Gray Fox Connection

Storm


Have you ever been so pissed off you just had to do something? Anything, right or wrong, blowing something up maybe, to get the attention of the bastards who have been ignoring you?

Probably not. It takes a perfect storm of pissed-off-ness. It must be rare. You have to be mad enough to take action but not so mad to be stupid about it. If it’s happened to anybody else, they’re in jail now. Or, like me, not talking about it. Only this supposed work of fiction explains what might have happened a decade ago, why someone destroyed those Mormon temples and then disappeared. Me and D.B. Cooper.

I don’t suppose I’d do it now, even without the hindsight that shows how badly it would work out. Back in that other millennium when they couldn’t be heard otherwise, people burned buildings sometimes, a forestry building, for example, to try to protect old-growth forests. Those protesters were considered over the edge, rude. They got put in jail for a while if they were caught. But the word terrorist hadn’t entered the common lexicon of this country in those days.

Of course it takes more than a can of gas and a match to bring down a big marble temple.

People assumed it was bigotry. I should have paid better attention to that. I was so sure they’d get it: no attacks on Sunday-go-to-meetin’ houses. Just on big, self-righteous, exclusionary monstrosities. Assaults only when no one would be there to get hurt. 

I thought.






I. Losing Andrea


Echo Lake


December 2000. Midnight. The worst part now, can’t breathe, my fear thickening the air. I want to tug at my bloody sports bra, tight so my pudgy body could be a man’s, not that I intend to be seen. Tugging won’t help: it’s fear suffocating me, not bra.

My lungs wheeze and rattle. Despite the fine snow drifting down in the night, I’m sweating under the black ski mask, as I try to thread a metal-fiber rope through a metal temple gate without metal- metal shrieks that could bring people running. One person, or two, or a horde, it doesn’t matter. There I stand, inside the fence. Exposed at the gate across the broad drive thirty feet from the street. My sixty-year-old legs unlikely to outrun anyone, even with a head start, even if I abandon the plastic explosives, even though I know where the rope ladder is, the way out. A good 200 yards away. Might as well be 200 miles.

Skreeetch.

Shit. I leave the gate, crouch in shadows, wait. Uncover the luminous dial of my  watch, let ten minutes creep by. 

Quiet.

I go back to the gate. Carefully, carefully thread metal rope through links in the fence. Carefully, carefully pull the other end through the gate. Snap on the padlock, go back to shadows, survey my handiwork. The lock hangs against the gatepost, invisible even from my side; the metal rope is visible if you know to look for it.

I pull the sleeve of my black sweater over my latex glove and stretch the ski mask to dry my face. Cold kisses my skin. I can breathe again, because now anyone checking on my middle-of-the-night activity will punch the key code into the gate box, wait while the rope keeps the gate from opening, get out of the car to see what the problem is, and have to go find a hacksaw to get through. Enough time, even for me. I hope. 

Keeping to the shadows, I retrieve the bomb bag which I left by the back fence after I climbed in. Bring it to the base of the building. Safe enough, the mixing of the last ingredient to create explosive potential, the mixture stable enough. 

Quiet. 

But tamping the plastic into the foundation vents—shit. Too much noise. This is the worst part. Tap tap. Chink. So loud. 

I connect the last wire of the first electronic firing device and proceed to the next vent. Movement? I shrink behind bushes. There’s movement all right. Me. Shaking. Dam Sam. I wait, take deep breaths. I want this damn rotten marble polemic gone. Can’t proceed with shakes like this. I listen to whispering snow. I calm down. 

Again I mix, again I tamp into foundation vent and connect wires. Again I move on. This third one is under the angel Moroni, the last one I’ll do in front. Two to go, in the back. 

Lights.

I find shrubbery. Shadows. My breathing. Loud. This is the worst part. Another ten minutes pass. Quiet. Car was just turning around, I guess. 

Finally the last vent  I mix, tamp. I stuff the backpack and plastic bags into the vent, too. Blowing them to shreds seems a nice idea, even though I handle everything only with latex gloves. 

I connect the final wire. 

The rope ladder still hangs where I left it, on the back fence by the woods. I fight the bloody thing getting out as much as I had getting in. Rung is up against the fence, can’t get my toe in. The step tilts as I try to pull my poor old round body up it. Tilts the other way when I counterbalance. Have the same trouble every time. I should practice. Somewhere unseen; that’s the problem. I throw my upper half over the top of the six-foot chain link and more-or-less fall in a heap. Dam Sam. At least I’m on the outside. I want away from there. I lift the ladder off using a branch I stashed nearby. Before I leave the woods I ditch my hammer in a nice ugly brush pile. 

I’m panting by the time I reach the car, parked half a mile away in forest-edged suburbs. I was panting to start; let’s not fool ourselves. I’d have been a lot better at this thirty years ago, but I wasn’t pissed at temples then. 

My ski mask, gloves, sweater, shoes, and the rope ladder all go into a garbage bag in the front seat. I sit on plastic drop cloths, too, because I suppose there would be some telltale bits on me that I might leave behind otherwise.

My heart pounds; my chest labors, but my rental car sedately passes dark homes and silent woods. Past the temple, gate in my lock’s thrall, yards motionless and hushed. Not quite one a.m. I roll down the window. In my flushed state, I welcome the freezing air. And the lovely deep rumble comes clearly to me after I hit the detonator and merge onto the freeway.

With that rumble my anger rises, explodes and falls to rubble like the frikken building itself. Those self-righteous s.o.b.s wouldn’t listen to me: let them hear the rumble. One less haughty excluding wall on the planet. My urge satisfied, the itch scratched. Maybe I can give up the midnight forays now. But I thought that twice before.

An hour later, my adrenaline dissipated, I turn on the car radio to stay awake.

“Temple bombers kill two.” 

WHAT??! 

“Bombers struck again …”

Rental car, rudderless, drifts as I stare at its radio trying to understand.

“Two elders, temple workers, were killed …”

“No. No no no no. You have to be wrong.” 

Death. Destruction. Natter natter.

“Wrong. You are wrong. I’m no killer.” I loathe Mormon temples. But my most beloved are Mormons. I don’t hurt people, my loved ones or their comrades or anyone else. I have to screw up my courage to step on a large spider. People killed. It is not possible. No one is EVER in a Mormon temple on Sunday. Or at midnight.

I get the car lined up in its lane again. My gawd.  The damned radio keeps repeating: “Bombers … destruction … two dead …” Instinct points me toward my motorhome waiting at the Provo campground. 

My mind has that synapse-buzz of nightmares and tough exams. People killed. Think about it later. Go. Don’t speed. Where’s cruise control in this car? Run! Normally I’d fight panic by rethinking a trig proof. Lovely cool rationality. Not now. My feet take charge.

Twenty minutes later, briefly on plan, I drive directly to the showers at the RV camp and force myself to take care to wash away all bomb residue and Echo Lake mud. As planned, I wrap dirty clothing in the painter’s drape that covered the car seat. But then, instead of parking rental car beside Winnie Winnebago and calming myself with chamomile tea, I hurry to return the car to the rental agency. Even in panic I see I shouldn’t leave it at the RV camp. Or steal it. I toss clothing and everything bomber into a dumpster at the back of some strip mall. 

Soon my chaste bomber car sits at the side of the rental car lot, keys gone through the chute beside the office door. My nerves snap and pop as I pace in the dim light. The cab seems to take hours, but by the clock only another ten minutes elapse before a lone car approaches down the dark street then swings in, its “taxi 375-625-2575” light glowing welcome yellow. A lovely number, a good omen? Please god, something good. Reporter error. Let it be reporter error. 

In an instant I’m climbing into the cab’s back seat. The driver says, “Mrs. Bennett? I’m Henri,” and I nearly bail out because I’m Andrea Glass, not Mrs. Bennett. I remember in time the name I gave the dispatcher, fall back into the seat, glance at the driver to see if he noticed, then double my double-take. Quadri-take? Henri is Caribbean brown. In Provo. Men here are white, pink cheeks, short fine fair hair.

“Doan know aboot returnen a cahr in these bitty hours,” he comments in the blessed darkness, my door now shut, dome light off. 

I flop around to secure seatbelt and senses. “Doan know aboot a guy with dreadknots in Provo.”

“DreadLOCKS, ma’am.”

“Oh, geez I’m such an idiot.” I feel so white, so like a person who never left Yoder, Oregon. “A dreadnought is the kind of guitar my friend plays. A Martin Dreadnought.”

“A Martin. Mighty fine guitar. I guess youah mistake be a bit of a compliment. I take it that way.” He pulls onto the deserted street. “You got a destination or you just wanna drive around? At three in the morning.”

I give him the address of the RV camp. “You have a Caribbean lilt, a Jamaican style, Henri. In Provo, Utah.” Was this hysteria or just regression to natural nosiness?

“Yes ma’am. Gonna split though, soon’s I get this car paid for. Can’t even get a decent cuppa java in this town.”

“I travel with my own coffee but drank too much tonight.” My wits are still jumping and galloping, but I’m catching up to them. Need some reason for my predawn activity. “Couldn’t sleep, read for a while, figured I might as well head south. Planned to leave in a couple of hours anyway, beat the traffic.” 

“Well, ma’am, you sure as shootin beatin the traffic now.” We pull up to my RV. “Nice little guy. I thought maybe you be one those people drive a hotel down the road.”

“This has everything I need in 25 feet. Bed, bath, fridge, stove, four wheels. Good luck to you; I enjoyed talking to you.” Aghast now at my verbosity, I run up the steps—well, Henri would see a rotund waddle, but it’s dash to me—into Winnie the Brave. 

Shoot, Newt. I should have just said “Good morning; pleasant morning for travel.” He’ll remember about dreadnoughts. Stupid me. I’m a statement/reason kind of person. I don’t think well on my feet. Which I’m still trying to do. 

I race through the RV departure checklist: coffee brewed for the road, dishes stashed, potential flying objects stowed, lights off, shades up, Winnie unplugged in shivering flash-light. I climb into the driver’s seat, and if six-ton vehicles can tiptoe, that’s what Winnie does, a scant hour after my post-bomb shower. 

But I made big mistakes. Returning a rental car and taking a cab in the middle of the night, and then being chatty on top of it. Might as well just go buy a t-shirt with a big target and Shoot a Bomber Here.

Maybe it would help some that I’m headed west, not south like I told Henri. I want to go home to Oregon. Like a fox driven –– or soon to be driven –– by hounds, I want my den. Maybe en route I’ll figure out what to do next.

* * * *

The next hours have few landmarks in my mind. Like a fellow fox spooked by lightning, Winnie tucked her tailpipe and fled. A nightmare in black and lime-green technicolor. 

I remember a spirited discussion—you might say squabble—with the silver coffee carafe on my console. It winked and wavered at me, reflecting light and fear. I had suggested that this mad dash was, well, … mad. 

“Are you kidding,” she said. “You get your butt out of here.”

“Why not go with the original plan? Back to Idaho. Tell everybody  I’ve been camping in McCall since last week when I paid for the campsite there, right where I told my family I was.”

“Forget it. People were killed in that temple.”

“Yeah. I noticed.”

“You’re in deep shit, Sweetie. Provo is not a healthy distance from that temple anymore. Not with people dead. They’ll be looking that far now. And you registered at the Provo campground, hundreds of miles from McCall. You rented a car in Provo. ”

I drove along, appalled.

“And then, galloping-mouth disease. Dreadnoughts. Good gawd.”

Good gawd, what a rude carafe.

I remember that exhaustion struck me at about six that morning, just after I crossed the Utah border into Idaho. Surrounded by nothingness, I managed to find a place in an old gravel pit to park Winnie. Maybe I was safe there. Certainly safer than on the highway, drifting all over the road. I turned furnace on and lights off, doffed my shoes, and crawled into bed in Winnie’s back corner. My brain took a firm grasp of my mind and reviewed that neat proof of the Pythagorean Theorem, the one in which you imbed four right triangles in a square and compare areas. Lovely algebraic argument. Lovely oblivious sleep.

I remember waking that Monday afternoon to fear, the dream of falling, the ground gone, wind whistling about my ears. Making cheese sandwiches and brewing coffee for the road, I watched the TV in the console above the passenger seat. Maybe those reports yesterday were wrong. How could people have been there? 

“Two killed in the Echo Lake temple bombing …” 

I remember resting my head on my arms at Winnie’s little dining table. My eyes burned. I turned toward the window. Bleak as my heart out there. Wind rocked Winnie even in her shelter behind boulders. Desolation. Long shadows, gray gravel pit within brown brushland. December cold, barren, nothing moving but a scrap of paper in the wind. Fitting. 

We started driving. 

“You think this rig will go far on empty?” Karinne Carafe, back at it.

Oh. Mygawd. The gauge’s needle hovered at E. And then dropped below. Thirty miles, no exits. Fugitive out of gas—pretty dumb. 

A sign. Sinclair. Yes! Winnie guzzled happily, oblivious to the chill air breathing  down my neck. In line in the station’s store I kept my big mouth shut while travelers talked about the day’s news.

“… shrine a complete loss, two people dead,” one woman was saying. Glasses in colorless frames, no chin, brown hair that clumped like overcooked spaghetti.

“Damn extremists, killing people now.” Red-faced guy with a belly hanging over jeans that stayed up by the invisible magic beefy guys sometimes possess.

“I don’t think they meant to kill anyone, middle of the night that way.”

“Oh, they wanted maximum damage. Ya better believe it. People who mess with explosives know. Somebody’ll get hurt. They knew.”

I should have overheard Red Face years ago. Too late. His lecture was too late for me.

Time—and miles—passed. Karinne and I argued incessantly, about what to do, how safe I was, whether I should go home or go hide. Her silver sides flickered and gleamed at me in the night, and she pretty well freaked me out. Her tone sounded like Dad after one of my typical childish protests. My father, but in a higher pitch. Shrill.

Midnight. I wanted to keep going, but Winnie was again weaving from fast lane to margin and back. I pulled into an abandoned gas station on a side road and crawled into bed. But the mind that had been fading dangerously began to sputter and snap like a downed electric line. So sorry. Scared. Sad. Sad, sad. Gotta run. Sorry … I thought about sum-of- angle proofs. Cosine first?

I dreamed. Auditory dreams, doors clanging shut. Soft thuds, dirt clods on casket. Whose casket? Theirs, the two people of the temple? Or mine?

        And then, early the next morning, I looked down Meacham Hill. Again.


Comments