Sorry about the lateness; domestic bliss.
This is a longer one, and I weighed chopping it into two parts, but because it’s late already, I figured, what the hell, you call could use the treat. I think posting will resume Monday, and will from here continue weekdays, lasting about another week. But thanks for dropping in, and have a pleasant weekend.
“And your fourth team?” Anna asked, her patience clearly waning.
“I was thinking Shock and Awe,” Jezebel said as coyly as she could.
“Oh, Lord. I’m not going to like this, am I?”
“You haven’t liked anything anyone but your girlfriend has done in the entire time I’ve known you- and even then, you’re very selective.”
“If you’re going to piss me off, you should just skip to that part, rather than pissing me off as an appetizer for a meal of even more fury.”
“We don’t want the cops focused on tracking down the underground abortion clinic. We also don’t want them focused on our girl supplying said clinic. So, we decide what they’re going to focus on- we give them a much bigger fire to put out.”
“I assume you have a worthy target to draw fire.”
“This is an awful lot of cowboy talk today,” Mae said with a grin. “Not that I’m complaining, it just feels like I should have worn my spurs.”
“You have spurs?” Lisa asked.
“Keep asking, and I’ll put ‘em to you to prove it,” she replied, throwing an arm over Lisa.
“Down girl,” Lisa said, but leaned into Mae’s arm anyway.
“She may have fallen asleep to a Western marathon…” Ellen said, her eyes flicking fiendishly from her nurse back to Anna.
“That’s private,” Anna protested.
“No. Private would be telling them you get the John Wayne toots.”
“I… have questions,” Mae said.
“If she sleeps through a John Wayne movie, and I swear this is true, she will toot whenever the old bigot speaks. It is… uncanny, like ninth wonder of the world. I am a doctor, and a good one, and I have no explanation for it.”
“Your patsy?” Anna asked, redirecting.
“I’m actually a little proud of this,” Jezebel started. “There’s a men’s rights militia operating outside of town. They’re… bad people. I found out they were buying… just way more fertilizer than you could ever need if you weren’t a straight-up industrial farmer. So I bought some from the same lot, which will have the same chemical signature. We’ll plant some fertilizer bombs outside of the police station- not enough to cause any serious damage to people, but more than enough to get their attention… and leave enough breadcrumbs to lead back to the militia.”
“I assume you got this from your federal contact?”
“He’s what’s going to link the two, yeah.”
“And doesn’t that kind of investigation usually take months, or at least weeks?”
“You sound just like him,” Jezebel said with a smile. “One of the bombs won’t go off- but that is minor. They’ll come to the conclusion a lot quicker, because we’re going to steal one of their trucks, use it to transport said explosives, and then peel away, being sure to get the truck noticed. And of course, there’s only one person I know of capable of that level of both shock and awe…”
“Mayday,” Anna groaned.
“Me?” Mae asked, exaggeratedly batting her eyes. “Awe, you guys…”
“We don’t have time for you to dance around the Mae Pole,” Anna said.
“That’s okay; I still haven’t installed the hook for my stripper pole.”
“Or any of your other antics or shenanigans,” Anna said.
“But what do I have without antics or shenanigans.”
“A mission,” Jezebel said. “A dangerous one. Without which everyone else is at so much extra risk I can feel ulcers developing just thinking about it.”
“Yup, you’re right, time to focus up,” Mae said, straightening to attention the way her father taught her, emphasizing the words “Talk Loud” printed in white on her black shirt. It reminded her of her time in the Marines. Mae loved her time in the Marines, but she had loved Marine husband, Frank, even more. A part of her died the day he did- the way he did. The only way for her to cope was to indulge the silly little girl who first met him, the one who had fun in basic training. Her life with Frank taught her about love, honor, and duty- and her life without him she could only really handle at the end of a bottle or a barrel. Today, her friends needed the latter. “What do you need?”
She listened to her objectives, breaking down the ‘simple’ tasks into the realistic steps needed to achieve them. It was hard, sometimes, not being annoyed working with civilians like this. They didn’t really appreciate everything that went into her work; most of them treated her like a wizard who would just accomplish whatever they needed. “Explosives?” Mae asked when they were finished.
“In the shed at the edge of the property,” Jezebel said. “Not hooked up, but otherwise assembled. When the day came, I knew we were going to need to deploy in a hurry.”
“I’ll inspect them, make sure they’re what we need before we go. But I’m going to need a second driver.”
“Oh?” Anna asked.
“Even if I can lift and place your explosives myself, we can’t leave your transport within walking distance of the compound where I steal a truck. They come snooping, find the van-”
“It could lead right back to us…” Anna said.
“And that’s assuming they weren’t lying in wait for Mae when she tried to swap back,” Jezebel added.
“Second driver can shadow me in the van,” Mae said. “That way I’m exposed for the least amount of time. Suggestions?”
Jezebel started to raise her hand, “Volunteer and I’m keeping the hand and locking you in time out in your shed,” Anna said. “We need someone comfortable driving a big vehicle. The panel van… if the biggest vehicle you’ve driven is a sedan, now isn’t the time to learn.”
“I used to have a Bronco,” Sabina said. “Stick, too, if that matters.”
“It’s automatic,” Jezebel replied.
“Should be easier, then.”
“And you’re okay driving with explosives?” Anna asked.
“Not remotely,” Sabina said. “But I’ll take a lot of deep breaths.”
“Do it, then. Quickly. The more time we talk, the likelier this all ends in tragedy.”
Mae followed Jezebel to the shed. She pushed past the smaller woman inside. The explosives were carefully assembled, but inert, and Mae felt a pang, because she recognized the work. “Clint put these together?”
“Yeah,” Jezebel said.
“Why are all the good men dead?” Mae asked with a sigh. She tested the weight of one of the barrels, and was confident she could lift them on her own. She started assembling the detonators. “Sabina?” she asked. The other woman poked her head inside, and watched as Mae held up two components. “This wire, into the blasting cap? It stays disconnected until we get to the police station. When we do, your job is to shove them in, while I place them.”
“Do I need any tools?”
“Take two pairs of needle-nosed pliers with cutters and strippers, just in case you do.”
The three of them loaded a half-dozen small barrels of fertilizer and their accompanying detonators into the back of an off-white panel van. “The registration’s good?” Mae asked.
“Yep. Registered to a friend out of state, who sold it for cash- even has a copy of the bill of sale and a driver’s license- I edited in a photo of Pablo Escobar onto the license. Even if the feds get involved, it’s a dead end.”
“That is… very elaborate,” Sabina said.
“I’m good at what I do,” Jezebel said.
“Yeah, remind me not to cross you,” Mae added. “Anything else we need to know?”
“Steering pulls a little to the right. Tires are almost new. Wipers squeak obnoxiously, so hope for clear skies.”
Mae took the keys, and loaded a long, black canvas bag and a gray, plastic case into the back. Then she got in on the driver’s side. “Figured we’d both be more at ease with me driving around the explosives,” she told Sabina, who nodded.
They drove mostly in silence, until Mae asked, “Got that map?”
“Yeah,” Sabina said, holding up Jezebel’s hand-drawn map in her hand. “We’re going the right way. Another ten mile markers in this direction.” She sighed.
“You okay?” Mae asked.
“This is all still… new to me. I lived in Lisa’s building, before it was torched. At first, I was pissed off. How dare some woman operate an underground abortion clinic in my building? I blamed her for us nearly getting killed. That’s how they get you, right? They turn you against the people trying to help, instead of the ones who are actually causing the pain and devastation. Because it wasn’t Deb who started the fire; she wasn’t even trying to fight it, really, she just set up a burn ward, and they killed her for it. And I might never have seen it, if I hadn’t run into Lisa at the store… But it was the cops who tried to kill me. It was the cops who shot Deb, and that poor girl… how the hell does ‘pro-life’ mean that? But it’s hard. My brother was a cop for a while. And I was raised to respect them, to appreciate their service. Putting a bomb at a police station…”
“If it’s any consolation, the goal isn’t to hurt cops. These things are the explosive equivalent to a dummy round. It’ll cause some noise, scare the people inside the building. But cop shops have pretty strict construction standards, same as buildings on bases. They expect to someday have to withstand an explosion, even if they hope that day never comes. It’s really more a provocation than an attack.”
“Oh,” Sabina said. “That actually does help… though I’m not sure it should.”
“It’s complicated. For me, too. Even though it was cops who killed,” she swallowed, his name catching in her throat, “my husband, a lot of military guys end up in the police, Marines included, some guys I knew included, ones I trusted. And honestly, that’s part of the problem. If police were still about ‘serve and protect,’ things would be different, but their militarization means it’s more ‘control and subjugate’- military goals that make sense in some contexts, but are completely out of place in domestic affairs. It means even the good ones get bad lessons, and the few who remain truly good usually get isolated, drummed out or worse. But it isn’t about them being bad people. It’s a bad culture, executed through poorly considered means, and often empowering the worst impulses.”
“But no one’s going to get hurt?”
Mae considered lying, but she’d been lied to in the field; it was better to know the lay of the land than be surprised when you didn’t. “I don’t want to hurt anyone. But my goal is protecting our friends, protecting our rights. I will do the least harm I can in pursuit of those goals- but I’m not willing to trade the safety of oppressors for that of the oppressed.”
“Hmm,” Sabina said. “You kind of scare me, I hope, it’s okay to say that.”
“It is,” Mae said. “I kind of scare me, too.”
“What?” Mae asked, her muscles tensing.
“We just missed the driveway.”
“That’s fine,” Mae said. “We’re not driving up.” She pulled off on a side road, then over to a turn-around and parked. “I’m going on foot. You’ll wait here. You hear gunfire, you take off. If I can, I’ll rendezvous with you at the gas station we passed three miles back. But if can’t- head home.”
“What about the bombs?” Sabina asked, anxiety lifting her voice an extra octave.
“I don’t think you could lift them alone.”
“I could park the truck by the corner of the building. Kick the ‘broken’ one out the back to make sure there’s a trail to follow, leave on foot then blow them remotely.”
“I’m… not going to tell you what to do. But take care of yourself. Okay? And if I’m not back within thirty minutes, don’t wait. Understand? Being brave and being smart aren’t mutually exclusive.”
Mae took the plastic case from the back and walked tall as she left. She waited until she disappeared into the brush to breathe out raggedly. Sabina was already scared; none of them were prepared for what was happening. Jezebel had tried, but there were always contingencies that couldn’t be planned around- especially not on a tight, relatively improvisational time frame.
But Mae was the strong one; she had to be strong. She crept through the brush and grass towards the compound. If farming was a part of their cover, they weren’t even pretending that the area nearest the home held crops.
Her first bit of luck was a flattened field of what had been corn. Rather than properly clear it, they just drove over it enough to use as a parking lot. All their vehicles were there, removed enough from the farmhouse to give her at least some privacy.
Before breaking cover, she spotted a pair of cameras hanging off the home. From the angle, they seemed positioned to cover the approach of the driveway, and then the walk from the cars. Still, between the two of them, there was potential cover for some 70% of the lot.
Mae weighed her options. What remained was mostly cars, with a handful of trucks, really only two that felt suitable to her purpose, parked side by side. One was new, its chrome bumper catching the sun’s light and throwing it into her eyes. The other was older, its paint peeling, windows yellowing. As she approached the older truck, she saw a sticker in the windshield for a car alarm company, old, faded, coming up at the edges. She heard noise, and rolled under the newer truck.
She heard a man talking loudly on a phone, and caught the scent of his cigarettes. From beneath the truck she could see the after-market alarm wired to the battery. It, too, was new, which meant sensors for if it was jostled. The man closed towards her as he paced, talking excitedly about his ex-wife and how badly she screwed him. Her hand settled on the knife in its sheath on her thigh as a black combat boot stopped inches from her head.
Then the man laughed, a laugh so deep it unsettled the tar in his lungs and gave way to a hacking cough that continued until he’d made his way back inside. May crawled under the older truck. The battery looked clear, no additional wires snaking off to an alarm, and it was an old enough model it wasn’t likely to have come standard. So either the sticker was a ruse, or vestigial, from some previous owner who felt it worth their effort to remove the alarm when they sold the truck. She knew the model well enough to know which tools she needed, a plastic blade, and a long, circular hook that looked almost like a corkscrew on the end of an unwound coat hanger.
The lock was old and worn, so it didn’t take much convincing for it to give, and she slid into the driver’s seat, tossing the plastic case onto the bench seat next to her. The wires were held together with duct and electrical tape; it clearly wasn’t the first time someone had hot-wired it. She cut through the tape, exposing the correct wires, and tapped them together while giving it pumps of gas. The engine purred to life.
Mae put the truck in reverse and let it idle out of the spot until she was angled towards the driveway, then dropped into drive, and again, let it idle down the road. She cringed at every crunch of gravel, or creak of the suspension, one eye glued to her rearview. But there didn’t seem to be activity. She reasoned if she made it away with the truck, she was probably clear; the cameras were a warning system. The last thing violent extremists were likely to do was keep a record of who came and went to their compound.
She made it to the side road where she left Sabina, and found the other woman nervously tapping on the steering wheel. “Almost left,” she said.
“Good girl,” Mae said. “You stay where you are, and keep the engine running. Anyone looks like they’re going to stop, you lean on the horn, and as soon as I get the back closed you gun it out of here.”
Mae pulled the truck so their rear bumpers were facing, then got out, careful to leave the truck idling. She unloaded her black canvas bag from the van, and unzipped it, before putting it on the tailgate. Then she moved the barrels, one at a time, into the back of the truck. When she was done, she called, “We’re good,” and closed the van’s doors.
Mae got in the truck and led Sabina back into town. They went by a different route- no reason to drive right by the place they’d stolen the truck. They stopped at an older office-building with an overly long walkway and ostentatious lawn. Sabina stopped beside her, and rolled down her window. “What are we doing here?”
“Logistical support,” Mae said. “Anna asked if I could drop in, if we made it this far without getting spotted.”
“What kind of-”
“Shit,” Mae said. “Park. We’ll need to leave in a hurry after this.”
Mae exited her truck, and started across the street. She glanced up and down; it looked empty, no one sitting in their vehicles, no one walking down the street. Either it was bad luck, or the world’s most professional set up, in which case they were likely all going to jail.
One of the things being a Marine had taught Mae was to spot a fight before it happened. Civilians, and even plenty of soldiers, would say violence came out of nowhere. But usually, there were signs, angry body language, even the way someone was shifting their weight to throw a punch, or to put their body weight into a tackle.
She was almost certain the woman walking towards the clinic doors was Lisa, but regardless, the man moving towards her definitely meant her arm. Whatever hateful sign he’d been holding he’d practically thrown when he noticed her approach, and was moving fast enough Mae wouldn’t be able to intercept him.
Mae knew Anna expected her ‘support’ to involve the rifle in her black canvas bag. But the rifle would bring attention quickly, and if Lisa was only making her approach, that attention would mean the women staffing the clinic would be more exposed, more likely to be caught out. It meant they’d have to abandon their supplies, hard-won, and all the lives those shortages would harm, potentially even end.
Mae opened the strap on her sheath that kept her knife from moving as she walked. She managed to pull it loose as the man impacted Lisa, knocking the wind out of her, sending her sprawling, and pinned her almost immediately. It was fluid enough he had some training- medium-level martial arts, maybe. But he wasn’t a professional, because he was laser-focused on his victim, still hadn’t even clocked Mae as he raised a fist in the air.
Mae caught it, and used his arm for leverage to bury the knife in his side. She thought of every woman whose path he crossed, all the fear and anger and sadness, and wanted desperately to twist it, to all but guarantee he’d bleed out.
But he was already going limp; if not for her holding his arm, he’d have fallen. The fight was over, and it was going to do more than enough extra damage taking the knife back out of him. She pulled him to the sidewalk and dropped him, then extracted her knife out of his side, and wiped his blood off it on the hideous Hawaiian shirt he was wearing.
“Mae?” Lisa asked, her breathing ragged.
“You’re okay,” Mae said, and slid the knife back in its sheath. She helped Lisa to her feet. “Nobody fucks with my girl.”