(A chapter in Mike Vanderboegh's upcoming novella, "Absolved")
Editor's Note: Before digging into this chapter, you may want to read an earlier excerpt from "Absolved", which you can find here)
One Year, Two Months and Seventeen Days After the Death of Phil Gordon in the "Battle of Sipsey Street"
Washington DC, 4:52 PM EST
Office of the Assistant Director for Field Operations
The AD Ops looked up from the file and into the eyes of Special Agent Dickerson. "Anything else on Gordon?"
"Which one, sir?"
"The oldest one, the Army officer."
"Robert Gordon, sir, and he's an ex-army officer now," Dickerson mildly corrected his boss.
"Yeah," snickered the AD, "Not such a big shot since we had him run out of the service, is he?"
"Well, sir, he's pretty down on his luck. We strung out the aiding and abetting charges as long as we could, but we didn't really want to go to trial on those."
The AD nodded.
"As you know his wife left him about four months ago, after his dismissal from the service was confirmed and their property seizure was affirmed by the Appellate Court. She's living with her mother now, working as a . . " Dickerson consulted his notebook, "A medical secretary for a physician in private practice in Duluth. Of course with his accounts forfeited he has no fallback income. Everything his father owned was also seized as products of a criminal enterprise, so he can't tap into what no longer exists. He has been unable to get a job as a pilot or anything else, thanks to our efforts. . . His brother and sister have floated him some modest loans over the past few months but as you know, they have their own financial problems too."
The AD beamed, since he was personally responsible for the Gordon siblings' reversal of fortune.
"We had him under close 24 hour surveillance until after the anniversary passed. The behavioral psychologist on the fourth floor who's studied his medical reports from the VA psychiatrist says he's just beat, sir. He blames his father for his troubles more than us, according to the anecdotal evidence we've been able to gather. In fact, our shrink says we should lighten up on him a bit, now that it seems he's not going to be a problem. Give him something to live for."
Dickerson looked up from his notes to see the AD Ops shaking his head.
"That's exactly what were NOT going to do. We're going to keep grinding that bastard until there's nothing left of him. His damned killer father wasted over a hundred of our agents but he's dead and I can't do anything to him, so I'm doing the next best thing. I'm going to grind every one of that traitor's spawn into dust. Teach them to screw with the United States government."
"Yes, sir," replied Dickerson. "Shall I continue the electronic surveillance to verify his whereabouts?"
"Hell yes," growled the AD.
"And what next, sir?"
"Have we audited his taxes yet?"
"Well do it. I'm not going to be happy until the SOB puts a gun to his sorry head. See to it, Dickerson."
Dickerson didn't begin to breathe freely again until he got back to his kiosk two floors below. He dropped into his chair.
"Well," asked Nick Brudi, who ran the domestic terror desk next to his, "how'd it go?"
Dickerson blew out his cheeks before replying, "Fluid, plenty fluid. The stupid bastard wants me to keep after ex-colonel Gordon until he blows his brains out."
"Who's? Gordon's or the AD's?" Brudi asked with a grin.
But Dickerson wasn't laughing. "Yeah, that's IT exactly," he exclaimed. You saw what happened after we picked on the old man when he didn't have anything to live for. And now we're going to put his son, a West Point-trained frigging military genius and genuine hero, into the same spot? When are they going to frigging learn? When ex-colonel Gordon whips up an atom bomb out of Drano, ant poison and common household appliances and shoves it up OUR asses?"
Brudi thought for a moment. "Isn't what the AD wants kinda contrary to the decision that the Director made after Sipsey Street?" Brudi asked.
"Yeah," said Dickerson with disgust, "You wanna tell the AD about it? Or maybe the Director?"
Brudi sank deeper into his chair. "Not a chance in hell," he muttered in reply.
"Well, then shut up and let me think. Now I've got to have an audit run on the poor bastard."
Brudi decided he didn't want to know any more. Even with Senator Schumer running interference for them on the Judiciary Committee, and his party in control at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, you never could tell when some lowly congressman they didn't own might get leaked some damn memo that should have been shredded in the first place. Better not to know so he wouldn't have to testify under oath one way or the other.
Brudi struggled not to listen as Dickerson tried to reach somebody after hours at IRS on the phone. You sure as hell wouldn't want to send an email on THAT. Brudi approved and, nodding his head, went back to reading the latest wiretaps of that mouthy militia leader in Alabama. God, the sonofabitch was long-winded. But with the new laws passed after the Battle of Sipsey Street, his time was coming shortly. If he survived the bust, which Brudi doubted, he could be long-winded in the shower at Supermax playing drop the soap with the Muslim Brotherhood, or maybe the Aryans -- they HATED this guy. The thought comforted Nick Brudi immensely.
"Fort Stinking Desert"
Just as Special Agent Dickerson was on the phone to Treasury, Robert Gordon was met at the door of a modest old ranch house in the hills outside Kingman, Arizona. Bill Pritchard, a white haired, weathered old pilot with about a gazillion hours in the air who still looked ten years younger than he was, hugged him and pulled him in close.
"Bobby, I'm damn glad to see you."
"Same here Uncle Bill. . . It's been a while."
"I'm sorry I didn't get to the funeral, Bobby . . . you know why I couldn't now."
"Yeah," replied the younger man, who was clearly just about done in from the last 18 hours on the road.
"Look, Bobby, I know you're beat and Sylvia's got a bed made up in the back for you, but I've got to ask you a few questions before you turn in. And I'm sure you've got some too." Phil Gordon's oldest son just nodded. "Anyway, let's get that out of the way and we'll cover everything else tomorrow. I've got some fellows coming over to meet you then and we'll get serious."
Robert Gordon perked up at that. "Are we going to get serious? he asked."
"As serious as anything I've ever done in my life," replied the old pilot. "But let me ask you this. Did you have trouble with the link-up outside Dallas?"
Bobby Gordon gave a thin smile. "No, but you sure have a talent for cloak and dagger. Where'd you meet that Cuban exile? I thought you weren't at The Bay of Pigs operation."
"I wasn't. I met him later when we did some drops for ole Bill Colby." The old man grinned back. "Did he scare ya?"
"No, but his frisking was so thorough I thought he was going to get out the rubber gloves."
"Bobby," said the old man with a suddenly straight face, "If the electronics had detected any nanobugs in you, he'd a done it so fast you wouldn't want a smoke afterwards."
"Where's my car, now?"
"Bobby, its on the way to Mexico, along with a guy who looks so much like you your mother-in-law wouldn't know the difference from three feet. Welcome to the American Underground."
Bill Pritchard saw the shadow pass across Bobby's face. Ouch. I forgot. After a moment he asked, "How much of the divorce was real and how much was operational cover?"
Robert Gordon sighed. "You mind if I sit down?"
"No, no, let's go back to the den, its more secure than Langley back there."
Pritchard led the younger man back through the hall. The exhausted younger man sat carefully, but precisely erect. You can take the eagles off a man's shoulders, Bill Pritchard thought, but you can't take them from his soul.
They both started to say something, stopped, then Robert Gordon went on, "No, it was real. Anna went from being a General's daughter, married to another up and coming general officer candidate one day, to the daughter-in-law of the greatest mass murderer of federal 'law enforcement officers' since David Koresh. . . Matter of fact, Dad made every cop killer for the last hundred years look like underachievers." Gordon gave that wan smile again and shook his head. "You know when Dad did something, he always went all out."
"He had no choice, Bobby, you know that. Those bastards wouldn't have given him a Chinaman's chance and you KNOW that. Hell, I wouldn't have been his friend if he wasn't thoroughly competent at what he did."
"Yeah, I guess so."
"No, there's no 'guess so' about it. We decided a long time ago when the damn political winds began to blow against us in this country that he would be the loud-mouth and I would stay still. That's what they hated about him, that he had the guts to call 'em for the dirty freedom-stealing bastards that they were. That's why they came to kill him. It's the only real law that he broke, an unwritten law. He had guns and opinions at the same time -- he was a FREE MAN -- and the ATF won't stand for that."
Robert Gordon just looked at the older man. If he didn't have the thousand yard stare, Pritchard thought, he was working on seven-fifty. "Come on, Bobby, get up and I'll show you your room. Since we shucked you of all your luggage and clothes, I'll go out tomorrow and get you some. You'll stay in close here until the meeting."
"Clothes?" said Bobby Gordon shaking his head, "That damn Cuban of yours even took my watch and my shoes. He wanted to take my West Point ring, but I told him he'd have to fight me to get it."
Bill Pritchard laughed. "Bobby, he's got 30 years on you but he'd a whupped you just the same."
"Good night, Bobby," said Pritchard, as he closed the bedroom door. Then, to himself, softly, "Get some sleep, son, you're gonna need it."
Bobby Gordon slept for twelve solid hours. When he awoke, Bill Pritchard was fixing huevos rancheros in an impossibly huge skillet in the ranch kitchen. "I'm going jogging," said Gordon, "Anything I need to know about the lay of the land?"
"Yeah," said Pritchard, "Don't. Use the treadmill in the room off the laundry back to your left. I'd rather you didn't show yourself just now."
"Oh, OK," said Gordon and back he went to the exercise room and whipped off a five mile run.
The eggs were on the table, along with bacon, Texas toast and hot sauce when he toweled off the sweat and made his way back to the kitchen. Pritchard was sitting at the table with another older man, shorter than Pritchard by a good six inches, porkier too and gray bearded with an equally gray ponytail hanging half-way down his back.
"Bout damn time you got here," said the stranger, "these eggs is as cold as my ex-wife's heart."
Bobby Gordon laughed in spite of himself.
"Bobby," said Pritchard, "meet Bill Dodd, another transplanted Alabamian who's been living in Fort Stinking Desert so long he forgot what grits are."
"Pleased ta meetcha," said Dodd. "Kin we say grace now?"
"Sure," said Pritchard.
Without further ceremony, Bill Dodd bowed his pony-tailed head and prayed loudly and fervently, "Oh Lord, help us this day to confound your heathen enemies and we beseech Thee to smite them every chance You can." And then, more slowly and seriously, "Bless this food to our bodies and our bodies to Your service, in Jesus name we pray, amen."
Pritchard snorted, "You're gonna go to Hell, praying like that."
Bill Dodd grinned, "As long as the entire Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms goes first. . . Let's eat."
For a few minutes there was no conversation as the plates were passed and the eggs and toast consumed.
Finally, Bill Pritchard asked, "How's your brother and sister holding up, Bobby?"
Bobby Gordon looked at him, paused, and shook his head. "It's been tough. Johnny and Sally are still hanging in there. Of course he lost every government contract his company had and auditors are crawling all over him. Little Phil and his brother Matt got into so many fights at school that Sally's homeschooling them now. Sissy's OK. Sissy's strong. Probably the strongest one of us all. Of course her job isn't as subject to government pressure as Johnny's is or mine was." Bobby looked distantly out the window in the uncomfortable silence.
The look on Bill Dodd's face was nothing short of hatred. "Sippenhaft." He spat the word out.
The two other men looked at him. "Pardon?" asked Pritchard. "Sippenhaft. Sippenhaft is German for 'kin liability'. It was a little thing the Nazis came up with after Count von Stauffenberg almost got Der Fuhrer with that bomb on the 20th of July, '44. Old Himmler reintroduced the concept of 'blood guilt' from back in Teutonic times, or so he claimed. Said something like, 'Our ancestors said, this man has committed treason; his blood is bad; there is traitor's blood in him; that must be wiped out. And in the blood feud the entire clan was wiped out down to the last member.' Something like that. The Nazis would kill a man's wife, his father, his mother, his brothers, take away the small children, rename 'em and put 'em in orphanages so they'd never know who their parents were. Even extended it to the relatives of military commanders who Hitler thought were defeatist or cowardly. Stalin did the same thing in the Great Purge of the Thirties with 'relatives of the enemies of the people.' Mao did it again in the Cultural Revolution. Hell, the North Koreans still do it. It's the mark of a tyrannical dictatorship, which I guess is what we're comin' to."
"Yeah," said Pritchard, "I guess so."
Bobby Gordon was silent for a moment and then, looking back out the window said, almost to himself, "It's going to get worse."
Pritchard reached across the short distance between them and touched the younger man's hand gently. "You want to stop now?" he asked.
Bobby Gordon turned his gaze into his father's best friend's face. It was a hard gaze, and his own face was now set. "No. My dad didn't start this war, they brought it to him. Now I'm going to take it to them, and you're going to help me. That's what I'm here for, right?"
Pritchard and Dodd both grinned. "Hell yeah," growled Dodd.
"The question I've had in my mind ever since I buried what was left of my Dad is how? How do we reach out and get the big bastards who sent the little bastards who killed my dad? How do we get the bureaucratic SOBs who wage 'sippenhaft' on innocent people like Johnny and Sissy?"
The question hung in the air only for a moment. Bill Pritchard answered with another grin, "Son, did I ever tell you what Kingman, Arizona was famous for before it was the temporary residence of that miserable methamphetamine addict and neoNazi accomplice to mass murder Timothy 'I can't get a date so I think I'll be a terrorist' McVeigh?"
"No," replied Bobby Gordon.
So Bill Pritchard told him. And as the tale unfolded, Robert Gordon, late Colonel of the United States Army, son of the deceased Phil Gordon, "the Sipsey Street mass murderer," began to see that the detritus of history can sometimes be cobbled together and re-forged into a modern weapon capable of equal portions of justice and vengeance.
And for the first time in a long time, Bobby Gordon began to smile.
(To be continued . . .)