going to kill both of those bitches.”
The two of them were sitting on plastic-upholstered armchairs in the musty living room of Zack’s cheap furnished apartment in Astoria, Oregon. Hatfield was a tall and rangy blond man in his late 20s. His muscles were lean and ropy, and his often scowling face was prematurely seamed from working outside in the cold and the wind, at whatever temporary labor jobs he could find in his hometown that hadn’t been snapped up by Mexicans. Washburn was a heavy-set, blue-chinned man, a few years older, who had lost the battle of the bulge and who was beginning to lose the battle of the receding hairline. A third man sat on an old sofa with broken springs. He was a local hardware store owner in his late 50s named Lennart Ekstrom. His face was lean and chiseled, his moustache and mane of hair speckled with white, but thick. Washburn and Ekstrom looked at Hatfield in silence for a long moment. It did not occur to them to doubt that he meant what he said. They had known him all their lives, and they were familiar with his military record in Iraq. There was no sound except for the patter of an early winter rain on the windows in the black darkness outside. “Jesus,” said Charlie softly.
“I’ll do it on my own if need be, although I could use some help,” Hatfield told them. “If you’re in, we’ll talk about it. If not, I think it’s best that you both clear out right now, and then we shouldn’t see each other for a while. When we do, afterwards, nobody ever says anything about it. Not a word. Zip.”
“Is there really no other way, Zack?” asked Ekstrom in a leaden voice.
It was a rhetorical question. All three of them knew there wasn’t any other way.
* * *
Earlier that day, Zack Hatfield had been sitting in the visiting room of the Clatsop County jail. Not the open room with the tables and chairs for family visits, but the walled-in security chamber with a Plexiglas-separated cubicle equipped with telephones for communication, while a corrections officer loomed watchfully behind the prisoner he was there to see. Steven King’s crime was one of the most serious on both the Oregon and the federal statute books, and under state regulations he had to be kept under the strict restraint and supervision.
Facing Hatfield behind the Plexiglas, King looked ghastly. The former manager of the Seaside store of a major grocery chain was not wearing the orange jumpsuit of American shame, but ragged garments with old-fashioned black and white stripes that for some reason had never fallen out of use in Clatsop. The communications phone he held limply in one quivering hand. His once cherubically handsome face was now fishbelly white and gaunt, with the remnants of a double chin and once chubby cheeks drooping loosely from his skull in wattled folds of skin. His brown hair hung in lank rat-tails from his head, and showed new streaks of white that hadn’t been there a few weeks before. His horn-rimmed eyeglasses were taped together with a huge lump of Scotch tape at the hinge on the right side of his face. Hatfield decided against asking King how the breakage had come about, nor did his friend volunteer the information. Hatfield could guess in a general way what had happened, but he saw no need to hear this particular variation on the hideous American theme of a middle class white man suddenly hurled into the nightmare world of prison. Besides, King was so wrapped up in his own personal misery that beatings by whatever Mexican or meth-head had hurt him didn’t even seem to figure in his mind. He appeared disconnected with his body, feeling only the endless suffering in his heart and in his soul. All he could do was to keep coming back to the same refrain, over and over again, like an animal in a trap desperately trying to chew off its own leg in order to escape.
“How could she do this to me?” he moaned. “I loved her! I love her still, in spite of it all! I gave her everything I could, everything I had. Liddy and the girls were my whole world! I would have moved heaven and earth to make her happy. I don’t understand. What did I do wrong?”
“You aren’t the one who has done wrong, Steve,” Zack told him. “But do you mean to tell me, honestly, that you never saw any of this coming? I did, and so did Charlie and Len and just about everybody else. Okay, maybe nothing this foul, but we all knew Liddy was going to break bad on you at some point in time. The storm warnings were all there. She was always so brittle, always the chip on her shoulder, always that odd little look in her eyes, creeping people out. Every time I was over at your house or we ever met anywhere, Liddy managed to find some way to twist the conversation around and force some kind of politically correct feminist or pro-fag crap in there like she was some kind of suburban Jane Fonda. The constant little needling remarks, always trying to get in people’s faces, always trying to pick a fight with you even when there were other people present. The pseudo-intellectual airs, quoting from Sartre and Sylvia Plath and ancient Greeks as if she knew what the hell she was talking about, which I happen to be well-read enough on my own to know she didn’t. Her inability to be happy. The so-called community activism that always seemed to involve helping somebody other than this community. You’re telling me you never recognized the signs?”
“Oh, she was always like that, ever since she came back from the university,” said King with a shrug. “I mean, what else do you expect from U of O? I just figured she rebelled against her religious upbringing when she went to college, trying to be chic and fit in, and then she just sort of never grew out of it. I actually used to think it was kind of cute, kind of her way of retaining her youth.”
“Yeah, well, baby tarantulas grow up into big fucking poisonous spiders,” Hatfield reminded him.
But King was back onto his old refrain. “Why, Zack? I just don’t understand it. Why?” he went on in a monotone.
“Because it’s expected of her,” said Hatfield.
“Tony tells me that Marie Campisi asked Liddy that very same question, why?” Hatfield went on. “She said because she was past 30 years old and it was time for her first divorce.”
“She’s planning on more?” asked King in a disconnected daze.
“Yah, apparently that’s the big thing in all the feminist self-help and psychobabble books now. They call it life scheduling or some such shit,” explained Hatfield. “The first marriage is for kids, which of course she always takes with her in the divorce settlement after soaking hubby number one for every penny she can. Apparently the lesbian thing is also something every truly liberated woman is supposed to schedule now. At least one major lesbo relationship in your life or else you’re not a true Womyn. I think Pocahontas may be in for a shock, though. I actually looked that crap up on the internet, and after her lesbo fling, if she decides she prefers guys, Liddy is supposed to try to bag an older man who is very wealthy and who will most likely kick off by the time she’s 45 and leave her set for life. Or a wealthy older dyke if she decides she wants to keep on munching carpet. I think all Ms. Proudfoot has to her name is a welfare check and a line of noble Native American Womyn crap.”
“Woe-men?” repeated King.
Hatfield nodded. “That’s the way fems write it. I think that’s how it’s pronounced. It’s one of those PC shibboleths the media and the intelligentsia are trying to introduce into the language and make into an accepted and then mandatory term, like the word Ms. George Orwell wrote about it in 1984. Newspeak. Mind control. Just like we have to say African-American instead of nigger. When a totalitarian society controls the language, controls the words that people use in speech, and punishes them for using any word or terminology other than the prescribed ones, eventually the whole population will be so afraid they’ll start using the politically correct terms in their very thoughts, to make sure they don’t blurt out some word that will make them lose their jobs or get them arrested for hatespeech. The state ends up controlling not just their behavior and their speech, but shaping and controlling their very thoughts. Any questioning of the politically correct orthodoxy becomes literally unthinkable, because we don’t know how. We don’t have the words for it. The United States has been aiming for that for years. Anyway, your life has to be destroyed because it fits into Liddy’s life schedule, apparently. It’s all about her, of course. You’re a used component and now she’s throwing you away.”
“But if she wanted a divorce she didn’t have to do—this!” King waved his hand around at the surrounding walls and Plexiglas. “Why this?”
“To make absolutely sure that she gets Caitlin and Judy,” Hatfield replied patiently. He had explained the situation to King several times before, and so had his court-appointed attorney, but it was obvious that King simply could not yet wrap his mind around what was being done to him. “Under both the federal hatecrime laws and the Oregon Diversity and Tolerance Act, any conviction for hatecrime or hatespeech automatically terminates a convicted offender’s parental rights. If both parents are convicted, then It Takes A Village moves in and grabs the kids and sells them, but in this case, since Liddy can show that she is in what she will claim to be a stable lesbian relationship, once you’re convicted she’ll walk into family court and walk out 10 minutes later with Caitlin and Judy wrapped up in a bow, a present from the judge.”
“All for one single word?” screamed King in horror. The walls were closing in on him and he was clearly beginning to go insane. “Just because I said dyke?”
“Hey, buddy, settle down!” snapped the guard behind him. “You’re in enough trouble already! I’m a pretty laid back kind of guy, but it’s my job to make sure you don’t talk any more hateful stuff, and if someone hears you it will be my ass in the wringer and they’ll slap another count on you!” He took the phone briefly from King’s hand and said to Hatfield, “Sir, you’ve got five minutes left.”
Hatfield ignored him, and when King got the phone back to his ear he went on. “Martha Proudfoot claims that you made her feel threatened because of her gender, her sexual orientation, and her race. I think she claims you said dyke squaw, actually. You’re lucky the D.A. kept it in state court and so you’re only looking at five years for the speech. If they’d gone federal with it they might claim that making the Proudfoot woman feel apprehensive was an act of hatefully-motivated assault, which they can do under the statute, and then they could hit you with actual hate crime, which is mandatory life, maybe without parole if the judge thinks you actually intended to strike her.”
“Strike her?” laughed King bitterly. “My God, have you seen that creature? She’s built like a bulldozer! I just lost my temper is all, when I walked into my living room and found them doing—dear Christ, what they were doing—I can’t even talk about it!”
“The Chocolate Ritual,” said Hatfield. “I know. It is supposed to be for bonding between female lovers. Most people have no idea of what homosexuals actually do. You were unlucky enough to get a crash course.”
“The girls were upstairs!” whispered King in horror. “They were upstairs, Zack! How could Liddy do that with Caity and Judy upstairs? Not to mention the fact that they must have known I would be home any minute?”
“Oh, they knew,” said Zack with an assured nod. “My guess is that they wanted to provoke exactly the kind of incident that occurred, so they could hang this hatespeech rap on you, and thereby Liddy gloms onto your daughters and the house and all your property. No messing around with alimony or child support payments or constant trips back and forth to court. You’ll be a certified hater. One bang of a judge’s gavel and she gets the whole kit and kaboodle. I wonder what the Proudfoot woman’s cut will be from that night’s work? Steve, you know that the FBI had some child psychologist and a couple of agents in the other day and they grilled the girls for four or five hours?”
“Yeah, Pritkin, my lawyer, told me about that. Caitlin is six years old! Judy is four! What in God’s name could they expect to get from children?” demanded King incredulously.
“Whatever Liddy coached them to say. But I did hear something interesting. I name no names, of course.” He figured King could guess that he was referring to Len Ekstrom’s daughter Christina, who was a police dispatcher in the Justice Center, but he didn’t think it was a good idea to mention her anywhere her co-workers might hear her name in connection with a hatespeech case. “They asked the girls if you’d ever said any bad things about black people or Hispanic people as well as gay people, that kind of crap. This thing up in Idaho last month has them really freaked out and maximum paranoid. The Marines just recaptured Coeur d’Alene a few days ago, and the feds are seeing white supremacist rebels under every bed now. They asked your girls if they’d ever seen any flags in your house. Green, white, and blue ones.”
“That’s lunacy!” gasped King in shock.
“In case you hadn’t noticed it, the people who rule us are lunatics. Among other things.” Behind King the guard was holding up two fingers. “That’s the two-minute warning.”
“My life is over now, because I uttered a single word in anger,” muttered King, still unable to comprehend the magnitude of his fall.
“Your life is over now, because you uttered a single word in anger,” confirmed Hatfield.
“No one on earth will help me,” King moaned.
Hatfield glanced up at the guard behind the broken man in the orange jumpsuit, uncertain as to how much the guard could hear of his end of the conversation. “No one on earth will help you,” Hatfield repeated aloud. But before the guard led Steven King away, Zack caught his friend’s eyes, and he winked.
Outside the jail, the rain was falling softly, steadily, and the light was already fading. Zack pulled out a wireless phone, punched in a number, and quickly texted a message, ARE YOU ALIVE? Before he hit send, he thought rapidly and decided that the question might get picked up and noticed by some kind of government monitoring, and so he changed the message simply to ????? Then he hit send, and waited in the rain under a streetlight for several long minutes. Finally the little window on the phone lit up and he saw a reply.
I AM THE GHOST OF CHRISTMAS PAST.
Zack Hatfield took a deep breath and after a brief moment of indecision, the last he would ever experience in his life, he texted back: I WANT IN. CALL ME. Then he closed his cell phone and walked off in the rain toward his battered, ten-year-old Toyota.
* * *
“Sure, there’s another way,” agreed Zack in a conversational tone, in answer to Ekstrom’s question. He took a sip from his can of generic supermarket diet cola; he couldn’t even afford a name brand of bellywash. “We can just stand by and wring our hands while Steve King’s life is destroyed, and the lives of two little girls are poisoned and twisted by perversion and politically correct horse shit, until they grow up into beastly toadstools like their mother. Oh, we can maybe squeak a bit in protest, but not too loud. We can do the things that powerless white men do these days to let off steam. We can write a letter to the editor, or maybe get drunk and call up a right-wing talk show, although we’d damned well better not say what we really think, or we’ll be up on hatespeech charges too. Then when we sober up we can sweat for days, hoping we didn’t open our mouths too much and hoping the FBI or the local PC snoops didn’t hear us, or that they’re too busy this week to put us in the crosshairs and come and tear apart our lives because we dared to annoy our lords and masters by making even that one little squeak. We can do that, Len. I think Steve might even be grateful for that much. Of course, that won’t keep him from being sent into living hell because he dared to say the word dyke out loud. And it won’t stop Liddy King and that goddamned Indian or whatever the fuck she is taking everything Steve has managed to accumulate in life, and living high off the hog on it while he suffers the tortures of the damned. And it won’t save Caitlin and Judy King from being raised to hate all men of their own race, and being taught that it’s right and natural for them to do disgusting things with candy bars when they grow up. Or maybe before they grow up.”
“Suppose we all club together whatever money we’ve got and try to hire a decent lawyer for Steve?” suggested Ekstrom.
“There’s no such thing as a decent lawyer, and even if there were, they wouldn’t stand a chance in these courts on a hatespeech case,” Zack told them. “No lawyer with enough clout to beat a hatespeech case will touch one, because of the repercussions to his own career if he does win. It’s like an accusation of witchcraft or heresy in the Middle Ages. There simply isn’t any defense. None is permitted, and you have to remember that under the law, an attorney never really represents his client. He’s an officer of the court, first and foremost, and he is not going to buck the system that makes the payments on his Porsche every month. Any shyster we hire would simply take our money and plead Steve out, just like that court-appointed Jew he’s got now is going to do. We’d be throwing our money away and letting these filthy courts keep up the pretense that there is some kind of fairness or justice left in them, which hasn’t been the case since long before any of us were born. Steve King is white, male, and he likes women, even though he picked the wrong one to like. He hasn’t got a chance, and we all know it. We either help him, or we cut him loose because we’re too chickenshit scared to do what has to be done, and we let him fall all the way into hell. Even if he survives prison, what kind of life do you think he’ll ever have again? He’ll have to register as a hate offender, and that means he’ll be lucky to find a job flipping burgers or changing rich people’s oil in one of those quick-lube places, if he can find one that isn’t taken by a Mexican. If we’re going to help him, it has to be now, and we have to actually help him. There is only one way. Those two bitches can’t be around to get up on a witness stand and swear his life away.”
“It’s not just about Steve,” said Washburn heavily. “It’s about Caitlin and Judy as well.”
“It’s not even about them, Charlie, not in the final analysis,” said Hatfield, shaking his head. “It’s about us. About whether we’re men or dogs, groveling and whimpering in front of this evil tyranny, thumping our tails between our legs and pissing on the floor in terror of their muscle-bound steroid thug cops and their FBI torturers in silk suits and their reptiles in black robes. Steve King is a friend of twenty years’ standing to all of us. What is being done to him ain’t right, and I’ve had enough of what ain’t right! No more!” Zack suddenly clenched his fist and roared aloud, a lifetime of rage and humiliation and contempt for the world around him welling up from his heart and his belly and his brain and bursting out of his body in an explosion.
Washburn looked at the other two men. “Me, too. I’m in. Len, I think Zack’s right. You’d best take a powder. Zack’s single and I’m divorced, and we both have crappy jobs and nothing to lose. You have a family and a business and you’ve got everything to lose. I wasn’t a Ranger like Zack, I was just a truck driver, but I remember enough of my military stint to fire a weapon. I’m sure two of us can do this. There’s no need for you to be involved.”
“Steve used to come by the store starting when he was about 10, buying little bits and pieces and tools and screws for his go-kart,” said Ekstrom, his face distorted now as he almost wept in rage. “He was a fine, bright boy, friendly, not a malicious or selfish bone in his body, and he never changed. His father was a good man and a good friend. Those two girls of his are so beautiful, so sweet and wonderful. I see them when he brings them by the store. I must stand by while this terrible thing is done to them, simply because I am afraid? I can’t do that. God would punish me if I did that. I’m with you guys. I’ve just plain had enough. This time they’re not going to get away with it. They can’t. There has got to be some justice left somewhere, or all the world becomes hell. I am tired of living in hell. I never thought that I would be ready in my own mind to kill someone. But I’m ready. At some point in time, this madness and this cruelty has to stop. For me, it stops with Steve King. They’re not going to get him. No.”
“That’s the real thing, all right,” said Zack with a sigh and a smile. “It’s taken how many years between us to reach this point? Sometimes I thought white men never would.”
“We have,” said Charlie. “Okay, Zack, you’re the ex-Ranger. You should know how to plan a double assassination. How do we go about this? What do you want Len and me to do?”
“I’ll do the planning and the actual killing. I need you two to provide an alibi, nothing more,” said Zack.
“I think I may start year-end inventory a bit early,” said Ekstrom. “You’re registered with the Helping Hand temp agency, right?”
“I’m registered with all the temp agencies,” said Hatfield. “For all the good it does me. I work about three days on a good week.”
“I know Brenda down there,” Ekstrom told them. “I use their people sometimes when I have a truck coming in with heavy stuff, and I have a nod-nod wink-wink arrangement with her not to send me any Mexicans, so at least my money goes to one of my neighbors who really needs it. She won’t think it’s so unusual when I call her up and ask her to send you to me, just doing a good turn for a friend kind of thing.”
“It needs to be at night, when no one is around in the store,” said Hatfield. “I show up around closing time and let your last customers see me moving some boxes around. Charlie comes in just before you close up, and he hangs out for the evening jaw-jacking with his good buddies Len and Zack and helping you count sheet metal screws. I wait until traffic dies down a bit. I slip out the back and head for Seaside. I do the job, get rid of the gun and any clothing or gear I need to lose, come back when it’s over, and slip back inside. You sign my ticket for eight hours, documentary evidence I was there all night. That piece of paper can get you the rest of your life in prison, of course. Len, are you really sure about this?”
“I’m sure,” said Ekstrom with a nod, and Hatfield could tell that he was. “I can also make you a key to Steve’s house in Seaside,” the older man continued. “Steve used to get all his keys made at the store, and he ordered some extra sets a while back. Not many people know that Homeland Security regs require anyone with a key cutter to keep the specs, names, and addresses for all keys made in case the FBI or DHS wants the information for some reason. I still have Steve’s house key pattern on my key machine’s computer.”
“We can hoist the bastards on the petard of their own snooping laws,” laughed Washburn.
“Will you need a piece?” asked Ekstrom. “I can let you have pretty much anything you want from my collection, and ammo as well.” Ekstrom was a licensed gunsmith, which was the only way he was able to make a serious living and keep his small hardware store competitive with Mighty Mart and House Depot and the other big chain stores. His was one of the last remaining actual merchant businesses on Commercial Street in Astoria; most of the other storefronts were now converted to yuppie fern bars, chintzy antique shops, “quaint” eateries of various kinds, and offices for left-leaning activist organizations.
“No, I have one of my own I can use,” said Hatfield. “I’m going to ditch it afterwards, of course, but I don’t want to take the risk of getting caught with anything that might be traced back to you. If this goes bad, you just tell the cops I went out for lunch and never came back, and you had no idea I intended to commit such a horrible hateful act. I don’t want to drag you guys down with me.”
“When do we do it?” asked Washburn.
“It needs to be fast,” said Hatfield. “I did get from Steve that the kids are with Liddy’s mother for a week or so, and the Proudfoot bull dyke has moved into Steve’s house so she and Liddy can have their orgies with no risk of the little girls walking in on them, which I find charmingly delicate of them, if a bit too late. They’re probably on their p’s and q’s so they’ll look good in court. That means they’ll be alone in the house. I’ve been in and out of Steve’s place for years, and so I already know the lay of the land, no need for any extensive preliminary scouting or observation. Liddy was also dumb enough to give Steve’s dog away to the SPCA as an act of spite, so I won’t have to worry about Spuds or maybe have to silence him, which is definitely a load off my mind. Spuds is a cool mutt, and it would really bother me to have to hurt him. I sneak in with the key, cack them both, and I’m outta there.”
“In and out,” said Washburn. “It’s a good simple plan.”
“Yeah, well, the first thing you learn in the military is that no plan ever survives the first day of combat,” said Hatfield wryly. “The simplest plans are the best, but even so, there are always a hundred things that can go wrong.”
“You do realize the shit is going to hit the fan big time when two lesbians with a hatespeech case pending against a white male are murdered?” asked Charlie. “You also realize that yours is the first door Sheriff Ted Lear is going to come knocking on? He knows you and Steve have been tight since high school, plus you visited him in jail.”
“Yeah, well, that’s why I need you two guys as my alibi,” said Hatfield with a grin. “But I’ve also got a little trick up my sleeve to muddy the waters like hell. I’m going to take a magic marker with me, and I’m going to write the letters NVA on the wall. Maybe in their blood.”
“Jesus, Zack, that will be sure to bring in the FBI!” exclaimed Washburn. “After what’s happened in Coeur d’Alene, they’re descending on the Northwest like a swarm of angry bees!”
“Are they? Or are they running around like chickens with their heads cut off?” queried Hatfield. “Charlie, remember, I saw the federal government of the United States in all its glory operating in Iraq. You have no idea how incompetent they are, what complete idiots they are. 20,000 or so ragged, barefoot little brown men with nothing but AK-47s and a few RPGs whipped the mighty United States Army and Marines down into jelly when I was there, and they’re still doing it all over the Middle East. Have been for almost a generation now, and these morons in Washington still haven’t got a clue! All they know how to do is jump however high and run however far Israel and the Jews tell them to. My guess is that by writing NVA on the wall I can ratchet this thing right out of Ted Lear’s hands and up onto the federal level where it’s simply lost in the shuffle. Ted Lear is smart. He can read this, although he may not be able to prove anything, and he may not want to. He’s a friend of Steve King too. But I’d rather have the dumb-ass FBI on my trail than any local cop who knows the ground and knows the people involved, and who has a couple of brain cells to rub together. We see all over CNN and Fox News that the uprising in Coeur d’Alene has been crushed and it’s all over. I don’t buy that. My guess is what’s left of the real NVA is going to keep on fighting and hitting these bastards, and very quickly the file on these homicides will end up gathering dust in some SAIC’s pending basket, with the files from a hundred other NVA hits piled on top of it.”
“So when do we do it?” repeated Charlie.
“Len, make your call to Helping Hand tomorrow morning,” said Hatfield decisively. “I’ll blow those dykes away tomorrow night.”
* * *
Steve King’s house was a large split-level ranch-style dwelling built on a wide landscaped lawn, constructed in redwood paneling and stucco on the outside with a brick planter and other tag ends of brick trim, house and lot, sitting on a beetling ridge in a subdivision just south of the coastal town of Seaside. Zack hadn’t been too happy about driving through the town itself on his way there, since the one major weakness in his plan was his vehicle. The only car he could come up with for this murder mission was his own, and that was a dangerous and foolhardy thing to do, but he could not in all good conscience ask either of the other men to loan him a car or truck, and risk linking them to the killings. Before starting out that night, Hatfield had cut several short strips of black masking tape, made sure his front and rear Oregon license plates were dry so the tape would stick, and carefully altered his license number by transforming the I into a T and the 5 into a passable 8. The resulting false license number would raise a red flag if it were run on the DMV computer by a police officer, but you had to get very close up to see the tape, and from a distance it worked.
After crossing the great bridge over Youngs Bay he took a carefully pre-planned route, turning left off Highway 101 as soon as he came into Gearhart and swinging wide along some back roads to bypass the glowing rainy streets of Gearhart and Seaside, so hopefully no one would recall seeing his car. It had taken him an extra half hour, and he would have to take the same route going back. It was a long time on the road, but there was no help for it. He made sure he had a full tank of gas before he left, cleaned his fuel injectors, checked his battery and replaced the starter just in case. He wanted to make damned sure that engine fired up when he needed it to start.
Now Hatfield stood outside the house preparing himself for his entry. It was about 10:30 at night, moonless and drizzly, perfect for Hatfield’s purpose. Clatsop County deputies left local law enforcement in the county’s many small towns to small municipal forces. Hatfield remembered that Ted Lear had once mentioned in some casual context or other that Seaside police shift change (all four cars of it) took place at 11 p.m., and so by now the single-cop squad cars and station staff should be easing on back to the barn, so the cops could turn in their gear and paperwork and go off duty as close to 11 as they could manage, before heading home or off to Ray’s Tavern, which had a special late-night liquor license to accommodate the gents in blue. There was a faint salty tang in the air from the nearby beach, just a couple of blocks away, and the sound of the Pacific breakers could be heard low and soft in the dark night air. The lots and lawns in the neighborhood were large, and there were almost 50 yards between King’s house and the neighboring homes on either side. Hatfield counted on the distance and hopefully some internal noise of televisions, home entertainment centers, and computers in the homes of King’s neighbors to make sure no shots were heard.
He parked his car on a narrow yet paved verge in front of the right-hand neighbor’s house, to prevent leaving any tire tracks, although there wasn’t much chance of that with the asphalt as wet as it was from the drizzle. This also meant that so long as he walked only on the concrete driveway and stayed off the grass and out of the muddy shrubbery, he didn’t have to worry about leaving any footprints. Even so, he was wearing hospital shoe covers tied on over his shoes, which he would get rid of afterwards. The car was almost centered between two streetlights. It meant a longer walk, but Zack had balanced that against the possibility of someone noticing his Toyota in front of the King home. Zack pulled on a pair of latex surgical gloves and pulled up the hood of the cheap parka sweatshirt he’d gotten from the Salvation Army store last year. It would go as well; few people had seen him in the garment and no one should remember it.
He walked calmly down the empty street and turned in at the Kings’ driveway. Inside the sweat shirt, stuck into his belt was a truncated double-barreled 12-gauge shotgun. Before he left the hardware store in Astoria, he had placed the old Remington, which had belonged to Zack’s father, into Len Ekstrom’s vice grip and carefully taken the double barrel down to 18 inches with a hacksaw and oil, and cut off the stock of the old weapon down to the grip. The amputated fragments were in a plastic bag in Zack’s trunk for disposal along with the gun itself, the parka, and other bits and pieces. The gun was loaded with two shells of .00 buckshot, and Zack had half a dozen more rounds in the sweatsuit parka’s pockets. He also had a snub-nosed Smith & Wesson .38 in an interior clip holster stuck in his belt at the small of his back. The house was dark as he walked up the driveway except for a single light in the front living room downstairs. He glanced through the windows of the garage and saw Steve’s SUV and Liddy’s Lexus parked inside. There was a battered military-surplus Hummer in the driveway sporting a number of feminist and pro-abortion bumper stickers, which Zack had learned belonged to Martha Proudfoot. There were no other cars in the driveway, which was a good sign. Zack mounted the steps to the front door and took from his back pocket the key that Len had cut for him.
Hatfield stood at the front door, thinking of his text message to the Ghost of Christmas past. I may well be doing something like this again soon, he reflected. If so, I damned well better plan it a lot better. This job was too rushed. He was now at the point of no return; he could if he wished simply turn and walk away, and possibly he should. There were several things that could go wrong now if he proceeded to enter the house. First, the key might not work, and he might have to go around to the rear door, use his knife to cut through the screen and then either kick in or jimmy the door lock to force entry, thus alerting those inside. Secondly, he had no way of knowing if Liddy King or the Proudfoot woman had become sufficiently paranoid to install an alarm system. Steve King had never used one, since this part of the Northwest was still sufficiently crime-free so it had not seemed necessary, as long as the family had Spuds the terrier to sound the alarm in case of intrusion. But with the media full of hysterical raving about evil racist terrorist conspiracies in the wake of the October rebellion in Idaho, the two lesbians might have gotten jumpy. Thirdly, he had no way of knowing for absolute certain that they were the only two people in the house, despite the lack of any unaccounted-for vehicles in the garage and driveway. It was possible Liddy had brought the two little girls back home. Finally, he had no way of knowing whether or not he had somehow been detected already, or whether he would be detected on entry in some manner, and they would call the police. Good liberal that she was, Liddy would never allow Steve to own any guns, which her husband had gone along with for fear of the girls getting hold of a weapon and a subsequent tragic accident, but that could have changed along with Liddy’s sexual orientation. It was indeed a rushed job, maybe too rushed.
Zack pulled back the hood of the parka and then pulled down a dark navy blue ski mask, covering his face. He inserted the key in the front door, unlocked it, and carefully turned the knob. There was a brief sticking and then the tumblers fell softly. He pushed the door open. The chain was off, so he would not need the small pair of bolt cutters in his left back pocket. That’s a stroke of luck, he thought. They’re careless. Careless and arrogant. I’ll bet it simply never occurred to them that despite what they’re doing, anyone would dare to lift a finger to stop them. Why would it occur to them? Until a few weeks ago, no one’s ever fought back.
He pushed the door open and went in. The front hall was dark. Zack silently moved to the door of the living room and peeped around into the room. It was empty except for one lit table lamp. Zack mounted the carpeted stairs slowly, staying close to the wall so as not to make any boards creak. He knew where the bedroom was, the defiled bedroom where Steve and Liddy had slept as man and wife. The door to the girls’ room was open and he glanced in; in the very dim light filtering in through the window, he could see that the little beds were empty. Thank God, he thought to himself. Caity and Judy at least won’t have nightmares about terrible sounds and boogey men in masks from this night’s work. I wonder if they will ever be able to understand why, when they grow up? If I’m still around, if we win, I’m going to have to tell them one day that I killed their mother. I can’t shirk it. Damn! Better not think about it now.
Now Hatfield stood outside the master bedroom door. He could hear low, drowsy female voices from within, talking softly and casually. There was no sign of alarm; he had been as silent as the grave. Zack pulled two rubber ear plugs out of his pocket, lifted his mask and inserted them into his ears so the noise and concussion of the heavy bore gun going off in a closed room would not damage or rupture his ear drums. He slid the hammerless shotgun out and eased the safety off; it was ready to fire. He took a long deep breath, remembering Iraq, recovering the mindset needed to kill. This was different, he knew. The Indian bitch he didn’t give a damn about, but Liddy was a woman of his own race, a woman he’d known from Astoria High. They’d never had much in common, since even in high school Zack had been blue collar and right wing, and she had been wealthy by Astoria standards and lilac, Lifetime Channel trendy-left. But she was Steve’s wife, and so they’d spent some years at least being polite and halfway friendly to one another. Until she had gone mad and turned on his friend like a rabid dog, he’d had nothing against her. Could he do it? If I can’t, I’d damned well better find out before I meet with Red’s people, Zack said to himself.
Hatfield pushed open the door and stepped into the room, and in that room he found only enemies, targets to be destroyed. He could do it, and he did. Driving away from the house of the dead, back to Astoria, he knew he had been right to send that text message.
He drove to a spot he knew near Hammond, at the very mouth of the mighty river where it entered the ocean, a low cliff, and he pitched the shotgun and ammunition into the estuary. The parka and the shoe covers and gloves went into the black plastic garbage bag; they would be cut into strips and burned before morning. He stepped back inside the hardware store at 12 o’clock sharp. “How was lunch?” asked Ekstrom, glancing up from the desk in his office where he was scribbling on some inventory papers.
Charlie Washburn sat in a corner sipping from a large Styrofoam cup of latté from a late-night espresso stand. “Speaking of which, I got you a hoagie before Larissa’s Deli closed,” Washburn said, pointing to a paper-wrapped sandwich and a second cup of coffee beside a brown paper bag.
“Thanks,” said Zack, finding he was hungry. He unwrapped the sandwich and chomped down on it. “It’s done,” he said with his mouth full.
“Both of them?” Washburn asked.
“Both of them.”
“Any problems?” asked Ekstrom.
“You write those letters on the wall?” Ekstrom persisted curiously.
“I did. Don’t know when they’ll find the bodies, but when they do I promise you’ll be able to hear the Daily Astorian scream in horror all the way down to Coos Bay.”
“Well, that’s that,” Washburn sighed.
“Not quite,” said Hatfield. “I think I’m going for a few encores.”
“What?” asked Ekstrom.
“Charlie, you remember last summer, that meeting I asked you to go to?” Hatfield reminded him. “The one where something suddenly came up and you backed out?”
“Yeah,” responded Washburn cautiously. “I can’t remember what it was that came up, now, exactly.”
“You probably had an outbreak of common sense. Anyway, don’t worry about it,” said Zack with a shrug. “That was last summer. Things are different now. I’ve got one last thing to say about tonight, and then if you guys want out, there will be no hard feelings, and who’s to say you’re not a hell of a lot smarter than I am? I won’t ever mention it again, but for now, just listen to me a bit. You both know that I know some people, and you’ve always avoided bringing up the subject. I appreciate your tact, and I never pushed it because I figured that once you knew, it was your choice whether or not you wanted to talk about it. But what happened in Coeur d’Alene has changed things. Now we know it can be done. We failed in Coeur d’Alene, but the Party hasn’t been destroyed. I know because I have been in contact with some people who escaped from CdA and who are still fighting, carrying on a guerrilla war to establish our own white country here in the Northwest. It’s going to be long and bloody and horrible, but we’re going to win.”
“How do you figure that?” asked Washburn curiously.
“Short answer? God is on our side,” said Zack simply.
“Oooo-kaaay…” said Washburn. “And you know this, how?”
“Because of what happened in Coeur d’Alene and what happened with me tonight,” Zack explained. “These things are God’s sign to us. Not whether we won or lost, or whether I screwed up somehow and I’m in jail looking at a double murder charge this time tomorrow night. That’s not what matters. What matters is that these things happened. That we did them. God has given the white man back his courage. The courage to stand up and defy our oppressors’ laws. The courage to fight back with weapons in our hands, instead of a computer keyboard. The courage to be men again, real courage that comes from our hearts and not from a can of cheap domestic beer or a whiskey bottle. We never had that before, up until now, and that’s why white men always lost. We were ashamed of who we were. We were ashamed to be who we are. No more. Guys like me and the Old Man and so many others have spent all our lives begging God on our knees to just do this one little thing for us, to give us back the courage that our ancestors had, even if it’s only for one last glorious defeat, so that we can die on our feet instead of live on our knees, and exit the stage of history with our heads held high. God has answered our prayers. We have our courage back now. I don’t know how it happened, but we’ve got it back. We got ours back when we did this thing tonight, because even though I was the triggerman, you guys stepped up to the plate just as much as I did. When I got to that house and I didn’t find cops waiting for me, and when I got back tonight and I found both of you still here, at your posts, instead of home hiding under the bed tossing a case of beer or a bottle of Jack down your throats to quiet your terror, you proved yourselves just as much as I did. God has given you back your courage too, guys, and either of you could have done my job tonight if you’d had to.”
Zack paused, took another bite of his sandwich, and then chewed and swallowed it. “Anyway, I’m going to meet with some people about joining the Northwest Volunteer Army and setting up a unit here. You guys want in?”
“Yes,” said Ekstrom, quietly and without hesitation.
“Yes,” said Washburn with a nod.
“Welcome to the lunatic fringe, boys,” said Hatfield.