The War At Home
CHAPTER 7: THE WAR AT HOME
ARMED FORCES CREDIT UNION
Thanks to their Harleys, Piney and JT, with Tameesha riding with JT, were able to drive quickly through the slower moving traffic, crossing the 15 miles of irrigated farmland and entering Lodi’s downtown commercial district in record time. Even from Lodi’s rural outskirts, however, JT could clearly see the thick black smoke rising like a dark, ominous stain against the deep blue sky and puffy white clouds hanging over the small city. Traffic was far worse heading in the opposite direction as a sizable number of people were fleeing the town center in panic. Motorists were honking and shouting at each other to move faster as they made their way past the scene of a fender bender that had occurred amid the panic. At least five helicopters were in the air now, though it wasn’t clear whether they belonged to law enforcement or to the media, which was quickly streaming here from as far as Portland to cover what was certainly going to be the national headlines for the next few days at the very least.
They took full advantage of their motorcycles, speeding past the stalled cars on downtown Lodi’s narrow streets, sometimes going against traffic and even bypassing several of the parked cars and emergency vehicles, getting as close to the scene as possible. JT saw that the police had already put up the yellow crime scene tape some distance around the smoldering ruins of the credit union even as firefighters continued to spray the building, make sure nothing caught back on fire again. There were dozens of paramedics on the scene, many of the first responders screaming for backup and frantically radioing for more ambulances.
“We need three more Medevac helicopters right here, right now if these people are going to make it!” one EMT was shouting into his beeper. JT saw him motion to one of his female colleagues. “Lodi Hospital’s trauma unit is already well over capacity and St. Thomas ER is filling up fast, we’re going to have send some of these patients to Stockton. We also need the hospitals in Sacramento on alert.”
“Yes, sir,” the female EMT said and ran back toward her ambulance to make the call. The University of California hospitals in the Bay Area were notably absent, and this was due to the anti-military sentiment on those campuses. They didn’t want to risk another riot by attacking students if ambulances from the bombing were seen approaching those facilities. Plus, even though he knew professionalism was to come first, part of him also didn’t trust the staff at the Cal system due to their political differences. After all, some of those medical and nursing students were probably among the protestors who spat on and physically assaulted the returning veterans.
Then JT saw a sight that would haunt him more than anything he had seen in Vietnam. A woman who looked like she was fresh out of college was being rolled toward a waiting ambulance, and one of her legs was completely missing. The EMTs were trying to calm her down and do their best under the circumstances to comfort her even as she began going into shock from the blood loss. JT would never forget the look on her face as she looked down despite the EMTs advice and saw her missing limb.
“Sir, this area’s closed, sir….” a Lodi police officer said, trying to block JT, Piney, and Tameesha’s way.
“My husband was working there!” Tameesha screamed frantically, “I need to go there and see if…”
The cop followed her as they all went past the yellow tape. “Ma’am, what’s his name, do you have a picture of him?”
Tameesha paused and showed the officer a picture of Otis that she pulled out of her wallet. “His name’s Otis Cross. He’s the student intern from the University of the Pacific’s economics program. His desk would be right there by the window.”
She gasped, dropping her purse as he saw that the entire half of the structure had been completely blown away and that even the other half of the credit union had been reduced to some tangled steel supports.
“I’m so sorry, Mrs. Cross,” the cop said sympathetically, “The van that exploded was parked directly next to where his desk used to be, and I don’t have any survivors matching his description. If he was at his desk the moment the bomb exploded, we may not even have anything to identify him with. Again, I’m very sorry to inform you of this, ma’am.”
Tameesha fell down to her knees on the pavement and wailed. JT and Piney tried their best to console her, but it was no use. Her fiancée, the father of her newborn child, was gone forever, and there wasn’t even a body left for her.
CHARMING POLICE DEPARTMENT, LATER THAT EVENING
Rookie officer Wayne Unser of the Charming Police Department thought today would be his big break as he and his fellow officers watched the news coverage of the terrorist bombing in Lodi. A small city like Lodi was obviously unprepared for this kind of crisis and had quickly called on nearby law enforcement agencies for assistance. Charming was one of the closest and would have a heavy presence at the scene to assist until FBI agents from the San Francisco field office arrived. Military investigators were also headed to Lodi as well, creating a jurisdictional nightmare.
“Unser, come here,” Chief of Police Ryan Hancock said, motioning for Unser to come into his office as he hung up the rotary phone. The chief’s office was fitting for a small town like Charming, sparsely decorated except for the American and California state flags, the official town seal featuring a miner and farmer, and some historical photos of the local area. Hancock had transferred to Charming from San Jose ten years ago for a more peaceful environment, and had been police chief since Unser was in high school with JT.
“I assume we’re responding to the calls for assistance from Lodi, sir?” asked Unser with anticipation.
“You’re not, Unser. But I do need you here to take care of anything that arises here in town while we’re dealing with the attack. Tuesday night in Charming, shouldn’t be too many issues.”
“Sir, I….” Unser began.
“You will see more action in due time, Wayne, I promise you that. Just not tonight. This is too far serious of a business we’re dealing with right now, especially with the FBI and military investigators on the scene taking charge. And our priority is still right here in Charming. We can only pray that nothing like this ever happens in our town.”
“I understand Chief.”
“Tell you something, though. You know the Jefferson Ranch, them two brothers out there in the Morada Creek area, their sister’s called today about trying to call them for hours and not reaching them, and they were supposed to head over to her place in Lake Tahoe for a little get together. She calls again, y’all might want to check up on them, make sure nothing’s out of sorts out there.”
“Yes, sir. I’ll definitely remember that.”
Rescue workers continued to search through the rubble late into the night, and would continue nonstop for two more days, but by this point it was almost entirely a recovery effort. Eventually the death toll would rise to 14, including active duty soldiers, veterans, and civilian employees. Chief Hancock watched grimly as several more badly burned and mangled bodies were taken out of the rubble while family members and friends of the victims continued to wait just past the yellow police tape for whatever news was available, even if it was the worst. Hancock was glad no Weathermen had dared to make their way here from out of town to gloat about their successful attack, because in his state of mind, there was no guarantee he could have kept himself from shooting those bastards on the spot.
After questioning witnesses and helping the Feds and MPs collect evidence and questioning several witnesses who had come forward, Hancock made his way back to the command post to see the military police overseeing the investigation. However, as he approached, he saw that only FBI Special Agent Mark Tasker was there to powwow with the other federal agents and local police gathered for the bombing investigation.
“Agent Tasker, where’s, um, the sergeant from NCIS…”
“They’ve been recalled back to base,” Agent Tasker replied, quite tersely in Hancock’s opinion. “The FBI alone is in charge of this investigation now.”
“I’m sorry, Agent Tasker, but given this was clearly a military property that was targeted by the terrorists I’m just surprised…..”
Tasker cut him off. “These directives come straight from Washington. You may not notice in your little town,” the Special Agent continued condescendingly, “But the military’s quite a sensitive issue these days. Having these Army folks running an investigation could inflame things. Not everyone in California or America. supports the GIs as much as your townspeople do.”
Boy am I glad I don’t live in the Bay Area anymore, Hancock wanted to say out loud but bit his tongue. Tasker was definitely a product of that world, with his smug attitude and his fancy Italian suit and his custom made Brooks Brothers tie courtesy of the American taxpayer.
“So what do you have for me, Chief?” Tasker asked.
“Owner of the donut shop next door remembered a green Dodge Maxivan parked right in front of the credit union.”
Another agent began furiously taking notes. “As we mentioned before, Agent Tasker, sir, the plates were indeed burned beyond recognition even though they’re on the way to San Francisco as we speak. Hopefully the lab will be able to salvage something useful from them, maybe find out who they were registered to.”
“Green? Okay,” Tasker replied jotting down some notes. “Any other markings on it? A description of the driver?”
“No, sir,” said the junior agent, “He was wearing some kind of head covering and was coughing so his face was covered.”
“Convenient, eh?” Tasker remarked. “Anything else, people?”
“One more thing,” Chief Hancock said, pulling out some sheets of paper for Tasker. “I spoke to some employees of the drugstore over there. Don’t know what to make of it, but they said for the past few months, there’s been these hippies protesting in front of the credit union. About 3 or 4 of them. All of them were suspiciously absent today, and the lunch hour’s typically their favorite protest time given the obvious busy traffic. I don’t know if they were spotters for the terrorists, or if the terrorists just gave them a heads up so they’re out of the blast radius. I’ve taken the liberty of having Charming PD’s sketch artists make these based on the descriptions we got from these witnesses.”
Agent Tasker smiled for the first time in their long conversation. “Good work, Chief. This is certainly helpful. I’ve have my people back at the San Fran Field Office try to find a match against known members of the Weather Underground. And just some friendly advice to you, from Washington as well. When you’re talking to the press, especially the national media, try not to refer to our suspects as terrorists. Washington and the national media prefers ‘militants’, or ‘radicals’. The term ‘terrorist’ is a big too loaded, especially in today’s controversial political climate. After all, there are those who believe the soldiers are the real terrorists in Vietnam. Again, that comes from Washington.”
“Thank you, sir, for your insight,” Hancock replied as straightly as possible, “Just been a small town cop the past ten years, been out of the loop of national affairs.”
“Good work. Let me know if you find anything else.”
Agent Tasker went back into his mobile command post and took a look at the sketches the Charming police had provided of the four radical activists who regularly protested in front of the financial institution. They were of surprisingly good quality, with many clear facial features that could easily be matched with the FBI records. Instead of utilizing these pictures, however, Tasker immediately tore them to shreds and dumped the pieces into the trash can.
“Something don’t feel right here,” Unser said as he and Tincher made left their police cruiser and made their way down the path toward the main house on the property. The Jefferson brothers’ sister had indeed called again to check up on them, and still no answer to Unser and Tincher decided to drive out to Morada Creek to see what was going on.
“What makes you say that, rookie?” Tincher asked, making sure to remind his partner of his inexperience.
“Just my gut instinct. We need to be careful here,” Unser replied, removing his gun from his holster and taking the safety off.
“You know how many missing persons reports are actually legit, Wayne?” Tincher asked, referring to the countless false alarms where people had just wandered off, or couldn’t reach a phone, or just had an emotional breakdown and skipped town for a couple days. He soon stopped, though, as he saw the large amount of fresh tire tracks in the dirt near the garage. “Looks like there’s been an unusual level of activity here recently though.”
The cattle on the ranch were wandering aimlessly around the grazing fields, and several of the Jefferson brothers’ dogs could be heard whimpering from inside the garage.
“You might be on to something here,” Tincher whispered, also drawing his weapon as they quietly made their way toward the garage. Everything looked and felt deserted, though, Unser thought to himself. Whatever had happened here happened hours ago. A few moments later, they kicked down the door and swept the room. They saw the two dogs circling their owners’ dead bodies as flies buzzed through the air.
“Shit,” Tincher cursed. “Let’s call this in.”
CORONER’S OFFICE, CHARMING POLICE DEPARTMENT
It was clear that Lisa Ann Jefferson was typically quite a stunner despite her disheveled appearance as she and her husband got out of the station wagon with Nevada plates and made their way into the Charming Police Department building. Unser and Hancock didn’t blame her at all. She had been given the general description of the two dead bodies bound on her brothers’ ranch, and they certainly matched those of her siblings. For all intents and purposes, this was basically a technicality. One look at her face made it clear to both Unser and Hancock that she had been crying much of the way here. Both of them shook their heads internally as they walked her into the police department building. First the horrible terrorist attack nearby, and how a double homicide right here within Charming city limits. Charming had only seen seven murders in the 10 years Hancock had headed the department.
They walked silently into the coroner’s office in the rear of the building, where the forensics experts had the two bodies prepared.
Lisa took one look at them and nodded., telling the officers quietly, “Yes, those are my brothers.”
“What….what happened? I deserve to know the truth.”
Hancock nodded and Unser began. “We know there were two killers judging from the different bullet types involved. Both bullets come from Czechoslovakian pistols that we believe were smuggled here from Mexico. They’ve been turning up in crime scenes throughout the state. Judging from the wounds, it looks like the killers took them by surprise. Most likely it’s someone they knew. I’m very, very sorry to ask you this, but to the best of your knowledge, did either of your brothers have any involvement with individuals with criminal connections.”
Lisa shook here head hard several times. “No, absolutely not!” She then paused. “There is something, though. They…they were supposed to sell their van to this farmer before they headed up to visit me.”
“Did they mention who this farmer is? If he’s someone that y’all might know from this area?” asked Hancock.
“No….no they didn’t,” replied Lisa, “They put these classified ads out in the newspaper and got a call. They been trying to sell it for months, it’s older, guess not many people were interested.”
“Ma’am, would you know what type of van it was, by any chance?”
Hancock looked at the rookie with a weird expression as if to say What kind of question is that? Why the hell is that relevant?
“It was a green Dodge Maxivan.”
“Jesus Christ,” the chief exclaimed.
VFW POST, CHARMING
The Veteran of Foreign Wars post in Charming was located in a small, single story wooden structure on Business Route 99 in a mixed residential and commercial neighborhood just south of the town center. The inside, which included a multipurpose room, a dance hall, and a bar was much more homey and comfortable than the building’s unassuming exterior would have suggested. It was here that Clay, Piney, and JT felt most at home. They were glad that the VFW, as its name suggested, limited its membership to veterans who actually saw action on the battlefield. They had every bit of respect for the National Guardsmen who rescued stranded residents of Louisiana from the floodwaters of Hurricane Camille, those of them who had been directly in the line of fire shared a sudden brotherhood that nobody else, not even other soldiers, could ever understand. This time, however, it was just Clay and Piney here as JT needed some time alone to deal with Otis’s death.
Clay stood silently for a moment, chewing some tobacco as he stood on the bar’s outdoors patio which overlooked Morada Creek, a small tributary that ran from Charming to the San Joaquin River. He and Piney had been sharing some drinks and conversation with a group of World War II and Korean War vets but needed a smoke to maintain his composure after the paperboy dropped off a stack of copies of the Oakland Tribune. Radical national protest organizer Saul Alinsky was quoted as saying “What goes around does come back around after all”. Even as he denounced the attacks for show, Alinsky went on to claim that the US military brought it upon themselves through their actions in Southeast Asia.
“Will you look at this bullshit?” Clay growled. He spit out his tobacco right onto Alinsky’s face on the picture, then wrinkled up the entire newspaper into a ball and hurled it into Morada Creek, watching it flow downstream. “I’ll kill that son of a bitch!” He squeezed his Budweiser bottle so hard it nearly cracked.
“You can’t let these bastards get to you, Clay,” Piney said, squeezing Clay’s shoulders, though it was quite obvious Piney shared the indignant rage. “Alinsky’s a fucking idiot and a loser. Those SDS guys are a bunch of drug addicts with no worth in their lives. We both know what happened to JT. I don’t want to be visiting you in prison next.”
“We got your back, and that’s all that matters,” said Marshall, one of the WW2 vets they had been hanging out with as he returned to the patio table with a mixed bucket of Budweisers and Coors Lights.
“Thanks, and we appreciate the acceptance we’ve gotten here,” Piney told Marshall sincerely, “I know some other VFW posts look down on us ‘Nam people. You got guys like our parents who fought their way through Okinawa and….”
“Now you look at me, son,” Marshall said, “Yes, I’m proud of what I and my guys done over in Normandy. I also realize that we were blessed with a president and a Congress that unleashed us on those Nazi bastards without mercy. They let us to whatever the hell we needed to, there was none of that touchy feely I feel so bad for the enemy bullshit that y’all have to deal with. Look, you did everything you could over in Vietnam. You defeated the commie bastards every time you engaged those sons of bitches. You did everything that this government let you do to win that war.”
“What the…..” they heard a shout, then the entire VFW hall exploded in a hail of bullets as the windows facing Route 99 shattered, as did the glass light fixtures above the pool tables and the alcohol bottles behind the bar.
“Get down!” Piney shouted , pushing Marshall and Clay out of the way as the bullets also reached the outdoors area. Clay immediately removed his pistol from his holster and opened fire across the pool area, glancing a slow moving Toyota Carina sedan. It was driven by a young man with a red bandana who was firing a Soviet Kalashnikov rifle.
“This is for Vietnam!” the driver shouted in a rage as he continued firing into the veterans post.
The passenger seat and the back seats were also filled with young gunmen dressed in similar attire, the ones on the far side of the Carina hanging out of the vehicle. Another vet also opened fire but was grazed in the shoulder, falling down on the ground clutching it.
One of the attackers hurled a Molotov cocktail with the markings of the Weather Underground on it into the VFW post. It landed on one of the pool tables which quickly ignited, spreading to the chairs and booths around the central area. One of the pool players was on fire. Piney quickly removed his leather motorcycle jacket and started using it to beat out the flames consuming the man.
Clay jumped over the railing of the patio and dashed through some undergrowth, climbing the hill back to the main road. Using his precise military skills, Clay fired a bullet directly into the driver’s brain, splattering his brain and pieces of his skull into the window. The other terrorists immediately started panicking. The Weatherman in the driver’s seat shoved his dead comrade’s body out onto the street and got into his seat, speeding off. Clay then jumped onto his bike, continuing to engage the Weathermen as two of them returned fire, sending several vehicles swerving to avoid the gunfire .
Clay shot one of the Weathermen as he leaned out the window to fire, not sure if he killed or injured him, but a bullet from the Toyota struck Clay’s front tire, causing him to lose control of the bike and rear end a car on the lane over, propelling him through the air until he landed on the median. “Fuck!”
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