The rain rattled against the canvas roof of Karen Greenfield’s HUMMWV like popcorn, loud enough that she couldn’t hear the radio. The air had turned cold from the rain, and the inside of the humvee smelled like sweat and mildew. Her soaked Kevlar vest didn’t help, as moisture seeped through it and her olive-drab raincoat.
The tanks were in position, four of them stationed at the intersections around the Capitol Building. A few blocks away, her executive officer was positioning the remainder of the company in the Little Cairo neighborhood.
Since she’d been with the company, they’d been activated three times. The first two didn’t require weapons, they were to deal with floods. Then, last year, they briefly deployed to Morgantown after a riot. In that case they stood around and did guard duty, much as she expected to do here. In no case was the use of main battle tanks required.
The men inside the tanks would be miserable; unable to cover the tank with a tarp, they’d be sitting inside what amounted to great, leaking tin cans, getting soaked. She’d never understood how they could make a tank that could survive the direct hit of a 125mm sabot round, but couldn’t design one that didn’t leak.
“Let’s head over to Little Cairo,” she said to her driver.
Corporal Stanson, who sat behind the wheel blowing on his hands to warm them, bobbed his head. “Yes, ma’am.” He put the vehicle in gear and drove, faster than she liked; it was still light, but with the rain, visibility was down to less than fifty meters.
In Little Cairo, the twenty-four men were positioned at eight intersections. As she approached the position closest to the federal building, she saw two of the men setting up shelter halves against the wall of a building as the third stood guard duty in the driving rain. The one on guard duty was Private Campbell, from up the road just outside Highview. At seventeen, a senior at Highview High School, the Guard required him to get permission from his parents before he enlisted.
Damn. She couldn’t stay inside, not when the guys were outside in the rain.
She stepped out of the somewhat warm HUMMWV into the icy downpour. It didn’t soak through her plastic wet-weather jacket immediately, but it would soon enough. She walked through the rain to Campbell.
“Ma’am.” He was shivering and his teeth chattered.
“As soon as they’ve got that shelter up, you get under it, okay, Campbell.”
He nodded vigorously, and little droplets of rain flew off his chin. “Yes, ma’am.”
She started to turn away, but he spoke again. “Ma’am, can I ask you a question?”
“Sure, Campbell,” she replied.
Lightning struck nearby, and the light flashed in their eyes, followed by a loud crack.
“Ma’am, in your briefing you said we was here to protect the Arab folks here against being attacked and stuff, right?”
She braced herself, half expecting to hear an argument against the mission of protecting the neighborhood. “Yes, that’s right.”
“Well see, that’s the thing, ma’am. When you go around that corner, you’ll see what I’m talking about. Bunch of guys in sunglasses and whatnot are rounding up a lot of folks. Banging down doors and stuff, ma’am.”
He looked away, and then steeled his resolve. “I know we’re here to support the DHS, but it just don’t look—it don’t look American to me, ma’am, if you take my meaning. Looks like more of the same as the Saturn plant, ma’am.”
Her eyes narrowed. “Thanks. I’ll have a look, Campbell.”
Bracing herself, she walked on through the rain. As she reached the corner, Stanson followed her in the humvee.
Sitting in the open rain, soaked and miserable, hands cuffed behind their backs, a group of fifteen men and boys who appeared to be Arabs sat with their backs against a shop window. A man with an automatic rifle stood guard over them. He wore a black raincoat with the letters DHS emblazoned on the back.
Two other men kicked in a door about fifty feet away. They were covered by a third, this one armed with a rifle. A woman screamed in a foreign language, and then she heard indistinct male voices shouting. One of the agents shoved a woman out of his way, roughly. A moment later the two armed men came out, dragging a fourteen-year-old boy between them. He struggled, terror on his face. They threw him to the ground and one knelt on the boy’s back while the other cuffed him with plastic ties. They unceremoniously dumped him with the other prisoners.
Her face tightened. It was him. The son of a bitch who killed David Firkus, Agent Ben Matley. He was one of those under investigation by the Harpers Ferry DA, and they had the stupidity to bring him here and allow him to treat American citizens like cattle. Shoving women and kids around like they didn’t matter.
Not on her goddamn watch.
She marched back to Corporal Stanson, who still sat in the humvee. He unzipped his plastic window and leaned out to hear her.
“Call the platoon leaders; have them move the men to the edge of the intersection where they can see. I may need some backup; I’m putting a stop to this. And call Major Elkins right away. Tell him what’s happening, then catch up with me.”
“Ma’am, I don’t think that’s a good idea.” His eyes were wide.
“When the Army wants your ideas, Corporal, they’ll promote you to Captain. Until then, you follow orders.”
He scrambled for the radio.
She turned around. Half a block down, parked in the center of the street, sat two bland-looking sedans; lights flashing behind their grilles. Two men stood at the cars, one talking on the phone. She recognized one of them: Agent Lawrence Harris. He’d been at the Saturn Plant as well.
She walked toward the cars as lightning struck again, bathing the entire scene in garish white light.
“Who is in charge here?” she demanded.
The man on the phone lowered his handset. Short, in his late forties, he dressed in the same black raincoat as the others, his head covered by a black baseball cap, and a small earpiece in his ear. He looked up at her and eyed the railroad track insignia on her helmet.
“I am, Captain. Special Agent Hagarty. I was told to expect a National Guard company to assist our efforts. I’ve already seen the men on the perimeter. Good job.”
“I’m Captain Greenfield. Those are my men on the perimeter. What’s going on here?”
“We’re gathering material witnesses in our investigation of the bombing this morning. They’ll be taken into custody and questioned.”
“Material witnesses? Looks to me like you’re grabbing every male over fourteen!”
“That’s right. Anyone who meets our profile. They’ll be released once we’ve established they’re clear.”
“Mr. Hagarty, this has to stop right now. What you’re doing isn’t right, and it’s not legal. You can’t just round up people and cuff them and carry them away.”
Hagarty frowned at the challenge and his chin jutted out. “I most certainly can, Captain. I strongly urge you to mind your own business and leave me to mine.”
Karen clenched her teeth and fists.
“Hagarty, I don’t care what your business is. Mine is to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, and you are treading all over that. I want you to do three things right now: release those men and boys over there, gather up your men, and get the hell out of here. Someone else can deal with investigation, someone who understands this is still America.”
He approached until they stood a foot apart.
She glanced back. Six of her men and two of her lieutenants approached, along with Corporal Stanson. All nine of the men were armed. They gathered in a loose group between her and the humvee. Just twenty feet away, they were difficult to see in the driving rain.
She heard another door crash in, screams from inside. Agents came out with two men between them, a teenager and his father. Both were handcuffed. Karen signaled to Lieutenant Carson to approach. He ran up to her, and she pointed directly at the agents who had just exited the building.
“Lieutenant, I want you to take three of the men, go over there and free those two men, then the others lined up on the sidewalk. If necessary, you are authorized to take these so-called federal agents into custody.”
Carson looked stunned by the orders.
Hagarty spoke. “Lieutenant, this operation was authorized by the President of the United States, who I believe you swore an oath to obey. If you follow that order you will suffer the consequences. I’ll see you both court-martialled.”
“Hagarty, you have no legal standing to round up people in the streets and arrest them, nor to threaten an officer under my orders. You are committing a grave crime here, sir. I won’t stand for it and neither will my men.”
Lieutenant Carson nodded, swallowing. For just a second he appeared to waver, then his jaw set.
“I got it, ma’am.” He turned back to the men. “Billings. Cole. Wilson. Over here, on the double.”
The Lieutenant and the three soldiers approached the stunned agents, weapons ready. The agents looked back and forth between the approaching soldiers and Agent Hagarty, jaws slack.
“Lay your weapons on the ground right now.”
One of the agents started to raise his hands in the air.
Hagarty screwed his face up, red with rage. “Goddamn it, don’t listen to them.” He reached out and shoved Karen.
She fell back a step, then straightened. By the time she regained her balance, Hagarty was staring down the barrel of Corporal Stanson’s M-16A2 rifle.
“You better keep your hands to yourself, Mister.” Stanson’s voice was steady.
She took a breath, adrenaline pumping into her system. They were at a stalemate, as her men and the federal agents stood with weapons leveled at each other. She had to calm the situation down before it got out of control.
“All right, let’s keep it cool. Everybody lower your weapons.” She raised her hands in a gesture to stop.
Unfortunately, that was when lightning struck with a crack and a flash of light. It only took that moment for the whole thing to go to hell.
She didn’t know who fired the first shot, but heard it clearly, the crack of a rifle, immediately after the lightning strike. The second bullet hit Karen square in the middle of her Kevlar vest. She spun to the ground, her vision going black. Above her, she heard a burst of shots.
“Oh, no.” She struggled to her feet. Her hands were scraped bloody from her landing. She pushed herself up and her vision cleared. Rainwater poured off her helmet.
Hagarty lay on the ground, blood pumping out of a hole in his neck, mixing with the half-inch deep water on the pavement. One of her men writhed on the ground, screaming, his knee shattered by a bullet.
“Cease fire, goddammit,” she tried to shout, but she couldn’t get her breath. She tried again. “Cease fire! Cease fire!”
She tried to make sense of the situation. Two or three DHS agents were crouched in the doorway of an apartment building, rifles out. They huddled down, trying to stay out of the line of fire. She saw a muzzle flash. The air stank of the acrid smell of gunpowder.
The men and boys apprehended by the DHS were still on the sidewalk. Bound by plastic cuffs, they tried to get out of the line of fire as small arms continued to go off around them. One boy, who couldn’t have been older than fourteen, squirmed underneath a car, and the plate glass window behind the men shattered from a bullet. The man guarding them ducked behind the car, little more than his rifle showing.
Behind her, her own men fired from behind the HUMMWV, and several more ran forward from their positions on the perimeter. Corporal Stanson lay on the ground, and a pool of blood stained the rainwater around him. Blood pumped from the center of his chest—he wasn’t wearing his vest.
His face was white and his arms flapped around.
“Mama!” he screamed.
“Cease fire!” She waved her arms. “Cease fire! Cease fire now!”
Her head jerked to the left as a bullet glanced off her helmet. It knocked her to the ground again. Then, miraculously, the firing stopped, and she could hear nothing but the rain slap into the pavement.
She took a breath, then another. The DHS men stared out from their positions, shock on their faces. She glanced behind her. Her own soldiers were just as bewhildered.
Oh, God, her head hurt. She stood, one hand on her neck, where sharp pain radiated from a pulled muscle.
“You.” She pointed at Larry Harris, one of the only agents she recognized. “Take your men and move over to the other side of the intersection. I don’t want any goddamn arguments. And call for ambulances, right now.”
She turned around. “Lieutenant Carson, call the medics. Lieutenant Gavin, pull our men on a line behind the position of the humvee. And have someone cut those men loose.” She pointed at the prisoners.
She dropped to her knees and crawled over to Hagarty and ripped open her first aid pack, removed a bandage and placed it on his neck. The bandage instantly stained red, the blood seeping through the cloth and between her fingers and out onto the pavement. Her hands shook as she tried to stop the blood. God, she could smell the blood, there was so much.
“I need help here.”
Two of her men ran up, as well as Agent Harris. She glared at him, then looked away.
“Help Stanson,” she told her men. Corporal Stanson had stopped moving.
“You,” she said to Harris. “Lift him up enough so I can get this bandage around him.”
He nodded, his face pale. Quickly, she wrapped the tails underneath the opposite armpit from his wound and tied if off as tight as she could. It might as well not have been there; blood still poured steadily from the wound.
“Best I can do. He won’t make it if we don’t get an ambulance right away.”
Harris looked up and spoke.
“I know you, don’t I?”
She glared at him.
“Yeah, you do. You killed my friends and neighbors in Highview.”
Confusion clouded his eyes, and then he recognized her. His eyes widened. She stood up and walked away. As she approached her humvee, she shook.
Stanson lay there, the medics trying to save him. They covered the sucking chest wound with a plastic bag and wrapped him with bandages. Blood had splattered six feet away from him as he struggled.
What had she done? Oh, God, look at him. She could hear an echo in her mind: When the Army wants your ideas, Corporal, they’ll promote you to Captain.
Those were just about the last words he’d heard.
The rain continued to fall.