"Why should we help them?" I snapped, incredulous that anyone could doubt. "Why should we help them??? Because if what they say is true, feds feds have invaded Hardy County! For the first time in history. Don't you get that? This isn't just a risk to them out there at the commune. This is a catastrophe for freedom!"
Marty Harbibi, the twit who provoked my swivet, snorted as he raised his cup of coffee. Janelle had opened the Hog Trough as a command center when word arrived in the middle of the night that feds had crossed our borders. But very darned few of us were sitting around sipping. We awaited word, awaited action. The tension was almost unbearable.
"Yeah, yeah," Marty said. "I understand we gotta get rid of the feds. Sure. But hey ... first let 'em clean up a little trash for us." He rolled his eyes in the direction of the four scared communards, huddling at a table trying to get warm after their mid-night dash through the desert to plead for our aid.
I wanted to leap across the room and throttle the idiot. Instead, I clenched my teeth and checked my silent cell phone once again, as if staring at it could force it to ring.
Fortunately, Marty Harbibi wasn't Hardyville. He wasn't even supposed to be here. Only the Minutemen and the communications crew (Bob-the-Nerd, Janelle, and yours truly) had been alerted. Others, like Marty, heard something and came for the show. The Bible doesn't make note of it, but it should: "The yammerheads will always be with thee."
No matter. Carty and four dozen Minutemen Hardyville's version of a rapid-response team had rushed to collect the heavy-duty militia weapons from the back room of Goodins' second-hand store. They added the weapons to their own impressive arsenal and sped toward the Emma Goldman Arts Co-op and Biodiverse Living Center in a pickup-truck convoy. They'd been on the road 15 minutes and must have been halfway to their destination, still not knowing exactly what the sit-rep was and therefore what plan they should follow.
Nobody knew anything beyond what the four shivering young men had told us. And all they knew, from creeping by on the highway hoping not to be spotted as the neo-hippie anarchist dope growers that they were, was that a small army of fed and state officers was blocking the driveway to their home.
We awaited a call from Nat, whose ranch bordered the commune. First to be alerted, 80-something Nat was out there on horseback right now, crossing silently overland, avoiding roads, trying to scope out the extent of the fed operation.
His report would determine what everybody did next. Who we would call. How many. What actions aroused Hardyvillians should take in the face of this unparalleled threat. It was like waiting for an asteroid to strike. The few of us left in the restaurant were numb from shock, tense with fear, blazing with anger, but most of all we were doing that truly horrible thing ... waiting. It brought out the worst in us.
We couldn't even warn those poor saps out there at the commune what was about to hit them. And if, heaven forbid, it had already been hit, they couldn't get word to us. Them and their damned disdain for 'the corrupting influence of technology'!
Damn Marty, damn the communards, but above all, damn the invading forces of unfreedom! I itched for action. Not the fighting kind. No, I dreaded that just as much as Marty no doubt did. Just give me some way to be useful. Give me any excuse to get out of Marty's presence and do something. Anything other than being stuck here. Hey, wait a minute... Janelle had to man the Hog Trough's landline, and the coffee pots, at the Hog Trough. Bob had to stay connected to the wifi network. But I ...
I snatched up my cell phone. I could take Nat's call anywhere.
"C'mon," I said to the four shell-shocked boys. "I think the Rocket Scientist has some veggie diesel at his place. We'll get a can of the stuff, take you to your car, then you can drive back out the highway with me. We'll join up with Carty. We may need your help knowing who's who and what's going on." All four looked terrified at the prospect of going anywhere near the feds.
At that moment, the phone buzzed in my hand.
I looked at the clock. It was past 3:00 a.m. I punched the green button.
"Is this damn thing working?" Nat's voice crackled through the device. A cell phone had been foisted upon him, all unwilling, some months ago, after Hardyville's first government crisis. But he had never used it until now. "Did I push the right buttons?"
"Yes, Nat. Yes. I hear you. Now please. What do you see?"
"Nothin'. There's a whole lotta people and 'nough equipment to invade a country, for sure. But all just millin' around like they're waitin' for a bus. Some of their sniper teams look to have fallen asleep."
What the hell was going on out there?
* * *
"What the hell's going on out there??!!"
The field commander of Operation Firestorm had finally gotten his phone call. It came at 1:23 a.m. But it wasn't the expected go-ahead. The voice on the line boomed with the fury of a bureaucrat scorned.
The call was though he didn't know it the last in a series that roused some Very Important Sleepers in Mordor-on-the-Potomac before reaching out and punching him.
First, the U.S. Secretary of State called the Attorney General and demanded, "What is this I hear about your drug people planning to raid some ... some commune or something out west?" (If you wonder how the Secretary of State knew, go read the footnote.)
After hearing what his State Department colleague had to say, the Attorney General called his subordinate, the DEA Man, and barked, "Did you do any investigation? Do you have any idea who owns that place out there?"
"Of course," mumbled groggy DEA Man. Some outfit called ... Anarchaos Holdings. We got the information from their corporate filings. We've already initiated the forfeiture actions based on ..."
"Well, let me tell you something you evidently didn't bother to learn ..."
And once he had been thoroughly pummeled by his boss, the DEA Man called the Big Man from A Nameless Federal Agency (ANFA) the one who had given him the dope on this "biggest-ever" pot bust as a career-making prize. The Big Man, startled out of sleep and slapped in the ear, didn't call anybody. Except his cardiologist.
But the DEA Man kept making calls. Ultimately, he reached the cold, tired, wired, bored, impatient field commander for Operation Firestorm, shivering in the icy winds in the middle of some point-of-nowhere called Hardy County.
The DEA Man screamed at his subordinate. "You nincompoop! Did you do any homework before you decided to go ahead with your scheme?"
"I decided? My scheme? Hey, wait a ..."
"Anarchaos Holdings. If you'd traced that back through three layers of holding companies and a Belize-based lawyer, you'd have avoided the mess you've just plunged us into."
"What I just plunged who into? Damnit, you approved ...!" The field commander took a breath. He understood perfectly well that he was already screwed already the designated fall guy for an operation which, for unknown reasons, had become a fiasco before it even began. Now it was a matter of finding out just how screwed he was. "What the hell. What are you actually trying to tell me? Who owns Anarchaos Holdings that makes it such a big deal?"
"Who?" Momentarily, the name didn't register.
The DEA Man sounded it out, as if teaching a slightly retarded child: "Hor-hay. Del-La-Val."
Then it penetrated the field commander's brain. And dropped like a boulder into his stomach. "Oh sh ...!"
* * *
Jorge Delaval. His face was in the newspapers at least once a week. Maybe not the important papers like the Hardyville Independent ("All the News and Sometimes Even Spelled Right"), but little rags like the Post and the Times and USA Today. Maybe his name wasn't spoken much on radio station HRDY, featuring whatever anybody showed up to play from their personal collection of old 78s and 45 RPMs. But on NPR and CNN he was a household word.
Jorge Delaval. Citizen of the world. Heir to one of Europe's most mysterious fortunes, which he enlarged every day. If he wasn't appearing at the coronation of a decadent European monarch, he was romancing Italy's prima ballerina on his liner-sized yacht. If he wasn't on his yacht, you could be sure he was attending a U.N. conference on the global economy. Or meeting with the gnomes at Davos.
When not in Davos, or the Hague, or Zurich, or Monte Carlo, or Dubai, he could be seen indulging in his favorite hobby. No, not polo. Not baccarat. Not foreign currency manipulation (although he did find that mildly diverting). No, Jorge Delaval's hobby was improving the world. Everywhere people suffered, the Delaval fortune eased pain. Delaval funded AIDs relief in Africa, tsunami relief in Malaysia, poverty relief in Mississippi. Lately he had branched out into long-term world-saving causes, like funding heirloom seed banks to preserve mankind's historic foodstocks against careless depredations of agri-biz.
Millions considered the man a living treasure.
Delaval had one other cause that (some people thought) tarnished his halo. Specifically, he funded U.S. state-level initiatives to decriminalize cannabis.
First, he intended to see cannabis made legal for medical use. Then for everyone who ever suffered a pain. Eventually, he hoped, the pain of life itself would qualify. He was an idealist, a self-appointed benefactor to mankind. That he was also positioning himself to become the Global Cannabis King was simply a minor sidelight. And he believed that. Truly.
Everybody at the DEA would have loved to see Jorge Delaval ground under the hooves of wild horses then dipped into a vat of hyperbolic acid. But to say that the man was untouchable would be like saying the Queen of England is a bit prim. Aside from his personal power and reputation, Delaval owned citizenship in several of those quaint, uniquely European nations that, while small enough to fit into a Texan's back pocket, could, upon a whim, topple banking systems, currencies, and stock markets from Namibia to Newark.
Jorge Delaval was, in short, a one-man international incident waiting to happen.
And the DEA had just triggered it.
* * *
"So now what?" the field commander grumbled to the DEA Man in D.C. "You're gonna order us to call this off? With half the media in the country at our backs? How are we gonna explain that?"
"No, I'm not telling you to call anything off. Yet. We've got to buy time. Save face. We've got to think our way out. I'm meeting with State, the General, DHS, and the Federal Reserve in 10 minutes, trying to divert an international crisis and trying to save everybody's ass. In the meantime: maintain a physical perimeter and beef up your public relations stance."
"And what the hell is my 'public relations stance' supposed to be?"
The DEA Man thought fast. "It's that ... that you're after the biggest marijuana crop ever grown but that ... they have hostages. Yeah. That's it. Tell the reporters they're using their children as human shields and they've threatened to blow themselves and the little darlings up if anybody storms the compound. Tell 'em we're negotiating. That'll buy us some time. That'll buy you some time. Got that?"
"I got it. Loud and clear."
The field commander hung up. Yeah, he got it, all right. He knew his own career was in the toilet, no matter what happened. His first impulse was to storm the line of satellite trucks and blast the wind-blown journalists with a story they'd never forget the story of one hapless field commander and his innocent men (and women), screwed over by craven agency muckymucks in collusion with international money people. Give them the story of a brave, bold, jut-jawed commander, ready, willing, and more than able to eradicate America's drug problem, but thwarted by cynical power politics.
But. He was an agency man. Above all else, he was loyal even when his bosses weren't loyal to him. He was loyal to the men who relied on him and relied on budget money provided by Congress. He couldn't put their jobs at risk. In a minute, he'd go over and obediently tell the blow-dried crowd the official story of why the signal to move hadn't come. He'd look them straight in the eye and describe the helpless children in the clutches of the violent, Evil Drug Kingpins. He'd tell them of tense, absolutely crucial, ongoing hostage negotiations. Of precision teamwork. Of lightning-fast, perfectly accurate intra-team communications. Of the DEA's deep concern for the safety of American citizens, especially those most at risk.
And so he did, after he wrestled his temper into control and gave terse word of the new development to his aides. As he spoke to one particularly admiring young reporter, he almost believed himself. Afterward, a cameraman let him look at his image on a monitor. He looked good, he thought. Tired, but resolute. His jaw really did jut nicely.
He looked so resolute on that monitor that, as the light of false dawn glowed over the eastern hills, a thought occurred to him. Maybe, just maybe, since he was going to be hung out to dry for planning this raid, he'd find some way to pull it off, after all.
What the hell. Screw Hor-hay Del-La-Val. Screw all the damn foreigners. And screw the bosses and their limp-wristed political objections. He had a job to do. He had the men and equipment to do it. He had a career to salvage. He'd pull the raid off, somehow. Then the media would cheer him so loudly that nobody in Washington would dare speak a word against him. Congress would be so impressed they'd double the agency's budget.
He didn't know just how he'd do it. But suddenly making this raid work for him and his men seemed like the best damned idea he'd had all day. Just give me a few hours sleep and a head-to-head with some of my best people. I'll show those desk-bound wimps what a real man can do.
He handed temporary command to his second, instructing him to hold for now, and headed for one of the tents to grab some zees.
Up on the hill, out of sight, the residents of the Emma Goldman Arts Co-op and Biodiverse Living Center also slept on, unaware.
Dog tired, grating with frustration, and focused on their now-unapproachable target, the exhausted men and women of the DEA-led multi-agency task force failed to notice that they, too, were gradually being surrounded. Just as their snipers and guards ringed the hills around the commune, .50 cal Barretts and Serbus, 20 mm cannon, and other assorted militia weapons were quietly being trucked, packed on horseback, and hand-carried to the ring of hills beyond.
* * *
FOOTNOTE: If you wonder how the U.S. Secretary of State got the news in the middle of the night, it came to him, indirectly, from an indignant little statistical analyst in some agency the Secretary could never afterward remember. The analyst heard about the planned raid through a file clerk at the DEA with whom he played a weekly game of penny-a-point cribbage. The analyst seemed to feel that, somehow, anything that happened in Hardy County was a personal affront. Therefore, he tapped into his vast databases, uncovered the ownership of the Emma Goldman Arts Co-op and Biodiverse Living Center, and with the malicious satisfaction of a nobody getting a little of his own back from a Somebody went on a personal crusade to get the information to Very Important People.
Thank you to proofreaders Darrell Anderson and EB -- saving writers from themselves one typo at a time.
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